How to Handle a Pushy Job Candidate

Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues–everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

Here’s a roundup of answers to five questions from readers.

1. How to handle a pushy job candidate

I am in the process of scheduling interviews for a new opening on our team. I called a batch of candidates this morning and left messages for a few of them. I was then in a meeting, and when I returned I had four phone calls from one candidate, who apparently was quite nervous when I didn’t pick up and immediately respond to the voice mail she left with her first call. Today is just one of those days where I didn’t have time to pause and didn’t want to break my focus on a project. So, I figured, it sucks that I can’t answer her right now but I’ll call back first thing tomorrow morning once I have the bulk of my project finished.

Fast-forward to this afternoon. She then sent me a message about how she’d called several times and “for some reason, nobody was returning my calls.” 

Am I crazy for being irritated with this? Considering the magnitude of the project I’ve been working on and my stress levels when she messaged me, it rubbed me the wrong way. I think it’s pretty common to not answer a phone call within a day if you’ve got a lot going on, and it seems to me like she’s not really understanding professional norms.

Green responds:

Yes, that absolutely should rub you the wrong way. Called you four times in a single day? That’s three calls too many. And then followed that up with a message where she implied she was being ignored?

This is the kind of thing that should warrant reconsidering whether to interview her at all. You now have new information about how she operates. Nerves are one thing, but she flew right past nerves into presumption and rudeness.

2. My employee won’t wait until work hours to answer emails

I have a remote employee who was assigned to my department from another area of the business. She generally goes home at 4, and I always work until 5 and frequently much later. Several times a week, I’ll realize I need to ask her something after she’s left for the day, and I’ll send her a quick email while I’m thinking about it for her to find in the morning. The difficulty is that, as part of her past role, she’s become accustomed to checking her email in her off-hours, and frequently reviews projects, answers questions, etc., off the clock.

I’ve told her that I don’t ever expect her to respond to email after hours, that I’d prefer she enjoy her evening, and responding the next day is preferable. To which she has laughingly responded that she’s used to it and likes to stay ahead of her work and see what’s coming up the next day. It’s a great problem to have, as far as problems go, but she is hourly, and I’m concerned about the legality of her spending chunks of time reviewing email and projects off the clock. I also don’t want to trample on her off-hours — she’s got a life, and I don’t want her to feel she has to constantly be checking her email.

Can you recommend some wording to let her know I’d really rather she leave work for work hours? Or should I manage it on my end by scheduling my emails to go through the next morning instead of whenever I send them initially?

Green responds:

It sounds like the issue is that you’ve presented this as a suggestion, when you really want it to be a requirement. At least I’m assuming that you do — because she’s hourly, you need to require her to track all the time that she spends doing anything work-related from home, and you need to pay her for it, including overtime pay if that puts her over 40 hours in a week.

So I’d say this: “Jane, I realized that I wasn’t clear when we talked earlier about your answering emails after your normal work hours. We’re required by law to log any time you spend on work, even checking email from home, and we need to pay you for it. I haven’t budgeted to pay you additional time, so I do need you to stop checking emails outside of work. I appreciate that you want to stay on top of your work, but this is a legal issue — I can’t let you do it.”

And then if she continues to do it after that, you have to have a pretty serious conversation with her about it, because she’s exposing your company to legal liability if you don’t pay her and costing you money that you haven’t authorized if you do pay her.

3. Can we push a retiring employee out early?

I work for a small organization (only 13 employees) and we have endured more than our share of turnover in the past few years (i.e., retirements, resignations). We just found out (by accident — she told her supervisor during a general conversation that came up about retiring between the two) that one of our longtime employees is planning on retiring this year at one of our busiest times. It is going to be devastating to us if we wait for her to give us a retirement date because the department she works in already has a vacancy we’re trying to fill.

I was wondering if our organization could a) beat her to the punch and give her a “set” last day of work or b) wait for her to give us her resignation date and then terminate her? I know both sound harsh, but with our being short-staffed already, we really want to hire someone who could train for her position at the same time we are hiring the part-time employee.

Green responds:

It would be a pretty crappy thing to do — there’s a reason you think it sounds harsh. The rest of your employees will see it that way too, which isn’t a good thing. You’d also be signaling to them that they should never give you generous notice when they resign because they’d be pushed out early too. And you’d open yourself up to possible charges of age discrimination (especially if you haven’t pushed other employees out early when you learn that they’re, say, going back to school in a few months); you’re too small to be covered under the federal age discrimination laws, but your state laws might apply. And you’d end up paying unemployment if she filed for it.

Why not just ask her about it? She brought it up to her manager, so her manager should go back to her and say, “Jane, were you serious about retiring this summer? If so, it would be helpful to talk about your plans and the timing.”

But, really, any of your employees could resign at any time and you would make do, even when the timing was bad. This is no different.

4. Should I use fancy résumé paper?

I’ve seen you say that fancy résumé paper is obsolete, in part because most people apply to jobs online these days. However, I’m applying for a position with a prestigious nonprofit organization in this community, and the instructions are to mail your résumé and cover letter to the physical mailing address. So, résumé paper or no? I can’t decide. What’s your take on it?

Green responds:

My take on it is still the same — if it takes special résumé paper to wow them about your candidacy, things are not going well.

If you like nice paper and it makes you happy to use it and you’re OK with the employer not caring either way, then go for it. Otherwise, seriously, normal paper is fine. Good managers don’t care.

5. Informal salary negotiation when I wasn’t prepared for the question

I made a network connection over a year ago when I was moving to a new city. She and I have stayed friends, and this past January she told me that she was restructuring her team and wanted me to come on board.

We’ve had lots of informal conversations since then. Today, we met (once again) and we are moving closer to the details’ being ironed out. She suggested a start date and said the whole team was restructuring so they were still finalizing what my title would be. She’d be sending me the job description this week.

She mentioned they are thinking about bringing me in at $ X to start. This is lower than I am currently making and I’d like closer to $ Y. However, I didn’t say anything. This was an informal conversation and I don’t even have a finalized title or job description. My thought was I would wait for the job description and wait for her to say, officially, “Here’s an offer of $ X for (job title),” before opening up negotiations. I don’t even know what the benefit package includes, etc.

Did I make the right move staying silent — or should I have in that moment said that the salary was lower than I wanted? This entire process has been messy, because it’s so informal and the job hasn’t been ironed out. Is it going to look weird that I didn’t say something in that moment about salary?

Green responds:

Well, ideally you would have spoken up in the moment and said something like, “I’d actually be looking for something like $ Y — is that out of your range?” Or, while I’m not a fan of disclosing salary history, in a case like this it can be helpful to say, “That’s actually lower than what I’m making now, so I’d be looking for something more like $ Y.”

Yes, it’s ideal when you can wait until you know about benefits and other details, but it doesn’t always work that way. And you do need to say something now, since otherwise your silence is likely to be seen as tacit agreement.

I’d say this: “You mentioned salary the other day. I want to let you know that $ X is actually lower than what I’m making now. Obviously, I’d want to wait and get a better understanding of the role itself and your benefits package, but I’d probably be looking for something more in the range of $ Y. Does it still make sense to keep talking?”

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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