weekend free-for-all — February 17-18, 2018

This comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand. (This one is truly no work and no school.)

Book recommendation of the week: Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness, by Melissa Dahl. If you didn’t win this week’s giveaway, get it for yourself. It’s awesome.

open thread – February 16-17, 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.

talking about “adult” experience in an interview, rejected candidate’s parent called us, and more

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

1. Talking about “adult” experience in an interview

I have a very strange situation. A few years ago, I hosted a small sex party that was a great success. Attendees recommended other attendees, and the list of invitees grew.

I decided to treat the group like a real organization. I put systems in place to handle the administrative aspects of finding hosts, teaching hosts how to throw a good event, and handling event registration. On the human resources side, I paid a lot of attention to when the groups “gelled” and when they didn’t, and was able to start identifying factors that led to successful experiences for the attendees. The factors ranged from the environment to the mix of personalities, body types, and preferences. We have explicitly developed and refined systems for guaranteeing physical health, dealing with consent, screening new attendees for fit, and so on.

The group has been a tremendous success. We have hundreds of members, and I’m very proud of the culture, the extreme respect that members feel for each other, and an atmosphere that everyone praises as being safe, consent-based, and accepting. We now have several hundred members and if this were an activity that could be done above board, I would be trying to turn it into an actual business.

Running and growing this club has given me experience that is directly relevant to a management job, and much of what I have done would be great to talk about, if it weren’t a sex club. Is there any way to bring this experience into the mix when talking with prospective employers, or does the subject matter forever relegate it to the NSFW category, no matter how relevant it may be?

Yeah, I don’t think you can, unfortunately. You could be vague about what the club entails, referring to it as an activity club of some sort, for instance. But if you’re asked for details — or worse, a reference connected to your work there — you’re going to quickly get into territory that requires you either to lie or to make your interviewer very uncomfortable. I know that’s crappy, but I can’t see a way around it.

2. Should I tell a rejected candidate that their parent protested our hiring decision?

I recently rejected a candidate who wasn’t a good fit for the position for a variety of reasons. They responded with an email debating our decision (in a tone that validated we made the right call) and I found out the next day their parent also sent an email to our CEO (they have a loose professional connection) debating my decision (and also implying I did it without management’s blessing … ugh).

In this situation, would you give the applicant a heads-up that this happened? Based on their response, I wouldn’t be surprised if the parental interference was requested, but it just comes off so wildly unprofessional it’s really soured us on a person who was good but not great and turned them into a never-ever. What do you think?

Nah, I wouldn’t bother. This candidate already sent you an email debating your decision in a rude tone. That means that (a) the chances that they’ll respond well to this heads-up are significantly lower than with a polite/professional candidate, and (b) there’s no incentive here for you to go out of your way to try to do them a favor. Plus, it sounds like the parent would hear about this and go back to your CEO about it, and I suspect your CEO doesn’t want to deal with that.

And geez, I guess we can see where the candidate got this from.

3. Is there any benefit to me interviewing for a job that I’ll already be offered?

I’ve been in touch with someone at a company I used to work for about returning to work for them in a role almost identical to the one that I had previously (I left there seven years ago), but I’d now be working remotely (which is a key reason I’m interested in going back — I moved away and previously they didn’t support remote work but now they have a strong set-up for it). Once they heard I was interested my old department, they said they’d post a job for me to apply for.

I heard today they have approval to post the position and specifically to hire me into it, so they’re checking with HR to see if they even need to post it or if they can just direct hire and assign me. However, they said that if I still want to go through an interview process, we can go that route. I’m inclined to say no since any of the information that I might still need (like questions I’d ask in an interview) I can just ask of my contact, and some of the things I’d want to ask are more for after I have the offer in hand anyway (although I suppose if I was interviewing for a job I know is mine, maybe I’d ask them then anyway, rather than waiting?). However is there some other benefit for me to actually interview for the job, either in the process itself, or for when it comes time to negotiate salary, that I’d want to take advantage of and would miss by not interviewing?

If they do end up needing to interview other candidates, you want an interview too. Seven years is a long time to be away, and if they’re also talking to others, you don’t want those other people to be more fresh in their minds than you are.

