here’s an example of a cover letter that will make you a stronger candidate

I frequently get asked for examples of good cover letters, and a reader recently sent me a good one that I want to share.

I’m always telling people “don’t just use your cover letter to summarize your resume — add something new.” This is a good example of what that can look like — the letter talks about what the writer brings to her work in a way that wouldn’t necessarily be apparent from a resume.

The caveats I’ve learned to give when sharing these:

  • The writer has allowed me to share this here as a favor to me and to readers. Please remember she’s a real person when you’re commenting.
  • This writer’s voice is her voice. It will not be your voice, and that’s part of the point.
  • There is no single cover letter in the world that all hiring managers will love or that would be the right fit for every employer and every industry. But I receive letters every week from people telling me that moving in this sort of direction worked for them.
  • Do not steal this letter or even parts of it. It works because it’s so customized to the writer. It’s intended for inspiration only — to show what the advice here can look like in practice. Stealing it will doom you to terrible job search luck.

Here’s the letter (which led to an interview, which led to an offer), with identifying details changed for anonymity.

•   •   •   •   •

I am pleased to submit my application for the Product Manager role at the Galactica. I have over eight years of experience working in educational technology, and for the past three years, I’ve been working for Caprica, a nonprofit organization making open source educational software for the Cylon fleet. While I enjoy my work at Caprica, the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted me to re-evaluate a lot of things, including how I can use my skills and privilege to make the world a better place. The Galactica’s mission to make higher education accessible and affordable to everyone is particularly exciting to me, as I was a first-generation college student who struggled with various social and financial barriers to completing my undergraduate education.

I started my ed tech career in IT support, and later moved into instructional design. I joined Caprica in hopes of becoming an engineer, though within six months of being hired to do user support, I started to take on product management responsibilities, and in another six months I was managing all of customer success and product for the organization. I have since advocated for a reorganization that lets me focus entirely on product management, and I know that’s where I want to take my career.

I believe my biggest strength as a product manager is my ability to build trust with and among my colleagues. The engineers know that I respect their limits as humans and won’t ask them to do something impossible, and our sales team and leadership know I’ll do everything I can to deliver the right things in a timely fashion. Building this trust takes time, but I find being transparent about my processes speeds this up. I work with an engineer who doesn’t want to be involved in every business planning meeting, but he does like to know how his work is achieving business goals— so I make sure to include that information when writing up specs and user stories. Similarly, one of my colleagues on the sales team doesn’t mind waiting a bit longer for a feature if he has a compelling story to tell his customers about our standards-based and accessibility-minded approach to building it, so I help him come up with talking points.

Leading development of an LTI-compliant application after spending years directly supporting faculty has taught me the ins and outs of various Learning Management Systems, including common pain points for students, instructors, and instructional designers alike. I was intrigued to see that you’ve built your own LMS and that your product hire will be working to improve it— I would love to know more about the decision to build an LMS from scratch rather than using one of the major market players.

I hope you’ll consider me for this Product Manager role at the Galactica. If you’d like to discuss my qualifications further, I would be happy to speak via phone or email.

people who haven’t been working from home feel invisible

As employers start to set timelines for bringing workers back to the office, they’re setting off waves of anxiety in some of their employees … which in turn is setting off some frustration and impatience among people who have been working on-site all along.

Many of these workers resent that people upset about returning didn’t display the same concern for the safety of those who have been there all along. And they wonder why they’ve been left out of so much of the national narrative about what this year has been like for workers. They haven’t been stuck at home baking bread or cooped up with family members; they’re out risking their lives working with the public and/or in close quarters with colleagues every day, and they feel invisible in much of the conversation about pandemic life.

I’m to blame for contributing to that invisibility here! And I’m trying to counter that now, including with a column at Slate today highlighting some of their voices. You can read it here.

my coworker asks me to google things for her and treats me like her assistant

A reader writes:

I work for a niche department within a very large company. This company has one specific focus but my department isn’t directly related to the main output of the company. Think IT at a pharmaceutical company or public relations at a large law firm.

I started with this company about a year ago after being in a similar role at two other companies for over 10 years. In many ways, I am very happy in this role. I generally like the culture and my close colleagues and find most of the work interesting. However, Jane — who is one of the “attorneys” or “scientists” (if we’re using the examples above) — has somehow singled me out as her personal assistant. (For what it’s worth, my job is not centered around administrative support, she and I both have roughly the same amount of education and professional experience, and she has an actual dedicated PA.)

At least once a day, but sometimes way more frequently, she’ll email me asking for things that are well outside my role. A few examples:

– Can you rename this PDF for me?
– This is my NYTimes password, can you save it in your files and remind me of it if I ever can’t log in?
– Several questions a week that are “can you find some simple fact or document” that is easily found on the first page of Google.

