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

Use direct numbers to avoid nemesis at former job

Q: About a year ago, while working an evening shift, I accidently walked in on the CEO's secretary in a compromising position with one of the vice presidents. From then on, this secretary did everything possible to make my life miserable, even though I never mentioned the incident to anyone. This is a small company with no human resources department, so I had nowhere to take my concerns.

To escape this woman's ongoing harassment, I recently decided to quit. However, I know that reference calls from potential employers will probably be transferred to her, so I'm worried about what she may say. I am also concerned about her access to personal data, like my Social Security number and credit report. What can I do about this?

A: Given your knowledge of her extracurricular activities, this amorous secretary is probably just glad that you're gone. To be on the safe side, however, you might as well take steps to ensure that reference calls get to the right place.

Instead of giving interviewers the main company number, provide both phone and email contact information for your former supervisor. If the supervisor doesn't have a direct work line, request permission to use a cellphone number. This should reduce the risk of any calls going to your nemesis.

Regarding your personal information, it seems unlikely that this woman would try to steal your identity or commit credit card fraud. Having a tryst in the office is one thing, but engaging in criminal activity is quite another.

Accept that you can't change boss

Q: I work for a man who obviously has attention deficit disorder. He is constantly interrupting me and distracting me from my work. Since I am a bookkeeper, accuracy and attention to detail are important, but these ongoing interruptions make it difficult to concentrate.

I have talked to my boss about this behavior several times, but it hasn't done any good. He tries to change for a couple of weeks, then goes right back to his old habits. Is there any hope of fixing this?

A: Regardless of whether your boss deserves a psychiatric diagnosis, the two of you clearly have very different work styles. He is a talkative multitasker who enjoys switching from one activity to another, while you prefer to quietly focus on one task at a time. Ironically, the fact that you are more organized may be one reason why he hired you.

Since he has made several failed attempts to change, your manager's hyperactivity is probably a deeply ingrained personality trait. This means that modifying your working conditions will be much easier than modifying your boss. Possibilities include relocating your desk, establishing telecommuting days, or setting aside time to work behind closed doors.

However you do it, you need to find a way to cope with your manager's personal idiosyncrasies. Otherwise, if you continue to criticize him, he may eventually become irritated and conclude that you are actually the problem.

Tell truth, but don't share too much

Q: After making a very unfortunate mistake, I was fired from a job I had held for ten years. Because potential employers always ask about my termination, I have had to relive this devastating experience during each and every interview.

My mistake was stupid, and I have paid dearly for it. I would like to put the whole thing behind me, but I know interviewers will continue to ask. How can I answer their questions without incriminating myself?

A: Without knowing the nature of your mistake, I can't offer specific suggestions. But if you are "reliving this devastating experience" during every interview, you may be volunteering way too much information. Applicants often incorrectly assume that truthfulness requires full disclosure.

Although you never want to lie during a job search, remember that there can be many different honest answers to the same question. So before your next interview, take time to prepare a concise, factual explanation for your departure that raises as few red flags as possible.

Use direct numbers to avoid nemesis at former job 01/12/13 [Last modified: Thursday, January 10, 2013 3:36pm]
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