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 very surprised to be one of the people writing in for good news Friday, but here I am! Attempting to leave academia this year, I was feeling fairly doomed. But thanks to an unconventional hiring process that prioritized small writing tests over CVs in the first instance, I’ve been offered a position at a tech company– not only that, a position the company added just for me. Coming from a background in academia and the arts, it was an amazing reminder that there actually are industries out there who have the money and will to invest in people they believe in, even in COVID times.

2. I just got the news that I had won a longed-for promotion. I am an academic, so promotion is a strictly codified system where you can apply once a year and you have to make your own case for promotion. There is a lot of paperwork!

For years, I had self-sabotaged by talking myself out of applying each year when the applications for promotion opened, because I was much more focused on what I wasn’t achieving than on what I was. Call it a galloping case of impostor syndrome…! Reading your column helped me to internalise that one can be imperfect but still a valuable colleague; and that women in particular benefit from more often and more loudly asserting our right to be appropriately recognised for the work we are doing.

I admire how realistic but how constructive your advice always is. Reading your blog has been more useful than any other training video or CPD I’ve seen. Thank you!

3. I have been working as in intern in a work-study setting during almost all of undergrad, and I am set to graduate this coming December. Throughout my first corporate experience, reading your blog and listening your podcast has been instrumental in helping me frame my expectations of a job. I try to be receptive to feedback from my managers, I know when and how to draw the line respectfully while working in a male-dominated field, and in general I work to be a good employee.

More recently, as I have been recruiting for my first entry level full-time job, your info on resume/cover letters, the hiring process, and navigating offer letters and salary negotiations helped me land four offers! I was shocked to see this especially due to COVID times, so I am happy to report that I accepted an offer from my “reach” company with an awesome salary, benefits, and work culture!

I used to feel a sense of anxiety and imposter syndrome in terms of my work and school life, and I realized early in my job search that this mindset was depriving me of opportunities that similar candidates would easily be reaching for. Switching into feeling confident and positive about myself (easier said than done!) was key in my success during interviews and the entire recruiting process.

I also realized the importance of salary sharing with peers when possible. By talking to friends graduating with the same degree as me, I was able to get a sense of salary norms within my field, and found out that my general expectation was about 18% less than what my offer ended up being! The offer I received and accepted was the same salary offered to one of my male counterparts for the same position, and actually 3.7% more than another.

I am thrilled to have reached this milestone, and I’m glad to be aware of ways I was potentially “selling myself short.” Thank you very much for helping me understand workplace norms better, as well as providing me with some much needed entertainment too!

open thread – January 22-23, 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.

anti-vaxx coworker is verifying vaccinations, paying for a cover letter, and more

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

1. Anti-vaxx coworker has job verifying vaccinations

I work at a college as an admin assistant. One of the other admin assistants will be assisting in measles vaccination verification soon. She is an anti-vaxxer. What makes this situation trickier is that she has had integrity issues.

A specific example of this involves timesheet reporting. We’re teleworking because of COVID. Most of our duties as admins involve scheduling/receptionist work. Because of the way our softphones work, only one of us can answer the phones at a time. So, we work the phones in blocks of time. One morning, during her block, the phone kept ringing without being answered. I texted her and she called back. She said for me to keep her on the schedule, but she wasn’t working that day. She didn’t want to use up her sick days.

I gave our boss a brief heads-up about the situation, but there’s a reason my coworker knew this would fly. He kept her on the schedule and I did all the work.

Anyway, that boss is gone now. Our college has undergone massive cuts and reorganization. Our new boss is someone we haven’t worked under before. The new boss is aware that my coworker has had ongoing issues with fudging her timesheet and is willing to give her a fresh start, I think seeing it as a problem of prior management.

The timesheet stuff isn’t the only integrity issue. The other stuff is a little more gut feeling, wishy washy, sin of omission stuff. Does this vector into her anti-vaxx stance and new job duties? Should I bring it up at all?

You should 100% inform your new boss that the person assigned to assist in vaccination verification is an anti-vaxxer. If she doesn’t think it’s a concern, she doesn’t need to act on it — but she should have that information so she can make that call.

I would say it this way: “With Jane slated to begin assisting with vaccination verification, I felt I should let you know that she’s been vocal about her opposition to vaccinations. I have no idea if it would affect the way she approaches the work, but I didn’t feel comfortable knowing that and not flagging it for you.”

Your boss already knows Jane has been fudging her timesheets (!) so hopefully will have the sense to realize that the two of these together could add up to serious concerns. (Frankly, the anti-vaxxer stuff on its own is a concern for someone involved in vaccination work but it’s made worse when the person already has known integrity issues.)

2. Paying for a cover letter

I’m a member of an online community of professional writers. Most of the members are freelancers, though I hold a director-level content position at a company where I have been a hiring manager in the past. Today, a member of the community posted a question about being approached by someone to write their cover letter for them. They mentioned turning down the opportunity, a move I agree with. But (I’m not exaggerating here) a dozen people responded to the post saying there’s nothing wrong with being paid to write someone else’s cover letter, and that they do so frequently. Alison, I felt like I was taking crazy pills! Is paying for a professional to write your cover letters for you that common? Should hiring managers expect this? How is it at all ethical?

