leaving a job off your resume, greeting coworkers by name, and more

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

1. Can you really leave a job off of your resume?

In one of your postings, you mentioned that it is okay to leave jobs off your resume if they aren’t relevant to the position to which you are applying. Does this mean it is okay to have gaps in your employment history? I had always thought you need to show that you had been consistently employed.

You don’t want to have big gaps on your resume. (A couple of months is fine; longer raises questions.)

As with anything that you consider putting on or leaving off your resume, you need to consider how it fits in with the overall package of your particular resume. A six-month gap 10 years ago? No one is going to care. An two-year gap 18-months ago? You’ll get questions. You may judge that the questions are preferable to including that job, or that they’re not, or all kinds of other judgments that will be specific to the details of your situation. But as a general principle, it’s fine to leave a job off your resume that you judge will hurt more than help (or that will just take up space more than help). But that judgment part is key to do — it’s okay to do, but you want to balance its impact on your resume, not on resumes in general.

2. Greeting coworkers by name when they don’t actually know me

I have kind of a daft question for you today, but here goes. I’m trying to develop the habit of using people’s names whenever I greet or thank them for something, and also when apologising, for example, for almost bumping into someone by accident at the tea station or something. It helps me to remember names, and I’ve noticed that I appreciate it when other people do the same. Obviously when greeting / thanking people, they know who I am so that’s fine, but saying “excuse me” / “sorry,” it might be anyone. This means that sometimes I do know the person’s name, because they’re a senior manager for example, but they might not recognise who I am in person because we’ve only exchanged emails or met very briefly (it’s a large department). Is it weird for me to use someone’s name in passing if they might not know exactly who I am?

I know it’s not a huge issue, but I just wondered what you thought.

No, it’s not weird! You work together, so it’s assumed that there’s a good chance that you know who they are. (It’s also a good way to nudge someone who thinks you are an anonymous, nameless, faceless coworker into recognizing you in the future, which is good for the cause of warmer, friendlier workplaces.)

3. My coworker asks me to get her a soda at lunch, every day

I am a doctoral student and administrative aide at a university. Last semester, a coworker had a medical issue that left her unable to drive so I would pick up lunch for her sometimes. I didn’t mind this at all and was actually very happy to help out a coworker when she needed it.

Fast forward a few months, medical issue long resolved… This coworker now frequently asks me to get her a soda on my lunch break, at least 3 or 4 times a week. I usually go home for lunch, so I have to go out of my way. She doesn’t even try to make it convenient, as my choices of where to “pick her up” a soda are limited to certain gas stations because she only wants to spend a dollar. “Fountain sodas at Place X are only $1, so you can get me one there”.” Thank you so much for not only giving me a personal errand to do for you on my one hour break, but also dictating where I am to go to further meet your needs! (End sarcastic rant.) Even if I am going somewhere for lunch, I still have to make another stop to get her soda unless I want to pay the difference. But it’s not about the price; it’s just the point. She just calls my office and casually says “Hey, could you pick me up a soda while you’re at lunch, thanks,” as if that dollar soda machine is in my home, just right on the way to my own refrigerator. To top it off, we have soda machines in our building! However, she apparently needs a big 32 ounce to make it through the day.

I never thought by helping her out last semester that I would have an additional task forever added to my daily schedule. I am baffled as to how she does not see how rude this is. I wouldn’t care about doing this occasionally, but it has gotten completely out of hand. I feel like it is just expected of me now and am unsure about how to handle the situation. I don’t want to seem petty, as it is just a soda, but I am very tired of feeling like I have to do this almost every single day.

It doesn’t sound like you’ve told her that you can’t, which is the solution to this. The obvious solution, too, if I can point that out — so it’s worth asking yourself if there are other areas of work life where you sometimes feel taken advantage of or resentful but haven’t actually spoken up to assert boundaries. (Apologies if I’m reading too much into a short letter — but you could end this so quickly by just explaining you can’t that I’m wondering it’s a larger pattern.)

In any case, it sounds like any of these: “Sorry, I’m going home for lunch.” Or, “Sorry, I’m not going to be anywhere with cans of soda for sale.” Or, “Sorry, I won’t have time today.”

4. Does this email mean that this company doesn’t want me to work there — ever?

I recently applied for a position with a start-up company and received the following rejection email. This isn’t the first time I’ve applied to this company (I really like the product and love the company and would one day love to work there). However, I think the email I received is basically saying that they don’t want me to work there … ever. Am I right or should I continue to apply for positions I’m a great fit for?

It said: “Thank you so much for applying for the role. It’s such a pleasure to hear from you again. We take it as huge compliment that you’d be willing to align your path with [the company]. :) There’s nothing greater for a company. We’ve made the tough decision not to bring you on board, but please do keep in touch in the future. Any one who would volunteer to make [the company] users happy is a great friend of [the company]. :) We’d love to hear what you’re up to down the road!”

Yeah, it’s a bit ambiguous, but it does sound like they’re basically saying “we evaluated you and it’s not the right fit; we feel warmly toward you but it’s unlikely to ever result in employment.” That might feel insulting, but employers — especially smaller employers — can reasonably reach that conclusion about smart, talented people who just aren’t aligned with what the company needs in one way or another. And it’s a tricky message to deliver, which could explain why it’s somewhat ambiguous.

That said, it’s not entirely clear that that’s what they meant — it could just be an confusingly written rejection for this one position — and it’s not like you have anything to lose by reaching out in the future if they have an opening. But I’d be prepared for the possibility that this company and you just aren’t the right fit.

5. Should I tell my mentor about my upcoming career change?

I recently landed a job in a field related to my master’s degree. While this is my first job in my industry, it is not my first job, as I’ve worked in related fields, struggled, and then went to graduate school to learn new skills and network in this new industry. Because of this, I am still pretty close with my graduate school network, including trusted professors, especially some who were my bosses or mentors at one point or another.

While I was in my master’s work, I participated in a six-month student research program funded by my current employer. Completion of the research program turned into the entry-level job I have now. The students in the program were mentored by the same professor, who was very integral in our job hunt before and after graduation, as she had a network of former students and colleagues that she could refer us to. This same professor also taught some of my master’s courses, and I consider her a great mentor, and probably my strongest reference in my grad school community.

After about a year into my new job, I have realized I’d like to work in a related area in my industry, a career that would really use the skills I learned in my master’s program. However, I am uncertain as to whether or not I should inform my professor of this career move before I land at a new job. Since she is also mentoring the same research program that my employer funds (and the program funnels graduate students into entry-level jobs at my company), I am worried I risk the likelihood of future students being placed at my company. I also worry that she may feel burned for helping me in the past for my job search. However, if I do not tell her, I feel like she may wonder if something is amiss in my company (and would want to know for the future of the research program), and I may miss out on networking opportunities if she knows that I am looking. If you have any insights into how to frame an email message to her (if you think one would be appropriate), I’d really appreciate it.

Tell her! If she’s at all reasonable, she understands that people sometimes switch their professional focus, and she’ll appreciate hearing an update from you, along with your thanks for the help she’s given and the role she’s played in your career thus far. It’s unlikely that she’ll stop placing students with your employer in the future, or even that she’d stop being a reference for you. Career changes aren’t personal, and any good mentor knows that.

However, is the relationship one where it would make sense to call her rather than emailing her? Giving her a call would allow you to have a warmer conversation with real back and forth.

{ 280 comments… read them below }

  1. T.Nichols*

    Thanks AAM for answering my question (number 4). I’ve wanted to respond to the email in some way, but don’t know what to say. I’ve wanted to respond by suggesting contract work to prove my worth (kind of like what Automattic does for new hires) but based on the response don’t know if it is wise to do so. They also have another opening that I’d be great for, but I’ve been holding off on applying.

    I still love the company and still use the product. And even including this email, haven’t had any negative experiences with them, but I think I may as well cut my losses and focus my attention on some other company.

    1. Audiophile*

      I’ve had similar interactions with companies. In fact recently, I got a rejection from a job and the respondent said my experience was ‘interesting’. I’ve never gotten that before and it made me feel like, I shouldn’t apply to anything else for a while, it ever again.
      I think it’s time to start focusing your attention elsewhere. I know it’s, there’s a company I would absolutely love to work for, but it just hasn’t happened yet. As much as I want to focus all my attention on getting in there, I know I have to apply other places.

    2. Chriama*

      I’m wondering if there would be any value in trying to reach out to someone directly and get feedback. Definitely don’t sneakily turn it into an interview, they’ve noticed you’ve applied multiple times and have even commented on it, and you say you’re really passionate about the company. Would it be unreasonable to just ask what you’re lacking as a candidate? I understand why a company might be hesitant to give feedback to rejected job candidates, but do you lose anything by trying?

      Alison, what’s the etiquette on this one?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Totally reasonable to do. They might reply with something vague and unhelpful, but there’s nothing to lose and potentially something to gain.

        That said, I’ve rejected candidates before hoping that they’ll understand that it’s a blanket rejection that goes beyond this one particular position. For instance, in hiring for a small firm where fit is very important and there’s a really high/competitive bar … if I’ve had someone apply a couple of times and I know we’ll never hire them, I’ll try to nicely convey that it’s just not the right fit in general. But of course, there’s no nice way to say “forever,” so whether they pick up on that or not is an unknown. (And I wouldn’t hold it against them if they didn’t pick up on it; I would assume that was my fault, not theirs. So there’s still nothing to lose by trying again in this situation.)

        1. KarenT*

          True, but even in that case I’d argue it’s not forever, because you could win the lottery and quit your job the next day. Your replacement could find that person great.

        2. CommenterTK*

          When should a person assume they’re being “forever” rejected if they never receive any correspondences from the company they apply to? Over the last year and a half I’ve applied to 4 jobs with a company I adore, all that I had a lot of experience in and had produced some really good results for an equally-sized company. The positions I was applying to were for the same role just in different departments, all of which I had a good deal of experience in. The last time I completely revamped and refocused my resume and was really proud of it and thought I highlighted some really important successes I’ve had doing similar work for my current company. However, I’ve never heard anything back from anyone at any point in time. At first I just assumed because of their size I may not even have even had my resume read/as paid attention to, but now I’m getting worried that they just don’t want me and I’m making it worse by still applying.

    3. CAA*

      Please don’t respond to this email and suggest contracting for them to prove you can do the job. It comes across as desperate. If they do contract-to-hire and they thought you’d be a good candidate, then they would have already suggested it. Also, don’t apply for the other opening for which you’d be a “great fit”. If they thought that, they would have already sent your resume to that hiring manager.

      I really don’t like to read into emails, because mostly people don’t talk in secret codes, but I’m going to do it here. This particular response sounds like something I might say if you were coming across as a huge “fan-girl” and emphasizing how much you love my product and would enjoy working here (which is all about you) instead of focusing on your skills and how they apply to the position and would help the company. “Cool” tech companies get a lot of applications like this, and it does get frustrating if the first 10 resumes for every new position come in from people you’ve already rejected multiple times. I would only send this type of email to someone who’d applied three or more times in a fairly short period though.

      When this company talks about “the future” and “down the road”, I think you can take that to mean “a year from now or longer”. I wouldn’t apply again until at least next January, and if you do, please have someone else (preferably someone who hires people) read your cover letter and resume first.

      Even your last sentence above where you say “focus my attention on some other company” sounds pretty intense. Finding a job is not about falling in love with one company and focusing on them.

  2. Leslie Yep*

    OP #2, even though it feels kind of weird for you, those senior staff members are probably pretty used to having people they don’t work with directly or know very well call them by name. It’s just a function of being visible in your organization. Don’t worry–they won’t think you’re weird or presumptuous! :)

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I think learning people’s names is really important, especially in the workplace. Knowledge is power. It is amazing how much a workplace perspective can change when you know people’s names.

