job applicants bearing gifts, turning down a LinkedIn recommendation request, and more

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

1. Job candidate who bear gifts and quote MC Hammer

I am hiring for an entry-level assistant position in my department. One applicant has dropped by the office twice now. The first time she left a small scented candle with a note thanking me in advance for calling her in for an interview. Today, she dropped off a plant with another thank-you note that said, among other things, “PS – I realize that I am pushing protocol to its limits by pre-interview notes and swag. I really want to work here and will do nearly anything to get noticed. Enjoy the plant.” The notes are not well-written and include some bizarre references. Today, the note quotes MC Hammer, as she is “Too legit. Too legit to quit… trying to get an interview.”

I would not have called her in for an interview based on her resume, but this behavior has me running for the hills! The etiquette lessons drilled in to me from birth leave me feeling like I need to thank her for the gifts, but I don’t want to open up a line of communication with someone I do not feel is qualified for the job. What would you do?

I don’t think you’re obligated to send a thank-you for the gifts, since they’re the equivalent of marketing materials for herself — and you don’t send thank-you’s for promotional items, after all. But I’d send her a rejection notice sooner rather than later so that this doesn’t continue … and it would be a kindness to include something like, “Typically we prefer not to receive gifts from applicants, and encourage applicants to focus on standing out through their cover letters and resumes.”

2. Being asked to come in early when you don’t need to

For the past 18 months, my wife has been a happy exempt full-time employee at a small-to-mid-size Texas company. The nature of her job is such that she is frequently required to stay one, two, or three or more hours late to complete a project that a) is due in the morning and b) has been handed to her late in the day. My wife has been okay with this, because the company has been good about flex-time and so she’ll work 9am-6pm (or, often, 9am-7pm or 9am-8pm).

In the past week, upper management has been pushing to make many employees work 8am to 5pm. My wife is concerned that she too will be counseled to be at her desk at 8am, which will considerably complicate her commute and other aspects of her life, and – as she is exempt – she will still be counted on to work extra hours to make deadlines. Effectively, she foresees being asked to work an extra hour every day. And there is no actual reason for her to begin work at 8 am, except that someone in management thinks it would be more “corporate” and “professional” for people to work 8am-5pm.

Do you have any advice on how to handle this situation if (or, more likely, when) it arises? Management openly recognizes that my wife does a great job – there’s no issue of poor performance here. And my wife is one of several employees who are in this kind of situation – she’s not asking for special treatment. My wife doesn’t want to quit (but I stand behind her if she chooses to do so). At the very least, I feel there should be an upward salary adjustment. Ideally, we’d like for management to agree not to “fix” a system that isn’t broken. What do you think?

Yep, I agree. Sometimes there are legitimate business reasons to ask people to come in early, but it doesn’t sound like the case here — and it sounds like she’ll end up staying late with some frequency anyway. How about suggesting she say this to them: “Since we tend to get a lot of rush projects later in the day that require staying late, I’d like to stick with coming in at 9, since I know that I’ll be here well past 6 on a regular basis?” She could also point out that it will complicate her commute, since sometimes it’s easier for managers to say “oh, okay” when they hear your reasons.

3. I’m worried I’m paid less because I don’t have housing expenses

When I was 25, I received a fairly large family inheritance. It was enough to buy a house, which I now live in. Sooner or later, the topic comes up with my boss and they find out that I own a house outright. (For instance, it came up in conversation with my boss that he had been looking at curtains for his house and I said something about how I had bought curtains from a certain shop, and he was like “why did you BUY curtains if you’re renting?” It ended up coming out that I own, and he wondered how I could afford a mortgage on my salary, so I explained.)

As soon as my boss knows about this, I think it holds me back from being offered a higher salary. I’m pretty sure my boss thinks: “She doesn’t need more money because she already has a whole house.” In my previous job, I believe that there was definitely a ceiling on my pay rate because of my circumstances. And my current boss made a comment a couple of days ago along the lines of “I don’t expect you’re the kind of person who lives paycheck to paycheck.” I was quite surprised and I asked why he thought that. He said: “Well, most people spend about half their salary on rent or a mortgage. You don’t have that.” So he thinks I’m earning way more than I need.

Is this fair? I feel that I should be paid what I am worth, no matter what my personal financial situation. Is it better to lie to my boss and make out that I just pay rent like most people my age?

If it’s really affecting your salary, it’s absolutely not fair. Your expenses (or lack thereof) are no one’s business, and just like companies don’t pay higher salaries to people with large families or high debt or profligate spending habits, nor should they pay less to people with fewer expenses.

But you shouldn’t lie about your circumstances (although there’s nothing wrong with avoiding sharing it in the future). The best thing that you can do to get paid what you’re worth is to put together a strong case for a raise when you feel you’ve earned one — and lay it out with facts and research to back it up.

4. How to turn down a thinly-veiled request for a LinkedIn recommendation

Thanks in no small part to your advice, I happily have a new job (for over a year now!) that I adore. Since then, I’m sad to say many of my old colleagues have been laid off. One of these laid-off colleagues recently contacted me asking if he could write a recommendation for me on LinkedIn, which (to me) clearly looks like he wants to write one for me so that I will write one for him. He included that I would be able to help him tailor it to my liking. It looks canned, apart from mentioning a specific project we worked on.

I believe that references should be honest, and tailoring a recommendation would not be honest. Furthermore, this person and I worked together enough that I think he could write one without my assistance (I did excellent work, according to him and others)… but I myself have very little to say about him that would be positive. He is nice, but I think he mistakes various degrees and accreditations (of which he has many) for actual skill (of which he has very little). I am being a bit generous in this description, but I could write something nice (and at least mostly true) if I needed to.

So, I don’t know how to respond without being a jerk. I feel like anything I do will either be rude or dishonest. What do you think?

If it’s truly canned, one option is to just not respond. If he’s sending it to a bunch of people, he probably won’t track who doesn’t get back to him.

But if you feel like you have to respond with something, one option would be something like this: “Thanks so much for getting in touch! I’m old-fashioned about LinkedIn recommendations and am uncomfortable soliciting them or shaping their content. If you’re inspired to leave one for me, that would be of course be very kind of you, but I try to avoid the tit-for-tat recommendations that I know some people do.”

5. If I was laid off, do I have to say I was “discharged” when job applications ask?

When I was in high school, I worked for a small company that, unfortunately, was hit pretty hard by the recession, so I was laid off. My supervisors stressed that it wasn’t performance-related, I stayed in contact with some of them after I left, and they gave me excellent references. Fast forward to now: I recently encountered an online job application that asked if I’d ever been “discharged” (that was the word it used) from a job, and for an explanation if the answer was yes. My instinct was to click the “yes” option and then explain, but since it’s an online application I’m a little worried that my application would get filtered out before any human ever actually read the explanation.

Does the term “discharged” refer to being terminated for any reason (including downsizing), or is the connotation more like “fired” (that is, being terminated for a specifically performance-related reason)? In other words, should I choose “yes” to a question that uses that word? And how reasonable is my concern that my application would automatically be rejected if I checked the “yes” button? My instinctual suspicion is that a lot of companies would do that, but I have no firsthand knowledge.

Yep, you might get screened out or otherwise have it held against you if you check “yes.” Assume that what they’re asking is whether you’ve ever been fired, which you haven’t been, and answer “no.”

And even if you had been fired, that was in high school. I don’t think you’re obligated to report high-school era firings once you have an adult job history (and assuming that that company is no longer on your resume, which it probably shouldn’t be, unless you’re still in college).

{ 313 comments… read them below }

    1. OP#4*

      I agree when it comes to the LinkedIn skills endorsements (useless), but I like having nice blurbs associated with my name (for when someone searches for me), and recommendations do that. I think it’s also a nice way to thank an employee or colleague for their work, assuming public praise doesn’t bother them.

      1. Up, Up, and Anchors Aweigh*

        FWIW, you can take that quote and use it in a cover letter, can’t you? I agree they have little purpose on LinkedIn itself (sorry Reid Hoffman), but if someone said something about you, they said something about you.

        1. OP#4*

          I’m not big on including quotes in cover letters- again, I think it can come off as tacky. A good reputation means a lot more when you don’t have to serve it up.

          I’d be interested to know what Alison thinks of cover letters including quotes from recommendations though.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I think it can work well in very specific circumstances, one of which is that the quote has to be truly superlative. Often when I’ve seen it done, the quote just isn’t impressive enough to justify it.

      2. Mike B.*

        I think skills endorsements are useful in a crude fashion–if a few dozen people verify that a candidate is skilled at what should be the core competencies of her job, she’s probably neither a notorious disaster nor hiding behind a false resume. And if the candidate has roughly an equal number of endorsements for things that her background indicates she’s done and things it doesn’t, it might raise an eyebrow; do most of these endorsements come from people who don’t necessarily know her industry (eg, college friends) rather than former coworkers?

        But that’s about all they’re good for, a potential sign that a candidate’s background might require particularly careful scrutiny.

        1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

          I really like this comment, and I feel the same way. It’s like crowdsourcing your resume. If 35 people say you’re good at fundraising, but only 3 say you’re good at social media, then you can feel fairly confident that that person is not a disaster at fundraising. It’s not foolproof, but given that some studies indicate that crowds come to as good (and often better) conclusions on questions than experts (the particular study I’m thinking of involved picking stocks), I think it’s worth looking into!

