helping a quiet new coworker, cc’ing the hiring manager, and more

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

1. How to talk about what I liked at my last job, which I hated

I need some advice about answering the interview question “what did you like about your last job?” This is the first time that this has happened where I absolutely hated my last job and have very little, if anything, positive to say about it. It was just a paycheck to me. I wouldn’t know how to answer the question. Any suggestions?

You’re going to have to make something up, or find something about the job that you generally did like and which is substantive enough to use as an answer (in other words, “they had great chips in the snack machine” isn’t enough). In formulating an answer, keep in mind that interviewers aren’t asking this question idly — they’re looking for signs in your answer of what motivates you and keeps you happy. If you say “I loved the customer interaction” and the role you’re applying for works in a closet with no human contact all day, they might be concerned about how you’ll do there. So be thoughtful about what information you’re conveying with whatever answer you come up with.

2. Was it okay to cc the hiring manager on six different thank-you’s?

I recently had a second interview that was set up by the hiring manager to give the other attorneys in the office a chance to meet with me and (I assume) see how well my personality would fit in the office. It lasted over an hour and went very well. I sent each participant a personalized thank you email, and my question was: Was it proper to CC the hiring manager on each individual email?

I made sure that I made each subject line title unique, so that it wouldn’t appear that I was spamming the manager’s inbox with 6 cut and paste emails. I also highlighted one different, distinct selling point about my experience in each individual email.

As a matter of protocol, should a hiring manager be cc’d on all correspondence to people in the company regarding your candidacy? Or should the thank you emails be sent only to the participants themselves?

Well, it’s not like there was information in each that was important for her to see (as opposed to, say, a scheduling change), so yeah, cc’ing her on six different thank-you emails was a little overkill, to be honest. I wouldn’t reject an otherwise strong candidate for it, but I’d wonder at it. And no, the hiring manager doesn’t need to be cc’d on all correspondence as a matter of general protocol — only if it’s likely to be of direct interest to her. One thank-you might be, but six wouldn’t be.

(Sorry to say this when it’s too late to change anything — but it’s also not worth stressing over now.)

3. What happened to this job offer?

I recently interviewed for an administrative position at a university. About two days after my interview, I was contacted by the HR recruiting manager and offered a job at one of the departments. The manager inquired about my interest and whether I could start the Monday after (she called me on a Friday), then assured me that she would call me within the hour once she got her response from the department that is hiring. I waited until the end of the day with no response and finally emailed her asking whether or not I may have missed her call because I was in a building all day. She replied me not long after, telling me that the department has not replied her yet and that she will contact me once she gets a response.

It has now been two weeks and I have since emailed and called her one more time (emailed on the following Tuesday and called on the Friday) to see if there are any updates for the position. I am afraid of pestering her and also afraid that I may appear like I don’t care if I don’t contact her. I have not contacted her since last Friday. What do you think I should do? She didn’t reply to my following email or call so should I take this as a bad sign and move on?

What exactly was she checking with the hiring department about? It sounds a bit like she was expressing initial interest but waiting for them to confirm that they wanted to offer you the job — and if that’s the case, this wasn’t a job offer and her wording was just confusing.

Either way, though, the answer is the same: Try one more time and then move on. You can be absolutely sure that if they want to hire you, they will get in touch at some point and let you know. But right now they’re either not prioritizing this hiring or are moving forward with other candidates — and so the best thing you can do is move on mentally and let them get back in touch with you if they want to offer you a job at some point.

4. Helping a quiet new hire who might be struggling

A new employee has been working for a project I manage for a few weeks. At his interview (I was part of the hiring committee), he came across as purposeful, intelligent, and careful and precise in his words. But after training him, I saw he demanded lots of attention to items that were frustrating to have to explain to a mid-20s professional — how to manage a calendar, how to craft a professional email, etc. Without seeking my input (I would have recommended against it, seeing that he was already uncomfortable with the current steep learning curve), his responsibilities soon doubled within weeks of being hired. He now is responsible for many aspects directly impacting the performance of my project. I have encouraged him to take ownership and be proactive and shown him how this is a great opportunity to grow within the company. He has responded by performing the work required but not really embracing the new role.

Through facial expressions and his lack of excitement, I get the sense that he is overwhelmed at the additional responsibility and perhaps annoyed or angered that he has been asked to take on a new role that he was not hired to do. I’d like to talk to him about this and have tried to initiate the conversation, but he’s just…..quiet. It’s unsettling to get no feedback, only blank states when I ask varying degrees of questions to get a sense of his happiness with the new role (or the one that he was hired to do, for that matter). I’ve asked colleagues of his to mentor him and give him tips so he feels less overwhelmed. I’ve alerted the manager to whom he directly reports about the issue, but he doesn’t really have the time or motivation to help him adjust. I’ve communicated my concerns to my director and he is aware but has yet not acted on my concerns.

Part of me says to let it go and let him communicate if he ever wants to. But I wonder if I’ve been inviting enough for this employee to come to me to voice any concerns. I’ve seen other younger employees come out of their shell and become candid and trusted advisors to me in my project with time yet much less prodding and encouragement. Do you have any advice in this case?

Well, you’ve tried everything you could try in this situation, and you’re not getting anywhere All you can really do is continue being a friendly presence so that if he wants to talk at some point, you’ll have made it clear that you’d welcome it. But you can’t make him talk to you about it, and you might actually be approaching the line where it would be inappropriate to push more.

That said, you do need to make sure that you’re getting what you need for your projects, and if you’re not, you should be straightforward with him about that (and with his manager, if it comes to that point). But you can’t really force help on someone who doesn’t want it.

5. Should I disclose that my employer is my fiancé?

My fiancé of 13 years owns a business and I more or less run the “office” portion of that business. The work that I do relates to the field of work I am applying for outside of the home. How to I add that to my applications? I can’t exactly say I’m employed or that I run a home business either. But I’d like to include it on my resume or application because the work I do for his business relates to what I am applying for. How do I go about doing this? Do I tell them he’s my employer but don’t mention that he’s my fiancé? Eventually they will find out who he is.

Put the work on your resume, but don’t offer him as a reference. If someone specifically asks to be put in touch with him for a reference, explain that you’d be glad to connect them but that he’s your fiancé and thus not likely to be an unbiased reference. People will appreciate the candor and then can decide from there whether they want to talk to him or not (most won’t).

6. Should you tell a new employer that your current employer might tell you to leave as soon as you give notice?

When negotiating a start date with a new employer, is it okay to agree on one, but then add than once you give notice to your current employer, they might dismiss you immediately and thus you’d be available to start earlier? I’m currently job searching and this could very well happen with my current company. If I tell my new employer I may be pushed out when I give notice, would that be badmouthing my current company or telling them something that isn’t their problem? I want them to know if I’d be available earlier than expected because I can’t really afford much of a gap between jobs, so I’d like to start as soon as possible if I get an offer.

Yes, it’s fine to say that, but be careful to use wording that makes it clear that they do this regularly and it’s not specific to you. For instance, you could say, “I’d like to give my employer two weeks notice, but they often prefer people to leave immediately once they give notice. If that happens, I’d be glad to start earlier.”

7. Humming, whistling, singing coworker

I work in an office environment and the guy in the cubicle next to me hums, whistles, and sings in the forenoon almost every day. What is a polite way to let him know that we would appreciate quietness?

“I’m sure you don’t realize it, but when you hum, whistle, or sing, it can be distracting and makes it hard to focus. Would you mind not doing it? Thank you.”

{ 226 comments… read them below }

    1. Zahra*

      Well, after 13 years, it’s not a boyfriend anymore. Some people do choose not to get married, and the words to describe their committed relationship are sparse.

      Off the top of my head there are: partner (business or love?), spouse (but you’re not married), boyfriend/girlfriend (aren’t we out of high school?), fiancé(e) (when are you getting married?).

      1. Lisa*

        My bf of 10 years and I are not getting married, but his family are my in-laws and I introduce them as such, and everyone but his mom refers to me as their daughter-in-law, ie his dad, his stepdad. The kids call me Auntie, and the brothers and sisters call me their sister in law. He is still my bf, and I hate when people comment ‘wow – 10 years, when are you getting married’, the inevitable talk of me saying marriage isnt for us, becomes a pity party and ‘OOh’ and looks that convey ‘that poor girl’. Yeah I would like to get married, but I love him more and he is very against it as a child of divorce. I wish there was a term to refer to someone that didn’t sound PC like partner or SO. He sometimes calls me his lady. I like other half personally.

        1. Anonymous*

          You’re not getting married, but you think his family are your in-laws? The term was actually meant to identify relatives by marriage. If you’re not married, you’re not related (to your boyfriend, either, for that matter).

          Please understand that I mean this primarily as a linguistic criticism. I have no problem with your choosing to be in a long term non-marital relationship, but my main comment was on your choice of language that is used to describe a legal relationship that doesn’t – for you – exist.

