short answer Sunday — 6 short answers to 6 short questions

It’s short answer Sunday — six short answers to six short questions. Here we go…

1. A former employee left large furniture in our office

One of our employees left three months ago and left a piece of large furniture in our office. We need to get rid of it, but based on my experience with this employee, I am 99% sure the property will probably still be in our office months from now even though we have requested repeatedly that it be moved. What do you recommend doing in this situation?

Send her a letter telling her that if she hasn’t contacted you to make arrangements for its removal by the end of this week, you will be disposing it yourself — and then do so. You’re not obligated to store it for her — give her a deadline for removing it, and have it removed yourself if she misses the deadline. Done.

2. Should this job be on my resume?

I’m writing a new resume for applicable positions in the advertising world (where I have worked since 2008). From 2006-2008, I was a case manager at an AIDS group (for patients, helping them manage life tasks). Should that job be on my resume now? I’ve had people tell me both yes and no.

Yes. Who the hell is telling you no?!

3. My boss won’t let me advance from my current role

I’ve been in my current role and company for 18 months, but have worked for my boss for four years — when she moved to a new company, she headhunted me a couple of months later. I have a great deal of respect for her, and she has made it very clear that I’m an integral part of our department. My work is highly specialised and my boss and her boss have both indicated that they would find it very difficult were I to leave. Unfortunately, this is severely limiting my chances for advancement — because they don’t want to let me out of my current niche!

This has left me feeling really frustrated, and I’ve been casually keeping an eye on job websites and have just had an initial interview with another company offering a higher pay grade and a leadership role. They’ve invited me to move forward to the second stage.

I like the company I work for, my team, and my boss — I just hate feeling as stuck as I am. I would absolutely be open to negotiating with my boss for some terms and a development plan that would leave me feeling happier staying with this company; however, I definitely don’t want to make it sound like it’s “give me what I want or I quit,” which is not my attitude at all. Do you think it’s a good idea to try and negotiate with my boss around this (very promising-sounding) potential role, and if so, when would be a good stage in the recruitment process to do so?

Well, you’ve only been in your job for 18 months. That’s not a long time, and definitely not enough to be feeling stuck. If you’d been there for a few years more and weren’t being given chances for advancement, I’d tell you to talk to your boss and tell her that you want to stay with the company long-term but want to understand what the path for advancing there would look like. But it’s been 18 months. You could still talk to her about likely paths for growth, but I’d avoid sounding impatient or like you think you should be moving faster than you are.

If you do talk to her, leave this other job out of it. You should take or not take that one on its own merits, but using it to get a better offer from your current employer very often doesn’t end well.

4. Negotiating vacation time

I may be in a position to negotiate a job offer soon. The job would offer me a significant increase in salary, to which I’d be Demi Moore from the movie where she’s swimming on the bed of money. Not really. But I’m willing to take a hit on salary in order to add a week more of vacation. It’s a new company for me and 2 weeks is the standard. Is there a best way to go about this?

Some companies will let you negotiate vacation time and some won’t. You won’t know which you’re dealing with until you ask — so just ask and see what they say. I’d say something like, “I currently have four weeks of vacation time. I’m really excited about this job, but I wonder if it’s possible to get an additional week of vacation. I’d be willing to adjust the salary accordingly.”

Good luck, and enjoy your bed of money!

5. Titles on resumes

I’m trying to figure out a resume formatting question.. My last job before my current position was a director position – but I had a title change in the middle. I was hired as an assistant director, but the two people who were also heads of departments in my group were directors, and two months in I went to my boss and asked for the title change to more accurately reflect what was going on. She agreed it made sense and readily pushed it through.

I don’t want to call myself a director for the entire period because I wasn’t, but there’s no reason to label it differently on the resume because it was exactly the same job. I also don’t think it was an accomplishment to ask for and get the title change. Any thoughts on how to list it?

Eh, I’d just list it as director for the whole time. You got the title two months in; no one is going to have an issue with you listing it that way for the way time.

