In Job Interviews, Should I Say I'm a Cancer Survivor?
How much personal information is too much? Plus, what to do when a former office flame turns into a bully, and which business phrases really annoy people?
Dear Annie: I've recently recovered from lymphoma. I left my old job right before I was diagnosed, about two years ago, and I wasn't working or actively job hunting while undergoing treatment. So now there is a gap in my resume that is hard to explain to job interviewers without revealing my medical history. I know it's illegal for them to discriminate against me because of a medical condition, but let's be realistic: They probably would prefer to hire someone who has never (yet anyway) had cancer. What should I say about my time off? -- The Comeback Kid
Dear Comeback Kid: "As a candidate, your goal is to persuade the interviewer that you're capable of doing the job and you're not a risky hire," says Nancy Friedberg, president of Career Leverage, a New York City-based executive coaching firm. "So be very deliberate about how much you share. Never lie, but do hold back information that isn't essential for the interviewer to know." She suggests that, if asked what you've been doing for the past couple of years, you say something like: "I had a very pressing personal matter I had to take care of. I took some time off to concentrate on resolving it so I could move on." If your interlocutor presses for details, says Friedberg, "Look him or her right in the eye and say, 'Almost anyone, over the course of a long career, will have a few blips along the way. I've taken care of the situation and gotten past it." Your overall attitude and demeanor are important, she notes: "If you come across as resilient, confident, and forward-looking, this shouldn't be a big stumbling block -- especially if you can also truthfully say that you left your last employer on good terms and can provide references who will back you up."
Don't sweat it too much. "Often people spend so much time obsessing over how to explain something in the past that they forget the real focus of a job interview, which is, what great things are you ready to do for this employer now?" says Friedberg. "So don't get bogged down in this. Explain the gap in your resume succinctly and then go on to redirect the conversation to why you're the best person for this job." Good luck.
Dear Annie: I ended a romantic relationship with a colleague (a peer, not a superior) who is so resentful and angry that he does whatever he can to make my work day miserable -- even insisting that I should leave the firm. This has been going on for several months, and I've continued to treat him cordially and have not told anyone else here what's been going on. I love my job and I'm good at it, but his bullying is starting to affect my productivity. How should I deal with this? -- Liberty Belle
Dear Belle: You've continued to treat him cordially? Wow. You're way too nice. Are you aware that what he's doing is so illegal it would make any employment lawyer's hair stand on end? The fact that he is a peer rather than a superior makes no difference whatsoever. The legal definition of sexual harassment covers any unwelcome sexual attention in the workplace and any retaliation -- i.e., bullying and intimidation -- for rejecting a coworker's amorous advances. So here's how you deal with this. You tell this jerk in no uncertain terms that if he doesn't knock it off, you will complain to your boss, his boss, the human resources department, and the legal department. Then, if he doesn't back off, do it. If anyone leaves the firm, your company's lawyers would no doubt prefer that it be him.
Friends, I recently came across the results of a Monster.com survey that revealed that 44% of businesspeople really, really dislike the phrase "think outside the box." This made me wonder what's up with the other 56%. It also got me thinking about how many weird figures of speech have crept into the workplace lexicon lately. Why do people say things like, "I'll be out of pocket all day Friday" when what they mean is, "Don't bother calling me on Friday, because I won't be at my desk"? Pocket? What pocket? And why, when we want to alert each other to information that may be (but usually isn't) interesting or important, do we say that we're "giving a heads-up" on it? Let's all just keep our heads in their usual lowered positions, all right? Then there's the notorious loop, as in "I'll be sure and keep you in the loop on this." Unless the speaker is referring to a neighborhood in Chicago, again I ask, what loop? Is the heat making me cranky, or do you agree that some of these cliches are just annoying? I'm hereby accepting nominations for the bits of biz-speak that bug you most. Maybe if there were an award for Most Annoying Lingo (we could call them the Mallies for short), the winning entries would begin to fade from use -- or is that kind of optimism just thinking too far outside the box?
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