short answer Saturday: 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s once again short answer Saturday — seven short answers to seven short questions. We’ve got a boss who doesn’t believe in vacation, a programmer wondering if he’ll get relocation expenses, and more. Here we go…

1. Boss doesn’t believe in vacation days

I have a concern about my boss and his vacation philosophy. Essentially, he doesn’t believe you can be promoted / be successful if you take your vacation days. I’m a manager trying to protect my employees from this as I completely disagree. However, he’s just put his foot down and mandated “all hands on deck” for the remainder of the year. Any advice how I can convince him we’ve earned it, its part of our compensation package and it is necessary in order to decompress?

It’s true that there can be times when a manager truly does need to mandate “all hands on deck” for a certain period of time — for instance, during a product launch or leading up to the election if you’re working on a political campaign. But assuming that’s not the case here and your boss is just acting on (misguided) principle, all you can really do is to lay out your arguments and try to convince him. Or you could ask him to try it your way as an experiment, with the promise that you’ll ensure your employees still hit all their goals for the year. But ultimately, if he disagrees, there might not be much you can do about it.

2. Who pays for telecommuters’ office supplies?

I just started working from home for a company based in a different state than me. At the time of hire, my boss and I did not discuss who would pay for office supplies. I have my own computer, copier/scanner/fax, and have internet hook-up. I am wondering if it would be okay to ask for reimbursement for copy paper, toner and file folders. If I were working in the actual office, this would all supplied by the company.

Hell yes. Different companies handle things differently, of course, but as far as what it’s reasonable to expect: The principle when you telecommute should be that you shouldn’t personally incur any expenses that you wouldn’t be incurring were it not for the job (aside from the ones we all commonly pay for, like work clothes — probably not an issue for telecommuters anyway — and so forth.). So in other words, you’d have Internet access anyway, so it’s not reasonable to expect the company to foot that bill. But supplies that you’re using solely for your work — file folders, copy paper, and so forth — should be expensed like any other work expense. The exception to this is if you’ve worked out some different agreement with your employer — but since it sounds like you haven’t, you should assume these expenses will be reimbursed.

3. How long is too long to keep my life on hold for a job offer?

A company that I had previously interviewed for contacted me earlier this summer to ask if I would be interested in a different position. After waiting about two months, this finally turned into an interview. At the interview, they seemed very interested in me and told me that the actual job would post the next week and they might have to interview some other people between then and now. In the meantime, my life has been on hold while I try to determine if I need to move near this new job or move nearer to my current job and my currently untenable living situation is starting to drive me insane. Is it reasonable to give a deadline or some sort of indication that I really want the job but that three months of waiting is getting ridiculous?

I’d like to be able to say that you shouldn’t keep your life on hold at all, and you should go ahead and do whatever you’d do if you weren’t factoring in a possible job offer … but the reality is that you’re going to be frustrated if you move and then get the offer two weeks later. But while you can’t tell them that three months of waiting is ridiculous — because that’s totally their prerogative, and it’s not even that unusual — it’s completely reasonable to say to them, “I’m juggling a few different balls here, and I wonder if you can tell me what your timeline for making a decision is likely to be.” Of course, they could give you an answer that they don’t ultimately stick to — timelines do change, for all sorts of reasons — but that’s your best option for getting information to help you make your decision. And of course, your safest bet is to always assume you won’t get an offer, until you have it in front of you in writing.

4. Can I expect an employer to pay relocation costs?

I’m a database programmer with 12 years of IT experience. I’m planning a move from Boston to Los Angeles, and am about to start a job search. Some friends have advised having all the money I think I’ll need to move and not to assume any relocation money from the new employer. Would you agree? I’d hate to be offered a great job, and be told there’s no relocation assistance. What could I say? Thanks for the job, maybe I’ll be there in another month?

Well, keep in mind that they don’t owe you relocation costs just because you want to move. You can always try to negotiate relocation assistance as part of your salary negotiations, but whether you’ll get it or not in this market fluctuates greatly. In fact, lots of companies won’t even bother to interview you if you’re not local, unless you say up-front that you don’t expect relocation help (and sometimes not even then). Really, this comes down to how in-demand your skills are and how flush the company is. If it’s hard for them to fill the role with local candidates or if they’re doing well financially, they might assume relocation is part of the package without you even needing to ask. But if they have plenty of strong local candidates and/or finances are tight, they don’t have an incentive to pay you extra. And you need to be aware of this all up-front, because those companies are likely to ask you how soon you can start, and — unless you’re an in-demand super-star — if you imply relocation will be an obstacle, they’re likely to move on to the next guy.

5. Including references on a resume

We were told in a Career Development class to include a list of references at the end of our resume (so that the prospective employer doesn’t have to go to the trouble to ask). What do you think?

