my coworkers joke about my predecessors being fired, the impersonality of email rejections, and more

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

1. Are email rejections impersonal? Should I use postal mail instead?

I like to respond to applicants who do not get the position they have applied for. I think it is just the right thing to do, as that way it is a point of closure for people. I was wondering however, is it somewhat impersonal to send an email rejection or as I call them “Thin Letter,” versus a mailed letter? Do you have any suggestions on how to make them less impersonal? I am moving from mailed letters to emails, but I just think it is still somewhat cold.

Actually, most applicants prefer email. It’s faster, and it’s a common mode of communication. It’s also kind of weird to apply online or by email, and then get a rejection letter in the mail. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if people felt the postal letters were more impersonal than an email.

What really matters is your wording. That’s where you have the opportunity to ensure you’re conveying warmth rather than chilliness.

2. My coworkers joke about my predecessors being fired

I’m relatively new at my job, and occasionally my coworkers joke about the people who have had my position before me who have gotten fired, including the details of escorting each person out. Am I paranoid to think I could be next?

Why not ask them what’s up? Pick the one who you have the best rapport with and say something like, “You guys have made so many comment about people in my position being fired that it’s hard not to wonder what that means for me. What happened with the previous people?” You’re hoping for a response like, “Oh, they were terrible and there were obvious warning signs, and we can all tell you’re different for them.” But you want to be alert for things like “there’s no way to please the manager,” “the role is set up for failure,” “people think they’re doing fine and the next day they’re fired,” etc. But just ask — they’re making comments, so the subject obviously isn’t off-limits … and it actually might be weirder NOT to ask in the context of those jokes.

3. Should I send a less-than-perfect work sample?

A job to which I’m applying wants five work samples. It also asks me to “Tell us about why you selected the samples of your work to submit.” This is a journalism job, and photography, while secondary, is becoming more and more a part of the online work I do. My photos have good composition but the lighting was not good and my camera is older. Is the poor lighting something I should acknowledge when submitting a particular work sample? In other words, is it okay to say, “While the lighting here is not ideal because I was indoors, this photo tells the story of the event”? Or should I just ignore the not-great parts of the photo and trumpet the positive?

I’d absolutely include the caveat about the lighting, because otherwise you’re likely to come across as someone who doesn’t realize it. It’s much better to acknowledge that you do get that than to seem oblivious. (Although if you had additional, stronger photos you could send as well, that could be helpful. And of course, if the job you’re applying for includes photography as opposed to just reporting, you’d definitely want to find better samples of that, because in that case the photos would be a much more relevant part of your work sample.)

4. Is my book deal hurting my job prospects?

I’m underemployed right now, in a somewhat complicated situation. I’m a writer. I do freelancing when I can, but most of my writing (that wasn’t for my previous job) is blogging I do in my spare time. I have a sizeable audience — enough that I’ve garnered a contract for a book coming out in a couple years.

I’ve put this information on my resume, because what’s better for a writer than to say “Hey, look, a book!” right there upfront, right? And I’m looking for writing jobs in fields similar to what my book is on (it’s nonfiction). But I realized after a few months of only getting a couple calls for interviews that my book deal might be hindering my search more than helping it. I may be giving potential employers the impression that I’m more concerned about my writing career and will leave as soon as that takes off.

I’ve tried to be as upfront about the book as I can in my job search and framed it (in cover letters and interviews) as “Writing is something I’m passionate about, and X position would help me in that endeavor and challenge me as a writer by Y and Z.” Am I approaching this in the right way? I don’t want to come off as someone who’s just looking for a day job to support her hobby, but I’m worried employers get that impression simply because I have a book coming out! Are my concerns legitimate?

Actually, I think the problem is less your upcoming book deal and more how you’re framing it. Look what you’re saying to them: “Writing is something I’m passionate about, and X position would help me in that endeavor” (employers aren’t interested in helping you in that endeavor; they’re interested in you helping them in their work) “and challenge me as a writer by Y and Z” (they’re not interested in challenging you as a writer; they’re interested in you getting their work done well). You’re presenting this all as YOU YOU YOU, when at the cover letter and interview stage of the hiring process, employers are much more about THEM THEM THEM. And if they did have any minor worries about whether you were more committed to your blog and book than to the job with them, that framing is going to blow it up in a major way for them.

Try refocusing on how your skills will help them and see if it doesn’t get you different results.

Read an update to this letter here.

5. My son is being treated unfairly at work

My 23-year-old son works in a manufacturing plant. He is very diligent and has a great work ethic. He has also been written up for items he was never told about. He was not made aware of the write-ups. He’s in school for electrical engineering right now and works third shift but works over often and is called in on nights that he is suppose to have off. He has learned all of the machines in the plant and comes in handy when they break down and is called upon to do this job. He is even asked to oversee testing of new machines.

Recently he has put in an application for mechanic and is being denied the job because of the write-ups. In my opinion, they’re working him hard and paying him minimal ($12.50/hour) because they have him between a rock and a hard place. He’s been with the company now 3-1/2 years. Something needs to give here. Any ideas?