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Even if a few dozen people endorse someone’s skills in something, I wouldn’t put any weight on it — like, zero. Because often what happens is that people endorse you for whatever field you work in, without knowing anything at all about the quality of your work. Like, if Jane knows that her cousin Bob is a programmer, she endorses him for programming. And so does the receptionist in Bob’s office, and his college roommate. None of them know anything about the quality of his work. Bob could be the worst programmer in the world. The endorsements mean nothing at all.

          And even when people DO know about the quality of Bob’s work, they will sometimes endorse him for it anyway, because LinkedIn is pushing little buttons in front of them to click and they don’t see any reason not to.

          Totally, utterly unreliable.

          1. HRC in NJ*

            I turned off the option to have my endorsements appear in the news feed because people who hardly knew me were endorsing me for skills I didn’t have! Complete waste of time.

            1. Purple Jello*

              Yes, I’m frequently dumbfounded at who gives me which skill endorsements. My first thought is always “but how would you know I’m good at that?”

            2. Kelly O*

              My mom endorsed me for something.

              I mean, I love her, and I know she thinks I’m awesome, but if someone just randomly chose her to ask about me (and they’d never know she was my mom based on names due to marriages, both mine and hers) she’d come up with something to say, but I know her, and she would say “well she’s my daughter and I think she’s awesome.”

              Which is fine. That’s what moms do. But it’s not helping on a professional level. I personally try to not endorse if I don’t know about someone, but I see them pop up on mine all the time and I wonder “how on earth does he know I’m good at teapot repair? (Or whatever.)

            3. Sunshine*

              Yep. The majority of my “endorsements” are from people I have never met, worked with, or even spoken to. Kills the credibility of the entire page for me. Never use it other than to read occasional articles that interest me.

              1. Anonymous*

                Can you get endorsements from people you are not linked to?

                Beyond a few recruiters, I’ve certainly talked to everyone I’m linked to.

          2. AVP*

            Somehow, I’ve racked up about 12 endorsements in a program that I am at basic level in, at best. It’s widely used in my field, but not in my particular area, so I added it because it’s a bonus that I can use it if I have to, and I’ve filled in for other people using it when needed. But now it’s the one thing people recommend me for, which makes no sense…I keep forgetting to delete it though.

            1. LucyVP*

              similarly I’ve had about 20 people endorse me for “Social Media,” which doesn’t particularly relate to what I do.

              Although I occasionally post to Facebook for my org. when our marketing staffer is busy or out of the office, I wouldn’t even come close to having professional level social media skills. I have no clue how it even started.


          3. Dan*

            Yeah, my admin folks at my last job have been hitting those buttons like mad on my page. I keep wondering, how do they actually know what I do, let alone what I’m good at?

            Linked in is dumb for a lot of things. So I get highly amused when people have 6+ recommendations.

          4. Sadsack*

            I had someone endorsing me for skills I do not have in fields that I do not work in! She works at the same large company as I do, and she was one of the first people to have linked to me when I joined Linked In. I didn’t know her personally, but I accepted her linking because I looked her up and saw that we both work at the same place. A couple of years ago she started giving me the endorsements. After the third one, I wrote to her via work email. I thanked her for endorsing me for X, Y, and Z, but let her know that I am not actually involved in any of those areas and do not possess those skills. She never even wrote me back, but the endorsements did stop. Weird.

      3. Vicki*

        I don’t understand why so many people hate the endorsements.

        Only connections can endorse you.
        They can only use the skills that YOU have chosen.

        e.g. I can’t endorse you for anything unless we’re connected and I can’t just grab something out of thin air.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I don’t think that’s true, or at least wasn’t when they first launched. I’ve turned endorsements off, but before that I got endorsed for all sorts of things I never listed.

    2. RecruiterM*

      I find LinkedIn recommendations very useful. You can easily see when a recommendation is not sincere, and the good ones have a power to make me consider a candidate I would otherwise ignore.
      I am not sure how wide-spread soliciting recommendations is, when my company went through a round of layouts, there was a lot of giving and asking for recommendations, and it was all helpful in some ways, even only from a moral support side.
      Endorsements, on the other hand, are pretty much useless. I wish there is a way to opt out of them.

      1. Perpetua*

        You can have endorsements not show up on your profile, if that’s what you mean by opting out of them.

      2. Zillah*

        But if you’re looking them up on LinkedIn in the first place, you must have found something somewhat intriguing in the first place, right?

        1. RecruiterM*

          I might find a profile on LinkedIn using certain keywords, but they are not guarantee a good fit. So yes, it was intriguing enough to look, but not to contact.

      3. HigherEd Admin*

        I think LinkedIn changed the endorsements settings, so that you can now opt of them, or opt out of people being asked, “Is Wakeen good at [skill or task you’ve never worked on before in your life]?”

      4. Vicki*

        You want to opt out of endorsements?
        Don’t list any skills for people to choose from.

        Alternatively… ask yourself why these bother you so much.

    3. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      I have all of these Linked In recommendations which is so weird to me. I was an early Linked In joiner (part of some elite #, I think first 5000 or something) because I have uber geeky early adopter friends who hook me up with new stuff.

      I don’t use Linked In for anything other than qualifying new customers (checking out their job titles, etc., when responding to their requests from other means, *not* solicitation). I don’t even have a proper resume posted. I threw “Yes, I do that” for my job duties.

      Anyway, I’m on Linked In a couple times a day qualifying new customers and that damn thing is always flashing at me with all of these people who have recommended me for stuff. Virtually none of them have ever worked with me, either side by side or as customers. I guess the motivation is for me to follow normal internet etiquette where if somebody does something for you, you do back but — no ways. First, too much work. Second, it’s not like blogger etiquette where if you comment on my post I should comment on yours.

      While I am indeed awesome, almost nobody who has recommended me on Linked In could know that. Recs are pretty much useless, yes?

      I hate the feeling that I should return the “favor”, which is hard to shake after 20 online years of learning internet manners.

      1. Jennifer M.*

        Are you talking about endorsements or recommendations? Endorsements are, in my opinion, useless and like you I have ridiculous amounts of endorsements from people I haven’t interacted with since I was a grad school intern. Recommendations are narrative and may or may not have value depending on their content.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          Hmmm, didn’t know the difference.

          Based on what you’ve said, I think the majority is endorsements although there’s a bunch of written stuff also.

          I don’t mean to be cranky about it. I would be happy to sit down and write a recommendation for someone that I could write a rec for, but they’d have to ask me for it first. I never minded writing recommendation letters for people back in the old days.

        2. jag*

          “Recommendations are narrative and may or may not have value depending on their content.”


          I can’t see treating them the same as a reference check, but they can be illustrative about the work style of the person and make that person worth contacting or considering more.

        3. Kelly L.*

          Yeah, LinkedIn endorsements are kind of silly. I’m forever having to decline endorsements from my mom, because she’ll endorse me for software I’ve never even seen and jobs I’ve never done.

            1. Kelly L.*

              It’s been a few months since I logged in, but I think it involves clicking the X in the little icon–like there’ll be a little box that says “Microsoft Word” and then there’s an X on one end. There may also be an email message “Do you know Microsoft Word?” but I don’t remember for sure.

              *Microsoft Word is just a quick example that came to mind. I actually know how to use Word. I promise. :)

        4. Mimmy*

          I used to think the endorsements were pretty cool, but then I got an endorsement from someone I’d connected with but never even met. Yeah, I’m done with those :/

          1. Vicki*

            Why did you connect with that person then?

            Again, the only way they can endorse you is if you’re connected. The only things they can endorse you for are skills you’ve listed.

            If you don’t want endorsements from someone you never met… why in the world would you connect with someone you’ve never met????

            1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

              Why not?

              People in my industry send me connection requests. Given my position, it would be pretty damn rude of me to decline them. It doesn’t matter if I haven’t met the Production Manager of XYZ vendor or one of the principals of ABC vendor, I’m not running some kind of members only club.

              If somebody is spamming me, sure, I decline, but if they are in my industry, or friends of friends in a related field, I accept.

              You can’t know too many people.

              1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

                btw, Vicki, if you want a laugh consider this:

                I clicked your link that goes to your twitter where you have INTJ in your profile.

                Well, I’m an ENFP.

                Does that explain our different approaches? :) :) :)

                I think it does!

      2. Vicki*

        “normal internet etiquette where if somebody does something for you, you do back but ”

        Um, no.

        I’m an Internet user from before the web, before we called it “the internet”. Netiquette involves being polite, not being reciprocal. There’s no assumption of “favors” or returning them.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          Among other things, I was a blogger. The polite thing to do if another blogger read and commented on your writing was to read at least one post and comment back.

          And sure, you can be the Twitter user who just accumulates followers and doesn’t follow back, but a good chunk of the internet was built on reciprocity.

    4. Allison (not AAM!)*

      At a point at my old company, my former boss (VP of our division) was fired. As a high level executive, she took advantage of all the services offered, including a 2 day long resume writing course. About a year and a half after that, our new parent company decided to close our division and we all lost our jobs; we had about 3 months’ notice, so we had time to adjust and prepare. As she had stayed in touch with a number in our office and felt she had this invaluable information to share, she emailed all of us a copy of the “perfect” resume that we could use as an example. It was HORRIBLE. It was repetitive, very poorly formatted with fonts of different sizes and styles, and far too long. The worst thing, was the 4th page of this train wreck was a printout of compiled references from a handful (5 or 6?) of her LinkedIn contacts!!

