can I ask a new hire to use a nickname, manager asks for money for food and gas, and more

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

1. Can I ask a new hire to use a nickname since we share the same first name?

We’re in the process of interviewing and we’ve found a great candidate that we might be ready to move forward with. A big snag though is that she has the same first name as me. We work in a small office with less than 10 people, but we utilize over 300 volunteers, most of whom are 60+. Because of my position, I don’t have day-to-day interaction with most of the volunteers, but it’s important that they know that I’m the one in charge. We’ll also both be out in the community doing outreach events and again, it’s important for the community to know the difference. Is it out bounds to I ask her to go by a nickname? (For example, if we’re both named Amanda, could I ask her to go by Mandy?)

It is indeed out of bounds! Names are really personal, and you can’t ask someone to change what they go by. But you can certainly suggest that she go by Amanda S. or whatever her last initial is — just as you’d have to do if the name didn’t lend itself as easily to a nickname, like Karen or Lila. And when you suggest that, it’s possible that she’ll volunteer that she sometimes goes by Mandy and would be happy to do it at work, but you’ve got to let that come from her.

Or, of course, you can be the one to use a nickname, if you want the first names to be different — but I think you’ll find that people figure it out and make do. (Ask all the Sarahs and Matts out there.)

2. Manager keeps asking team members for money for food and gas

I am the supervisor of the payroll department of a medium-sized organization. The department consists of an assistant supervisor (Arya), 3 payroll clerks (Robb, Bran, and Rickon), and an administrator assistant (Sansa). It has come to my attention Arya keeps asking Robb, Bran, Rickon, and Sansa for money. It is nearly a daily occurrence. She tells them she cannot afford food, or petrol to get to work or winter clothing when the weather is cold, and she needs their help.

I feel this is unacceptable. We live in one the lowest cost of living area in the country. Arya makes double the average salary of the area and one and a half times what Robb, Bran, Rickon, and Sansa are paid. Her husband is a member of a trade union and his salary is publicly available. He earns even more than Arya does. They take extravagant vacations abroad and they have a cottage in the country that Arya always mentions in addition to their regular home. Arya dresses well and owns a newer model vehicle. It does not appear she needs money. Even if she did, it is not right of her to pressure people she supervises. Given that money is involved, it is a touchy subject. In the past I have lived on a shoestring budget and I know what it is like to be skint. How do I address this with Arya to make it clear her behavior is unacceptable while being sensitive enough that if she is having money trouble it won’t offend/upset her?

Oh my goodness, yes, you must tell her directly to cut it out. It wouldn’t be okay for her to be pressuring coworkers for money regardless, but it’s especially not okay because she manages them. And while diplomacy and tact are lovely things, in this case it’s more important to be very clear than it is to not upset her, given how inappropriate it is for her to do this to people she supervises.

You could open by saying something like this: “I’ve been told that you’ve been asking Robb, Bran, Rickon, and Sansa for money. Is everything okay?”

Depending on her response, you could offer to connect her with resources to help with food or other support. But then say this: “I’m sympathetic if you’re going through a hard time and we can see if there are any other resources the company can connect you with, but I want to be clear that you absolutely can’t ask others in the department for money. That would put any colleague in an awkward position, but it’s especially inappropriate because you manage them and they may feel some pressure to agree. This is not something you can ask them again.”

3. Should I continue with this interview process?

I am currently employed but have been passively/actively job searching for a variety of reasons. In the past month, I have completed two phone screening interviews with one company.

The first phone screen went decently well, and I was progressed to the second phone screen. Events beyond my control occurred with the second phone screen. The cell phone network on that day experienced severe system wide outages, the phone connection was extremely problematic, and in the end the phone screen had to be rescheduled to the next day. On top of that, I was suffering from a severe cold/virus, was working from home (to avoid infecting my coworkers), and had pretty much lost my voice at that point. I felt that I did not present myself very well in the second phone screen. The feedback the company HR and the recruiter gave me was that I needed to work on providing concise answers to their interview questions. I was informed at that point that the company felt that I was qualified and could perform the job duties but the company would continue to interview other candidates.

Approximately 1.5 weeks have passed, and the company HR rep emailed me last Friday indicating that they want to fly me out to their location for the next interview. I am ambivalent about wanting to continue the interview process because I am aware that I am not the “top choice” candidate for this position and I have been selected by default — i.e. no other qualified or suitable candidates at this point. I do find the duties being required for this position personally interesting (this is work that I like to do and am interested in doing) but there are other factors in this situation to consider also (salary, other risks related to the position and company, etc.).

What do you think? Should I continue onwards with the interview process or at this point “gracefully” bow out of the process? My gut feel is that my probability in receiving a job offer from this company is fairly good if I continue the interview process but I do not want to waste their time and money if I ultimately do not intend to take this position. This position is a lateral move for me compared to my current job career-wise and it does sting a little that I am not a “top choice” candidate. I am aware that overcoming (slightly) negative impressions whether in an interview or ultimately as an employee is an uphill climb/battle and am not sure whether continuing the effort is worth it.

