I give off nervous energy in interviews, I don’t want my old boss to evaluate me, and more

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

1. I give off nervous, desperate energy in interviews

I got told I am giving off a “nervous energy” and coming off too desperate in interviews. I asked a recruiter I am working with and they said I am calling a lot and it comes off as desperate and anxious and that I should dial back the nervous energy and that I tend to talk too fast, ramble on and go all over the place, go off on tangents and not stick to my point. How can I improve this about myself and not give off this nervous energy? I think they are right because I am working on myself in general and I notice I get very impatient and interrupt people too much because I am too impatient to say what I want to say.

It’s hard to change the type of energy you give off, but it’s pretty easy to change specific actions. Since you’re calling too much, stop the calls. (In fact, why are you calling at all? They’ll contact you if they want to get in touch.) Since you know you interrupt, get more vigilant about stopping that (you can control this if you truly believe you need to). And since you’re talking too fast and rambling, that’s something you can practice getting better at — sit down with a list of common interview questions (and throw in some weird ones too for variety) and give yourself 90 seconds to answer them. Time yourself. Keep practicing until you get better at it.

You can change all of this stuff if you really resolve to. And I think once you do, the overall feel of your energy will change too.

2. Should my old boss have input into my evaluation now that we’re peers?

I was recently promoted and assigned to a new project that will be implementing new policies, processes, and procedures for our company. Previously, these tasks were the responsibility of my former boss. My new role has resulted in us now being on the same level, but with me being more involved in the ongoing decisions and at the same time defining the future processes. As would be expected, my former boss is clearly apprehensive about what this means about his future at the company. He has directly asked me how my role affects him. I also suspect, although cannot confirm, that my former boss applied for the same position I did, but for which I was selected instead.

Our boss (we both report to the same person) has stated that since the promotion happened so close to the review time, my former boss would be doing part of my performance review. My concern is that I may not receive an impartial review if my former boss holds any resentment or concern that his job may be eliminated. What, if any, recourse do I have regarding this?

It’s reasonable for the person who was your boss for most of the the review period to have input into your review. However, if you’re genuinely concerned that he’ll be biased against you because of his essential demotion and your promotion, one option is to discreetly talk to your new boss. I’d say something like, “I’ve gotten the sense that Bob is apprehensive about what these changes mean for him, and I’m a little worried about how that might show up in my evaluation.”

3. Interviewer told me it’s “common practice” to let your current manager be called for a reference

I interviewed last week for a federal government position that I’m really interested in. The federal application site has a section that you can check if you don’t want your current supervisor contacted, which, of course, I checked. The interviewer mentioned this and asked for his contact information and I was sort of caught of guard and said I’d email her later.

As soon as I got back to my computer, I looked up your previous advice and determined that I would not give her my current supervisor, but would provide all my previous supervisors and make that clear. I wrote that I did not want to jeopardize my current position by letting my current supervisor know I’m job searching and provided for her a list of references — all previous managers and indicated I could provide others as well if needed.

She called me today to ask why I wouldn’t want to have my current supervisor contacted since that was “common practice” and why I felt like my job would be in jeopardy if I let them know I was job searching — as if she suspected that I was already in jeopardy of losing my job. I said something like I don’t know what they’d do with that information, but my understanding was it was common practice in the private sector not to contact current supervisors without a job offer. I said if it was absolutely necessary I would talk to my supervisor but it was my preference not to.

I feel like my refusal to jeopardize my current job has just taken me out of the running for this one and I’m just so confused about this one. Your previous advice seemed to indicate that most hiring managers would understand not contacting the current supervisor, but I think she thinks I’m hiding something by refusing. What could I have done differently in this situation?

This is probably about the fact that she’s in the federal government, where this isn’t as much of a big deal — but she appears to have no understanding of how this works outside the federal government, where it is indeed normal to ask that your current employer not be alerted that you’re job-searching. I’m not sure if you have any hope of convincing her since doesn’t sound all that open to hearing that she’s wrong, but you could try saying, “My experience in the private sector has always been that current employers are rarely contacted, since so many employers push employees out if they learn they’re job searching. I realize that’s different than in government.”

4. Telling a student worker that she’s dressing inappropriately

I manage student workers in a college setting with no formal dress code. Our employee manual asks us to dress neatly, cleanly, and appropriately. The informal one we seem to follow that I have picked up on is no very short shorts or skirts, and little to no cleavage. I really have no desire to create a dress code for my 2 student workers!

I have a student who dresses borderline inappropriately, but I need help to figure out how to talk to her about it. I am pretty sure it is because a) she has never worked in an office before and b) she does not really notices subtleties of the things around her. She also does not have very much money. Today she is wearing really short shorts, and she is tall and has a lot of leg, so it is pretty noticeable and I really struggle with saying things that are clear (she doesn’t pick up subtleties like how big my eyes got when I saw her) but don’t sound mean or embarrassing to her.

The easiest way to handle this would be to give your student workers a dress code. By doing that, you’ll less frequently be in a position of having to make individual, case by case judgments. Write up a simple dress code (no short skirts or shirts, no visible cleavage, etc.), and then send it around to them with a request that they follow it from now on. Then, if they don’t, you can point to the dress code and ask them to comply with it.

It sounds like you don’t want to give them a dress code out of a concern that it’s too heavy-handed, but workplace dress codes are really pretty normal — and are often kinder than leaving people to figure it out without guidance. Since it’s clear that there are things that aren’t acceptable there, why not spell those things out for people?

But if you’re adamantly opposed to that, then sit down with her and say, “I want to talk to you about our dress code. The employee manual leaves it pretty vague, so it can be hard to figure out. Basically, it means no short shorts or skirts — just above the knee is fine, but no higher — and no low-cut shirts. If you’re ever unsure, just ask — I know figuring this stuff out when you’re first in the work world isn’t always straightforward.”

5. My interviewer wasn’t there when I arrived so I interviewed with someone else

The person I was suppose to interview with called in sick (nobody called me) and I showed up and had to interview with someone that did not have a clue about the position. How do I request another interview with the correct person?

Send an email saying something like this: “I really appreciated the opportunity to talk with Jane yesterday. She was able to tell me a great deal about X and Y but less about the teapot cleaner position itself. I’d love the opportunity to reschedule with Bob if it’s convenient for him — I’m looking forward to talking in more detail about how I’d approach the teapot role.”

That said, be aware that ultimately they might not choose to reschedule it — because they trust the person you met with to make decisions, or because they’re moving forward with other candidates, or because they’re just disorganized. But if you get offered a job with them, you can certainly ask to meet with the person you’d be reporting to and ask questions of them then.

{ 285 comments… read them below }

  1. Brett*

    #3 Katie the Fed can probably give a better fed perspective, but it is not that different in government. Local government may not fire you right away, but they will take steps to isolate you and push you out; I have even seen people essentially “rubber roomed” when it was discovered they were job hunting.
    State government is worse. They will drop kick you out the door immediately.
    Maybe the person has higher ed experience, where references are strongly expected and job hunting is tolerated and even encouraged?
    (Meanwhile, K-12 ed is absolutely vicious about getting rid of anyone untenured who so much as looks as a job search page.)

    1. Clinical Social Worker*

      I work for state government, it’s a union position. Unless you actually violate policy, your job is untouchable. I also work in corrections, which has high turn over. They expect most people to be looking for work on and off, and hope that the “high pay” and “decent benefits” keeps them. But each state is different.

      The hiring process in my state government is the same. They NEED to contact the current supervisor. It’s a box on a form. They have to be able to check it. If you try to explain or reason with the system you just realize it takes you out of the running for the job.

      1. Xay*

        From my experience in state government, I agree and disagree. The state I worked for weakened the public employee union to the point that it was basically useless. If you had worked for state government in a non-management position for 10-15 years, your job was pretty safe. Outside of that it wasn’t. That said, it was highly unlikely that you would get fired if your supervisor found out you were job hunting because the efforts to shrink state government made it very difficult to get permission to hire anyone – so it was easier to keep someone until they resigned.

        That said, when I sat on hiring committees we never required anyone to provide contact information for their current supervisor until it got to the background check stage.

        1. Clinical Social Worker*

          The way my state does it you HAVE to fill out the reference check form at the interview, regardless of whether or not they check your references. So at that point you have to give up the info.

          My state also weakened unions but we have a hard time getting warm bodies to fill the spots so unless you’ve really screwed up, they won’t fire you. (And can’t, I’ve seen people that should’ve been fired get their jobs back.)

      2. Brett*

        Not every state is the same, of course, and unions help a lot (particularly in public safety/corrections). Since so many states are structured with a strong governor where the governor has the authority to “clean house”, there normally is very little stability.

    2. Another Kate*

      Absolutely agree with Brett. Sure, pulling the trigger and letting someone go because they are job searching elsewhere is unlikely in government, but there’s no need for that due to the infinite number of other ways a resentful manager can force a person out.

      My experience working in government is that it’s absolutely standard for people not to list a current manager as a referee. I’ve done this as a candidate and haven’t been at all phased when this happens when I’m hiring. Nobody has batted an eye over an explanation that the candidate hasn’t indicated to his or her current department or agency that he or she has applied for a role.

      I wonder whether the hiring manager in the OP’s situation is a bit green.

      1. Cat*

        The last couple of people I know who got hired at the federal government from the private sector did have to provide a current supervisor’s reference (but that was at the same agency so it might not be a federal government-wide thing). They didn’t get berated about it though.

    3. JC*

      I totally agree with this. I left being a fed a few years ago, and I definitely did not want the company I was interviewing with to contact my supervisor! I find it so bizarre that your interviewer doesn’t get that.

      One difference between how the federal govt vs. private sector might handle knowledge that you’re interviewing is that it is unlikely you’d get fired if it came out in the public sector. But you could still get punished in other ways (given worse assignments, etc).

      1. De Minimis*

        It really depends between agencies and different offices. I’m not involved in hiring here so I’m not sure what the practice is. When I was hired, I wasn’t working so it was no big deal when they contacted my references. I know for me they didn’t contact anyone until after they interviewed me. When they got to the background check they contacted more people, but that didn’t begin until I already started [they gave a tentative clearance until it was complete.]

        I applied to a different job with my current agency [but in a different location] and I don’t know how that’s going to work either. I did check the box that said “Contact me first” as far as my current supervisor, but I’d hate for them to find out what I was doing until we were actually at the stage where we’d need to plan for my departure.

    4. This is #3*

      Sigh, but the question is, what do I do? I really want to go back to government. I say back because I left it a little under 2 years ago to go nonprofit and that has been a disaster. But, given my job search has taken 9 months already, I don’t want to tell my manager to have things fall through. He suspects I want to leave, sure, but he doesn’t have confirmation nor do I want to give it to him.

      But — if it really is a requirement to get back to government, sigh. I will add, 2 of the 4 references I gave were my supervisors, in government, actually in the same agency (different office though). You’d think that would have more sway, but nope.

      Do I just move on at this point? Do I have any hope of getting back to government if I don’t release my manager’s contact info?

      1. Wren*

        Honestly, I’d reiterate that it will likely cost you your current job and hold your ground. I can only imagine most of her better candidates are in the same posisiton, so I doubt she’ll get far insisting. As I said below, the very fact that there’s a check box about it means that it’s not standard.

      2. Brett*

        I think you can hold your ground here, at least until you get to the background check and conditional offer.

    5. Wren*

      The very fact that there is a check box about contacting your current boss indicates to me that it’s not standard, even in government. I think this interviewer is out to lunch.

    6. Davey1983*

      I happen to be a federal employee, and I was able to request that they not contact my current employer when I was applying, and they respected that.

      Once I was working for the federal government, whenever I have applied for another job (all for the same agency), they contacted my current supervisor and I have never had any issues come from that.

      In my agency it is no big deal to talk to the supervisor when applying for another position, so I can see where the interviewer is coming from. In fact, when better jobs gets posted (higher grade, better promotion potential, etc) it is not uncommen for my supervisors to shoot out a group email for anybody who is interested.

      However, the interviewer should realize (but obviously doesn’t) that things don’t work that way in the private sector.

    7. Melissa*

      Even in higher ed, job hunting is often not tolerated. I know many faculty members who have conducted job searches while on the tenure track or tenured somewhere who haven’t gotten references from their current department. Not only do all the standard problems exist for the TT faculty, but since jobs in academia are so scarce there’s a really good chance that the faculty member will end up staying where they are, and they don’t want animosity with their departmental colleagues.

  2. Colleen*

    #4: If you decide to have the talk, or even to hand out the new code, please do so at the end of the work day, so your student worker doesn’t have to be at work all day with the realization that she is dressed inappropriately.

      1. Angora*

        That is really good advise. I enforce a dress clothes with the work studies. I strongly believe that work studies / student employment is when we have a chance as a supervisor to help them in the transition from young adults to productive adults. Many times faculty and staff will not address a problem and just get rid of a student without explaining the reason why.