          I will add that some people may interpret this as a sign of your unhappiness with your choice. “Marriage isn’t for us” is a hard message to deliver whole-heartedly when your heart wants to get married – but his does not. Describing his relatives as in-laws may add to the perception that you’re trying to get along on half a loaf, and contribute to some of that “poor girl” reaction.

          For introductions, I would go with (I presume) the truth. “This is John Smith. We live together.” There is also “This is Michael Smith. I live with his son,” and so on. People pushing to know when you’re going to get married can be told that you have nothing to announce at the moment – friendly, and matter-of-fact at first, but leading to a frigid “I wasn’t aware that you were so deeply concerned – I’ll be sure to let you know if we have any news we wish to make public,” if someone is really getting pushy about it.

          If you are comfortable with using the correct terms to describe your relationships where appropriate (and also comfortable standing your ground against intrusions into your privacy) people will be more likely to assume you’re comfortable with the underlying reality.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I’d assume (but maybe I’m wrong) that the terms are simply useful shorthand to convey a relationship that they may feel is essentially there except in law.

            1. Anonymous*

              My assumption as well – but from a language perspective, for me at least, it’s a pretty big leap. Calling a well-respected lawyer a judge within the family / firm (where everyone knows it’s not true) would be very different from introducing him to anyone else as a judge – he just isn’t.

              In this case, the core meaning of “in law” is to identify a legal relationship by marriage. Using it when such a relationship doesn’t legally exist is a pretty big stretch.

              I like the “out law” suggestion below too – a little quirky, but it conveys the truth.

              1. Forrest*

                If they’re together for a certain amount of time in some states, it may be a common law marriage. So Lisa using in-laws to describe relatives may not be wrong.

                1. The IT Manager*

                  People say that a lot when I mention that my brother has lived with his girlfriend for nearly 20 years so I googled. I am not a lawyer. But from everything I’ve read, one aspect of common-law marriage is that the couple presents themselves to others as married, call each other as husband and wife and after doing that for a certain number of years where everyone else thinks they are married, it becomes legally true. I think if they don’t present themselves as married, common law marriage law (which varies from state to state) doesn’t come into play.

                2. CEMgr*

                  Common law marriage is on its way out in the US. Some states never permitted it, and the majority of states have over time disallowed it going forward. It has been disallowed in Calirofnia as of 1895 and Minnesota in 1941, for instance. Only in 11 states is it still even possible to contract a common law marriage, and then only when certain conditions (different in each state) are met.

              2. Kou*

                Nice that you have an opinion, but seeing as the how there’s no term for “my long time-partner’s family with which I also have a family relationship,” you’re gonna have to deal with the travesty of lexicon appropriation here.

            1. Judy*

              In my dad’s large family, we call the outlaws the 2nd marriage into the family. Dad is one of 13. The inlaws are the ones who married the siblings. The outlaws are the ones who married the inlaws after the sibling died. Currently there are 9 living siblings, 10 living inlaws and 2 outlaws. Pretty good when the youngest sibling is 77.

              This is usually used when sorting people for photos. Siblings photo now, Inlaws and outlaws now, Cousins now, etc. So everyone knows when to parade over to wherever the aunts have decided the photos should be taken. Expecting to hear the drill this weekend at at 60th anniversary party.

          2. Lisa*

            I say ‘marriage isn’t for us’ in a matter of fact way, and it usually stops the curious ones. The pushy ones are usually old people that can’t understand that marriage doesn’t have to be the end all. I try to be polite, but mostly its distant family members on both sides that we only see at funerals and weddings and christenings. These events tend to bring up the ‘wedding’ convo, when we introduce each other to these relatives. I do like your idea of frigid “I wasn’t aware that you were so deeply concerned wording. I think I will use that at the next cousins wedding.

            His immediate family is my family. They are not any less my family simply because I never walked down an aisle or went to a JP and signed a piece of paper. They are not my parents or my sisters or my brothers, so I don’t call him dad or introduce him as my father, but he is in essence my father-in-law. And to AAM’s note, it is easier to call them my in-laws, but I call them that because they are that to me. Families come in all different shapes or sizes. I would like to be married as I think it is a nice act of commitment, but my heart isn’t pining away wanting it as you suggest. I am connected to them as result of my relationship with my bf. I feel married to him as in that I am committed for the long-haul and this is my person. Since he is my person, they are my in-laws.

            1. ThursdaysGeek*

              However, if you avoid that piece of paper, it’s good to have some other sort of paper — something that gives you the right to find out what room he’s in at the hospital in case of an accident.

              There are lots of legal rights automatically given to a spouse that the non-spouse doesn’t have, no matter how committed they are. Those rights should still be legally arranged in some manner.

              1. Chinook*

                “There are lots of legal rights automatically given to a spouse that the non-spouse doesn’t have, no matter how committed they are. Those rights should still be legally arranged in some manner”

                This x1,000! That little piece of paper is not just a sign of commitment. It is a legal document that automatically bestows on the signers a myriad of rights (and responsibilities) that can be covered in other documents but are often not thought of until it is too late. Ironically, that is what gay marriage is fighting for – equal access to those laws.

              2. Rana*

                Yes. This is a big reason why I felt relief when I legally married my husband. I already knew he loved me, but I worried about things like hospital access should one of us be injured or fall ill.

                1. Caffeine Queen*

                  This. You need to have some kind of paperwork, whether it’s a legal marriage or any other option, in place for emergencies like this. I’d rather take the risk of possible divorce (which, we hope, is a very tiny possibility and we’ll work to make that the case) than to be stuck in a dire situation, simply because we don’t have paperwork. You don’t need to prove anything to each other or your family, but you do to doctors and the government.

            2. Chinook*

              I understand the feeling of considering someone family when there isn’t a legal status changed. My family hosted exchange students over the years and one of them was with us the year my grandfather died and was just as devasted as anyone else. No one in the immediate family batted an eye when we introduced a Japanese girl named Aika as our sister (or our parents’ kid) and treated her the same as family in the ceremonies. We may not have adopted her (there is no reason to as she has her own family) but she is my sister and even if we never see each other again, she is remembered as such in the family. Unfortunately, the English language doesn’t have a word that aptly describes non-blood, non-legal familial relationships.

              1. Lisa*

                Thank you. I don’t get why people get so hung up on it not being the proper term. Not everything is so black and white.

              2. JC*

                This. My maid of honor in my wedding was my best friend, not my bio sister, though my sister was in the wedding too. The best friend has been with me for a decade. People always ask if we are sisters. We say yes. We aren’t by blood – she has her own family and I have mine – but in our hearts we are. There’s not a name in English for what we are, so we say sister, because that’s the closest word that conveys the emotion.

          1. fposte*

            Oh, I love this! How have I never heard it before?

            (I was going to go for “boink babe” myself, but this is better.)

      2. Anlyn*

        Personally, I like “lover”. But I know that makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

        I like the British term “sweetie” to describe an S.O., as in, “this is Bob, my sweetie”.

        1. AP*

          I especially like “lover” when it’s announced in a big, dramatic fashion – “This is George and he is my LOVAHHHH” but, um, maybe not in a work environment.

          1. Meg*

            Hahaha. I think “lover” is a little overly sexualized for a professional environment, but I kind of love the idea of sweeping into an office party and announcing my boyfriend as my “LOVAHH.”

          2. Caffeine Queen*

            I like the term companion, which is what I sometimes call my future husband. Even for those of us who want to get married, it can be nice to have a gender neutral option.

        2. Chocolate Teapot*

          “Sweetie” isn’t that common in Britain. Even “Sweetheart” (which I suspect is where it comes from) is a bit old fashioned.

          I quite like the German term “Lebensgefährte” which approximately translates as Life Companion.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Heh, fährte.

            Okay, sorry, I have a headache and a doughnut with sprinkles and have magically regressed to nine years of age.

            My German friend calls his boyfriend his “honey,” as in “Honey is coming over in a while; we’re going to watch a movie.” That one works, I think. (I don’t know what term he uses in German–I only talk to him in English.)

        3. Bagworm*

          I’m afraid I can’t hear someone referred to as one’s lover without thinking of Tina Fey’s line from 30 Rock “that word bums me out unless it’s between the words meat and pizza”. (And, yes, I definitely watch too much television.)

          I like partner (probably from spending much of my adult life living with a same-sex partner) but defer to the-guy-I-live-with-and-theoretically-am-going-to-marry-someday’s preferred fiance when he’s around (sometimes).

            1. Daisy*

              Yeah, I’m British too. Just thought possibly ‘my sweetie’ might be Scottish or northern or something and I wouldn’t necessarily know. But googling it all the results are American.

