I was fired from a volunteer job, using coupons in office gift exchanges, and more

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

1. Appropriate gifts for office gift exchanges, and getting gifts on sale

First, what makes an appropriate gift for a holiday gift exchange at the office? My colleagues and I will be drawing names, and we’ve agreed to include a short “wish list” of gifts within the stated limit that we would be happy to receive. The last thing I need is more candles and lotion, but what sort of gifts are OK to request, and what is too personal? Can I ask for a butter dish (mine broke) or a novel I’ve been wanting to read (something respectable, not a trashy romance)?

Secondly, what are the rules regarding dollar limits and sales? Our office has set a $15 limit. It’s a paltry sum to most of my colleagues (one lawyer scoffed at the idea of a $5 gift – “I don’t need more junk!”) but really significant to me. My husband and I are struggling to pay for his graduate school, and aren’t even sure if we will be exchanging gifts ourselves this year. If I buy a gift for a colleague that is normally priced at $15 but I get on sale or with a coupon for less, can I pass that off as my $15 gift or am I ethically bound to actually spend all $15 on my coworker?

Sure, a book or a butter dish would be totally appropriate. I’d say that pretty much anything in that dollar limit would be fine, as long as it’s not obviously work-inappropriate (which basically means anything with even a hint of sex to it).

And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with using coupons, sales, or other discounts on your gift. The $15 is a benchmark to ensure people are exchanging gifts of roughly equivalent value, but how you obtain that item is your own business.

2. My husband is my boss, and I need him to fill out a recommendation form

I have been in my current position as a Food Service Administrator for four years now and my spouse is my boss (he is the executive director of a nonprofit). Recently I have gone back to school to finish a master’s degree. In order to apply into the program, I need a letter of recommendation from my boss – it is actually a form the school wants filled out. One or two of the professors are aware that he is my boss, but the selection committee is not.

I have been employed here the longest of any job I have had as I got it straight out of college. Do I have him fill it out?

Oooh, that awkward. Is there anyone else at work in a position above you who could fill it out instead? If so, I’d do that. Otherwise … I guess you have to have him do it, but it feels wrong. I think your best bet would be to check with one of the professors who knows the situation and ask her advice.

3. Pulling out of an interview process when my current job really needs me

I recently interviewed for a job that is a step or two lower than I want, but a good starting point for rising up in that particular company. The interview went well and I have advanced to the next round (completing a project and having a second interview immediately following the project’s submission).

However, my company just announced some job cuts that I was not expecting (I did not lose my job, thankfully). My team has been trimmed due to these cuts, and if I left now my boss and team would be screwed since we’re already short. Plus, I’m the only person who knows how to do a lot of my regular duties and it would be a difficult burden for the team to take it over if I left suddenly in the middle of all this. Though the job that I’m interviewing for is pretty much what I want to do, I’m not sure I will take the job if it was offered to me because I now don’t feel comfortable with leaving my current position in light of the recent changes.

I guess what I’m asking is – is it appropriate to pull myself out of the interview process, explaining the changes at my company as the reasoning? I think that once the dust has settled, in another 6 months or so, I’ll feel more comfortable with going elsewhere. I don’t want to burn bridges with either my current boss (by quitting at a terrible time) or with the folks interviewing me (by pulling out of an interview process that is going REALLY well).

You can do that, but are you sure you want to? I’m all for company loyalty if they’ve treated you well, but not at the cost of giving up a different job that you really want. (Although, do you really want it? If it’s lower than where you are now, you might not.)

In any case, if you decide to pull out you can absolutely explain to the other company why. It will reflect well on you in their eyes — certainly not poorly.

Read an update to this letter here.

4. I was fired from a volunteer job

This letter was removed after I received credible reports from others involved in the incident that the facts reported here were incorrect. (An Ask a Manager first!)

5. Working as an actuary

I’m serving in AmeriCorps this year to get “real” job experience, since I have spent nearly all of my adult life in school. After a master’s in what is essentially statistics and elementary programming (theoretical genetics–plenty of math and simulations using large data sets), I feel as if I’d be well suited for a job as an actuary.

The data-crunching is a lot of fun for me, and I love statistics and the idea that I would be professionally encouraged to take tests, advancing my analytical skills for my entire career. I’m confident I can pass the preliminary exam based on probability, and will have the resources to enroll in finance and computer science classes to help me get through the risk-assessment specifics of insurance work.

But I am having a hard time getting in touch with people in the field, or people who have worked with them since I am in a nonprofit environment. Do you or your readers have any input on this career, such as the intellectual ability required, especially since I did not major in economics or finance?

