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I’m being trained by a stressed and grumpy coworker, how can I stop rambling in interviews, and more Ask a Manager

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I’m being trained by a stressed and grumpy coworker, how can I stop rambling in interviews, and more Ask a Manager


I’m being trained by a stressed and grumpy coworker, how can I stop rambling in interviews, and more

Posted: 06 Nov 2016 09:03 PM PST

It's five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. I'm being trained by a stressed and grumpy coworker

I have been at my current company for over five years. I recently moved to a new group within my department. In my new group of four, we all have different tasks and responsibilities. One of my group members (let's call her Sally), has been with the company for a couple years, and moved to the same group as me this year. Sally has relayed several times that her previous boss and she did not have a good working relationship and she was excited to have our new boss.

The first few months in this job, everything was fine. Sally and I were chatting and very friendly. Our workloads did not overlap. However, I am now to assist her with some of her tasks (so she is not the single point of failure for some of these admin tasks) and she has been training me when she is free. Now it seems she is frustrated and miserable when talking to me. She is in charge of exporting a lot of reports and financial data to our executive team on a monthly basis. However, her toolset is quite frustrating to use, and she is not in charge of compliance for the data (think time card entries). The reports break, and this is on a monthly basis. She seems miserable around this time, and she has no control over the reports breaking.

I tell her she can only escalate the situation to the executives, and it's their decision if they want to prioritize fixing the reports. If the executives choose not to prioritize this, then she shouldn't be stressed out if she communicated her status and anticipated completion due to issues at hand. Something tells me she does not like me questioning her toolset, stress level, and work style while she is training me on her admin tasks. I am only asking questions though to gain more insight as to why things work the way they do. I am also used to criticizing our internal toolset in my previous group and never received negative responses. The other day I commented on something and she got up and walked away from training me. I don't know how to talk to Sally about her being stressed out for one week out of every month while training me. I am nervous that if I confront her, she will no longer train me and I will be left to fail on supporting her admin tasks.

Yeah, Sally does not want you making those comments. We can debate whether or not she's right in feeling that way, but the reality seems pretty clear: By continuing to comment on this stuff, you're alienating and/or annoying her.

But it doesn't sound like you have to continue that in order to get the information you need from her. Accept that she’s stressed and frustrated at the work situation and that she doesn't want your input about it; you don't need to coach her or advise her about it! Just let her train you, tell her how much you appreciate her showing you things, and leave it at that.

2. How can I stop rambling in interviews?

I have been in a job search for four months and beginning to really feel the pressure to land a new job. I am finding it very difficult during phone interviews to be concise with my answers, like my subconscious is telling me "this is your shot, make sure you tell them everything!" It seems to creep up on me, and I can tell by the interviewers response that I have probably provided too much.

Can you provide some guidance on how to correct this almost involuntary behavior?

You need to practice ahead of time! Write down the questions you're most likely to be asked in interviews and then practice answering them with a timer. Limit yourself to 90 seconds on each one, and keep practicing until you can do it in that amount of time — and then practice over and over, because that will lodge those shorter answers in your brain. (You can use my free guide to preparing for an interview to help with this; it has the questions you should prepare for and more advice on how to practice your answers.) 90 seconds probably sounds like very little time, but it’s actually the length you should be striving for with most initial answers.

Keep in mind, too, that if you feel like you have a lot more to say, you can always ask at the end of an answer, “Does that give you what you're looking for, or would you like me to go more in depth about this?" If your interviewer wants more, she'll say so.

Also, practice stopping at the end of your answer and staying silent. Many interviewers will wait to see if you're going to keep talking or not before they resume, and many nervous ramblers get freaked out by the silence and start talking again — so you want to practice not doing that.

3. Helping a coworker who's going through a rough financial time

One of my coworkers is going through a rough time financially and having trouble scraping together enough money to cover food and bills. I want to help her out, at least with groceries, but I’m not sure if she would accept (today she didn’t have a lunch and I offered her some of the bread and peanut butter I keep at work – she accepted, but seemed embarrassed about it). I’m thinking about leaving a grocery store gift card on her desk anonymously but since we just had this conversation she’d probably guess it was me. I don’t want to embarrass her, but I feel badly that someone who works at the same place I do is struggling to make ends meet while I’m living comfortably. I want to help. What do you think would be appropriate?

