Q: About a year ago, I quit my job in a small medical clinic because of a very unprofessional co-worker. "Jake" dressed inappropriately, accepted gifts from vendors, had an affair with a married patient and sent sexual emails from our shared computers. The owner knew about Jake's behavior, but he did nothing to stop it.
Although I liked my job, working with Jake became so frustrating that I decided to leave. Now I'm ready to return to work, but I don't know how to describe my reason for quitting. Saying "I just needed a change" seems wrong when the real problem was an unprofessional workplace and incompetent management.
A: While it might be emotionally satisfying to "punish" your former boss by trashing him during a job interview, such comments will automatically cause interviewers to wonder if you were part of the problem. Lacking the means to validate your story, they may choose to avoid a potentially risky hire by simply eliminating you from the pool.
When asked to describe your departure, therefore, you must formulate a truthful response which does not include any criticism of your unpleasant colleague or ineffectual manager. The fact that you chose not to work during the past year provides one possible approach.
For example: "Although I enjoyed my clinic duties, I decided to spend this year devoting more time to my family. I believe that was a good choice, but now I'm really looking forward to going back to work. I was excited to learn about this position because I feel my skills would be a good fit."
When talking with interviewers, applicants should remember two things. First, there can be many honest answers to the same question. And second, they should keep any negative opinions to themselves.
Start by impressing the bosses you know
Q: For quite a while, I have worked at night and attended graduate school during the day. After I receive my degree in about a year, I hope to escape third shift and move into a management position with my company.
The problem is that all the events which could help me meet the "right" people are held in the daytime. Since these usually conflict with my class schedule, I find it difficult to participate. How else can I connect with higher-level managers?
A: Considering that you work all night, attend school during the day, and presumably sleep from time to time, I doubt there's much room in your schedule for networking activities. If you spread yourself too thin, exhaustion may adversely affect your job performance and damage your career prospects, so try to focus on one step at a time.
Once your diploma is in hand, you will have more time and energy for making key connections. In the meantime, the best way to facilitate a promotion is to impress your third-shift bosses. While the movers and shakers may be more available during the day, the people who can recommend you for advancement are right there with you every night.
Co-worker's games aren't your problem
Q: I was recently asked to share a cubicle with one of my co-workers. Since moving in with "Ashley," I have noticed that she frequently plays games on her computer, sometimes for up to two hours.
When I mentioned this to the owner, he shrugged it off and said she won't be playing games for long because her busy season is coming up. This is seriously affecting my morale, so I would like to diplomatically talk to Ashley about it. How should I approach her?
A: Unless Ashley's gaming habit is affecting your work, this is really not your problem. The reality is that you are not her boss, so it is not your place to correct her performance. You have done all you can do by talking with the owner, who apparently doesn't care.
Hopefully, the "busy season" will soon put an end to Ashley's goofing off. But in the meantime, reduce your own frustration by ignoring her activities and focusing on your tasks.