Q: I am a highly skilled professional in health care, midcareer, and am interviewing for new positions. I currently work a reduced schedule, four days per week (32 hours, nominally) with a corresponding reduction in salary. This is unusual for my position and rare among my colleagues, but I think it has greatly benefited my creativity and productivity. I am applying for new positions where the notion of working part time has likely not even crossed anyone’s mind. When, in the interview process, should I broach the subject with the prospective employer? If I explain this at the start, I am afraid they will rule me out. On the other hand, it seems like it could backfire to try to negotiate this once I have an offer. Would you recommend I first discuss this with my HR contact, or with the hiring manager? — Boston
A: At the beginning of a job application process, you are one of a near-infinite number of near-identical fish in the sea. As things progress, more and more fish are winnowed out of the school until only the shiniest and smartest is still swimming. Your job is to show how shiny and smart you are — and leave out anything that distracts from that shine — until the hiring manager has eyes only for you. Then, suddenly, the power shifts.
You don’t need to wait until the point of a formal offer to ask that they change the job requirements, but hold out until you’ve demonstrated how you, and you alone, are the perfect fit for the role. When a company is trying to woo you, you have the standing to be a bit demanding. And because you will have learned much more about the specifics of the job by going through the process, you’ll be able to present a well-reasoned case — to the hiring manager, who has the best idea of how the job works — for how you’ll get it all done in 32 hours a week. No boss wants to go back to the drawing board after falling in love with a candidate, so the company will have an incentive to make it work.
Strategically revealing potentially complicating information isn’t a dirty trick; it’s a natural part of the courtship.
Where human decency meets professional standards
Q: I am a part-time children’s librarian in a diverse, small-city public library. I love our patrons and community and have worked to grow programs that welcome as many people as possible. The library recently hired a new children’s department head, who has told me that she doesn’t believe in evolution and doesn’t think public schools are good, and that “Mexicans don’t read.” She talks about religion constantly and has added several creationist “science” books and DVDs to our library collection. I’ve been honest and professional with her when she says things that I don’t agree with. Last week, I unleashed on her, questioning why on earth she’d want to work in a public library given her hostility to science and public institutions. I asked for our director to mediate, but the director seemed appallingly unconcerned. The two of them worked on flattering and placating me, instead of addressing my concerns about her obvious prejudices. I want to quit because the situation is driving me crazy, but I am deeply worried about the fate of our library. What can I do? — J.B.S.
A: I had never thought to consider the question of whether public libraries carry creationist materials, nor the possibility of my friendly neighborhood librarian’s being a secret racist who hates public education. So, uh, thanks?
I know what I would like to do if I discovered these things about my supervisor and her supervisor didn’t take it seriously, but I thought it best to consult a real working librarian. Lauren Regenhardt, a children’s librarian for Mission Viejo, California, told me that the most worrisome part of the question to her was the potential effects on the library’s collection.
“We all have our own individual thoughts and opinions, even if they’re misguided and prejudicial,” she told me. “That can make it challenging to put together a balanced collection, but if the department head is including books on creationism, it is their professional obligation to include materials on evolution.”
Most libraries, I learned, have policies in place to make sure that this happens, and the American Library Association’s Bill of Rights (a real thing!) requires it. So while there’s no good way to prevent your department head from acquiring creationist materials, if she is skewing the overall collection toward her extreme views, you may well have evidence that will be more convincing to the director — or, if that doesn’t work, to the city’s human resources department. Keep a written record of absolutely every conversation.
My nonexpert mind, though, cannot get over the idea of a librarian — a children’s librarian! — who either believes that an entire nationality of people lacks intellect or is OK with “joking” that they don’t. Perhaps your city has a nondiscrimination code? The American Library Association sure does. “Equity extends beyond equality — fairness and universal access — to deliberate and intentional efforts to create service delivery models that will make sure that community members have the resources they need,” the group’s access statement begins. The ALA isn’t in the business of disciplining librarians, but the fact that your boss’ statements violate not only human decency but professional standards may strengthen your case with the director or HR.
If all else fails, I fully endorse quitting any job that’s making you crazy. I empathize with your desire to save the library, though, so perhaps your next part-time gig should be as a whistleblower?
Working in a hospital probably shouldn’t kill you
Q: I work in a large teaching hospital. Recently, I was moved to an office with a smoker, and the office reeks of smoke. Despite an air filter, I continue to have congestion, a cough, dry eye, etc. After calling HR, I was told to discuss this with the head of my department. It is a very hierarchical culture, and I am not sure how to address the problem. — L.S.
A: “My office is making me sick” is about the most sympathetic complaint I can think of, especially in a hospital. If you’re worried about not being taken seriously, a doctor’s note outlining your symptoms should help. Be clear that you’re not attacking your office mate or demanding the co-worker be forced to quit smoking, just asking for reasonable accommodations. Hierarchical cultures can be intimidating, but some bosses actually do care about their employees’ well-being, so give yours a chance to show whether they’re among them.
Work Friend is a cheeky New York Times advice column to help with careers, money and the sometimes grim, sometimes hilarious maze that is the contemporary office, from a rotating cast of advice-givers. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.