how much does nervousness matter in job interviews, avoiding office drama, and more

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

1. How much does nervousness matter in job interviews?

I am a recent college graduate who, by now, has been on many interviews. I recently heard from a friend at a company where I made it to the final round of interviews (which included 4 hours and 5 different interviewers) that I was their number one candidate and everyone really liked me. The catch? I was nervous during one of the interviews. What is your measure or idea on nervousness during an interview? Is it really a deal breaker? I understand sweating, shaking, and being unable to answer a simple question as too nervous, but where is the line drawn? Some background on that particular time, I was in the middle of finals period for my final semester of school.

Whether or not nervousness matters depends on (a) the job and (b) the way it impacted your interviewing. Nervousness can be a problem if the role really requires someone unflappable — for instance, in a role that deals with high-pressure situations, difficult people, or lots of public speaking. It can also be a problem if your nervousness prevents the interviewer from being able to get a solid sense of who you are.

In your particular case, I think we’d both need more context to make this feedback useful in any way. It might be worth asking your friend if she can give you a better sense of exactly what the concern was.

2. Managing an employee who doesn’t communicate well

I thought that maybe you or your readers would have some suggestions for helping me work with an employee who doesn’t communicate well. To give you some background, I work in a fairly specialized industry and this employee has many more years of experience in this industry than I do. My role is more “managerial” and big picture and I am rarely involved in day to day tasks. This employee is very responsible, professional, and conscientious, but I very often have a very hard time understanding what he is trying to say. His pronunciation is clear, but the words just don’t make sense! It does not matter if the subject matter is specific and technical, or even something as general as his pets or vacation time. His verbs, pronouns and nouns don’t agree with each other, and it seems like he really talks in a “word salad.”

Every interaction takes much longer than it should and I have come to dread discussing anything work related. I have tried to communicate by email, but his writing is even worse than his oral communication. I also tell him when I don’t understand what he is saying, and he eventually (but not always) explains himself, but his overall communication the next time will still be extremely vague and confusing.

I am honestly at a loss at how to get him to communicate better. I really have never had this problem with anyone else in my professional or personal life. All of the other employees have the same issues with him, so I don’t think it’s me.

Have you talked to him about the problem? That’s where I’d start; he may not even know it’s an issue. Alternately, he might be painfully aware, and it might be linked to a disability, for all we know. If it’s not, though, then it’s certainly something that you can give him feedback on and ask him to work on improving. That said, this doesn’t sound like something he’s going to be able to change quickly — so you might need to decide if this is something you’re willing to live with or not. (I’m hard pressed to think of how this wouldn’t get hugely in the way of him being able to do his job effectively, but I suppose it’s possible that he does a type of work where it doesn’t.)

3. How to tell your coworkers to stop trying to draw you into office drama

I am new at my job. I like my job. I like my boss. I like my colleagues. But my colleagues do not like my boss and have been quite vocal about it in the office. The boss (along with management) seemed to have cracked down on the loud complaining, and the sniping seems to have stopped in recent weeks. But in the past couple of days, some of the complaining colleagues have decided to approach me and try to rope me in to their dislike of my boss.

It is none of my business who likes or dislikes whom in the office and I don’t want to make it my business. But the attempts at pulling me in to the intrigue and drama by those who dislike my boss is getting to be very annoying, and my attempts at ignoring them seems to have just made them bolder in trying to rope me in.

Should I just be straightforward with my colleagues and say something like: “I realize you dislike XXX and that is your business if you do. I don’t want to be involved in any office drama or conflict. I just want to do my job, earn my paycheck, and live my life outside of work. I don’t want or need any additional stress in my life. So please stop trying to bring me into your conflict with XXX. I am simply not interested.”

Is direct the way to go in this type of situation? Do it privately or say it so people can hear so there is no ambiguity where I stand?

That’s a bit too much, I think, particularly the last part of it. I don’t think you need such a formal statement. You could simply say, “I realize you don’t like Jane, but I don’t have a problem with her, and I want to stay out of any conflict.” If pressed further, you could add, “I really don’t want to be involved in any conflict — I just want to do my job and get along with everyone as best as I can.”

Be prepared, of course, for that to make them dislike you too. If you want to ward that off, you could go with a more low-key approach — ignoring it when you can and nicely saying “I don’t want to get involved” when you can’t.

4. Can I accept a job offer but warn them that I’m still hoping to hear back about a different job?

I recently graduated and started applying for work. I just got a job offer from a small energy company. It is a company that isn’t really in line with my interests, but is still something I could see myself doing for a couple years. However, I also applied for a job that I think would be my dream job working for the university I graduated from. I applied a very short time ago (well within the point where they still may give me a call), and I’m afraid that if I accept this position they’re going to call me in a few weeks and I might get an interview and the job.

So my question is, if I accept this position, should I tell them that I’ve also applied somewhere else and its my dream job and if they call I would be very interested in taking that position? Or should I accept the offer and give up on the other job?

You can’t accept an offer with a caveat that you might change your mind and take a different offer later. You have to either take this one now and accept that you’re not going to pursue the other one, or turn it down. Keep in mind that the other position hasn’t even reached out to you yet and might never do so. And also keep in mind that you have no idea whether it’s your dream job or not. (Statistically speaking, it’s almost certainly not.)

5. How to word an email after an interviewer misses your scheduled phone call

While job hunting, I’ve had several experiences now of getting stood up on phone interviews. Via email, I’ll have scheduled a phone interview with someone, and then never get a call. Each time, I then agonize over how to write a follow-up email without seeming too passive or too aggressive (or passive-aggressive, of course). Could you recommend an approach toward these follow-up emails?

Yep, it’s very common and very rude.

Your email should say this: “We had a phone interview scheduled for 3:00 today, and I’m checking in since I didn’t hear from you. I’d love to speak with you about this position; would you be available to reschedule for later this week?”

6. How to reward high performers when you can’t give raises

I am not in a position where I can offer raises as rewards to high-performing members of my staff. I work at a university where budget is pretty tight, and my boss, while understanding of my predicament (he’s worked with one of my high-performers for much longer than I have and is in agreement that she is underpaid), has made it pretty clear that there’s no room in the budget.

How can I reward my high-performing staff when my hands are tied about raises? The university’s HR has a supply of university-sanctioned goodies, i.e. water bottles, umbrellas, etc. with the university logo on them, and in our management training with HR, they suggest we use these. Frankly, I find saying, “you do great work! here’s a water bottle!” to be demeaning, but since I’m pretty new to management in general, I’m not sure what to do in this type of situation.

Ask them. Tell them that you don’t have the flexibility you’d like on raises, but that you want to find other ways to recognize good work, and ask what would be meaningful to them. You might hear about other things that would be within your power to do, whether it’s flexible work schedules, additional time off, training opportunities, or who knows what. (And yes, plenty of these may be out of your hands too, but you should ask the question and find out, and you should advocate to your boss for the ones that seem reasonable and doable to you.)

Water bottles and umbrellas should not be part of this. Your university’s HR system needs a good shaking.

7. Should I tell my manager I might need to live out of my car?

I have found myself in a situation. I have spent the last two years living with a married couple that have a lot of issues with their marriage. The husband recently decided to purchase a house that is located about an hour and 15 minutes from where I work. I work part-time in two positions at the community college where I work, and go to school full-time to get a four-year degree. I don’t have the money to make this daily commute from the new residence. I also don’t make enough to get an apartment on my own. As it stands right now, I usually have to choose between buying groceries (I have to feed all three of us) or gas to get to work.

My only option at this point is to live out of my car. I’ve called around to agencies that help people in this position, and the basic consensus has been that I just make a little too much, and that I have a car that is worth more than $2,000 so they can’t help me. I had one person tell me to have a baby and I will get help. What I want to know is, do I disclose this to my manager? If nothing works out, I may have to suddenly pack up and leave, as I have no family in the area and may have to go live with someone, and I know that while that will look negatively on me, I don’t want her to think that I suddenly decided to walk out on the job.

How awful. I’m sorry you’re in this situation. I don’t think you’re obligated to talk to your manager just in case you suddenly need to leave the area (because you could just talk to her at that point if it happened), but I think you should consider talking to her if she’s someone you trust and feel comfortable talking with — in part because she may be able to help you find additional sources of help.

I wonder if it might also make sense to put school on hold if that would allow you to temporarily work more hours / bring in more income, until you get through this patch. Other possibilities to think about: Can you find someone else who needs a roommate? If you’re in a metropolitan area, there are usually lots of housing options with roommates, even though they’d be strangers. If your employer has an EAP, can you check with them for advice and resources? What other advice do people have?

{ 169 comments… read them below }

  1. Josh S*

    Completely off-topic, and utterly irrelevant, but I can’t help but let my Red & Black show through a bit.


    I hope you’ll forgive me this one indulgence…

  2. V*

    #7 — So sorry you are going through this! I think some schools have resources for students in this situation. I’d start with the Financial Aid office and see if they have any options or if they can point you in the right direction.

    Also, can you move to the new house for a month or so, while you figure out an alternative? Even though it would be a financial hardship, it would buy you some time.

    1. LisaLyn*

      I was also going to suggest maybe going through student services at the college. They may have a roommate matching program or just happen to know of so-and-so who is looking for someone to share the rent, maybe even several so-and-sos.

