Frustrated at Work or in Your Job Search?

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As a workplace advice columnist, I field all sorts of questions from readers – everything from how to survive the annoyingly loud co-worker in the next cubicle to how to get along with a crazy boss. Some questions are truly one of a kind, like the one about a receptionist who wouldn't stop hugging people or the employee who kept putting magic curses on her co-workers.

But there are other questions that come up over and over again – the more typical situations that most of us will run into at some point in our careers. As my inaugural column for AOL Jobs, I thought we'd take a look the questions that I hear most often.

1. When I'm applying for a job, how can I make sure my application stands out?

In a tight job market like this one, job seekers understandably start wondering about how to stand out – and some of them turn to gimmicks, like sending cookies to an employer or having a resume overnighted to a hiring manager. But the reality is that gimmicks like these are more likely to hurt than to help, because they generally come across as hokey or overly aggressive.

The way you stand out in a job search is actually pretty straightforward: Write a great cover letter, create a resume that shows a track record of achievement with the skills the employer is hiring for, and be responsive, warm, and enthusiastic. That's truly what good employers respond to.

2. I interviewed (or applied) weeks ago – why hasn't the employer gotten back to me?

One of the job searchers' biggest frustrations is how long it often takes to hear back from an employer. Often weeks go by before you hear anything, even if they tell you that they want to move quickly. It's useful to remember that hiring nearly always takes longer than candidates or employers want it to, for all kinds of reasons – such as that the hiring manager has more urgent priorities, a budget issue needs to be worked out, decision-makers are on vacation, or scheduling conflicts are delaying interviews. The best thing you can do is to put it out of your mind and move on – and let it be a pleasant surprise if they do get back in touch. After all, agonizing won't make them move any faster (but it might keep you from applying for other jobs and/or stress you out).

3. They loved me – why didn't I get the job?

When a role is a perfect fit and your interviewer seemed to love you, it can be a blow to hear you didn't get the job. The most common reason is simple: You were a strong candidate, but someone else was better ... because there are usually more than one strong candidate for a job.

Of course, it's also possible that you weren't as well matched with the job as you thought you were (which can be hard to tell from the outside) or that your working style would clash with the culture there – or even that the job just went to someone's nephew.

4. My co-worker is driving me crazy.

I hear lots of variations on this question – from co-workers who constantly interrupt to co-workers who make too much noise to co-workers who make rude personal comments. Since there's no magic potion that will transform co-workers on demand, in nearly all of these cases the solution is to talk to the person. (Horrors!) The key is to be kind and straightforward – don't hint, and don't get angry. Just calmly say something like, "Jane, I can hear your music over here and it's making it hard to focus. Would you mind turning it down?"

5. I'm frustrated with my boss (or my job).

Whether it's an overly critical boss or a toxic office culture, the answer to core workplace frustrations like these is generally the same: Step back, remove your emotions from the equation, and try to figure out what you can and can't change. Sometimes it's worth an uncomfortable conversation to see if there's any hope of resolving whatever the issue is – and if nothing else, it can be helpful to find out what is and isn't possible. For instance, if you're frustrated by your boss's micromanaging, you might talk candidly with her about how it's impeding your productivity, and ask if she's willing to experiment with giving you more leeway on a couple of specific projects. If she won't even consider that – well, now you know that this isn't going to change and can decide what you want to do in light of that.

From there, decide what you're willing to live with. If you know that you won't be able to live with it reasonably happily, you're probably better off accepting that and looking for ways to move on. But in other cases, accepting a workplace difficulty as a trade-off you're making in exchange for other things (like your salary or a great commute or interesting work) can make it less unpleasant. The key is simply to be honest with yourself about what you can and can't change, so that you're making the right decisions for you.

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Have a workplace question you'd like answered here? Email them to alison@askamanager.org for possible publication in a future column.
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