If they’re not interviewing anyone else, then I don’t think you need to set up a formal interview, but I wouldn’t take the job without a pretty detailed conversation with the person who will be managing you. You want to know things like how the role may have changed since you last held it (a lot can change in seven years) and whether anything about it is different for someone who’s working remotely, and — unless you know your would-be manager very well — you want to get a better feel for her as a manager and for her to be able to get a better feel for you.

You can do that in a formal interview too, of course — and one possible advantage to a real interview is that if you’re super impressive in it, you could potentially increase your ability to negotiate salary. That said, there’s a little bit of a risk to a real interview too, in that if you have a bad day and flub it, they might end up with a sudden requirement to interview other people too.

4. Applying for a job with an old colleague — should I ask for a call to talk about the job?

I was recently forwarded a great job opportunity — I fit the job description, have the necessary experience and degree required — and better yet, this job would bring me closer to my hometown and family. It would also be a career jump for me since I’m currently working in a position with no room for growth.

I found out that the director at the potential job is an old colleague/senior from when we used to work at the same institution a few years ago. I was debating whether I should reach out to her separately from the application process to talk to her about the job and let her know I’ve applied, especially since she would be the direct manager for this position. The field I work in is extremely small and competitive and knowing the right people really does take you far. I was going to shoot her an email to reconnect, update her, and ask if we could talk over the phone regarding the job. What do you think? Is that a bad move?

Definitely email her and let you know that you’ve applied for the job and would love to talk with her about it if she thinks you’re a strong match for it. But don’t just ask for a phone call to discuss it — that’s pretty much an attempt to jump ahead in their selection process.

For what it’s worth, candidates love to make these requests for phone calls to “discuss the job” when they know the hiring manager or have a connection to them through someone else … and hiring managers will sometimes agree to the calls out of a sense of obligation if they already know the candidate or the mutual contact and want to preserve the relationship. But when there’s a clear application process already laid out, it’s generally pretty annoying when people try to go around that rather than following the instructions we asked you to follow.

So apply, and email her to let her know. If she thinks it makes sense to set up a call, she will let you know.

5. Can I praise my boss for her work turning around our organization?

I have a good problem. My boss (of a small not-for-profit) was recently moved into the top role when the CEO left and is now managing the whole organization. Things were not going too well when the former CEO left and morale was pretty low. My boss really stepped up to the plate and has turned things around and boosted morale, making things better for staff in a number of ways. She also goes out of her way to give us thoughtful (homemade and edible!) gifts at Christmas time (as context).

Is it ever okay to praise her for turning things around? How appropriate would it be for the staff to come together and buy her a small gift as a token of our appreciation for her hard work? Would us all individually stating our thanks be more appropriate, and how would this best be communicated? I’m very aware of the “never gift up” protocol in professional settings, but this seems like a bit of a grey area.

Definitely do let her know that you really appreciate her work, and be as specific as you can about the thing she’s done that you’ve noticed and the outcomes you think she’s achieved. Managing can be a pretty thankless job — in part because sometimes people aren’t sure if they can send praise upwards — and hearing that kind of thing can be a really big deal. You could do this in an in-person conversation, or you could do it in a note or a card. (The note or card has the advantage that it’s something she can keep and look at in the future, but really, any of these options will be lovely.)

But I would stay away from the gift, for all the same reasons that you shouldn’t gift upwards at work in general (including, in this case, that you risk making other people feel obligated to contribute to it).

is it reasonable to expect to be thanked when I go out of my way for a coworker?

A reader writes:

I’m just wondering how reasonable it is to expect politeness in the workplace. I’m feeling frustrated with a coworker who never thanks me for doing favors outside of my usual job function for him, but I have no idea if that’s a reasonable way for me to feel.

For example: recently he asked me to pull together some info for a meeting he was going to two days later. I spent a couple hours putting it together and emailed it to him. I feel like a typical person would reply back “thanks,” at the very least to acknowledge that they received it. But he never replied to my email or mentioned it to me at all.