      I wish you all the best, OP7. You are trying so hard and doing all the right things. I hope things turn around for you.

    2. SB*

      If you happen to belong to a religious organization, they can usually help too. There is also always searching for roommate wanted situations either through the local paper, craigslist or

      1. LJL*

        Even if you don’t belong to a religious organization, many will help people in tough spots like yours. Your school may well have some represented on campus. Good luck.

    3. COT*

      Yes, definitely check in with your student-services office and your employee assistance plan. More students find themselves in these situations than you might think, so I hope that your school will have some suggestions for you.

      If you look for a roommate kind of situation, try posting a “housing wanted” ad on Craigslist. I’ve found that sometimes people don’t advertise their openings publicly but will contact you. That’s how I got an amazing and really cheap long-term housesitting gig. Of course, take all of the usual safety precautions you would take with anything like this.

      Stay strong and hang in there–you’ll find a solution.

      1. Kate*

        I’m going to echo the “housing wanted” ad on Craigslist. It’s how I found my apartment/roommates. I just put some basic info about myself (age, that I was working, when I was looking to move, range I was willing to pay for rent, etc) and my current roommate emailed me and it’s worked out great.

  3. Katie G*

    OP#2: Speech pathologist here– it sounds like this employee may have a bonafide language disorder (what you’re describing resembles cluttering or a mild aphasia). Depending on how comfortable you are, you may recommend he seek a speech therapy evaluation, since this sounds like it’s significantly impacting his functional communication.

    I personally work with professional adults who often seek speech therapy at the recommendation of their employers in order to improve their communication (re: ability to perform!) in the workplace. It’s great when the employer is on board, because the therapist can provide strategies for supporting the individual and troubleshoot immediate communication issues.

    Feel free to PM me if you have more specific questions.

    1. CatK*

      This is very interesting to me. One of the managers in my office communicates badly, in the same manner described by the OP. His spoken communication is vague, like he can’t think of the nouns and verbs he needs to describe things, and his written communication is jumbled and hardly makes sense. He hates reading anything longer than a sentence of about 10 words (he gets annoyed with us for sending him “long” emails of 2-3 sentences). When speaking, if someone asks him a question, he will not answer the question asked, but talk about something else, usually something completely different, and gets upset when people don’t understand him.

      I am wondering what I, as a lower level employee, might could do to help him. It’s frustrating to interact with him for reasons described by the OP, thus I try to limit my interactions with him, which is sad, and I don’t want to do that. He is not my manager, but another manager in my department, whose team I interact with frequently.

        1. Lizzie*

          It’s tricky. I think there’s a good chance that the person described here has a language based learning disability or speech disorder. You can’t discriminate in hiring based on disability status.

          However, it sounds like the disability here (if one exists) prevents this person from doing his job. It doesn’t make sense to pay someone for a job they are not capable of doing, and this is not required under ADA. This brings up the issue of what “reasonable accommodations” are. I can’t think of a reasonable accommodation that would solve the problem in this situation.

            1. Anonymous*

              They’re ‘safe’ hires, those that will dutifully do the job for which they’re hired, never seek promotion and threaten anyone’s job or ambitions because they can’t and never ask for a raise. Voila!

            2. KS*

              We’ve got a Director/ Former VP who exhibits exactly these characteristics. He says he is dyslexic and wields this fact like a sword whenever his disability becomes an issue. It’s a wonder to see how everyone backs off. Oh–and he’s the meanest SOB you’ve ever met–so that may help.

              1. Jamie*

                I have worked with engineers and some technicians who are incapable of communicating via email (due to ESL issues) and it’s an issue verbally as well …but they are good enough at what they do that everyone else needs to compensate.

                It’s not always a deal breaker.

      1. Anonymous*

        To answer your question, I don’t think there’s anything you can do to help him. You can ask for clarification when needed and try to manage the situation (“Is there a better way for me to present to you when I need a decision about X?”), but there’s not much more you can do. You are not his neurologist, his speech pathologist, his boss, or a member of his family. Telling him his has a problem – which you’d like to help him with but aren’t qualified to do – is not going to go well.

        1. Katie G*

          You certainly can’t say to the individual “I think you have a language disorder”– you’re right, as a manager, you aren’t qualified.

          What you CAN say is, “Bob, I’ve noticed that you seem to have difficulty communicating your message clearly, and it has an impact on how effectively you’re able to work with the team. This might be something that a speech therapist can help with.” If possible, you could even offer to assist with finding a clinician who specializes in professional communication.

          This conversation is par for the course for most of my clients. It can be a difficult subject to broach initially, but it quickly becomes a very positive thing as the individual improves because the manager is “cheering” for him. If you show compassion and a genuine desire to help the person be more successful at work, most people are pretty receptive.

          Also, in my experience, people with communication disorders KNOW they have trouble communicating. It can actually be a relief to have a listener say bluntly, “This isn’t working. What can we do to make it work?”, rather than having everyone smile, nod awkwardly and pretend there’s not a problem.

          1. Katie G*

            Sorry– missed the peer vs. manager detail.

            The most helpful way to communicate is to repeat exactly what was said and identify WHY it was confusing. “You said X. To me, that sounds like Y.” (Where Y is a *very short paraphrase* of the meaning you meant.)

            If you have an idea of what he was trying to say, you can try presenting binary choices “Did you mean A? Or B?” Keep everything short and structured.

            This is a tedious way to communicate, and can easily come across as condescending. In cases like this, it is very hard to address the issue if the individual doesn’t want help or doesn’t acknowledge that there is a breakdown. So it very much depends on their personality and your relationship.

    2. Kou*

      My partner is like this, I’ve always associated it with him being technically ESL (though he’s lived in an English-speaking country since he was 7) but I don’t really know. He seems fluent but he frequently has trouble coming up with the correct words for things and just inserts the closest thing that immediately comes to mind. It’s like he stops thinking about his word choice the second he finds one that kind of fits.

      OP#2, this is what I do when I need to figure out what he means quickly: I used to always try to decipher it on my own but that didn’t seem to really help. Now I’ll think about it for a moment, but then just say “I don’t understand what you mean” or “can you explain that differently.” He frequently parses the right words/grammar once I essentially ask him to, but if I try to clarify he seems to stop thinking about what words he used. Once I’m thinking about it, he’ll stop, so I have to make him keep thinking about what he means for me.

    3. RLS*

      Chiming in to say the same thing…I also have mild aphasia…it’s so, so frustrating. Mine’s more receptive though; I can understand everyone’s voice but my brain stops decoding after a couple of sentences or a few words. I liken it to the teacher in the old Peanuts cartoons. I have to read lips sometimes to stay on focus and warn people ahead of time that I’m not being a creep; I just can’t understand them.

  4. LT*

    #3 I’ve found that a simple “Keep me out of this” or “Don’t get me involved in this” often gets the point across.

    1. jesicka309*

      Sometimes you don’t even need to be explicit – just keep a positive vibe around you.
      Coworker: Oh hey! Did you hear boss did blah blah blah
      You: Alright. Hey, did you catch True Blood last night? Great episode….

      Coworker: Man, boss is such a douche today…
      You: Oh really? Hmm. Anyway, what’s on for the weekend?

      Just ignore the unwanted behaviour, and deflect it with other positive topics that are non work related. They’ll realise that you’re not the person to go to if they want to vent, and other positive people will naturally gravitate to you. I’ve seen one positive person that just let all the crap slide off their back turn a toxic office into something positive and happy, just by being positive themselves and not letting the negative Nellies get them down. People would much rather be positive than negative. Start the change….others will follow, believe me, and it’s so much easier to do before you’ve worked there for 5 years and are set in your ways.

      1. Jessa*

        This, so much. “Negative yadda yadda,” response “Really? So have you seen the Smithson Report on conching chocolate?”

        Don’t even respond to the negative whatever, just pick up with something else.

      2. Jazzy Red*

        Actually, you *do* have to be explicit. I hope OP takes LT’s advice. It’s the best so far, even better than Alison’s.

        Short and to the point.

      3. P-*


        You *don’t* have to be explicit, you just have to ignore what they are saying, or respond to whatever with something positive about the person. They will figure it out. This is called Negative Reinforcement — the absence of a reward when the behavior is unacceptable. Works on dogs, kids, husbands, bosses, and coworkers.

        [Bonus points to anyone who knows what P- means.]

        1. Ruffingit*

          When I see P-, I think of 5P- or Cri du Chat Syndrome, but then that’s because I know someone whose child has it so that’s what I immediately go to.

        2. jesicka309*

          I was going to talk about Pavlov’s dogs (can I have my points?) but was afraid people would think I was comparing the OPs coworkers to dogs (not the case! But principle still applies).

      4. Anon*

        jesicka309, I completely agree! I’ve actually been doing the EXACT thing you suggest with my office. When I first started, the situation was very similar to what OP wrote (to the point where I wondered if OP was descibing my office). Anyway, in the beginning I got caught up in the drama, but then I realized how toxic it was and also that I didn’t agree (I get along really well with my boss, for the most part). I started changing the subject any time it came up and I haven’t heard a single negative thing in over a month! Of course, they could still be doing it without me, but at least I don’t have to deal with it anymore!

