mini answer Monday: 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s mini answer Monday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. Bringing a laptop to an interview

Is it ever appropriate to bring along a slim laptop to an interview in case there is an opportunity to show examples of your work that would normally be difficult to print out (in case it comes up in conversion)?

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with bringing a laptop with you in a briefcase, but I wouldn’t have it out during the interview without a specific reason. Generally, though, if you want to share samples of your work, it’s best to email them before or afterwards, as most interviewers aren’t going to want to halt the interview long enough to read through an entire document. (For design jobs, of course, it’s typical to bring a portfolio.)

2. Fired for refusing to break the law

I was recently let go from a job because I refused to preform some illegal tasks for them. They wanted me to alter legal documents after they had been signed, then photocopy them so you couldn’t tell that they were altered. During any future interviews, when they ask me why I no longer work there, should I tell them the truth, that I was let go for not preforming illegal tasks? I’ve always been told not to talk bad about former employers during the interview because it makes you seem like a complainer. What are your thoughts?

It’s true that you shouldn’t badmouth former employers in an interview, but in this case there’s no way around the truth. I would simply say, “Unfortunately, I was let go after I declined to falsify legal documents.” Most interviewers will be horrified by what happened to you — and any who aren’t are ones you don’t want to work for.

3. Should I follow up on this contact?

Two months ago, I contacted the department head of my previous company and asked if there were any available positions in the company. He called me in for an interview, and we had an agreement that I would be starting in a few weeks. I was then directed to HR and when they’d made their offer, it was much less than what I’m currently making, so I respectfully declined. I emailed the department head (he was on leave though) and told him that I’m not accepting the offer at the moment but that I hope I can still work with him in the future. He hasn’t responded to my email and it’s been over a month now. Should I email him again just to make sure he received my message? I’m worried that I’m burning some kind of important bridge here. If given the right opportunity, I would still want to work for that company in the future.

You emailed him, and he didn’t respond. Assuming that you didn’t ask a direct question in the email that required a response, assume he received it and simply didn’t see a need to send a response. Following up to “make sure he received it” will come across as a little too pushy — a little too much like you’re saying, “Hey rude guy, why haven’t you gotten back to me?” However, you can certainly check in at some point as you would with any other contact in your network (leaving the previously unanswered email out of it).

4. Employer didn’t get back to me when I asked about the best way to apply

About three weeks ago, I saw a posting for a job offer. On Wednesday, I sent an email to the person that posted the ad, asking what would be the best way for applying, to send a resume or walk in (as both were options.) I never received a response. Fast forward to today, and the ad is posted again. I’m unsure if my email turned this person off, they didn’t get it or whatever the case may be. Do you think I should apply in person? Or should I just leave it alone? Thank you.

Employers often don’t reply to questions about posted positions, because they don’t have enough time to deal with questions from applicants who they don’t even know if they’d be interested in. In this case, they almost certainly didn’t respond because you were asking them for too much hand-holding; they gave you two options, so you should assume that either of them should be fine.

5. Should I re-apply for this job?

I applied for a position two months ago and attended an interview. I received the following ambiguous response: “I regret to advise that we have decided not to shortlist you for second interview for this role. Your background is of interest to us and we would welcome an application from you again in the future if a vacancy in this area arises that is of interest to you. We appreciate your interest in our role, and for making yourself available to travel to the interview.”

The position has been re-advertised and my interest in the position remains strong. Should I re-apply?

Sure. You have nothing to lose, and their email was encouraging.

6. Asking for your own office

I shared an office with my boss for 2 years, but I don’t like sharing an office with subordinates. The situation has changed; our work has become more complex and I regularly meet with contract workers. I think these meetings should be one-on-one without a secretary or anyone else sitting in the same room.

I have tried meeting people in another room, but I haven’t found a good way. If I only meet people in a separate room to criticize them, then they are scared. One woman was convinced that I was going to fire her! If I always have to schedule another room to meet people, then arranging meetings is really a pain. As the boss, I could of course tell my subordinates to work somewhere else during meetings with others; I don’t feel comfortable doing this, but should I?

