fast answer Friday: 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s fast answer Friday — seven short answers to seven short questions (including an employee hoarding highlighters!). Here we go…

1. Turning down an offer from a former boss

A few months ago, a former boss of mine — who I like and respect very much — offered me a job at her current employer, working under her. After meeting with her about it, I decided that the position was not a very good fit for my personality and not really in my area of interest. I thanked her for the offer and politely declined. Flash forward to today, and she’s asked me again to consider the still-open position. I don’t want to hurt her feelings or come off as ungrateful. I also don’t want to lose her as a professional reference as I pursue a position that’s a good match for me. How can I gracefully decline this second offer?

Just be straightforward: “I so appreciate you thinking of me for this, and I would love to have the chance to work with you again! However, I don’t think this is quite the right fit; I’m really interested in staying in (area of interest). I’ll let you know if I think of anyone who might be right for it though.”

Unless she’s utterly crazy, you’re not going to lose her as a reference simply for not accepting a job with her. She doesn’t feel you’re obligated; she’s just hoping you’ll want it.

2. How should I refer to the person who suggested I apply for a job?

I work in the freelance translation / editing field and live in a country where the English speaking community is quite small and close-knit. I’ve actually gotten quite a few freelance jobs through non-professional networking (i.e., meeting someone by chance in a bar and chatting over a few beers), but those have usually been direct contact with the person who would like to hire me. A situation has come up where a mutual friend has suggested I contact a person for a job, but I am unsure how to mention this friend in my cover letter, when our relationship is purely non-professional and I don’t want to actually use the phrase “drinking buddy.” Is it appropriate to just say “My friend X suggested I contact you…” or should I be clearer about the extent of our relationship?

The person you’re contacting doesn’t need to know whether your relationship is based around drinking or eating fondue once a week or sitting in a dark room holding seances together. Just say “my friend X.” In fact, you could even leave out the descriptor altogether, and just say “X suggested I contact you.”

3. Interviewers who won’t deviate from a list of questions

I was wondering if you could comment on something I’ve experienced in the interviews I’ve had lately, both first round and second round. Whatever group I am talking with comes prepared with a list of questions they have clearly worked on together as a group. They proceed to ask each question. I answer. There is no follow-up question, or anything, just “thank you” and “who is next?” I understand asking all the candidates the same questions, but I can’t believe I said nothing that warranted a follow-up. When I am interviewing, I usually have a couple questions to follow-up on almost anything a candidate has said, even if it just to ask them to elaborate on some point. I found it a bit frustrating as a candidate. What is your take on this practice?

It’s bad interviewing. It happens when an employer mistakenly believes that the only way to treat candidates “fairly” is to ensure they’re all asked precisely the same questions and no others. It’s absolutely absurd. The way you get beneath the surface in interviews and really understand how someone operates is to ask follow-ups and more follow-ups. In fact, if given the choice of doing an interview consisting solely of five questions and tons of follow-ups on those questions or an interview consisting of 30 questions with zero follow-ups, I’d pick the one with five questions. You need to probe in an interview. The practice you’re describing is stupid and leads to bad hires.

(Plus, different candidates will have different things that you want to probe into. The issue of follow-ups aside, you can’t even start out with one set of questions for everyone — a core list, yes, but not a complete list that will work for everyone without any deviation.)

4. Employee is hoarding highlighters

I’ve worked an office environment for over 8 years, and have finally made my way to a managerial role. Recently, it was brought to my attention from another staff member that an employee is hoarding office supplies in his desk. (Side note: The person discovered this when told to get a file from his desk, and I have already told this person to stop going into desk drawers, as it’s different then just looking on the surface of the desk). Specifically, he has almost 100 company-purchased highlighters stashed in a drawer in his desk…more than he could ever use in 5 years, and more than I have in the office supply room. I can’t figure out why he would do this, as I make sure our supplies are kept full, and I’m generous about making sure everyone has what they need to do their job.

It’s the first time I’ve come across this type of situation, and I’m not quite sure how to approach it. Do I simply talk to him or send him an email, let him know it was brought to my attention and could he please return to items to the supply room and assure him that supplies will always be available for him there? Or just leave it alone and hope that he doesn’t start hoarding other items? I think this bugs me not just because it’s weird, but because the items he keeps are perishable, and will probably dry up before anyone ever uses them, and we’re talking about more than $150 worth of supplies.

Eh, I’d probably leave it. It’s 100 highlighters. It’s weird, but do you really care that much? If you had happened to come across it yourself, it would be easy to just ask what was up with it, but in this case, the weirdness of someone else going through his desk and then reporting back to you what’s in there (even though it wasn’t at your direction) is going to overshadow the highlighter hoarding.

5. What does this email mean?

I interviewed for a position and didn’t hear back for nearly a month. So, I gave HR a call and left a voicemail. Later that day, I got this email: “I just wanted to say that I received your message and wanted to let you know that we are currently in second interviews with other candidates. We have not made any final decisions. If anything changes I will let you know. Thank you!”

I have a pretty good idea of what this means, but what do you think? Is there any possibility of being called in?

It means that they’re more interested in other candidates and will probably end up hiring one of them, but if for some reason none of them work out, they might come back to you. Your chances are low but not zero. Move on, and let it be a pleasant surprise if you do get a call.

6. Using a 2-column chart in your cover letter

What are your thoughts using two columns in a cover letter to show their requirements in one and how my qualifications meet their requirements in the other? I heard that it is the new trend to use the two-column format.

I wouldn’t say it’s a trend, but you do see it occasionally. Like many things, people have different takes on it. Some love it; others not so much. Personally, I feel like I can figure out if you’re qualified on my own, and spelling it out in a chart for me feels a little unsophisticated; I’d rather see how you handle a traditional letter … but again, other hiring managers love it.

7. When a job application wants your current manager’s contact info

I’m interested in applying for a job for a very large and recognizable corporation. I feel my skills and work experience would be a good fit. Their applicant tracking system wants us to include the name and phone number of my current supervisor, and it is marked as a required field. I found this to be off putting as most applicant tracking systems do not ask for this at all or they make it optional with an explanation saying they only use this information if they’re going to make you an offer. Should I trust the hiring manager to do the right thing with this contact information?

Five years ago, I would have said yes. Now, after hearing too many stories of employers messing this up, I’m going to say no. Here’s what I’d do: In the space for your manager’s name, write “Please don’t contact current manager until offer is pending.” If the system requires that you enter a phone number, enter something that’s obviously a placeholder, like all 1’s. It’s just not worth trusting someone you don’t know at all yet not to mishandle this.

