updates from letter writers (the nude sauna, the aggressive dog, and more)

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

1. When going to a nude sauna with coworkers, what do I do about nipple piercings?

I wanted to send in an update about the company-sponsored nude sauna trip while having nipple piercings (hell of a sentence to start things on).

As I both suspected and hoped would happen, nobody said anything, if they even noticed them – some people took their glasses off, after all, and couldn’t see clearly. We all followed the normal etiquette of pretending to have clothes on, and I learned that at least one of my coworkers has a tattoo. There were separate areas for men and women, to any readers who were curious.

For what it’s worth, while meetings earlier in the day were mandatory, any nudity was 100% opt-in, and there was no stigma if you decided to decline. Despite this, my company is international, and many people enthusiastically participate in this aspect of the culture, myself included. This isn’t even my first time experiencing a nude sauna with coworkers, but it was my first time doing so since getting the piercings. At the risk of oversharing, part of why I like to keep them private is that I got them largely for sexual reasons, which I don’t want to share with colleagues, for obvious reasons – if I were asked, my plan was to say something about how I liked how they looked. But in the end, because of others’ reactions (or lack thereof) I feel like I was able to keep them, for all intents and purposes, hidden.

I know these sorts of activities aren’t for everyone, but it’s just a matter of cultural difference, and I appreciate that most people in the comments section understood and respected that, and gave helpful suggestions. I have no idea where else, or who else, I could’ve asked this question, so thanks again!

2. My coworker brings her aggressive dog to work

I have quite the update for you. I updated briefly in the comments of one of your posts a couple weeks ago, but I thought I’d send an official update. In my mini-update, I had stated that they decided no dogs would be allowed in the new building, and the employee was laid off for performance issues. All was well.

When you posted my story about the coworker who lied about her agressive dog, I noticed a few people in the comments warning me about this workplace. They said that they felt this might not be a very professional or well-run organization. I told them that their hesitation was appreciated yet luckily incorrect. I mentioned that other than the dog issue, there was nothing else happening that was a problem. I gushed about how amazing this job was, and how even though “like a family” is usually a red flag, in this case it was green. Well, commenter s… you were painfully right. What started as a simple dog story has wildly escalated. Buckle up.

It first started with the random drug tests that occurred whenever someone questioned a policy or procedure. Then came the CEO trying to pay off a woman going through spousal abuse (to get her to quit rather than lay her off, which he wanted to do instead of giving her time off to handle her life). After the dog fiasco and other situations, the CEO came to meet the team and gave an all-inspiring speech about how wonderful this team is while peppering in passive-aggressive hints that anyone that is negative in any way will be fired. He’s used this speech multiple other times, even at our grand opening (look at this amazing facility! The town loves us! We’re so successful! You’re lucky to have jobs here! Don’t like it? Go to one of these other companies that I’m about to loudly insult! We know those companies were hostile work environments too, so you’re stuck with us!).

Then came the rumors. A supervisor spread a rumor that a low-level employee was doing hard drugs, and that she was doing them at work. HR did nothing, and concluded their investigation with “it was just a rumor.” I think the low-level employee is filing a restraining order against the supervisor as we speak.

I wound up quitting two days ago. It’s been fun, but… when in doubt, listen to Alison and her readers. I’ve definitely learned that lesson.

3. How do I withdraw my application over low salary without burning a bridge? (#3 at the link)

My letter was fairly low-stakes but I have a small update. I withdrew my application and used the language you suggested to give context to the hiring manager. Next time I saw my own manager, he brought it up first (the hiring manager had passed my note along) and thanked me for being honest about my reason. Withdrawing hasn’t had any negative impact on my part-time job since then. And, my manager recently told me that whole situation has sparked some internal conversations about compensation and benefits and how the company can better attract and retain qualified hires! Hopefully they will be able to make some changes and maybe I can apply again in the future. Thanks for your help!

4. Is it ethical to accept volunteer help at my local business?

I just wanted to thank you for your excellent advice and provide a small update.

