It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…
1. Should I stop wearing makeup to fit into my office culture?
I know you have talked about overdressing being a sign you don’t understand the work culture when starting a new position, such as wearing a suit at a tech start-up. But what is your take on makeup/hair? I recently started as a new grad in a new research position in industry. My coworkers are all at least 10 years older than me and have Ph.Ds while I have a bachelors in the same field. There are few women, but the few I do work with wear baggy dress pants and sweaters, no makeup, and no hair styling. I wear makeup everyday (subtle blush, mascara, and then a small cat-eye) and usually style my hair, but I have been feeling like it feels out of place within this workplace. I also wear dress clothes appropriate for a lab, but I worry that I appear as if I focus too much on my appearance. Or, with my obvious youth, I worry that my appearance makes people take me less seriously. I believe I feel like this way due to my general lack of confidence in the role (working on it!), but I wonder if meshing with the culture also applies to the overdoing hair/makeup. Of course, I feel more confident with my appearance as I’m comfortable.
Is there an argument for not putting as much effort into my appearance to fit with the culture?
The short version: It’s silly that this matters/sometimes it does anyway/it’s up to you whether to care.
The longer version: I want to say it doesn’t matter, but the reality is that in some work cultures it can mark you as not quite getting the culture or being out of sync with the priorities that people who thrive there usually have. As is always the case when you’re handling this kind of thing differently from the rest of your office (including clothes, too), it won’t always matter — and if you’re great at what you do, your chances of it not mattering go way up — but sometimes it matters.
But even if it does matter in your office, you might still decide you’re not going to play along, just like someone in a different office might decide they’re not going to wear lipstick and blow dry their hair. And to be clear, it’s silly that an office culture would care either way if you do or don’t wear makeup — but some do, and if you’re in one that does, the important thing is to understand the landscape so that you can make your own decisions with full knowledge of potential trade-offs.
Of course, that’s what you’re trying to figure out about your office, and I can’t tell you from here because I don’t know the culture there. But if you felt like you were being taken seriously and respected by the people you work with, I’d tell you not to worry about this at all. It sounds, though, like you do worry you’re not being taken as seriously (although this is tricky because, as you note, that could be just about youth). But if you want to experiment, you could try toning down your hair and makeup (not zero makeup and hair styling, just less of it) and seeing if you notice anything different.
But again, up to you. (This doesn’t feel like an especially helpful answer. I’m sorry!)
2. How insulted should I be when an interviewer isn’t prepared for an interview?
How insulted should I be when an interviewer isn’t prepared for an interview? I’m interviewing for a fairly senior position, and am currently in the midst of a series of (remote, video) interviews by people quite senior at the company. At one interview today, the interviewer started by explaining that he had just been on a call with the chief executive to discuss an upcoming national conference, which he then started explaining to me as he would to someone who had never heard of it or this company before. I jumped in when I had a moment to tell him that I knew all about it — because I’m on the program team for that conference, am speaking at it, and have spoken at it the past two years! If he’d glanced at my resume or cover letter, he’d have known that. I’m very involved in the nonprofit side of our field’s community, and am one of the leaders in this community — I’m interviewing at the company that manages the for-profit side of the industry. I’m even friendly with the chief executive and have been recently on calls with him myself to discuss the upcoming conference!
Am I off-base to be insulted that he didn’t even glance at my resume or have any idea who I was before speaking with me? (Not in a “do you know who I am?” way but in a “did you look at who you’re interviewing?” way.) Not to mention that a candidate for this role would have been woefully unprepared to not know about this upcoming conference. I know that not all candidates are internal to this community, but I really felt like it left me at a disadvantage in this interview because he didn’t know my experience or involvement. And to note, this was not an introductory interview – I’ve already had a couple of those. Now I’m worried that the other interviewers might be similarly unprepared, and I’ll have to spend even more time reviewing my experience with them, when it’s all on my resume and outlined again in my cover letter.
You shouldn’t be insulted because it’s not about you; it’s not as if he thought, “Jane Smith? She sounds like a real waste of my time, so I won’t bother reading her materials.” But annoyed? Sure, you can be annoyed.