If your son isn’t happy with his pay or his hours, and his employer isn’t willing to change those things, then your son would need to either accept that and decide he can be reasonably happy with the job anyway or start looking for a job somewhere else.

But keep in mind that this is his career, not yours. You can certainly give advice if asked, but he needs to steer this, not you. And meanwhile, be careful to avoid the “my kid is being treated unfairly” trap, which can be easy for parents to fall into when they’re only getting one side of the story — or even when they’re getting all of it, if they tend to think their kid is great and others should do a better job of recognizing it. (I’m not saying that’s the case with you — just throwing it out as something to think about.)

6. How should I list language proficiency on my resume?

I was recently certified at the Intermediate Mid level in a Spanish oral proficiency exam. I’m looking for advice on how to add this information to my resume. When I do a Google search for how to indicate language skills on a resume, I find most mention language ability in terms of being conversant, proficient, or fluent but rarely specify oral proficiency vs written proficiency. While I believe my skills are equal in terms of my reading, speaking, and writing ability, my certification is specifically for Spanish oral proficiency. Also, my certification was completed with a computer based exam but there is also a non-computer based exam, should I indicate that as well so that its clear which exam I took? Or is that overkill?

The certification is through the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages which is a respected organization but I don’t know that its well known outside of the fields of education or language testing. Because of the lengthy name, I’d like to use an abbreviation (ACTFL) instead but I’m not sure if this is appropriate when I’m unsure if it will be recognizable to the person reviewing my resume.

Finally, I was rated as Intermediate Mid. This rating is not redundant as they have Intermediate Low, Intermediate Advanced, Advanced Low, etc. I don’t know if this will be understood if I put it on my resume as Intermediate Mid. Should I simply state Intermediate?

I’m thinking that it will ultimately look something like this and might appear to be overly wordy and redundant:
Certificate in Spanish Oral Proficiency – Intermediate Mid Level, American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages Computer Based Oral Proficiency Interview, 2013

You’re including way too much information. Unless you are in a field where everyone will know and be impressed by that particular test, I’d just state it in terms of conversant, proficient, or fluent, just as your Google search suggested to you. You can add “oral and written” if you prefer.

7. Which post generated the most comments?

I noticed that the letter regarding the racist Halloween costumes has now generated 746 comments. I myself have been checking back to it for the past couple of days. The response activity made me wonder…what post (if not this one) has generated the most response from us?

That was the third highest ever, leaving out open threads (which have generated 900+ comments on occasion). The two that topped the Halloween costume post are:

bad interviewers and weird candidates – (858 comments — although to be fair, this was a request for stories)

can I expose this terrible interviewer? (771 comments)

{ 115 comments… read them below }

    1. AF*

      Yes! I was wondering if the OP ever came to her senses after being asked to stop posting. I was just so fascinated by the level of crazy in her posts. Maybe she wrote to another blog telling them how horrible everyone at AAM is :)

      1. Arbynka*

        It was a wild ride. I would also like to see an update on man who was followed around by a company health advisor who insisted on giving him a wrong advice.

  1. Melissa*

    #5 It is time to cut the apron strings. Seriously. He’s 23 years old. He’s a big boy. He can take of himself. He doesn’t need his mommy stepping in. Adult decisions come with adult consequences. Please let your son be an adult.

    1. Felicia*

      I’m wondering if he even wants that kind of interference. I’m 23 and a lot of the time with my parents I just want to vent and tell them how I feel, but I don’t want them to do anything and while I appreciate their advice, I don’t want them to tell me what to do and won’t always take their advice. I have a lot of friends with parents like that too. My first thought was the son just wanted to say “Hey mom this sucks” and then have her confirm that it sucks…because when you’re first starting out it’s hard to figure out what being treated unfairly is.

      1. Ruffingit*

        You are so right on about this! I have often said to people that unless someone is specifically asking for advice, DON’T GIVE IT! Sometimes a person just needs to be heard and understood. Full stop. No need to go on to advice giving, questions/interrogation, etc. Just listen and sympathize. Seriously, that is enough.

        1. llamathatducks*

          I wish this is something my mom understood. When I try to complain to her about something, she typically either says what I should do to fix it – or, also frequently and even less constructively, what I should have done to avoid this. Not helpful! I haven’t been able to explain the “I just want sympathy plz” thing.

          (Incidentally, I’m also 23, but don’t have a job…)

      2. Stephanie*

        Ugh, yeah. There’s a fair chance he’s just venting. My first two jobs out of college were TERRIBLE and I had no idea until I started venting to others (parents included). At 22/23, you just don’t have a good idea of what you should tolerate vs. what should be a deal breaker.

  2. Terra*

    For Post #5: As a side note: I’m not understanding your son’s choice of job in that case. Electrical Engineering is such a hot and very lucrative field. My ex (he’s now in grad school for that) was making the equiv of $60-$80 an hour on electrical engineering work before that. Is your son almost done with his BS or in an MS program at 23? It seems like it would really damage his career prospects in his field to be working at this kind of job. I would advise you to encourage him to improve his networking and working with the university engineering alums ASAP.

