tiny answer Tuesday — 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s tiny answer Tuesday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. When should I follow up with this internal recruiter?

I had submitted my résumé for an open position with a company that I’m very interested in working for. A few days later, I was contacted by an internal recruiter to set up an initial phone screening. We set up the screening, which went well, and the recruiter asked for my availability to set up a phone interview with the department manager and a few days later I had the phone interview. I heard back from the recruiter a few hours after the phone interview, saying that he got great feedback and that the next step was to bring me in for an on-site interview and asking what my availability was. I responded to his email early the following morning with my availability but haven’t yet heard back. The recruiter and I have done all of the scheduling to this point via email and he has been very prompt, replying to my emails within a few hours. I’m getting a little bit antsy waiting to hear back, so my question is, how long should I wait before I follow up with the recruiter? I don’t want to seem over anxious but I also want to make sure my email didn’t get lost in cyberspace.

I’d give him three full business days before you follow-up. If you still hear nothing, try again in another three full business days.

If you don’t hear anything after that, unfortunately I’d move on. Sometimes recruiters stop responding when the hiring manager is moving forward with other candidates and looking likely to hire one of them. It’s rude, but it’s common. Hopefully that won’t happen here.

2. “Dear Sir or Ma’am”

I’m very confused about the advice you give in a recent article you wrote about cover letters. Since when is the “Dear Sir/Ma’am,” salutation such a faux pas? I’m 34 and feel that “Dear Ma’am” sounds much better than “Dear Hiring Manager.” Does that make me antiquated? So if I’m not supposed to write “Dear Sir” and don’t feel comfortable writing “Dear Robot”, could you provide a third alternative?

Actually, I wrote about “Dear Sir or Madam,” but my answer is the same here. Yes, it makes you sound antiquated. In what other part of your life would you open a letter with “Dear Ma’am”? You should talk to hiring managers the same way you’d talk to colleagues, which for most people in most industries is going to mean that “sir” or “ma’am” is way too formal. “Dear hiring manager” or “Dear (hiring manager’s name, if you know it)” is just fine.

3. Recruiter removed my contact information from my resume

I recently was contacted by a recruiter about a position at a company I’d really love to work for. I sent her my resume, and she lined up an interview, which I am very excited about! However, the recruiter changed my resume just slightly. She removed my contact information! I’m guessing this is so the corporation will have to go through her to hire me for any positions, but I’m worried it might hurt my chances of being hired for other spots if I don’t get this job. Should I put my contact information back on my resume, or just go with the flow? I don’t want to undermine my recruiter at all, but I don’t want to be overlooked for missing contact information.

This is very normal for recruiters to do, and yes, it’s because they don’t want the company to contact you directly, because they earn their living by placing candidates. They’re not in the business of connecting candidates and employers for free. If you want to work with recruiters, you have to play by those rules.

4. Which of these references would be best?

I know the reference checker can call whoever they want from my resume, but of the references that I provide who would be better: a recent manager (Sep-Nov 2012) from an internship in a similar industry, where the work I did was the same as I would be doing in the role I’ve interviewed for, or a current manager (with only 1.5 years work experience) from a non-related industry, but where I’ve been a full-time temp for 2.5 years?

And would you frown over including a professor from a recently (Dec 2012) completed graduate program, if the graduate studies are applicable to the role and the interviewers made a point of asking me to explain how I would use these in the role?

Of the two proposed references, use the one who will speak about you most glowingly and most specifically. (Although you probably need to provide more than one, so this is probably a moot point.) Don’t include the professor unless an employer specifically says that academic references are fine; most hiring managers want to talk to your managers, not professors. (And their interview question about your studies doesn’t change that.)

5. Is it illegal to ask for free work samples during the hiring process?

I am currently trying to land an entry level job in the surface design field. Some positions I’ve applied to as an intern, and some were entry level. My question is: Is it legal for companies to have me submit designs to them as a sort of test? Several times I’ve done this and each of the times after checking on my submission I’ve been told they’re still making a decision, and then I hear nothing. I have no way of knowing if my design was used for their benefit, but it still seems fishy.

Yes, it’s legal and very common. It would be illegal if they were fraudulently misrepresenting their request for your work — such as not really hiring and only asking to see your work so that they could steal it. And while some of that certainly does happen, it’s far outnumbered by legitimate instances where companies really are hiring and really do want to see your work.

That said, plenty of designers don’t do work on spec, and instead offer existing work from their portfolios as examples of their work. You might want to consider doing that if a company seems at all sketchy.

6. Shoes for interviews that aren’t high heels

What are other acceptable options for interview shoes besides heels? I’m 5’10 with bad ankles, and I need shoes that are solid, preferably
with some ankle support. Most flats make me feel like I’m barefoot, and even trying to walk in heels terrifies me because I constantly worry I’m going to fall and break an ankle… again. Internet is telling me far too many conflicting things!

What about flat or close-to-flat loafers? They’re sturdier than a lot of other flats, and they come in lots of professional options. You can also try shoes with a low, chunky heel, many of which don’t feel like you’re walking in heels at all (because they provide close to the same support as flats).

7. I can hear my dad’s receptionist complaining about her job

I know you have touched upon loud coworkers, but I have a situation that is a little different. I work at my dad’s company (half of the time for him, half of time just using the office for my other job). My dad’s receptionist is a nice gal but on the louder side. My office is right next to her desk and I can hear her sighing, talking, and joking around with other employees in her loud voice. The real problem isn’t tuning her out, but rather, recently I’ve noticed her enthusiasm and productivity dwindling and she continually complains she has nothing to do but when my dad or her manager give her projects to work on, I hear her huffing puffing about how it isn’t her job, etc. Another example was my dad forgot to reimburse her for something and she was moaning and groaning about that and then I heard her whisper to a coworker that they have to be careful what they talk about since I’m here.

