Career Coach: Dealing with a gossipy boss

May 25, 2014

Career Coach Joyce E.A. Russell took questions from readers last week and dispensed some advice to new graduates ready to enter the world of work. Here’s an excerpt, edited for grammar and clarity.

Gossipy boss

Q.: Very small office. No HR dept. We have a huge gossip in our office who is creating a hostile work environment by talking about [medical issues], who is gay, who is drinking, etc. It’s terrible. The gossiper is the boss. He/she needs to leave or be fired, but how do we make that happen? There’s no one but the board to go to. We are desperate. Telling him/her to stop doesn’t work. Walking away doesn’t help. It’s a bad, bad situation.

Russell: It sounds serious enough that you should go to the board about it. If there are violations of the law, you could bring this up to an outside agency as well. You did not say exactly how many people are in the department, but could you have several of them meet with the boss together? If several or all of them talk to the boss together (in a calm, helpful manner) that might work. Or, is there one person who is closer to the boss whom he/she would listen to? Trying to tackle it internally in a helpful, constructive manner might be the best first attempt. I would carefully think about what are the one to two most critical things you want him/her to change right now? Start small with the key issues, rather than a laundry list.

Putting my best foot forward

Q.: After two months, I was terminated because the company did not like the work I was doing. When going into an interview, I have said it was just not a good fit. Do you have any advice on how to spin this?

Russell: I am assuming your work was not well-suited to the firm because it was not in your area of expertise? If so, your answer is actually fine. The problem would be if they did reference checks and the firm stated that your performance was poor. Then that would hinder your further progress.

When giving your response, what is critical is to help them see how working at the new firm would be much better suited to your expertise and interests. Explain to them what your skills are and how they map well to what their firm is looking for.

Also, do you have some previous experiences where you did a great job at a company and can share those references? If so, that would also help.

Advice for those setting out

Russell: If you want to stand out in a job interview, handle the process in a professional manner. Here’s some of the things employers are looking for:

Professional dress — everything from your hair being combed, to wearing conservative or business clothes that fit you, to making sure your shoes are shined. It doesn’t matter what generation you are from and what your unique personality is, employers still want to know that you took the time to dress up for the interview.

Your résumé, cover letter and letters of reference should all be clean, concise and with no spelling or grammatical errors. This is a pet peeve of employers. They figure that if you can’t even do a nice job on these products (which you have control over), then why would you do a professional job for them?

Get a business card. Depending on the type of company, make it fit their culture. Having a business card can seem very professional since it indicates how you are branding yourself. Don’t be overly flashy with the card unless the company is a creative, artistic one.

Practice your etiquette in advance — saying “thank you,” “please,” addressing supervisors as Mr. or Mrs. so-and-so instead of by their first name. Do the same in any written correspondence (e-mails, letters) you send to them. It is always better to err on the side of being more formal than informal.

Send follow-up thank you letters to all the people you met at the company. Sending an e-mail plus a card is best. The e-mail will get there quickly, but the card will make a lasting impression. Once again, check for misspellings and errors.

Got the job? Here are some tips that can help you to be successful:

Understand exactly what you should be doing on your new job or internship. Talk to your boss to learn what his/her expectations are for you to be successful.

Find out how you will be evaluated. Ask for a copy of the performance appraisal form (if one is used).

Follow a professional code — be on time or arrive early; dress professionally according to the company policy or norm; avoid taking lots of personal time during the day (i.e., making lots of personal calls, taking longer breaks than expected), etc.

Show initiative — ask what else you can do. Look around for work to do or learn as much as you can about how the organization functions so you can see what needs to be done. Ask overworked colleagues if you can help them out.

Joyce E. A. Russell is the vice dean and the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management. She can be reached at jrussell@rhsmith.umd.edu

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