should you put hobbies on your resume, I want to leave early when work is slow, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Should you put hobbies and extracurriculars on your resume?

I’ve always thought that putting extracurricular interests on a resume was optional at best and self indulgent at worst. But recently, an interviewer seemed very surprised that I didn’t mention my background as a classically trained musician on my resume — to the point where he asked me more about that aspect of my life and took notes (our conversation indicated he felt it was positive information and was incredulous as to why I wouldn’t include it). This was for a position that has nothing to do with music or the entertainment industry.

Am I wrong here? Are there certain extracurriculars you should consider putting on a resume?

Different people will answer this differently. Some interviewers like seeing hobbies and other extracurricular interests on a resume; they feel that it gives them a better sense of the candidate as a person. Other interviewers find it utterly irrelevant and a waste of space.

It is true that some extracurriculars can be more impressive than others. Something that requires years of training and unusual skills is going to be more compelling than the more generic stuff you usually see listed (like running or baking). And sometimes a hobby will spark a conversation that can build rapport. But there’s never any obligation or expectation that you’ll include outside-of-work things on your resume, and your interviewer’s incredulity was just something about him, not a sign that other interviewers will react the same way.

And in general, no one is going to reject you for including or not hobbies on a resume (as long as they’re work-appropriate).

2. I want to be able to leave early when my work is slow

I work for a mid-sized nonprofit. I really love the workplace and have been promoted from an office assistant to a senior associate. I have very few complaints about the office, but I want to ask an etiquette-type question. I tend to be a pretty productive person, I’m quite type-A and always work efficiently. Now that I have been here for over three years, I understand my workload and always respond to emails promptly, even when outside the office, if warranted.

This leads me to my main question: I’d like to ask my supervisor for some flexibility to leave the office when I know I’m not going to be busy. I quite dislike just having to sit at my desk just because it’s normal working hours but I know I don’t have anything going on. I don’t want to seem lazy nor give the perception to my other team members that I’m skipping out early, so I’m not sure how to navigate this. Generally, our office is quite flexible for those that have kids so that’s a normal “excuse” to leave early, but I don’t have kids.

Do you know how your coworkers with kids have handled this? If they’re just announcing “I need to leave early today to pick up my kid,” there’s a good chance that you can just announce, “I need to head out early today, but I’ll be checking email if you need me” (or whatever) as long as you don’t do it more frequently than they do. Of course, before you do that, you’d want to find out if they’re using PTO for that time — if you’re not sure, I wouldn’t assume they aren’t.

But you could also just ask your boss about it, saying something like: “I’ve noticed that other people sometimes duck out early when their workload allows it or they have a kid thing going on. Is it okay for me to occasionally do that too, when my workload is a little slower and it won’t impede anything? I’d love to be able to do that once a month or so when I’m in a slower period.”

3. Can an employer refuse to consider out-of-state job applicants?

I just applied for a position for which I am well qualified. I got an email the following day stating that they are not considering out-of-state applicants. Is this legal? Do I have any recourse?

Yes, that is legal. Legality aside, there are a lot of reasons why employers might decide not to consider out-of-state applicants: It can be more of a pain to schedule in-person interviews if they’re moving very quickly, they might want someone who can start immediately, they might worry about how you’ll adjust to the area (especially if they’ve had issues with that before), and on and on. If they have plenty of strong local candidates, it can be easier to decide just to focus on them. That can feel quite unfair if you’re not local and you’d be willing to pay your own way (to interviews and for relocation), but there’s nothing stopping employers from making this choice.

4. I’m interviewing for a job with an old friend

I recently graduated and started applying for jobs. Through a job agency, I got an interview for a job that would be a great starting point for my career. As I got the details about the appointment, however, I realized that I will be interviewed by someone who I used to be friends with. We even lived together for a few months and were quite close at the time. Over time, our friendship faded and we haven’t been in contact in at least three years. Nothing bad happened; we just had our own social circles and sort of forgot to stay in touch.

At first, I thought this could be in my advantage. Since I am a bit socially awkard, I asked other people for advice and someone told me to send her a message on LinkedIn, telling her that I’ll be coming in for an interview and asking if there is anything I should know about the job. Since I did not have my old friend on LinkedIn yet, I had to add her and wrote this message in the invitation. This is more than a week ago and she has not accepted my LinkedIn invitation or messaged me back. I am wondering if I did the wrong thing messaging her, as if I’m trying to get some special treatment because I know her personally. I wonder if she did not accept me because it was making her feel uncomfortable. Of course, it is also possible that she is not so active on LinkedIn and simply did not see my invite and message.

