weekend open thread – May 15-16, 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: The Fortunate Ones, by Ed Tarkington. A coming-of-age story in which a young man’s friendship with a son of a wealthy family pulls him into a different world.

* 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 read your recent “you need to ask for a raise” post and decided that you were absolutely right. I’ve been in my current position for 10 years and I’ve never asked for a raise. I’m a government contractor, so I have gotten slightly larger than cost-of-living annual raises, but never a raise to reflect the fact that the job I have today is substantially different from the one I started in.

I put together an email listing some of the work I do, including a recent big delivery that went very smoothly, and asked for a substantial raise. Much to my surprise, I got everything I asked for, even though I purposefully picked a slightly larger number than I thought they’d go for so I’d have room to negotiate. Yay!

Thank you for nudging me to ask. I’ve felt underpaid for a while now, but now I’m in a good place. And thank you for writing such a useful and insightful column. I recommend you to everyone I know with work-related questions.

2. I was working in an admin job at a research lab in an organization that was toxic to a lot of people and poorly run but was fairly OK for me since I was technically employed by another department and co-located rather than directly employed. This insulated me from a lot of the most toxic behavior and gave me enough influence to try and help some of the other employees.

I was sortof casually looking to either move on or relocate to the “main office” since there was no chance for advancement in my physical location. I’d (quietly) let my network know I was open to other positions and the wife of someone in my network called me with one of those “We have an opening that you’d be perfect for; tell me when you apply and list me as a reference” opportunities. It was a golden opportunity.. except it was located in the nearest Major Metropolitan City, with its associated higher cost of living.

Alison, I did my research and I knew what I needed to make the move work. It was more than I thought this organization usually paid but wasn’t out of line with industry standards. I had an interview which went great (Thank You!) and was invited over for a post-interview drink with the woman who’d suggested I apply. We rehashed the interview and I told her my concerns about the pay range, she wouldn’t tell me what they planned to pay but agreed that my number was higher than theirs. I stood my ground, explained my reasoning, and then let silence speak for itself. I didn’t get anything more from her than “I’ll pass it along” but when they called later that week to offer me the job the title had miraculously been changed to one that comes with a higher salary band and exactly matched my salary request!

I took the job, started 2 weeks later, and have had a great experience over the past year-and-a-bit. I have a great, supportive team, we’ve successfully adapted to pandemic reality, adapted our work and are doing well! My previous employer has not done nearly as well (I get “updates” on the dysfunction from the people who are still there) and I am so glad I got out. Thank you for your advice; I don’t know if I could have done it without you!

3. I lost my job in September and started a new one in February. I’m in tech, and not much happened until the new year. A lot of companies panicked, cut their budgets (hence my layoff) and they only started cautiously hiring again in January.

I kept a spreadsheet while job hunting: Applied to 250+ jobs, got a positive response from about 10%, and went through full rounds of interviews for about 5. I was close to two offers in early Feb, chose the one that came first (they tailored the job description to my skills after my first interview, so I think I impressed them), and I’m still getting rejection emails from jobs I applied to months ago.

My tips:
– Networking can be simple: connect with people you know on LinkedIn and Facebook, have a quick casual conversation and let them know what you are looking for. They may not be in a position to hire, but if they hear of somewhere else, you’ll be top of mind. Also a lot of people get referral bonuses if they recommend you and you get hired.
– Join Facebook and LinkedIn interest groups for your field or even general location. I joined Jobs for Queers in my city but really the positions are open to anyone who can do the job. (Note from Alison: This is a suggestion that you join groups of interest to you, not that non-queer people join groups intended to support LGBTQ+ people, just to find jobs!) I think FB may have replaced the old trope “80% of jobs are unlisted,” where 100% of jobs are posted (after going through budget and needs analysis) but may be promoted through different interest groups, networks and channels.
– Apply regularly, weekly usually. I found I got an immediate response when my resume caught the eye of a recruiter, and rejections came months later. I did not tailor my resume but I did focus it on my accomplishments and highlighted specific examples in my cover letter.

I found Ask a Manager gave sensible advice, and kept my spirits up and motivated, so thank you Alison and all regular commentators.

4. I found your blog years ago when I was a teacher looking to leave the classroom. In my following (spoiler: now-former!) role, I learned so much from your advice. I worked hard to build professional relationships and network in the ways you mentioned (largely, by keeping to my word, discussing issues openly when they arose, and delivering results reliably and consistently).