{ 157 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    #2: Associate (noun). It’s less formal than colleague but more formal than friend. It implies but doesn’t require a business relationship. I think it’s a fair term, since he’s referred you for a professional matter.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s really okay to say “friend” though. Associate does imply a business relationship (and also makes me think of drug dealers or car rental agents, as I’ve never really heard other people say it).

      1. "friend of a friend"*

        I’m the OP for #2 — the thing is, it really is a friend, not an associate. In fact, “drinking buddy” is really the most accurate description of our relationship– I don’t know if we have ever had a conversation completely sober!

        Thanks for the advice, Alison. I suppose I can just use a name without a “label” of some sort, and the hiring manager can ask me or my friend directly what our relationship is.

        By the way, Alison, you came incredibly close with the cheese fondue line!

        1. KayDay*

          It really is not necessary to have a label for the recommend-or at all! Just say, “Sally Salmon recommended that I contact you regarding…” If the job asks how you know Sally, then just say she is a personal friend/acquaintance.

          I would avoid implying that you have a business relationship with “Sally,” however, just because this could put her in an awkward position if she is asked about you and your work habits.

          1. Sally Salmon*

            That’s it exactly! I have many personal friends and acquaintances, and don’t care who knows it!

    2. Anonymous*

      Semi-off topic. When I was in college, a classmate clearly didn’t know other people’s names and would refer to us all as “my colleague”. It was strange in a classroom setting lol

  2. Anonymous*

    First of all, I think you need to have a chat with the discoverer. If they are told to get something off of someone’s desk, and they can’t find it, then they should return without it and say it wasn’t there. I’d rather do that then start going through drawers.

    However, now that the OP knows this person is hoarding, I think the best way to tackle it is to watch the supplies in the room. Are you suddenly having to restock on highlighters? Did you have 100 in the stockroom on Monday and are suddenly down to 50 on Friday (with say only 15 employees)? How often is this happening? What else is not staying in supply for long? You may never be able to pinpoint the employee specifically since your evidence is tainted, but if you start to let the office know that you know the stockroom is being abused, then maybe they’ll curtail their highlighter hobby. It does add up in the long run.

    1. Stells*

      To be fair, the OP did say in their letter that they spoke with the employee about going through desk drawers.

      1. Anonymous*

        Ambiguous English has led me to read it originally that this person has looked in desk drawers before and the OP has reprimanded him for those prior instances.

  3. Jennifer*

    #3 – Are you interviewing for civil-service/government type jobs? I’ve noticed that type of interview seems to be a bit of a trend in the public sector. A couple of things which stuck out to me as particular ridiculous during that process were predetermined follow-up questions (what? how can you follow-up on a hypothetical answer?) and a numerical scoring system.

    1. Xay*

      I thought it sounded like a government interview too.

      The numerical scoring system was the worst part of the interview process when I worked in state government. Even though each panel member was responsible for their own scores, there was really no criteria.

  4. Kelly O*

    I really appreciate that in your answer to question seven, you mention the trust level with a potential employer.

    One of the irritating things I have run across is the expectation that you should trust any hiring person, especially when filling out online applications as a required part of submitting a resume. I have seen so many that require your SSN or drivers’ license number, as well as references and their contact information when you’re just trying to submit your resume.

    I also try to not be too paranoid, but it is a little unnerving to submit all that information and have it go down a black hole. (Same thing with third-party recruiters, who won’t meet with you until they have all that same information.)

    The trust thing goes both ways. I think we tend to forget that.

    1. cf*

      Amen! Do not trust other people with sensitive information, even if they promise not to use it.

      Example: After my husband’s divorce from his first wife, he applied for an annulment. For various reasons, it was going to be very easy and not require the participation or even the knowledge of his ex. I spoke to the person at the archdiocese who was going to handle it and stressed repeatedly in writing and on the phone that they were not to contact the ex – that if she had to know about it, my then-boyfriend would call her first.

      But we stupidly put her name and address on the form.

      Guess what? The archdiocese sent her a letter anyhow! She got it a week after the annulment was issued. The letter merely notified her of the process. It was not necessary and the whole thing could have happened without her knowledge.

      She was livid when she found out and was unnecessarily hurt.

      And no, she probably never would have found out otherwise because she has long since left the Catholic church.

      1. Jamie*

        “It was not necessary and the whole thing could have happened without her knowledge. ”

        You can’t annul someone’s marriage without their knowledge – if that’s what you were told then they were misinformed.

        It doesn’t even stand to reason that the church would allow the annulment of a sacrament without informing all parties affected.

        Whether she left the church or not doesn’t have any bearing on their obligation to all concerned as well as their own bureaucratic process.

        1. Michelle*

          “She got it a week after the annulment was issued.”

          It sounds like the annulment WAS completed without the wife’s knowledge. So I’m confused. If the church misinformed/lied to her, and the annulment was not complete, then presumably the original couple would still be married.

          1. Laura L*

            Yeah. I’m not familiar with the finer points of Catholicism (or any religion, really), but don’t they need her to sign off on the annulment, too? Or at least be aware of it? or something?

            Unless she was abusive, I don’t see why the church wouldn’t have contacted her ahead of time.

            1. Jamie*

              This is what doesn’t make sense to me.

              My husband’s ex-wife filed for an annulment and he was contacted and given forms for him to submit a statement as well, if he desired. He was notified again once it was granted.

              It doesn’t make sense to me that someone would be notified only after the fact – because they require an opportunity to submit a response. I know there was a time limit but I don’t remember how long – something like he had 60-90 days to respond and if no response they would proceed on her information only.

              It’s a formal process.

      2. Anonymous*

        I have some ethics issues with trying to hide an annulment from one of the people in the marriage. The archdiocese probably felt the same way.

        What if, some day, she decided to go back to Catholicism? What if she remarries to a Catholic? Then the annulment would be very relevant to her.

        It’s not for someone else to determine whether it’s important to her or not – and if she was upset by the news, then it was clearly relevant to her and clearly best that she found out about it.

      3. Your Mileage May Vary*

        I don’t get it. If she wasn’t told her marriage was annulled, wouldn’t she go through life assuming she was married? That seems unfair to her. From your description, the church did just what they said they would do: they did not give her a heads-up until the annulment was complete. After that point, I don’t think your boyfriend could control the information.

        (Not Catholic and probably don’t fully understand how the Church works but I’d be pretty ticked if I thought I was married for the rest of my life and no one let me know.)

        1. Nodumbunny*

          I’m not Catholic either, but I think they were legally divorced, and he was just annulling it, which would have the effect of the marriage never having occurred in the Church’s eyes. So she knew she was divorced, but didn’t know that the Church considered that her marriage was annulled.