I am now dreading this interview that is coming up next week. I’m afraid it will be awkward to see her again in this setting without having had contact about it beforehand. Another applicant will be coming in for the interview with me, at the same time. I am also afraid that she thinks my reaching out to her on LinkedIn was rude or insincere. I know I tend to overthink things, but I don’t know what my next move should be with this interview.

It wasn’t rude to contact her on LinkedIn. I wouldn’t have suggested asking if there was anything you should know about the job, since she might worry about giving you an unfair advantage over other applicants or even that she’s not sufficiently unbiased to interview you — but that’s still a really common thing that people ask their contacts and it wasn’t a major faux pas that you did. It’s pretty likely that she doesn’t check LinkedIn that much and hasn’t seen the message, or that she’s just busy and hasn’t had a chance to respond yet (or even that she’s purposely not answering so that there’s no appearance of bias).

I really wouldn’t worry about this too much! Ideally, if you hadn’t already sent the LinkedIn message, I would have suggested you email her a quick note to let her know that you’re interviewing with her and are excited to catch up (more personal than LinkedIn and more appropriate for a former roommate/friend, and more certainty of reaching her), but it’s not a big deal that you didn’t.

Don’t dread the interview! When you see her, just say, “It’s great to see you!” and then treat it like any other interview. She may be worried that you’ll expect her to be less formal with you than with other candidates, and you can put her at ease by not doing that and just taking your cues from her. As much as possible, though, you want her to see you as “skilled candidate,” not “my old roommate,” since the latter can make it hard for her to evaluate you.

5. My coworker is singing nursery rhymes to himself

A coworker on the opposite side of the cubicle wall from me has started an unusual habit. For the last week or two, at random unpredictable intervals and for no evident reason, he has started quietly singing children’s nursery rhyme songs (“I’m a Little Teapot,” “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” and “Old McDonald,” to name a few). It’s not very loud – I think only this of us immediately adjacent can hear it – but is INCREDIBLY distracting. How do I ask him to stop, or bring it up to a manager, without sounding totally crazy or obnoxious?

People are often oblivious to how the noises they’re making are affecting other people. He may not have even processed that you can hear him. (And maybe his kid just started preschool and he’s hearing these constantly himself? Who knows.) In any case, speak up! Frankly, just something like “Hey Bob, what’s up with the nursery rhymes?” might be enough to draw his attention to it and get him to stop. But if it doesn’t, then you say, “For some reason, I’m finding it incredibly distracting — would you mind stopping?” (The “for some reason” is just padding — it’s a little tidbit that lets him save a bit of face. You can skip it if you don’t like it.)

But definitely talk to him directly rather than going straight to a manager. The manager’s first question is likely to be whether you’ve asked him to stop, and it won’t look great if your answer is no.

should I apply for jobs that don’t sound great?

A reader writes:

I am moving back to North Carolina from Texas, and will be living with my parents until I can find a new job. I’ve been with my current company in Texas for over four years, and it is my first job out of college.

Because of this, I feel like I don’t know as much as I should about what I should look for in a job application. What is the best way to be selective about the application process but not limit my opportunities? I work in social media and know that while I COULD write about cars all day as my job, I don’t necessarily WANT to. Should I suck it up and apply to things like this that aren’t the most interesting to me? The city I’m moving doesn’t have as many opportunities in my field as where I currently live.

I want to enjoy (or at least not hate) my work, but I don’t know if I’m just being too picky.

How selective you can be is largely a function of how in-demand you and your skills are relative to the number of job openings in your field and geographic area.

You should also factor in that unless your interests are very unusual, it’s probably true that the jobs that are most appealing to you are the most appealing to other people too, and thus will have more competition. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply to them — you should! — but you should temper your expectations accordingly.

Also, be open to jobs that don’t immediately excite you if you feel like you could do them well. Often what makes people love or hate a job are things like coworkers, their boss, how much autonomy they get, and how much support and development they get. Some jobs score highly on all those fronts even if you’re stuck writing about a boring topic all day (and some boring topics become more interesting when you get to know their nuances). And some jobs that look exciting from the outside score really low on those fronts, and the topic you’re working on ends up not mattering so much, especially after the initial novelty wears off.