            1. Brightwanderer*

              Anlyn, it is common in Britain (or at least some parts of it), but not the way you’re using it there. I would call someone sweetie to their face, not when I’m talking to someone else about them. “Hey, sweetie, come over here a sec.” “What’s for dinner, sweetie?” What I don’t do is say “Oh, have you seen my sweetie?” or “Hang on, I’ll just check with my sweetie,” or whatever… that sounds really odd to my ears. It’s an endearment rather than a label – something to be used in the second person, not the third.

      3. Lucy*

        My Grandmother gets a kick out of introducing my Aunt’s live-in ‘boyfriend’ of 19 years as her Sin-in-Law.
        She usually cant say it without giggling – I think it’s adorable.

      4. Ramona*

        I think this depends on how you understand the term “boyfriend.” Honestly, I think it’s up to the couple – not time or anyone else – as to how they prefer to refer to each other.

      5. Becky B*

        A friend of mine refers to her live-in guy as her “gentleman friend.” They’ve been together for about 20 years.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Weddings are about 50 bucks if you go to the courthouse! (Which is not to say I think they need to get married, no matter how long it’s been. Who cares if it’s working for them?)

    2. The IT Manager*

      LOL! Despite not being the topic of this blog, that is the thing that most caught my attention on this post. Fiancé of 13 years? After 13 years, I don’t think that’s quite the right term since no wedding is imminent.

      1. Jazzy Red*

        Isn’t Oprah still engaged to whats-his-name? It’s been at least 20 years since she showed off her ring on TV.

      2. Forrest*

        What is she supposed to write though? My boyfriend of 10 years, turned my fiance of 2 years and we’re getting married in December?

        And like stated above, there’s a lot of reasons why people don’t want to get married. Maybe she’s like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and waiting for everyone to be able to marry.

        Of all the things to focus, how someone defines their relationship should be the last thing.

          1. Lisa*

            I don’t want my bf in my finances! He owes like 100k in loans that he never paid, I am paying mine off and making progress. I refuse to be on the hook for his.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  If you apply for a loan/mortgage/etc. together, yes. But you also have the option of applying just on your own if that makes more sense for you as a couple.

              1. Tina*

                I had to do some digging on this topic recently myself, just to doublecheck. It was quite a relief to find that out!

                I can empathize/ commiserate with all the marriage (Do we or don’t we?) talk. We were “not getting married” people – until I changed my mind, and after 5 years of being together, I proposed to him last year! We got married in May. For me, it was more symbolic than anything, but there was also the practical component – having decision-making rights for health decisions, etc (without having to do quite as much paperwork and hassle at least).

          2. Meg*

            Brad Pitt has said multiple times that the reason they aren’t getting married is because they believe everyone should marry, not just straight couples. Considering he’s been consistently supportive of gay rights, I see no reason to not believe him.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              For big-time celebrities, they are pretty cool. They show up here every once in a while to visit his family. So far I haven’t run into them. The family is very into community involvement. It’s no surprise Brad is that way. His brother is very nice, and IMO, actually better-looking.

    3. Char*

      I’m the original poster of #5
      First off – thank you for your advice in this area. I think your answer is great. I will definitely be using this at upcoming interviews. I think your site is very helpful & I’ve enjoyed expanding my job search skills.
      Second – I wasn’t aware that this site had anything to do with individuals & their relationships & the terms they use to describe their significant other/partner/etc. This is a matter of personal preference & frankly is no business of anyone else’s weather or not I use the “proper term” nor that I have been with my fiance for 13 years & have not yet gotten married.
      That being said, to each their own & keep it where it belongs. Thank you again for the advice & continued help to the rest of us who are here for the right reasons.

  1. jesicka309*

    OP#1 I struggle with this too. Here is some advice:
    -Think about what drew you to your job originally. Was it the great benefits? Great hours? Commute? Steady workload etc. Then be prepared to counter it with “but now, after 3 years of a steady orkload where I clock off at 5 on the dot, I’m ready for a job with more excitement/variety etc.”
    -Describe what you liked about your company, not you specific role. My company is a very big, successful tv station, and I always say that it was great to work for such a prestigious and successful company, and it made me proud, but my specific role wasn’t the right fit for me. Does your company do good things for the community, or the environment? Are the the market leader in their field? You could use those to describe what you like about your job.

    1. Anonymously Anonymous*

      This. Yep think about the mission statement. What is their purpose? Did their purpose tie into your beliefs but the hours were horrible or funding poor or did exec do the opposite of the mission statement? You can talk about the intended good without revealing the negative.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Well said.
      I had a company where my work was similar to filling the Grand Canyon in with soil…. by using a teaspoon to move the soil.
      For every problem I fixed, ten more problems cropped up.

      Don’t skate by these types of thoughts. Take a second look.

      What is not obvious here is that I became a good trouble shooter. Matter of fact, people would bring me their odd ball situations because no one else take the time to figure it out.
      There is a silver lining behind that cloud.

      Maybe your boss counted on you to do work that no one else did. Or it could be that you tripled your familiarity with computers. Perhaps you found parts of your “work-self” for example “I learned that I liked doing X but I am not good at Y.”
      Each job offers us an opportunity to gain insider knowledge of a biz or industry. What did you learn about the arena you were working in? Think big picture. “I made many connections with people doing related work.” OR “I decided I needed to move in a different direction.”

      If you have walked away with a clearer idea of what you want for a job or a workplace, all is not lost here. No experience is ever a total waste. There is usually some hidden take-away.

    3. fposte*

      Be careful, though–“Great commute” is kind of akin to the vending machine answer, and it won’t bode well to an interviewer. Even “Great benefits” is about what the job did for you, not what you liked about doing the job. The question is about tasks and duties, not terms of hire–as an interviewer, I want to know what you’d like doing at my organization. Generally the reason people hate their jobs isn’t because they hate every kind of work task there.

      1. Chinook*

        I disagree. “Great commute” can be a deal breaker for a potential job whereas I have never wanted to see a vending machine before accepting an offer. Commute time = amount of time you have to add to your work day, amount of money you have to spend going to/from work and even how much free time you have in the evenings. I have done commute that took me 5 mintues by bicycle, 45 minutes by bus and and over an hour by car (not all at once but in different places) and I would absolutely take a lower pay rate or even a nasty boss if I could whip home to have lunch with dog and cat.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes, it’s not that a great commute doesn’t matter. It’s that when the interviewer asks that question, they’re looking for something about the job itself. It’s similar to only talking about benefits and salary when asked what you’re looking for in a new job.

        2. fposte*

          Yeah, I think this question is getting reinterpreted a little. I understand that a great commute could matter to choosing a position, but that’s not the question in the interview. If you’re wanting to work in anything like the same field or use the same skills for me and you don’t like anything about the work itself? That’s not competitive.

      2. jesicka309*

        I meant ‘great commute’ and ‘great benefits’ to get the ball rolling on why they originally chose their current work. Sometimes it can be really important (eg. you have to work long hours, so being close to work is a good thing). If you can tie it into the company (being in city is in the middle of the action, there was a buzz about the workplace/really relaxed, country atmosphere with friendly customers etc.) then a commute can definitely be something you ‘like’.
        Though I suppose I chose my current company based on their prestige, as opposed to the job tasks (mistake), so that’s my go to answer. The other option is to describe something you now hate, but previously liked (After studying my degree, it was a relief to do data entry and paperwork, and come into work knowing what I was doing every day. I’ve come to realise that I thrive best under pressure with a variety of tasks, but at the time, it was really appealing to me.)

  2. Jessa*

    #7 remember to be very careful and say what Alison suggests in a very neutral tone. If you come off even a teensy bit snarky this will totally backfire.

  3. Aussiegirl*

    OP #7 Your answer AAM may backfire, like it did for me. When I nicely told a coworker (after everyone put up with the noise for months) that he banged loudly on his keyboard, cleared his throat continuously through the day, had his mobile ringer on full and spoke really loudly all day on his work phone, he told the boss he was being bullied and harrassed and I was given a verbal warning. Wonderful. I was speaking on behalf of all the other workers as well as myself and yet he is defended. He is a troublemaker and now makes sure he generates as much noise as he can. We are unable to do anything about it. I can’t stand this guy and just hope he leaves – soon!

    1. Rayner*

      God, that’s horrible. I’d be ready to gut him by the time he was clearing his throat, never mind anything else.

      And a terrible terrible boss. I’m so sorry.

      1. Aussiegirl*

        Thanks, Rayner. He’s a living nightmare. So self-important and very immature for a 60+yr old man! This guy is a manipulator and the boss believes all the crap he tells him. I’m a big believer of karma, so I’m playing the waiting game, all the while being driven completely mad!

        1. Rayner*

          Are you hunting for a new job too because man alive… Blergh.

          I hate people like that – but it usually ends badly for them. *crosses fingers for you*

        2. Elkay*

          Time to skip the boss and go to HR and talk about your uncomfortable working environment (as a group). Even if HR can’t/won’t do anything you’ll feel like you’ve exhausted all options. He sounds awful.