Do I mention any of this to my dad? Without a doubt, she will know I told him and I have a feeling she will have no problem confronting me. Do I just tell her that I’m looking out for my dad and his company or do I just let it go? I should mention this office is physically very small, so I haven’t encountered any of this by eavesdropping.

Would your dad want to know? I sure would, if I were him. Assuming you think he’d feel the same, tell him that you’re in awkward situation because you feel you need to tell him what you’ve heard, but that you’re concerned about how the receptionist will handle it if she knows that you said something to him. Let him decide how he wants to handle it from there.

{ 127 comments… read them below }

  1. Joseph Knitt*

    Thanks a lot for answering my question. I still am not comfortable with using “Hiring Manager” because it sounds very forced to me, especially if I’m applying to small companies without dedicated hiring managers. Once again I really appreciate you taking the time to answer my question. If it turns out not to be helpful to me, I hope the answer can be helpful to another reader. Thanks again!


    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You’re very welcome! In case it helps clarify, “hiring manager” doesn’t mean “person who manages all hiring.” The hiring manager is person who will be your boss if you’re hired for the job. Hiring managers manage a team or department or entire organization. (For instance, if you’re applying for a job as a communications assistant, the communications director is probably the hiring manager.) So even small organizations have hiring managers.

      1. Chloe*

        This is probably a cultural thing as well, in New Zealand (where I live) the phrase “Hiring Manager” is not used, and “Dear Sir or Madam” would be the most commonly used phrase, if you were not able to find out the name of the person you were actually writing to.

        1. K*

          It may also be a personality thing to a certain extent. Some people just have a more formal style and it’s not going to seem as out of place as it would in a more conversational cover letter (or some industries are more formal than others).

        2. Lee*

          Also european countries have typically smaller companies and more personal relationships with clients (while in America we have multi-industry companies, vastly larger more diverse populations, etc…).
          USA used to be all “ma’am/sir” back in the 1950s, but when you grow too large, with the ability to sue anyone, anytime for almost any reason, you start to cut out the brown nosing/corporate email etiquette crap.
          Not all companies are like this (but the ones that are, are dying out), and much younger newer generations don’t have hang ups as much about “sir/ma’am” titles being applied.
          I’m not saying we’re all rude or anything, but titles indicating respect/authority for someone you’ve never meant before in an email is obviously just BS.
          In person “Ma’ams/Sirs” it’s a totally different story….

      2. badger_doc*

        What about “To whom it may concern”? Do you see an issue with using that phrase instead of “Dear Hiring Manager” if you do not know the person’s name?

        1. Joey*

          I think most hiring managers care about the salutation you use about as much as they care about the colors of your outfit. As long as its not something extreme you’re fine. A friend of mine the other day asked me which was better for an interview- a black patent belt or a more plain one.

        2. Anonymous*

          I’ve used “to whom it may concern” in the past. I wonder if it sounds snotty now that I think of it?

          1. CH*

            I use “To whom it concerns” in these cases. A shade less formal that “To whom it may concern ” and it fits my writing style better than “Dear Hiring Manager.” Also, if successful, it is likely more than one person, not just the hiring manager, will be “concerned.”

          1. RaeLyn*

            Am I the only person that still uses Sir and Ma’am in everyday speech? I call my boss sir, it’s a matter of respect. I say yes ma’am and no ma’am to my immediate superior, and she’s 20 years younger than I am. Yes, I’m almost 50 and raised in the south, so it’s ingrained in the way I speak.
            Guess I’m just old fashioned and out of date…..and here I thought I was just being polite the way my grandmother taught me. lol

            1. Catherine*

              Yes, and I’m used to being addressed that way, too. Not usually by my employees, but frequently by people who don’t know my name. I also do get “Dear Madam” emails from people in other countries who need to do business with me–definitely in the minority, but I get them. If the guideline is, “When else would you use it?,” when else would you address someone by their position??? I think it’s plain rude! (Oh, and for the record, I’m under 35 and not Southern.)

        3. Cheryl*

          I actually use “To the Hiring Manager at (agency name):” because I think that “Dear Hiring Manager” sounds akward and I was taught to use “To” for workplace letters. Sort of a combination of “To Whom it May Concern” and “Dear Hiring Manager.” I also think it adds a personal touch and shows my letter wasn’t just copy / pasted.

      3. Julie K*

        I don’t think you can mention this enough! I had no idea what “hiring manager” meant until I read it in your column, and I’ve been working for over 30 years.

    2. shellbell*

      As someone who has read many many cover letters, I must confess. Dear Sir or Ma,am would make me start snicker when I was tired or punchy. It sounds so strange like you just copy and pasted your resume or you’ve never written a letter before. It would give me the giggles. There is no other time outside of cover letters when this salutation is used so it always sounds odd to the reader. To whom it may concern is less stilted, but less silly.

      1. jennie*

        “Dear Sirs” is my favourite. About 80% of my profession is female and my office is 100% female so it seems pretty presumptuous.

        1. shellbell*

          This one really gets me going. It sounds like the letter will be about an inheritence from a nigerian prince…

    3. Henning Makholm*

      When I write proper letters, I usually drop the “Dear X” in favor of a headline — a boldface (usually underlined) line that briefly defines the topic of the letter. Then just start the body of the letter below it.

      Position as Assistant Chief Chocolate Teapot Technician

      I believe I would be a good fit for the position you advertised in Confectioner Montly (March 2013). I have always … … blah blah … … look forward to hearing from you.


      1. Runon*

        I agree with this as well. And when I’ve been on the other side and received letters I’ve never minded when someone gets right to work, I have rolled my eyes at sir or madam though.