      Even in my volunteer work I find that people know my name. I don’t know theirs. yikes. So I make it a point to find out. For some reason, I no longer care about the embarrassment of forgetting and many times I can ask the person directly. “I remember your face so well, but I cannot remember your name.”

      In the case of upper management people, I say it comes with the turf. People are going to know who they are. Don’t use their name like it is punctuation, but it’s fine to say their name once or twice in a conversation. That will inspire them to find out your name- either by asking directly or discreetly asking a third party.

      Just watch out for over use. Someone says my name five times inside of a two minute conversation, I tend to feel like they are talking down to me. My own family does not use my name five times in two minutes. ick.

      1. R*

        Definitely agree with this! It’s nice when someone recalls my name and uses it once or twice in a conversation, but more than that is really creepy. I recently had a job interview where the interviewer used my name in pretty much every question. “So tell me, R…” “What do you think, R…” I get shivers just thinking about it!

        1. Jamie*

          Oh, yes. I don’t personally care or notice if people use my name or not if it’s natural, but I always notice when someone is doing it deliberately.

          It happens a lot in sales, but not exclusive to them. The tells are either over use, as R demonstrated above or what I call the “insert name pause.”

          “Yes, (pause) Jamie, that’s an excellent point.”

          I can almost hear them saying to themselves, “must use her name to develop rapport and establish a pseudo friendship.”

          Hate it. Hate it so much. Worked with someone who would mentor people and tell all of them to use names – you could always tell who had just come from a meeting with this guy – there were more names being spewed about than a baby name book spit out of a shredder.

          1. Gjest*

            My biggest peeve about name use is when the grocery store clerk reads my name off of the receipt (because I’ve had to sign up for their card to get the sale price) and mechanically thanks me for shopping at Safeway, while mispronouncing my name. Ugh. I think Safeway makes them do this because it they think it makes customers feel like they are shopping at their “hometown” store, but it is really just lame. I end up feeling bad for the clerks having to do it, though.

            Whew, that felt good to get that out…

            1. Jamie*

              Yes! I always feel bad for those clerks, too, because I know they look at my last name and think “oh f*ck” before they unintentionally mangle it.

              Just a simple “have a nice day” would be plenty.

              1. smallbutmighty*

                Yes, me too!

                I wish upper management for retail chains would realize how ineffective it is to take a practice that emerged organically in one location and make it a mandate across the chain. This happened all the time when I worked retail. “The store in suburban Minnesota had great success learning and using its consumers’ names, so we’re going to require that every store, including the one in the JFK airport, does the same.” “The location in the Mall of America had a high success rate in signing up consumers up for the store credit card, so we’re going to require that every store, including the one in suburban Minnesota, does the same.” Arrrrgh. Encourage your employees to bring energy and authenticity to their job, and recognize that energy and authenticity look different in different locations with different employees. And that’s fine.

                1. Saturn9*

                  But corporations want an identical experience in every location so customers don’t feel discomfort caused by being confronted by something unfamiliar in “their” store. Conformity is the new novelty. Or something.

                2. Lindsay J*

                  Ugh, Sears drove me nuts with this.

                  “We have to get people to sign up for Sear’s credit cards. Statistics show that Sears Credit Card holders spend 70% more at our company than non-cardholders.”

                  I just wanted to shout at them that correlation does not equal causation, and that what was most likely happening was that people who already spent a lot of money at Sears were also the people who were more likely to see the value in having a Sears credit card.

                  I mean, tell me that you want credit apps because it saves us money on credit card processing, or whatever the truth is. It’s part of my job, and I’ll do it even if I don’t like it. But let’s not pretend this is about building more loyal customers because it’s not.

              2. Gjest*

                I agree, just tell me to have a nice day and be done with it.

                Funnily enough, I live in Norway now, where it is not normal at all to talk to strangers. You are lucky if the grocery store clerk says “Hei” and “Ha det” (goodbye). I love it. Some of the other American expats here are always complaining how unfriendly the Norwegians are, but I just see it as being real, instead of the fake niceties.

                1. TL*

                  I don’t think niceties have to be fake, though. Manners are generally just a way to make sure your interactions are more uniformly pleasant, and while they can be used in a fake or way, I think they can also be used meaningfully, even if it is just a 5-second interaction at the grocery story check-out. Something doesn’t have to be huge to be significant – people have genuinely made my day by being nice and polite in mundane ways, especially if I’m having an awful day.

                2. Jen in RO*

                  I think I would love the fake niceties. I hate it when clerks act like you’re inconveniencing them!

                3. Gjest*

                  Reply to TL and Jen in RO (can’t reply to you directly anymore…)

                  Yes, I don’t like when they act bothered that you are there, and I agree that the niceties don’t have to be fake. A simple “Thanks, have a nice day!” is great with me. I just get annoyed when it’s a forced and/or mumbled “Thank you for shopping at X and I hope you have a pleasant day” when they obviously give 2 s*#ts about me shopping there and 3 s*#ts about whether I have a pleasant day.

              3. Cath@VWXYNot?*

                A couple of years ago, one of the big grocery chains around here made their cashiers start not only reading people’s name off their card, but asking every single customer how they pronounce their last name. I don’t know who came up with this idea or what it was supposed to accomplish, but the cashiers looked mortified and it was just really bizarre overall – friends whose names include Lee, Snow, Lamb, and Jones were being asked.

                Best part: the first time I was asked, I gave the pronunciation and got a really weird look back in return. As I was walking away and putting my store loyalty card back into my wallet, I realised that it was still under my birth name, even though I’d been married for 4 or 5 years by this point.

                It’s pretty weird to ask how to prounounce “Dunn”. It is, however, even weirder to answer “Ennis”.

                1. Jamie*

                  Wow. I would not take it out on the poor cashier, but I would be tempted to get a hold of whomever made this policy and stay on the phone with them until they pronounced my last name correctly.

                  My hyphenated, ridiculously long and ethnic last name. With the correct Polish pronunciation.

                  I’ll block out all day while he tries…until he gives up and rescinds this policy.

                  My revenge fantasies are getting more and more mild the older I get.

                2. CAA*

                  Safeway / Vons has been doing that for years. It does not make me feel like a valued customer when after 20 years of shopping there and correcting the same cashiers innumerable times they still cannot pronounce my last name correctly. I’d never shop there if they weren’t within walking distance of my home. As it is, I figure that a little bit of annoyance is worth saving the environment and getting some exercise; but I do feel perverse pleasure in stopping at Albertson’s instead when I need something on the way home from work.

              4. KJR*

                My last name is hard to pronounce, so I get a “Have a nice day Mrs…ummm…how do you say this?”

            2. Loose Seal*

              I am way late to this but if you want to get the savings and don’t want them to actually track you, tell them you forgot your card and ask if you can input your phone number. Then put in your area code followed by 867-5309. Chances are, that number is in the system already and if they call you by name, it’ll be Jenny’s name.

          2. Hous*

            I once had a customer do the very deliberate pause before reading my nametag, but he read it wrong, and called me by the masculine version of my name. I’m not super feminine, but given the nametag was right over my breasts and his very noticeable pause to read it, my coworker and I had a lot of trouble not cracking up in his face. It’s been several years since it happened and we’re both at different jobs, but it still cracks us up to this day.

            (The names are similar, but not THAT similar–think Francine and Frank. We theorized he just saw the first few letters and guessed from there.)

            1. Chris80*

              I used to work in retail, and even if a customer got my name right, I always hated having customers call me by my name! It happened infrequently, fortunately. I would always do a double take wondering if I know the person, only to realize they were just reading my name tag. I wonder if there is some kind of logic to this somewhere…if you address a cashier by name, are you supposed to get better service or something??

              1. Saturn9*

                The logic is that if you use a person’s name in any service industry they are supposed to be alerted to the fact that you know who they are and can report them to a manager or otherwise hold them personally accountable if they somehow fail to meet your expectations.

                It’s a strategy that’s most commonly used against phone reps, especially when the customer is asking for anything to be done “as a courtesy” (read: I don’t deserve it by any logic but I asked and I will pitch a fit if you don’t do it). #fml

              2. Lindsay J*

                Yes, I hated this so much. I don’t mind being called by my name (and in my current job I introduce myself to my guests and make an effort to use their names since I’m with each group for an average of about 45 minutes and “You there” gets frustrating and old when you’re trying to direct somebody). However, that momentary panic where I wracked my brain trying to remember where I know this person from before realizing they were reading my name off of a nametag was annoying each time.

                Moving also helped. Now that I’m 1500 miles away from my hometown I don’t have to worry about remembering my preschool baby-sitter or my 3rd grade best friend’s mom or anything like that, just the people I’ve met in the past year or so.

        2. Vicki*

          Same here. I was going to say, please keep in mind that some of us think names don’t belong in simple conversation.

          Good morning! (just fine)
          Hi Vicki (once)
          Oops, sorry Vicki. (at the tea station) (odd)
          Every time you see me? (I will begin to avoid you.)

      2. Kelly L.*

        I’ve definitely seen it used as talking down. When I worked in a pharmacy, for example, there was a belligerent customer once who was utterly slimy and condescending about it–he was talking to one of our pharmacists, whose full name was on her name tag, and every sentence was like “So what are you going to do about this problem, Amaaaaaaaanda,” with this unctuous tone of voice and an overly long look at her chest. I seriously doubt he forgot her name every sentence and had to recheck the tag–it was an excuse to leer.

      3. LPBB*

        I was coming here to post the same thing, in regards to overusing people’s names. People often do this to customer service workers. 9 times out of 10, I think they are doing it as a friendly gesture and trying to communicate that they see you as a person and not a robot; but (to me) it came off as condescending or as a cheesy trick (a la Dale Carnegie) to get me to like you so I will give you “better” service. Plus there was always that 1 out of 10 who was doing it as a power play/condescension.

  3. KarenT*


    I wouldn’t throw in the towel. Could just be one hiring manager’s opinion.
    The job I have now, when I first applied, the group was run by Bob. When I applied he told me he didn’t think I had enough experience in teapot production. When Jane took over the group she immediately hired me because she thought the role was better suited for someone with teapot design experience, so here I am!

    Also we hire admins that support more than one person, so while there is one hiring manager the other people supported get to weigh in, sometimes heavily. People often disagree and it can get quite heated.

    This was a long way of saying that one hiring manager’s no is another’s yes.

    1. some1*

      Good point, but IME the above scenario (apply/interview for a certain position, get rejected but eventually get hired for another position at the org) usually happens by the Org reaching out to the candidate, not the candidate re-applying until something sticks.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Oh, I don’t know. I got rejected for the first position I applied and interviewed for at Newjob. The second was much more suited to my talents and goals, and I was hired. It might be worth a try, depending on the size of the org. I think in the OP’s case I would move on–I wouldn’t try again so soon.

  4. Artemesia*

    The professor mentor — don’t give it a thought. Seriously. I would be extremely surprised if the professor cares at all. Professors are happy to see people successful; they expect people to develop their careers in their own way. You don’t want to be unprofessional e.g. leaving without notice or immediately after employment or by doing something that would reflect badly on your school program and mentor — but changing career directions is not one of those things.

    It is a courtesy to let the mentor know, but it should be with an attitude or happiness about being able to build your career in a new direction and perhaps gratitude for the good start in (general field) you had in the program. S/he will not give it a thought unless you plant the idea by being apologetic for something that needs no apology.