          1. Aussiegirl*

            Well, Elkay, if we had an HR dept. it would be great, but unfortunately we don’t. It’s just the boss. This guy really is awful but now no-one will say anything to him because they are afraid of being accused of bullying and the boss fired 2 employees recently (for real bullying issues, not fake ones). This guy knows bullying is not tolerated so he exagerated the fact about me asking him to tone down the noise. (Lucky I didn’t go so far to tell him to see a doctor for the throat clearing or to suck a friggin lozenge!) I actually love my job, so I don’t want to leave. I won’t let this idiot push me out.

            1. Mary*

              AussieGirl – isn’t he bullying you? You have stated that his noises hinder your work; yet he continues to do so and louder. That to me is a form of bullying you and your co-workers.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Reading down through the comments, I decided that this was not a story about a nuisance coworker. It is a story about a blind boss.

      You might eventually lose the coworker, but you will keep the blind boss. I hate to say this but the problems may continue after this guy is gone- different problems but similar threads running through each one.

      1. Aussiegirl*

        Yes, Not So New, you are spot on. Unfortunately, though my boss would like to think he is fair to all, a good listener and problem solver, he’s not. It’s something we have all had to learn to deal with, so we either stay or we go. Lots of people have left the company because of the boss’ attitude and ways of dealing (or not dealing) with issues. Guess for now we put our heads down and do our job. And you are partly wrong, as this annoying coworker is a massive problem, even if the boss is a bad manager.

        1. Colette*

          The thing is, if you had a good manager, the annoying coworker wouldn’t be a massive problem (because there would be consequences for him, not you). The problem is your boss – even if this coworker leaves, there will still be problems.

    3. athek*

      Any thoughts on what to do when the issue is due to mental illness? I have a staff member who regularly mutters to himself, makes nonsensical noises, etc. I am sure that he is aware of it in general, but not aware when he is actually do it. We sometimes point it out to him (in a gentle manner, and he is not offended), but it doesn’t improve the situation for the future. I do know that he is seeking treatment.
      I am his direct manager and I have a good staff who tolerate it well, but it can be grating for all of us at times. I have mentioned it to my manager and HR but haven’t received any suggestions for improvement and I’m afraid of making a misstep.

      1. fposte*

        If he’s not going to change, which is what you’re making it sound like, then your choices are whether people can deal with the situation as is, whether you can minimize the disruption factor, and whether he’s worth it. Is there an underlying question of “Can I fire him if the problematic behavior is due to his disability?” You can, but it would be both sensible and legally advisable to explore possibilities of alternative ways of dealing with the problem before doing so.

  4. Trixie*

    #4, Is is pretty common for today’s mid-20s professionals to not know how to manage a calendar, how to craft a professional email, etc. It very well may be. I’m just wondering what put this candidate out in front of the competition. I’m not sure if a thorough reference check would have given the OP a heads-up, or maybe a sample assignment to complete.

    1. Seal*

      I think it’s hit or miss. Of the mid-20s professionals I’ve supervised in recent years, far too many of them come in with no idea of the finer points of being a good employee. Things like how to write a professional email, how to conduct yourself in a meeting, or simply being respectful of your coworkers on a daily basis are foreign concepts to some of our more recent hires. And these are all well-educated people who had great interviews and solid references. This is a fairly recent development, too – I don’t remember ever having this problem with entry-level employees 10 years or so ago.

      1. Female sam*

        I’ve also seen the same behaviour in older employees, just basic frequently. Some of their professional emails have been riddled with grammatical errors, and their meeting behaviour has been very ignorant. To say this is a problem in younger people alone is a very broad generalisation and does the majority of young people who are professional, polite and respectful a huge disservice.

        1. Heather*

          Totally agree – the coworker here I’ve had the biggest problems with is in his 50s & the most hardworking ones are in their 20s/30s.

      2. Anonymously Anonymous*

        my son’s friend once told me he didn’t know how to use his email app nor did he know how to fill out the email on his iphone esp since there is twitter and instagram. I cringed inside. Maybe emails *will* become obsolete with changing technology but I doubt twitter or instagram will be the example matter of fact they seem to get a lot of people in trouble. I know more companies are establishing a presence on social media sites but I doubt people will apply for jobs that way esp on sites like twitter and instagram.

        Of course–I could be so wrong! #hiremeplease# #experiencedprofessional#

          1. Anonymously Anonymous*

            I don’t know if you post a link to here but I would love to read it. I was thinking the same thing this morning after I wrote it. But I’m not a blogger. I did think it was good fodder for a blog.

        1. HR Lady*

          May I ask how old the person is who doesn’t know how to use the email app on his phone? I hope he/she is younger than 18 (i.e., not yet in the working world). Does this also mean that the person doesn’t know how to send and receive email on a computer? Or is it just on the iphone? There is almost no way someone can succeed in an office-based business job nowadays without knowing how to send and receive email.

    2. Chinook*

      To me it makes sense that a professional in their 20’s may not know ooffice basics like managing a calendar because it may not have been necessary before and it is not something that is formally taught. It is just assumed we know “office basics.” Now, whenever I work with someone new, whether 20 or 60, I always ask if they have any questions about the email/calendar sysem under the guise that Outlook’s new layout can throw experienced users for a loop. It opens the door for someone to ask questions without risking looking like they don’t know anything (the ego is the biggest impediment to learning).

      1. Zed*

        While I agree with some other commenters that this isn’t [just] a generational issue, I also agree with you, Chinook, that it is perfectly reasonable and not at all surprising that a mid-20s professional would need to be coached in office basics. I mean, why wouldn’t it this be true? An employee in his mid-20s is still very much entry-level and is probably in his first or second job. He might be straight out of college or grad school – or, with today’s economy in mind, he may have spent a couple of years working full or part-time in retail, food service, or other non-office job. When, exactly, would someone like this have learned the finer points of managing a calendar or business email etiquette? (And we don’t even know what that means – he could be typing in textspeak with no capitalization or it could just mean he doesn’t know when to cc someone else, when to hit reply all, when to be long, short, vague, specific, etc.)

        Lacking knowledge that is not (A) inborn or (B) taught does NOT mean this young man is not “purposeful, intelligent, and careful and precise.” He may need mentoring or he may need to be pick up these things on his own. Either way, as long as he is completing the work he needs to do the OP is getting everything she needs, she should back off. She has presented herself as a helpful colleague and if he wants help he will ask. Everything else is between him and his manager.

        1. Nichole*

          I agree with you that it’s more an experience issue than an age issue. I remember nodding knowledgeably but panicking inside when I was told “we use Outlook” in my first job. To them it was no big deal, but I had never used it before. Luckily I was familiar with other e-mail platforms and was able to pick up on it pretty quickly, but it was two jobs before I had to admit I didn’t know how to use my Outlook calendar. I learned basic business communication in my bachelor’s program, so maybe educational institutions are starting to recognize this as a need.

          I got the impression that OP is maybe coming on a bit strong? If s/he’s not in the direct chain of command, the employee may be wondering what OP’s angle is.

        2. Felicia*

          +1. When are you supposed to learn office basics if not in your first office job? So it’s not an age issue at all. It’s that people new to working in an office have never had a use for such things before.

      2. Cassie*

        We have a few 20-somethings who can’t write emails (poor grammer, run-on sentences, etc) or don’t know what “cc” is. And these people are in their late 20s and have had some work experience prior to joining our office.

        I wouldn’t necessarily expect everyone to know how to manage a calendar or typical “office” duties, but if they know their job requires scheduling, they should try to learn about it on their own. When I started my first job (as a student worker), I had almost zero experience using excel. Over the years, I’ve learned how to do various things on excel so I can get my work done and then some (still can’t quite figure out pivot tables though). The internet is great for looking up tips and tricks.

    3. Mike C.*

      I also think it’s common to believe all sorts of things that aren’t true about people in their mid-20s.

  5. Trixie*

    #5, I have a similar situation. I’m unemployed but had the opportunity to assist my mother with a substantial project at her place of work. I’d like to include this as a volunteer effort as it was in-line with my previous jobs, her work place is very well recognized locally where I’m applying, and it helps me appear active when not working. Can I avoid mentioning this family member’s connection until directly questioned about it?

    1. Ruffingit*

      Unless your mother owns the business and/or was your supervisor, I think it’s fine to mention this work and not disclose the personal connection that got you the job.

    1. Ruffingit*

      I’m a big fan of the word fortnight as well. Which, for those who may not know, is another way of saying “2 weeks.” :)

  6. Jane*

    #1, it’s really important to find something positive to say. You don’t really have to make something up. There must be something that you can say. I can immediately think of a few people who have found new jobs because they were quite unhappy with their old jobs and I know those same people had many positive things to say about the job and the work at recruiting events (when trying to attract new talent to their old companies) so I’d imagine they would say the same things in interviews. It’s a game you have to play because many employers will assume that you are the problem because they don’t know you and don’t have a reason to give you the benefit of the doubt. Even if your old employer has a bad reputation, it is unlikely to help your case if you don’t have at least a few positive things to say. If you have to, think of something about the company that from the outside might seem great (even though it was terrible when you were there) and talk that up.