From what I’ve heard from my coworkers, apparently the person who was in my specific role before me was a bit of a doormat and Jane used them in the same way. For a long time, I just did it because most of the things were so quick it was easier to do it than not, but it’s getting to the point where it’s increasing in frequency and taking away from my regular job (both in time and frustration).

I’ve tried a few things: first, doing what was asked but adding a note at the end that it wasn’t really part of my responsibilities, as well as pointing out how it could be done easily and efficiently, which was ignored. I’ve tried waiting a full day to respond to “train” her that I’m not always at her beck and call for that kind of thing, which led to her adding in specific deadlines in each email. I also brought it up with my direct supervisor. He was sympathetic, but said that any change in Jane’s behavior would have to come from Jane’s supervisor, not from him (which I think is because he doesn’t have the authority to really address it within our structure.)

Do you have any advice to redirect this behavior or convince Jane that it takes less time to google something or save a password in Chrome than it does to constantly email me?

Does Jane … think you and her PA are the same person? Is this the opposite of a Joaquin/Wakeen situation, where instead of thinking one person is two people, she thinks two people are one person? Otherwise it makes no sense that she has a PA but is asking you to save her passwords and rename PDFs (!) for her.

Alternately, has Jane’s PA somehow convinced her that you are in fact the assistant, so that the PA can spend her days mini-golfing and such?

It’s just utterly bizarre to send one’s minor admin tasks to someone in a totally different department, especially when that person’s job has nothing to do with admin work and especially when one already has an assistant. If it’s really just that your predecessor was a pushover and would do this stuff for her, it’s still bizarre that Jane assumed that would continue once that person left.

Part of the problem, of course, is that you did do these things for her for a long time! That undoubtedly reinforced it for her. Ideally, the first time she sent you an inappropriate task, you would have responded, “I don’t think this was meant for me — did you intend this for Kate?” (I’ve named the PA Kate.)

That said, having a random coworker ask you to google something for them is so weird that I can understand the impulse to just do it if the alternative is having to explain that they are fundamentally unfamiliar with how jobs work.

But step number one in making this stop is to stop doing it. One way would be to reply to the next request with, “Hi Jane, I’m happy to help you with anything marketing-related you need, but I don’t provide general admin assistance. You should direct this kind of thing to Kate or another admin.”

It’s going to be a little weird not to acknowledge you’ve been doing it all along, but every script I come up with to mention that (“I should have raised this earlier,” etc.) introduces a risk that she will argue with you … or worse, argue with someone above you that since you acknowledge you’ve been doing it all along, it should just become part of your formal responsibilities. Normally I would recommend addressing it with her more broadly — “this is has been happening for a while and I shouldn’t have been assisting you at all” — but I’m not convinced that’s the way to go in this specific case. Just start flatly sending her requests back to her with a note that you’re not doing it.

And it’s really important to stick to that. The stuff you’ve tried in the past — like waiting to respond but then doing the task, or doing the task but including a note that it’s not part of your job — just taught her that you’ll do this work, even if you protest.

To be clear, it’s incredibly weird that she has seen you say this stuff isn’t your job and continued to send it anyway. (Maybe she thinks you’re just really difficult and being obstreperous about not wanting to do your job?!) If she genuinely thinks this is your job, she should have responded to say that.

But for whatever reason, neither hints nor direct conversation have worked. You’ve got to just stop doing the stuff.

Now, your boss. Even if he’s decided he doesn’t have the standing or seniority to address this with Jane or her boss, it’s still reasonable to expect that he’ll have your back on this and support you once you set boundaries with Jane. I’m assuming that if Jane complains, he’s not going to give in and tell you to keep acting as her admin? He will, presumably, not agree to drastically redefine your role so you’re working as her assistant? (I am presuming these things because the only way it should be otherwise is if he is a wimp of astounding proportions.) If you have any doubt of that, though, it might be wise to (a) feel out his likely reaction ahead of time, and (b) loop in HR to see if they’ll have your back if your manager won’t. But even managers who won’t proactively address problems will usually be willing to push back on something as absurd as “I am coopting your marketing manager and she is now my personal secretary.”

But really, just stop doing this stuff. You don’t need to wait for her to be convinced this isn’t your job before you stop (especially since apparently that may never happen); you just need to stop complying.

my boss had a long-term affair with my husband, allergies on video calls, and more

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

1. My boss had a long-term affair with my husband

I recently found out that my spouse has been having a 2.5-year affair with his coworker, who happens to also be my manager. She has been doing this kind of thing for years and even after this came out, she is still doing this kind of behavior with other men, including her staff, most of whom are married with kids, me included. But her employees are not the only ones, this also includes resort guests. We work at a luxury hotel.