    1. AdjunctForNow*

      I could barely even make sense of this post…the OP is worried that the professor will be so mad, she’ll stop working with the OP’s company?

      1. Daisy*

        And this isn’t even (if I’m reading it correctly) the placement the mentor placed her in- it’s a subsequent job at the same place that she’s already done for a year! I can’t really follow the OP’s thinking at all.

        1. Jen S. 2.0*

          Agree. It’d be one thing if OP was storming out after 3 weeks, but we’re talking well over a year; that’s a perfectly respectable length of time to stay in a job. You aren’t expected to stay in the same job for the rest of your life; you’re **supposed** to advance and refine your career goals.

      2. AVP*

        No, I get it – she’s worried that if she leaves. she’s reflecting that something bad about the company that will make the professor not want to work with them anymore.

        I’m not saying it’s reasonable or that she has anything to be worried about, but I can see how you could mentally go there. Especially considering how many terrible employment situations we hear about on AAM and half the time, people are hoping that by quitting they’ll be “making a statement” that no one else ends up picking up on.

    2. AA*

      Yeah, they don’t care as much as we think they do.
      When I was 10 yrs out of college, I applied to grad school at my alma mater (different program). I had several phone conversations with someone I’d consider a mentor there. He wrote me a LOR and helped me with my essay. I got accepted, was awarded generous support, and then decided not to go due to a family situation. I felt like he was probably counting on working with me and would be annoyed, but he didn’t care at all. Totally understanding. Guess I’m not as special as I thought I was!

  5. Puffle*

    LW3, I would just flat-out say, “I’m sorry, [coworker], but since we only have an hour for lunch I just don’t have the time to stop off and pick things up for you.”

    If she persists, say, “Sorry, but I don’t have the time. Since I go home for lunch, I have to go out of my way to pick up your drinks, and it eats up [10 minutes, or however long] of my break time”.

    Maybe this is just me, but I’d be blunt about it and explicitly lay out that it’s out of your way, and how long it takes to get even just one item. Some people just honestly don’t think this stuff through, or they don’t realise that what they think of as a “little” two-minute favour isn’t actually that little

    1. Colette*

      I wouldn’t – when you make excuses, it gives people things to argue with. (“But it will only take you 5 minutes!”) I’d just say, “Sorry, I won’t be able to stop to pick that up.”

    2. The IT Manager*

      “Hey, could you pick me up a soda while you’re at lunch, thanks,”

      You didn’t write this grammatically correct. There is question in there and there should be question mark. Meaning … you can say “no.” From your letter it doesn’t actually sound like you tried to refuse her at all. She asks, you say “yes” every time albeit resentfully, but you keep agreeing. Additionally if you are eating lunch out, you can tell co-worker you can purchase a drink for her wherever you happen to eat, but it will not be the $1.00 32 ounce soda.

      1. Anonymous*

        actually, the way some people speak, you might not realise that it is a question at all but more a statement like that is what they expect you to do hence why the OP wrote it the way they did.

      2. fposte*

        That’s the thing that I think is an important difference–she isn’t just assuming the OP will bring her a drink without asking.

      3. Lindsay J*

        This may be the way she’s saying it, though. Some people will say “Could you please do X for me,” with a flat intonation and with the understanding that it is a command, not a request. (I’ve had a lot of bosses who would say “Could you please go clean the fitting room for me,” and while it was phrased as a statement, their intonation and position meant that it was a command, and that I would be looking at a write-up for insubordination if I said “No, I can’t”.

        The coworker is likely using this same tone, which is a lot different than, “Hey, while you’re out could you please grab me a soda?” with rising intonation.

        The OP can still say no, just like she could still say no if it was outright command like “Grab me a soda while you’re out there”. I also definitely agree that saying “No,” or “Actually, I won’t be going by the Valero. I can pick you up a soda from the Sunshine Cafe where I’m eating but the drink will be $1.50 instead,” is the right solution, rather than harboring all this resentment over it.

        1. D*

          Exactly, Lindsay! Thank you!

          One day,when I told her I had plans, she even said “Oh well I’m sure you’ll drive by a gas station”, to which I replied, “We may, but that will be it – just driving by, not stopping”. Nothing is a question or even a polite request, it’s a statement. She didn’t say politely, “Well if you happen by a gas station on your way back, I would appreciate it” or anything like that. Just that I would probably drive by one, and the fact that I had lunch plans with someone was null and void.

    3. Mephyle*

      I would suggest cutting the explanations (going home, limited time, etc.) and sticking to the bare facts; “Sorry, I’m not going to be near any place that sells drinks.” Any elaboration sounds like overjustification.

  6. Grace*

    For person getting, simply “That won’t work for me.” No need to apologize. You didn’t adopt her or become her indentured servant for life.

  7. Telecommuter*

    #3, what have you done to try to get your co-worker to stop with the soda fetching requests? Please correct me if I’m reading it wrong, but from the details provided it sounds as though you are very resentful of your co-worker’s behavior (understandably, as it’s a ridiculous expectation) but rather than fixing it, you stew in thoughts of how the co-worker shouldn’t act this way in the first place. The pattern has been established and if you haven’t been pushing back, it probably doesn’t even occur to your co-worker that this is a problem with you. I say this because I used to be this way — I was too intimidated to assert myself, but let the resentment build inside me anyway. Not healthy! Please say something short and assertive and that will be the end of that, I’d bet.

    1. Colette*

      Well, based on personal experience, the coworker might be offended, but that’s on her, not the OP.

      My mom’s uncle used to say “If I say something, they’ll be upset. If I don’t, I’ll be upset. I’d rather it was them.”

      1. some1*

        “Well, based on personal experience, the coworker might be offended, but that’s on her, not the OP.”

        Yeah, but I can sort of see where the LW is coming from, because you don’t want to offend a co-worker if you don’t have to, especially if you need things from them as part of your job.

        It’s easy to read the letter and be taken aback that the LW has been letting this go on for so long, but I am glad that s/he’s getting validation that, indeed, her co-worker is being rude, and also a constructive way to handle it.

        1. Colette*

          Well, that’s true, but the OP is already offended by the coworker’s presuming she’ll run an errand for her multiple times a week.

          A reasonable person would not be offended by setting a boundary, but a reasonable person wouldn’t assume a coworker likes going out of her way to do things for her, so it’s entirely possible that she’ll be offended. That doesn’t mean the OP should try to offend her – in fact, she should try not to – but it’s likely to happen anyway, and the OP is not obligated to spend her time and money on a non-work task to avoid offending her coworker.

        2. LCL*

          This issue seems to fit right in to the topic of a couple weeks ago on ask vs guess culture. Coworker is asking, because there is nothing wrong with asking in her worldview, OP could always say no. OP can’t easily grant her request, but won’t come out and say no because coworker should be able to figure out ie guess that her request is an inconvenience.

    2. D*

      I’ve been telling her no repeatedly; now I just want her to quit pestering me about it! The fact that she keeps asking suggests to me that she sees nothing wrong with this inconsiderate and rude behavior, despite being told no. It’s like she is a child that needs an explanation on what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t, and I just don’t feel like it is my place to do that!

  8. De*

    #3: What’s stopping your coworker from buying the soda in bulk herself? I don’t see a reason for *anyone* to buy a can of this every day when she can just, for example, buy five cans every Saturday and bring one in with her every day. Maybe you could suggest that as an alternative.

    (Not suggesting, by the way, that you do this. She sounds perfectly capable of thinking of a way to get the soda herself)

    1. Brooke*

      Coworker wants fountain pop, not a can which is why she can’t stockpile. I can relate to that because I also have a specific type of fountain pop I love. But I also get it myself everyday.

    2. The IT Manager*

      Ha! I had a friend who thought that diet coke from the fountain was the most refreshing drink every. It had to be from a fountain and not canned or bottled – meaning lots of stops at drive through windows.

      I kind of annoyed me because it was stated not as”I like this best”, but as the fact that diet coke from a fountain was superior to all other drinks for everyone.

      1. Poe*

        Um, fountain Diet Coke IS superior to all other drinks. For the sake of my finances and sanity, though, I compromise on the bottled or canned kind.

        1. Jen in RO*

          Fountain soda = soda that comes from one of those dispensers that pour soda directly into a cup? In that case, I’m confused – isn’t fountain soda much cheaper than bottled/canned? I was also under the impression that it wasn’t *actual* soda, but some sort of powder mixed with bubbly water.

          1. VintageLydia*

            It’s syrup mixed with carbonated water and tends to be more bubbly since it hasn’t been sitting. Personally I prefer cans (the carbonation is less likely to leak like it does with plastic and the bubbles are smaller) but some people really like the fountain stuff. Cans and bottles tend to be cheaper since you can buy in bulk, though. Fountain drinks are marked up REALLY high and obviously you can’t buy it in bulk for better pricing.

            1. Kelly L.*

              Yup. It is quite cheap to the seller, but tends to be marked up all to hell by restaurants, gas stations, etc. It’s a huge source of profit.

        2. ThursdaysGeek*

          Wow, I can’t even tell the difference between Pepsi and Coke, let alone discern the source! Part of that might be that I don’t like cola (or diet). Ok, I can’t even tell the difference between Mug, AW, Dad’s, Barq’s, or store brand, from a can, bottle, or store dispenser — and I do like root beer.

          1. Jamie*

            I cannot tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi either, but I can tell fountain pop at a sip…because it’s a beverage from hell itself.

            Fountain pop is just gross – I’m not a big pop drinker but when I do it’s a bottle or can otherwise I’d just as soon dehydrate.

            No, I do not have a strong opinion on this topic, why do you ask? :)

            1. Graphic Designer*

              Right? I love me some diet coke/pepsi/dr. pepper, but I’ll just as soon go without if it’s in fountain form.

          2. fposte*

            Root beer is about the only soda I drink with any frequency (and that’s like once a month in the summer). A colleague discovered this a few years ago and we had a blind root-beer taste-testing at work–so much fun! (I discovered I like Fitz’s.)

      2. TL*

        Ha, I also prefer Coke from the fountain (it’s the ice, I love the ice.)

        One time, when my mother was driving me home from surgery, she stopped somewhere that only had Pepsi in the fountain and I somehow talked her into buying me a bottle of Coke and a cup of ice so I could have a psuedo-fountain Coke. :)

          1. VintageLydia*

            I prefer Throwback Pepsi for the same reason.

            Mexican coke will be made with HFCS soon IIRC, but Passover Coke, obviously, cannot be. Unfortunately they only sell it during Passover.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              It already is. :( I noticed it the last time I got it at my Latino market. I consoled myself by thinking I shouldn’t be drinking that stuff anyway.

              Of course, that hasn’t stopped me from getting that Sidral Mundet apple drink that I love so much. :P

              1. TL*

                What!? I just bought some a few weeks ago and it was still made with real sugar.

                That makes me sad; I’m not really supposed to eat HFCS. (I mean, I do anyway, but still.)

          2. Ann O'Nemity*

            I totally agree with this. Though I always feel a little weird expressing my preference for “Mexican Coke.”

        1. teclatwig*

          I do this, with the bottled stuf over ice. It isn’t quite as satisfying, but it’s still way better than soda without ice. (NB: I did adjust this expectation while living in Europe.). I expect it’s because the colder it is, the less sweet it seems.

          Fountain soda is made from syrup + carbonated water, which are mixed at the moment of delivery instead of at the factory. I think this means the carbonation is at its most intense right out of the fountain.

