should I alert a gross Tinder user’s employer, people who arrive really early for appointments, and more

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

1. I received a gross Tinder message — should I alert the sender’s employer?

I got a disgusting and unprompted message from someone on Tinder. Unfortunately for him, he left his employer on his profile. Now the question is whether or not I should send it to his employer since even though it is a private message, he indirectly represents his company by attaching the name to his profile.

I can’t see any real point to doing that. I mean, yes, his employer would presumably be really displeased that he has their name on a profile that he’s using to send gross messages to people, but it’s not your responsibility to alert them to that. You could, of course — and it’s weird that he doesn’t realize that — but unless you’re truly outraged (and granted, maybe the message is worse than I’m picturing), I’d just move along.

I would change this answer if the message were racist or otherwise hateful and bigoted rather than the kind of run-of-the-mill sex stuff that you run into on dating sites.

2. People who show up very early for appointments

What’s the best way to handle clients who arrive early for an appointment? I try to confirm the time with them first, make sure it’s on my calendar, and plan accordingly. Then my day gets thrown off when I get a call from Reception way before the client’s expected to show up. I don’t mind the 5- to 10-minute early bird, but some arrive as far as 45 minutes in advance.

Some background: my company works to prepare people for entry or re-entry into the workforce, sometimes by addressing matters of professionalism (attire, conduct, etc.). Part of me feels like one of my duties is to demonstrate the importance of respecting another person’s schedule, and of maintaining a professional agreement (i.e., the meeting time). So when I get an early arrival, I typically stay at my desk (which is out of sight of Reception) and come out only 5-10 minutes before the scheduled time.

This strategy, while doable, makes me feel like an entitled jerk for making clients wait so long, since I tend to have a lot of downtime and there’s usually no reason I can’t meet with a client the moment they decide to show up. Still, I don’t like feeling as though clients don’t respect my schedule and how I choose to fill it.

I tend to want to conduct myself in a very black-and-white, right-vs.-wrong way, which I realize can work well for some jobs but tends to conflict with my current one, which is all about working with human beings and their many idiosyncrasies. Is it better to stand firm in cases like these, or cut clients some slack and focus on helping them in other aspects of my job?

Arriving that early and expecting to be seen so far ahead of schedule is rude. I generally advise employers who encounter really early candidates to stick to the original meeting time (and even to feel comfortable sending people away if there’s no obvious place for them to wait), assuming that it would inconvenience them to do otherwise. You don’t have any obligation to see people outside the specific meeting time that you both agreed to.

And certainly given your line of work, it makes sense to explain to your clients that they typically shouldn’t show up more than 5-10 minutes early to a job interview. But you can teach them that simply by saying it. If it genuinely makes me difference to you whether you see them early or not, I don’t think you need to teach the lesson by refusing to meet with people until the appointed time. It’s possible that in doing that you’d be making someone’s life harder than it needs to be; maybe they were hoping you’d be able to start early so that they can be on time to pick up their kid from daycare, or to catch a particular bus, or who knows what. You’re not obligated to start early — just like an employer isn’t — but I wouldn’t refuse to do it just on principle.

3. Can I advise my replacement about my difficult boss?

I’m about to leave my current position to attend graduate school, and my boss is interviewing for my replacement. I’m very ready to move on for a variety of reasons, in particular the fact that my boss Fergus has a very strong personality that does not mesh with my own (I’m not alone; others in the office also feel this way). I’d like to give my successor some advice that might help them “manage” Fergus — such as “if you want concrete deadlines, you need to ask for them clearly, vocally, and often” and “as the youngest person in this office, your informal job duties will also include computer support.”

I realize that my perspective is a little biased, and I don’t want to sound like a disgruntled former employee because overall this workplace has given me many opportunities and Fergus is a genuinely good (but, to me, infuriating) person. What kind of advice is appropriate in this situation?

You can absolutely do that and it can be really helpful. You just have to be careful not to sound negative about it — you can’t sound resentful or like you’re complaining or eye-rolling. Even a little eye-rolling is undermining to your boss, and it sets up your replacement to see things through a negative lens from the start. Let her draw her own conclusions; don’t draw them for her, especially since for all we know she may turn out to be someone who can work beautifully with your boss. (That happens!)

So the tone you want when talking about this stuff is just helpful and matter-of-fact — the same tone you’d use when explaining how the office calendar works or where the best places are for lunch.

4. Ampersands on resumes

It’s pretty obvious to me that I’ll never pare my resume down to two pages if I want to keep significant portions like my volunteer history (important in my field of enviro-scince). But I have just managed to squash it down to three pages partly by replacing a lot of “ands” with ampersands. What I’ve been doing is using ampersands for groups (e.g., “parks & recreation department”) but “ands” for lists of disparate items (“I did this AND then I did that”). But in one point I noticed I had this: “Image… analysis [of] vegetation pattern & condition and plantations” … grammatically correct by my own invented rules but is it weird or obviously wrong to do this?

Yeah, don’t do that. A resume is formal writing, so you shouldn’t be using ampersands at all unless an ampersand is part of a company’s formal name (like “Llamas & Toads Inc.”).

But I urge you to pare it down to two pages. Loads of hiring managers aren’t even reading that third page, and when they skim their eyes are less likely to fall on your strongest stuff. Plus it makes you look like you don’t know how to edit or identify what’s most important, and it makes you look like a weaker candidate. Cut, cut, cut.