        I think it’s a disservice to them. We are learning institutions and as staff we are many times “unpaid instructors”. We can choose to enforce normal work behaviors or choose to ignore improper behavior & conduct. I prefer to call a student on poor behavior and if need be, terminate them if it continues now when they have the option of seeking employment elsewhere on the campus. I think the most embarrassing thing I ever had to address was a student working the labs that was not bathing. Had a student open up all the labs and leave … went jogging. We had a contract that clearing stated the dress code, key policy, absences, but they were there until midnight in the labs. One of the labs had equipment that was over $300,000. They are there to monitor access and that food & drink isn’t bought in. Easy job … just sit there and do your school work, sign people in and out.

    1. Hooptie*

      Not that this helps but I found it interesting. I recently read an article that listed one company’s dress code as ‘smart casual’. Of course, you can read into it whatever you want, but I thought it was a great term. For me, it means neat, clean, non-revealing, non-offensive clothing. More like ‘common sense casual’. I wish there were a formal definition for it, because I think a lot of companies could use this terminology.

  3. CLM*

    #4 I realize it’s only one student who is prompting the dress code, but I would recommending writing the dress code so it is gender-neutral. Women are often unfairly penalized by unbalanced dress codes (I’m not saying that’s the case in this particular instance, but I’m assuming you are planning to keep this dress code and present it to all student workers going forward), and you have a chance to do the job right from the get-go.

    1. Artemesia*

      THIS. Think about the image you want student workers to project — men and women and craft something that is focused on that first adding the ‘nos’ once the positive standards are noted. And I no more want to see some guy’s underpants than I want to see a woman in short shorts on the job. I don’t want to see lots of cleavage in a woman, but I also don’t want to see a guy in a tank top with his hairy pits showing.

    2. Clinical Social Worker*

      Agreed. To be frank, there are some women that are automatically going to have a very hard time with the “no cleavage” rule. I have very large, very high set breasts. I am very motivated to dress modestly at my current work place but it is damn difficult to keep them covered. The amount of space between my clavicle and my breast is essentially zero, it’s very hard.

      1. Helka*


        And there’s a huge difference between “you can see a dent of skin right above the neckline” and “you can see practically down to the nipples.” I am not going to scar anyone’s mind or look like Slutty McSlutterson if there’s a tiny gap.

        1. some1*

          Can we keep the “slut” out of the discussion? There are many reasons women need to dress professionally at work without bringing up expressions that imply our sexuality or lack thereof is tied to our outfit.

          1. Helka*

            That’s actually pretty much idea I was mocking by saying that; my apologies if it didn’t come across.

    3. Joey*

      Gender neutral? I’m not sure its possible to have a gender neutral dress code unless your employees will be in uniforms. Maybe you’re thinking the standards should be equivalent?

      1. Cat*

        I don’t see why employers should get into policing who wears what (or who’s gender is what). If, say, knee length skirts are appropriate, they should be appropriate across the board.

      2. dawbs*

        But what wouldn’t be the same?

        I literally just walked out of a room where I was interviewing an entry-level college student, and dress code came up. My answer was
        “-nothing that has X, Y, and Z safety hazards (which dealt w/ flowing garments and exposed skin, because of some of the physical activities–so shorts and skirts aren’t OK for anyone),

        -nothing with insulting or obscene slogans (none of the ‘big johnson’ shirts that caused HS rows in my day),

        -nothing immodest enough to warrant attention–so clothing that fits appropriately and is of reasonable length.

        -No hats (because the boss says so)”

        I give the exact same list to both genders during interview/orientation. Nothing on the list should only apply to one gender.

        1. Joey*

          modesty on men and women is different though. skirts? capri’s? open toed shoes? cap sleeves? silk blouses? tight pants?

          Sure you can develop something so vague that it’s gender neutral, but vague is only vaguely helpful.

          1. Mike C.*

            What’s the problem with a man wearing a skirt? As long as the clothes are clean and professional, what are you concerned about?

            1. Joey*

              I’m concerned about what’s realistic, not what’s idealistic which I think is what you’re referring to.

          2. ExceptionToTheRule*

            I do pretty well with a vague policy.

            * Clean clothes with no holes or obscenities (no, you may not wear a mesh shirt, it has holes in it);
            * No open toed shoes on the studio floor (if you want to wear flip-flops in the back, that’s fine, but you put closed toed shoes on when you go out to the floor);

            Our building’s climate control is atrocious, but it has the advantage of discouraging clothing extremes and if someone is way out of bounds, I’ll talk to them individually.

          3. Erin*

            I think that, generally, it might be more difficult, but in the LW’s case, it is not. You don’t have to say “Skirts”–you can say that all bottom (shorts/skirts) must come to no shorter than 2 inches above the knee (or fingertip length or whatever). Low cut shirts can be equally off-putting on men and women, and I’m sure you could craft a gender-neutral way of settling that (maybe saying that all shirts must come within one hand width of the base of the neck…I haven’t read enough dress codes to know what is standard practice). The shoes issue is a bit harder, as women’s footwear is much more varied than men’s, but if it is absolutely necessary, it is easy enough to ban open-toed shoes for both genders.

            Of course, in more standard offices, we are lucky to already have shorthand for this sort of thing. In most offices I’ve worked in, I’m told “business casual” or “business casual, jeans okay.” There are a plethora of guides on the internet to then point employees to if they are confused or have concerns, rather than reinventing the wheel.

          4. Girasol*

            You don’t have to say skirt. You can say “Must be covered from waistline to knees” which should put paid to miniskirts but also short shorts for both sexes and plumber’s crack for men. “No cleavage front or back” covers both genders (albeit one at a time.). “No sandals or open toes.” “No sexually explicit tight clothing.” “No visible armpits.”

            But I get the point: there used to be gender specific dress codes that required men to look professional and women to look sexy and ornamental. “Women must wear pantyhose” comes to mind. It would be more correct to say “All employees must wear pantyhose.” Well, maybe just forget the pantyhose altogether.

      3. Rose*

        How is that not possible? No one can:

        Wear shorts or skirts above 2 inches above the knee.
        Wear shirts with deeper than a 5 inch V
        Wear tank tops or dresses with straps less than 3 inches across
        Have undergarments exposed at any time.

        Wouldn’t that kind of be it?

        1. Mints*

          Yeah, even if it’s mostly women who are looking at the guidelines, it’s ridiculously easy to word it “nobody should wear XYZ” instead of “women shouldn’t wear XYZ.” Like that’s zero extra effort, and it could make women feel more included

          1. Tinker*


            Unless the point is to establish an explicit double standard between men and women, there isn’t any issue with saying that skirts if worn must be a given length even if one suspects that skirt wearing is likely to only be a concern for some employees and not for others.

            If the point is to establish an explicit double standard then yes — that is going to be hard to specify in gender neutral terms.


            1. Joey*

              Well there are some things that are okay for one gender though that aren’t for the other. Lipstick, eyeliner, heels, earrings. And men frequently are required to wear ties. Different doesn’t mean unequal.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Because I know where this is likely to go and want to head it off:

                Some people here are making the point that dress shouldn’t be so gendered. Joey is talking about the way many workplaces currently are, certainly in many industries, regardless of how we might prefer them to be. It’s two different approaches to the conversation.

                1. Cat*

                  Right but if you’re writing a dress code for your organization you get to define how things are. If you have outside clients who you don’t think can take it, you might have to compromise but personally, I’d rather deal with that if and when I absolutely have to instead of just assuming everyone would freak out at a man in a skirt or a woman in a tie.

              2. Sawrs*

                Plenty of cis and transmen wear blush, bronzer, eyeliner, eyeshadow, mascara, lipstick and lipstain, powder, concealer, earrings, bracelets, brooches, and heeled shoes. Perhaps not all at once, perhaps not every day, perhaps not so that it’s highly noticeable to other people, but none of these ornaments or accessories are unusual or necessarily gendered. It’s a step backwards (and it can be very confusing!) to gender them in practical discussions regarding code of dress.

      4. AcademicAnon*

        Gender neutral does not mean gendered terms can’t be used or assumed though. Shorts/pants/skirts must come to the knee or ankle, shirts must come be long enough to reach the top of the pants/shorts/skirts when arms are raised, no sleeveless shirts, no t-shirts, no denim and no shirt that show skin more than an inch below the collarbone, does that work for gender neutral?

    4. Angora*

      Some of the departments on campus require polo shirts with blue jeans or khakis. So it’s obvious who the lab work studies & techs are. Everyone is require to dress similar. Some even require close toed shoes for safety reasons.

    5. Ellie H*

      What do you all think about wearing the same thing every day? We have a student worker who basically wears the same thing every day to work here in the office and occasionally comes to work with wet hair. I feel this looks fairly unprofessional, mostly because of the wet hair and I also feel it would be a great deal more noticeable if it were a female student (and if he came in every day instead of 2-3 days a week). Men can look unprofessional too.

      1. fposte*

        I don’t have any problem with his wearing the same thing every day as long as it’s clean. Wet hair might or might not bother me–if it’s short hair, it probably wouldn’t, but if it were long hair I’d probably ask that it be either dried or tied back before work.

      2. Natalie*

        If I were this students boss I might approach this as a more informal mentoring moment. It’s a good place to teach him “know your office” – wet hair and identical outfits isn’t an issue at your workplace, but it could be at future job.

      3. Aunt Vixen*

        I think men who wear business suits more or less do wear basically the same thing every day, and are as professionally-dressed as it gets.

        Wet hair: I do not blow dry, and I’d be pretty annoyed if a workplace ever suggested I should do so. My hair is usually wet when I leave the house and often still damp when I get to work, but it’s clean and combed – I’m not, you know, dripping all over the place like I just got out of the pool.

        Mind you, I’ve hardly ever had a job where I needed to take in-person meetings with clients or customers first thing in the morning. So it impacts my performance and my colleagues’ experiences exactly not at all if my hair is damp or if I’m wearing a variation on the same outfit I wore yesterday (not the same actual clothes, of course) or if I decided to wear my glasses instead of my contacts or whatever. I hope we’re all focusing on what’s important.

        1. fposte*

          I’m not accepting the premise here, I’m afraid–how you present yourself *is* important. That doesn’t mean it’s logically constructed or that some aspects of it aren’t worth pushing back against, but there’s nothing inherently more insignificant about requiring dry hair than there is about requiring tops to be worn.

      4. Vdubs*

        What do you mean by wet hair?

        I have really thick curly hair, and it is often wet (in varying degrees) the entire day .

        1. Mints*

          Yeah, when I style my hair curly, lots of times it won’t be fully dry until the afternoon or evening. I know that dripping, unstyled hair looks unprofessional, but I hope for a little leeway with unruly hair textures

          1. jmkenrick*

            Also curly hair – also leave the house with my hair wet.

            Although it’s short & thin, so by the time I’m at work it’s usually just damp.

        2. FarFromBreton*

          I have a lot of very curly hair, and now that I’m working in an office again (albeit a very casual, t-shirt/shorts-friendly one), I’ve run into this dilemma again. Sleeping on wet hair ruins it (I’d have to rewet it in the morning, which kind of defeats the purpose), and blow-drying it even with a diffuser damages my hair and makes it frizzy no matter what I do. I also am never dripping water everywhere, but it takes a couple hours to dry, especially once it’s long. I guess I could try wrapping it in a scarf until it dries, but I feel like that would attract even more attention…

          1. Melissa*

            Have you tried twisting or pineappling your hair (gathering it into a loose ponytail at the top of your head)? I have a lot of very curly hair as well, and I sleep on it wet so it dries overnight. I agree that sleeping on it loose and wet would just ruin it, but I often twist my hair or braid it so it will dry without tangling or ending up a frizzy mess. My hair isn’t long enough to ponytail on top of my head, but I know a lot of other curly-haired women who do this to prevent matting and tangling and frizziness in the morning if they have wet hair. You could do very large twists or braids and those would preserve your natural curl pattern while still keeping your hair out of the way.

      5. OhNo*

        Don’t say anything. At all.

        There are tons of reasons why they might appear to be wearing the same thing. Maybe they have a lot of very similar looking or even identical clothes. Maybe they dont own many clothes at all and that set is the most professional set of clothing they own. Hell, maybe its the only set of clothing they own and they just wash it constantly – you dont know! Unless it severely impacts their ability to do their job, dont bring it up.

        Im speaking from experience here, since I was once confronted by my boss for wearing ” the same thing” for a few days in a row, when I just happen to own an awful lot of grey pants and black shirts. Its my preferred style, it didnt impact my ability to do my job, and I was always clean and presentable, so all it did was embarrass both of us – her for being wrong and bringing up something that wasnt even important, and me for neding to admit that I couldnt afford to buy other clothes just yet.

        Also dont mention the wet hair. Some people have hair that takes forever to dry, some people’s hair just looks wet or damp all the time. Unless it really impacts their presentation and ability to do their job in some way, who cares? Its not ideal, but its not harmful.

      6. Ellie H*

        Maybe this is something that I’m mistaken about being “common knowledge,” but I was under the impression that appearing in public with wet hair was wildly unprofessional as soon as you are no longer, say, a college student. I would never dream of going to work (or even really in public, except for maybe running a really quick errand or something) with wet hair and I would notice it and find it weird if I saw anyone else at work who did.

