food restrictions at a holiday party, sneaking a peek at interview questions, and more

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

1. I can’t eat any of the food at our office Christmas party

This year my division’s Christmas party is lunch at a seafood restaurant and I’m allergic to fish and shellfish. This isn’t a fancy restaurant, it’s a mom n pop place down by the lake and everyone sits at picnic tables out on the lawn (I’m in Australia so it’s summer here). I looked at the menu on their website and it’s pretty limited and they don’t seem like the kind of place that would go out of their way to accommodate special diets or be careful about preparing food so that it’s okay for people with allergies to eat. Even the fries are cooked in the same deep fryer as the fish (I rang and checked) so there is literally nothing on the menu I can eat.

Whilst attendance isn’t strictly mandatory, lunch being held during work time (we’re all salaried employees so we get paid to attend). When I raised my concerns with my supervisor, she strongly implied that it would look really bad if I was the only person in the whole division who doesn’t attend. I think she interpreted my concerns as me just being a snob about the cheap and cheerful venue choice, because her advice was to show up, put on a smile and try to enjoy it. She didn’t really seem to understand how awkward it would be when everyone else is tucking into their lunch and I’m sitting their not eating.

I asked around and none of my colleagues seem to have a problem with the venue – they’re all looking forward to the party. The venue was chosen by the big bosses executive assistant and even if there was time to organise a different venue I doubt she would agree to change it. I don’t want to be a special snowflake and kick up a big fuss and refuse to attend and potentially damage my professional reputation.

I’ve resigned myself to attending the party. My question is, how do I diplomatically handle not being able to eat anything? I’m dreading getting asked lots of questions and having to explain my allergies (no I really can’t eat anything) and it becoming this big awkward issue and the subject of office drama/gossip for months afterwards (no, I’m not secretly hiding an eating disorder; no, I’m not being deliberately difficult, etc.).

That’s frustrating — companies need to do a better job of being thoughtful about people’s dietary restrictions (more on this coming in a post on holiday parties later today, in fact). But since you’re stuck going — and I agree it does sound like you should probably attend this, based on your manager’s not-great reaction — can you bring your own food to eat? Yes, it will be noticeable that you’re eating something different from everyone else, and some people will probably ask why, but at least then you’ll be able to eat with everyone else. And it sounds like a casual enough environment — eating outside on picnic tables — that you could do that, although if you’re unsure you could call and clear it with the restaurant ahead of time.

And in response to any questions, you can say a brisk, cheerful, “Oh, seafood allergies, so I figured I’d play it safe.” That’s very unlikely to be a major issue for people, like alone cause gossip or drama afterwards. At most you’re likely to have to deal with suggestions that you eat things like the fries that you already know you can’t eat — but you can do the brisk, cheerful response with that too (like “nope, I checked — but I’m being well fed by what I brought, so please don’t worry”).

2. Is it cheating if I peek at the interview questions I’ll be asked?

I have access to digital copies of personnel files from a job I previously worked at seasonally, and I’m looking to work there again. I left on a very good note, so I’m very confident that I’ll get an interview.

Some of those files are lists of interview questions for the different departments — indeed, the exact same ones I was asked the last time I applied. Is it cheating if I use that list to prepare for my interview? Furthermore, is it cheating if I share one of the lists with my friend, who is also a former seasonal employee looking to return (albeit in a different department)?

It is indeed cheating! You’re presumably not intended to see the questions and be able to prepare perfect answers for them ahead of time, and it would give you an unfair advantage over other candidates. A good litmus test: Would you feel comfortable telling them that you’d accessed the questions beforehand? Assuming not, there’s a reason for that!

It sounds like you’re in a good position to get re-hired there. Trust in that, and don’t jeopardize it (which this could, if they found out about it).

3. Contact asks for an in with my company but never follows up

A former direct report of mine has been asking for me to put in a good word at the sales job I’m currently at. He is working the same job I had at the old company I worked at, and he hates it. I told him that I’d be happy to, so I told the owner of the company (my direct boss) about him and he said, “Wow, Steve sounds great! Have him send in a resume.” So I tell him to do this, but he doesn’t send his resume over.

Two months later, he asks me if I can put in a good word again because his new job (that I didn’t know about) fell through. If he had told me he’d gotten a new job, I would have been able to say something to the owner to explain why his resume never appeared, but at this point I look pretty bad. Against my better judgement I decide to give him another chance to send his resume. He never does.

Three months later, he has sent me another email asking for help. What is the best way to turn him down, especially considering he claims to still think highly of me?

You can be pretty direct about this! For example: “The last two times you reached out about help with an in here, I asked you to send your resume but you didn’t — which made me look like a little flighty after I’d already talked to the owner about you. What happened?”

Or, if you don’t particularly want to discuss what happened, you can replace that last sentence with: “At this point I don’t think I can raise it again here.”