Do you have some more reasons I can present to my bosses to justify my own office and / or suggestions for how to give feedback when sharing an office?

Explain to your boss what you’ve said here: You have to have many meetings with people, and some of them cover sensitive topics. You want to give your staff regular feedback, but it’s not comfortable for anyone when it’s in front of someone else. And then ask if it’s possible to move to a more private space.

If it’s not, I’d start holding all your regular check-ins in a conference room so it becomes habit and your staff doesn’t assume it’s Scary News time when you do go to a separate room.

7. Unlimited vacation time

I was recently offered and accepted a position out of grad school. Yay!

My question lies in the vacation section of my Benefits Overview. It reads, “There is no limit to the number of days you can take for vacation each year.” Once my position starts, I am planning on asking HR if there are any more guidelines, but do you have any insight or experience with this type of language? It seems kind of vague to me.

A small number of companies have moved to this type of policy: Get your work done, use vacation time responsibly, and we’re not going to put a limit on it. The idea is that if you’re taking so much time off that your work isn’t getting done well, it’ll be obvious to your manager — they’re trusting you to use good judgment in this regard.

You’ll almost certainly be given more information about how this works once you start, but if you aren’t, ask your manager or coworkers how people typically use it. (And if in doubt, limit yourself to two weeks of vacation during your first year — a typical amount of vacation in your first year on a job — while you watch to get a better sense of what others do.)

{ 75 comments… read them below }

  1. jmkenrick*

    Re: #4 – I think you should apply again! And this time, just go for it. Apply however you’d prefer and then wait to hear back (or not, as the case may be).

    I could totally see myself sending an e-mail like the one you did, because I tend toward caution and can be a bit tentative about building professional reationships…but it’s best to just go for it! ]

    Good luck!

    1. JWatson*

      This is frutratingly obvious. With due respect, sending an e-mail like this is not ‘tentative’, it’s needy! And needy is not a quality an HR person or hiring manager is EVER likely to be looking for. If the first contact you have with a potential employer is to ask them to clarify perfectly reasonable instructions, you could be the most qualified candidate in the universe, but you’ll have succeeded in making a poor first impression. People often send me these e-mails in response to job postings (I work in HR). Think about this- I frequently get 400+ applications for a posted position, and usually have 8-12 open positions at a time. Can you imagine if all of those people messaged me about information that is already in the job posting? Yeah…Apply, or don’t apply, but please don’t create the impression that you are helpless and easily confused!

  2. Josh S*

    Finally collecting a paycheck from your AAM activities? Well done!

    Re: #7 Unlimited Vacation

    This is a question that is very good to ask during the negotiation/offer phase. After all, the employer could use the “Unlimited vacation” as a draw, but in reality there’s no way to take vacation because the work load is so high. (This happened to a good friend of mine for a senior Director-type position. The position started out wonderful and he was able to take about 4 weeks/year to be with his family. Then the bad economy hit, the company laid off about 2/3 of his department, and he was never able to shrink his work week to less than 70 hours, let alone take a vacation. It was miserable. He left.)

    The question to ask is something like this: “I see there is unlimited vacation time available. How much vacation do people take, on average, per year? How much did *you* take last year?”
    And related–“What are the typical hours that people work here?” which you can couch as ‘is this a clock-in/clock-out place, or more of a flexible work schedule, or are most of the people earlybirds/work-through-dinner types’.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’ve actually been doing it for a while, via the ads in the right-hand column. I’ve resisted sponsored posts for a while though, because they’re much more intrusive, but finally decided you all would forgive me for the occasional one :)

      1. Josh S*

        Never noticed those before. (Thanks, AdBlock!) I feel kinda bad that I block all the ads from my favorite bloggers who use that as a revenue stream, however small. But even when I don’t block them with technology, I mentally block them.

        Heck, I don’t even notice that there are ads on Facebook anymore.

      2. Josh S*

        And on the offchance you get paid per-view and not per-click, I’ve told AdBlock to exclude your site from the blocking. So now I see the ads. Well, I don’t really ‘see’ them, but the browser renders them.

        Happy paycheck!