        2. Mints*

          Oh, have you tried fountain water from Starbucks? For whatever reason, getting it with ice and a straw makes water DELICIOUS

        1. hilde*

          Dawn – how did you do it? I struggle mightily with the fountain pop addiction (OP3 said, “apparently she can’t make it through the day without a 32 oz” –guilty as charged). I want to kick the habit because it takes too much time to run around to pick it up (since, you know, it has to come from the place that gives 75 cent refills; I”m not paying $1.50 for it), but even that amount of money a day eats into the budget (or rather, I’m running out of ways to hide it from my husband) and I’d like to just sort of stop being dependent on all these chemically laden drinks. I drink a ton of water to begin with so that’s never been a good solution for me (to replace with water) – I do fountain pop for the flavor and the habit. I’ve tried drinking tea (which I generally don’t mind; I’m just too lazy and disorganized to make tea at home and bring it in). And anyway – getting a fountain pop is more about the overall experience for me. It’s a bad habit. Always on the lookout for the thought process others have gone through that have kicked the habit.

          1. I'll Play!*

            I feel your pain. I’m not a fountain soda groupie, but I used to avoid buying single serving beverages by never carrying cash for the vending machines. Now they all take credit cards and I have to use actual willpower and it SUCKS. LOL.

          2. The Other Dawn*

            For me it was a necessity. I recently had weight loss surgery (gastric bypass) and I can no longer drink soda. The gas in it could expand my new stomach, which means it will bet bigger and accommodate more food, which defeats the purpose of the surgery. I could have it if it’s totally flat, but who wants flat soda??

            I was a diet soda drinker. The regular was too sweet for me. And you’re right about it being more about the experience. I never drank soda just to drink it. I only drank it when I ate something, which was a lot, hence the weight loss surgery. What is it about the experience you love? Maybe you can create a habit with a new drink, preferably one that isn’t loaded with sugar. If it’s the bubbles you like, maybe those clear sparking flavored waters. They’re like soda, but they don’t have sugar and I don’t think they have any calories. It’s hard, but it’s doable.

            1. Jamie*

              If it’s the bubbles you like, maybe those clear sparking flavored waters.

              Just have to share – if anyone finds themselves in a store that stocks stuff from Poland – Naleczowianka is the most amazing sparkling water ever.

              My favorite is grapefruit, but lemon and strawberry are also amazing. I have no idea why they are so much better than other sparkling waters (I tried google translating the label once and still couldn’t figure it out.) We go to this Polish deli every week or so just to stock up on this water.

              And my husband has a serious monkey on his back for their homemade pierogis – the little old lady in the back looks adorable but she has a vested interest in his remaining hooked. Just like a dealer he came in one time at Christmas to get the Polish butter in the shape of a cow (don’t ask) and some oplatek wafers and she oh so innocently offers him a sample. You know, the first time is free. Been back every week ever since.

              But that water is amazing. I usually hate flavored water because it’s too bitter, the artificial sweetener has an aftertaste but this has none of that. It’s just happiness in a bottle.

              1. fposte*

                Does it take the magic out of it if I tell you that it’s apparently owned by Nestle and available on Amazon?

                Nestle says “Nałęczowianka is a natural mineral water originating from a pure source in Nałęczów with a unique composition of 7 minerals.” So I guess that’s why it’s better.

                1. Jamie*

                  I did know that about the parent company, but had forgotten. And I love that you think I’m anywhere near organized enough to order ahead for my beverage needs – I need something local to whine about so my husband will throw on his shoes and bring it to me right now.

                  I’m very much like Rapunzel’s mother and the lettuce.

                  But yeah, it must be those 7 minerals that make it better…I could taste their unique composition.

                2. Lindsay J*

                  @ Jamie – if you figure out how much you generally go through you can set up an Amazon subscribe & save for it, and it will magically come to your house every month/2 months/whatever as needed.

                  I used to do this with energy drinks. I would get a 30 pack of monster auto-delivered each month.

          3. fposte*

            It sounds like you’re talking about iced tea–have you tried hot? If you get fancy tea and one of the great Ingenuitea-type brewers that really makes a great cup, that’s got a lot of overall experience value–it’s a luxury item in a low-priced category so it feels like a treat at a fairly low price point, it’s got variety, it needs some fiddling so it’s more than slapping a bag in a mug (which I do too, so no judgment) but not a ton.

          4. NatalieR*

            I finally kicked my LOVE (1-2 per day) of Coke Zero with fizzy water (I like a slice of orange in it best). After a couple of months, I have grown to prefer plain seltzer water to diet sodas, which now really taste fake and too sweet.

            1. KJR*

              I have also switched over to plain seltzer water…I also like LaCroix…unsweetened but with a bit of flavor! Perrier for special occasions when others are having an alcoholic drink.

            2. Jade*

              Same! I was addicted to coke zero – at least two litres a day. I started drinking sparkling mineral water, with a slice of lemon or lime sometimes – and slowly moved to normal water. Now soft drink tastes revolting, one glass once a month or so is more than enough!

          5. TL*

            I kicked it when I went on an elimination diet – so my whole diet changed – but then I went back to it once I realized it was about the only sweet thing I could consume. (Kinda. Not really supposed to have HFCS, but I can manage it in smaller amounts.)

            Try changing up your diet really radically for a week or so and eating in a different place or walking somewhere else when you want a coke. Might help.

          6. Lindsay J*

            Maybe try replacing the soda with Mio drops or Crystal Lite packets in water?

            It will still give you the flavor experience of soda, and you don’t have to make it ahead of time like you do tea.

            I’m about ready to try dropping soda. I’ve just adjusted my diet and started exercising, and now have to tackle my soda and energy drink problem. I drink probably 2-3 32 oz sodas a day while I’m at work (at a cost of $1 each) and 1-2 energy drinks. Switching to unsweetened iced tea that I make at home and the flavor packets I mention above is going to be my crutch step between soda and pure water.

            I don’t know how I’m going to cope with the caffeine withdrawal, though.

        2. TL*

          Except now, a lot of places are moving to that single stream soda machine grossness, so your coke comes out tasting like whatever the last 30 people got. Disgusting.

          I always get water whenever I see those. Great way to cut back on the coke consumption.

  9. Neeta*

    Alison, I think the ambiguous rejection letter, should be numbered #4. :)

    I really don’t see it as “it’s unlikely you will ever work here”. Granted, I can be somewhat “obtuse” with these matters, but unless I’m reading the e-mail in a highly sarcastic tone, I don’t see why that would be the case. Or is it perhaps the fact that they recognized you (i.e. It’s such a pleasure to hear from you again) ?

    1. Jen in RO*

      I thought OP was talking about this part: “We’d love to hear what you’re up to down the road!” – “down the road” meaning “not with this company”. But even so, I don’t think it’s obvious that you have been rejected forever, OP.

        1. Jennifer*

          Yes, exactly. If they are encouraging the OP to contact them again sometime, that does NOT sound to me like the “take the hint and go away” brushoff at all. There would be better ways to say that.

    2. The IT Manager*

      Mixed signals in that response.

      Apply again:
      but please do keep in touch in the future. /

      We will never hire you!
      Any one who would volunteer to make [the company] users happy is a great friend of [the company].

      Can’t tell:
      We’d love to hear what you’re up to down the road!

      I would probably keep applying especially if it were a larger company, but in a start perhaps everyone is involved in every hiring decision so …

      1. Neeta*

        I see… but now I do feel like we’re grasping for straws here.

        I got a rejection e-mail once, that ended with “This is not a rejection, but an on-hold e-mail” in a large bolded font. My first thought was that it was indeed a rejection, but they were trying to be nice about it.
        The fact that it was a generic e-mail beginning with “Dear Candidate” instead of “Dear Neeta” (after making me go 4 different interviews with 3 different people) didn’t help much.

      2. Diane*

        I think “volunteer” could refer to something the OP said in her interview to explain how she shared her passion for the company with others. For example, if the company produced a game, software, or electronics, the OP might help others use that product just because she likes it and uses it herself. Yeah, it’s grasping, but that’s as plausible as assuming the company will only ever see the OP as a volunteer, not a paid employee.

        1. CAA*

          I don’t think she’s ever interviewed there, just applied and been rejected via email.

          I took the “volunteer” comment to mean that she probably wrote something in her cover letter like “I love your product so much that I spend my free time posting answers in online forums about it.”

    3. Diane*

      Neeta, I agree. I did not read this as “Never apply again.” I take the note at face value and assume it means “Let us know what you’re up to.” As in, keep in touch–and if you’re experiences, skills, or interests change, let us know.

    4. Lynn Whitehat*

      I don’t think it’s even possible to state that you would NEVER hire a candidate, barring something really extreme (e.g. a blind person applying to be an airline pilot.) Almost everyone could conceivably change enough in, say, 10 years to be a viable candidate.

  10. Matt*

    #2: maybe it’s just me as a huge introvert, but I find it quite awkward and uncomfortable when someone addresses me by my name all the time. It’s OK once when greeting me in the aisle, but I have certain coworkers calling me and then all the time: “Good morning Mr. M. Mr. M, I have a question. … Really, that’s fine, Mr. M. Thank you for your help, Mr. M., Goodbye, Mr. M.”.

    I know that it’s taught to people in communication / phone coaching etc. this way, but I don’t like it at all. But maybe that’s just me as an introvert – I also don’t like it, when someone looks me in the eyes all the time while talking to me in person, and that’s exactly what is taught already even to children as being “polite” …

    1. Jen in RO*

      Oh god, that’s so annoying. I never knew it was a thing until I got a call from my bank and the guy said “Miss S” 30 times in 2 minutes. Does this stuff actually work? It pissed me off incredibly.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Me too. It reminds me of some form letters I’ve gotten–they were like “Dear Kelly, We just wanted to tell you, Kelly, about this wonderful opportunity, Kelly, that you, Kelly, might be interested in. Kelly, don’t hesitate to call us, Kelly, if you want to learn more. Kelly. P.S. Kelly.”

      2. ExceptionToTheRule*

        I completely agree. I have a difficult to pronounce last name and hearing it mangled six ways from Sunday I start to get annoyed. My first name is easy and I specifically tell people to call me that and they still butcher my last name.

        1. Kelly L.*

          And actually, I think the whole “using the person’s name” thing started with Dale Carnegie, and the actual example he gave in his book involved learning how to pronounce someone’s difficult name and saying it correctly. I think the advice has gotten mangled over the years, starting out as something like “remember people’s names and get them right” and ending up as “mail-merge their name into at least six blanks in every letter, and the equivalent for verbal conversations, and don’t bother about pronunciation.” :/

        2. ellex42*

          I am agreeing SO HARD with you right now. I, too, have a last name that is very hard to pronounce correctly just by looking at it (it’s not actually that hard to pronounce, people just don’t listen when I sound it out for them). But people mispronounce my first name all the time, as well, so I’m more than happy to tell people to call me by my nickname…my one-syllable, three-letter nickname which I happily share with a famous comic book/movie supervillain…which they also mispronounce. Or continue to insist on mangling my last name.

          I give up.

          1. the gold digger*

            I work with international customers and get so many variations of my name. I don’t mind. I actually even think it’s cute when I get an email from one of them saying, “Hello dear!”

    2. Del*

      Back when I worked in a call center, they started out that we use a caller’s name 5 times in the call; since it’s hard to predict ahead of time how long a call is necessarily going to be, it wound up with us cramming their name into the first minute or so as many times as we could, and there was a ton of pushback from customers who (rightfully) found it offputting .

      Thankfully, the requirement got changed to “use the caller’s name at least once.” Sometimes, customer complaints work!

    3. Susan*

      It really has nothing to do with being an introvert. Being an introvert is how you recharge not how you act with others.

      If you don’t like being called by your name etc that’s just a personal preference. Or something else.