        2. anonymous*

          I was raised Catholic & have had many relatives go through this. I am sure the ex-wife & the BF were divorced, so she I doubt she would consider herself “married” either way for practical & legal purposes. My incredibly Catholic aunts & uncles referred to the ex-spouse as an ex as soon as the divorce was final.

          If the ex is under the assumption that her Catholic marriage was never annulled, she would believe she is still married in the “eyes of God” & the in the eyes of the Church. What this means is she would not be allowed to remarry someone in the Church. (It means other things I don’t want to get into, as well, but they are irrelevant to the point at hand anyway). In fact, I only know one Catholic who got an annulment for another reason besides wanting to get remarried.

          1. Jamie*

            This exactly.

            Marriage as a legal status and marriage in the eyes of the church are two separate issues.

          2. Chelle*

            My grandmother was married before my grandfather. Husband #1 ran off and left her when their kid was a couple of months old.

            Took her 18 years to get an annulment, so my mom was a basterd for quite sometime.

            That said, this poster’s husband should of been up front with the wife from the get go. Having an annulment is pretty serious since you’re saying that the marriage never happened. Live and learn though.

            1. anonymous*

              “Having an annulment is pretty serious since you’re saying that the marriage never happened.”

              Actually, it doesn’t quite mean that, and it doesn’t make kids from the marriage “bastards”. The Catholic Church considers marriage a sacrament so it means the couple were married but didn’t form a sacramental bond. An annulment doesn’t make kids or wedding pictures disappear.

              1. Chelle*

                Actually, I’m Catholic and while the “bastard” thing was said in jest – because her parents were legally married before she was born – an annulment does invalid the marriage as it if didn’t happen.

                That doesn’t mean when the exwife got word that her first marriage was annualed, a truck load of priests and nuns drove up to destory all her photo albums and run off with her kids.

      4. Anonymous*

        If people divorce but don’t get the marriage annulled through the church and then remarry other people, they can be excommunicated (or at the very least not be in good standing with the Catholic Church).

        1. anonymous*

          It’s possible, but I know plenty of people that this applies to & have never heard of it happening. A priest could refuse to give them Communion though, if he knows. But usually people in this situation wouldn’t be still be practicing Catholics.

  5. Anonymous*

    #4: It might be some sort of game or a prank by a fellow employee. You know those people who cover someone’s car with sticky notes and cellophane while they’re working, as prank or hazing? I could see someone like that filling a co-worker’s drawer with highlighters.

    I could also see it as a passive-aggressive way of dealing with frustration. Or a silly bonding ritual where office mates leave a highlighter on his desk constantly. It doesn’t sound very harmful, just rather odd. If you have a low-key opportunity to ask him about it, there might be a funny story behind it.

    It vaguely reminds me of an activity that my co-workers took part in at my first serious job. The boss had a habit of leaving his coffee mug around our work area. The co-workers took to hiding it in the weirdest spots they could find. The boss would come hunt for his coffee mug when he needed his caffeine fix.

    1. A Bug!*

      It does seem harmless in the grand scheme of things, but a company’s overhead can have a big effect on its bottom line. $150 worth of highlighters isn’t just a prank if it’s causing the office admin to have to order unnecessary replacements.

      Unfortunately, given the nature of the “evidence”, I can’t think of a really good way to bring the issue to light.

      Actually, depending on the situation, I guess maybe meeting with the highlighter guy could work. A simple line of questioning might get the employee to admit to it. “I’ve received a report that you have been inappropriately stockpiling office supplies, highlighters to be precise. It seems a bit silly but I have to ask: How many highlighters do you have on hand at your desk?”

      If the employee admits to it then he can be gently told that it needs to stop and he needs to take his stash and put it back in the supply room. If not, then employee knows someone’s on to him and may even return the supplies anyway.

      First and foremost, though, an open mind should be kept when approaching the employee. It’s important to be clear that the behavior is an issue without extending any judgment on the employee himself (i.e. “Supply hoarding is a problem that needs to stop because it costs the company money” vs “Stop being so weird/What is wrong with you?”). The reason for the hoard could be one of any number of things, from some weird petty vendetta to mental illness.

      (I also agree with everyone else that Snoopy needs to be reprimanded for going into a coworker’s desk after having been told not to do that anymore.)

      1. cf*

        “I also agree with everyone else that Snoopy needs to be reprimanded for going into a coworker’s desk after having been told not to do that anymore.”

        I hope he was also reprimanded even before he was told not to do so. It should be a commonly-accepted standard that it is not done to go into someone else’s desk.

        (Unless, of course, you have a blanket invitation into the chocolate drawer.)

      2. Anonymous*

        I think a low-key approach might be best, rather than a formal reprimand.

        I considered the sly, “Hey Bob, could I borrow a highlighter?” approach to uncovering the problem, but I think it’s best to hit it straight on instead. Approach it like it’s an annoying habit that needs to be toned down (like microwaving fish in the kitchen office), rather than an attack against the company’s bottom line.

        “Hey Bob, I hear you have a highlighter stash. What’s up with that?” Listen to his explanation, and if he doesn’t offer to put them back on his own, then prompt him to do so with a comment like, “Well, other people in the office need highlighters too, so put them back and don’t take so many at once.”

        It’s also crossed my mind that he might’ve bought the highlighters on his own dime. I know I have a rather nontrivial stash of old markers, pens, and pencils that I’ve accumulated over the years through purchase or as freebies at home in a drawer. I just never get around to cleaning it out, and I’m sure lots of them are dead by now.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah, low-key is definitely the way to go if you do it. It would be silly to make it into a big formal conversation. But even with low-key, he’s likely to ask, “Where did you hear that?” and then it gets weird.

          (There ARE times when you have to address something even though you learned about it in a shady way. But this doesn’t really rise to that level, in my opinion.)

        2. A Bug!*

          Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that the hoarder needs a reprimand – the person who went into the hoarder’s drawer needs to be reprimanded. In my view, the hoarder shouldn’t really be reprimanded for something like this unless the behavior continues after being alerted that it’s not appropriate. It’s not egregious and the markers are presumably not ruined yet.

          The other worker, on the other hand, is violating coworkers’ privacy after being told that’s not appropriate and that it needs to stop, not to mention that the worker apparently thinks it’s not that big a deal because he didn’t make any effort to hide the fact that he’d done it.

          1. Spiny*

            I read that as the manager immediately addressed that issue with the tattling employee, not that desk snooping is an ongoing problem

      3. Blinx*

        A drawer full of highlighters? Hah, that’s no prank. At my first serious job (at an engineering firm), a bunch of guys completely emptied one guy’s desk when he was on vacation, and planted mushrooms in the drawers!