I think your Career Development class was taught by someone who has never hired. Employers are used to asking for references; it’s not some onerous task. And you don’t want to offer up references as part of your resume, because you want to know when those references are likely to be contacted, so that you can give them a heads-up.

6. Do I list HR or my manager as a reference?

The company where I worked for 14 years before being laid off has a policy that any inquiries about former employees are to go through HR. Several of my former coworkers, including my boss, would be glad to speak highly of me, but are officially forbidden to do so. So, do I list only the HR rep as a reference on an application (which reduces the number of professional references I can list), or go ahead and list people I worked with and let them redirect the caller to HR?

You list your actual references — your boss, etc. If they want to send the callers to HR, that’s their call — but if they’re like most references, they’re going to go ahead and talk, no matter what that policy says.

7. Offering to freelance after being rejected for a job

I recently interviewed for a position for which I’m not entirely qualified. I have excellent experience and qualifications for about half of the responsibilities and very much enjoy those aspects of my field. In fact, I am trying to freelance those particular skills, and I’m wondering if it would be appropriate to mention this if I am not offered this job? In spite of hiring another person, I suspect that this section of the company will remain fairly overwhelmed and might be able to make use of this service. Is this in poor taste or unprofessional?

Nope, go for it and see what happens.

{ 28 comments… read them below }

  1. Rachel*

    #6 – Call up your potential references first and ask if they’re willing to provide a reference against company policy. There’s nothing more annoying for me (HR) than calling a reference and then having that reference say they can’t speak and I need to talk to HR.

  2. mouse*

    #6 – Be careful; people have been fired from my mother’s employer (formerly MCI, now Verizon, I believe the policy started with the change-over to Verizon) for violating that rule.

    1. mouse*

      Clarification; they’ve been fired for actually talking and not forwarding the call to HR or managers. Basically former Verizon employees cannot use current Verizon employees as references. I forget how exactly this applies to managers though; I believe they are allowed to confirm dates only but they might actually be required to forward to HR, instead. It’s Verizon, everything there is borked from what I can tell.

  3. Satan's Little Helper*

    This philosophy towards vacation time almost seems to be a Baby Boomer thing. Not that all Baby Boomer bosses have this attitude, but I’ve yet to have, or hear of, a Gen X manager that felt this way. To some people “success” is a zero-sum game and is defined almost entirely in financial terms.

    Another factor at play may be the “rewarded martyr” aspect of the work culture. Now I can’t tell from your letter if such a culture exists in your workplace. But, c’mon, we all know, and have worked with, those little emotional terrorists who constantly brag about how little they’ve slept, how long it’s been since they’ve last eaten, how sick they are (and working anyway), or how terribly loooooong it has been since they’ve had a vacation. Hopefully, these little trolls are not rewarded for their “tenacity” in your work culture.

    Now, my little rants aside, I would only add to AAM’s comments to say that it sounds as if your boss is having some kind of knee-jerk reaction to something that has happened (or not happened). That is usually when bosses come up with these sweeping policy derailments. Perhaps demonstrating to this boss that the staff is sufficiently cross-trained, and pending vacation time is sufficiently staggered, that there will be very little, if any, loss in productivity. If nothing else, at least push for the ability to carry over this unusable vacation time (assuming that you can’t) as this is, apparently, a special circumstance.

  4. Nathan A.*


    I would treat your situation as if you are running your own business. Anything that you would claim as a business expense as a sole proprietor you should be reporting to your company as an actual expense under the expectation of some kind of reimbursement. If you were running your own company, you would report these purchases for taxation purposes.

  5. Vicki Brown*

    #1 You may want to have a chat with your HR department. Vacation time is part of compensation. At least in the US, if you leave a company, your accursed vacation is turned into dollars owed to you. Accrued vacation is seen as a financial liability on the books. For this reason, many companies insist that you take vacation before the end of the year or set an accrual cap.
    This manager may be in violation of company policy. You need to find out.

    1. Wilton Businessman*

      Depends. Most places it’s up to the manager’s discretion of when you can and can’t take vacation. Yes, it’s yours and you’ve earned it, but you can’t tell me on Thursday that you’re taking the next three weeks off.

  6. GeekChic*

    #1 (Boss doesn’t want people to take vacation): You could also take a stand on this issue – if you are prepared to be fired. I had a former boss who didn’t quite get why people should have two days off in a row (a “weekend”).

    When I started and re-worked the schedule to allow people to have a weekend (not necessarily on Saturday and Sunday) he thought I was being too nice to staff and that they shouldn’t be coddled. My response: “Staff are more productive when rested. The schedule provides for full staffing as well as buffer coverage. I will not be changing the schedule. If you’d like to fire me over the issue – that is your prerogative.” The schedule stayed as it was and I wasn’t fired.