Can I anonymously email HR and inform them of what she is doing? I know it will not result in termination or even a final write-up. But what I am looking for is that they have a conversation with her. She is and has been destroying families for years. My thought is that if HR has this conversation, it will rattle her to stop or an investigation will begin since it does include fraternizing with guests, which is a huge no-no.

Anonymous notes usually aren’t taken seriously, but would you be open to talking to HR yourself? The issue isn’t so much that your boss has affairs; the issue is that she is having affairs with her staff, which is a huge legal liability for the company (as well as horribly unethical). The fact that she had an affair with her employee’s husband leaves her absolutely unable to manage you and calls her judgement (and her ability to remain in a managerial position) into deep question.

2. How can I fix my company’s dysfunctional culture?

I’m writing to you because I really don’t like my job, but I need a way to cope. It took some time for me to realize I want to switch fields (I’m burnt out and not enjoying technical work anymore), and I’m working on finding a job that will make me happier. But this is taking a while, and a pandemic that is unpredictable is not a good time to be unemployed.

I want to find a way to make this job less draining and upsetting while I’m here. Morale is low here, we’re overworked, understaffed, and have had several people leave in the last two months. Leadership and management have not been good at raising morale or having empathy even before we had to switch to remote work, and we don’t have a culture of good communication or collaboration. Think people feeling “attacked” by design reviews or deliberately misrepresenting problems and schedule delays because they “like to avoid conflict.”

I’m not in management, but I’m leading a significant project, and have about 7-8 years of work experience. I should be able to do something, but it feels impossible to change culture by myself. I’ve spoken to my manager, his boss, and another manager about our issues, and every time they have agreed with my assessment of the problems, then figuratively thrown up their hands and said, “I don’t know how to fix this, what would you do?” I don’t know either! I’ve not been given any leadership training, and I certainly don’t know how to fix a dysfunctional culture by myself. But I need to try, for my own sake, and for my colleagues’. My one idea (which was shot down because “people won’t engage”) was to have an open, honest discussion about how people are doing and what support they need. I would really appreciate any advice or strategies you have! I don’t want to spend every weekend dreading Monday morning.

I will say it bluntly: you cannot fix this. The reason it feels impossible to change the culture by yourself is because it is. Fundamental changes to a dysfunctional culture need to come from the top and senior leadership needs to be deeply bought in and committed or it won’t happen. Even then, it’s difficult work that often doesn’t stick.

That said, you could think about a few concrete changes that would improve your quality of life while you’re there and ask for those. They shouldn’t be anything fundamental about the culture because that won’t work and will likely be an exercise in additional frustration (for example, if they had agreed to hold that discussion about what support people need, it could have actually made things worse if nothing changed afterwards — because that kind of thing increases people’s cynicism about the company). But if it would improve your life to have the company pay for you to get training in X or back-burner a project you don’t have time for right now or buy everyone bagels on Friday, ask for it. That’s not going to fix the big problems, but it might make things more bearable while you work on leaving.

3. If I apply for a job where my reference works, do I need to be sure I’d accept it?

One of my former managers, “Phil,” has been a great reference over the years. We don’t have a personal relationship, but we keep in touch by talking about our industry. Last January he gave me a glowing reference that helped me land a great (on paper) new role. Unfortunately, it has not been a good fit. I have nothing bad to say about the company … my duties are just not what I expected. I am not desperate to leave, but I have been casually looking for other opportunities.

I applied for a higher paying role at the company where Phil works now. I interviewed and they are requesting references. I want to use Phil as a reference, but my sister says I shouldn’t unless I am 100% sure I would accept the job. She thinks it would burn that bridge if I asked for his help again so soon, and then didn’t accept a job at his own company. Is that true? Do I have to accept a job offer if my reference works for the company?

No! I don’t think your sister is necessarily saying you should always accept a job offer if your reference works for the company (you definitely don’t need to) but rather it sounds like she’s concerned about you asking for his help twice so close together and then not accepting an offer there. But either way, you wouldn’t need to accept an offer. It would make no sense if you did; that would mean you’d be obligated to accept even if you turned out not to want the job or the salary they offered was too low.

It is true, though, that when you apply somewhere your reference works, you should be particularly considerate about how you navigate things. Assume they might be spending capital to help you and proceed accordingly — meaning, for example, that you shouldn’t apply if you’re not really that interested or stay in the process if at some point you determine you wouldn’t accept the job, and you definitely shouldn’t use them just to get a counteroffer from your current employer (you shouldn’t do that with any company, but definitely not in this situation) or tell them off if they reject you, etc. Otherwise you risk losing good will with the person you’re hoping will continue to be a reference for you in the future. But none of that means you can’t turn down an offer. Do it courteously and explain to Phil why it ultimately wasn’t right for you, and it should be fine.

