terse answer Thursday — 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s terse answer Thursday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go.

1. Asking job candidates, “Tell me about yourself”

I am a manager for a small nonprofit organization and I am responsible for a lot of the hiring that we do. I feel like saying, “Tell me about yourself” is a pretty standard entry point for initial phone screenings, and I always assumed that a standard answer would include a brief summary of where you are from (if you feel comfortable sharing that), where you went to school, and maybe a general overview of the most recent roles that you’ve played or (depending on your experience) a brief description of your overall career trajectory that explains how you got to where you are.

Today I interviewed two candidates for an opening we have. One gave me a 30-minute-long dialogue about her education, her very first job (she has several years of experience and several positions on her resume), and her master’s degree experience, without telling me anything about what she is doing currently or what she has done since 2010. The second completely skipped over her education and early work experience altogether to discuss what she’s been doing for the last 10 months (she finished a master’s degree in August 2011). This had me wondering, both as an interviewer as well as from a candidate’s perspective, is there a better way to ask, “tell me about yourself?” And also, is there a preferred or more helpful way to answer that question?

Personally, I don’t ask it. You rarely get information that isn’t on the resume — and in fact, if you look at what you say you’re expecting in an answer, it’s all stuff you already know from reading the candidate’s materials (minus where they’re from, which isn’t really useful anyway). But if you’re going to ask it, I definitely wouldn’t ask it in phone interviews — since they’re usually much shorter than in-person interviews, and you presumably have a slate of questions that you want to get through, and thus want to be more directive in how the conversation goes than “tell me about yourself” might allow.

But why ask it at all? I know some interviewers think it’s a good softball opener, but why not ask something like, “So, what interested you about this opening?” to start off with?

(And while we’re on the topic, here’s how I recommend candidates respond to “tell me about yourself.”)

2. Fingernail length in job interviews

I’ve read on your blog somewhere that nails should be neatly filed and slightly over the tip of your finger in length. However, I’m an art hobbyist, and I have to keep my nails very short to keep them from digging into my palm (thanks to my awkward handling of pencils). While I can keep them neat and tidy, they’re lacking in length. Is this going to be an issue with interviewers? Are they going to look at my nails and write me off immediately? I’d hate to give up a hobby for the sake of pleasing interviewers. Thank you for your advice!

You didn’t read me say that they need to be slightly over the tip of your finger. I could give a crap about the length of your nails, as long as they’re not disgustingly long or grossly jagged. Don’t worry about having short nails — no one will care.

3. Can I be fired for refusing to work when I’m not getting paid?

If your employer is consistently cutting you paychecks that bounce, are you required to work? Can you be fired if you decline to work shifts until paid?

There are two separate issues here: the bouncing paychecks, and whether you can be fired for refusing to work. You could indeed by fired for refusing to work, although you’d be eligible for unemployment because not being paid is a qualifying reason for leaving a job in their eyes (and in everyone else’s eyes). But separately, your employer is required to pay you for your work within a period of time dictated by your state government (usually a few weeks or less). If you’re not being paid, and you’d like your money, contact your state department of labor for help.

4. Can I get in trouble for leaving work early because of snow?

I made a judgement on the snow conditions and left work early on Friday, as I was afraid I would not make it home. Plus, I hate driving in the snow and bad weather conditions. Can I get into trouble for this?

Legally? Sure. Will you in practice? It depends on your employer’s policies and/or culture and/or how your manager handle these things.

5. Should I wear a suit when I go for job testing?

I am a recent graduate, and I have been invited to a 2-hour literacy and numeracy test for a government job. This is the first “big girl” job I’ve applied to and had a response, so naturally, I’m quite nervous! I don’t doubt my capabilities in literacy and numeracy, but I do wonder what I should be wearing to the said test. I’ve taken you up on your advice on purchasing a nice suit, much to the teary-eyed joy of my parents, so would I be correct in assuming that I should be wearing this to the test? I don’t know if there will be anyone present who will judge my physically appearance as an applicant there, but I’d like to know for sure before I under/overdress.

Wear the suit. Even if you’re overdressed compared to other applicants, you’ll stand out for being professional, not for being over-dressed, and that’s a good thing. Employers who like suits — and the government falls in that category — appreciate it when people wear them to professional functions even when they don’t have to.

6. Our last bathroom question for a very long time

I have a simple question, but to me confronting the issue is terrifying. I am a supervisor, and I have only two employees. Every time I go into the staff bathroom, the toilet is disgusting to say the least. How do I confront the issue without embarrassing anyone? I am tired of cleaning up other people’s mess so I can go to the bathroom. We do not have a cleaning staff.

Why terrified? You have to deal with far more difficult conversations as a manager. Plus, anyone leaving the bathroom in these conditions has no shame anyway, so there’s no need to worry about embarrassing them.

Either send an email to your staff or post a sign in the bathroom, instructing people to clean up after themselves. Also, consider hiring cleaning staff.

And thus ends our bathroom discussions for a very long time, because I can’t take any more of them.

7. What to wear to a job interview when you have a cast on your leg

I’m a man who recently graduated with a masters degree in economics and am in the process of applying for jobs. A couple of weeks ago, I had the misfortune of rupturing my achilles, requiring a cast from my toes up to my knee. None of my dress pants will fit over the cast so I have been trying, without success, to find information about the right dress code for a job interview under the circumstances. The only thing that I have at the moment that fit over the cast are blue sweatpants. What would you do?

