when a colleague talks about your appearance, when you have more education than experience, and more

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

1. Was I right to call out this colleague for commenting on my appearance?

Our IT support is based in India (I’m in the UK) so most support is done via instant message and everyone has a photo loaded into the system, which displays next to their name. I had raised a case and it was being dealt with by instant messenger. The guy made a comment about how I had a nice picture. This was the end of our exchange and the message came in while I was away from my desk (having told him I was going into a meeting), so I decided just to ignore it. He came back a bit later on to clarify some further information, and when I thanked him for his help, he commented, “Your pleasure beautiful.” I replied that those sort of comments weren’t really work-appropriate, and when he said he didn’t know what I meant, I repeated the sentiment in slightly different terms. He asked if I minded, so I replied, “No harm done, just thought it might be useful for you in the future.”

I didn’t think the comments were appropriate, but I’m not about to inform HR about them either and he apologized. Should I have just chalked it up to cultural difference and kept quiet?

No, it’s good that you said something, both because (a) you shouldn’t have to act like you’re fine with those comments when you’re not, and (b) he needs to hear that it’s not appropriate so that he stops doing it.

(Also, I am hoping/assuming he meant “my pleasure” rather than “your pleasure,” although telling people “it’s your pleasure” would be pretty fun.)

2. How can I ask an interviewer not to alert my current employer that I’m job searching?

I had a first interview this morning with a company that is a client of the company where I currently work. I had filled out the application online on the company website. Although the form asked for phone numbers for my jobs, it did not ask for references; for my current employer, I wrote, “Please contact me first” for the phone number, because I do NOT want my current employer to be called. (It is a long story, but my boss has already tried to fire me once in the last month, for requesting an ADA accommodation, so I do not want to give him a convenient pretext.)

At the interview, though, the interviewer asked who my supervisor is, and I provided the name of my direct supervisor (not the person who tried to fire me). She did not ask for permission to contact my supervisor, and I was not asked to provide a list of references at this point. She told me that they will let me know by the end of next week if they will call me back for a second interview.

At first I thought she just wanted to see if she knew my supervisor, but now I am terrified that she will call my supervisor for a reference and my current employer will find out that I am job-searching. Should I have asked if she would be contacting my current/previous employers yet? Or told her bluntly that I would rather she not contact my current employer? This isn’t something I can call back to confirm, right? Or am I getting upset over nothing?

You can absolutely contact them to reiterate that you’d like your search kept confidential from your current employer, if you didn’t already say that explicitly. Send an email and say, “Because my employer does not yet know that I’m considering changing jobs, I hope you will keep our conversations confidential for now. At whatever time you need to speak with references, I’d be glad to provide you with many from previous jobs.”

3. Getting a chance when you have more education than work experience

How do you gain new skills if you are never given the opportunity because you are more education-heavy than experience-heavy? I stayed at home while going to school and was out of the workforce for 6-7 years. I worked for almost 3 years as an admin assistant and was laid off for over 2 years. I’m currently working as a data entry associate for over a year with a master’s degree and am being grossly underpaid. With lack of time career-wise and holding 5 degrees, how do I get a better opportunity?

Whoa. Five degrees? Honestly, that’s going to be a red flag to a lot of employers because they’re going to wonder if you’re scattered and unfocused about what you want to do, not motivated to stay working, etc. So for starters, I’d seriously considering only listing a couple of them on your resume, because five is more likely to work against you than it is to help you. Aside from that, it’s hard to say what would help without knowing a lot more context, but there’s loads of advice on this site about job searching in general.

4. Telling an employer you can’t work as many days as they need

I work in a profession where working part-time is the norm. I interviewed recently at a company, and I cannot work all the days they expect me to work. I like the place — I didn’t know available days untill I was interviewed. However, I may be only able to give them 2 days vs 3. How do I handle this on the call back interview? I just thought about it — the practicality of working that third day is impossible.

Just be straightforward: “In our last call, you mentioned that you’re looking for someone to work Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. After we spoke, I thought about it and realized that Mondays aren’t possible for me, although I can absolutely work the other two. Is that prohibitive or does it make sense to continue to talk?”

5. Changing your stated salary preference after you’ve already given a lower number

This week I have spoken with an HR manager and the potential direct manager about my annual salary preference for a job. The job title is not directly related to my college major that I graduated with, but it does contain tasks that will help me learn concepts that are important for my future job roles that I plan for my career. From the job description and from my phone interview with the manager, the job is not very difficult–the only challenges are understanding the business model and communicating with clients to resolve discrepancies.

When the HR manager and the direct manager called me, they both asked me my salary preference. To each of them, I stated $XX. I did not do enough research to learn about the salary ranges for the role, and I felt mortified that I did not do this. I did some research today about the job’s salary ranges in my city, and it seems that I could have stated a salary preference that is $4,000 more than what I have stated before. I am going to have an in-person interview with the company soon, and I am wondering if there is still a chance that I can restate my salary preference and asked for $4,000 more than what I have stated previously.

You could try, but it’s probably not going to work. You’ve already told them that you’re willing to do the work for $XX, and so you’ve sort of collapsed your negotiating power (which you didn’t have a lot of to begin with if you’re right out of college.) Even if you now have reason to think they’d pay more, you’ve already told them you’d do the work for less — so it’s not a strong position.

6. How to refuse a non-required drug test without seeming sketchy

I have had my job for almost 7 years. I work closely with one client company, and we have a great relationship. I visit them often, along with another few members of my team. The client office has some security–we have to sign in, get a guest badge, and be escorted by the person we’re visiting at all times. There’s an opportunity to get permanent badges for a few of us, which would allow us to arrive, not have to sign in, and not have to be escorted around the building.

The catch is that we basically have to go through a process as if we were being hired, including background checks and drug tests. I’d rather not get a drug test for privacy reasons, and this is more of a “nice to have” type of thing rather than something that’s necessary for me to do my job well, so theoretically I shouldn’t have to. Still, I’m not sure how I can discuss it with my manager without rousing some kind of suspicion. I’ve smoked pot in the past and don’t see a problem with it, but there’s no chance I’d test positive, so that’s not a concern. My own company doesn’t test upon hire but has a clause in our contracts that we can be required to undergo a test if substance abuse is suspected.