5. My old boss wants me to come back but I’m not interested

Last year I left an entry-level job I enjoyed which had great benefits, awesome coworkers, and cool projects but way more administrative duties vs. teapot sculpting than I was happy about doing. I got recruited for an amazing job where I do all teapot sculpting all the time and none of the administrative duties that I hated, which was a godsend.

My old manager recently met with me for lunch and to catch up, and essentially used it as an opportunity to ask me about returning to my old job in a role where I would be doing even more administrative duties and almost no teapot sculpting, and I would never go back to that again. I tried to talk about all the duties I enjoyed, but I think my old boss was so hung up on convincing me that it went in one ear and out the other. But I have a good relationship with her and want to maintain that relationship, as she would be a great resource for me professionally. How do I nicely and respectfully say I don’t want to come back to do more of the things I hate?

“I really appreciate the offer, but I’m pretty happy where I am right now. I get to do teapot sculpting all the time now, which is exactly what I want. If you ever have a role open up that’s just teapot sculpting, I’d love to talk with you about it. But an admin-heavy role isn’t what I’m looking for right now.”

If she keeps trying to convince you after that: “It’s really flattering that you’d want me to come back, so thank you. But it wouldn’t be the right move for me right now.”

If you don’t think you’d ever want to go back there, for any role, you can skip all of that and just go straight to: “Thanks so much for thinking of me, but I’m really happy with where I am right now.”

how can I get out of chauffeuring my coworker everywhere?

A reader writes:

I am hoping for some advice on how to politely get out of a carpool arrangement with my coworker. She discovered that she lives just a few minutes away from me and asked if we could start carpooling to work together because she and her boyfriend share a car. She gives me about $2 gas money per day, but I don’t need the money and I’ve realized that I would rather just drive by myself.

An additional issue is that she sometimes asks me if I can drive her to her therapist and other doctor’s appointments or errands during my lunch hour, about once or twice per week.

We have also hung out a few times, so now she views us as friends and I think she will be hurt if I say I’d rather drive alone or “just don’t want to” take her to her appointments during lunch. Other people have told me it is certainly my right to end this carpool and I understand that. But what I am looking for is a way to do this politely that is not unnecessarily hurtful to her. I can’t just say that I “can’t do it” because she knows I go straight to work in the mornings, and that I go home after work most nights. She lives close enough that she could easily bust me if I tried to tell some kind of lie about going somewhere else in the evenings. She also knows that I generally just get food or go shopping during my lunch hours and should theoretically be available to drive her to appointments.

I tend to get into these types of situations frequently — where I understand that something is “my right” to stop doing it or to say no, but it just seems selfish when it’s basically my preference vs. someone else’s very good reason/hardship for needing me to do it. Plus these situations tend to happen when I am in the early stages of friendship with someone — “friends” enough that they will be hurt that I don’t eagerly want to help them, but early enough that the truth is I actually don’t have this burning desire to do whatever it is they’re asking for. I’m fine with one-time favors, even big ones, but it’s these ongoing commitment type favors I end to chafe at.

Am I being selfish? Is there a graceful way out of this?

You’re not being selfish. It’s actually a pretty big imposition to be expected to drive someone to and from work every day. Maybe you want to be able to change your plans at the last minute without being beholden to someone else (or even just without having to reach her in the morning if you’re going to be late that day). Maybe you just want that time to yourself to think or unwind. Maybe you want to be able to call in sick in the morning without having to make sure you reach her too, and having to worry about alerting her in time that she doesn’t end up being late.

And using your lunch hour to take her to doctor’s appointments — well, of course you want to be able to use your lunch hour to eat and relax or shop or however you feel like spending that time, not to chauffeur someone around.

As always with this kind of situation, you have two basic options to extract yourself: you can come up with a cover story, or you can tell a kindly-stated version of the truth.

Potential cover stories:

* You have a new commitment that requires you to be at home and logged onto your computer at a specific time (volunteer work, online game, standing call with your niece, etc.) and you’ve been cutting it too close.

* Your schedule is becoming more unpredictable — you’re going to run errands/go to the gym/swing by the mall/visit a friend more often after work and/or come in early/go to the gym before work, and so you need to stop giving her rides. (You don’t need to say you’re doing it every day, so if she notices your car at home, that’s the explanation.) If she asks if you can still drive her on the days you’re not going those things, you’d say, “I’m going to be playing it by ear enough that I don’t think it’ll work. Sorry!” (And if she still pushes at that point, she’s being rude and you can say, “I really can’t — it’s the sort of thing that I decide at the last minute.”)

* A vague “my schedule is getting weird starting Monday so I won’t be able to drive you after that.” Or “stuff is changing with my schedule, so I’m not going to be able to drive you to and from work anymore.” If she asks what’s changing, you could keep it vague – “ugh, just a bunch of increased obligations that are squeezing my day more than I want.”

Coming up with a cover story might feel icky, since you’re telling her something that isn’t true. But sometimes this option allows you to get the outcome you want with a minimum of hard feelings and awkwardness on both sides. And she’s not going to suffer any harm by hearing “I have a new online book club” instead of “I just don’t feel like driving you.” It’s often better for a relationship to say “I can’t do favor X for you because of Reason” rather than “I won’t do favor X for you, period.” That can be especially true with work relationships, where you may not want to risk any weirdness or tension that could impact your job.