This is a situation where a white lie will make it easier on both of you. Can you just happen to have received a gift card to a grocery store you rarely go to and see if she wants to take it off your hands?

4. Can I use this story of workplace conflict in a job interview?

I’m currently preparing for an interview, and thinking about the dreaded “handling conflict” question. The only things I can think of are a) really bland and minor incidents or b) times when things were handled badly. So my question is: what should I have done in the conflict below, and is it ever a good idea to say in an interview “this is an example of something I did badly and I would handle it differently in the future?”

The context was a company which already had a pretty bad atmosphere and a divide between two teams on different floors. I was the only native English speaker working there (this was in Europe). Every day someone on the top floor would send around an email that there was tea/coffee ready in the top floor breakroom and the ground floor team could come up if they wanted. People would find "funny" ways to avoid sending the same boring message every day. One day one of the upstairs group, a man, sent a message with one of those "old-fashioned greeting card" memes saying something like "time for tea, bitches!"

I replied-all with something fairly neutral but clear, like "please don't use that word, I find it offensive and it's not appropriate for the workplace.” The girlfriend of the meme-sender then replied all "explaining" that bitch wasn't a sexist term in that context. I admit, at this point I did see red and emailed back "I don't need help understanding my own native language and it absolutely is offensive because of XYZ". (I know some people are into "reclaiming" words – I'm not, and I think if you are it's all well and good in your own time, but not in the workplace and not if you're not part of the "target" group.)

Long story short, it ended up in an all-staff meeting because of the "bad atmosphere that had developed,” where the meme-sender pulled the irritating technique of suggesting I just had no sense of humour, I barely kept from crying because of the frustration of trying to explain myself in a foreign language, and nothing really got resolved. Funny memes over email stopped, but no one from management even said anything about the original offensive language. I just avoided the guy until I left that job a few months later, which was pretty easy since we were on different teams and floors.

So, now I accept that I probably could have avoided escalating things by talking to the guy privately, but another part of me thinks if you're going to email your whole workplace with an offensive word, you deserve to be called out in the same forum. What do you think, and could I ever use (a less detailed version) as a "lessons learned" story, or does it just all reflect terribly on me?

Noooo, don't use it. It’s way too much drama. In general in interviews, you want to avoid sharing stories that put you at the center of drama (even if you were in the right) or that involve you reacting heatedly.

5. How do "interim" roles work?

A few months ago, I applied for a job I’m pretty excited about. The hiring process was put on hold after the hiring manager left for another position, and now that they’ve replaced that person, they’re bringing me in for an interview next week. (Phew!)

After some fairly heavy duty LinkedIn searching, I discovered that someone who was previously in a more junior position at the company has been acting as the “interim [job title]” while they waited to fill the role. I don’t have any experience with interim positions and wondered if you could shed some light on how this kind of thing works.

Is it more likely that they’ll hire the “interim” person to be the new full-time [job title]? Will they drop back down to their original job title if someone else is hired? Is there no consistency in how it works?

Purely out of curiosity, how does salary work if you’re in that situation — do you get bumped up to the more senior salary level temporarily, if you revert to your original, more junior position after the hiring process is completed?

It totally depends. Sometimes the interim person does end up getting hired into the role. Sometimes they're a serious candidate but someone external ends up being better and gets the job instead. And sometimes it's pretty clear from the start that they're not the right person for the job long-term and they're simply being asked to keep things running at a basic level while the employer searches for someone who can do the job in its entirety and at the level needed. In the last case, they usually return to their previous job once someone is hired to take over the role.

Someone acting in an interim role is usually given a temporary salary bump. It's not necessarily the same salary the position would normally pay, in part because interim roles are often streamlined versions of the "real" role and so the demands aren't quite as high. But it really just depends on how the company does things and what the interim person negotiates.

I'm being trained by a stressed and grumpy coworker, how can I stop rambling in interviews, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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