6. How to be a great employee

I absolutely loved the “you might be the problem if….” post. I have been reading AAM for about a year and I have already learned so much. Sadly, I have realized some areas where I need to improve as an employee. I was wondering if you had any past blog posts that summarized what it means to be a great employee. For example, you say good managers give measurable goals and give regular feedback, etc. I would love the same type of summary for employees.


{ 60 comments… read them below }

  1. Jamie*

    Who brings furniture to work? Is this a thing?

    I could take home all my personal property out of my office in my purse and free hand.

    I have seen people with tons of crap and I always wonder about if they were terminated how much worse it would be to spend an hour packing to move.

    I’ve never seen furniture, though.

    1. Rana*

      I know some professors who brought comfy chairs to their offices (but these were senior folk with tenure who’d been there for 20 years and weren’t going anywhere soon). Other than that, I’ve only seen furniture “accessories” – lamps, rugs, pictures, plants, that sort of thing.

    2. Anonymous*

      People in my office bring furniture. I personally managed to scrounge a love seat and coffee table from people who moved on and didn’t want it. We don’t have a habit of suddenly firing people, though; on the rare occasions people have done something shocking and gotten fired on the spot, I think their personal possessions are the least of their worries. But by and large there’s enough work that has to be packed uP and transitioned that a bit of time spent packing personal possessions is a minor concern.

    3. Kat M*

      I work in a small (read: cash-strapped) non-profit. If I want my space to include anything aside from the bare necessities, it’s up to me to provide it. So I have some furniture there: a lamp, a bookshelf, a chair, that sort of thing.

      1. Jamie*

        I learn so much here. I had no idea people did this. For those wo don’t mind it might be kind of cool…more personal and less merely utilitarian.

        1. Kat M*

          It is kind of nice, actually. I picked up a really cool looking mirror at a yard sale when the weather was warmer. I fixed it up and brought it to work, and now clients always comment on how nice it is. When decor isn’t in the budget, I feel like it’s worth taking time to make things attractive anyway. After all, I’m the one who has to spend the most time there! :)

      1. Vicki*

        I’ve brought in lamps. I also had a nice little foam couch (love seat size) that I used at several jobs. It fit into a cubicle, was light enough for two people to carry easily, fit into an elevator, and folded out into a futon (a co-worker slept on it once or twice when he had to work late).

        I have a friend who brought in a la-z-boy chair. A comfy chair is great for sitting in to proof and edit documents.

        1. Editor*

          I’m trying to imagine bringing in upholstered furniture into my old office, where the mice occasionally and the cockroaches regularly came out to play at night.

    4. Oxford Comma*

      I have a small table, a lamp, and various pictures, knick knacks. I work for a state institution — if you want anything that isn’t from 1985, it’s up to you to bring it in.

    5. Elizabeth*

      When two members of our department were terminated suddenly, they were walked out without an opportunity to pack. During the next weekend & week, we came in and packed them up in the off hours, so that they didn’t have to.

      I admit it: I nest. But, I don’t have any furniture that the office hasn’t provided. I do have a lot of small toys, because people walk into my office, sit down and start playing with the toys. And they talk. And we solve problems while they create odd little dioramas with the stuffed animals. One, I took apart as soon as my colleague left, because I was concerned that someone else would see what he has put together. Hippos & fish just don’t have those sorts of relationships.

      I also have a miniature Japanese sand garden on my bookshelf. That is the “I need to change the pattern of the day” item that I can play with when things are going to heck in a handbasket.

          1. Jamie*

            And if it’s not a problem with the hippo and fish than people should be more tolerant.

            Did Kermit and Miss Piggy teach us nothing about how inter-species relationships can work?