If only you were a woman and could wear a skirt, this would be so much easier. Is there any chance you can find some wider-legged dress pants that will fit over the cast? If not, tell them your situation ahead of time, sound embarrassed, and ask if you’ll make a horrible impression if you show up in the only pants that will fit over your cast, which unfortunately aren’t normal business attire. If they’re at all normal, compassionate, reasonable people, they will say it’s completely fine, and that will be that. (If for some reason they balk, take that as a signal that you’d be working with jerks if you took this job.) Also, make sure that the sweatpants you wear are as nice as possible — don’t wear the kind with elastic at the ankle, for instance. Good luck!

{ 146 comments… read them below }

  1. Josh S

    #2: Not sure where you read that, but I cannot imagine it was on this blog. The only fingernail-related posts I can even think of involve the odd penchant that some crazyfolk have of leaving their fingernail clippings in their desk drawer. (Sorry to bring up disgusting memories…maybe should have offered a trigger warning?)

    Seriously though, if someone is looking at your hands closely enough to tell the length of your fingernails, they’re clearly not interviewing you on things that matter. Forget your anxiety on this regard.

    1. OP #2

      Thanks for the comment! I’m now sat wondering if I had read in the comments of a blog post on here, and not from Alison herself.

      Regardless, I’m very relieved that I don’t have to be concerned about it. Now to worry about everything else… :o)

      1. Rana

        I can imagine an employer caring about it if your nails are nasty looking, or if they’re so long they might get in the way of one’s required tasks, but short tidy nails?

        (I also have short nails for craft-related reasons – I do pottery sometimes, and hate nicking the clay with them. What craft do you do, if you’re willing to share?)

      2. Jen in RO

        My nails are crap and they break/exfoliate very easily. I’ve been trying to grow them out for years and it doesn’t work. If I ever run into an interviewer that cares about nails that much, I’m screwed!

          1. Jen in RO

            Honestly I don’t really understand the difference between gel, acrylic and… whatever else exists. I know that for some (all?) of them you get your nail bed filed and that sounds really damaging… and I don’t like the look of some/all these techniques – when they put the fake tip and fill it in with something, it looks like your nail is unnaturally rounded on top, if that makes sense. I’m really a newbie when it comes to all this…

            1. Jamie

              Whether you like the look of artificial nails is a personal thing, of course – but for those who do acrylics are slightly cheaper and more opaque…they also tend to break more easily.

              Gels are a little more expensive but I have never had one chip or break. I only do mine a couple of times a year though – the rest of the time I’m sporting short nails.

            2. Erin

              I’m like you; my nails are genetically very weak and they curl and tear if they’re allowed to grow past the tips of my fingers. My mom’s are seriously paper-thin, the thinnest nails I’ve ever seen. It honestly doesn’t bother me. For one thing, at least for me, I think it’s a little bit more hygienic to keep them super short; it’s amazing how much gunk collects almost immediately underneath my nails if they’re any length at all. Plus, cosmetically I think short nails are a nice, clean look. I even like the way they look with bright nail polish (although I usually don’t bother). Because there’s less surface area, I think you can use much more dramatic colors without risking overdoing it. So anyway, I say embrace them!

      3. Jamie

        I get mine done every so often, for me – not long but french…but it never occurred to me that anyone else would care.

        As everyone else said – as long as they are neat and clean – and if you wear polish it’s not chipped – other than that I can’t imagine short nails ever being an issue.

    2. Long Time Admin

      This whole thing about the length of one’s fingernails started way back in the 70’s. It was fashionable then to have very long nails, but the got in the way of typing (on an electric typewriter). Secretaries and typists were making loads of mistakes because their nails would hit the wrong keys. There was no backspace-and-correct in those days – the paper would be pulled out of the typewriter and thrown away, and the typist would have to begin again. A lot of typists didn’t catch their mistakes, and bosses would proofread the documents and find all these errors. That’s what led to fingernail length being added to dress code policies. All of us who typed for a living were advised (not commanded) to keep our nails shorter, which was more professional looking. There was never a problem with too-short nails, unless a chronic nail-biter bit too far down and there was blood (ick!).

      OP should have no problem with short nails, as long as they’re clean.

        1. Elizabeth West

          LOL I was a kid back then but I remember the whole pants vs. skirts thing. I thought it was dumb that you couldn’t wear pants, because what if it was cold? Kid logic…

          1. Long Time Admin

            I lived in Wisconsin, and the first year of work, I walked there and back. I wore slacks and changed at work. Great big P.I.A. In fact, that’s what I did when I was in high school, too. I was happy when legwarmers came into fashion.

            Now I wear jeans and shirts to work. Ha!

          2. Chinook

            I actually had this conversation with an employer in Japan as an ESL teacher in 1997. It was considered groundbreaking that we in Hokkaido (the most northern island with climate similar to Canada) were allowed by our company to wear pant suits to work instead of skirts and dresses the year I started at my company. Those farther south of us still had to wear skirts, though, and we were “encouraged” to wear them when there was no snow on the ground.