        1. mh_76*

          I confess…I’m one of those who blocks ads and a lot of images… partly because I can’t afford a fast internet connection and because ads & extraneous images make pages load more slowly and partly because many of them are intrusive (though, thankfully, not on AAM when I am on a computer with a browser w/out ad-blocker…yikes, that is a bad sentence).

      3. Liz in a Library*

        Thanks for handling this well. I hate blogs that have sponsored posts that aren’t well labeled as sponsored (masquerading as unpaid/unbiased). I do not find this intrusive when they are clearly labeled as yours was.

        1. Catherine*

          Agreed – stating up from that’s it an advertisement gives me the opportunity to gloss over if I want, but I actually read it because I trust your judgement. :)

          1. Angela*

            As much work as you put into this blog, and as much as I enjoy reading it, you deserve a very large paycheck.

    2. mh_76*

      re: unlimited vacation time – I wonder how this would work in a state that mandates payout of earned-but-unused vacation time upon separation of employee/-er…

  3. Kelly O*

    As a corollary to #1, how would you address an issue of being uncomfortable with something you were asked to do for a client? Hypothetical example, if one of your clients asked you to go through his emails, and those often included pornographic material, or involved basically hiding a girlfriend (or two) from a wife… and it was just sort of understood that this was part of the job and if you weren’t comfortable doing that, perhaps it was time to move on? (And they subsequently re-hired a former employee who had moved away and then moved back, and who apparently had none of your qualms about that.)

    Because it’s kind of hard to explain.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This is trickier because it’s not as black and white, and my first choice would be to try to stay away from it, if any of the usual alternate explanations are available. If you left for another job, I’d focus on that. If you left without another job lined up, then it’s harder.

    2. Guest*

      How about saying that your job required you to view pornographic material and you were uncomfortable with that?

    3. jmkenrick*

      In the past, I answered this question (when I left a job without anything lined up) by saying that the company culture was much more conservative than I was, and it wasn’t a good fit, and now I’m searching for a company that’s more [insert adjective that you want here].

      That was easier than calling out specifics.

      Incidentally, that was true; it WAS more conservative than I was comfortable with. But I find it’s easier to stick to tactful generalizing adjectives than getting into nitty-gritty specific incidents, which can make it sound more gossip. Also, it gives you more control, cause you can swing the answer around to focus on the positive – ie: what you’re looking for in your next role.

      Hope that makes sense!

    4. Kelly O*

      Thanks. (And I meant #2. Because it’s Typo Monday.)

      Alison, just for the record, I had spoken with the GM and was working out an extended notice while I looked for something else. When the person who immediately preceded me came back, I got the door.

    5. Long Time Admin*

      Nan DeMars, who runs a business on business ethics, has counseled more than one admin assistant on topics like these. She suggests telling your executive that you are “uncomfortable” doing what-ever-it-is, and throwing the ball back in their court. If they are insistent, you need to decide if you’re going to stay or find a new job.

      However, if what you’re being asked to do is illegal, you need to get out as fast as you can. Assistants are normally thrown under the bus when the boss gets in the trouble with the law, and “just following orders” doesn’t cut any ice with the feds. If something like this happens to you, talk to a lawyer about how to protect yourself.

  4. jmkenrick*

    Re: #6 – Alison, and other hiring managers – I’m interested how you think an employer would react if they heard that in an interview. I’m sure it would depend on the delivery and how rational the interviewee seemed, but I have to say, I would be dying of curiosity.

    How would you suggest them handling follow-up questions? As a hiring manager, would you want to verify their story, or give them the benefit of the doubt?

    I have to confess, sometimes when I hear people talk about all the awful and illegal things their old work did, I assume hyperbole. I guess if the statement were delievered calmly, not in a gossipy-manner, I wouldn’t make that jump, but still – I could see that statement swinging the interview a totally different way. I mean, that sort of reason for firing can’t be something you run into in interivews a lot, no? And what if the company is well-known?