    2. anonymous*

      How about solving this problem by sending around an office-wide memo noting that supplies have been disappearing at a faster rate than usual and requesting that people only keep as many supplies as they actually need at their office?

  6. first-time hirer*

    #3 – I’ve been on the applying for jobs for what seems like forever (only a few years in reality) and in my current position, I’m the search committee for a job in my department. I work at a public university so there are a ton of restrictions/guidelines to this search. One being every person must be asked the same question. We are allowed to ask follow-up questions, but we can’t have a separate list of questions for each person – the interview isn’t supposed to come off like a conversation, really at all. This has to do some with making sure your questions aren’t discriminatory in any way as well as making sure everyone that comes in has the same exact chance. When I interviewed for my job here, I went through three interviews, the first two exactly like what you described in your question. Honestly, I was kind of miffed because I paid a substantial amount of money to fly somewhere for a second interview where they basically rehashed the first set of questions from my phone interview. When I later talked to the person that led the search committee for my job I’m currently in, she said that another reason for the standard questioning is because it is easy to tell who has prepared and who hasn’t and the initial phone interview was a way to weed out people that were obviously just mass applying without a real thought and that the second interview was a way for the interviewee to show initiative. She said she specifically remembered that I was one of the only people when asked a standard question that brought up an actual example from the website of the place I was applying for, so if you’re ever in that situation again, make sure that even though the questions are standard, your answers show specificity and initiative.

    1. Catherine*

      Been there, I’m also on the hiring committee in my department at a university and we have to use the same set of questions – and the questions have to be approved by HR before we can start interviews. The lead interviewer (my boss) will ask a few follow-up questions, but the questions themselves are so hideously awful I’m surprised we even managed to hire some good people at all. The most useful part of the interviews was always the time when the candidate got to ask questions – THEN and only then could we probe. Provided the candidate actually asked about culture and fit, and not just benefits.

    2. Steve*

      I also work at a public university, and there seems to be a tendency to follow a script. This is very unfortunate and counterproductive – why interview if this is how you are going to do it? Just give a proctored written test to each applicant.

      The danger of being discriminatory are greatly overstated and they are completely losing track of the purpose of the interview – to find the best qualified candidate.

      Don’t get me wrong the interview SHOULD be scripted. But scripted to ensure the desired skills and attributes are probed, not that each question is asked of each candidate in exactly the same way.

      1. Anonymous*

        The private university where I work is the same way. As an internal applicant (basically applying for my own job to be made full time,) I had a surprise phone interview with my boss… who I shared an office with. (He did slip away to the office next door to conduct the interview, but since we hadn’t set up a specific time, I had no idea that that was coming.)

        Because he had to treat every applicant exactly the same, he pretended like he didn’t know me at all. It was the most awkward conversation I ever had with him–and that includes the time I informed him that he was accidentally sending work emails from a personal NSFW address.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          So absurd. I hope that if he asked “tell me about a time when…” questions, you found ways to talk about the challenging time when you had to tell a boss that he was sending work emails from a dirty email address.

      2. Anonymous*

        Here’s a counterpoint.

        I’m at a public university that is very large and doesn’t do the script thing. We have tremendously discriminatory hiring practices as a result. The problem isn’t with well-prepared hiring managers – it’s with the professors who don’t care much about the hiring process, who often (but not always) come from countries with cultures that are extremely hostile toward certain protected classes of people. Most of the professors in my department are foreigners with only a vague, passing familiarity with most American laws.

        I have a friend who was told by a professor during an interview that the professor would not work with her if there was any chance she’d get pregnant in the next 5 years. She didn’t do anything about it, but I’m sure that’s exactly the kind of incident that starts these very scripted interview processes at other universities.

        We have very few women or minority employees, and the department director has stated that he expressly wants to hire only people who are “like us,” complete with oblique Aryan references. I’ve been here for 10 years, and our department has doubled in size within the last 3 years. None of the new managers are women, only a few of the low-level new employees are female, and the only minorities that are in management are Asians. We’ve got exactly the same number of blacks working here as when I started – two, in a ~500 person department. We have one Hispanic right now (a secretary) which is one less than we had when I started here because her husband (a janitor) retired.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But that is a TERRIBLE way to handle this. Instead of doing highly scripted interviews, they need to handle those problems head-on. Otherwise they’re just going to have a different set of problems (some legal problems, some not) when their new hires start working with these people.

    3. Anonymous*

      Writing from the UK, I can only speak for my employer, not others, but we tend towards more standard questions – certainly in big organisations. However, I’ll qualify by saying that these are based around the behaviours and skills for the role, and will usually be limited in number to allow for lots of follow-up questions. I think (don’t know US law so can’t be certain) that our discrimination law may be tighter – people can take an employer to tribunal if they suspect that have been discriminated against in interview (shortlist too for that matter!) on several protected grounds. The base questions are the management of the risk (but always aligned to what we need as I said), and the probing questions manage the recruitment risk.

      1. Catherine*

        There are certainly some questions that will be given to all candidates, and as Steve pointed out above, it’s good to have a script in the sense that you are prepared…but I don’t think it’s necessary to ask the same set of questions to every single person and not deviate from that one bit. What you have described sounds like a good plan, and necessary – if job X requires Z and Y skills, then you will ask each candidate if they can do Z and Y. We are just fed up with employers who are so afraid of the slightest whiff of discrimination that they fail to make good use of their interviews.

    4. dangitmegan*

      I just had a phone interview with a university and was told up front that they would be asking everyone 6 questions. The questions were all fact based (how many years experience in so and so…what subjects did you teach) and asked quickly so even if I’d wanted to elaborate on something I couldn’t. I’m pretty sure I said about ten words other than directly answering the questions including the hellos and good byes.

      I got an email saying they were hiring someone else and the feedback for me was that my personality wouldn’t be a fit for the department…

      1. Dr. Speakeasy*

        Yep, EEO offices at most universities insist on the question list. And they get touchy about follow-ups. The thing that always amuses me (in a laugh or you’ll cry kind of way) is that we have the candidate ALL DAY. Sometimes 2 days. We have meals with them, we talk to them as we shuffle them around to meetings. Clearly, we have different conversations with different candidates. So, the EEO way overfocuses on one part of the process and then we can do whatever we want for the rest of the day.

        1. Eggs and bacon*

          I asked #3 so thanks for all the insights. They were indeed jobs at universities, both private and public. Thank you for confirming my own thinking that that is not such a good way to interview!

          I was also surprised in the 2 day rounds that people did not take the opportunity to get to know me as fully as I would have expected. I know having lunch is not an interview but talking amongst themselves gave me lots of interesting insight about them, the job and the place (which actually gave me some really great, useful information!) but I am not sure they learned anything about me that was that useful (that I will have chicken at lunch?)

