pink hair at a job interview, coworkers who don’t knock, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. Pink hair at a job interview

My 19-year-old son seems to think that going to a job interview with half of his hair colored pink (the other half is black) will not prevent him from getting a job. He’s going to apply for forklift driver or loading or manufacturing, something not in the direct public eye.

I guess I must be very old school, because both my husband and I are insisting he lose the pink! We told him appearances do matter, that first impressions are important, and going in to meet the HR person with two-toned hair and black fingernails isn’t a good idea, even if you are qualified. He thinks it’s discrimination if he doesn’t get hired, and that things are much different now than they were 30 years ago when we were interviewing. I would appreciate any input, even if you disagree with us !

Yep, times are changing. They already have changed, in fact. There are tons and tons of industries where it is completely fine to have pink hair at a job interview or on the job itself. I don’t know if that’s true for the fields your son is targeting in your geographic area in particular — there can be regional differences on this — but the blanket assumption that you won’t get hired if you show up with an unnatural hair color no longer holds.

But if you’re right and he’s wrong about how this will affect his job prospects, he’s going to find that out soon enough, and it sounds like experience might be a better teacher here. If you’re right, he’ll figure it out. (Meanwhile, though, it might be good to teach him more about discrimination, so he knows what’s truly illegal in hiring, like discriminating based on race, religion, sex, etc., and what isn’t. If he doesn’t trust you on that, you could send him straight to the EEOC’s guidance.)

2. Coworkers open my office door without knocking

Due to increased video conferencing in the pandemic, loud office neighbors, and a very gregarious office culture, I have been keeping my door shut at times throughout the day. It is mostly closed mid-morning and mis-afternoon while I am working on things that require my full attention. This is acceptable in my office. Others do it too so it isn’t considered rude or standoffish. People usually assume a person with their door closed is in the middle of something or on a call/conference.

On several occasions, at least three different people have either just suddenly opened my door, or knocked and then opened my door without waiting for a “come in” type response. At one point I put a sign on my door that said “On Video Conference — Please Knock First.” That sign was effective for a while, but I took it down because I thought people had gotten the point.

What is typical office etiquette with regard to knocking first and waiting for a response before entering? To me it is about politeness but more importantly about a physical boundary violation. Am I being weird for expecting someone to (1) knock first and then (2) wait for me to either respond or open the door?

Nah, you’re not being weird. A closed door signals “wait to be invited in.” You could be changing your clothes in there! You could be on a highly sensitive personal call, or getting or delivering terrible news. People shouldn’t barge right in when a door is closed. (And those people who aren’t even knocking before they come in — what the hell?)

I’d put your sign back up.

3. Is it reasonable to expect a multi-year commitment for an entry-level job?

I work at my alma mater, a small liberal arts college that’s currently understaffed for financial reasons. The college president has granted tentative approval for someone to be hired to be split 50-50 between the department I manage and another understaffed department. Both of us really need a full-time person, but the budget won’t stretch that far this year, so this is meant to be a stopgap until we stabilize a bit more. The other manager has decided she wants someone to commit for a bare minimum of two years, ideally three. The problem is that the job she’s hiring for is very entry-level. I know because that’s the job I was hired to do before I was transferred and promoted. It’s half clerical data-entry work, and half work that is more skilled/creative — but (in my opinion) anyone with the skills to do the more creative side of the job isn’t going to want to stick around in the data-entry side long-term. I know that if I hadn’t been promoted I would have left after a year, just because my skill set was being wasted in that position.

Additionally, we tend to hire alumni who have just graduated because we can pay them low wages, but they tend to not stick around very long and leave after a year or two to continue school or develop professionally elsewhere. I think that’s normal and I’ve designed my half of the position to be easily replaceable, with the expectation that we’ll have to hire someone new But the other manager claims that it will take a full year (!) just for the new hire to learn the job, especially the new database system, so there’s no point hiring someone who will leave after a year.

I have a candidate who I think would be phenomenal — right now she works for me part-time as a student, but she has an incredible skill set that would allow her to do both jobs (which are quite different jobs). But, since she’s graduating this year, she doesn’t know how long she wants to stay. I think it would be better to hire her in the short term because she could do a lot of good while she’s here. The other manager would rather have someone less skilled but competent who sticks around longer. Which option is more reasonable?