      I am fortunate enough to have one of my dearest friends, who is a recruiter outside of my industry, help me re-do my old resume (it was almost 15 years old, with nothing updated but more recent employment – wasn’t that how we did it back in the day??). With her invaluable help, I walked away with a very well-crafted resume and a new job within a few months. I showed her my old boss’s resume, and she could not believe how bad it was; she was as flabbergasted by the LI page as I was.

      Short story long, everyone in my company who was laid off and intended to get a new job (a few retired), is now gainfully employed. Former boss? Nope. After about 2 years, still nothing. Luckily her husband makes a good living, she’s now buying and selling antiques.

      1. A. D. Kay*

        <iLuckily her husband makes a good living, she’s now buying and selling antiques.
        That kinda makes me wonder if that wasn’t her intention all along!

        1. Allison (not AAM!)*

          If it was, she did a good job of hiding it. Because our industry is relatively tight-knit, we know that she had a number of interviews for upper/executive management positions that she came very close on, but nothing ever panned out. I think that between the awful resume as well as the reason she was fired in the first place (which is a whole laundry list of “what not to do”!) had a lot to do with it.

    5. AdAgencyChick*

      Ha. This. Especially when you can see several recommendations clustered around a single date. That immediately makes me think, “This person was fired and is soliciting recommendations.”

      1. EAC*

        A lot of people seek out recommendations right around the time they are beginning to ramp up a job search, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that they were just fired.

        1. Kelly L.*

          This. Or they left a job/got laid off and their co-workers really liked them and are trying to give them a boost.

        2. OP#4*

          Yes, I think recommendations really only mean something when they are from the boss, or a much more senior colleague (a senior staff engineer recommending a junior engineer, etc.), or fellow high-level employee. Not that peer recommendations are useless, but they wouldn’t sway me one way or the other, if I was looking at a candidate whose fellow junior accountant thought they were great.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I wouldn’t even be swayed by ones from their boss. To have real value, a recommendation has to be given directly to you, without the person it’s about seeing/hearing what’s being said. Too many references think, “I’d never hire her again, but I guess I can say something nice about (1-3 very specific skills).” But in reality, those 1-3 very specific skills are trumped by the other problems with the person’s work.

            You’ve got to talk to someone directly and in private before putting any real weight on a recommendation.

            1. RecruiterM*

              This could be the difference between a hiring manager and a recruiter (inside or outside). We all want to work with a likable people, so if a candidate has really good warm recommendations this might sway me into contacting him even if he is missing one or two requirements. One can pick up skills, but a personality is much harder to change.
              Direct talking is done during much later stages of the interview process.

            2. OP#4*

              Aww man, there goes the really nice thing my boss wrote about me (without my asking) :(

              Your reasoning is fair though, for all an outsider knows, I could have asked her to write that, and she could think I’m a disaster in other areas.

            3. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

              yes, yes yes. Recommendation letters are such a waste of time. Do employers ever ask for them anymore?

      2. Anon.*

        It’s honestly amazing to me that there are people who IMHO are not the best and brightest workers and/or are difficult to work with with amazing LinkedIn profiles. It’s like they spent all of their time doing that.

    6. MaryMary*

      One of my younger coworkers has a LinkedIn recommendation from his Dad, from a high school/college summer job at his Dad’s company. Not just an endorsement, but a written “Joe is a bright, dedicated young man…” recommendation. It makes me cringe. Oh, honey, of course your Dad thinks you’re special.

      1. Anon 4 this*

        I worked in admissions at Harvard, and someone had on their resume “Worked in my mother’s lab” with a recommendation from his mother. This was for a GRADUATE program.

    7. Leah*

      It really depends. There is someone for whom I worked with a number of years ago who now hold a fair amount of sway in our field. I haven’t worked for him recently, so listing them as a reference would seem like I have something to hide about my more recent employment. Also, he travels about 50% of the time, so he can be hard to reach. Even if it was appropriate to include him as a reference, a hiring manager might think he was avoiding giving me a reference (eek!).

    8. Various Assumed Names*

      I saw a colleague of mine had a recommendation, so I clicked on the person who wrote it. She had one recommendation on her page: from my colleague. So, I agree they are pointless. Unless maybe you have a recommendation from a really big name in your field.

  1. Up, Up, and Anchors Aweigh*

    1. Let us know when she gives you a pair of shoes and cracks wise about wanting to “get her foot in the door.” Has to be the next “step,” right? Then you’ll have to put your foot down. Okay, I’m done.

    3. I was about to say that bosses only care about keeping talented people – that they don’t care about whether you need it. But then I saw what your boss said – that was maybe a little unprofessional of him.

    5. Just say no, as they say… If they later suspect you were lying, you’d have plausible deniability (“I didn’t know ‘discharged’ meant being laid off.”)

    1. MK*

      Managers care about having great people, but some also try to get and retain these great people at the lowest possible salary. The manager said that the OP doesn’t need as much money as others, but what I suspect he was thinking was that they (the manager) don’t need to pay the OP as much as they would another person, a.k.a. that the OP is less likely to quit over salary.

      1. Artemesia*

        I can’t imagine why #3 is blathering on about an inheritance at work. Of course, this will damage her ability to get a raise. On the next job she should not talk about home remodeling or buying stuff etc etc; in 45 years of work no one ever asked if I was renting or buying or owning a house — this just doesn’t pop up if you haven’t invited it by talking about this kind of personal business. I worked with a guy who had an enormous inheritance — it was an organization where only people who they thought might move on got decent raises; he never did.

        1. soitgoes*

          Among younger people (around 30) it’s very obvious when one of us has inherited money. It’s little stuff, like no longer participating in conversations about student loan payments or rent. When you find out that someone lives alone (or with a partner) and the house (not apartment) is somewhat big, it reads “inheritance” even if the person never mentions it.

          1. AVP*

            This is so true – I was extremely lucky and my parents paid for my private university education with no loans, so I’ve never had to worry about paying back large amounts of money, unlike practically everyone else in my age group.

            I find it a little embarrassing, and one of my longtime friends was weird to me about it, so I avoid mentioning it whenever possible. But it’s pretty easy to tell, both because people often talk about their loan payments and I never contribute to the conversation, and because not having that debt has allowed me to pursue a unique career that’s hard to get into if you need to make a certain amount of money monthly, and people flat-out ask me how I made it work at first.

            Fortunately (?) my boss lowballs everybody across the board, and is proud to tell us all about how he lowballs people, so I’ve never thought it affected my work situation.

            1. soitgoes*

              This really might be a generational thing, since when a millennial doesn’t grow up wealthy and you know they have school debt, it’s very conspicuous when they suddenly upgrade certain lifestyle facets without switching up their job. People who didn’t grow up during a time when everyone graduated with debt don’t seem to have an eye for this. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to tell someone considerably older than me (Artemesia) that you don’t have to actually talk about money for young adults to figure out who has it.

          2. Clever Name*

            Maybe I don’t count as “younger” anymore at 35, but my husband and I just moved to a pretty nice house (if I do say so myself :) ), and I don’t talk about loan payments because I don’t have any. Didn’t inherit money. My parents paid for college, and my husband went to an in-state land grant college when tuition was somewhat reasonable in the 90s, so his loans are reasonable, and he’s now in a well-paying job. So people can be in a secure financial position without getting a windfall somehow. Maybe it’s my Midwestern upbringing, but I’m always uncomfortable talking about money and speculating about other people’s money. It feels very rude to me.

            1. soitgoes*

              You’re actually a little older than the age range I’m talking about – I’m talking specifically about people who graduated into the recession with a lot of debt. If you were in the same boat with us and you’re suddenly not, everyone can tell, even if you never utter a single word about it. If your parents paid for college, you’re actually far more privileged than you realize. That’s a “windfall” in my book.

              1. the gold digger*

                I love to talk about money. It’s easier, I think, when you have not had it, because when you have not had it, it is all you can think about. My husband’s parents paid for his school and he’s never had a problem finding a job, so he does not understand why I am panicked at the idea of his quitting his (CA salary in not-CA) job to focus on running for Congress. He has never had to worry about money. He doesn’t know what it’s like. (Not that I would wish it on him.)

                And I don’t have a problem telling everyone what I make. I think the more transparency we have with salaries, the better it is for those of us who work for money.

        2. Cat*

          This might be a regional/cultural thing. I know whether all my co-workers own or rent and speculating about who has family money is right up there with speculating whether someone is pregnant in terms of office gossip.

          1. Fabulously Anonymous*

            Wow. I don’t know anyone who does that. I don’t even know where most of my co-workers live or if they’re married – let alone care.

            1. Cat*

              I mean, I’m not condoning it, but yeah, it happens. Though it also sounds like we’re just coming from places with a highly different level of interaction. I know my co-workers are married because they wear wedding rings, mention their spouses, and bring them to work events. I know where they live because I see them on public transport or they complain about the commute or we make small talk about neighborhoods. No gossip required for those.

