Sharp retort at Rotary leads to trouble at work

Lynne Curry

Q. Whenever I stand up at Rotary to make an announcement, I can count on a man in our club rolling his eyes or making a face. Although this annoys me, I've always been able to swallow my irritation.

Yesterday, however, when "Jim" made a snide comment about me to one of his buddies as I passed his table, I said, "Spoken like an oaf." The words just popped out of my mouth.

This morning, my boss called me into his office and told me I'd embarrassed our company and he was considering having me withdraw from Rotary. But he said I could redeem some of his faith if I personally apologized to Jim and the two others who heard me slam him.

This stunned me. I'd simply stood up to a bully. I told my boss I'd have to think about it. What do I do now?

A. You didn't stand up to a bully; you got down to his level.

When Jim makes a face, he shows immaturity. When you call him an oaf, you do too, and you also let Jim know he's getting to you.

The next time Jim rolls his eyes, ignore him. Meanwhile, apologize to him and the two individuals who overheard your comment. It takes class to apologize. Further, your apology doesn't mean you feel differently about Jim; it simply means you regret voicing your thought.

Q. I've worked at my current job as a receptionist since 1995. I'm working on my business degree, and this job bores me to tears.

Although my bosses praise me, they don't promote me. Meanwhile, they've promoted everyone hired after me into professional positions. I've read the writing on the wall and realize I need to look for a new job at a new company. How do I ask a future employer if someone hired as receptionist can expect to be chained to the front desk forever?

A. When you interview for a job, ask the person, "If I do a good job here, what are the chances you'll consider me for a position in other areas of the company?" By doing so, you get an answer and signal your interest in advancement. If a prospective employer doesn't intend to promote you even if you excel, he probably won't hire you because he'll know you won't be happy to remain a receptionist.

Unfortunately, you won't always get an accurate answer. The deck can be stacked against a front desk person who wants to move up, partially because managers hesitate to lose a great receptionist. Additionally, some managers overlook front desk employees when looking for candidates for other positions, not realizing that the same attributes that make you a good receptionist, like multitasking and handling callers, can translate into other positions.

Because you want new duties, talk honestly with your current employer. Once your boss realizes she may lose you, she may promote you or at least give you a crack at other duties. Further, ask her what has led the company to promote others hired after you -- and listen carefully. You may learn that while she praises you for on-time arrival or a cheerful voice, she sees you as easily thrown by changing circumstances or unable to handle more complex duties. You'll want to address whatever she identifies as your flaws.

Next, widen your job search, removing any assumptions that might block you from the right job. Many receptionists falsely assume large employers offer the greatest promotional opportunities, only to learn that big companies pigeonhole front desk staff. Instead, look for a small company in an industry that interests you. For example, as a front desk person in a small insurance agency, you'll learn the insurance business, which can position you for a promotion as the company grows or vacancies open.

In addition, apply for non-entry-level jobs for which you qualify. To give you a good shot at landing one of these jobs, rewrite your resume, highlighting your problem-solving, multitasking, coordination and other skills. Further, write a cover letter outlining your work ethic, longevity, coordination skills and upcoming degree. You may find yourself more marketable than you think.

Management/employee trainer and the owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc., Dr. Lynne Curry provides columns to newspapers in multiple states. For questions, Curry can be reached at