I was so shocked and surprised to learn that what I had been doing was illegal, and extremely embarrassed that as a business owner I didn’t know that. You’ll be happy to know that I immediately stopped accepting volunteer help and explained to all involved why this was the case.

To be perfectly clear, accepting help from volunteers was never intended to be “the new normal” but rather an emergency bandaid, to give me time to get my feet back under me. Since writing my first letter, I’ve taken on a new business partner who will receive more shares in the business based on sweat equity. To put it bluntly, in three months we’ll either be out of business or out of the weeds, and either way the situation will be resolved. Right now things are tense but manageable. There is a good chance the business will survive and thrive. More importantly, thanks to you and the commenters, it can be done in an ethical way that respects sensible and fair labor laws.

On a personal level, while I am obviously still reeling and not having a great time of it, my immigration status is being sorted out and according to my lawyer, there is little to no chance I’ll be deported. I am working hard to get my life back on track. Progress is slow, but there is progress, and I am beyond grateful for all the help I’ve received and continue to receive, including yours.

can informational interviews actually be useful?

If you’ve ever read any job search advice, you’ve probably come across the recommendation to do “informational interviews,” especially if you’re early in your career or trying to switch fields. What are informational interviews? And can they really help you?

The answer is … maybe. It depends entirely on what your goals are in doing them and how you approach them.

At New York Magazine today, I talk about how to get them, how to make them useful, what to ask — and what not to do. You can read it here.

my boss is annoyed that I stayed out late drinking during a three-day work event

A reader writes:

I am a designer for an architectural firm and I was assigned to assist in a trade show, as our firm was one of the exhibitors. The show was held in my hometown so we needed to fly for the event.

The show proper is from 9 AM to 7 PM and fell on a weekend, starting on a Friday. As it was my hometown and my friends were living where the show was held, I decided to catch up with them for drinks after we ended the first day of the event. It was a way for me to de-stress as well. I went out at 10 PM, way after the first day ended, and ended up going back to our hotel at 5 the next morning, but I wasn’t drunk. Tipsy, yes. Blackout drunk, no. After that, I still managed to go to the show at exactly 9 AM. From 9 AM to 7 PM, I was fully-functional in manning our booth, fulfilling inquiries, and any other chores our boss needed me to do without a hitch. He even complimented my work for that day. We closed down our booth, and our boss and my coworkers went out to dinner.

During dinner, my boss asked me what time I got home, as I had asked permission from him if I could go out, which he allowed me to. I told him 5 AM and then he got mad. This is a non-verbatim flow of our conversation:

Boss: You shouldn’t have gone home at 5 AM because we are in the middle of a three-day event. If you didn’t go out, you could’ve done better today. You didn’t give out your full potential.

Me: Sir, I was at our booth at exactly 9 AM, answered inquiries diligently, fulfilled orders, and manned the booth with the way I do in the past shows.

Boss: You’re missing the point here. I’m not saying you didn’t do good today. If something happened to you in this city, which we are unfamiliar with, I am liable.

Me: Sir, this is my hometown. I know the city by heart.

Boss: Don’t argue with me. Going out for drinks even after work hours in a business trip is unprofessional.

His scolding continued and he was changing his points as I defended myself. I eventually shut up so that it wouldn’t escalate any further.

I was fully-functional and fulfilling work to be done on the day without any problems. My question is, was I really unprofessional for going out after work hours in this situation?

I wouldn’t say it was unprofessional exactly, but it didn’t show great judgment.

Going out after a work event is fine. But coming back to the hotel drunk at 5 a.m. when you need to staff an all-day event that starts four hours later isn’t the wisest thing to do.

Maybe you were 100% on your game and no one would have been able to tell that you were running on a few hours of drunken sleep. But for a lot of people, that would have affected their ability to be fully on for a full-day event, which tend to be pretty exhausting. It’s not surprising that your boss would want you to show up fully rested, or that he thought you were being cavalier about your work responsibilities. I’d agree with him there; it does sound you were being cavalier about them.