        1. Chinook*

          I want to add that TPTB might be dealing with the negative Nellie and, due to confidentiality,notable,stop tell others what they have done or will be doing. I was at one office where they took years to get rid of the source of the attitude because she had convinced some of the partners that they couldn’t operate without her. I tried my best to not be drawn in but that just made me a target. My supervisor was aware of it and tried to keep me positive by saying they were working on it but couldn’t tell me anything except to be patient.

      5. Kelly O*

        Or, simply ignore it.

        My favorite response these days is “mm-hmm?” and just continue what I’m doing.

        I realize ignoring isn’t always the greatest answer, but I have found by simply not engaging or ignoring I at least get the drama directed away from me. I’ve also found that if you’re consistent enough with it, they will stop the gossip around you, look pointedly in your direction, and go somewhere else.

        I like the misdirection too, but it doesn’t always work well for me, because I don’t watch a lot of the same shows as my coworkers. So I just sort of “mm-hmm” and “wow” my way through the day.

        1. some1*

          At my last job there was a shady Director who would come to you complaining about someone and use the info against you. I saw her do it to a co-worker of mine, so when she came to me to complain about a co-worker (and started telling me personal things about the co-worker that I really didn’t need to know), I used your approach, “Oh yeah?” was all I said to each point she made, in a very neutral tone, and it worked well.

      6. Elizabeth West*

        Ha ha, great technique. Etiquette Hell calls it “bean-dipping,” as in “Really? That’s nice. Have you tried Barbara’s bean dip? It’s excellent!”

    2. shannon313*

      To make it less awkward, I usually laugh and say something like “I’m not touching that with a ten foot pole! How about that playoff game?”

      1. Lanya*

        This has worked the best for me in the past. It gets the point across that you’re not interested in participating in the drama, while not being blunt about it.

    3. Leslie Yep*

      I’ve also had success with a really simple, “That hasn’t been my experience.” or “I’ve never noticed that.” It makes it clear that you’re not interested in engaging.

      1. Emma*

        Thanks for these deflection techniques, everyone. I worry about how to deal with gossip in the workplace (where it can be a way to bond in a small office) so these are very helpful.

  5. Anonymous*

    #7. Sorry you are in a tough spot. However, you have plenty of great resources at hand. You do not need to rent an apartment yourself. There are always sublets available around college campuses during the summer months. Ask fellow students if anyone is in need of a roommate. You can browse Craigslist to see what is available for renting a room in a house (this is usually cheaper than sharing an apartment). You do not have to live in your car! The college may also have special benefits you are not aware of for staff members. Ask HR about this (you don’t have to explain your situation). Worst case scenario is that you may have to scale back on school for a semester to beef up your income until you figure out something long term.

  6. Anonymous*

    #7 Have you looked at school message boards (online or in the student center) or the school newspaper? I’ve found that many people advertise for roomates in those places. Also ask your classmates, or even former professors, about people who need roommates or subletters for the summer. Networking is not just for finding jobs.

    I do diagree with AAM about leaving school, because the few people I’ve seen leave for financial reasons, don’t come back. Often the barrier of paying to reapply, or the prospect of doing badly in classes because you don’t remember the previous material, deters people from going back to school. OTHO I’d ask if you really need the degree you’re going for, as often some college-level classes is enough in some professions.

    1. jesicka309*

      Yes! I second this. Don’t quit, you’ll never go back, or if you do, it will be SO hard. However, cut your classes, choose a couple of easy electives for a semester, even if you’re just doing one subject for a semester while you get back on your feet. It’s so hard to jump back in after a break (having your weekends back instead of studying is just AMAZING), and if you can keep up some semblance of a routine, you will not regret it.

      1. Marmite*

        It can work to take time out of school, I took a year off and then went back and graduated top of my (admittedly small) class. It is hard work and you have to be motivated to get your degree, but it’s not impossible.

        I agree that cutting back to part time is a good option for the OP, if she can afford it, though.

        1. Brett*

          Did you take time off for financial reasons though?
          I took temporary time off for financial reasons to work full time while I earned money.

          Temporary time turned into 8 years of fast food and temp work. Unfortunately, when you take time off like that your student loans come due as well, and getting above living paycheck to paycheck becomes very difficult.

          1. Marmite*

            Family reasons combined with financial reasons. It can be very difficult, but in most cases it’s not impossible.

    2. Anonymous Accountant*

      Is there online classes available at the OP #7’s college? Several state universities and our local community college offer classes online for the same cost as in-person class.

      Online classes (through her current college) may offer the OP some flexibility to work more hours. Sorry to read about your situation but others have offered great advice about becoming a roommate, et. Good luck!

    3. Ask an Advisor*

      Many students in dire financial situations choose to stay in school because they are also relying on financial aid to survive. OP #7’s options would probably be greatly impacted if this were the case, especially because not all aid is available to part-time students.

      1. Jess*

        In addition to looking for roommates, remember that your food costs will go down if you’re not buying groceries for 2 other people! Depending on where you live, a hostel might another short-term situation. In addition, you may want to look into food stamps and food pantries/assistance programs in your area. Any of these may be able to help you.

        I don’t like to advocate losing income, but if you’re making just too much money to qualify for assistance, perhaps you can cut back your hours so you do qualify? I know this seems illogical, but much about social support in the (I’m assuming) US is.

        Good luck!

  7. Elsajeni*

    #3: I think AAM has it exactly right. I work in retail, and I have a manager who I like pretty well but who doesn’t get along with a lot of my co-workers. I started out erring too far toward taking his side — objecting when people complained about him around me, and that sort of thing — but I figured out pretty quickly that 1) that was a losing proposition, and 2) it was only getting me more involved in drama. These days, my approach is to ignore most negative comments about him (or about any other co-worker, for that matter) unless I’m directly asked how I feel about [whatever], in which case I say something like, “I know not everyone likes him, but I get along with him pretty well,” and change the subject.

  8. EngineerGirl*

    #1 – Nervousness does matter. If you mesh with the interviewer they feel much more comfortable about “fit” and hiring you. So I guess it isn’t so much that nervousness is a negative as much as friendliness could be a discriminator.

    #3 “I’m really uncomfortable talking about this topic and would prefer not to discuss it. Thanks.” Repeat.

    #4 No, no, no. It’s just like dating. Pick one. If you pick one until something better comes along you’ll be known as a player.

    #6 – High performers love:
    Stretch assignments
    Assignments that give them visibility and recognition
    Assignments that are career enhancing
    Assignments that give them more responsibility
    A special research project (where they can present the paper at a conference)

    #7 Look around for roommates. It is possible that your rent could be cheaper than groceries for 3 (they could be taking advantage of you). Think about reducing your school load and go on the 5 (or 6) year plan (that’s what I did). The reduced tuition is a potential source of savings. Consider selling the car if there is good public transportation (insurance and gas costs extra). The dream isn’t over. It is just getting stretched a bit.

    1. Allison (not AAM!)*

      I’m with EngineerGirl on #1 – As long as you can maintain an air of professionalism, nervousness is a human reaction to something that is important to you. If you have to mention it, do so – ONCE – in the context that you’re excited about this opportunity and really want to make the best impression. Every interviewer is human, and if they see that you are fully invested, that’s a good thing! Just don’t dwell on it or keep apologizing for it. Acknowledge it and move on.

      And #7, I am so sorry you’re going through this – there’s some really good advice here – I hope some of it can help!

    2. Anonymous*

      That raised a flag for me too – paying for groceries for three seems like a lot of money, potentially more than what you’d pay for rent (with a roommate). OP good luck and I reiterate the advice re looking into rooming with someone near or on campus

      1. Elise*

        My thoughts as well. You won’t be paying for their food anymore, and there are a lot of great recipes for lentils and rice (about $1.50 for a bag of each will provide one person with a week of food).

    3. Anonicorn*

      Adding to #6, getting a choice of which projects you work on (if that’s feasible) would also be a reward.

  9. snuck*

    Re #6… ask the staff member in a private conversation. I had a staff member once who had done some excellent work which helped another team out (he built a new tool for them, we were a business improvement team) and I asked him what he wanted as a reward (because he hated being called out in front of people, or treated to large fancy thankyous) and he told me he was buying his first new car that week and could he have the afternoon off to go pick it up… Definitely! Why not take the whole day? (He really did deserve that.)

    What really screwed it up was that the team leader of the team he’d helped then ran out and got him free movie tickets and organised a cake and big hoopla thankyou in her team meeting (without talking to me at all) and invited him to her team meeting (again without talking to me – it was a very dysfunctional workplace) and embarrassed the crap out of him, he felt he couldn’t take even half a day off to get his car because he’d already been rewarded with these movie tickets (he could afford to buy himself – he was buying his car new with cash!) and suddenly I had a resentful employee on my hands who thought I was somehow involved in it all. When I tried to talk to the other team leader it all went crappy because she got defensive about not talking it through with me first… ARGH!