I know based on a search of your site that you have similar feelings about privacy. Any thoughts about how I can frame this? Or should I just let it slide and hope they never get around to processing the badge request (a real possibility)?

I’m a big, big proponent of non-drug-users speaking up against unnecessary and invasive drug testing, because it’s important to get people to realize that there are lots of reasons to oppose drug testing other than “I use drugs” and that plenty of non-drug-users are concerned about civil liberties and privacy. So ideally, you’d simply explain that to your boss — something like, “I feel strongly about privacy rights and generally oppose drug testing, so I’m planning on skipping this since it’s not a requirement.” If your boss says anything implying that you’re casting suspicion on yourself or even just makes a joke about it, say, “The issue isn’t that I couldn’t pass the test. The issue is about privacy. I hope you understand.”

Of course, this won’t go over well with every employer, and if you know that it’s not going to go over well with yours, and if you’d rather not deal with it, then I’d look into whether you can opt out in some less pointed way.

7. Listing a reference who you can’t reach

I’m a recent graduate and I’m pretty anxious to start putting in applications. Unfortunately, the coordinator for my undergraduate research program hasn’t been getting back to me (for about two weeks now) and is either on vacation or simply ignoring my emails. She also didn’t answer her phone and her voicemail is full. She is my only really relevant reference and would definitely speak highly of me. Perhaps I should have asked if it was okay to put her down as a reference while I was still working with her, but I didn’t think of it at the time.

Most of the places I’m applying to are using automatic application systems which ask for references, so unless I want to wait for an unknown amount of time, I can either put my research coordinator down without telling her ahead of time, which I’m sure is a no-no (although the employer might not be able to contact her anyway) or submit these applications without any references.

Am I killing my chances by submitting these applications without references, or should I wait for my professor to respond and risk the positions being filled?

If they’re asking for references, then list her. Send her an email telling her that you wanted to check with her first but couldn’t reach her and that you hope it’s okay.

Don’t submit without references, if they’re required; you’ll just look like you can’t or don’t follow directions. That said, it’s obnoxious and unnecessary that they’re asking for them at this early stage, since they’re only going to end up contacting them for a tiny fraction of their applicants.

{ 119 comments… read them below }

  1. Anon*

    #3 – when you say five degrees, are you including associate degrees? What are all of these degrees in? I think that’s a an important distinction.

    1. WWWONKA*

      I also would like to know what these degrees are in. Like said, I would only list what pertains to the job at hand. Listing too many may have the perspective employer wondering if they can afford you. Have you thought of using your schools job placement assistance services?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I wouldn’t say they’ll wonder if they can afford you — without much work experience, they’re more likely to assume you’ll accept a salary on the lower end — but they’ll definitely wonder what the story is with the unusual number of degrees.

      2. Chinook*

        I would think that the number of degrees would affect your salary only if the company pays on a type of grid where there is no wiggle room. I have one degree and the only time it has factored into salary is when I was teaching (I.E. When I was a receptionist, I was more educated than my office manager but that didn’t mean I could demand for higher pay).

        1. Pandora Amora*

          > I was more educated than my office manager

          You were more *credentialed*. Education comes in all forms, and professional experience is one of the best forms.

          I’d hire an applicant with 4 years of programming experience over one with a freshly-minted 4 year degree any day.

          1. Chinook*

            Actually, I did have more formal education than my office manager. That doesn’t mean she wasn’t experienced or unintelligent, just that I had the time, money and ability to finish a university degree. She used to joke that being a receptionist must require a university degree because the 2 receptionists she hired had one where the AA’s never did. It is just a sign of the job market, though.

          2. 4 year Degree and Experience and still not Employed in my degree field*

            I have read some of the comments and still have not seen a viable answer to the most important question.
            People do not spend the time required to get a degree to never work in that degree field. If so, why is a degree even sought. It is discouraging to hear that someone works in the same field, but does not have the degree that is required on most job listings. To go a little deeper one would like the lectures, studing, test, and paper writing to get said degree is just an expensive peice of paper. So, decison makers and HR managers how and when do the educated get the experience you require/desire. Oh, and please do not say volunteer and get involved. Most of those degree field related options require money to be a member if you are a student or no longer a student. Plus, one cannot pay down education debt, pay bills, and feel a family volunteering.

            Real world results and answers please.

            P.S.: Not hiring a grad for lack of experience is counter productive, affects college enrollment for the next generation, and is the primary reason 70% of Americas college graduates are unemployed or under employed.

    2. Brton3*

      I was thinking, are any of them minors or certificate programs from within your other degrees, and/or can they be listed as such? Sometimes it looks better to list something as a certification because that has more of a ring of professional development.

      1. Jessa*

        This, the only time I ever had a problem with my degrees was when I went to work for someone who was grandfathered in without one and she was going for an AA and was nasty to anyone who had more education than she did. Nevermind she had 30 years experience on me. NO I had a degree and that was evil. I could have learnt so much from her if she hadn’t been awful because of it.

        But now that I’m older and out of work for awhile, I don’t rub the degrees in people’s faces because well, I don’t want to look crazy overqualified when I’m applying for stuff.

    3. Ruffingit*

      Agreed. I have four degrees. Two of them I earned together (double major B.A.), one is a terminal degree (law), and the other a master’s degree. It’s not that hard to rack up degrees depending on the situation. As Anon mentions, one could be an AA degree or perhaps OP earned two AA/BA in similar subjects (sociology/psychology for example).

      Whatever the case, I tend to err on the side of caution when listing degrees. For example, if you have an AA and a BA, list only the BA. If you had a double major with the BA, it may not be necessary to list both degrees. Depending on the job applied for, list the relevant degree to the work, etc.