I do not, but perhaps readers do. Readers?

{ 118 comments… read them below }

  1. periwinkle*

    Are we missing a letter? The headline includes “my boss asked me to resign” but there isn’t a matching letter. Anyway…

    #1: Use coupons, buy on sale, whatever works! As long as the gift falls under the set limit and is appropriate, the actual amount you paid for it is irrelevant.

    #3: I agree with AAM. Your ultimate loyalty must be to yourself, not an employer. The fact that your team is already short of staff and no one has been cross-trained to handle your critical duties is not *your* responsibility. Do not inhibit your own career out of concern for your employer’s self-inflicted issues. If the other position is a step in the right direction, keep talking with them and seriously consider the advantages to you (rather than the disadvantages to your current employer). Obviously, if you leave you’ll want to give as much notice as possible and leave as much detailed documentation as possible.

    #5: Not my field, but a high school friend was hired straight out of undergrad into an actuary position with an insurance company. Her degree was applied mathematics, and I don’t think she had much background in econ or finance. That didn’t matter. She had the analytic skills required for the position, and the rest she could learn as needed.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Whoops, yes! I swapped out one letter for another at the last minute but forgot to change the headline. I’ve corrected it now (although it remains in the URL, destined to confuse people forever).

      1. Neeta*

        I, for one, will be forever wondering about that one letter until you decide to publish it. Please don’t say you won’t… it’ll haunt me.

      2. Leslie Yep*

        The URL is just awesome, btw. “My boss asked me to resign using coupons in office gift exchanges” evokes, for me, several years of receiving little puzzle piece coupons from Boss, until finally, all the pieces fit together and say “Please Resign.”

        That would be an interesting letter…

  2. thenoiseinspace*

    NOOOO, OP 3! If you were already actively searching for another job, why would you turn back? I’m all for loyalty, but it sounds like things at your job are about to get crazy – with shorter staff, it’s likely that everyone left will get a lot more work with no guarantee of a raise. Don’t sacrifice your future career – you might not get another interview with that company if you pull out now!

    1. EngineerGirl*

      I have to agree. Your company put itself in this bad position and you are not responsible for it. If they’ve already had one set of cuts, they can have two. And you could be let go with the next round.
      If you truly feel guilty start cross training the other team members now. You could raise it as – “if one of us gets hit by a bus” etc. But your team should be doing this anyway.
      But really – they have already shown their brand of “loyalty” to the people that were let you. Do you think you’ll get a special dispensation from them for your loyalty? You won’t.
      And who’s to know? You may not get the job offer for the other job.
      Keep interviewing.

      1. Lacey*

        Interesting, I kind of hate my job but its crazy busy and I feel guilty about the active job hunting I’m doing. I’m dithering over applying for a job at the moment and the thing putting me off is the position it would put my boss and colleage in. But still. Its my life, I guess, so I should really put myself first.

        So yes, OP 3, I’d agree with the others.

        1. Ruffingit*

          Here’s the thing – if you leaving would put your boss/colleagues in a bad position, that is THEIR doing, not yours. There is nothing you can do to make that better. Staying doesn’t accomplish that because they will continue the poor management/organizational techniques that got them in that situation in the first place. So what then? You can never leave because it would always put them in a bind if you did?

          No. Someone did your job before you showed up, someone will do it after you leave. Who that person is, is not your problem. And, if your company would fold completely if one person (you or anyone) left, then the problems at that company basically mean you should leave anyway because it’s poorly run.

          So yeah. Loyalty to YOURSELF first because trust me when I say that there will be no loyalty from the company to you during the next round of layoffs.

          1. Lindsay J*

            Yes, this was a hard thing for me to learn, because I like taking on a lot of responsibility and I like feeling needed.

            But ultimately life at your company will go on whether you’re there or not.

            If you quit, they will find somebody to replace you. If they wanted to promote you they would find a way to replace you. If you died, they would find somebody to replace you.

            It might put them in a bind for a little bit, but ultimately life will go on, and it’s not your problem if you leaving does put you in a bind.

        2. Job hunter*

          I’m happy to hear I’m not the only one in this boat! Good luck in your job search! And thanks for the advice.

      2. JustMe*

        +1 to EngineerGirl. I’m in a similar position. I had been job searching for a looooong time, and as it happens, when I’m negotiating an offer now, Current Company is the most short staffed we have ever been (though it’s not due to cuts). But, if there’s something about your job that bothered you enough to start searching in the first place, chances are it won’t improve when there are fewer people to shoulder the burden. In fact, it will probably become more tiresome. I agree with EngineerGirl that the best thing you can do is leave them as prepared as possible for when you are gone. If nothing else, start a document of step by step instructions to do those things that you are responsible for now. If you get the new job now, great! You’ve already prepared. If the new job comes later, you’ll also be ready.