4. Allergies on video calls

I recently started a new job that’s totally remote and I met the rest of my team this week. However, during this call, my allergies went absolutely haywire and I found myself sneezing and coughing and having to blow my nose during the call. I muted myself the whole time unless asked a question (so no one could hear me honking into a Kleenex), but how else should allergy symptoms be handled in a video conference besides muting yourself and trying to sneeze subtly? Was there anything else I should have done?

That’s about it! It’s also fine to acknowledge it — “I apologize, my allergies are going haywire” — but this isn’t a big deal! You were almost certainly not the only one on that call who’s struggled with allergies or similar symptoms. To the extent that anyone took note of it, it would have just been in sympathy!

5. How to turn down invitations to interview

I’m in the final term of my undergrad and have thankfully secured a job! I applied to a lot of jobs (like almost 200), most admittedly through one-click apply on LinkedIn and Indeed, which I soon discovered go nowhere.

I am still receiving invites to interview. What is the best phrasing to reject them with? It is almost always by email. I’m especially worried as I will be working at a consultancy that will potentially lead me to working with the companies I’m now rejecting! I know I’m overthinking it, but I can’t help myself.

“I recently accepted a job so I need to withdraw my application, but best of luck filling the position.” That’s it! That happens all the time, and it’s nothing to worry about!

weekend free-for-all – May 8-9, 2021

This comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand.

Here are the rules for the weekend posts.

Book recommendation of the week: All Girls, by Emily Layden. Told in the voices of many different students at an all-girls boarding school that seems to be covering up an assault, it’s a story about what it’s like to be a teenage girl trying to figure out yourself, friendships, authority, and the world in general.

* I make a commission if you use that Amazon link.

it’s your Friday good news

It’s your Friday good news, with more accounts of success even in this weird time.

1. I’m going to be graduating from college soon, so I started looking for work about a month ago. I was really worried about finding anything during the pandemic, and even if I did, I kind of assumed that it would be a minimum wage gig. However, I read some of your articles that talked about how women tend to underestimate themselves while job searching and only apply for jobs that they’re 100% qualified for (I’m definitely guilty), so I went “what the heck” and applied for a few administrative jobs that I only had about 70-80% of the qualifications for.

A few weeks later, I’m pleased to report that I got not one, but two job offers this week! They’re both for part-time positions, so I was able to accept them both. The hourly rates are pretty decent for both jobs, so between them I think I’ll actually bring in a decent amount of money! Plus, they’re both at organizations that matter to me: one of them will have me providing admin support for my province’s vaccine rollout program, and the other one will have me working for my current university.

Honestly, this takes so much stress off my shoulders. I’m planning on moving out soon, and now I can look at places with the confidence that I can make rent without slowly whittling down my savings (and maybe even add to my savings each month). Thanks for all the advice you’ve given on this blog, Alison! Your encouragement gave me the nudge I needed to apply for these jobs.

2. Almost immediately after COVID hit last spring I was diagnosed with stage III cervical cancer (this is positive I promise…). Weirdly this was probably the best time for me to get sick. My workplace had moved everyone to work from home, so the anxiety I would have inevitably had about being out for appointments so much was non-existent. My employer was very compassionate and offered me flexibility to a point where I barely had to use (in my case unpaid) FMLA. This was especially helpful when schools closed and suddenly, I had a kindergartener home. It has been a year and I am in remission. I was also offered the option to give up my office and become fully remote which I accepted! (And elementary has safely reopened – hallelujah).

I realize I was very privileged/fortunate to have a job (type) that facilitated this. I am happy to have had a silver lining in my case through an otherwise devastating pandemic.

3. This last 18 months, even before COVID, have been rough. I’m in a frequently cyclical industry, which tanked globally right before COVID made things even worse. The CEO with whom I was close retired and then once new management was installed, my boss of 18 years was “asked to retire”. Since I was not well known to new management, I was nearly “retired” along with him, despite my unique skill set. Since we’d been together so long, I was seen as “his” so new management figured I was no longer valuable to the organization with him gone, even though I was the first person to hold this job at my company, built a five-person department from scratch, and am objectively very good at my job.

Fortunately, the SVP for the division to which I provide primary support stepped up and said they’d fire me over his dead body, as I was critical to his organization. Another VP I support in a different function chimed in as well and I was retained, though new management wasn’t convinced and the sword of Damocles remained hanging over my head. I decided right then that I needed to get out. So after nearly 20 years in the same company, I began a job search.