    1. Chinook*

      I agree that there is always something to good to say about the worst situation (I.e. Hitler was a horribly evil person but he did have incrdible public speaking skills). I find that being able to acknowledge atleast one positive and negative point about anything shows you have clearly analyzed a situation and came to you conclusions based on more than a pure emotional reaction.

      Don’t get me wrong, gut reactions are great when an immediate decision needs to be made, but once you have time to analyze why your gut reacted that way, you usually see it was less black and white.

      (Please don’t flaame me about the Hitler comment – no amount of great public speaking skills can excuse his behavior and choices)

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I always thought that those skills were one of the reasons he was able to mobilize his evil.

        I totally agree with the black/white thing–I’m a big fan of pro and con lists. They really help break whatever you’re analyzing down into basic elements, and there is almost always a pro somewhere, even if it’s ridiculously small. I don’t think, even in the most nightmarish jobs I’ve had, I can say there were no positives at all.

        1. Chinook*

          “I don’t think, even in the most nightmarish jobs I’ve had, I can say there were no positives at all.”

          There is always a positive any any job – atleast they are paying you to be there!

      2. Anonymous*

        Haha, this reminds me of when I was in a sorority in college, and during recruitment we always had to end conversation about any potential new member with a positive comment. When necessary, our go-to comments were “She made good eye contact” or “She seemed polite”

    2. Not So NewReader*

      For the most part I agree. However, once in a blue moon you can interview with an employer that will just roll their eyes when you mention Previous Employer. No conversation necessary.

      “You lasted X years at Previous Employer??! Yes, I want you to come work with us. If you can do that, this will be as easy as pie for you.”

      Remarks like this do happen. OP, be prepared and then do not be surprised if you don’t need to say anything.

      1. Chinook*

        ““You lasted X years at Previous Employer??! Yes, I want you to come work with us. If you can do that, this will be as easy as pie for you.”

        Remarks like this do happen. OP, be prepared and then do not be surprised if you don’t need to say anything.”

        I agree and it is the sweetest thing in the world when it does happen because you know that they understand what you are not saying and, as an added bonus, they are impressed by how “polite” you are being about the situation.

  7. Prima Facie*

    #2 – When someone has arranged for me to have a second interview or even a first interview where I don’t meet them in person I send a quick thank you to them for arranging the meeting and focus on the thank yous to the people I actually met.

    E-mail may be better than a phone call but it still can be an annoyance. Being copied on 6 e-mails I didn’t have to see would annoy me.

  8. Joey*

    #7. Ba humbug! Way to rain on some random cheeriness in the office. I could see if he’s intensely attempting to whistle every note of an entire concierto, but c’mon. Bring on the curmudgeons.

    1. Meg*

      I am 100% OK with raining on someone else’s parade if their parade involves whistling or singing when I’m trying to work. It’s incredibly distracting and thoughtless, and there are plenty of ways to bring cheer into a boring office that don’t involve being intrusive. Such as cookies. Bring me all the cookies you want.

      1. Jamie*

        I cannot THIS this enough – whistling should be an immediately fireable offense…and I’m only half kidding.

        And as far as raining on people’s joy…I knew someone who really took great joy in slurping his food and chewing with his mouth open – he should have learned quieter ways to enjoy life and so should the whistlers.

        But thoughtless is the perfect word – it’s absolutely thoughtless to think your right to make extraneous noise supersedes anyone’s right to concentrate. And whistling makes people want to hurt you.

    2. RubyJackson*

      Sometimes I wear earplugs to block out my coworker who whistles and plays loud music. It’s easier than confronting her. And, no, whistling doesn’t create a cheerful environment. It’s distracting and annoying.

  9. New use for "The Question"*

    I just wanted to thank Alison and all commenters for their recommendation of that perfect interview question. My daughter had an interview with the college of her choice and we modified it (What kind of student succeeds at Chocolate Teapot University?). The admissions counselor told her that was an excellent question and he’d never gotten that before :) She was happy and even admitted I was right to suggest it (and anyone with teenage daughters knows that rarely happens!) Thanks

    1. Marina*

      I actually used that when I applied to colleges (although I hadn’t thought of applying it in job situations until I read it here!) and it gave me such useful information. In retrospect, the answer to that question absolutely warned me about all the ways I would struggle to get the support I needed. But, you know, forewarned is forearmed…

  10. j-e to the double n*

    #7 — I read this one and immediately felt awkward because I, like some people out there, tend to be a hummer/whistler/sing-along-to-the-radio person. I honestly can’t help it and most of the time don’t even realize I’m doing it! At my last job a LOT of people hated me because of it and falsely accused me of doing it on purpose. (cubicle environment+cranky coworkers = sad face) They asked me to stop and I tried, I really did, but when I am concentrating I tend to hum or whistle.

    Perhaps your coworker doesn’t realize he’s still doing it sometimes even though you’ve asked him to stop? Maybe humming helps him concentrate (like it does me). You can’t ask someone to change their habits to suit you. Just my opinion.

    1. Colette*

      I disagree that you can’t ask someone to change their habits to suit you.

      When you’re in a shared environment (cubicles), you need to be respectful to your coworkers. If it’s your habit to hum or whistle or race remote controlled cars or vermicompost at your desk or cut the power to all computers once an hour, it’s on you to stop as soon as someone lets you know it bothers them.

      If you work from home or have an office with a door, hum away. If you’re around other people, the right to do what you want is limited by what causes other people to be unable to work.

      1. j-e to the double n*

        Here’s the thing though, someone else has to be respectful to the “hummer” too. He shares the space as well, if it helps him get the work done why is it his problem if someone else is having issues?

        What if the person asking the question is just too finicky? I could just be projecting my own experiences here, though. I had some very disrespectful people working with me when I would hum/whistle/sing and I would honestly try to limit my doing it, but every time it inadvertently happened I would either get dragged into the boss’s office or someone would blow up in my face and then I was so scared to do anything at all, even talk, and it ultimately affected my work.

        1. Colette*

          I agree people should be respectful to someone making noise – i.e. “Hey, could you cut out the humming” as opposed to screaming. However, this is very much “Your Liberty To Swing Your Fist Ends Just Where My Nose Begins” – you can’t decide that your habit is OK because it helps you be productive, even though it makes others less productive.

        2. fposte*

          In general, the nonintrusive preference has precedent unless you’re in a space designed for the activity or if there are explicit statements from above securing the right to the intrusive preference.

          So–noisy typing in a typing space? That’s a space where typing is supposed to happen. Garish office decorations on a Zappo’s cubicle? That’s what Zappo’s encourages. Singing in a cubicle farm where other people are trying to work uninterrupted? That’s not a preference that gets to be honored. You don’t have to be doing it on purpose for it to be a problem for people.

          People should be respectful to you as a person and co-worker, sure, but there is no right for an intrusive habit to be respected, and it’s not equally as entitled to respect as the absence of intrusion.

          1. Chinook*

            “People should be respectful to you as a person and co-worker, sure, but there is no right for an intrusive habit to be respected, and it’s not equally as entitled to respect as the absence of intrusion.”

            I agree that the absence if intrusion should be respected, but there needs to be an awareness that the colleague may not be aware that they do it. I have just recently become aware of the fact that I talk myself through complicated procedures to make sure I am remembering them correctly and I wonder how long I have been doing it, why no one has ever pointed this out before and if this has bothered people.

            Now, OP’s example is taking this to the extreme because it sounds like the employee not only falsely complained he was being bullied for being asked to be less intrusive (and pushing boss’ hot buttons while doing this) but he has upped the ante to make sure he is more intrusive. The OP’s issue is not with the annoying habits but with the rude and passively aggresive co-worker.

            1. fposte*

              Assuming that an annoyance is unintentional is part of being respectful. However, intentionality doesn’t get us off the behavior-change hook–they still get to ask us to stop our unintentional annoying behavior, and we still have to try to stop it.

          2. Jamie*

            In general, the nonintrusive preference has precedent unless you’re in a space designed for the activity or if there are explicit statements from above securing the right to the intrusive preference.

            Amen and thank you.

        3. Forrest*

          “then I was so scared to do anything at all, even talk”

          I’m sorry but does this mean you were able to stop humming/singing/whistling?

          If someone has a condition (like tourettes), that’s one thing. If someone does it absent mindly and when asked to stop, you’re just all “oh? yea, sure, whatever” and then don’t actually try, its different.

          1. ThursdaysGeek*

            But it sounds like she did try, and then started to concentrate and forgot again. It can be very hard to break some habits, even with a lot of trying, and it’s nice to have respect on both sides during that process.