Only one other person agreed with me; everyone else was like, “Go for it! Make your easy money writing someone else’s cover letter! It’s no different from paying a resume writer!” I couldn’t disagree more. To me, a cover letter is an example of someone’s communications skills, which are important in roles beyond just content/writing/editing roles. Am I the one who’s off-base here?

Whoa, no, you aren’t the one who’s off-base. A cover letter is supposed to be an example of the applicant’s communication skills. If I found out a candidate had paid someone else to write it for them, it would be a serious strike against their judgment. On top of that, it’s hard to imagine how a stranger could write a truly compelling cover letter for someone else; a strong cover letter talks about reasons the person would excel at the job that aren’t in their resume and gives insight into person beyond the data on their resume. Writing a truly good cover letter for a stranger (one worth paying for) would either take a massive investment of time in getting to know them or be so blah as to do them a disservice … or, I guess, could just be full of made-up info about them.

People like to point out that not everyone writes well, and that’s true! And if you’re applying for jobs that don’t require great writing, then your cover letter doesn’t need to show great writing either; it just needs to show that you communicate reasonably competently in writing. (And if you don’t, that’s relevant info for the hiring manager).

But whether anyone thinks it should be this way or not, the reality is that hiring managers assume cover letters are your own work. Even if you got help editing it, the convention is that they’re understood to be the work of the person who signed their name at the bottom.

It’s not surprising that there’s a market for it anyway, but it’s not ethical on either side. To illustrate that: There would be no problem with disclosing that a resume writer helped you with your resume if it came up for some reason — because resumes are inventories of your professional life; they’re not intended to illustrate your communication skills — but I doubt anyone would want to announce that someone wrote their cover letter for them (and that’s because they know it would go over like a lead balloon).

3. Should I tell my boss I don’t like my new job?

I started a new job around six months ago and my probationary period is ending with my upcoming review. I do not like the job at all. While it is in my field, I no longer get to do any of the things I enjoy doing and spend all day at a desk (I did not with my previous job) and don’t get to do much higher level work. The management style of my boss doesn’t really work for me, as she is very overly involved in her pet projects and then not at all involved in the other projects. I receive very little feedback (what I do receive has been positive). I know she will ask in the review what I think of the job and I don’t know what to say. My instinct is to keep my head down and say it’s fine and start looking for something else, but should I be honest and tell her it’s not really working out? If so how do I word it?

Don’t tell her it’s not working out unless you’re prepared to be pushed out before you’ve found a new job. Typically it only makes sense to tell your boss you’re unhappy with the job if there’s something actionable you’re asking to change — like if you were told you’d spend most of your time on X but you’re spending most of your time on Y, or something else your manager could feasibly address. If it’s just that you dislike the work or dislike your boss, announcing that you’re unhappy has a pretty high risk of your manager concluding it’s not working out and making moves toward replacing you, which might happen on a faster timeline than you’d want. That’s especially true when you’re still pretty new, since she may figure it doesn’t make sense to keep investing in training you.

That said, if you were led to believe you’d be doing higher level work, you can certainly talk to your boss about that. I just wouldn’t announce that you’re unhappy without a specific request attached to it.

4. How early is too early to tell my bosses I’m pregnant?

I’m newly pregnant (yay!) and I’ve dug through the archives, but I haven’t found a great answer to my question: is there a reason other than “you may miscarry” to not tell work you’re pregnant?

Normally I’d wait, but I’m in a scenario where my boss(es) knowing earlier will give us a unique window to plan things to account for my maternity leave (adjusting the caliber of additional support we’re hiring, setting timelines for projects where I’m a non-negotiable contributor, etc). We’re making these business decisions very soon, before I even plan on telling my family!

It would also help me 1) explain a handful of appointments I have in the next month and 2) let me work from home full-time until this god-awful morningALL DAY sickness abates. (We currently go into the office on a rotation, but I don’t really need to.)

My bosses are all across the country from me, so I could conceivably keep this to myself for months, but it feels like it would help me to tell them earlier. Also, I’m not brand new in my role, but I’m certainly don’t have a long tenure. Our company supports parents and parental leave. Is there something I’m not considering?

Mostly the reason people wait until they’re past their first trimester is in case they miscarry. Sometimes there are other reasons too — like if you’re being considered for a promotion and don’t want the knowledge of your pregnancy to (unconsciously or otherwise) influence that decision — but if you don’t have anything specific like that, you’re generally fine telling people whenever you’re comfortable with it.

And although the advice to wait for your second trimester is common, a lot of people do end up telling their boss earlier because it just makes it easier to deal with morning sickness, fatigue, appointments, etc.

my networking meetings aren’t leading to interviews

A reader writes:

I’ve been job-hunting for many, many months now, and recently a personal connection was able to introduce me to several high-level contacts in my desired industry. (I am three years post-college graduation and looking for a role in social justice/community organizing.) Through this contact I have spoken to senior/executive-director level people at several government and nonprofit agencies that I would love to work for.)