    1. Cathy*

      Yes, if he’s working in the trades while he’s finishing a BS in EE, then this is not his career, it’s a temporary job while he’s in school. I suspect that he’s actually in school to be an electrician or something similar.

      1. Terra*

        Oh I understand. I took “electrical engineering” study to mean he was getting an Engineering degree. I guess it’s like when at my highschool reunin a class mate said they went to “business school” – I imagined an MBA, naturally, but it was from a for-profit 2yr course.

    2. EngineerGirl*

      Huh? It sounds to me like he’s working his way through school toward a degree in EE. Depending on his career prospects this real world experience could be beneficial.

      But it may be time to change jobs. Secret write ups are a problem. At this point he may now have enough class work under his belt to get into a job closer to his field.

    3. Gene*

      As someone who works with engineers on a regular basis, the OP’s son is doing himself a huge favor by actually working in the field he’ll be engineering in. Too many engineers have never laid hands on the stuff they are designing.

      It may not be ideal, but if he can stick it out, or get a similar job at another site, he will be a much better engineer in the future.

      1. Anonymous*

        He’s already worked there for three years. He really ought to start doing engineering internships, especially if he plans to work in a field that requires the PE license.

        1. EngineerGirl*

          I wasn’t aware that internships counted toward PE until AFTER graduation?

          $12.50 / hr is pathetic if he’s actually working as an electrical engineer. I mean really? That was the going rate 30 years ago (but salary exempt).

          But if he’s working his way through school he may need the money. But it is time to start looking for a paying internship, which is fairly common in the engineering fields.

      2. Stephanie*

        Plus, it’ll help bridge the engineering-technician gap when he’s working with the technicians later on. A previous employer had one of those “We only hire from the top 15 engineering schools” programs and there was a definitely a bit of disconnect between the engineers and the techs. Some of it was elitism, some of it was just that the engineers all spent four plus years dealing in equations.

    4. FRRibs*

      Depending where you go. My employer pays electrical engineers half that, and it’s not for lack of size.

      In fact the description OP made about their son’s employment made me wonder if he works where I do.

    5. Contessa*

      I hire EEs as forensic experts on a regular basis, and it’s MUCH better for me to get someone who can say s/he worked in the field for X number of years (the higher the X, the better). Working in a factory or as an electrician are both useful, even if it’s not “engineering” per se.

  3. Brandon*

    #1- Can I just say an emphatic “THANK YOU!” for doing this. For a job hunter putting their hopes in something, that little bit of closure can mean a lot, and most places aren’t that considerate anymore.

    Going to what Alison said:
    “In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if people felt the postal letters were more impersonal than an email.”

    For my two cents, I’m kind of inclined to agree with this. A quickly written e-mail might be a little cold, but it might be easy for a written letter to come across as worse. If the person getting it is in a negative mindset (and people getting rejected frequently are,) it could easily come across as “This person went out of their way to hand-write, address, and stamp a letter telling me to get lost. Ouch.” Large amounts of effort put toward rejecting someone can, in the eyes of the person rejected, easily turn into rubbing it in (at least it did to me when I was applying to colleges.)
    Again, it’s all about the wording. The best way to word something, if you have the time, is to start with something positive, then mention the reason they didn’t get it, “You were a wonderful interview, but we went with someone with more experience doing X.” That way, they know about a strength and a weakness to work on.
    OK, that was my opinion, we know return you to the people who know what they’re talking about.

    1. WWWONKA*

      At least you take the time to let the person know of the results. A lot of INCONSIDERATE companies do not even do that. To me, the wording does not matter, it’s still a no. Those generic responses are the same as a personally worded response.

        1. Broke Philosopher*

          I would rather not get a phone call! I got a phone rejection once and was extra bummed, because I was so hopeful. And then it was awkward because I had to respond in the moment. I appreciated it over not hearing back at all, but I definitely would have preferred email.

          1. Felicia*

            I hate rejection phone calls. They force you to respond immediately, they’re so rare that you get your hopes up and you cant be as openly disappointed as you’d usually be.

            I think email is better than mail because it’s faster and you want the candidate to know as quickly as possible because they’ll be waiting. Though most of the time after the interview you’ll never hear from the employer again if you don’t get the job, so you’re already better than most

        2. Nutella Nutterson*

          I had a phone call when I was one of the final candidates, and I really appreciated it. I could tell that the interviewer/hiring manager still felt positively about me as a candidate. Because of that, I felt comfortable contacting her (per AAM’s book) about what kept me from getting the job. I was able to use that feedback to address potential concerns when I interviewed for a similar position – and got the job!

          I would ask the OP and any other folks sending rejection emails to 1) give it at least a day after the application and 2) make sure that the content is positive/neutral or at least non-specific. It’s particularly irksome to spend hours filling out the online application and get a rejection 20 minutes later! And the ones that say I’m not qualified… Grrr, I applied because I am qualified! I know it’s not personal, but it made me grumpy every time I got one of those!

    2. Trixie*

      If the rejection email does include a reason, I would take it with a grain of salt. So many times it’s a template that just sounds kinder. Saying they went with someone who had more experience is easier to say than “we went with someone else we just liked more, or submitted better prepared materials or interviewed better or had better references.”