Since my husband and I met, I prosthelytized the word of the Alison to him and got him hooked on your site as well. During the pandemic, he was laid off. He spent a lot of time revamping his cover letter and resume, and was able to secure a new role within 10 weeks. The hiring manager and team all commented on how well-prepared and clear he was in his interviews.

On my end, I was fairly content in my role but knew there was no growth possible. My work was also going into a maintenance phase and I loved strategy and change management, so I knew my passion was waning. I talked to my professional contacts and found out about a role opening up at a company I had worked with professionally. I knew that I had a dynamite cover letter and resume due to constant revision from your blog, and with you interview tips was able to secure a fully-remote job with a 33% raise, share options, and much better benefits. And bonus – it is doing change management and strategy work!

I hope this news helps paint a picture for others that while the job market is different right now, there are still opportunities (particularly for teachers wanting to leave the classroom and go into digital Ed/EdTech!).

5. I first started reading Ask a Manager three years ago, when I had started a job that I quickly realized was a bad fit for me. I was really unhappy and actively job-hunting, and Ask a Manager was a great source of both entertainment and advice.

However, my good news doesn’t involve getting a new job. Instead, a number of things about my job have changed over time: I have gotten the chance to take on more substantive and interesting work; I’ve gotten large raises each year I’ve worked at my organization; and the head of my department, a big factor in how much I disliked my job, left, and was replaced with someone fantastic.

Throughout all these changes, your advice about not getting hung up on something being a “dream job” has been so helpful to me. The factors above obviously all helped me appreciate my job more, but I also had to change my perspective about what I valued at work. When I first started, a lot of my dissatisfaction with my job was that I didn’t feel connected to my organization’s mission. I’d previously worked at nonprofits that were “dream jobs” in terms of the content I worked on and how it aligned with my interests, but I was underpaid and undervalued. In contrast, my current job pays me fairly, gives me ongoing professional development opportunities, and allows me to have a great quality of life outside of work. I have deep respect for my manager, get along with my coworkers, and the organization has handled the pandemic in a very reasonable and responsible way.

I don’t identify with my job the way I used to when I worked at nonprofits, and that’s been an adjustment. I no longer spend much time talking about my job with friends. When they ask I say “Work’s good! No complaints.” Which is true. And while the place I work might not be a “dream job” that I’d have envisioned when I was in college, I’m really, really happy here.

open thread – May 14-15, 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.

talking about Jesus on a resume, I threw my boss under the bus when I quit, and more

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

1. Candidate’s resume talks about Jesus

I manage 16 direct reports as well as our internship program and I ran into something that stumped me (honestly many things do). We received a request for an internship from a college student. She seems nice and I know she doesn’t have a ton of work experience. However, she very prominently lists religious-themed work like “helping them take one step closer to Jesus” and “led Bible study.” While this might be fine, we are a government agency that is basically religion-neutral. I’m also atheist so I’m not sure if that is coloring my opinion here. We will be passing on offering her an internship but I’m not sure if I should mention not including Jesus so prominently in a resume to a government office? I’m torn — would it be helpful to her? Or just my own biases clouding my judgment?

“Helping them take one step closer to Jesus” does not belong on a resume for any job, with the possible exception of some clearly religious jobs (and it still wouldn’t be appropriate for a lot of them). I’m less concerned with “led Bible study,” particularly if she contextualized it to show how it’s relevant to the work she’s applying to do, but “helping them take one step closer to Jesus” is one of the most flagrantly out-of-place resume inclusions I’ve ever heard about. (And I have heard about a lot.)

But while it’s a kind impulse to offer advice, I wouldn’t, especially in a government office. There’s too much risk of being (wrongly) accused of rejecting her on the basis of religion.

2. Was it wrong to throw my manager under the bus when I left?

I left my job because of my manager. Was it wrong to throw him under the bus?

Suffice it to say, there were red flags early on after my internal transfer to report to the Infantile Twit (IT hereafter). I ignored them at first, then started documenting these interactions with screenshots of his problematic emails and direct messages. When I reached the point of looking for other jobs to get away from him, I brought up my concerns with his manager, my Übermanager (UM). I used words like “uncomfortable,” “unsettling,” and “demoralizing” when describing my experience reporting to IT. UM seemed unperturbed, but mumbled something about having a word with him.