However, with the exception of one conversation where we directly discussed openings at their organization, these conversations have generally been networking/informational interviewing. My connections who referred me to these contacts always seem a little surprised that the conversations have not led directly to at least an interview, but I’ve been very wary of being too demanding of these senior-level people who have taken time to speak to someone as inexperienced as me. I’ve asked them in-depth questions about what choices they made re: grad school, how they selected their interest area, and what directions they think would be offering growth and opportunity in this time, but otherwise I haven’t asked if they can refer me to specific positions.

Am I doing something wrong in these conversations? Is there a tactful way to follow up with a request to know about any suitable openings in their organizations?

It’s the people who think these conversations should lead directly to interviews who are doing something wrong!

It’s a common misconception about networking, but it’s not how these meetings usually work. And if they really do expect that, they’re being pretty disingenuous when they reach out to their connections on your behalf … because it’s unlikely they’re saying “do you want to interview Tangerina Smith for a job?” They’re saying “Tangerina Smith is looking for work in your industry. Would you be willing to talk with her about the field and what YourOrg does?” And those contacts are then agreeing on the assumption that Tangerina Smith understands this will not be an interview but that she will still find the time valuable.

It’s actually not great for your contacts to ask people to spend their (probably valuable and scarce) time having an informational chat with you if what they’re really expecting is that these people will somehow find you a job. As someone who has been on the receiving end of way too many requests for informational meetings that the person hopes will become an interview, the indirectness is frustrating. When I know that what someone really wants is to be considered for a job, I can save us both time and just point them to our application process, rather than spending half an hour answering questions that they’re not that invested in hearing the answers to.

But none of that is your fault! You’re accepting the connections your contacts offer, and it sounds like you’re trying to be respectful of the connections’ time and ask them thoughtful questions. You don’t sound like you are treating these meetings as a promise of anything more. The contacts who are connecting you are the ones being unrealistic about how this works.

Anyway. At the end of these meetings, it’s absolutely fine to say something like, “‘I’m really interested in the work you’re doing! If you have any openings that you think might be the right match for me, or if you hear of any at other organizations, I’d love to know about them, even down the road.” You can also follow up on the meeting later by emailing your resume with a thank-you and a similar note. (Do check their job listings ahead of time, of course, so that you’re not asking something that you could have already answered by looking on their website.)

That’s normal to do and it’s not rude as long as you were actively engaged in the meeting itself. Sometimes someone asks for an informational interview, shows up totally unprepared with hardly any questions to ask, expects the person who granted the meeting to do all the work of guiding the conversation, doesn’t seem terribly interested in the info they’re getting, and then follows up by asking about job openings. That reads as “I wasted your time so I could get an in to ask you about job leads.” Don’t do that.

But assuming you’re prepared, engaged, and genuinely interested, the fact that these meetings aren’t turning into interviews or job leads doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. It means the people you’re meeting with are taking your mutual contacts at their word that you’re looking for general advice and information, and that’s normal.

My one caveat: Do you want general advice and information? Are you finding these meetings useful? It’s always good to make contacts in the field you want to work in, especially with senior-level people, and so there’s inherent value just from that. But if you’re not really that interested in what you’re learning from the conversations and you’d rather just talk about applying for work with them (or job leads in the field generally), please be up-front when you first connect — as in, “Would you have time to talk with me about potential openings at YourOrg or in the broader field for someone with my background and how I can best position myself for roles like X and Y?” Doing that means you’ll have fewer of these meetings (because some people will just tell you to go through their normal application process), but the people who do meet with you will be clearer on what you’re looking for and how they can help, and it’s a more respectful approach to people’s time.

But if you’re finding the more general meetings useful, carry on!

update: we’re being re-hired for work that doesn’t exist

Remember the letter-writer whose employer — a theater — had laid everyone off but then re-hired them when they got a federal pandemic loan, and she was worried they’d just be laid off again when the loan ran out? (#4 at the link) Here’s the update.

You answered my question about this in 2020, and it was helpful.

I had the issue that my nonprofit theatre laid us all off, cancelled ALL programming, and then rehired us under the guise of “business as usual” when that literally could not happen because *pandemic life.* After we were laid off and rehired, they did in fact lay (some of) us off again. They laid us off in May, a month before the stipulations were met, so that they could give us a month’s severance for our permanent layoff. In the lay-off email, they also said people would be getting an additional two week severance for every 5 years they worked there. I was at 4.5 years, and I asked if they could round up my time for an additional two weeks. They did. I knew I had nothing to lose by asking for a little bit more, and not only did they give it to me, they rounded up for ANYONE that was within 6 months of being 5, 10 or whatever years at the company. (I think because EVERYONE probably asked for that.)

They did tell us that we were ineligible for unemployment because of the severance package, but that turned out to be not true. Some people lost out on their unemployment because of that misinformation.