But a kindly-stated version of the truth is always worth considering, and it tends to be a feasible option more often than people think it is. In this case, it could sound like this:

* “I’m sorry about this, but I’m not going to be able to give you rides anymore after this week. I’ve realized that I function better when I have some time alone in the car to think at the start and the end of the day.”

* Or the vaguer option: “I’m not going to be able to keep driving you to and from work after Monday so wanted to let you know in time for you to make other plans.” Then if pressed about why: “I’m finding it makes it hard for me to do things before or after work without planning it ahead of time.”

Then there’s the lunch stuff. For those, it might be easier to just field those as they come up, since presumably she doesn’t have daily doctor’s appointments. When she asks for a ride at lunch, it’s fine to say, “Sorry, I can’t – I have plans for lunch today.” (It’s okay if those plans are to relax or to shop or to walk to your favorite taco source or whatever they might be.)

On the broader issue, though, all of these options are reasonable. Go with the one that feels kindest to you (and the one that you’ll actually be able to bring yourself to say, if you tend to resist this kind of conversation).

how can I stop gossip on my staff?

A reader writes:

I am a new manager with a team of six administrative staff. There is a pervasive culture of gossiping among the team that I am at a loss about how to address. The gossiping is all about (perceived) work performance – two of them will stand in a corner and whisper about how a third did the mail run late today or wasn’t at the reception desk when an important guest arrived. And it’s not just two bad eggs; they all gossip about each other.

I’ve encouraged all of them to come to me with any issues about team performance or tasks being completed (especially since often the gossiping is unfair – the gossipers don’t realize I have given their colleague a specific task with instructions that it is to be done in advance of their other duties). This doesn’t seem to be working.

Should I sit them all down at a team meeting and tell them that gossiping is not OK and I won’t tolerate it? And call them out when I see them doing it? I worry that would make me seem like a teacher, not a manager.

I answer this question — and four others — 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.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • I can’t do my new job’s required travel
  • Should we tell our new boss about our terrible department assistant?
  • Anxiety leads me to back out of workplace social events
  • Who should attend an exit interview?

my coworkers constantly joke around when I need work answers

A reader writes:

I have two coworkers who tend to go off on joke-tangents, and it tends to draw out meetings and discussions longer than they need to last and sometimes makes it hard to get things done or get information.

It’s pretty irritating. Like, none of the jokes are offensive in and of themselves, but I want to be able to ask “do you think we should use XYZ software package or write our own functions to do similar things?” without them yes-anding the conversation into absurdity. I think it would irritate me less if these two coworkers didn’t have other communication problems – one is extremely bad at the concept of user-friendliness and never provides context for anything, the other often assumes I don’t know things and treats me like I’m stupid when I try to ask for clarification or discuss the pros and cons of something.

I like working around people I can have fun with, but it’s super frustrating when a simple conversation is five times as long as it should be because someone had to show off how witty he is.

Yeah, that’s annoying.

A joke or two isn’t a big deal — but once it goes past that point, it’s reasonable to say, “Soooo, getting back to the issue at hand…” or “I’m delighted you two are having fun with this, but I’ve got to meet a deadline” or “Hilarious as this is, I’ve only got a couple of minutes here and need to know X.”

Beyond that, do you have enough rapport with either of them that you’d feel comfortable pointing out the pattern and asking them to stop? For example, you could say, “Can I ask you a favor? You always make conversations funnier, but when I’m trying to get information quickly or just get through a meeting efficiently, joking around so much can end up making things take a lot longer. It’s hard to appreciate the humor when I’m in a rush.”

Even if you don’t have much rapport with them, you could still say this — although in that case you’d risk them labeling you a stick-in-the-mud. That’s not necessarily a problem though, just something you’d want to be prepared for going into it.

One thing to keep in mind: In this kind of situation, it’s easy to get so annoyed that you inadvertently end up with a zero-tolerance approach where you’re stamping out all joy and mirth in your interactions with these two. It sounds like they’ve already done that to you, but in the interest of your professional reputation, you want to make sure not to do it back.

employee’s boyfriend says our manager can’t contact her, anxiety about work travel, and more

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

1. Employee’s boyfriend doesn’t want her to be contacted by our manager

I am the owner of a small business specializing in bridal hair and makeup services. My husband is a partial owner, and is a W2 employee. He is an assistant manager and covers shifts while our main manager is off. Part of his job as a manager is to contact our team members with important information. Recently, he contacted a team member to let her know of a staffing change that would affect her event the following day. He left a voicemail stating that he would send over additional information via email, and would follow up the next morning with the room number where she could find her client. This is part of a weekly routine, and all members of our team receive this information from him when he is the manager on duty.

Yesterday I received a text message from the boyfriend of that team member, sent from her cell phone, asking me to not have my husband (the assistant manager) contact the employee and that it is inappropriate. I then received a text message from the employee asking for the assistant manager’s personal cell phone number so she could ease her boyfriend’s mind and text him directly to tell him not to contact her. I have not responded. Finally, I received a text from our main manager, stating that the same employee requested the assistant manager’s cell phone number from her as well. She also did not respond.

What do I do? We are a mom and pop — we don’t have a huge staff, and my husband’s involvement in our business not only has never been an issue, but is imperative to the way that our business runs! This is not the first time we have had an issue with this employee’s boyfriend. I also received a very intense, borderline aggressive email from him last year when he felt she was working too much and not spending enough time with him. I know the relationship at home is abusive, and I know my boundaries in regards to communicating with her about that. I have never had to deal with a significant other becoming involved in our workplace before and I am concerned for my other employees and how he could escalate.