  7. Canuck*

    #7- Liked that suggestion. It gets very ackward when recruiters/interviewers contact your employer before they’ve even interviewed you. Not a good situation!

  8. Anon*

    If 100 highlighters is $150 of office supplies, you’re getting ripped off on highlighters (or else they’re super fancy astronaut and scuba diver highlighters, I guess).

      1. Anonymous*

        So I’ve heard about your highlighter problem. We think we can get your highlighters over the border for a nominal fee. If customs interferes, my associate here will make them an offer they can’t refuse.

    1. Katie*

      I’m very intrigued by the thought of a scuba diver highlighter. The next time we do a supply order, I’m going to look for these.

      1. John Quincy Adding Machine*

        I’ve never actually seen a scuba diving pen that wasn’t black. And other than being able to write underwater, they just look like Sharpies, or whiteboard markers (which makes sense, since they only ever really write on the itty-bitty whiteboards some divers carry with them). Just now I did a Google search, though, and found a bunch of fancy astronaut-style diving pens. I covet them.

  9. Michelle*

    I’m hoping someone will get this reference, but the highlighter-hoarding reminds me of the girl on the brilliant but short-lived show “Better Off Ted” who hoarded coffee creamers in her desk every day! She did it as her one small act of rebellion against the corporation, and occasionally you’d see the boss (played by Portia di Rossi) walking into the department muttering, “Why is there never any creamer in here…” It was so great. I wonder if the highlighter guy is doing the same thing!

    1. Andrea*

      I just came here to say this! I loved that show. So perfect.

      (And I wish that Portia de Rossi had replaced Steve Carell on “The Office”—since “BOT” didn’t succeed. Never understood why she wasn’t mentioned as a possibility. Oh, right, it’s because no one watched “Better Off Ted.” Seriously, guys, it’s on Netflix. Go watch!)

      1. Esra*

        Better Off Ted was fantastic. And speaking to the creamer thing, I used to work for a huge corporation and we had a creamer thief. Unabashed too.

        I saw her a few times on our floor’s communal kitchen, emptying out 2% milk creamers into an epic-sized travel mug. It would take like 30 minutes, and nearly the entire supply of our creamers.

        1. Michelle*

          Wow. Slipping supplies into a pocket and keeping them in a drawer is one thing, but this brand of rebellion requires true effort and dedication. Most likely she was just a cheapskate who didn’t want to buy her own creamer. Perhaps she should’ve been a barista — much greater access and variety.

          1. Jamie*

            In a previous job I saw someone stealing toilet paper once.

            I didn’t say anything – I figure if you are in the position to need to steal a roll of toilet paper from work you don’t need more trouble.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Last night I posted a link to an old article I’d written about dietary etiquette, and now you’re giving me the perfect reason to post another one I did about living on my own for the first time — not being able to afford toilet paper figured prominently in it!

            2. Dr. Speakeasy*

              When my dad owned his own business he had to keep the toilet paper locked up. He had very expensive equipment sitting out on the shop floor and no one touched it – but the toilet paper was padlocked.

          2. Esra*

            Open rebellion became much more common after the company started laying off the employees who had been there the longest, froze raises and hiring, and started putting up ‘inspirational’ posters all over every floor.

            Suddenly people were cleaning up when it came to the free tea and hot chocolate packets in the kitchen.

      2. Catherine*

        That would have been perfect! I would have continued to watch The Office if Portia di Rossi was on there…love her, both on BOT and Arrested Development.

    2. Alexis M.*

      I once had a job where I took a roll of trash bags once or twice a month, completely inspired by the creamer scene in Better Off Ted. My company was treating both my manager and her boss terribly, and they were both absolutely wonderful managers. Although my job was never directly affected, it was terribly frustrating to watch what they were going through. Something about walking out with a roll of trash bags made me feel like I was participating in some kind of vigilante justice. And while I don’t condone stealing at all, it strangely made me feel a little better. My husband would get so frustrated because the trash bags were flimsy and cheap, not the sturdy brand he liked to buy and we had no problem affording trash bags. I tried explaining to him that it wasn’t about the trash bags, but he didn’t get it until I made him watch Better Off Ted. Don’t know if he ever really got it, but he became a huge fan!

    3. John Quincy Adding Machine*

      Yes! My second thought, after Linda and the creamers, was Claire Danes’ character in ‘Homeland’.

  10. AnotherAlison*

    It’s a long story, but I once had a situation where I did use a ton of highlighters at work. (Had to do with an old engineering project from pre-digital days getting a new life). I might not have used 100 highlighters, but it would have been nice to have that many. I had picked orange, and we didn’t have that many oranges in stock, so I had to keep scrounging around to find them. If I had just started building a stash sooner. . .

      1. AnotherAlison*

        I DID say it was a long story. I had picked pink, yellow, and orange, based on whether an item was deleted, staying with the original design, or redesigned. It turned out that there were magnitudes of order more redesigns (orange) than anything else, but I couldn’t just switch to yellow or pink because those were used. Green and blue were too dark for copying. . .

        I’m not unusually obsessed with orange and blind to using any other colors.

        1. Jamie*

          I do this – although for me orange = evil. I have spreadsheets that look like Easter decorations because each pastel color means something different.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            Ha! And then you’re trying to explain the system to someone else. . .”No, you aren’t listening. golden yellow is for items due next week, CHARTREUSE is for items we need to recheck later.”

            I once saw an engineer at work with one of those children’s packs of 100 skinny markers. Jealous!

            1. Jamie*

              I’ve had that conversation – almost verbatim – and two shades of blue, two different status indicators.

              This makes me feel less alone – I’ve been accused of crazy over this before.

        2. Anonymous*

          I’ve actually had this problem before, and I solved it by using the darker highlighters to circle or underline or dot next to the relevant text instead of highlighting directly over it. Although I’m also mule-headed about colors occasionally, so I probably just would’ve bought myself an orange highlighter package at the store so I could keep my colors consistent.

  11. Mike C.*

    Frankly, just get in the habit of asking said employee if they have a highlighter they can borrow really quick. Make a game of it.

  12. Beth*

    #1 I had happened to me, except my boss was crazy and it ended up that I couldn’t use her as a reference. I interned for her and after the internship, she wanted me to continue to intern for her, in other words, work for free. There was a hint of being paid on a per-project basis. But, knowing her, that payday would’ve been a long ways off. I wanted a regular (paying) job and I told her this and she did not like it…to say the least. So, the one and only internship I had in my field of study was pointless because I barely learned anything and I didn’t get a reference out it either.