    1. snuck*

      I’d add alternative rewards I’ve used in the past have included:

      – Time off (whether that be a longer lunch, an afternoon, a day, whatever, time for personal training/study that might not be work supported).
      – Flexible schedules – a great display of trust
      – Written thankyous, hand written or email is fine
      – In team recognition – food, snacks, a round of coffee etc to celebrate
      – Team building fun days – go bowling or whatever – but make it that the team chooses the activities (or play Katamari :P)
      – Lunch – shout that person a two person lunch in a local restaurant, let them take it when they wish with whomever they wish
      – Vendor toys – I’d get heaps of vendor/supplier toys of dubious repute – sharing those as semi rewards was great – everything from event tickets to USB powered drink warmers (that cooked hard drives – ouch!) to puzzles and stress balls.
      – Lolly jar and coffee pot – I usually had a coffee pot on at my desk (large office floor plates of 2-300 staff, only one kitchen) and a lolly jar – meant problem solving was a communal thing and people felt I was more approachable, and it meant that if someone did something small I could easily say “that’s great Jane, here, have a jelly baby”and we could laugh and it was a little acknowledgement.

      A lot of rewarding them was getting to know the individual, and providing what was valuable to that person. It mightn’t seem much but for them it was more than enough – someone who never gets to eat lunch away from their desk for some reason might love the lunch reward (or hate it), someone who always has to do stuff for others (admin people) might like it that they’re brought coffee etc.

      1. The IT Manager*

        shout that person a two person lunch

        Are you in/from Australia? Because I read a story yesterday set in Australia that used the word “shout” to mean buy/pay for a meal and drinks. At first I thought it was a typo, but the use of multiple times led me to think it was a legitimate albeit completely unknown to me use of the word which to means to yell or talk loudly.

            1. Bluesie*

              Except that a lolly in Britain is a lollypop, whereas in Australia it’s what the British call sweets and the Americans candy. I think…

    2. EngineerGirl*

      Oh let me guess – the other team leader was an extrovert and your employee was an introvert. And the other team lead just couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want what she did.

      When it comes to rewards I might recommend “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman. It talks about how each person feels valued in a certain way. If you don’t “love” them in their way, they don’t feel loved at all, even if you feel that you are dishing it all over them.

      1. The IT Manager*

        Love that book because it was a revelation for me. I lack empathy in that I mean I have great difficulty perceiving another point of view. It helped me to understand that my (ex) boyfriend meant well when he gave me what I perceived as useless trinkets that cluttered up my house as signs that he was thinking of me whereas I just wanted to spend more time doing things together with him even at low or no cost.

        Same diff for work. I would not appreciate anything to draw attention to me although private kudos and positive feedback is great. I suppose there might be somebody who might like to me made the center of attention. I would love extra time off (even more than a gift card) if my bosses could swing it. I have enough cash to buy what I want so a gift card really has no impact on how I spend my money, but I would love extra time off work. I’m sure there are others who struggle to make ends meet that with would appreciate extra cash or a useful gift card as a reward. Knowing the employee’s “language of love” is key to a meaningful reward.

      2. Rindle*

        +1 on The Five Love Languages. Never thought about using it in an office context, but I can definitely see how it translates. It does have a strong Christian context, but I’m not religious and I still found it useful.

          1. Ellie H.*

            Wow, I had never heard of this and just took their test. Very interesting (though my results did not surprise me at all). It’s also interesting to consider things that we want from those we are closest to, compared to from people we don’t know well. I was about to inquire if there is anyone in this world who “likes to be touched when friends and loved ones walk by” but then I realized that I really like it when my boyfriend or one of my parents thumps my shoulder or something in a casual way. But apart from a select few, when someone walks by I’m usually inwardly praying that they don’t speak to me or acknowledge my existence in any way. So it’s interesting to think about our radically different methods for interacting with people depending on our relationships to them.

            It did made me feel a bit materialistic because I do appreciate gifts. I have a lot of totemic objects that I feel reflect my identity and I think possessions can bring me a lot of happiness ( If someone gives me something that shows that he or she considered what would make me happy to own, I feel really valued – it’s evidence that someone was thinking about me when I wasn’t around.

      3. Woodward*

        I love this book! I’ve used it to connect better with managers and co-workers by increasing my awareness of what makes them feel appreciated.

      4. snuck*

        EngineerGirl you’ve hit it on the head. Not just an introvert, employee was so introverted I had to ‘train’ him to say good morning when he first started working for us. He was probably my best ever employ though – you know how some just resound with ‘perfect fit’ for a role? He was awesome.

        Thankfully he trusted me and we worked through it, but he never trusted that other team leader again and he was dubious about working for any other team leads without very clear demarcation through me which was annoying – I preferred a more hands off approach sadly.

    3. Ruffingit*

      I hope you were able to explain to him that you absolutely were NOT involved in that hoopla. So sorry the other team leader did that. Good intentions, bad outcome.

  10. Sarah G*

    #7 – Sorry you’re dealing with this. Please do not consider living in your car as an option. You will not be able to sustain your job and studies while living in your car (bathroom/showering? cooking & refrigeration? light source for studying & electricity for a computer to do your classwork? Not to mention safety, and staying cool enough/warm enough), and your whole life will most likely unravel. I’m not trying to scare you, but the realities of being homeless are harsh, and this is not your only option.
    I don’t understand your exact scenario with this couple, or why you were buying food for all three of you unless that was in exchange for rent. But others’ suggestion to look for roommate/housemate scenarios is probably your best option.
    If you are at all involved in any sort of church, synagogue, or other faith-based organization, please talk to the minister, rabbi, etc. They should know of resources and might even have direct access to some short-term emergency financial assistance for rent or for the move itself, and they are less likely to be concerned that your income is a little too much for the other agencies.
    As for food, many pantries (the majority) are also not concerned with your income. I know it isn’t easy to accept that you need this sort of help, but food is a lot easier to come by than money, esp if you live in an urban area. If you supplement your groceries with some donated food, that’s more money that can go towards rent.
    I wish you the best of luck with resolving this situation.

    1. H. Vane*

      Look, even if you aren’t involved with a church, let me suggest that you try talking to a Mormon bishop. Other denominations may do similar things, but these guys are often able to wrangle someone a spot in a family’s house for a while, or access to something called the bishop’s warehouse, where you can get food and other necessities extremely cheaply. I doubt they would turn you away even if you are not a member. Obviously, be prepared for some conversion attempts, but they won’t force you to get baptized.

      1. annie*

        Agree with you here on the even if you aren’t involved with a church, go ahead and reach out to one in your neighborhood. Catholic Charities does most of the social services in my city to mostly non-Catholics, and the Salvation Army also can help. (Salvation Army has been known to turn away GLBT people, though, so beware on that front.)

        1. Chinook*

          I agree that that the local Catholic Church should be able to help you even if you are not a member. At the very least, they will be able to point you towards agencies that can help you even if they don’t have the means themselves. There probably is even a campus ministry (either interfaith or catholic) that can help you out. The added bonus is that, being involved with students daily, they would understand your situation.

          1. LJL*

            I’d recommend any major denomination, even if you aren’t a member. Most will assist those who could use it as a part of their mission, and many will not attempt to convert you.

    2. Katieinthemountains*

      If you have access to showers at your school’s gym and common areas to study and relax in, you may be in better shape than most, but it is really hard to live out of your car. I hope you can find a place you can afford.
      Whether you tell your manager depends entirely on your relationship with him or her. At my office, a new hire was commuting 1+ hours from his parents’ house, and after a few months, the boss offered him an empty bedroom at his house (my coworker promptly found a nearby apartment). However, I’ve heard that at my office and my university, guys who were basically living in their offices due to marital problems were terminated (possibly for related performance issues).
      So if you think your manager would be sympathetic and maybe give you more hours, go for it. If you don’t, you probably want to keep it quiet, especially if you have an underlap in housing that you know is temporary.

    3. Kathryn in Finance*

      +1 to the Mormon Church idea. My best friend is Mormon, and they are the most generous, sincere community I know. I’ve been to church with my friend’s family dozens of times over my lifetime, and no one has ever tried to convert me (although they knew I practiced another religion, it might be different if you were non-religious). I’m sure they would be more than willing and able to help a struggling college student.

    4. JuliB*

      Call the local Catholic Church and see if they have a St. Vincent de Paul Society. We are usually able to help with food or with small bills. If there isn’t a ‘chapter’ (actually called conferences) at the nearest parish, they can refer you to the next one over. We have food and grocery gift cards.

      Clothing and housing set up may be available through the SVdP store, but that’s outside of my realm of volunteering.

  11. ElinBlue*

    #7. I think you should consider the reasons you are buying food for the troubled married couple. If it’s because of cheaper rent, that is no longer applicable as they are no longer providing housing that suits your needs. If it because you have an emotional bond and they are not able to afford food, well, neither are you. I know it’s hard to accept this sometimes, but sometimes you need to look out for you and let other people look out for themselves. You are not in any position to help them keep food on their table.

    Have you looked into food stamps programs? If your income is too high for that, I have heard from friends that food banks are happy to give food to anyone who needs it without asking too many income related questions.

    Perhaps you can bus into work? It would take a lot longer, probably, but may be worth it. If not, there might be someone you can find on the internet to carpool with. They could pay for at least some of the gas.

    1. ElinBlue*

      Another thought,
      In the slightly longer term, is it possible to get some/more student loans? Going into (further) into debt might be advisable while you are busy investing in yourself.