    #6 (References and HR): AAM has said some variation of “if they’re like most references, they’re going to go ahead and talk, no matter what that policy says” numerous times and it puzzles me. Every reference giver that I’m familiar with (in 3 countries) followed their company’s policy to the letter. Every company (profit or non) that I’m aware of aggressively enforces their policy. I wouldn’t expect references to break policy unless they’re willing to lose their job.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m just going on my own experience and that of people I know. I’ve checked hundreds (maybe close to 4 figures) of references, in various industries — nonprofit, for-profit, academia, media, business, Fortune 500, etc etc etc. I’ve just never once encountered a manager who wasn’t willing to talk, even at companies that have policies that prohibit it. I know people say that some people do follow these policies — and I’m sure there must be some people out there who do — but in my experience, it’s fairly rare!

      1. Jamie*

        Actually – I don’t agree with the policy, but I follow it.

        I’ll give references all day long for former co-workers from previous jobs – but it’s prohibited here so I only offer up what is allowed (dates of employment and title) for anything else I refer them to HR.

        Specific industries can be like small towns – once you say something it’s hard to control who knows about it.

        As much as it would pain me to refuse to speak to someone for whom I’d otherwise be a glowing reference – I would.

  7. Wilton Businessman*

    #2: come on. What are we talking about $8 in folders and maybe $20 in paper every quarter? Seriously? You work in your PJs.
    #3: Got to keep in contact with them. If something else comes up and they’re still dragging their heels, their loss.
    #4. 5 years ago, yes. Today, no. Maybe you can negotiate it on your deal, but it’s unlikely.
    #5. No. If I saw that on a resume I would think it was a little presumptuous.
    #6. List the manager. If they manager doesn’t feel like they can talk at work, ask them if you can use their cell (or god forbid, their home) number.
    #7. Freelancing is a great opportunity to show them what you got (if you’re good). It also boosts your value if they decide to offer you the position in the future.

    1. Nathan A.*

      With #2 you are taking a rather big assumption that those items are all the OP will need. Toner by itself can be extremely expensive. Also, the OP could be getting paid a paltry sum – where literally every dollar matters.

        1. Joanna Reichert*

          Wilton, the compensation of the employee does not matter. Where is the cutoff? Who decides that and is it even legal?

          If I’m making $99,500 a year and am required to pay for my office supplies, and my $100,500 coworker does not, do you think anyone is going to see that as fair – or lacking fair, even sensible? To say that someone’s paycheck should be taken into account is silly.

          The fact of the matter is that when you’re employed, it is the employer’s responsibility to supply you with the tools necessary to do your work. This is true whether you are in a proper office, or if your ‘office’ is next to the kitty litter box at home.

          It seems as though you’re factoring in the temptation to be dishonest and steal from the company by claiming expenses in exaggerated amounts, or using company tools for your own personal use.

          1. Wilton Businessman*

            No, I’m not factoring in anything about employees stealing from the company. Working remotely is a give and take.

        2. KellyK*

          I don’t think whether they can afford it is relevant. If a manager making six figures and a secretary making twelve bucks an hour go on the same business travel, the company isn’t going to *not* reimburse the manager for travel and meals because they can afford to suck up the expense.

      1. KellyK*

        Also, the “working in pajamas” really isn’t relevant. Business expenses should be paid by the business, and it doesn’t cost the business money to have you work from home. If it makes you less available or makes your work situation less ideal for them, they’ve probably already taken that into account in what you’re being paid. There’s no reason you should be hit for that twice.

        If you’re incurring expenses *because* you’re working at home that you wouldn’t if you were in the office, you should pick those up. And if you’re submitting a reimbursement request for a few bucks worth of staples and printer paper, it may not be worth your time or the time of the person who has to process it. But in general, you absolutely should be reimbursed for it.

        1. Jamie*

          I see both points on the small stuff. I do agree with Kelly that on principle an employer should reimburse remote employees for expenses incurred. I would certainly reimburse for all legitimate supplies if it were me.

          A stipend for wear and tear on computers, faxes, etc. if you are using your own equipment isn’t unheard of, either.

          However, we incur far more expenses going into the office every day. Gas, wear and tear on the car, and wardrobe alone (which needs to be nicer when people see you in real life as opposed to a skype screen) adds up to far more than most remote workers could expense working from home even if they bought a brand new computer each year.

          So in principle I think Kelly is 100% right – if a company balked at reimbursing the smaller things, but everything else was good, I’d let it go. It would depend on how important the principle is to you.

  8. Jamie*

    2. Who pays for telecommuters’ office supplies?

    This should have been spelled out when you began telecommuting. In my experience this stuff tends to be expensed monthly or quarterly. For those without a company credit card receipts are sent in and reimbursement checks are sent out on a regular schedule.

    It’s less common for the company to reimburse for phone line/internet as, like with a vehicle or clothes, you would likely have these anyway. However, I believe you can write off a percentage of those expenses on your taxes if they are used for business purposes (check with an accountant for the formula).