            After they announced that women were allowed to wear pants to work, a mini lesson then had to be given to our bosses about why all the British teachers thought that this was the most hilarious rule they had ever hear of (pants = underwear in UK English).

      1. Jamie

        Ah – the 70’s. My mom was a nurse and she was never able to get through an episode of M*A*S*H without commenting that Hoolihan’s nails were far too long to be acceptable for any medical professional.

      2. fposte

        Now you made me curious, and I can announce to a hushed world that the IBM Correcting Selectric made its debut in 1973. I didn’t see one until the 1980s myself and I thought they were freaking genius.

      3. Kelly O

        I personally keep mine shorter because it’s much, much easier to type. The longest mine ever get is just a little past fingertip length, and nine times out of ten they wind up breaking not much after that. I keep them right around fingertip, and buffed, not polished. It’s simpler for me.

        I do sometimes think about playing with colors, but I think about all the color streaks it puts on paper, or how after a sink of dishes they’re all messed up again, so I just buff them and go on about my merry way.

  2. EngineerGirlUK

    A light aside for #7 Have you considered reviving your Scots/Irish heritage and wearing a kilt to the interview?

    1. Sascha

      I would love to see a kilt in an interview! :) But only a nice dress kilt, none of this “utili-kilt” nonsense.

      1. Cathy

        If I was in a position to hire someone, and an interviewee showed up in a kilt? All other interviews would be cancelled immediately :)

    2. Gene

      As someone who wears a kilt nearly full time, barring below mid-30F temps and at work (uniform pants required), I highly recommend one. And I do wear a Utilikilt Mocker http://www.utilikilts.com/company/products/kilts/mocker/ with a blazer, looks stunning according to my wife. Judge for yourself; https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1656272818907&set=t.1599690880&type=3&theater .

      Since I haven’t interviewed in over 20 years, I’ve never had the occasion to interviewed kilted; and I’m hoping I never do. :-)

      1. Sascha

        Alright, alright, I guess that particular utilikilt is okay. Just not the camo ones with cargo pockets. :) Also, your beard is giving you some serious badass points right now.

          1. Gene

            My day to day wear is the Survival kilt from them, with cargo pockets. But never camo, no one is shooting at me, so I don’t need to hide.

            That reminds me, I think they are having a sale right now on the Mocker and I need a new one, I sold my old ones after losing 60 pounds because they didn’t fit. I’m currently down to one Survival.

      2. Natalie

        I may need to buy one of those for my partner, who is legendary among men I know for his hatred of pants.

  3. Erica

    One alternate (albeit a more expensive one) for #7 is to get a pair of reasonably priced dress pants and have a tailor alter them to fit the cast. Could widen one leg, cut it short, or maybe install buttons or a zipper down the inseam so the pants could be fastened around the cast.

    1. Blinx

      You could also try just opening up the seam at the bottom on a pair of pant that you already have, just enough to get the opening past the ankle. I wore a knee-high cast for a few months, and was surprised that all of my dress pants fit (I’m a girl) if I could just get them over that blobby ankle part. Also, to look more professional, I bought a pair of thick black tights and cut one leg off to slip over as a cast “sleeve”, so it wasn’t gleaming white. Good luck on the interview!

      1. Lore

        I had to do the seam thing with a broken ankle years ago. If you have a tailor open the seam properly, they should be able to restore it later as well. The flapping pant leg is a little annoying but Yvette than the alternative!

      2. EngineerGirl

        I agree wth Blinx. My Mom opened up the seam of my Dad’s pants when he ended up in a walking cast. The seam opening was only for a few inches so the pant still looked OK. If you’re really paranoid you could have a tailor install a hidden zipper in the pant leg like a lot of ski pants have. It is barely discernable.

    2. fposte

      Or, if budget is tight, get a decent pair from Goodwill and just slice them. You’ll get cut a lot of slack for a cast.

      1. Victoria HR

        Agreed. Get a cheaper pair that still look nice and either slice them or cut them short. It’s not like the interviewer won’t know why, and it’ll give you a good conversational starting point for the interview.

    3. Kimberlee, Esq.

      What I’m wondering is, if the only thing he has that fits over the cast is sweat pants, what will he wear to work? You must have *something* better than that to wear to the interview, because you don’t want to broadcast during an interview that you plan to wear sweatpants every day at work!

      1. V

        Agreed. I think the sweatpants could leave a bad impression with an interviewer, as in “he wasn’t creative enough to come up with some type of office-appropriate attire for an interview.” However, I think you have a lot of leeway as to what that solution is – over sized pants, pants with a slice in the back of the calf, pants with one full size leg and one cut off (and hemmed) leg. I think doing something like that could earn you bonus points for solving a problem creatively, and for showing that you take the interview seriously enough that you put in extra effort to dress professionally.

      2. jmkenrick

        He said he had a ruptured Achilles, which I think is usually about 4-8 weeks in a cast. I don’t think he’s planning to spend the rest of his life in sweatpants. :)

        1. Lore

          And unless the job is offered and accepted on the spot, it’s quite possible the cast will be off before he would be likely to begin the job.