    Disclaimer: I don’t disagree with Alison’s answer, but I’m not a manager, and I’m sincerely curious.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Assuming you mean #2 here? If it’s delivered calmly and rationally without a lot of emotion, I’d be inclined to believe the candidate — I’ve done a lot of interviews and have rarely heard people say something like that, so I don’t think it’s a go-to lie people use. I’d probably ask a follow-up question or two about how they handled it, but I’d be inclined to take their word for it.

      I’d probably be especially thorough in checking the rest of their references though.

    2. Joey*

      I’ve heard that a couple of times. Initially I’m skeptical so I always ask a few more questions to make sure it’s more than just speculation.

  5. Sophie*

    #1 – laptops at an interview

    I participated in interviewing several applicants recently, and most of them had either a laptop or a tablet. It didn’t bother any of us, and it was nice when we got to see some examples of the person’s work. I would give the interviews the courtesy letting them know beforehand, just a quick, “Hey is it alright if I bring my laptop to show off work/take notes?”

  6. bemo12*


    Some companies that I know of offer unlimited vacation time, just as Alison pointed out, to use responsibly.

    But be wary, there are others that have this policy because they don’t actually want you to take a vacation or make it very difficult to do so.

    If I say to someone they have two weeks of vacation to use, they are going to use two weeks of vacation, most of the time, so that they don’t lose it. But, if I say vacation is unlimited, people will tend to use less of it, but also it may be harder to “cash in”, as you can’t point to an amount of days left as leverage for using them.

    It’s a double-edged sword.

    1. Sophie*

      I’m curious how it would work to pay out the remaining vacation time if the person left the company. Or would that even happen at all? I don’t know the practices/legalities/nuances surrounding vacation pay-out. I have never worked at a company that had unlimited vacation, therefore, when I left, I always got my pay-out for unused days.

    2. Sabrina*

      I believe that another drawback to “unlimited vacation” is that you don’t really accrue time, so when you leave, they don’t have anything to pay out. Whereas if you’re accruing PTO time and you leave or get laid off, in most states they have to pay that out to you since it’s something you’ve earned.

    3. Bridgette*

      True, and it’s an interesting idea. I’m not sure which I would like better. While the thought of having flexibility with my vacation is nice, I worry about the points you brought up as well as no pay-out when you leave. Right now I’d go for limited days with pay-out, but that may be because I’m job searching and when I do get my next job, having that chunk change will be sweet (I hardly used any vacation days since I’ve been at my job, so cha-ching!).

    4. Tater B.*

      I was very intrigued by this “unlimited vacation” concept (never heard of it before now) until I read your comment and thought about it. Since I’ve been in the working world, I have always had structured PTO and I have always had plenty of vacation time left at the end of the year. I did enjoy the jobs that offered to pay for unused time; I also liked having that “cushion” just in case. My PTO came in really handy when I was leaving my last position. Plus, I think I’d be too scared to take more than what I view as average–two weeks.

      I don’t think I’d really like the unlimited vacation. What I’d really like is to work for one of those companies that only works Monday through Thursday or only works until noon on Fridays!

      *clicking my heels together and wishing on a star*

  7. AdAgencyChick*

    #6 and #7: Oh my goodness, two HUGE PET PEEVES of mine.

    #6: Lots of companies in my field are going toward open office plans. Upper management always raves about how fewer walls mean “more collaboration” and “everyone in the office gets better light.” Of course, the people doing the raving are the few who do actually have offices. I strongly suspect that the real reasons behind this trend are a) it’s cheaper than building walls, and b) it helps people spy on each other so that it’s harder to goof off. Fine, but it also means that the workplace is noisier, interruptions are more frequent (read: lost productivity), and it becomes harder to have a private conversation with a subordinate without it becoming a Big Scary Thing.

    To the OP of #6, I doubt you’ll get an office unless you’re the only person who should be able to have private conversations, but can’t. If others are having the same problem, you’re unlikely to get “something special” that others don’t have. But you can still point out to your boss that the lack of privacy is making it difficult to do your job because X, Y, and Z, and does your boss have any suggestions?