    4. smallbutmighty*

      I really hate this, too. Basically I dislike any usage of my name that feels like it’s part of a strategy on the user’s part: “I’m going to work my colleague’s name into every conversation we have so that I’ll remember it,” “I’m going to say this person’s name five times in this consumer interaction because our guidelines say I should.” It feels contrived and gimmicky, exactly the opposite of the natural and friendly vibe you should WANT to establish in those circumstances. If you can’t make it sound natural when you use someone’s name, don’t use their name.

    5. The IT Manager*

      “Good morning Mr. M. Mr. M, I have a question. … Really, that’s fine, Mr. M. Thank you for your help, Mr. M., Goodbye, Mr. M.”.

      I agree that that ^^ is annoying, but having a co-worker say my name once in a “good morning”, “how are you?” conversation in the hallway is not.

      If LW is trying to shove in the use of a name in every sentence that’s would be kind of creepy, but I didn’t get than impression from her question.

    6. teclatwig*

      +eleventy. I find use of my name weird and off-putting anywhere other than in the greeting or farewell. When someone says “Well, [name], that is a good question,” or “[Name], that was a good point you made” (mid-conversation), I don’t feel a glow from being recognized. I start wondering if they are trying to use manipulation techniques on me. *shudder*

    7. Jennifer*

      Yeah, it creeps me out to have my name reiterated so damn much. I know what it is and that you’re talking to me, there is no need to keep drilling it into the nearest wall, thanks!

  11. Anne*

    Multiple smiley faces in a rejection email? I know it’s not the point, but that really bothers me.

    1. Poe*

      Thank you! This drove me insane too. I use a smiley in an email about twice a day, usually to one of my coworkers who are also geeky.

      1. Anne*

        Yeah. I occasionally use them in emails to clients, but only if I have a very close relationship with that client. To a candidate? Just wouldn’t do it. Much less in a rejection!

    2. Youthier*

      Yes! We had someone who handled initial employee communications that liberally sprinkled smiley faces in the emails and it just made my blood boil. It just looks unprofessional.

    3. AF*

      Oh my goodness yes! That was the first thing I noticed, besides the confusing wording. Totally unprofessional in a rejection letter.

    4. John*

      I got the feeling it was written in the language of their brand…likely a consumer product with a very casual/hip image.

    5. ellex42*

      A department supervisor at my last job liked to use multiple exclamation points in all emails, whether they were to other employees of the company or to clients.

      I’m not talking about “We finished your report ahead of schedule!!”

      More like “We finished your report ahead of schedule!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

      So unprofessional.

      1. Sue Donem*

        Completely dorky, but the overly excessive exclamation points made me crack up right at my work table.

        They reminded me of something Michael Scott would include in a work e-mail.

    6. Jamie*

      This. Wow – I use smiley faces for casual stuff to convey tone but never, ever, ever in a professional email.

      For professional emails you take the time to choose your words carefully as to convey your message properly.

      On the upside any company that sent me a rejection letter with smilies would make me feel I dodged a huge bullet.

    7. Elizabeth West*

      If I use them, I typically use ONE. I’ve been trying to back off on the exclamation points too.

      Our IM has cartoon smileys; we have fun with them sometimes. But that’s a far more casual way to communicate.

      1. Parfait*

        I often find myself going back through an email before sending it and removing excess exclamation points. Not every sentence has to be emphatic! Only the most important one.

    8. JMegan*

      I had the same thought – I don’t want to work for anyone who uses smiley faces in a rejection email! It just looks really unprofessional, and like they don’t take OP’s application seriously.

  12. Chocolate Teapot*

    3. As Etiquette Hell is fond of saying “No” is a complete sentence. Or “I’m afraid that won’t be possible”.

      1. Neeta*

        Well, it depends on how she phrases this. If she just says “No” then, yeah it’s possible that this will be the case. On the other hand if she says something like “Oh I’m sorry, but I can’t today” I don’t think any reasonable person would get offended.

        I used to get my coworkers stuff that would generally be found at a specific store, but some days I’d change my post-lunch walking route, and I’d just say “I’m sorry, I’m not going to [location] today” and no one got offended.

        1. Jen in RO*

          I took ““No” is a complete sentence” to mean that the OP should just say “no”, one word, and that’s pretty damn rude, especially since the two people have never talked about this before. The coworker might just be extremely clueless and, at this stage, there’s nothing to indicate she deserves rudeness.

          I do agree that OP should say that she won’t go on the soda run anymore, just… a bit nicer.

          1. Neeta*

            Yes, I thought so too.
            I meant to reference both your comment and Chocolate Teapot’s … which is why I added a reply to your comment.

        2. Stacie*

          I wouldn’t use “Sorry, I can’t today” though, since i leaves it open for her to continue to ask. I’d just say something along the lines of “Sorry, but going that far out of my way takes up too much of my lunch time.”

          1. Neeta*

            “Sorry, but going that far out of my way takes up too much of my lunch time.”

            This really is unnecessarily rude, and it would make the coworker feel bad. Plus, I get the impression that the OP has only been quietly annoyed without speaking up (guilty of this myself). Such a reply could very well make the OP look bad.

            As for my suggestion inviting the coworker to ask again, well nothing’s stopping the OP from continuing to refuse. I’m sure the coworker will eventually get the hint.

            1. Anon*

              I disagree with it being rude. Being blunt but polite gets the point across. It entirely matters how she conveys it using her tone though.

              1. Neeta*

                If the OP has already tried to decline the coworker, then yes. But if not, then I don’t think his/her first refusal should be that blunt.

              1. Heather*

                I don’t think it’s rude either. And if you say “sorry but I can’t today” then coworker will just keep asking and OP will have to keep refusing. What’s the point of that? Better to stop it all together. And I don’t really think the coworker should feel bad – they should feel embarrassed that they kept asking such a ridiculous request. And OP should not feel guilty for stopping it.

                I wouldn’t even ask a coworker to pick me something up if they were already going there let alone a different place out of their way. That’s crazy.

                1. Lindsay J*

                  I don’t necessarily think that it’s a ridiculous request, or that the coworker should be embarrassed.

                  She may not know that the OP has to go out of her way since it doesn’t sound like the OP has ever explained this.

                  My coworkers and I have no problem asking each other to pick up a soda when we are going out, or a coffee if we are going to the coffee shop. However, we would also not be offended if the other person said “Hey, actually I’m not going by the shop today,” or “I thought I would sit there and eat today so your drink will be flat by the time I get it to you,” or just plain “Sorry, I can’t do that,” either.

            2. Colette*

              Some people are oblivious to hints. The OP will likely have to say something directly (although I agree she could try refusing daily at first, if she is more comfortable with that).

            3. Lindsay J*

              I don’t feel as though this is rude at all, and I certainly don’t think it will make the OP look bad.

              Waiting for people to “get the hint” is unnecessarily passive and will cause more annoyance for her (and the coworker, who will not know to make alternative arrangements to get her soda) in the long run.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        The relationship is pretty much toast anyway. If I were OP, I would be ready to choke this gal. Ironically, by drawing her lines OP might salvage the relationship. That is when Sue stops asking for soda, OP’s desire to choke her subsides.
        OP, we can’t change other people. We can only change what we are doing. I would tell her that I suddenly realized the amount of time and gas I spend each day getting soda for her is more than I can do.
        I am willing to help in a pinch ONCE in a blue moon, but since she is feeling much better now I have some other stuff that I really need to tend to on my lunch break.
        Because you have allowed this to go on for so long you will probably need to deliver this message a couple times before she hears it. Stand firm. Don’t say no one day and the next day say “oh okay… just for today.” Keep saying no.

        Going forward: watch out for relationships where you give and give and get NOTHING in return. She should have bought you several lunches by now and given you some money for your gas tank.(Or something similar to this.) Seriously. Grateful people find unique ways of saying “hey, thanks.”

        1. Neeta*

          From personal experience, this is likely to go really bad. Just think of the following scenario:

          Coworker: Please get me the soda, from …

          OP: I suddenly realized the amount of time and gas I spend each day getting soda is more than I can do.
          I am willing to help in a pinch ONCE in a blue moon, but since she is feeling much better now I have some other stuff that I really need to tend to on my lunch break.

          Coworker: OK, geez I didn’t this was such a CHORE to you.

          … and then coworker will probably proceed to relay this to others, who will of course be sympathetic. And before you know it, the OP becomes “that bitch” who shouldn’t be asked for anything.

          1. fposte*

            I think it’s too long, and that’s one reason why. A quick, kindly delivered “I’m sorry, but I can’t do the soda runs any more” should cover it.

            If the co-worker goes for the “Why not?” move, the OP can just repeat the first statement, but I think there’s also a possibility that the co-worker has no idea that this is a problem for the OP and is assuming at she would say “Sorry, can’t” if there were any problem in doing this. She’s asking, not assuming.

          2. Heather*

            If their other coworkers think it’s unreasonable for OP not to go out of her way every day to buy the coworker a soda, then they’re just as crazy as the coworker and OP should run from the place ASAP.

            And if someone knows how to become that bitch who shouldn’t be asked for anything, can you share tips? Because that sounds amazing. ;)

            1. Jamie*

              Can’t help you with being a bitch, because we all know I’m an adoreable kitten made out of puppies at all times (tm The Millers) – but the right culture makes all the difference.

              In our office if someone is running out to lunch we typically send out an email to the office asking if anyone wants anything – it’s not that many people who participate in the lunch thing. You tell them when you’re leaving so any post-its with lunch orders and money attached you get their stuff.

              If people run out and don’t let others know we just all assume they just had a few minutes to pop out, or had another errand, or whatever. It’s not personal.

              But no one would ask you to go out of your way, and no one inserts themselves into other peoples lunches…but we all offer often enough that it comes out even.

              Although they were kind of bummed when I quit smoking since before that I used to volunteer to pick up 99% of the time.

              This whole stopping for pop stuff is ridiculous – I can’t imagine anyone even thinking to ask me to do that. And again – I’m delightful (as covered in 1st paragraph) so this is beyond nervy of the pop swilling coworker.

      3. AF*

        Well, the coworker is already taking advantage of the OP, so the relationship is somewhat strained. Not that it can’t be repaired, but the coworker is being unreasonable.

    1. Kelly L.*

      The latter could work. A flat “no” with nothing to soften it is not going to come across well in the workplace.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        Perhaps I should have qualified by saying that “I’m afraid that won’t be possible” would be how I would have responded to the request.

        1. the gold digger*

          That is the Southern way. When I would ask people to volunteer for some awful task, I would get the, “You are sooo sweet to ask me! I wish I could. But I just can’t. I am soooo sorry!”

          I would be left holding the phone, wondering in my blunt, direct, Midwestern way what had just happened.

          Now, however, I have mastered the technique and find it very useful up north.

    2. ThursdaysGeek*

      Usually I agree that fewer explanations are better than more, but this is a case where, if she’s never said no, she should explain the pushback. “You know, when you were unable to drive, I started getting the soda as a favor to you, and I was happy to do so. But now I often just go home for lunch, and getting the soda means I have to go out of my way, often in a completely different direction. I should have spoke up a long time ago. If I am going out and know that I’ll be going by one of the places you like, I’ll come by and offer to get you a soda, but that is not going to be that often. I’ll also get a soda for you today, since I’m kind of surprising you with this, but after this, I won’t be able to. I hope you understand.”

      Even rude people are often not deliberately rude, and being gentle will help them realize without offending them back.