This coworker is senior to me, but he isn’t directly above me. I don’t usually work with him. He has a habit of doing things like this (not just to me, to everyone) and I find it rude. I don’t need to be thanked for doing my job. So if he was my boss or the things I was doing for him were part of my normal job function, I probably wouldn’t care as much (though I still think it’s good practice to send over a quick “thanks!” even in those cases). But whenever I do things like this it’s essentially me doing him a favor — taking time out of my regular work to make his job easier. Is it normal work behavior to not thank someone for doing you a favor outside of their usual work duties if their manager asked them to?

And either way, should I mention anything about it or just get over it? I was thinking about just saying something like, “Hey, did you ever get that email I sent you? I didn’t see a reply to it and wanted to make sure it looked okay.”

Yeah, it’s rude for him not to acknowledge that you’re going out of your way to help him.

Of course, it’s possible that he doesn’t know you’re doing that — people aren’t always crystal clear on exactly what is and isn’t in someone else’s job description, and it’s possible that he assumes that because you’re doing what he asks, it’s part of your job. He should thank you regardless, simply because that’s polite, but he might not realize that you’re going out of your way to help him.

You could attempt to nudge him into realizing it, by saying things like “I don’t typically pull together this kind of info for the sales staff, but I can do it for you this time” or “Normally the sales staff does this themselves, but if you’re in a crunch, I can see if I can get it done for you later today.”

Another way of nudging him into realizing that he needs to acknowledge you is exactly what you suggested: saying something like “Hey, did you get that email I sent you? I didn’t hear back from you and didn’t know if it was what you needed or not.” Do that enough times, and you might push him into the habit of acknowledging your work before you follow up about it.

There’s also the option of saying no to some of his requests. If his requests would really be favors from you, then you’re not obligated to grant them if he has a track record of being rude to you. But only do that if you can genuinely defend a no by pointing to higher priorities that you need to deal with. Otherwise it could backfire on you and make you look unhelpful and/or petty to your boss or others.

And you mentioned that sometimes your manager is asking you to do this stuff for him. In those cases, the work isn’t so much of a favor for him; it’s an assignment from your manager.

In general, though, some people are just like this — they’re very transactional about work and miss the entire social context of dealing with humans and the fact that being pleasant in your interactions with people makes everything feel a lot nicer. This word view also misses the fact that even in the context of “just doing their jobs,” most people have some leeway on how quickly they respond or with what degree of attention to detail or in how far they go out of their way to help someone — and that being kind makes people more interested in prioritizing your requests and generally being helpful.

my employee argues when I correct her work

A reader writes:

I have a young employee who has a bad habit that needs to be broken and I’m looking for input in how to help her with this. I had a similar problem when I was her age and had it pointed out to me in a way that was rather hurtful, which is something I’d like to avoid.

She’s been with the company for two years as a part-time employee while she was in college and was just promoted to full-time. I’m her supervisor, but not her manager. I’m responsible for her training, her schedule, and those types of things, but I’m not responsible for her performance reviews or discipline. I’m the “good cop,” so to speak.

Here’s the crux of the problem: when I tell her something or ask her to change how she does something (because it’s incorrect), instead of acknowledging the correction with an “okay, I understand” she gives me an argument. Last night, I asked her to do X instead of Y because Y was the wrong thing to do. She then proceeded to tell me why she did Y.

This isn’t a case of Y could have been the correct thing to do if I’d just listen to her. Y was wrong.

I know I need to have a conversation with her and address it, what I’m looking for is some advice in phrasing “knock it off” in a way that isn’t hurtful.

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.

yes, you are awkward … and yes, it’s okay

I love awkwardness — my own, other people’s, all of it. There’s little I enjoy more than dissecting a mortifying moment with a close friend (“What do you think they were thinking when that came out of my mouth?!” “They must have been so baffled by why you said that!”) or even speculating on hypothetical mortifying moments that haven’t even happened but could (a friend and I have spent entire meals laughing about the prospect of embarrassing things that haven’t even happened to us yet). It’s probably no coincidence that I write a blog that frequently trafficks in the embarrassing situations of others (like accidentally hugging your CEO in the office elevator, or spontaneously biting a coworker).

So I was beside myself with excitement when I found out that Melissa Dahl, the editor of New York magazine’s Science of Us, was writing a book about awkwardness — Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness. I recently got ahold of an advance copy and it is AMAZING, and she was nice enough to give me a copy to give away here (more on that in a minute).