But your boss is also being weird in the way he’s explaining his objections — but probably more accurately, he’s just not explaining his objections well.

For the record, the thing about being liable for you in an unfamiliar city is weird. (And if you were a woman, it would sounds grossly sexist and paternalistic, but I think from your email that you’re a man so we’ll stick to just weird and paternalistic.) And the idea that it’s always unprofessional to go out for drinks on a work trip is silly. People go out for drinks on work trips all the time, and it’s fine — as long as they’re reasonably well-rested and not hungover the next day.

But I suspect that he’s not articulating his concerns well and that they really just boil down to: “While you’re on a work trip, I expect work to be your first priority, which means that you should prioritize showing up well-rested and not hungover after going out drinking with friends. Even if you’re telling me you were fine the next day, there was enough of a risk that you wouldn’t be fine that this isn’t okay to do.”

And that’s absolutely reasonable, and it’s probably something he’s annoyed to have to tell you.

good employee is angry about bad employee, avoiding cooing over coworkers’ kids, and more

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

1. My good employee is angry about my bad employee

I have two employees who have both worked here for over 20 years. One works days, the other works evenings. The employee on evenings has had many, many, many years of disciplinary issues and is on action plans over and over and over again. He owns his own business during the day and only works our evening shift, so he makes it very clear this is not his primary concern. He is extremely reliable but is not good at his job and has many inconsistencies in his performance and responsibilities. HR is not willing/able to terminate his employment. I can’t exactly tell you why, but there is obviously some reason they won’t. We are asked to continue his action plans and keep great documentation.

I have only been with this organization for 1½ years and he has been on an ongoing action plan with me since January. The daytime employee is a model employee and works hard, is reliable, goes above and beyond, and has not had one bad mark on her file since she began working here. She is fed up with all that the evening employee gets away with. It is eating her up inside. I know she understands that I am doing everything I can to work with the evening employee, but she has seen this for 20 years and cannot get past it any more (can’t say I blame her). What can I do to help her through her anger over the situation? This has become increasingly worse for her and I just don’t know how to channel those feelings into something productive or worthwhile to her.

Her anger is a reasonable reaction! I understand that it would be better for the organization if you could find a way to make her okay with the situation, but would it be better for her? I’d argue that she should be pissed off and disillusioned with her employer — not with you, because this isn’t your fault, but certainly with the broader organization. There are consequences to employers who won’t address performance problems, and one of them is that good employees get frustrated and eventually leave.

The most important things you can do here are to push to be allowed to fire the bad employee, to insist on knowing why — with years of action plans and documentation that hasn’t happened (you’re his manager; you have standing to know that) — and to make sure that whoever is standing in the way of firing your night shift employees knows that you’re likely to lose your good employee over it if they won’t act.

Beyond that, the kindest thing you can do for your good employee is to be honest with her about will and won’t change so that she has all the info she needs to make good decisions for herself: “I understand why you’re frustrated. I would be too. You’re right to think that there’s a disparity between your performance and his. I wish I could tell you that was going to change, but I haven’t seen any signs that it will. I support you in whatever you decide to do.” Don’t try to talk her into being okay with something that isn’t okay.

2. Can I avoid cooing over coworkers’ kids without looking like a jerk?

I don’t dislike children, but I’m also not gaga over them either. It always feels so awkward whenever people parade their very young children around the office to show off. Everyone, and I mean everyone, but me (in my department) stops what they’re doing and coos and plays with the baby for half an hour. I feel so out of place when I don’t join them and yet, it is so forced and unnatural for me to do so. I can’t fake it. Is there a way to not join everyone and not look like an ogre at the same time?

This last time I was so determined to ignore and keep on working, but this coworker from a different department was subtly trying to force me to pay attention and say something. This ended up with the baby on top of my cabinets and a stinky diaper filling the room around me. Sigh. Please help me navigate the politics of this situation.