There were some people in the comments who were concerned that I’d rather be on unemployment than work, and that simply isn’t true. First of all, it’s part of the benefits package, which is part of my compensation. Also, the place I worked at was incredibly hostile (and I do mean the legal definition of a hostile work environment, with an HR that made things WORSE!), and this was the best way to finally get out of that situation. And most importantly, I had been looking for work in an adjacent field. I had time to focus on getting my certification for my next career move, and thankfully the boost in unemployment allowed me to completely focus on that, rather than stressing myself out trying to work because people are only useful when they’re working. (Eyeroll to all those “productivity” trolls.) I am happy to say that within a week or two of the layoff I was offered and accepted a position that pays more than $15,000 more a year (which is more than 1/3 more than what I made), with a start date 6 weeks later. I had time to do a bucket-list road trip, see family, and all the appropriate quarantining in between.

I also wanted to add that this column has gotten me through some rough times by letting me know what is and isn’t acceptable, and how to best handle the worst moments so that I can focus on the long game: getting paid and getting out. I’ve landed several jobs thanks to the resume, cover letter, and interview techniques you talk about.

Thanks for all of this. I miss the podcast, but I appreciate you advocating for an appropriate work/life balance.

household employees keep ghosting me

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

I’m the manager (also parent) for the lives of two kids under 5 years old. Their first childcare provider was a miraculously perfect fit for part-time work; lived nearby (convenient for last minute shifts, never late due to 5 minute car commute) was very flexible, a self starter, mature, patient, kind, and experienced. After three wonderful years with her, we moved out of state. (I gave her two months notice of our departure, a month of severance pay, and a glowing reference letter, as well as putting her in touch with her next two employers. All of which a Good Manager can and should do, I think, but just to demonstrate that I have a modicum of sense and emotional investment in the process.)

Several subsequent childcare providers have ghosted. I do not think I changed my interview process from the first time. I used the same website ( if that matters), asked the same thing on my post (“please state your availability on [a specific date] in your first message to me” to confirm that people were tailoring their response to my post instead of spamming multiple job openings), kept the same contract (paid vacation time, holidays, and sick days), and offered competitive pay (not the lowest and not the highest hourly rate for our area, but higher than average). There is a lot of flexibility in the position (I provide a variety of options, but the final schedule for the kids is at the discretion of the childcare provider; I have a flexible job, so I can typically accommodate any schedule changes necessary for the childcare provider with advance notice, such as if they have an appointment or prefer different start and end times).

The position is mildly contingent on the whims of two small children getting along with the childcare provider, but for the most part the children have loved (and been loved by, according to the providers) their childcare providers. However, Other Stuff always comes up and this job is the first thing on the chopping block for most of the people who have held the position. I’m not angry about not hearing back from long-time providers, but none of them have ever officially quit, so I am concerned about what I might be doing to cause this and I am sad that the children do not really get to say a proper goodbye to people who have been important in their lives.

Our current situation is for 10-15 hours a week (consistent days, flexible times) with someone I hired who is a friend of a friend, so a somewhat known entity. They had worked here occasionally pre-covid, and started back about two months ago as Covid restrictions lifted here (but we still wear masks etc). They live practically next door, but are consistently 15-60 minutes late and / or agree to work dates that they end up not bring available. They mentioned wanting more hours, but also took off one week with one day’s late notice to go on a vacation to a high risk area, and then took off the following week to get test results. They tested negative, agreed to work today 9 am to noon, then cancelled via text at 7 am and offered to come later in the week instead.

I can be flexible, but not so flexible that I can rearrange my entire work schedule and cancel appointments (that charge a fee for late cancellations) at two hour notice. I know that Stuff Happens, but this is a consistent pattern of behavior. I am also Solo Parenting, so this person is currently my only option.

How do I manage this situation? I would prefer not to have to find yet another childcare provider. I’d like to better manage the situation with the person who already has the position. What other benefits or incentives can I use to encourage punctuality and advance notice regarding scheduling changes? I know this is a particularly trying time with the global pandemic, but this is a persistent issue I have experienced as a person who works from home and needs someone to watch two young children. Is this just a Bad Job (watching little kids is exhausting, there are no health insurance benefits [US context], no retirement funds, etc, although I do pay into their unemployment fund through a payroll)? How can I be a Better Boss? Am I being too flexible, or too petty about punctuality? I think I would not be asking the latter part of this question if it weren’t a job that is done in my home, but since this is a pandemic and we don’t ever go anywhere, I could see why someone might think it wouldn’t matter when they show up.

I’m going to throw this out to readers to help with, but first some random thoughts from me:

* Are you checking references before hiring people? If not, I’d add that into your process right away, since people who have a track record of being reliable are more likely to continue being reliable (and vice versa).

* Have you considered going through an agency to find childcare? It might be more expensive but it also might garner you more consistently reliable providers. (Or not! I’m just guessing.)

* Part-time, in-home work seems to be ripe for this problem, for a whole bunch of complicated reasons.

Okay, readers, have at it — especially readers who have hired in-home childcare workers or done that work yourself.

yelling at work, coworkers smokes e-cigarettes after being told to stop, and more

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

1. Is it ever okay to yell at work?

I know you give the advice that yelling is unprofessional, but is it ever acceptable?