Cringeworthy delves into when and why we feel awkward, and how we can move past it. You’ll learn about why it’s awkward to mix two groups of friends, where secondhand embarrassment comes from, and how to fight off a cringe attack — and there’s a whole chapter on awkwardness at work! (I’m interviewed in that chapter, and it’s probably my favorite interview ever.)

Melissa writes with candor and humor about her own experiences of awkwardness — and she seriously sacrifices for her readers by intentionally putting herself in awkward situations so that she can explore them in the book. She reads her teenage diaries live on stage, she does improv, she tries out a Tinder-like app for friendships, she makes herself network, and she has a hilarious account of her session with a professional cuddler (which she, quite understandably, sprints out of).

I love this piece from the intro and think it sums up the entire credo of the book: “The things that make you cringe are usually the things worth sharing, because they can help others feel less alone. … It’s an understandable reaction to flee the situation that makes you cringe, but what if you could teach yourself to tolerate it? You could, maybe, learn to use the empathy as a portal to compassion, for other people and for yourself. Looked at in a certain light, cringing because becomes a worthwhile feeling, an emotion worth exploring, not avoiding. Little humiliations can bring people together, if we let them. The ridiculous in me honors the ridiculous in you.”

This book is the book I always wanted to read! I want you to read it too.

To enter to win a free copy: Leave a comment describing the most awkward situation you’ve ever experienced or witnessed at work. I’ll pick the the winner at random (or rather, a handy WordPress random selector plug-in will). All entries must be posted in the comments on this post by Friday, February 16, at 11:59 p.m. EST. To win, you must fill out the email address section of the comment form so I have a way of contacting you in the event you’re the winner.

And if you don’t win this giveaway, I hope you will buy yourself a copy. If you like this blog, you will like this book.

coworker bogarts all the food at work events, asking for a bonus when resigning, and more

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

1. Coworker takes so much food that other people don’t get any

I work at an elementary school and we have several catered/potluck events through the year. Our problem is that there is one teacher who ALWAYS starts eating before the rest of us and takes a fairly large amount, several times, leaving the staff, especially the second shift of lunch, short on food! Several of us have commented to him but he is either ignoring us or oblivious to social etiquettes. I have seen him taking the leftovers home! What can we do? Who should say something?

If he were just taking a large portion but was eating it on the spot, I’d say that it might just be that the school needs to order slightly more food .. or the person who coordinates these meals needs to issue very specific instructions like “We’ve ordered enough for everyone to have one sandwich and one side. Please don’t take more than that.” And possibly needs to hover near the food table to enforce it.

But on top of that, he’s taking so much that he’s taking leftovers home before other people have even had a chance to eat?! It sounds like whoever coordinates these events needs to be physically present by the food and when they see him show up early, should say something like, “We’re going to open this up for everyone at noon, but not before then” and also “Please limit yourself to one plate until the second lunch shift has all been fed.”

If he’s rude enough to ignore someone with authority over these events standing right there and tell him to stop, that person should follow up with him one-on-one afterwards (and if that person is an admin, she can bring in the bigger guns of her own boss at that point).

2. Can I ask for a bonus when I’m resigning after being underpaid for two years?

In 2016, I took on a management position in a company I had been interning at for six months. I was pretty desperate to find a job, as I was about to lose my insurance, and really struggling financially. They offered me the job, but really lowballed me, and I admittedly made a mistake by not researching salary range for the position. I was living below the poverty line at the time, and what they offered me sounded better than nothing, I loved the nonprofit, and I really wanted to move out of the service industry now that I was graduating college.

I realized pretty quickly that I was being underpaid by about $20K a year, according to market rate, and $25K less than my predecessor. I expressed to my boss that it wasn’t in my budget to continue working for my current salary, and received a 3% cost of living increase at my six-month review.

My boss was then fired, and pretty quickly after that my supervisor left, leaving me doing the three jobs for nine months in the interim. I received excellent feedback from our board, kept our fundraising numbers where they should be, and was repeatedly told I was “holding the place together.”

Our new executive director started in the new year, and to give them credit, they gave me a $20K raise almost immediately. However, at this point I was done with the exhaustion of working at this place and had been looking for new work for a while. I also began to feel that my current field is not right for me. I finally found a job that I think is going to be a great change for me, and I am leaving in a few months when the position opens. I gave my job plenty of notice and have agreed to train my replacement.