You’re probably better off saying something even if it feels unnatural and fake than saying nothing at all. But it doesn’t have to be a lengthy interaction and it doesn’t need to involve cooing or baby talk. It can be “she’s adorable” (said while smiling, not grimacing) or “he’s really cute” or “hello! nice to meet you!” and in many cases, that’s probably going to be enough. If anyone gives you crap about not playing for half an hour, you can say, “She’s really cute but I’ve got my hands full over here with trying to get (work project) done. Thanks for introducing me though!” In other words, say something kind because that is basic politeness when it comes to acknowledging someone’s young offspring and that will prevent you from looking strangely chilly, but then — in functional offices, at least — you’re allowed to go back to work.

If someone pushes you to hold a baby or otherwise interact with them, saying that you’re getting over a cold and are afraid of spreading germs is a really good way to get babies whisked away from you.

3. My boss calls out people publicly for making mistakes

I’m two months into a new job at a company that’s currently in the midst of some major growth. The owner/boss is very much a “broad ideas” kind of speaker. We have an open floor plan, and about twice a week he’ll stop everything for an unannounced meeting/speech to talk about broad office matters or problems without diving into any specific directives for how to go about tackling those problems.

Lately, these unannounced pep talks have turned fairly critical. The company’s growing, so new systems for inter-office communication and general workflow and the occasional mistake is made as we all adjust to these new system. Boss has taken to addressing the entire office about errors in work, and then proceeds to call out specific people in the office for recent mistakes they’ve.

I’m all for quality control, but it seems to me like the message he’s trying to get across would be better served in one-on-one conversations with the employees in question. Publicly shaming a colleague, without offering any helpful ideas on how to improve, seems kind of out of line. Am I just being too sensitive in thinking this? Or does this speak to a deeper management problem?

Nope, you’re not being overly sensitive. It’s true that sometimes there can be benefit in discussing mistakes as a team, if there’s a concern that otherwise they’re likely to be repeated or if there’s a need to change procedures or shore up some process. But calling out specific people is rarely necessary (and on the rare occasions where mentioning a name is unavoidable, it should be done with a lot of sensitivity so it doesn’t seem like anyone is being shamed — more like “Jane recently ran into this situation and it made us realize we should clarify how to handle this it if up comes up again”). And it sounds like your boss is doing this in a critical way, not a constructive way, which is indeed crappy management.

And really, if there are so many errors happening that he’s regularly addressing the whole office about them, then the root cause is a higher-level problem — bad training, unclear expectations, impossible tasks, bad hires, or so forth.

4. Is this holiday plan fair?

My office is shortening hours on multiple days that we would typically be open (Black Friday, day after Christmas, New Years Eve, etc.). On all of those days when we would typically be open for nine hours, we will now only open for three hours.

I understand that hourly employees would only receive pay for the hours worked, but I am an exempt salaried employee.

My manager says that if I would like to take any of those days off, I will be charged for a full day of PTO (eight hours), as opposed to just the three hours that I would be required to be here had I not taken the day off. Does that sound like a fair or standard practice to you? I’ve never been in this situation before, so I’m not sure!

It’s not particularly fair, no. Sometimes when an office decides at the last minute to close early (for example, announcing in the morning that everyone can leave at 1 p.m. that day), they still charge people who were on vacation that day for a full day of PTO. The thinking is that if you were on vacation, you had the benefit of planning for the full day off, whereas people who came to work had to plan to be at work the whole day. But your situation is different, because everyone can plan ahead of time for those hours off. I wouldn’t be surprised if their reason is that they want to incentivize people to work on those days, since they’re days that otherwise a lot of people would want to take off.

5. How much notice should I give when I have a lot of flexibility?

I’ve worked with my employer for eight years now. I have an excellent relationship with my boss. There have been a lot of changes underway in our office – both workflow and staff. I’ve decided the time has come to leave the workforce to be a stay-at-home mom. I definitely want to give more than two weeks as a gesture of loyalty and to avoid putting my boss in a lurch, but I also don’t want to give so long of a notice that things get awkward. How long is appropriate in this instance?

