fast answer Friday: 6 short answers to 6 short questions

It’s another post written on Percocet!  Here we go…

1. Can I bring my toddler with me to fill out temp agency paperwork?

I am wondering if it is okay to take my 14-month-old daughter along with me to fill out paperwork and finalize details. I am in a tight spot because I was called today from the temp agency on my way to work. They requested me to come in and fill out paperwork at 9am tomorrow. I can’t arrange daycare for my daughter. Is it tacky to take her with me since it is only a temp agency or is this a definite no-no?

It’s not that it’s tacky, but it’s unprofessional. (And most offices don’t want the distraction of a toddler, especially when they’re taking calls, etc.) Don’t do it. It’s going to raise questions in their mind about whether you might do something like that when you’re on an assignment, even if you tell them you won’t. One possibility would have been to have said when they called you about this, “I won’t have daycare for my daughter at that time, but I could come in to do the paperwork then if you don’t mind me bringing her. I assume you’d rather wait until I can come in alone though?” Let them make the call, rather than you.

2. Employer contacting references without my okay

Can a potential employer who you’ve contacted about employment legally ask previous employers, coworkers, or others in the industry about you prior to interviewing or contacting you?


3. What should an employer ask personal references?

Can you give me any advice on questions to ask a personal reference given by an applicant? My company requires me to contact 3 references as a part of the application process, but only requires that 2 of the references be from professional sources. Many good applicants insist on providing a personal reference (friend, or even at times a family relation) as the 3rd reference instead of a supervisor, coworker, mentor, or other individual who can actually speak intelligently about the applicant’s performance. I’ve been having a very difficult time gaining anything from speaking to these references. Are there any good questions I should be asking that will actually give me some insight on what to expect from the applicant’s work performance?

I don’t get it at all, and I’d never even bother calling a personal reference. (Although if I were going to, I’d tell anyone who put down a family member that they need to use someone else.) So I don’t have an answer for you here — they seem like a colossal waste of time to me.

4. What does this rejection letter mean?

I only apply for jobs where I meet the stated requirements for the position. With that being said, I have been receiving rejection emails that acknowledge my credentials, yet go on to state that I have not been selected for the interview process. In some instances, an email will state that although they have found candidates that more closely meet their current qualifications, they may contact me if things don’t work out with their first choice — of course, in that section I am paraphrasing. My question is whether you can read the tea leaves on these comments? I am trying to figure out how to get past the “we’re just not that into you” phase.

There’s very little point in trying to read things into rejection notices. Most of them are standard form letters being sent to all rejected candidates, or at least all candidates rejected at that stage of the process. The best thing to do is to take them at face value — or even less than face value. The only real meaning a rejection notice has is “you’re not the strongest fit for this position.” The exception to this is if the employer has added an obviously personal note to it.

5. What does this email mean?

I interviewed for a position last Tuesday and it is now Thursday. I wrote the hiring manager an email last night checking the status of the position. He responded back at 6 am this morning and said, “”I am traveling but will get back with you next week.”

I am not trying to read into this, but what is you take on this response? I personally think it is very positive because he could have just as easily forwarded my email to HR for a rejection or he could have spent an extra 30 seconds and told me himself. Your thoughts?

Like the question above, I think you’re trying to read too much into a very straightforward message. Take it at face value: He’s traveling and will get back to you next week.

6. New job wants me to give less than two weeks notice to my current employer

I have recently been accepted for a new position. The new job is great; better salary, work environment etc. My concern is my new company wants me to start in 1-week, not allowing me to submit a full 2 weeks notice at my current job. What should I do, and how would you feel if one of your managers gave less than a two week notice.

Tell your new boss, “I owe my current boss two weeks notice. It’s the professional thing to do, and I don’t want to leave that job — or start this one — on a less than professional footing. I’ll always show you that level of commitment too.”

{ 48 comments… read them below }

  1. Josh S*

    These Percocet influenced answers are equally good–if not even more lucid–than your normal answers. I was really hoping for something that referenced Big Bird or the Pilgrims or hallucinations or something.

    /feel better soon
    //months is too long

    1. Jamie*

      I totally vote for Big Bird…how about employment metaphors featuring Big Bird as a pilgrim?

      If anyone could do that AND still give cogent and pertinent advice it would be Alison.

  2. JessB*

    Love these, particularly the answer to the last one. I am a huge fan of treating others as I would want to be treated, and (as you said) I think it lets you leave your current job on a really professional note, and start your new one the same way.