Overall, I’d say to apply for a wide range of jobs — ones that you’re excited about and ones that you’re not as passionate about but could see yourself doing reasonably happily. See who asks you to interview and who doesn’t, talk to everyone who asks you to, and stay open-minded.

the 8 worst boss horror stories you’ve ever heard

In the decade-plus I’ve been writing Ask a Manager, I’ve heard about some really bad bosses. Really bad ones. Picture the worst boss you’ve ever had, and these still might be worse. We’re not talking garden variety incompetence here – we’re talking wedding-crashing, organ-pilfering, horse-murdering bad.

At Slate, I’ve compiled the eight awful boss letters that still give me nightmares. You can read it here.

our employee says she’s not comfortable having her desk near men

A reader writes:

I work in a department of about 100. We are a slight majority female, maybe 60/40. Recently a desk opened up just behind a woman who has worked for us for over a year and we moved a new employee, who is male, into the empty spot.

Shortly thereafter, the woman approached her direct supervisor to say that based on some past trauma, she isn’t comfortable sitting so near a man all day, and she asked to have her desk moved. Is this reasonable? We’re empathetic to her feelings but she never made us aware of this need, and we may not always have the ability to avoid seating a man near her. We typically fill every seat available when we hire so even if we can find a spot that isn’t by a man, we could end up having to seat a man near her again if there aren’t other desks available. Are we obligated to accommodate her?

My initial reaction was, basically, no. You wouldn’t accommodate someone who asked not to sit near someone of a different race, regardless of the reason. And even if the trauma piece moves this into the realm of a medical accommodation (under the Americans with Disabilities Act), your accommodations can’t require you to violate other laws (like assigning seats by gender would do).

But we’ve got dueling laws here, so I wanted to bring in an actual employment lawyer to answer this. Employment lawyer Donna Ballman, author of the excellent book Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired says:

This is a tough one because we are dealing with potentially conflicting laws. First, if she is claiming a disability that requires this separation as a reasonable accommodation, the company must look at possible Americans With Disabilities Act compliance. However, the company is also prohibited from acceding to requests to engage in sex discrimination by Title VII.

I think the answer is probably a relatively simple one, since it sounds like the request was not an ADA request, but simply a preference. Had the request been made with a doctor’s note for an accommodation for a disability, or if she had said it was an accommodation for a disability, that might trigger disability accommodation concerns. Once an accommodation request is made, the employer must engage in the interactive process to determine a reasonable accommodation for the disability.

However, undue hardship is a defense to an accommodation request, so I think the employer in this case has an argument that requiring them to engage in sex discrimination is an undue hardship. Therefore, the employer might argue that the request is for an unreasonable accommodation.

The inquiry doesn’t end there though. Just because the specific accommodation is denied, the employer must still engage in the interactive process to determine a reasonable accommodation. So the question I’d ask, if this were truly a disability accommodation issue, is what causes the disability to be triggered? If the employee’s psychologist says it is male voices, then maybe a headphone would work as an accommodation. If it is aftershave smells, maybe they can ask the employee not to use the aftershave. If the very existence of a male in the workplace triggers the employee, then there is probably no reasonable accommodation. But sometimes being creative and having a serious discussion with the employee and their doctor might allow a truly reasonable accommodation to be reached.

Bottom line: Where it isn’t a disability accommodation request, there is no requirement that the employer even consider a discriminatory request. Indeed, the request must be refused. If there is a disability that needs an accommodation, even though engaging in discrimination is not reasonable and is a hardship on the employer, there may be alternative non-discriminatory accommodations that could accomplish what is needed to allow the employer to perform their job duties.

I asked Donna, “Doesn’t the employer have an obligation to treat it as an ADA request even if the employee doesn’t specifically frame it that way, if the employer themselves believes the employee has a covered disability?”

Donna’s answer:

Yes, if the request causes the employer to believe a covered disability is involved, that triggers the interactive process. In this case, maybe the request did, but based on the way it was phrased in the question it really sounded more like a preference than a disability. The logical next question would be whether there was a disability that needed to be accommodated.