It’s up to you! There are some offices and dynamics where you could say, “Hey, I’m planning to do this in a year” and it would be totally fine and the massive amount of notice would be appreciated. There are others where anything more than two weeks will end up being awkward and weird. So it depends on what you know of your boss and your coworkers and your office generally. But if you don’t feel like you have strong indicators in either direction — but know that your boss won’t handle a month or two badly — you could sit down with her and talk it through, framing it as, “I’m planning to do this, ideally by the end of the year, but I’m flexible on the timing. Could we talk about what ending date would make the most sense?” (Keep in mind, of course, that making that offer doesn’t bind you to staying longer than you want to. You can say, “January is too far out, but how about December 1?” or so forth.)

my employee keeps adjusting himself while we’re talking

A reader writes:

I have a male employee who will adjust his balls (over top of his pants) during most conversations I have with him. It’s distracting, a bit uncomfortable, and I have no idea if I should have this conversation with him or if so, how I would approach this issue in a respectful way. Does he even know he is doing it? Am I being unreasonable in pointing it out as a habit that needs to change? Is this common and I only notice with him? I’m too embarrassed to even bring this up at work to ask anyone else how they could approach it. Thank you for some practical guidance and honest feedback on if this is worth the energy to discuss.

Well, this is incredibly awkward. You shouldn’t have to tell him that regularly touching his own genitalia during a work meeting is not okay, and I’m annoyed on your behalf that you need to.

I do think you should, though, because he should not be touching his balls while talking to people at work. I mean, most people aren’t going to take issue with one quick, discreet adjustment — but this does not sound like that.

After reading your letter, I had a good solid five minutes of not being able to come up with language for you to use, but I’ve come up with three options.

You could pointedly say, “Do you need a minute to yourself?”

Or you could be more direct: “Could you do that adjusting in the bathroom?”

Or: “I would feel more comfortable if you could do that in private.” And you could follow that up with, “Assume your coworkers might feel the same way.”

It’s going to be awkward, no matter what you say! Because referring to an employee’s balls is awkward AF. But he’s the one causing the awkwardness, not you, and you should be perfectly comfortable letting him shoulder all of that burden himself.

one of our coworkers isn’t flushing the toilet

  • Someone’s not flushing the toilet
  • Using personality tests in hiring
  • My manager keeps me late with no notice
  • How do you do layoffs the right way?
  • Did I make a mistake in leaving my last job?


I’m the smelly coworker

A reader writes:

You’ve had several letters about how to tell a coworker or subordinate that they have noticeable odor. Well, yesterday I was on the receiving end of that conversation. My manager told me that multiple people have mentioned it to her, and she has noticed it as well.

I’m mortified. I shower every day, wear deodorant and clean clothes every day, and I don’t think I sweat more than the average person. But obviously, that’s not enough. I immediately went home and bought new clinical strength antiperspirant/deodorant, new scented body wash (I’d been using unscented), and those scented beads you put in your washing machine. I have a doctor’s appointment coming up, and will ask about possible medical conditions then.

While I’m working on fixing the issue, I have no idea how to behave at work. I don’t know which of my coworkers noticed the smell, or which ones talked to my manager about it. I feel so embarassed and ashamed, and I can’t stop thinking about how grossed out my coworkers must be by me. I have multiple standing meetings with my team and others each week, plus a lot of impromptu meetings; my coworkers and I often are in each others’ offices to problem-solve. But how am I supposed to face them all now, knowing that they think I smell? Knowing that I inflicted this on them for months? I want to just hide in my office and only interact through email from now on.

I also don’t know how to deal with this with my manager. If it were any other work issue, I’d check in with her in a few weeks to address the steps I’d taken to resolve it, and ask if she still had concerns. But with this, I’m not sure — do I ask her in a few weeks if I still smell bad? How do I know if I’ve fixed the problem? If it turns out the smell is caused by a medical issue, do I tell her that? Do I tell my coworkers? I’m stuck in this shame spiral and can’t think clearly; please, I need advice from you and the readers.