          1. Jessa*

            Or maybe if it was some kind of specialised degree AA and the BA is more general. But even then if it’s some kind of specialty course I’d rather list the results than the AA, IE a certificate in X tech ability or something.

          2. Unsan*

            That’s interesting.. I list both my AS and BS because I went back 13 years later to finish my Bachelors degree and feel that it shows something of my character.

      1. fposte*

        And some of it’s the space question–“BA in English and Molecular Biology, 1999” takes up the same amount of space as “BA in English” and makes it clear that it was the same program. It’s a pile of AAs in different fields, independent pursuit of unrelated master’s degrees that don’t fit a narrative, etc., that make a candidate look unfocused.

      2. Rindle*

        There’s also a difference between a double major and a dual degree. I double majored – so, I have one B.A., and it’s in Field 1 and Field 2. My significant other has a dual degree – so, he has one B.A. in Field One and a second B.A. in Field Two. The difference is basically the number and type of credit hours required to earn either the double major or the dual degree.

        1. Ruffingit*

          I’ve always called mine a double major, but it’s actually a dual degree. Never really knew there was a difference until you mentioned it Rindle. I completed the requirements for two separate colleges within the same university and was awarded a B.A. degree from each of the colleges.

          I list both of them only if applicable on a resume.

        2. Waiting Patiently*

          I have a BS in Psychology and AS in Human Service. Sometimes when I’m talking about my degree I’ll say I have a BS in psych and a minor in human services even though they are from different schools. I’m not sure if that is correct. The school, where I received my BS, also offers a double major in Human Service and Psychology. I was actually pursuing the double major when toward the end of my schooling I opted to just pursue the pysch degree because it offered more credit flexibility. I spoke with my counselor and she mentioned having the AS in Human Service was ‘like a minor’. So I went with it.

          * On my resume I list them separately because I don’t want to come off as I’m lying about where I obtained the AS. I generally list them both on my resume because often a lot of jobs I apply to (social services type) actually value the human service experience/education more than the psych…

  2. Miss Displaced*

    #3 Only list the degree or degrees that pertain to the job you are applying for.

    #2 Wow, I seem to be seeing a lot of this kind of thing lately. Perhaps as the economy improves, people are finally beginning to move on to other jobs after having stayed or been stuck in bad situations.

    I worry about this a bit myself. I’m currently searching for a new job while employed by a HORRIBLE boss who is not know to ever give anyone a good reference. He constantly bad mouths former employees and vendors to anyone who will listen, and (according to him) no one ever does anything right. Of course, he is the one nearly impossible to work for!

    I always put down or note “do not contact” but I think I may have had at least one job blown over this when someone called to see if I worked there. It’s a difficult situation.

    1. LisaLyn*

      Yes, it is difficult and, IMHO, so common that maybe hiring managers need to start taking into consideration that there are crazy jerks out there and some very good workers have ended up working for them. I know one of my early managers would never say anything good about me. For one thing, it’s just not in his nature. He was always happy with my work, but that didn’t mean he would ever say it was “good”. Also, he was a sexist jerk who didn’t think women could do tech jobs. So, yeah, not going to get a glowing recommendation from that job. However, I was successful in that job, and in my subsequent ones. I’m a good worker and I contribute to the organizations I am hired by.

      Has that one bad manager hurt my chances at jobs before? I’m pretty sure it has. So, just FWIW, I wish when people were hiring they would keep situations like that in mind.

      1. Ruffingit*

        Absolutely agreed. I’ve come across enough bad bosses personally and have friends who have worked for bad characters as well so now when someone says they have a bad boss, I don’t automatically assume the worker is at fault. There are a lot of jerks out there and unfortunately when they’re in charge, it creates havoc with ripple effects well into the future for some of the unlucky people who work for them.

    2. OP #2*

      Oddly enough, the department head who tried to fire me has already told me he would give me a limited positive reference (i.e. he would say specific good things about me, but only if he thought the job was more suited for my personality and skills). I just can’t afford to not have a job (or to spend time and money on an attorney) if he decides to pretend he’s firing me for looking for a new job instead of my request for an accommodation.

  3. Barbara in Swampeast*

    #7 – its summer! your reference is probably on vacation. It’s unclear whether the coordinator is staff or faculty, either way, it’s impossible to say when they will get back because if s/he is staff, they may only have a 9-month contract and won’t be back until September. If they are faculty they could be gone all summer also. If you really need to know, call their department. Department secretaries usually have to work all year.

    1. TheSnarkyB*

      Yeah, that’s what I came here to say. #7, you cannot reasonably expect someone to get back to you if they are a college professor and have just barely/recently gotten away from all those students! 2 weeks is not an unreasonably time to be unreachable and I’d even go so far as to say don’t call your professors during the summers. If it’s a private number, that’s like calling someone on vacation. If it’s the office number, they’re not there. Don’t burn the reference bridge by getting all up in their personal time. Email will suffice.

  4. Nicky*

    #1 – Having worked with offshore colleagues based in India (I’m in the UK also), I think you handled this just right. There is a quite a culture difference when it comes to working mindsets, and I found that our colleagues in India were very keen to ingratiate themselves with the UK teams, and often this would take the form of harmless, if slightly unexpected flattery, over our messaging service. In our case, it was because the offshore team had a totally different management and pay structure to the UK office, so any feedback they received on performance could have a direct affect on their pay. This of course, in our Indian colleagues minds, boiled down to ‘if we make our UK colleagues like us, we get paid better’, which sadly wasn’t too far off the mark. Our Indian colleagues didn’t seem to distinguish performance and ‘likeability’ as totally separate factors as we did in the UK, and so often took poor performance feedback very personally. However, I also found our Indian colleagues did appreciate helpful hints on UK office culture, delivered tactfully of course, as more insight gave them a bit more cachet in the rather competitive UK-focused job market in India. Of course, if inappropriate comments continue, I would try speaking to an onshore IT manager first before taking it to HR – mainly because if your office structure was anything like ours, HR wouldn’t really know where to start with dealing with offshore workers.