Years and years ago, I had a coworker who didn’t respect personal boundaries. The first time he touched me, it was a pat on the arm. I very sternly told him I do not like to be touched and to never do it again. The second time, a few weeks later he came up behind me and started rubbing my shoulders. Just writing this, I can feel his hands on my shoulders and it makes me cringe all over again. I immediately whipped around and shouted, “I told you to never touch me again.” I marched back to my desk and sat down. Another coworker asked if I was okay and I said I was. After calming myself down, I actually went to the company lawyer/HR and told him of the incident. The offending coworker was fired the same day.

I don’t regret yelling, but I wonder if I should have done something different. There were people on phones near by that I probably disturbed. Should I have just walked away and gone to HR?

There are a couple of exceptions to “never yell at work,” like if you’re alerting people to a fire or other imminent danger, or if you’re reacting viscerally to someone groping you. You’re fine.

It’s unusual that your coworker got fired on the spot for this, so I’d bet that it was a final straw in a list of complaints against him and he’d probably been warned before.

2. My coworker smokes e-cigarettes at work but it’s illegal

I work at a small company based in a city and state that both have laws against smoking e-cigarettes in the office. In mid-2019, I saw someone very senior in my company (think C-suite) smoking e-cigarettes in the office several times. I raised the issue officially each time (3-4x total) with my boss (also C-suite), the regional GM, HR, etc. I was told that it would stop; this person was very sorry and just didn’t know the local rules (they are from another country, so this is a reasonable explanation although still annoying). I hadn’t seen anything since so assumed it was nipped in the bud.

We have all been working remotely due to the pandemic and I don’t have a lot of meetings with this person. But about a month ago, I was on a video chat with them and I could tell they were in our office e-smoking again. Nobody else was in that day, so my partner told me to just let it go. Despite the fact that secondhand smoke can remain on walls and furniture for a long time … and at some point I will be asked to return to the office and subsequently inhale this stuff. But whatever. I let it go.

Then last week on an all-office video call, the smoker is in the office again, sitting one chair away from another employee (sans masks — don’t get me started) e-smoking again. I am livid! I took a screengrab so that I have proof. Obviously this person is knowingly ignoring local and state law so I’m not sure what the next step should be.

When all this originally went down in 2019, I was pregnant. Nobody at work knew and I didn’t want my pregnancy to be the only reason to stop smoking in the office so I always made the issue about it being illegal. At the time, I also had a conversation with a friend who is an employment lawyer. He told me that I could involve lawyers and being pregnant would help my case, but ultimately they’d likely find a reason to get rid of me because I raised too much hell. So I never did anything then.

Now that it’s happening again, I’m thinking about submitting an anonymous complaint to the local department of labor, but since we’re so small it will likely get tracked back to me and I can’t afford to lose my job.

So what should I do? Should I just continue to let it go since I likely won’t be back in the office til spring anyway? Should I talk to management / HR again? Should I continue to gather evidence and use this as an excuse to just try and work from home permanently once the office reopens? Should I file that labor department complaint? I can’t afford to lose my job and there aren’t a lot of other options right now in my industry. But I’m beyond pissed off and really want to do something.

You could go the department of labor route, but the chances of them following up on it are … less than high while they’re getting flooded with bigger violations related to the pandemic. But you could talk to them and get a sense of how likely they’d be to act on it and whether they’d keep your name out of it if they did, but my money would be on nothing much coming of it.

You’re more likely to get results if you talk to whoever was the most responsive last time you raised the issue. You could say that despite the person promising to stop, it’s still happening, you’re concerned it’s putting company in violation of state and local law, and you’re concerned it’ll still be happening when more people return to the office.

That said, my bet is that you’ll have more of an impact if you save your capital for when you’re back in the office. Right now it’s going to sound like you’re complaining on principle (nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t always carry the same weight), and you’ll have more standing if it’s happening once you’re back.

3. Is it okay to do a virtual interview against a blank wall?

I have a job interview next week that will be conducted via Microsoft teams. This is a very important interview because my work is highly specialized, so opportunities for advancement are few and far between. I have never done an interview virtually before.

When I sit at my desk, I have a blank wall behind me. I am conscious that others have a beautiful backdrop of plants and art. I am considering if I should take some time to decorate the wall or if it is acceptable to blur my background. If a stylish wall is going to leave a good impression with the hiring managers, I’ll do it. I’m worried that blurring my background will come across the wrong way — i.e., make me look guarded or unprofessional. What is better — a plain wall behind me or a blurred background? Or should I suck it up and put up some art?

A plain wall is totally fine! Blurring the background isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it can be distracting and there’s really no need for it. Embrace your plain wall.

4. My boss encouraged me to apply to other jobs to know my value

I wanted to share a story about speaking up which also highlights the difference between most managers and my awesome manager.