      Although these days, we’re competing against folks who are often do more experience.

      1. WWWONKA*

        I laugh at the ones that say they picked someone with more experience. I have 20 years progressive experience.

        1. Chocolate Teapot*

          I was just thinking about this, and in the majority of cases, I would apply for a job by email/internet but get a posted rejection letter.

  4. Kari*

    #6 – I work as a Project Manager in the translation industry, where language proficiency is mandatory. Anyways, with any sort of language skill, don’t list your proficiency level based off what the certificate is for, base it off what you are COMFORTABLE working with. If the certification level says you are intermediate, but you will not be comfortable speaking on the telephone with someone in a foreign language, I caution against saying you are intermediate.

    There is no universal proficiency test with a foreign language. You might score intermediate on the ACTFL, but would score elementary on one of the federal proficiency tests but might actually speak and understand the language fluently. Again, list your level of proficiency based off of where your comfort level is at, because at the end of the day – if you can’t carry a conversation with someone on the phone, and listed your skill level at intermediate, you might come across as having exaggerated on the resume.

    I list my language skill set as follows: Fluent in French, conversant in Spanish, elementary in Irish.

    1. Felicia*

      That’s a really good way to put it! I put fluent in French on my resume because I am, and I feel comfortable speaking to someone on the phone in French – I understand anything anyone would write to me in an email in French, and I could make myself understood, but my grammar is pretty bad so I wouldn’t for example, feel comfortable posting anything on the French website (this is for jobs I’d post content on the English websites). I am also elementary in Spanish and Mandarin, but I don’t even put those because I’m not comfortable using them at work (though with Mandarin I continue to take classes and intend to get through a few more levels so maybe some day that will change.

      When you’re asked about your language proficiency for a job, what they really want to know is what you’d be comfortable doing in that language on the job, so extra detail is unnecessary.

    2. Scaredy Cat*

      I really like this, and hate “codes” with a passion.

      I’m from Europe, where some new language proficiency “codes” have been making rounds as of late. I used to just write elementary/intermediate/advanced when it came to languages, and everyone understood me just fine.

      Now, you have things like:
      A1 and A2 – for elementary user
      B1 and B2 – for independent user
      C1 and C2 – for competent user

      User here being a generic term for speaker/reader/writer (insert as necessary).

      Personally I always crack up when I read about independent user (I picture them unstrapping their dictionaries and regretfully leaving them at home).

      Also competent users don’t necessarily equal fluency to me. But based on the language code chart, it should.

  5. Female sam*

    #1 – as a recent jobseeker, I’d much rather have an email over a snail mail letter particularly if the rest of the process has been conducted via email. I applied for a job a few weeks ago, sending my cv/cover letter by email as requested in the ad. I received the invitation to interview (and later, rejection) by post and it was rather confusing. Especially given that at the time I was staying away from home to make travel to interviews easier, I only found about the initial invitation to interview because my mum phoned me to say there was a letter for me from the college she knew I’d applied to. Had the letter not had the college’s stamp on the envelope and my mum not been so thoughtful, I wouldn’t have known about the interview until after it had been scheduled. Very frustrating.

    1. SevenSixOne*

      Not to mention a white business envelope with a typed address and a bulkrate stamp might as well be invisible since it looks like all the other junk mail many people just ignore.

  6. Kit M.*

    #1 – I got a rejection letter in the mail (the application process having been online). My first thought was that they didn’t want to deal with responses from applicants, so they sent letters to make it harder. It definitely did not feel more personal, it felt more distant.

    And now I’m looking at my spreadsheet I used to keep track of my job applications. I wrote: “Rejection (a letter!?)”

    1. The gold digger*

      I don’t know if the purpose of the rejection letter was to make it harder to respond, but that is why I write letters instead of sending emails to my husband’s mother – I want a long lag time between writing and getting a response and having to write again!

      (No, I am not interested in corresponding with her, but it keeps her off my husband’s back, so I can suck it up.)

    2. Audiophile*

      You use a spreadsheet to keep track of job apps? This has me intrigued, please do tell.

      I just save all my emails, so I know if I’ve applied to that company before and for what jobs.

      1. WWWONKA*

        I do the same. I keep an Excel spreadsheet with the date, company name and job title. I also copy and paste the job description and e mail it to my self with the company name, job title and city on the subject line. I keep a separate folder just for jobs. That way I can have all the job info for the future.

      2. Kit M.*

        I think I got the idea from comments here, actually. It just puts together information that I’d otherwise have to go to multiple emails/the job description/etc. to get. I did it mostly because I’d forget which job was which, but also because I started a lot more applications than I completed, so I wanted a clear list of jobs I’d actually submitted applications for.

        Plus I just found it interesting to see how quickly people were getting back to me, and to see the rate at which I was being rejected/getting interviews/being ignored. I have friends who are job searching in this field and it’s nice to be able to give them real numbers about my experience job searching.