When I finally gave my notice, I took all of my notes and screenshots and talking points and wrapped them up in a nice little bow, subject “I resign — here’s why” and sent them on to UM’s manager and my HR rep. I cc’d both IT and UM.

I don’t expect there to be much in the way of consequences for either of them — it was nothing truly heinous, and I’m just a disgruntled former employee, after all. Even if there were consequences, I would probably never hear about it anyway.

But is it bad that it felt so good?

Nah. This kind of thing is supposed to feel good; that’s why people do it, at least in part! What’s the point of a big mic drop moment if you don’t get to enjoy it?

Now, was it wise? Maybe not. I can’t say without knowing more about what the problems were. For all I know, you might have been overreacting all along. Or you might not have been. And there are trade-offs to this kind of thing (future references, maybe reputation in some cases). But sometimes you understand the trade-offs and decide you’re okay with them. And if that’s the case, feel free to enjoy the moment.

3. Can I ask for a higher salary my second week on the job?

I recently accepted a job offer and I’ve just completed week one of three weeks of training. I didn’t negotiate when the offer was presented (partly because I was offered the higher position I had originally requested but was forewarned I didn’t quite have the number of years of experience for) and in the midst of my euphoria I didn’t negotiate properly for the salary of the position I was offered.

It is my understanding (based on research online) that I was offered the low end of the base pay. I believe I am short $10,000.

The offer came with a sign on bonus of $5,000 but that only partly covers the gap in year one. Every subsequent year thereafter readjusts me back to an ever widening gap starting at the $10,000 deficit. It is also my expectation that there isn’t a bonus pay structure.

Needless to say, I’m kicking myself for not negotiating. So what now? Do I take the sooner-is-better approach and contact HR (or the manager?) about this during week two of training? Or do I wait until the company annual review and propose a base pay reset of +$10,000 to be included to the yearly 2-4% general bump.

Oh no. Unfortunately, now that you’ve accepted the offer, you can’t go back and renegotiate, just like they can’t come back to you now and say they’ve decided they want to offer you less money. If either side did that, it would rightly look like they were operating in bad faith.

When is the company’s annual review cycle that you mentioned? If you’ll have been there close to a year when that happens, that’s the time to ask for a raise. You can’t really ask much earlier than a year, unless the job changes in some significant way from what you were brought on to do.

(For what it’s worth, online salary sites aren’t always the best at giving accurate salary ranges for a particular position. They tend to be so broad that it’s tricky to apply them directly. If your sense that you’re underpaid is based only on those, I wouldn’t put a lot of weight on it; you’ll get more accurate info from other methods.)

4. Is it better to apply for a job through an outside website or at the company’s own website?

My husband is a successful senior level project manager at a large corporation. He has worked for the same company for 20 years so has little experience applying for jobs but now he’s interested in pursuing other opportunities. I’m helping him with his resume and cover letter because I have experience with that … but I work in nonprofits so some things about the corporate world I have no idea about!

The main question I have is whether it is better to apply through LinkedIn or directly through a company’s website. My husband thinks LinkedIn is just as good as direct … but my experience with posting board positions or similar on LinkedIn is that we get hundreds of unrelated applications and so the good applicants are harder to identify. But maybe this is different for large corporations vs. smaller nonprofits? Which is better?

Applying through the company’s website is nearly always better if it’s an option. Sometimes it makes no difference, but sometimes companies pay more attention to submissions that come to them directly (in part because outside sites can flood them with unqualified applicants, as you note). Outside sites sometimes format submissions in weird ways too, and it can be harder (or impossible, depending on the site) to customize your resume to a specific job. Also, depending on how the company has their resume intake set up, resumes submitted from an outside site might not go to the same place as resumes submitted directly — and if that’s the case, sometimes they might not even check the pile of outside submissions as frequently or at all.

5. Why do so many recruiters contact me right after I start a new job?

It seems that whenever I start a new job, recruiters start contacting me within a month or two of my starting. I’m in an industry where people don’t necessarily stay in the same job for very long, but it still takes months to get up to speed, and it seems odd that people would expect you to change jobs so quickly after starting. Isn’t job-hopping a bad thing? Wouldn’t it speak poorly of a candidate if they were lured away so quickly? Obviously people can find that a job isn’t a great fit before the ramp-up time is finished, but it still seems like a peculiar strategy with pretty long odds.