I work in an industry that is doing very well these days, where jobs are plentiful and people tend to move every 2-3 years to move up the career ladder. Because I’ve been happy with my colleagues, the flexibility of my job and the customers we support, I’ve not looked for 9 years. I told my manager I was going to look for a new job, not because I wanted to leave but because my raises have seemed smaller than they should be the last 2-3 years and I wanted to know what the market was like.

Her response? “Go for it, you should know your value.”

After I looked around, had a few interviews and got a few offers, I came back to her with what was interesting about each, and what was better about my current job. We had a frank discussion about the importance of varying levers (time off, health care, bonuses, etc.) and she came back with a significantly higher salary and more PTO.

She again reiterated that she wished more people understood that their career is in their own hands and that she was proud of me for standing up for myself and for looking.

I’ve got maybe 5 years to go until I retire. As long as this person is my manager, I cannot imagine leaving here. She models every day what mentoring and integrity look like.

Well … It worked for you and you feel good about it, so she might be the exact right manager for you. But people shouldn’t have to go off and interview for multiple jobs and bring back a bunch of other offers (or even one offer) in order to get paid what their work is worth. That’s a lot of work to expect you to do rather than your company managing their own compensation decisions themselves. (And by using that strategy, she risked you leaving for one of those other offers.) Again, I like that you feel good about it. But I wouldn’t encourage managers to emulate this!

5. Can I take my bachelor’s degree off my resume?

I did my undergraduate at a religious institute and obtained a religious degree. I’ve never done anything with that training in my professional life and honestly my personal feelings toward that experience have shifted over the years. I’ve since gone on to get my M.Ed and additional certifications specifically relevant to my field. If your resume is marketing material, this isn’t something I really want to advertise about myself. Would there be a downside to just dropping it? Since I have an advanced degree, it’s a given that I have a bachelors but I wonder if it would just bring up more questions in a hiring manager’s mind or cause some other difficulties.

Yeah, it’s so very much the convention to include your bachelor’s if you’re listing a master’s that omitting it will raise questions about why it’s not there. I know you don’t want to call attention to it, but interviewers are far more likely to ask about your undergraduate schooling if it’s missing than if you list it.

You don’t need to get specific about the degree though — it would be enough to just list School Name, B.A. and leave it at that (as opposed to B.A. in Religious Studies or so forth).

my awful former boss is my new coworker’s sister

A reader writes:

I’m a freelancer in a creative industry, and recently I’ve started a new project with a new company. The other night I was invited to their monthly team drinks as a way to welcome me aboard. One of the managers I was introduced to, Bob, said he had read my resume and had noticed I used to work for Company X. He asked me a few questions about working there — what it was like, who I worked for, and whether or not I enjoyed it. Company X is relatively well-known in our industry, so it made sense to me that he’d ask about my time there.

I said it was fine, and I really enjoyed the project I was on, but the company wasn’t the right fit for me and that’s why I had decided to end my contract. He kept pressing for details about it, so eventually I told him the truth: my manager there would regularly ignore calls and emails from the freelancers for weeks on end, which made us wonder at times if we’d been ghosted; we all had a lot of trouble getting paid on time; and there were even some instances of full-time workers being given credit for work I had prepared myself. I tried to handle the situation as best I could when I was there, but ultimately it began to impact how happy I was outside of work hours, so I gave notice. (I didn’t sound angry, just explained things factually.)

Bob seemed surprised but accepted that answer, and we moved on to another topic of conversation.

And then later on I heard from another member of staff that Bob’s sister actually works at Company X. I put two and two together and did some quick social media research and found out Bob’s sister is actually my old manager.

I feel like I’ve really put my foot in it now. I’m wishing I had handled Bob’s questions more professionally — maybe I should’ve just changed the topic of conversation? Even though I know I didn’t do anything wrong at Company X, I’m worried I’ve done something wrong in this situation. Do you think I should talk to Bob about what I said? Or just forget it all happened and hope for the best?

Bob is the one who should be feeling like he put his foot in it. Pushing for details about your experience there without mentioning that his sister is a manager there was a jerk move.

Frankly, even if his sister didn’t work there, continually pressing you for details that you were obviously not offering up initially was pretty rude. It’s generally understood that people often try not to badmouth former employers, and I don’t like that he kept pushing you to say more.

But more importantly, not mentioning that his sister was a manager there at the same time he was pressing you for details … that was a seriously crappy thing for him to do. If he’d said, “Oh, my sister manages the finance team over there, what was your experience like?” you’d presumably have given him a very different answer. And on some level he surely knows that, because there was a point in that conversation where it became weird that he hadn’t shared it … and that point was pretty early on.

Now, all that said, yeah, you probably said too much. Your initial (vaguer) answer was presumably the amount you were comfortable sharing, and you didn’t need to let Bob pressure you into sharing more.

But there’s also real value in people sharing information like “Company X doesn’t pay their freelancers without constant hassle.” And exchanging info about employers in your field is a key way people learn who they do and don’t want to work for or what landmines they need to watch out for. You didn’t say anything that wasn’t factually correct, and it doesn’t sound like you badmouthed anyone by name. You didn’t go on a hostile tirade; you were just matter-of-fact about the business problems you encountered.