Thanks to helpful hints and tips from your site about resumes and cover letters, I passed through to the third round of interviews with a very large multi-national company. While kind of interesting, the company is top heavy and the job didn’t fill me with excitement. Still, I figured it was better than hanging around until the new management got their way and I was shown the door.

Then the best thing happened! The division I support, complete with the awesome SVP, was spun off and sold, and the new owners made me an incredible offer, which I accepted. I even retained my seniority and 5 weeks vacation. The new owners are a very small company with significant amounts of venture capital cash behind them, and have almost no infrastructure, so there is a ton of room for me to move into a senior leadership role. So essentially I kept the same job working for the same wonderful team in a field I know like the back of my hand, but with a new boss and a new owner, with better compensation and a fantastic working environment. Coworkers I had only known casually in the past emailed me when the announcement was made to tell me how glad they were that I was joining the new organization. What a drastic change from the old toxic work culture. It was absolutely the best case scenario that I could have imagined.

I started the new job last month and my whole life has undergone a radical transformation of positivity and joy! It feels like the weight of the world is off my shoulders. My new boss is absolutely amazing, treating me as a peer rather than a minion. I am not micromanaged but am trusted to do the job they hired me to do. The nightly bottle of wine has turned into a cup of decaf tea, there’s no more stress eating, and I have already lost 10 pounds! I smile, I laugh, and best of all, I have been SINGING IN MY CAR for the first time in nearly three years. The former employer is making everyone return to the office by mid-month, while the new boss told me I am welcome to continue to WFH or come into the office as I choose — he has no complaints with my productivity. At first I elected to just go to the office as needed but found that I have missed the camaraderie, so I have decided to work a hybrid schedule.

I guess I want to say to anyone else dealing with a toxic situation to never put work above your own mental or physical well-being. I know not everyone has the luxury to leave as they choose, but always keep an eye open for an exit strategy and be prepared to jump on it when it comes. For those who feel that they have been somewhere too long to leave, you have to tell yourself that these days, loyalty is a one-way street. Your employer would ditch you in a heartbeat if it benefits them to do so, and your only loyalty should be to yourself. I nearly let my loyalty to my former boss cost me everything — I should have moved on years ago.

Alison, it was your site content that helped me get in the door and to the third round of interviews, giving me options in the event I was not retained. I also used a version of your script to politely withdraw from the other interview process. I’m beyond grateful for how things turned out, and so very appreciative of the resources on your website.

4. After getting laid off from a soulless corporate job in early 2020, I decided to try changing it up at a smaller company where I could have more of an impact. The role seemed like exactly what I wanted: I’d get to scale up a department from 5 to 30 in a year, setting the direction and hiring out the team. There was a lot of funding, promising signs of growth, and some very talented colleagues.

Then the other shoe dropped. Before I was hired, a C-level founder had been running the department, but he was supposed to step back from the day to day after I started. Instead, he went full-court abuse to stay in control. More than one person — independently of each other — told me that he reminded them of the cult leader from The Vow. I was hesitant to get back on the job market again so soon, but obviously this was completely unsustainable.

Once I started looking again, I followed your excellent cover letter advice and forced myself to crank out five a day to practice my technique. Three of my top five jobs(!) eventually responded, I lost out in the final round with my top pick, and my second pick sent me an offer! I negotiated slightly on the compensation to maintain my previous salary, started a few weeks ago, and it’s been a night and day difference working at a company where I actually feel needed and appreciated.

5. I wrote to you a few years ago about some issues I was having at my last organization. Since then, just a few months before the COVID shut down, I accepted a new “reach” position at a new nonprofit. While it hasn’t been easy, they’ve tried to make our transition to WFH as easy as possible and they have tried to be flexible with all members of the team.

We’re still working from home (probably through the summer at least), which I’m thankful for, but even more thankful that my manager surprised me* with a promotion this week! The promotion is really a recognition of the ways I’ve naturally expanded my role and comes with two direct reports and a 20% raise! I really appreciate all the advice you give for navigating office situations (especially when things are tenser than ever with everyone working remotely) and I ALWAYS refer you to my friends and coworkers for resume and interview advice.

*I say “surprised me” but it has been on my radar that this is something he had wanted for me. We’ve been talking about it happening but with COVID cuts, I really thought he was being overly optimistic that it was going to happen soon.