  4. JayDee*

    #4. Also be careful with implementing a dress-code that it’s focus on safety and work-appropriateness in as gender-neutral a way as possible. The examples you gave suggest this employee is female and the issue with her attire is that it is more revealing. But try to assess whether the clothing being worn is truly inappropriate or whether it is just more revealing than you prefer. Keep in mind that a tall woman with long legs may have trouble finding shorts or skirts that don’t reveal a fair amount of leg, even if they do provide full coverage in all the more important respects. A woman with an ample chest make have cleavage in almost any shirt that isn’t a turtleneck or crew neck (both of which may just make her boobs look giant, albeit well-covered).

    Do your student workers have interactions with faculty, staff, administrators, or the general public? If so, their attire may need to be a bit more professional than student workers who are watering plants in a greenhouse or sitting in a back office answering phones or doing data entry. Do your employees work around chemicals or other hazards? Then appropriate attire may be more casual, but appropriate footwear may be pretty strict (close-toed, flat shoes with decent traction). Either way, many things will apply to both men and women and can be written in a way that reflects that.

    1. Jen RO*

      I am pro-very-casual-wear in the office, but short shorts are always inappropriate IMO, for any gender.

      1. FiveNine*

        Yes, and there certainly are different lengths of shorts, even for the tallest woman.

      2. BadPlanning*

        Yes! We have a super casual dress code, but I’ve seen some gentlemen wearing some uncomfortably short shorts! Not “I just bought these fashionable new shorter shorts, board shorts are so out!” but “These shorts were fine in the 80s, but now have shrunk and I have grown and I’m still trying to wear them.”

        1. Anonymous for this one*

          Yes, yes, YES – please remember this goes both ways!

          I once had to explain a point of parliamentary procedure to a man who was wearing very, very tight shorts, and sitting with his legs open.

          The good part was that they were so tight, nothing was going to come out (I have also had situations where swim trunks were loose enough to display a view from one side when someone put a leg up on a coffee table – different story) but I was getting a better picture than I needed through the fabric.

          And did I mention how tight it was? Or how short? On a man with very well developed muscular thighs which were not helping the situation.

          If you’re wondering how I got into this mess, the only time he could fit me into his schedule was right after his sports practice. He’s just cooling off in his mind, and I’m thinking Oh My God.

          I did manage to get through the meeting without digressing from the topic of getting his matter out of committee.

          1. Angora*

            Anonymous for this one

            I wonder if he was proud of his body, displaying it for your view.

            At the emergency hire job I had there was a professor that looked like a member of ZZ Top that would bike into work, and wear skin tight biking gear all day. He was in his 70’s.

            I would say hello to everyone, but had such a hard time getting a word out to him in that get up.

    2. T*

      I think spelling out specifically what is and is not appropriate is a good idea. For instance, saying “no short shorts” is still vague and open to interpretation. How about making it about a measurement from the knee (skirts and shorts ending no more than x inches above the knees). In regards to cleavage, I personally don’t think it’s ever appropriate in an office setting, and there are plenty of shirt options for well-endowed women. I think part of this is about the work environment and part of it is about the image given off to visitors.

      1. Anon*

        As someone who is short, i know personally you have to be careful when saying no shorts/skirts x inches above the knee. I’m short and stubby and let me tell you my business would be all hanging out anymore than 3″ above my knees, but a person wwith much longer legs would have to wear Bermuda shorts.

      2. Clinical Social Worker*

        As a well-endowed women, there aren’t always a ton of options for me. If you are high set it’s even more challenging. I still do this as part of my job but it’s incredibly difficult. Especially since something can look great in a dressing room but as the day wears on, and gravity does it’s job, the shirt is no longer appropriate.

        1. Ali*

          Yep that happens to me too. I wear camis under v-neck shirts a lot to help the problem. But one night I had an event (wasn’t a work function, at least) and chose a cute sequined top with a cropped cardigan/shrug over it. The outfit looked fine in the mirror and before I left, but later in the pictures, I was getting comments about my cleavage. I was horrified and it was hard because people were teasing me about it and saying I should cover up. But really, it was out of my control.

          1. Clinical Social Worker*

            Even the camisole thing doesn’t work well for me. If the shirt starts to slide down, so does the cami. Most of day I’m constantly pulling up my shirts. Button downs are less prone to “falling down” but then you have the huge button gaping issue. And somtimes if your neckline is very high it can even emphasize them.

            But yes, the cami can sometimes work.

            1. rek*

              Tiny safety pins (really small – not more than 1/2 an inch – can become your best friends. I use them to reinforce button-down shirts to minimize or eliminate the button gap issue. Also, a tiny pin can anchor a camisole to a bra strap and keep the camisole from slipping. I have a card of tiny gold pins I bought in the sewing section in Walmart; they hold pride-of-place on my dresser and travel with me everywhere.

              1. Angora*

                The problem is the type of fabric. Cotton cami’s are less apt to slide. But silky fabrics layered on silky fabrics will slide.

                1. Camellia*

                  Double-sided tape, a.k.a “Hollywood” tape, is great for button-gap (goes between the buttons) and also for anything that tends to slip and slide (attach one side to the bra strap).

                  I’ve also used it to mend a hem, make a weird collar lie flat, and fasten the end of a belt tab to the belt. I have a friend who uses it to shorten her slacks when she wants to wear them with flats. Just remember to remove the tape before laundering the garment.

              2. Clinical Social Worker*

                I wouldn’t get through the metal detector if I needed to do this (yes, it’s that sensitive).

                1. Angora*

                  I’ll have to try that. I have a gauzy top that wants to separate at an inconvenient place.


                2. fposte*

                  Whoa–so does that mean you can’t wear zippers or anything with hook closures, and that belts are out? That’s pretty challenging. I couldn’t be completely metal-free without going highly informal.

                3. LD*

                  FYI, Tiny safety pins are no bigger than the hooks on a bra and definitely smaller than underwire.

                4. Clinical Social Worker*

                  I’m replying to myself as I can’t figure out how to reply to those below me.

                  My underwires are plastic.
                  The hook and eye closures are pretty small on mine.
                  The metal it detects is cumulative. I do have metal zippers on my pants.
                  I have to take off my utility belt to get through.
                  I haven’t found safety pins this small.

                  My point being: I get through almost everyday by making sure I have as little metal on me as possible. It’s not quite zero, but it’s very close. If I had to add little pins for all the possible gaps I’d have, it would definitely add up. Additionally, any metal I have (aside from the zipper on my pants) is VERY EASY to remove. Removing those pins at the bubble would be highly embarassing.

                  I avoid button ups for the most part now. Hollywood tape would likely work better, but it’s not worth the hassle of me trying to find button ups that also fit my shoulders/bust that don’t look like a tent that also fit without going to a tailor or specialty ordering from shops that cater to my size. I’m comfortable with my solution of avoiding buttons around my bust.

                5. fposte*

                  Wow, I had no idea about the cumulative thing. The things I learn here! Thanks for explaining.

            2. Kelly L.*

              I don’t know if this would work for everyone, but I wear my camis really tight–as in, I wouldn’t be comfortable with the fit if the cami was all I was wearing; about a size too small. If anything, they ride up from the bottom sometimes, but they tend to stay put at the top. I also prefer the kind with adjustable straps.

              1. Camis*

                Yes, I do this too. I specifically buy my under layers–whether camis or with sleeves–to fit snugly enough that I wouldn’t wear them without something over.

                1. HappyLurker*

                  I do this as well!

                  Also, I have found faux camis. Small squares of fabric with snaps at both ends (and lace on the top) specifically made to attached to the bra straps. Great for the hot summer days when a second layer would melt you.

        2. Cat*

          Yeah agreed. I read a blogger at one point who suggested that a camisole under your shirt should be sufficient to show you’re trying even if occasionally it show something at the wrong angle and I kind of like that philosophy: it’s realistic.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Yeah, I have a top I adore, and which sat in a totally work-appropriate spot when I tried it on. So I wore it to my then-workplace, and around the middle of the day, some of the male patrons suddenly started being reeeeeallllllly nice to me. I figured it out when I glanced down and saw that my work-safe neckline had become rather plunging! There was some embellishment at the top and it weighed the whole thing down over the course of the day. So now it gets a camisole if I’m wearing it to work, just in case I forget to keep checking on it. I bought about 10 camisoles in different colors as cheaply as I could get them, and I wear them with all sorts of stuff.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I was so happy when I discovered those fake cami things that hook to your bra via straps–they cover up the plunge without wearing another layer. That saved me when I was interviewing in the summer and driving a car that had no AC. You can get them at Walmart–look in the As Seen on TV section.

              1. Calla*

                I totally forgot those existed! Do they not create an odd line anywhere? That’s always been my concern with those or cropped camis or anything like that.

              2. Kelly O*

                I also have a couple of nude camis from Target – they are perfect for those shirts that are not quite enough to warrant a cami that’s clearly visible, but I feel like I need a little something else.

                FYI, the camis at Target are on sale right now. I think I have every color imaginable, and doubles in things like black and cream.

                1. Calla*

                  While the Target camis don’t solve the extra layer/slippage/etc problems I second the fact that they’re awesome. And I think at least some of them are always on sale. They’re my favorite!

              3. Clinical Social Worker*

                These somehow also sometimes fail! As the day wears on, the outward pressures kinda pulls it down (even though it’s secured to th straps). I was thinking about buying one that’s secured with a button instead of velcro. But yeah….

              4. JoAnna*

                They are called Cami Secrets – I won’t put the link in because it’ll send this post to moderation, but they are easily found via Google.

                1. Pennalynn Lott*

                  I wish someone would make faux camis that don’t have lace. The lace edging is a little too “boudoir” for my taste (and my industry).

          2. Clinical Social Worker*

            I wish I was comfortable with “occasionally showing” something at my work. Unfortunately the stakes are a bit higher. As you pointed out, camis aren’t perfect. The biggest issues I have are bending over and as the day wears on the whole thing “falling down” toward the floor. (This is made worse by the utiltiy belt I wear). It sucks.

            1. Cat*

              Yeah, I’m lucky in that the odd slip won’t hurt me professionally; and I have a couple of shirts that will never expose anything for times when I need to be really, really careful. Not sure what I’d do otherwise; wear turtlenecks every day I guess?

          3. Janis*

            And camisoles in the summer! You’re wearing two layers when it’s 90 degrees outside. Too hot.

            1. fposte*

              That can translate simply to tank tops, too, if you’re in a workplace where they’re appropriate. They’re not that big a deal warmth-wise as a layer, and they have the advantage that they actually come in crew neck, which isn’t going to slide down anywhere it shouldn’t. (I know people don’t like crew necklines, but if you’re facing a neckline problem, they really do solve it.)

        3. Calla*

          Agreed. I try to be appropriate, trust me, and I put a cami under almost all my shirts. But sometimes, there is still a peek of cleavage if I lean over, don’t notice the cami making its way downward, or something like that. I’m wearing a fairly high-necked top today (hits my clavicle) but it’s still possible for it to shift when I lean over. The only way to actually prevent that is if I always wear tops that literally come up to my neck (and then, good luck finding something that doesn’t look incredibly unflattering and/or that’s not a gaping button-up).

          IMO, we sexualize women’s chests too much. If you’re spilling out of your shirt, or the neckline is down to your nipples, that’s one thing. But if I’m doing my best to be appropriate and you’re distracted by an occasional teeny line of cleavage, that’s your problem.

          1. Pennalynn Lott*

            I developed a habit a loooong time ago to always put one hand up to my chest whenever I lean over. It’s as automatic to me as covering my mouth when I sneeze or cough. Even if I’m at home in my PJ’s, I still do it. Has definitely saved me at work or out in public more than a time or two.

      3. GoingAnon*

        With shorts, it seems like the distance above the knee is what’s usually noted in dress codes, but why not an inseam length, like 4″ minimum? Obv, the supervisor isn’t going to go around measuring inseams, but it’s a lot more universal to say there needs to be 4 inches of material between your crotch and the end of your shorts than to measure from the knee or fingertips.

        1. Artemesia*

          I would consider that far too short to be professional in any setting outside of a summer camp. In any setting where dress code is a concern at all, I would think something like Bermudas would be a minimal requirement.

          1. GoingAnon*

            I was not set on 4″ as an appropriate length . . .just throwing out a number as an example.

            I think it depends how this student worker role is structured. I think a more appropriate version of typical student clothing is fine in some cases, but in some cases, you actually want students to be in business casual. IMHO as a shorter 36 year old, 4″ is conservative enough that your buns don’t hang out, for casual dress, compared to the 1″-2″ ones that the college-age women actually wear now, but yeah, in an office where jeans or slacks are the norm, maybe bermuda length shorts are a better choice.

            1. Angora*

              Some are not even 1 – 2″ ,, pure butt cleavage. In the winter I’ll see those super short shorts over tights or leggings.

            2. LD*

              As a taller person 4 inches is so short as to be considered “short-shorts” and sitting would make them indecent.

    3. KJR*

      My kids’ high school dress code states that all shorts must be at or below finger tip length when the arms are held at the side of the leg. It seems to work out well, and is specific enough for everyone to understand. Perhaps you could use this guideline.

      1. dawbs*

        As a student , I actually hated that rule a lot.