      3. Elizabeth West*

        I did that too. It had columns with date, company, position, contact, date applied, response, email, and web address. And one at the end for notes. I highlighted it, too–yellow for In Progress, blue for No (rejection), purple for No Reply, and light orange for Other (job withdrawn, too far away, it was a scam, etc.).

        I do the same thing with book/story queries. I have one sheet for stories and each book gets a sheet. It’s the only way I can keep track of it.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Oh!! One more thing, kind of important–in a folder, I keep PDFs of the job description that I make when I apply. By the time you get a call, they have often deleted the ad and you may not be able to find it again.

          1. Audiophile*

            Huh, I never thought of doing this. I like this idea. Now here’s my question, and maybe I’m over thinking it, but how long do you keep these for and when do you start them? Let me clarify, do you start at the beginning of the month or go through the whole year?

            Elizabeth West, yours seems pretty detailed. But it would definitely be a good way for me to get reacquainted with Excel.
            I may wait to start mine in October, because that would be easier than trying to backtrack and include September. I don’t know that I could track responses/rejections, as sometimes I get auto responses which are very vague. (i.e. “Thank you for applying for a job with our company, we have now filled the position.”) I delete these since I can’t tell what position or company it came from.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I would just put that kind of thing as orange for Other (job is gone). As for when to start it, I made it when I started looking, after being laid off. It went until I got a job–that interview actually happened a month before I got the offer, so there are entries after it.

              You can do yours more simply, or make it more elaborate, or whatever you want. It’s your sheet.

              1. Audiophile*

                I rarely run into the problem where I can’t pull up the job description, but for jobs on CL, Monster, and Career builder, your idea would definitely be useful.

                Since I’m regularly applying for jobs I can see the spreadsheet getting quite large. I’ve been regularly looking now, for several years, though I’ve been lucky to be steadily employed through all of it.

      4. Lynn Whitehat*

        I kept a spreadsheet like that. Job title, company, date applied, where I am in the process. I also email myself the job posting; I used to have a link to it in my spreadsheet, but sometimes it would get taken down. That way I don’t apply for the same job twice, and I have any information I need for interviews.

      5. Gilbey*

        I save my emails of jobs ( of course have it in my sent file as well as blind copy myself) and print out the advertisment. I have copied and pasted job descrips to Word as well.

        I love Excel in general but for me it is much easier if I get a call for a job to simply take the ad I printed right off my desk ( at home) and have the hard copy immediately available. I then write all my notes of the conversation right on the copy I printed.

        All the info is right there and if needed I use a highlighter to highlight key info. For me much more practical as well as a time saver, then putting it on a speadsheet.

        It would be just an extra step that really doesn’t accomplish anything more than if I just printing the ad and have all the same info right there.

        Not knocking anyone who does it by any means, just offering another opinion.

      6. Anonymous*

        I do this too. I make note of the job title, where I saw it, date, date I applied, link to the posting, date of any relevant contact, notes. If I were applying again, I’d copy/paste the job description, because sometimes the link is dead by the time I get asked for an interview, so I can’t refresh my memory on the position.

  7. OP #2*

    OP #2 here–It might have been more helpful if I mentioned that this is my first job out of college, and that the joking broaches a variety of inappropriate topics (that’s what s/he said, etc.). I did ask senior member of my department if I should be freaked out and he said no and that these people (there were a handful but the last one was 2.5 years ago) continually argued with any and all feedback from our boss.

    1. fposte*

      I would imagine the senior person would know better than your colleagues. But if you found that response convincing, you presumably wouldn’t have written in. Is there something else going on, or are you really wanting them to stop rather than to know they’re just joking?

    2. Anonymous Anonymously*

      “and that the joking broaches a variety of inappropriate topics (that’s what s/he said, etc.). ”

      Have you explained to them how this makes you feel? It sounds like they are just joking around but they don’t see it’s affecting you.
      Maybe you can should talk to the senior member about the joking around and how it makes you feel uneasy about your own chances of survival there. Then maybe he can set the tone of the conversations when the joking around starts. If the tone changes at least you won’t have added anxiety. Good luck.

      1. OP #2*

        Thanks for the advice. This was at the end of a three-day retreat, so I think I was just extra stressed/tired/sick of being in the same room as these people when it happened. And it was actually our boss who was telling these stories at lunch.

        1. Gjest*

          This is a good example of why “team building” retreats aren’t so great. Sometimes employees may come out on the other side disliking each other more than ever, rather than being a stronger team.

  8. Anonymous*

    Re #7, the best part is that the onus for that tricky costume topic was all on the commenters. All the traffic without even having to take a stance and risk having it go badly!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Oh, I have a stance, which I thought came out in the comments, but maybe it didn’t! I think the OP should speak up and either educate his coworkers or talk to someone in authority who can change things. (And the blackface is obviously outright horrible, while some of the others are probably more reflective of people simply not understanding the background/history of what they’re wearing.)

    2. NBB*

      Not sure what you mean here, Anonymous. AAM did take a stance, and a strong and clear one at that. And it increased my respect for her enormously.

