Q: I work mostly with animals, but I have human supervisors. My direct supervisor is someone I really admire. She is incredibly smart and hardworking; as friends, I think we would get along amazingly. As a manager, however, she is extremely difficult to work with. She can be really harsh and unpleasant. I wouldn’t go so far as to say verbally abusive — she doesn’t call me names or anything like that — but I have cried at least once after being excoriated by her. I think she is insecure.
I came here to learn a training technique that she doesn’t do (by her choice). And I was given a chance to try that technique recently under the supervision of the top boss, who is nicer than she is, but not around as much. (Further complicating things: They’re in a serious relationship.) She was present for my first attempt, and she made it so awful. I still loved it, and I want to do it again and get good at it, but she’s already blocking me from doing so by claiming that I’m going to hurt the animals because of my lack of experience.
I’m looking for advice on how to work under this kind of manager. I feel compassion for the fact that her meanness is rooted in insecurity, and I’ve tried to compliment her and tell her how much I admire her. Sometimes this helps, but generally I don’t think my opinion matters enough for her to really care. — Anonymous
A: The good news is that you see this supervisor for who she is. The bad news is that she is an insecure person who might be especially threatened by you, or might just be threatened in general. My advice is to step as far back from this situation as you can. You want to learn this one thing. Set as your goal to learn it. Period. Don’t think about this boss or spend even a minute more in her head. Once you have taken what you can from this place, find another job. You will never succeed in the long run if you work under an ineffective manager. There is just no way around this fact.
Getting a foot in the door
Q: I’m a 40-year-old mom who has spent the last 15 years raising my kids. Fifteen years ago I received my master’s in public policy but I haven’t worked since. I have been on several boards and done substantial volunteer work at my kids’ school. You can see where this is going.
What’s the best way for me to jump back into the work force? Should I be taking unpaid internships with recent graduates or applying for entry-level work? How can I get my foot in the door in the competitive New York City environment? I feel like the only way I’ll get noticed or hired is if someone takes a chance on me. Plus, I feel like I’m both overqualified and underqualified all at the same time. I’m also considering getting another graduate degree that can more easily lead to a job — although I’d rather not. — The Bronx
A: You have also been working in a zoo. But you don’t want to continue in this career track, I take it, because, let’s face it: Once you have gotten used to animals throwing their feces at you and throwing their food at the wall and screaming in your face every morning that you are a poopy-butt-face, well, you’d be pretty well qualified to keep on working in a zoo, or at least in your grown kids’ junior high school.
In other words, momming prepares you to be patient as hell and to keep yourself from yelling and getting bitten on the leg. Unfortunately, such preparations are good mostly for jobs that are thankless and don’t pay because — yes, this is a tautology and totally messed up — women have historically filled such jobs, and so society undervalues them completely.
And it’s no fun to read this-or-that evergreen think piece on the hit that women take when they take time out to raise their kids; or to watch this-or-that movie about this-or-that woman who was ruthless and childless and made a lot of money; or this-or-that other woman who had kids and therefore never made a dime. When we look in the mirror of society, its movies and other depictions, all we see is this distorted, totally broke reflection of some woman with spit-up all over her pajamas and food in her hair. But it’s just not true! Don’t believe it!
Peel off those crusty PJs and put on a new suit. Go out to coffee with everyone you know who has anything professional going on at all. Ask if you can “pick their brains” and feel not a whit of guilt or shame, because you are the only person on this earth who should be allowed to use that stupid phrase. You have been working in a zoo for 15 years!
Start with all those nice people on those absolutely terrifying boards you have been sitting on, then move in little circles out from there. Put up a résumé on LinkedIn, which is not quite as evil as all the other social media sites because it doesn’t encourage you to write things that will last for all eternity and get you fired. The boards, by the way, should be listed as work. I don’t care if you didn’t get paid. They’re still work.
Send an email to your network — friends and enemies alike — telling them that you’re looking for a job. Include the link to the résumé on LinkedIn. Remember, you are not damaged or worthless or a loser or any of that junk society wants us to think about ourselves so it can underpay us. You are a mature, highly organized, well-educated zookeeper with a lot of knowledge about public policy and boards.
You could go get another degree, I suppose, but I would guess that the tuition you’d have to pay combined with more years out of the workforce would make that a losing proposition.
It takes just one person willing to totally exploit an undervalued mom to get you back on a professional career track. It’s really just a matter of throwing enough spaghetti at the wall — something about which you know an extraordinary amount.
Go and make a dent in all of those hideous statistics with your pile of overcooked pasta. (But be sure to blow on it and cut it up into tiny bites before you do.)
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.