      1. Ask an Advisor*

        Students are only able to get school, state, and federal financial aid up to the cost of attendance, which includes tuition, fees, room and board, transportation, and some personal expenses. The cost of attendance is an amount determined by the school, so it is unlikely that OP #7 can get more money unless they did not accept aid up to the full cost of attendance.

        That being said, OP #7 please see private loans as an ABSOLUTE LAST RESORT. Private loans are much riskier than government-backed school, state, and federal loans. In fact, private loans have a history of predatory lending practices, especially for students with the greatest financial need.

    2. Marmite*

      Food banks are great when you’re stuck for food, but they generally only provide “emergency provisions”, which means you can only collect food from them once a month and they’ll give you roughly one weeks worth of food. The one I used to use required proof of address (they served a specific catchment area) but not proof of income of anything like that. They also provided clothes and shower facilities if you needed them. The only problem was they were only open weekdays in the middle of the day.

      The college I attended also had it’s own food bank specifically for students, again providing emergency provisions for one week out of each month. I never had to use, but I had friends who did and I think a student ID was all that was required.

  12. Jennifer*

    Heh. Yeah, been there with the university thing. Problem is, those things are so regulated that giving extra bonuses such as days off or more vacation time or flexible hours are probably not allowed either. They’re not allowed here–unless the budget cuts get so bad that everyone has to take a pay cut in hours, which has happened in some years.

    For the record: where I work, we might get a party once in awhile (again, depends on budget years), but we don’t even merit free water bottles. They really just cannot do anything for us beyond making a big deal about thank yous at staff meetings. But we’re all just happy we still have jobs, nitpicking about not getting raises or more flexible work hours feels like watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and seeing Clark whine about not getting his holiday bonus. That shit is just not going to happen or even relevant in 2013.

    1. wut*

      I certainly hope you’re only speaking for your company and position… being rewarded for your work through raises or more benefits certainly is relevant, no matter what year it is.

    2. College Career Counselor*

      OP 6:
      I completely understand about not being able to give the person a raise due to university budget/regulations (and another annoying thing about universities is that performance evaluations are generally comletely de-coupled from the raise/pay increase). One of the things I was able to do get someone more money was to work with HR to re-classify their job based on what they’d actually been doing, and not what their (extremely outdated) job description said.

      The job description in question hadn’t been reviewed or updated in several years. Happily, I was able to work with my boss and with HR to go through the process of justifying a grade bump based on increased responsibilities, handling technical matters, and acting independently. Obviously, I don’t know if this is possible where you are (or if the person’s job description is terribly outdated), but it might be worth looking into.

      1. Jennifer*

        I concur, yes, getting my status bumped up is the only time I’ve gotten raises here. (I am not OP six, btw, just someone who’s been there) Nobody gets raises no matter what you do for merit any more, but if you reclassify the job, that will help. I also got a few cents’ raise upon changing jobs (at the same technical level) this year because my new coworkers were getting paid slightly more than me. Hooray!

        But…well, if you are a university clerical, and that’s all you do or will ever do, you aren’t going to get rewarded with raises, period. You’re not a big enough fish to catch for upper management. But I’d probably rip out my own hair if I was management, so there you go. My whole career is about settling these days.

      2. tcookson*

        I work as an admin at a university, and having my position reclassified was how I got my best raise. One of the questions that the HR evaluator asked my department head and the deans assistant was whether, if they hired a new person, they would have the new person doing the same level of work. The gist was that the position reclassification had to be applied to the position, not to the individual, so that if I quit, they would be hiring to fill a higher classification; the old position would be retired. So they had to think whether they would want to bring in a new hire at the rate they were paying me, should it ever come to that.

    3. College Career Counselor*

      I think my earlier reply got eaten, but basically, OP 6 could look into getting a grade bump for the employee, especially if the job description is outdated.

  13. Lillie Lane*

    #1: Ugh. Stupid little things (like nervousness in some cases) can make or break an interview. It sucks that an “off” day can blow a job opportunity.

    I was on a search committee for a faculty position and one of the best candidates was dismissed by the rest of the committee for not being “enthusiastic enough” about one aspect if the job. Never mind that the guy’s plane had come in 5 hours late and he had to take a 2 hr taxi ride at 3am to get to our interview breakfast at 8am. Plus his luggage got lost and they had to take him to Wal-Mart for clothes because it was the only place open. Needless to say, he was a little rattled and I was extremely annoyed with the narrow view of the rest of the committee.

    1. Lanya*

      This. One time, I was at an interview where I had driven through a blizzard to get there. While I was not nervous for the interview, I was on edge/stressed from having white-knuckled the steering wheel the whole way there. I guess it showed during my interview, because the owner of the company kept saying “don’t be so nervous!!!” at least five times…which just made me feel even worse. Needless to say…it was not a good interview.

      (Which is probably OK, because they were asking questions about how many volts of electricity you could expect to get from a wall outlet, for a graphic design position.)

    2. tcookson*

      This. We recently had a faculty search where we brought four candidates in for campus visits, which include 2 whirlwind days of back-to-back meetings with various faculty, upper admin, and student groups, culminating in a 45-minute lecture to everybody in the whole entire school (faculty and students from all the departments) on teaching/work philosophy and research/creative work. They have to hit the tarmac running, and it goes nonstop until they’re ushered back to their plane for departure.

    3. Lindsay J*

      Yeah, I was doing a phone screen one time and I had the flu. Apparently my crappy feelings were being translated over the phone because the interviewer commented that I didn’t sound very enthusiastic about the position. I explained that I was enthusiastic about the position and that I had the flu so was generally a bit under the weather. I didn’t get the position.

  14. Another Emily*

    OP#7, another option to consider is a room and board situation. They can be affordable. Or check out Craigslist and community bulletin boards (try the library) for roommate opportunities. I hope you land on your feet here. This could be a blessing in disguise if you find an affordable situation, because this couple do not sound like they’re very good roommates to you.

    If you do end up living out of your car, be careful where you park overnight. The last thing you need is a parking ticket. But I don’t think it will come to that. There are lots of people who can’t afford their own place and need a roommate.

  15. Gary*

    #7- please go to your school and talk to someone who is the McKinney-Vento liaison. You are already homeless living w this couple. You college must help you, and McKinney – Vento is a federal law. Please google McKinney-Vento college + your state. You can do this, and you will have a good place to sleep, and food to eat and no longer homeless!

    Please keep us posted!!!!

    1. COT*

      McKinney-Vento only applies to homeless children and youth; while the age limit can vary by state it’s usually about 22. I also don’t believe it applies to college students. I just wanted to clarify as to not get OP’s hopes up if this program won’t be helpful to her.

      However, OP, if you are under 22 it’s worthwhile to contact programs that serve specifically homeless youth. Even if you don’t qualify for their services they may have other resources to offer.

    2. Emma*

      Depending on the state you live in, or even the city, you might qualify as homeless and be entitled to certain services. Increasingly, social services are serving “non-traditional” homeless individuals – people couch-surfing, adults living with relatives, etc. in addition to folks who live in shelters, hotels/motels and on the street.

  16. Nelly*

    Reading no. 6, I have an awful feeling I may be the staff member in question. Or at least in a totally similar situation. It would totally be my Uni that would offer bottles and umbrellas instead of actually paying market rate wages.

    1. Dr. Speakeasy*

      I think it would be a lot of people’s Unis these days. (I was flabbergasted at the travel post the other week where people talked about their university paying for travel – we get nowhere near the level of funds discussed in a good year and nothing in a bad year).
      And then they wonder why good people leave.

    2. Oxford Comma*

      I wondered for a second if it was mine. They tend to give us this junk too and then they talk about morale and team building and it always seems like a line to me.

    3. Jamie*

      I am trying to imagine what my reaction would be to a water bottle in lieu of a raise. I have no words.

      1. Chinook*

        I was happy when they gave us AA’s water bottles because they were typical onboarding gifts for new accountants (along with leather notepads and other swag) where us AA’s usually even had to hunt for pens and papers.

  17. Marmite*

    #7 I was in a similar position once and remember hearing the “we can only help people with children” line many times. We were lucky in that my partner was disabled and we eventually found a housing complex for disabled people with heavily subsidized rent that didn’t have a several year waiting list for apartments (that was the other problem we hit against – most of the subsidized housing had at least a 2 year waiting list).

    I would second the looking for a place with roommates, you may be able to find other students from your college who need a roommate. Also look at lodging, I have a friend who is doing that right now (renting a room from a family who needed a little extra income) and, while it’s not ideal, it’s working well enough for a short-term solution. My partner and I also did that for about two months while we looked for a place we could afford, although we rented a room from people we knew and paid for it with free childcare and housework.

    People looking for carers will sometimes also offer free accommodation + food in return for being in the house at certain hours (say from 7pm through the night) and helping an elderly or disabled person with their evening routine. Again, not ideal if you’re already in full-time school and working, but maybe possible.

    1. fposte*

      Also see if there’s house-sitting available–it’s summer and faculty members are leaving town. I also agree with those upthread that the buying food for three people decision needs to be revisited now.

      1. Jen*

        And if you’re at a university in the summer, talk to the Dean of Students. Students move out of our dorms in the summer and they’re all empty. I don’t know that we’d make a policy of this but I would imagine that if a student asked and laid it all out, we’d be able to give them a dorm room for a little while until classes are in session.