    Re: #7, my last company had “unlimited” vacation time. I had been nervous about going there because I’d been at my previous job for several years and worked my way up to a generous (and specified) vacation level. Turns out I was right to worry. At the “unlimited” place, I would ask for time off and my boss would hem and haw and say, “Well, if we’re not busy then…” I ended up taking a total of about 1.5 weeks in the 9 months I was there — far less than I would have had at my previous job, and less than a pro-rating of the 3 weeks that new hires with my title generally get in my industry. I’d much rather have a defined number of days so that I can go to my boss and say, “I have X days to use up by Y date. Shall I take them this way or that way?” thus giving my boss the opportunity to schedule my days with me in a way that works best for the team, but NOT the opportunity to say “no, you can’t take those days.”

    Also, yeah, “unlimited vacation” also means “no vacation payout if you quit.” Which is why I made damn sure to resign from my last job the day I came back from the one real vacation I got to take.

    1. jmkenrick*

      In defense of no offices….our office has an open floor plan, and I love it. Even our CEO sits out on the floor. People generally use conference rooms for 1-on-1s with their manager.

      I find that it makes everyone very approachable, but I get that it might not suit every working enviornment.

      1. Anonymous*

        My company has different floor plans in different spaces (depending on when the space was set up, what department is there, etc). I like the way they did it on my floor – we each have our own cubicles, but partitions between cubicles are on wheels, and we can move them however we need to. I have one partition, which my coworker and I usually pull out a couple feet so we can see each other/talk/ask questions as necesary. But if we are both on the phone and need to, we can pull the partition closed to block the noise more.

      2. AdAgencyChick*

        I think it depends heavily on what you do. I’m a copywriter, so I view open-office not as “everyone is approachable” but rather “everyone feels free to interrupt me at any time, ESPECIALLY when I have a lot to write and I’m on deadline”!

        At least right now I’m in a cube with high walls — at the last place I worked, I had a desk with a wall only about six inches higher than the desk surface. People would stick their heads right in my face all. the. time. I am an ad agency chick who cherishes her personal space…boy, was I ready to bite someone by the end of the day!

        1. jmkenrick*

          That’s totally fair. In the engineering portion of our building, they have higher cublical walls, and it’s much quiter than in other departments. My role requires a great deal of collaboration, so the easy access can be helpful.

          However – around 3/4 o’clock on Friday, it can become very distracting, becuase weekend jitters are contagious.

          1. Anonymous*

            Yeah, it can be really distracting. Especially when two members of staff are having a heated discussion – everyone gets drawn in and its difficult to fail to notice. We do have many of these on a daily basis in our office (not in a bad way, just that so many of us are trying to do different things and hold to our own positions. They leave no resentment usually.) .

            The other bad thing about open offices is when someone wants to discuss something ‘private’ or ‘sensitive’ they are aware of everyone else and a lot of people whisper. Unfortunately no matter how much you tell yourself its nothing to do with you human nature makes you aware of it more than discussions people are having in normal tones!

      3. mh_76*

        For years, I wanted my own office in the various jobs that I’ve had. The place I’m contracting at is the first place where that isn’t always the case, though sometimes I do go into an office for one reason or other (not hearing stereo-other-person during an e-conference-call, take a recruiter’s call…). I like these colleagues a lot (if we had gone to the same HS at the same time, we would have been friends), am able to ignore most of the potential distractions with headphones & music, and sometimes it’s very helpful to have some of the others within speaking and distance.

        The layout at this place (small consulting co.) is very strange – 5 offices, 1 conf. room, 1 larger area w/ 4 desks & a few file cabinets. 3 of the offices are usually unused unless someone needs a bit of privacy, the conference room has 3 people in it, and the head guy & one other work in one of the other offices. One office is the head guy’s but he rarely works in there and it is also used by others sometimes if privacy is needed. Having said that, if I’m hired W2 there, I will probably comandeer the office with the river view and use one of the non-office spaces sometimes. If I’m hired elsewhere, I will probably want my own office but know that it may or may not come to pass.
        [sorry about the long comment]

    2. JT*

      My organization (non-profit anti-poverty organization) went open plan two office moves ago, with every staff member except for one having the same set up in the first office, and every single one in the second. That is CEO on down. The only exception was me (I really wanted a darker space, so for awhile had a larger, corner area).