Ooof. Don’t engage with the boyfriend at all. Instead, ask to talk with the employee herself in person next time you’re both working at the same time. When you meet, say something like this: “Part of Fergus’s job as assistant manager is to communicate with staff members about scheduling changes and other business-related items. Is there some specific reason why you don’t want to hear from him?” You’re asking this so that she has a chance to tell you if there’s something you don’t realize about the situation. It sounds like her boyfriend just doesn’t want her being contacted by male coworkers, but who knows, maybe there’s something going on specific to your husband that you need to hear about. If she had a troubling encounter with him, you’d want to know that that’s what’s going on here.

But if it’s just that her boyfriend doesn’t want dudes texting her, then say this: “I can’t assign work tasks based on gender, and part of the assistant manager job is contact employees with work-related information. That’s not something we can change. If you’d rather that we contact you in some other way than texting you, we can probably do that. Just let me know if so. But I can’t take Fergus out of the loop entirely.”

You might also post information about domestic violence hotlines and shelters in places where people can see it privately, like it office bathrooms. And read this, and this excellent comment from the same person.

2. Can I refuse to go on a work trip because of my anxiety about traveling?

I’m due to go on a work-related trip to London soon. I’m already an anxious traveller (and in general – I take medication, but work doesn’t know about this), but the recent terrorist attacks – now three in three months – have left me terribly worried about going. I know that the chances of being caught up in anything are very low, but I really wish I could get out of the trip. To make things worse, I recently witnessed a suicide that happened in public. It wasn’t anyone I knew, and I just happened to be in the same place, but it was still very shocking and traumatic, so my anxiety is even worse than usual at the moment.

The trip was for me to meet members of our team that work in the London office and for some additional training in my role, although it would technically be possible for me to have that training in my home office. I’m reluctant to ask about not taking the trip in case it reflects badly on me, and I’d rather not bring up the anxiety issue as I’m worried they’ll think I’m being dishonest because I haven’t mentioned it before.

Am I being ridiculous and should I just get on with it as best as I can and hope the trip goes okay, or is this a legitimate concern/request? With anxiety, it’s so hard to know when I’m being unreasonable, so I tend to err on the side of thinking that I’m probably being overly dramatic, but I still can’t shake the worry. I’d really appreciate your thoughts.

I could tell you to go on the trip, but that’s not really going to help you … nor would it be all that reasonable of me to think I could make that calculation for you. I mean, yes, it will probably be fine! But with any kind of travel — with any kind of anything — there’s always a small amount of risk that it won’t be. Only you can decide what you’re comfortable with.

But I do think that you could say something to your boss, especially since it sounds like this trip isn’t essential. You could say, “I’m feeling really anxious about going to London right now and haven’t been able to talk myself out of that feeling. Would it be okay for me to do the training from here instead?”

If you decide that you’d like to mention that this is against a backdrop of you already struggling with travel anxiety, they’re not likely to think you’re lying just because you’ve never mentioned it before. You could explain that you’ve been able to manage it in the past, but this time is more of a challenge. (That said, if your job involves regular travel, it may be better not to mention the overall anxiety.)

3. Should I like/share articles from a company I am interviewing with?

I am wondering what the proper etiquette for sharing social media posts by a company you are hoping to work for. I recently finished my graduate degree, and a boutique consulting firm that I worked with on a project for one of my courses asked me to contact them after graduation, as they are looking to expand in the near future. We’ve met a few times in the past month and things seem to be going well, and their new program directly relates to my degree. But I also understand as well as things are going, there’s no guarantee I will get a job offer.

Every few days they post an article written by one of their consultants. Some of them I really like and if it were any other company, I would like and share the article. I am hesitant to do this though, as I don’t want to come off as pushy or that I am expecting them to offer me a job. They are a small firm and don’t have a lot of followers, so it would be noticed if I started sharing these articles. Am I right to hold off or would it be acceptable to like/share one or two articles I find particularly great?

That’s fine! If you’re liking/sharing their stuff every day, that would feel like overkill in a small firm where they’d notice it, but liking or sharing a few articles isn’t going to seem like you’re sucking up. It’s just going to seem like you came across some stuff that you genuinely liked and wanted to share.

4. How can I follow up on a networking opportunity that I missed when life intervened?

I was recently connected with someone senior to me in an area of my profession that I may be interested in entering in the next few years (I’m currently in a job with a set time period — like a fellowship). I was connected to this person through my father-in-law and one of his friends, who is a professional colleague of this person. I have experience related to this area of our profession and the right kind of educational background but not the kind of experience that people who work in this area tend to have. When we spoke about six months ago over email, we had talked about setting up a (real, non-BS) informational interview at some point on one of the February federal holidays.

At the end of January/beginning of February, I got pregnant and had some complications (one-day ER visit) and then was hugely ill from morning sickness (read: all-damn-day sickness) for several months and am just starting to emerge from the fog. Sometime in late spring, I remembered that I had let this ball drop. Now, though, I’m insanely swamped at my current job and honestly don’t have the time to take off for an information interview even if this person were still willing to do one before I have the baby. I’d really like not to just write this one off — I’m not great at networking and I appreciate the time people have already put into connecting us. What is the most gracious way to reach out and say hey, life happened to me big-time, can we just reschedule this for the same time next year instead?