          2. j-e to the double n*

            Yes, I was able to stop humming/singing/whistling when I was afraid to speak in case I offended anyone. But the problem was, whenever I went into the “concentration zone” I would start whistling/humming/talking myself through it and people would get angry. So I spent more time concentrating on not upsetting people than actually doing my work and ultimately got in trouble for that as well.

            We worked in VERY close quarters so I understood why people didn’t like some of my habits, but I also think their reactions got a little out of hand as time went on and I ultimately had to quit due to the stress of it all.

        4. Zahra*

          I agree with other posters: getting screamed at is no fun. However, for the rest of it, I have one word: “smokers”. Your right to smoke stops where my right to good health starts. Your right to hum stops where my right to work in silence starts.

      2. Windchime*

        I agree with Collette. If the humming/whistling/singing can be kept contained in the noisemaker’s cube, then hum away. But once your noisy habits leak over into my space and distract me from fixing the bug I’m working on with a tight deadline, then it’s no longer just a light-hearted, happy little habit–it’s distracting, unnecessary noise.

        Fortunately, we are allowed to wear headphones where I work, so I do.

    2. Rindle*

      I also tend to hum without thinking about it. The most effective thing anyone ever did to help me stop was to start humming herself. She wasn’t over the top or passive aggressive about it, and she didn’t give me a “are you picking up what I’m putting down” glare. I just heard her humming lightly and it snapped me out of my own daze. I thought that approach was genius. (Of course, it only works if the person humming inadvertently cares that s/he is disturbing others in the shared space.)

      1. Frieda*

        I don’t hum but I do talk to myself without realizing it (nothing scandalous, just usually talking myself through writing an Excel formula or something). I usually just make a polite comment to any coworkers in earshot that this is something I do without thinking about it, and that if I start doing it and it bothers them they can ask me to stop and I’ll do my best. Seems to work well.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Me too, and I had to really work at it to stop. It CAN be done. But I don’t think OP’s coworker gives a rat’s ass about anyone but himself. I think in this case, if it wasn’t humming, it would be something else.

          1. fposte*

            OP’s co-worker or Aussiegirl’s co-worker? I didn’t think the OP’s description sounded like he was a bad person, just a morning lark who hasn’t dialed it back.

  11. VictoriaHR*

    #4 some medications make people seem uninterested in things when that’s not really the case. I personally take Zoloft and it keeps my emotions very even-keeled; it’s very very difficult for me to get worked up about something. My supervisor is aware of it and so he doesn’t think that I’m just not engaged or excited about my job – he knows I am, I just don’t show it.

    Not to be all “blarg but some people have a medical condition, ease up!” but .. it’s true.

    1. W*

      I was going to suggest something very similar. It could be a medication or mood stabilizer…also, what if he is mildly an aspie?

      As AAM said, you can’t force help onto someone. You could actually be doing a bit of damage to any trust he might have with you. If I was a young 20-something that got into a situation over my head the last thing I would want is someone bugging me about it constantly, telling everyone else about, and generally not giving me the time to solve the problems on my own.

      Time is an important factor as well. Is this in his first 3 months, 2 weeks, after 6 months? If it is under 4 months – give him some breathing room! Of course, if it is impacting your work/project speak up. Let him know exactly what you need him to do to push your work ahead, but don’t expect him to be this cheerleader right away.

    2. Colette*

      Yeah, that letter seems a little off to me. The OP is really invested in the employee showing enthusiasm in the “right” way, even though the OP is not his manager and he is handling a job that has doubled in responsibility since he started.

      There could be medical issues that the OP is not aware of, but if the OP is handling the job (“He has responded by performing the work required but not really embracing the new role.”), there’s no need for the OP to get this invested in how enthusiastic the employee is. (It might be appropriate for the employee’s manager to bring it up, but not the project manager on the project.)

      1. Jamie*

        Off to me as well. Not everyone has an animated affect and that’s okay.

        Even without medical issues, everyone is different and I personally hate when I feel like people read things into my emotional state that aren’t there – I’m just a fairly reserved person especially in a new environment. I really think the OP needs to focus on the work and back off.

      2. Ellie H.*

        Yeah, it seems to me that there isn’t a huge problem here and that the LW’s concern is kind of overblown. Obviously expressing disinterest in the work is or can be something to be concerned about but it’s not clear to me that this “quietness” rises to the level of communicating disinterest.

      3. llamathatducks*

        What struck me as a legitimate concern, though, was this:

        It’s unsettling to get no feedback, only blank states when I ask varying degrees of questions to get a sense of his happiness with the new role (or the one that he was hired to do, for that matter).

        Blank stares in lieu of ANY response to a direct question are rude. I’m not sure whether/how OP should address that, but I do think it’s a problem.

    3. j-e to the double n*

      The person could have ‘resting bitch face’ as well. I know when I am really concentrating on something, people have told me I look “bored” or “upset”. Perhaps that is just how he works?

      1. LMW*

        I was thinking that too (rbf). This letter seems to be as much as about the OP’s interpretation of things as it is about the coworker’s attitude. There might not actually be a match here. I’d stick to the things that are factual when dealing with the coworker, not how things “seem.” (i.e. Coworker didn’t finish part of a project or did it incorrectly — that’s something you can address. Coworker’s facial expression seemed uninterested or bored while you were explaining a problem — that might be you, not him.)

      2. KM*

        Or resting neutral face. As a quiet person who doesn’t have a very expressive face, I know some people assume the worst whenever they can’t read what I’m thinking. 99% of the time, I honestly don’t feel any way about what they’re saying until they’ve finished saying it — in the meantime, there’s no emotion — I’m just waiting.

        There also comes a point sometimes where the more you try to pry, the more the other person withdraws.

        1. Clever Name*

          This. My husband is like this, and people project what they assume he is feeling or thinking all the time. I think it says more about them in terms of what they assume. People will think he’s angry or disagrees or bored in a meeting when he’s just sitting in a meeting and following the discussion.

    4. Lynn Whitehat*

      I know my natural tendency under pressure is to become intensely and quietly focused on the matter at hand. Like a chess master, staring intently at the board, not jumping up and down shouting about “OMFG THERE IS SO MUCH RIDING ON THIS MATCH!!!” To a certain kind of person, it can read as “not caring”, but it isn’t true at all.

      In the past, I’ve gotten in vicious circles with people, where they keep trying to impress on me that “THIS REALLY MATTERS!!!”, and I keep focusing more intently on getting it done, because that is what I do when things matter, and they think I don’t get the importance, and round and round we go. I’ve gotten better at identifying these people and giving them a little Office Performace Theater, “What a serious problem! What if it occurred in the field! Wow!!!”, before actually working on it.

      1. LCL*

        This has happened to me a million times. (Slight hyperbole, but yeah.) I worked harder on office theater after I got a seriously bad review for not giving a play by play while simultaneously trying to solve a hard technical problem. Some of us need all of our brainpower for the real hard problems and don’t have any extra to spare for the monologue.

  12. some1*

    #6: If you are guessing your employer won’t let you work your notice period, I’m assuming it’s because they have done it to other people — is there a way to discreetly inquire to those people whether they were paid for the notice period anyway?

    Either way, if they won’t let you work your notice period and won’t pay you, and the new place isn’t ready for you to start early, do you have vacation hours your current company can pay out to help with the buffer? If not, you may be able to collect unemployment for that time.

    #7: If the culture of your office is such that employees listening to headphones while working is acceptable*, I’d just start doing that. There’s always going to be a loud typist, throat-clearer, hummer, co-worker who takes all calls on speaker phone, co-workers who talk to themselves, random laughers, etc.

    One of my supervisors thought it made people look inaccessible.

    1. Chinook*

      I agree that headphones do make a person look inaccessible because it creates a personal bubble. If you are in a position where you are not expected to interact with others as part of yoru job, the it is not an issue. But, if you are suppose to look open to interaction, have you tried using an earbud in one ear with the other obviously hanging down to make it look like you can hear when people are trying to get your attention? This way, you still have a tolerable noise (music, white noise) to focus on in one ear but you can atleast be aware if someone is trying to get your attention. This is what I used to do as an AA when I would have to focus on typing financial statements but needed to be aware if someone needed something from me right a way.

    2. Ruffingit*

      I would be very surprised if unemployment could be collected. She quit of her own accord, has a new job to go to and unemployment takes at least a week to process. I can’t see any reason why she would get unemployment in this situation.

      1. some1*

        She is quitting of her own accord, but she’s also willing and able to work out the notice period. If her employer won’t let her do that, it’s not her choice the way leaving is.

        1. Ruffingit*

          It doesn’t work that way though for unemployment in any place I know of. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong, but the employer not letting you work out your notice period doesn’t mean you get to collect money for that time period from unemployment. You quit of your own accord AND you have another job to go to shortly after quitting. Those two things typically preclude unemployment.

