Monday, August 16, 2004

Ask the Professor II

Let me begin by thanking all of you for your overwhelming support of Professor Plum’s newest feature, Ask the Professor. The flood of questions she’s received has really made her feel that, although she’s unemployed… I mean retired, her opinions are still valued and her advice is still sought after. So please accept my thanks on behalf of the Professor.

Now, speaking of that flood of questions, on to your latest inquiries:

Dear Professor Plum:
I recently started a new job, and I’m having some trouble bonding with my boss. I feel like he doesn’t listen to me, and isn’t really concerned about whether or not I succeed in the position. Do you have any advice on what I can do to break through these barriers?

- Suzie O., Topeka, KS

Dear Suzie:
Your question struck a real chord in me, because many years ago, I faced a very similar situation with my direct supervisor. We just weren’t able to see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, and I felt he wasn’t really listening to my concerns. It seemed as though he gave no thought to the impact his decisions would make on the people around him.

Like you, I wanted to make the situation better, so I started to do some research. After watching a Dateline NBC special on Russian orphans and how they’re often not able to form true emotional bonds with people as a result of being neglected as infants, I felt certain that this was exactly the sort of traumatic childhood experience that must have made my boss the emotional cripple that he was. Armed with this new knowledge, I decided that I would try one of the controversial techniques highlighted in the program to attempt to rebuild those bonds.

So one evening, I asked my boss to meet me in my office to discuss sales goals, but in fact, I was preparing for a re-birthing ceremony similar to the one I had seen on TV. As he walked into my office, I leapt out from behind the door, threw a giant burlap sack over his head, and wrestled him to the ground. I then held him down for about 20 minutes until he stopped struggling, all the while saying, “It’s okay. You’re okay.”

Once he had calmed down, I let him out of the sack and cradled him in my arms as he wept, thereby sealing our emotional bond and enabling him to finally treat people with respect and consideration. I can tell you that our relationship took a dramatic turn after that evening.

Now, as a condition of my parole, I am required by law to tell you that this was a very, very bad idea, and if I had to do it all over again, I would resolve my concerns through constructive one-on-one dialogue.

But Suzie, I think you’re smart enough to read between the lines here. I’ll give you this one final tip: if you think your boss is a fighter, you may want to solicit backup from a co-worker.

Dear Professor Plum:
Normally I’m pretty articulate on interviews, but last week an interviewer really caught me off guard when he picked up his pen and said, “Sell me this pen.” I wasn’t even interviewing for a sales position, so I guess it really threw me. I know I didn’t get that job, but for future reference, how would you recommend I answer that type of question?

- David A., Sacramento, CA

Dear David:
Ahh yes, the infamous “Sell me this pen” question. It’s an oldie, but a goodie. Personally, I hate this question, particularly if you’re not applying for a sales position. It’s just an opportunity for the interviewer to see you sweat a bit and determine how you think on your feet. The question is not intended to gauge your sales ability, but rather your ability to operate under pressure.

If you are hit with that question again, here’s the type of response I would suggest:

“Sell me this pen.”

“Well, it seems to me that you already have one just like it, so I’d say you’re probably set in the pen department. Now what I would like to do is talk to you a little bit about mechanical pencils. When was the last time you used one, and what was your experience like?”

Trust me – this will completely throw the interviewer, and you will have successfully regained control of the interview. You’re hired!

And thus concludes another riveting installment of Ask the Professor. If you have any questions you would like the Professor’s help with, remember to send them in to There’s nothing Professor Plum loves more than being able to use her vast experience to help others!