What’s the worst part of starting a new job?
Your new, puny salary? Your new, miserable boss?
Not even close!
What’s worse are your new co-workers lining up to ask you personal questions — questions you would rather not answer, like “What is your name?” or “Are you pregnant or just fat?” or “Didn’t I see you on ‘Dr. Pimple Popper’?”
If you’re asking who you can ask about the questions you’ll get asked, the answer is Allie Volpe, whose recent article in The New York Times is titled “How to Answer Tricky Personal Questions at a New Job.”
“Starting a new job can make us feel like the new kid on the first day of school,” Volpe writes, “nervous, yet eager to fit in and make a good first impression.”
This is especially true in your case as it is with everyone who, despite all the candles on their birthday cake, has as mental age of 12.
Of course, no one says you have to answer questions. You could be like Pee-wee Herman, cloaking yourself in a mantle of mystery by answering every question with “I know you are, but what am I?” While this is a good short-term solution, it may not be the right approach in the long term.
According to workplace psychologist Michael Woodward, aka Dr. Woody, “Social support has been widely demonstrated as one of the greatest drivers of happiness and success.”
In other words, you need to connect on a personal level, and that could require revealing your deepest, darkest secrets.
Or does it? The trick is to satisfy the curiosity of the losers with whom you will be working, while keeping your most important secrets to yourself. (Of course, you have no important secrets, but if you can think of yourself as an undercover agent operating in a shadow world of workplace intrigue and danger, you’ll be a lot happier.)
So, let’s turn our attention to the tricky questions you are likely to be asked and the even trickier answers you will now be able to provide.
“How do you feel about so-and-so?” is a standard question from “colleagues who are known for being negative and wasting productive time.”
Since these are exactly the kind of people with whom you will feel the most at home, follow your instinct and immediately respond with your list of the 25 most hateful employees. (Any more than 25 may make you seem unfriendly, so keep the names of the other 50 to yourself.)
No matter how many you name, career and executive coach Maggie Mistal reminds you to be professional and honest. “If you sugarcoat too much or evade,” she warns, “people are going to read that, too.”
I agree. That’s why I recommend you give a kind but truthful reply to any questions about good, old so-and-so.
“I don’t know them,” you say, “but I hate them.”
Be careful how you answer the question: “Do you want to join us for happy hour?”
Answer no and your co-workers will think you’re a snob. Answer yes and by the time the cherry drops in your fourth Manhattan, you will have stripped off your clothes and started to dance on the bar.
Either way, you won’t be invited again, which is, of course, the general idea.
If you don’t drink alcohol, the experts suggest you “let your new co-workers know that you’d rather get to know them over coffee.” If you don’t drink coffee, explain you’d rather get to know them over kombucha.
If you don’t drink alcohol or coffee or kombucha, just answer the question honestly. Say, “I certainly could go, but I really don’t want to get to know you.”
It’s not friendly, but it is the truth.
“Are you seeing anyone?” is a seemly innocent question, but it could lead to a torturous inquisition. Possible follow-ups include but are hardly limited to, “‘Are you planning on getting married? Having children?’ Is your partner as big a flake as everyone says? Can I give your digits to my weird cousin, who is probably as desperate as you, so it might work out?”
Or you could button it. “You don’t need to defend your choices,” says Sherry Sims, founder of the Black Career Women’s Network. Simply say that “you prefer not to talk about personal issues in the workplace.”
People will still wonder why you wear a swim mask and flippers to work, but you won’t have to talk about it.
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California.