    2. Confused*

      It’s ultimately the company’s responsibility to ensure their business needs are met by having enough people on staff, providing training or cross training, and making sure there is proper documentation in place. Also, the layoffs were likely a cost cutting measure, right? I don’t mean this to sound harsh but do you think they sat around asking, “How will Betty and Don pay their bills if we let them go?” Again, don’t mean to be too harsh.

      I consider myself very loyal and have been burned by it in the past when it was the only thing I took into consideration.

      You don’t have to be flakey or a jerk but you if you really want the new job at least continue with the interview process and see where it takes you. You may or may not get an offer, there may be more layoffs, a better job opportunity might pop up…who knows? Start documenting and, as others have said, suggest the “in case of bus” training plan to your current boss.

      Good luck!

      1. Jen in RO*

        I felt very guilty when I decided to leave my former company, but Alison and commenters taught me what Confused stated above: “do you think they sat around asking, How will Betty and Don pay their bills if we let them go?”

        I felt guilty about leaving my coworkers, because it absolutely meant more work for them… but the company itself was to blame for that. So I left, promised all my (good) coworkers that I would support them if they decide to leave to, and now I’m much happier in a new job.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        “I consider myself very loyal and have been burned by it in the past when it was the only thing I took into consideration.”

        This, times ten.

        Focus on your life and your life goals. How well does current job mesh in with your goals?
        If your sole reason for staying is because of your coworkers then how would you feel if you stayed and they LEFT? yikes.
        I encourage you to use the big picture perspective- which means looking at how this decision will impact your life.
        It is a tough thing to leave a job. And it is fine to say that you regret the awkward timing of your leaving. Saying so might help to ease the whole situation for you and for them.

      3. Job hunter*

        I’m going to start a document with to-dos and instructions on various projects that only I do this week. This way, no matter when I leave, it will all be clear and on the table for someone else to take over easily.

    3. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      Oh dear, yes.

      When your job announces cuts that you weren’t expecting, that’s an “every man/woman/child for themselves!” moment. Management knows this when they announce cuts. If no one in authority has made an attempt to prove these cuts are a one off thing, and the company is actually well financed and doing great, it’s a bad sign.

      This is the worst time to drop out of interviewing. Everybody around you is now trying to get interviews. Don’t refuse the new job because you think you will leave your co-workers hanging. They are likely trying to get new jobs also.

      1. Carrie in Scotland*

        What loyalty do you think your company would show you? Put yourself first and continue interviewing. Mostly likely bad things are happening at your current work, and your manager? Well she might be looking too!

        1. anonomouse*

          #3 RUN for the hills. Your job is not safe and you have a new opportunity……TAKE THE LIFEBOAT!!!!!!

          1. Windchime*

            This isn’t a layoff story, but it’s relevant because it’s a story about people being overworked beyond reason.

            Several years ago, I was at Oldjob and was faced with being on a team where we had to implement a huge software product that usually takes a couple of years to put into place. We were expected to do it in a matter of months, and with an inexperienced crew. We managed to get it going, but we all worked 60-70 hour weeks for months and there were tons of issues after go-live. Seriously bad issues. People spent time crying in their cars or at their desks and being treated for depression and anxiety. Management didn’t seem to care and just gave us pep-talks. Two months after the go-live, an opportunity to come and work at NewJob fell into my lap, and it felt like someone was throwing me a life preserver. I felt bad leaving my colleagues in a pinch, but I left anyway.

            Fast forward three years. Nothing has changed. The company still has outrageously unreasonable demands on the employees and employees are leaving as soon as they have an opportunity.

            I guess what I’m trying to say is that you need to take care of your own career. Your coworkers can (and will) make their own changes if they feel they need to. Company culture is very, very difficult to change.

            1. Anonymous*

              Holy crap. Don’t pull out of the interview process! You could be laid off next. And nobody is irreplaceable. Get while the getting is good, guilt free.

              1. Jennifer*

                Right, you’ll probably be next to go in the second round of layoffs if they are doing that badly. Get out if you can.

                Though I hear ya on the guilt, I feel pretty bad about applying for a new job myself because it would really make my current group low on people if I am not there, plus someone else is going to be out for months with surgery, etc. My boss was nice about it, though!