    1. OP#1*

      Thanks Nicky that’s really useful to know. I think the pay structure may be similar for our offshore workers as he mentioned something about getting feedback and gold stars.

    2. anon*

      For what it’s worth, I’m in the US and my company has a large team in India, and although there are cultural differences, I’ve never had this type of inappropriate commentary.

      1. Shelley*

        I lived in India for 5 years and worked in an American based company in India for 2 years. I’m also married to an Indian man, so my comments are from being extremely familiar with the Indian culture. That being said, these kinds of comments are rampant and mostly due to cultural differences. A lot of the time they are just being polite and letting you know that you took a nice picture (in this case) but due to language barriers it came out sounding a little more aggressive than as a polite compliment.
        On the other hand, when I first started working in India I had so many blatant comments on my appearance and looks that I just started avoiding men altogether. I had a man suggest buying me massage oils in Kerala (a state in the south) when he went back home to visit, and would also help to apply them (gross). Most of the men I worked with were polite and respectful. But some thought that because I was white, a woman and from the west, that I was easy and wanted and enjoyed these kids of comments.
        If you work for an American or UK based company (Canadian, European etc), there are usually HR practices in place to deal with this stuff. But most people don’t report it, because most Indian based companies do not have these HR practices in place.
        You were right to report it, and because this is a UK based company it should be dealt with properly.

  5. Anonymous*

    #2 why on earth didn’t the LW bring this up already? It’s totally normal and not worth the anxiety not to say anything.

    1. Jean*

      Maybe because the LW has never previously experienced working for a difficult person who would be glad to sabotage the search-for-another-job efforts of one of his/her direct reports. Or maybe the LW is still learning how to speak up on his/her own behalf. (I hope that came out coherently! The summer heat is baking my brain.)

    2. OP #2*

      Because our industry is such that people know other people at pretty much every other firm in the area, and based on the way she asked, I thought she just wanted to see if my boss was someone with whom she had worked in the past (i.e. then she could say, “Oh, I know Bob Smith, isn’t he nice?”). It didn’t occur to me until I was driving home that maybe she wanted the person’s name to call for a reference.


    # 5 During the interview process you can tell them that the salary you talked about was just in a general area and as you get to know more about the job that may be negotiable. I think as it was stated this may bite you and I would wait until money is discussed. I still think that being asked about money on the first HR interview is wrong. You know little to nothing about the job needs.

  7. SL*

    #3 – This might be a good time to make use of your network. Where are your classmates from grad school working? Do they know of any opportunities? Your former professors might have contacts they can put you in touch with as well. It’s typically in their best interest to have you working successfully in whatever field your degree is in because they can use it as a marketing tool for new students. At least in my case, companies also frequently reach out to my former professors when they’re looking for someone with our specific type of degree.

  8. Hermoine Granger*

    #4 Do you have the option of just not asking for a permanent badge and therefore not even having to have the discussion with your supervisor? Or will your supervisor encourage you to get the badge thinking it might be more convenient for you?

    Alison, I personally don’t have any issues with drug tests and never really considered that anyone else might be against them so I’m curious to learn more about your (and others’) perspective. I think you might have touched on the topic before but maybe you could do a blog post about your views on different kinds of pre-employment tests ex: drug tests, criminal records checks, credit checks, etc? I think the topic could lead to a really interesting discussion.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The basic argument is that it’s none of an employer’s business what someone chooses to do in the privacy of their own home on their off hours, and that if an employer is concerned about employees being in some way incapacitated during work time, they should do performance testing. This will catch it if someone is under the influence of alcohol and legally prescribed drugs too, or even from being compromised by something like fatigue, and it’ll catch it in real time, none of which drug tests do.

      But if they’re just concerned about what employees do on the weekends, on their own time, in the privacy of their own homes, that’s not an employer’s business.

      I will put the idea of that post on my list — thank you for suggesting it!

      1. Anonymous*

        I’d want to know if someone thought they were above the law, or that the rules didn’t apply to them.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          That argument doesn’t really work when you’re talking about a law that many people think is morally wrong or a violation of civil liberties. Throughout our history, we’ve had many such laws, and fortunately enough people were committed enough to speak out against them, work to change them, or simply act in opposition to them.

          If certain books were banned in this country, as they were in our past, would you judge someone for thinking that “the law didn’t apply to them” and daring to read them anyway?

          1. Jessa*

            Yeh, I don’t mind drug testing post onsite accident for instance, that’s reasonable. If you come to work impaired and cause a mess, or get hurt or hurt someone, that’s an issue. But general testing just because? Um, no. I think that’s silly.

        2. Forrest*

          Speeding kills more people that smoking weed and yet employers don’t follow potential new hires to make sure they don’t speed.

          1. ConstructionHR*

            No, but they do pull MV records for personnel who drive as a function of their job.

          2. Jamie*

            Sure they do. I’ve never worked for an employer that didnt pull DMV records for positions requiring driving.

      2. Hermoine Granger*

        I think I’m on the fence with this now.

        I get the privacy part of it but at present drugs are illegal so that alone sets drug use apart from most other possibly controversial things people do in their own homes. In addition, some companies have their own moral / cultural reasons for wanting a drug-free environment. As a result, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that such a company wouldn’t want to hire someone that does drugs even if its only on their own time.

        On the other hand, its kind of unfair because outside of a background check prospective employees are never asked to prove that they’re not out committing crimes or doing other unsavory things in their free time. Not to mention, people can be alcoholics that manage to hold it together at work but most employers wouldn’t be concerned as long as it doesn’t affect their performance.

        You’re welcome! I look forward to reading post.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I tend to look at it like banned books. I’d like to think that if I were alive when some books were banned in this country, I wouldn’t let a law stop me from consuming the information I wanted to consume, nor do I respect a law today that tells me what I can and can’t do with my own mind.

          I realize not everyone sees it that way, of course.

          1. Jessa*

            I do agree with you, especially for jobs where injury is not an issue, I mean a drug test for a phone job? I can maybe understand it for flying planes or driving semi trucks because the possibility of public danger is higher and waiting til a pilot has an accident because they smoke weed is dangerous.

