my car was nearly stolen from work twice, mentioning my kids in my cover letter, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. My car was nearly stolen from work twice in six months

I’ve worked at a nonprofit for nearly a year. In October, our department moved across town to a building on a campus we own. Another department has been working from this campus and they have parking in a fenced lot right next to their building. Our department is much larger and we use the open parking lot that’s more centrally located on the campus. This lot isn’t fenced in, has entrances directly from the street, and has no cameras. The parking lot is separated from our building by a circle driveway and a set of stairs and you can’t see most of the lot from our building.

In November, my car was stolen from this work parking lot in the middle of the day. Someone noticed a group of teenagers in our lot and, while trying to get a better view of it, witnessed them leaving with my car. It was found a week later, and after several weeks waiting for it to be repaired, I was driving it again.

In early February, my coworker’s car was stolen. Her car was recovered the same day and has also been repaired.

Today, my car was broken into again, and a group of people were attempting to steal it when they were interrupted and fled. They got far enough along that my car needed to be towed and will need to be repaired before I can drive it again. The person who interrupted them said they were starting to approach her before other people entered the parking lot, when they sped away.

I’ll now have to pay my car insurance deductible twice in six months. My premium already increased after the last time, and I expect it will again.

Leadership is aware of all of the incidents. After the second theft, they sent out information noting that they are planning to get security cameras, but they don’t have a timeline and cost is a concern, since they were getting quotes of ~$25,000. They also mentioned an increased police presence on our property (which doesn’t seem to be a deterrent, since they were in our parking lot earlier today).

I like my supervisor and my job, but I am so frustrated. A lot of people have voiced concerns about their cars, and a lot of the response I am hearing (from people other than my boss) is “your car can be stolen from anywhere.” Which, while true, doesn’t account for the facts that a) our cars are being stolen here, and b) most people don’t leave their cars unattended for nine hours at a grocery store. I realize they can’t wave a wand and make $25,000 appear, but I feel like I should have a reasonable expectation of safety at my job. I’m not sure what we could reasonably do to make our parking lot more secure and also not cost $25,000, but I’m also feeling really dissatisfied with how ineffective the current measures have been. Do you have any advice on how I could have an effective conversation about solutions to this very real problem? I’m at a loss.

It’s certainly true that your car can be stolen from anywhere, and it’s also true that people who park for work on public streets don’t have a lot of options if the location they’re in happens to be car-theft-heavy … but this a lot owned by your employer, and that means they have more of a responsibility for keeping it safe. (I’m just talking ethically/practically here, not legally.) And while $25,000 isn’t a tiny sum, especially for a nonprofit, this is an organization large enough to own a campus with multiple parking lots — and part of owning that kind of space is that sometimes you need to invest in security. If not cameras, then certainly at least a fence or other deterrents.

You’re far more likely to be effective if you can have a group of coworkers push on this, not just you on your own. It sounds like a lot of people share your concern, so ideally all of you would organize a concerted push with your leadership. Point out that the organization owns the property, has been alerted to a chronic safety issue (speaking of which, “the person who interrupted the thieves said they were starting to approach her” sounds pretty alarming and you should emphasize that), and has an obligation to act. You can’t force their hand, but you can make it increasingly uncomfortable for them to do nothing.

2. Mentioning my kids in my cover letter

I’m applying for an upper-level management job in the public sector after spending the last 8 years working my way from an admin assistant to the sole shareholder of my (small) company. I also had to obtain a professional designation with a post-grad diploma outside of work hours, and I did all of this while having my three kids.

I am really proud of having accomplished this and I think it speaks to how hard-working and dedicated I am. My friend thinks I should mention that in my application, but I’m not sure if there is an appropriate way to include it in my cover letter. Is there a good way to do this or should I just focus on my professional accomplishments?

Don’t listen to your friend. Kids just don’t belong on your resume or in your cover letter, especially in the context of talking about professional accomplishments, and that convention is so strong that including them is likely to hurt you (by making you look oblivious to that norm) rather than helping you. Plus, lots of the people reading your cover letter will have advanced professionally while having kids themselves and will be skeptical at seeing that framed as unusual.

It also risks opening you up to discrimination for being a mom, unfortunately.

3. How to gently put a presumptuous networker in their place

I thought I’d get your advice about how (or if?) to respond to this message I got on LinkedIn: “Hope you’ve been good. I want to give you a brief update and make myself available to you. I’m deciding to pursue this solo practice and expand my practice areas. (MUTUAL FRIEND) recommended I reach out. I’m looking for 1099 or (Expert Contractor) work and believe I could maybe help with your (SPECIALIZED) case load. Specifically, I could probably (DO THE EASY PART) and bill out at 80% of what you’d charge. Let me know if you’d like to talk about this more.”