If you’re interested in the job, go to the interview! People get hired as second choice candidates all the time! (And third choice and so on.) The fact that they didn’t think you were 100% perfectly matched with the job is no more of a problem than you not being 100% sure about a job yourself (and really, no one should ever be 100% sure on either side until more exploration is done anyway). It’s not an insult or a sign they’d only hire you under duress.

If they truly had negative impressions, it’s unlikely they’d be continuing (although you can watch for signs of that, like if they seem highly skeptical when talking to you). It’s more likely that they just weren’t fully sold, and that’s a very normal part of a hiring process and doesn’t mean they won’t be happy to hire you in the end. Hell, companies outright reject plenty of people who they’d be happy to hire, simply because other candidates in the mix at that time happen to be better (but in the same hiring process three months later, with different candidates in the mix, one of those rejected candidates could have been hired).

Also, in your specific situation, they might have just realized, “You know, it wasn’t the greatest interview but she was sick and the phone connection sucked. She does look qualified so let’s move forward and get more info.”

4. Should I offer to take less money in exchange for working remotely?

I am job hunting and would like a more flexible schedule at my next position, meaning the opportunity to telecommute a few days a week. I currently make about $150k a year (mid-level but independent contributor and non-supervisor) but am willing to consider a lower salary if I can have a more flexible schedule. Do I say this up front during the interviews or should I even have to? Meaning, should it be expected that i comprise my salary if i am asking for these additional benefits or should i have to have have to sacrifice salary if I want a flexible schedule as well?

Nope, don’t offer to take less money. You’re not offering to contribute at a lower level, after all, and you definitely don’t want them to think that’s what you’ll be doing. It’s possible that during negotiations, you’ll need to compromise on money to get this instead, but don’t start off by offering it because most companies that will approve remote work don’t expect to pay you less in exchange for it.

5. My office is throwing me a bridal shower but I’m leaving soon

I’m getting married in a few weeks and I’m also in the middle of a job search. I don’t particularly love my company or my current role, but there are several great people in this office who I have excellent working relationships with. The office is throwing a small bridal shower for me where I’ll undoubtedly get gifts from some people (based on office bridal/baby showers I’ve been to here in the past) and I’m already feeling bad about receiving gifts and well wishes from everyone then leaving a month or two later. Should I be worried about this? My plan now of course will be to write thank you notes like I would any other gift giving situation. Just not sure if I should be more apologetic about leaving based on this?

Nah, you’re fine. These are people who presumably like you and genuinely wish you well, and are happy to have the opportunity to celebrate a milestone in your life. (Assuming that participating is voluntary, and all the usual caveats here office celebrations.)

It’s very unlikely that anyone will think, “I never would have chipped in for that blender if I’d known she was going to be leaving” — and if they do, they’d be the one being unreasonable, not you. Allowing a bridal shower does not obligate you to stay at your job any longer than you otherwise would.

update: I’m about to go on medical leave, but I’m also hoping to take my long-delayed honeymoon

Last week’s letter-writer who has about to go on medical leave but also hoped to take a long-delayed honeymoon has sent in an update:

This is a very soon update, but after the urgency in some of the comments I got I felt I really needed to push forward and talk to my boss ASAP (sorry, letter-writer who hates that term!), which I did today and it was a very positive interaction! I used your script plus a few elements from the comments and highlighted my decreasing absences and listed some of the techniques I was using to try and stay ahead of the curve. She surprised me by letting me know she’d seen and noticed the improvement herself and she was very proud and excited to see that I was finding some methods to help mitigate my illness’s effects.

When I brought up my honeymoon she was, as commenters had predicted, vaguely aware of the trip and the approximate summer time of it but was naturally not thinking very much about it like I was. She was actually very excited for me and asked about where we were going and such, and the whole conversation was much more relaxed than I feared it would be. She didn’t give me a firm absolutely go or a firm absolutely not, but said that if I can keep a similar level of absences that I’m at right now (1-2 hours a week), barring any major flare-ups she sees no problems with me taking that week off. I also came to her with a game plan of my specialist schedules and how I was going to handle each of their needs leading up to and returning from my trip and what other admins I hoped to collaborate with on it, and she was really receptive to that as well. I feel like while a small part of me is disappointed I didn’t get an enthusiastic and unconditional yes, I knew that was extremely unlikely and I think this is the best possible outcome all things considered.

I think my homework paid off, as did a lot of the comments helping give me some perspective and clarity, even if some of them got me a little emotional. I also realized my situation is much different from what others think of when they think admin and I’m lucky to be where I am. And I also learned that despite my word-vomit, I’m still not all that great at explaining what I mean in just one attempt! That’s something to work on though as I proceed through the rest of my career.

Thank you so much for your help and the script and for the supportive and informational comments. Thanks to a few commenters I even discovered a couple of new avenues for treating my insomnia that I hadn’t tried before that I am excited to pursue.

I hope to be writing back one last time in August with confirmation of a wonderful honeymoon and hopefully some sleep-filled nights. :)  Thank you again Alison and commenters!

how does your job interviewer find out what you’re really like?

When you’re interviewing for a job, it’s easy to wonder how the standard hiring process – a resume screening, an interview or two, a reference check – tells an employer what you’re really like. How are employers able to figure out whether or not to hire you based on such limited contact with so many different candidates?