            2. Elizabeth*

              Your leaving could have been a good thing for your coworkers, in a way, by demonstrating that you don’t all have to just stay in a bad situation. Sometimes seeing someone else get out is inspiration and lets people realize, “Hey, there are other options aside from putting up with this.”

              1. abankyteller*

                Excellent point. Sometimes all it takes is one person to leave a bad situation and others will follow suit to better themselves as well.

          2. Elizabeth*

            I agree with your advice, but have to admit that I giggled at the mental image of the OP literally running off towards distant hills, carrying a lifeboat over her head even as she fled for higher ground.

      2. thenoiseinspace*

        Agreed that everyone else is likely looking for jobs as well! In my last job, there was an unexpected round of layoffs, and afterwards, literally every single person besides the manager started job-hunting. It was total “rat from a burning ship” mentality.

    4. Elizabeth West*

      I second (or third) this. You may never get another chance with the company you’re interviewing with, and your old company will survive if you leave. It’s business, not personal. You don’t owe them your future.

      1. Job hunter*

        You guys are all absolutely right! I’m fairly close with my boss since we have worked very closely for years, and I was letting the personal aspect of letting her down cloud the situation. I’m going to continue in the interview process. I’m grateful for all the great and honest advice!

        1. plynn*

          I *just* went through – I felt enormously guilty leaving a job (even though I didn’t like it and they had never done anything spectacularly good for me) for another job offer (even though it was a better opportunity in every possible way). Because it would be so difficult…FOR THEM. When talking to a supervisor after I gave my notice, I alluded to how guilty I felt leaving them in a bit of a lurch ans she just said, “Well, it’s not like you can make your life decisions based on what’s best for X company”. and then she laughed.

          I think I managed to pretend to laugh, but it was a serious punch in the gut to realize that I had been doing exactly that.

          1. Anonymous*

            Similar situation too – I recently left a job I loved with fantastic coworkers. It was really difficult to leave because we always had so much work to do and I felt like I was abandoning people who I cared about. But now after 8 months, I am sure that I made the right decision for me personally AND they were able to find a really great person to fill my role. Turns out I wasn’t that irreplaceable after all.

  3. Noah*

    #1 – i hate office gift exchanges like this. Maybe I’m just a Scrooge though. It just seems silly to spend $15 buying someone an item when you don’t know them well enough to purchase a gift without having them provide a list. If I wanted a novel or needed a new butter dish I would buy it. If I didn’t want to spend the $15 I would wait until I had it in my budget. Probably sounds selfish but I hate giving gifts just for social norms. However, I love hunting down the perfect item for those I know and care deeply about.

    I agree with Allison though. Use coupons or discounts. $15 guideline is to ensure gifts are if equivalent value and no one way over or under spends. If you find a great deal on something, that seems fair to me.

    1. Anonymous*

      I agree with all of this. I hate obligatory giving like this.

      On a practical note, I think book suggestions are better than a butter dish just because it’s easier to pick up or order a specific novel than to hunt down the right pattern for a butter dish.

      1. Jamie*

        Sorry, me. This may sound like a stupid question, but what kind of butter dish are we talking about? The cheap plastic versions are only a couple of bucks, at best, but getting one to match a china pattern would not only be more work, but also more than $15.

        I’m just curious if there is some kind of butter presentation for everyday that I’m missing.

        1. fposte*

          If you don’t care about matching patterns, you can get a ceramic one for under $15 pretty easily. I think my grocery store has plain white ones for something like $10, and Tuesday Morning usually has quite a few discounted ones.

          1. tcookson*

            I have a nice cut glass one that I got at Goodwill, along with the matching sugar bowl. I love thrift shops for odds and ends like that. Although I wouldn’t give a thrift shop gift at the office gift exchange.

        2. Windchime*

          Mine is a clear glass butter dish with the little clear glass cover. I think I paid about $10 from Target. It might not work for everyone, but I like it.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Mine is cut glass; it came in a 1960s or 1970s (not sure which) boxed set that also contains a creamer, sugar bowl, salt and pepper shakers, and cruets. FLEA MARKETS RULE.

            1. tcookson*

              Hey, I bet your cut-glass stuff is like my cut-glass butter dish, sugar bowl, and cream thingy (it’s like a pitcher, but small like the sugar bowl) that I got at the Goodwill!

        3. LD*

          Butter dishes come in lots of variations. Target has a white porcelain butter dish with matching cover for $4.99. The best one I had for everyday was a clear one by Pyrex that I got years ago and lost in one of the past relocations. As for using a coupon, that is fine to do, but not to tell. As Alison says, the idea is to get an item for a comparable value; how you do that is no one’s business. It reminded me of a wedding shower I attended. When the couple opened my gift, one of the guests said to me in front of the whole gathering and rather loudly, “I hope you used the 20% off coupon for that.” Awkward.