4. Company-wide thank-you writing

I just wanted to let you know that following your recent article about writing thank-you notes, I asked on Slack at work if anybody wanted to sit and write thank-you notes with me, and this snowballed into the CEO’s advisor and I organising a company-wide optional session. We collected everyone’s thank-you notes up and delivered them at the winter party yesterday afternoon.

It was a really beautiful thing. A few people were moved to tears by the cards they received. I think you’ve started a company tradition!

Thank you for the work you do, you’ve really helped me focus in on what kind of workplace culture I want to be in and how I can help build it.

This is lovely — thank you for sharing it!

5. Interviewing with a group of other candidates

I am in the middle of a job search. I have an advanced degree and over 12 years experience in my current field.. I applied for a position and made it through the phone screen and an assessment. I have been invited for an in-person interview and to do a presentation. The presentation part is typical in my field. What is unusual for me is its a group interview — all the candidates will be there and interviewed together. I have not had this type of interview since … high school, when I applied for a bagger position at the local grocery store. In contrast, this is a corporate, mid-level position with a major company that has retail sites pretty much every where.

For some reason, this isn’t settling right with me. Is this a common practice now? Or is this a yellow flag?

Yes! Good companies don’t typically make professional candidates interview in groups, and it’s disrespectful of your time and expertise.

Your mention that they have retail sites might actually explain it. You do sometimes see group interviews in retail — but generally for in-store-sales positions, which isn’t what you’re applying for.

6. Did a recruiter lie to me about a job being filled?

A few weeks ago, I had an interview for a company I’ve been interested in for a long time. It went really well and I felt like the hiring manager and I had a good rapport. Two weeks later, the recruiter emailed to tell me they went with another candidate. I responded to say thank you and to please let me know if anything else comes up they felt I would be suitable for, as I was very interested in their company, and the recruiter said of course they would. Then a few hours later, I see the job has been reposted on LinkedIn! I emailed the recruiter again just to make sure it wasn’t a mistake or a position on a different team but haven’t heard back. I understand that employers can’t always give detailed feedback, but surely straight-up lying is out of order? Is this normal?

No, it’s not normal to flagrantly lie and say that a position has been filled when it really hasn’t been … but that’s not necessarily what happened here. It could have been reposted by someone outside the interviewing process who hasn’t yet been told that the job has been filled. Or “we went with another candidate” could mean “we’re in final talks with another candidate” or “we’re likely to make an offer to someone else, but that’s still in process” or “we picked someone else to keep talking with” or all sorts of other varieties.

updates: the job candidate who cheated and more

Here are updates from four people whose letters were answered here in the past.

1. Am I allowed to have friends at work if I work in HR?

I wrote in around this time last year about whether HR staff can be friends with colleagues outside the department. Your advice, as always, was spot on and I’m super grateful to everyone in the comments (especially Manic Pixie HR Girl, Just Another HR Pro, and neverjaunty) for their honest but supportive feedback.

As I mentioned in the original comments, I pulled back from friendships with Nancy and Carter, which included blocking them from seeing me on social media and no longer spending my lunch breaks chatting with them. I also focused on the “friendly but not friends” advice and made a point of chatting equally with employees in all departments, regardless of age or what I thought they had in common with me.

Your response actually went up at the perfect time. Right after the holidays, the company laid of 11% of the staff, including my manager. My department’s VP actually went out on a limb to save my job in particular. I learned about the layoffs a week before they happened, and I was able to keep totally silent about it at the office, since I didn’t have any work “friends” that I was spending time with (although my partner got all the news once I got home each night.)

The layoffs meant that I absorbed two people’s jobs in addition to my own. I negotiated a title change out of the deal and scored a lot more responsibilities (and more opportunities to learn!), but they were not able to give me a pay increase to reflect my new role, so I started looking for other work in the spring. Thanks to your advice, I recently started a new job at a much larger and more established organization where I’m able to learn even more and have a much bigger HR team to collaborate with. Even though I’m the most junior person on the team, I’m already treated like a peer and have learned how to navigate work relationships much more smoothly. I also rekindled some old friendships and ramped up my volunteer efforts, so I now have a solid social life outside of the office that keeps my extroverted side happy.

I’m more sure than ever that this is the right field for me and I’m planning on studying for my PHR certification in 2018. Thank you again for the advice!

2. How can I stop being so helpful to coworkers?

It’s been an interesting year: growth, stuff-ups, setbacks and more growth.

I damaged my relationship with Fergus, my boss. There were unrealistic expectations for part of the project. During the debrief, I’m ashamed to say, I lashed out at Fergus. I lost my biggest sponsor and mentor as well as a chance to join his team. The relationship has been partially repaired — I’ve helped behind the scenes with some of his projects.

That was a wake-up call. My focus in the months after was working on myself so I’d never repeat that. I started exercising, meditation and mindfulness, reading more books/listening to podcasts on work relationships, etc.

