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employer sent out a fried chicken recipe for Black History Month, quitting at a bad time, and more — Ask a Manager

February 16, 2022

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

1. My employer sent out a fried chicken recipe for Black History Month

I am seriously considering quitting my Fortune 100 job over an email that went out to all U.S. associates to celebrate Black History Month. However, until I do, I’m hoping you have some advice on what else I can do. The email I received had this subject line: “Recipe Attached: Black History Month was first recognized in 1976.” The recipe attached was for “healthy fried chicken” and buried in the depths of the email was the submitter of the recipe — a white-presenting woman who lives in New York. There was also a link to a BBC article on the history of fried chicken being Scottish, not Southern.

I immediately clicked on the “submit feedback” link to provide them with the google search results about the racism of this. Within 30 minutes, they had issued an apology — of sorts. I’m not sure that “[we] understand there have been mixed emotions for some regarding today’s Black History Month communication and recipe suggestion and we are truly sorry if anyone was offended” counts as an apology. I’ve sent similar feedback when they had a man as a keynote sponsor at the Women’s Employee Forum and when they sent alcohol to people’s houses without regard to recovery, religion, or health considerations, so they are tone-deaf and signal blind in multiple areas.

As a cis-het white woman who tries to be a good ally, I can’t imagine how it must’ve felt to be a black employee who received this message. Besides submitting feedback and telling others to submit feedback when inappropriate things show up, what other actions can I take to try and enact change?

That “apology” wasn’t sufficient, and the fact that the email could happen in the first place says there are deep-rooted problems in your company’s culture. If you’re willing to do some organizing (or lend your energy to others who are already leading), it sounds badly needed.

You’re at an F100 company, which means it’s large. Do you have an office that works on equity and inclusion, or employee resource groups that tackle race or equity issues? If so, start with them and ask how to help. If you don’t (or even if you do), it’s worth looking at how your company handles issues of equity and inclusion in general (badly, it sounds like), what kinds of experiences people of color are having there, how any DEI programs are working or not working, what holes you see in those programs, and what commitments your company has made to DEI and whether they’re meeting those. Consider seeking out colleagues who share your concerns to form a racial equity working group to start tackling some of those issues if one doesn’t already exist. There’s some advice here from DEI expert Michelle Silverthorn on getting started.

2. I’m quitting at a terrible time

I’m an admin for a large company where my two bosses are husband and wife. I’ve been here for two years and besides some small dysfunctions, I think we have a great working relationship. Sometimes the lines blur since I do a lot of personal tasks for them, but I don’t mind and, until now, I saw it as a way to solidify my contributions to them. I have been told many times by them, leadership, and others that I contribute a huge improvement in the quality of life for our employees.

I recently put in my notice for a new job in a completely different industry. I think they were fairly blindsided. The husband has been playing it cool, but the wife has not been coping well emotionally. I’ve heard from others that she’s been openly panicking about me leaving.

Last week, we got devastating news that the wife’s parent passed away. She’s out of town and naturally unable to wrap up loose ends with me. This is a life-changing moment and will drastically affect her capability to work as much as she does at the company. Husband also has limited capacity since he has to watch their kids.

I feel terrible. I’m leaving this week. She was personally organizing a going-away party for me. Do I ask the new job if I could extend my start date? Do I offer to help out after-hours? Or do I just swallow my guilt and wish them the best? I know logically this isn’t something that I should have to worry about, it’s no longer my problem. But I have grown to know this family quite a bit and vice versa. I was getting ready for the both of us to cry on my last day, so I feel like this is just kicking them while they’re down.

This is awful timing indeed, but this stuff happens around resignations. If the relationship is as good as you feel it is, they won’t expect you to change your departure date or jeopardize things with your new job; they’ll understand sometimes the timing on departures just ends up being bad. I wouldn’t recommend trying to push back your start date with the new job; your new team has been planning around you starting on a specific date and likely have other people’s schedules for training, etc. organized around it. I don’t recommend offering to help out after-hours either; you need your attention to be focused on your new job to make a good impression there. New jobs are exhausting and working extra hours at an old job won’t set you up well.

If you’d like, though, you can offer to do a phone call or meeting once your old boss is back to go over the transition things that you had planned to meet about this week. And you can stay in touch socially too if you want to; for example, you could plan to get lunch after she’s been back for a bit to say the goodbye you were planning to say this week. But it’s okay to keep moving forward with the plans you already have in place to move on to your new job.