  4. Amy

    #7

    Although a very different situation, your question reminded me if when I went to a job interview with a dry cough that I’d been battling for weeks. I wasn’t unwell, I was just coughing all the time (literally every minute or so, particularly when you spend 90 minutes talking almost non stop!). I remember being mortified about this during the interview but like you, I really couldn’t do anything about it. I apologised when I arrived and kept drinking water to try to help it. My interviewers were lovely about it and really, an interviewer should be ok with your issue too if you explain it- it’s not like you’re wearing sweats out of ignorance! I’m sure they’ll understand.

    By the way, I got that job, coughing and all :-)

    Good luck!

  5. Mrs Addams

    #1 Candidates hate this question. It is so open-ended and very unclear as to what a hiring manager wants to hear. Hiring managers have different opinions of what constitutes a good answer and it is nigh-on impossible for a candidate to guess what it is you’re looking for – hence the range of responses you get. Personally, I’d ditch the question altogether, but if you’re determined to ask it then at least give the candidate some pointers as to what you’re looking for. Phrasing it as “Tell me a bit about yourself – where did you go to school, what relevant experience have you got in this industry/role, what have you been doing in the last 5 years?” gives the candidate a solid foundation to build on in their answer.

    1. AdAgencyChick

      I usually say, “Walk me through your resume so I can get a better understanding of your experience.” This usually results in hearing about what the challenges of each position were and how the candidate dealt with them, and other additional details that give me a general idea of the candidate’s qualifications before I go into more detail about seeing the candidate’s portfolio.

      1. Joey

        I used to start out with something similar a long time ago, but over time I found that i got mostly a regurge of the resume and I really didn’t care to hear about the stuff that was not relevant. I’ll admit, it was really helpful when I went into an interview and hadnt prepared real well (I’m not insinuating you don’t prepare), but otherwise it was mostly a waste of time. Now I usually start with “so how did you hear about this job and why did you apply?”

      2. Anonymous

        Oooo, I am stealing that. I have been finding myself asking “tell me about yourself” in phone interviews when what I really want is what you are asking. Is it wrong to see if the person can summarize their experience coherently in a minute or two and speak articulately and professionally?

        1. fposte

          No, but it’s inadvisable to expect that with a question that’s as broad as “Tell me about yourself.” You can also just ask them to give you a quick summary of their experience.

        2. Job seeker

          I wish I had known how to answer this a year ago. I was asked this question and they must have thought I was from Mars. I answered it alright, I told them probably more than they wanted to know. So very embarrassing now. Now, I know what they are really asking and to keep it very short.

          1. Peaches

            #1- everytime an employer asked me that question (I am now employed! yay!) they got a question in response. “what type of things would you like to know about?” or something similar was how I started. I wanted to avoid rambling and “tell me about yourself” is sooooo broad. Are you trying to get a feel for who I am as a person or professionally? Usually professionally…but some people have honestly wanted to know about my character.

            Generally, I just think it’s a horrible question and (this isn’t meant to be taken personally) I really question the communication skills of the person interviewing me if they pull that one out. If you logically consider the billions of possible answers somebody could give you, and that you only want maybe a few of them, why not just ask a question that narrows in on that information?

  6. K.A.T.

    For #7, I love the tailoring ideas above, but if that won’t work, another idea is to see if you can find another cheap pair of dress pants somewhere and cut them off at just under the knee. I bet you could still fit into the cast, especially if you got a size or two larger than normal, and then you can just hem or pin the edge so it’s straight.

    And good luck! I hope you heal quickly.

    1. Sam

      Another option is fabric glue. I’m a fan of Singer’s Sew No More. It’s about $2-3 and available in fabric stores or Amazon. Tends to hold up longer than the tape.

  7. Anonymous

    #1: Had a phone screen once where the interviewer opened with “So what do you want?” which I guess was supposed to me “So what are you looking for/why are you interested in this job and leaving your current one” but was sure an off-putting way of opening the discussion. I was tempted to answer “World peace and a 22 inch waist”.

    1. Long Time Admin

      Ha Ha!! Great answer to a silly question.

      For the “what’s your biggest weakness”, I like to say “parallel parking”.

      1. Jamie

        I am stealing that – because I cannot and will never learn to parallel park. They know not to ask me to pick up lunch unless the place has a lot.

        I am a suburban girl – land of parking lots and drive ways…it’s the one part of working in the city to which I will never acclimate.

        1. Josh S

          How do you survive in Chicago?

          Oh. Right. I seem to recall you saying that a parking lot was a requirement when seeking your current job…

        1. Long Time Admin

          No, but they usually laugh. Then I tell them that I have a tendency to “own” my work, and try to do it all when I should be delegating it. I just can’t let go.

  8. Anonymous

    #6 – May I suggest a visit to passiveaggressivenotes.com for some ideas on bathroom notes in offices :) If nothing else, you will realize that (sadly) you are not alone. In fact, the whole workplace category there is basically awesome:
    http://www.passiveaggressivenotes.com/category/workplace/

    When I feel disgruntled about my office, a quick look at some of these will remind me it could be A LOT worse.

    1. Jamie

      This may be one of the most wonderful websites I’ve ever seen.

      I love you, Anonymous 8:09.

      Like Michelle – I really needed this today.

  9. Andrea

    For #7 – get a pair of dress pants from a thrift store and just cut them up the back of the leg, that way it will drape over the cast.

    1. r

      That’s a really great idea! Also, I’d recommend the OP keep the top half of the outfit very professional (television news anchor style… party on the bottom, work on the top!)

