Johnny C. Taylor Jr., a human-resources expert, is tackling your questions as part of a series for USA TODAY. Taylor is president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, the world’s largest HR professional society.
The questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor’s answers below have been edited for length and clarity.
Have a question? Do you have an HR or work-related question you’d like me to answer? Submit it here.
Question: While onboarding a new employee, I detected a faint smell of marijuana. What should I do? – Dianne
Johnny C. Taylor Jr.: You are right to be vigilant and concerned about drug use at work because it can pose a threat to the safety of employees, quality of products and services, and reputation of your employer. But you should proceed with caution, given changing marijuana laws and potential limits on questions and testing at this stage of the worker’s employment.
Some states and municipalities don’t permit inquiries about off-duty marijuana use (or allow post-offer, pre-employment testing) unless it involves a safety-sensitive position. Consider also that the faint smell you detected might only mean the employee has been in the presence of someone using marijuana and not using himself. So, this might not be sufficient to call for a drug test.
Employees can be required to take a drug test when there is reasonable suspicion. This generally requires specific observations of an employee’s use, possession or impairment by at least two managers. Odors do count as reasonable suspicion, especially if paired with observations such as slurred speech, unsteady movements, watery eyes, lethargy, or argumentative and agitated emotions.
HR always should be consulted before an employee is sent for drug testing. Legal counsel might also be involved. An employee needs to consent to the test and, as a part of the process, the observations and testing requirement should be explained.
Here is a challenge: Current testing for marijuana simply indicates there has been recent use. This is problematic where recreational use is legal. It is almost impossible to determine if someone is currently using and under the influence, or whether the person has used it recreationally or for an authorized medicinal purpose outside of work in the recent past.
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So, it’s important for employers in places where marijuana use is legal to communicate their expectation that drug possession and use and being under the influence are prohibited at work and during work time – and testing is a possibility if use is suspected.
In the haze of new state marijuana laws, it’s clear that changing attitudes toward the drug are challenging employers. Managers need to be aware of state laws, but they also must comply with federal law, which still classifies marijuana use as illegal.
Above all, employers must commit to providing a safe workplace, and that means employees cannot be under the influence at work.
Q: Everyone understands the need for networking, especially because it seems like a lot of people get hired through referrals. But you’re not always going to know someone at a company you’re interested in. How do you stand out as a job candidate when you don’t know anyone at a company? – Anonymous
Taylor: Always start by applying directly to a company’s online job posting site. “Start” is the key word here, as applying is just the starting point.
Then do a search to see who you may know at the company. Check out the company’s website for a list of executives and staff. Employees are often featured in blog posts and videos, so be sure to scan sections beyond “Contact us.”
Another connection that works is through high schools and colleges. You’d be amazed at how many times people reach out to me and point out that we are both Panthers (Dillard High School) or Hurricanes (University of Miami). Whether I know the person or not, I usually respond just because we are both alums of the same educational institutions.
Incorporate other resources, too, like industry leadership reference books available at public libraries.
Of course, LinkedIn has made networking easier. Check whether any of your contacts are employed at the company. Also, check second-level connections: Are any of your contacts connected to people at the company? If so, ask whether they can put you in touch.
The goal is to find someone in HR or recruiting who can pull your application for review or to find someone who can suggest to HR that they do so. These efforts will show you are industrious and truly interested in working at the company.
Networking is work, of course, but it is important. To expand your network, go to lunch or for drinks with professional contacts and volunteer with your professional association.
Another good option is to work with a local staffing agency, which likely already cold-called or sent candidates to the company. Usually, staffing representatives will be able to give you insights into hiring cycles and what type of candidates they prefer. They can even market you to the company for a future role if there isn’t a current opening.
Visit a staffing agency in person and ask for feedback on your appearance, voice and resume.
As for standing out, don’t forget you have other tools in your job search, including a cover letter that should address your accomplishments and relevant experiences.
Your LinkedIn profile should offer a strong summary of your experiences – and not a regurgitation of your resume – and have a professional headline. Ask former co-workers to write recommendations on your profile and endorse you. Lastly, make sure your profile is public, and contact information is easy to view. That way, recruiters can find you.