Title: Handle tricky situations with grace

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Content:

Dear Sam: I worked for 23 years for a well-known company until 3 years ago when I and 99 others were asked to take early retirement. I was off for 3 months when I found a new temp-to-perm position. After 18 months I was promoted to an administrative assistant position with the idea I was a potential permanent hire. I really love the work I do and I enjoy the team I work with, but I am finding that another person in the department keeps taking credit for what I do. I am worried that if this continues, the company will not see the value in bringing me on as a full-time, permanent employee, and all this work and time will be wasted. I really need to work full-time, and want to establish a career with this employer, but I am not sure if I should start seeking employment elsewhere. - Ruth

Dear Ruth: While it never hurts to be prepared for situations outside of your control by updating your résumé with this most recent position, I think you can take steps to salvage what you have going for you with your current employer, especially as you enjoy your work and those you work with.

Start documenting everything you do and trying to facilitate transparency of your actions to make sure those around you, specifically your supervisor, are aware of your contributions. You could do this in an informal capacity with weekly email updates to your supervisor and peers on projects and tasks you are working on or have completed. You might introduce this by telling your peers and supervisor that as you support multiple departments within the organization you thought emailing a "weekly update" would make sure everyone always knew the progress you had made on projects and tasks, especially important as you are part-time and not always available to respond to such queries. This will ensure that everyone is aware of your contributions and hopefully show the person that is trying to take credit for your work, that he/she will need to make their own contributions from now on.

Dear Sam: I was recently laid off after spending 7 years with the company and am concerned about listing my boss as a reference. To put it politely, my boss was dysfunctional at best and seemed to be battling substance abuse. I know from reading your column that you are never supposed to badmouth a former employer, but my worst fear is that a prospective employer will call to get a reference, speak to my former boss, and not know my side of the story in terms of who he is and how he acts. I am not the only person in this situation; everyone who was laid off is concerned that when reference checks are performed, our responsibilities and accomplishments will be news to him.

Former clients and vendors can attest to our plight, and vouch for us, and several said we can use them as a reference. But still, one conversation with "Mr. Wonderful" and future employers are not likely to give us a second look. Is there a way to spin this? - R.S.

Dear R.S.: What an unfortunate situation to be in. Could you use peers or a different supervisor as references instead of your boss? That's a pretty common strategy and can ensure you have the best reference/recommendation possible, completely bypassing him and the company as a whole. As you mentioned former clients and vendors are also willing to serve as references, list them to provide third-party validation of the claims on your résumé. You may also want to start requesting written letters of recommendation as a backup. You probably don't even have to mention this situation to prospective employers, just create a reference sheet and list the titles the reference providers hold/held. So, if using a client as a reference you would list his/her name followed by his/her title and a note saying "client with ABC Company).

If you are ever asked why your boss isn't listed you could say, "unfortunately all the employees who were downsized, and actually those that are still employed, were perplexed as to who to list as a reference as our official boss was an absent supervisor so he would have no idea what any of us did, where we went above and beyond, and quite frankly, we were all concerned he would not know who we were due to some health concerns he was battling that impacted his ability to function. Hence listing several other reference providers who can attest to the work I performed." Hope that helps.


Do you have a question for Dear Sam? Write to dearsam@semissourian.com. Samantha Nolan owns Ladybug Design, a résumé writing and interview coaching firm. For more information, call (888) 9-LADYBUG (888-952-3928) or visit www.ladybug-design.com.


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