              1. Judy*

                I don’t know if my co-workers own or rent, I do generally know if they live in houses or apartments, though.

              2. Fabulously Anonymous*

                I agree – it sounds like we just interact differently. Where I live there is no public transportation and most of our work is done independently, so we don’t interact as much.

          2. penny*

            I know the same about all the coworkers in my department and some in other departments and have in past jobs as well. It’s no big deal. I guess it just depends on how well you get to know each other. I’ve been over to several coworkers houses. The only person I’ve ever wondered about having family money was a girl who was hired right out of college who drove a new BMW but i wouldn’t assume that means she values her paycheck any less. No matter what someone’s situation or howwell off they appeartoo be you can’t assume anything about their finances.

            And anyway i would totally buy curtains for my apartment even though i rent and already have blinds. You can get them cheap and odds are even if you bought a home and wanted to keep them the window sizes will be similar.

            1. afiendishthingy*

              I know, I definitely bought curtains for the apartment I rent (although I have yet to hang them. I have issues with follow-through). The boss’s question seemed weird and maybe like he was fishing for her to confirm his suspicion she owned her home?

        3. Aisling*

          She wasn’t blathering; she was answering a question about it. And I don’t know about it definitely damaging her ability to get a raise. Where I work, we don’t care if you have an inheritance or another job, or what – and it’s nice if you do, since we’re not well paid in my profession. It sounds like it depends on where you work. It’s always best not to bring it up, since you never know if it will or won’t harm you, but it won’t always harm you.

        4. Mints*

          I would probably lie by omission at work. My close friends know about rent and we gripe about student loans. But at work, I might say (“Why would you buy curtains for a rental?”) “I’m really into interior design and appreciate my home looking nice” or whatever. I’d let them assume rentals if the salary is that low

          1. NoPantsFridays*

            Lying by omission is my SOP when asked about personal matters. Good thing is my coworkers don’t ask many personal questions at all and generally seem to have personal/professional boundaries. Of course, I don’t ask them personal questions either. Sometimes I do really want to know, but I recognize that it’s none of my business, and I figure my coworkers would volunteer the information if they really wanted to talk about it.

    2. ella*

      I agree that what the boss in #3 said was unprofessional, but I don’t see evidence that he’ll behave in an unprofessional manner when it comes to offering the OP raises. Making comments in the coffee room is an entirely different thing than giving a formal evaluation and making salary recommendations based on that. Is the boss going to give the OP a smaller raise, and give the mom on the team who just got divorced this year and is now caring for 3 kids on her own a larger raise? Are awkward and unprofessional comments likely to lead to behavior that’s that egregiously wrong?

      1. Artemesia*

        All the time. All the time. Why are women paid less then men? Because they will work for less or are thought to need less etc etc. People are paid differentially all the time for reasons that have nothing to do with their productivity. A young person with an inheritance is not going to make a boss feel like he needs to be proactive with salary to keep them interested.

        1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

          This. I think the boss is less likely to assume that they need to pay OP a competitive wage because she doesn’t “need” it.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, I think it’s possible, sure, but also that the OP might be premature in fearing it. There are plenty of managers (me included and I assume most managers here) who would never take that kind of thing into account, and plenty of people don’t “need” more money but get it because they do great work and make it clear they expect to be paid accordingly. I don’t think the OP needs to freak out about this unless there’s actual evidence that it’s happening.

        1. Natalie*

          I wonder if it could have an unconscious affect, though. Research has shown that managers who *believe* they do not discriminate (against women or POC for example) still show patterns of subtle and unconscious bias. I don’t see why information about someone’s living situation would be exempt from the same effect.

          1. Anx*

            This was my first though. I don’t think the boss is going to take into account willfully, but those comments will probably lead to subtle biases similar to one you mention, where women’s jobs are sometimes considered supplemental.

          1. Aisling*

            Implying something is not the same as denying a raise… just means the OP needs to have a conversation with the boss, if he/she’s worried about it.

  2. Just Visiting*

    I can relate to #3 because I have no student loans, or other debt of any kind. My parents paid for my college education (albeit at a poorly-ranked state school… but hey, it was free), and I do feel like this has caused friction among my coworkers and sometimes friends whenever it comes up, in the sense of “well, why CAN’T you spend money on that unnecessary thing, it’s not like you have loans.” I wouldn’t lie, but I would deflect. Like if they’re talking about mortgages, you can empathize and shake your head and say “yeah man, it’s rough out there” without offering any specific numbers about what you pay. It’s not any of their business if you own or rent. I do agree that this is the kind of thing that can affect salary if it gets out so you’re best to keep it under your hat, unfair as that may be.

    1. Cari*

      I’ve never been a position of having that kind of perceived disposable income and find that kind of questioning/assumption just gross. It’s none of their business how you choose to spend your money. Besides, have they not heard of saving for a rainy day? By not renting, it’s on you (and similarly the OP) to fix any problems with the house or to make improvements – costs those renting won’t necessarily appreciate.

      1. MK*

        There is also tax-related encumbrances related to real estate ownership. In my country, all real estate is subject to a separate tax’ while money paid in rent qualifies as a tax deduction.

        But all this is beside the point. Salary shouldn’t be affected by the workers personal circumstances. I mean, where does this stop? What if someone comes from a rich family or inherits money or wins a lottery or marries a well-off spouse?

        1. Artemesia*

          When didn’t ‘shouldn’t’ ever apply in the workplace? Co-workers should not know your personal financial circumstances about student loans, husband or wife’s salary, inheritances etc etc and one’s perceived circumstances may well affect salary decisions. The boss in the #3 situation has already let the OP know that this is something he factors into his perception of the person’s status and need. Keeping one’s mouth shut about personal finances is just the smart thing to do — particularly if they are better than those of one’s peers.

          1. MK*

            So you are saying it’s the worker’s responsibility to keep his personal finances top secret, because ‘of course’ the manager will factor it in their decisions? If you stay in a job long enough, information about your personal circumstances will become known to your coworkers, without you having to blab about your affairs, unless you make a consious effort to keep things secret. As for it affecting salary decisions, it’s one thing if the manager unconsciously allows it to affect his decision and another if they intentionaly deny an employee a raise they deserve because they feel safe the employee won’t quit over money.

            In any case, I suspect it usually backfires for such managers. The people who are likely to tolerate this treatment are not likely to be the top performers, especially if they don’t ‘need’ they money.

            1. Artemesia*

              I am saying it is naive to think the world works as it should. So of course it is the worker’s responsibility to manage the impression they make and the information about their personal life available to their co-workers and bosses.

    2. Lanya*

      I agree, it’s not anyone’s business if you own or rent. And I’m not sure where the boss in this situation got his numbers. I don’t think that “most” people spend half of their salary on rent or mortgage. (Maybe he does, and is resentful.)

        1. Artemesia*

          That average includes old people who own their own place or got a mortgage at the dawn of time or live in places with low cost of living. Young people today, especially those in large cities pay a much higher proportion of their income on housing; 50% is horrible but not unusual.

          1. LisaLisa*

            Oh yes, I’m a young person who pays around 40% — I just wanted to provide the stats behind the claim that he can’t accurately claim that “most” people send half their salary on rent/mortgage.

          2. LucyVP*

            I live in an area with a high cost of living and I spent 60% on a one bedroom apartment. Not unusual at all for my area – although it would be less if I was willing to have roommates.

          3. Anx*

            I think many of my friends spend at least 50% on housing. I remember hearing 30% was supposed to be a target, but the health risks for substandard housing can’t be ignored so I don’t think splurging on a safe, kept up apartment is the most reckless thing.

      1. TK*

        Yeah, for someone in a professional-level job, if you’re spending half your salary on rent/mortgage, you are almost certainly paying too much, or living wildly beyond your means. I guess the amount of salary at which this becomes the case is higher in areas with higher costs of living, but still, I think it works as a general rule.

          1. Dan*

            How do you do it? I live in a high COL area with a boat load of student loans, and I’m at 35% of net.

    3. Christine*

      Same problem here. I rarely share that my parents paid for my education. When friends comment on student loans, I usually sympathize without sharing. When the conversation takes a turn where it’s difficult to avoid sharing, I explain that I earned a full ride scholarship, which is true. I don’t go on to explain that I didn’t use it, because the school offering it was a party school, and my parents wanted me to go elsewhere badly enough to make up the financial difference. :)

      1. Cath in Canada*

        I have an easy explanation for my lack of student debt – I got through the UK system before they brought in tuition fees, so I only had my living expenses to worry about. And yes, I know exactly how lucky I am!

    4. AL*

      Moreso, it’s even less anyone’s business that you own your house outright, and how you could afford your house. I feel like the question of if you rent or buy often comes up in conversation, and you’d seem rude to shut it down if someone asked. But it’s totally rude for someone to ask you how you could afford your house! In the future, you’d be totally justified to brush a question like that off.