So, no, you cannot assign seating based on gender, period. Translated into advice for this letter-writer: Explain to the employee that federal law prohibits you from assigning seats based on gender, since that would be sex discrimination, but ask if there’s anything else that might assist her in feeling comfortable and focused at work. And then, especially the situation is presented as a disability, work with her to figure out if there are other accommodations you can make, and begin that interactive process with the hope that it might lead to a solution that works for her, doesn’t violate other laws (as her initial suggestion would do), and doesn’t create undue hardship for the organization. (And if you have trouble finding that solution, make sure you have a lawyer advising you before you give up — because what normal people consider “undue hardship” doesn’t always match up with what the law says.)

coworkers are secretly bringing kids to work, excessive interview assignment, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Coworkers are bringing kids to work but keeping it a secret from our boss

I work in a small, open concept office and I am having issues with my coworker bringing children to work. My coworker “Sansa” has a grandchild the same age as the son of another one of my coworkers, “Arya.” The boys are best friends and they attended the same (all-day) preschool. There were several times over the course of the summer that the boys were present in the office, sometimes for the entire day, between times when their summer camps was not in session and my boss was not in the office.

Arya burned through the small amount of vacation she received when she started working here six months ago, taking care of the boys after my boss found the boys in our conference room and had the office manager talk to Sansa and Arya about how this workplace was not a day care.

This week, the boys started kindergarten (although they are in different classes, since the school has several). Sansa leaves the office at her scheduled departure time of 4 and then goes to pick up her grandchild and Arya’s son from school about five minutes away from our office. She then swings back to the office and drops off Arya’s son. Arya does not leave until 5. Since the boys don’t see each other all day and it’s “better” that they get to spend time together, Sansa stays with the boys in our office until it is time for Arya to leave.

I have asked Sansa if she could take the boys outside or to the park a block away, and she stated it’s only for a hour, it’s hot out, and she can keep them quiet. She spends the entire time standing around in the office shushing them, which, as you might imagine, does not work. I have discussed this with our office manager, but she feels it’s okay because our boss leaves at 3 to go pick up his own child from school and therefore “(Boss) won’t know unless someone tells him.”

What I really want to do is ask my boss if it’s possible to shift my hours to 8 to 4, so I don’t have to put up with these boys running up and down the office shrieking (in happy tones) for the last hour of my work day. I am concerned this request will require me telling my boss the reason I want my hours to shift, and the true answer — “because Sansa brings two happy little boys to the office every day at 4 who do not possess an indoor voice and I want to claw my eardrums out every day” is not very work appropriate.

Wow. It sounds like your boss has already said this isn’t okay to do, and it’s happening again anyway, because of your coworkers’ willingness to intentionally hide it from him, which is pretty messed up. It’s additionally messed up that you’re being implicitly pressured not to speak up, even though there are shrieking kids in your office making it hard for you to work. (Third messed up thing here: There are shrieking kids in your office making it hard for you to work. It’s incredibly rude that Sansa and Arya are allowing this.)

Ideally you’d tell Sansa and Arya that you’re not able to focus while the boys are there, but given that they’re actively doing something they know they’re not supposed to be doing, I’m not sure how well that’ll go over. It might just make them hostile to you without resulting in any other change. And really, while normally you owe coworkers the courtesy of talking to them before escalating something to their boss, they’re not entitled to that when they’re actively trying to deceive your boss.

So I’d talk to your boss and say something like, “I’m finding it’s difficult to focus from 4-5 now that Sansa and Arya have kids in the office during that hour every day, often being pretty loud. Would you be okay with me shifting my hours to 8-4?” That’s a reasonable request, and you shouldn’t have to lie about your reason in order to cover for Sansa and Arya (and in fact, doing so would make you complicit in what they’re doing).

2. Is this interview assignment excessive?

I’m hoping you can help me with responding to an interviewer. I’ve been selected to move on to the second stage interview process for a really interesting position. It’s an events position and they mentioned in the first interview that we would be asked to complete a project if selected for the second phase. I’ve just gotten the outline of the project for the second phase, and they are requesting that we submit three different proposals for three separate events, including budgets, marketing plans, staffing, logistics, income statements, as well as concept/design/themes. They have given us seven days to complete these assignments, and we must drop off hard copies of each assignment on the deadline date.

Am I wrong to think that this is incredibly excessive? I know that you always say never do work for free, but if this is required for the next step, how can I go back to the hiring manager and tell her that this is excessive to ask of someone already working full-time?

Yes, it’s ridiculously excessive. There’s no reason for asking you to do three of these, and it’s weird that you have to drop off hard copies in person as well. They’re not being reasonable in what they’re asking of you.