3. Employer wants to know why I dropped out of their interview process

I recently had a first-round Zoom interview for a junior level communications position. Within the first 10 minutes, I felt like I was struggling to answer the questions, and the organization just didn’t feel like a fit. The place seems like an extremely fast-paced, high-pressure work environment. I know from my current position that the field involves a lot of rapid response, and I appreciate challenges and opportunities for growth. However, I think the kind of environment at this new organization might be bad for my health (I have chronic fatigue and hypothyroidism, which can be aggravated when I overwork myself.) In addition, when I asked my interviewers, “What do you find most satisfying and most challenging about working at X?” it seemed like they both evaded the second part of the question. In job interviews I have had with other places lately, interviewers have been able to answer both parts of that question and give me more insight into their organizations’ workings and cultures.

Right afterwards, I followed up with a polite thank-you email. 50 minutes later, they emailed me back asking to schedule a skills test within a 48-hour period starting “tonight” or “tomorrow morning.” After talking to a mentor, I decided I didn’t want to move forward with the hiring process and sent another email letting them know. An hour later, they emailed me back saying that they had been looking forward to advancing me in the process, wondering if I could help them understand my decision, and wanting to schedule a phone call on Monday morning to talk through any concerns I had about the role or process.

What is the etiquette in a situation like this? What would you recommend saying in response, and am I obligated to say anything at all? Is this a normal thing for an employer to ask?

It sounds like they thought you were a strong candidate based on what they knew so far and were excited about moving you forward in their process. It’s not unheard of or weird for employers to ask for feedback from candidates who drop out, both so that they can address any concerns that might be addressable and so they have data on what’s turning candidates off. It is surprisingly intense for them to phrase it as “help us understand your decision” (this isn’t a break-up!) and ask for a whole separate phone call to discuss it. You are either a really impressive candidate who they’re hoping to woo back, or they’re having a terrible time hiring right now so they’re acting increasingly desperate (definitely possible). Or both! Or they’re a weirdly intense place to work and they do this to everyone, who knows.

It’s fine for you to decline the call and just say something vague like, “Right now I have other roles I’m focusing on, but best of luck filling the position!” (Which is the candidate version of what employers tell applicants all the time.) Or if you’re comfortable offering something specific, you can do that too but you’re in no way obligated to (just as they’re not obligated to give specific feedback to candidates, although it’s fine for candidates to ask).

4. I’m expecting a job offer — should I cancel my other interviews?

I’m a college student graduating this spring who’s planning to be a lab research assistant for a few years before moving on to grad school. I’ve been interviewing and at the end of last week I received an unofficial offer. It was just an email from the scientist who interviewed me saying that they would like to extend me an offer and that HR would reach out sometime this week with the official offer letter.

I plan to take the job. The work is interesting, at a prestigious institution, and it will be great prep for grad school. I don’t expect anything in the offer letter to be surprising — salaries for these kinds of positions in my area are pretty fixed and my interviewer already suggested a start date of a few weeks after my graduation — or for the offer to be rescinded. Everything about the lab has been trustworthy.

The problem is that I have other interviews at different labs scheduled for this week and I’m still waiting for the offer letter from HR. I already cancelled another interview due to take place today that was at the same institution on the advice of my college’s career center. I have two others taking place at different institutions later in the week that I haven’t cancelled yet.

While I don’t want to seem like I’m not interested in the job offer by keeping these interviews (people talk), I also know I shouldn’t cancel anything until I have the official job offer in hand. What do you suggest I do? I would think asking HR to send me the letter as soon as they can would be seen as impertinent.

Your school career center advised you to cancel an interview on the promise of an offer? Aggghh.

Don’t cancel any interviews until you have the formal offer and have accepted it. Offers fall through all the time! That doesn’t mean yours will, but it means yours can and you’ve got to assume it’s a possibility until proven otherwise. Moreover, you never know what will turn up in a formal offer; despite your discussions with the interviewer, there could be something weird in there that you didn’t expect (not just salary, but title or benefits or the hours or a far-off start date or who knows what). I know it feels weird to keep going on interviews while you’re waiting on an offer that you feel sure about, but until you have the offer in hand, you don’t really have an offer. Don’t cancel any more of your interviews!

5. Using examples in interviews from jobs that aren’t on my resume

I’m in the beginning stages of applying to new jobs and as I’m preparing my resume and working on interview skills, I’m wondering if it looks bad to use an example from a job that I didn’t list on my resume in an interview. I’ve had a lot of random part-time jobs over the last 10 years that just don’t make sense to fill up my resume with. I try to thoughtfully narrow it down to work history that’s most relevant, but sometimes I realize that I could give a better example for a scenario from a job that didn’t make the cut. Can I just explain in the moment what the job was and use the example or do I need to limit myself to exactly what’s on the resume?

No, you can use an example from something that’s not on your resume. Just give a quick explanation — “it’s not on my resume, but I had a part-time job making rice sculptures and…” (And you don’t even need to do that in every situation. If you’re just answering a question about dealing with a difficult coworker and the job itself won’t be relevant, you might not even need to lead with that explanation … just be ready to give it if asked or if it starts to feel relevant.)

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