        2. Jamie*

          Yes, some drugs are illegal but there are other privacy issues with drug testing. Every drug test I’ve taken I had to fill out a list of prescription meds one’s taking which could skew the results.

          So pre employment forces you to disclose medical issues.

        3. Anne*

          As a possible parallel…

          You can’t test for it, but here in the UK, kinky sex is essentially illegal. A person cannot legally consent to having pain inflicted upon them, and “extreme pornography” actually was explicitly made illegal recently. And I certainly think that some employers would have moral/ethical reasons for wanting a workplace completely free of kinky people.

          But I guarantee you that you and I have both worked with kinksters, and it has made not one iota of difference to their work or anything else. So if you could test for that illegal behaviour, would you bother?…

    2. Rob Aught*

      First of all, false positives do happen. When that’s the case, it’s almost impossible to get it overturned at least not without some cost. You can offer to retake the drug test but there is no guarantee an employer will accept and they may still accept the first result.

      Second, I used to work with a regular drug user. Marijuana, ecstasy, and LSD were his favorites. He may have done some others but those are the ones I remember him talking about. When he left a project, his next customer required a drug test. Having advance notice, he did something to purge all that crap out of his system. I hear all sorts of things like “Drug [X] stays in your system for 6 months”, but it seemed like as long as this guy had a couple of weeks he could be clean enough to pass a urine test.

      Plus there is the whole privacy angle. What my employees do in their spare time is none of my business so long as they continue to do their jobs and their behavior does not have an adverse effect on the company. That doesn’t mean I condone it. However, companies as the morality police seem out of place. Chances are good if someone develops a massive cocaine habit I’ll have to let them go anyway. If someone gets high at a party because of all the marijuana smoke in the air I don’t want them to get pinched by a random drug test later. I know, I know, it probably won’t happen that way.

      I’m still of the mind that companies should not be monitoring for illegal activity that takes place off the clock. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve had identity theft issues and the routine credit checks I’ve undergone before hiring have put the position in jeopardy even with all of the paperwork I keep to document that it’s not me.

      1. QualityControlFreak*

        “Companies as the morality police seem out of place.” Amen.

        As they very often function as benefits administrators, companies already command a great deal of control over key aspects of employees’ lives. Here is the US, people have decried government control of health care, but the bottom line is that someone has to administrate these services, and typically that falls on employers.

        I don’t think we as citizens or employees benefit from companies taking over other key services, particularly police services.

        This from someone who worked on federal contracts for years and held the appropriate clearances.

        1. Anonymous*

          Most companies might pay for their employees’ health care, but they do not adminster it. They hire third parties to do so.

          1. QualityControlFreak*

            A bit of a distinction without a difference, I think. Generally whoever is paying for a service has the most control over that service.

      2. Anonymous*

        I know! It is A-OK if employees are robbing banks or molesting little girls, as long as they confine these activities to their leisure hours.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’m quite certain that you’re not equating smoking a joint on a Friday night to molesting children. Are you?

          And given this viewpoint, why not delve into other aspects of employee’s off-the-job behavior too? Sex lives, finances, driving record, whether they’ve ever gambled, parenting, etc.?

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Delving into other aspects of people’s lives: Sadly, a lot of companies do some of this stuff. I have heard horror stories of kids reporting an abusive parent and the parent getting a demotion or worse. The real story was the parent made the child come home by 11:30 pm or something similar.
            I try to keep an open mind and tell myself there is more to the story that I am not privy to … but still I do wonder what the heck goes on inside some companies.

            I have a question for you, Alison. Suppose that it looks like employee “Joe” is coming into work drunk. For the sake of the story, let’s describe the evidence as strong enough that if an officer pulled him over Joe would get offered a breathalyzer test. Unfortunately, Joe sometimes drives for the company. He has a commercial license.
            How should the company handle this?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I think it’s quite reasonable to say that if your job is to drive for the company, you’re expected to have a clean driving record. You’re talking there about engaging in dangerous behavior while performing the activity you’ve been hired to perform for the company.

              But Joe getting tipsy in his own living room and staying there? No one should care.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                Whoops, sorry. I did not frame my question very well.

                Suppose you are a manager whose direct report shows up for work tipsy. What do you say to this person? Do you just take the keys away from him?

                I have seen companies reeeally struggle with how to handle this. Everyone knew that he should not drive but no one knew how to do an intervention, especially in light of having union reps that would step in quickly.
                I guess my question is off topic a bit because my question is about a situation that is actually unfolding in the work place.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  At a minimum, you stop him from driving that day and probably future days too … but I’d seriously consider firing him because showing up for work under the influence of alcohol or drugs is so far over the line of what’s acceptable that it warrants on-the-spot termination. It should take really extenuating circumstances for him to keep his job.

                2. Jessa*

                  What Alison said. There’s a difference between smoking weed on a Saturday and coming into work on Monday sober, and drinking or doing ANYTHING including other legal activities and being impaired. A driver, pilot, ship’s captain, etc. Has a duty to come into work unimpaired. Period, full stop. ANY appearance of impairment, legal or otherwise (booze is legal, prescription meds are legal,) should be grounds for “you do not drive today, you get tested now.” And if they fail, the issue is not that they drank, had an Rx or whatever. The issue is they came in impaired.

                  That’s a firing offence. Depending on the company. There’s ZERO tolerance to you driving company equipment (that includes forklifts,) when unable to do so even if what renders you unable is legal. If you need to be on medical leave or different duties for a week because of pain meds for instance, you have a duty to safety to DO this.

                  That is incident based reaction and is completely reasonable. I wouldn’t let a company driver take the car if they looked so exhausted they were impaired EITHER.

                3. TheSnarkyB*

                  It’s really ridiculous that a company had a hard time figuring out what to do there. I get that there might be a lot of red tape, but that in and of itself is a problem. Any and every company should have reason to say “if we suspect… … … We have the right to… (Whatever makes sense).” That should have nothing to do with unionization.