  13. Anonymous*

    Are the highlighters from the office supply room? One time i was accused of stealing post its by an insane coworker. I was able to prove I had bought mine on my own dime (I had receipts and they were not the plain yellow we had at the office).

    Anyway I would probably let it be. I am more bothered about the employee who opened the drawer.

  14. Jamie*

    If you decide to deal with the highlighter situation – whatever that means – you’re acting on knowledge you shouldn’t even have if snoopy (tm A Bug) had done what he was asked.

    I just counted – I have 27 highlighters in my desk.

    I’d love someone to decide to make that an issue – the way work has been going lately it would be magical if being called on the carpet for office supplies was what finally pushed me over the edge…ha.

    Let it go and spend your time teaching snoopy to stay out of other people’s drawers.

    1. Anonymous*

      What color has the highest frequency of occurrence in your highlighter stash? Are you a yellow-traditionalist, or a green-rebel? Maybe a blue-oddball or one of those pink-conformists? Or are you one of those orange people, don’t even get me started on them.

      If you plug the 27 highlighters together end-to-end, is the resulting highlighter chain long enough to poke the next human nearest to you?

      1. Jamie*

        Wow – interview questions – I’m oddly flattered.

        I have a set of 8 multi-colored sharpie highlighters and an unopened box of pink given to me by the office manager because she knows how sad I am if the majority of my highlighting is not pink and others keep taking them. I also grab the odd pink post-it notes when we get them and have the only pink stapler, paper clips, and pencil cup here.

        Barbie’s IT office is the look I’m going for, apparently.

        The rest are an assortment. I hate green and orange and only use them for highlighting bad data.

        And sadly no, I would need far more to poke the nearest person if I had to go through my office down a short hall and sharp turn into his office. Although, if I could go directly through the wall it would be a shorter path.

        1. Catherine*

          Don’t forget about purple highlighters!!! So hard to find, so beautiful to use. I hoard them whenever they appear in our office supply stash.

        2. Judy*

          You know there is a “Barbie – I can be … a computer engineer”, right? I was given one for my birthday last year by someone who thought I needed it. She sits on my desk in her cubicle box with her own laptop and cell phone.

      2. A Bug!*

        I had a blue highlighter, once. I had a prized set of five – yellow, pink, orange, blue, green. They were really nice Sharpie ones with anti-smear! But now I only have the yellow and the pink left, and a bunch of garbagey yellow ones that were in my supply drawer when I started here. I have to guard the remaining ones like a hawk.

        I get very protective of my “favorite” office supplies and I feel a small amount of actual distress when one of them goes missing. Not just because I really liked the object, but because I know I can’t go marching around the office saying WHERE IS MY STAPLE REMOVER IT IS JUST LIKE THIS OTHER STAPLE REMOVER THAT I HAVE IN FACT THEY CAME IN THE SAME PACKAGE EXCEPT THAT THE MISSING ONE FEELS SLIGHTLY MORE FAMILIAR IN MY HAND AND SO I NEED IT BACK NOW WHO HAS IT.

        1. Kiribitz*

          Nice to know I’m not the only one disproportionately attached to office supplies.

          Inevitably when someone else uses my desk they take my favorite pen regardless of whether I’d left it out where I last used it, or had stashed it in my drawer. For people who reportedly favor black ink, a blue pen shouldn’t be such a desirable object!

          1. Laura L*

            Gah. Why do people favor black ink? I much, much prefer blue. I’m not sure why, but I definitely stock up on blue pens when I can since they’re so rare!

              1. Jamie*

                It used to be that you signed legal documents in blue – because it was easier to tell that it was an original and not a copy.

                But I’m old and that may have just been some weird thing I heard 100 years ago and thought it was real.

                1. Laura L*

                  No, I’ve heard this too and I’m not old (yet). I just wish there were more blue pens around. :-)

        2. aka Cat*

          I was pleased when I learned that it’s standard practice for new hires to be told to never remove pens or pencils from my desk.

          It dates back to when I was regularly using a mechanical pencil my dad gave me… I probably haven’t used a pencil in five years, but my pens never walk off. :D

        3. Cassie*

          I feel that way too! There was one time that I had to go looking for my blue highlighter – I found it on a student’s desk and I knew it was mine because it was pretty old and the labeling on the side was partially rubbed off. So I ended up labeling my highlighters w/ my name. Silly maybe, but it’s MY highlighter!

          Nowadays, I use RSVP ballpoint pens (in multiple colors) that I bought myself – if one of those went missing, I would not be happy. So I leave most of my supplies in my drawer and put them back almost immediately. The only supplies I have out are a blue pen and a purple pen (that I use regularly).

          But I do have a couple of generic pens in a tray for people who need to borrow pens. I’m not emotionally attached to them :)

      3. HR Gorilla*

        “If you plug the 27 highlighters together end-to-end, is the resulting highlighter chain long enough to poke the next human nearest to you?”

        This sentence made me cough-laugh, and then eat three Halls in rapid succession. Been a sickie all week. Luckily whole dept was out to lunch while I cackled, coughed, and unwrapped cough drops.

        Thanks for the Friday lolz!

  15. Anonymous*

    I love the addition of “move on, and let it be a pleasant surprise if you do get a call” to the necessary replies. It’s a great reminder!

        1. Anonymous*

          Not sure how your post italicizes mine but maybe we are not stuck in an italics loop! Haha

      1. Anonymous*

        I’m original Anonymous that mentioned the moving on quote. I didn’t use an italics tag at all. Strange lol

  16. Blinx*

    #7. I like AAM’s suggestion of entering in generic info in order to bypass the application data field. Has anyone tried this? I once had to enter in salary info for all my past jobs and what salary I’m asking for on the new one. Afterwards, I wondered if I’d entered all zeros, would it have let me go to the next page. Haven’t encountered the request again, though, to try it.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m sure there’s always going to be an employer out there who will discard your application for it, but I’ve heard lots of people say they do it and still get called for interviews (although they’re then often asked to address the salary question in the phone screen).

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I have. I’m sure, however, that there are jobs I’ve been passed over for because I made “too much” at my last one. I’m more apt to enter it if I’m NOT interested than if I am. I have to fill out a certain number for unemployment, and it is very hard sometimes to find enough to fill the quota, so I end up applying to questionable ones sometimes. The longer you are unemployed, the more apt this is to start happening. :(

        BTW my dream job closes today, and I plan to spend the weekend preparing just in case they call me for an interview. Oh please oh please oh please.

    2. Joey*

      If you do this just make sure you do it sparingly.