        In either case don’t use ma’am. It is a contraction in a formal situation of an overly formal word. If you don’t use contractions in the rest of your letter it will stand out, if you do use contractions the starting with such a formal (or partly formal) introduction will stand out, no matter what your letter lacks tone consistency and that will annoy some people.

      2. Anonymous*

        I do this too…. I feel awkward even writing “Dear” let alone “Dear Sir/Madame” or “Dear Hiring Manager”.

        1. BW*

          I feel very awkward not writing “Dear” in a letter. That is how I was formally taught to write a letter, and since I grew up before email and internet I wrote a lot of letters. They always opened with “Dear” and closed with some phrase like “Sincerely” (formal) and “Yours truly” (informal) followed by my signature – full name for more formal letters, first name only for letters to friends and family.

          1. BW*

            Correction: My letters to family (close or otherwise – didn’t matter) closed with “Love” not “Yours Truly” – that sounds a bit weird and formal for family!

        2. Kimberlee, Esq.*

          I don’t write Dear at all, if I can avoid it. I don’t know those people; they’re not “dear” to me!

          When I apply for jobs, I tend to use the same salutation as I do for emails and virtually everything else: “Hello!” Which is way more formal than my other go-to for emails, “Yo!”

    4. V*

      I agree 100% with Alison, although I’m in the northeast US, so perhaps it is a regional thing. But at a minimum, consider using “madam” rather than “ma’am.” “Ma’am” comes off as a bit sloppy when written because it is a contraction of “Madam.”

      1. shellbell*

        Unless you would routinely address your potential new boss as madam in the office, it is too stilted.

        1. Jamie*

          When I first made Director a couple of years ago it coincided with my husband’s watching the season of NCIS where Jenny was heavily featured….so I tried to get him to address me as Madame Director and I would call him Jethro.

          After a couple “will Madame Director please bring me some toilet paper” and “does Madame Director mind cleaning the cat puke from the bathroom floor” and it got old really fast.


          1. Lulu*

            I’m glad someone else makes NCIS references! It’s all I can do not to ask people for “sit-reps”, however since I’m pretty sure no one else I know watches anything not involving zombies, I just say that to myself…

    5. AP*

      I’m curious if this is a regional thing! In New York (and a lot of other coastal areas) Sir/Ma’am/Madam would sound very contrived and odd, but I’ve done a bit of work in Texas and the South and the people I’ve worked with there have found it rude *not* to use those salutations. As one friend (who’s in her early 30’s and from Mississippi) told me, “If my mom ever heard me address a lady client as something other than ma’am, she would just staple my tongue to the couch!!”

      1. Anonymous*

        I’m from the south and spent most of my professional career there. I can assure you, Dear Sir/Madam sounds just as slilted there. I never referred to anyone in a professional situation as Sir or Ma’am and never heard Madam uttered once in my life. The only time you might use Sir or Ma’am is if you are a child, in the military, addressing someone like 30-40 years your Sr. (and you don’t know there name) There might be a few industry specific quirks, but I assure you this is not normal in the south. I imagine your friends mom doesn’t give great career advice. She probably also advises calling to follow-up and make sure your application was received, etc.

        1. Your Mileage May Vary*

          Well, the American South is a big place. No one where I live would be shocked by hearing Sir or Ma’am in professional company. I suspect no one even really registers it. As long as no one starts out their cover letter with “Honey” or “Sweetie”, I’d be fine with it.

          (Did the subscribe options to this blog just get different? I like them!)

  2. PEBCAK*

    #3: It doesn’t take you out of the running for other positions. If something opens up down the line and they want you, they just get back in touch with that recruiter, who then gets in touch with you again.

    #6: I’ve had good luck with both the Prezi line by Clarks and Franco Sarto.

  3. Mrs Addams*

    #3 – I wouldn’t worry about it. If the company uses recruiters on a regular basis, I’m sure they’re familiar with the practice and won’t bat an eyelid at having no contact details on the resume. Afterall, your resume is fundamentally about your skills and experience – the contact details just provide a way for the employer to get in touch, which they can do in your case by going through the recruiter.

    #6 – I have trouble with my feet too, but what I tend to do for interviews is wear a pair of comfortable shoes to get to the interview, and just outside the door/in a nearby coffee shop change into (low) heels for the actual interview itself. I carry a large handbag anyway, and slip the comfy shoes in there for the duration of the interview. That may be a consideration for you. (Just don’t do what I did once and forget to change the shoes. I only realised at the end of the interview, but was so embarrassed I didn’t even acknowledge it. To this day I’m sure that’s the only reason I didn’t get an offer for that job.)

  4. Tim C.*

    Who care what she thinks? Your father owns the company. A malingering employee is the bad apple and spoils morale. I look at this as I would stealing or other acts of sabotage. Thus I would take it far more personal if it were a family business. That aside I could give this person a chance to stop the behavior and have a word with them before bringing it up to management. I would do this though with the same approach and tone to someone who whistles too much or is late from lunch. A reasonable request with a reasonable tone.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      Yes! OP, she knows full well she’s getting away with something she shouldn’t be doing — you’ve overheard her say she needs to be careful about her bitching and moaning because you’re around.

      If you want to give her a chance, you can go to her and say, “I’ve overheard you saying how unhappy you are here, and it puts me in a really uncomfortable position.” She’ll know she has to step up her attitude or else the boss is going to hear about it. But whether you choose to do this or not, I’d let your dad know, and let him decide how to proceed from there.

      1. Janet*

        Yeah, I agree. I’d let her know you can hear in a subtle way like this. “It sounds like you’re pretty unhappy. Would you like to arrange a time to meet with [father’s name] to discuss your job concerns? I know he wants his employees to be happy so I think he’d rather hear directly from you if there is something bothering you.” and then if it continues, tell your dad.