    1. Anonymous*

      Not so sure I agree – how exactly did the 2-week rule come about and is it still valid – especially in states with at-will employment. I’ve seen two week notices go very badly, where the employee leaving has not been treated very courteously and brandished to working on mediocre tasks. Unless you are working on a project that requires you to stay for an additional week, I think that one week ‘s notice is more than generous.

      1. Anonymous*

        This is actually my situation and I’m leaning towards your response. Due to training, my start date is not flexible. The bottom line is this: either give the less than 2 week notice or forfeit this new opportunity which proposes to give me greater professional advancement. Sometimes these things are our of our control.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Rightly or wrongly, two weeks notice has become the professional obligation. If you don’t do it, it can tarnish your reputation in a way that can follow you around forever.

        1. Harry*

          or risk losing this opportunity. I would cut the ties with current employer but explain why you can’t give them the two weeks. They might want you out immediately.

      3. Anonymous*

        Just to put the two weeks into perspective: I work in the UK, and here notice is (by law) a minimum of 1 week, rising a week for every year of service to a max of 12. This is more about protecting the employee from being turfed out with limited notice and money. The company can say they don’t want the person in, but unless they are dismissing for gross misconduct they have to pay the notice period. Having said that, a majority of people are (contractually) on a month’s notice once they’ve finished a probationary, and whilst technically if they’ve done 7 years they owe 7 weeks notice, the company won’t usually enforce it – it really is more about the employee than employer. I’m on 3 month’s notice, which is not unusual from a certain stage in your career – although I could probably negotiate down. Senior leaders will often be on a year’s notice – and this is often enforced! The notice can be a pain for employees who are choosing to leave, but few moan about it if the choice isn’t theirs.

  3. Savvy Working Gal*

    Years ago when just starting out in my career, my roommates thought it was pretty funny that I got excited when a rejection letter said they would keep my resume on file.

    Also, my boss doesn’t like to hire anyone who does not give a 2 week notice to their current employer. He thinks it is a reflection of how professional they are.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I agree! When I ask an employed candidate, “How soon could you start?” and they say Monday (or something else that’s within a few days), that’s a big red flag. I’ll usually say, “You don’t need to give notice to your current boss?” and the answer is often very telling.

      1. Anonymous*

        Of course it’s telling – they are applying for another position outside of their current company, so they probably want to leave as soon as possible. I say, don’t read too much into to it. After telling your employer that you’re leaving things can get a little uncomfortable to say the least.

        1. Adam V*

          As bad as my last job situation became, I still felt the responsibility to *myself* to work the full two weeks. Keep in mind, this is still a company that may have to give references for you in the future, and “left us in the lurch without notice” isn’t a gold star in anyone’s book.

    2. KayDay*

      I know people whose current job was an internship (or a clearly temporary job) and so their manager knew they were leaving and were prepared for a short notice. On the other hand, I think most managers would be really bothered by a short notice and it might affect your chances of getting a good reference in the future. The last time I left a job I was super busy for those two weeks finalizing projects, organizing my files for the new person, and training the new person.

  4. Kim Stiens*

    Question: What if the new boss really does insist on not giving your employer notice? I assume that if they say “You have to be able to start next Monday or I’m offering the job to someone who can,” you’d say take the job? I hope the new employer wouldn’t give you a minus on your file for unprofessionalism at THAT point…

    1. Anonymous*

      I agree Kim – if you can’t start when the employer wants you to start there are many other candidates who can.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It depends on how much you want the job. Like anything else, it’s a calculation: You have to factor in the effect leaving without notice may have on your reputation, how much you want this new job, and what you think it says about the new employer that they’re encouraging you to behave unprofessionally with your last employer.

      1. Kristinyc*

        That happened to me once, after my first job. I was offered the job on a Wednesday, and they wanted me to start on a Monday. To make matters worse my (horrible and crazy) boss was on vacation in a different COUNTRY that week. I ended up taking the new job and doing everything I could to tie up the loose ends, and it didn’t kill me professionally. I’m not allowed to work at the place I left ever again, and none of my co-workers from there are allowed to give me a reference, but that’s all that happened.

        And it was totally worth it – the new job was WAYYY better, and I ended u staying there twice as long as I was at the first one.