  13. Not So NewReader*

    #3. I”read the email as “no, not right now. And no, not for a while.” I did not read it as “no, not ever.” It could be that they want you to have more experience under your belt. It could be that they are hoping that you widen your offering of skills in the future. The way I read it is that they are hoping not to alienate you by saying no and they are keeping the door open for future conversations. Sounds like they are decent human beings.

  14. Anonymous*

    I left one job off my resume – a horrible call centre that I worked at for two weeks and walked out of. Yuck.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I left one off that was a couple of months. It sucked so bad I don’t even want to acknowledge it existed. I did make note of it, in case I ever have to apply for clearance or anything of that nature. But it does not go on my resume. Ever.

  15. Rachel*

    #5- Upon completing my undergrad, I was awarded student of the year in my major. Then I promptly started to work full time in a completely different field. My professor mentor was quite surprised! However I kept in touch, emailing him regularly about what I was up to and explaining how the skills I learned in my undergrad major courses were actually very helpful and revelant to my new career. My keeping I touch, I still participate in alumni things: going and talking to freshmen, doing career days, and even have taught a few 101 classes as adjunct to help out the department. However, I still work I the different field and even went on to get a masters degree in my new field.

    Point for OP: you can still stay connected and even add value to your alma mater and professor mentor if you switch companies, career focus or even fields.

  16. Sunflower*

    4. I wouldn’t give up. Start-ups are known for having slightly quirker hiring practices and that could possibly be a form of their generic rejection emails. Could you maybe email HR back and thank them for the opportunity and ask for feedback? You might get a more direct answer that way.

  17. Katie the Fed*

    #2 – people treat you the way you allow them to. It’s odd to me that you feel this is a requirement being levied on you – it’s not. It’s a request which you are free to refuse.

    I am going to differ with Alison’s advice a little, and say you should turn down the request, but don’t offer a reason. You can be polite, but don’t give her an opportunity to argue with you or tell her why your reasons aren’t valid. Just say “No, sorry, I can’t today” and just leave.

    She doesn’t see that she’s being rude because you haven’t said no. Or she does she that she’s being rude, but she doesn’t care. Either way – the onus is on you to draw your own boundaries.

  18. the_scientist*

    If I might step in and defend OP #3 for a moment…..

    Yes. Saying “no, I can’t do that today/anymore” is the obvious solution. But grad school is it’s own special environment, where boundaries are things that rarely exist. If your advisor/supervisor asks you to jump, what they expect is that you ask “how high?”, not say “sorry, I can’t right now”. If they expect you to turn around a draft in one day, you do it, even if they email you on Saturday at midnight. If they expect you to cancel a vacation, you often do it, because they literally hold your future in their hands. Sure, most supervisors are reasonable people who expect their students to have lives outside of their research, but many are not reasonable, and many believe that if a student is not 110% “dedicated” to the research, they are not good enough.

    It can be really tough to recognize this as abnormal in a work environment, and tough to flip the switch in your head that tells you it’s okay to enforce reasonable boundaries, because your grad school conditioning tells you that you must do whatever this senior person wants you to.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      this is true. When I left my PhD program it felt a lot like leaving a cult. It had its own rules and norms

      1. Poe*

        Ack, a PhD student of my acquaintance (not one in the dept I work in) was calling her program a cult just this morning! I laughed, but then came to work and mentioned it to one of our post-docs, and he said “oh yeah, submitting and then deprogramming. It’s rough.”

    2. fposte*

      There’s no indication that this is a senior person asking, though. (And as a fellow academic I understand what you mean about the essential infantilization of students, I also think that the discomfort with setting boundaries is pretty universal.) So as an academic myself, I’m in total agreement with everything Alison said.

      1. the_scientist*

        Yes, this person is a peer, not a supervisor, but the point I was trying to make is that when you’re used to that environment, it doesn’t matter…everyone is ‘more senior’ than you, unless it’s an undergrad minion. It’s just a bit of a transition to go through that requires you to recognize yourself as a professional adult who is due equal respect.

  19. D*

    First of all, thank you for answering my question! (#3)

    I have told her “Sorry, but I have other plans and won’t have time” or “My dad is picking me up for lunch today so I won’t be running errands”. I actually told her the former yesterday, and then suggested she get a soda from one of the two machines we have. Should have included that info!

    Part of my problem is the fact that I have told her no enough that it should have stopped by now. Additionally, like when I “reminded” her of the machines yesterday, it feels ridiculous to tell her these things b/c it is obvious! Why do you need to be told, as an adult woman, that you should get a soda out of a machine ten feet from your office rather than inconvenience someone?? It’s like she needs an explanation of why this is rude, and I don’t know how to do that without being insulting! It’s not my job nor my place to teach her manners and etiquette, and I don’t want to overstep.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      don’t give her an excuse or a reason to argue.

      Just say “No, I can’t.” and leave the conversation at that. Don’t give her suggestions, don’t give her reasons. Just say no, and if she keeps asking or bringing it up, you can say something like “No, I’ve already told you I can’t. Why do you keep asking?”

      For whatever reason, she’s not willing or capable of problem-solving her way out of this, but that’s not your problem.

      1. Emma*

        I recall a really interestingly-worded response that AAM/commentariot have suggested for when people persist in acting in ways that are inappropriate. Something like “I’ve asked you to [do X/stop doing Y]. What is the reason you cannot do that?” but I can’t for the life of me remember the phrasing. Plz help?

    2. Cat*

      D, how did she react when you said you couldn’t do it? I know she asked again later, but what was her reaction to the statement that you couldn’t do it that day?

    3. fposte*

      Have a look at the Ask vs. Guess culture discussions here, on Captain Awkward, and on Metafilter, because I think you may be caught in just this situation. She’s asking if you’ll do it, and you’re saying “Yes, I’ll do it.” It’s quite likely she’s assuming that it’s fine with you since you didn’t say no.

      You’re trying to get by with hints rather than telling this person you won’t do this thing any more. She’s not rude not to guess what you really mean, and you’re starting to take it out on her that you haven’t said a clear no. “Sorry, I won’t be able to do this any more.”

      1. Chriama*

        I second the ask vs. guess culture. You seem really frustrated that she keeps asking you, because she should get the hint? That is not reasonable, and it’s not healthy for your own emotional well-being. If you want the requests to stop completely, frame your refusal like that. “Sorry, but I can’t do soda runs for you anymore.” If she pushes back you can politely repeat yourself. She can’t force you to go.
        I’m getting a really passive-aggressive vibe from this letter, where you seem to expect that because you say no sometimes she should stop asking you forever. That’s not fair to her.

        1. Whippers*

          Oh come on, most people would pick up the social cues from being refused several times.

          I don’t think it’s fair to say that because the co-worker hasn’t explicitly been told “I can’t do this ever again” that she has no way of inferring what the OP really means.

          1. fposte*

            I don’t know–I’ve said “I can’t come” to a couple of things friends have invited me to, but then I come the other times. I hope my friends don’t assume I don’t want to come because I’ve been unable to a couple of times.

            Sure, I think she could infer what the OP means, and hey, I don’t think she should be asking in the first place. But it’s also not fair to assume she *has* inferred it despite the OP’s never saying it, and I think the OP is confusing how annoyed she is (very) with how clear she’s been (not very).

            1. Whippers*

              Yeah, I suppose I was reacting more to the suggestion that Chriama was making that the co-worker is being completely reasonable in continually asking the OP to do this errand for her and the only way for her to realise that the OP doesn’t want to do this for her is if she’s explicitly told.

              I think it’s fair to say that the co-worker is being unreasonable in asking this favour continuously and probably being a bit obtuse in not picking up on the OP’s reluctance. I don’t think the OP is being passive-aggressive in being annoyed about it.

        2. D*

          I say no repeatedly; I told her no all three days this week, and will likely have to do so again tomorrow. Those were just two examples of the times I have said no. This week was when I started dropping the hint about the soda machines.

          And I’m sorry, but I can’t possibly imagine seeing any of this as “unfair to her”. She is a grown woman, not a child, so this behavior should have never even been thought of as acceptable in the first place. I don’t consider it unfair to expect my coworkers to be considerate and not ask me to fetch things for them on a regular basis. As I stated in my reply above, it has reached a point where it is as though I need to explain to her why this is rude b/c she is not taking the hint, as most reasonable people would have by now.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            You’re not going to change her behavior by convincing her it’s rude, and you don’t need to. You seem really hung up on this idea that she needs to learn it’s rude – that’s not your job. It doesn’t matter if it’s fair or not. The only variable you can affect in this dynamic is your own reaction.

            So just keep saying no. Be polite and firm. It’ll stop eventually.

    4. Yup*

      It sounds like she’s hearing “Sorry, I can’t do that for you *today*” and thereby keeps asking in case the answer changes. Don’t be afraid to be courteously firm: “Sorry, I won’t be able to pick up sodas for you anymore. I was glad to help out for a while, but it’s not something I can keep doing.” Said pleasantly, you’re not overstepping and she can’t reasonably complain.

      1. Elsajeni*

        Exactly — D, with both of the answers you describe, you’re telling her that the only reason you’re not getting her a soda is that you don’t have time today. (Especially “My dad is picking me up today, so I won’t be running errands” — to me, that really conveys “Normally, that would be a reasonable request that would fit in with my own lunch-break errands and I’d be happy to do it; I just have plans today that make it impossible.”) Yes, if she consistently gets that sort of “soft no” response from you, she ought to eventually draw the conclusion that you’re not available for soda runs, just like you’d conclude that a person who says “Let’s get coffee sometime!” and then is vaguely busy for six weekends in a row doesn’t actually want to get coffee with you, but so far it doesn’t sound like she’s picking that up as a hint. Which means, if you want her to knock it off, you’ll have to say so more directly — not “I can’t do that today,” but “I can’t do that anymore.”

        (If you really feel like you need to soften it as much as possible, can you blame it on an imaginary change in your routine? “Sorry, my route home doesn’t take me past that store anymore!” or something like that?)

    5. Graciosa*

      I think I’m with Katie the Fed on this one – don’t give her anything more to discuss. This is not your problem to solve.

      The trick – which can be difficult – is to maintain your equanimity when you have a rude person repeatedly trying to take advantage of you. If your “No, I can’t” is delivered cheerfully and firmly you have done all that can be expected.

      I like Katie’s suggestion if this person persists – but delivered nicely. You do not want to get into a shouting match about this and have your boss hear that you lost it when someone repeatedly asked you to get a soda.

      If you can’t bring yourself to be that direct (and I wish you would!), there is always the repeated (cheerfully delivered) “Because I just can’t – sorry” preferably as you’re walking away.

      If you know you’re not going to be bullied into doing this woman’s errands for her, these exchanges can be limited to literally seconds out of your day and should be more manageable.

    6. BadPlanning*

      Stick to saying no and make her asking for fountain soda into a mental game for you. How many times will she ask next week even though you say no? Make her foundation soda obsession amusing instead of annoying until she finally breaks her habit of asking you.

      Personally, I’ve never understood the preference for fountain soda — it’s always so wildly variable to me depending on the mix of syrup and carbonation.

    7. Chuchundra*

      Then stop explaining. Just say “Sorry, I can’t”. That’s it.

      Don’t equivocate or make excuses or tell her where she can get soda. Just say, “Sorry, I can’t” until she stops asking.

    8. themmases*

      I also work in a rather dysfunctional academic environment where I often feel I can’t say no to even unreasonable things. People expect to be able to drop in on me with weird things like this, too.