(For context, my department is actually a new department that I’m still building up. This student has shown a lot of enthusiasm and skill in helping develop certain policies and procedures we desperately need, which is part of why I think it’d be immensely valuable to bring her on even for the short-term).

Normally I’d agree with you for all the reasons you laid out, but if this particular candidate is graduating this year, does that mean she might leave you in May or June? If so, I can’t blame your colleague for not wanting to hire someone who might leave that quickly; she’d be starting the hiring and training process all over again after just a few months.

But beyond this one candidate: If you used to do the job your coworker is hiring for, can you share what your experience was with it — how long it took you to learn the role (presumably not a year), the likely tenure of anyone who’s really well suited for the role, etc.? You should also point out that asking someone to commit to three years for an entry-level job is really out-of-step with what most employers ask and will lose you good candidates. Maybe there’s a compromise; 18 months wouldn’t be unreasonable. (That said, keep in mind that you can’t lock people in. You can tell them what you’re hoping for and decline to hire anyone who makes it clear they’re likely to leave before that, but unless you’re signing a contract with them — which would be unusual in the U.S. — they’re going to leave when they want to leave.)

4. We’re being ordered to work weekends when we’re already working 60-hour weeks

This past year at my company, there was a huge influx of last-minute, tight-turnaround, requires-weekend-work projects. My team is made up of four exempt employees who don’t get paid for overtime, and we were already working 60-hour weeks Monday through Friday. We banded together to say we would happily work the needed weekends as well for the daily rate they normally pay a freelancer, and our manager agreed to make it happen. This went on quietly for a few months.

Recently, we were told that the company has adopted a strict policy on overtime — employees do not get paid anything but their salary, regardless of any extra work or hours. Now if we work the weekend we will be compensated with an extra vacation day that week. Here’s the kicker: we already have unlimited vacation days.

Realistically, our workloads are so huge that even when we schedule vacation days in advance, we usually end up working those days anyway. So there is no question in my mind that this “swapping weekends for weekdays” is never going to happen. It should also be noted that all of my teammates’ salaries are five figures, far from 24/7 pay. Is it reasonable for this company to expect all salaried employees to make themselves available this often with little incentive? Are we within our rights to say no to weekend work? And how can we without being accused of not being team players?

No, adding weekend work on top of an already 60-hour week isn’t reasonable. (You’re already averaging 12 hours a day. Which also isn’t reasonable, just on its own.) And their offer of an extra vacation day that you’ll never be able to take and when you already have unlimited vacation days is laughable.

You can indeed say no to weekend work. But the company can decide to require it as part of your job (and fire you if you refuse), so at that point you’re in a game of chicken to see who will budge first. There’s power in numbers, though; your company probably doesn’t want to fire any of you and really won’t want to fire all four of you, so banding together and speaking with one voice on this is good. I’d frame it as, “We’re currently working 12 hours a day, which is not sustainable on its own. Realistically, we cannot add in more work on top of that for our current compensation. Right now it’s simply not something we can do.”

Also, this is the kind of exploitation that makes people unionize, just saying.

5. Getting paid for years of experience, not for current work

My organization is hiring two new program officers. Their job descriptions are the same, and they are expected to perform at the same level. One has 10 years experience and the other has seven years experience. Why is it acceptable to pay the one with seven years of experience less, if both are expected to do the same amount of work? To me, it seems that a person’s background (experience, education, etc.) is what positions them to get the job. But the salary should be based on the work you do for the current organization, not for work you have done in the past. Doesn’t this variation open the door for descrimination and bias? Should we pay both individuals the same salary or is it ethical to pay them differently?

Sometimes you might pay someone with more experience more because you expect them to bring more expertise to the work. Even if their job description is the same as someone else’s, you might reasonably expect to see their greater expertise reflected in their work. (I wouldn’t just assume that will happen based years of experience, though. I’d only assume it if you saw actual evidence of greater expertise, particularly in their concrete work accomplishments.)

But if that’s not the case and both are expected to contribute the same, there’s no real argument for paying one more. (And the difference between seven and ten years of experience often is not significant.)

I wouldn’t say it necessarily opens the door for discrimination and bias — at least not if the organization consistently pays based on years of experience and doesn’t just pull that in as a justification when it’s convenient. But it makes a lot more sense to set salaries based on the value of the actual work to the employer.



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