my boss wants 6 months notice, quirky backgrounds on video calls, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. My boss wants six months notice

I’ve been working as a consultant with my boss for eight years, full time for five. We are the only two full time employees—we have freelance contractors, but I handle half the clients and he handles the other half. However, he is definitely the boss, and he makes twice what I do (although I am paid very well).

He has told me that due to the nature of the company and his reliance on me, he wants six months notice if I ever leave. His reasoning is that it will take him a long time to replace me, and he also wants to help me search once I decide to leave. I didn’t say anything at the time, and now that I’m thinking of leaving, I am having a hard time grappling with it. There is no company that will hire me and let me give that kind of notice, so basically, I’d have to quit without the safety net of having the next job to go to. What if six months runs out and I don’t have a job? I have a family to support, and just don’t see how this is tenable. Do I have a responsibility to give that kind of notice?

Haha, no. He can want six months notice. He can want two years of notice! That doesn’t make it reasonable for him to expect it or you to give it. Two weeks notice is standard, and three or four weeks in certain fields and for certain positions. That’s it, and that’s all you should feel obligated to give.

I suspect you’re worried that when you resign with two weeks notice, your boss might feel you broke your agreement — even if you never explicitly agreed to his ridiculous request. You can deal with that by saying, “This fell in my lap and they need me to start right away so unfortunately I can’t give more than the customary two weeks.” Or if you want to be more direct, you could say, “Six months wouldn’t be realistic. Every employer I’ve spoken with or worked for expects new hires to be available within a few weeks of accepting the offer, so there’s no other way to do it. I’m happy to do what I can to help with the transition during my remaining time though.”

2. Was this interviewer as bad as I think?

I had an interview just this morning and am a bit confused. I’m a recent college graduate so I don’t have much interview experience. I’ve done a few on zoom, but this morning was my first in-person interview ever. I don’t think this is how an interview should go, but maybe I’m wrong as I have limited experience.

It was an early interview, so the hiring manager was a few minutes late, which I didn’t mind. Another manager sitting in was very welcoming and polite and just sat with me discussing the company before the interviewing manager came. When the person interviewing me came in, she did not greet me in any way. She sat down and started the interview. I offered copies of my resume that I had brought and she said she had her own. As it went on, it was obvious she had not looked at my resume at all. I’ve had one job for four years in childcare while I went to college. I obviously discussed this a lot as it’s my only job. She’s then searching through a stack of papers trying to find my resume and saying, sort of annoyed, “Do you have any other experience?” as if I hadn’t just said I’ve worked here for four years from the time I was in high school to my college graduation. I had to pass a typing test to get this interview, she asks what my words-per-minute is anyway.

What really upset me was that when I was explaining my current job and that I love where I’m working and have grown a lot in my role, she asks why I’m leaving the job. I know this is a standard question, but to ask someone who just graduated college why they’re looking for a job was a bit ridiculous. As a candidate who took time out of their day to come to an interview and spent time prepping myself and researching the company, it was quite upsetting that someone couldn’t even be bothered to review my resume. Is this normal or did I just have a really poor first experience?

She wasn’t a great interviewer, but you’re reacting too strongly to a lot of this. There’s no reason to believe she had never seen your resume before; it’s possible, but interviewers don’t always retain everything in the days/weeks or even longer that might go by between when they look at your resume and decide to interview you and when they actually speak to you. Should they review it again right before you meet? Yes, definitely. But sometimes last-minute stuff comes up and gets in the way. It’s not ideal, but it happens and the best thing to do is to just roll with it and not let it throw you off. (Sometimes, too, your interviewer won’t have looked at your resume ahead of time at all, and you’ve got to just roll with that too. Sometimes they got pulled in at the last minute, sometimes other stuff just got in the way. Sometimes they’re disorganized and that’s a problem, but that’s something you’d conclude if you saw a pattern of disorganization, not just this one thing.)

Her question about whether you’d had other jobs isn’t weird. Just because you said that you’d worked the childcare job for four years doesn’t mean you don’t have other experience — people often don’t think to mention volunteer work, campus jobs, or other relevant things that might not be on their resume and it makes sense to ask the question. Asking why you’re leaving the job is indeed standard and not something to bristle at; yes, you’re graduating college and that might make the answer obvious, but people’s situations are different and it’s a reasonable question to ask. The typing test thing is mildly annoying but, again, not a huge deal.

To be clear, if I were coaching her on interviewing, I’d steer her away from most of this. But it’s really common and the best thing you can do is not be thrown off by it.

3. Two people proposing splitting a job

I’ve wondered about this for years, and after seeing your responses to other fictional scenarios I thought I’d ask.

Here’s the scenario: In an episode of “Jonathan Creek” (an excellent British show about a magician’s trick designer who uses his skills to solve weird crimes on the side), Jonathan is asked to work out how a man named Norman could have been caught on CCTV in London at the same time a dozen of his work colleagues swear he was at a meeting with them in New York. It eventually transpires that when Norman applied for the high-stress, high-pay job that requires him to work alternating weeks in London and New York, he hit upon a clever solution to the demands of the position: Norman stays in London and does half the work while an old friend and work colleague with comparable qualifications stays in New York and does the other half of the job, doing all the in-person work pretending to be Norman (presumably he attended the New York based interviews and Norman attended the London ones, although that’s not addressed in the episode). They split the workload and the money between them.