That stuff is legitimate to share with trusted colleagues. It gets a little trickier with someone you just met, though. You didn’t yet know how Bob operates, if he had an agenda, or who he might be aligned with. With a new person, you’ve got to figure that anything you share could get repeated to anyone and decide if you’re okay with that possibility.

So: Is your discomfort about the possibility of what you told Bob getting back to his sister? Or is it more about the awkwardness of having criticized Bob’s family member to him?

If you’re worried about it getting back to his sister … it’s not ideal, but the stuff you said was factual and doesn’t sound like anything she should be surprised to hear. Maybe a little stung, but maybe it’s not a bad thing for her to hear people’s experiences working on her team. (If she’s both vindictive and influential, I’d be more concerned but since you didn’t note that she is, I’m going to assume she’s not.)

If your worry is more just that you criticized Bob’s sister to his face without realizing it … well, Bob created that situation and got the awkward moment he deserves. If you’d get more peace of mind by addressing it, you could go back to him now and say, “I just realized your sister works at OldCompany — you didn’t mention it when we were talking the other day.” See what he says. Or you could skip mentioning his sister entirely and just say, “I normally wouldn’t share that kind of thing about an old employer, and I hope you’ll forget I said anything. I really did enjoy the work I did there.”

But I also think it’s fine if you just leave things where they are.

Either way, I’d try to find some ways to be (a) scrupulously professional and (b) impressive around Bob in the coming weeks if you have the opportunity.

And either way don’t trust Bob going forward.

how big of a deal is lying on a resume?

A reader writes:

I am a director of a local nonprofit with a very visible presence in our area.

Two years ago, I hired a new associate director, Gina, after she had amazing interviews and strong references. She has proven to be exceptional in her role. Eager, great sense of humor, very intelligent, poised, I could go on. She, like myself, is a single mother and I cleared a path through our company for her to return to school and get an MBA. Within the past two years our company has really blossomed, and part of that is directly related to Gina’s hard work.

But a week ago, I was at a work conference. While speaking to one of the event coordinators, Gina’s name came up. He stated that he worked with her briefly at her previous job and disclosed to me that she was fired. I was shocked. I distinctly remember from her interview that when I asked why she wanted to leave her current position, she stated that she wanted to return to the nonprofit field. The man delivered this information to me in an “Oh, I’m glad she got something she likes, but I assume you knew she was fired” kind of way, so it wasn’t as though he was trying to toss her under the bus.

When I returned to work, I checked her personnel file, and her resume clearly listed her previous job as still ongoing when she applied with me. I haven’t told anyone, and no one would know. Do I speak with her? Do I terminate her? Neither of these things feels right to me. She made a mistake, but there is nothing in her two-year performance that suggests anything other than a highly qualified and committed individual who has gone above and beyond in her role. I’m torn over this, and to be honest, I wish I never knew this information.

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.

my coworker is changing her appearance to match mine and rips my work off the walls when she’s mad

A reader writes:

I’m an elementary school employee and relatively new to the job. I get along well with most of my coworkers, with the exception of “Therese.”

Therese is in her 60s and works next door to me, and when I first started this job, I thought she was a friendly (if eccentric) coworker. She called me “new bestie” when I started setting up my classroom, and I thought that was just a quirky way of welcoming me to the school. But it seems like she genuinely means this.

I could have been fine with that, and am always very professional with her, but strange things have been happening since I started working. These include:

– Therese started dying her hair a brighter shade so that it matches my hair color. We both have the same color hair, but mine is much lighter. The dye job happened a few months into me starting at the school.

– Therese has started styling her hair like mine. Originally, she would (I think) put her wet hair in a braid and leave it that way throughout the day. Around the same time she dyed her hair, she adopted my hair style, which is pretty unique and labor-intensive.

– Therese often asks about my love life, even when I say that I just don’t want to talk about it/there’s nothing to report. (I don’t like the idea of talking about my partner/anything romantic at work, because we work with kids and it seems weird to have discussions about my personal life when a bunch of eight-year-olds are walking by.) At one point, Therese was also convinced that I was engaged and just not telling anyone. That was absolutely not the case, and I don’t even know how she got that idea.

– Therese, who never used to wear makeup to work, began wearing bright lipstick in the same shade I wear, in addition to using makeup to make her eyebrows the same color as mine.

– Therese has started dressing like me. I typically dress very formally for work and usually wear the same shades of clothing. Therese used to wear athletic wear, but she has started to wear the same kinds of shoes and tops that I wear, in the color that I wear them, and other coworkers have commented on this.

– During my prep time, Therese will come into my room and ask me to answer questions for her. Often, they’re questions I’ve already answered (sometimes questions I’ve answered that day, or the day before). When she gets her answer, she will just find a place in my room to sit and either do her work or just sit and look at me.

– On more than one occasion, I’ve seen Therese in my room taking phone calls when I am not in the room. This is concerning to me. When I go into the room, she’ll leave, but only after a few minutes, and never with an explanation about why she can’t be in her own room or any of the empty rooms in our ring.