        1. JLL*

          “It sounds like you’re pretty unhappy. Would you like to arrange a time to meet with [father’s name] to discuss your job concerns? ”

          I would DEFINITELY not do this. This does sound like “Daddy’s little spy,” and would definitely lead to being isolated/ostracized in the office, especially if it leads to disciplinary action. Like the poster below said, I think a much more effective way would be to say “Your comments are putting me in an awkward position here.”

    2. Jamie*

      I don’t know that I’d put bitching about your job in the same category as stealing or sabotage. If that was the case there would be a lot of empty desks in offices around the world.

      Absolutely unprofessional and needs to stop – no argument. But it’s not high treason either.

      If it were me, since it’s a small office and this isn’t eavesdropping, the next time I heard a sigh or a grumble I’d ask her if she wanted to talk to her boss about her issues with the job – I’d be polite and neutral, like you’re trying to help. But you’re putting her on notice that you’ve heard her and she needs to put up (having a direct conversation about what it bothering her) or shut up.

  5. Jamie*

    Small point – because I also think Dear Sir or Madame is archaic – but I’ve never seen Dear Sir or Ma’am.

    In fact I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone spell ma’am out in writing. It’s what the kid at the grocery store calls me when asking if I need help to the car …it’s a name that makes me scowl.

    Not really, but the shallow and totally ridiculous part of my brain does prefer Miss at the grocery store.

    I could be totally wrong, maybe Dear Sir or Ma’am is a thing…but if it came across my desk I’d think it seemed wrong somehow where Dear Sir or Madame is fine. I don’t use it, but it’s commonplace enough that I see it a lot.

    1. Carrie in Scotland*

      Mine is ‘Lady’ that makes me scowl, even when I was 20 and working in retail, I got ‘Lady’!
      “Take your books to the lady now Sally…” I always wanted to turn around and say “Hey, I am not THAT old!!” But I never did.

      1. Blinx*

        My pet peeve is “gal”, and I noticed that one of the letter writers used it today! It sounds so unprofessional, like a “gal’s” only duty would be to run and fetch coffee.

        1. Jamie*

          You know what’s funny? Ever since we had that thread here about language I’ve been hyper aware of those little throwaway words. I changed my “Hi Guys” to “Hi Everyone”….and when watching Anne Burrell’s Executive Chef show I bridled every time she referred to herself or another chef as a “girl chef.”

          I kept yelling “you’re women” at the tv. According to my family this was very annoying.

          Oh – and I hate ‘gals’ too. I hate a lot of things.

          1. Ellie H.*

            I used to prefer “girl” and hate “woman” very fervently and thought I’d always feel that way, until about a year ago (I’m 25) when I magically stopped and now prefer “woman.” Funny how age changes things. I do wish that English had a better 2nd person plural.

          2. Diane*

            It grates me when someone addresses a mixed-gender group as “you guys.” I hear this a lot in food service. I’d prefer y’all, but I’m in the wrong part of the country for that.

            It’s strange how these pet peeves are contagious. My friend somehow shared loathing of being addressed as “hon” or “dear,” and now I hate it too. And clowns.

      2. Jamie*

        ITA – I don’t like ‘lady’ either. I’m the IT not the IT Lady – the IT Lady makes it sound like I should have my own show on PBS showing everyone how to cable a server room while wearing a jaunty hat and drinking tea.

        It feels dismissive – which could be because I worked with someone once who just said “hey lady” to every woman because learning names was too much trouble, I guess, so I’m glad to hear it’s not just me.

      3. Natalie*

        There’s a restaurant in my office building where a bunch of the workers (not native English speakers) have developed the odd habit of using “Lady” as a salutation. So, for example, they will say “Good afternoon, lady, what would you like today?” It’s sort of hilarious.

      4. Ellie H.*

        I hate “lady.” I too worked in retail (bookstore, as it sounds like you did) and got exactly the same thing sometimes . . .”Tell the lady thank you!” and at the time I was in my early 20’s and it made me feel really old. It seems too casual without being friendly. I know the word has had a bit of a trendy resurgence but I don’t like it when friends include me in “Hello Ladies!” either or when men refer to their girlfriend as “my lady.”

        Also, LOL @ Jamie’s PBS show.

    2. -X-*

      In English, Madam is more correct. Madame is strange – it tends to be used with important women sharing their husband’s name, such as Madame Curie. Ma’am, in non-fiction writing, is bizarre unless one is attempting to duplicate actual pronunciation.

      1. fposte*

        Actually, “Madame” is just French. That’s why Madame Curie gets it. The English version is Madam.

        1. Jamie*

          I did not know that! The only time I’ve used the word verbally was in French class…but I never made the spelling translation to English.

          Yikes – the few times I’ve used it (years ago) I must have sounded not just formal but totally pretentious as well.

      2. UK HR Bod*

        And in English, Ma’am is the Queen (after, apparently, you’ve called her Your Majesty). Possibly also other female royals or duchesses, but definitely the Queen. Hence using Madam rather than Ma’am as a very formal female style.

      1. Jamie*

        Yeah, when I get a ma’am at Walgreens I buy the moisturizer one price level up than usual.

        That is a genius marketing ploy and I’ve been falling for it for years.

      2. LPBB*

        See, I hate being called “Miss” and would rather be called “Ma’am.” I’m 38 now, but its always bugged me. “Miss” comes off as condescending or dismissive. “Ma’am” just seems more respectful, but to each their own.

        And this is why I never get torqued off at servers or other retail workers for not reading my mind and using my own preferred terminology when interacting with me.