The truth is, to some extent it’s a crapshoot. Some employers are better at hiring than others, and there are a lot of untrained, inexperienced interviewers out there who are winging it. There are even interviewers who think they can glean deep insights about candidates by asking them what kind of tree they’d be, or what animal they’re most like, or other pet questions with zero correlation to how well the person would do in the job.

But at New York Magazine today, I have a run-down of some ways that reasonably competent interviewers try to figure out what you’re really like and whether they want to hire you. You can read it here.

my boss wants to give me his kidney — but I don’t want it

A reader writes:

I have a question that is on the opposite end of the spectrum from the boss who (shudder) tried to force his employees to donate an organ to his brother.

I have a serious chronic kidney disease. I was diagnosed almost a decade ago and have been able to control many of the most serious complications with diet and medication. Recently however, my kidney function has diminished. I am now on regular dialysis and will soon need a transplant.

Because of the sudden change in my health, I had to let my boss, who I have only worked for for six months, know that I would be out several times a week for the treatments. He has been incredibly supportive and I am grateful. However, his support is almost TOO much. He regularly visits me while I’m getting treatments (not to assign work, like another boss someone wrote in about), but just to offer support and “keep me company.” I appreciate that he wants to be there for me, which I think comes from his knowing I don’t have any family locally, but this is unnecessary. My treatments make me very, very tired and I often get sick during and after them. I delicately let him know that I prefer to have my treatments alone, and to his credit, he has cut back on his pop-ins significantly, but now I have another hurdle … he wants to give me his kidney.

Organ donation is very invasive and recovery can take months. There are so many issues with that organ coming from my boss that I don’t even know where to begin, but here’s the main two:

1. Would my boss then feel as if I was obligated to stay in my position? I love my job and have no plans to leave anytime soon, but I don’t want to feel guilty about doing what’s best for me career wise because my supervisor literally saved my life.

2. Things can go wrong with organ donation. There are so many risks that I don’t feel comfortable having my boss undertake on my behalf.

I don’t currently have another donor lined up, but I know I am not comfortable accepting my boss’s offer. How do I tell my incredibly generous boss that I don’t want his kidney, when he knows that if I don’t find an alternative, I could possibly die? He is such a kind man, and I would like a way to firmly, but kindly let him know that isn’t something I can allow him to do, while also expressing my gratitude at the offer.

How about this: “This is an incredibly kind and generous offer and I’m so grateful that you’d consider it. There are enough risks with organ donation and potential complications to our employment relationship that I wouldn’t feel comfortable accepting that from my boss — I hope you understand. Honestly, the best thing you can do for me is what you’ve been doing — giving me the flexibility that I need for medical treatments. You’re the only person in my life who’s in a position to do that, and that on its own has made this time so much easier for me.”

If he continues to push his kidney (a surprising phrase to write), say this: “It actually makes my life easier and less stressful if we keep our relationship to boss/employee rather than donor/organ recipient. I love my job and I don’t want to introduce any potential complications to that. I’m really grateful for the offer, and I hope you understand.”

If he continues to push after that, personally I would yell “I will not take your kidney!” but adapt to whatever you’re comfortable with.

By the way … there is such a thing as too much support, if it ignores the stated wishes of the person being supported. I don’t know how delicate you were when you told him you prefer to have your treatments alone, but “cutting back” on his visits is not the same as respecting your request that he stop. That said, if “delicate” means that you hinted to the point that the message wasn’t quite clear, you may need to be more direct. It’s okay to say, “It’s so kind of you to come check on me, but the treatments take so much out of me, and sometimes make me sick, that I find I prefer to do them alone.” You could also enlist the staff at the clinic and have them tell him you’re resting and not accepting visitors the next time he shows up.

Your boss is clearly trying to help. If he’s as supportive as he seems to be trying to be, you’ll be doing both of you a favor if you let him know (kindly and with enthusiasm) the ways in which you welcome his help — and the ways in which you don’t.

coworker uses icebreakers in every meeting, is it wrong to fake enthusiasm in a job interview, and more

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

1. My coworker uses icebreakers in every meeting

One of my coworkers runs a lot of the meetings at my workplace. He’s good at his job and generally well-liked, but I’ve noticed that he almost always schedules an icebreaker for meetings — even small ones with only three or four people. They don’t usually have anything to do with the meeting topic, more along the lines of “Rank these breakfast foods.”

I do like to get to know my coworkers, but I don’t think icebreakers before meetings are particularly effective in that regard. I can see their value in situations where people don’t know each other or there might be tension, but when it comes to quick meetings with people I already work with regularly, they just feel like a waste of time. Is there a purpose they serve here that I’m not seeing?

Nope. The idea with icebreakers is supposed to be to give people some comfort and familiarity with people who they don’t know well or, in some cases, to switch them into a more relaxed mode than they might be in for most of the work they do together. It’s weird to do them for every meeting in your office, and especially weird to routinely do them for meetings or three or four people. I’d be annoyed by the waste of time too.