This stuff happens. It’s fine to email and say something like this: “I want to apologize for not reaching out earlier. We’d spoken back in December and had talked about setting up an informational interview for February. I was so grateful that you offered that, and am a bit mortified that I didn’t then follow up with you closer to that time. I’ve had some complications from pregnancy that intervened with most of my plans for the last few months, but I’d still love to take advantage of your generous offer if you’re still open to it. Could I reach back out to you early next year (when my life should be more predictable and plans more reliable) and see if you’re open to rescheduling at that point? I really appreciate your initial willingness to talk with me, either way.”

5. How do you interview for a job you aren’t passionate about?

Many cover letter, resume, and interview columns concentrate on how an applicant is great for the job, how their experience has prepared them for it, and how excited they are to work with a company in that field.

How do you suggest adapting this advice when the primary motivation for job searching is, “I would like to make more money,” or something equally not-job-centered? Is there a way to honestly communicate to hiring committees that you think you’ll be good at a job without implying that you live and breathe retail, insurance, or entry-level clerk positions?

You don’t need to imply that you live and breathe whatever the industry is. You just need to explain why you’d be really great at doing it. Those are two different things. You can excel at a particular job without having passion for the specific field (although it helps to have passion for doing a good job, but again, that’s a different thing).

In fact, a cover letter that focused primarily on your excitement about the job or field wouldn’t be a very effective cover letter. The majority of your cover letter and interview focus should be about why your skills, experience, and track record indicate you’d be awesome at doing the work of the job.

Some types of nonprofit work can be an exception to this, where you’re expected to have a personal commitment to whatever their mission is. But even then, good nonprofits are hiring for skills and performance (commitment to their mission may be necessary but wouldn’t be your primary qualification).

business contacts say they want to ask my opinion, but it’s really a sales pitch

A reader writes:

Your post last week about informational interviews made me realize I have a similar question. I’m a mid-career professional, and while I do sometimes get requests for the type of informational interview that that post was about, more often I get asked for a different type: the request for a phone conversation from someone in a related industry who wants to “ask my opinion” about some aspect of my area of expertise, and after 30 minutes of conversation it turns into a sales pitch for whatever product they’re working on or company they’re consulting for.

I find this incredibly rude — I get it both from people I’ve met at conferences or networking events as well as complete strangers. I’m less likely to agree to a phone call with a stranger, since I assume it’s more likely to be about selling me something, but find it awkward to decline a call with someone I’ve met, especially if I’m likely to see them again.

How can I agree to a conversation with someone but say at the outset “please don’t make this a sales call” without being rude myself? I know that etiquette advisers say that responding to other people’s rudeness doesn’t make you the rude one, and I’m fine with that in my personal life, but professionally, I don’t want to get a reputation as a jerk (unjust though it might be). These conversations do help establish me in my field as authoritative about my area of expertise and I think they can help me broaden my professional reputation (which then leads to invitations for speaking engagements and so on), so I don’t necessarily want to just outright refuse them – they’re not entirely a waste of time. But I don’t like feeling like I’ve been taken advantage of.

Yeah, I think this whole thing where they start out by saying they want your opinion because of your expertise but it’s really a back-door way into a sales pitch has become a trend. I get a ton of this from complete strangers and I always shut it down by saying, “Oh, I’m not talking on any new consulting projects right now” … and more than half the time, they come back with a sales pitch. (I used to have fun with it by quoting them a hourly fee for consulting, and it was amazing how much people would bristle at that.)

Anyway, I think you have conflicting desires here: You want to do the calls because they’re useful to your reputation and professional relationships, but you want to change the content of the calls. I don’t think you can do that, unfortunately. If the whole reason the person is calling you is to lead up to a sales pitch, I don’t think you can say, essentially, “let’s talk but not about what you want to talk about.”

That said, I totally agree with you that this is hugely annoying — and rude. It’s the same kind of bait and switch as when people request informational interviews when they really want job leads. However, I do think you can use a similar tactic before booking the call as I recommended in last week’s post: You can say something like, “I’d love to talk. To help me prepare for the call and to make sure I’m the best person for you to talk to, can you give me a sense here in email of what you’re hoping to discuss?” Do keep in mind, though, that for people who are more relationship-oriented than task-oriented, this risk coming off a little cold or brusque. That doesn’t mean it’s not the right way to go, but you’d want to factor that in.

If you don’t want to do that, something else you can try is booking the calls for shorter amounts of time. If they’re not getting to their sales pitch until 30 minutes in, these calls are probably too long. You could say ahead of time, “My schedule is pretty tight right now, but I’ve got 20 minutes on Thursday at 2 — would that work?” Or even just, “Great. How about 2:00 – 2:20 on Thursday?” If nothing else, that means they’ll have to move things along faster and you’ll get to what they really want more quickly.

my work habits are going to get me fired

A reader writes:

I started a new contract two months ago. The projects are exciting, the team is inspiring, and I am doing a terrible job. It takes me two or three times as long as expected to perform simple tasks (like drafting documents that are standard in our field or corresponding with colleagues in order to organize projects). I am generally running behind and disorganized, to the point where I have already missed deadlines and meetings. This is particularly egregious since my responsibilities involve project management.