Yeah, this does seem to be a thing! I’m just speculating, but I think they figure people aren’t always happy in their new roles and if things aren’t going the way you want, maybe you’d jump at a chance to move on. Any recruiters reading want to comment?

we need paid family and medical leave — and a new bill in Congress would give it to us

It’s no secret that the U.S. has terrible support for workers, particularly around paid family and medical leave. No federal law requires employers to offer paid leave at all. Some states have begun to require paid sick leave, but most still don’t.

But there’s now legislation in Congress (the American Families Plan) that would provide paid family and medical leave to American workers. I spoke with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) — who has been pointing out that paid family and medical leave would have solved many of the problems families are facing during the pandemic — about paid leave and this bill in particular. Here’s our conversation.

You’ve championed universal, guaranteed paid family and medical leave for nearly a decade, first introducing the FAMILY Act in 2013. What’s your own experience with leave been throughout your career, before you were in Congress?

I had my first son just a few years before I ran for Congress, while I was working in a law firm. They didn’t have a paid leave policy before I worked there — so I wrote one, ensuring all parents who worked there could get twelve weeks of paid leave.

That was a pretty defining moment for me. I had the power to change my workplace not just for myself, but for every working parent who came after me, so we could all take care of our families without sacrificing our careers or paychecks. And when I was elected to Congress, I realized I could help do that for every family. That’s why I introduced the FAMILY Act, which would guarantee twelve weeks of paid leave for every worker across the country.

About half of all families today are dual-income families, where both parents work and earn a paycheck. In about 40% of families, moms are the sole or primary breadwinner. Our workforce has changed — but our policies aren’t changing with it. We’re the only industrialized country in the world without a paid leave program. Affordable, high-quality child care can be almost impossible to find for many families. Until we invest in paid family leave and child care, we’re going to be leaving a lot of families — especially working moms — behind.

The American Families Plan would invest $225 billion for a permanent, national paid family and medical leave program. How would the program work?

The American Families Plan would guarantee 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. That means you could have twelve weeks of paid time off:
• After the birth or adoption of a child;
• To take care of a seriously ill loved one or to heal from your own serious illness;
• To deal with a loved one’s military deployment;
• To find safety after sexual assault, stalking, or domestic violence;
• Or to take time to deal with the death of a loved one.

The program would provide workers with up to $4,000 a month, so you could take care of yourself or your family without losing your paycheck.

One of the most significant things about this bill is that the leave would be paid. Right now the only federal leave program we have is the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which gives workers up to 12 weeks of leave a year for medical reasons or to care for an ill family member, but that leave is unpaid — which of course leaves a lot of people unable to take it. FMLA also only applies to employers with 50 employees or more, and workers are only eligible after a year of employment. With this new legislation, would all workers be eligible for the paid leave or are there exceptions and/or waiting periods like with FMLA?

The paid leave portion of the American Families Plan is modeled on my FAMILY Act, which makes all workers eligible for benefits and won’t require workers to work for a year before being able to access paid leave. Congress is actively working on the technical details of the American Families Plan and I will be pushing for these critical provisions to be included in the final package.

This program would be funded by the government, not employers, but small business owners sometimes fear it could be a burden to have employees out of work for so long. How do we address that concern?

No matter what small business you own or how many employees you have, eventually, someone will need to take time off, whether it’s because they’re having a child or they’re having a medical crisis. A national paid leave program helps support employees during that time and makes it easier for businesses to cope during their absence.

We know this because a few states already have paid leave programs, and when we’ve talked with small businesses in those states, they’ve overwhelmingly said it helped their business!

When small businesses had an employee who needed to take time off, a paid leave program helped replace their wages without putting a burden on the small business itself. Since employees remained financially secure and knew their job was safe, they were just as productive — and oftentimes more productive — when they came back from leave.

Most small businesses were able to pass that employee’s responsibilities to other employees temporarily. If they weren’t, they could hire a temporary replacement, since the state program was covering their employee’s paid leave. And thanks to those state paid leave programs, small businesses were able to retain their best employees and overall had lower turnover costs.

Many small businesses want to offer their employees paid leave, both because they know it’s good for their employees, and because it helps them compete with bigger businesses to recruit the best employees. A national paid leave program would level the playing field between small businesses and big businesses and make them more competitive!