I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this!

Here’s what I would want if I were your manager: an indication that you were taking the conversation seriously and taking steps to fix the problem, and an indication that you weren’t paralyzed by embarrassment.

If your manager is at all a decent person, she probably felt terrible having to have the conversation, and she’s worried about how you’re feeling now. She would probably be tremendously relieved if you checked in with her and told her that you were on it. (Not that you need to manage her emotions for her — you don’t. This is more about relaying that you heard the message, are dealing with it, and are not flipping out with mortification/awkwardness.)

You could say something like this: “I wanted to follow up on our conversation from the other day and let you know that I’m taking every step I can to fix it. I’ve purchased a clinical strength deodorant and other products that I hope will help, and I’ve made an appointment with a doctor to rule out any medical issue. I know that must have been an awkward conversation to initiate, and I appreciate you doing it.”

If you want to, you could ask her if the smell is more like body odor or if it’s something else — because there’s a chance that it’s not body odor and is actually something else, in which case you’d be targeting the wrong problem. For example, it could be something like using not-fresh-enough towels after you shower (which could transfer a mildew-y smell to you), or a dryer that’s not fully drying your clothes (again, mildew), or … I don’t know, your roommate’s terribly scented incense clinging to your clothes or that container of fermenting kimchi you once stored in your tote bag. So if she didn’t specify body odor, it could be worth finding out.

Which I know is just inviting further embarrassing conversation! But, counterintuitively, this might be easier to deal with if you just try to own it and are matter-of-fact about it — “Something on me stinks! I’m trying to figure out what it is.”

If it does turn out it’s caused by a medical issue, you don’t need to share that with your boss unless you want to (although it will make sense to if it’s something that won’t be easily or quickly fixed). It’s also fine to say something like, “I think I’ve taken steps to fix this. Please let me know if you continue to notice it, since it can be hard to judge about yourself.”

As for your coworkers … When people encounter a coworker who smells, I don’t think most people think, “Ugh, what a disgusting person!” They usually think, “Oh, she doesn’t realize she needs to do laundry more often” or “Oh, she doesn’t realize her deodorant isn’t working well.” Some particularly self-aware people think, “There but for the grace of god go I” … because honestly, we all stink some point or another. I get that it’s different when it’s happened enough that people are talking to your manager about it … but this really isn’t “you are a terrible stinky person and no one else is”; it’s “whoops, the defenses we all have in place against our own odors aren’t working and you’re going to figure out what adjustments to make.”

You aren’t a gross person or unclean. (Evidence, if you need it: You shower every day!) You haven’t done anything shameful. Something just isn’t working the way you wanted it to, and you’re taking the right steps to find out what it is.

former coworkers crashed my networking party, using a fake voice in an interview, and more

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

1. My former coworkers crashed my networking party

I can’t believe I am asking this, but is it okay to crash a networking event if you’re friendly with the host? After the first day of a large conference (1,000+ people) put on by a former employer, I held a small networking reception with a hosted bar for my largest client and was in charge of all details, including the guest list. We had physical invitations and people were greeted at the door where the invites were exchanged for drink tickets.

Three of my former colleagues arrived uninvited, and I let them in anyway, because I didn’t want to be rude and the vibe of the event was casual enough that it wouldn’t matter too much. When I went to make the rounds later though, I saw they had brought in four more uninvited guests from my former company who I had never met, had taken over a central part of the venue, and were loudly talking and drinking among themselves and ignoring the rest of the guests. I admit, I reacted with shock at the time and asked what they thought they were doing and said to the people I knew that they were taking advantage of our friendship. They just laughed and said they were fine so I walked away. The next day at the conference, one of them told my employee that they were upset and that I owed them an apology!