I’m an immigration lawyer and have been working in this field for eight years. I’ve gotten to a point where I get more work than I’m able to do myself, especially since I haven’t figured out how to be in multiple places at the same time.

Specifically, sometimes people need/want a lawyer to show up to court or government interviews with them. You have to be a licensed attorney and basically show up in a suit and help guide them, sometimes through easy preliminary stuff. So, I reached out to “Mutual Friend” who a lawyer, who apparently passed it on to his friend.

I’m sure this person is a nice guy. He’s also a licensed lawyer but has been working in a totally different niche, and has never navigated anything immigration. I would have to teach him everything because he doesn’t have any experience, with this. And the funny part is — he asked to do the easiest part of the process (filling out forms), when most of the work is landing/qualifying/converting the clients and making sure they pay, and holding their hands through what’s a stressful experience for them.

A charitable reading of what he said is that he thinks he’s worth 80% of me. A less charitable reading is that he wants 80% of the pay for doing about 2% of the work, and not even the parts that actually require a lawyer. For context, I could easily outsource this work for anywhere from $2-$20/hour or even hire an actual law student for free.

My wife thought I should put him in his place and smack down in a reply, but I didn’t think it was a good idea, because while satisfying in the moment, realistically this person would not learn anything from it and it could be used against me in the future.

So I ended up just ignoring his message. But a couple weeks later, I’m still thinking — is there a nice but firm way of putting someone like this in their place? I mean, he is a lawyer but he doesn’t have any idea what he’s getting into, I would have to hold his hand to train him, and likely do all the hard part myself. Realistically, if he was able to show up to court for me for 10-15 minute arraignments, I might give him a few hundred (like a hourly rate for a lawyer), but asking to bill at 80% of what I do is kinda wild. What do you think?

I think you are reading a personal affront into something that’s more about cluelessness. You’re bristling at the implication that his 2% of the work would be equivalent to 80% of yours — but this reads like someone who just has no idea what he’s talking about. It doesn’t warrant a smackdown. Ignoring the message is enough of a response.

I think it would be interesting to think about why you want to put him in his place. I mean, I get being annoyed by this kind of chutzpah — I would find it annoying too — but you don’t need to spend your time giving him a lesson about life.

That said, when you do want to politely demonstrate that someone’s idea is absurd or not rooted in reality or they have no idea what they’re talking about, often the most effective way to do that is with a very dry “just the facts” approach — one or two very spare sentences that matter-of-factly explain why what the person said makes no sense for the context, without any accompanying editorializing. (Lawyers are good at this!) That can be a lot more withering in its starkness than an obvious attempt to smack someone down.

4. Responding to praise about my employees

I work for a government contractor and manage a team of about 15. Because they are so awesome, I frequently get praise from our customer about them, which is much appreciated both because it’s great to hear their work is appreciated but also because these “kudos” are very valuable when the contract ends and it’s time to rebid for the work. (I also save them to advocate for bigger raises for my people.) How do I respond when a customer emails me to sing a team member’s praises? I’m not the one who did the work so a regular “thank you” is not quite right, but saying “Yes, Jane is the best!” also doesn’t feel quite right. I generally go with “Thank you for the feedback, we are so fortunate to have Jane” but it also doesn’t feel quite … enthusiastic enough?

I’ve always gone with something like, “That’s great to hear and I’ll make sure to share it with Jane too. Thanks for taking the time to tell us!”

5. Why couldn’t Rory Gilmore take a job and a fellowship?

I’m rewatching Gilmore Girls, as I do every year. There are many job-related questions that come up during the course of the show, including at least one you’ve already addressed, but this is one that has been bugging me the past few rewatches I’ve done.

In season 7, Rory receives her first post-grad job offer, as a reporter for the Providence Journal. She turns it down because she is waiting to hear about the Reston Fellowship at the New York Times and she really wants the Reston Fellowship.

Here’s the kicker, for me: The Reston Fellowship was a six-week program.

Setting aside the fact that Rory’s decision was absolutely the wrong one, and also setting aside the fact that she obviously could have taken the ProJo job and quit if she had gotten the Reston (which of course would have burned a bridge, but may have been worth it), I’ve been thinking that she could have just … asked the ProJo for those six weeks off in the unlikely event that she got the fellowship! I just think that for a brand new graduate and an internship at the most prestigious newspaper in the country, some newspapers would have been happy to let her take the time off. (I’m specifically thinking of this in context of the first newspaper I worked at after college, where they were very grateful when they were able to bring on new talent.) Even if not, I feel like it would have been perfectly reasonable to ask, as long as she phrased the request carefully. I’m interested in what you think about this from the management side!

Yep, I agree. It’s really common for people to be given time off for short but prestigious programs in their field.

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