But the thing is, sometimes this happens through no fault of the interviewer’s. Sometimes an interviewer is pulled in at the last minute because the person who was originally supposed to do it is out, or they realize at the last minute that they really want this particular person to weigh in, or the person had 20 minutes set aside to review your materials ahead of your interview and then got pulled away by an emergency. None of that is ideal, but it happens and it’s understandable and the best thing you can do is to just roll with it. And other times, yes, sometimes the interviewer had your materials well in advance and just didn’t bother to review them. And if that turns out to be a pattern of disorganization / inconsideration / cavalierness about hiring, you can factor that into your thinking about whether you’re interested in working there. But if it’s one person one time, I wouldn’t read anything into it.
3. What’s up with this disclaimer on our emergency contact forms?
I’m a little concerned about a statement made on our new emergency contact forms that we received at work. We all know that the point of these forms is to give permission to contact one or two people in the event of an emergency (or suspected emergency if an employee doesn’t show up). That is noted at the top of the form, but just above the signature line it says: “I understand and agree that the company will have no obligation or liability to notify such person(s) in case of an emergency.”
Now I have read many emergency contact forms over the years, and have never seen this type of statement before. I also did a Google search and of the 50 or so that I looked at, not one had any sort of disclaimer like this.
It strikes me as suspicious because they specifically decided to add it. Why? It’s almost like they’re making an advance decision not to contact them. They made it 100% mandatory to sign this, but they’re not holding themselves responsible for utilizing the information?
Of course, this is just the latest in a long string of many strange things happening around our office lately, or else I might not have even noticed it. I’ve worked for this company for several years, and since an executive management change three years ago we’ve transitioned from being widely recognized as a people-oriented company known for its flexibility to a strict policy-oriented company. No advance warning was sent out that old policies would suddenly be enforced, and anyone (customers or employees) who questions the change is immediately shut down with “It’s always been the policy.” Micromanaging has become a massive problem from the top all the way down, to the point many employees and even managers have left or been pushed out. Those of us who are left from before the change live in constant fear that we will be next. Because of that I have been trying to keep my head down to avoid notice, but it’s tough when things keep getting more difficult to deal with.
What do you make of this? Is this (combined with the change in company direction) a red flag to start looking elsewhere? Or would it be better to ride the wave and see if things settle down?
I would assume they’re just trying to cover themselves in case an emergency contact isn’t contacted in a situation where it would have helped. There’s no requirement to have those forms at all, so if they just didn’t want to use them, they could simply get rid of them. It’s much more likely that they’re concerned about legal liability in a situation where someone doesn’t think to use the contacts.
I do think, though, when you get to the point that you’re suspecting stuff like this because general conditions in your organization are so bad, that’s a sign that you should be looking at other options. And really, you describe yourself as living in constant fear that you’ll be pushed out — why would you not be looking around?
4. Candidates who ask for the job description
I’m wondering if this is a pet peeve of mine or if other HR professionals find this annoying as well. I get severely annoyed when I reach out to candidates for a phone interview after they have applied and they ask me to resend them the job description or ask for company information, i.e., “remind me what company this is again?” Is this just something that comes with the territory of recruiting and HR or is it a preliminary indication about soft skills like detail oriented-ness and resourcefulness?
It depends on the context. If you’re calling a candidate out of the blue (as opposed to a pre-scheduled phone interview), of course they might need you to remind them about the details. People usually apply for multiple jobs, and it would be unreasonable to expect them to have the details perfectly organized in their heads at all time, with no notice that they’ll need to.
On the other hand, if you scheduled a phone interview by email (so they had time to prepare for the conversation), then yes, I’d be concerned. Although you do need to make sure your job posting is still online — some companies take them offline once they’re no longer accepting applications, and then candidates have no way of accessing them again (unless they saved them when they applied, which is a good idea but not something everyone realizes they should do).
5. I was fired and my boss keeps offering me side jobs
I was terminated about a month ago and was given my last paycheck that day. My previous boss (she was the CEO) keeps in touch and asking me for side jobs i.e. pay me to help with the website. I don’t want to but I also don’t want to burn bridges. Am I wrong for declining?
Nope. You’re not required to do work for someone who no longer employs you in order to keep a bridge intact. You only have to be polite about it. Say something like this to your former boss: “Thanks for thinking of me for this! I’ve taken on other commitments that are keeping my schedule full so I’m not able to help, but I hope you’re able to find someone right for it.”