6. I have Friday Good News to share! Your blog has been incredibly helpful to navigate professionalism while working in a student job in university. I just got an internship in a field I want to work in after I get my degree, and they even talked about collaborating for a master’s thesis! I could combine two topics that I’m passionate about, and I’m really happy about it. I often felt like I’m a bit late in life because I spent my early twenties battling PTSD, and now I’m just finishing my degree in my late twenties. But regularly reading your advice helped me understand that I actually have a lot of work experience to offer, and I feel optimistic to starting my career next year. Thank you so much!

open thread – May 7-8, 2021

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 (that includes school). 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 do not repost it here, as it may be in my queue to answer.

my boss set up a secret email with my name, coworker keeps gushing over her married crush, and more

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

1. My manager set up a secret email address using my name

I work at a community college. All regular employees at the college are assigned email addresses that begin with our last name. My email, for example, is LastName_FirstName_MiddleInitial@collegename.edu.

In Outlook, if someone sends an email to a non-existent address, they will receive an “undeliverable” auto-reply. Several people have tried to email me using an incorrect email format (FirstNameLastName@collegename.edu). The incorrect email format doesn’t conform with the college email, so I assumed it had to be nonexistent. I emailed IT to ask them to set up that undeliverable message. They looked into my request and then discovered that the email address did exist and that the owner was my supervisor!

IT revealed that my supervisor had set up a private Teams group with her as the sole member, and the group email was my FirstNameLastName@collegename.edu. Any emails going to that email were being forwarded to her work email address.

It alarms me that she set up this email using my name — an email that I was not aware of and that only she had access to. I don’t know how to find out what she has been using that email for. She’s extremely passive-aggressive and acts like Kevin Spacey’s character in “The Usual Suspects” as she always plays dumb. She is also constantly gaslighting us. I can’t outright ask her why she created that email, because she’ll either lie to me or play the innocent and act confused, which are her two go-to moves. Is this something I can approach HR with? How should I proceed?

I’m trying to think of an innocent explanation for this and I’m pretty sure there isn’t one. It just sounds extremely nefarious.

And also extremely weird. She wants to be the one who receives any misdirected emails intended for you and doesn’t want you to know about it? Why? There can’t be that many, and they can’t be that interesting. It’s not even like she’s monitoring all your email — just the occasional misaddressed message. What could the motivation possibly be?

It sounds like we’ll never know, unfortunately, because it doesn’t sound like she’ll tell you. You could talk to HR about it, but I don’t know that they’ll do anything about it; it’s troubling but doesn’t fall in any obvious category of things they typically take on, like harassment or discrimination. You could try! But I wouldn’t count on much coming from it.

It sounds like this is just one of many problems with your boss. I’d add it to the list but I’m not sure you’ll get much benefit from putting a ton of energy into trying to unravel it.

2. If the caterer mentions my mom at my dad’s wedding, all hell will break loose

My dad is getting remarried very soon. My parents divorced 15 years ago.

He and his fiancee hired the same caterer I had at my wedding, who also catered my mom’s remarriage (that was six months after the divorce). This catering company is tiny, and the people who run it are amazing.

My dad has forbidden us from talking about my mom anywhere near his fiancee. I’m sure the caterers will see me and my sibling and mention my mom. If it happens in front of the bride, I’m sure it will not go well for us (or them, for that matter). We want to head it off at the pass, so to speak. How do I do this when I’m not the one who hired them, but I was their customer in the past?

Anyone who does work for weddings is used to dealing with problematic family dynamics, from “keep Uncle Paul out of the photos with Aunt Liz” to “don’t serve Grandma more than two drinks” to “under no circumstances can you let Cousin Cecil anywhere near the bridesmaids’ table.” Compared to some of those requests, this one is pretty easy!

You could contact them as a happy past customer, explain the situation, and ask that they not mention your mom during the event. You could say “I know this is strange to ask” … but they’ll probably be unfazed.

(Alternately, there’s also the option of deciding it’s not going to be your problem if the bride has a meltdown over the existence of your mother … although it might be worth doing to protect the caterers from that. But are you supposed to pretend your mom doesn’t exist when you’re around your stepmom for the next several decades, and does your dad think this bodes well for the marriage?)

3. Was I too curt in turning down a second interview?

I had a weird phone interview the other day. It was my first interview with this company and the interviewer said they had a few technical questions. This is not unusual since I’m in a technical role. However, these questions seemed taken from a college textbook. They were focused on the theory behind a specific language/software X, and on some esoteric knowledge that I studied 10 years ago and never used in my day-to-day job. Almost all the questions in the 30-40-minute interview were about X, but X is only used maybe 10% of the time in my role. I should have cut the interview short when I realized I wasn’t interested in the job any more, but I was frazzled by all the questions that I didn’t know how to answer.