      We have many private and semi private meeting spaces of varying sizes that anyone can take for meetings and phone calls that require quiet. We also have white noise machines in our current office. And have worked hard on etiquette, where we check with people if they have time to be interrupted.

      It works well for us and is more collaborative.

      1. Lily*

        I’m the OP. Thank you Alison for cutting to the heart of the issue and summarizing it so succinctly!

        To those of you who work in open offices, how do you arrange meetings? Are there so many conference rooms, that you can be sure that one is free? Do you feel comfortable having one on ones in conference rooms designed for 40 people?

        1. JT*

          In my organization we have some of the smaller meeting rooms that staff can just run into if they are empty, but they can also be reserved if desired. The smallest one in our old space was really for one person, or two people at most. In our current space the smallest can fit six in a pinch, though one to four is ideal.

          The larger rooms and a small one specially set up for video calls require reservation. Presumably if you’re getting a bunch of people together you are setting the meeting in advance so can plan that.

          Reservations are handled through MS Outlook, which we use for scheduling anyway.

          The system works OK. A few people on staff abuse the system by not reserving rooms they are supposed to. When I’ve needed the rooms and they’ve been in their with an outside visitor I’ve sucked it up. When it’s just internal stuff I’ve said “We’ve got this room now.” Abuse has declined since a few of us got hard-asxish about this.

          There have to be enough rooms for this to work. An architect or space planner should be able to produce some rough rules of thumb about how many rooms you need. Or you could figure it out by careful observation.

          One-on-one meetings in a big conference room work OK but are wasteful of space. In our cases we had control over space so we’ve set rooms of a variety of sizes. And our big conference room is divisible with walls and is usually chopped up.

  8. Rana*

    One possible exception to the laptop advice would be if you knew that the interview involved giving a presentation (common for faculty jobs, for example). I generally bring the presentation on a jump drive, assuming that the interviewer has the rest of the equipment set up and prepared, but it’s sometimes good to have back-up (including paper copies if the worst happens).

    That said, if one plans to use a laptop in any way during an interview, I’d advise practicing with it beforehand, so that you know how all of the components work (if you’re giving a presentation) and/or you already have cued up what you might want to show the other people. There is nothing more annoying than watching someone fumble with their tech, or hunting around their hard drive for a file, all the while saying, “I’ve almost got it; just a moment more.”

    1. Catherine*

      Ohmagoodness yes, please practice beforehand. I ache in my soul when people fumble around during presentations. Some tech issues are unavoidable, but many aren’t if you do a test drive.

  9. Lee*

    I agree even if you have an online portfolio and a good portion of that is web work, having print outs is a good backup plan. I have both a physical portfolio (with a mix of print and web work examples) and one online. I did start bringing a laptop to meetings as well just in case but have yet to use it since most of the time the other person had one and was more comfortable using theirs to view my work.

  10. BW*

    #2 – I wasn’t fired (yet) over a similarly icky situation where I refused to sign documents that were absolutely false. I got out while the getting was good, so I didn’t have to try to explain why I didn’t have a job, but I used it as an example when asked to describe some recent challenging situation (I can’t remember the exact wording of the question) at work. I never divulged that it was my current employer, but it wouldn’t have been hard to guess. The interviewer was properly mortified. I was offered the position, and I loveitloveitloveit!

    I agree with AAM. Be honest about this situation. Any new employer worth anything will find your integrity to be a positive attribute. Good luck on your search.

  11. ruby*

    #7 – Unlimited vacation time, is a red flag to me. It sounds nice but in reality, it means you do not accrue vacation time and don’t get paid out for it when you leave. It”s a cost-savings for the company because of that, yet companies who have it try to paint it as “We’re so empowering of our employees, YOU get to decide how much vaction you take, isn’t that wonderful?” Ugh. Just say it’s a way to control costs, we’re all grown-ups.

    And of course it doesn’t mean unlimited vacation time, it means unspecified vacation time and that’s a big difference. I absolutely would ask what the norm is but would anticipate that you will be watched closley your first year and need to stick with 2 weeks.