To be clear, I am a big fan of using exercises in the hiring process; seeing people in action is one of the best ways to avoid hiring mistakes. But you have to be considerate of candidates’ time. Asking someone to spend an hour or so on an assignment is fine. Asking them to do an already lengthy assignment three separate times is not. (More on this here.)

The problem is that the other candidates are likely to agree to do it, so if you push back, they’re likely to just cut you out of the running. You can certainly say something like, “I’d be glad to do one of these and think that should give you a good sense of my approach, but my commitments to my current job mean that I wouldn’t be able to do three of them.” … but you’d need to be okay with them rejecting you over that, which is unfair and frustrating and also the reality of this.

3. My manager barely responds when I try to chat with her

I have been at my current position for a little over three years, and I love my job. One of my coworkers is out on an extended leave, so some people had to be moved around and I find myself working with my direct supervisor more often than previously. She is around my age and it seems like we would have a lot in common; however, she rarely talks to me. We work in a laboratory setting.

I am an outgoing person and she is a bit quieter in general, but there have been entire days where everything I say (even if it’s work related) gets ignored if it isn’t a direct question. I understand that this might be her personality, but it’s uncomfortable and frustrating to share a small space with someone who has no desire to even acknowledge the fact that I’m speaking. When other people come in, she usually converses with them, so I’m not sure if there is a reason she doesn’t wish to talk to me in particular.

Is there a way I can address this? She is a quiet person and I don’t want to offend her by calling her out on her personality. If she doesn’t feel like conversing, I would rather have her say “I’m sorry, I don’t feel like talking today” or something of the like rather than having her just ignore me, because I find that I am spending less time on my work and more time trying to stay out of her way. Can I broach this respectfully, since this person is my direct supervisor?

It sounds like she might just be a quiet person who doesn’t want to make a lot of conversation while she works. I know that seeing her talk to others who come in makes it feel like it’s something about you, but it’s pretty likely that the difference is that they’re popping in temporarily — so she’s up to talking to them because it’s going to be limited in time and they’re not always around — whereas she’s around you all day and doesn’t want all-day chit chat. It’s also possible that because she’s quiet and you’re outgoing, you might … well, be talking too much for her comfort level, which is why you’re not getting a lot of responses unless you ask a direct question. You say you’d rather she just say, “I’m sorry, I don’t feel like talking today” — but it sounds like she is saying that, just indirectly.

All that said, you could certainly say something to her like, “I’m getting the sense that you prefer not to talk much while we work, which is of course okay with me! But I want to make sure I’m reading that right and I haven’t done anything to put you off?”

4. How often can you reach out with work questions to the person who used to have your job?

How often is it okay to reach out with job-related questions to the person who held your position before you? I’m an analyst, and when I was applying for my current position I connected to the prior analyst via a friend. Since I started the job four months ago, I’ve reached out to the prior analyst twice to ask her quick task-related questions. There’s not a lot of job overlap in my office, so no one else I work with knows the answers.

I think it’s okay to reach out once in a while about this, but I realized today maybe I’m pushing too much? For what it’s worth, my previous job has reached out a couple of times about things I did and I’ve been happy to answer their questions. But I realize not everyone is like me.

I actually wouldn’t reach out at all without first clearing it with your boss. There may be reasons they don’t want you to do that, like that they weren’t happy with her work and don’t want her guiding yours, or that the relationship is strained and this will make it more so, or even that they want to be able to contact her for something else and don’t want you using up her good will on this. If you boss does say it’s okay, I still wouldn’t contact her more than once or twice, unless she’s actively encouraging you to continue doing it. While some people are happy to help out with a question here and there after leaving a job, a lot of people will quickly get annoyed if the contact continues and they’ve being expected to provide free help.

5. My interviewer said he’s setting up other interviews — is that a bad sign?

I just finished an interview for a position I really want. I was the only person the hiring manager had interviewed thus far for the position, and we seemed to get along well. But at the end of the interview, I asked him about next steps. He mentioned that a few good applications just came through, and he’s going to get with HR about setting up those interviews. He said he should know shortly.

Is it a bad sign that he was telling me about other applications are coming through that he’s setting up interviews for? Or is he just being transparent and it has nothing to do with how the interview went?

Most likely, he’s just be transparent about where he is in the hiring process. To him, it’s normal to interview a bunch of people; it’s not a sign about your chances, just a routine note about the steps they still have left.

my coworkers keep complaining about me

A reader writes:

I’m having a hard time fitting into the culture of my new office, and it’s starting to wear on me. I’m kind of unorthodox here for a number of reasons, including that I work later hours than everyone else (which was part of my offer negotiation) and I’m not shy about jumping right in, asking questions, and making changes. I’ve only ever gotten positive feedback on those traits from managers, so I don’t think I’m skirting the line into “pushy” or “rude.”