  6. BCW*

    #7 Is a really interesting one. I don’t really know that I’d say anything. I understand that its more personal to you because your father owns it, but in my opinion, you have to look at whether she is still doing her job. I think in many offices people bitch about their job to co-workers. Its a type of bonding. Not saying its necessarily right, but it happens. I know I do it. However my productivity is still great and I get great feedback from my boss. My complaints aren’t about her, just other things in the company. So if someone decided to go to my boss and tell them about the conversations I’m having with another co-worker, I would justifiably be angry. Now if her productivity is actually dwindling, that is an issue that should be addressed. Maybe you can tell your dad that you’ve noticed that she tends to be not doing x,y, and z in a timely manner now, or even just have this conversation with her if your role dictates that. I also think since its your dad you are being a bit blind. While I don’t know exactly what the reimbursement was, you can bet if my company “forgot” to reimburse me for a work trip or expenses, I’d be mad too, and again I think that would be a justified reason. If she forgot to do something that cost the company money, I’m sure your father would complain about her to people as well. But to go to your dad because you over hear that someone is currently a bit disgruntled (especially if its about something the he actually did wrong like the money thing) isn’t good. If this were any other job would you run to the manager with this info?

    1. Brook*

      I disagree. She’s poisoning the well. Having a constantly disgruntled coworker brings the whole place down. If she had real problems, I’d be inclined to encourage her to solve them, but as this seems to just be a pose that she has adopted, somebody needs to tell her to stuff it.

      I’m not saying that everyone needs to be Pollyanna at work, but she’s taking up other people’s time with her bitching and those attitudes are somewhat contagious. It’s not good for business and needs to be shut down.

      1. Colette*

        It’s also not solving anything. If she didn’t get reimbursed for something, she needs to take that up with the person who’s in charge of reimbursing expenses, not with other people who can’t do anything.

        I’m a firm believer that people can’t/don’t fix problems they don’t know about, so I agree with those who advised the letter writer to politely direct her to bring up her concerns with the person responsible, but if that fails, go ahead and raise the issue of the complaining herself. (In fact, I’d say that approach would also apply if the receptionist’s boss wasn’t the letter writer’s father.)

        1. RecentGrad*

          I know the OP feels obligated to speak, but maybe they should see if other people in the office have asked her to stop. This may be an issue that can be solved by normal office politics. I disagree that she is poisoning the well. I think in most situations people will just ignore her. I am not going to like my job any less just because someone else has a problem. It would have to be a big infraction for me to worry about other people’s problem with my company. Also if you do say something be ready for the fall out. No one likes being tattled on.

      2. BCW*

        Poisoning the well? I think thats a big jump. People complain about their job all the time. If someone else is happy at the company, its not going to make them unahappy because they hear someone complaining. Put it like this, say you have 2 friends. They aren’t getting along and one is talking trash about the other to you. If you are a normal person, you can listen to it, but that won’t make you hate the other person.

        Also, how do you know she is taking up other people’s time. When I’ve been places where there is a receptionist, the pattern I’ve noticed is that people go to the receptionists desk to chit chat, not the other way around. So if they were wasting their time anyway, she isn’t doing any more damage.

      1. Parfait*

        I love ‘vogs, but I’m not sure I would wear them to a job interview. Just a little too out there for the formality of the occasion.

  7. K*

    Normally I’m all for avoiding any kind of us vs. them feelings as regards management and employees. But when your Dad is the boss and a significant part of the feedback on the employee is “she has a bad attitude,” I think the situation calls for extra delicacy. I’d leave what you say to him focused on objective ways her work performance is problematic. And yeah, constant complaining is a problem; I just think that the OP addressing it is going to put her in a bad dynamic going forward. Let the other employees – who are also all hearing this it sounds like – handle that aspect of things.

    1. K*

      Also, I agree that not getting reimbursed by your employer in a timely manner is indeed worthy of complaint, especially on a receptionist’s salary. Of course it’s possible to go overboard with that complaint; but then most of us aren’t particularly objective about evaluating complaints about our family members (appropriately so but it bears being especially careful about that in the workplace).

      1. LSG*

        I agree, K. I don’t want to assume the LW is writing in bad faith, but the fact that the one specific cited was something it’s actually fair to be upset about (though not to complain excessively about) makes me worry that she’s being kind of officious.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That’s not how she should handle that situation though. If he forgot her reimbursement, she should go talk to him about it and get it worked out. If she’s tried that and it hasn’t worked, she’d have a legitimate complaint.

        1. K*

          But we don’t whether she did or not; we only know that she’s been complaining about it to her co-workers. Which, I agree, is not a good thing to do regardless of what other actions you’re taking to resolve the situation. But it’s also probably something that – if you overheard a co-worker saying – you wouldn’t take to your boss if that boss wasn’t your dad. (Unless it was to say “I’m concerned that Jane didn’t get reimbursed for this trip.”)

          You might normally take excessive complaining to your boss but given the familial relationship, I suspect doing so would seriously compromise the letter writer’s ability to interact with her co-workers in the future and so shouldn’t be done without a lot of thought about the seriousness of the situation.

            1. K*

              I think it’s justified regardless; the question is whether she’s dealt with it properly (which sounds like no). But even if it’s just an honest mistake, forgetting reimbursements is a problem.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Sure, but being a chronic complainer isn’t justified — and when someone is (and it sounds like this woman is), that tends to be the type who will complain to others rather than just taking simple steps to solve the problem. People will make mistakes — a reimbursement might slip through the cracks. Managers need staff members who will deal with it appropriately — get it fixed without turning it into a bitchfest.

  8. Anonymous*

    #7. If she’s venting only to co-workers then I, as a co-worker, wouldn’t say anything to her/our supervisor. She has a supervisor who is quite capable of doing his or her own job. If she vents to customers or vendors, though, a suggestion to her to keep it in-house would be appropriate. If it’s not your job to measure her productivity then you should make no comments about your perception.