          1. fposte*

            I think in most states you’d be fine collecting UI until your new job starts–you’re often eligible for UI if your work shuts down over the holidays, for instance, so short-term isn’t necessarily a bar. But I think you’re right on the resignation thing–a company accepting your resignation early isn’t a firing, and I doubt that it would change your eligibility.

            Still worth applying, though–some states cover voluntary quits under some situations. I just don’t think the early acceptance of notice would make a difference to whether they did or not.

            1. Ruffingit*

              Maybe it’s just me, but I wouldn’t feel good about applying for UI in that situation. I have another job to go to and I knew the employer might dump me off before the notice period. In that case, I’d do what I could to save some money to tide me over in case I couldn’t work out the notice period. I’ve done UI once and it was a tremendous hassle with the paperwork and all of that. Not something I’d want to contend with unless I really needed to do it.

              1. Jamie*

                Unless someone was in a desperate situation I can’t imagine the money would be worth the hassle of doing it. I wouldn’t bother, personally.

              2. fposte*

                Totally agreeing on the hassle factor–and you probably wouldn’t get any money until after your first paycheck from the new job anyway. But I don’t think it’s a policy bar from collecting.

              3. EM*

                Two weeks worth of pay is quite a bit for some people. They may not be able to pay their rent or mortgage for that month without that income.

                1. Ruffingit*

                  I get that. But it’s an incredible hassle to apply for UI and you usually have to wait at least one week anyway before collecting. May or may not be worth it to you to go through that if you even can collect in this situation. That is why it’s helpful to try and save for the gap time between old job and new. And believe me when I say that I know that’s not always possible to do either. Been there. Just something to consider when you start job hunting is cutting back as much as possible and putting as much into savings as you can so you can help yourself with these gaps that come up.

                2. some1*

                  “Two weeks worth of pay is quite a bit for some people.”

                  And some employers don’t pay people until two pay periods have gone by. Depending on when someone starts in the pay period, they might not get paid for 4 weeks.

              4. some1*

                Luckily I only had to apply for unemployment once (late 2011), but in my state it wasn’t a hassle at all. I applied online, got a response within 2-3 business days, and was able to have all the payments direct deposited into my bank account. And I collected for all the weeks in between getting hired at my current company and my start date.

                1. Ruffingit*

                  That’s amazing. My experience wasn’t like that at all and neither were my friends. I’m glad it wasn’t that way for you!

                2. EM*

                  I agree with this too — I was on UI benefits for about 6 months in my state after a layoff.

                  I DID have to wait the 1 week, I remember that — but filing wasn’t really a hassle at all. I did everything online and didn’t even need to leave my home. I also had the benefits direct deposited to my account. It really wasn’t so bad.

    3. OP #6*

      Thanks for the feedback, everyone. I don’t receive any benefits, so there’s no PTO for me to use. Depending on the size of the gap when/if I get an offer and if I’m not allowed to work out my notice, I may look into whether or not I can collect unemployment (I understand it’s a hassle and I do save what and when I can, but not enough to cover 2 weeks of not earning any income. Color me desperate.)

  13. Anonymous*

    #1 – This is one of those times where you’re going to have to put the truth aside and tell your interviewers only what they want to hear.

  14. LCL*

    #4 to condense what you wrote
    New employee had performance problems.
    You worked with him on the problems, he got better.
    You still have doubts because he doesn’t act enthusiastic and say how much he likes the job, and doesn’t answer when you ask him if he likes the job.
    His lack of communication is bothering you so much you are wondering if you are doing something wrong.

    I think there are basic personality differences between you and him. People that don’t communicate much often have very strong feelings about what is happening, but because of their (my) nature try to control their outward reactions. This isn’t a good or bad thing, it is a basic component of his personality. Accept him for who he is. And congratulate yourself for working with him and coaching him, you are doing a good job. And ponder this quote from a Who song that John Entwistle wrote:
    “Still waters run deep, so be careful I don’t drown you.” Song is “The Quiet One”, listen to the whole thing for an insight on this type of personality.

    1. Briggs*

      This. I have a good friend who rarely shows cheerleader-level enthusiasm, and regularly gets asked if “something is wrong”. Some people just aren’t outwardly enthusiastic … especially if they’re intensely focused on mastering a new job that suddenly doubled in scope.

  15. Ruffingit*

    #1: Find one small thing you enjoyed. There has to be something. Customer contact, collegial environment with co-workers, ability to take on new projects (even if you hated the projects). There’s always something you can turn into a positive.

    #2: No, it’s not OK to CC the hiring manager on six different thank you e-mails. What makes you think she needs to see that many? If I received those, I’d be supremely annoyed because my Inbox is clogged as it is with things I actually need to attend to. Receiving unsolicited, unwarranted e-mails would be an annoyance.

    #3: Yup, one more contact and then move on. This level of non-responsiveness speaks for itself.

    #4: Skipping this because it needs to be its own post. Stay tuned.

    #5: Anyone else in the business who can act as a reference for you? If so, that may be the way to go here.

    #6: I get wanting to start as quickly as possible for financial reasons, but if you can swing it, a week off before beginning a new job is sometimes immensely helpful. It allows you to get some extra sleep and get ahead on some errands or home projects that you haven’t had time for before starting the new job. It can be very helpful mentally to have a small break before transitioning to something new.

    #7: Rip out his vocal cords. Problem solved.

      1. Ruffingit*

        LOL! I was feeling a bit feisty about the office hummer. Those people are supremely annoying. I used to have an office throat clearer. GAH! It can drive you mad.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          We had a whistler/hummer/singer at Exjob. His cube was right next to my area (front desk). I didn’t mind; it didn’t bother me and usually it was funny. When he was doing it unconsciously and then became aware of it, he would deliberately make funny noises or lyrics to make us laugh.

          But I did have to prod him about expletives when there were applicants or visitors waiting in my area–he was very erm…earthy sometimes. 0_0

        2. NBB*

          We have a person who loudly chews and pops their gum. It was agony. Then I was right by a knuckle cracker. AHHHHH.

          1. Mary*

            Agreed – I have been in meetings with knuckle crackers and restless leg syndrome people. By the end of those meetings, I wished I had a habit to turn to. I also didn’t like sitting next to a slurper. Slurped his tea all day – ugh.

    1. OP #6*

      I agree a small break between jobs can be wonderful. I had one that lasted about 2 weeks last year. I was in school and about to graduate and move so I definitely took advantage of the benefits of temporary unemployment. My financial situation trumps that at the moment so I’d like to do whatever I can avoid such a break.

      1. Ruffingit*

        I get that completely, you have to do what is good for you financially. I tossed out my thoughts there because some people are so eager to start the new job that they don’t realize a break can be a beneficial thing too. I wish you good luck with your new work!

  16. LV*

    My brother-in-law spent weeks silently seething about a coworker of his who would randomly start whistling throughout the day, just a few short notes every time. He eventually found out that it was actually a Samsung phone notification noise and felt pretty silly about it.

    1. Anonymous*

      I know the one you’re talking about! I was at the airport a few months ago, waiting at the gate, and I sat near a man who had the whistling set as his text notification sound. He was texting back and forth with someone the whole 30 minutes we were waiting so it was that whistling every couple of minutes… even worse when it was multiple texts coming in at the same time… oiy. I can still hear it in my head.

    2. Joanne*

      Oh, my husband got a Samsung tablet for Christmas last year, and it makes that noise when he gets an email. I was home alone (at night) the first time I heard it, and I may have spent the next 30 minutes frantically texting him and carrying around a baseball bat. You know, because home invaders usually whistle to announce their arrival.

      1. Chinook*

        “I may have spent the next 30 minutes frantically texting him and carrying around a baseball bat. ”

        I have to ask – did you end up using the bat on the tablet?

  17. Ruffingit*

    #4: Leave this guy alone. You had to train him on some basic things (professional e-mails), but apparently he learned it. He is doing the job he is supposed to be doing. Seems to me the basic problem here is one of personality differences. This guy might be a severe introvert or maybe he doesn’t know how to answer when you ask about his happiness in his role. He’s new to the business, his work load was doubled and things added that he wasn’t expecting. Give the guy a break, let him adjust!! What are you looking for here? No way would anyone with half a brain say “Well, I’m annoyed that I’ve been given more to do than was originally stated in the job ad.” If he is annoyed or overwhelmed, maybe he’s just trying to deal with that, meanwhile he’s got a boss who is up in his face about his happiness level. Give it a rest and also recognize that some people are not effusive and that’s totally OK. I get that silence can be unsettling, but it sounds to me like he just doesn’t know what to say. And you know what? THAT’S OK!! People would be a lot better off if they could appreciate the value of silence. Just ask OP #7 who has the office hummer.

    1. fposte*

      I’m wondering if being on his hiring committee has led the OP to this degree of involvement. If so, you have to let it go–he’s hired now, and if you’re getting what you need from him task-wise, the rest of it is for his manager to deal with.