  12. KT*

    Be very wary about the “unlimited” vacation policy. There are a few companies in my industry that offer this, and it is indeed troublesome for employees.
    Sadly, the philosophy behind it made sense (and I am only speaking for my industry, of course). The idea is that in this wired world, people are checking their emails constantly, working long hours, working weekends and are essesntially constantly available. The trade-off is unlimited vacation. You know, work hard/play hard, etc.

    HOWEVER, in practice, the “fine print” is that all vacation is at your managers discretion. So if you’re department is busy, or short-staffed, you end up not taking any vacation (or much less than you otherwise would). The trade-off is also that you must be available (at least checking email) on your ‘vacation.’ They are paying you, so they can make you.

    OR, if you find yourself able to take advantage of this policy and take a few weeks, it will often be held against you. You may create the perception that you are dispensible since you’ve taken four weeks off while your co-workers haven’t taken any. (Of course you could be a more productive or efficient worker, but that doesn’t help with perceptions).

  13. AdAgencyChick*

    “You may create the perception that you are dispensible since you’ve taken four weeks off while your co-workers haven’t taken any. (Of course you could be a more productive or efficient worker, but that doesn’t help with perceptions).”


  14. Charlotte*

    #4 Allison is right on. If the ad specified ways to apply, just apply. If I’ve already given you instructions, just do it and don’t create extra steps.

  15. Anonymous*

    #7, for the unlimited vacation– what others are saying above is pretty accurate from what I’ve seen. I’ve read several articles about companies using the unlimited time model specifically because employees take of way less time that way, but feel like they’re getting something special anyway. Many of these places don’t have the kind of high-pressure environments described above, but it still works out that way because people feel like they can’t abuse the privilege and keep a close eye on how much time they take off.

    And it makes sense– say you know you’re allowed two weeks off in a year. You’ll feel entitled to those two weeks, two weeks is totally ok, you’ve earned it, you want to use that time up or you’ll lose it anyway (depending on your company). So you take two weeks. Then you get unlimited time. So how much time should you take off? Well, how much time did you earn? No one told you, it’s just unlimited. How much can you take off without looking bad? You lack a framework to decide how much is reasonable, and you’re likely to lowball yourself because people generally frown upon taking time off at all and often feel guilty doing it. The fact that you set your own rules without guidelines for what’s acceptable means you’re probably going to police yourself pretty heavily.

  16. Bill*

    I just discovered your blog this week and I’m so glad I did! Your advice and insight are refreshing and make perfect sense. After reading your blog and reviewing your complimentary guide on “how to prepare for an interview”, I immediately ordered your eBook and devoured it the very next day. I love your no nonsense approach; direct, honest, and smart. I am about to make a very important decision in my career and have been coaxed by family and friends to just hurry up and apply for a new position, yet I knew I was not ready. Your eBook has given me a wonderful blueprint to prepare for my career change. One of the worst feelings is being in a conversation (e.g., the interview) and then walking away wishing you would have said this or that. Your practical techniques of preparation have already saved me from making a mediocre or “ok” impression. Because of your recommendations, I have focused my attention on what really matters (developing a deep understanding of the position, how that relates to my experiences and skill set, how to prepare for many likely interview questions, and thinking seriously about what I want to learn about the position and the organization). You’re sample questions were very thought provoking and I have developed a much more sophisticated sense about the dialog I hope to have soon. I have spent nearly 20 years in my industry and have interviewed many people myself, but this is the first time I have looked for a job in a very long time. Frankly, I cringe at what might have been (an interview without the opportunity to heed your advice). I am miles ahead of were I was just a few days ago. Thank You!

  17. Bowman*

    Re: #7
    I’m wondering if the unlimited vacation time is also a way to “encourage” taking time off that suits the employer more so than the employee.

    In one of my early jobs in the US, I was saving up all my PTO so that I could go on a very long vacation – and as such came to work on days such as the Friday after Thanksgiving and every day in the Christmas season not required to take off but commonly taken off. During those days, next to no one was in the office, and I can’t imagine I did anything of great importance – but I was able to take off all the time I wanted to in March based on my schedule and my interests. Being in an ‘unlimited vacation time’ situation, I can imagine that staff would be encouraged to take time off during periods that are traditionally not busy for that industry. Fair enough the Christmas season, extra days around the 4th of July, etc. might not be busy – but why should your vacation match perfectly with the needs of the company?