      Just knowing one piece of someone’s financial puzzle doesn’t show you all of it, and it’s grating to me that your boss would jump to conclusions based on one fact (even if if conclusions are true). For example, I also was privileged enough that my parents paid for college and I graduated debt free…but my elderly mother-in-law is in bad financial shape I spend the money I would have spent paying off a loan supporting her. You never know. /end rant

    5. Ann O'Nemity*

      I don’t think those kind of attitudes are just directed at the rich. I face some judgement just because I’m not in debt! And it’s not because I’m rich. I grew up dirt poor and have developed into a bit of a miser. I chose a university that I could afford (mostly with scholarships and income from my own job). I avoid loans and pay off my credit cards every month. I worry sometimes that it affects my salary. It certainly seems to affect small things – like who pays at lunch, or gifts at the holidays. My boss, friends, and family are more generous to spendthrifts who continually complain about their finances than they are to misers like me.

      1. Just Visiting*

        Yep! My family wasn’t rich, they paid outright for the lousy state school because one of them worked for it and it was super cheap. I could have chosen to go elsewhere (but I would have had to pay everything). My parents were middle class, as much as that distinction matters anymore, but because we were in an unfashionable area of the country there wasn’t really a drive to keep up with the Joneses. I was taught that keeping out of debt was more important than anything else and that a house is the only acceptable thing to run a debt on.

        So when I moved to a city and especially when I moved to the East Coast I was floored by the amount of consumer debt that people carry! Like, people were bragging about taking these fancy vacays while meanwhile bitterly complaining about how they’re going to be working until they’re in their 70s because of debt. And when these same people who drive Lexuses or Priuses (when I drive, uh… nothing) talk about how it must be nice to be economically privileged enough not to carry any debt, it does sting. Because I haven’t bought any new clothes since 2012. And I only eat out once a week if that. I save my money and maybe if you (general you) made some lifestyle adjustments you wouldn’t have to work a high-pressure job until you die.

        So yeah, I don’t really talk about money at work. Better to let people think I’m broke and that’s why I don’t eat out or buy fancy things.

        1. the gold digger*

          Don’t you just want to yell at those people, “If you wouldn’t live beyond your means, you wouldn’t have to worry?”

          I have heard people complain about car repairs and roof repairs and things that are essential for life while watching them buy designer clothes (not at consignment) for their second graders.

          My priority is not to be in debt and to be able to retire and live somewhat comfortably. If that means I buy my Levis at Goodwill, so be it.

          1. Just Visiting*

            OH GOD YES. I know it shouldn’t matter what other people spend their money on and I don’t judge in person, but it drove me up the friggin’ wall at my last job when I saw people who I know had debt (because they talked about it) buy brand new cars, expensive vacations, fancy clothes, etc. I agree with Mr. Money Mustache, your debt isn’t something you factor into your monthly budget, it’s a five-alarm emergency you get off your back at soon as you possibly can even if you have to eat nothing but ramen for a year. It’s possible I go too far in the other direction, and I know not everyone can live without a car and some people HAVE to dress nicely for work (although hi, Goodwill or 30% off coupons at Kohl’s), but there is virtue in living below your means.

    6. Arjay*

      I agree that there are ways to deflect these inquiries. I’ve been a renter for more years than I’d like, and I’ve bought curtains more than once to hang over the crappy mini-blinds that come with the apartment.

      1. LPBB*

        I always have to buy curtains for my rental apartments and often have to buy blinds for them as well. That was an odd question to me.

    7. Cath in Canada*

      I had a friend (note past tense) in grad school whose parents had bought her an apartment to live in, completely rent-free. She would tell the rest of us that “not having enough money is NOT a valid excuse” when we said we couldn’t afford to go to a concert or to fancy restaurant with her. Yeah, awesome. I would never judge someone negatively for coming from a wealthy family, but I will judge the hell out of how they deal with their unusual circumstances.

      (She also once told me that “I don’t feel well enough” wasn’t a valid excuse to not go skiing when I had a kidney infection, because she rarely got sick, either)

  3. Lulubell*

    The job seeker in #1 is obviously problematic from a professional standpoint, but I can’t hate anyone who make an MC Hammer reference.

    1. CoffeeLover*

      The gifts are way too much, but the MC Hammer reference may have gotten her the interview if I was hiring ;)

      1. Cake Wad*

        I have to admit I’d at least be curious enough to bring that person in for an interview. And I’d just go ahead and hire if a resume or cover letter referred to the applicant as a “super dope homeboy from the Oak-town.”

        -Please Hammer, don’t hurt ’em

    2. LittleT*

      This is hysterical and I know I’d be laughing my head off if I received a resume/note from someone with a similar quote.

      Should we be glad she didn’t quote Vanilla Ice and throw in, “If there was a problem, yo I’ll solve it”? to prove that she’s a multi-tasking problem solver?!

    3. Kelly O*

      I was wondering if I was the only one who gave points for the MC Hammer thing, but took away points for gifts and overly aggressive “courting” technique.

      (I made a new friend at work recently because he closed an email with “you’re killing me, Smalls.” Pop Culture FTW!)

      1. ggg*

        Nope — I would totally interview anyone who quoted MC Hammer. Especially if the gift was a pair of parachute pants.

  4. Sourire*

    #3. It’s really no one’s business whether you rent, pay a mortgage or own outright, so I’d just avoid even talking about it in the future. I bought (not outright, I have a mortgage but it’s cheaper than rent would be for the area I was looking in) my house as a single 26 year old female and wow did I get a lot of comments about it. Some positive, but quite a few wondering why I wouldn’t just rent until I “settled down”.

    I’m very curious about your boss’s comment questioning how you would be able to afford a mortgage on your salary. Rent would not be much cheaper, so how did he assume you paid for your living expenses to begin with, not that he should be thinking about that in the first place. I also have major issues with so flippantly admitting you pay people less than a living standard, unless OP works part time or something like that.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Well, there are cities (like NYC, D.C., and San Francisco) where you could be paying someone perfectly fairly and it wouldn’t be enough to buy a house, particularly in junior-level jobs.

        1. Carrie in Scotland*

          I live in a city where my mortgage payments are WAY cheaper than rent prices – I got my flat when I was 21, 8 years ago now (before it all went mad, house price-wise).

          1. Sarahnova*

            Yes, my hubs and I would pay way more to rent our house than we do on the mortgage, although we were only able to get the said mortgage by laying down a chunk of cash which is out of the reach of many people renting.

            1. LBK*

              Yes, that last part is key – I could buy and pay about the same or less than I pay for rent right now, but I don’t have $40k to drop on the deposit.

                1. LBK*

                  Ha, well that’s for a lower-end condo in my current neighborhood, which is still somewhat transitional/up-and-coming. I don’t even know what a deposit for an actual house or a condo closer to downtown would look like – $80k is probably about right.

          2. BRR*

            I lived in a Rust Belt city a couple years ago and rents were a lot higher than owning costs (mortgage+ taxes+ basic maintenance but something major would obviously make it a lot higher). People just didn’t have the money for a down payment or couldn’t qualify for a mortgage. But overall your housing costs should roughly be the same whether you rent or own so I don’t know why it’s a shock. Either way OP, it’s nobody’s business but I’m also not sure why you just kind of gave all that information up.

            1. MK*

              The OP probably didn’t ” just kind of gave all that information up”. When you are a young person and you are in a casual conversation with your boss about curtains, it’s hard/awkward to be ready deflect questions even about things that aren’t the boss’ business. And most people don’t consider the fact that they own their house as sensitive information that they have to guard.

              1. Kai*

                Exactly–sounds like it was an off-the-cuff remark, and in most cases it shouldn’t matter anyway.

              2. Rose*

                I agree. I think it’s totally inappropriate for a manager to ask a young person that kind of question. It’s too hard to not answer a direct question from someone in a position of power. The fact that he asked and then brought up her financial situation again in casual conversation (while making all kinds of assumptions) isn’t a great sign.

            2. Cari*

              Rent may be more if the landlord wants to make money, not just cover the mortgage payments, mind. If folks aren’t aware their landlord doesn’t own the property outright (typical for private landlords here at least), it may be a bit of a surprise that they’re paying more to rent than own.

              1. LBK*

                Well, there are additional costs to the landlord as well – any maintenance or updates, for example, as well as utilities in common areas (I don’t pay for the electricity the lights in our entryway use or the hot water our communal laundry uses). No matter what, you’re rarely just paying exactly your portion of the mortgage since the landlord would probably be renting at a loss overall if that were true.

          3. Artemesia*

            The mortgage is only where is begins though. Home ownership involves so many expenses that you don’t have as a renter — repairs especially unexpected repairs of plumbing, appliances, leaky roofs, furnace going out etc etc as well as more expensive home owners insurance to cover the building as well as personal property as well as property taxes. We OWN our place in a big city free and clear and our monthly costs for housing exceed $2000 by the time you factor everything in and that is not including things like appliance repairs or replacement.

            1. the gold digger*

              1. Replacing the roof
              2. Replacing the furnace
              3. Replacing the driveway
              4. Mudjacking the garage
              5. Painting the garage and the window trim
              6. Trying to keep your tree from dying of fire blight
              7. Repairing the flooded basement

              None of these things improve the value of the house or make it any prettier. They just prevent your house from being unliveable or impossible to sell some day.

      1. Cat*

        And real estate is, umm, intense enough in those cities that if you knew a 20-something who owned, say, a town house in Dupont outright, your emotions might be aroused even if you knew better.

        1. JC*

          Seriously. The people who own the penthouses in my condo building are in their late 20s/early 30s, and I still wonder all the time how they could afford them!