My boss has – kindly and diplomatically – warned me that she will need to fire me if the situation doesn’t change soon. I have every reason to think that she will be fair in evaluating me. Her goal really is to make sure that the job gets done: by me if possible, but if not, by someone else.

At this point, I don’t know whether to focus on improving my performance, or on extricating myself in a way that doesn’t destroy my dignity and sense of self, and that doesn’t make life even harder for the team members who depend on my work. And I don’t know how I would go about doing either of those things.

Some background:

I am a naturally disorganized, distracted, and frazzled. Planning, organizing, and setting priorities are all difficult for me, but I have learned to work around those difficulties, and have successfully handled complicated projects before. That said, because it requires a lot of focus and stamina on my part, organization is the first thing to go when I get stressed out. And, yes: I do get stressed out pretty easily! Personal and professional difficulties really throw me off. I hate the term “drama llama,” but it’s pretty apt.

I have sought, and follow, medical advice to deal with the anxiety. It helps to some extent, but doesn’t really address the disorganization.

When things are good, I’m a happily anxious over-achiever who occasionally shows up to a meeting on time but sweaty, clutching a report that is still hot from the printer. When things are bad, I get lost in a vicious circle of disorganization, poor planning, poor communication, and absurd priority setting. This cost me a job in my twenties. I’m now in my thirties, and precariously employed in a field with relatively few openings. I am terrified.

Have you seen employees who were in my situation turn things around? If so, do you have any sense of how they achieved that? Would it be better to leave now? Are there any steps that I can take to make the situation less awkward and painful for everyone involved?

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

my spouse and I want to be a cam couple

A reader writes:

My husband and I are 30 years old and last year we made $70,000 together (his wage about $20,000 and my salary about $50,000). We are working class folk who clawed our way to this earning power (he supported me for six years and I obtained my BS and MSW, and finally I’m a licensed clinical social worker).

We are thinking of having cam sex online (chaturbate) for excitement and money. We are not conceited enough to think we’ll make millions but it would really help in paying down my student loans (not all qualify for Planned Student Loan Forgiveness, and I just landed a nonprofit job so I have 10 more years of on-time payments before it’s forgiven with no tax implications), the second car we just bought (we shared a car the first nine years we were married), and saving for a down payment on a house.

So — I’ve checked the archives. I’m sure you’ll tell me there’s no way I should risk it; that the risks for both me and my spouse are too great.

Why we think this could be a good idea (this will sound lame):

We are working class kids. We were both raised with families making less than $20,000 a year. Neither of us want to go back to that. We love and appreciate our parents and are fully aware that we will likely be supporting them (financially and otherwise). We are doing great and are frugal in a low cost of living city, but due to a lack of a safety net, that could easily change anytime (I understand other Americans are in this predicament as well). We don’t have children. And if it got out on PornHub, well, we are married.

I am asking for your advice because you are awesome.

I wrote back to this letter-writer and said: “I’m not automatically going to tell you not to do it! I think it’s an interesting question. I don’t know enough about the risks here. Could someone videotape one of the online sessions you do and post it online? And if that happened, could you have it taken down since it was done without your permission? Also is there a way to disguise your faces or is that not really practical? (I don’t know what I’m thinking here; obviously you can’t wear one of those fake noses and mustaches. Maybe you’re someone who looks dramatically different in a wig?) And do you have a sense of how much money you might be able to make doing it (since that plays into risk vs. reward)?”

The response:

Yes, someone could tape it. We have looked on PornHub and while some of the videos were probably self promotion, some were obviously not. I could ask for them to take it down, but I don’t know if they would comply; their privacy info on the website is vague.

lol, we could probably use bandit disguises but I don’t think that would help with long-term tips/landing fans who will follow us; we are an interracial couple and I have tattoos so that might hurt us; I’m a black woman and I do look different in wigs but probably not THAT different. We are hoping to get $1,000 a month by the start of next year. You can actually kinda calculate how much money the broadcaster is making by calculating how much tips they are getting.

Well, first things first, I would find out for sure what the laws and practices are around getting content taken down if it’s posted without your permission. I had thought there are avenues for doing this and that adult sites were generally pretty responsive to that (at least the more mainstream ones) because that’s just good business practice for them — but I don’t actually know and am going off of vague memories I have of things I may or may not have read somewhere. But I think you need to know for sure in order to make a good decision, and that’s information that should be findable.

Assuming that you can have material removed if it’s posted without your permission, there’s of course still some risk. Someone who knows one of you professionally could see it before you have it taken down (or you might never know it’s posted since you can’t check all possible places it could turn up). And people can be pretty horrid when they learn someone is involved in sex work. We are, as a whole, a puritanical people.

There are some lines of work where I’d say you absolutely shouldn’t risk it unless you were willing to lose your career over it. If one of you were a teacher, for example, I’d tell you not to even consider it. Social work — I’m not sure. If you’re working with kids, that’s in the  “don’t risk it” category; people really, really don’t like that combination. If you’re working with other populations, it might not be as absolute a no-go — although still carries risk, perhaps significantly so. Only you can decide how to weigh that risk.

Regardless of your field, though, I think you’d want to game out how you’d handle it if it ever did come out and led to a worst-case scenario. You don’t want the first time you’re grappling with that aftermath to be when it’s actually happening. You want to have a plan in advance, and you want to have thought it through enough that you’re comfortable with that plan — or at least comfortable with your sense of the risk vs. reward.