My question is not “would they get fired for this if they got caught?” as obviously they would. My question is what would have happened if Norman and his friend had presented this offer to their employer up-front as a two for the price of one deal? Would some companies be tempted? Would most be turned off by the weirdness? Would some potential employers accept with the intention of working them both full-time for half the pay? Would the cost of two insurance plans and other sundries be seen as outweighing the advantages? If you’d been on the hiring board and were presented with this option, what would your response be?

The combination of the two of them would have to be clearly stronger than any other candidate for most employers to be tempted. You’d have twice the costs of some benefits (assuming they gave them benefits for half-time work, which in the U.S. they might not), twice the administrative burden, twice the management burden (which is not insignificant — now you’re coaching and giving feedback and direction to two people rather than one), and a bunch of coordination issues that wouldn’t arise with only one person in the position, like continuity on projects and communication. That’s not to say it couldn’t be done, and even be done well. But it’s a lot more to take on for the employer, so the candidates would have to be appealing enough to make them want to.

That said, if it remains a candidates’ market, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more employers considering it in the future. There are a lot of well-qualified people who would like half-time work for all kinds of reasons.

4. Is a quirky background on video calls professional?

I’m switching from the public sector into the corporate world. I work out of my home office, which is clean, neat, and tastefully decorated. The trouble is that my taste is a little bit oddball. Think goth library, or “dark academia” if you’re a Tiktok person. Nothing within view of the camera is really offensive. It looks like an office. There’s art, some candles, bookshelves, a chair. The art is just a little weirder than the kind of Marshall’s decor that I see on most people’s walls. It’s not, like, adult themed. But most people just don’t have a medieval painting of heaven all over their back wall.

This is roughly what shows when I’m on Zoom. It’s really the Bosch tapestry that gives me pause!

Previous coworkers and supervisors had no problem with it, and some even complimented me. I checked it with professional friends before interviewing, who said that it looked fine to them. But the first interview I had closed with the manager thanking me for the “unique energy I brought to the space,” and I never heard back on the job. I did the rest of my interviews against a plain wall, and I got hired! (Thanks for your fantastic questions to ask in interviews, by the way!)

Now that I’ve got this remote-heavy job, is my goth library too unprofessional for regular, everyday meetings? I really can’t tell if it’s genuinely distracting, or if I’m just really self-conscious. This room wasn’t meant for regular broadcast to the outside world, but it’s really tricky to set up a work space anywhere else in my house.

Nah, you’re fine. That’s not a particularly controversial, disturbing, or distracting tapestry.

I do think plainer backgrounds are useful for interviews if you can swing one, because you never know what biases an interviewer might have (and some interviewers hold candidates to different standards than they’d hold a colleague to). But now that you’re working there, it should definitely be fine. If it gives you peace of mind, you could run the question by your manager or a coworker whose judgment you trust, but I don’t think you need to!

5. Explaining why I’m leaving a job I’ve been at forever

I’ve been at my current job for so long that I think it’s hurting me in my job search. My role has changed a bit over the years, and I’ve always found the work and environment to be relatively interesting. However, my actual reason for staying was just to provide a stable position and health care for me and my spouse while he moved from job to job in order to rise up in his industry. We then started our own business in his industry and the goal was for me to run the business, basically until retirement. He ended up leaving me, and our business is being dissolved. I don’t have the qualifications to run it on my own.

Now that my circumstances have changed, I’m not as willing to stay at my current job and I’m searching. I’m having trouble getting any traction in my applications. I suspect this is because I’ve been at this job 21 years and the fact that it’s basically the only professional-level job I’ve held since graduate school. But when I do finally get any interviews, I imagine I will be asked why I’m leaving my current position after so many years. Should I be honest and explain what actually happened, or should I say something more vague and focused on the job responsibilities? I’m thinking something like, “My role has been very dynamic over the years, which kept the work challenging and interesting, but now I find I’m ready for something new.” Seriously though, I’ve been at my job for SO LONG that a statement like that doesn’t really make much sense. I’m kind of leaning towards the truth because at least it seems more … well, truthful.

Don’t go with the full story — it’s too much personal information for interviewers, and it’ll make some of them uncomfortable.

It’s very normal to leave a job simply because you’ve been there a long time and feel ready for something new. It’s not suspicious! You can simply say, “My work has been challenging and interesting, but I’m really ready for something new. I’m interested in this job because ____.” That last part is what really matters — pivot your focus to why this new job interests you, which is the most relevant thing to the interviewer anyway.

Also, on your resume, make sure you’re separating the various roles you’ve had at your organization into separate jobs there (assuming the facts support that, which it sounds like they do) so that you’re not listing just a single job but rather multiple jobs that happen to be at the same organization. That’ll help break up the time and highlight your progression.

Related: how to explain to your interviewer why you left a previous job

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