        2. LBK*

          I’d be curious how anyone who had to work a regular job could afford a town house in Dupont – I assume they’re reserved for children of oil tycoons, A-list actors and lottery winners.

      2. JC*

        Yep. I live in DC and my mortgage (+property tax and condo fees) is less than the rent would be on a similar apartment…but only after I ponied up $100k+ on a down payment. Knowing that you need a sizeable down payment to afford a reasonable mortgage in an expensive area is what often raises eyebrows when you hear of a young, junior employee who owns.

        1. Elysian*

          Yeah, this is the only reason I don’t own. My parents (who neither know nor care to learn about the housing market in my city) don’t understand why I’m still renting because my husband and I both have good jobs, etc, and we could certainly afford a mortgage payment. But we can’t get a place – we don’t have a down payment. Anything that we would buy in our city falls into the “jumbo” mortgage category (seriously, I can’t get a 2 bedroom condo without a jumbo mortgage) and you need 20% down on a jumbo mortgage, so we have to get basically 100k in cash before we can buy. I would be really surprised to hear that a young employee has bought in the area I’m looking in, because it requires so much cash up-front.

        2. NoPantsFridays*

          Yeah, I used to live in a high COL area and the only people I know who bought young (early to mid 20s) were gradually gifted, over many years, a large down payment by their parents. They still paid the mortgage and other ongoing expenses, but were gifted the down payment (which is a huge gift in itself, of course).

      3. Michele*

        As someone that has lived in NYC for 12 years even with my current salary I can not afford to buy anything in a decent neighborhood. I can count on 1 hand the people I know that actually own their condo/co-op.

          1. the gold digger*

            So every time I read a first-person piece in a magazine by someone who works in publishing talking about her “country house,” I wonder how on earth that is possible. Not just a place in the city, but a second house in the country? I didn’t realize magazine writing and editing paid so well.

      4. Elizabeth West*

        I bought a house because it was cheaper than renting, a crappy cardboard post-war bungalow (I was only making $8 an hour at the time, and housing was super cheap). MISTAKE. It’s like owning an old beater car–I can’t keep up with it. But I can’t part it out. I just keep praying for a small tornado.

      5. LucyVP*

        We just had a junior-level employee in our department tell us that she loves the area and she loves her job but knows she could never purchase a home here and therefore is looking at moving to another part of the state.

        Where we are if your parents dont leave you a house, there is almost no chance of ever buying.

    2. ClaireS*

      I dislike those sorts of comments too. I’m in my late 20s and rent in my small city with my partner. I get lots of eyebrow raises about not owning a home and not being married. People are weird about that stuff.

    3. MK*

      The prices of rents are determined by the number of available places to rent and the number of people who want/need to rent there. The price of real estate (which by extention partially determines the mortgage) is determined by the availability of real estate and the nymber of people willing to buy it. Usually it goes in tandem, regulated by the “desirable place to live” factor, but not always.

      I have lived in a town where many people were sent to work for short periods (8 months to 2 years), so there were many people looking for rental places, while there weren’t all that many willing to settle there permenantly. Result: high rents, relatively cheap real estate. In another case, there weren’t many people looking to rent, but also very few of the (usually very well-off) real estate owners were looking to sell theri property, which lead to low rents and high real estate prices.

    4. The IT Manager*

      Sourire’s second paragraph is what struck me about #3.

      I have always lived in places where my peers could afford to own a house (or rent one); although, most haven’t paid off the mortgage. And you certainly don’t have to mention that point when discussing curtains.

      I figured LW#3 must be on a big, expensive city to get that kind of reaction. (Are there house within any reasonable commuting distance of NYC though?)

      1. LBK*

        There are lots of other cities that are extremely expensive that aren’t Manhattan…DC, Boston and San Francisco come to mind. I make a pretty decent amount for my age and I definitely couldn’t afford a house, especially on my own.

        1. Felicia*

          And to go non-American, Toronto and Vancouver are totally unaffordable to buy in. I’m in my mid 20s and no one my age owns a house, and I make a decent entry level salary, but that’s not nearly enough. Even at high level salaries i’ll never be able to afford a house in Toronto.

          1. Diet Coke Addict*

            Here’s one! My husband and I are in our mid-20s and just bought a house. However, we live in an area where the renting costs are high and the houses are dirt cheap, neither of us have any debt, and he makes a good buck. We could never afford a place like Vancouver–our real estate agent’s son is in Victoria and just spent $325k on a 1-bedroom 1-bath condo. Unreal.

            1. Cath in Canada*

              Yeah, Vancouver is nuts. My husband and I make decent money between the two of us, and we rent out our basement and garage for extra cash, and we’re still just barely able to afford a crappy, falling-down house in a less-than-desirable neighbourhood. And we got in before the biggest rise in prices.

              Have you seen the Vancouver “crack shack or million dollar mansion” game on Facebook? It’s really, really hard to guess which is which!

              1. Felicia*

                I have not seen that game but now I’m going to get obsessed with it! I think there’s a variation of the same game you can play for Toronto. If I had a spouse and rented out my basement I’d be able to afford the same kind of house as you here. Vancouver I think has been unaffordable for longer! But Toronto is now the same.

            2. Felicia*

              Most people I know in their mid 20s either live here or live in other expensive (though not quite as expensive) cities, so that makes sense!

      2. doreen*

        Lots of houses even within NYC- but on very small properties. 20×100 is a common lot size. We bought one when my husband and I were both 26- and yes, people were trying to figure out how we could afford it. We could afford it only because we could put $40K down- in 1987. A down payment that large brought the monthly expenses down enough to be only slightly more than rent. ( and since we stayed, the expenses are now less than we would pay for rent)

      3. Gloria*

        So weird! I bought curtains (affordable IKEA ones) at our current rental. The old window coverings were disgusting and covered in grime and cat hair. I suppose I could take them with us when we leave, but I honestly don’t care.

    5. Rayner*

      I’m looking at living in London, and a starting salary of 22k a year would seriously impact my ability to live alone in most areas of the city unless I lived in a shoe box – even though in the north of the country, that would be an excellent starting salary.

      Living wages are as living wages do, but they’re not always completely relevant depending on location and personal circumstances.

      1. Sarahnova*

        When I started out, a lot of big companies did offer “London weighting”, with salaries higher in central-London locations and *some* boost for most of the greater London and Home Counties area. But yes, £22k goes a lot further in, say, Lancashire or N Ireland than the southeast of England.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Someone told me I should just pick up and move there–which made me laugh quite hard. As awesome as that would be, I said, if I even were allowed to emigrate, I could never make enough money to afford to live there unless I write a hugely successful bestseller or win the lottery. :P

        I make a decent salary now for what I do / where I live (middle US), but I couldn’t afford to move back to California either.

        1. Cari*

          I’ve heard great things about the cost of living in Canada! It seems to be the UK’s London for people who like to tell others what to do with their lives ;)

          1. Chinook*

            “I’ve heard great things about the cost of living in Canada! It seems to be the UK’s London for people who like to tell others what to do with their lives ;)”

            Canadian cost of living so depends on where you live (because we are a huge coutnry after all). Places with high salaries have high rent and low vacancies. There are parts of Alberta where you could get a job and not be able to find a place to rent or buy without knowing someone (Fort McMurray is a prime example but even Calgary has an extremely low vacancy rate and renting a room in someone’s house can cost you a lot). Other places, where housing is cheap, don’t have a lot of jobs available. As well, you have to factor in the cost of food, transportation and taxes which can vary from province to province and region to region. Moving from Quebec to Alberta increased my salary big time (due to cut in taxes and higher wage rates) but housing cost twice as much.

    6. louise*

      My brother started dating a woman in her early 20s who lived alone in a beautiful cottage in an expensive neighborhood. He was really confused because renting OR owning there would be prohibitive for a full time student, which she was, unless the parents were footing the bill or something.

      Turned out it was “or something”: she’d married young and he died tragically*. They’d planned ahead with life insurance and she was taken care of. I’d hate to think of any employer penalizing someone for such a horrible loss.

      *Of a disease. Not a tragic, suspicious, Dateline kind of death.

      1. Bea W*

        I bet that woman would have much rather wanted her husband around than a spiffy cottage in a swanky neighborhood. It’s not an equal trade, but I’ve seen people react to that kind of situation as if being financially taken care of makes up for the loss. It doesn’t.

    7. MJ*

      #3 I would also recommend never discussing your finances with any coworkers. It sets you up for comparisons that are inappropriate to the workplace, as some will not be able to process feelings of envy (you have it so much easier than they do).

      Personal lives are personal, and anything personal about you that you bring into the workplace has the potential to influence others, sometimes positively and sometimes negatively. This is especially true of finances, as salary is a natural point of comparison in the workplace.

    8. butterbeans*

      I had a similar experience: single female, bought tiny fixer-upper house at age 23 with a generous supplemented down payment gifted from my parents. My dad taught me handy stuff and we gutted and remodeled the thing ourselves, with help from a few professionals where we weren’t experts. It was so fun and I learned an awful lot–I am completely unafraid to buy again some day. But, I made the error of talking about my side project at work, and usually got the question of how I could afford that. Wow, did I get a lot of hate.

