Beware the perils of oversharing at work

Question: Several months ago, my position was eliminated. It was a blessing in disguise, because my husband had a terminal illness, and I was able to care for him until his death. Now I'm seeking a new job and am uncertain about the inevitable question about things in my resume.

If I say I took time to care for my ill husband, the interviewer may think that I might be pulled away again, but if I say that he died, it will seem as if I'm looking for sympathy. Here's what I've come up with: "I took some time [after my layoff] to see my husband through to the end of a terminal illness. During that time, I also attended several online conferences and dove into some innovations in our field." Thoughts?

Answer: In interviews, the ratio of business to personal talk should be in inverse proportion to your intimacy with the interviewer. With a stranger, I'd focus on the business portion: You were laid off but have kept current through conferences and research. Odds are, the interviewer won't delve much deeper than that; several months' gap after a layoff is hardly unusual. If the subject of your late husband comes up naturally, briefly explain as shown above -- but leading with that topic, as you say, could make things awkward.

Question: I work at a law firm that recently promoted a longtime part-time employee to a full-time supervisor. Unfortunately, she has issues when it comes to staying longer hours.

If someone is out, she will never offer to stay. Yet she has no problem leaving work to take her adult son to the doctor, even just for a checkup. Apparently, her husband has been giving her grief because she's not home every day at the same time and he has to start making dinner.

She was briefed twice already on what the job entails, yet she seems to be ignoring it. The rest of us think she is not being fair.

Answer: This is another excellent example of when not to share personal details in business situations.

"My able-bodied adult spouse gets hangry" just invites comparisons and resentment from colleagues who have actual dependents -- minor children, disabled relatives, pets -- to feed and chauffeur, or who are just burned out from always having to pick up the slack.

But all that bean counting is background noise to the main problem: Your supervisor is not being responsible or effective in her new role. Maybe she and her family just need more time to adjust to her new schedule.

If directly petitioning her higher-ups is not an option, perhaps a late-breaking emergency that only she is authorized to handle will force the issue when the buck lands on her abandoned desk.

PRO TIP: If you have a spouse, child or parent who requires medical attention or hands-on care, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act requires most employers to grant 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave per year.

Karla Miller writes a column about work dramas and traumas for the Washington Post.

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