My manager and her bosses love me and love my work. It’s my coworkers who keep having problems with me: since I’ve been hired four months ago, my boss talked to me five times about complaints or questions others brought to her about my actions. This is about stuff like, “She comes and goes at odd hours,” (yes, which are approved by my manager), “She has visitors to her cubicle,” (yes, which isn’t disallowed and other people have visitors too), “She should run questions like that through the supervisor” (really, asking if you would mind turning off your cell chime is something a manager should have to weigh in on?), and “She’s asking too many questions, who does she think she is?” (I’m doing what I was told to do.) I even got a “warning” note left anonymously in my cubicle telling me to “mind my own business,” which was taken very seriously by admin, but mostly just gossiped about by staff.

My boss has my back, and she’s taken everything very seriously. Every time, she says, “I totally have your back, I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong, but I wanted you to know that this happened, and let’s think of ways of appropriately addressing it if we can.” Sometimes we can’t address it because it’s a problem of someone else’s and I’m just the recipient; sometimes I can make some correction in my behavior to smooth things over.

The problem is: I think “smoothing things over” is actually code for “don’t talk to anyone else about this” or “keep your head down” or “this is just the way things are.” There seem to be a significant number of behavioral problems in this office coming from a number of different people that don’t get dealt with: tantrums/crying in meetings, bullying/sniping comments towards coworkers, disrespectful emails, etc. It seems like the more highly emotional/negative people just get to do what they want and all of us polite folks are expected to just deal with it.

How can I survive in a culture where this happens? Or, better yet, how can I work with my boss to make things better, if possible? My boss thinks that some of our newly-hired higher-ups will start to make changes, and it’s just a matter of time and we should trust them. But how can I make it through the long game if the short game kills me first? I keep bumping into people, being told I’m not wrong, but that I’m the one to have to make adjustments. It’s hard, confusing, and isolating. I don’t want to keep having negative run-ins, but I don’t want to compromise my values (equality, respect, professionalism) either.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

open thread – August 17-18, 2018

It’s the Friday open thread! The comment section on this post is open for discussion with other readers on anything work-related that you want to talk about. If you want an answer from me, emailing me is still your best bet*, but this is a chance to talk to other readers.

* If you submitted a question to me recently, please don’t repost it here, as it may be in the to-be-answered queue.

coworker trash-talks Millennials, is it better to send a perfect application or apply right away, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My coworker likes to trash-talk Millennials

I’m having difficulties with age gaps in my office. I’m fairly new to this particular office (less than six months) but I’m a mid-30’s woman about 10 years into a professional career. Most of the people on my team, with the exception of one, are about 25 years older than me and have been in their positions in this office for 5+ years.

Most of the time, there isn’t too much of an issue, but one coworker in particular keeps making comments about “Millennials” in ways that put me off. I’ve politely pushed back a few times (example, he referred to manual transmission as being a “Millennial anti-theft device” and I replied by saying I am a Millennial who learned to drive on a stick shift) but I mostly tend to ignore the comments. Just now, he sent a youtube link to me and another coworker (who is probably in his mid 30’s as well) of a baseball announcer mocking a group of “Millennial” young girls taking selfies at a game. I was very tempted to write back that I think the video reflected worse on the announcer than the girls who were having fun and not hurting anyone. He and I are peers with the same title. I do not think he is mocking me directly or feels like I’m doing a bad job, but it’s still frustrating to hear his comments against my generation. Should I continue to ignore or be more direct with him?

This is so tiresome. Your coworker is like someone who learned 10 years too late that people like to hate on Nickelback and is so excited to have a target to kick that he doesn’t realize how uninteresting he’s being.

Some options for responding:

* “You know the oldest Millennials are now approaching 40, right?” (You could add, “Keep it up for a couple more years and age discrimination laws will have kicked in” — because they kick in at 40 — but that’ll probably go over his head.)

* “OMG, are we still talking about Millennials?”

* “Dude, lay off the Millennial comments. It’s rude.” (Or “it’s gotten old” or “it’s so boring.”)

* Ignore him. Delete the emails unread, don’t respond to the comments, and generally mute him in your mind.