    The nepotism wrinkle is the important part here. If you tattle then you’re playing into the worst side of nepotism. You’ll be seen as just a spy looking to get people in trouble for some harmless venting that nearly every employee in nearly every company has the opportunity to do. No employee will ever see you as anything other than an extension of your father. You’ll be another member of management without the pay or benefits.

    Instead, I would suggest you help her. Subtly get the details about the failed reimbursement and see if you can quietly convince your father to reimburse her. There would then be a good side to having the boss’ kid working with there. “He’s willing to go to bat for us!”

      1. J*

        Hi! OP for #7 here! Thank you for all of your comments and suggestions. I went ahead and told my dad about the reimbursement but took the approach “I’m concerned that so and so hasn’t recieved their reimbursement” it turns out there are extenuating circumstances I wasn’t aware of and he is in the process of getting it to her and she knew it. I also mentioned the productivity in a neutral way and to my surprise (mostly because he is in and out of the office all day) he was aware of it and is planning on meeting with her to discuss it. Thank you again for your input. I will definitely speak up next time I hear her complaining. On the day I wrote this letter I ended up coming home to work because I couldn’t focus.

    1. Cassie*

      I would disagree about helping follow-up on the reimbursement. That’s the staff member’s own issue to follow up on. Presumably she can handle something as simple as that.

      The fact that the receptionist complains openly while the OP is there might mean she really doesn’t care whether her boss knows or not. Anyone who overhears could rat on her, not just the OP because she’s related to the boss. The receptionist should exhibit more discretion if she really cared.

  9. Blinx*

    #6: Since it’s winter, low-heeled boots or “shoeoties” (sp?) might look smart, especially if you’re wearing slacks. You’d also get the ankle support you need. I never wear high heels, but find all kinds of comfortable shoes, usually with low wedges or stacked heels. I know there are other threads about this that mention brands… Clarks is one.

    #7: Could you mention to your coworker that she’s putting you in an awkward position? Complaining about jobs is a time-honored traditions, but should not be done on the job!

    1. Runon*

      Re #6 I’d agree about the winter thing. I think that depending on the work place you could go for the higher boot that is still pretty in right now. Many of them have a very low/no heel. If you go with pants (vs a skirt) your choice of shoe will stand out less as well. Finding a really solid low heeled (not a kitten heel, but something that is more of a stacked heel) shoe might be more expensive, but could be very worth it.

      (Finally I want to say don’t let your height stop you from wearing the shoe you want, I only mention this because you mentioned your height. Statistically you’re already going to be taller than your interviewer, standing with confidence in a heel or a flat is important, don’t shrink or slouch, even if that has been habit. Slouching can make you look like you are unsure about the job/work/skills even if it is about your height. /6’2″ woman)

      1. Nicole*

        As a 5’11” female – I wear dress riding boots (RM Williams ) and suit with slacks to my interviews.

        Caveat is – I am in Australia and an engineer.

        Totally agree on the posture. Tail tuck, diaphragm up (to get shoulders back), chin down and extend neck!

  10. Anon*

    #7 – I don’t see a problem with the OP telling her father. I place all of the blame on the receptionist. In any work situation, when you complain about things, or tell people personal things about yourself, you have to know on some level that it is possible someone can tell on you, someone may overhear you, what you say may be repeated, etc.

    Again, I cannot emphasize the need to keep things close to the vest when at all possible at work. Situations like this are one of many reasons why. The receptionist could vent to her spouse, her kids, her friends (AT HOME), her family. There what she says would be safe and she would get sympathy and support. At work, she is begging for trouble.

  11. Anonymous*

    #7. Everyone complains about their job. If she’s not doing well, that’s for your dad to decide. If you just think she talks too loud and is annoying, you should address that with her. If you’re not afraid to be direct you can state “You know, these walls are paper-thin and I can hear EVERYTHING, which makes it kind of awkward for me when you complain about working here.” If you’re not so direct you can casually mention “Have you ever noticed how thin the walls are? I can hear everything. One time I even hear someone open a can of soda in the next room through 2 closed doors. Even whispering…”
    Either way, I don’t think it’s your job to tattle on an unhappy worker unless they were complaining to people outside the company or stealing, etc.

    1. Jamie*

      Everyone complains about their job.

      Sure, at one time or another everyone does. I’m really careful to confine that to people who don’t work with me…which serves two purposes:

      1. I don’t look like a whiner at work – where it could hurt me professionally.
      2. The listener has limited interest and patience since they don’t know these people – so it keeps it short.

      A couple times a year I careen wildly toward burnout and during those times I noticed almost every conversation I had with my husband was me bitching about something work related. He’s a saint so he didn’t complain, but man I was sick of hearing myself and I cared about what I was talking about. I can’t imagine I was anything but a droning siren to anyone who had to hear me.

      So I put a moratorium on talking about work at all until after dinner. Just kind of breaking the loop helped so much because once I’m fed and happily ensconced in flannel jammies with a cup of tea and something fun on TV I’m far less inclined to start a bitch session. I can continue one all night – but once I lose momentum it’s hard to get riled up again.

      I started out doing this to be less raggy to my family but the collateral benefits to my own peace of mind were immeasurable.

      So yes, it’s something everyone does from time to time and I won’t lie and say I’ve never rolled my eyes or complained since – but if you find yourself doing it a lot you should examine if you’re really unhappy at work…then think about what changes you need to make. Or if it’s just a habit or you’re just in a bad zone where cutting down on the complaining is really all you need to feel better. It absolutely can become a habit.