    Now, would I send a receipt to be reimbursed for $20 in folders or paper? Probably not, but then I don’t get reimbursed from petty cash when I bring in creamer for coffee either, and I could. I do totally respect those who file for reimbursements for all allowable expenses, though.

    Toner can be pricey – so can fed-ex/ups of hard copies, if that’s part of the job. If I were working from home my rule of thumb would be to expense the bigger items, if that was part of the deal. The smaller stuff I would let slide – probably because I’d be giddy about all the money I was saving on gas and business casual.

  9. T Wilson*

    #5: I’m one of those bad Directors of Career Services that told his students to turn in their references with their resumes. Here was the method I spelled out for them followed by why:

    1. When job searching, gather as many relevant, work-related references (no friends or family members!) that you can by contacting them and asking their permission to use them as a reference.
    2. When applying for a job, create a reference sheet that lists the references that can best speak to your ability to meet or exceed the skills/competencies of the position. So you may have, say, 10 people who agreed to be a reference for you but you only include four of them on your reference sheet because they are the “best” reference for the position for which you’re applying.
    3. If you are offered an interview, contact those references immediately! Send them a copy of the position description and graciously ask them to be sure to mention your strong skills in X, Y, or Z (all skills that they should already be able to speak to).
    4. Interview like a pro by following AAM’s tips and keep applying until the offer is out there.

    I told my students to do this because:
    a) In my mind, it showed graciousness to the interviewer by just giving everything up front. I know that it’s easy to ask for references, but if your references are already prepped and ready to go, why not just submit their names already?
    b) Again, in my mind it showed confidence: “I feel so good about my ability to do the job, here are the people who can speak well of me.”
    c) In my small town, “everyone who knows everyone” part of the country, if the interview saw that this person received a reference from a well-known or prominent figure in the field or in the community, or if they had an internship at a respected organization, it might push their resume up the pile.

    So that was my rationale, right or wrong. My students got jobs (I was held accountable to placement) but I’m writing to see what others think about this method and if it has merit or not. I’m not married to anything.

    Allison: your blog is amazing. I must have told my students every day to go to it and I referenced it often. Thank you for your expertise and honesty. Get well soon!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Aw, thank you! I so appreciate that.

      I definitely see where you’re coming from. I’d still argue against doing it, though, because of these reasons:

      1. Most importantly, reference fatigue. You’re probably going to have more interviews than you’ll have reference checks (because you’re not going to get the finalist stage of every position you interview for, and that references don’t usually get checked until that stage). So if you’re alerting your references every time you have an interview, you’re alerting them to a bunch of calls that they’re never going to get. That means they’re having to remember details of positions unnecessarily (and may even confuse one with another when they do get a call), you’re taking up more of their time than you need to, and generally risking “reference fatigue.” Your references are valuable — you don’t want to do that. You want to save them for when you actually need them to do something.

      2. I don’t think most hiring managers will look at it as showing graciousness to get the list up-front. (They won’t look at it as a negative, but it’s just neutral.) Now, once they DO request references, having them prepped and ready is great … but there’s nothing gained by doing it earlier than that.

      3. I don’t think it particularly shows confidence, because it’s assumed you’re going to have references who will speak reasonably well of you. So it’s sort of like writing “references available upon request” — it’s assumed, so it doesn’t add anything.

      4. I do agree with you that if the interviewer happened to see that one of the listed references is someone she knows, that can really help — but I’d rather work that mention into the cover letter or elsewhere, for the reasons above.

      Anyway, that’s my reasoning. Hope it’s useful!

  10. Megan*

    #5 – I’m a librarian and when I was searching for my current job, many of the postings required that I send a list of references along with my resume or cv and cover letter. I’ve started to assume this is normal, and it’s interesting to read that in most fields, it’s not. Luckily, I only had one prospective employer contact my references before I had a chance to give them a heads up (they had agreed to be references generally, but I wanted to let them know to expect a phone call about particular jobs).
    The point is that in libraries (or at least in academic libraries) it seems to be expected that you’ll share that information up front, for whatever reason.

    1. Liz in a Library*

      This has been my experience as well. I’ve seen libraries who contact references before even doing a phone screen or interview (we used to do that here, but thankfully convinced the hiring manager to switch methods).

  11. RE #4*

    I am relocating for a position at a major hotel chain. The location is actually only 3 hours North of where I currently live. I’m not looking for, or even expecting a relocation package per say but I was thinking about asking the employer (occupancy permitting) to allow me to stay in their hotel for a couple weeks while I search for housing. I’ve been unemployed for a few months and don’t have enough in my savings to pay apartment deposits and 1st month’s rent. I wanted to wait until I had at least my first paycheck. Is this unreasonable request?

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