    6. Jen in RO*

      A couple of months ago, our chairs were really old and crap, so a couple of people bought themselves better chairs (and some got them as birthday presents from the coworkers). Since then, everyone got new chairs so this probably won’t happen anymore. But if I had to leave, I’d definitely need more than a box. I brought a bunch of my own office supplies, I have my red angry bird, my stash of sweets, my hand cream and various other cosmetics…

    7. Neeta*

      I think it depends on how strict company policy is. Ours forbids us from bringing/taking anything into office, without prior managerial approval. I doubt anyone’d go through such a hassle…

    8. Anon*

      Yes. I’ve seen people nest at work, and come layoff day, they were there for hours packing, through their tears. How fun.

      As I too suffered a layoff, I now operate in survival mode. I don’t bring anything in that can’t be put in a paper box and carried out.

      Nothing against people who do nest…I just can’t do it. I focus on creating a lovely nest at home.

      1. tangoecho5*

        I don’t nest either. My personal preference is to limit stuff to things that can easily fit in a tote bag. I’ve never been fired or laid off so it’s not that I want very little there in case I need to clear out quickly. I just don’t like clutter at work nor do I find tons of crap around me comforting. Though it’s not that way at my home. I look at some of my co-workers desks and shudder. So much stuff – it would take a whole day to pack that stuff up.

      2. Long Time Admin*

        Yeah, when my best friend got laid off, it took her a couple of hours to pack her cubicle. She had a lot of art objects and they had to be wrapped, and everyone was coming into her cube to help/cry.

        I don’t have anything here I would mind leaving behind, except for some cd’s.

    9. JessB*

      I’ve never seen furniture in an office either, but personally I never bring anything I couldn’t take home in a foldout bag I keep in my handbag. I have worked for years as a temp, and although I just signed a contract for 9 months, I don’t think it’s bad to keep the personal items to a minimum.

      Having said that, I visited a colleague in another building recently, and his office was stuffed full of fascinating mementoes relating to his work in prisons and with law enforcement around the world. It was the coolest office I’ve ever seen. But as someone else said, he’s a professor with tenure, he’s not going anywhere in a hurry anyway.

      One last thing, we had a temp start with us about 3 weeks ago, who nested way too fast. Friday was her last day, although she didn’t know it, and she left some things behind. Now we have to work out how to get them back to her. I would never have done this so early on, certainly not with anything I cared about.

  2. Jamie*

    #4 – if it were me I’d just ask for the vacation without offering to adjust salary – unless they balk.

    I’ve worked where no way are you negotiating vacation and I’ve worked at another place where I just mentioned I had more at my previous job and they upped it before I finished the sentence – no salary adjustment.

    Don’t give up anything unless you have to.

    1. PEBCAK*

      Beat me to it. Just ask outright; if they can’t negotiate vacation, you don’t want them knowing you’d work for less :-)

    2. Denis K.*

      Thanks so much for the response!! I’ve never been in this position and wanted as much exposure as possible. Fantastic!!

    3. Blue Dog*

      I definitely wouldn’t voluntarily give us salary without being asked to do so. Plus, there is always the issue about the vacation time that you have the books and the amount that you will actually be able to take.

      I have worked at many, many places where it really didn’t matter if you were given two weeks, three weeks, or six weeks because no one was ever able to get away. (Not sure how to address this issue in an interview – especially with a start up with no set corporate culture yet.)

    4. BeenThere*

      Yay, thanks for this question. I too was going to offer to take less salary for extra leave and now I won’t :)

      I haven’t gotten to the point of negotiating yet and am so happy to see people talking about negotiating leave as it is a deal breaker for me to only have two weeks. I come from a culture where it is government mandated to have at leave 20 days PTO and 10 days sick/etc leave.

  3. Jen*

    #2 – absolutely leave it on your resume! You probably picked up alot of transferable skills from that job too.. account management? project management? relationship building? All of those are transferable to a different field.

    1. Kat M*

      Exactly. Plus, you never know when having worked with a specific population will score you points. I got one of my current jobs largely because I mentioned (in my awesome cover letter!) having worked with HIV+ individuals before. The organization I was applying to knew I would feel comfortable around their clients and, more importantly, wouldn’t make their clients feel uncomfortable. So they gave me the job, even though people with more work experience applied for the same position.