        1. Phideaux*

          I had just the opposite experience early in my career. I had been offered a job and the owner insisted…no, really DEMANDED that I start with them the next day. It was (I thought) a much better job, and if I couldn’t start the following Monday, he was giving the job to the next one in line. Being young and stupid, I totally burned down the bridge to an otherwise good company. I started my new job, only to find out that him wanting me to start immediately was only the first of many increasingly irrational, hot-tempered demands.

          Needless to say, I was soon looking for a new job, and when I found one, I gave my boss a 2 week notice. He responded that 2 weeks was “unacceptable” and he would take no less than 4 weeks! I bit my tongue and only told him that 2 weeks was the most I could give, end of story. 30 minutes later, HR Lady (his wife, BTW) came out with a check for hours worked, told me my services were no longer required, and escorted me out the door.

          All this to say that while at times it may be tempting to go in and tell your boss “I quit!” and walk out right then and there, I would think long and hard about going to a company who would expect you to give no notice.

    1. KayDay*

      Didn’t mean to hit reply so soon….

      I served as a personal “peer” reference once for someone I went to college with. They asked me general questions regarding the applicants honesty/integrity/work ethic, etc very similar to what you might ask a professional reference. (For example, tell me about a time when this applicant accomplished a personal goal; tell me about a time when this applicant displayed a great sense of honesty).

      Honestly, though, it was really awkward for me. I was able to give her a great reference, but I thought it was really weird to be talking abou personal situations. I think they were trying to make sure that the applicant wasn’t a complete douche in their non-professional life.

  5. Nichole*

    Definitely agree with Alison on the first OP, just ask. I know some temp agencies would see bringing a toddler in as a red flag, but if they’re on a tight deadline or have a casual office, it may not be a big deal, I know a manager of a temp agency who would almost surely tell her to bring her on in and would probably be playing with her in lobby the whole time! At worst, they say no, but you’ve acknowledged the professional norms and shown your ability to handle situations of that sort.

    Sorry to hear about your foot, Alison, and the dependence situation. Good luck.

    1. Kat*

      Yes but going into most temp agencies to fill out ‘paperwork’ doesn’t just mean that. I couldn’t tell from the writer’s letter if this was their first in-office meeting with the agency. If so there are tests to take, an interview with your recruiter, and then paperwork. It’s basically a job interview and what employer would be fine with you bringing anyone else, let alone a child, into the interview process? Who will watch the child while the writer is taking a competency test?

      1. Jamie*

        That’s what I was thinking – temp agencies tend to do the testing with the paperwork, which can be over an hour depending on the tests.

        Telling them you need to arrange for a sitter is fine, and schedule accordingly. Just showing up with a toddler would be a huge red flag, if there was no previous discussion.

        Back in the day I temped for a long time and had a great experience with that. You can’t underestimate the importance of a great relationship between the temp and their agency. You really want to get off on the right foot, because these are the people who control the quality of your assignments.

  6. Vicki*

    Given that I work in an “At-Will” state where people are laid off “right now; you get 1 hour to pack personal belongings; please leave by the back door” I’ve begun to think that the 2-weeks’ notice thing is a holdover of another, more polite, time. I’ve also seen too many people give notice and be told “If you’re leaving, leave today and Good Riddance.”
    Why should the employees bend over backwards to be “professional” when the employers have no such convention?

      1. Anonymous*

        Agreed. Not all employers are so nasty (of course, plenty really do suck). When my boss fired someone (in an “at will” environment) for a bad fit type reason, he was paid for the whole pay period. It totally depends on the work place.

      2. Mike C.*

        But the issue is that when you’re interviewing and asking “when can you start”. You said above that you penalize candidates that are willing to start early without consideration that their workplaces are terrible or the bosses just throw people out when notice is given.

        Given that there is no tactful way of communicating to a hiring manager that the current workplace environment is toxic, how is a candidate supposed to say, “I want to leave early but it’s only because my workplace is terrible and not because I lack basic politeness or loyalty”?

        1. Long Time Admin*

          Mike, I think you could say “I would like to give my present employer 2 weeks notice, but could probably work something out with them if you need me sooner.”

        2. KellyK*

          I think this question was answered on that other post. (I’m going from memory here.)

          You can say that you’d like to give your current employer two weeks’ notice, but they don’t always let people work out their full two weeks (without saying that they’re colossal jerks, even though that statement of fact makes it pretty clear that they are), and would they be able to have you start sooner if that’s the case.