2. Is it better to send the perfect application or apply right away?

I’d be very grateful for your take on a recent job application problem I had: I saw a really exciting job opening at my current company, for which you had to apply via the company’s application site. I only saw the opening on Friday afternoon and didn’t have the chance to look at it properly until the weekend. It said the deadline was the Monday and it had the standard application format on this website, which includes the option of uploading a portfolio. It didn’t seem to be compulsory for this job, but it’s the kind of job for which my portfolio would be relevant, and I thought since I was a stretch for the job (they seemed to want more experience than I had), it would be best to do everything I could to help my application.

Unfortunately the best and most recent samples of my work are work I did at my current job, which I didn’t have at home. I decided to write a draft cover letter and CV, bring the samples home from work on Monday so I could scan and upload them in the evening, and gamble that the job opening would still be open. Unfortunately when I got home it had closed. Out of interest, do you think I did the right thing? Is it better to send a weaker application (in this case, without an up-to-date portfolio) while the opening is still there, or only apply if your application is perfect?

There’s no good answer here, other than “send in a good application as soon as you reasonably can” — which is what you tried to do. Sometimes the timing just won’t work in your favor, and it’s impossible to fully guard against that. You could have taken only an hour, and it still could have closed before you applied if you happened to have bad timing. The main thing is not to delay because of obsessive perfectionism or procrastination. In your case, though, you weren’t doing that.

The one thing I would do differently is, if you know you’re job searching or are likely to be job searching reasonably soon, have everything you need ready to go. You never know when something will pop up that you want to apply for, and ideally you wouldn’t be starting from scratch at that point in getting materials together.

3. Should I admit to using internet blocking software?

I recently installed a blocking software on my work computer that allows me limited minutes per day on a custom list of time-wasting websites, a decision which – coupled with a few other changes – has massively upped my work day productivity and organization.

My manager has asked what I’ve done that’s had such a big impact on my organization. I feel a bit conflicted about talking about this software – mostly because I feel I shouldn’t admit that, up until now, I’ve had real problems with procrastinating online! Would you suggest keeping it vague, or should I be honest about a useful tool I’ve found to help me address a problem my boss told me head on I needed to fix?

Ooooh. Yeah, this is likely to come across as “I was wasting so much time before that you were seeing it reflected in my work” and that’s not a great thing to say to your manager, even if it’s now behind you. You mentioned you made a few other changes too, so I might just explain those and not focus on this one.

4. My coworker tells my boyfriend whenever I leave work early

I struggle with a non-substance addiction. While one would hope your friends are there for you, my ex-BFF of 20 years, who is also my coworker, takes pleasure in me failing. She has informed my boyfriend when I leave work early. (It’s always excused and always encouraged by the company when it happens. It’s nothing any of us have to hide. Sometimes we are just overstaffed.) Needless to say it’s absolutely … I don’t know what the word is. Is she invading my implied privacy or breaking a general office rule that doesn’t have to be tolerated beyond the boss saying “You shouldn’t be doing that”?

She’d definitely violating boundaries and invading your privacy and being incredibly inappropriate. But there’s no law you could turn to, if that’s what you mean. The normal recourse here would be for your manager to tell her to cut it out (and sternly enforce that if it continues). Have you talked to your boss and asked her to do that? Also, ideally your boyfriend would tell her to stop contacting him too.

5. My employee is making a big deal of her birthday

I have a younger employee who is making a big deal about wanting to take her birthday off. She has the leave time available and it’s not a problem at all for her to be out that day, but I wanted to get your thoughts (and your readers’ thoughts) about her approach. I’ve overheard her make several comments like “you know I won’t be here next Tuesday, it’s my birthday” and “no one should have to work on their birthday.”  It’s come up more than once over the past week.

I personally think it comes across as immature and unprofessional to draw so much attention to one’s birthday as an adult. I have no problem with her taking the day off and celebrating as much as she wants, but I’m afraid that her focus on it in the workplace will cause her to be taken less seriously. I could be completely off-base (as I am a middle-aged curmudgeon), so I wanted to get a wider perspective before I took her aside and had any kind of “this is a career-limiting behavior” chat with her.

If she were just excited about her birthday, I’d tell you to leave it alone. One thing I’ve learned from writing this site (along with “lots of people hate pranks” and “people have a ton of fart-related questions”) is that a lot of people take their birthdays off.

