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my finances don’t make sense now that I’m single, rude comments because because I work in oil and gas, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. My finances made sense in a relationship, but now I’m single

My finances made sense when I was in a relationship, but now I’m single and am struggling on my salary. Otherwise I want to stay at my current job. How do I talk to my boss about this — and should I? Or should I just look for a new job?

My partner and I separated last fall, we have a baby together (we are both women), and we were never married. When we were together, we lived in housing paid for by her employer. I work full-time but am a writer and am hoping to be able to make a living off of writing (fiction — so book deal, residuals, teaching, talks, etc.) in the next 3-5 years. I love the org I work for and my coworkers, and the job provides me a lot of flexibility as a new parent.

However. Now that I am living alone, paying rent on and furnishing a two-bedroom apartment, paying for therapy, paid legal fees, and other costs of breaking up, my finances don’t make sense! They made sense in our relationship but now I’m constantly stressed about money and having trouble staying within my budget. I’ve been watching my savings dwindle for the past year.

I work for a nonprofit but in my field I could make $20-30k more if I went corporate or into government work. One more wrinkle is that I work remotely and the health insurance given by my employer is really hard to navigate or find places that will take it where I live. I don’t want to leave my current job but I don’t know how to make it work on my current salary. I was hoping to stay in this job until I could make a living from writing (but then the breakup).

Do I talk to my boss about this? If so, how? Should I look for a new job and build back up my savings, even if it might mean putting the writing career on hold for longer? What do you do when your life circumstances change and it throws everything out of whack?

Well … you probably need to look for a higher-paying job.

That said, you can certainly try asking for a raise if you can make a work-based case for one; just keep in mind that it needs to be based on your work, not on the change in your circumstances. But $20K is a pretty significant jump, so you’d want to think about whether that’s realistic for your current organization, based on what you know about your its salary structure, budget, how much they want to retain you, etc.

There’s a good chance, though, that changing jobs will be what ends up making the most sense. I know that sucks when you like your job! It can be very much the reality though, especially when you work in nonprofits, and definitely for writers. (For what it’s worth — and you probably don’t need me to tell you this — it’s very difficult to make a living writing fiction full-time and most fiction writers do it on the side rather than as their primary job. There are some interesting pieces out there like this and this about how often full-time writers need to be financially supported by a partner.) And really, the health insurance situation alone might nudge you in that direction.

2. Rude comments at conferences because I work in oil and gas

I work in the corporate office for an oil and gas company, and over the last couple of years have encountered some situations at national conferences I’m not sure how to handle. These conferences are for things like a type of software that multiple industries use, so it brings together a wide range of attendees.

On at least four separate occasions during conference-provided lunches or happy hours, someone in the group I am socializing with, upon learning I work in the oil and gas industry, has made a snide remark along the lines of “Oh I couldn’t live with myself if I knew I was contributing so much to global warming” or “It must be terrible to work in a dying industry.”

How do I even respond to that? So far I’ve just ignored the comments and continued on with the conversation, but it’s awkward. And I feel judged — these people know nothing about me yet based on my current industry they seem to assume I deny climate change and am against green/renewable energy (both of which happen to be very incorrect assumptions).

After the first incident, I stopped voluntarily providing the name of the company I work at. But in true conference style, we’re all wearing name badges that also proudly declare where we work. My company name isn’t well known, but it’s obvious from the name what the company does.

That’s obnoxious. It’s not that there isn’t an important conversation to be had about the harms of that industry! But they’re not having it; they’re just being rude to a stranger whose circumstances they know nothing about.

You’re probably better off continuing to ignore it or briefly raising your eyebrows or similar since there’s likely little point in getting into it with people who aren’t attempting to have a real conversation.

3. Employer asked me to do a multi-hour exercise before even interviewing me

I applied to a job six weeks ago. It is with the central office of a school district I used to teach in. I have considerable relevant experience and am objectively well-qualified for the role. Also, the role is challenging to hire for and retain staff due to its niche, in which I am literally a published author. It is not a highly-desired field or organization, and I cannot imagine they are drowning in applicants.

