employer asked if we should use force to protect traditional values, working with a coworker who drops balls, and more

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

1. Job application asked if we should use force to protect traditional values

I took this online assessment for a right below C-level manager position three weeks ago and I’m still thinking about this question. I’m stunned that it was asked. I’m guessing it skirts the legal line, although is there a legal line about political beliefs? Are questions like this reasonable and should they be expected as part of the interview process?

Application question reads, "Our traditional values are disappearing so fast that force may be necessary to preserve them." Strongly agree/agree/mildly agree/disagree/strongly disagree

Application question reads, “Our traditional values are disappearing so fast that force may be necessary to preserve them.” Strongly agree/agree/mildly agree/disagree/strongly disagree

I wish I had taken pics of the other questions which were just as off putting: do you agree millennials need to just work and stop complaining and should universities teach more life-skills and fewer humanities classes? These questions were interspersed with the usual “I would rather x than Y” type questions. It was all normal until it went off the rails.

I guess there are non-nefarious reasons to ask these types of questions, I just can’t think of them. So, is this legal, or is it just to be used as a flashing red sign to run far and fast from this company?

It’s legal in most of the U.S. There are a couple of jurisdictions here that prohibit discriminating against candidates based on political beliefs, but most don’t. But it’s certainly not reasonable — unless the job is for an insurrectionist, in which case I guess it’s right on target.

The company is at least doing candidates the favor of letting them know right up-front what they’re like.

But nah, it’s not something you should expect to encounter, any more than having to make dinner for 20 employees and perform a choreographed dance routine, ranking whether torturing a person is worse than prostitution, or any of the myriad other ridiculous things outlier interviewers have dreamt up.

2. I don’t want to work on projects with a coworker who drops balls

I have a junior colleague who is always super-keen to collaborate on projects with me, and we have worked on a bunch of stuff together.

However, over the past few years (not only during the pandemic), she has asked to work on projects I am running and then not followed through. I have explained this messes up my timelines, and I have advised that she shouldn’t keep saying she wants to be involved in far more projects than she can clearly handle, and that she must prioritize.

She won’t let go of projects, even when she is not doing any work on them, so that all of her work falls to me but in a non-scheduled or systematic way. Usually she does a little work at the end, when I have become completely stressed or burned out, and then claims it as “our” project.

Most recently, after she didn’t respond to any emails or notices about a project she was very insistent about working on, I just ran it on my own. It was great! It was a huge project, everything was done in an orderly fashion, I wasn’t shattered at the end of it, and it was a smash hit. Just as I was feeling happy and quite proud, she realized she had missed the whole thing and started calling and emailing about how she felt she had been sidelined and wanted to stay a part of the project, and basically claiming a right of ownership over something she had no involvement in — which she insinuated was somehow my fault.

I do not want to work with this woman any more! But we work in the same field, at the same institution (I’m quite senior, she is very junior), and I need a very warm and friendly way to extract myself from any future collaborations because she will always work in my field. What can I do? We used to be so friendly, but I really do not like her at all any more.

It’s more than reasonable to decline to work on projects with her in the future. The next time she asks, say, “We’ve run into issues before when you weren’t able to finish your pieces of the work, so I don’t think it makes sense / I want to handle this one on my own / it’s not a risk I can take.” Or, if you can say it credibly, even just, “I’ve got it covered, but thanks.” But really — you’ve already talked to her about messing up your timelines by taking on more than she can handle, so this shouldn’t come as a shock to her.

3. Asking for a week off as a new hire

I don’t know how to ask my manager for some days off — or if I can at all, not having completed my probation yet.

I started a new job less than two months ago. It is my first time in a big company and first time in this role, and I am basically the last arrived and the most inexperienced. I would like to ask my manager if it is possible for me to take a week off next month (so barely three months into the job) without giving too much explanation about the reason.

On the one hand, I still am in my probation period, which lasts six months, and I have a previous working experience where time off during probation was not seen well. On the other hand, the reason is quite important. Not extremely urgent (I am an expat and need to go to my home country to get some paperwork sorted that the embassy cannot help with), but in a global pandemic, traveling in summer is a lot easier than waiting until October. But I don’t want my personal problems to be reflected on my work life, so I would rather not share this information.

Can I ask for a week off? If so, how? Will it be seen badly? I don’t know what company policy is in these cases.

It doesn’t generally look great to ask for a week off when you’ll barely be three months into the job — unless you have a compelling need for it, which you do (or unless you negotiated it when you were accepting the offer). So you’re better off sharing the reason you need the time. You don’t need to give details about exactly what the paperwork is, but saying there’s something you need to handle in-person in your home country will look better than asking for the week off so early on without explanation.

4. Employer sent me flowers the day after my interview

I recently completed an all-day virtual series of interviews for an academic posting. I sent a thank-you letter the next day. The next next day, I received a lovely plant arrangement from the selection committee.

What does this mean? Top candidate, consolation prize, caring selection committee chair, new HR policy for virtual interviews? And do I need to send a thank-you or acknowledgement for the flowers?

P.S. The note read, “Thank you very much for spending a virtual day with us. We look forward to sharing the results with you soon.” It was signed from the university (not the selection committee specifically).

Academia is its own thing and I can’t speak to what they might have dreamed up in their strange enclave, but answering this without an academia-specific slant: I would assume they’re sending plants or flowers to all their candidates, and that it doesn’t indicate anything more than “thanks for giving us a day of your time.” It’s just a nice gesture. Don’t read anything into it re: your chances.

If you haven’t already sent a post-interview follow-up note, you could include a mention of the plant in that. If you already have, you don’t really need to send anything more (but a very brief “thanks so much for the beautiful plant — what a lovely touch on top of an already great experience” email wouldn’t go amiss either).

5. Asking for lots of meet-and-greets as a new hire

I just started a new job. So far the onboarding has been mostly self-driven and not particularly well organized. I’ve had one 30-minute call with my new manager. She hasn’t really had a direct report (there is an intern and a contractor who report to her but that’s it) so she doesn’t seem familiar with the processes either. She showed me an org chart of the department as a whole and asked that I set up meet-and-greets with basically as many people as possible.

While she did send a quick intro email to the department announcing my start, I still just feel incredibly awkward cold-emailing all these people to ask for 30 minutes of time to say hi. Do you have any suggestions on how to word these emails? Or even just what to include in a subject line?

It’s really normal to do this, so don’t feel weird! And you can specifically say your manager asked you to. But I wouldn’t ask for 30 minutes unless she specifically told you to — that’s a long time for this sort of meeting.

You could just say, “Ophelia suggested I ask if you’d have time for a quick meeting to help me get to know the department and its work better. Would you have time for a short 10- or 15-minute conversation in the next week or two?” And for a subject line, you could write “quick meeting” or even “Ophelia suggested we meet.”