      1. Garrett*

        On the flip side, there is still unfortunately a stigma about HIV and AIDS with some people and groups. I volunteer with an organization that helps the poor with HIV and we have the occasional donor withdraw once they find out what we’re all about. It’s sad and pathetic but it’s there. That may be where the “no”s are coming from. Still, I’d leave it because most people aren’t that way and I think the good outweighs any issues.

      2. Michele*

        Thanks – I agree that it should stay. I had previously been told to remove anything “unrelated” to my current career, which in this case is advertising. Leaving it on definitely humanizes my resume a little, as it was a job I felt passionate about and it was my first “real” job. Should the time come, it will give me a topic in interviews.

  4. AP*

    Post suggestion for AAM – a refresher on what *should* go on your resume since you no longer have an objective or references! It’s amazing how many people never mention that they have a 10-years-running volunteer gig or that their hobby makes up an essential part of the job because ‘oh I don’t get paid for it so I didn’t think it counted…’

  5. A Bug!*

    #2 – My gut feeling is that the “no” answers are coming from people who have some baggage when it comes to AIDS. Folks whose understanding of AIDS is heavily misinformed, and who would see helping AIDS patients as a sign of a moral failing or some sort of taint.

    I can’t really think of any other reason that a person would think it should be left off a resume. OP, have you asked for these people’s reasoning behind their advice? If you’re comfortable sharing I’m super-curious about it.

    1. Garrett*

      Sorry Bug, I posted my comment above before seeing yours. I agree with you totally. Maybe the OP will provide more info.

    2. GeekChic*

      I actually don’t find the “leave it off” comments at all surprising. Why? Because for some people AIDS = gay / lesbian, and those people are evil. (Yes I have heard LGBT people called “evil” – frequently).

      I’ve also been “accused” of being lesbian multiple times because I have short hair and work in IT (both, apparently, not feminine enough to qualify as straight). My response of “And what if I were?” earned me a beating at work only 5 years ago.

      The world is still very homophobic. Even in North America.

      1. Laura L*

        “earned me a beating”

        Like, a real, physical beating? Or was that a metaphor for a verbal attack?

        1. GeekChic*

          As in real physical beating that left me hospitalized for a week and with broken bones. My co-worker was fired and seemed shocked because “fags deserve to be beaten” (to use his words).

      2. Michele*

        Hi.. I’m super gay, so that’s not even an issue. I’m out at work, and in Los Angeles there’s really no issue there. Hiding doesn’t help anyone.
        in response to some of the other comments – the AIDS stigma doesn’t apply either, in this case :)

    3. Michele*

      The reasoning I heard was just that if it wasnt related to your line of work, it just muddied the water. I’m glad to now hear so much the opposite!

  6. COT*

    #3: I’d be interested in hearing why OP believes that her boss won’t let her advance. Has she said explicitly, “We can’t afford to lose you in this role so we’ll never offer you anything else?” If not, you might be misreading the situation.

    I have also been in roles that I feel aren’t going anywhere, and I’ve struggled to know if I should be patient or jump ship. It sounds like OP has a good relationship with her boss, so I wonder if she can ask about this. Just frame it as, “I’m interested in what you see as eventual career path for me here. Do you see any opportunities for new challenges in the next few years?” Make it about the long term, not the next six months, and see where the conversation goes.

  7. BW*

    #3 – She’s been working for the same boss for 4 years, so even though she’s been with this company 18 months, I think that’s long enough in this case to feel stuck, especially if she’s been doing the same thing more or less for 4 years.

    I got pigeon-holed at an early job, because I was good at what I was doing. Fortunately my boss did go to bat for me when I spoke with her, and made a plan to give me some different responsibilities and then went to bat for me when I wanted to transition roles, despite all kinds of drama and office politics. I didn’t use another job as leverage. I hadn’t seriously started looking yet. I approached her first because I liked where I was working, and there were other opportunities to grow within my group.