I suppose it’s possible that most people in your office enjoy them (do they?), in which case you might not really have standing to ask for them to stop in general, but certainly in meetings with just a few people it would be reasonable for you to say at the start, “I’m crunched for time today — can we skip the icebreaker and get straight into the budget figures?”

2. Is it wrong to fake enthusiasm during an interview?

I’m considering leaving my current job and have been sending out job applications to get a feel for what is out there. I just had an interview and I think I did well and may get an offer. However, I’m not sure if I want to accept the job. It’s not because the job post misrepresented the actual job, it’s just that I’ve changed my mind on what I want in my next job. I came to to this realization before the interview, but went ahead with the interview just in case it changed my mind (it didn’t).

During the interview, I was asked twice if it sounded like the kind of role that I would be interested in, and both times I responded with an enthusiastic “yes.” I was generally quite warm and enthusiastic through the whole interview.

Was it okay to fake enthusiasm or should I have been more honest in the interview? Was there a better way of handling this? I’m still not ready to say that I absolutely wouldn’t accept a job offer, but I’m leaning heavily towards a no.

If it was a big company or through a recruiter, I may not feel as bad, but it’s a small company with the owner conducting the interviews, so everything feels a bit more personal here.

As an interviewer, I always want people to be honest with me about their enthusiasm level, because it helps me figure out if I want to hire them for the job or not.

But as someone who advises job candidates, I will tell you that if you don’t appear enthusiastic about a job, it’s likely to take you out of the running.

What you did was fine. While you’re still in the process of figuring out if you want the job or not, it’s fine to default to a generally enthusiastic stance. That’s just smart to do, so that you’re not taken out of the running.

That said, you don’t want to fake enthusiasm across the board. If you know for sure that you don’t want to do X or Y and that you wouldn’t take a job that focused heavily on those, you’d be shooting yourself in the foot if you faked enthusiasm about those; that’s a recipe for ending up in a job you’re not going to be happy in. But seeming generally interested in the job itself, while you’re still in the process of figuring out if you really want it? That’s just savvy interviewing.

3. How to set boundaries with clients for my days off

I work in a non-traditional service industry type job that involves going to my clients’ homes (think childcare, but if it were extremely lucrative). In my line of work, forming close emotional relationships with clients is very much the norm, and generally this is something I appreciate about my job. Because of this closeness, however, it can often be difficult to set boundaries about the hours I am and am not available to work.

Because my job is non-traditional, my schedule is too, but I do still take two days off in a row each week because I have to do laundry and go to the store and generally have a life. I frequently get requests to work on these days and I always reply simply that I’m not available, but often clients will press for details or pressure me to work anyway. It’s difficult for me to say no, especially in situations in which they are very reliant on me, but when I don’t take my normal “weekend,” my mental health really suffers. How can I be clear – but polite – about the time that I need to myself, and how much of an obligation do I have to explain how I’m planning to use that time?

For reference, I’m not a freelancer. I work for a company which assigns and manages clients, but I set my own schedule and I have a lot of flexibility. Unfortunately, though they are generally good employers, they aren’t very supportive in this area – employees at my level earn them LOTS of money, so they basically want us to work as much as we can, and they’d happily have me work from noon to midnight (which I do from time to time) every day of the week.

You don’t need to explain anything about how you’re planning to use that time. You should just be able to say, “I’m sorry, I’m not available on Sunday, but I can see you on Monday if you’d like.” And if someone pushes, you can say, “I’m fully booked then” or “don’t have any time open then.” You don’t need to specify “that’s my day off” if that seems to invite people to push you to make an exception for them; sticking with some version of “that time is booked up” is likely to be harder to argue with. (And it’s not a lie — that time is booked up; it’s just booked with your weekend, rather than another client. And you don’t need to explain that.)

4. Can I treat a job fair like a networking event?

This may end up being a little niche, because I’m in teaching–the hiring cycle is pretty specific. Private and charter schools February-early May, public schools late May-July, not very good schools August. I just graduated and was feeling pretty anxious about finding work, so I started sending out my resume early, and have been lucky enough to receive a few offers from charters, one of which I’m likely going to accept. However, long term, I want to be working in the public school system–I just can’t afford to turn down the definite job until my student loans are paid off.

I got an email from a recruiter about a public school job fair in three weeks. I will almost certainly have accepted a job by then, and I don’t want to waste people’s time, but I’d love to attend anyway and start getting a feel for the schools and principals in my area, what their timelines are, what they look for, etc., so that in a year or three, when I’m making the jump, I’ll be more prepared and maybe have established some relationships. Should I go and just explain that I’m not looking for the 2018-2019 school year? Should I print up a special version of my resume that explains this at the top? Do I just say nothing and wait to explain if I’m offered any interviews? I definitely don’t want to burn any bridges, because teaching in this area is a very who-you-know job!

I can’t speak to teaching in particular, but for job fairs in general, I wouldn’t do this. For one thing, most job fairs aren’t great for networking, as they tend to be staffed by HR or relatively junior people, who aren’t necessarily the people you’re hoping to network with — and they are probably not thinking about hiring that’s a few years off. But also, if your new school has a table there, there’s a risk that they’ll spot you there and be uneasy that you’re at a job fair when you’re already committed to working for them (and sure, you could explain it, but it’s potentially going to alarm them). I’d look for other ways to network instead of this, like other events that are likely to attract people in your field who you’d like to meet.