They just released my replacement’s salary range, and it’s $20K over what I am being paid now (that is, $20K over my current wage, which I have only had for two months, and $40K over what I was being paid for the first year and a half of my employment). I am furious. I feel abused and used by this organization. They hired me in as naive but very capable, and I held things together in their time of crisis, and I got into about $2K of debt while working here because I had to start buying groceries on credit (I live in a very expensive city). Is there a case I can make for some kind of parting bonus? We are a small organization and we don’t have HR.

It’s very unlikely. Bonuses are generally used as a way to retain good employees. Because you’re leaving, they have no incentive to give you a bonus on your way out.

It’s also possible that they’re looking to hire someone more experienced than you were. You noted that the market rate was $20K over what you were first being paid, and so the $20K raise you got presumably brought you up to market level. If they’re now offering an additional $20K over market rate, it’s very possible that they’re looking for someone with more experience or expertise (especially since you note that you were right out of college when you started, and especially if this role is also going to cover some of your former boss’s and former supervisor’s work). If that’s the case, then you might be comparing apples and oranges.

All that said, if you’re going above and beyond to help in the transition in ways that are inconveniencing you — like working longer hours or staying on longer than you otherwise would to help train your replacement or being available for questions after you leave — then now we have incentive for them to give you a bonus in exchange for that work. You can try to negotiate that! But otherwise, you can’t really expect them to give you more money as you’re leaving because you’re unhappy about the salary that you had agreed to previously.

3. Mentioning a commute and work schedule as my reasons for being interested in a job

I will be interviewing next week for a job and wonder if its okay to mention that the main reason I’m seeking to leave my current place of employment and take this position is because of the location and long commute. Or is that unprofessional? Honestly, even though I’d be taking a pay cut, I’d save a ton on gas (new job would be a 25-minute walk from my house if I choose).

I’m also a homeowner not renter, so I’m in this area long-term if that matters. And because the schedule is 7-3 instead of 9-5 and an hour commute both ways, I’ll be getting home the same time as my kids do from school. No more “latch-key-kids.” Just knowing that I’m much closer to home and kids’ school would give me such piece of mind. Is it okay to mention this? I am a mom first and foremost and what is best for my kids in top priority but is that unwise to even hint to?

It’s fine to say that you have a very long commute to your current job and are looking for something closer to home — but then quickly follow that up by talking about why this particular job interests you, so that they know you’re genuinely enthusiastic about the work itself and not just their location. And for that same reason, the reasons you give for being interested should be about the work of the job rather than the schedule or the proximity to your kids.

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with your interest being driven primarily by the location and the schedule — those are important things — but focusing on your interest in the work will make you come across better to the interviewer. They’re likely talking to other candidates whose reasons for applying will be work-focused, and you don’t want to seem less engaged by it.

4. How to handle gift card rewards that I’m getting by doing my job

I work at a satellite office for a design company. I don’t do any design work, but I basically manage the small office and was brought on to help with administrative tasks. I make a lot of purchases for our office, as well as help book travel for people.

I downloaded a browser extension about a year ago in an effort to find coupons for purchases or get the best deals on things. It will automatically search for coupons for you at checkout, which has saved money on some sites over time. However, at other sites it will give you a small randomized percentage “cash back” bonus for using it, redeemable to gift cards. The cash back is tied only to my email account and not any credit card in particular.

I haven’t thought about this gift card thing at all over the last year but I finally just looked at my account (after getting a ton of emails from the site) and it’s eligible for almost $500 of gift cards because of all the travel I booked through a third party travel site.

One of the gift card vendors is as a company that I buy office stuff from regularly for the company. There’s a couple more vendors that I would definitely use in my personal life. Nobody knows I have this browser extension or about the potential gift cards. It’s also unlikely we will ever accrue that amount of gift card bonus again, as the bulk of the cash back came from the third party travel site we are now moving away from using.