  4. Is.This.Legal*

    5. Working as an actuary

    What city are you in? Big cities have Association of Actuaries. Try also to apply at the state insurance agency. I am in GA and I know some leads.

    I don’t want to alarm you but actuary classes and exams are tough. There are 8 exams altogether. If you are passing easily it might take you 8-10 years to complete all the exams. I am not an actuary but in college i was an actuary major and I was connected with industry before I switched to finance. It’s not for the faint of height. But if you manage to see it through the pay is worth worth worth it. Good luck.

        1. dan*

          Here’s a link to a page on the
          UK actuarial profession’s website that might be useful: http://www.actuaries.org.uk/becoming-actuary/pages/becoming-actuary

          I’d echo is.this.legal’s point about the exams being tough. They’re not just “occasional tests”. They are exams where the bar is set at a high level and the pass rates are low.

          And I wouldn’t worry about not having a maths degree. An actuary is a financial scientist, not a specialised mathy. Physicists make great actuaries and I’m sure geneticists will too.

          Just don’t go into this career without being prepared to make sacrifices to get through the exams.

    1. Zahra*

      Another option, if you are able to speak in a way that business users will understand, is to go for a data analyst/marketing intelligence type of job. More and more companies are doing data analyses (hey, just look at AAM) to maximize profit or understand their customers better.

      1. Anonymous*

        I agree. My company has one of the sales reps doing all their number-crunching right now but we could really use someone who was dedicated to doing that as well as our marketing metrics.

    2. data.data.data*

      There are other areas where those with a grip on the use of numbers and statistics can find positions as well. Most large food manufacturers have product development departments, which rely heavily on sensory analysis, statistics and response surface methodology to create the best tasting product.

    3. Anon1*

      I work with one actuary and know another. I’ll echo legal – just because you are doing well in stats doesn’t mean you are guaranteed to pass the exams. It is a very long process and the exams have high failure rates – both mentioned fail rates of 60% and above as being routine. Definitely talk to a existing actuary first. Also, with big data becoming more important, could that be more interesting? Comp sci plus stats.

    4. littlemoose*

      The multiple examinations required is a big thing to keep in mind. My friend and her husband are both actuaries, and they’ve been going through the examination process for years. However, they do both enjoy their jobs, and make good salaries (I don’t know exactly how much, but that is my impression). My friend has a master’s degree in statistics, for reference; not sure about her husband.

  5. Dan*


    I looked at being an actuary awhile back. Instead of talking about maybe having the intellectual capability, just out and pass the probability and financial math exams. I think you have to do that to get hired by most companies anyway.

    Also check out Society of Actuaries, http://www.soa.org

    1. hamster*

      I don’t know. I passed with flying colors the tests and interviews required for jobs that made me miserable . I can confidently think i can prepare and pass most tests. Perhaps she can get some internship/informational interview to get a feel of the job?

  6. Chocolate Teapot*

    1. I would be very pleased to get a butter dish, if it was something I needed.

    For the past 2 years I have received a giant box of chocolates and I noticed in the local supermarket, that the boxes are being sold with bonus points on the supermarket loyalty card, so I would certainly buy from there to get the extra points. Or sometimes, the book might be part a of pricing deal (Buy 1 get 2nd half price) so I think you would be mad not to take it up!

    1. Chinook*

      Exactly – the idea is to get something at the $15 value not how much you actually paid. Heck, this is the perfect time to register something. Just don’t go way under (speaking as someone who gave a $20 gift of an ornament and nice storage box for ornaments and in return got a book of crossword puzzles worth $10 max but still acted gracious because she knows what it is like to not have the funds)

  7. Erin B.*

    #5– My brother is an actuary, and he was a math major (BA, not BS) in college. His company has the actuaries rotate through different departments for the first couple years while they’re still taking all those tests, so he could get a good idea of what he wanted to specialize in. I don’t think the background in finance/econ is necessarily a given!

  8. anon*

    #5 – I work in the retirement plan administration industry, and Defined Benefit plan administration is another area of practice that hires analytical grads and trains them up through the actuary exams. Also, lots of math majors in the Defined Contribution area without becoming an actuary, but DB side of practice will definitely make more money due to actuary status. If that at all interests you, you can search out local retirement TPAs, or check out benefitslink job board for idea (generally jobs on that board are looking for people with some experience)

    1. MaryMary*

      I also work in employee benefits (ten years with pension plans, and now I’ve moved to health and welfare plans). Finding an entry level position in either retirement plan administration or with a health insurance company would be a great way to get your foot in the door. You may also find that you prefer the administration or consulting side. The job market has tightened up on the carrier side, but the major employee benefits consulting/outsourcing companies are hiring.