A couple of days later, they called with positive feedback and said they’d like to set up a second interview. I thanked them but said I had done some thinking since the interview and the role seemed very focused on X, while I was looking for something that would let me do more work on Y and Z. The caller (a different person than my interviewer) sounded very surprised and told me that I had misunderstood, that they had to ask those questions but they weren’t relevant for the role, and that they would explain better in the next interview. I just repeated that I wasn’t interested and the caller sounded put out and insisted a bit more, but in the end he said something like “I guess you have your own reasons” and that was that.

I’m sure I made the right decision and this job wasn’t right for me. But was there a way I could have phrased my refusal better? My answer about wanting to focus on Y and Z was truthful, but also the most obvious thing I could point to without saying it was a bad interview. The type of questions they asked might have made sense for a recent graduate with no job experience but not when interviewing for a position that required 5+ years working in this field. To me, it was a red flag that the interviewer (who had a title like “senior technical specialist”) might not know what my role does or what software it uses most. If the interviewer had to ask those questions as part of some internal interview policy, I would have expected them to say so and then go through the list quickly. Instead they spent all the interview time on those questions and didn’t ask anything about my previous projects or why I’m looking for a new job, and didn’t even tell me anything about the role, the team, the company, or the salary range.

Maybe this company is horrible at interviews and otherwise great, but there were too many red flags. However, do you think my answer was too curt? Was there a graceful way to give them feedback, without making a list of all my grievances with their interview style?

Your answer sounds fine to me! It’s peculiar that the second caller told you those questions weren’t relevant for the role (thanks for wasting your time then, I guess?) and that he said they’d explain in the next step rather than offering more of an explanation right then and there, since it had clearly given you serious pause.

And I think you did succeed in giving them feedback — the feedback is that the way they conducted the first interview is giving candidates the impression that the role is about X, and if it’s not, they need to do a better job of (a) conveying that and (b) explaining why they’re asking so much about it anyway.

4. My boss told me not to say “my team”

Two days ago, my boss reprimanded me for saying “my team” when referring to my direct reports. I explained to her that I was trying to use simple language to denote that I was talking about them rather than, say, other people on that project or other people in our geographic area. Her response was that the term was inappropriate, that I should only ever say “our team” because we all work for the same company and then explain who exactly I mean as necessary. She said that by calling them “my team,” leadership was concerned I was trying to separate myself too much from the rest of the company.

I suppose her point of view might make sense, given the greater context, but it just seems silly to constantly call them “our team” and then have to explain who exactly I mean. Am I off-base?

People say “my team” like they say “my sister” or “my neighbor” or “my boss.” It doesn’t connote ownership, just the existence of a relationship. The most junior person on your team could say “my team” — it’s not about lording your authority over anyone.

That said, it’s worth thinking about whether there might be other stuff going on that made your boss give you that feedback. If she already has a concern that you see yourself as too separate from your team or the rest of the company or that you’re overbearing about authority, it could sound more problematic through that lens. (In fact, I think this is one of those things where if people are already annoyed by a manager, this can annoy them further … but if the manager is great at her job and highly supportive of her team, it’ll sound fine.)

5. My coworker keeps gushing over her married work crush

My coworker, Jackie, has a crush on another coworker, Frida, who is happily married with two kids. Jackie and I are friends, and she revealed her crush to me recently. She overshares details about why she likes Frida, though she says she won’t let it ruin their friendship or interfere with work.

But the details she shares with me, like “how pretty her eyes are,” make me uncomfortable, as it’s another coworker she’s discussing and not a random online dating find. How can I ask her to stop sharing these details without hurting our relationship?

“Hey, I know what it’s like to have a crush, but I feel uncomfortable talking this way about a colleague. I would rather not — thanks for understanding.”

I’m being pressured to chauffeur interns to and from work

A reader writes:

I have a manager at work, Sally, who I used to get along with until I realized how toxic she was. She would always throw people under the bus to make herself look good in front of the boss.

Two years ago, when we had an intern without a car, she told our boss, James, that I would drive the intern to and from work The intern lived about two miles out of the way from me. There was no forethought or consideration about how I would feel to this. Simply that I would do it because it would go the extra mile to make the intern’s experience more memorable, as it was someone James eventually wanted to hire.

I said no for a litany of reasons — he was already expecting me to be there early to set up for the interns and leave late, the slight wear and tear to my car, the idea of getting into an accident with her in the car, etc. My main concern was that she was a foreign national. If I got into a wreck, without company insurance, I would be solely responsible for her medical bills, despite it being essentially on company time and as a company demanded activity.

James pushed a little, but when I stayed firm with how extremely uncomfortable he made me and said such in front of the intern, he backed off. If he had continued to push it I would’ve demanded that he pay for insurance, mileage, and overtime for travel time. We couldn’t have financially supported it so I have a feeling that is why he backed off.