Today, I received an email asking me to complete a performance task, even though they never reached out to do an initial interview or phone screening. The email states that the task will take 4-6 hours and be due within 72 hours.

Is it normal practice to expect candidates to do a 4-6 hour performance task on short notice, without even a brief phone interview first? I have happily done hiring exercises before, even extensive ones that I spent a few hours on. But those were after short phone interviews to ensure appropriate fit. And if it is normal practice … it’s not good practice, right?

Nope, that’s way too long to ask a candidate to spend on a hiring exercise — at any stage, but especially pre-interview when you haven’t yet had an opportunity to ask your own questions and determine if you’re even interested in moving forward and when they haven’t bothered to first narrow down their candidate pool with interviews so that they’re only asking finalists to spend time on this.

The 72-hour deadline is also BS when they haven’t checked in with you first about a time period that would work for you. What if you’re traveling, or in a busy period with your job, or a million other possibilities that make that timeline impossible?

4. Best way to list times you’re available to interview

A hiring manager asked me to provide some days and times that I was available to do a phone screen, so I listed a few days and times like “Tuesday, between 1:00 and 3:00 pm.” I meant I was available starting at 1:00 and had to be done the phone screen by 3:00. The hiring manager scheduled the phone screen for 3:00-3:30, so I guess I wasn’t clear?

Is there a better way to way to provide availability times to avoid confusion?

Yeah, this is a thing people sometimes do, and it’s confusing — you’re clearly stating the block of time you’re available within, but they’re hearing that those are the times when the call could begin. The only way to make it crystal clear is to say something like, “Tuesday between 1 and 3 pm (with a hard stop at 3 pm).”

It’s also fine when this happens to respond and say, “I apologize if I wasn’t clear — I’m only available up until 3 pm, so we’d need to begin the call earlier so it ends by then.”

5. Leaving a job right after learning that I am just below the pay cap

This probably shouldn’t be a moral dilemma for me, but I’m considering leaving my job and I feel strangely guilty about it.

I love my current job. I really do! I have problems with the management sometimes, but the work is great. The pay isn’t even that bad, all things considered. (Think if I were a clam harvester making $20 an hour whereas most clam harvesters make $17.) But … I did just learn that I can never make more than $21 as a clam harvester, at least at my current company. This was in the middle of a meeting where my boss was telling me that everything I do is great and they’d hate to lose me, BUT…

So I did what anyone else would do in that situation and immediately started looking for another job. I only applied for one job that day, and then decided to cool my jets and wait a bit on one of the proposed solutions my boss had given me. (I could move from Clam Harvester to Clam Tamer, and Clam Tamers make more money! Sure, it’s not a job I’m that interested in, but money!) But today I got a call from that one job I applied to asking to schedule an interview. They’re in the same field, so I’d be doing something not totally dissimilar to what I already do.

Obviously it’s too early to depend on an offer from the other job. But I’m already having thoughts about how I might break it to my boss if I do get a decent offer. What do I say? “Sorry, but they’re offering me more money, bye Felicia”? “Hey, I know my performance review was stellar, but I’m outie”? Can I say this opportunity fell in my lap and I couldn’t turn it down (not technically a lie, since this is actually a company I’ve wanted to work for for a long time)? Will he know it’s because of the conversation we had? If he does, does it actually matter? Is it really okay to tell him it’s all about the money? If not, what on earth do I say?

You can say pretty much anything you want. You can say the job fell in your lap and was too good to turn down. You can say you appreciated his candor about the limits on your pay and you want to earn more. (We work for money! It’s not shameful or something you need to be coy about.) You can say they offered you an amount you couldn’t turn down. You can say you’re just ready for something new.

You don’t need to have a “good enough” reason; you get to leave for any of those reasons or any other. It’s very, very normal to leave your job at some point, even if you’re relatively happy there, even if you’re getting good reviews, even if you like your boss. You don’t need to worry so much about the messaging; this is a routine thing that people do!


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