I put a lot of work into curbing my helpfulness. Sometimes I had to physically remove myself (to stop myself/reduce my discomfort). I started asking people if they’d checked the resources and what they’d tried. And I’d give praise when they’d done these things without prompting. I still slip up from time to time.

I’ve had some health problems this year which have reduced the hours I can work. People got on without me. It’s also helped me separate my sense of self from my work. I have slipped sometimes because I know my reduced hours make it hard for others. But I’m getting better at this. Funny thing is I’m now telling others to pull back on their helpfulness.

Work itself is going well. I got a pay raise and there’s talk of making me permanent. The new boss is happy with what I’m doing. She’s even mentioned that I’m good at putting the breaks on when it looks like things are getting ahead of themselves. I’m getting exposure at higher levels (scary). I’m also a lot more comfortable with my coworkers.

Tl;dr: being too helpful sapped my coping resources, which contributed to me damaging my most important work relationship. I used it as a wake-up call to really work on myself. I had setbacks on this due to ill health but am improving on all fronts. I’ve developed better working relationships within the team.

3. I know a job candidate regularly cheated on his fiancé — should I say anything?

Not a super exciting update, but a relief for me — he ended up accepting an offer at a different company before he ever got to the interview stage at my company. Now that I’ve been here for a while and gotten to know the company and my coworkers better, I doubt that he would have passed our in-person interview … but I’m glad I never had to navigate that situation to begin with!

4. My coworker constantly complains, gossips, and is generally unpleasant

First of all, I decided not to talk to my boss. The two or three times I’ve brought up personnel issues like this, he never did anything about them, and I figured nothing would be different this time.

Overall, this person’s craziness has edged downward a bit. She still complains a lot, but it doesn’t feel like it’s an every-day-most-of-the-day thing. That’s likely because, around the time I sent in my first letter, two work friends sitting near her left for new jobs. That really cut into her audience, and it appears that having an audience is the primary motivation to complain about whatever is annoying her at any given moment.

One response, by a commenter named oranges & lemons, hit at a key point to this story that I did not convey well in my first letter: “I think the letter writer would be in a better position to get the coworker to stop if she were the audience for her rants. Then at least she’d be able to train the coworker to stop by giving really unsatisfactory answers. It’s pretty tough to do anything when you’re just overhearing other people’s conversations, and this particular coworker seems pretty intense.” Because the crazy complainer merely sits near me, and not next to me, I was never the audience for her complaining, and it felt awkward to try to shut down the rants without appearing as though I were an aggressor.

I’m also just better at not caring as much, knowing that the complaining is less about perceived work slights and more about whatever’s wrong with this person’s life outside work.

However, if the problem had not mostly sorted itself out on its own, and her rate of complaining were the same as when I wrote to you, I probably wouldn’t be so generous in feeling this way …

weekend free-for-all – December 16-17, 2018

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

Book recommendation of the week: A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick. I don’t know how to feel about this book, but it did totally engross me and was alternately beautiful and deeply disturbing.

updates: the Christmas lunch, the fired boss, and more

Here are updates from four people whose letters were answered here in the past.

1. Holding a Christmas Eve lunch (#3 at the link)

I finally bit the bullet and just quietly asked our employee about the Christmas Eve luncheon, and the employee said he actually celebrates Christmas. He further explained that in the culture he was raised in, it is their tradition to celebrate all holidays that fall within the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian calendars. So, bottom line, he’s actually very happy to participate in the luncheon we hold on Christmas Eve (or the 22nd this year, as it will be).

Thank you to all of your commenters for their input and suggestions — they are an incredible bunch!

2. My old boss was fired — can I still use her as a reference? (#4 at the link)

Although a bit delayed, I want to thank you for taking the time to give me such a thoughtful response. As soon as I read your advice, I realized it was the obvious answer, and that I should not reach out to my fired boss for a reference. I just needed to hear it from the expert!

Since then, I’ve heard they are interviewing for the position. I didn’t get so much as a phone interview request, despite exceeding the preferred qualifications on the job posting. I have no idea if this is due to my past association with my former boss or not, but maybe I just wasn’t what they were looking for or they wanted someone with more years of experience in the position.

3. My coworkers constantly share their inappropriate, bigoted, and hostile views with me (first update here)

Another update: I’ve almost completed my master’s and have finally started to feel like a real adult. At my most recent performance review, my boss gave me a fantastic review and commented that she felt I had grown and matured the most of any of her employees over the years. I had to hold back from tearing up!

The other day, some coworkers began discussing sexual assault allegations and making some awful assumptions about victims. I could tell I was getting upset. Instead of yelling or getting mad, I went to an empty office, put headphones in, and took a few minutes to pull myself together. Later, I talked to the coworker I’m closer to and explained why the conversation and her comments bothered me. It went well and the matter has been forgotten. I don’t think I could’ve done that in the past.