      1. Bea W*

        It’s jealousy. :-/ You have something other people covet. They are completely missing the whole “gutted and remodeled the thing ourselves” part. You may have gotten help from your parents, but you probably paid twice that with your own labor. I think you probably get a double whammy for being a woman on top of it all.

        I wish people could just be happy for other people. This sounds like such an awesome experience, and you have to have awesome parents. There are parents out there who will help with money, but you’re dad also taught you and helped with modeling. I think that’s even better than money! Those are real skills you can use, and I suspect you have to have a pretty good relationship with your dad to have made it work. My dad on the other hand, has a gender bias. He wouldn’t even teach his girls how to drive. He helped with my brother’s living and school expenses, but not ours (his daughters). When I hear people with stories like yours, it just makes me happy.

        1. the gold digger*

          Your dad sounds wonderful. My dad always wanted to show me how to fix things or to help him when he was in his workshop. I so regret now telling him I was busy and staying upstairs with a book. I would give anything to be able to hang out with my dad now.

    9. Anonymous*

      I think the boss’ comment was not unexpected due to the fact that so many people that age, who are just starting out and have a lot of student debt and getting entry level pay. Alison also makes a good point about cities where home ownership is not attainable except at certain income levels or coming into a bundle of money. When I bought my place as a single person, living comfortably on a better than median salary for my area, SFRs were completely out of the question, and small condos in many areas were not affordable either. I could not afford to buy in the town where I worked. The max I could borrow was $200K. In this area, that is like walking into the dollar store with 50 cents in your pocket.

  5. Sourire*

    While I think Alison’s advice to #1 is great, I worry what someone like this candidate will do with the advice about standing out via cover letter and resume. The next company will probably receive a glitterbomb with 3D pop-ups delivered by a singing telegram.

    1. Amanda C.*

      Perhaps I should send HER the glitterbomb to let her know that she didn’t get the job! I found out from our receptionist that the candidate asked to see me to deliver the gift in person. I’m thankful that we have a wonderful receptionist who knew this would not be appropriate. I also found out that she dropped the gifts off wearing gym clothes, which would have been really interesting if I had agreed to see her!

      1. Persephone Mulberry*

        What?! Gym clothes? What if you had decided to interview her on the spot? Dropping off gifts in person makes even less sense now.

      2. Poohbear McGriddles*

        That could have been awesome. Tell her you’re ready to interview here right then and there. It could be worth a few minutes of your time to watch her face as she realizes she pretty much showed up for a job interview in gym clothes (bonus points if she’s sweaty).

        Everyone knows that the most appropriate gift/bribe is chocolate!

        1. Kelly O*

          It really would have been awesome. I mean, probably an overly aggressive candidate who will then pester YOU after the interview, but could you imagine the face when she realized she was not at all prepared?

          1. Amanda C.*

            Y’all are making me think that I should tell the receptionist to buzz me if she shows up again! That could be fun.

            1. ThursdaysGeek*

              If she thinks gifts are appropriate, why do you think she’ll realize gym clothes are inappropriate?

      3. Elizabeth West*

        Ha! This is why I always dressed up to drop off resumes (where I couldn’t apply online). You never know if someone will ask you to chat right then and there!

        1. Beth C*

          Exactly. Even when I applied for retail or fast food jobs I dressed nicely and figured you never know when you spoke to a manager that day.

  6. James M*

    #5: You were not “discharged”, you were “let go”, or whatever the popular biz-speak euphemism is.

    #4: I can hear the weasel squeaks from here. Weasels are pests; it’s best to keep your distance.

    1. Carrington Barr*

      #5 – Exactly. If you’re neither a firearm nor a armed forces member, you were not “discharged”.

    2. OP#4*

      Yeah, a bit of a weasel- but he’s really more clueless than anything. I feel bad for the guy, really… He has no idea what people actually think of him (or how obvious he is), but it’s not my place to enlighten him!

  7. nep*

    #1 – It’s almost frightening that there are adult people out there who think this is OK and might lead to any positive outcome. Yikes.

    1. Amanda C.*

      This job-seeker is extremely well-seasoned, if you are picking up what I’m putting down. She should know better. Apparently this is not the first position she has gone for at the company, but she is taking it to new lengths with the gifts.

      1. nep*

        Seems to me ‘should know better’ can’t even really apply in such a case; some people seem simply not to care at all. Do they really think they’ll be an exception to a well-founded rule? Ugh.

        1. Simonthegrey*

          Yes, because everyone has a story about a second-cousin’s babysitter’s mother-in-law who did something like this and it worked.

          1. LBK*

            I always want to hear the follow up to those stories, particularly whether it actually turned out to be a good job. I can only imagine that someone who hires based on who has the flashiest application process has other horrible management habits – or at the very least your coworkers would probably all be nightmares since they were hired on superficial characteristics rather than how good they’d be at the job.

            1. MJH*

              Yes! My old boss had a gimmick like this, only worse, and became Director of Marketing at our company. He sucked so hard. Incompetent, bad at managing, bad at marketing, and basically a pathological liar. He was indeed all flash.

              He was bumped from area to area and eventually canned. I think it took 18 months, though.

    2. Rayner*

      Unfortunately, many people don’t know any better because it’s what worked for them last time or they simply don’t understand how to weed through good and bad advice from stupid ‘job counselors’ who have no idea what they’re doing themselves.

      Sometimes, they’re just complete idiots but most of the time, particularly if they’re young, I’d say they don’t know any better and will look back in ten years and cringe.

      1. nep*

        Well, no gift-giving here…but I’m sure some of my earliest resumes and/or cover letters are cringe-worthy. Live and learn. Or not. Reckon some folks want to remain attention-grabbers, clumsy or not.

        1. Amanda C.*

          I am all for a cover letter that shows some personality. The bizarre cards and gifts are, as my grandmother would say, “a whole ‘nother story.”

  8. Carrington Barr*

    OP#3 “He said: “Well, most people spend about half their salary on rent or a mortgage. You don’t have that.” So he thinks I’m earning way more than I need.”

    This is the same breed of assyness that childfree people often deal with, because they “don’t need the money as much because you don’t have a family to support.”

    Infuriating stupidity.

    1. GrumpyBoss*

      This made my stomach churn when I read it. It disgusts me that people like this still exist.

      I’m much crabbier in my old age. I’d call the boss out. “Oh, I didn’t realize that financial need was the driver here. When are we planning on having the office meeting where we lay down all our cards, compare our debt to income, take a look at retirement plans, and outwardly pass judgement on each other for how we spend our disposable income?”

      The older I get, the more firmly I believe: stupid statements deserve a stupid (and aggressive) response.

      1. LBK*

        Seriously…I wonder how much that manager is making and how much discretionary spending he does? Might be time for a salary cut, because I mean, who really NEEDS that BMW and $300/mo reserved parking space when you could take the train for $70?

        1. LBK*

          (This came off a little more cynical than I meant, but my point was just that I can’t imagine the manager doesn’t earn a single cent above what he needs to cover the bare minimums, so it’s completely asinine to make any kind of commentary on the OP’s pay.)

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Telling people how to spend their money is never a great idea.
      My husband and I were childfree and we sunk a lot of time and money into taking care of our parents. If we had kids we would not have been able to do that. My point is that the money goes- it just flies and no one has enough background to know where anyone’s money gets spent.

      It’s possible that a person has an on-going medical condition that chews up their extra cash. No one should have to explain that.

      Speaking as a mortgage holder, it is very easy to be envious of people who have their mortgages paid off. It’s fine to have emotions such as envy (that’s just part of being human) but it’s not fine to let that cloud interactions with others. It becomes a real problem when a boss factors in financial obligations to rates of pay. I guess all OP needs to do is tell the boss that she is going to solve world hunger and therefore needs $1M per hour as her pay rate. It’s similar logic.

      [Nooo, I don’t get annoyed when people assume how others should spend their money. Nope.]

    3. Jazzy Red*

      Boy, do I agree with this!

      A long time ago, women were always paid less than men for the same work. That’s just the way it was. Then in the 79’s, on the Mary Tyler Moore show, she wanted to know why she was being paid less than the men who have the same job she does. Her boss told her it’s because they have families to support, and she’s single. She went back to her desk, and a minute or two later yelled out “AHA!” Then she told her boss that argument didn’t hold water because they don’t pay the guy with 3 children more than they pay the guy with 1 child.

      The point is – the job is worth what it’s worth. The workers’ financial problems or lack of them has nothing to do with their pay.

      The other point is – don’t be so open about your circumstances with you boss & coworkers, especially about your finances. They might seem really friendly exchanging that kind of information, but they’ll use it against you eventually.

    4. Elizabeth West*

      “Oh, well then I should tell you I’m planning to spend half my salary on vacations to Europe. Since I don’t have any kids and don’t have to buy them shoes every six months, you know.” :)

  9. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*


    The biggest way that factors in #3 can affect your compensation is when employers are concerned about retention. People who are crazy happy in their jobs but have large financial pressures may be forced to look for another position. If an employer is retention minded and only has $X to give out, she might give more to the person that she thinks she’s at risk of losing.

    This isn’t a bad business decision, (just a ready made bomb waiting to blow up if any details leak out.)

    I think this is one of the many reasons that, as my Southern mother told me over and over again, your personal finances are nobody else’s business. It’s best to keep family money, personal financial security, spouse’s income, etc. , secret as possible. There are situations where it weakens your negotiating power.