  9. Marmite*

    1. I dislike it when these office gift giving things are mandatory. Both of my jobs run them this year, one was mandatory the other was opt-in. The company with the opt-in gift giving gives all employees a small gift from the company (last year it was chocolates and book tokens – for a company that employees a large number of book lovers). So, the opt-in employee gift swap is for those who want extra present exchanging in the office. I am not opting-in and there has been no pressure to do so.

    For the mandatory one we have a £10-£15 price range. I am going to be unashamedly giving a gift I got as the free item in a 3 for 2 offer when buying gifts for people I actually want to be buying gifts for. It’s actual non-offer retail price is £11 so I think that’s perfectly acceptable.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Great deal on the free gift. I agree. If OP can arrange a cost effective way to buy that $15 item then she should do so.
      One place I worked had a $15 stipulation. I found out that it was considered a cap. The bosses did not want people going crazy with their spending.(We were doing a secret Santa.) The concern was that someone could spend too much and people who received lesser gifts would be upset.

      I hope you see an eye roll here.
      My idea was to get a nice platter, that everyone could enjoy and let it go at that.
      All the rules about Secret Santa should have been a clue to TPTB that maybe this was a bad plan.
      I ended up with a travel mug, which I needed so I was very pleased.

      1. fposte*

        Are you working with all high-income folks? I can see the limit being annoying if so. Otherwise I think they make good sense–low-earners otherwise will feel obliged to spend higher or else not participate.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Retail. I was making “okay” money. Other people, not so much. The added wrinkle came in when people would just spend recklessly because that was their life habit. So some people could end up with a $30 gift and some people would end up with a $5 gift. That is when it came down from on high that we were not to spend more than $15.
          Some of the folks in the group would fish around and try to get ideas of what their person would find useful.
          What struck me was the dollar amount given was a limit- don’t spend more than this- I had never seen it framed that way before. In the past it was framed as “between x and y”.
          I liked the idea of keeping it as a token gift and participation was voluntary.

    2. Anonymous*

      Mandatory? What happens if you just don’t do it? Has anyone simply declined to show up to the exchange and kept working at their post? I’d try that (and have, though the word “mandatory” wasn’t used).

      1. Elizabeth*

        That might work if it’s a White Elephant/Yankee Swap kind of exchange, where all the gifts are put in a pile and people choose them kind of at random, but it wouldn’t work so well for a Secret Santa style exchange where everyone is assigned a specific person to get a gift for. Ducking out of that unexpectedly would mean that someone didn’t get a gift (or that they would wind up with a gift intended specifically for you, which might not be a good gift for them).

        1. Elizabeth*

          Which is not to say that I think people should be required to participate in exchanges like this, just that you’d have a responsibility to make it known that you weren’t participating early on.

      2. Marmite*

        It’s a Secret Santa style gift exchange and we were all assigned coworkers to get a gift for. There was no option to opt out, like there was in the non-mandatory one. Of course, in theory, I could have kicked up a fuss and refused to participate, but I don’t think that would have gone down well and, even if I tried to do it discreetly it would be extremely obvious when it came to the gift exchange that I wasn’t participating.

        So, yeah, not mandatory in the sense that I’d get fired for not joining in, but mandatory in the sense that it would be difficult to get out of and likely create tension for me at work.

        1. Anonymous*

          “There was no option to opt out, like there was in the non-mandatory one.”


          “mandatory in the sense that it would be difficult to get out of and likely create tension for me at work.” If people are asking you to do something you don’t want to do, then there is already tension – it’s just in the wrong place. Move the tension while doing what you want.

          I’ve had many things in my life presented as mandatory and I simply don’t accept them. Recent example – a mandatory non-disclosure form that had an element I didn’t agree with – so I crossed it out and wrote something similar but more reasonable, then returned it.

          “Of course, in theory, I could have kicked up a fuss and refused to participate,”

          Saying “no” simply is not a fuss. If a fuss ensues, it’d only be from the other side if you keep what you say straightforward.

          1. Anonymous*

            One other thing – below is the sort of text I use in email for high-pressure work “social” stuff, adapted for secret santa:

            “It’s nice that you are organizing this. I won’t be participating. Please don’t have anyone buy a gift for me and I won’t be buying a gift for person X.”

            That’s it. No fuss from me, just a simple statement.