      1. Catherine*

        It’s the part where the receptionist says “it’s not my job” that concerns me. That has been discussed here before, so I’ll try to be brief, but I wonder if she has a really good reason to say “it’s not my job,” or if she’s just refusing to do work assigned to her. That’s a problem if she’s refusing her work and not getting it done.

        But if she’s just unhappy, she needs to break the cycle, yes. I have been right where you are, Jamie. I imposed a rule on myself where I can bitch about work stuff for 15 minutes when I get home, and then I’m not allowed for the rest of the day. That has helped tremendously.

  12. VictoriaHR*

    #5 – could you watermark your design when you submit it? Any artwork created by you is automatically copyrighted, I believe, so you could watermark it with your copyright.

    #6 – I’m a big fan of Dansko’s. The professional line is what I wear most days to work, but they also have some cute low-heel shoes that are very stable. I’m 5’9″ so I feel your pain.

    1. Esra*

      A watermark generally won’t help because they’ll still rip off the design, just passing your work to in house or cheap freelancers. Honestly, I push back pretty hard when someone wants spec work. If you have a good portfolio, your existing projects can speak to the quality and style of work.

    2. Cheryl*

      #5 – Submit work in an unalterable format – PDF, etc. DO include a watermark, tags or signature that clearly marks your design as your own. Display the work on your website – especially if you hear nothing back. Also, I would not submit a sample for contract / freelance work unless it is a significant length of time (6 months+?)

      I agree that your portfolio should speak for itself, but some of these assignments are timed because they want to see if you can work on a deadline to their specifications. Also, many legit companies require these type of tasks – especially in the NYC area where it seems to be especially common for companies with in-house graphic design departments (not independent graphic design agencies). Most agencies (as described above) won’t use it for anything other than what it was intended.

      Good luck!

  13. Sascha*

    #6 – Shoes! I love the clothing questions…

    I would try either Dansko’s or Clark’s. Both lines have quality shoes that are very comfortable and interview appropriate. They can be a little on the pricey side, but most quality shoes are (like around $100 or so, not anything crazy). Also, try the Walking Company – they offer a lot of really comfortable dress shoes. As for the style, I would go for a classy loafer in a nice leather, or a Dansko shoe in something neutral like black or brown. If you go with Dansko’s, don’t go with the clog – get something with a back. For some reason backless shoes to me don’t seem professional enough for an interview. In other words, enclose your foot completely.

    1. Nikki J.*

      #6 – I will second, third and fourth CLARKS! I always assumed they were ugly, grandma shoes but they have come along way. I’ve got horrible knees and funky toes that get scrunched in most shoes but I’ve actually been able to pull off a few pairs of Clark’s heals. If you are lucky enough to have a Clarks outlet anywhere near you I’d check it out.

      1. UK HR Bod*

        They used to be ugly grandma shoes, but they’ve upped their game in the last few years. I even have a couple of pairs of boots from them that I’d wear outside work.

      2. Elizabeth*

        I picked up an awesome pair of Clarks shooties heels last week on Amazon. Originally $185, for $39.99. I wore them yesterday, and I didn’t want to take them off when I got home after work because they were so comfortable!

        If I hadn’t bought a pair of Clarks shoes at a local store for full price and known exactly what size I needed, I’d have been uncomfortable ordering shoes online. But, since I did know, I was okay with it.

        1. Kathryn...in FINANCE!*

          Zappos! I love that store. Great prices, one-day shipping and free returns. I usually buy a shoe in a couple of different sizes and just return the rest. I acutally just bought a pair of Clarks today in fact.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      I second the comment about no clogs or backless shoes. If you’re wearing pants, I’ve noticed the bottom of the pants will get caught between your foot heel and the shoe.

      Also to OP #6 – my mom broke her ankle in high school and it was not set correctly. She has severely limited range of motion in her ankle and cannot wear heels or boots. She can wear a 1-1.5″ heel if it fits just right. Anyway, the brands suggested are good ones & what she wears. She also has luck with some aerosoles.

      Unless you’re applying for a fashion job or wearing something outrageous (like the coworker I saw in palm tree boat shoes yesterday), no one should think you aren’t professional because you’re in flats or loafers. And, ignore suggestions to suffer through wearing heels just while in the building. I’m not sure people fully understand the difference between having a major foot and ankle issue vs. wearing uncomfortable shoes.

    3. The IT Manager*

      I’ll fifth or sixth, Clarks. I haven’t had much luck at a Clark’s brand show store, but 75% of the time I buy at general show stores (DSW, Famous Footwear) I end up with Clark’s. They’re comfy and fit my style.

    4. Lulu*

      Clarks, Naturalizer, Easy Spirit, Hush Puppies, Aerosoles – all make “comfort” shoes with both casual and more interview-appropriate style options and low wedge or chunky heels. Macy’s (in L.A. at least) has a section for this, and agree with Walking Company as well as DSW/Famous Footwear/DB Shoes. Also, don’t forget online options – places like Zappos (and I think ShoeBuy) have a large selection, reviews, and free shipping & returns. And finally, if you find a style you like that’s out of budget, search ebay – it’s not always the deal it once was, but you can definitely find unworn shoes there (as well as lightly, as in one-time, used) for a decent price.

      Nice looking shoes can definitely be tough for those of us with foot/ankle issues!

  14. Lanya*

    #5 – AAM is correct that a company can ask you to do “spec” work…however, it is generally frowned upon in the design world, because that is the whole point of showing them a portfolio. If they like what’s in your portfolio, they should not need to test your skills. And I have personally seen my former company use spec work they got from interviewees, so I am sure there are a lot of other companies who do the same thing. I always politely decline to do spec work for an interview, and I hope you will too, since putting a watermark on your work doesn’t mean the company won’t try to copy and use your great design idea.