      1. Suz

        “party on the bottom, work on the top” This could start a whole new trend in business attire. The Mullet Suit.

  10. Michael

    I have had success saying something like, “We’ll we’ve had a chance to review your résumé, but why don’t you walk us through the highlights and tell us what brought you to apply for this job.” Candidates usually mention where they’ve gone to school, a few previous jobs that relate to the one at hand, and then say why they applied, and it provides a nice base for the rest of the discussion.

    1. Jamie

      I like asking what brought them to apply for the job. Asking to tell about themselves always feels like filler – but that’s a real question and the answer will be relevant.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Yes! I often say, “So, what led you to apply for this position?” Some people answer that by explaining why they’re interested in it, but some people also explain why they’re looking in the first place (why they’re leaving/left their job), which is also interesting insight.

    2. BR

      Any suggestions as to how one might tactfully respond when they are simply trying to find a better employer? Let’s say the move is lateral or might bring a cut in pay, so I did not apply for the “opportunity for more responsibility.”

      1. Jane Doe

        I think you could answer it in terms of what attracted you to the position or to the company (that was maybe lacking at your previous job). For example, if you’re interviewing at a place that seems more “collaborative” (and more laid back/less stuffy/less “corporate”, which is maybe the real attribute you’re looking for in an employer), you can talk about that because it’s something positive about the potential employer. Or if the job contains more of doing _____ (which is the part of your current job you really enjoy), say that.

        #7 – Too bad they don’t make flared dress pants for men any more.

        1. danr

          If you’re thinking of the bell bottoms, that wouldn’t work, since the pants narrowed just before the flare. Men’s pants do come in a wider fit along the legs. The trick is not to get anything that says “European” or “fitted”, since those are narrower. Some keywords to look for are “traditional” or “natural”.

      2. jesicka309

        I did an interview yesterday where it would be a cut in pay and responsibility. I said that I was looking for a role that I could learn a lot for, and a lot of scope for progression. I said that there’s nothing worse as a newbie than looking around and seeing that no one has had any new training since they started x year ago, and I really wanted to be in a place where they valued learning and training.
        It went over pretty well I think. :)

          1. jesicka309

            Thanks! I think it went well, she wants me to meet her boss and a potential coworker. She actually said, “Are you free tomorrow? Oh tomorrow is too soon maybe…when do you get back from your holiday? The 4th? I’ll ring you then.”
            If that’s not a positive response I don’t know what is. :)
            Also congrats on your new gig! :D

  11. Anonymous

    #1. “Tell me about yourself.” is a lame opening request. The applicant has all ready done that with a letter and resume. The interviewer should ask specific questions.

    I prefer an open-ended query at the end of the interview: “Maybe I haven’t asked a question you expected I would. Is there anything NOT on your resume & cover letter that you wanted to be sure to tell me?”

    1. AlisonK

      I tend to start off with a 2-parter: “What is it about this particular role, & this particular organisation, that interests you?” – I’m assuming the interviewees know (hope!) we’ve read their CV, & it’s also modelling for the supervisors/managers I’m interviewing with, that they don’t need to do that, “rehash all your experience for me” question.

      At the end of the interview, I usually finish off with something like this, “Is there anything else you would like to let us know about you, maybe something you thought we might ask but haven’t?”

  12. Esra

    I had an interview last week where “Tell about yourself” would have been more than welcome because at least it would have given me some opportunity to get a word in edgewise rather than mull whether I should withdraw myself from consideration entirely.

    Really though, I think the best questions are like those stated above, ask about some of the accomplishments or specific projects listed on the resume. People tend to get the most enthusiastic when talking about big projects they worked on and I think you can get a lot of information out of their work style/ethic/etc from those discussions.

    1. Elizabeth West

      Haha, I had one like that too recently. I didn’t get the job but that’s okay, because I could barely figure out anything about it anyway, from the hiring manager’s blathering. He was nice, though, and gave me a coupon for a free entree at the restaurants the company manages (they own a franchise in addition to being a construction thingy; odd, I know).

  13. Kate

    If I were the last guy, I’d go to good will and pick up some dress slacks for 5 bucks and cut one of the legs short enough to tuck into the top of the cast. But that’s just me. No way I’d wear sweats.

    1. BW

      I really can’t figure out how sweats in any style would not look totally riduculous with a nice shirt and dress shoes. Second all the suggestions for picking up a pair of dress pants at Goodwill and cutting them to get the cast through.

      A friend of mine was able to fit khakis over her cast. I have no idea how. Maybe I should ask and share.

      1. BW

        My friend replied, “I wear fat lady pants. The legs were big enough.”

        So there’s the solution, “fat lady pants”. :D

    2. AnotherAlison

      Should the OP (despite all the great advice here) decide to go with sweat pants, he must wear very supportive compression shorts underneath.

      1. Min

        +1000!

        I’m feeling awfully dense considering that the advice given by everybody seems fairly consistent, but I’m having trouble picturing how one would get their foot past the thigh of the pants leg without being able to point their toes at all (assuming that the cast was done without the toes pointed.)

        1. Jamie

          Thank you for saying this – I thought it was just me.

          I can see if they were tailored to be almost completely split and then hidden snaps put in or something – but I would think pants big enough to let a cast through would look huge on you once they were on.