  9. FD*


    I hate to say this but I think you have really unrealistic expectations of the economy right now. Frankly, $12.50/hour is pretty darn good for people just entering the workforce; frankly, there a lot of people who are college graduates making less who work full time. As to the rest…yeah, shift work is like that. You work longer than planned. You get called in. This is completely normal. None of those things are unfair.

    Now, the write-ups, that’s another story. We don’t have his side, so it’s possible there was some unfairness there. For example, if Joe Supervisor wrote him up because the rules are that people need to let the Chocolate Teapot Mold cool for 20 minutes before it’s put away, and your son didn’t know, that is pretty frustrating. It’s also frustrating to have those mistakes stand in the way of a promotion that you could really use. It’s additionally possible that your son was warned and didn’t pay attention. People do that sometimes, and no one really enjoys admitting they messed up, especially to a parent.

    Here’s the thing, though. Life isn’t fair, and the workforce ESPECIALLY isn’t fair. People get promotions (or jobs) for the wrong reason all the time. Because the boss likes them better. Because they wore the right tie that day. Because their project happened to have better visibility. Because the boss golfs with them. It’s frustrating, but it’s reality. There’s no law against treating people unfairly, as long as it’s not based on a protected class–gender, race, religion, etc. And getting hung up on unfairness is really, deeply unproductive. It’s a bitter pill (and harder I think when it’s your kid than when it’s yourself), but the sooner you realize that the world won’t treat your son fairly, the easier it might be to give him helpful advice, if he wants it.

    Now, as to what he could do:

    1. He could accept that these are just the conditions of the job and stick with it. $12.50/hr really is good pay for an undergraduate, especially for someone not planning to make this a career.

    2. He could decide to stay in the same field but look for another position. If his manager is an idiot–and this is entirely possible, since there are plenty of idiots in management–then looking for another job in the same field but a different plant might make all the difference.

    3. He could decide to try getting a job in a different field. There’s still the potential for there to be stupid managers there too, of course, but if the particular kind of work is getting to him this is an option.

    But as Alison said, bear in mind that he’s got to make his decisions. And a lot of times, trying to give him advice if he hasn’t asked for it won’t help and is likely to backfire. I’m stubborn as a mule, so I’ll admit when my own mother tries to foist advice I don’t want off on me, I tend to end up doing the exact opposite. He may want a listening ear, not for you to try to fix his problem or tell him what to do.


    Noooooo, do not do this. If I got a rejection by *postal mail*, I would think it was completely weird. Who does that?

    1. FD*

      That said, thank you for being kind enough to send rejection notes! It’s just, yeah, snail mailing them would be very odd. Even if you’re taking applications by USPS to begin with, presumably they provided you with an e-mail. Definitely the best way to go.

    2. Anonymous*

      There’s a real geographic variation to this. An almost-graduated EE in say, silicon valley, who makes 12.50 an hour is being taken for a ride, whereas I’m sure some college towns may simply not have higher paying work available.

      1. FD*

        Even one not working in his field? From the wording of the e-mail, it sounds like the person is working in a factory to pay the bills, rather than actually doing EE work.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      For OP#2. I am not getting the secret write up thing. The point of a write up is to correct undesirable actions. How does a person make those corrections if they don’t know they have done something wrong?

      At any rate, I totally understand the commenters who said that parents need to give their kids space. I was one of those kids that wished my parents would talk about work place situations with me. They never did. If your son is not looking for advice, I think the next step is to encourage him that not all places are like that. That would have been a meaningful remark to me. And another meaningful comment to me would be that my parent thought I was a heck of a worker. These types of things would help me sort and balance out the negative stuff coming at me.

      1. FD*

        Good advice! It can be hard when you’re entering the work world to tell if everywhere stinks or just the place you work, and what level of stink-age you should put up with.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Bingo. As a newbie, I had no reference points. I would wait too long to realize something was too much. Like the time the boss threw a dish at me. I should have left months before. I missed the red flags.
          Even now I read this blog with a eye peeled for red-flag conversations.

    4. Rana*

      Rejections by letter are pretty common in academia, actually. But the places that do so also tend to expect you to send in physical application packets as well. (Not all – increasingly electronic submissions are becoming common – but many places still want paper copies of stuff.)

      1. FD*

        Point, yes. I actually thought about that, but decided not to mention it since academia in general plays by different rules and the OP here is clearly not in the academic world.

      2. Cat*

        The legal world too, especially after on-campus interviews when you haven’t ever directly corresponded with the candidate yourself. In fact, I’ve never recieved a rejection by email come to think of it.

      3. tcookson*

        I’m in academia and we are still on the cusp of switching from snail-mailed rejection letters to emailed rejection letters. And by emailed rejection letters, I mean that we scan a copy of the letter that we would previously sent via snail-mail, and we attach it in an email that says, “Please see the attached letter from So-and-So regarding your application for such-and-such position.”

  10. Ruffingit*

    #1: Use e-mail. Postal mail would be bizarre in this context.

    #2: Your co-workers are either jerks or they’re trying to warn you. Definitely ask someone what the deal is with this.