I didn’t sign up for the extension for the gift cards, but now that they potentially exist I feel kind of tempted to use at least some of those points towards a gift card for myself. But that would be wrong, right? Should I just use them all for gift cards that can be used to buy stuff for the company? I’m not sure how that would effect budgeting. Should I just forget the points exist at all and go about my life? I feel weird just leaving $500 on the table. But I also feel weird using some of it for myself and am curious what your take would be.

Use them for gift cards to buy things for the company that you’d normally be buying for the company. Buying gift cards for yourself would be unethical, and could look really bad if anyone ever found out about it — you’d be taking personal profit from the company’s purchases, and doing it in a way that deprived the company of the savings their purchases had earned them. (That said, you can certainly let your boss know that you found a way to save the company $500; that’s something you should get credit for doing!)

5. Why do employers want a resume AND an application?

In a discussion of bad hiring practices, a couple of people have claimed that some hiring processes require applicants to submit a resume *and* fill out an application (with the same info), because there is a legal requirement to be truthful on an application, but not on a resume.

The implication seems to be that, you can fire someone for cause (and be supported by the court) if they lie on their application, but not if they lie on their resume. Is this true, and if so, why? It doesn’t make any sense to me.

Not exactly. You can fire someone for lying on their resume. But resumes are subject to the applicant’s own judgment about what to include, and it’s normal to leave off experience that seems irrelevant, or a job you got fired from, or anything else that you don’t think strengthens your candidacy. You can also present it in any format you want, leaving out details that the employer might want.

Some employers ask you to fill out a formal application form in addition to submitting your resume because they want to ensure that they receive all of the information they want — and also because they often want it in a certain format easily fed into their applicant tracking system, and sometimes because they want to ensure that they’re receiving the same consistent categories of information from all applicants.

It’s true that most applications include a signed declaration that everything you’ve entered on the form is true, whereas a resume doesn’t include that statement. But they could fire you for lying on your resume without said signed statement. It also sometimes contains your sign-off for a background check, although they could get that without making you fill out an entire application.

how can we convince our employer to allow nose rings at work?

A reader writes:

I work for a nonprofit that provides mental health services. I am writing in regards to a dress code issue. Several of my coworkers and I have small nostril rings (not studs). Our managers were informed by someone else that they had noticed that several on our team have rings, and that they would need to ask us to remove them and replace them with studs as per the dress code. Our managers said that they couldn’t even picture who had a ring when this was brought to their attention because they are all so unobtrusive. They said that they hated the fact that they had to ask us to remove them.

We each told them (separately and without yet having talked to each other) that while we are willing to change them, we wish we didn’t have to, and that it wouldn’t happen instantly because we will all have to go to our piercers to get our rings removed and studs put in (it is easy to injure yourself doing it on your own). Additionally, we all just really like our rings. I, personally, have had a stud in the past and dislike how they look on me. My ring is one of my favorite parts of my appearance, and I don’t have a lot that I like when it comes to that. Our managers have encouraged us to take this to the higher-ups in charge of the policy, as they do not see having a nostril ring as a problem, none of us have any other concerning habits related to professional appearance, and the piercings have not negatively affected our work with clients.

We would like to present a united front on this and are all on board to say something, but we are having trouble coming up with wording. This isn’t our hill to die on and we will change the rings if necessary, but we would like to have a change to the policy considered (it has been changed to allow visible tattoos and nose studs within the past few years, so there is a precedent for amending it). Do you have any ideas about how to push back on this in a professional and respectful way?

Depending on the client population you work with, your strongest argument might be that many clients respond positively to people who don’t fit a cookie cutter mold. If you have a younger/more alternative/not-very-stodgy client population, it could be compelling to point out that you have many clients who respond well to working with someone who looks more like them and people they know.

You could say something like this: “Would you be open to reconsidering this part of the dress code? We understand that a ban on nose rings used to be pretty standard to find in offices (this is you acknowledging that you get it), but that’s really been changing in the last decade (this is you pointing out something they might not be aware of). There’s much more acceptance of things like nose rings and unusual hair colors now, even in very professional environments. And particularly significant for us is that we often serve clients who come from backgrounds where piercings are normal. We’ve found that our own piercings make us more relatable and clients respond well to us. We’re hoping that we can update the policy on piercings to better reflect that fact and the way society has changed on this issue.”

