Elaine Varelas | Job Doc

Time for sit-down with boss to talk performance, future

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November 18, 2007

Q. I've been at my current job for more than a year now. It's a freelance job where my schedule changes every week. What I'm not happy about is this: People who have come after me have been given more opportunities. I've never addressed my concerns to my boss because I was grateful to have gotten a job at the company and I'm also not one to complain. Things are coming to a head now and I'm getting sick of it. How do I approach my boss and tell him that I'm not happy, in a nonhostile way?

A. We are all eloquent in our own minds. Of course that doesn't always translate into us being good communicators in the real world.

It seems you are sending messages to your boss, but not communicating. Your boss may get the vibe that you are (or were) grateful to have joined the company. He also might think you are thrilled with your job being a freelancer and your flexible schedule. And maybe you are. I understand your reluctance to complain, because no one wants to be labeled a "complainer." But it is difficult for your boss to truly know how you feel, especially if you don't tell him. Fortunately, you can address your employment situation with your boss without complaining.

Arrange a time for a real sit-down discussion. You have given your job some thought and want to express your ideas, and to hear what your manager thinks about your performance. You may also strive to know how you can be a happier employee and perhaps contribute even more to the company.

It sounds like you haven't had a review, which is often a critical point of failure for many organizations. If all is quiet and people show up, many companies don't take the time to step back and discuss their employees' performance, aspirations, and changing expectations.

Let's draft the conversation you want to have. It helps to start with what you love about your job: "Boss, I have been here over a year and I have been very happy with so much about this job. I am glad to work here, and I wanted to make sure you knew that." That sets a positive and professional tone. You might continue along these lines: "As I look back over this year, I wanted to review my performance with you, and discuss what I hope the future holds for me here. There are so many opportunities I am interested in exploring, and I wanted you to know I have the initiative and ability to follow up on many of them."

In preparation for this type of conversation, think of specific examples you can give your boss about opportunities you wish to pursue.

Think of this initial conversation as the beginning of an ongoing dialogue. Your goal is to open the channels of communication so you can stay tuned in to what the boss and the organization want from you.

Your boss will have things to say, and you need to listen to the good and the more challenging feedback that might come up. Your boss might be surprised, thinking you liked things as they were, or he may see the need for more development before you can get the assignments you'd like.

Following the first conversation, document what you discussed. Process his feedback and begin an action plan based on the discussion. Before too much time goes by, review the plan and make sure the boss is aligned with your understanding of the situation and your strategy for moving forward.

Grad can start job hunt at career services office
Q. My son graduated from Syracuse University in May, with two bachelor's degrees and a master's degree in only four years. His undergraduate GPA was 3.5 and he had a graduate GPA of 3.8. He also has excellent communications skills, both written and verbal. Obviously he has an excellent work ethic. One would think that he would be able to get interviews with companies and government agencies eager to hire an entry-level person with such credentials. However, he has had only one phone interview with a research institute that had precisely one open position. Other contacts he has received were with financial services companies trying to hire people in sales, even though they advertised both on the web and in the paper for entry-level people to do economic/market analysis. Since I am in technology, I have no contacts to pursue in his field. What is a bright, talented, and willing kid going to do?

A. For many, the transition from student to employee begins in earnest during senior year (or shortly after graduation). Of course, it would be wonderful if students took all four years of college to develop a career plan, test it out with summer jobs and internships, developed a strong network in their chosen field, and had a good understanding about what they wanted to do when they got out of school, all while still enjoying the finer things college has to offer.

Parents try to encourage students to think about a long-term plan, but having been a college student, and remembering it, I know that there are so many other competing priorities.

For those of you with college-aged children (especially seniors), find out if your budding employee knows where the career services office is, and if they have visited.

Fall semester at most colleges is peak interview time for accounting and financial services organizations.

Spring semester brings many retail organizations to campus to recruit for management training programs, and an array of companies looking for potential salespeople.

Typically, you will also find some government organizations, engineering, and technology companies represented as well. Interviewing on campus is a tremendous learning experience, and an opportunity not to be overlooked regardless of your major.

Since your son has missed this window, it is time to take a look at what else his career services office can offer him.

Many have developed relationships with area alumni to support new job seekers as they try to enter the work world.

A great first step for him would be to contact the university to see how he can be connected to local alumni - perhaps those with a similar background to his or currently employed with companies or organizations he might find interesting.

The activity needed here is networking and exploration. It is also now time for him to take over the job search. You can be helpful by contributing to his networking list. You are in technology. Who at your company does any kind of market analysis? Does the finance chief have a math or economics background? Does your firm have a strategic planning function?

All of these people would be great initial contacts for your son. Drafting out a networking conversation with you and role-playing it is another great way for parents to help.

Again, I encourage him to contact his alma mater. It is in their best interest for former students to get great jobs and make lots of money so they can become generous donors.

Who knows, maybe someday they will name the career center after your son.

Do the research, and get paid what you deserve
Q. I work in a large healthcare facility. After approximately two years, I transferred to another job there. I learned recently that the person who took my former job is getting paid substantially more than I was making (she told me her salary). I know our qualifications are similar and I am having a difficult time understanding why she would be paid so much more. I am 60 years old and she is in her mid-30s. Would this be considered age discrimination?

A. Talking money on the job always seems to disappoint someone. Unless you are an hourly employee, it seems no one makes the same as anyone else, regardless of their qualifications or the time on the job. I'm not sure why your co-worker felt the need to share her compensation with you, and I'm betting her manager and human resources wouldn't be too pleased if they found out. Was she trying to let you know that even though you left the job that she thought it was a plum job? Her motives are a mystery, so we can believe what she told you or not. If you asked her what she was making and she was uncomfortable to be put in that position, she could have exaggerated.

Even if she is telling you the truth, I can tell you that words and phrases like "substantially," "so much more," and "similar qualifications" don't make it easy to prove age discrimination. You were in the job two years, doing what the job called for. In that time, the marketplace changed quite a bit. These days, employees are harder to come by, and organizations are paying more for starting salaries than they were two years ago. Perhaps they needed to offer her more to recruit her from another employer. It is also possible that the job itself has changed, which may call for additional or different skills. Perhaps your employer saw skills she brought, and added responsibilities to the job because they knew she could manage the new tasks.

Whether you are hurt, angry, or both, I encourage you to focus on what you are doing on the job now, and doing it well.

Getting what you deserve financially involves researching the market, knowing what the competitive landscape looks like, and evaluating your skills critically.

You may decide to interview externally, perhaps with a recruiter, just to test the waters and help gauge your market worth.

If you believe you are being underpaid, have a candid conversation with human resources about your salary range and let them know your desire to do what it will take to get to the top of the range.

Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston.

E-mail questions to jobdoc@globe.com or mail to Job Doc, Boston Globe, Box 55819, Boston, 02205-5819.