Your site has been fantastic in helping me figure out what’s reasonable and what’s not. It really helps me put things in perspective too. I refer a lot of people here. :)

4. I’m doing some of my coworker’s work as a favor to her and she’s interfering (#2 at the link)

It turned out that we were both at the bottom of a verrrry long management chain with huge amounts of office politics above. I assumed Fiona knew about the politics and she didn’t, which is why she was questioning my decisions (which were actually someone else’s decisions!) Happy to report it’s no longer in my role and we’ve hired two new people to cover it. The manager of that team is now leaving and I now have problems within my own team that I am dealing with instead – out of the frying pan and into the fire, as this problem is a lot worse!

updates: am I the office jerk, missing photo, and more

Here are updates from four people whose letters were answered here in the past.

1. Am I the office jerk?

Immediately after I had the meeting with my supervisor and director, I scheduled a session with a therapist and started working on my anxiety. I’ve always been an anxious person, but the work environment I’m in had really exacerbated it and it was presenting, as some commenters pointed out, as an occasional prickliness.

I’ve been much more conscious of my behavior going forward, and things have been good. I’ve realized two things: the first being that, as I mentioned above, I was letting stress make me grumpy. The second is that my boss is pretty unpredictable and often picks up on unusual things to highlight as worthy of praise or critique. I’ve been using some of the techniques in this book by Robert Sutton to help me deal with the stress that unpredictability was fostering, and also to help me look inward and not let the more toxic parts of my workplace rub off on me.

So, not a very exciting update! I’m still here, and still working on improving (always!). I’m looking around for other jobs, but since I’m not desperate for another position, I’m able to really dig in at interviews and figure out if we’re a good fit for each other.

Thank you for all your help!

2. Our marketing department uses everyone’s photo but mine

Not long after my letter, the marketing person scheduled a quick photo session for new employees and included me and for once my schedule didn’t conflict. The resulting photo was pretty blah, but at least it was finally over and included in the staff directory.

However, that was over two years ago and since then I’ve lost 40 pounds and changed from brunette to blonde – I no longer resemble the photo in the directory.

We’ve had enough staff turnover that the marketing person hasn’t been able to keep it up to date anyway.

I think mainly my concern back then was not yet feeling part of the team and repeatedly not having my photo in the directory only exacerbated that feeling. Now I definitely feel part of this office and it was only due to time and connecting with coworkers that solidified that feeling, not my photo in the directory.

3. Candidate has applied for the same job 142 times in one month

So my worst fear came true. Fergus showed up to find out why we hadn’t called him for an interview. He came when my assistant was alone in the office. Luckily despite Fergus’ aggressive applying style, he was not angry or hostile in any way. (We do have on-site security if it the situation had gone differently.) My assistant did a great job handling the situation. She logged into our applicant tracking system and typed in his name. She showed him his 142+ applications that appeared. She then explained the process to him again. It’s now been about eight months and we have had openings in that department a few times and we have received 0 applications from Fergus. I’m not sure if he got a job or if he finally realized we really are looking at his applications.

To answer a few questions: There was no way to block him. We can’t legally block someone from applying and our system doesn’t allow us to just automatically reject someone. As for a system glitch, there is absolutely no way. First, I made sure our system is super easy to apply. Because just like the readers, I hate long applications. It takes less than a minute to apply with us if you have a resume or Indeed account, making it not that hard to apply 10 times a day. You do have to start over though, so it’s not like he just kept hitting submit thinking it didn’t go through. He would have also received 142 confirmation emails. He was also the only one with repeated applications. What are the chances of it only glitching on him? And when we I talked to him on the phone and my assistant talked to him in person he admitted to applying repeatedly.

Some people mentioned a safety issue, that something wasn’t right with Fergus. I don’t think I mentioned this in my original letter but Fergus had something on his resume indicating he was working with an organization that helps individuals with disabilities. From talking to him on the phone and from what my assistant said, I don’t think he is “seriously disturbed” as some readers commented. I just think he doesn’t quite understand some social norms like how many times to apply. Some people thought he was given crazy advice to keep applying. We work with several of these organizations and are very supportive of hiring individuals with disabilities. However, this organization is my least favorite due to their poor effort in getting clients ready to enter the workforce. However, I still don’t think they would give out this bad of advice. I think he just REALLY wanted to make sure we received his application.

Honestly I would have loved to hire Fergus (still would) in one of entry level roles. But he refused repeatedly to consider anything else.

4. My new job isn’t what I’d expected (#5 at the link)

I have an update for you! My question wasn’t one of the more memorable ones, but maybe what I learned will nudge someone else in the right direction- listen to your gut!

I was pretty naive to the job hunt world at the time, and now know how to read between the lines of a job description. Still, I should have listened to my heart more. A big sign something was wrong was that I didn’t even want to celebrate the job offer. My fiancé has never seen me refuse champagne before!