      And I’d suggest not doing too many things that make it look like you’re trying to game the system. I see applicants all the time trying to game our automated system. Some specific ones or too many will get you in the trash real quick.

    3. Natalie*

      I’ve done this with reference information before. I wrote in the names but put in “will provide” for all of the phone numbers.

  17. The Other Dawn*

    Regarding the highlighter hoarding question, am I missing something? I guess I just don’t understand why it’s such a no-no that the employee went into the person’s desk drawers looking for a file. I mean, isn’t that where a lot of files are kept? And it’s not like the desk is their personal property. It belongs to the company. If someone has a lot of confidential information filed in their desk then I would assume those drawers would and should be locked, and a duplicate key kept either in the possession of another manager and in a locked key box for emergencies. I work in a very small office and if someone is on vacation or sick and I need a file, I’m definitely going to look everywhere possible for that file.

    Since I consider desks to be company property, I wouldn’t hesitate to ask about the highlighters, especially if it’s a small office where every dollar counts.

    1. Jamie*

      I think it’s a courtesy issue around boundaries.

      Of course desks are company property – and if I weren’t here and someone needed something I would expect them to go in my desk and get whatever. With the exception of the lip gloss, Excedrin Migraine, Maalox, Advil, headache patches, and hand lotion it’s not mine.

      But if I were away from my desk and came back to see someone going through the drawers without asking I would find that off-putting. If I’m here ask me – if I’m not here for goodness sake get it yourself rather than call me on a rare day off to tell me you need something in my desk.

      Then again – my office is locked when I’m not here so it’s only my bosses who could access stuff anyway. Not sure I’d love it if a c0-worker felt free to just rifle through my desk drawers whenever they felt the urge.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        That’s what we don’t know, though: was he away from his desk for a few minutes, or was he out for the day? If it was just a bathroom break the employee could have waited, but if he was out that day then I see no problem with going through the desk. And I definitely would not contemplate calling someone on their day off unless it was absolutely an emergency.

        Personally, it wouldn’t bother me if I went out to lunch and someone needed something right away so they looked in my desk. But I don’t keep anything in there that I couldn’t pin on a public bulletin board either.

      2. Andrea*

        Boundaries, yes. I’m kind of territorial in general. (I’m aware that it isn’t my most flattering quality.) And, when I was employed outside of the home (as opposed to working freelance from home, like I do now), I bought most of my own office supplies because I’m particular about pens and things. I also keep my desk stocked at all times with extra supplies plus personal things like lotions and pills and lip balms and snacks, and I kept my purse in a drawer. And because of that–my personal supplies and snacks and office supplies and my purse–it used to piss me off when others would rifle through my things. Maybe I have trust issues; maybe I’m just a bitch. I kept work things in the filing cabinet, but my desk drawers were all full of personal items and supplies that I’d bought myself. Either way, if someone wanted to borrow something and if they asked me, I would get it myself and share with them. But the idea of anyone getting into my personal things when I’m not around is bothersome. Maybe others don’t mind as much, but to me, it doesn’t even matter who owns the desk–if that’s my own personal property in there, no one else better be messing with it.

        1. Blinx*

          People are territorial by nature. I trusted my immediate coworkers, but the hundreds that I didn’t know? I kept 2 drawers locked at all time. One contained my purse, and the other had sensitive company files (such as my performance reviews). I was frequently in meetings in far away conference rooms, and never knew when my cube neighbors would be as well. As it happens, a long time employee was finally caught after stealing credit cards out of purses! It was subtle, too, because they left the wallet and ID cards.

          All other company files/projects were easily accessible in my other unlocked cubbies and drawers.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      What’s bothering me about this whole thing is that people seem concerned that they person had 100 highlighters (company property) in his desk (company property!).

      He didn’t steal anything. I know that hoarding supplies doesn’t conform to general office supply etiquette, but what would the manager say? People taking too many supplies was a problem years ago at a previous job, but IIRC the issue was that the supplies were walking out the door. These are just relocated.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        Yes, it’s company property. And, yes, I’d be much more concerned if supplies were actually being taken from the office. Hoarding is relatively minor. For me I guess the issue is why does someone need that many supplies? If someone were to ask this guy for a highlighter, would he say he doesn’t have any or would he say “oh yeah I have a stash, take whatever you need”? If he won’t give them up and no one knows he has them, then that will cost the company more money. Probably doesn’t matter in a big corporation that has deep pockets, but it matters to my little company of 13 people, which is operating on a very lean budget.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Well, I’ve worked at my job for 7 years and one month. If I took one highlighter a month + the 15 a coworker gave me when he left the company – 10 I’ve actually used up, I’d have 90 highlighters, and I don’t think I’d have broke the company.

    3. GeekChic*

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who was puzzled. Desks at work are not private property and at every job I’ve held it was quite clear that every desk was subject to being opened by anyone. Though I always had access to a lockable drawer or locker somewhere for confidential things or my valuables.

    4. Colette*

      In most cube farms, there’s a pen/pencil drawer (shallow, directly under the desk) and then separate file-sized drawers elsewhere. Personally, I wouldn’t go through someone’s file drawers, but I might open the pen/pencil drawer if I were, say, leaving them a note and needed a pen.

      But the most amazing part of this whole discussion to me is that people still use highlighters. (In different colours! To highlight stuff! I can see using one to, say, highlight typos in a document, but I rarely do things on paper anymore, so one highlighter would last me … whatever the shelf life of a highlighter is.)

    5. Chelle*

      I feel like the small top drawers are off limits because people keep personal stuff there. But the file drawers should be accessiable if needed.

      As long as everyone was transpart about it, I wouldn’t mind people getting a file out or something.

  18. Kimmie Sue*

    #6 – Columns in cover letters and/or resumes are a terrible idea if you are applying to most mid to large companies. Nearly all use an applicant tracking system (ATS) and even the biggest names in ATS companies do a terrible job of parsing resumes. Only do columns, lots of formatting with lines, asterisks, indentations if you are able to to submit a resume in PDF form. Otherwise, I strongly encourage two resumes (simply formated word or text document) and a nice pretty one in PDF. Just know, that if you have a lot of pretty to the eye aesthetics on your resume and it must go through an ATS before a manager sees it, chances are it will look nothing like (and possibly worse) than when you submitted it. As a recruiter, I view between 100-200 resumes a week. Most candidates would be very disappointed to see how their nicely formatted resumes end up after being uploaded and/or parsed.

    1. Jenny*

      Good tip! I haven’t applied to many big companies with those types of systems yet, but when I did, I never got an interview. (I have good ratio of applications/interview, but I never bothered to optimize my resume for those systems. Not very interested in big companies at this time.)