        When tall kids start growing, it’s not unusual for their arms and legs to grow at weird speeds. I didn’t look like an orangutan, but apparently I was built like one. It was impossible to actually buy ‘off the rack’ shorts that fit that rule–when other people did, and I borrowed them, they weren’t within the rules for me.

        1. Rose*

          HA! I loved this rule. I was really short, and I could essentially wear tiny miniskirts. Teachers would always have me put my hands down, see I followed the rules, then, baffled, yell “well it’s still too short!”

      2. Sara*

        That doesn’t always work so well. People have different proportions, and on me a fingertip length skirt would be decidedly inappropriate!

        1. smilingswan*

          Yup, me too. I have less than 2 inches of clearance between my fingertips and my….

    4. AmyNYC*

      When I worked in retail the store altered it’s branding and put out new “style guides” for associates (it was dress code). They included annotated sketches of suggested outfits that I found helpful.

    5. Career Counselorette*

      Yeah, when we’re advising clients on appropriate interview attire we stay away from the “no more than 3 inches” BS because that will look very different on every body. Instead we tell people that an appropriate skirt or dress is one that has a straight line but that you can comfortably sit in and stand in. (So like, no bandage dresses, no full skirts that are too tapered, etc.)

      1. TheSnarkyB*

        Wait, can you explain this please? I’m very confused about this straight line thing.

        1. Career Counselorette*

          Yeah, of course- I mean a dress that still has a tailored fit (like a pencil skirt or an A-line), but one that won’t inhibit your range of motion while you’re standing or walking, or ride all the way up when you’re sitting, or look like you’re going to Lilith Fair.

          And we do point out that it’s better to choose a fit that is comfortable and flattering to your specific body, not “I’m going to wear a pencil skirt because that is professional” and feel horribly uncomfortable and nervous about yourself on top of the actual interview.

  5. kas*

    3. Ugh my sister is going through the same thing right now. Problem is, her current job is her only job so she couldn’t provide any past managers but even if she did, they were adamant about getting a current manager. I don’t get how people don’t realize how wrong this is. My sister was terrified of letting her managers know but they were very understanding.

    I’m pretty sure I’d be out of a job if my work knew I was job searching.

  6. kas*

    4. Forgot to respond to this one in my post above. The older employees at my work have been vocal about the way the younger female employees dress and I don’t blame them. A few of them wear leggings every single day and their tops are always short so nothing is covered. It’s not a great sight and so unprofessional. We have a dress code but they don’t follow it.

    Apparently, because there are so many offenders, the managers are going to send out a mass email to remind everyone what’s appropriate. If it was just one offender, I’d definitely pull her aside and let her know, on a day she was wearing an inappropriate outfit, what is and is not acceptable. Alison’s response is perfect because it’s more of a casual “I thought you should know.”

    1. kas*

      actually maybe not on a day she was wearing something inappropriate, that would be uncomfortable/awkward.

      1. Julie*

        I think that people new to the work world sometimes need to be informed about things like the dress code, and sometimes in specific terms. I had quite a few conversations that were a bit embarrassing or challenging, where people had to point out things I just wasn’t picking up on, but I’m so glad they did (or I might still be naive and improperly dressed!).

        1. Elysian*

          Yes. Yes yes yes. It sounds like the student might not have a lot of exposure to office settings. It takes time to learn silent social cues – she might not have been in a position to learn them before. Specific written policies are really a blessing for young adults (at least they were for me). It’s unfair to expect her to know something you’ve never told her. You aren’t bring down the hammer with a dress code policy, you’re giving important guidelines. The “rules” seem to already be there in your mind – tell her and future employees so that the expectations are clear.

        2. Artemesia*

          At my last job, I was tasked with talking to a professional who often dressed inappropriately who was not even my report. But her own managers who outranked me were men who were unwilling to have the conversation. It was really embarrassing especially since I wasn’t her boss.

          I will say that I don’t get the leggings as pants trend. The marching mothers in Evanston are all het up about how unfair banning this is since it tends to be enforced against middle school girls who are overweight or who are maturing physically. I do see that the rule should be evenly enforced, but what is minimally acceptable for a ‘little girl’ in the way of tights as pants, is pretty inappropriate on a mature body. And these outfits really are only slightly less revealing than being naked. In the workplace this one should be a no brainer.

          1. Graciosa*

            That would frustrate me (the first part). It’s part of a manager’s job to deal with this stuff, and you shouldn’t be managing if you can’t do it. Having male managers avoid addressing problems with a subordinate because of her gender would irritate the heck out of me. I’m sorry you got stuck with it, but glad it’s now in the past.

            1. Jess*

              While I agree with you on principle that it is part of a manager’s job and a male manager shouldn’t be able to shirk a difficult conversation simply b/c he’s uncomfortable discussing the matter with a female report, I’m not sure that’s the only consideration. In some cases it may be more helpful (and less embarrassing) for the employee to receive such feedback from another woman. Especially b/c another woman may be able to offer more concrete and informative guidance on what dress is and isn’t appropriate. A male manager may be able to recognize that your dress is inappropriate, but I don’t know that many of my male colleagues could offer any practical guidance on women’s professional attire beyond that.

            2. MaryMary*

              At OldJob, there was an unwritten rule that male managers would pull a female manager into dress code conversations. It didn’t mean that the male manager didn’t have the conversation, it was more so that he had a witness. The “you’re showing too much cleavage for a professional environment” conversation can devolve into “why are you looking at my boobs” really fast. I’ve even known female managers who were accused as “being jealous” when having dress code conversations. I’m not a fan of passing off responsibility for the conversation to a woman, but it’s not a bad idea to have another person in the room.

            3. Jen RO*

              I would much, much rather have a female non-manager point it out to me than my male manager.

          2. Simonthegrey*

            I sometimes wear leggings as pants, but only with my appropriate costume since I attend Renaissance faires and conventions for my small business. Even then, they’re worn with a bustle or a long jacket.

      2. fposte*

        While you don’t want to deliberately make staff uncomfortable, it’s also not some great tragedy that you have to creep around to avoid. I agree with others that it’s better to wait until the end of the day if you’re not going to send her home to change, but it’s okay if the staffer is uncomfortable at realizing she’s done something inappropriate.

      3. Rose*

        Someone pointed this out last time this was a thing, but, if you wait until another day, it’s kind of awkward because you have to say “remember that dress you wore tuesday?” or risk being unclear if what they’re wearing today is fine.

        I think end of the day is fine. As long as you do it nicely, it shouldn’t be a huge deal.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      What is it with the leggings? Saw our intern with leggings on yesterday, paired with a waist-length top. When the leggings trend went around in my younger days, you wore a big oversized top. Still not exactly professional, but at least people couldn’t see your lady parts.

      1. AmyNYC*

        Our intern wore a strapless maxi dress last week and yesterday wore what I can only describe as “going out shorts” – going to a club maybe.

      2. Kelly L.*

        Yeah, leggings are a casual look, but they don’t need to be a revealing one if you wear the right kind of top with them. I like them for under dresses that are just a hair shorter than I’d like. It keeps me from worrying about gusts of wind, and in the winter helps keep me warm.

        1. Laura*

          That is my use for leggings! Under short dresses for modesty, and under long dresses for warmth, and sometimes for an accent (I have a black dress that would be socially-acceptable but not work-acceptable without leggings, and pairing it – not at work! – with a set of whimsical leggings is rather fun).

      3. Mints*

        Leggings aren’t necessarily revealing though. Workout leggings from the fitness department are meant to be worn as pants (like football spandex) (also “yoga pants”) and are functionally similar to basketball shorts or sweats. The problem is other types of leggings/rights/nylons/pantyhose that are functionally underwear instead of outerwear.

        All that said, I’ll wouldn’t wear them to an office job

        1. fposte*

          I think the “revealing” problem isn’t any lack of opacity of the fabric but the tightness of it, so to me all of them are revealing. Which is fine, as you say, when you’re wearing them at the right venue, but that’s also true of swimsuits and speed-skating suits.

          From a workplace standpoint, I’d say that if they fit like tights, you can’t wear ’em as if they were pants.

        2. Cassie*

          I have some coworkers who come back from exercising and stay in their workout leggings for the rest of the afternoon. I think it’s unprofessional, but we don’t have a dress code and no one says anything.

    3. Girasol*

      I’m still giggling over the woman I saw at work wearing a sweater with leggings. It might have looked okay had not the sweater been short and very bulky and the leggings thin and tight. It immediately brought back all those nightmares about stepping up to give a presentation at work and looking down to realize I somehow forgot to put on any pants.

  7. Sandy*

    Uh. Dress codes. There is no good way around these issues.

    I work in an international office in a very conservative Muslim country. One of our local staff comes in appropriately dressed every morning (no choice, she’d get heckled in the street otherwise) and then promptly gets UNDRESSED once she’s in the door.

    Her theory seems to be that since it’s an international office, anything goes, but the trouble is, at least half of her outfits wouldn’t be acceptable work attire even in North America. Not to mention that she deals with local clients on a regular basis.

    Of course, none of us want to say anything lest we come across like the unofficial religious police outside the door, but come on! Nipples are not appropriate!

    1. Name*

      This made me laugh really hard because I pictured someone going into management to say “Were you aware of the nipple problem in this office?”

      Some things are not worth getting worked up about. Keep your eyes on your own nipples!

      1. Sandy*

        In a place where elbows are not considered fit for public consumption, I’m a bit shocked that “keep your eyes on your own nipples” is considered the best option.

        1. Tina*

          I think most people would agree with you that it’s not appropriate office attire, assuming we’re talking about something really obvious (please tell me you didn’t actually mean that her nipples were completely visible) and not just the occasional “poking” through because of AC or something. I’m in the US and I certainly wouldn’t want to see that in a professional work environment. And context is everything – working in a conservative country with many local clients? That could be embarrassing for the organization.

  8. UK Anon*

    Re dress code: I found working with volunteers that a simple ‘smart casual’ was enough, and since there was a round note to the effect that dress code was smart casual so please don’t wear jeans when meeting clients there has only been one occasion when someone hasn’t worn appropriate clothing. So, if you are uncomfortable about getting a full blown dress code, maybe try a much more general approach and see if they respond well first?

    1. TK*

      I don’t even know what “smart casual” means, so I doubt college students are likely to.

      1. UK Anon*

        As I say, we didn’t have any major problems as soon as that went round – maybe you’re underestimating the majority of college students?

        1. Felicia*

          Perhaps “smart casual” is more of a UK term (since I see that’s where you’re from) I’ve never heard the term either, and it could just be a dialect difference

          1. UK Anon*

            Possibly! I’d always understood it to be pretty universal – and I would expect it to be fairly well understood in any business context – but maybe it hasn’t migrated.

            You learn something new every day!

            1. LBK*

              Yeah, I would say that’s a UK phrase because in the US I would assume “smart casual” meant a nice, fitted pair of jeans and a polo. It sounds like you’re talking more about the US standard of “business casual” – no jacket/tie necessary, but no jeans, sneakers, t-shirts, etc.

              1. TK*

                I just Wikipedia’d “smart casual,” and its definition is that it’s an “ill-defined dress code,” and mentions in the next sentence that whether it includes jeans is a common point of dispute. So clearly it’s a pretty-culturally defined term.

                Most of the references Wikipedia gives are from the UK or Commonwealth countries, so it must be more standard there. “Business casual” is to me more well-defined and a much more common term at least in the States.

                1. fposte*

                  Whereas I’m an American and I think “business casual” is very ambiguous and variable (not that “smart casual” is clearer, just that these terms in general don’t help a lot).

            2. Bozo*

              I think it’s very British. I lived and worked in the UK for many years, and have only ever heard it there. :)

          2. TheSnarkyB*

            No, it’s not just a UK term. When I was in college (in the US, & I’m American), my dress code at work was “snappy casual” or “smart casual.” We all knew what it meant, and we were also given examples. (“Something you’d wear to brunch with your grandma.” “Something you’d wear to a casual event, that was an event… But still casual..”) those don’t sound very specific but for some reason, we all got it.

            1. LD*

              Yes, I’ve heard it in the US for the past few years, as well. In addition to the descriptions you’ve provided, I heard it described as “country club casual,” which sounds to me like “brunch with your grandma.” It does seem to be “understood” for something that is so ill-defined.

              1. MaryMary*

                Ha. “Country club casual” makes me think I’ve have to wear a sweater tied around my shoulders and lots of pastels, khakis, and madras plaid.

            2. jmkenrick*

              I’ve heard ‘smart casual’ as well, although I wonder if it has a different connotation in the UK…just because I’ve noticed my boyfriend and his family use the word smart to describe a look pretty often. (“Well, don’t you look smart today?”)

              I’d say that’s less common in the US. It sounds dated to me, personally.

    2. Artemesia*

      I know many workplaces where jeans and a collared polo shirt would be considered ‘smart casual’ and many others where no one would have a clue what was meant. If you don’t want jeans then in this time when they are worn by most people most of the time, you have to say that.

  9. Julie*

    Regarding #1: I think that reading Alison’s interviewing guide (or watching the video) and following the instructions for getting prepared would help your confidence, which might help some of the other issues you mentioned. It made a big difference for me because I didn’t have to wonder – and hope – that I was prepared. I knew I was as ready as I could be.