I felt like I didn’t have the financial privilege of turning it down and tried to make the best of it for almost two years. I stuck with it for that long because about a year into my time there my fiancé and I decided to move states, and I just thought it would be better to have one job on my resume for this time period. It became easier when I knew there was an end!

Still, there were so many times I ignored serious signs I should leave. It was a high-stress environment, and to top it off- they literally gave me all of someone else’s job duties on top of my own with no adjustment to my hours, pay or the duties I already had. My mental health was affected, and I would get physically ill most mornings. I never in my life have had such a reaction to work or school. I was so stubborn and determined that I could just push through it that I couldn’t see what an idiot I was being. I would never let a friend do that to herself- I don’t know why I didn’t treat myself with the same respect.

Even though my confidence took a dive, I left with glowing references and on a positive note with my coworkers. I’m now in a new city and searching for jobs again. I will be more careful this time. Just because you can do something, doesn’t always mean you should.

If anybody else is out there having panic attacks on Sunday nights- allow yourself a do-over and seek a position that you can look forward to.

Thank you again for your advice! I have your book and it has been a tremendous help during my job search. Cross your fingers for me — I had two interviews last week.

solve your office gift shopping dilemmas with Staples

And now a word from a sponsor…

If you’re planning to give holiday gifts to colleagues this month and you’re stumped on what to get them, Staples has loads of fun and affordable options that you should consider!

You might think of Staples as your go-to place for office supplies, but they have great gifts as well – especially when it comes to office-appropriate gifts. For example, you could get these comfy Sony headphones ($20.99) for your coworker who gets annoyed by noise as she’s trying to work (or who annoys you when she plays music without headphones!). Or, here’s a Darth Vader USB flash drive ($12.99) for your Star-Wars-obsessed coworker. Or for the coworker who always joins you for Happy Hour, here’s a Refinery wooded whiskey barrel ($19.99) that says it will turn cheap booze into top-shelf liquor. (This is fascinating, and I want this.)

They also have an amazing number of old-timey toys and nostalgia gifts, like the original Silly Putty ($1.29) and this Collector’s Edition Slinky ($4.99), which would be especially good if you’re looking for smaller trinkets to keep things affordable. (And eeekk, Fashion Plates! Do any other children of the 1970s remember these? Those have nothing to do with office holiday gifts; I’m just excited to see them.)

Staples also has you covered however you like to shop, whether it’s in-person at their stores or buying online at (with free next-day shipping on orders over $49.99). And they have personalized cards and gifts, gift wrapping, and packing and shipping services so you can take care of everything at once … and then relax and spend more time on your couch sipping hot things.

As you’re shopping for gifts, keep these points in mind:

* Know your office! Most offices have a mix of gift-givers and non-gift givers, and you can do whatever you’re comfortable with. But it’s useful to know the general culture around gifts, especially if, for example, everyone else on your team exchanges gifts and you’ll feel awkward about not participating.

* Etiquette says you don’t need to get a gift for your boss, because gifts at work should flow downward, not upward.

* If you want to give gifts to other colleagues, it’s okay to keep it simple. Just stay away from gifts that are very personal, which tend not to be appropriate for work. A good rule is to stay away from gifts intended to be put on the recipient’s body, like clothes, jewelry, perfume, or lotion.

* Be thoughtful about what your recipient will truly appreciate. Don’t give wine to a non-drinker or a gift certificate to a steak restaurant to a vegetarian! (If you’re looking for clues about what someone might like, look at what they have displayed in their office or at their desk – there are often clues there.)

But really – Staples may be the solution to all of your office gifts needs this year. Check out their weekly ad for savings, and then shop in their stores or online for work-appropriate and budget-friendly gifts for colleagues this holiday season.

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Staples. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

updates: the interviewer’s gossiping wife, the employee who wore a blanket, and more

Here are updates from four people who had their letters answered here this year.

1. My interviewer’s wife is telling people about my job search

I reached out the interviewer via email this morning. I told him that my co-worker heard these details from his wife, and that as I stated in my interview my boss was unaware I was interviewing elsewhere. I stressed that I really wanted to maintain a good relationship with my workplace when I leave. I tried my best to stay calm, and avoid getting accusatory or angry. This is a small town, and while I can’t see myself ever applying to this company again, I don’t want to alienate professionals in my field. I also felt that there was a good chance whatever I said to him directly funnel to his wife. He sent back a one line email “Sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused you.”

This was a really heartbreaking moment for me. I have worked very hard the last few months to polish my resume and cover letter, and I spent a long time preparing for this interview. I have enough experience under my belt that a job rejection doesn’t ruin my day anymore, but it definitely stung. In the interview they had asked if I would be willing to forgo giving notice in order to start earlier. They wanted an applicant who could start immediately to train with their employee that was on notice (the irony in this situation is not lost on me!) I politely refused this request, and explained I REALLY REALLY wanted to leave my current job on the best terms possible. There is no way to know if this cost me the job, but it definitely sucked to NOT get the job and still potentially have my current relationship with my employer threatened. It was a worst of both worlds situation.

