Survive the Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Bosses

By Mary Ellen Slayter
Sunday, March 30, 2008

Anyone who has been in the workforce for a while has advice to share -- and it doesn't always sync up with mine.

Stephen Farina says that workers who hate their bosses shouldn't be so quick to resign. "I have been in my job for 16 years and have seen [upper management] come and go five times," he wrote in a recent e-mail. "What I have learned is that their decisions are often wrong or based on their own personal biases. . . . It is often far better to stay and seek legal advisement and document, document, document. Don't let incompetent management and unethical and often illegal policies drive you from a rewarding, well-paying career."

My response to a new teacher who thought his principal was unfairly picking on him for not having a traditional education background drew supportive comments from teachers, including Ken Woodard, a history teacher with 18 years experience. "As department chair I get lots of r¿sum¿s, many from people hoping to switch careers," he wrote. "All too often there's a whiff of condescension from such candidates, and they don't make the call pile. Americans have weird views of teachers: Either they regard us with contempt or, less often, through a lens of romanticism that distorts the reality of a rewarding job that requires hard work, creativity and diverse skills that have to withstand the test of a tough audience every day."

Other would-be teachers, especially career changers, would do well to keep Woodard's perspective in mind when they are preparing their applications.

Nan Connolly said I erred in saying women should decline additional assignments when they were already swamped at work by telling their co-worker, "I'm sorry. I'm on deadline."

"Too many times women say they are sorry," she wrote. "People bump into women in airports and they, the women, apologize. I see this all the time, everywhere. Someone out of your department waylaying you for additional work should not be told you are sorry not to do it."

She continued, "I really think women give up some authority by frequently apologizing."

Actually, a guest in my Web chat, career coach and author Katy Piotrowski, gave that advice. I agree that frequent apologizing is problematic, but I don't see the issue with apologizing in that particular situation. After all, I really do regret it when I can't help my colleagues.


Finally, a column that I wrote in November on inscrutable federal job ads continues to draw response from readers. Rob Brantley, a former fed who is again seeking a job with the government, said the problems go far deeper than confusing ads. "To me, the problem isn't the verbiage, but the process, which is as byzantine as ever despite [the Office of Personnel Management's] claim to have streamlined it, and its stated desire to emulate the private sector with regard to hiring."

He offered several suggestions for improving the federal hiring process. First, require only a cover letter and r¿sum¿ for any job vacancy. "It is absurd how long it takes to properly prepare for and submit a federal job application. . . . This process deters the 'best and brightest' who might be inclined to apply for federal jobs but don't because they either lack the time to apply or are unwilling to put themselves through that process."

Further, "one should not have to 'build' a r¿sum¿ in the USAjobs system," he said. "They used to allow one to simply upload a r¿sum¿, and this would be in their system, until edited or replaced. Now, if the agency uses USAjobs, one has to monotonously rewrite one's information into the USAjobs r¿sum¿ builder. This is nonsense."

Another of Brantley's peeves: hide-and-seek listings. "Many jobs are listed, applicants apply, and then the positions are delisted, often for lack of funding," he said. "They should not list positions until the funding is guaranteed and the agency is certain that it wants to hire someone. It is absurd to put applicants through the hassle of applying for a federal job, only to then eliminate the vacancy."

Brantley's experiences have him worried about the quality of staffing at the federal government in years to come. "There has been substantial literature in recent years on the federal retirement 'tsunami' that is supposed to come soon," he said. "The feds, however, either aren't truly concerned, or are simply too oblivious to reality to understand how normal non-fed people view them."

Join Mary Ellen Slayter for Career Tracks Live, an online discussion of issues affecting workers at all stages of their careers, at 2 p.m. tomorrow at E-mail her

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