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Appearance derails co-worker’s promotion

DEAR J.T. & DALE: My co-worker has worked at our company for six bizO-DautenOdonnel_DaleJanine_BizOyears; I’ve been here for two. My boss just told me I’m up for a promotion that involves visiting customers. My co-worker has wanted this job for a long time. I asked my boss why she isn’t getting it. He said the problem is her teeth, which are crooked and stained. He says she is great on the phone, but he doesn’t want her representing the company in person. I’m horrified. What should I do if she asks why I got the promotion? Should I turn it down? – Mercedes

Dale: No, don’t turn it down. Your boss will simply find someone else for the job and perhaps that will mean replacing you.

J.T.: Agreed. But I do think you should urge your boss to discuss with your co-worker why she is being passed over – that shouldn’t be your responsibility. And prepare yourself for a conversation with your co-worker. Let her know you are sorry she wasn’t chosen. She may be angry, but it shouldn’t be at you.

Dale: If your boss will be candid with your colleague, it will do her a great service. I have seen too many people held back by something in their appearance or mannerisms that others have been “too polite” to mention. I wish every company had someone like the person at one consulting firm where I worked – a VP who took on the role of mother to us all, teaching everyone how to dress and act. That woman changed lives and no one – no one – was anything but grateful. If your employer turns out to be too meek to likewise aid your co-worker’s career, then suggest that he hire a career coach to work with all of you. After all, who knows what there is in his or your appearance or personality that is limiting you? If you knew, you’d fix it. It’s what we don’t know about ourselves that can silently, secretly hold us back.

Dear J.T. & Dale: I just interviewed for a job that I really want, a personal assistant to a very wealthy person. At the end, she told me they would have to do a background and credit check. I have been dealing with a shopping addiction and am in debt, and have a crummy credit score. Advice? – Renee

J.T.: Unfortunately, she probably wants a credit check because she’ll give you a credit card to make purchases on her behalf and needs to make sure she can trust you. You say you are dealing with your addiction. Have you had counseling? Is there something that shows you have this under control? In any case, I would suggest being proactive. Say something to her like: “I really, really want this job. That’s why I need to be the one to tell you this personally. I had a shopping addiction. I’ve taken steps to fix it. I am now putting it behind me and would love to prove it by working for you. I will make sure you are glad you hired me.” By taking ownership and letting her know how much you want the job, you’ll have a better shot at establishing trust and getting the job.

Dale: The key word in what J.T. just said is “trust.” Owning up to your credit problems is a demonstration that you are open and honest, and those are related to being trustworthy. However, I wouldn’t offer the term “shopping addiction,” elevating your money problems to the level of a disease/disorder; I’d just point out that you had to learn the hard way about your spending. Perhaps you can make the case that you’ve been highly responsible with other people’s money. For instance, have you handled cash in other jobs? If not, two suggestions: (1) Give your prospective employer a long list of references; and/or (2) take the initiative to talk to someone at your bank about ways to control or limit what an employee can or can’t spend, then educate your new boss about her options. Either way, you’ll be demonstrating that you really will make her life easier.

Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm jtodonnell. Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with Please visit them at, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.