I should say his wife didn’t tell my co-worker my name, but she did list my place employment, general age, gender, and some identifying details about me. My workplace is small (4-5 people) and it made it very clear who I was. The wife might not have known that, but there was no reason she should have said anything to my coworker.

2. My employee wears a blanket for sun protection when we go off-site (#3 at the link)

I spoke to her today and here’s an update on the situation. I believe there was some confusion in the comments. My employee walks to and from the vehicle to the building with an umbrella. She covers with a blanket and hat only inside the vehicle when going to and from the meeting. My concern was the blanket looked strange and not professional to others in the vehicle as the people are not always the same. We live in an area where using an umbrella for the sun is unusual and it stands out when she comes from the car to the building and vice versa with an umbrella when it is sunny or not raining. (Apologies for not explaining the situation more clearly). I did speak to her following the lines of what you posted in your script. She says it is not possible for her to travel 30 minutes or less in a vehicle without the blanket and to be out in the sun without the umbrella. She has elected to end her employment with the company rather than go without these things.

3. My coworkers keep asking me out

I’m not sure if this is really an update letter — I think it might be more of a thank you for addressing my question, and addressing it seriously. Reading your response and the commenters’ responses made me feel less like I was completely over-reacting to the situation.

It’s been a while since I sent this in. I was overwhelmed by the response, I’m sorry I wasn’t able to engage with the comments. The news these past couple weeks has brought all this whole thing (and the years of similar behavior before it) back to my mind. It’s honestly been a tough news cycle. I’m upset with myself for not taking things more seriously at the time, and mad at my old coworkers all over again.

By the time my letter ran, I had started my new job and it’s been honestly better than I could have imagined when I took it. I had been working towards this new job for almost two years, and the wait was totally worth it. My coworkers are smart, and hardworking, and service oriented. And it’s been a delight working at my new place. So it all worked out in the end.

Anyway, thank you again for the great work you do here!

Happy holiday season!

4. Writing a resume when my most relevant experience isn’t my most recent (#5 at the link)

First of all, thank you for your advice. I followed your guidance on creating a “Teaching Experience” section on the first page and an “Other Experience” section on the second page. Along with my cover letter explaining my brief career detour and your advice to focus my bullet points on accomplishments, I got an email asking for an interview three days after I submitted my application package!

I have already had two interviews and received a verbal offer earlier this week. In my final interview, the head of school noted how impressive my resume was and how easy it was for him to see how I fit all of the qualities he looks for in new faculty members. He was also impressed that I have experience outside of the classroom because it shows him I’m flexible and willing to take on a variety of tasks throughout the school.

Thanks again for your help, and I’m thrilled to be heading back to the classroom in a few months because of it. To anyone worried about explaining a career change or detour, follow Alison’s resume advice and you’ll be fine!

all of my 2017 book recommendations

All year long, I’ve made a weekly book recommendation when kicking off the weekend open thread. These aren’t work-related books; they’re just books I love and think everyone else should read. Sometimes they’re books that I’m in the middle of reading, and other times they’re just long-standing favorites.

Here’s the complete list of what I’ve recommended this year (maybe in time for holiday gift-shopping!). I’ve bolded my favorites of the favorites.

A Woman of Independent Means, by Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey.  The entire life of one woman, told through her letters to other people as she grows up and raises a family. I recently re-read this for the first time since I was a teenager, and realized that I had missed much of the humor the first time around. It’s good.

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders, by Joshua Foer. This is a super cool guide to strange and surprising places around the world.

A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara. This book will wreck you, and it will be one of the best things you’ve ever read. It’s about trauma and life afterwards, and the power and limitations of friendship and love. It kept me up way too late, way too many nights, it broke my heart, and I am considering starting it all over again.

Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners, by Therese Oneill. This is all the stuff no one has ever told you about living in the Victorian era, including what your underwear was like (disturbing!), how bathing worked, the raw meat you will tie to your face while you sleep to fight wrinkles, and much more.

The Mothers, by Brit Bennett. Mothers of all types, a love triangle, and choices that may or may not be the right ones.

The Last Message Received, by Emily Trunko. It’s a collection of real-life final messages that people sent to others before break-ups, deaths, and other separations. It’s pretty heartbreaking … but it will also make you look at the messages you write differently.

The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain, the story of Ernest Hemingway’s marriage to his first wife, told through her eyes. Ultimately they both annoyed me, but it was an enjoyable journey.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson. It’s a British comedy of manners, but it’s more too. (I recommended the author’s The Summer Before the War last year too, and this one is just as good.)