    #3: Why not take some new photos with the appropriate lighting so you can demonstrate that you can do good photography work? Having worked in journalism where I also had to take my own photos, they are not looking for Ansel Adams, they only want to know you can point and shoot, it’s not going to blurry and the lighting is appropriate. Don’t over think it, just get some basic shots that show that.

    #4: Your book deal isn’t hurting your prospects, but YOU certainly are. As Alison said, employers want to know what you can do for them, not the other way around. Start tailoring your cover letter to show how you can be an asset to the employer, not how they can help you with your writing skills.

    #5: Cut the apron strings. This is your son’s problem and if he was interested in advice about it, you could have recommended that HE write in to Alison. The fact that you did so tells me you’re taking way too much of an interest. Back off and let sonny boy do his own thing, even if you don’t agree with his choice.

    #6: You’re way over thinking this. Proficient in oral and written Spanish is sufficient.

    #7: Racist Halloween costumes, subordinates who put curses on their boss, husband who contacts the boss to resign for his wife…it’s all good around here!

    1. fposte*

      Agreed on #4. I get these kinds of cover letters from new grads a lot, so it might just be a sign of inexperience.

  11. Another Journalist*

    #3–I don’t fully understand: Are they asking for articles you also shot photos for? If not, I’d avoid sending it. I think it’s ok to explain the environment (crappy lighting) but don’t blame the camera–unless you were working with a point-and-shoot. Although the fact that it got published probably means it’s not as bad as you think it is. Do you know someone in the field who could help you pick your samples out of your entire portfolio? I’ve found that a lot of my favorite stories are not actually my best ones.

    1. Questioner 3*

      The job I am applying for wants someone who knows how to do everything–audio, print, video, photography, blogging, data journalism. The photos I referred to were some that I took while a coworker reported the story–we collaborated. But the camera was a point-and-shoot and the lighting bad (indoors is almost always bad for the camera I have).

      Upon reading Alison’s response, however, I decided to submit different pictures that are better, although I took them at a “lighter” news event.

      My big question was whether it is okay to give a critique of your own work, as that shows that you “get” what a great photo would look like. I mean, I’m not a perfect person/worker, I want to improve, and I don’t have a lot of samples from which to choose. I wonder whether hiring managers would appreciate that kind of honesty, or if that would be unnecessarily undermining myself.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The sensible ones would appreciate that and not find it undermining. There’s no speaking for the less sane ones, of course, but you don’t want to work for them anyway.

        1. Ruffingit*

          Alison, I tried several times to post three different comments and it’s not allowing it. It acts like it posts, but then doesn’t. On one occasion, it told me I was making a duplicate post, but then the original post hasn’t shown up. I’m wondering if it’s just me or is there some problem with the system today?

          1. Arbynka*

            Few of my replies did not post. I kept getting message that it has been recognized as a spam and will not be allowed to post.

  12. Anony1234*

    I think some are being a little bit too harsh for OP #5. I say harsh because I see people being all about cutting the umbilical cord and calling the son a “boy.” And if we want her to treat him like an adult, I think we should refer to him as such as well.

    I can see warning the mother about not going into her son’s job and getting overly involved. But maybe he comes home to vent, and she doesn’t know what to say. I think she did the right thing in emailing Alison for some advice. After all, she hasn’t taken it upon herself to march into her son’s boss’s office and demand X, Y, and Z. Instead, she is asking for ideas to pass on to her son.

    Should he be doing this himself? Probably. But who knows the deal with her writing in? Maybe she was googling and came across Alison’s blog that day and on a whim wrote in? However, I think Alison put it eloquently enough to remind her it is her son’s career, but I can’t fault her for seeking Alison’s advice.

    Although, I would like to see an answer regarding his write-ups and not being told about them when they occur. I would like to see the answer to that.

    1. Ruffingit*

      I called him sonny boy in my reply because I get the feeling that is how she’s seeing him, as a “boy” when in fact he’s not at all. Anytime parents are talking about their adult children’s issues in this way, I see red flags because seeking out advice for their kids is not their business. At all. So many parents get stuck in that “it’s my kid, I need to HELP” loop that I think it’s best to discourage it because it isn’t appropriate. If she is concerned about her son’s issues, she needs to direct him here and then it’s up to him to write in or not. If he’s coming home to vent to her about this, she can do the basic sympathy thing, but solving his problem is on him and is something he needs to contend with.

        1. Ruffingit*

          I don’t agree. I think it’s something he needs to do for himself. It’s always better when the person affected is the one who does it anyway simply because they know more detail than someone on the sidelines to begin with. Not the only reason they should do it, but it helps.

          1. Felicia*

            I think whie it’s ok for a parent to write for advice, the best advice to give would be you don’t need to do anything, it’s your adult child’s career, not yours and they need to figure it out themselves, even if that involves them asking for advice. Its something only he can fix, and parents can’t take an active role. As a 23 year old who knows many other 23 year olds, I think it’s unlikely he wants his mother to take an active role. Sometimes you just need someone to vent to and validate your feeling that the situation does in fact suck.

