Dear J.T. & Dale: I’ve been working for my boss for 10 years. It’s a small company, and he’s always said that, when he retires, I would be rewarded, especially if he sold the business. However, he’s been very ill recently and has been out a lot, and I’m getting the impression that he might be just selling and retiring. My concern is that I may not get what I was promised. Is it OK to bring it up? — Carmen
J.T.: I think it’s certainly OK to inquire about how he’s feeling and whether or not he’s thinking of selling the business. However, I don’t think you should inquire just yet about what you’ll receive. Given all that’s going on, it’s possible there just isn’t anything for him to give you. I would focus more on getting an assessment of the actual situation with the business. Then, you can, at some point, discuss what would be your exit strategy. My guess is that talking with him about it in that way will cause him to bring up rewarding you.
DALE: You want to be sensitive to the health situation, but I hope you can find an opening to negotiate something in writing. After all, it’s easy to offer to share hypothetical proceeds from some rosy future sale. This owner has strung you along for 10 years and now it would be simple for him to stiff you and simply say, “Sorry, it didn’t work out.” That’s true whether he’s sick or not. So let this serve as a cautionary tale to other employees with owners offering vague promises. Early in my career, I was VP at a consulting firm and the owner kept telling me that he wanted to retire and turn the business over to me. Specifically, he sat me down one day and told me that he wanted to retire in five years. Well, two years go by and he brings it up again, and he tells me he wants to … you guessed it … retire in five years. Then, when he knew I was thinking of leaving, he offered to put the transition in writing. He drew up an agreement that laid out when he’d retire and how I’d owe him a fortune, which essentially meant that all the profits would go to him for a decade or more after he left. I was grateful — grateful that I found out the real story and could move on.
Dear J.T. & Dale: I’m going to my first in-person interview in over two years. I don’t know what to wear. I’ll bring a mask, but I don’t know how dressed up people get these days. I can’t imagine that super-dressy attire is still required, but the company is in financial tech, so it could go either way. Suggestions? —Xavier
J.T.: The easiest thing to do is ask the person who set up your interview. Send an email asking what the dress code is. I agree that it’s highly unlikely that it’s super formal, but you don’t want to get there and miss the mark. Nobody is going to fault you for asking. In fact, it shows your focus on succeeding in the interview by asking the question. However, if you’re uncomfortable doing that, you can always check their social media and see what people are wearing from pictures in the office.
DALE: Two thoughts: One, short of showing up in a tux, you can’t really overdress. If you wear a suit and they’re in jeans, you can whip off the tie and say, “I’m so glad to see that you’re casual dress.” They’ll love you for the respect you’ve shown them. Two, as part of your prep, you probably want to drive to the offices ahead of interview day to make sure you know where they are, where you’ll park, and so on. While you’re there, walk around the area and get a sense of styles, or you can play private eye and watch employees come and go at starting or quitting time. Figure this out and you eliminate one small distraction.
Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a career coach and the founder of the leading career site www.workitdaily.com. Dale Dauten is founder of The Innovators’ Lab and author of a novel about H.R., “The Weary Optimist.” Please visit them at jtanddale.com, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803. (c) 2021 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.