expecting too much when interviewing students, what to wear on the first day of a virtual job, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. Am I expecting too much when interviewing students?

I interviewed a student today who is interested in doing an internship at my organization. I love working with interns so I was happy to meet with him (virtually), but I am wondering if my expectations are off in terms of how a student interviews?

He was late, his wifi was bad, the background was messy (dorm room with flags hung on the wall), he was wearing a hoodie and ear buds, and he didn’t have any questions for me. He seems smart and he has some interesting and relevant experience, but I know that’s not how I would have shown up to an interview – even at his age. His resume was a little odd compared to what I’m used to, but his cover letter was pretty good so I may have seen that as a good sign and been expecting too much.

Are my expectations too high? Is it unreasonable to expect that programs that require internships will prepare their students for every part of an internship? Is it weird that he’s not on LinkedIn? Is it ever valuable to offer this kind of feedback?

I don’t think this is so terrible. Bad wifi isn’t his fault, lots of people use ear buds for audio on a video call, and the messy dorm room — well, students sometimes have messy dorm rooms and nowhere else to interview (and aren’t yet used to thinking about professional-looking backgrounds). Not being on LinkedIn isn’t weird at all; he doesn’t have anything to put there yet (and lots of more seasoned adults aren’t on LinkedIn either). Not having questions for you isn’t ideal, but is really common with students; a lot of them have no idea what they should ask. (And yes, there are tons of suggestions out there but not all students have been exposed to those resources, especially if they don’t have parents who push that stuff.)

The lateness does concern me, especially if he didn’t acknowledge or explain it. But if he otherwise seemed promising and your hiring process allows for an additional conversation, you could set him up for success in the next round by telling him what to expect — let him know you ask candidates (and interns) to be right on time, ask him to prepare some questions for you, etc. Hell, if the work would be in-person you could ask him to dress as he’d dress for the job (and explain what that means — students don’t always know shorthand on this stuff). That’ll give you a better sense of how he’ll do once he gets the kind of guidance he’d presumably get if you hired him.

Keep in mind that we’re talking about a potential intern, who by definition are there to learn how the work world works. Your subject line to me was “Can I expect students to interview the way an adult would?” and the answer to that is definitely no. They’re still figuring this stuff out, and some will be further along than others. Partly that’s because some have had families and mentors to teach it to them while others haven’t.

It is possible that he’ll turn out to be overly cavalier about the internship, but it’s also possible that he just hasn’t had good guidance yet. I’d try to give him a little and see what happens.

2. Does never getting any feedback mean I’m doing a good job?

I’ve been in my position for three years, and I have never once received formal feedback or an evaluation. I’ve received very modest raises that I didn’t ask for, and during those conversations I’ve been vaguely told that my “hard work is appreciated.” Other than that, there has never been any feedback or evaluation, negative or positive. My direct supervisor doesn’t seem to keep good tabs on any employees. We’re working remotely now and we don’t have meetings, and he doesn’t check in to see what we’re working on or keep track of how we spend our time.

The thing is, I don’t feel like I’m doing a good job. I don’t take initiative and, especially since the pandemic started, I’ve been doing the bare minimum. I have tentatively tried to initiate a new project once or twice but been shot down. I feel directionless and do not know what is expected of me. I’m apprehensive about opening a conversation inviting feedback because I worry it will call attention to the fact that I’ve failed to meet unsaid expectations or something like that. I don’t want to open the door to criticism. However, I also feel like I can’t ask for a raise or promotion because I don’t know if I’m doing what’s expected of me or not. Should I just assume I’m doing great even though I feel like I’m not?

I can’t say from here! With some managers, no feedback means everything is going fine (although not necessarily great). With others, it means little more than that the manager is terrible at giving feedback. If you’ve just been doing the bare minimum, it’s probably not the time to ask for a raise or promotion.

If you want to change the situation, you likely do need to ask for feedback, despite feeling uneasy about it. But it would also be useful to talk about what the goals for your position should be over the next year: What does your boss hope you’ll achieve? What would a great year look like? You could also explicitly ask what things you should work on if you want to work toward a promotion at some point.

3. My coworker gets roped into long complaint sessions with a difficult colleague

I work for a mid-sized company in a processing role. I have a coworker who I also consider a friend, “Daisy.” There is another woman on our team, “Ruby.” Ruby has an abrasive personality and does not work well with the rest of the team. No one feels comfortable giving her feedback or asking her to help with an issue that may have come up that she had a hand in.

A couple of times a week, Ruby calls Daisy on the phone to complain. Sometimes it’s from work phone to work phone, and sometimes Ruby will call Daisy on her cell phone if she doesn’t want the company “listening.” These rants usually go on for a hour or so, with Daisy having very little opportunity to back out of the conversation. Daisy is basically too nice to tell Ruby that she cannot continue these conversations.

Is there anything I could/should do about it? I know the conversations give Daisy some anxiety, both by being on the receiving end of a laundry list of grievances and because of hours spent on the phone that could be noticed by someone. Should I reach out to our supervisor? I don’t want to get Daisy in trouble but I know she is in between a rock and a hard place with Ruby.

No, this is Daisy’s to handle on her own. You can give her advice if she seems like she wants it (once, maybe twice at most), but you don’t have any standing to do anything beyond that. This is between Daisy and Ruby, and between Daisy and her manager.

4. What to wear on your first day of a remote job

I am starting a new job next week (yay!). It will be remote for now but in person eventually. There will of course be lots of Zoom and that type of interaction. What to wear for the first few days? I have a full range of clothes in my closet so having something appropriate is not the issue. If I was going in person, I would probably err on the side of business casual with a skirt and sweater or something (I am a cis-female). The job is at an accounting firm but I am not an accountant and likely won’t interact with clients even once we are back to in-person.

Go with business casual for your first few days until you get a feel for what others on your team are wearing. You might find that you can go more casual, but get the lay of the land first. (And business casual is not so dressed up that you would look like you’ve weirdly overshot.)

5. Is it unprofessional to organize a goodbye for a coworker who the company is angry with?

At my organization we typically organize a send-off for employees who leave (usually a card, gift and/or leaving drinks with the latter done virtually during the pandemic). Often it’s the person’s line manager or boss who will organize this but it’s not a hard and fast rule and peers will sometimes do it too.

One of our colleagues recently took a long period of unpaid leave (~1.5 months) so she could travel and tend to some personal matters. We have since been told that she handed her notice in and won’t be coming back at all. It seems this colleague was keen to extend her leave and/or work from her new location, which was turned down by the organization, but we don’t fully know the details.

Management haven’t mentioned her name since and have curtly confirmed they will not be planning a send-off when asked. Many of us across the organization are upset because we remember her as a warm, kind, and supportive colleague and would like the opportunity to personally extend our goodbyes and well-wishes. I suppose there’s nothing stopping us from self-organizing a card or a gift, but would it be seen as unprofessional?

I should add that management has sometimes reacted weirdly and personally to colleagues who’ve quit in the past (even though this is a natural part of progression) which is why I am questioning their judgment here.

It wouldn’t be odd or unprofessional for you and your colleagues to organize a card or a gift! It sounds like your managers don’t want to do an official thing because there’s some kind of resentment in play, but there’s no reason those of you who want to can’t do something on your own. (It could get a little stickier if you were, say, sending out official all-staff emails about a virtual drinks thing when they’re treating her like persona non grata — although “stickier” doesn’t necessarily mean don’t do it as long as you’re aware of the politics — but a gift or a card is really low-key.)

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