The U.S. is the only industrialized country without mandatory paid family and medical leave. In fact, more than 30 million American workers don’t have any paid sick leave at all, not even a single day. Why do you think it’s been so hard to pass here?

It’s not for a lack of public support! Americans have overwhelmingly said they support paid leave — both Democrats and Republicans. But for a long time, Americans saw it as a personal issue, something for families to figure out on their own.

The pandemic really made it clear that this is not an issue families can figure out on their own. A lot of families were suddenly in crisis mode. Schools went virtual, child care centers closed, family members were sick, older relatives needed care, and we couldn’t rely on our usual networks of friends and families to help with caregiving any more.

A lot of families had to have someone leave their job in order to provide care — and overwhelmingly, it was women. 5.4 million women lost their jobs last year. So many of the problems that families faced during the pandemic could’ve been avoided if we had a national paid leave program — and more and more people recognize it. We know the best way to help families recover from this pandemic is to pass the American Families Plan and guarantee paid leave for every worker in America.

What kind of paid leave does Congress provide to members and staffers?

Each Congressional office sets its own paid leave policy, so it depends on which office you work for. In my office, I offer all of my staff twelve weeks of paid family and medical leave, and I’ve seen firsthand how much it means to staff and the organization as whole.

When the mother of one of my staffers became extremely ill, he was able to take paid leave to be by her side and be with his family after she passed. That shouldn’t be a special privilege available only to a few — that’s a basic decency that every worker should have.

And there’s no official leave policy for members of Congress! When my youngest son Henry was born, I was serving in the House of Representatives, and I was just the sixth woman to give birth in Congress. I was home with Henry for just three weeks before I started coming back for important votes that I didn’t want to miss.

It can be difficult for moms to run and serve in office, but every single one of us that does helps make it easier for those that follow us. My fellow New Yorker Liuba Grechen Shirley made it easier for moms with young kids to run for office. After my friend Tammy Duckworth became the first Senator to give birth while in office, we changed the rules to allow her to bring her newborn on the floor to vote.

Our voices are so important. We have a lot of moms shaping the American Families Plan right now, making sure it includes paid leave, affordable child care, and caregiving support that families like ours need. If you’re a mom, and you want to make things better for your family and families like yours, let me be the first to tell you: You should run for office.

What can people do to support this bill?

We need you to tell your stories! Would paid leave have helped your family after you had a child, while a family member was seriously ill, or during this pandemic? Go on Facebook, Twitter, or TikTok and share your story. Talk to your friends and family about how the American Families Plan would have helped you — or will help you in the future. If you’re a small business owner, talk with other small business owners about how paid leave will make your businesses stronger and more competitive. We can finally guarantee universal paid leave — but we need your help in this fight.

my employee barely speaks to me

A reader writes:

I manage two wonderful employees who share an office next to mine. One of my employees (we’ll call him Neal) is very outgoing and friendly. We have some similar views on life (politics, child-rearing, etc) and talk easily and often.

My other employee (we’ll call her Beth) is wonderful at her job but rarely says a complete sentence to me. She’s introverted and quiet, doesn’t participate in company events, and eats lunch an hour later than the rest of the office to be alone. I try not to take her introversion personally, but can’t help but be aware that she is on friendly terms with Neal and other people in the office. She doesn’t talk often, but she does talk – and even laugh – with them. I’ve been her manager now for almost two years, and I think I could fit everything she’s said to me on one typed sheet.

She actively seems uncomfortable if I walk into the office to talk to her if it’s anything more than “hey, did you get that invoice?” She emails me even though we work next door to each other. I’m not confident I’d know if she were encountering a problem in her work.

I’m not aware that we’ve had any encounters that might have led to her not wishing to talk to me. I’ve wracked my brain trying to find a reason. When she and I went over her last employee evaluation, I suggested that we add a goal of her updating me once a month on her work so that I’d be in the loop, but that has not happened and I haven’t pushed the issue. I had no concerns with the quality of her work then nor now, and I made sure she knew that. It might simply be the boss-employee relationship itself that’s putting up a barrier between us.

Technically we can continue like this indefinitely, but when I have one employee poking his head in to say good night and chat for a second at the end of the day and one rushing out before I can say so much as good night, it’s hard not to be a little hurt and concerned by the contrast. We are about to go through some big changes this summer as we are replacing the software we use with a new product. We are going to have to communicate about this as both Neal and Beth will need extensive training.