Speaking of reward, another thing I’d look at is what your earning potential is in the future. You’re making a combined $70,000 now. What are your combined earnings likely to be five years from now? Ten years from now? If you’re on a path where you can realistically expect your earnings to go up significantly over time, that’s a point in favor of not jeopardizing that just to increase them a little bit now.

Good luck with whatever you decide.

Updated to add: Someone made the excellent point in the comments below that it might be much easier/safer for your husband to figure out how to go from $20,000 to $30,000 than to go the cam couple route. I don’t mean to downplay the challenges in the former, but it’s worth some thought.

my boss doesn’t like my maternity clothes, employee wears a blanket for sun protection, and more

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

1. My manager doesn’t like my maternity clothes

I am 30 weeks pregnant with my first child and having some difficulty with my boss over maternity clothes. I work in finance and my office has a particularly conservative dress. Pre-pregnancy, I generally wore a sheath dress, blazer, and string of pearls. I haven’t really been able to wear anything like that for the past few months. Finding conservative maternity clothes has been difficult but I managed to find a few suits and some plain, sleeveless tops to go underneath. I’ve also found some black dresses that worked well with a blazer. (Similar to one pictured here.) I thought everything was fine.

Last week, my manager pulled me into his office and told me that my current wardrobe was unacceptable. I apologized and explained that I thought I was following the dress code. I asked what specifically I needed to change. He said that if I was going to wear a pant suit, the shirt needed to be tucked in and belted. Also that he did not like the look of side ruching or an empire waist on shirts and felt it was unprofessional. I told him that I would try to find maternity clothes that met his discerption but that it would be difficult. He wasn’t convinced and said that my job depends on me being dressed according to his standards. (There are a few other women but none of them have had any children while I’ve been at this job so I can’t look to what they’ve worn.)

Do I have any pushback here? I spent the weekend looking for clothes that met his requirements but haven’t been able to. He’s out on vacation this week and I’m out next week so I have a little bit of time to figure something out. I’m nervous that my job could be on the line.

Wha…?! What you’re describing is totally standard maternity wear (as is that dress you linked to).

I don’t recommend HR a ton, but this is a case where you should talk to HR. Your manager sounds like he has no idea what typical maternity wear is, and he’s getting way too involved in the details of what you’re wearing. (He “doesn’t like the look of” side ruching? I mean, I don’t like the look of the color yellow, but it never occurred to me to forbid people from wearing it.)

Go to HR ASAP and explain what happened and ask for guidance. They should intervene. Make sure that as part of this conversation, you ask them to ensure that you don’t face retaliation from your boss for involving them.

2. My manager tells me about her concerns with my coworker

I’ve been at my latest job for 8 months now (and had a 2 month maternity leave right in the middle). It’s a very small university office and I’m essentially the main admin. When I got here, I was back-filling a position left vacant by “Victoria” who was promoted within the office. A few months after I arrived here, my manager, “Mary,” who is the direct manager of everyone in our office, began quietly voicing her disapproval of Victoria and telling me that Victoria has complained about her job a lot recently and will probably be leaving soon.

In the beginning, it seemed like she just wanted to make me aware just in case I had to take on any extra workload, but most recently, she seems to roll her eyes and comment quietly about it every time she sees me. She’s even started asking me where Victoria is, asks me to check Victoria’s calendar, etc. I’m starting to feel uncomfortable because I feel like Mary is looking for reasons to fire Victoria and she’s asking me to be on the look out for these reasons (without saying as much).

I feel obliged to be secretive about this (not let Victoria know) because it’s a directive from my manager (literally – “this doesn’t leave this room”), but I also feel uncomfortable being her lookout and the sounding board for her frustration with my peers. I don’t want to be unreliable to my manager and I really love my job otherwise, but I also don’t want to betray my coworkers by somehow playing a part in getting them fired. What should I do? Is this kind of thing within the normal scope of duties for admins?

Sometimes it is, yeah. Mary shouldn’t be rolling her eyes when she talks to you about Victoria or complain about her to you or otherwise use you as a sounding board, but it’s reasonable for her to ask you if you know where Victoria is (knowing that kind of thing is often part of the admin job) and to ask you to alert her if you notice X or Y (especially if you’re better positioned to notice those things than she is).

I’d just stay studiously neutral when Mary is complaining about Victoria, but it’s not unusual for it to be part of the job that she’d expect you to work with her to track problems she’s seeing with Victoria’s work that you might see too. This can feel really awkward to do, but it’s not uncommon that a manager would need to gather information from other people rather than relying exclusively on what she’s able to witness firsthand.

3. My employee wears a blanket for sun protection when we go off-site

Should I say something to my new employee? I’m a manager. My newest employee has been working here for just over a month. She is a new graduate and this is her first full-time job out of school. There are times when we go to other offices or sites for meetings and we carpool to them in a company car or van. Unless it is really cloudy or raining out, my employee uses an umbrella when heading out to the vehicle, and inside the vehicle she covers herself with a blanket or cover and wears a scarf or hat on her head.

Naturally other employees questioned her, and she said she has had skin cancer twice and has to be careful of the sun. My concern is that her showing up at a meeting with external people with an umbrella, huge hat, and blanket will make people question her professionalism and affect the perception of all of us. It does look strange in comparison to everyone else, and people do comment. How can I bring this up to her? Most of our meetings are less than 30 minutes away and she would not have to be exposed to sun for long when she goes.