          I’m glad in in IT – definitely track pants and a little disclaimer/joke and it’s good to go. I can see why wanting to send a different message for a more image conscious position, though.

        2. danr

          Men’s pants are cut differently. See my response above for the different fit types. Plus, if you scrunch up the pants leg, you don’t need to point the foot at all. Good wool will scrunch nicely and not look too wrinkled afterwards.

        3. Lore

          My leg cast was a very long time ago, but my recollection is that it is possible to sort of scrunch up a portion of pants leg and work it around the bend in the cast. Not easy, but possible. Not skinny jeans, obviously, but a straight or wide-leg pant leg did somehow work when slit up to cast height.

          1. fposte

            Yes, that’s what I did. Kind of like you’d put tights on if your ankle were flexed. Obviously the thighs still have to be roomy, but they often are.

          2. Natalie

            I’ve never had a cast, but I’ve done this to put pants on while still wearing shoes. It works fine if you get the scrunch right and aren’t in a huge hurry.

        4. Min

          Thanks, all! It wasn’t the cut so much, but the working the fabric over the cast that I was having trouble envisioning. I got it now. (I’m a lil slow sometimes :D )

  14. Lisa

    My nails are long too, and normally I get the best compliments on them because they natural look like french tips. But they are long, and grow at such an alarming rate that I can’t wear nail polish without having to redo it in a few days to cover what grew. I am type fine, but some people annoying friends tell me that my nails are disgusting simply because they are long. ok, at most, I start ripping them off at 10 millimeters / 1 cm / 1/2 inch. but since they are flexible and don’t break, I don’t have an issue unless I am working out with a bar and they dig into my fist.

    1. fposte

      I had a dear friend, not at all looks conscious, who loved her long, tough, flexible nails and would type with her nails rather than her fingers.

      1. Natalie

        That sounds hard. My nails aren’t super long but they do grow nicely so I keep them longer than a lot of people, and typing mistakes are always my cue to file them down.

      2. Lisa

        I type with my fingers, so I am not using my nails like they are replacement fingers. So maybe the people that nail length annoys are referring to are the ones that use their nails to do tasks like typing with with them / or tapping them / or excessively grooming them with a nail file or painting them or clipping them in public. I don’t do any of that, but some people assume long nails = disgusting based on these perceptions and I am told by perfect strangers that my nails are disgusting. But then I tend to believe mine are fine, because of the positive reactions I get in meetings, or at the mall are so amusing; old ladies grab my hands and tell me I have beautifully long nails while younger women are asking where I get my french manicure. Long doesn’t equal disgusting, and neither does short nails. They just have to look presentable.

        1. fposte

          They are likely to harbor more microorganisms than short nurse nails, so it makes sense that hospitals are getting strict about them. But in the scheme of daily life I suspect it’s not that significant and that we encounter considerably worse in an office kitchen.

          1. Lisa

            Beware of the Keurig machine! It never gets cleaned… Open it up and you will see.

            When I shorten my nails, I tend to attract more dirt and grime but that is just me and I get why hospitals are gong that route.

            1. Jamie

              They aren’t just going this route – my mom became a nurse in the early 70’s and it was a rule for her from the beginning of nursing school.

              1. Elizabeth West

                It used to bug the hell out of me watching later episodes of M*A*S*H, where Loretta Swit had really long nails and I was like “There is no WAY Margaret would do that!”

    2. Elizabeth

      I have a colleague whose pinkie nails grow out and twist. Long nails on their own don’t bug me, but the twist freaks me a out a little.

    1. Jamie

      That’s what I wondered.

      And personally my employer wouldn’t have a chance to consistently bounce my paychecks. They can process my UI the first time they don’t pay me.

      Payroll is a sacred thing – if you can’t afford to pay people you have no business benefiting from their labor. Not for one moment.

      1. fposte

        Fear of it clouding their employment history, maybe? I know we’ve heard of applications that ask if you’ve ever been fired, but I haven’t yet heard of a place that didn’t give you a chance to explain, and any place that thinks “They stopped paying me” isn’t enough to stay home over is probably a bad fit for–well, all humans.

      2. Long Time Admin

        My company is in trouble, and that’s my attitude too – the first time the money is not in my account on payday, I’m out of here.

        I’ll sacrifice for my family, but not my employer.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      I think a lot of people stick around in those situations because they figure it’s temporary and that staying until the money is coming in again will be easier than finding a new job.

      1. Megan

        I’m the writer of this topic. This has happened in the past, but we have always been paid a substantial penalty. The only reason I care about being fired is because its my first year in the field after graduating, and although I’m sure a future employer would understand (if given the chance to explain), I still don’t like that on my résumé. It’s a very selective field. I’m torn on what’s best at this point.

  15. Employment lawyer

    Can I be fired for refusing to work when I’m not getting paid?

    Yes, but you would have a valid suit for retaliation and would also be eligible for unemployment. A general exception to firing an at-will employee is that you can’t fire them for using their specifically protected legal rights. In other words, you can’t fire someone for demanding their pay, or asking to wear safety goggles, and so on.

    4. Can I get in trouble for leaving work early because of snow?
    Yes. You can’t make a unilateral decision regarding working hours, without risking consequences. That decision is reserved for your boss.

