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Nine to Five

A nasty female student is ruining my son’s co-op placement Add to ...

THE QUESTION

My son is in a co-op [program] at a plant for his trade apprenticeship, after completing a degree that didn’t lead to a job. The problem is that his co-worker – they were the top two in their class – is a female student who is attractive, highly competitive and unethical.

The two students are supposed to notify each other of opportunities offered by senior workers to learn the plant’s systems. But she is using her female status to manipulate the men and frequently takes off on separate learning excursions. She has made it clear to my son that she will stop at nothing to ensure she has the best chance of getting a permanent job.

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My son has remained quiet. Workers have advised him to keep his mouth shut, his head down and put up with it for the rest of the co-op.

He does not want to jeopardize job prospects by complaining. But this has been a “job from hell.” He is an intelligent, hard worker. How do young men handle such a situation tactfully and legally and without jeopardizing their future job prospects?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Heather Faire

Human resources executive, Atlanta

I’ve read your question and I don’t see any mention of performance. So I can’t discern whether your son is being disadvantaged because he is male, or he’s just not as good as his peer.

If he wants to get the “permanent” job, he needs to focus on his performance and take some initiative. He could offer to work on projects and propose new ideas with “how to” plans to make them easy. He could meet with successful employees and ask for coaching. If your son demonstrates strong performance and adds value, the company should pick him for the “permanent” job. By the way, there are no “permanent” jobs, only more stable ones.

Performance is the key factor that truly successful, sustainable businesses use to make decisions about jobs and talent. So if your son’s company is not one that values performance over presentation, does he really want to work there?

I know it’s difficult to watch your child not get what he wants. I have to remind myself every day to get out of my children’s way and let them fight their own battles. Failure can be a great motivator. If your son doesn’t get the job, he’ll learn some valuable lessons that could make a big difference for his future.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Kyle Couch

President and chief executive officer of Spectrum Organizational Development Inc., Toronto

On the surface, this may seem like a situation that only young men have to deal with tactfully; however, this is a situation all job seekers must understand and prepare for.

Both you and your son know how challenging today’s job market is, given that a university degree no longer guarantees employment. Therefore, the message at a more fundamental level is to show your potential employer that you are willing to use every means at your disposal to convince them that you are the right person for the job.

Unethical behaviour will catch up with anyone at some point in their career. However, today’s job seekers must dedicate time to develop and use social and political savvy to enhance their functional expertise. Don’t forget, your son’s colleague was the other of the “top two” students, so she must possess a high degree of functional knowledge. This cannot be overlooked.

At the same time, it may seem as though this career choice is a “fall back” option to some degree for your son, whereas your son’s colleague may have been working toward this line of work. She may have spent additional time rounding out her skill set to be a more suitable candidate, and may have presented herself in a more appealing light through her credentials and experience.

It may also be worth noting that beauty is not only in the eyes of the beholder; it also fades over time. His, and her, long-term success will come down to not only what they do to enhance their offerings to potential employers, but also how they go about doing it.

Are you facing a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that minefield? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com. Confidentiality ensured. Weigh in with your view at tgam.ca/careers. Check out past columns here.

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