  10. FatBigot*

    4: You “manage student workers in a college setting”. Your problem student has never worked in an office before and does not really notices subtleties of the things around her.

    Could you not turn this into a teaching moment? Tell her that an important aspect of office culture is fitting in. Ask her whether she has noticed any difference between the way she dresses and everybody else in the office. That sometimes it’s alright to have some characteristic that emphasises your individuality; but you want that to be deliberate. Not because you are simply blind to the office norms around you.

    Also first impressions count. In the office could she meet anyone in a position to offer further employment opportunities? What kind of impression is going to be formed by her current dress style? The impression she makes could also affect any reference she gets.

    1. Loose Seal*

      I wouldn’t ask her if she’s noticed she’s dressed differently. No need to give her a comparison complex.

      OP, you probably don’t know much about the students’ financial situation but be aware that the student may have the clothes she has and no means to go out and buy new ones, at least not right away. If you’ve seen her in outfits that work for your office, point those out. Otherwise, be sensitive that all the shorts she has may be the same short length and it might not be a fixable problem at the moment.

      (Yes, this is something one would have to fix quickly in an actual work environment — and I think this is still a teachable moment for her, with an eye to her future workplaces — but this is a student-worker. She’s working to pay for school, not new clothes.)

      1. Trixie*

        Agreed on the teachable moment, but whether its a low-end department store or thrift store I find its no more expensive to dress in a professional manner than casual. (Quality is a different issue.)

      2. fposte*

        And dressing appropriately is still part of the job. I have student workers too, and I’m not requiring them to buy tailored suits, or even own what it is they wear to work. But it’s still a workplace, and workplaces have standards. That’s fair.

      3. Victoria, Please*

        Thrift store + two less Starbucks runs = a new skirt.

        I had this exact same problem with a student in my office, and when I told her she needed to wear longer shorts, she whined that she didn’t have any; when I suggested pants she whined that it was hot. I said, in no uncertain tone, “Fix it,” and she quit at the end of the quarter. I was glad.

        Then we fixed the dress code. Wear your lab polo, skirts/shorts just above the knee, no ripped or dirty clothes, no visible underwear, tattoos okay as long as not offensive, piercings and dreadlocks fine, shoes required.

        1. Sara*

          You are assuming these people are spending money on Starbucks? It doesn’t even occur to you that actual poverty could be a factor? Wow

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I’m sure Victoria is quite aware that not everyone can afford Starbucks — but given how many people can, it’s not an unreasonable thing to point out. Not every piece of advice will work for every person, but it’s still okay to point out.

            Moreover, the reality is that work-appropriate clothing is a necessity for people with workplaces. Thrift stores are a good place to find it at low prices, and this could be a helpful thing for the OP to point out, with or without the Starbucks point (which she can use or not use, depending on her knowledge of the student).

            1. fposte*

              And if it’s not a commuter college, it’s quite likely she can find somebody to borrow from, which is even cheaper. (I suspect also that she’s not inappropriately dressed every single day, and that she can use the acceptable garments more often instead, too.)

            2. Kelly L.*

              The Starbucks thing is a really annoying cliche, though. I wish it could just be retired. It’s always brought up when people talk about cutting their budgets, but it’s often the first thing that got cut in the first place before advice was even asked for, kwim?

              I do agree that thrift stores are great. I’d have no work wardrobe at all without them.

              1. smilingswan*

                I agree. I always see that in budgeting articles. If I was paying to go out to eat, to the movies, or for ridiculously overpriced coffee, I probably wouldn’t need help! Personally, I haven’t been able to buy any new clothes (or anything else other than food and gas for my car- and I need the car- there is no public transportation to speak of and I had to commute 30 miles each way to my last job) for a few years now. And that includes thrift store runs. The well is dry.

              2. Anx*

                And if you are going out for a treat once in a while, that may be your only commercial interaction for the week or month (outside of grocery shopping). The power of getting out of your apartment and participating in commerce and your economy can be a very powerful boost for someone living in poverty, and worth skipping a meal or two over to indulge.

          2. GoingAnon*

            From Goodwill’s website:

            Clothing Assistance
            Should you need emergency clothing, help with back-to-school outfits or attire for a new job, many Goodwills provide one-time assistance to purchase clothing in a local Goodwill store. Contact your Goodwill to learn if it can help with your immediate clothing needs.

          3. Duckie*

            I have to agree with you. It also varies by school. I had a student worker who was thrilled when she found a five dollar bill on the ground because it meant she could buy another pair of pants. She only had one. I guess if we hadn’t liked those pants we should have fired her?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Come on, no one is saying that. But workplaces generally have dress codes and it’s reasonable to expect people to comply with them. If someone has an unusual situation where they can’t, they should raise that and you can see what can be worked out. But you don’t give everyone a pass because someone might have an atypical situation like that.

              1. Duckie*

                I can agree with that, it’s the dismissiveness I see and how many problems I run into in the workforce that are only solvable with money that make me uncomfortable.

      4. Loose Seal*

        I grew up in poverty and attended a college that was specifically for students who could not otherwise afford higher education. I admit that I will always flinch when someone suggests that the person with the problem throw money at it, even if it’s just a small amount. When I was in college, I worked as a student worker and students weren’t allowed cars. I could not have gotten to a Goodwill (if there was even one in town, I can’t remember) or to any other store. The clothes I had when I arrived on campus were the clothes I was to wear for the semester. I realize my situation is likely not the same as this students situation, but I don’t see why it would hurt to be sensitive to potential lack of funds.

        If this had been me, knowing I couldn’t get the required clothing, I would have quit in embarrassment, ending my college career. Luckily, I went to a school that understood that not everyone has come from a home where you could get the length of shorts required.

        1. Kelly O*

          While I sympathize with your story, I wish we could get away from our individual stories sometimes and look at this more objectively.

          The intern is dressed inappropriately for work. Period. She surely does not own one pair of pants or shirt.

          Again, I want to be sensitive to financial situations, however it’s important to take our own emotions out of this to a point. When this intern goes to work, s/he is not going to always encounter a super-sensitive employer, and being able to absorb feedback and deal with it objectively is an important part of working.

          The discussion has to be had. Once the discussion is over, then you can deal with the feedback from the intern. If s/he says “I’m in a tight spot right now and can’t go buy new clothes” THEN you can move into the “here are ways we can help you get around this” conversation.

          But initially? Just have the conversation. Be kind, be as positive as possible.

          One of my biggest faults as a person is that I plan too much I carry things out too far when “what-if” comes into play, and wind up not taking action because I get overwhelmed by the potential long-term consequences. If the conversation here never happens, the intern never learns. It’s all in how you present it.

          If you go in with a calm, professional, yet compassionate attitude about it, you’ll be able to deal with it.

          1. Loose Seal*

            I agree: “Be kind, be as positive as possible.” I’m not saying the conversation shouldn’t be had, because it certainly should. Just that the OP be sensitive.

            (I am only about eight years removed from poverty, myself, so it’s a little tough to put those emotions aside. Just like many people here get worked up over other types of discrimination, I will likely always get worked up about this one.)

          2. hildi*

            “The discussion has to be had. Once the discussion is over, then you can deal with the feedback from the intern. If s/he says “I’m in a tight spot right now and can’t go buy new clothes” THEN you can move into the “here are ways we can help you get around this” conversation.”

            This. That’s the key right there – a supervisor has to start somewhere and assume some things right off the bat. But as the conversation unfolds (the employee needs to have a part in the conversation) then assumptions can change into realities of that specific situation.

          3. ThursdaysGeek*

            This is excellent advice: be aware there may be what-ifs, but start the conversation and then be willing to move on from there as needed.

            I was a poor college student too, and I think my only ‘new’ clothes during the year were given to me and a pair of jeans I got from dumpster diving. But that doesn’t mean I should remain ignorant of necessary standards, even if attaining them would be a challenge.

            1. LD*

              “…that doesn’t mean I should remain ignorant of necessary standards, even if attaining them would be a challenge.” Excellent and well-made point.

        2. fposte*

          I agree it’s worth being sensitive to potential lack of funds, and frankly I think sensitivity should be part of the thought process in any conversation about dress. That’s not the same thing as saying the employer has to accept whatever the student wears to work. I’ve noted two solutions that don’t involve any additional cost at all–borrowing from classmates and wearing the clothes she has that are appropriate more often–which can easily be part of the conversation, and there may be other possibilities available if I know what’s going on.

          But ultimately I need my staff, student and otherwise, to be willing to work out problems, with me or without me. The notion that a student might quit simply because feedback has been given is sad, but that prospect won’t and shouldn’t keep me from giving my staff feedback, no matter how hard it is sometimes to hear.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I would also add that sometimes churches have a program to help college students- with supplies/clothes. Just something to keep an eye out for.

      5. Zillah*

        I was going to say this, too. Dressing appropriately is definitely important, but I’d try to keep in mind that there are financial limitations that are especially present for students. IMO, it’s totally okay to say that shirts can’t reveal too much of your chest or that skirts/shorts must be a certain length, but it’s not quite so fair to say “no jeans” or “button-down shirts” (for example).

        1. fposte*

          I’m not seeing the unfairness, though, or the reason why students should get special slack compared to, say, minimum-wage workers who face the same problems.

          1. Loose Seal*

            Actually, many minimum-wage workers have to buy the company uniform or, if they are in clothing retail, buy their work clothes from the store where they are working. They get very little slack due to financial issues. I could go on and on about the issue of unfairly “taxing” minimum-wage workers but I risk derailing the thread. (I am willing to discuss this issue on one of the open threads but I’m not going to do it here after this post unless Alison says this falls in line with today’s letters.)

            I do see where Zillah is coming from about the “fairness” issue. If a student is told to wear long pants to work and they only own jeans, is it actually fair to mandate dress slacks or khakis? Does it really make a difference to the work being done what the long pants are made of as long as they conform to whatever code is necessary for the employment (no holes, properly hemmed (if there’s a danger of tripping), clean, neat, no underwear exposed, etc.)? Or is it that the office just wants a standard look? For instance, someone above was talking about working in food service in college and had to wear black pants to that. Why weren’t other pants allowed with the company shirt? I think it’s to maintain a “look” and I don’t think that’s particularly fair to those who can’t afford to buy the specific item.

            1. fposte*

              It’s the singling out of students that I’m questioning. If you want to talk about dress requirements as being a tough bar for low-income people, I’m with you on that discussion, but while there’s some overlap with students that’s not the same category. To me some posts have suggested in different ways that student workers should have different requirements because of their being students, and I don’t see that as fair or valid.

            2. Zillah*

              Yep, this is kind of along the lines of what I was saying, especially since work study is typically awarded based specifically on financial need. I had friends in undergrad who had work study and even with that money could barely afford to eat. They dressed neatly for their work study – clean pants with no holes, shirts that were in good shape and not too revealing or short – but I truly can’t imagine how they would have managed to buy a truly professional wardrobe, even secondhand or at H&M.

              1. Kelly L.*

                This. it’s not workers-who-are-students generally, but work-study employees almost certainly have financial need; that’s how they got into the work-study program in the first place. Many of the ones I supervised had to have another job too, as well as other kinds of aid.

          2. Zillah*

            I guess I see it that way for a couple reasons, most of which are centered around the fact that, in my experience, work study is different from most jobs in a lot of notable ways.

            Among them: work study is far more flexible than any other job I’ve encountered, because the point of work study is generally to help students in financial need. If your schedule changes – you have new classes, you have regular lab time that comes up, etc – your bosses tend to take it in stride, because they understand that school is supposed to be your first priority.

            Similarly, you might cut back on classes to accommodate another job, but I can’t imagine anyone doing that for their work study. It defeats a lot of the purpose – work study is good in that it helps students get used to a professional environment, but that’s not really why students get awarded work study. They get awarded work study because of financial need directly related to their education.

            This is broadly speaking – there are obviously exceptions, especially for public-facing roles. But… I don’t know. I think that talking about work study like it’s any other job isn’t really useful, because it’s not. I can understand requiring students to look neat and put-together, and in some cases, yes, more professional attire… but work study is so radically different from other jobs that I don’t think that applying standards from other jobs as though they’re exactly the same thing is really useful.

            1. fposte*

              But there’s no indication that this is work-study–most student employment isn’t.

              1. Zillah*

                Maybe it’s just that my experience is in public schools, but in both of my schools, the vast majority of student workers who weren’t working in the dining halls were work study. If they’re not, my opinion might change a little.

                1. fposte*

                  To be honest, I have very little experience with work-study, so I don’t know how that would shape my thinking. But around here the straight out school hourly/salaried outnumbers them substantially.

                  Additionally, many students with jobs aren’t working for the university at all (our university will include many of those on their job boards as well).

                2. Kelly L.*

                  True, lots of students work off campus–but the OP sounds like she’s on campus.

                3. fposte*

                  @Kelly L.–Yeah, sorry, my comment was confusing–the OP is clearly working on campus. What I meant was is that a lot of people working as students are working at basic workplace jobs, whether on or off campus, where “no jeans” or “no short shorts” are pretty SOP.