                4. Jamie*

                  That’s the huge distinction and you can’t compare showing up at work impaired and being off the clock.

                  Taking it out of the realm of recreation, if I take Vicodin after a surgical procedure or extensive dental work (because, freaking OW!) and I’m home that’s fine. Legally prescribed…if I showed up for work in that state I should be fired because…well, trust me if you’ve ever seen me under the influence you’d know why.

                  It comes down to what affects the job. And fwiw I think you show up for work drunk or otherwise impaired it should be immediate dismissal. And yes, if you’re a driver (car, truck, forklift, etc.) I’d pull the keys immediately and get any machine operator off the machine. That’s a safety issue overriding everything.

                5. Not So NewReader*

                  I found it jaw-dropping that this would even be a problem. However, there it was. (Am shaking my head…)

                  Good points, everyone.

                  I especially like Alison’s point about forklifts and Jessa’s point about exhaustion. I think that these two areas are over-looked frequently.

                  Awhile back, I called one of those “1-800 how’s my driving” numbers to report a tailgating trucker. We had to be doing around 80 mph and the truck was so close all you could see was the grill work in the review mirror. Scary.
                  Once we managed to get out of the way the trucker got up on the tail of the car in front of us and did the same thing.
                  When I called, the woman informed me that this wasn’t the first time she heard this. And she said he would be fired. I was so relieved.

                6. KellyK*

                  Since you mention union reps, one key thing to make sure is that the contract stipulates that showing up to work drunk is grounds for either immediate termination or some form of suspension. If you don’t have the “at-will” situation that most employers do, you need to make sure the common-sense exceptions are explicitly spelled out. And honestly, I picture most unions not being willing to go to bat for the guy who shows up drunk, because it’s a huge safety risk *and* makes everyone look bad.

          2. Brton3*

            This is the kind of thing some companies would like to do; are you a reckless driver, or do you have an active sex life? Those might end up with you needing medical care and driving up the company’s insurance premiums. Do you post actively on politically themed websites? Does that make you incrementally more likely to share company secrets? Much like the government, many companies have a default philosophy that it really would just be better if we knew as much as possible about all of our people, just in case something comes up sometime.

            1. Jamie*

              I can honestly say I’ve never had an employer even remotely interested in how active my sex life was.

              How would one vet that information? I’m pretty sure my husband would balk at signing an affadavit.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                Who was it? Henry Ford supposedly went around and checked people’s living arrangements. Only married people could co-habitat.

                Way too much company involvement going on there.

              2. Rana*

                I believe Chik-Fil-A still does that level of vetting. They want to make sure that all their employees abide by their interpretation of Christian morals. A number of religiously-affiliated colleges require similar sorts of moral compliance as well.

        2. Rob Aught*

          I’m not sure how drug tests will expose a child molester, but if you want to argue from a logical fallacy knock yourself out.

    3. LisaLyn*

      For me, it’s the whole “if you don’t have anything to hide, why do you mind?” argument that I know works well for others, but makes me cringe. Why should I have to prove to law enforcement, let alone my employer, that I’m not doing anything “wrong”?

      I don’t do drugs. I could pass any drug test they want to toss at me (although as Rob notes, false positives are a true concern). But I shouldn’t have to, not at the whim of someone I happen to be working for.

      1. Escritora*

        I would flip the “if you don’t have anything to hide” argument to ask, “Why do you think you have the right to know? Why is it your concern? How is it any of your business? When performance testing exists, why choose instead the option that allows you to pry into other people’s lives?”

      2. Elizabeth West*

        That’s what scares me; false positives. When I’m job hunting, I stay away from cold medicines anytime close to interviews, poppy seed bagels (just in case), and alcohol (easy because I barely if ever drink).

        For most office jobs, it’s unnecessary to drug test. Exceptions might be anyone who handles money, financial data, etc., that could be used to support a drug habit. But to answer the phone? Get serious.

        1. Jean*

          I turned down the chance to be considered for a temp job during Xmas week (stocking shelves of a local branch of a national chain store) because the temp agency not only wanted me to agree to be drug tested but insisted that I would have no recourse even if case of a laboratory or clerical error! We talked past each other before I got up (politely) and departed the temp company’s offices forever.

          I have no street drug habits, but I’m not fully comfortable sharing the information about my prescriptions (prescribed by genuine physicians for genuine medical reasons) and I’m not at all comfortable being at the mercy of some random lab or typing error. Not to mention the false positives. Having no recourse even to question the test results seems unnecessarily harsh to me. So add me to the list of privacy-favoring people.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I wish the company much luck in its quest for perfect people.
            That is so ridiculous. Many of these drug testing firms are nothing more than assembly line places. And we all know what happens to assembly lines… “You MUST go FASTER!”

            And accuracy goes out the door.

      3. Jessa*

        This. OMG this. The US was built on innocent until PROVEN guilty and a national amendment that says you cannot be forced to convict YOURSELF. And yet “if you had nothing to hide, why do you care?” Pretty much means that anyone who objects, who asserts their enshrined in the bloody FOUNDING DOCUMENTS rights, is guilty of something? Heck no. I’d say it more strongly but it’s Alison’s blog and I don’t want to use utterly foul language.

    4. Rindle*

      I’ve been drug tested only once, and it was for an internship. The entire process was incredibly demeaning. I had to go to a seedy lab in a random part of town, they couldn’t or wouldn’t answer any questions I had (like, what are you testing for and do you need a doctor’s note for prescription medications I’m on), and they wouldn’t share my own results with me or even give me a sample report. Note – I had nothing to hide.

      Privacy-wise, I was worried about a lot of things – including what would happen if my current or future insurance company got hold of the results and used them to deny coverage (for example, based on anti-depressants in my system being evidence of a pre-existing condition.) Does this sound a little tinfoil hat? Not so much, these days.

      1. Marie*

        OP of this question here–yeah, it’s not even pure privacy. It’s that I’ve worked for years and years and done an exemplary job, and I don’t want to have to go pee in front of a stranger for no reason.