  15. Hello Vino*

    #5 – It’s very common for companies to ask designers (usually top applicants) to do a quick project to get a better sense of how they work. It’s less about testing your skills, as the portfolio already shows that, and more about your approach and process. When I’m in that situation, I provide low res files (soemtimes with watermarks) as deliverables.

    Plus, the portfolio is not always an accurate representation of an applicant’s skills. That nifty smartphone app in someone’s portfolio? Well, it’s entirely possible the applicant was part of a 10-person team and was only involved in a small portion of the project. I’ve hired designers, only to realize later that their working skills didn’t live up to the portfolio.

    The agency I’m at typically asks the applicant for their hourly rate and will specify a maximum number of hours for the project. I wish more companies would adopt that approach. It’s allowed us to get a better sense of how they would fit in within our team and how they *really* respond to criticism. And honestly, a lot of applicants don’t put much effort into the projects. It becomes very clear who is serious about the job.

    1. Esra*

      That’s awesome that your agency actually pays for it. That’s about the only way I’d complete a project as part of an interview process.

    2. Anonymous*

      Sometimes these assignments are also about determining fit.

      I experienced a similar situation in the home wares industry about 6 years ago. While my portfolio showed my ability, the company I was interviewing with wanted to set me an assignment to see whether I could design on brand.

      I was assigned a brief and given two weeks do produce the work, after which I had to present the work I’d done.

      The reimbursed me up to $100 for my design expenses (paper, boards, etc.)

  16. Brian*

    #2 — *everything* about a business letter is antiquated and a matter of stylistic convention. You say “In what other part of your life would you open a letter with ‘Dear Ma’am’?” but by the same token, in what other part of your life would you address a colleague as “dear” or end a communication by assuring the reader of your sincerity? “Dear Sir or Madam” is conventional and anything else draws attention to itself and away from the content of the letter.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Most business letters open with “Dear someone” — not necessarily emails, but certainly letters sent through the mail. It’s pretty normal.

      “Dear Sir or Madam” is not conventional anymore, not in this context — and I think you’ll see lots of us here saying that it’s what draws attention to itself, not a more informal address.

    2. shellbell*

      I write business letters all the time. Nothing antiquated about writing business letters. I just don’t use antiquated conventions (like Dear Sir or Madame). Dear Sir or Madame sticks out like sore thumb when you read 40 cover letters a day. It induces snickers.

  17. BW*

    #2 – I’m 40 and was taught to use “Dear Sir or Madam:” so “Dear Hiring Manager” sounds odd to me too.

    #6 – I can’t wear real heels. I have a bunyon that is OWWWWOOWWWOWWW when I even try. You can find nice businessy shoes with very low chunky heels (not higher than an inch) that are studier than the typical thin heel but not high or hard to walk in and not totally flat. There are also shoes that are mostly flat but have thicker soles and more cushioning and are a bit dressy. Check out some of the big shoe sites like Zappos for ideas. I like that you can filter by heel height and style.

  18. Malissa*

    #6 I am a person who will surely fall on their face in traditional heels. My solution has been to acquire a vast collection of dress boots. I’ve bought four pairs in the last three months. Some look like traditional cowboy boots, but shinier. some are soft leather stack boots. My favorite pair actually look like a pair of oxfords complete with laces. The heels are all at least an inch square.

  19. AG*

    #6: Have you tried low wedges? I am a tall lady too, and find a low wedge to be more stable than a traditional heel.

  20. Lulu*

    #2 I also feel like I’m being kind of obnoxiously impersonal by using “Dear Hiring Manager” – I always think of the Simpsons episode where they parody Chuck E. Cheese and the animatronic creatures sing about “birthday boy-or-girl”! I suppose one could say the same about “Sir or Madam”, in addition to the formality issue.

    While the etiquette fan in me gravitates towards the latter, realistically I do think it makes someone look a bit out-of-touch – however, it may also be yet another thing that depends on your industry. People in more traditional environments (i.e. banking, legal) might not find it as odd; if you’re looking at companies perceived as more “hip”, you have a higher chance of the raised eyebrow response.

    Since I tend to see “Dear Hiring Manager” frequently cited as the currently accepted alternative to an actual name, I try to ignore my aversion and go with that. Anything not a person’s name is going to sound somewhat awkward. Ultimately, it’s what comes after that I want to stand out, and I do think that between the two (or 3, if you include “To Whom…”) it’s less likely to draw attention to itself.

    1. Anonymous*

      I hold a similar view to Lulu.
      I have no problem with Dear Hiring Manager and it is common place.

      I know some of the very early comments about this brought up cultural differences–I completely understand, as I’m Australian and I know our approach is slightly different to the US; still I don’t see an issue with using Hiring Manager; we all get it, including the company we’re applying to, right?

  21. TL*

    #5: I’ve been informed that spec work is fairly common in the fashion industry, so it wouldn’t surprise me if it were also common for surface design jobs. Particularly in positions requiring technical expertise, you might be given spec work that was actually part of older company projects; they’re not new projects, so the company doesn’t benefit. However–are you regularly being asked to provide extensive, new, original art or concept designs, in addition to whatever is in your portfolio? In that case, it does sound a tad sketchier (not that they’re necessarily going to steal your designs, but they’re asking for a lot of work in exchange for nothing).

  22. Calibrachoa*

    #6 here, thanks for all of your input! Imma take a look at Clark’s this week, esp since they also do wide widths.

  23. M*

    Alison – thanks for answering my question (#1) I took your advice and followed up yesterday via email, which got kicked back to me (weird) so then I called the recruiter and got an automated invalid number message (even weirder) I called the main company line and spoke with someone else, apparently the recruiter I was working with was no longer with the company! I’m now working with a different recruiter and have moved forward and scheduled the on site interview.

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