  19. anonymous*

    I have been the Office Supply orderer at two jobs. The problem with people hoarding office supplies was that I would spend $ to order more supplies because I thought we were out of something, when in reality someone had more than they needed at his/her desk.

    I would suggest the OP send out an email to the whole dept asking people to only take one thing at a time (one blue pen, one black pen, one pencil, etc). Yes, sometimes you can misplace your black pen when it rolls under your keyboard, so you need to grab another, but there’s no reason to have a box of 20 identical black pens for only your own use.

    1. Jamie*

      Your argument is logical – but if people start getting rationed to one pencil, one pen, etc. it will create a very weird vibe in the office.

      Either people will get very nervous about the financial situation of the company and the need for such a tight rein on the purse strings or they will wonder about the control issues of the person issuing the edict.

      Not everything that is logical will have the desired result.

      1. AnotherAlison*


        I once got into a discussion with the executive over me about IT shutting off my aircard because I didn’t use it for 3 months, and he told me to turn on the hotspot on my personal phone and expense it, if I wanted to. He said don’t let stuff like that get in the way of doing your job. Really, executives don’t want you to waste time searching for a pen instead of doing your job because you left your only one in the conference room.

      2. Judy*

        The morale at the job where we had to take a dry black pen to the AA to get a new one, was not great, to say the least. Don’t do it.

      3. Blinx*

        Yes, there should be a way to let adults get a pad of paper without opening up the vaults of Fort Knox. But you just know that there will ALWAYS be folks who take advantage of the situation, particularly now, around back-to-school time. It’s not right, but it happens.

    2. Anon*

      I . . . do not think it’s unreasonable for me to have a box of 20 black pens at my desk just for me so I can always be sure I will have one if I need to run to a meeting quickly, or a phone call comes in, or someone wants to borrow one.

      My employer will just have to deal with the $3.50 or so this costs them every three months as a cost of doing business.

  20. Fluffy*

    Highlighters. I had a similar problem once with pencils (at least they don’t dry out.) I was a cataloger and really needed anice sharp pencil all the time. One birthday, my beloved and trusted coworker went into my office planning to break the points off my pencils. When she found that I had more than a hundred, she just took them all and hid them. I practically fainted when I arrived at work. Everyone laughed for about a week. But there was birthday cake.

  21. Malissa*

    On the highlighters….You have one employee that is apparently known for going through desk drawers. You also have another employee who has something so bizarre in their drawers that if a person saw it they would almost have to mention it. As I have an inherently evil side I can’t help but think that the hoarder has set Snoopy up. The question is, do you really want to get into the middle of this argument?

    1. A Bug!*

      Yes, absolutely, because I’m dying for the “Update” letter where everything goes all to heck and it reads like an episode of The Office.

  22. Anonymous*

    I am more concerned that the employee took the time to count 100 highlighters. I am at about 18 hidden and stashed around my desk. This place is like jungle warfare for office supplies. I have things hidden everywhere, some of which are mine that I simply just prefer. (Like my 3 Hole Punch.)

    And there is no better place to hunt than the office of a recently departed employee. I scored several staple removers, so I could have one as a distraction to hide my favorites. Which, as I now notice, are gone. Sorry AAM readers, I have to go lay a trap for a new staple remover. Maybe I can rescue some of my special black pens too. Death to blue pens!

  23. Job Seeker*

    #5. I really hope you get an opportunity here. I would be inclined to read the respond as thank you but we are going with other applicants. I hope I am wrong.

  24. Editor*

    When Pilot first came out with those felt-tipped fine point pens ages ago, I discovered that people would borrow one from my desk — “I just have to sign this” — and then the pen would never write the same afterward because they had smashed the tip down. One person actually told me they had to press down harder to make the line wider and I might want to get a new pen because “that one is running out of ink.” I’d used it two hours.

    Ever since then, I’ve worked at places that stock lousy pens and I’ve had to buy my own, except for about five years where my department head insisted on decent pens (free-flowing ink, no skipping and blue and black in regular and fine). When I’m buying my own pens, I use the supply pens as decoys out on the desk and I never hand over the pen I’m holding, although I got in a little tug of war over it once. (No, guy with big, beefy hands, you’re not getting my pen. His response: “Geez. What is it with you and pens? It’s just a pen. Give it here.” Me, yanking pen back and gesturing to can with a bunch of pens and pencils: “Use one of those.”)

    One office where I worked had a secretary who stockpiled supplies for us in an unlocked file drawer. She worked days, the supply closet was open only during the daytime, but half the office worked at night. Not being able to get a pen or folder or staples at 1 a.m. was seriously annoying, thus the stash.

    Now, do not touch my magnifying glass or play with it just to watch it pop out of the sleeve. Until my favorite toy disappeared, though, you could flush the little plastic promo toilet that advertised something I’ve forgotten. Kids visiting the office loved the flushing noise and so did a bunch of the staff members.

    1. A Bug!*

      If it’s “just a pen” then why’s he so fixated on getting that specific one? How childish and rude to try to actually grab it out of your hand like that. I hope you don’t have to work with that person anymore.

      I wonder if there’s a market for trick pens. They write like a dream, look like crap, and there’s a little secret mechanism that you can subtly switch to “lock” the pen and make it seem like it’s out of ink. Then you can say “Oh, weird, let me take a look at it, here, try this one instead.”

        1. Editor*

          Oh, God, yes. I went to the link, then I saw a “Behind the scenes” link for The Pen episode and watched that, too.

          The guy who wanted my pen was a paper salesman. He knew I didn’t like giving up the pen because he came by regularly, although we didn’t actually work together. He always flushed the little toilet several times. He was almost a parody of all the worst aspects some salespeople exhibit.

  25. Question #1*

    This is the person who posed Question #1, following up…

    Alison, thank you so much for your advice. I really appreciate it. I did as you had suggested and sent my former boss a gracious but straight-forward email declining the position once again.

    And the result?…She sends back a rather pushy response, saying that she thinks I’m “making a mistake” and re-upping the job offer. She also tells me that she could tailor the position to whatever I needed it to be, and she shared the (very generous) salary level.

    I’m now feeling incredibly stressed out. I wish she had just said “thank you for your candor” and moved on. Of course, I would like to work for her again someday, and make more money too, but I just don’t want this job. And I don’t want to offend her! I guess I will just have to stay firm, but friendly on this and hope she’s not right – that I AM making a mistake.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The pushiness is a red flag to me. She should respect your ability to know what’s best for you. I would send a very short/upbeat response back and leave it at that — something like, “I’m really flattered — thank you for your faith in me. It’s not a move I can make right now, but I wish you all the best in filling the role, and I’ll let you know if I think of anyone for it!”

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