Put previous job in the past and focus on your new position

Dear Joan:
I have a serious problem. I have a sneaking suspicion that a former employer is giving me a negative reference (verbally), but in writing the reference is neutral. It has not affected me in getting a job. I do believe that I am being treated in "a certain way" when I am hired for a job. It’s almost like I am on some type of probation and the current employer is testing me to see how I will react to certain situations. I know it sounds strange, but you would have to be in my shoes to see what I’m talking about. It’s like retaliation but in an indirect way. How can I get to the bottom of this?

Also, I have asked my current employer for a "courtesy copy" of my ex-employer’s reference about me, and the current employer seems to have a problem with it. What can I do?

What you can do is work on your paranoia. If your past employer gave you a negative reference—either verbal or written—you wouldn’t have gotten the job you have. The reason you feel like you’re being tested is because you are. Most employers consider the first few months on the job as ‘introductory.’ During this time, the employee is given training and his/her performance is observed. Some employers formalize this time as ‘probation’ and a performance review is given at the end of the period. However, this is not a magic date and action based on poor performance can be taken at any time.

I think you made a problem for yourself when you asked to see a copy of your former employer’s reference. It probably sent up a red flag in your current employer’s mind. He or she must wonder why you want to see it. Your manager may be concerned that there is something very bad that happened on your former job or you wouldn’t be so worried about what they said on your reference. If you feel that you are being abnormally scrutinized, I suspect this is the reason. I recommend that you forget about your past job and focus your energy on what you can do to succeed at the one you have.

Dear Joan:
Help! I just started as an Executive Assistant a few months ago and since then my boss and I have tried to get together on a regular basis to get ourselves organized as a team. We have set up 9:30 a.m. meetings for each day but that has only lasted for a couple of days at a time. Also, during that time my boss will answer phone calls, which interferes with and delays what we are discussing. Additionally, my boss indicates that he will meet with me later in the day and, of course, he does not.

He is delighted that I put his calendar on the computer but fails to keep it up-to-date. Ironically, he complains when his work builds up and says that we just have to get our act together. HOW? I have made several suggestions and have been tenacious at times to meet with him. Since nothing works, I am quite frustrated. Thank you for any advice you can give me.

These questions ran through my mind as I read your letter:
* Has this manager ever worked with an assistant before? (If so, how did they work together?)
* Is his workload really so crushing that he simply has no time?
* Does this manager prefer a scattered "shoot from the hip" work style and, therefore, is unable or unwilling to get more proactive?

In any event, your manager needs some direct input from you on what you need to succeed in your job. And you need to be flexible and willing to build some teamwork on the fly.

It’s unlikely that your manager will drastically change his stripes but you may be able to make some inroads on his old habits. For instance, give up on the idea of having daily meetings. It’s probably not going to happen. Instead, try to come up with alternative ways to communicate.

For instance, in our office, most of us are on the run and the time we spend in the office is filled with phone calls and catch-up work. Trying to have a meeting on a regular schedule is impossible. Susan, our Client Services Manager, uses a system that we developed called The Daily Tribune. She keeps a running log of all the day’s important phone calls and events. On the day’s list she asks any (or all) of us questions, advises us on decisions she has made, relays conversations she has had with clients, advises us of changes in our schedules, updates us on her projects and reminds us to get things done. We each get a copy, either via fax, paper or e-mail (whichever we are likely to see that day). It helps us to stay on track and keeps us linked to each other. We then write our notes in response to each item and return it to her. It has become a virtual version of a face-to-face meeting. You will need to come up with an approach that will work for you.

In addition, I suggest that you initiate a meeting with your manager about what you need from each other. Explain that you are frustrated because you want to help him manage his work and his time more efficiently. Ask him to come halfway in helping you to do this. For instance, tell him that when he picks up the phone during your meetings it fragments and prolongs your sessions and you don’t get much done. Offer to pick up all missed messages and report them immediately when the meeting ends.

Explore his preferred work style to see where you can fill in the gaps. Rather than attempt to meet daily, suggest a weekly lunch or a weekly morning huddle before the workday typically begins. If he doesn’t carry a digital calendar or laptop during the day, it’s unlikely that he’ll ever keep his computer calendar up to date. If you like having his calendar on the computer, perhaps he could show you his paper calendar a few times a week as he adds things, to enable you to keep your calendar updated. In other words, look for creative ways to work together. It may feel less structured than you’d like, but over time you may find that you will operate more as a team than you thought possible.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
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