  18. Flynn*

    Just dropping in a culture shock comment: I’ll be happily reading these posts and then I’ll run into the final bit of advice advising taking two weeks of holiday a year and it’s like running into a brick wall of “that can’t be right – or even legal?”

    And then I remember this is a US blog. (In NZ it’s a mandated four weeks no matter where you work, and many jobs have more – I get six weeks, for example. First year is earnt pro-rata, but you still GET four weeks).

    1. Sam*

      I hear ya with the culture shock. When I first started reading this blog (I’m from the UK), I was utterly appalled by the fact that there is no minimum holiday allowance, very little (if any) maternity leave, and at-will employment scares the pants off me! Whilst I think the UK employment law is pretty strict and restricts business in some areas, the lack of employee protection in the US baffles me.

      1. fposte*

        I found this world map of national vacation times via the obsessively wonderful I Love Charts tumblr:

            1. fposte*

              Make sure you scroll down to see the maps on parental leave and time off, too. Very enlightening.

      2. Jen*

        I’m with you about the at-will employment. It took me quite a while to even understand what it means! Where I’m from, you can’t just leave or get fired – it’s 1 month of notice either way (which can be reduced if both parties agree). At-will sounds scary as hell.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Out of curiosity, how does that work where you’re from — if you’re an employee who quits without giving a month’s notice, what would happen?

          1. Flynn*

            “If an employee leaves work without giving notice, the employer is not required to pay for time beyond the employee’s last actual working day. The employer must not deduct pay in lieu of notice from any amount owed to the employee unless the employee agrees in writing or the employment agreement specifically allows it.

            The employer must pay all holiday pay owing to the employee in their final pay.”


          2. Flynn*

            Oh, and there’s a ‘stand down’ period of 13 weeks before you can claim a benefit if you just quit for no particular reason.

          3. Yvi*

            I’m nor sure I understand the question… You mean if someone just walks away from work?

            Then the employer could then sue you because you didn’t fulfill your contract.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              In practice, though, is anyone really sued for not giving enough notice? I’m having trouble believing it would be worth an employer’s time and expense to sue because someone gave one week’s notice instead of four.

                1. Flynn*

                  Well, a) you’d know it existed so would plan it into things (and if it was the standard you wouldn’t be expected to just leave by most people for new jobs or anything, so there wouldn’t be that imperative) and b) you still have the option of TALKING to the employer.

                  I mean, it guarantees that you get paid for the remaining four weeks (in this case). I’d rather have that security than worry about the very rare cases where I might want to move on faster.

        2. Lily*

          at will is scary, but it is also scary in a different way to work in a country with strong employment laws. For example, if 2 years is the maximum time you are allowed to work for an employer on a limited rather than permanent contract, then the employer is likely to replace you after 2 years rather than give you a permanent contract. And if that employer is the state government, you have to move to a different state to get another of the same sort of position. The law was recently changed to 6 years, but a lot of fluctuation every year is for this reason rather than either the boss or employee being unhappy.

  19. Anonymous*

    Re #4:

    If you are interested simply apply. From my experience as an HR/hiring person, e-mailing in your resume is always the preferred method by hiring managers unless the ad specifically states otherwise (and as long as your e-mail address isn’t When you e-mail it we have copies that can easily be accessed, reprinted, and distributed. Driving to an office to drop off your application is typically a waste of your time, as you would just be delivering it to a receptionist who has little input in the hiring decision. And definitely do NOT state you have an appointment with HR/hiring manager so you can hand deliver the application. When these people manage to finagle their way into the HR department it is creepy and inappropriate… it does NOT make a good impression!

    While we know you are trying to be thorough, e-mails asking for application delivery preferences, who to address the cover letter to, etc. are honestly just annoying because they are really just trivial things that make little to no impact on your candidacy, and we receive hundreds of e-mails.

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