    1. Mike B.*

      It’s even worse than just working for the same boss for all that time (which in some industries can happen by mere coincidence)–she was actually headhunted to leave her former job. I’d consider that an implicit promise that she’d begin the new job with some de facto seniority. Who would ask someone to make a lateral move with no hope of timely advancement?

      1. Katie*

        I can see a lot of managers asking someone to make a lateral move with no hope of any advancement. They think, “We have a great relationship, they’re good at what they do, why wouldn’t they want to keep doing this?” It sounds silly, but some people honestly don’t think a lot further than that.

  8. anon in tejas*


    this is not uncommon.

    I would suggest sending the letter certified mail and first class. If you send it certified you can get written signature proof that it was signed for. If it is returned, and the first class is not, then you have proof that it was received. It may take longer than 1 week to deliver the certified so, I would push out the date that you would get rid of the furniture accordingly.

    Legally, certified mail is the notification that most courts would look for. Email/regular mail is normally not sufficient to constitute notice under the law.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think it’s necessary to do that though — it’s abandoned property at this point. It’s highly unlikely to lead to a legal situation.

      1. A Bug!*

        Very unlikely, unless the ex-employee is overly litigious and really unreasonable. And for a variety of reasons even if the ex-employee wanted to do something in small-claims it would take very little effort to make it go away.

        Just keep a copy of any letters or e-mails sent, and keep a memo noting any attempts to contact by phone. Even that will likely be overkill, but it’s a very small amount of work for insurance against any potential frivolous suit.

      2. RG*

        Disposal of abandoned property without notice, or holding for a certain amount of time can lead to legal issues, if there are statutes regarding such in your state. Mostly they refer to residential rental situation (landlord/tenant), but someone might try to extend it here. So, send something to last known address to CYA.

      3. anon in tejas*

        the excerpt doesn’t say how the employee left. obviously someone resigning and being in good standing would be different than someone fired. This happened before at my old office, and this was the course of action that lead to a result. It sounds like the person got repeated communication and deadlines that didn’t work. Escalating seriousness denotes likelihood of follow through by the former employer.

        also, there might be legal issues if pending unemployment claim/retaliation.

        1. Anonymous*

          AAM, thanks for answering my question!

          The employee did leave under strained circumstances and we are still the middle of a settlement about the departure. So it’s a bit more sensitive than usual. Luckily one of our colleagues has offered to transport the thing so it may be out of our office soon without the need for further communication.

  9. THE FLY*

    #3 – I have to say, 18 months is long enough, especially since you’ve known your supervisor for years. And I really do understand it’s hard to be patient at this point. But like AAM said, absolutely talk with her, and still investigate the other position some more. You manager doesn’t need to know about that…

    Just for curiosity’s sake, did you talk about advancement when she hired you on? I ask because I am in a very similar situation myself.

  10. pidgeonpenelope*

    #6. So last week, I was late coming back from lunch by 10 minutes (I’m hourly). And the week before, I was late coming from lunch by 10 minutes. Normally, I’m punctual. Embarrassed and ashamed, I emailed my boss and confessed that I saw there was an issue, I know why the problem occurred, how to fix it and assured her it wouldn’t be an issue going forward. She emailed me thanking me for being proactive. I was worried I didn’t do the right thing, and that maybe I shouldn’t have said anything, until I read your list of how to be a good employee. Now I know I did the right thing.

  11. Anonymous*

    Was #3 only doing this specific work for 18 months or for the full 4 years? I think if it’s the latter, that’s a little different. Either way, she should talk to her manager and NOT use the other job as leverage.

    Out of curiosity, how would you handle a manager who honestly does try to trap their employees? I have come across a few who are loathe to see their people move up and on, and at least one who told some employees in very junior roles that they would block any attempts for the employees to be moved into other roles because the employees were too valuable where they were. Thankfully, these have not been my managers, but I’m curious how to handle this. Find another job? Reach out directly to other managers?

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