5. My boss said I could work from home on Fridays … but it seems to have disappeared

I’m a woman, so is my boss. She has several kids, I have one almost-toddler. Shortly after I returned from maternity leave, she told me: “It’s fine with me if you work from home every Friday. When I first had kids, I wanted to reduce hours but realized I’d just reduce my pay with the same work expectations, so I negotiated working from home on Fridays.”

So that’s pretty cool, right? Except … nothing was formalized, I felt uncomfortable taking her up on an informal offer so didn’t take full advantage, I’m basically a coward, and that offer seems to have disappeared. For example, my baby was sick (just a slight fever so had to stay home from daycare) on a Friday and I asked if I could work from home rather than take a personal day. She said no.

Can I negotiate that work-from-home deal back? Should I look for another job that is actually flexible or part-time? My salary is a fraction of my spouse’s and cutting back on my salary wouldn’t be a big deal for our overall household income.

It’s possible that the reason she said no to that particular request was that she doesn’t want you to work from home as a substitute for child care — because with very young kids, that generally means you won’t be getting much work done. With the original offer, she might have assumed your baby would be at day care while you were working from home.

But if you’re interested in getting that work-from-home-on-Fridays offer back, ask about it directly! For example: “When I returned from maternity leave, you told me it was fine for me to work from home on Fridays if I wanted to. At the time I wasn’t sure yet exactly what would end up making sense so I didn’t take you up on it, but I wonder if that’s still possible. If it is, I’d love to experiment with it.”

And then if she says yes, start doing it right away so that it gets normalized as a thing you do.

what to do if you hate your job

I wrote this for LinkedIn’s Weekend Essay this weekend.

If you’re miserable at work, you’re not alone. Having written Ask a Manager for more than a decade now, I’ve answered questions from literally thousands of people who hate their jobs. Whether it’s due to a difficult boss, unpleasant colleagues, mind-numbing work, or a toxic culture, there are a lot of people toiling away at jobs they’d rather not be in.

The unsettling reality is that even if you do everything right in screening your jobs, you can still end up in a work situation that makes you unhappy. The great boss who you were so excited to work with could move on a few months after you start, and her replacement could end up being a disaster. Your office could have budget cuts that leave you with an unmanageable workload. You could be assigned a new client who turns your dream job into a nightmare. Or, if you’re like a lot of people, you might just end up in a job that sounded amazing in the interview but fell drastically short of your expectations once you started.

If you find yourself in this situation, step one is to get really clear about exactly what the problem is. Is your boss a hovering micromanager who doesn’t give you any autonomy, despite your years of experience? Or maybe the problem is your coworkers – is your work life lonely because you haven’t been able to form any rapport with your colleagues? Maybe it’s the work itself; you might have signed up expecting to do X but ended up doing Y, or the workload might be way too high or so low that you’re bored for hours every week. Or maybe it’s your company culture since not every culture will be a fit for every person. Maybe your office is slow-moving and resistant to change, while you’re more entrepreneurial and need a culture that values that, or maybe it rewards people who spend their off-hours golfing with the company bigwigs and you’re not up for that. Or maybe upon reflection you’ll realize that the problem isn’t this particular job, but rather the idea of having to work in general that’s making you miserable.

Once you’ve zeroed in on what the problem is, the next step is to figure out if it’s worth trying to fix it. If you have fundamental issues with your company’s culture, that’s not likely something you’ll be able to change. But if the issue is, say, that your workload is too high and you’re in danger of burning out, you might actually be able to get relief by talking with your boss. Not always – but if your boss is reasonable and has a track record of taking people’s concerns seriously, it’s worth raising the issue and seeing if anything changes. And if nothing does, at least then you’ll know for sure; you’ll have raised the issue, learned the problem isn’t going to go away, and then can make decisions for yourself from a place of greater information.

Of course, sometimes it can be hard to know if something is fixable. In the past, I’ve pulled complaints out of people who weren’t speaking up on their own because they were certain that the thing they disliked couldn’t be fixed, and yet once I knew about it, I was able to resolve the problem relatively quickly. So even an issue seems insurmountable to you, it might still be worth raising – because your manager has a different vantage point and might be more able to address the problem than you realized. Not always, of course, but if you’re unhappy enough that you’re likely to leave over whatever’s bothering you, it might be worth a conversation.

That said, if your manager isn’t open to feedback, tends to punish people for rocking the boat, or just isn’t particularly reasonable, you might rightly conclude that there’s not much to be gained by going that route. And other times, even if your manager would be receptive, you might realize that there are so many problems contributing to your unhappiness that fixing a few of them won’t be enough.

Once you have a more solid idea of whether your problems with your job can be resolved or not, you can move on to figuring out what to do next. Even if the problems can’t or won’t be fixed, that doesn’t automatically mean that you should leave. At this stage in your thinking, you should step back and take stock of your situation, being as brutally honest with yourself as you can. Things to think about: What are you getting out of the situation if you stay (for example, pay, benefits, a flexible schedule, a great commute, interesting work, professional opportunities, and so forth)? How likely are you to find those things somewhere else? Do the advantages of staying outweigh the negatives? What are the negatives of leaving (such as missed opportunities or having multiple short-term stays on your resume), and how do you weigh those in this calculation?