              2. Anx*

                Interesting. I cannot find a job on campus in part because there are very few ‘student’ opportunities for anyone that is not on work study.

                In undergrad, I got a job through work study. I later got ‘grandfathered’ into a job when I no longer was on work study because I had already been hired.

                I think it’s school specific. My undergraduate school had many student workers who were not work study and hired mostly based on skill, interest, and fit. The school I am currently enrolled it won’t talk to me at all about positions available for students because I’m not on work-study.

          3. Erin*

            Well, if it is anything like the college I went to, the first and most important focus is education. I’m reading this as some sort of work-study job, and I think that it is important for the supervisors in this situation to acknowledge that the job is not the student’s top priority, that staying in college probably is. Compounded with this fact is that college students can have huge expenditures (tuition, room, board) that are higher and less discretionary than the average minimum wage worker, while often also being less able to work enough hours to cover them.

            Additionally, college jobs are often scheduled in shifts that are not very long (maybe 1-4 hours), and are scheduled around classes…so it’s very possible that this student is just wearing what she wore to class, without thinking about how different the expectations would be.

            1. fposte*

              Sure, I think a lot of students don’t realize that class wear isn’t always work wear. But I don’t think any of that means that the OP can’t ask her employee to stick to the clothing that’s office appropriate in the office.

              1. Zillah*

                Totally agree, but I think the standards shouldn’t necessarily be the same as what they would be in a full/part time office job.

      6. TheSnarkyB*

        I agree about not asking her if she’s noticed. Don’t turn it into a humiliating pop quiz.

      7. Girasol*

        Wasn’t there a woman her a year or two ago who was mortified that she had been through some difficulties, was penniless as a result, and didn’t know what to do when her boss made specific requirements for dress code that she could in no way afford? IIRC someone here helped her out.

  11. KayDay*

    #1 (nervous energy): try to videotape yourself (or have a friend help). I think really seeing yourself do the things you shouldn’t be doing can help you correct them, more so than just thinking about it alone can.

    #4 (dress code): Try thinking about what people wear and writing a dress code based off of what you see in the office (that you are okay with). For example, jeans are ok as long as they are in good shape, have a high enough waist band and no crazy details, sleeveless shirts are okay, but anything with straps more narrow than 3 inches is not, etc. Then you can use those examples that you have actually seen to discuss with the employee.

    1. Trixie*

      #1, I’m wondering if there isn’t a way to make a game out of the practice sessions. Like asking a question and having to wait five seconds before answering. Bizarro Jeopardy? Or maybe charades? Either way, the more practice the better so you can really focus on slowing….down.

    2. Hooptie*

      #1 – try taking a breath before you start speaking and after each sentence. Also, clearly enunciating your words naturally slows down your rate of speech (and makes you sound so much sharper at the same time).

  12. Anx*

    #4. I’ve worked in several college settings, with different (mostly implied) dress codes for different jobs or different events. Are your workers involved with other organizations on campus? Attending classes? I know I often felt out of place on the days I needed to wear business attire for an afternoon conference in chem lab. If these workers are students I’d definitely try to aim to design the dress code keeping in mind that these workers might be wearing the same clothes while studying, going to class, doing moderate physical activity,etc.

    Another point is that I think it’s important that while the dress code should allow for consideration that these are students, it should also be structured enough that it’s specific. College work environments can be much trickier to navigate that typical office settings. The overall informal atmosphere can give off an ‘anything goes’ vibe. The same students that might dress very professionally in other settings completely miss the mark on campus. Especially when money is an issue and its difficult to have loungewear, school clothes, dress clothes, office clothes and then something a little less dressy but still work appropriate.

    You seem to be conscientious of the fact that money is an issue. Are there a few common items you see worn by your workers and others that could easily be incorporated with a few adjustments? Images of those mix and match day –>night, office –>weekend come to mind. I don’t know where you are, but I know working and living on campuses in the summer can mean commuting by un-airconditioned buses or walking quite a bit. There are a few shorter, lighter skirts that are very comfortable in heat but also look nicer and more work appropriate than short shorts.

    1. Jake*

      I came to say the same thing. Folks don’t realize that she may be coming straight from an unairconditioned auditorium with 600 students where the temperature is well over 100 degrees, or a lab where you handle chemicals that stain clothes or a class that just required moderate physical exertion. The rules need to be accommodating to those circumstances or you need to hire non students.

      1. fposte*

        I disagree strongly with this. These are paid employees. Lots of paid employees have to move between different environments and still dress appropriately. This is not an onerous dress requirement, and it’s one that most students manage to meet just fine.

      2. Trixie*

        That’s all well and good but the work place is the work place. While I may usually be able to dress in business casual most days, some days require more and you just have to suck it up.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Eh, plenty of student workers work in places with strict professional dress codes and they make it work. That’s not terribly unusual or onerous.

      4. CAA*

        My college student daughter has backpacks and messenger bags where she can easily carry a pair of pants and a T-shirt, and her campus has an ample number of restrooms she can use for changing between the class and work if she needs to. That seems pretty typical of most students and campuses to me.

      5. MaryMary*

        In college there was one quarter where I went straight from a rec class in the pool to my job as an office assistant for the Dean of Students. Class ended five minutes early so we had time to rinse off, and I had ten minutes to get across campus to work. I showed up with wet hair (in a bun or braid) and out of breath a couple times, but I always dressed appropriately.

    2. BadPlanning*

      I was thinking the same thing — especially if it’s a work study type of job where you are working on campus for the college. Some of my college jobs were working for 1 hour between classes (making copies for professors). Some were working for 4 hours (covering a cafeteria shift). I’m not saying that gives the student a free reign to wear whatever, but it does add some constraints that I would argue a normal job does not often have. It has the added adventure of figuring out how to dress for multiple events in one day. Often called “planning ahead” without your mom to remind you that while you don’t need a jacket at 9AM, you may well need one at 8PM.

      1. Kelly L.*

        This is a good point, and it’s probably why one of the food service jobs I worked in college actually kept the work polos on site. You just had to remember to wear black pants on your work day, and when you got to work, you’d go into the back and put on one of the polos. They were washed on site too–this was one of the tasks you’d sometimes have as an employee. In retrospect, it was a pretty helpful setup, as most of us were working weird hours sandwiched around other commitments.

  13. James M*

    #1: Have you tried breathing exercises? If you notice that your breathing is often rapid and shallow, like a squirrel, people might interpret that as ‘nervous energy’. But don’t just huff & puff, follow a guide. Google is your friend.

  14. misspiggy*

    OP#1 might find she is interrupting people because she can’t keep what she wants to say in her head long enough to let someone else finish. If that’s the case, having a small notepad and pen to jot down answers as they occur can be helpful. Practise thinking and writing while listening to others, even if it’s the TV. If I can’t write I hold onto one finger for every point I think of while someone else is talking.

    1. Nodumbunny*

      Yes, I use this trick too. I have to be very conscious of this myself, but it’s really important you find a way to stop interrupting, because it’s rude. The nervous energy comes across as nervous, and that’s one thing. The interrupting comes across as not being interested in what the other person is saying, which is a different thing completely.

    2. AVP*

      Yes! Former interrupter here…I had to learn to stop when my boss told me it was my fatal flaw and I needed to fix it. Just being really conscious of the problem was a good first step. As one of the other commenters has said before (fposte maybe?), it’s easy to think of your bad habits as something you only do occasionally, not as a pattern that needs to be fixed, while others see the big picture.

      Jotting down points to bring up later is really helpful. Also practicing polite segues so you can easily go back to a point that was glossed over, or redirect the conversation if it needs to be (after the other person is done talking). It seems silly to practice these out loud on a friend but it really helps.

      And at least, in the workplace, you can realize that sometimes you just don’t get to say everything you wanted to say, and that’s okay too – it’s usually not essential information anyway!

    3. QK*

      That’s an awesome idea! (Former interrupter here as well.) I try to keep imaginary post-it notes in my head, but actually writing things down sounds way more effective.

      OP #1, one thing I found helpful is, when you catch yourself interrupting, to make sure to return the conversation to the speaker gracefully. When I first was kicking the habit, I found that I didn’t even realize I was interrupting until like 4 or 5 words in. I felt really awful when I realized, and at first thought like “well crap, the damage is already done”. But then I decided it was important to figure out a recovery strategy, since I wasn’t even realizing soon enough to prevent it just yet. Try saying something like, “Shoot, I’m sorry, I totally just interrupted you there. Please, continue what you were saying about xyz.” Maybe even add that it’s something you’re actively working on. After a while I began to pre-emptively catch myself from interrupting, but this strategy helped give me the understanding and goodwill I needed to get there.

  15. Tomato Frog*

    (she doesn’t pick up subtleties like how big my eyes got when I saw her)

    Well, facial expressions are going to be an inefficient way to communicate a specific message to anyone, no matter how alert and intuitive they are. Passive methods can be accidentally unkind — for example, she could have picked up on your expression and just thought it mean that you were unhappy to see her.

    I can’t speak for this student worker, but I find it such a comfort when I have a manager who I know will tell me if I’m misstepping.

    1. Clinical Social Worker*

      Yeah, she’s missing subtle signals that could mean…well anything. Good point, Tomato Frog.

    2. Iggy Azalea Love*

      Personally, I really dislike when someone uses subtlety to let me know when they disapprove and/or I’m doing something wrong. I’m all for someone being direct but kind, especially in situations like this. As others have pointed out, if the student is relatively new to an office setting, she may have no idea that she is dressing inappropriately and may need some gentle guidance. Another thing to consider is that she may not own any office-appropriate clothing and may not have the money to buy it. (Not making excuses for the student – just trying to think of it from various perspectives.)

      Stop the passive agressive, “I wish she would pick up on my hint so I don’t have to be mean” behavior, please. It’s annoying.

      1. Taz*

        Yes, when I was just starting in the workforce I wanted to look attractive — which in my early 20something mind was much different than what is attractive in a professional setting. I thought I was being rather conservative (if the outfits I wore were compared to college students going all out to be sexy at a night-club, for example), and did vaguely notice that no one else quite dressed like me, but I took that as a sign of my forward-thinking fashion sense. Someone does need to be direct, but kind. Transitioning to the career world isn’t a natural thing and it’s generally not taught (though, like managing credit cards etc., it should be).

        1. Iggy Azalea Love*

          Ditto on managing credit cards! That really needs to be a core high school and/or college course, IMO.

        2. Career Counselorette*

          Yeah, definitely. My first temp job, I was 19 years old and I figured that as long as I looked put together, I was fine. Among some of my notable work outfits were a vintage prom dress with a jean jacket, a wrap dress with a Tarot card pattern, and one of those mesh crop tops (but I was wearing slacks and a cami with them, jeez). I managed to retain the job for the entire duration, because I was a killer admin and they couldn’t complain about my work ethic, and also because my boss was a misogynist. Rather than give me any direct feedback about how I could dress more professionally for the office, my direct supervisor would tell me that I looked like a stripper. (While she wore a pair of bunny slippers under her desk.)

          1. AnotherAlison*

            I hear you! I bought all new clothes for my first post-grad job, but I had a call center job during college to which I wore some inappropriate things. No prom dress, but black “going out” jeans with motorcycle boots (it was business casual/no blue jeans or sneakers, so I was trying to pass this off as slacks and dress shoes). I was a married student with a baby – we fell into that category of not having money. I’m sure I could have got appropriate clothes somewhere (my mom, for one), but in my head, I was fine as I was. No one ever said anything.

            While I still shake my head at intern workwear, I now think it’s just something many of us mess up and figure out with maturity. Kind of like all the new grads who are going to be running the place in 5 yrs (when asked their goals in interviews).

      2. Love You Iggy*

        Agreed. It’s so condescending. I’d rather someone were stern with me or blatantly displeased, at least I know where I stand.

      3. Tinker*

        Yeah, I very much agree with this. IME the best thing one can say about such “subtle signs” is that they rely on standards assumed (often incorrectly) to be mutually known — and I also have a lot of experience with said signaling used to make requests that are ultimately unreasonable and would sound obviously so if made openly.

        Personally, I don’t tend to make eye contact with people and hence would likely never notice if their eyes “got big” — and if I did notice they were giving me an ugly look, I’d assume (to be blunt) it was a sign of them being something of an ugly-minded person, not necessarily that I needed to change what I was doing.

      4. Kelly*

        The passive aggression/subtle approach doesn’t seem to work for most people. Many people new to the workplace may not know what is considered appropriate and what isn’t. They may appreciate some direct guidance about what works and what needs to be modified. I think in order for a discussion like that to work the person giving the advice has to have come across as wanting to be helpful and a good mentor, rather than a busybody or know it all.

        I don’t think shorts are appropriate for office or air conditioned workplaces. I work at an university and I can’t believe the number of people who have office jobs in air conditioned buildings who wear shorts, tank tops, and t-shirts with holes in them. Sometimes the student workers dress better than the permanent staff.

