It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…
1. Can I take notes on an iPad in an interview?
This happened to me two years ago, but I’m still not sure what to make of it. I had signed up for government-sponsored interview training, where they teach you how to prepare for an interview and practice with you through roleplay. It was a great class, very useful, and I learned some great skills. Then one of the two instructors mentioned to the class that we should always bring a nice notepad and pen to take notes during an interview, as opposed to some crumpled copier paper and a chewed up pen. Since looking professional and presentable was the topic, I asked if it would be acceptable to take notes on an iPad instead.
Well, that sure started something! The instructor got incensed and argued very passionately that this would be a terrible thing to do, that flaunting luxury electronics signals that I don’t even need a job and that it would make me look like a gadget-obsessed teenager instead of an adult professional. The other instructor chimed in and tried to talk the first one down arguing that it was 2017 and iPad and phone note-taking weren’t all that remarkable anymore. They argued back and forth for quite a while and they both … felt very strongly. I never really got an answer either and seriously did not want to push my luck. Just to be on the safe side, I never used my iPad or any other device to take notes in interviews anymore.
Still, two years later, this freaking haunts me. What do you think?
The instructor who was incensed is weird. Taking notes on an iPad isn’t “flashing luxury electronics”; it’s using equipment that’s standard issue in a lot of offices. And “it’ll look like you don’t need a job” is an incredibly odd viewpoint.
That said … I’d be wary about taking notes on a tablet (or a laptop) in an interview. You generally shouldn’t be taking so many notes in an interview that you need more than a single sheet of paper and a pen (otherwise you’re too focused on note-taking and not enough on the conversation and on maintaining the connection with your interviewer). Plus, you risk the interviewer wondering if you’re distracted by other things on the device and not fully paying attention; a lot of people feel like a device pulls your attention away from the conversation in a way that paper and pen doesn’t. (I’m not endorsing that viewpoint and personally would be fine with a candidate using a tablet — but there are still a lot of people who wouldn’t be.)
2. The poo police
I used to work at a resort hotel with a spa. I have friends who still work there. There is a general rule that no employee may use any of the public guest bathrooms at the resort, so over 100 employees are restricted to a couple of bathrooms near the service entrance.
Spa employees work on a very strict schedule (about five minutes between services to walk guest back to the lounge, clean the room, and hopefully take a drink of water). It takes about two minutes just to walk to the employee restrooms in the main hotel, so spa workers have been allowed to use the guest restrooms at the spa itself.
They still can, as long as they don’t poop in there. Literally. There is a new mandate that spa employees must go to the employee restroom at the main hotel to poop. Since we’re talking four minutes of walking and five to ten minutes of using the restroom, this will make the employees run behind schedule.
I do not question whether this is legal; unfortunately there’s no doubt, given the state this resort is located in. My question is: what on earth should an employee do in this situation? Risk being written up for answering the call of nature, or risk being written up for falling behind on the schedule?
Ideally, neither of those. The first thing to do here is for them to talk with their management, ideally as a group, point out the problem, and make the manager pick: “We can either use the spa bathroom in those circumstances or be five minutes late to the next appointment. Which do you want us to do?”
And perhaps someone can suggest a one-month experiment with an ample supply of Poopourri.
(Also, I’m dying to know how this new rule was communicated, exactly how they worded it, and how they intended to enforce it.)
3. How do I apologize for doing bad work while dealing with depression?
Recently, I was called in to my supervisor’s office and informed that they wouldn’t be offering me an extension on my contract. This contract is one that is nearly always renewed indefinitely, so this was certainly a punitive action. They are letting me finish out the current contract term (a few more weeks) but I will be no longer working here after that. They cited a lot of problems with my work, mostly surrounding a lot of missed deadlines that caused customer complaints. I completely understand their decision, and I’m not disputing that I really dropped the ball with this.
I’m not normally this terrible of an employee. I even won a competitive award for my work at this same company only a few months ago! However, I’ve been struggling lately with near-crippling clinical depression that has necessitated me seeking therapy and starting medication. Even though I freely admit that I didn’t meet the requirements of my job lately, I’m somewhat proud of myself for even managing to get out of bed and go into work at all — it was that severe. I didn’t disclose this to my supervisor or HR because I incorrectly thought that I could work through it and get things done, and I was hoping that when the new meds kicked in, I’d be back to my old self and excelling at this work again. That didn’t end up happening, at least not quickly enough to salvage this contract.
I want to email my supervisor and explain what has been happening, but I’m not sure how to approach it. I don’t want to seem like I’m making excuses or begging for my job back; I was already thinking about moving on from this position on my own, and I’ve been lucky to already have something else lined up for when this contract ends. But I do feel like it’s important for my supervisor to know that the problems I’ve been having don’t reflect my normal work ethic, and that I honestly feel bad about letting them down. How can I word this so that I don’t seem like I’m disputing their decision or job-begging? Or should I just let this go and not bother them with explanations?