The Vacationers, by Emma Straub. I loved this book. Emma Straub does family dysfunction well.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, by Winifred Watson. A decidedly un-glamorous governess accidentally becomes the personal assistant to a nightclub singer. It’s a delight.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post, by Emily Danforth.  Curtis Sittenfeld (who is also excellent!) described this as “if Holden Caulfield had been a gay girl from Montana, this is the story he might have told,” and that seems right.

Other-Wordly: words both strange and lovely from around the world, by Yee-Lum Mak — in which you will learn words from more than a dozen languages that describe emotions and situations that are hard top capture, such as the Japanese tsundoku (buying books and not reading them; letting them pile up unread on shelves or floors or nightstands”) and the Swedish smultronställe (a “personal idyll free from stress or sadness,” which translates literally as “place of wild strawberries”). If you love language, you’ll love this book.

The Arrangement, by Sarah Dunn. A couple gives each other six months off from monogamy, and things go differently than expected.

All Our Wrong Todays, by Elan Mastai. Tom Barren is the first person to travel back in time — where he promptly messes up history, which means that when he travels back to the present time, everything is different. In fact, it’s the world as we know it today, but for Tom, who comes from a techno-utopia, it’s primitive and barbaric. This book will blow your mind a little bit.

The Course of Love, by Alain de Botton, who’s the author of this realllllly good article in the New York Times, “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person.” This book in many ways is the continuation of that article, but as a novel about a marriage. It’s amazing.

The Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker. A woman made of clay and a man made of fire are marooned in 19th century New York. Surprising things happen. (I recommended this a couple of years ago when I first read it, but I’ve been re-reading it and it’s just as good the second time.)

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson, which looks at what happens to people after an internet mob goes after them (e.g., Justine Sacco, Jonah Lehrer, etc.). Really interesting.

Shrill, by Lindy West. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book. I thought it might be … you know, shrill. I ended up loving it and loving Lindy. Her writing about her dad, in particular, is beautiful.

Scrappy Little Nobody, by Anna Kendrick. She is smart and funny and a pleasure to hang out with as you read.

The Twenty-One Balloons, by William Pene du Bois. A retired teacher is shipwrecked on Krakatoa, where he discovers a tiny, hidden, and very rich society of 20 families who spend their time on cooking and inventions, which sounds weird but it’s awesome. This is my favorite kids’ book, and I still love it to this day.

The Painted Veil, by Somerset Maugham. The rather shallow Kitty Fane cheats on her husband, who then takes her to a cholera-infected region of China, where … things happen.

Standard Deviation, by Katherine Heiny. As a middle-aged married person, I find that I increasingly love novels about middle-aged married people.

Extraordinary Adventures, by Daniel Wallace. Closed-off, lonely Edsel Bronfman wins a free weekend at a beach resort for a couple, and sets out to reinvent himself.

The Heirs, by Susan Rieger. A family drama with money and scandals that everyone is surprisingly chill about. One review I saw called it a modern day Edith Wharton, and that seems right.

The Humans, by Matt Haig. An alien comes to earth with a mission, sure that he knows what humans are like. He is wrong.

A House Among the Trees, by Julia Glass. I love everything she writes, and this is no exception. It’s about the death of a famous children’s book author (modeled to some degree on Maurice Sendak) and the emotional legacy he leaves to the people he was close to.

Do Not Become Alarmed, by Maile Meloy. Four children will disappear on a cruise, and you will stay up all night to find out what happens.

The Boy Who Loved Too Much: A True Story of Pathological Friendliness, by Jennifer Latson. I read this after reading this fascinating write-up in NYMag about Williams syndrome, also known as “cocktail party syndrome,” which makes people incredibly outgoing, extroverted, and trusting (as well as causing intellectual disabilities, physical problems, and musical and story-telling talents).

The Windfall, by Diksha Basu. If Jane Austen were writing in modern-day India, it would maybe be this.

Constance Harding’s (Rather) Startling Year, by Ceri Radford. Extremely funny.

The Birthday Party: A Memoir of Survival, by Stanley N. Alpert. A fascinating story by a federal prosecutor of what happened after he was kidnapped off the street — and later, how he went after his captors.

The Misfortune of Marion Palm, by Emily Culliton. A Brooklyn mom goes on the run after embezzling from her kids’ school.

Happenstance, by Carol Shields. Another one about middle-aged married people, and it’s great. It’s basically two novellas: the first one from the wife’s perspective, and the second one from the husband’s.

A Year in Provence, by Peter Mayle. A charming and funny account of a year spent living in rural France. Much pastis is drunk.

Sourdough, by Robin Sloan. This is by the author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, which is also excellent. This one has a very unusual sourdough starter, robots, and culinary intrigue.

Oh the Glory of It All, by Sean Wilsey, a memoir about money, excess, family, and an evil stepmother.