        I was having a similar conversation with my dad this weekend because the AC in his workplace hasn’t been working consistently. He wears his slacks and polo shirt every day during the week, and only wears jeans and a t-shirt (usually one with a company logo) on the Saturdays he works. He was telling me about one of the office workers who was wearing a low cut tank top and daisy duke shorts because her position requires her to go between the office and the floor. One of the floor supervisors, a woman, made a comment that she needed to dress more appropriately. I added that how she was dressed was inviting a sexual harassment lawsuit if she felt one of the men looked at her in a way that she deemed hostile and inappropriate or made comments to her about it.

    3. AVP*

      Either that or she did notice and she’s thinking, why is my manager looking at me like I’m crazy? Do I have food in my teeth?

      1. Clinical Social Worker*

        Which is worse, it falls into the “unnecessarily unkind” category for me.

    4. Koko*

      This was exactly the line I came here to comment on. You can’t expect your employees to read your silent eye language accurately. My boyfriend and my best friend are the only people I trust to understand what I’m communicating with my eyes.

  16. Anna*

    #4, I worked as a co-director in a residence hall and had the responsibility of managing the desk staff. We gave them shirts to wear, but we had the EXACT same policy you have “dress neatly, cleanly, and appropriately”.

    One of my girls took the shirt the very first day and cut a V into it so she could show off some cleavage. She didn’t understand at all why I gave her a new shirt and told her not to alter this one.

    1. Anx*

      Res staff at my school would wear their staff shirts (t shirts and polos) on their own sometimes just because. Then one year res life came up with the most hideous polos imagineable. Drab olive gray (and I actually like olive clothes…this was….something else) that looked like sad asphalt and bright yellow print with blocky text (the kind that has no movement) and of course that year they weren’t fitted as well (mostly oversized).

      I still have no idea what they were thinking. Workers looked like actually construction equipment.

      1. Anna*

        I liked mine! Since I was professional staff I got the nice shirts AND the shirts the RA’s got. I would wear the RA shirts sometimes just because I liked the long sleeved one.

        But the desk shirts were…eh. Baby blue. Kinda boring.

  17. fiat_lux*

    OP 1 – are you like this with friends and family as well? If so, consider enlisting them to help. Tell close friends and family that you’re working on improving your communication skills, and ask them to point out to you when you ramble, interrupt, etc. I think a common problem for folks that do this is that they may be generally aware that they have these tendencies, but not aware of what they’re doing in the moment because it’s become natural for them to communicate a certain way.

  18. Anonypants*

    4) Dress codes, even when spelled out, can be unclear and result in a lot of confusion about what’s “really” against the rules. People try to see what they can get away with, and sometimes rules are sporadically enforced. They’re helpful, but you can’t rely on them completely, so whether you have a clearly written code or just general rules, you do need to tell people when their attire is inappropriate, especially when dealing with young people who haven’t yet learned how to dress for work.

    You can also advise her on where to buy work clothes that don’t cost a lot. H&M is usually a good go-to for young people.

  19. Iggy Azalea Love*

    H&M is a great suggestion for work clothing that doesn’t have to cost a lot. Believe it or not, Forever 21 used to have some work appropriate gear, but now it’s all crop tops with kitten faces screenprinted on them.

    JP Penney actually has a lot of work appropriate (and cute) clothing as well.

    1. Anonypants*

      One of my favorite work dresses when I was first starting out was a red dress from Forever 21 that was usually paired with a black blazer. Granted it probably wouldn’t have flown in a super conservative office due to its neckline, but no one ever said anything to me about it being unprofessional.

      But that’s the thing, people are going to wear what they think will be acceptable, very few people actually try to rebel against dress codes, they just figure if a garment is a problem someone will say something, and if no one says anything they assume it’s okay. This is a situation where silence communicates acceptance.

    2. littlemoose*

      I used to find some good slacks at Old Navy. They also generally carry polos for women in basic colors that can be nice for a casual-but-no-jeans office.

      If the budget’s a little higher, I love Gap’s dress pants. Machine washable and they wear well all day. You can almost always get coupons at Gap or wait for sales.

      1. littlemoose*

        *Edit to add: I think Old Navy’s polos, and some of Gap’s pants, are online only, though you can return them at the store if they don’t work out.

    3. CoffeeLover*

      Second. Hand. Shops. I cannot stress this enough. I found a nice consignment store in my city and have purchased so many treasures. Designer brands with tiny price tags :D. This isn’t even about not being able to afford “better”.. the stuff there is great!

  20. GrumpyBoss*

    For #4, the best advice I received as a young woman entering the workforce was: Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. That may be a good nugget to pass along to your student, without having to actually call out the short shorts and embarrass her.

    I’m not a fan of dress codes, unless you are in an office that is client facing. Otherwise, I like to think that people are adults and will make the appropriate choices, and hopefully, others will find other things to obsess over.

    1. Tinker*

      Secretly in my heart I want to be a bicycle barbarian roaming the wastelands, or possibly Al Kavadlo. In both of these roles, one wears shorts to work and probably no shirt.

      Which is not to say I think this advice is not good — actually I think it is excellent, provided that the implementation is tempered with wisdom — but most of the time when it’s given there seem to be some underlying assumptions that don’t always work well. Such as that the clothing to be worn for the aspired-to position is well-defined and appropriate for the current position. Or appropriate generally. Or legal.

      In the case under discussion, I think it’s especially unfortunate to give the advice to a person to dress for the future when what is wanted is that they dress for the present and particularly that they do and refrain from doing certain very specific things. It’s kind of a “pieces of flair” sort of thing — ask for the behavior you want, not something that could be entirely other than that.

      1. Tina*

        lol to the barbarian!

        I agree that it can be very useful advice, but also agree with Tinker that there are potential assumptions there. What if the person already has the job they want? Or in my case, I don’t want any job that requires formal business attire.

  21. Graciosa*

    Regarding #2, your current boss should be well able to handle this issue if there is an actual issue, but I wouldn’t worry about it. You were just promoted, so your current boss either thinks you were doing a good job in your previous role or believes you have the potential to do a good job in your new role (probably both). Your former manager would make himself look petty and incompetent if his input appears to be unfair or unprofessional, which is probably not how he wants to appear to his boss.

    He also may – if he applied for the role himself – feel that if there is a competition between the two of you, your current manager will choose you over him. Your former manager would be really stupid to create this problem for himself.

    All of that said, the situation you’re describing is a common one as you start moving up in an organization, and there are a couple skills you can start to work on developing that will really help you out in the long run. The first is how to make the switch from subordinate to co-worker with grace, and the second is how to build relationships.

    For the first, you need to appear confident in your new role while avoiding any appearance of arrogance. Recognize that the most confident, successful people have no problem saying that they don’t know something or asking questions. It’s easy in a new role to think you must know everything (after all, they just picked you for the job!) or swing to imposter syndrome and wonder when everyone will find out you know nothing. The truth is in the middle, and you have to keep yourself from edging into either extreme.

    There are also usually a host of subtle cues about rank in a company, and you have to make sure that you’re switching to use the correct ones. These can include more obvious items such as dress, office location, or parking spaces to subtleties about the tone used in meetings. For example, two VPs speak to each other much differently than they speak to a subordinate who is presenting to them. Casual discussion may take place in front of the subordinates, but more serious debates to resolve real disagreements do not.

    Some people pick this stuff up almost automatically, but if you’re not one of them you need to pay attention and send the right cues. Otherwise, people will have a sense that you’re not adapting to your new role even if most of them can’t articulate why.

    The next focus should be on building your relationships in your new role – where your former manager is now your colleague. I cannot stress the importance of this skill enough – it really matters. Solid relationships are the key to functioning effectively as you move up in an organization.

    You describe your role in a way that makes it clear it will have a widespread impact, which means this is important for you now. Take the time to seek out the people who will be impacted by your new policies and get their input. Ask what they think will help make the organization more effective, what the biggest problems are, etc.

    Unless this is a huge no-no in your culture (there are some anomalies out there) asking for input should be seen as collaborative and helpful rather than a sign of weakness (again, it’s arrogant to assume you know everything). Other people (especially the ones who do the work and would be most effected by the changes) have ideas that can improve your work product. Take advantage of the good ones, remembering that asking for input does not mean yielding the final responsibility for decisions.

    Done well – which is a bit of an art, but you may as well start practicing now – this can not only improve the quality of your work, it can ease the adoption of the new policies (making your boss’ job easier, which is a big plus) and build allies within the organization which will make it easier to accomplish other things in the future.

    Your former boss should be one of the people you’re consulting, and you should spend some time on this relationship in particular. In addition to “I know that the policy changes will affect you, and I wanted to make sure I had your input” which is the general message to most stakeholders, you should probably add a touch of “I thought you might have concerns about the direction this could take, and wanted to talk them over with you and make sure I understand them” or even “You have such a wealth of knowledge about the best ways to reduce quality escapes in teapot production, and I was hoping you would be willing to share a few pointers.”

    Your current boss (assuming competence) wants things functioning smoothly. Your taking the time to smooth things over with your former boss – and even assuaging some of his fears – would be hugely helpful.

    The higher you move, the more important managing relationships will be – not for its own sake, although it is a separate skill, but because this is how work gets done. Start now – and best wishes in your new role.

  22. Jen*

    As a side note for college campuses, when I was a student we would have a resale store come in every year and do a lecture on office dress with a mini fashion show. The business fraternity would sponsor it. It was really useful for me to see what was appropriate and then also see that I could buy these items at a consignment store without spending a lot of money.

    If your area does not have that sort of store, there are others. My dad used to work at Brooks Brothers and I know he did lectures at area campuses (especially the law schools) about appropriate office dress. That’s a bit cost prohibitive for most grads but the lessons learned could be transferred to cheaper brands.

    1. Graciosa*

      I think this was a great service, and I wish more schools did this. I would volunteer my time to go and provide commentary if it would help at a local school. The students need this information, and addressing it en masse before they enter the work force seems like a much better plan than leaving some of the them to screw up and hope that they’re lucky enough to work for a manager who is willing to address it directly.

  23. Lorraine*

    #1 – When I first started interviewing I did a lot of the same things but learned to control them. Do a couple of mock interviews with friends and when you feel yourself about to talk write down a note instead of interrupting.

    As for the nervousness, if you’re qualified for the job you’re interviewing for remind yourself that you’re fully competent and the employer would be lucky to have you to calm down and relax.

  24. OP # 4*

    There is lots of great advice up there. One of the biggest reasons I am reluctant to set a dress code is because I, personally hate them and think they are often unfair. I am a person with the cleavage issue (I wear scarves almost all the time) so I really understand it. These particular shorts though are I think what would be called “booty shorts”, and bare more than leg!

    Honestly the 2 reasons I worry about it is a) I want her to leave having learned how to work in an office setting and b) there are busybodies in other departments who have complained about a previous worker (who in my opinion was not dressing inappropriately at all, she was just tall).

    It would be easier to say no shorts, but they all have a very hot walk

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The thing is, there IS a dress code; it’s just unspoken. So they’re in a position where they’re dressing inappropriately without realizing it. It’s far kinder to make it clear for them.

      1. OP # 4*

        I guess that is what I struggle with- how to make it clear for shorts! I guess- no booty shorts? Everything seems to hinge on the person actually understanding what appropriate is or doesn’t quite work- like the fingertip rule, which would be very inappropriate on me!

        I understand about the disservice- that is why it is an issue for me- I want to make sure she understands appropriate dress.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I would think “thighs fully covered” would be a bare minimum. (Even that is way too short for most offices, but it sounds like it might be okay in yours.)

          1. TheSnarkyB*

            Isn’t everything til the knee considered thigh? That seems really long to me..

        2. Graciosa*

          You may need to find a way to translate this into something she would understand. It’s hard to guess what that would be, but perhaps she would understand guidance not to wear anything you would not want to wear “To meet your boyfriend’s mother at a church picnic [the picnic is to allow for shorts]” or “To give a campus tour to a member of the scholarship committee” or something similar would resonate.

        3. Clinical Social Worker*

          What about knee-length shorts? There are plenty of “Bermuda” style shorts. If she doesn’t want to wear shorts, she can wear knee-length skirts.

        4. Anx*

          Would it be helpful to define what type of shorts are allowed? City? Bermuda? Slightly poofy? Culottes? No blue jean shorts? No rolls? No cut offes? No rips? No visible pockets?

          I think you need to be specific. “Professional” or typical “office wear” usually precludes shorts altogether. So ‘shorts allowed’ would read ‘casual’ to some people.

          One thing we did at my university for guiding student dress for certain events was to make a little guide, as a lot of freshman were from all over the country and had different associations for the same words. We found pictures of target outfits of various styles. We also had guide for what not to wear.

    2. Graciosa*

      It’s perfectly possible to wear shorts on the way to work and change them for something else (inexpensive skirt of appropriate length?) once you arrive. The other item can be carried with you or left at work if there’s a place for it.

      I do have a fair amount of sympathy for heat issues, but learning to manage this is part of the skills you need to hold down a job.

      The good news is that the work environment still wouldn’t be that bad even if you put the kibosh on shorts. My first professional job required me to wear black, navy or charcoal full wool suits with nylons and heels in the summer in a very hot city in the southwest. The heat from the pavement literally melted the plastic tips of my heels just walking from the parking lot.