      2. Jessa*

        I totally object to the culture of drug testing that does NOT give copies of the result to the patient. This is the only time (not including Psych records in the US,) where the patient doesn’t seem to have an absolute right to copies of their records. And there’s no system wide right to retesting AUTOMATICALLY on a bad verdict, the implication being the lab is always right, which it just ISN’T. Even 98% accuracy means a whole lot of people get missed and it’s just not that good accuracy wise.

        It’s a racket. With no due process protection for someone who can have their lives ruined by mistakes.

        1. KellyK*

          Totally agree. You should have full access to your drug test records. (Heck, psych patients have more access than people being drug tested–records are only supposed to be withheld if the provider believes releasing them will be harmful or dangerous to the patient.)

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I went to one dentist that scared me. I was supposedly having my teeth cleaned. The hygienist and I were chatting and I was not paying close attention. She got a saliva swab from my mouth without me realizing. She ran a test and told me the results. I said “When did you take that swab?” I did not even see her do it and I think I am a fairly observant person. Made me wonder how much information the doctor takes from us and we never realize. I thought it was pretty sneaky.

        1. Rana*

          That’s incredibly sneaky, and unethical. You should be actively consenting to all procedures; denying you that opportunity is really unprofessional!

      4. Tax Nerd*

        I find drug-testing incredibly demeaning, too. I went through it once, very early in my career. The company insisted on testing everyone, even for office jobs, because a security guard caught some number cruncher using cocaine in the office bathroom after hours. I vaguely understand where the company is coming from, but I still think testing everyone is/was a massive overreaction. (I had already resigned my previous job, before hearing “Oh, by the way, you have to go to XYZ Agency for your drug test.)

        I wasn’t taking drugs of any kind – prescription, street, OTC, whatever. But I still hated the process. I had to pee in a stall WITH THE DOOR REMOVED, while someone from the testing agency WATCHED. She turned away 3/4, but still. I resented the company for making me go through that, and it colored my perception of them ever since. I left after six months.

    5. BCW*

      Another real problem is that the drug that stays in your system the longest, marijuana, is arguably the most benign. Heroin, meth, cocaine, any of things will be gone within a matter of a couple days. So if you know you have an employment screen on Monday, you could conceivably get high Friday night and it wouldn’t be caught.

      Also, as someone mentioned, you could be perpetual binge drinker on weekends, or even just every night, which I’d argue is far worse than smoking pot at a party, but you would never get caught.

  9. Evan (now graduated)*

    #4 (can’t work Mondays): As well as what Alison said, if you can work some other day (such as Wednesday or Friday), it would probably be good to include that in the same email. I know someone who works part-time and was able to get a three-day schedule shifted around to the specific three days she’s able to be there.

    #7 (unreachable reference): Yes, do what Alison said. I did something like that in a similar situation a year or two ago, and after a little while, my reference emailed me back apologizing for being out of touch and saying he’d be glad to serve as a reference.

  10. periwinkle*

    Regarding multiple degrees… I used to frequent a forum for people pursuing degrees through non-traditional colleges. Some people there were addicted to collecting credits and degrees, or simply thought there was an advantage to earning 2 AAs, 3 BAs, and 2 MAs all in wildly divergent subjects (and why the bleep would anyone get an MA in Humanities plus an MA in Liberal Arts?).

    OP#3 should consider listing only the highest and/or most relevant degrees on her resume. Remember, it’s a marketing document rather than an official record.

    1. Brton3*

      I know people who are the same, and it baffles me! They talk about it like it’s bound to impress you, rather than make you wonder about this person’s ability to prioritize and make good life choices.

      I also know people obsessed with getting non-necessary industry distinctions and certifications and so on. Highlighting on-the-job success is so much more important than collecting certifications.

      1. Jessa*

        There was a period of time, particularly I remember in the 90s where all those certificate things were a big deal. Not that companies really cared, but that educational establishments said they did and people did a lot of “collecting paperwork” kinds of things because media told them that really, this is what you do.

        1. De Minimis*

          In my field a lot of people who are looking for work seem to collect certifications in hopes that it makes them more marketable…it seems like a whole industry has developed in creating new certifications and trying to sell people on pursuing them.

          The problem is there are only a couple of certifications in my field that mean anything, and generally even those don’t really add value unless they are backed by years of experience.

          1. Brton3*

            Yes, it’s absolutely a cottage industry, much like for-profit education in general.

    2. jesicka309*

      Some people do enjoy continued learning (I know I do) and if they’re really into humanities/arts etc, they might choose to do several related degrees. :)

      Obviously, you don’t need to list all of them on your CV, just the ones that make you qualified to do the job you’re applying for.

  11. QualityControlFreak*

    Also, is it bad that I can’t read parts of #1 without hearing the comments in Raj’s voice?

    I think it’s bad.

    1. nyxalinth*

      Only because if the woman was really beautiful, Raj wouldn’t be able to say anything at all! :D

  12. Blondie*

    In regards to #7, AAM, you say it’s obnoxious and unnecessary to ask for references so early, and I agree. But if that’s the case, why is it such the norm? I filled out seven applications this week and all of them wanted references in the initial application. I see it so many times that I don’t even think about it as being abnormal.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      They generally do it to save themselves the time in having to ask for them later, but the time saved is so minimal that it can’t possibly justify the inconvenience for the candidates.

      1. J. Sandfort*

        Asker for #7 here, just a comment, it might just be in my field (programming), but a lot of firms are using an automated system called Taleo to take applications which asks for references up front and has some other annoying features as well. For example, you can upload a resume, but all it does is scan it for keywords and the HR person never even sees the document itself. Putting an application in through such an impersonal system feels like hopelessly tossing a message in a bottle into the ocean.

  13. HR Competent*

    Drug Testing- False Positives

    I’ve literally had thousands of workers tested and have not had one false positive.

    I won’t argue it couldn’t happen, I will argue it is rare.

    1. fposte*

      How are you judging the veracity of the tests–do the employees always admit that the test is accurate (you’d think some would have the sense to at least shut up). If not, how are you verifying that the positive is genuinely representative of drug use?