4 3 2 1, by Paul Auster. This is four stories in one — all starting with the birth of the same person, but they then diverge into separate narrations of the paths his life might take. All four stories are told in parallel — Chapter 1 is divided into 1.1. 1.2, 1.3, and 1.4, and so forth with each chapter. It’s a very long book, and since I hate it when a good book ends, I’m enjoying knowing that I’ll still be reading this a month from now and possibly forever.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman. I can’t tell you how much I loved this book. It starts out deeply funny and then it turns into something you didn’t expect. This is one of my favorite books this year.

The Impossible Fortress, by Jason Rekulak. A 1980s coming of age story involving computer games, petty theft, and an obsession with Vanna White.

Rabbit Cake, by Annie Hartnett. An 11-year-old tries to move forward after the death of her mom. It’s not as dark as it sounds; it’s often charming and funny.

The Wife, by Meg Wolitzer. The wife of a famous, and philandering, novelist contemplates their marriage.

Free Food for Millionaires, by Min Jin Lee. The daughter of Korean immigrants tries to figure out her life in New York. It’s long and sprawling and engrossing. One review I saw called it a modern-day Middlemarch, which seems right to me.

Sellevision, by Augusten Burroughs. A good book to read post-Black-Friday, it’s a send-up of a fictional home shopping network.

History of Wolves, by Emily Fridlund. I originally wasn’t going to read this because the title made me think it was some sort of modern Call of the Wild, but it’s actually about an isolated teenager’s relationship with a family who move in nearby and it’s quite good.

Prince Charles, by Sally Bedell Smith. This is the newest biography of Prince Charles and it’s fascinating and will make you more sympathetic to Charles than you probably were before.

And if you’re looking for more, here are my lists of book recommendations from 2016 and from 2015.

update: my employee drastically changes her appearance in the middle of the workday

Remember the letter-writer in June whose employee would frequently drastically change her appearance in the middle of the workday (different clothes, hair, and makeup)? Here’s the update.

Thank you for your response and to the commentariat for their responses. As it turns out, the situation changed the day after I wrote in to you.

A manager several levels above me asked to speak to Michelle when she was visiting our office for a meeting. Michelle had made a drastic change during another meeting with external people besides the one I wrote in about. I was off on vacation and not present at this meeting, but the manager was. She (the manager) was at the meeting I wrote in about too and had also attended a five-day seminar/trade show where Michelle was present, and Michelle had apparently made a couple of mid-day appearance changes (clothes, makeup and hairdo) when she was there.

This manager had similar concerns as me. We weren’t trying to imply in any way that Michelle should not change her appearance at all, just that she should not do it in the middle of the work day on days when she had to deal with external people. The manager said there had been comments about it at the trade show and after the meetings, and more than one person had referred to Michelle as the one who always changes when her name came up. Our office is on the conservative side when it comes to the dress code and it definitely stood out in the culture of the company.

This manager let Michelle know that the mid-day changes were affecting people’s perceptions of her and overshadowing her work. This manager told Michelle she was approaching her out of concern because she herself knew how it could be difficult for women to be taken seriously in the workplace. Michelle said she understood and thanked the manager for her help. She then left to take her lunch. Michelle returned from her lunch with a wavy, blue pixie cut. She went to the touchdown office the manager was using with her shirt completely unbuttoned and asked how professional she looked. Then she left the building and has not come back.

On Friday, Michelle emailed me and asked if I would be a reference for her during her job search. I was honest that I would have to tell the truth if I was asked why she left her job and she would be better off to have HR confirm her employment dates, but I cautioned they would also confirm she isn’t eligible for re-hire if they were asked. Michelle said she understood and wished me luck in filling her old job. It is the only contact she has made since she walked out and she never told anyone she quit, she just left.

It was truly bizarre. At no point did the manager tell Michelle not to change her appearance at all and she also praised Michelle’s work and said she wanted the focus to be on Michelle’s good performance. She only told Michelle how mid-day changes during meetings and trade shows were overshadowing her work and making people take her less seriously. The blue hair, unbuttoned shirt, walking out in the middle of the day, and quitting without telling anyone were a shock to everyone. If I had not seen it with my own eyes, I would have a hard time believing it.

(Also to clarify some things and answer some of the questions asked in the comments: I am black, Michelle is white. When I called myself older, I simply meant that I am older than Michelle. She is in her early 20’s and I am 38. Michelle drastically changes her look about once every three weeks but she only does it in the middle of the workday about once a month, the rest of the time it happens over the weekend. She lives around the corner from a mall similar to the one near our office (I have heard her talking about it). Michelle does not wear wigs, it is all her own hair and long extensions. When she changes her look during the work day she always comes back with her hair shorter and/or darker. She gets the lighter colors and/or hair extensions are done over the weekend.)

open thread – December 15-16, 2017

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

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