      Honestly, when “no” isn’t working I stop making myself available to be asked. If someone I don’t answer to always calls me with something minor to them but time-consuming to me, I start leaving for lunch 5 minutes earlier or locking my phone while I pack up my things. If I could do something in my office but could do it even better in a reading room, I start always doing that task in a reading room. Most of these requests are so incredibly minor– and so self-evidently the caller’s job– that they won’t even leave a message, they will just figure it out on their own while I’m gone, like they should have done all along. As long as you are easy to find and responsive for requests that are actually your job, it’s unlikely to be a problem– especially since this woman isn’t actually above you.

      I would also be uncomfortable having a talk with someone about how I can *never* do this favor for them again, so the above would most likely be my approach with your coworker if repeated “no”s weren’t having an effect. A person might complain that you refused to do something silly like this for her, but she’s unlikely to complain that she has trouble finding you when she wants you to buy her a soda. Unless she’s nuts she’ll hear herself and stop.

  20. D*

    And Neeta, thank you so much for your comment! B/c this is just a “soda” and something she sees as no big deal, I am worried that the exact scenario you indicated is what will happen! It would be very easy for her to make me out to be the bad guy in the situation and, as she is my coworker and the department chair’s assistant, I really do not want that.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It is very unlikely that you’ll be the bad guy for saying something like, “Sorry, my route doesn’t take me past that store anymore.” Very, very unlikely. You need to just say it and assume she’ll respond like a halfway reasonable person would.

    2. hilde*

      “It would be very easy for her to make me out to be the bad guy in the situation”
      I really feel for you because I can understand the desire to want to avoid interpersonal conflict with someone that should know better. And I understand the need for not wanting to be the bad guy, or be seen as stirring up trouble, etc. I agree with everyone else that suggested you just say “no” and keep it at that. But I also understand there are some people that can do that very well, without worrying about the interpersonal side-effects. I am not one of them. I would rather avoid and hide than just flat out say “no” to someone’s fac (which is definitely not a helpful strategy in most situations). So I admire the people that can do that with aplomb.

      Here’s what I wanted to tell you: I have done a lot of thinking and processing about my inability to be really blunt sometimes. And I have come to the conclusion that the reason I am that way is because I primarily don’t want to damage a relationship. But here’s the catch: the people that are willing to run roughshod over you and ignore your boundaries and continue to behave badly or NOT people I really care to have a relationship with anyway. In other words – they are hurting me so why do I really care about hurting them by being assertive and saying no?

      I know you have some other variable at play with her being the assistant to your dept chair and all that. But that perspective has really helped me become more assertive to the boundary busters in my life.

    3. Neeta*

      Actually, something vaguely similar happened to me once. I had this really rude coworker who would make rude remarks just because. It was kind of like her “trademark”. It was not just to me, but I guess it bothered me more than others.

      I tend to talk a lot, and during lunch break I was telling some story about something. I wasn’t talking to her, but we were at the same table (company-catered lunch – table seating 20 people or so).
      At one point, she cheerfully told me something like “Don’t you ever shut up?”. I felt like someone had literally slapped me, so after months of not saying anything I angrily retorted something like “Sorry for offending you” and just left.
      Not my best moment, but I was incredibly overworked, during a hellishly long notice period, so I just snapped.

      No one said anything outright, but I could see that everyone thought I was crazy. It felt incredibly unfair, because there is no way anyone would think that her behavior was acceptable, but I was still the one who came out looking worse.

      In hindsight, I really wish I had had the presence of mind to say “Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I was bothering you” in the sincerest tone I could.

      1. fposte*

        I would be stunned if everybody really thought you came off worse, though. Did they say anything to you about it? I suspect they were just deeply uncomfortable, and you feeling like you could have handled it better is making you feel like they were holding it against you. But I’m doubting they really did.

        1. Neeta*

          One coworker who was friendly with both of us, actually did say something like: Hey, but [name] you really didn’t have to overreact like that. You know how she is, don’t take things so personally.

            1. fposte*

              Do you think the co-worker was speaking for the whole group there, though?

              Admittedly, some people really do hold it against the person who objects to poor treatment more than the person tolerating the poor treatment, for a variety of reasons–they feel if they put up with the treatment everybody else should, or that we should all keep the peace rather than openly noting when something isn’t okay. That is what it sounds like your co-worker was doing, and I think poorly of him/her as a result (unless it was really a way of saying “Please don’t be upset–you know it’s not really a judgment on you and Jane is just an appalling bitch sometimes”).

              And “Don’t you ever shut up?” is pretty much an appallingly bitchy thing to say, and if nobody in your group thought she was in the wrong, I want to go slap the people you were sitting with.

              1. Neeta*

                It’s possible that other people thought I was talking too much as well. But whenever I was told something like say”Yeah… you said this already” I’d instantly shut up and look sheepish.

                I don’t think they thought her way of expressing herself was ok per se, more like “Oh that’s just [name] ‘s weird behavior… kind of funny.”

              2. Neeta*

                Oh wait… you mean the coworker who told me I overreacted? It’s possible, but she was not the type of person who would do this.
                She’s just more observant, and generally an all-around tactful person.

                1. fposte*

                  I can see that people who don’t take somebody’s bitchy remarks seriously would want to contextualize it for you. I realize we’re also working across cultures and presumably languages here :-). But “overreacted” and “oversensitive” would be flag words to me that sound like condemning the person upset about the mean thing rather than the person who said the mean thing, and I don’t like it. (If your co-worker is so darn tactful, why doesn’t she tactfully tell the mean lady to shut up and tactfully let you know if you’ve been talking too much?)

                2. Neeta(RO)*

                  Ah yes, we are. I work in the IT industry where being a “jerk” is extremely common, and so are non-PC remarks as well as colorful obscenities.

                  Keeping that in mind, I do have a tendency to take things more personally than is warranted, so the fact that someone tells me I’m overreacting about something is nothing new. I try to “steel myself”, but I don’t always manage.

                  As for anyone letting the rude coworker know that she is rude… I think people have done this. As a matter of fact she often admits this herself, with a smile and an “I don’t care” attitude. So I guess, people just give it up as a lost cause.

    4. fposte*

      In addition to what hilde said, it sounds like you might be doing some catastrophizing here. You’ve given no reason that she’d be likely to make it into a big thing, and if she does, odds are people would consider her reaction weird, not your unwillingness to fetch and carry. Don’t be put off from simply saying no because you’re able to imagine bad consequences.

  21. Erin*

    Maybe I’m too much of an optimist, but if I got the rejection letter that LW 4 got, I’d think it meant just the opposite — we really like you but don’t have a place for you at the moment, so please keep in touch because we’d love to bring you on board when something more suitable opens up. Otherwise, why mention all of that other stuff? Why not just write “we enjoyed meeting with you but have decided to go with another candidate. We wish you the best of luck in your career.” That to me sounds more final (and yet still not “NO NOT EVER”) than what the company actually wrote.

      1. DeMinimis*

        So did I.

        I guess you could interpret “down the road” as “let us know in a few years if you’ve acquired new skills or additional experience, but for now, no thanks.”

    1. AB Normal*

      It’s funny but I got the exact opposite impression (which goes to show that if the email writer intended to “hint” at something, it didn’t work at all, as it normally doesn’t).

      See, when I was a strong candidate for a company, after getting a rejection letter, I also got some indication that they were interested in keeping in touch with me, in one of the following manners:

      1) “We’ll keep your resume in our database, and get in touch in case something comes up in the future that matches your profile.”


      2) “We encourage you to keep looking at our career page, and applying again if you see a position that could be a good fit.”

      In this particular case, what I believe the recruiter was saying was, “this is not only a candidate, but also a customer, so I better be nice and let him/her down gently”.

  22. S.K.*

    On the subject of OP #1 – I have an 18-month period recently where my only job was 6 months in an “inside sales” (ie calling business owners, trying to close deals on the first phone call and moving on) role that is very different from the rest of my sales experience (and different from what I want to do). I’m happy with my current job but I’m only 3 months in. When I update my resume, should I perhaps list that “inside sales” role so people know what I was doing but simply not put any detail underneath?

    The most common question I got during my most recent search was about that role, it looked bad that I took a “step down”, etc. Bottom line was it was an “underemployment” job I took to pay bills and hoped I would advance quickly out of, which is a fine answer in an interview but not something I can communicate on the resume itself (or in the cover letter, I think, since cover letters are about the role I’m applying for, not explaining away bad lines on my resume that don’t apply to the prospective role).

  23. Heidi*

    Re: greeting coworkers you don’t know well by name as a way to nudge someone who thinks you are an anonymous, nameless, faceless coworker into recognizing you in the future — I totally agree! There are a number of socially awkward managers at my job who’d prefer to ignore everyone in the hallways, and I make it a point every time I pass one of them to greet them cheerfully by name. To me, it’s a friendly way of forcing them to recognize my existence, sort of like killing them with kindness. By doing so, even if they still don’t know much about me, they definitely know I exist and that I am friendly.

  24. smallbutmighty*

    #4, I may be totally off base, but I’m going to speculate a bit about what might be going on here.

    I work for a large, well-known company with a hip, sometimes deliberately edgy public persona. In our marketing and advertising, there’s a lot of emphasis on passion and creativity.

    For that reason, a lot of would-be employees (and a LOT of people want to work here) try to demonstrate passion and creativity in their efforts to get employed here, but these efforts often read as naive and a little desperate.

    (Additionally, our job titles are fairly opaque and often industry-specific, and people from outside the company often pursue roles that really are out of their reach–and the only way to know that would be to have an insider’s understanding of the org chart. I have a lot of sympathy for them, because yeah, it’s hard for an outsider to know exactly what a Teapot Critical Momentum Generator and Teapot Charisma Analyst do and whether those are jobs a teapot subject matter enthusiast has any business pursuing.)

    We’re not really looking for passion and creativity in the application process itself. We’re looking for someone who displays competence and good judgment in following the application guidelines, and demonstrates through their work history, interests, and experience that they’re passionate and creative.

    How you get a foot in the door here is completely different than what you do after you’ve gotten that foot in the door (at which point yes, passion and creativity are very important).

    If there’s someone at your desired company with whom you have good rapport, I’d suggest inviting them to coffee at a time and place convenient to them and saying something like this: “As you know, I’m very interested in working for Chocolate Teapots Ltd. at some point down the road. Can you give me some general advice about navigating the application process at CTL, about what CTL looks for in a new hire, and about what it’s like to work there in general? I’d love an current employee’s perspective on these things so I can realistically assess whether I might be a good fit at CTL eventually.”

  25. Steve G*

    As per using names, I always nudge the people in my building to say hi and get to know eachother. Being in NYC I think we need to know who lives in the building and who doesn’t so we don’t unwittingly let a robber into the building, etc. Some of the people I say hi to don’t respond, which I find odd. One is a tiny girl. I guess she thinks I am hitting on her or something and doesn’t see it as an asset – if she knows me she can buzz me if she is locked out or needs help,

    1. smallbutmighty*

      All my life I’ve tended to freeze up when people I don’t know well greet me in passing. I’m always half a beat off in my response, which sometimes means they’re past me before I actually formulate a reply. It’s really awkward. In my late 30s I discovered that I have a learning disability that affects my ability to read social cues and my response time in general, which makes being greeted by a stranger kind of a perfect opportunity for me to stammer and flail and look either rude or addle-brained. I’ve worked really hard to get past it, but I sometimes still botch these really basic interactions. On behalf of everyone like me out there, I apologize. It’s not you. It’s definitely me.

      1. anon this time*

        This struck a chord with me…I walk around telling myself “don’t be awkward, you can act normal!” because I often have weird reactions to interactions with people. Can I ask how you got diagnosed? I’ve thought a lot about going to see a psychologist, but never have gotten the guts to do it.