    You’re always allowed to ASK to leave, but if you took it on yourself to skip out without permission, that was a dumb move.

    1. Joey

      Ah, but it would be a long shot to prove retaliation since they can probably prove they fire anyone who refuses to work regardless of pay issues. It would only be retaliation if she can prove it was because of the complaint. Of course proximity to the complaint matters, but so does past practice.

      1. fposte

        Employment Lawyer will be the real authority here, but I suspect that firing other people won’t get them off the hook for a retaliation action in this case.

        However, if they don’t have enough money to make payroll, they might be judgment-proof anyway.

        1. Jamie

          Maybe – but it’s worth filing suit anyway, because even if they are cash poor now, if they own the building or assets and have to liquidate I believe employee payroll goes to the top of the debtors list.

        2. Joey

          I don’t know if Employment Lawyer represents employers or employees (I suspect employees). In my experience on the employer side they’d fire him for refusing to work. And it’s really hard to provide strong evidence that you were fired for another reason when you really did refuse to work. And merely having an FLSA claim isn’t strong by itself.

    2. Joey

      I’m also not sure about always being allowed to ASK to leave. If you’re saying you have the right to ask to leave that’s not exactly accurate in most states. Sure you can ask, but there’s nothing that prohibits an employer from taking an adverse employment action if you do (at least in a lot of states). And I can certainly see someone getting in trouble for asking to leave too frequently.

      1. Elizabeth West

        I think it definitely depends on the employer. I had one that called me when we had 18 inches of snow in one day and said, “Don’t even bother coming in.” My last employer made us stay at work til 5 one day when it was snowing and sleeting really bad, and it took me an hour just to get out of the industrial park, and another 30 minutes to make a 10-minute drive home!

        1. Kara

          Agreed. My boss lives far from work so he’ll always err on the side of “let’s get out of here before it gets bad,” because bad weather means it takes him four hours to get home, or some other ridiculous amount of time. It’s also easy for us to work remotely. But I have had other bosses who aren’t so flexible.

    3. danr

      #4… you should find out what your company’s policies are first. At my old company, the whole company would close when the snow storms seemed to be getting bad. In any case, you should clear leaving with your manager.

      1. anon-2

        In some states, non-payment of wages is a felony. Handcuffs. Greybar hotel. Etc. If you’re not getting paid – ask the manager who’s not paying you – “aren’t YOU getting paid?”

        As far as weather goes – yeah, I wouldn’t go into the office one day when a major hurricane strike was imminent. Others did – and then they closed the office – ONCE THE HURRICANE STRUCK! And sent them out to get home, with a full-force hurricane in progress.

        And – I was docked a day’s pay. I stayed home, protected my family and home, and didn’t endanger myself. Sounds like a no-brainer. BTW – those that went in, no brains…

        1. JamieG

          I wouldn’t say the people who went in had no brains; maybe they couldn’t afford to lose a day’s pay. It’s a terrible choice to have to make, but choosing differently doesn’t mean they chose wrong.

  16. Sascha

    #7 – This suggestion assumes that you don’t have to wear something suit-like, so discard if that’s not the case. I was thinking you could get something like hiking trousers. They are light, flexible fabrics and usually very wide legs. Some of them even convert to shorts and you can zip off one knee. You can find them at sports stores. If you got a pair in a dark color and wore it with a nice button down or a button down with a sweater, that could work.

    1. Natalie

      That could be a good idea even if that OP really needs to wear a suit, as the hiking pants would be less jarringly un-business-like than sweatpants would. And if the cast is visible he might not even need to mention why he’s wearing zip-off hiking pants.

      1. Sascha

        Yeah, I was just thinking the fabrics would clash too much, but some hiking pants are thicker and stiffer. Just depends on what you can find. Some are made of materials that is basically super-strength twill, and that could work with a suit jacket.

        1. Natalie

          They probably would clash a bit, but not as bad as sweatpants. And based on hiking pants I’ve seen at REI, the drape of the fabric would be more professional, too.

    2. Verde

      The seam slicing, as suggested a few posts above, works well, too, but to avoid the “flapping” issue, ask the tailor (or yourself, or your nice friend who can sew) to add some elastic looping and a couple of buttons inside the open seam, so that you can bring the sides in tighter but still accommodate the cast. My ma did that for me when I broke my ankle and it worked great, plus she was able to remove it later and re-sew the pants seam once the cast was off.

  17. bearing

    I would just like to say that one of the things I love about this blog is the culture of using useful usernames, such as the consistent “OP” and the many people who answer questions with a username that reflects the reason why they have authority to answer.

    Thanks, Employment Lawyer!

  18. AG

    I have a suggestion for the poster whose checks are bouncing: as soon as you get the check in your hand, run to the issuing bank and cash the check, then go to your bank and deposit the money. My fiance had to do this when he worked for a sketchy boss and his paychecks kept bouncing.

    1. Megan

      Thank you, but it’s gotten to the point where the bank refuses to cash it even when it’s the bank we work with :-/.

  19. books

    “If only you were a woman and could wear a skirt, this would be so much easier. Is there any chance you can …?”

    Was praying as I read this that the second sentence would continue as
    “Is there any chance you can wear a skirt?”