        1. Lore*

          I don’t know if this is a possibility with your work schedule, but what about an RA position in a dorm? Usually those include room and board, or room and partial tuition credit, which could free up some money for other things.

          1. Anon*

            Lore, that was going to be my suggestion! I worked as an RA for 2 years and was given free room and board plus an additional stipend for each semester. Not to mention the free food available at campus events! My university even had summer RA positions. I was working 2 jobs, going to class full time, and working as an RA. It was stressful, but ended up working out really well.

            1. Chinook*

              You brought up the one bonus of remain a student – free food if you know how to look for it. My university also had an intermural program that gave participation the-shirts which were often the only new clothing any of us could afford for four years.

        2. T*

          Please talk to your Dean of Students! I work in Student Affairs at a university and I know our Dean would bend over backwards to help a student in this situation.

    2. twentymilehike*

      renting a room from a family who needed a little extra income

      I did this for years through college. It was always the cheapest rent for your own room. I also shared a room in a two bedroom apartment several times, and I’ll admit, at one point I did live in my car.

      But I’ll be very honest that I could not have gotten through that period of my college career without a ton of help from friends. I spent a brief period living in my VW Bug, and I had to be very strategic. I mostly slept on other student’s and friend’s couches, stayed up all night at Denny’s “coffee camping” with my books, napped in the library during the day, slept on the beach a couple times, and yes, I even went to parties just to have somewhere to stay overnight. I showered at a friend’s house, brushed my teeth in the school bathroom (or side of the road) and I kept a loaf of bread and PB&J at work, telling my coworkers that it was so I could eat on my way to school after work. I can’t even remember what I did with my mail.

      OP, Keep your chin up and don’t be afraid to ask your friends for help. I’ve been there and I know I was a pain in the ass, but it’s been ten years and most of those people are still my friends, and I’ve been able to make it up to them countless times. I’ve slept on a lot of couches during a lot of bad breakups, and bad roommate situations, and you might feel like a leach, but remember, it’s temporary and you’ll make it out just fine :)

      1. annie*

        And on the other side, I’ve been that friend who lets you sleep on my couch for a few weeks and hands you a bag of groceries because “there was a buy one get one free sale”, and I was glad to do it. I know it is hard, but an honest conversation with your friends may be the best place to start.

        1. Ruffingit*

          Agreed. I’ve been in both situations – I’ve been the friend who needs help and the friend who has given help. Talk to your friends. One person may not be able to provide all you need, but the power of the collective is strong. It’s humbling and hard to ask, but true friends will be there for you.

          1. OP 5*

            I’m OP 5, and thanks so much, Alison, for replying to my question, especially since you’d answered it before!

            I also wanted to repeat what the above comments say, since I’ve also been on both sides before. It can absolutely suck to have to ask help from your friends, but if they are true friends they will be happy to do it (I was so happy I could help others once I got back on my feet), and it can even make the friendship stronger, as well.

  18. Katie the Fed*

    #1 – for what it’s worth, I kind of like when a candidate is a bit nervous. I think it’s because I myself am a nervous interviewer, so I can empathize with them in that regard. Plus it also tells me they care a lot about the position and doing well. Something about it is more humanizing, more genuine. That’s not to say candidates who aren’t nervous are at a disadvantage, but nervousness doesn’t really bother me at all.

  19. Sascha*

    #6 – Oh goodness. I work at a university whose budget is tight, and I would be so upset if my bosses gave me a water bottle. That is truly insulting. I have been promised a raise if budget comes through, but I’m not really counting on that right now, so I am asking for other things, and actually getting them (asking! a new concept for me). For example, I got them to pay for a training class I really wanted to take at the university, and it was discounted, so look for some development opportunities at the university you are with, and you might could get them discounted or free. Flex time and telecommuting are other great benefits to ask for, especially if your commute is really long – for one of my coworkers, she saved so much gas when she started telecommuting, it was equal to about the money she would have gotten from a standard raise.

  20. Lora*

    #7: Please go talk to the Dean of Students at your college. They should also have some information or help for your situation. I know when I was dirt-poor in college and couldn’t afford a lot of things, the head of my major department(s) was able to increase my hours at my work-study job, I got an additional departmental scholarship to free up some student loan money for living expenses, and the Dean had emergency money for textbooks for any student who couldn’t afford them. I also had plenty of friends on scholarship who were in situations similar to yours–about to be homeless–and the university was able to find them student housing (even when the student housing was ostensibly full up for the year). I know a couple of students were even housed in an alumni house that was normally reserved for wealthy alumni donors who occasionally visited, and the alumni donors were treated to a hotel room. There was also an old fraternity house that had been converted into administrative offices for student organizations, and a student group was willing to give up their space in exchange for help with their events. Even the building where the school radio station was housed had apartment space on the top floor that was occasionally used for emergency housing–one of my friends who had literally the clothes on her back and a computer she built herself lived there for a couple of semesters.

    Food pantries don’t always only give out emergency food, it depends on the organization. Unfortunately a lot of them distribute food at times when it’s not super-convenient, like 9am on a Wednesday, and depending on your area sometimes you have to get there early. But if there’s a food co-op anywhere, those generally are willing to trade work stocking shelves or running cash registers for food.

    1. Jess*

      Seconding this. I work as an RA on a campus, and we always have additional spaces reserved for situations like this. Even if they’re not the best spaces, they exist. I know food and textbooks have also been covered by the dean of students at both schools I’ve attended. Good luck!

  21. Brett*

    #7 Since you are at a four year school, there are several services that should be available. The first is a student support services office. They help students with a wide range of problems, which frequently includes problems like yours. The next place to go is the office of financial aid.

    The one very important factor that was missing from the letter was the role of your parents. I have this sinking feeling that you have parents who are not supporting your decision to attend school; that rules out financial aid when you are under 24 with no dependents (hence why having a child would make a big difference).

    If this is not you, in other words, if you are over 24, if you do not have parents, if you do have parents but they are financially unable to help you, then you need to go to your financial aid office. Something is wrong in your needs assessment and they need to reassess your aid package. Schools do have funds just for this situation.

    Even if you do not have unmet need (i.e. you have family who could help you but is refusing), financial aid often has emergency loans available to them. These are small loans of normally around $2,000 to be used for people in situations like yours. The school does _not_ want students to be homeless and if you make them aware of the gravity of your situation they will find new channels to help you.

    You should also consider getting help from whatever counseling services are available from your school and perhaps even consider bringing in a student advocate/ombudsperson if you are unable to get the assistance you need from student support services and financial aid.

    1. NutellaNutterson*

      “I have this sinking feeling that you have parents who are not supporting your decision to attend school; that rules out financial aid when you are under 24 with no dependents (hence why having a child would make a big difference).”

      FAFSA does not require parental contributions if the applicant is homeless or at risk of homelessness. OP7, check the fafsa website section on “special circumstances” for long-term help.

      In the short term, yes, call 211, call today. Call from a landline if you can, as the wait time can be dreadful. If you can post your age and region, we can all help with more specific information.

      1. Brett*

        The homelessness dependency override is very complicated though and almost always requires the assistance of the financial aid office at the student’s college. One of the most significant complications is that you are ineligible for the override if your reason for homelessness is that your parents refuse to provide you with financial assistance.

      2. Natalie*

        Either way, it’s entirely plausible the LW is getting the full FAFSA award they are entitled to and still cannot afford a place to live. The pace of tuition increases vastly outstrips the recent small increase in FAFSA award levels. Many colleges and universities only provide institutional aid on merit basis and even then that aid is limited.

        And while the OP may benefit long term by checking into whether they are getting the full award they qualify for, it won’t help the immediate issue of their impending homelessness.

  22. AnotherAlison*

    #4 – I’m going to have to disagree just a little bit. Take the job in hand (the energy company) with no conditions. No need to tell them you have another job you’re still pursuing. I also don’t think you need to take yourself out of the running for that job, assuming you actually get *in* the running.

    I think it’s one of those situations where, as a rule, you should absolutely not do it, but everyone should get a one-time pass. Additionally, if you’re just starting out, that first job can set the course for your entire career and you should take the one that fits you best. That said, you might be looking at the university job through rose-colored glasses. You should really weigh the two options carefully if you get a second offer after starting at job 1.

    I’ve known reliable, successful people who’ve accepted one job, then accepted another one instead, or people who have left my company and come back a few weeks/months later. I think it’s understandable. ONCE.

  23. MiketheRecruiter*

    For #7, sorry to hear about this – if you are in a relatively metro area, take a look at couchsurfing (not sure if I’m allowed to post links) – I wouldn’t go into too much detail on why you want to crash on someones couch, but you could potentially rotate between a few places for a few weeks in order to save some money.

  24. B*

    #7 – I just want to give you a big hug. Others have given you great suggestions. I would also look into housesitting over the summer as it would help you get back on your feet, possibly dogsitting as well as many people will go away for the summer but would prefer to have someone stay in the house with the dog, and you could also check out live-in nanny. Especially if it’s for slightly older kids as there schedule and your school schedule may work out.