      1. HR Competent*

        First, very few fail. The majority are tested pre-employment and workers are aware they will be tested ahead of time. The random programs we have are aboard vessels at-sea and there is very little opportunity to procure or imbibe.

        As for positive testers admitting? Yes, many of them do, usually it’s “uhh… but I hadn’t smoked in a couple of weeks!” Most positive tests have come from pot, a few from amphetemines, one from cocaine. The cocaine guy said it was his dentist neighbor who worked out of his garage, that conversation ended pretty quick. I’ve never had a positive test for morphine.

        I’ve worked with many clinics and we do a simple 5 panel test, the sample is split, the cups are sealed with the contributers signature. If a positive result is found the second sample is tested.

        I hear the fears, second hand (pot)smoke- virtually impossible to test positive. Prescription medications, no reason to be an issue since that information is submitted before testing. Personal information going to the employer, employers don’t receive information beyond what was tested positive for.

        I’m not saying it can’t happen, just saying in my experience it’s highly unlikely.

        FYI- The industry I work in hires many seasonal workers that are provided room and board as well. We are responsible for the safety and welfare of our workforce 24-7 hence the common UA practice.

        1. fposte*

          Ah, for some reason I was thinking of thousands of failures rather than thousands of tests–it makes much more sense to me now that I understand you correctly! Though I still think it’s funny when people say they did partake but it was a few weeks ago–I guess that’s the equivalent of the drunk guy’s canonical “two beers.”

          1. HR Competent*

            Thankfully no! I’d lose my faith in humanity, my competence, and assuredly my employment if that were the case. :)

        2. Jessa*

          I have never been asked or able to give a list of Rx meds to the testing facility and I’ve had it done 3 times (I hate it but I also have to work.) I ask them should I give them a list, they say they have no place for it. It’s an issue.

          1. HR Competent*

            Did you test positive then?

            The UA’s I have experience with are looking specifically for marijuana, amphetimines, metha-amphetamines, cocaine, and opiates. They do not not take note of anything else.

    2. Anonymous*

      For the number of false positives it depends on what exactly you’re testing for, and the more sensitive tests tend to be more expensive. It sounds like you’re using the more specific drug testing; for example testing for amphetamines versus meth. Since I take meds daily for allergies I test positive for amphetamines, but not meth, so whether or not I have a false positive depends on what test they’re using.

      1. Natalie*

        The pass/fail levels can also make a big difference. There was a case just recently where a birthing mother in Pennsylvania was drug tested, but the test was set for such low levels that her consumption of poppy seeds triggered a false positive for opiates. CPS actually took her kid for a bit (she’s suing now).

  14. HR Competent*

    You test positive for amphetamines because of your meds and you are denied employment and/or have been terminated?

    1. 10:50 Anon*

      I haven’t had a false positive I just know depending on the test I will have a false positive due to pseudoephedrine use. The one company that did do pre-employment drug testing used the more sensitive tests. I actually had to have the testing done twice for that company, since I was laid off longer than a year, with two different companies doing the test. Neither company that did the testing would accept anything that might explain a false positive, neither would say what test they used, neither would tell me the results of the testing.

      1. Jessa*

        And this more than the demand for testing is what I hate. There should be an absolute RIGHT to the records for the person being tested, and an understanding that errors DO happen. The fact that someone could lose their livelihood with NO recourse and no information is my BIGGER problem.

      2. HR Competent*

        I’m sorry 10:50 Anon but I’m not understanding the answer.

        You were tested twice I get, but were you denied or terminated from employment?

        1. 10:50 Anon*

          I wasn’t denied employment but not because of anything I had CONTROL over. That’s that point. Nothing I did, could have ANY effect over the test, and therefore my eligibility for employment. As I learned later, that was passing the drug test was the ONLY thing I needed to get hired. and even IF I had tested positive if the hiring manager had any say at that point I still would have still been hired.

        2. KellyK*

          Even if someone *hasn’t* been fired or denied employment due to a false positive, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have cause for concern when the test company would not accept prescription information or reveal what test they use. I think it’s highly inappropriate to collect personal medical information without disclosing *exactly* what’s being collected and having a way to address false positives. (They may well be vanishingly rare–that’s no comfort to the one person in a hundred or a thousand who *does* lose their job over poppy seed cake or allergy meds.)

          1. Rana*

            Yes. It’s like learning you’re on the No Fly list (say, because your name is similar to someone else’s), and having no way to learn why, let alone correct that misinformation. Databases are inherently prone to error – they’re created and managed by humans, and humans make mistakes. Thus there should always be a clear protocol for identifying and correcting such mistakes – and the people most likely to be attentive to them are the subjects entered in the database (or taking the test, etc.)

  15. Spreadsheet Monkey*

    #3 – I am fascinated by the fact that everyone glommed onto the mention of 5 degrees (which is pretty glom-worthy), but no one seems to have caught this:

    >I’m currently working as a data entry associate for over a year with a master’s degree and am being grossly underpaid.

    As stated in many previous posts, you are worth what the market will bear. You are only underpaid if you are making significantly less than other data entry associates. You don’t get a higher wage for data entry just because you have 5 degrees.

    I have a master’s and am working as a cashier in a retail store, because that’s where I could find a job. I’m still looking for something in my field, but my degrees aren’t important to my current employer, and don’t mean diddly when figuring my compensation.

    1. Manda*

      I think underemployed is a better word. That’s probably all that was meant by it.

  16. Tekoa*

    Five degrees? Ye gods that’s a lot. I have two degrees, and I now think that’s educational overkill.

    Saying that, I’m a lifelong student at heart (I love learning) so I’ll probably end up with many more degrees. When looking for a new job, try only listing your most recent or relevant degree.

  17. op #5*

    Thank you for the advice, Alison. I decided to stay with the salary I told them about during the phone interview to avoid the weirdness of having to change it during the in-person interview. I can actually live by with the salary I mentioned before; I just feel that it might have been a shockingly low number.

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