      Trust me when I tell you that insisting on walking shorts or a skirt (actually cooler) without nylons while at the office is not cruel and unusual punishment. The more important point is to make sure you do not send these students into the work force unprepared – please help them out by coaching them on what is and is not appropriate before it jeopardizes someone’s career.

      1. Ellie H*

        Yeah, I wear Spandex bike shorts to bike to work sometimes and just put a skirt on over them in the parking garage elevator (if I’m the only person in the elevator!).

    3. Fabulously Anonymous*

      “think they are often unfair” – not to be flip, but the issue isn’t the existence of a dress code but how it is written. Since you understand the effect of a poorly written dress code, you’re in a perfect position to write a fair one. And the guidance you provide to your student workers will help them later in their career.

    4. CoffeeLover*

      OP, just talk to her instead of spending time wording the particulars of a dress code. When she’s wearing the inappropriate shorts say, “Jane, the shorts you’re wearing today are a bit too short. From now on please wear short to this length (point).” Done. If she still give you trouble which I doubt, then reiterate. A dress code might save you from similar future conversations, but if you don’t want to set one up, then having these conversations is the way to go.

    5. FarFromBreton*

      As a fellow tall woman (though one who would never wear booty shorts to the office!), I can vouch that it’s a struggle. Most skirts/dresses seem to be cut to hit low/mid-thigh nowadays, which on me is often miniskirt length. There have been a few times when I’ve worn a dress or skirt (sometimes to work!) only to see myself in a better mirror and realize that it’s very short. Since I buy most of my clothes at thrift/discount stores out of necessity, I don’t have a ton of options (even stores that offer tall sizes in business-appropriate wear usually only have it online). Even though I have a large summer wardrobe and work in a casual office, I’m running into this problem now–casual dresses cut long for normal people (and therefore appropriate on me) are often skimpier up top to compensate, and dresses that cover a lot up top are often short. While wearing short shorts to work indicates that she might be ignorant of dress codes in general, you could mention that it’s probably hard to find clothes that fit long when you’re tall and that she might not realize how short some things look when seen from a distance. Since you -do- know how tall she is, if you have a discussion with her personally instead of issuing a dress code, you could give her a rough guideline for how far from the knee hemlines could stray.

  25. Lamington*

    For #1 I do the same I talk very fast when I’m nervous. Practice the answers and count in your head until 5 to slow down, breathe and smile.

  26. Ann Furthermore*

    #3: This would really tick me off because (to me anyway) it sounds like the interviewer is trying to pressure or intimidate the OP into provide this information just because she wants it and for no other reason. It’s common sense that a person interviewing for new positions would want to control when his or her manager finds out about it. Something like that would make me consider withdrawing from the hiring process altogether. What else might someone be pressured to do that they’re not comfortable with?

    This reminds me of something that happened to me years ago when I was trying to deal with a shady roofing company. We bought a house, and part of the deal with the buyer was a new roof. There had been a huge hail storm, and the seller submitted an insurance claim and found a company to do the work. They got 50% up front, and the remainder was sitting in escrow. They’d already gotten a nice chunk of change for doing nothing, so were not motivated to come and do the job. I had to relentlessly harangue them to get someone to call me back. When I finally got to talk to someone in person he eventually said that they’d be able to do the job the next week, but that they’d need the rest of the money up front. According to him, it was a “standard industry practice” that the roofing company is paid in full before any work is performed. At that point, I told my husband that this guy obviously thought I was stupid because I’m a woman, and that he could deal with them from that point on.

    1. fposte*

      On #1: One trick that helps me is to have the voice of somebody you know (I actually used an essayist on the PBS NewsHour for years–thanks, Anne Taylor Fleming!) in your head as a pattern for rhythm and pace. Another is to take a sip of water from the water glass you hopefully have (I would recommend against the water *bottle*, though) as you marshal your thoughts.

      And in general, the things to practice are 1) knowing what you’re going to say before you say it rather than making it up on the fly and 2) being comfortable with silence, so you don’t rush in unprepared just because there’s a pause.

      1. Trixie*

        The Pause. I was never really aware of my need to fill a pause until I had manager who paused all the time. I’m sure I didn’t pick it up on it then but it really helped me understand I didn’t need to fill in the holes with nervous chatter.

  27. Mike B.*

    #3 – I don’t think you want to report to this dingbat. No matter where she heard that this was standard practice (the formal application doesn’t require it, so it’s all her doing), it demonstrates a breathtaking lack of common sense that she doesn’t realize it’s not something you can normally ask of a job candidate. What other weird, unreasonable demands is she liable to make?

  28. Angora*

    #1 (nervous energy)

    One thing you might want to consider. On the days you have interviews in person or on the phone, stay away from caffeine. That may heighten the nervousness.

  29. RE #1*

    I am in my 40s and didn’t start working on the interrupting thing until about four years ago. It took surprisingly little time to get it under control. Now I rarely do it in professional situations and occasionally in social situations.

    The main thing that helped me was almost literally biting my tongue when others were talking. Now I generally don’t have to work that hard to reign myself in, but it quickly got me out of interrupting mode. As I got that down, I could focus on what others were saying without my mind racing ahead to what I wanted to say. Now it’s much easier for me to listen to other people, develop my response and wait until it’s my turn to talk.

    Good luck!

  30. Mints*

    There’s a “short skirts or shirts” that I think is supposed to be “or shorts.” (Unleas we’re talking about crop tops! Haha)

  31. Mena*

    #4: Please don’t be timid about voicing a dresscode. Some people appreciate this direction. And while I admit that your employee should be noticing how those around her dress and blend in accordingly, she may just need to be told directly.

    Twice when starting new jobs, I dressed very conservatively for the first two weeks while observing others in like roles/levels of the company. Hmm, I’m seeing open-toed shoes with medium heels, no tank tops, etc. Then, I picked the person I felt most comfortable with (also a woman) and asked; both were quick to advise.

    One thing I learned is that just because something is not pointedly on the “NO” list doesn’t mean you want to wear it. Flip flips in the office are annoying and much too casual!!

  32. Not So NewReader*

    OP 1. I tend to view those examples you gave as a symptom, but not the core of the situation sometimes.
    I used to exhaust myself with worry about an interview. If it wasn’t the clothes, the hair, the interviewer then it was finding the place, the air in my tires and traffic flow. You get the idea. My list had NO end.

    I picked a few things- 5 or 6 things that I thought were my biggest worries and I addressed those things in some manner. I can remember some jobs that I applied for involved vacuuming and washing my car. I have no clue why this worried me, but I took steps to put it out of my mind.

    This may or may not apply to you. Do something to lessen your worry load so that you CAN concentrate on the way you present.

    Also I see a good sized list here of what you do wrong. If a boss talked to you like this, you’d be upset. (Any of us would think “Hey, but I did get a couple things right here, Boss!) Spend some time thinking about previous interviews and the parts you got right. Hey, I gave myself a gold star if I remembered to say thank you before I left. Yeah, I really let my mind run amok- no concentration. Invest a few minutes thinking about the parts of the way you present that you want to KEEP.

    It took me years to figure it out but some of my nervousness came from my private belief that I had failed to take care of myself in some manner. I failed to prep enough for the interview. I failed to apply for jobs that I actually wanted, and so on. Do something for each interview where you are clearly taking care of you.

    1. Anna*

      Not the OP, but this is great advice! I just graduated in June, so I’m on the hunt for a new job, I had my first interview since graduating last week and some of these tips would have helped me out so much. I tend to just over analyze and over think EVERYTHING before I have an interview.

  33. Not So NewReader*

    OP #4. Two suggestions. Develop your reason why for the dress code. I have worked in places that the explanation was- cover your skin to prevent some smaller types of injuries. (One person got blood poisoning from a paper cut. Stuff happens even if you dress sensibly.) If you have an explanation ready for why, it is easier to deliver tough messages. For the most part people are pretty amazing, they tend to accept the logic and the whole thing gets to be a non-issue.

    I know it is too late now for these two people, but in the future tell new people on their first day OR if you can before they start. Front the message. (If you got a new hire now, these 2 people would see you delivering the same message to the new hire and that will help in a small way.) My rule of thumb is if I don’t know if something fits the dress code then the answer is don’t wear it, until I see what others are wearing.

  34. Anonymouse*

    We hire about 25 student workers a year. In the last 2 years we’ve implemented a dress code policy due to so many problems and complaints from the public. (They are public facing employees).

    We have found that while most student employees do dress appropriately, there are always a few that dress astoundingly inappropriately.

    My personal belief is that we are training them for their future. Ignoring, or not addressing problems in their dress, work habits, communication style/skills….whatever, is setting them up for failure. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. But how else are they going to learn?

    As to the dress code, a copy is provided at the interview/hiring stage. If they choose to search for work elsewhere without a dress code, they have that choice. If they want to work here, they are expected to comply with ours. In fact, I believe we have them sign off on it.

    As to those who still have problems with complying later, the manager meets with them and goes over the dress code expectations again. I don’t think we’d had to let anyone go over this type of infraction yet, but the system is in place if it becomes necessary.

    And we do let them go. Not often, not for silly reasons, and not without giving multiple opportunities to improve, of course. Here, there are more students wanting work than there are jobs available. One person’s problematic behavior tends to lead to others slacking off too. And there are other great people out there who want/need to work and would be ecstatic for the opportunity.

  35. Cassie*

    #4 – this is definitely a teachable moment. When I worked in a campus eatery (briefly), there was a dress code: long pants (jeans ok), uniform polo shirt and baseball cap (the latter two were provided by the university). I only had one pair of jeans at the time (I was wearing shorts and sweats most of the time) so that’s all I could wear.

    This is no different. The only problem in our office is that we don’t have a formal dress code, and some of the staff themselves wear outfits that are too casual. If I were the student worker’s supervisor, I would still tell them to dress “smart casual” or casual but not beach-wear. Even though other staff may be dressed like a day at the beach, I’d expect my staff to be more workplace-appropriate.

  36. BeenThere*

    #1 – I have found that a full shot of whiskey about 45 minutes before an interview calms my nerves just enough to where I can do the interview without acting nervous. There are risks with using this “technique” but it has worked for me in the past.

  37. OP # 4*

    I have an update for my student worker.

    I have spoken with her privately, as after I wrote the letter, someone did complain to me. I did have to do it at the beginning of the day, but I was able to offer her some scrubs to wear and she is going to change at lunch.

    I did not have time to create a more formal dress code for students, but I will be the next set I hire as that will make this easier.

    We discussed how “appropriate and neat” was a really vague dress code. I let her know that I did not want to embarrass her in any way, and shared that I too had trouble when I went into the office world. We then discussed some specific ways she could work with her wardrobe and walk (wearing capri leggings and a t-shirt to walk in, and then keeping a skirt here to put over the leggings, for example).

    What did not work (or at least she gave me a blank look) was talking about what you would wear in certain situations (to church, to meet grandma, etc) She really had no concept of what that meant in context. Also, apparently the shorts that had me boggling are her longest pair, so I said that she should refrain from wearing them.

  38. katie*

    For #1 – perhaps I’m too late for my comment to be read, but I’d recommend Dale Carnegie’s immortal “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” It’s a bit of an old chestnut, but I’m a roaring cynic and I found it to be helpful even in reinforcing concepts that I would have said I knew.

  39. Lurker*

    Not to thread necro, but regarding #4, please be careful in how you approach the dress issue. A lot of tall folks find difficulty in finding clothing, especially (business) casual clothing, that fits well. You can potentially make her rather self-conscious about her height and that just won’t bode well for anyone.

  40. whiteroseorchid*

    I am the original letter writer for letter #1.

    I am having several problems, any positive suggestions would be appreciated. I have not worked in 3 years, I am in a perpetual catch 22 of I either keep going on interviews and told it is “not a good fit” (this usually from I apply to a temp agency, they tell me about a job and I interview with their client and get told it is “not a good fit” and no other feedback) or I get a temp job via a temp agency and within 2 weeks I get told it is “not a good fit”.

    I have identified in addition to the nervous energy I used to in work situations talk too much about my personal life and did not have a good understanding of boundaries. That was 3 years ago, I have made a lot of personal changes and seen a therapist and still am to address my anxiety and nervous energy and read several books about boundaries and am working on having healthy boundaries and being very aware of the personal life/work life line and not bringing my personal life to work.

    I am running into issues with interviews too of because I have not worked for 3 years I get asked what have I been doing. Hardly any permanent employers are calling, only the temp agencies are responding to me and while I am working very hard to make sure I do not come off as desperate, my unemployment ran out and I was forced to go on public assistance which is not enough and only lasts two years so I need to stabilize my life and have a permanent job so I can be gainfully employed and bring stability to my life.

    On interviews I was saying I took care of an ill family member because I think is a big red flag against me to go into the interview saying I have boundary problems and discuss my personal life at work and have said and done inappropriate things in the work place, the employer will say thank you for coming in, next.

    The taking care of an ill family member set off these twits I interviewed with this week because they started carrying on about the previous person in the job was always taking off time for their sick child and ill parents. I tried my best to reassure them that I would be there but I could tell it was a losing battle. they already decided I was going to be like that other employee. I do not know what to say to cover the 3 years saying I did nothing looks bad, telling the truth is bad and the ill family member line is not working. Anyone have any suggestions?

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