  25. evilintraining*

    Re #7, I’m still trying to figure out how a couple who can afford to buy a house and know this person is in dire straits can’t give her a little leeway and buy their own food, maybe asking for just a small token amount of rent or something…but maybe that’s just me. #7, I’m sure you’ll land on your feet; there was lots of good advice given here.

    1. OP 7*

      I’m still trying to figure out how they got approved to buy a house when they are “so poor”. I pay minimal rent, and do the groceries because the husband is “so poor” that he can’t buy them. And when he does its snacks and soda. I have tons of medical problems and no insurance (I aged out of my parents’) so I have to have a good diet or else I get really sick. We were going 50-50 on groceries until he decided to buy a house. He needed to “save up” for it.

      1. Chinook*

        You split 50-50 with a couple for groceries and paid rent? They were definitely taking advantage of you. Check out many of the places mentioned above and be happy to be out of there.

      2. fposte*

        Yeah, that’s an agreement that probably wasn’t good for you even at the time (unless you were getting a really big break on the rent). Definitely dissolve it now. What’s he going to do, throw you out?

        Is it possible that you’re somebody with difficulty saying “No” and asking for things for yourself? If so, now is a good time to work on that–things will go a lot better for you in this situation if you can your own advocate. You deserve to have a place to live and you deserve to benefit from people and programs that help those who need it.

      3. Elizabeth West*

        You have GOT to get out of there. They are taking advantage of you. Talk to someone at your school, like the other posters have suggested. Please do it now–you don’t want to live out of your car. And couchsurfing sucks–I did it when I lived in CA and it SUCKED. Seriously.

  26. fposte*

    On #1–There’s nervous and there’s nervous. I once interviewed a candidate who was a real trooper and presented her case for hire well, but was clearly using every nerve she had to do it. We liked her but felt that she was more likely to be overfaced by the stressful aspects of the job than our other candidates. If they’re meaning something like that by “nervous,” I think that’s a legitimate concern.

    The one thing you haven’t mentioned is what *you* think. Did you feel notably nervous? If you didn’t, do you know why they think you did?

  27. Dr. Speakeasy*

    #7 – Definitely talk to student services/financial aid/counseling at your uni (and really all three – sometimes one will know of a program that another won’t). Retention is the name of the game right now so they should be motivated to figure out how to keep you enrolled.

    If you are taking out student loans, I don’t recommend dropping below full time if at all possible – those student loans will come due and then you have an even bigger financial mess.

    1. KellyK*

      Depending on what your school calls full time, though, you might still be able to scale back even if you need to stay full-time to keep your student loans from coming due.

      At the college I attended, 16 credits a semester (usually 4 four-credit classes) was the standard, expected schedule (and what most people needed to take to graduate in 4 years, depending on whether you took a minor or double major), but 12 or more still counted as full time.

      1. EngineerGirl*

        Exactly. And that was one less class you pay for per semester. Then I took classes in the summer to catch up. But sometimes not all classes are offered in the summer so be careful.

    2. Katie*

      student loans don’t come due until you drop below half time (fewer than 6 credits a semester). And that doesn’t include summers, you can take 0 credits in the summer and still be considered full time.

  28. Alan Wexelblat*

    A couple quick thoughts:

    #2: shift as much of the communication as the job allows to written form. This may be more comfortable for the employee and you should check in with them after a few weeks to see how it’s working for them. Meanwhile you will have a good corpus of written text to work from. You indicate that you’re less experienced and this employee is very experienced so maybe they’re using specific language or jargon (including slang or acronyms) that make sense if one is an expert but not in the general case. If so, you can ask the employee to unpack things a bit and to help you get up to speed on the specific terms/vocabulary of the job. If not, then you can see whether the person is a clear thinker but may have some issues with spoken communication, in which case they may find it a blessing to do more written communicating, or may be amenable to something that would help both of you.

    #3 I am in a similar situation to you, having just started a new job a few months ago and running into people who have been here a long time with long-standing issues and grudges. My response is to smile blandly and say “I’m still new here and getting to know everyone.” That doesn’t commit me to any side in office politics. Also remember that listening and nodding sympathetically at the right points doesn’t commit you to anything either.

  29. Penny*

    #7- Check with your school’s financial aid office, they may know of grants or scholarships you could get. They may even be able to find housing solutions for you. If you attend a 4 year college with dorms, look into working as a Resident Assistant/Advisor- they’ll pay you and you get free housing.

    Or if you attend school at the community college you work at, you may be able to get a discount for attending the community college and can get your basics out of the way there (depending on how far along in school you are).

    How is the public transportation in your area? If it’s efficient and can get you all over town, maybe you should consider selling your car and using this transportation. This might help you get the public assistance that said your car is too valuable and save you money on gas, insurance, registrations and maintenance. It might also make it affordable for you to take a bus or metro from your friends’ new house to work/school.

    I also liked B’s idea of housesitting or live-in nannying– try looking for agencies that set this this kind of stuff up (don’t pay them, their clients looking for reliable people should pay them).

    Check out the blog Budgets Are Sexy, it’s fun, but has a lot of good budgeting and financial advice and a series called “Side Hustles” about side jobs people do to make extra money.

    Good luck to you!

  30. ExceptionToTheRule*

    #1 – Nervousness matters a lot to me. I’m hiring entry level people to convey information and directions to 30 year industry veterans. If I make you nervous, what’s going to happen when you have to firmly and insistently tell Ron Burgundy he needs to get the lead out of his @$$?

    #4 – If you accepted my offer and then told me this, I’d probably pull it. I’m passing on a candidate this week because she’s waiting for notification on graduate school & while she would be my top choice, I’m not going to hire someone who might only stay for 8-12 weeks. I’d barely get her trained.

  31. Been there/done that*

    #7 sorry you are in this situation. I would suggest Craiglist list if your are in an area that has a craiglist site. I am a single woman and used this when I lost my job. I found a great roommate through sccreening and we still remain in contact via Facebook so it is possible to find a place on Craiglist. Best wishes.

  32. nyxalinth*

    #6 Crappy trinkets in lieu of real rewards are par for the course at call centers. Made all the more pathetic by the fact that even companies raking in billions do this, not just the smaller ones.

  33. Jazzy Red*

    #7 – why are you buying food for someone who can afford to buy a new house? There’s probably more to that than you’ve said, and you don’t owe us any more private details, but I hope you’ve thought of this, too. Living with a married couple who are always fighting is bad enough, but they’ve got you buying their food, too?

    There’s a lot of good advice for you here. I hope you find a good living arrangement and that you can spend your hard-earned money on yourself.

    (Boy, that makes me sound really ungenerous, but I’m tired of seeing nice people being taken advantage of.)

    1. ExceptionToTheRule*

      It could be the arrangement was the OP bought groceries in lieu of paying rent.

      OP – I have nothing to add to the suggestions above, but I do want to wish you the best of luck.

    2. OP 7*

      I’ve actually been wondering how they can be “too poor” to buy groceries but can manage to get approved to buy a house. To say that this has left me really angry and upset is an understatement. But there is nothing that I can do about it now. I just have to focus on myself.

  34. Natalie*

    #7 – A lot of stuff has been covered so forgive the jumble of thoughts:

    – Even though you are not currently homeless, it’s possible that organizations set up for the homeless could help you. In recent years, there’s been a growing focus on homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing, and these programs are usually run by the same people who run shelters. Apparently the HEARTH law included a lot of funding for these programs so there’s probably one near you! Consider calling the largest housing services organization in your city and asking them if they have a rapid re-housing program.

    – Keep your school in the loop. This is a stressful situation that may impact your performance, and it’s important to get out ahead of that so you don’t end up failing classes. Your adviser or school counseling office can probably help you interface with faculty, if needed.

    – Work your friend/family network for a room to rent just like you would work a professional network for a job. It may not be permanent, but a room to rent can at least get you through this term.

    Best of luck, LW #7. If you come back and don’t mind telling us what state you live in, folks might have more specific advice.

  35. Lily in NYC*

    #6 – There are lots of good ideas but if it were me, I would love the ability to work from home without guilt a couple of times a month. I would actually choose that over a piddly raise if the choice were offered.

  36. SparkyintheSnow*

    #7: Hang in there. There is lots of great advice here in the comments. I’d also suggest talking to your prof’s and/or TAs to see if they can help (maybe allowing you to attend different sessions around your work schedule). When I was in school, if I told my prof I was near homeless, they’d be more than willing to help; I went to a small university, so maybe it’s different where you are.

    Please keep us updated!

  37. PPK*

    Another idea for OP #7 — maybe you should let the word out at the community college that you need housing. You don’t have to directly ask your coworkers (or teachers or fellow students) if you can live with them, just ask if they’ve heard of anyone looking for a roommate or house sitter. They may know someone and network you in — or need/want a room renter or house sitter themselves. Don’t think of it as begging for charity — you’re just looking for new housing.

    People do rent single rooms to students in college towns — I have a friend who rented a room while in grad school from a couple that rented out 3 rooms in their house. Was it plush? No. Was it safe and somewhere to hang your hat and study? Yes.

  38. Runon*

    #6 alternate rewards

    Things that I like about my job despite many restrictions on the good stuff like raises.