In other words, this decision should rarely be as simple as “I hate my job so I should leave.” Sure, sometimes that might be the answer. But other times you might realize that if you can get through two years of this job, you can parlay it into something much better … or sometimes it might be as simple as deciding that while yes, you don’t like the work, you love your salary and your 10-minute commute and you can reframe your thinking so that you’re less unhappy day-to-day. Getting really clear in your head that you’re choosing to stay because you’ve calculated that the trade-offs are worth it to you can sometimes make the situation much more bearable – probably because it reinforces that you do have choices and some control. Yes, my boss is a jerk, you can think, but I’m choosing to stick it out for now because I’m paid well and I love my commute. I can always change my mind later, but for now this makes sense for me.

Or, you might come out of this calculation with a really clear sense that you do indeed need to move on. You might decide that the things that bother you are serious problems, aren’t going to change, and aren’t worth the pay and other benefits you’re getting by staying. That’s a good outcome too. The idea is just to be really clear-eyed about what you are and aren’t willing to accept, how you weigh all the different factors in the situation, and which matter most to you.

If you go through this mental exercise and still aren’t sure if you should stay or go, one middle-ground option is to try launching a casual job search. Look around at what job postings are out there, put out some feelers to people in your network, talk to some recruiters. You’ll probably start getting some useful data about the market that will push you in one direction or the other. You might find, for example, that the market is booming for people with your skills and that it’ll be relatively easy to find a new position without the problems at your current job. Or who knows, after seeing what else is out there, you might see your current job in a new, more positive light. But either way, you’ll get more data, which will help you make better decisions.

And of course, if you do decide to leave, it’s crucial not to be in such a rush to get out of your current job that you skimp on doing your due diligence about the new one. When you’re miserable at work, it’s very easy to grasp at the first life raft that comes along – but leaping too hastily can mean you end up somewhere else where you’re unhappy too. Taking time to be really thoughtful and deliberative about where you end up next, even if it slows down your departure a bit, will pay off in your next position.

come see me in NYC on Tuesday night

If you’re in New York City, come see me on Tuesday night (tomorrow)! I’m speaking and will be doing lots of audience Q&A and signing books, and you should come! I’m told there will be wine.

Details and tickets here.

my boss’s dog keeps attacking my coworkers

A reader writes:

I work for a small nonprofit in a city where many offices allow dogs. The organization I work for is still run by its founders, and they have maintained nearly full control of all operations since the organization’s inception. In other words, the place is pretty dysfunctional.

The co-founders adopted an abused dog who has serious behavior problems. When they tried to leave him at home, he ended up destroying their furniture, so now they bring him to work.

Normally I love dogs, but this one is not my favorite. For one, he has horrible gas, which infuses the office with a rank stench that has made me vomit. More seriously, he bites people. He bit my coworker badly enough that she had to go to the ER. The two co-founders paid for her medical bills, but still bring in the dog. He has bitten two other coworkers — seriously enough to break the skin, but not enough to require medical attention. The dog hasn’t bitten me, but has snapped at me when I go into the CEO’s office, and I am terrified of him. We don’t have a dedicated HR function, and the person responsible does whatever the co-founders tell him to do.

Whenever I see this dog, I react fearfully, which infuriates the two co-founders, as if I were personally insulting them. I also feel like I should be able to go to a job that has nothing to do with pets without fear of getting bitten by a dog — we are not a dog rescue or humane society. What should I do?

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.

I’m sick of being the office printer lady

A reader writes:

In our small office of about 10 people, I happen to sit the closest to our only printer, located in a room about 20 feet from my desk. The printer will display an error message on the screen when there is an issue (paper gets jammed, the printer is out of paper, etc.) Since I sit so close to the printer, every time someone in our office goes to retrieve their print job and sees an error message on the screen, they immediately call for me to come help (I assume because I sit so close to the printer), without even trying to solve the issue themselves. Nine times out of 10, these are extremely basic errors to resolve, like those mentioned above (paper jam, printer is out of paper, etc.), and not to mention, the screen explicitly shows directions on how to resolve the error. To be clear, I have no problem helping if it is actually a difficult error to resolve, but that rarely is the case.

In the almost year I’ve sat at this desk, I have always come to help resolve the errors when called upon. However, it’s getting really irritating that everyone, with the exception of a couple people in the office, are so dependent on me to solve basic printer issues. It’s really distracting when I’m in the middle of working on something.

I’ve always been a “yes woman” and feel bad declining to help. It usually only takes me 30 seconds to a minute to get up and go fix the issue, so it feels rude to say no. I’ve tried to use language like, “Next time you see this error message, this is what you do.” Nonetheless, the same people will call on me for help the next time the same issue occurs. It’s gotten to the point where when people call on me for printer help, they say something like, “Hey Ayra, you’re the printer guru, can you come help me?” I don’t want to be known as the “printer guru” just because I happen to sit so close to it. Is there a way I can put a stop to the constant beckoning, or should I just suck it up and continue to be the office printer lady?