Comments like “no one should have to work on their birthday” are a bit over the top, but how’s her professionalism and maturity otherwise? If it’s fine and this is just a weird quirk, I’d still leave it alone. It’s okay for people to be quirky. But if she’s already struggling to be taken seriously, I might talk to her about that issue in general — not focusing on the birthday thing, but on whatever’s going on that’s causing those perceptions.

That said, if you can tell that people in your office are rolling their eyes at this, it’d be kind to give her a heads-up along the lines of “I am totally happy to give you your birthday off, but you might be coming across as a little tone-deaf to others with comments like ‘no one should have to work on their birthday’ since most people do work on their birthdays, by choice.” But otherwise, I’d leave it alone and let her be super into her birthday.

should I ask for a pay cut if my work isn’t very good?

A reader writes:

I’ve been working in my current role for eight months. I left a highly dysfunctional job that I felt I was great at, but for a company with too many issues I couldn’t overcome. I received constant praise for my abilities and work.

During the interview process and when asked for my expected salary, I quoted much the same as I was on, except instead of the base ($100k) + at risk ($20k) I was getting, I was hoping for just salary ($120k). When I received the job offer, they met the $120k without question and on top have offered other benefits such as insurance I didn’t have previously.

Eight months in and I’ve yet to receive any direct feedback, as my manager is extremely busy at all times and she doesn’t seem to have any desire to have one-on-one catch-ups. She doesn’t have any sort of performance reviews or catch-ups with any other direct reports.

However, through informal feedback (e.g., projects that should be allocated to me being instead given to my coworker, and client comments made to my manager), I feel that my sense of being great at my previous job was perhaps a symptom of just being on the better end of the spectrum in a terrible company. I seem to mess up a lot and I doubt my abilities daily, and struggle to feel like I’m being successful. I still want this job, but I feel like I was overly confident in my interviews and the reality of my skills are a letdown for my new employer.

I’d like to proactively offer myself up for a pay cut. I don’t feel that I am justified in receiving this paycheck each month. I worry that I’m disappointing my employer and wonder if they would feel more inclined to give me some leeway if I were being paid less. I think this would also alleviate the sense of guilt I carry for not being up to standard.

Is there ever a situation where this would be the right course of action?

I don’t want to say there’s never a situation where it would be the right move, but this isn’t it.

If your employer has concerns about your ability to do the job they need done, those concerns aren’t going to be alleviated by paying you less.

I think you’re thinking of this as “well, if I’m bad at the job, it’ll bother them less if they’re paying me less” … but really, if you’re bad at the job and they want to address that, it’s more likely to be addressed by, well, replacing you. And I know your response to that might be “but maybe the higher pay is tied to higher expectations” and that’s true, but they presumably need the job done at this level regardless, which is why they hired for it that way.

It’s not completely out of the question that in some situations an employer could decide, “Well, we wanted a senior X but we’ll settle for a junior X and lower the person’s pay accordingly.” But that’s not how it would usually be handled — and you definitely don’t want to leap straight there without a conversation about what’s actually going on and how they actually feel about your work.

Plus, proactively suggesting a pay cut would be you saying “I can’t do this job and you should no longer expect me to be capable of doing this job.” And that might be exactly what you want to say — but if that’s the case, it’s better to have a straightforward conversation about that, rather than using pay as a proxy for talking about it openly.

So, all roads here lead to a straightforward conversation with your boss as the immediate next step.

Yes, she’s busy, and yes, she doesn’t have regularly scheduled check-ins, but that doesn’t mean you can literally never talk to her, especially about something this important. Say this to her: “Could we schedule some time to sit down and talk about how things are going?” If she seems reluctant to make the time, add this: “I have some concerns about my work that I want to check in with you about.”

And then, ask. Say, “Can we talk about how my work is going overall? I’ve gotten the sense that I might not be where you need me to be.”

It’s possible that you’ll hear that actually, things are just fine and that the signs you thought indicated disaster aren’t actually that alarming. Maybe those client comments came from notoriously unreasonable clients. Maybe projects were given to your coworker instead of you because she had a lull in her workload or a history with that particular client. Who knows.

Or maybe you’ll hear that yes, there are some things you need to work on, but it’s nothing serious and your manager is confident that you’re on the right trajectory.

Or sure, maybe you’ll hear that things are as dire as you fear. If that happens, then you can talk about what you might be able to do to improve, or whether that’s even possible.

But you won’t know until you have the conversation. Start there.