    1. A good boss.
    2. Training, if I can make a good case for why I need training in something, I can generally go.
    3. Passing on projects, if a project comes up that seems seriously dull to me and doesn’t have a lot of advantage I can sometimes pass, sometimes they go to other people, sometimes back burnered (sometimes dull stuff needs to be done too, but even once being able to hand off or not have to do that project can be a huge morale boost).
    4. Volunteering for challenging and powerful projects. When the project comes along that is really engaging and will be a challenge and will really create change, I get to volunteer. (Sometimes other stuff has to be done, but my boss tries to get me on them and that makes a difference.)
    5. I don’t know, but lets find out! My boss is willing to let me bumble a little because what I come up with in the end is generally above and beyond expectations. But my process getting there is sometimes messy. Let people have their processes if they get good results. (Assuming they are reasonable of course.)

  39. Anonymous*

    Hello — OP for #3 here. Thank you very much for answering my question! And yes, it looks like “less is more” is the best approach to take so things don’t escalate needlessly. I guess the original response that I had in mind was borne out of annoyance and frustration with these colleagues who were getting to be pretty persistent in their efforts to draw me in to the drama. I am taking the low-key approach in dealing with them and so far things are quiet. This seems to be an approach where effectiveness is measured over the long term instead of instantly. So I have to be patient until they start getting the message.

  40. Lisa*

    #7: You might try looking for a housesitting gig — I can recommend two agencies: and The former is based internationally. You will have to pay a small fee to register as a housesitter, so try looking for possible listings in your area before you register. I have used housecarers twice now, and will use them again next year (we go away for a 3 week trip every other year and need care for our dog and two cats). You sit for free, and may have the use of their vehicles. If its a very long term gig, you might have to pay utilities.

    Also, try AirBnB — its not great as a long term solution, but you may be able to couch surf very cheaply for a short period, which can get you through this crisis.

  41. OP#6*

    Thank you all for your suggestions! They’re really helpful. :) Definitely bookmarking this thread for future reference. I’m glad I’m not alone in thinking university paraphernalia is not a good reward.

  42. Nerdling*

    #6, we’re facing a lot of cuts that have left us trying to find ways to reward employees who go above and beyond. One that has worked well has been to get official recognition of tasks very well done put into people’s personnel files. An official attaboy that can be pulled out at promotion time goes a long way, and it helps to know that people up the chain of command are interested in contributions made by people even at the bottom of the chain. Bonus points if it’s on letterhead instead of just email.

  43. Cruella Da Boss*

    OP#3….I wish there were more employees like you. There to do your job and not get drawn into drama, or repeating the office grapevine.

    Remain patient

    1. Ruffingit*

      +1. I’ve learned some hard lessons over the years about not getting involved in office drama. Just don’t go there. It’s not worth it.

  44. Aimee*

    #6 – one of the things my old department did was a quarterly drawing. We were customer service, so everyone who got praise from a sales rep or customer we assisted had their names put into a hat, and whoever was drawn got an extra paid day off. It was a nice way to show appreciation for the good job we did outside of the annual raises.

    They were also really good about making sure that praise was recognized by others in the company (both by posting the emails on a bulletin board and by forwarding them up the chain of command).

  45. Gary*

    #7 – mckinney-vento is for college kids as well, but most likely cuts off at 22. (That was an fyi for the person who said mv is not for college – it is!)

  46. OP 7*

    Thank you all for your suggestions. I have some more ideas and places to check out. The major problem is that my current housing situation has bled me dry. I have absolutely no savings left after my hours got cut and will be cut again in July. I’m no stranger to homelessness, it seems to be something that has happened since I was a small child (my parents did good at covering that up).

    I live in a semi urban/rural area. There isn’t any real public transportation outside of the cities, and I live about fifteen minutes from one. The buses don’t go everywhere either. I would love to give up my car, but that isn’t something that can realistically happen, and honestly, I drove a car that stalled every five minutes while commuting on a highway for over a year in order to get the car I have now. Its just sad to know that I busted my butt to get a safer car and now I’m being penalized for it.

    Also it seems any women’s housing in the area is designated for victims of abuse and recovering addicts and their children.

    1. Ruffingit*

      OP7, if you feel comfortable can you share the town you live in or at least the next closest large town? Some of us may be able to help with resources, etc.

    2. Lindsay J*

      Check out to see if you can find some people who live closer with you school to stay with short-term. This will buy you a little time at least.

    3. fposte*

      That still leaves quite a bit of possible help from the college you’re actually attending. I hope you’ll investigate that.

  47. Anonymous*

    #2–can’t understand

    I seem to be having this same problem with a coworker on the team I support. I think she’s great, but I can’t understand anything she says. Part of it is that I’m still very unfamiliar with the nuts and bolts of what our product does (it’s industry-specific software and I wasn’t ever in the industry). But partly I think she just talks in a stream-of-consciousness way and expects me to pick out the nuggets of what she is saying, rather than just telling me “I need you to do A, B and then see what you can do with C.”

    I try to ask very specific questions, but then I get these long, convoluted answers and she interrupts and goes off on tangents until I’ve completely forgotten what the hell I asked in the first place.

    It’s just that it’s like she’s talking AROUND what she wants to say. Her emails are not much better. I wish I had a suggestion for the OP, but I can’t even think of one for myself!

    1. Anonymous*

      UPDATE: We just had a bull session re a project on the phone and it went amazingly well. She listened, she didn’t interrupt me, answered my questions, etc. I tried to be very clear myself, hoping that would help.

      I don’t even know what happened–it’s like posting that magically made everything better.

      Holy crap! :)

  48. Cassie*

    #6 – the only chances of us getting additional compensation is getting reclassified to a higher position or putting in for an equity increase if your job duties increased significantly. Doing a great job essentially gets you nothing unless you can pad your job description with every minor task that you do once every two years.

    For rewards, I’d like a better job title – one that matches my awesomeness :) Office manager, Chief of Staff, whatever. I’d also appreciate getting to put in my two cents on different issues.

  49. ella*

    Re: #2

    I’m not a speech pathologist or anything, but I have 2 supervisors right now with similar issues. One moved here from Japan about 5 years ago and still has very heavily accented English and sometimes garbled syntax or verb tenses. The other has what I think of as an uncertain relationship with verbalization–he will occasionally lose his words entirely, take a long time to pick up his train of thought again, or find the right word, or whatever. I also have a friend who has a severe speech impediment (he has almost no consonants when he speaks) that gets in the way of him being understood by people who don’t know him well. For all those folks, my strategies are this:

    -Patience. If he gets there eventually–that is, if his speech is somewhat garbled or uncertain but he can eventually get to the point–relax and let him get there. Resist the urge to finish his sentences for him or interrupt. (Also, if you’re in a group conversation and you think you know what he means but nobody else does, resist the urge to “interpret” for him to the group. People do this to my friend with the impediment and it annoys him even more than being misunderstood does.) I can get wrapped up in tasks, and it can be difficult for me to hit pause on that and sit and wait for a person to finish a sentence that I know the end to, but usually I take a breath and think, “I am working until (x time) today, whether I finish my work or I don’t, so he can take as long as he likes to finish his sentence. This is the task in front of me at this moment: to listen to this person and care about what he has to say.” The work will get done when it gets done, but treating a coworker with respect and patience is a here-and-now, must-be-done-now-or-will-never-happen immediate thing.
    -Ask for clarification if necessary, or repeat what you’ve heard him say to make sure you’ve heard him correctly. I do this with my Japanese supervisor. Because she’s still learning English verb tenses, she’ll sometimes ask me something and I’m uncertain if she’s telling me to do it or if she’s asking if I did it already or if it’s something that needs to get done. So I say it back. And she either nods or clarifies.
    -Ask what he prefers. If it seems like anxiety contributes to his inability to verbalize, acknowledge that you’ve noticed the anxiety and ask if there’s something you can do to alleviate it. Maybe he’d prefer to email, maybe he’d prefer you not make eye contact with him, maybe he’d prefer some advance notice on a topic or a discussion you’d like to have to he can get his thoughts in order. If he does have a diagnosed disability, he may not want to make it public, but if there are reasonable accommodations that you can give he needs to be able to explain that he needs them. Also, if this isn’t something that he’s always had, but is something that developed recently but that he hasn’t gotten diagnosed, he may need nudging to go get it diagnosed (depression, brain tumors, brain trauma, ADD….all kinds of things can contribute to making people poor communicators.)
    -If there’s a coworker he works with closely, or who knows him, or who generally can understand him, you might try to bring them into the problem solving team.

    I would also beg that you, as the manager, model patient and compassionate behavior as much as is possible in your dealings with him. The other people under your management will notice how you treat him–and how much you do or don’t respect him–and take their cues from you. You probably have the power to make his work environment hell, or to make it safe, because of how you’ll influence the behavior of others in the office. My BigBoss does this with my two supervisors–knowing that their problems are expressive, and not with their knowledge or abilities, she made them supervisors, and asked them to facilitate meetings, and makes it clear that she trusts and relies on them. I feel like this is a big thing for the speech-uncertain supervisor especially–he talks so slowly it can be easy to mistake him for an idiot. But he’s smarter than me, and he knows the job inside out, and it would have taken me much longer to figure those things out than it actually did had I not been able to take my cues from his boss as to how much he was respected and relied upon in the office.

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