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I work with Leslie Knope, stressed out in first post-college job, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. New hire is treating me like I’m brand new

I am a college professor. I teach a variety of courses, but there’s one that I have every semester. I get great evaluations from students every semester and I have a proven track record of success in this class.

This semester we have a new colleague who is teaching a section of this same course for the first time. I received an invite to meet with her and assumed she wanted some help or advice about the class, so I accepted. The next day, I got an email from her saying that she has the whole course planned out for me, “but we don’t have do it exactly the same.” Basically, she has taken ownership of the class and for some reason it seems like she’s decided that she is in charge of me and how I teach it. She also advised me that I should keep track of the students’ assignments, and that it’s a good idea to try and learn the students’ names, among several other pieces of absurdly obvious advice. I have taught this class six times in the last two years, so I’m not sure where she’s coming from.

So I wonder, how can I address this in a collegial manner, rather than saying the first words that came into my head, which are not at all professional? My boss is notoriously flaky and unsupportive, so I don’t intend to escalate this, my main thought is to just shut her down as politely as possible.

The subject line of your email to me was “I work with Leslie Knope” and … yes, you do.

The easiest way to shut this down is, “I’ve been teaching this class every semester so I have my own course plans that I’ve spent a lot of time developing over the last few years. Let me know if you want advice on anything; I’m happy to offer guidance if you want it.” That doesn’t touch on how ridiculous she’s being (reminding you to learn students’ names?!) but it pretty definitively lays out that you’ve got it covered and you’re not the one coming in new.

If she keeps it up after that, you might need a more explicit conversation along the lines of “Some of the advice you’re giving me is really remedial; has there been a miscommunication somewhere about my experience or the job we’re each doing?” But wait and see if the first conversation fixes it; she might have just gotten carried away with the Leslie Knope of it all and will pick up the hint.

2. Overwhelmed by stress in my first post-college job

I’m a recent college grad in my first full-time position. I’ve worked a variety of jobs throughout college to earn income, but they’ve all been either part-time or temporary in whatever field would pay the bills.

I’ve had this job for six months, and while it is a pretty low-level admin position (which is not completely my preference), it’s finally in the field I want to work in and that I studied for! I’ve never minded doing admin work and the company I’m working for is a huge stepping stone to all sorts of other positions in the field.

What I’m finding, though, is that I have been completely overwhelmed by stress from the job — whether it’s minor mistakes I’ve made in the process of learning, things that need to be done, or just if I’m doing enough. It’s gotten to the point where I’ll have nightmares about it and then promptly wake up and worry until my alarm goes off. Again, this is an admin position with low-level responsibilities where I work 40 hours a week, no one is expecting me to be on call or solve major issues, and even in the field as a whole, it’s pretty low-stress.

I am seeing a counselor for this, since I recognize it isn’t normal to be waking up in the middle of the night from this, but I’m also concerned about its relation to my career. I’ve had trouble like this with previous jobs, but since they were either part-time or temporary, the stress was lesser and I was usually able to write it off. I know your readers have made suggestions in the past for avoiding taking work stress home with them. These are great and I’ve been utilizing them, but I think what I’m hung up on is that I can’t imagine ever advancing in my career if such a low-stress administrative position gives me such overwhelming anxiety even when I’m not there. Is this something that new grads just have to get through (to a point — again, I know a level of this is above and beyond) or is this an indication that I won’t ever be ready to advance in my career?

Neither! What you describe isn’t typical, but it’s also not an indication you’ll never be able to advance. It’s an indication that you need some help sorting through what’s going on, which you’re getting. Especially if you have anxiety symptoms in other areas of your life, this could be clinical-level anxiety that’s latched on to work as an outlet (which is something a good therapist should be able to help with), but there are other therapy-relevant things that could be causing it too (like growing up in a hypercritical family, or one where small mistakes were punished disproportionately, or where you carried too much responsibility at a young age, making you feel like the stakes for messing up were very high, and on and on). Therapy is exactly the place to figure out what’s going on and to solve it, so you’re already where you need to be! (But if you don’t feel like you’re making progress after a reasonable amount of time, talk to your therapist about that too, since you might need something different from those sessions or a different treatment modality altogether.)

3. Management rejects my ideas, then proposes the same thing

I am the lead on a project at work. When I present ideas in regards to the project to three specific managers, they often reject my ideas. But then they provide a “solution” which is exactly what I had just suggested. It’s driving me wild. It’s really gnawing at me and I’m feeling stupid. I even intentionally ask “anything I can clarify?” before the rejection. I’ve never had this happen and for these three people to keep doing this is just blowing my mind. Is there anything I can do?

Some additional background: I’m a woman. The three people are the VP of our department (female), my manager (male), and a manager (male) I dotted-line report to.