  10. Graciosa*

    For the office gift exchange, you might also consider home made items if you have any talents you could put to use. An assortment of home made jams or jellies can be much more welcome than anything the recipient could buy for themselves. Other baked goods (breads, cookies) and candy (home made peanut brittle?) fall into this category as well. Personalized picture frames or plaques (painted wood or ceramic) are options for those with culinary challenges.

    If you make it, it will be both unique and very difficult to value which can really help you out. Presentation is key to making it clear that this is something special, so make sure you pay attention to wrapping.

    Good luck, and happy holidays.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Craft fairs are also great places to look for unique and inexpensive items. Many communities host them around this time of year.

  11. bad at online naming*

    #3 – I mostly agree with the other comments that your first loyalty should be to yourself and if you want the other job go for it.

    However, there’s also the possibility of a third option: explore the possibility of a later start date, once you get to that round, or ask about that during your next interview. I really don’t expect it would ever look bad (at a reasonable place) to ask, “Hey, X has come up at my current place and I’d like to have more time to provide documentation and train up my current coworkers on my tasks – how son are you looking to fill this position? I’d really excited to work here as soon as possible, but I don’t want to leave my former place in a bind.”

    When I did my (one and only) job switch earlier this year, I actually did manage to negotiate a “you could start tomorrow if possible but we know two weeks is standard notice time” to a couple more weeks, precisely so I could finish a project… and take a bit of downtime instead of just having a weekend between the ex-job and the current job. I was explicitly told by one person that it spoke well of me that I cared about completing my responsibilities elsewhere, which I honestly didn’t think about; I’m just (overly) loyal.

    In my industry, you might be able to negotiate even a 6 month start date for entry-level positions (a lot of people start right from graduating, so you could negotiate to come in at the same time as the new-grad hew-hires), but I’d expect asking for 4-6 weeks to be much more acceptable.

    1. Job hunter*

      Thanks so much for this advice – If I do get offered the job, I’ll see if I can get an extension on the start date. Thank you!

  12. An actuary*

    #5 – I’m currently an FCAS working at an insurance company. I think for people who are analytically-inclined, this can be a great career track since there can be a lot of built-in career development, especially at a company that supports its actuarial program.

    If you’re interested in contacts, I’d peruse either the SOA or CAS websites (www.soa.org or http://www.casact.org) for their member directories. Both sites are also good sources for learning more about the profession.

    I would highly recommend passing at least one or two exams before you begin to apply to entry-level positions. You’ll be considered much more seriously as a candidate.

    Feel free to shoot me an email as well if you’d like to discuss more.

  13. Not an Actuary, But*

    I’m not an actuary, but I am a biostatistician. If you like statistics and programming, why not consider a Masters degree in statistics or biostatistics, or since you’re into genetics, bioinformatics? It may give you more job flexibility than being an actuary.

  14. Hcat*

    #1 – Gift cards are a good option, like ITunes or starbucks or even Walmart – $15.00 goes a long way at walmart.
    #3 – I had the very same thought as one of the commenters mentioned, when the company made the decision to let people, they did think about how those former employees would pay their bills, nor did they consider the extra burden that puts on existing employees, it’s a business decision, it’s not supposed to be personal, the OP should continue with the interview process, and see where it goes. Always better to look for a job when you have one.
    #5 – The OP could check with one of his professors about getting involved in a mentorship program, or as one of the other commenters posted, checking with a professional association, this link might be helpful

    1. Heaven's Thunder Hammer*

      Wanted to +1 that site if it wasn’t mentioned. THe discussion forum is really helpful.

  15. Anony*

    5. Working as an actuary

    I was an underwriter and worked closely with actuaries, so I know a few actuary people. I would suggest try taking the first couple actuary exams first so you have that on your resume. I also know people who started in underwriting in order to get experience and then was able to get a position in actuary. Rotation programs are also a good start.

  16. Anon with a name*

    Here’s the opposite question to #1, then: what if you find a gift that you know someone will really like, and the actual value is, say $35 but because of coupons you can get it for $15? You still spent under the limit, but the gift is worth more than that. Is that still okay?

    1. Noah*

      I think that would be fine as long as you’re not expecting a $35 gift in return. I love a good bargain.

    2. Ruffingit*

      I don’t think so because it’s not about how you obtain the gift (coupons, etc), it’s about setting a limit to make sure the gifts are of equivalent value. If you’re buying someone a $35 gift when the set limit was $15, the value of your gift is twice the limit and then some, which means one person is receiving a $35 gift while everyone else adhered to the set limit. So I wouldn’t do this if the limit was $15.