Do you have any advice? I want to be a good manager to her, but I feel like I can’t connect with this employee on any level and I’m stumped. I’ve been in many management positions and never run into a problem like this.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

how can I stop coming across as quiet and timid?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I’m a few years into my career and am an introvert in an industry full of extroverts (advertising). Every time I have a performance review or am up for promotion, I get the same feedback — I’m too quiet, I need to contribute more in meetings, I need to be bolder/have more gravitas/show more conviction. I’ve had this feedback at both jobs I’ve had and from several managers within those jobs.

I speak up when I have something to say and feel conviction for my opinions, but that doesn’t come across. It doesn’t help that I’m a fairly small woman with a voice that is naturally softly spoken (I sound much different to how I think I do in my head!).

I’m starting a new job soon and I really don’t want my progression to be hindered by people forming an impression of me as quiet and timid. I already try tactics like wearing the clothes that make me feel most confident and being one of the first to join meetings so I can make small talk with a smaller group first. What else can I do?

Readers, what’s your advice?

my dad wants to call my boss, are out-of-office auto-replies unprofessional, and more

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

1. I don’t want my dad to call my boss

I am fresh out of college, with a secondary education degree. Currently, I am working as a full-time substitute teacher through a temp company at the high school where I student taught. I have a good relationship with the principal, staff, students, and admin, and I have heard through the grapevine that they appreciate me and what I do. It’s very emotionally and professionally rewarding. Still, I am actively searching for a full-time teaching position.

The problem lies with my family. I love working at this school, and have been very vocal about it. But, there are no full-time teaching positions within the district and in my field of expertise. Nevertheless, my father has pushed me multiple times to still ask for a job, or at least ask for my temp job again for the fall semester as a plan B. My principal is obviously very busy, and I can’t pin him down for a meeting. Last night, my father jokingly (I think, I hope) said, “Well, maybe I’ll have to call him myself.” I panicked, because of the many columns I’ve read on your blog about parents intervening for their children and how this looks on both the child and the parent. I jokingly begged that he not call my boss, but I am still genuinely nervous.

How do I shut down my father’s suggestion that he call my boss, if he suggests it again? If he does it anyway, how should I respond? I am trying very hard not to burn any bridges here, or embarrass my father or myself in the process.

Given what you know of your dad, how likely is it that this was a joke versus something he’d seriously consider doing? If there’s any chance he’d really do it, I think you’ve got to talk to him now (don’t wait for him to bring it up again) and let him know it would reflect terribly on you, possibly ruin your chances of a full-time offer at this school, and be a violation of trust between you that would be hard to repair.

Don’t use words like “embarrassing” when describing what it would be like (even though it would be!); there’s too much risk he’ll associate that with teenager complaints about their parents embarrassing them and discount it. Instead use words like “unprofessional” and “undermining to my reputation as a competent professional.” Feel free to tell him you’ve heard horror stories about parents who do things like this, and that parental interference is roundly condemned by employers, not just by their kids.

Hopefully that will be enough to ensure he doesn’t do it. If he does it anyway, the framing you want at work is, “I’m so sorry, I’ve told him that is not okay to do. I’m mortified that he contacted you, and he does not speak for me.”

2. My boss says out-of-office auto-replies are unprofessional

Last Christmas, I wrote an out-of-office reply when I took a few days off to visit my parents. The same day, my boss called me angrily and demanded that I removed the out-of-office reply immediately.

I have now booked a 10-day vacation, following my doctor’s advice. After working 80-hour weeks for five years in a row, I’m close to a burnout and I suffer from insomnia, which my boss knows. My doctor advises me to close myself off from work during my vacation. My boss, however, continues to forbid out-of-office replies: “It’s unprofessional. It would give our clients and business partners the impression that we are not fully committed to the company.”

Hence, my boss wants me to check my email inbox once a day and forward all emails to him that cannot wait until my return. This instruction goes against my doctor’s advice. Do you agree with my boss that it’s unprofessional to write an out-of-office reply?

What on earth?! No, out-of-office replies aren’t unprofessional; they’re an incredibly common, utterly routine part of business life. Your boss thinks that letting clients become aware that you are taking a day off indicates that you’re not “fully committed to the company”? It’s suddenly very clear how you ended up working 80-hour weeks for the last five years! You’re working for someone who’s quite sick.