  13. Elizabeth West*

    4–talking about book deal to employers

    Sooo many people think that writing = money. Ha. The midlist is gone and advances are tiny, if you even get one. A published writer won’t be able to quit working a day job until several books down the line, if ever. Very few of us ever hit the bestseller list, and fewer stay there.

    I wouldn’t mention it, personally, unless the job is writing-related. Also, congrats! When I hear about another writer selling a book, I know that there is still hope for me.

    1. Ruffingit*

      Having assisted a friend through the writing/editing (I did a good deal of her editing)/publishing process (and she’s doing pretty well now with her book sales), I know for a fact how hard it is. Writing does not equal major money, not for quite a long time, if ever. My friend is making a comfortable living at it now, but it took awhile and it sure helps that her husband has a good job.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Exactly. And because of people’s assumptions about it, they probably won’t understand that the OP wants to have a job and will need one. They’ll just think (s)he is all of a sudden going to become J. K. Rowling and quit.

  14. Trixie Leitz*

    Re #1: I once interviewed for a position in my workplace at the time. The role would have been a big change from what I was currently doing there, but I felt it was something I could take on, and the hiring committee must have sensed some potential, too, otherwise they wouldn’t have invited me to interview.

    It took them a while to get back to me afterwards. Not sure why, but just one of those things I suppose. I figured they were maybe checking details on the candidates before they made an offer or something like that. Anyway, I followed up as much as seemed appropriate, but figured I had probably not been successful. So, imagine my excitement when I finally received an email from the team lead, asking me to come and meet with her again in person! All sorts of thought ran through my head – did they want another interview? did they have another opening that they wanted to sound me out about? So I dressed up in my interview duds again (gotta go all out, right?) and met with her at the time and place requested. This had to be a good sign, right?

    No. She just wanted to tell me in person that they were offering the position to someone else. And that she felt that email or a phone call was “too impersonal” a way to reject someone. Frankly, I would have much rather had a “sorry, we’ve decided to go with one of the other candidates” via email than to get all dressed up again and make time to meet again AND get my hopes up all over again. Fortunately my day-to-day role there didn’t require frequent contact with this department, so I had space to get over my disappointment in peace. But I still get cross when I think about how she handled it.

    1. Ruffingit*

      Bad news needs to come in digestible form. In other words, I’d say an e-mail so the person receiving it has a moment to take it all in and doesn’t have to react graciously on the spot as you must when you’re on the phone or in person.

    2. EngineerGirl*

      Forcing you to take extra effort ( even if it’s just meeting her somewhere) is disrespectful – or perhaps unthinking.

      1. fposte*

        I’m of two minds on this one, though. We’ve definitely had people here who felt brushed off by not getting a face to face acknowledgment on an internal position, and I bet they were thinking that it would be disrespectful to brush her off with email. There may just be no good way to hear that news.

        I personally would do the “come talk to me” if it was somebody I already regularly talked to, like my own staffer hoping to move up; if you were internal but not my usual communication circle, I’d probably go with a personalized email.

        1. Ruffingit*

          Agreed fposte. I think it does make a difference the kind of relationship you have with the person. You put it well about how to decide face to face vs. e-mail.

        2. Trixie Leitz*

          Yeah, in this case it was the “not my usual communication circle” relationship. In fact, we rarely spoke at all.

  15. JenTheNiceHRGirl*

    1) We do not keep do-not-hire lists, but I do make notes in our applicant tracking system if say a candidate was rude to the receptionist, no showed for their interview, said something inappropriate in their interview, etc… basically if a candidate did something really rotten. If a co-worker came up to me and said “don’t hire so and so, I worked with her before and didn’t like her” I don’t think that I would really take that into consideration unless the person telling me this was someone who would be working directly with the applicant or if the person telling me was one of our higher ups. I wouldn’t cross someone off the candidate list who was qualified for the position because some random employee didn’t like them.

  16. #1 Question provider*


    I wrote in the #1 question. Thanks for the feedback. Emails are going to be my way to go from now on. I guess I don’t know why I was so hung up on it, it is probably a hold over for working in the business for a while.

    I completely agree with everything that was said. I would also want to agree with the topic that was mentioned on keeping the ads for the positions that you have applied for as a PDF and also keeping a running list of applied to jobs. It helps to prevent you from applying for the same position twice. It also can jog your memory when the place you are applying to finally calls you in 3 months for an interview. I have had that happen more than once.

  17. khilde*

    I just got finished reading the Expose the Vile Interviewer post from a few months ago. I wondered why I don’t remember that entire conversation (because how can you forget it?!) and realized that I was in labor that day. I’m not sure which would have been more exciting to be present for: that discussion or the birth of my baby.

    I kid, but actually it reminded me of a similar incident, oh….within the last year maybe? The setup was quite familiar–someone wrote to Alison because of a bad interview experience (I think maybe she had been out of the workforce for a while – perhaps to care for children. It was her first interview for an office manager position perhaps??) and then just kept responding defensively to every.little.thing that the reasonable commenters posted. It was a beautiful thing, though, because the OP eventually calmed down, got it and I think became a more active presence here. I think her screen name is JobSeeker. Correct me if I’m wrong. Anyway – this is one OP I really hope we get an update on!

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