    3. Harriet*

      No, I don’t think that’s okay. Either the price limit is to make sure everyone spends the same amount of dollars, or it’s to make sure the gifts are of equivalent value. It can’t be both, and I come down on the side of the gift values being equivalent.

    4. Zillah*

      I feel like that would be inappropriate. Well-intended, of course, but still inappropriate. The value of the gift is so far above what the intention of the secret santa event was, and it has a really high potential to make everyone, including the recipient, feel really awkward.

  17. Tony in TX*

    #5: STUDY STUDY STUDY! The actuarial exams are hard, but they’re the requisite into the field. Here’s some information re: the actuarial profession below:



    But by far, my favorite go-to resource is an Arkansas Tech Uni website below:


    There’s a link to Electronic Textbooks on the left with study guides written specifically for the SOA/CAS exams. Fun!

    1. Iain Clarke*

      Well, taking the URL of this page, apparently the boss gave the OP some coupons in a gift exchange, and the OP took this as a signal to resign?

      They must have really wanted a nice gift.

      1. Anonymous*

        In case you’re not joking, if you read upthread that URL text is actually referred to a letter that got bumped off in favor of the “volunteer” letter. What a mystery all around!

      2. A Jane*

        Hahaha, I am now picturing this scene! I wonder how many more AAM short list URLs would lead to random work situations!

  18. Sara*

    Oh dear! I read the volunteer report story before it was removed, but now I’m curious as to what the comments were! Missed it! :(

    1. The IT Manager*

      Wow! That must mean that other employees from the organization recognized enough details to know it was their organization. Surprisingly just because I didn’t notice that the story had a lot of distinguishing details.

  19. Another Sara*

    OP #5, I am also an actuary. I majored in applied math, and I can tell you that your programming knowledge is a huge asset. The material on the exams is not hard per se, but what makes the exams so difficult is the *amount* of material on each exam. It’s a lot to learn and keep in your head all at once, and the questions can be on any of hundreds of different topics. It takes dedication, perseverance, and the ability to think conceptually more than anything else.

    Other folks have already posted links to lots of helpful resources, so definitely check those out. I will add to what has already been stated is that this field is growing fast, and it’s common for entry-level candidates to have passed at least two exams if not more. My own company rarely looks at intern/entry level candidates with fewer than two exams (not because they aren’t otherwise qualified, but because we have *so many* candidates that it becomes a weeding factor).

    Definitely take a look at the member directories for the CAS and SOA. It’s entirely appropriate for you to reach out directly to actuaries listed in those directories who are working at companies you are interested in. Try not to do giant email blasts – just target one or two individuals (I once had a candidate send a mass email to every actuary at my company, including the CEO…). They may just forward your resume to HR, but sometimes you get someone who is willing and able to answer more specific questions.

    I’d be happy to answer some questions for you and tell you about my own experience, if you’re interested. I can give AAM my email address, if so.

      1. Another Sara*

        Ah, got it. I created a post in the LinkedIn group with the subject line “working as an actuary.”

    1. Actuary in Training*

      I am graduating this year with a BA Math in Actuarial Science – I agree with previous posters that the exams are difficult – but dedication to studying and analytical ability is very important. In addition, I know most life insurance companies – in Canada – are also looking for applicants with EXCELLENT communication skills. As an actuary, esp. manager level, you are not always – if at all- data crunching. Essentially you have to be able to calculate the results (i.e. your math background/exams) and then explain those results to your fellow colleagues (who may not have any math background). While I think it is definitely important to have some math background – I think understanding and communication are key aspects of becoming a successful actuary. As long as you are able to pass exams (at least 2 in Canada), then you should have a good shot. I’d also recommend finding a company that supports your career choice – with paid study time and paid exam materials.

  20. Jules*

    Try looking at financial/insurance companies. They usually have trainee positions to be filled by people who are interested to do exams. If you get lucky, they even have a mentor system. Explore SOA a little and get more info there.

  21. Kathy*

    I may not get this answer in time but was wondering whether I should talk to my boss about the gift exchange. He pulled my name and gave me a $50.00 gift cert to a restaurant. The limit was supposed to be $15.00. I heard that he got confused on the limit. I was going to talk to him and thank him but offer him the chance to take the gift cert back as I feel this is way too much. Should I talk to him? I’ve talked to some people who said I should just thank him and not say anything else because I could offend him. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    1. MommaTRex*

      I’ll bet a $50 gift certificate that he was not “confused” about the limit at all. He used that as an excuse because he wanted the gift to flow downward – I assume that he makes more money than you do. The correct response is to say thank-you and enjoy the gift.

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