Tell your boss you won’t be available to check email while you’re off on the advice of your doctor, but if he wants to have your email forward to himself or someone else while you’re out, that’s fine with you.

3. Cyber attack has furloughed my entire company

My company recently had a major security breach. We are in a sensitive industry, so our entire network and ancillary software was shut down immediately, locking all employees out of the system until it’s safe to resume. There are teams working around the clock to restore our systems to normalcy and safety, and I am so grateful to those teams.

But we’ve been “off” for over a week and will be “off” for at least the rest of this week, and so far our company’s only direction is to use PTO until things are running again. We haven’t been given a timeline, which I can understand, but even with a healthy bank of PTO saved I’m getting nervous. And I’m *fortunate* — I’m in management and salaried, so I accrue PTO faster and use it more slowly than my hourly colleagues. My employees all ran out of PTO already, through no fault of their own. So far, my leadership has held that employees who are out of PTO will be taking unpaid time off until this is resolved at some undefined point in the future. My manager and I are trying to find any work that can possibly be done with our limited access so the hourly staff will have a chance to “make up” hours, but even with those efforts they’re only getting 10-15 hours per week, and those one-off projects will dry up soon. I’m expecting this will last at least three weeks, if not longer.

My employees are stressed out and have confided that they are looking for other work (part-time and not) and asking if they can/should apply for unemployment (I said yes unofficially; officially, my company is discouraging this). I have colleagues who are pulling emergency funds out of their 401ks. A huge swath of my department is in dire straits and no one in our leadership seems to notice or care at all. We all have to be available in case the system recovers or we have a one-off project, but otherwise we’re on our own.

My understanding is that this is legal. But it sucks … right? I was pretty happy here before this, but now I’m angry enough to want to jump ship. This is a big hit to our company, but we already have salaries allocated for everyone who was working, and I can’t imagine why we wouldn’t have a budget to address situations like this since our industry is one of the biggest targets for cyber attacks.

I guess I just want a gut check, and maybe some advice or wisdom to give my team. I feel so helpless and outraged. This is the first time I’ve had more than two consecutive days off in years (and my PTO is rapidly disappearing, so it will be the last time I have a “vacation” for a while), but I’m spending all “my” time eaten up by anxiety and anger.

Yeah, it sucks but it’s legal. (For the exempt people, they need you pay you your full salary if you do any work in that week, but they can make you use your PTO on it. For the non-exempt people, they’re only required to pay for the actual hours worked, even when the employees would be working if they could.)

Some businesses genuinely can’t afford to pay people when work isn’t happening, but that doesn’t necessarily sound like the case here — and it sounds like they didn’t even make a gesture in that direction (like trying to pay for part of the time or at least for the first few days of it). And if this is part of the cost of doing business in your industry, then your employer needs to treat it like part of their business costs.

You’re doing the right thing by encouraging people to apply for unemployment; they should be fully eligible, and it’s particularly crappy that your company is discouraging that. You can also support them in looking for other work (even after this is over, if they decide they’re not going to stick around), offer to be a reference, etc. And while you probably can’t unionize because you’re in management, your employees can — and you might point out to management above you that the way they’re handling this is exactly the sort of thing that makes people think about it.

4. Do I need a different cover letter for each type of job I’m applying for?

I loved the cover letter that you shared earlier this week! I work in office administration and am applying for new jobs, but I am not applying for one type of job. I’m applying for other office roles, HR roles, event planner roles, etc. Because they are different types of jobs, and sometimes very different fields, do I need one cover letter for each job “type” I’m applying for? Should I be writing a custom cover letter for every job or just one “catch-all” cover letter?

I really want to stand out as a candidate and know a great cover letter can help but also can’t spend inordinate amounts of time applying for new roles! What are your thoughts?

Ideally you wouldn’t send identical letters to multiple jobs — you should do some amount of customizing — but you can have “base” cover letters that you modify a bit for each position. And yes, you’d want to have separate base letters for each type of job you’re applying for, since you’ll want to emphasize different things for different types of roles. Once you have those base letters, though, it should save you a lot of time!