    No, ok then… I would sugest getting yourself a cheapo pair of pants – on the roomy side, bringing them to the dry cleaner, and asking them to hem just above your cast – presumably, this is around the widest part of pants and you would be able to get them on, and wearing as close to a dress sock as possible over the cast.

    If you have to wear sweats, go and invest in as nice a pair as possible. And sorry about the injury, that sounds AWFUL.

  20. saf

    #7 – buy a pair of dress pants that are a bit wider than normal. Go to the tailor (mine is my dry cleaner). Have them rip the seam and add fabric and a closing mechanism.

    (I had a pin contraption on my lower leg for 6 months once.We ripped the outside seam off that leg of my pants and added a zipper above the pins and snaps below. We ripped the inside seam out from the knee to the ankle and put snaps above and below. It worked well.)

  21. RJ

    I bite my nails viciously to the quick. They are generally about 3/16 of an inch *shorter* than the tip of my finger. I wouldn’t necessarily call them “ragged” , but they’re not at all attractive. I understand that it’s a gross habit, but I haven’t managed to conquer it. Is that really something I need to worry about in an interview situation? Do people draw the conclusion that I must be a sloppy or undisciplined worker from this?

    1. jesicka309

      I hope not. I tend to get really itchy/heat rash in my sleep, and I NEED short nails, otherwise I scratch until I bleed and bruise in my sleep.
      I also play a sport (netball) which requires short nails, so as a littlie, I got into the habit of chewing them down in the car on the way there as no one ever had nail scissors.
      And I bite mine too… I don’t think I’ve had mine cut since I was a little kid…it’s a nervous habit, but I like to think of it as self grooming too. I usually stand in the shower chewing away thinking about life. :)
      Luckily I’m blessed with very large fingernails, so even though I chew them, I still have about 1.5 cm of live nail attached my finger.

    2. AnotherAlison

      I have short nails, but since I’m not a biter, they are still past my fingertips. I wouldn’t be prejudiced against short nails, but if you so much as acted like you were going in for a nibble, I would draw a conclusion that you would be difficult for me to work with. Nail biting and picking is one of my pet peeves. My husband peels his toenails (TMI, I know) and I have to look away when he does it. It’s as much my problem as the biter, b ut it makes me sick.

    3. Rana

      I’d think that if the rest of you was tidy, I’d just put it down to a stress habit. And if you’re really worried about it, you could put on fakes (some of them are in “short” lengths) just for the interview. But it wouldn’t bug me unless you were chewing on them during the interview.

    4. Rana

      (And not to provoke TMI-type answers, but I’ve always been sort of puzzled by the whole nail-biting thing. Not that people do it, but that it actually works. I can’t stand the feeling of a torn nail, and I can’t get a grip on my nails with my teeth well enough to do anything useful when they’re not torn, so I’ve never understood the appeal. Picking at things I get; biting nails, not so much. )

      1. jesicka309

        Haha I chew mine like you would use nail clippers – I actually aim for a rounded shape. I don’t know about people who tear their nails though – that’s a great way to go too short and draw blood. :(

        1. Rana

          I think my teeth aren’t sharp enough for this. I could gnaw on them all day and nothing would happen! ::laughs::

  22. Kathryn T.

    Get a pair of real pants, open the seam or slice them up the back, and have a tailor put in a gusset that you can close with snaps. Actually, get 3 pairs of pants and do this with all of them.

    I have a friend who was in the middle of job interviews when she had a serious bicycle accident and broke her humerus in a nasty compound fracture, requiring an unbelievable cast and armature. Her right hand was taped to her left shoulder for some time. Her wife bought several nicer long-sleeved T-shirts and cut them up the right seam, from the waist to the armpit and the armpit to the wrist, and had a tailor put in Velcro; then she could thread her left arm through the sleeve, bring the right sides together, and have her wife Velcro her into the shirt. It was obvious with more than two seconds’ look what was going on, but she was dressed appropriately for her industry (IT/QA) and she did get hired.

  23. KPI

    Re: 2. Fingernail length in job interviews

    I have to disagree with AAM.

    A hiring manager once told me that he looks at people’s nails as a way to see how well you groom and present yourself. Obviously, don’t wear bright nail polish or have super long uncut nails. But I think that the way people take care of their nails is a telling sign of one’s character.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Oh, I totally agree that nails need to be well groomed. I just don’t think they must be “slightly over the tip of the finger.” They can be shorter, or they can be slightly longer. As long as they’re well groomed, I can’t imagine anyone sane caring.

      1. Your Mileage May Vary

        Would you care if bright colored polish was worn? Or should polish-wearers go for nude colors or a French mani just to be safe?

        I like nail polish. I don’t mind toning it down for a reason (like if I’m in someone’s wedding) but I think I’d want to know up front if my potential workplace is going to frown on my nail choices. As an example, I’m absolutely drooling over this collection (especially Def Defying and Creative Fantasy): http://chinaglaze.com/products/index.php?coll=68

        1. Jamie

          I don’t know if the creative types would have a different take on it – but in a fairly conservative industry like mine those could hurt you.

          I’d have no problem with different colors within the red/pink/purple normal palatte – but those are so wild and outside the realm of business casual that you could have a hard time being taken seriously. Those are kind of like showing up in a pink leopard print pant suit – people will notice.

          But again – I’m in a male dominated conservative industry – it’s possible they would be just fine in the more creative fields.

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