That may or may not work, but it’s a reasonable and professional way to approach the issue. If they say no, at that point you do need to back off and accept that, but the reality is that professional acceptance of piercings — including nose rings — really is changing and maybe you’ll make some headway. Good luck!

the vanishing microwave and other stories of workplace romance, gone both wrong and right

Happy Valentine’s Day! Here are some amazing stories about workplace romance that commenters shared in years past. Please feel free to share your own in the comment section.

1. The wildflowers

I once worked at a bank in a department dealing with loans for high value assets (cars with six-figure price tags, yachts, roller coasters). Every Valentines there’d be a parade of fancy bouquets, chocolates, jewellery delivered to the office from “secret admirers” that was usually suspected of being brokers buttering people up (the whole department was shut due to suspicious dealing not long after I left) but a few were genuinely from spouses/boyfriends/girlfriends. For three years I got nothing because my spouse is an accountant and only bought flowers after Valentines when its cheaper, but on the fourth year he happened to be off work and had a great idea. Wild flowers. Not much grows in our country in February so I ended up being called to reception to collect a glass (not a vase) containing a bouquet of weeds. The receptionist (thinking it was hilarious) made me take them back to my desk. Once they warmed up to the temperature of the office it quickly became evident that something had urinated on them :/ it took days to get rid of the smell in the open plan office. He’s stuck to store bought gifts ever since.

2. The vanishing microwave

My last boss had a “personal assistant” who I’m pretty sure was his girlfriend. I actually liked her; she’d show up now and then at the office in fabulous pink leopard prints and do absolutely no work, but she had a great personality and seemed like a woman who didn’t take crap from anyone. I guess she got fed up with my control freak boss, because one day they got into a screaming argument in the office and my boss sent the rest of the admin staff home early. The next day his personal assistant had vanished, never to be seen again, and so had the office microwave.

3. The new hire

I was 23 and worked at a call center. I was training a new hire for way long than necessary (I thought he was stupid). I had a boyfriend (who he knew about) who also worked in the call center. My boyfriend at the time got fired (no biggie, everyone got fired all the time), but he didn’t want to drop me off at work anymore and since we only had one car, I was asking around for carpooling. The new hire said he lived right by me and was doing some overtime, so if I wanted to do overtime as well we could just go in together. We ended up doing a lot of 16-hour shifts together plus commuting so I was with this guy for like 18 hours a day, 5 days a week, for months.

On Valentines’ Day, my boyfriend didn’t buy me anything because he said it was a vapid, stupid, made up, commercial, money grab of a holiday designed to drive up that puts a price tag on love and sets up guys for unrealistic expectations. I was pretty bummed and felt like a toad. My coworker “as a joke” bought a $1 CVS box of chocolate for me as his “work wife.” Coworker then got fired at the end of his shift (LOL) so we ended up going out to a bar where he drunkenly confessed his love to me and the fact that he got accidentally fired by pretending to be bad at his job so he could sit with me all the time.

I broke up with my boyfriend by text message and my coworker and I have been together for 7 years today.

4. Poor judgment

I sat on an interview panel once where I encountered a guy who, when answering a question about dealing with workplace conflict, went on a long, convoluted, extremely detailed story the upshot of which was: he’d started dating a colleague, it wasn’t going well, and he needed a new job so he could break up with her.

He did not get the job.

5. The boss’s set-up

In my first job during high school, my mother-in-law was my boss. I was complaining to her one day about boys, and she said she would set me up with her son who was around my age. (Fun fact: she had a picture of her family on her desk, and I always thought her son was really cute.) I thought she was joking, but that Saturday he called. I’ve joked since that I felt like I had to say yes because I was afraid she would fire me.

We ended up going out on a date, and seriously at 17 I knew I was going to marry him. Looking back, it’s crazy that we were so young and that in love, but, hey, it’s what happened. We’ve been together for 10 years, are two kids in, and I have been pleasantly surprised that marriage gets even better and better as time goes on.