5. Can my company let some people be remote but not others, when they’re doing the same job?

My company is currently fully remote and has been for over a year now. When asked if permanent WFH will be an option, leadership says that they cannot provide an answer. There is some speculation that the offices will be opening back up, but I’m wondering if they can legally force us to come back to the office if the following are true:
• The jobs that they are recruiting for are being advertised as remote only.
• Many of our roles have been outsourced to outside the country, so those people will not have the option of coming into an office. They do they same tasks that we do and work the same hours, and it is highly unlikely that they will be let go just because the office opens back up.

Can they advertise a role as fully remote and then turn around and take that back? Can they have different requirements for employees based on their location if the job is still the same? If two people are doing the same job, it seems a little unfair to require one of them to be in an office and not the other.

I’m wondering what my options are if it comes to that. If this does occur, is there a tactful way I can push back?

Yes, they can legally require you to come back to the office even if they’re hiring other remote-only employees, and even if those remote-only people will be doing the same work you do. They can let some people be remote and not others, and that can be based on pretty much anything they want or on nothing at all (as long as it’s not based on something illegal, like race, gender, religion, or another protected class). Even more frustratingly, they can advertise a role as remote and then change their minds (assuming you don’t have a contract to the contrary, which most U.S. workers don’t).

You and your coworkers can try pushing back as a group, but if your company is committed to bringing at least some people back (and many companies are), they may not budge. If you personally are highly valued by your manager, you might have some leverage if they don’t want to lose you. But ultimately, they can indeed require that some people return.

I had a great interview but didn’t get the job — what happened?

A reader writes:

A few weeks ago I had what seemed to be a terrific interview for a dream position. I had great chemistry with the team from the get-go, answered their questions well, and was invited back for a second interview with the hiring manager and another person I’d be working with closely. They offered up the salary which was exactly what I wanted, said they’re really excited about me, and outlined the next steps. They even made a snarky comment about how the place I’m currently working for really has no growth opportunities and how at their organization I’ll have a lot of chances to learn new things and move up. A few days later, they asked for references. It sounds like it was good to go, right?

Well, I heard nothing for two weeks. And then an assistant called and said the team decided to move on with someone else. I was actually pretty floored. She wouldn’t say anything else other than it was close. I found out they didn’t even call my references. Based on your experiences, what probably happened here? I’m so disappointed. I don’t know why they were so positive about hiring me if they knew this is where it was really headed.

Sometimes a stronger candidate just emerges. The interviewer’s enthusiasm about you was almost certainly genuine but if someone else seems like the better match, they’re going to go with that person.

I think the problem was with this: “A few days later, they asked for references. It sounds like it was good to go, right?” … because it wasn’t time to assume that. The time to assume that is once you have an offer. Simply being asked for references doesn’t signal the job is yours; a lot of places ask all their finalists for references, or even request them from everyone they interview so they have them on hand if they end up needing them.

I know they said they were excited about you, but that’s the kind of thing interviewers might say to more than one candidate. They shouldn’t say it to everyone, but if they have a couple of people they’re excited about, they don’t need to pretend they’re not. And that’s a good interview! It’s just not an indication of anything more. In a good hiring round, they might have good interviews with several people — and if they can only hire one, some of those people will end up disappointed.

There’s a whole question here about whether interviewers should be more careful about what impressions candidates might be getting — but in this case it doesn’t sound like they were misleading. It just sounds like you were a finalist who happened to really click with them. (And that kind of connection is a good thing. It wouldn’t be smart for them to play it so cool that you could come away thinking they were chilly or that you didn’t have rapport with them, because that’s something you’ll factor into whether you want to work there.)

With all interviews, even ones that go well, the best thing you can do is to remember that there’s no offer until there’s an actual offer — and things can change at any time before that. An interviewer could leave a meeting with you thinking “she’s the one” and something could change after that (a stronger candidate, a redefining of the role, a hiring freeze, a CEO’s nephew, etc.). It’s disappointing though and I’m sorry.

what’s the etiquette for taking vacation time?

With people bursting to take post-vaccination vacations this summer, what’s the protocol for taking time off from your job? This kind of etiquette often isn’t written down anywhere and instead you’re just expected to somehow intuit it — which can leave people new to the work world struggling to navigate it.

At Vice today, where I write a column for people new to the work world, I have a guide to some common questions about how time off from work works — including questions like how far in advance you should ask for time off, how much time you can take at once, whether you can ask to take unpaid time off, and more. You can read it here.