My job is not admin. I am an inside sales representative. We actually have a designated admin person, but I have never seen him called upon to help with printer issues. I previously sat in another part in the office for two years (and actually WAS in a role that could be considered an admin role at that time), and was never approached then for this sort of thing.

You can and should say no to this, just like you could and should say no to someone asking you to do their filing for them or asking you to fill out their expense reports. It’s not in any way your job, and your proximity to the printer doesn’t make it your job.

There’s a danger, though, that your willingness to do it is making it your job — that by helping, you’re training people to think that this is part of your role, and so it’s important that you stop.

Starting immediately, when people ask for help with the printer, say, “Sorry, I’m in the middle of something and can’t help. There should be instructions on the screen.”

Bonus points if you look really distracted when you say this — slowly pull your eyes away from your computer screen as if you’re right in the middle of something that they’re interrupting. More bonus points if you look and sound confused about why they’re asking you.

If anyone pushes back — saying “it’ll just take a second” or “you’re so good at this” or whatever — then say, “I’m busy, but (admin person) can probably help you.”

If you feel weird about suddenly being unavailable to help, (a) you shouldn’t, because this was never your job, but (b) if it’ll help you feel more comfortable, you can say something like, “I’ve realized people have started turning to me to deal with the printer because I sit here, but they should really check with (admin) if they need help since it interrupts my focus. Thanks for understanding!”

Do this enough, and people will get out of the habit of asking you.

A bit about this: “It usually only takes me 30 seconds to a minute to get up and go fix the issue, so it feels rude to say no.” It’s not rude to say no when something is clearly not your job and the person should be handling the issue themselves. It might only be 30 seconds, but it’s presumably interrupting your focus on other things — and even if it’s not, it’s just not reasonable for people to think they can turn to you for basic tasks that are no more yours than theirs (and in fact are theirs).

It’s great to be helpful, but you should be helpful about things involving your job. It’s not helpful to your career to be known as “Jane the printer lady” — you want to be known as “Jane the great salesperson” or “Jane who keeps blowing her numbers out of the water” or “Jane who knows everything about our product line” or so forth.

And even if you’re known as those things too, the fact that you’re irritated by this is reason enough to put a stop to it. Fortunately, you can — this is within your power to resolve, although it may take some time. You’ve just got to resolve to keep saying no.

new hire wants to print everything, how can I make myself look less qualified, and more

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

1. New hire wants to print everything and not use screens

I work for a digital creative agency, and we recently hired a contractor, Ann, who says she is unable to read anything on screens. She has to print everything — schedules, deliverable matrices, design outputs, emails — before she can review or give feedback. This is particularly challenging because half our internal team and our client are all located across several cities. We have to review all content, both internally and with our clients, via teleconference.

Ann has derailed pretty much every review meeting we’ve had, including with clients, because she has to check the screen against the materials she’s printed or because she has not had an opportunity to print the materials to be reviewed. She complains constantly about the fact that we’re creating and tracking all of our work digitally (five or six times in every meeting, plus another eight to 10 times throughout the rest of the day). And she has asked if she can schedule multiple trips across the country to work in person with people, because she has trouble doing the work via her laptop. While we have some budget for travel, it was not intended to be used as a prerequisite to complete our daily work, and I have concerns about her ability to be seen as trustworthy by the client if she shows up every other week complaining about having to work on a laptop, expecting them to work with her on a stack of disorganized papers instead.

This is not the only issue with her, but this is one I’ve never encountered before and am struggling to address. I want to make sure I’m being sensitive to any physical reasons she might not be able to the work and offer what accommodations I can (although from her comments to date, I think this is a preference, not a physical limitation), while also making it clear that part of the ability to succeed at this job is the ability to effectively telework with remote teams.

Be direct about what you expect and ask if there are any obstacles to her doing that. For example: “We do most of our work electronically here, especially since so many team members and the client are spread out across different cities. We don’t typically work with many print-outs. I know you’ve mentioned that you prefer printing things out, but that isn’t always practical or efficient with the way we work. While I know it’s not your preference, is working mainly digitally something you’re able to do?” The idea there is to spell out how you’d like her to operate and to give her a chance to tell you if there’s a medical issue behind this.

If there is a medical issue in play, at that point you could brainstorm with her about how to accommodate that while minimizing the impact on the work and the client. Be clear about what you can’t do (like flying her around the country to meet in person), and what she can’t do (like complaining to the client or complaining throughout the day about your office’s digital tracking systems).

But if it’s just a preference, it’s reasonable to say, “To succeed in this role, you need to get comfortable with working on screens. Is that something you can do?” … and then hold her to that.

2. How can I make myself look less qualified?

I’m guessing you don’t get this question very often: how do I make myself look less qualified? I am a freelancer still working on building my client base. Until I get sufficient workflow to keep my bank account happy, I’d like to find part-time work, just for a regular paycheck. There are zero jobs in my field where I live—I held the one available job I could find, until I was laid off and the company closed—and I’m not in a position (nor do I want) to change fields into something more marketable around here (medical support, welding, industrial). So I’m hoping to find a simple, part-time office assistant position. I honestly want to just go to work, do my job, and go home.