– I’ve tried to be polite and say that I have work to do and don’t have time to chat when she comes into my room, but she either won’t listen or guilt trips me until I look like a bully.

– Sometimes Therese will ask me to do favors for cash. When I tell her that I’m too busy, I’ll often still find her cash sitting on my desk with a thank-you/instruction note. I’ve given it back and told her that I really don’t have the time, but then she will get upset again. Once I stepped in and covered a class for another teacher, and Theresa made a passive aggressive remark about how I “must not have been that busy.”

Beyond all of that, though, this is the part that really concerns me:

– She usually sits next to me at lunch. I don’t really want to sit by her, but I’m not going to be rude and get up and leave. One day, I sat next to a different teacher and there was no space for Therese. She stated daggers at me, and then later that day, I saw that all of the student work I had hung around my door had been ripped down. Theresa said that her student must have done it accidentally, but when I pulled that student aside and (very gently) asked what happened, he explained that Therese told him to tear the work down.

That makes me afraid of any direct confrontation. I already talked to my boss, right after the tearing things down incident, and I told her everything. She sympathizes, but Therese is tenured, so there isn’t much they can do. And my principal knows that I’m worried about Therese retaliating, so she says it would be best not to pull her in to talk. I’m kind of inclined to agree, because I don’t want any weird retaliation either.

I’m still probationary, so I can be dismissed for any reason. I don’t want to get a reputation as someone who causes problems or doesn’t play well with others, because I can’t afford to lose this job. But I’m honestly not sure what to do about this situation anymore. I love my job, but I’m very uncomfortable with this coworker (and these examples are only a few of many).

I’ve heard she’s had problems with other teachers in the past (I asked a close colleague about her, and he said there have been problems and it’s best to stay on her good side). I’m not super close to the other teachers in my ring, though, and they tend to be unfazed by her antics, so I don’t feel like I could talk to any of them about her.

I don’t think I’d go as far as saying I feel unsafe, more just unsettled. I don’t think she’d do anything to physically hurt me, but I’m worried that she’d do something like make up a rumor or something to hurt my career if she’s upset with me.

Any advice you have would be much appreciated.

I’m unsettled just reading this.

If Therese were just copying your clothes and your hair, I wouldn’t be that alarmed and would tell you to let it go. It’s a little annoying, but trying to call dibs on clothes or hair styles at work doesn’t have much upside.

And if it were just a matter of her trying to chat too often or hanging out in your room, I’d tell you to get more direct — that it’s okay to ask her to leave your room or stop taking calls there and not to worry about her guilt trips when you set those boundaries.

But what worries me — and I’m sure what worries you — is the punitive streak she’s bringing to all this. She feels entitled to your time and attention, and she’s reacting as if you’ve wronged her when she doesn’t get it. The snarky and immature “you must not have been that busy” remark is bad enough, but having a student tear down artwork from your door? That takes this from “immature and annoying clingy colleague” to “seriously troubled.”

In a different situation, I might suggest you be really, really direct and tell Therese to lay off what she’s doing — to make it clear that she’s alienated you and violated your boundaries and that the behavior needs to stop.

But I’m worried about advising that when you’re worried she’ll try to hurt you professionally if she feels rejected (and where there seems to be good reason for that worry). Given that, three other things might be worth trying:

1. Be pleasant but relentlessly distant. Greet her cheerfully. Spend a minute talking if she initiates conversation but then be busy with something else you need to do. Keep doing stuff like returning her unsolicited cash (!) and if she makes passive-aggressive remarks about how you don’t seem that busy, stay cheerful and upbeat: “Yep, stuff keeps coming up!” Ignore the snark and the resentment and just stay steadily upbeat when you’re dealing with her. But keep her at a distance — don’t share anything, don’t let down your guard, and don’t let her pull you further into her orbit.

If you’re thinking this sounds exhausting: Yes! It sounds exhausting to me too.

2. Do you have any options for building more physical distance between the two of you? Can you try to get assigned to a different room and/or a different lunch period next year?

3. Perhaps most importantly, really work on building relationships with other teachers there, and your administration as well. You might find people who have some insight into Therese and what might be effective with her (and who are more willing to share that when they know you better / trust you more) — but even if you don’t, strong relationships with others can only help if Therese does escalate in some way.

Ultimately, will this be enough to make the situation better? I don’t know. It might not be.

It’s frustrating that the person with authority to step in and deal with this, your principal, is washing her hands of it. If you had downplayed the situation in any way when you spoke to your boss, I’d encourage you to go back and share the full scope of it now. But it sounds like you already did, and she’s declining to act.

And that claim that she can’t do anything because Therese has tenure — tenure doesn’t prohibit a conversation about what’s going on, and tenure doesn’t prevent saying, “This behavior is unsettling people and needs to stop.” (It does make it harder to put real teeth behind that if it becomes necessary, but it’s ridiculous for her to act as if she’s just a bystander with no ability to shape anything that goes on among her teachers.)

Ugh, this is an awful situation, and made more so because your options are so limited. What do others think?