You shouldn’t tell her not to take the health precautions she feels she needs to take; for all we know, she’s been advised by her doctor to do this. So I wouldn’t get at all into what she does when she’s outside or in a car. But if she’s walking into clients’ offices still dressed that way, you could say something like, “I don’t know exactly what the precautions are that you need to take, but are you able to remove the hat and blanket before entering a client’s office? My concern is that it’s unusual enough that it will put the focus on those items rather than on the work we’re there to do. Or if you do need to keep them on, a scarf would look more professional than a blanket.”

4. Avoiding job search confusion if I change my nickname

I have a name with several common nicknames. I’m thinking that I want to start going by a different nickname professionally than I have for most of my life, since the one I’ve used was picked by my parents and rubs me the wrong way a bit. I find one of the alternatives to feel more professional and to be a better fit for my personality (and sadly, in my male dominated and often sexist field, a more gender-neutral nickname at the top of the resume could help me get in the door for interviews).

I can see confusion arising if prospective employers call my references and ask about me with my new nickname. How should I let them know what my references know me as? And is it seen as weird to use a different nickname at work than in your personal life?

I’d handle this the same way that people who change their names after marriage do. On your reference list, make a note like this:

Valentina Warbleworth, past manager at Llamagrams Inc. (knew me as Christy Livermore)

Now, first name changes aren’t as common as last name changes, but if you’re switching from Christy to Chris, most people are going to know those are both nicknames for Christina or Christine. On the other hand, if you’re switching from Christy to Cressida, it might require more explanation (to assure them you’re truly the same person). In that case, I might include a note like this:

* I began going by Cressida in 2016.

5. Can I write “see resume” in my cover letter?

I know that hiring managers take 10 seconds to read a resume. I work with film and editing equipment and I want to put something like “please refer to my resume for specific equipment and software I am familiar with.” Would that help me or is it a waste of time? Would they actually see the resume once I write that?

They’re going to look at your resume regardless, unless your cover letter is a horror show. There’s no need to write “see resume.” There’s also no need to repeat in your cover letter things that are addressed in your resume; that would be squandering this extra page you get. Your cover letter should focus on things that aren’t on your resume.

my husband can’t work because of his boss’s chemo

A reader writes:

I have a professional-type job with all the protections that brings, such as health insurance, paid sick leave, etc. My husband is an hourly wage slave for a very small (like, five people) family-owned company and he is the only employee who works in his particular capacity. There are no benefits and no paid time off. If he doesn’t work, he doesn’t get paid, period, and his work doesn’t get done and deadlines aren’t met. It’s not entirely relevant but I’ll mention it anyway: he hasn’t had a raise in years and gets nothing in the way of appreciation or morale boosting from the boss.

The owner of the company is unfortunately going through some very extensive chemotherapy treatments. Everyone is sympathetic to the situation and has been accommodating of her mood changes, unpredictable behavior, emotional outbursts, and so forth, because they understand these are side effects of the chemo and she is, obviously, under a great deal of emotional stress too.

The problem is that she is not supposed to be exposed to anyone who is exposed to anyone else who may have a fever. A few months ago, I had a cold that started with a low fever, so I took a couple of days of paid leave and then went back to work when I felt better. But my husband called ahead to his job and informed everyone there of my situation as he was directed to do, and instead of the boss staying home, she implied that my husband should stay home and avoid contaminating the workspace. Except that if he doesn’t work, he doesn’t get paid, as stated above. We also have two young children, and kids are prone to picking up viruses here and there, of course, and that has to be reported too. So even if he’s not sick personally, he’s still made to feel like he needs to take an unpaid day off to protect the boss.

This seems untenable — her situation is awful, and I am deeply sympathetic and respectful of that. But her presence isn’t really all that necessary to the day-to-day operations of the business whereas my husband is the only one doing his job and when he’s not there to do it, we take the financial hit and their schedule is derailed. The rest of the employees agree that she should be staying home anyway to rest, recuperate, and protect herself from further illness but she just won’t do it.

In spite of the difficulties, my husband likes what he does most of the time and this is a hard town to find a job in. He does look around from time to time but there are very few better opportunities right now, so for the moment, it’s a standoff between her chemo treatments and his hourly pay.

What to do?

Can he and his coworkers talk to their boss as a group? Approaching her together makes it less likely that it’ll come across as one person being self-interested, and it also makes the message harder to brush off.

They could say something like this: “We’re really sympathetic to what you’re going through and want to support you however we can. However, we want to change the way we’re handling it when one of us may have been exposed to a sick person. Financially, it’s really tough to stay home and not get paid when that happens. Could we change how we’re handling this so that when someone fears potential exposure, they alert you and you stay home and rest that day, or work from home?”

If she pushes back, they could try saying this: “Especially since we don’t have paid sick leave or any paid time off, this is putting us in a really difficult financial position. If you’d be willing to consider doing a paid leave package, that could make this workable. But if the business can’t afford that, this is really the only way to make it financially feasible for us.”

(Also, they can say this even if it doesn’t apply to all of them. The idea is they’re speaking as a group, for the group.)

And really, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for them to advocate — again, as a group — for some kind of paid time off, totally outside of this situation. I get that it’s a tiny company, but not offering benefits is going to make it hard to attract and retain good people, and even aside from that, it’s just a crappy practice. This may not be the time to make a big push for it, given what the owner is going through right now, but it’s something they should think about for the future.