  7. JT*

    Where I work people leave anywhere from two weeks to two months, or even more, after taking a new position. The people leaving try to wrap things up well, and management is not going to rush someone out the door out of spite. This is good for the organization.

  8. Mike C.*

    On reading into not giving enough notice:

    Yeah, it could be a sign that their current employer is abusive or unethical and they’re trying their best to get out of a bad situation they cannot describe in an interview setting. Why isn’t this sort of red flag ever considered? Have hiring managers ever heard of toxic workplaces or bad bosses before? Has no one ever been bullied or harassed at work?

    I don’t get this attitude. If an employee is in a bad job situation then they are always told, “oh yes those are incredibly abusive and harmful practices that other countries have legal protections for but here your only practical recourse is to find a new job” and then if they do they hear nothing but, “oh but your reputation will suffer if you aren’t willing to take that abuse for another two weeks!”

    Screw that, it’s short-sighted advice and I’m tired of hearing it. I was in one of those abusive situations where my health and personal relationships suffered greatly and there is no way in hell that I was going to spend another two weeks helping that owner. Hiring managers need to understand that if an employee isn’t allowed by custom to say bad things about their current employer that maybe, just maybe, when they want to start right away it means they like your workplace more. If you’re worried about keeping them from running somewhere else, sign a work contract or move somewhere that doesn’t use a free market system for labor.

    Funny enough my new company didn’t care about when I wanted to start and never bothered to ask why. I’m guessing as long as you perform your job well they really don’t care about anything else. I’m guessing many companies feel the same way.

    1. Nichole*

      It sounds like your experience is funneling out the basic law of actions-have-consequences here, which is never a shortsighted perspective in my opinion. If you want to get out of the current environment ASAP, it’s your option to tell the new employer you’re available immediately and give no notice, but it’s not inappropriate for others to advise you that this could come back to bite you, especially if part of the toxicity of your employer is sabatoge. It’s also an area where you’ll rarely have a chance to defend yourself.

      Example: Company A is toxic and horrible and your boss hates you, so when Company B asks “Can you start Monday?” you say sure. You give no notice and quit. Company B goes under a year later, and you’re back on the hunt. Boss from Company B gives Potential Employer a good reference for the awesome job you applied for, interview went well, and it’s looking rosy for you at the start of the reference check. Then PE throws you a curveball and instead of contacting the math professor on your carefully crafted list, she calls Boss from Company A, who says that not only were you lazy and had a bad attitude (legally permissible because it’s clearly an opinion) but you also left them hanging with no notice when you quit and they would never rehire you (also legally permissible because it’s true). Boss at Company A doesn’t say that they stole your vacation days, refused to pay you overtime owed, and did nothing when your coworker stole your macrobiotic lunch every day, and that he personally screamed at you until you ran to the bathroom in tears for minor errors on multiple occassions, all contributing to said bad attitude and your inability to perform (i.e., “lazy). Since Company B closed a year into your employment, you didn’t have a chance to show that this was an anomaly rather than a pattern, and for reasons completely unknown to you, PE quietly goes with a “more experienced” candidate.

      Granted, giving appropriate notice wouldn’t stop your former employer from twisting the truth unrecognizable, but it’s a traditionally recognized show of good faith, and it never hurts to keep that nail out of the coffin if possible. If you do get asked “Why didn’t you give notice?” (unlikely, btw), no matter what happened, “Because they were jerks” makes YOU sound like the jerk. Likewise, if you perceived a workplace as toxic when really they just expected you to, um…work (I’ve known people in this category), not giving notice can be enough to lose you your second chance, even if it’s the only negative thing the employer says about you.

      So, the moral of this story, hypothetical free, I promise, is that actions have consequences, and I think it’s smart, not short sighted, to consider the consequences of leaving a workplace without notice and decide if it’s worth it based on your particular situation.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Well said. And it’s important to remember that we’re not discussing what’s fair or “how things should be,” but what advice will serve you best in most situations, the majority of the time. Sometimes what’s going to be in your interests, practically speaking, isn’t the same thing as “how things should be.”

        1. Jamie*

          I agree. You can punch holes in the logic of the two weeks in some circumstances – but the fact that it’s a commonly accepted professional convention is just a fact. Ignoring this can hurt you down the road.