Approaches I’ve taken: I used to explain things verbally. But perhaps I talked fast? So I slowed it down and presented things in simple terms. That didn’t help. I now present things with some sort of printed out aid, such as a slide or a graphic, to help drive my point across. I have only a few times replied, “Yes, just like I was saying…” and then elaborate. But that hasn’t much of a difference. I feel stupid, and honestly, it’s been a hit to my self-esteem.

It’s a known thing that sometimes happens to women, but it’s also a known thing that sometimes happens when dealing with people who don’t listen fully or aren’t great communicators themselves. To be thorough, I should note that it’s possible you’re not being as clear in presenting your ideas as you think, so if anyone else is in those meetings you could ask them for feedback about that. But otherwise, can you ask others if anything similar happens to them with this group? Maybe you’ll find out they do it to a lot of people and then you’ll know it’s about them, not you.

But also, do you have the kind of rapport with your boss where you could ask him about it directly? For example: “I wanted to get your feedback on something. I’ve noticed that I’ll sometimes present an idea to you, Fred, and Jane and the three of you say no to it, but then suggest a solution that’s the same as what I’d initially proposed. For example, it happened recently with X and Y. I’m wondering if I’m not being clear enough when I make the initial suggestion, or what you think might be going on.” If he’s stumped or says he doesn’t see it, ask if you can check back with him again right after the next time it happens so that you both have a clear and immediate example to look at.

One other thought: The next time it happens, try saying, “Yes! That’s exactly what I was proposing!” and see what happens. (Say that in a way that sounds enthusiastic, not irritated.)

my coworker rejects any ideas that aren’t her own, then suggests them herself

4. Should I tell a former employee that I got called as a reference?

Last year was my first time as a manager. It was on a grant-funded project that had limited-term appointments for several employees that terminated when the funding ran out. My whole staff was fantastic and I’ve been doing my best to support all of them on their job searches, and I’ve offered to serve as a reference.

One of my former employees has contacted me several times to let me know she’s applied to certain positions and put me down as a reference. I just got my first ever reference call for this employee and gave what I believe was a glowing reference. (I did also talk honestly about areas where she needed extra support, but I got to say how receptive this employee was to feedback and how much she grew, so I feel good about it!)

My instinct after I got off the phone was to email her to tell her she made it to the reference stage and I gave her a glowing recommendation, but I wasn’t sure if I should. The hiring manager told me that they’re between this former employee and one other candidate. So while I want to tell my employee that she’s advanced in the process and I’m hoping my reference will support her candidacy, I’d also feel like I’d need to temper her expectations and tell her they’re still considering other candidates.

This candidate is someone who I know has anxiety. As someone who also has anxiety, I know that I would love hearing I got to the reference phase and it would be soothing to hear my former manager tell me they gave a positive reference. But I’m afraid I’ll just set her up for disappointment if she doesn’t get it. Since I haven’t been called before now, I assume she hasn’t made it past the intial interview for the other positions she’s applied for. So I really don’t want to get her hopes up. That said, I also want her to know she’s advanced so she can celebrate that accomplishment, and I want her to tell me whether or not she gets the job! I’m afraid she won’t follow up if she doesn’t get it unless she knows she’s made it past the initial stage. So, is it cruel to tell her she’s made it to the reference stage? Or would it be encouraging? Am I overthinking this?

You are overthinking it! I always send a quick email to people I’ve just given a reference for, to let them know that I talked to the employer (and will add that I gave them a glowing reference, assuming that I did) — but that’s just about keeping in the loop about something that’s about them. I think you’re overstepping because you’re getting too invested in managing her emotions for her. Just give her the information, and trust her to handle it like the adult she is.

I would also mention that the person you spoke with said they are choosing between her and one other person — because that’s also relevant to her and it wasn’t said in confidence.

But don’t have any expectations about her updating you about whether she gets the job or not. She probably will tell you if she does, but she shouldn’t need to follow up with you if she doesn’t. She might choose to, but a lot of people hate giving those updates, so it’s better to train yourself not to expect it.

5. Can I put a job I haven’t started yet on my resume?

I am a senior in college, but I haven’t gotten much experience in my field yet and am applying to jobs for after I graduate. In two weeks, I am starting an internship that will run for one semester, so it will be completed prior to when I start the job. It is very relevant to the role I am applying to, but the semester starts two days after applications are due. I have a meeting to discuss what I will be working on before the semester starts, but I don’t know if I’ll do any actual work. Can I put that internship on my resume, even though it hasn’t started?

Yes, as long as the dates make that clear. For example:

Oats Incorporated, Porridge Intern (January 22, 2024 – May 15, 2024)

Ideally you’d add one bullet point about what you expect to do in the internship, but if you really have no idea, it’s fine to skip that and just list the company/title/dates.

(Also, normally just listing months/years is fine. In this case I listed specific dates to make it super clear you haven’t started yet, but really you’d be fine just listing January – May 2024, especially since by the time they’re interviewing you, you will have started.)

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