For some added context, they knew they weren’t invited and had borderline bullied one of my employees all day about getting an invite. I just set up my own consulting company, and this event was the first one I held for this client. The people who crashed are in very low-level, but visible positions in my industry and I will have to engage with them repeatedly over the years. So, do I owe them an apology? Or do I give one anyway to keep the peace? What I want to do is call their director (my old boss) so he can let them know it isn’t cool for half his department to crash my event simply because I used to work there. But maybe I’m in the wrong and should apologize?

Is it possible they didn’t realize the event was truly invitation-only? It’s common for receptions like that to be open to whoever shows up. The fact that they were angling for an invitation earlier that days makes that unlikely, but they still may have assumed it wouldn’t be a big deal since you knew them, it was for networking, etc. Plus, once they showed up and you let them in, that probably reinforced their thinking that it wasn’t a big deal.

They were rude, but I think you’ve just got to figure that if you really wanted the event to be rigidly invitation-only, you needed to turn them away — or at least to explicitly tell them that you couldn’t permit any additional uninvited guests. Once they and their four additional guests were already in there, you probably would have been better off letting it go — or, if you really found it unacceptable, to ask them to leave. It sounds like your outrage may have made it into a bigger deal than it needed to be.

I would not call your old director about this; that’s going to add to the drama and prolong it. If you have a professional need to have good relationships with the crashers, then yeah, I think you probably do need to at least attempt to smooth it over with them. That doesn’t necessarily mean apologizing, but it might help to at least say, “I realize I sent you mixed messages about the event — I had intended it to be invitation-only and primarily for my client, and I should have been clearer about that rather than getting frustrated when you brought in additional people.”

2. Should I use a fake voice during an interview?

I work in corporate training and instructional design. Over the past few months, job descriptions in my field have increasingly mentioned that the job includes recording videos and voice-overs for training materials.

I don’t mind doing this, but frankly my reedy baby voice is unpleasant. I have done some community theater over the years, so I have experience smoothing and lowering my voice, but it takes concentration, and I couldn’t sustain it permanently. Doing it long enough to record a video would be no problem.

Would it be wrong to interview for this sort of job in my “theater voice”? I could be setting myself up for a comedy of errors if I get the job and show up speaking differently, but I don’t want to be passed over for jobs because they are imagining my mousy squeaking on their videos. I also can’t visualize a way to demonstrate multiple voices in an interview without coming off as unhinged.

(The “theater voice” isn’t comically different, but the difference is noticeable. It’s lower pitched, and more gravelly/less breathy. Friends have joked that my performing voice sounds like me after 20 years of whiskey and cigarettes.)

I don’t think it would be wrong to interview using your theater voice. Lots of people have a more formal voice or a “professional persona” voice. It’s still your voice, just a different version of it. And I doubt anyone is going to be that weirded out by it when you don’t use that voice during normal to day to work. They may not even remember it was different in the interview, and if they do … well, they’ll assume you put a different energy into your voice when you’re trying to make the sort of impression one tries to make in an interview. (That said, my own voice has like three different versions depending on my level of formality and whatever my energy happens to be, so I tend to just not think it’s that weird.)

3. Halloween Christmas card

The photo for our annual Christmas card is being taken on Halloween, prior to our office Halloween potluck, while people will be in costumes! (We are an medical software company, and our recipients include hospitals, clinicians, and universities.) Ugh. I feel that this is unprofessional, tacky, and weird — I don’t understand why we would use a clearly dated photo for our Christmas card. How, if at all, do I raise this concern to our higher-ups?

If you want to raise it, you can be direct about it: “I think it will look really out of place for the season if we send a Christmas card where people are obviously in Halloween costumes. What about taking the photo next week instead?”

But I wouldn’t worry terribly much about it. It’ll be a weird Christmas card! That’s okay.

4. Callers keep getting my name wrong

My name is Christina and I work a receptionist job and I get a lot of calls daily. Sometimes when speaking to callers, they decide to call me “Chris” instead of Christina. I have an extreme dislike for being called Chris, I don’t even allow close friends or family to call me by that name. It doesn’t seem to be helped by the fact that there are many others at work who do go by Chris.

