Your Office Coach: Helping mom with medical appointments need not make or break job opportunity

Q: I’m not sure how to tell a potential new employer about the medical situation in my family. My mother was recently diagnosed with cancer and will soon be starting chemotherapy. Although my siblings can handle most of her treatments, I will still need to help with some appointments.

After losing my job a few weeks ago, I am now the top candidate for a very desirable position. However, I have not yet informed the hiring manager about my mother’s condition. Should I discuss this during my final interview or wait and tell him after I start work?

A: To protect your front-runner status, avoid any mention of potential absences during the interview process. While a savvy employer would never cite family issues as a reason for rejection, they could easily find a more acceptable explanation for not hiring you. So there’s no point in taking that risk.

Once you’re on the job, your boss should definitely be told about these special circumstances. But since your leave requirements are apparently not excessive, don’t alarm him by overstating the problem. You just need to provide a realistic heads-up.

For example: “I thought I should let you know that I may occasionally need a few hours off to take my mother to some medical appointments. My siblings are also helping out, so this shouldn’t happen too often.”

Don’t be surprised or offended if your manager has questions about the duration and timing of these appointments. Even the most sympathetic boss may have understandable concerns about how an employee’s absence will affect the business.

Finally, if your employer is covered by the Family & Medical Leave Act, take time to familiarize yourself with those provisions. As a new employee, you will not be immediately eligible, but that information could be useful in the future.

Q: For some reason, I have been making silly mistakes in my new job. My boss is very angry and has given me one month to prove myself. If I continue to screw up, I will be fired.

I am only 24 years old and have lost two jobs in the past year, so I really want this one to work out. However, I’m not sure how to prevent these errors. Can you help?

A: Three successive failures indicate one of two problems: Either you have some dreadful work habits or you are applying for jobs you cannot do. So instead of casually saying these mistakes happen “for some reason,” you need to determine exactly why you are making them.

If you are qualified for this job, then you must work on discipline and self-control. Stay focused on your tasks, take time to do them properly, and double-check everything. If focusing has always been a problem for you, perhaps you should discuss this with your doctor.

But if you lack the required skills, even the most heroic efforts will not help. In that case, see if your boss would be willing to allow you time to learn. And during your next job search, be sure to apply only for positions that match your abilities.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and author. Send in questions and get free coaching tips at, or follow her on Twitter@officecoach.