      1. Ruffingit*

        Agreed. The fact that the OP is asking about how happy he is in the role just strikes me as weird because it’s just too early to be doing that. And, if the guy is not happy or is annoyed at the increased work load, he is not going to say that. It would be weapons grade stupid to do so. Muddling through until he can get his feet on the ground is the smarter tact to take. I can’t blame the guy for being silent when asked how he feels about work. As long as the OP is getting what he needs, who cares how this guy reacts to what I suspect might be almost interrogation level questioning from the OP.

    2. ella*

      I second leave the guy alone. He could be an introvert, and he’s young, and it’s early in his professional career, so he’s almost certainly feeling the need to prove himself. Give him a chance to do that. I recently came out of two years at failing to do something, followed by eight months of unemployment, and when I started at my new job, I’m pretty sure that I came perilously close to getting fired, because my depression and anxiety levels were so high (and I was feeling so overwhelmed by everything) that they were getting in the way of me being able to do even basic things. Me and my boss had a few hiccups learning to get along, which didn’t help. Leaving me alone did help. I figured it out.

      If you’re an introvert or coming off an illness or unemployment (or all three), starting at a new job is about six different kinds of overwhelming. Don’t make it more overwhelming by giving him the constant feeling that he’s being watched and evaluated. Back off and let him figure it out.

      1. Pamela*

        I read #4 and I felt like I was the employee in question. I am currently going through this sorta – just on the other end. My manager is having these regular meetings with me where I am being asked these kind of questions that no employee in their right mind would answer truthfully. Also in these meetings, he feels the need to criticize me somehow and at one meeting – my relationships with the others in the department. At this point, I was only in this job for a month and a half. It culminated last week were he suddenly scheduled a meeting with me where he proceeded to chew me out over silly work matters that were not my problem. First, I do speak up for myself but I am a quiet introvert and I keep to myself, and I think that bothers him. I want to say I am not rude. I am polite and friendly with all, but I think that is not enough for him.

        Starting this full-time job after having nothing but part-time jobs for years has been overwhelming to say the least and having someone always watching and criticizing hasn’t been helpful. I have started looking for another job only because of the poor management style of my supervisor, but only half-heartedly. I like my work and my employer. I make good money and have excellent benefits. I’m trying to make it work…at least on my end.

        Well, I posted a reply because I thought it would be helpful for me to vent a little and to have the viewpoint of the employee on the other end of a situation like this.

    3. Ramona*

      My thoughts exactly. I just started a new job a couple months ago at a university. Classes started about 3 weeks ago, so that’s when things started getting crazy despite all of my preparations. Then about a week ago, there was a major shift in my department that resulted in my work doubling – and definitely not what I was originally hired to do. I’m extremely overwhelmed, and despite my efforts to show otherwise, I’m sure that I don’t look excited about it. I mean, I was still getting my bearings when the shift happened, and in some ways, I had to start from square one. Fortunately, my supervisor has been very understanding and she’s even annoyed for me that this happened! (And that’s definitely helped having understanding co-workers and supervisors around, rather than someone having unrealistic expectations of my attitude towards this). I’m doing my best to be positive and proactive, but it’s not always that easy (especially when faculty don’t understand how much work is involved with transitions – particularly with a new admin). I’m sure in a couple months it’ll be fine and if another change happens in six months to a year, then I’ll be much more able to take it in stride.
      Anyway, I’d probably react similarly to the new hire when approached by OP#4. I’m new (and in my probationary period), so I definitely don’t feel comfortable saying when I do and don’t like about my work. (I’m also introverted, so being quiet is my default mode, especially when I’m learning how to handle new tasks). If the new hire has had any experiences similar to mine, he’s probably also interacted with supervisors who claimed that they wanted to know if he had concerns but in reality, didn’t care about these concerns at all – and looked negatively at him for speaking up. When I start a new job, I need a few months to see what is and isn’t acceptable to complain about. I also think that OP#4 needs to have some compassion about everything the new hire is trying to handle. Yes, if the new hire’s work is affecting the work of OP#4, then he/she needs to speak up. Otherwise, give the new hire some space to get his bearings.

  18. Marina*

    #1 – “I learned a lot about what I want in a job” is my favorite way to redirect the question. You can turn around all the things you hated into positives you want in your next job. So, like, if you hate that your boss is a micromanager, maybe you learned that you do your best work when you’re able to work independently. Or if you have toxic drama-seeking coworkers, maybe you learned that working as part of a collaborative team is what you want in a job. Etc.

  19. Briggs*

    OP #1: I have a job that was terrible on a number of levels … but I learned A LOT from. When I got asked that question about that job, I told them how useful it was to learn how to deal with different personalities, organize a large and complicated project load, and become a more efficient time manager. Any difficult situation can be a valuable learning experience if you know how to respond to it.

    1. Clever Name*

      This is really a perfect answer. It makes you sound like a rock star rather than a whiny complainer.

  20. Verde*

    @ 4 – I had an assistant who was struggling, and who didn’t give me a lot of feedback when I asked if they understand, needed help, etc. I found out later that even though the position was entry-level and we were there to train and explain, this person was terrified to let on that they didn’t know what I was talking about and thought they would be fired if they didn’t understand. So, rather than accepting my offers of assistance, explanation, etc., and rather than doing any homework of their own to catch up and learn, they just sat there petrified. Of course, it all eventually blew up and changes had to be made. If this person isn’t responding to your offers of help and information, it might be out of fear. Maybe see if there’s someone on their peer level who can elicit some feedback from him and help assure him that you just want to help make him a great employee, not penalize him for not knowing things.

  21. Amy*

    We have a singer! She comes in about 20 minutes before the start of the day (a couple others and I do, too) and sings along with her phone until we start. It bothers me and I’ve thought about saying something, but eventually decided that since she stops when the work day starts, and it seems to put her in a good mood to start her day, that’s just what she needs to start the day and I can put up with it for 20 minutes.

    1. Kat M*

      I was the singer like this at my old job, although I made sure to quit before clients showed up, and absolutely would have stopped if anybody had said it was annoying them. As it was, I got the boss to join me in some Gershwin a couple of times. ;)

  22. Anonymous*

    #4 I might be like your quiet new hire. I started a new job a few months ago and am still constantly getting surprised by new tasks or roles. If my boss asks me to do something that I don’t particularly want to do or that I really don’t have time to do, I just say ok and I do it anyway. I’m not going to feign an enthusiasm that I don’t actually feel, and I’m certainly not going to tell my boss that I don’t want to do it, so what other reaction would be appropriate?

    Also, sometimes I am quiet because I have enough information and just want to get to work. When people give me too much information or talk incessantly, I fall silent and/or start giving them one-word replies as a hint that I’m ready for the conversation to be over. Perhaps a more direct comment would be more effective, but I’m not a very confrontational person so this is what it looks like for me…

  23. OP#2*

    Well, all’s well that ends well. I got a phone call this morning offering me the position. Just for clarification, the hiring manager was present along with the six employees during the interview, and after reading so many articles about the importance of sending a thank-you email after a second interview, I did not want the manager to think that I had neglected to do so. Also, I viewed each email as an opportunity to highlight one more positive fact about my experience. Thanks to everyone for their feedback, and good luck in all of your searches!

  24. JP*

    #1: I was completely in your position a few years ago. I had this job where not only were the owners completely corrupt and all of the co-workers the worst people I had ever met, but also that the job was the most boring, least fulfilling work I’ve ever done. I only took it because I was desperate for the money, having been unemployed for a time. I wasted a year learning nothing except how NOT to manage a business.

    Then I got an interview where the person said, “Hey! It looks like this job would be very similar to [evil job]. What did you love about working there?” After a bit of squirming, I thought about what made me apply to the position in the first place–they helped non-profits reach their highest potential using research. That’s what I told the interviewer (leaving out the fact that I later learned that the evil company exploited non-profits for $$$).

    When all was said and done, though, I turned down the job because it was so much like that first job (even though the people were nice and the company was actually legit, I still didn’t want to be doing that type of work).

  25. Carrie*

    #4 is something I have seen before and this person really, really needs to back off. I’ve seen people I’ve supervised (almost always women) will try to get their coworkers (almost always men) to express how they “feel” about work they’re assigned, intending to get some emotional reaction. They want to know how they’re “feeling” emotionally about their job, position, etc. What I’ve learned is a lot of men really “feel” anything they consider worth mentioning and will just proceed with their work.

    “He has responded by performing the work required but not really embracing the new role.” This is very confusing. How is performing the work not embracing the role. Do you “feel” that he is not embracing the role?

    “Through facial expressions and his lack of excitement, I get the sense that he is overwhelmed at the additional responsibility and perhaps annoyed or angered…” How does this even make sense? Why does he need to be excited? How is not being excited a sign of anger or annoyance?

  26. Justin*

    LW4 sounds like one of those “chemistry” issues. Some people want their coworkers, managers, or reports to perfectly mesh with their personality and work style, whether or not the other person is good at their job or not.

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