6. The video conference

I used to work for a huge multinational. Every week we had a global video conference involving all the regional teams (North America, Latin America, Asia, Europe, Australia). The managing director of each region was required to be the lead for their region. Picture a conference room with a huge center table and a movie-size screen on one wall. The video system was set to turn on automatically each week at the appropriate time. This time rotated each week so that no single region had to be there in the middle of the night every time. If you had a middle of the night time, normally just the MD showed up. The video display was set up so that thumbnails of each region’s room were along the bottom of the screen, and whoever was talking was shown on the large screen. It was sound activated, so all you had to do was start talking to become the star attraction.

You can see where this is going, right? Our exec team is coming into the room and getting seated when suddenly the screen activates — and there is the MD of one of the other regions with his CIO engaged in consensual adult activity. Very loud consensual adult activity on the very large conference table. It would have been way past normal business hours where they were located, so unlikely anyone else was in the building to hear them. I’m afraid we all turned into 12-year-olds at that moment and just starred – then started laughing. And we weren’t the only ones. By that time, all the regions were online and the main screen began flashing pictures of the different regions hooting and hollering and cheering and just pretty much being juvenile – whichever room was loudest commanded the main screen. As the MD and regional CIO scrambled off the table and out the door, I saw things I will never unsee. Both were immediately fired and I didn’t keep up with them. Maybe time to google and see what happened to them – besides being the butt of industry jokes for years afterward.

7. Cupid

My coworker’s husband showed up at work dressed as cupid- carrying the bow, wearing the diaper, the sash and the wings. No pockets however. We had visitors from corporate at the time.

8. This is perfect for a movie

I met my husband at work 6 years ago. We hated each other!! At the time we were case managers for homeless and runaway youth, and the youth loved us but knew we disliked each other. Well, long story short, a youth suggested I hang out with him after work to see how nice he really was. Well, they were right! We are now married with a son ;)

how can I explain why I went to a for-profit school?

A reader writes:

I graduated from DeVry in the late 80’s. I earned a four-year B.S. there. I was heavily recruited (high test scores) by many colleges and ultimately it came down to a UC and DeVry. DeVry was on a trimester system, so I would graduate in three years vs. four years, and I needed to help my family financially. So I went to DeVry right after high school. (Oh how I wish I had a decent high school counselor who would have steered me to the UC!)) So going to DeVry had nothing to do with not being smart enough to go to other schools. I was first generation college student so my family didn’t know any better to advise me differently.

I know the prejudice against for-profit schools. In fact, as a hiring manager, resumes with a for-profit had a count against them. I am fortunate that I don’t think my alma mater has hurt me too much. I was able to get a job right after graduation through networking and the rest is history. I’ve worked hard at every opportunity and as a result I have an enjoyable, well-paying career spanning the last few decades.

But when it comes up, especially in social situations, I always feel I have to defend that I graduated from DeVry. I always find myself saying “I could have gone to UCxx”. I don’t want to be judged by the fact as a 17-year-old I made the wrong choice. (I know, I know, hypocritical of me). But I also think it’s valuable to show that success can come from going to these types of schools. Or is it really not and I’m just trying to make myself feel better? Do you have any advice on how to handle this situation?

DeVry actually used to have a fine reputation for vocational training (including at the time you attended). Unfortunately, though, it’s been tainted by the same problems as with other for-profit schools — in DeVry’s case specifically, deceptive recruiting tactics, filing false data with the government on students’ outcomes, charging vastly more than nonprofit colleges while spending significantly less per student, and shady student loan practices (and it’s faced numerous state and federal investigations on a bunch of these). So yes, its reputation has suffered significantly from when you attended.

Regardless, though, I don’t think it’s your job to change the public image of for-profit schools, and you’ll be fighting an uphill battle if you try to do that. But I do think you can give an answer that puts the choice in context, and highlights the fact that DeVry of the 80s is different than DeVry of today. You could say something like, “I was a first-generation college student and didn’t have much guidance about picking a school. I ended up at DeVry because they had an accelerated program and I needed to help my family financially. I know, though, that they’ve suffered from the same problems as other for-profit schools in more recent years.”

That answers the question while explaining why you chose the school, flags that things weren’t quite the same then, and shows that you’re not naive about the problems with the school now. (It also might play a useful role in speaking firsthand about how hard these decisions can be for teenagers without a lot of family guidance.)

Beyond that, you don’t have to defend your decision. You have a successful, multi-decade career that speaks for itself, and people talking to you will see that.