My problem: I am seriously over-qualified. I have a master’s degree in my field (publishing) and worked for almost a decade at a prestigious publisher in another city. I don’t want employers in this small-city adjacent rural area (think small towns with lots of cows and corn in between them) to see my resume and roll their eyes or feel intimidated by my “big-city experience.” I just want to show that I have office experience and can do the work. Is there a way to adjust my resume to deemphasize my positions as Managing Editor and Associate Editor for Prestigious Publisher, and demonstrate my experience with the mundane tasks of an office environment? Do I leave my master’s degree off my resume? I don’t want to leave the job off, because eight years is a big gap; I left there about four years ago, though, so well within the time period normally covered by a resume.

You could leave your master’s off, but I don’t think you need to. The key here is going to be your cover letter, where you’ll need to make a compelling case for why you want an assistant position and why you’d be great at it. Otherwise employers will see your resume, be confused about why you’re applying (and figure that you’re either resume-bombing and applying for everything you see, or that you’ll leave as soon as something in your field comes along). So your challenge here is to address head-on, very explicitly, why you’re applying despite your background and what’s in it for them — i.e., why you’ll be awesome at the job.

And remember that you’re not necessarily overqualified … you’re differently qualified! Someone with your background could be a kind of crappy assistant, after all, just like anyone could be — so you need to demonstrate that that’s not the case with you, and in fact that you’d be great at it.

This is the kind of situation cover letters are made for!

3. Interviewing post-pregnancy when I still look pregnant

I have seven-month-old twins. I returned to my full-time job after maternity leave, and while it’s going ok, I’ve started to look for a new position with a shorter commute and more growth opportunities. I had a phone interview with a company I’m interested in and it seemed to go well.

Assuming I get called in for an in-person interview, there’s something I’m not sure how to handle. See, I still look a bit pregnant. Growing two human beings tends to really stretch you out and I also have some muscle separation that gives me a belly pooch that looks like a pregnant woman who’s recently started showing. I’m most certainly not pregnant and have no plans to become pregnant again any time soon, if at all. But I worry they’ll see me and assume I am, and not ask about it either out of politeness or because it’s illegal for them to ask about those things.

I feel like it would be a really weird thing to bring up. And I don’t usually bring up personal stuff in job interviews so trying to casually mention my twins so they can connect the dots seems inappropriate. But I don’t want to miss out on a job because they’d rather not hire someone they think is going to then go on leave in a few months. Which I know is actually illegal, but let’s be real, that 100% happens all the time.

Yep, I hate that you have to worry about it, but you’re right that could be a thing in interviewers’ minds. Which sucks and is illegal and is still a thing anyway.

I think the easiest way to mention it would be to mention your maternity leave in past tense and drop it in organically when talking about your current job — something like, “Before I went on maternity leave last year, I did X — and blah blah blah project X.”

4. Email signatures when you’re changing your name

I’m just starting a FTM/gender queer transition and have been changing my name, but won’t be doing so legally, at least for now. I understand that there are situations where I will have to go by my old name, Cecilia: doing stuff with the government, HR, etc. However, I want to go by Clive in daily situations and with my peers. When I talk to people it is easy (albeit an anxiety type of easy) to say, “I go by Clive now.”

My question is about work email signatures, though. I’ve seen a lot of examples on how to use nicknames (haven’t been able to find advice related to preferred names) in signatures, and there are so many options.

Cecilia (Clive) LastName – Linkedin
Cecilia “Clive” LastName – random online articles
Cecilia LastName (Clive) – Facebook
Clive (Cecilia) LastName – random online articles

Any advice on using my preferred name in my work email signature would be so great.

You could do any of those! I think you’re finding conflicting answers because there really isn’t any one “right” way to do it, so I’d just go with the one you like best. That said, I think you’re better off going with one that has Clive first, since people are more likely to assume that whichever name you put first is the one you’re going by.

Think of it sort of like how married women who changed their name will sometimes present their old last name at the end, like “Jane Warbleworth, née Bumbridge.” You’re not using “née,” but the idea is the same in that you’re presenting the name you now go by first.

5. How to explain an incomplete master’s degree

So I have a bachelor’s in Computer Science. I decided to do grad school and go for a masters at the same school as my bachelors. I have a part-time retail job and live with my parents. During the second year of my master’s, my dad got sick, really sick. Hospitalized for several months. After he got out, I was basically the live-in caretaker for him for quite a while. So this threw a major monkey wrench into school. After he recovered enough to not need me as much, I did go back to my thesis, but my momentum and focus were destroyed and I burned out. The project also ended up being this beast of a thing that I think everyone underestimated the size of.

So now I’m probably looking at not being able to finish. I’m in the middle of year six after already having gotten an extension for two semesters. Let’s say the worst happens and I don’t complete my master’s. What do I put on my resume and what do I tell prospective employers?

On your resume: “Coursework toward master’s in X, (year) to (year)”

To interviewers: “I had intended to get my master’s, but my plans were disrupted by a family health crisis, which ended up taking priority. I got a lot out of my program, but at this point, I’m itching to focus on full-time work.”

That’s it! You’ll be fine.