I’ve tried overly pronouncing my name but it doesn’t always work. Is there a way I could politely tell callers that my name is Christina and not Chris? Or is this just something I need to learn to accept?

If it’s a caller you’re going to speak to regularly: “Oh, it’s Christina, not Chris.” Don’t make a big thing of it — just a matter-of-fact correction and continue on with whatever’s being discussed. And if they repeatedly get it wrong after that and it’s bugging you: “Just so you’re getting my name right — it’s Christina.” After that, you have to decide how much you care — but you want to err on the side of not being this person.

If it’s a caller you’re not likely to speak to again, I would let it go. They’re only going to be in your life for a couple of minutes, and you’ll probably be happier if you decide not to care rather than try to correct it every time.

I know there are people who come down very strongly on the side of “your name is your name and you should never accept being called anything else” … and I agree with that when it’s family, friends, or people you interact with daily, but at work sometimes the path of least resistance is the happier one.

5. How can I prove I was employed at a company that’s been sold or closed?

For many years following college, I worked as a newspaper reporter for a company in Pennsylvania (1994-1999). I left the company in 1999 when I moved south. It was five years of employment experience where I won a few awards and gained good professional experience. The company was sold, sold again, and is now owned by another company. The office I worked at is closed. At least I think it is. When I googled it, it looks like it’s used for storage or printing or something like that. My supervisor died a few years ago.

How can this experience (which I consider valuable) be confirmed on my resume? I have many many clippings of news stories I wrote during this time. But other than that, I don’t know how to confirm I worked for a company that doesn’t exist anymore at an office that doesn’t exist anymore for a person who died, Eddy. There were many others who worked in the office. But I reported directly to Eddy.

Also following that job, I was the marketing director for a company for eight years (from 2001-2009) which has been sold, sold again, and is now a completely different company. How can future employers verify my employment? I’m not even sure how to go about doing it other than show samples of my work from that time period.

Most employers actually aren’t going to be that interested in verifying employment from 1999. If they want to, you have published clippings you can use, but it’s very unlikely it’ll even come up as something they want to check into.

They may not care about verifying the 2001-2009 job either, but if they do, you can explain the situation and offer to put them in touch with former colleagues who worked there. (If you haven’t kept in touch with anyone from that job, try tracking them down on LinkedIn.)

This is a thing that happens! It’s unlikely to be an issue, assuming you have more recent work history and more recent references.

weekend free-for-all – October 20-21, 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: All You Can Ever Know, Nicole Chung’s memoir of growing up Korean in a white family and later finding her biological family. It’s about race and identity and belonging and it is moving and beautifully written.

here is your happy ending for the week

Something nice to end the week with. A reader writes:

This is not to ask a question but simply to thank you for giving me guidance and context to get out of a job that was terrible for me.

There was a letter I came across about a new boss who was trying to get her employee to stop apologizing for things, like a board member calling at the last minute and getting upset that she wasn’t at her desk. This, along with other things, started to set off warning bells for me. I WAS an employee like that and my first instinct when reading was, “Well, it was her fault for not anticipating that he might call in….” (I’ve been in that exact situation.)

My old job was the one I’d been in for the majority of my time post-college, and now that I’m in a new one I realize that everything you say about bad jobs warping your sense of normalcy is TRUE. My new boss comes into my office to chat kindly with me and ask how I am (not burst through the front doors in the morning demanding to know my progress on things and yelling at me when he feels I’ve mishandled things). We talk about a project we’re working on and then he tells me I’m doing good work and he appreciates me. I realize in typing this that it sounds….normal? But I’m young, and after spending four years in a stressful environment, this basic courtesy is new and amazing to me.

But without your blog and reading the comments, I suspect my sense of what’s normal would have been totally miscalibrated for a lot longer than it was. I’m so happy to have come to the realization that I needed to leave and have been easily able to find a new job. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your wisdom and the supportive community you’ve created.