Don’t do this in email. Have a face-to-face conversation with your manager and say something like, “I want to let you know that I know my performance really suffered in the last few months, and I understand your decision not to renew my contract. I didn’t want to leave without giving you some context for what happened. I’ve been struggling with some health issues that have made the last couple of months really tough, and it clearly affected my work. I’m getting treatment and am hopeful about where things are headed, and I wanted to let you know what’s been going on so that you didn’t have to wonder. I’m not saying this to ask you to reconsider the decision — I’ve lined up other work starting in a few weeks. But I’ve liked working with you and respect the organization and care about your assessment of my work! I hope my track record from before this happened hasn’t been erased by the last couple of months, and I’d love to be able to stay in touch in the future.”
Not only will this probably give you more peace of mind, but it might open the door a little wider to you working with them in the future, and could make it easier for them to give you a good reference down the road.
4. Am I wrong to delete so many emails?
I am a compulsive de-clutterer in every aspect of my life, which extends to my email inbox. I use my inbox as a to-do list. Once I’m done with an email either by replying to it and/or completing a task, I either 1) move the email to a project-specific sub-folder in my inbox for safekeeping, or 2) delete it. I initially estimated that I keep way more emails than I actually do, because in doing the math on what’s in my inbox vs. my trash folder, I keep only 7% of my emails.
Over the years, I’ve been told by multiple people never to delete any emails because they serve as written documentation of business, but my brain can’t fathom the thought of having over 10,000 emails a year in my inbox! I’ve also been told that at some point after receiving tens of thousands of emails, Outlook will refuse to store any more and I’ll need to back them up externally (or has technology evolved enough that this is unlikely to happen?). In my 10-year career, I can only think of a handful times that I’ve been burned when I have to refer to an old email, but Outlook has automatically deleted it from my trash folder. Is it true that I should keep all emails as a record of business? I could just move them to a “Crap That I Probably Won’t Need Again, But Will Keep Just In Case” folder.
You absolutely don’t need to keep all emails. In addition to the obvious deletions like “there’s cake in the kitchen” or “I’m going to be out next week,” in most cases you probably don’t need to keep routine back-and-forth on minor details of projects (like “can you try increasing the font size on the cover?”). But it’s smart to keep emails that contain key decisions on projects and processes (in case you or someone else has questions about them later), process instructions (in case you need to check them in the future), and correspondence that could potentially be helpful later on (for example, I archive all correspondence with job candidates, because I might want to review it if they apply again in two years).
That doesn’t mean you need to have an elaborate system of dozens of folders in your email (although at least a small number of folders is usually helpful), but if nothing else you should at least have an Archive folder where you send things you might conceivably want to refer back to in the future.
(And of course, if your company has internal rules on what to store or not store, those trump anything I’ve written here.)
5. How do I handled already-booked business travel when I resign?
At the beginning of this year, I applied for a conference travel scholarship from my current job around the same time that I applied for a different job (in the same town, double the pay). I received the scholarship with the stipulation that it had to be for a specific conference this summer. Unfortunately/fortunately, I’ve also gotten pretty far into the hiring process for the job I applied to. Now I don’t know what to do if I get the new job, because the start date for it is a month earlier than the conference, and my current job has already purchased the flight tickets and booked the hotel. If I get the job, how should I handle this with my current company? Should I offer to repay my current job for the money they’ve spent? Could I see if they can take it out of my last few paychecks? Should I try to delay the start date for the new job? I feel so guilty, because I appreciate what my current job has done for me, but I don’t want to sacrifice this new opportunity.
Do not offer to repay your company. These are business costs for them, and it’s really normal for people to resign with pre-paid business travel still outstanding. Often companies are able to get those travel costs refunded (nearly always with hotels as long as there’s enough notice, and often with airline tickets as well, depending on what type of ticket they purchased). But even when they’re not refundable, this is a cost of doing business. Employees leave, get sick, have emergencies, etc. and travel plans get canceled. That’s just how it goes.
I think you might feel like this is different because it’s not a trip they were sending you on for a work project, but rather a conference that you asked to be sent to. But they agreed for business reasons, it’s business travel, and the same rules apply.
Once you resign, when you’re talking over logistics, you should say, “Obviously I won’t be able to go the X conference in July. I really appreciate you being willing to send me, and maybe there’s someone else who would want to go instead. (And then stop talking, so that you don’t get nervous and offer to cover the costs.)
taking notes on an iPad during an interview, the poo police, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.