        1. smallbutmighty*

          I actually took a battery of tests designed to determine whether I had ADHD, because I’ve always had some characteristics (high energy, easily distracted, difficulty with long-term planning and organization) that are symptoms of ADHD. It turns out I have something called nonverbal learning disability, which is often misdiagnosed as ADHD.

          I just Googled “ADHD testing [my city]” and emailed the most promising-sounding hit. He administered a battery of tests and gave me the diagnosis. It took about three sessions, including one full day for the tests.

          It’s been life-changing to understand why certain things are hard for me and to adapt accordingly. It’s still weird for me to greet people in certain settings, but I can sort of mentally talk myself through it, sort of like what you describe: “Don’t be awkward, act normal.”

          1. anon this time*

            Thank you for your answer. This might give me the oomph to go and seek out testing. I’m just kind of starting to realize that it is beyond being a little socially awkward, and may be more of a problem that I need help with.

    2. Jessica*

      Also, it’s good etiquette to let the woman say “hi” first. You might not realize it, but I’d say about 90% of strange men who greet me on the street are trying to be creeps. I know because I used to be naive about it and say “hello” back which, to them, was an open invitation to start pestering me.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I think it’s different in a workplace though. I would agree with you on randoms walking down the street, but with co-workers, there’s already a reason you’re thrown into the same environment and I don’t think small talk comes off nearly as creepy then.

        1. Jessica*

          Oh yeah, I didn’t mean in the workplace. Steve was talking about an apartment building, which seems like kind of a gray area. On the one hand, being neighborly is nice, on the other hand, I’ve heard plenty of stories about creepy neighbors and they know where you live!

  26. The Other Dawn*

    #2: This is something I should do when I start a new job. I am horrible with remembering names. Horrible. If I get the job I interviewed for last week, I plan to draw up a little floor plan and write everyone’s names in as to where they sit. The office is bigger than my last one and it’s a definite cube farm. I got lost trying to get out of there last week, even though I walked the same route three times while I was there.

    #3: In regards to the soda-drinking co-worker, I’d just say, “Sorry, I can’t. It’s pretty far out of the way for me.” If you’re feeling kind you could say you’ll grab one from the soda machine on your way back from the parking lot. This assumes, of course, that she gives you the money for it. You’re not buying it for her.

    1. Jen in RO*

      On the first day in my new job I got lost getting from one floor to another… I couldn’t remember how to get out of the first floor office and then I couldn’t remember which one of the second floor doors led to my desk. I don’t have that many coworkers, but I still haven’t remembered all the names. My former company (not-even-cube farm, just a lot of desks) had an office map on the intranet, it was pure gold!

    2. Elizabeth West*

      I’ve been here a year and I still get lost in my building. It’s set up like a rabbit warren, with all these little corners and wraparounds and restricted access. God help me if I have to go to the other building.

  27. themmases*

    I happened to see several CVs this week of people who have my same role in other departments at my organization (they were applying for reimbursement of a professional exam fee). These were mostly people who are my level or higher, with several years of experience and more than one position in the field, i.e. I’d be strongly inclined to follow their example. We have to file our CVs for a lot of our projects, so we all keep them pretty up to date even when we’re not looking for other jobs. Their CVs all looked great!

    The people who had irrelevant experience had two sections for their jobs: a relevant/recent experience section at the top, which gave specific duties and accomplishments at each position; and an “other experience” section which just gave a line per job with the title, employer, and dates.

    I still wouldn’t put on any job that was embarrassingly short, but if I had been in an irrelevant job for a long time due to a career change or taking a survival job, I’d follow that example.

  28. Claire*

    #3, I empathize. I’m young, have always been a people pleaser, hate to disappoint/inconvenience anyone, and often struggled with being assertive. I brought a lot of those traits into my current (and first professional) job, resulting in a lot of frustration early on. I’ve had to work on learning how to say no politely but firmly, and it’s helped enormously.

    If I were you, I’d privately be annoyed with your co-worker, too, just because, as someone who hates to inconvenience anyone else, being in a situation where someone was repeatedly asking me to go out of my way (especially to do something they could do themselves) would drive me batty.

    That said, echoing some of the above commenters, social cues and communication styles differ and what’s obvious to you (us) isn’t at all obvious to other people. I’d give her the benefit of the doubt at first and simply politely say, “You know, my lunch hours are pretty much scheduled to the brim, so unfortunately, I won’t be able to do soda runs from here on out.” If she’s a decent person, just with different social cues, she’ll lay off. If she tends toward the lazy and entitled and gives you trouble, just follow up with a short but simple, “Sorry, but that’s not possible.” or “Sorry, can’t!” until she gets the message that your answer isn’t going to change. Stay away from language like, “Not today,” because that implies that may be tomorrow you might.

    Anyway, just my two cents. :)

    1. Non-Tenure Track Academic*

      I think you’ve put this really perceptively–part of what irks the OP and would would irk many of us is that we would never dream of asking somebody to go out of their way to get us something every day. It’s therefore hard for us to imagine this query as being anything other than a terrifically nervy thing to do–but I think it helps to realize that the request likely doesn’t read the same way to the co-worker and that she isn’t a bully or a user just because she asks people for something they’re apparently perfectly willing to do.

    2. Neeta*

      “You know, my lunch hours are pretty much scheduled to the brim, so unfortunately, I won’t be able to do soda runs from here on out.”

      I like that. It’s very polite, but also firm in saying to stop asking.

      1. AB Normal*

        I love it too. Much better than other suggestions (“I can’t today”, or “I can’t because X”, when the person would get the message that she can try tomorrow again, or could come up with suggestions to avoid X in order to get it done).

        Since the LW has been doing the favor for a long time, in order to make sure the relationship doesn’t suffer, I’d start by apologizing and make it look like something changed to trigger the difference response:

        “I’m so sorry, Jane, but you know, I had some changes in my schedule, and my lunch hours are now pretty much scheduled to the brim, so unfortunately, I won’t be able to do soda runs from here on out.”

  29. Parfait*

    #4: I’m a bit surprised to here Alison agree that this email does mean that there’s not a good fit and the OP should give up applying here.
    Why is this one different from the standard “take what they say at face value” advice? This is ambiguously worded at best, and you could read it either way. If it was a pleasure to hear from me again and they would love to hear what I’m up to in future, that doesn’t say to me “Ugh, YOU again, why can’t you take the hint and stop bothering us?”

    1. fposte*

      Yes, I actually read it more favorably than Alison did as well. At worst, I thought it was “get a little more experience and come back.”

  30. ThursdaysGeek*

    How many different positions would #4 be a great fit for at a start-up? This just gave me the slight feel that there may be some resume-bombing to this company, so make sure that the positions you apply for really are something you’re good at, not just something that looks vaguely interesting at a company you’d really like to work for.

    1. T.Nichols*

      Thanks everyone for the advice.

      The company is a very small start-up, with less than 20 employees. The positions I’ve applied for have been customer service related. Since the company is so small the positions I’ve applied for pretty much report to the the same person and I’m pretty sure that everyone has some say in who is hired.

  31. Celeste*

    #3 You’ve tried to be direct and she’s not given up. She heard you say can’t, but you really want to say won’t. She doesn’t have the self-awareness to think about if she’s over reaching. So. When she calls your office those 3-4 times per week, don’t pick up! Let it go to voicemail, and go on about your business. Of course if it’s a work-related message, answer it after lunch.

    If you don’t want to do that, break the cycle by packing your lunch and staying in. If she could survive the 1-2 days a week that you don’t fetch the soda, then teach her to go for 5.

    I’m with Neeta, I don’t think you really want to have the discussion with her about how you were happy to see to her needs last semester when she couldn’t drive, but she’s well now and must go back to taking care of herself. Most people who impose on others can’t handle having a mirror held up to see how they look to others.

    1. fposte*

      I’m on board with the OP getting out of this situation however suits her absent malfeasance, so if she wants to take the avoidant approach this time that’s fine.

      But I think it’s important for her to understand that she *hasn’t* been direct here, and that at some point the skill of politely saying “No, I won’t do that” is going to be really important for her to master. I also think it’s important to note, as people are saying upthread, that saying “No” doesn’t mean you have to have a discussion with her–that you have the right to say “No” to a discussion too.

      1. Celeste*

        Excellent point. I wasn’t clear on if the OP tends to be a pleaser or if this was just a particularly sticky situation.

        1. fposte*

          I’m just still haunted by the OP on the recent post who hid in the bathroom when the bill came rather than directly tell her boss she couldn’t cover the cost.

          1. Kerr*

            FWIW, I think the OP came back and said that their boss had told them to invite the guests, but that the guests should also pay! Awkward.

            1. fposte*

              I saw the update, but what I saw was that they were suppliers, who therefore *should* be paying, so hiding in the bathroom again was not the thing to do.

  32. PoohBear McGriddles*

    Regarding the Soda Lady, remember it’s better to be pi$$ed off than pi$$ed on. Telling her you “can’t” might lead her to believe that on days when you can, you’d be willing to. In reality, it sounds like you don’t wish to go out of your way for her any more even if you had the time.

    I would suggest responding “Sorry, Jane. I’m not going to be doing that any more” next time she asks.

  33. Jill*

    #2 – Definately greet people by name. Especially people that tend to be ignored or forgotten like the cleaning people, the maintenance man, the landscaper.

    We had a cleaning woman at a place I once worked I ran into as she was cleaning the “ladies” bathroom. This place hired a lot of low-brow slovenly people which I’m sure made her job totally depressing. I think I completely stunned her when I said, “Hang in there Judy”.

  34. Not a fish*

    I learned this one last week: our parish priest (with 3 deacons and a mission church outside of town) makes $30,000 a year plus free lodging (his 80 year old mother also stays there). This is just north of Calgary but probably standard for either Alberta or all of Canada.

    Oh, he also gets all the leftovers he wants from various church functions (especially funerals when we make too much)

  35. Cassie*

    #2: I almost never call people by their names. I’ll say “good morning” or “hi” or some polite greeting, but for whatever reason, I find saying people’s names really awkward. On the flipside, I notice it – pleasantly – when professors call me by my name. “They actually know me! They don’t just think I’m a random student worker who wanders around the building!”

    I think I tried working in people’s names more often in greetings a while ago, but I don’t anymore. Some professors barely even grunt out a greeting anyway.

    1. Me*

      I also find saying people’s names really awkward. It seems totally unnecessary and contrived. People seem to like it, so I have desperately tried to do it, but I just can’t.

  36. first time commenter*

    For #3 how about something like. “I know I haven’t been able to pick up your soda for the last week and so I just wanted to let you know that is going to continue as some of my habits have changed about taking my lunch. Unfortunately, I’m not generally going to be able to pick up your soda. However, if I know I’m going to be driving by some place that has your favorite soda, I’ll be sure to give you a ring before I head out for lunch. I know you’ve probably gotten used to me picking something up and so I wanted to give you a heads up so you can make other plans. And by the way, how are you feeling these days?”

    This way you don’t seem like the heartless person who doesn’t want to be a helpful co-worker, but you’ve also set some boundaries. And maybe if she stopped asking then perhaps occasionally it “will” be convenient for you and that will indeed help you maintain a positive relationship. This way if asked you can respond with a less “harsh” explanation. I would do it one morning in person.

    I also second just not picking up the phone when you see it’s her.

  37. first time commenter*

    Also, #3 if you feel guilty about not having a “new habit” then find one that you want to do during lunch at least for a few weeks. Perhaps a 15 minute spent waking, doing yoga, cleaning, doing yard work, reading War & Peace. Pretty much anything would be a good excuse and might be a good idea anyway.

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