Well, Sally didn’t take it well and decided for weeks to try and guilt-trip me into taking this employee with me to work. She lamented back and forth about how much it would cost to “uber” back and forth. At one point, she made me look into a bus pass in attempt to show me how much company money I was wasting by not driving this intern back and forth.

Later the intern admitted the entire thing had made her uncomfortable. Especially because they were paying her an extra $3/hour to offset said transportation costs in the first place. They were expecting me to do this for free!

Well, we now have another intern without a driver’s license and this one lives clear across town. Sally hasn’t asked me yet, but I am afraid she is going to tell our boss again that I will do it. She has already begun asking about my route since I moved six months ago and spinning sob stories about how unsafe the bus is and how expensive an Uber would be for the company.

This woman lives closer to the intern than I do. She can do it herself it matters that much to her!.

How do I nip this in the bud? From experience, telling her outright doesn’t work because she will deflect and blame James as being the one who oversteps boundaries. It doesn’t matter to her that it was her idea in the first place.

I would fall back onto demanding that the company pay for the expenses but I honestly have no desire to add an extra hour to my commute. And outright saying no to James doesn’t work when I have someone undermining me to make herself look good.

This is ridiculous. It’s one thing to ask you as a favor, but as soon as you said no, that should have been the end of it. Or they can make it part of your official work duties, pay you for it, and cover any needed insurance — but it doesn’t sound like you want to do it regardless, so you need to hold firm on saying no.

If Sally keeps hinting, I’d just address it outright: “It sounds like you might be hoping I’d be able to drive (new intern) to and from work, so I want to let you know it’s not something I’m able to do.” If she pushes or asks why, say, “I frequently have commitments before and after work, and it’s not possible for me to be responsible for someone else’s transportation.” (You do have commitments before and after work, whether it’s stopping by the grocery store or sitting on your couch for an extra 30 minutes. She doesn’t need to know the details, but if she pushes for them, it’s fine to be vague — “I have a lot of family stuff going on” or whatever.)

You said that telling her no outright won’t work because she’ll just blame James as being the one pushing it — but you can still hold firm if she does that. “I’m really not available to do it, sorry!” Repeat variations of that as necessary.

And if needed, you can tell James the same thing. In fact, feel free to send him an email saying, “Sally told me you’d asked if I might be available to drive (new intern) to and from work. I let her know I can’t do it; I frequently have commitments before and after work, and I’m not able to be responsible for someone else’s transportation.” You could add, “(Old intern) told me we paid her a transportation stipend to cover her costs getting to work, so hopefully that’s an option here too.”

But really, this sounds like a situation where you just need to be committed to saying no and sticking to it. There are times when an employer will override your no and tell you that something is a condition of your job — but it doesn’t like that’s happening here. They’re just hoping to guilt or pressure you into it, and the way to respond to that is to decline to give in.

update: my office includes me in Administrative Professionals Day just because I’m a woman

Remember the letter-writer who isn’t an admin but kept getting included in Administrative Professionals Day just because she’s a woman? (#2 at the link) Here’s the update.

I’m the letter writer from last year who was not an admin, yet kept getting included in Admin Professionals Day simply because I’m a woman. I thought you might enjoy a two-part update:

2020
I knew they were going to include me in Admin Day last year because I’d been asked to help choose a gift for attendees. At the time, I asked the HR manager not to invite me to the luncheon because I was not an administrative professional. She told me, “But you’re administrative support.” I disagreed.

Her: “Everyone who works in the office is administrative support for the teams in the field.”
Me: “That doesn’t make any sense. Does that include you? Does that include the executives? The company owners?”
Her: “Yes, an argument could be made for that.”

So Admin Professionals Day came and I received a congratulatory email and an e-gift card. Immediately I called my boss and asked, “Am I an admin?” He said definitely not. He explained that I was on the list the HR manager brought to company executives to be “scrubbed.” They scrubbed the list three times to make sure no one was forgotten. Each time, he pushed back and said “Should OP really be included on this list?” And each time, the HR manager (who already knew I didn’t want to be included) affirmed that I should be. The reason: “She’s always been on the list in the past.”

My boss apologized to me, encouraged me to make use of the gift card anyway, and promised I would never be included on the list again.

2021
This year, the same HR manager called me to tell me that Admin Professionals Day is coming up and to ask if I wanted to be included in this year’s festivities. Whaat???

I told her absolutely not. I told her that I’d already told my boss not to include me. Her response: “He did mention that, but I wanted to check with you anyway because the parameters have changed.”

Me: “What are the new parameters?”
Her: “Anyone who’s hourly and has no direct reports.”

They’re not even trying to honor Administrative Professionals! It’s ridiculous. I told her not to include me again, ever. Hopefully I won’t have to send you an update in 2022.