          Now, I don’t know if this is as common in other positions, but in IT and finance there’s a fairly high probability that when you give notice you’ll be asked to leave immediately. It doesn’t make sense, when you are leaving on good terms, but it seems the more access to confidential data you have the more likely you may be asked to pack your stuff when your resignation letter is still warm from the printer.

          To me this doesn’t absolve you from offering the two weeks…but it’s commonplace enough to mention to the new employer that if you are available sooner you will certainly let them know.

        2. Mike C.*

          You discuss what should be all of the time, and you personally raise the issue as a red flag at the same time you tell people that are in abusive situations that they need to leave as soon as they can.

          I know you’re trying to tell people what is and that’s fine but when you do it yourself knowing that there are often good reasons for not sticking around it’s a bit much, don’t you think?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I don’t see a contradiction here. If you’re unhappy, you should leave, but you should protect your reputation by remaining professional and giving two weeks notice. Two weeks is very little time, in the scheme of things. And if your employer will tell you to leave on the spot, then you use the language others have suggested here for that situation.

      2. Mike C.*

        A bad employer will make things up about you because you bothered to leave at all. After all, it shows a lack of “loyalty” on one’s part, does it not?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Very few employers will outright lie in a reference, and even fewer will do so once you’ve put them on notice about it, in the way that I’ve talked about in other posts on contacting a problematic reference and what to say to them (which I would link to here but am too medicated on painkillers to find — but which are in the References category in the archives).

    2. KellyK*

      I do agree that hiring managers should not automatically assume that “no notice” means “unprofessional” when it can just as easily mean “won’t be allowed to work out notice and don’t feel like going without pay for two weeks” or “work environment is toxic and abusive–I’d be insane to stay a minute longer than I have to.” But you have no control over what other people assume, and doing the best and smartest thing for you at the time can still come back to bite you.

      In your case, it was absolutely worth it, and you did what you had to do, but it’s still a risk that has to be considered.

      I also agree that the double standard is messed up. I understand not wanting to keep someone around if they’re doing an awful job (though if there’s no gross misconduct, I doubt it would hurt to let them finish out the pay period). But, if a company is laying someone off or getting rid of a position, I think two weeks’ notice is the least they could do as well. Never gonna happen, but it would be nice if the expectations went both ways.

      My question is, if you’re really working in an environment that’s that bad, is there any way of hinting at that without making yourself look like the jerk? If the company won’t let you give notice, that’s simple enough to say. When you’re asked, “Don’t you need to give notice at your old job?” you can reply, “As much as I’d love to give them a full two-weeks’ notice, they generally walk people out the day they give notice, so I’m not able to do that.” (Better would be to ask if your new company can be flexible with the start date so you can at least *offer* notice.)

      But if the true answer is, “When I tell the boss I’m resigning, he’ll throw a screaming fit, and probably throw screaming fits at me every day for the duration of my notice, and I already have an ulcer from working with this maniac,” is there any possible diplomatic way to explain that?

  9. Anonymous*

    If you say you need 3 references, 2 of them professional I am going to assume the third needs to be personal. I’m not going to give a co-worker reference but I might give you a mentor IF I had one.

    To me the phrasing of that request is off.

      1. Long Time Admin*

        Alison, I would have taken that literally and read it differently than you did. My 3rd reference would have been a personal one.

  10. Liz T*

    Ugh, the notice thing is so tricky. Well, obviously you should give as much notice as is possible/appropriate, it’s just sad to think of all the employers who abuse that. My friend was offered a high-paying management position in his field, and was told that he had to finish out the year with his current employer on good terms. (The company didn’t want bridges burned, either.) My friend’s boss then proceeded to torture my friend for months. My friend had considered this man a mentor and almost a father-figure, and suddenly he was a typical abusive boss, and my friend couldn’t stand up for himself–he had to finish things on good terms. When he finally left the job we all threw a giant “Freedom Party,” showing up at our local bar in togas for good measure. We told everyone there the story and they cheered us on.

  11. Chris*

    I put in a notice in a position that they normally walk you out the door. And instead they want me to work the last 2 weeks. The new employer wants me to start on Monday because even he thought they would walk me the day I put in my notice. Now I have to live with it for a little over a week. I am so dissatisfied I cannot stand it. I am about ready to tell them to heck with it and go start my new job, but I’m thinking about my job references. If I don’t start Monday it may be 2 or 3 weeks before I can start. I’m in such a predicament Danged if you do and Danged if you don’t.

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