    1. Chinook*

      “The biggest way that factors in #3 can affect your compensation is when employers are concerned about retention.”

      See, I see the opposite – if the OP owns a house flat out, then maybe they have the freedom to walk away from a job they don’t like whereas someone who rents has to be able to meet their monthly rent (that and, atleast here, you can be evicted after missing a month or two’s rent but foreclosure takes 6 months and they would rather have you paying part of your mortgage than foreclose and risk losing more). As a result, OP #’s boss should be more worried about the retention of OP #3 because they have more freedom of movement.

      As someone who has owned more than she has rented, I agree that it has nothing to do with my job except that owning a place shows that I am less likely to move in the near future and is often the best way to counter my resume full of jobs in different places.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        I think that financial freedom gives someone leverage if they choose to use it, but carefully and at the right timing, at the their own strategic choice of reveal.

        You’re selling your house. You have one offer. You’d like to get more than the amount offered but you want to sell it now and not wait.

        Two situations:
        1) your eager buyer who really wants the house is clearly cash strapped and pushing to make the offer they already made.

        2) your eager buyer who really wants the house is driving an expensive car and, with other known factors, clearly has way more money they could choose to spend on your house if they wanted to

        In which situation would you try to get more money? Maybe you would act exactly the same with each buyer or maybe you’d think that buyer 2) could spare an extra $10,000 and you’d give it a try.

        Generally, in most negotiations, someone being aware of your financial resources puts you in a weaker position, unless you intentionally let them know for some strategic reason.

        1. Chinook*

          ” 1) your eager buyer who really wants the house is clearly cash strapped and pushing to make the offer they already made.

          2) your eager buyer who really wants the house is driving an expensive car and, with other known factors, clearly has way more money they could choose to spend on your house if they wanted to”

          Ummm…I have never been able to own a house where someone would willingly drive an expensive car to that part of town. But, if they hint that they are buying it as a rental property, you better believe that I am not wavering on my price (even if I am in a rush to sell). Then again, I also often own homes that are in limited suppply in that price bracket and I would feel guilty asking someone to pay any more than what it really should be worth. I know that there is awalys someone out there who will want it as a starter home or a rental unit.

          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

            Well, I’ve lived in the same house for 18 years that was my husband’s family home since 1962 so maybe I shouldn’t have used a real estate example!

            I do, however, negotiate most other things a lot :p, and I think it is generally true that a person’s finances being known puts them at a disadvantage. That leaves room for it to be positive or negative finances putting them at a disadvantage because I’m sure that you are right that there are multiple situations where an employee’s need to not miss a paycheck (being known) leaves them vulnerable.

  10. Liz*

    Number 3. I learned the hard way to not discuss anything financial at a company I used to work at, to the point where if I was asked about weekend plans, I would say I had nothing planned, because to my nosy old boss, it would mean I was spending money. He was so obsessed with everyone’s business. I am sorry you are working for a jerk like that. Your situation is no one ‘s business, and as a previous commentater stated, I would do my best to deflect the conversation, and move on to another topic.

    1. Artemesia*

      You needed a hobby of birdwatching; you are busy so can’t come in to work, but it is pretty much free.

      1. NoPantsFridays*

        Good call — or planespotting, which is like birdwatching except with giant, inorganic, metallic birds!

  11. Rebecca*

    #3 – my manager uses this type of information in a bad way. Case in point – my coworker who was hired just before our company was purchased by another company, who does not give raises or COLA increases. She’s been working at the same wage for the past 4 years, taken on increasing responsibility and workload, and when she laid out the reasons for wanting a raise, our manager actually told her that since her husband had a good job, and carried her on his insurance, she didn’t know what she was worried about. My manager also gave her used car to another coworker on the very bottom of the pay scale to help her, instead of trading it in. She told all of us about this. While we are supposed to be working no overtime, a few people in the office are allowed, and they are very vocal about their money issues. Needless to say, this is causing quite a lot of resentment from the rest of us who all work very hard, are overwhelmed, and view this as extreme favoritism.

    If you do a good job, and there is merit to your increase request, I think it should be considered at least, no matter what your circumstances.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      Yeah, see my post above, reference “ready made bomb waiting to blow up”.

      Watch out for the flying shrapnel.

      1. Rebecca*

        Yes, you hit the nail on the head. I know 4 people, other than me, who are actively looking for other jobs. And we’re the high performers in the office. There’s nothing for us here – other than increasing impossible work loads and stress. I wouldn’t mind all the extra work if I could earn more money. Note that I said “earn”, not looking for a handout, but I think if we all take on more and more work, and do a good job for the company, we should receive some sort of increased compensation for it.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          I’d be lying if I said I never gave money for a humanitarian reason. There were dark hours directly after the economic crash where any shekels that could be gathered up went to good employees who were in trouble (ex, laid off spouse). I’ve also found retention money during dark hours.

          That was all about keeping the band together so we could find better days. It’s not a bad business decision in the right moment, but it is way not sustainable.

          A lot of people just manage to crisis after crisis though. It sounds like your bosses are doing that. Not sustainable.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        And plan that the information will eventually leak out. “Oh, I saw Bob going into X for dinner. How can Bob afford that on his salary?” OR “Gee, Bob always drove really bad vehicles, now he suddenly has a nice one. What’s up with that?”

        It does not take long for rumor mill/ speculation to kick in.

        1. Rebecca*

          We wonder that here. Two particular people were always complaining about lack of gas money, worrying about cars, etc. All of a sudden, new car, stopping for coffee on the way to work, no more complaints about gas money, going on vacation, etc. It makes us all wonder what changed, and did they get raises when we didn’t?

          1. Loose Seal*

            I suspect it was not a raise but more of a credit card/loan thing. It’d have to be a heck of a raise to take on car payments and vacation when things were so financially stressed before.

  12. Elysian*

    #3 – First thing first – Why can’t renters have curtains, Boss? Are renters just supposed to live in fabric-less squalor? Or is it Boss’s impression that rentals don’t have windows? I rent, and my blackout curtains are amazing and the only reason I can get any sleep. Silly boss.

    Even if your boss does think what you suggest, what makes you think its impacting your salary? Have you been passed over for a raise? I think that it would be easy to make assumptions about what other people think about your situation, and maybe jump to conclusions. For instance, I’m not sure that “he thinks I’m earning way more than I need” follows from a comment about how you’re probably not living paycheck to paycheck. It’s possible for your boss to be surprised about your circumstances (and even to talk to you awkwardly about money) and not use that information against you when it comes to pay decisions.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      The curtian thing got me. What types of places is he renting that come with curtians? One place I rented had Venetian Blinds. But it was an 8’x12′ window with a southern exposure. (Think greenhouse, 95 degrees in the middle of winter.) The blinds were absolutely necessary. If you closed the blinds the room went down to 85 degrees.

      The boss seems to carry a few misconceptions about how things work.

      1. Diet Coke Addict*

        That got me too. I’ve never rented a place that had curtains already–every time I’ve ever rented, curtains or blinds were a Day 1 operation. And judging from what I see in apartment complexes around here (many blankets and/or flags and/or tinfoil as curtains), curtains are certainly not included. What a weird comment.

      2. Natalie*

        My read was that the boss finds it pointless to buy something like curtains for a rental, since it’s just “temporary”. If he’s paying through the nose for custom curtains I guess I could understand, but someone should probably point him towards the affordable selection of curtains at IKEA.

        1. doreen*

          I think it was because the OP recommended a “curtain shop” and the boss probably assumed people would buy curtains from IKEA or somewhere for a rental , not a curtain shop. Not so much that it’s pointless to buy curtains for a rental, but that it’s pointless to spend a lot of money on something that may not be usable if you lease isn’t renewed and you move.

          Still has nothing to do with how much the OP is paid.

          1. Kerry (Like The County In Ireland)*

            Hey, I had the curtains my mom bought in 1980 in my house–they weren’t perfect but I made it work. They were of a beautiful, classic Arts & Crafts style embroidered heavy fabric ( and fully lined!)

      3. MaryMary*

        I thought it was because the boss was not into interior design. The purpose of window treatments is to prevent the neighbors from seeing you in your undies, right? Why would you buy curtains if there were blinds or shades already serving this purpose?

        1. Liz T*

          Where are these mysterious apartments that come with blinds and shades? I’ve bought my own for every apartment ever. (Though only at Ikea/Kmart, never at a fancy shop. But then I’m a poor artist.)

          1. Natalie*

            Some states (mine included) require that landlords provide window coverings. They’ve been inexpensive mini blinds in every apartment I’ve lived in, but in my cousin’s duplex they got nice curtains thrown in with the rent.

            1. Bea W*

              Every place I’ve ever rented came with blinds or shades. The condo I bought, on the other hand…completely bare – not even so much as a bracket! I also had to buy a shower curtain rod and the toilet paper dispenser.

          2. Chinook*

            “Where are these mysterious apartments that come with blinds and shades? I’ve bought my own for every apartment ever. (Though only at Ikea/Kmart, never at a fancy shop. But then I’m a poor artist.)”

            Here in Canada, every place I bought or rented came with blinds and/or curtains and they were explictly meantioned in either the lease agreement or sale contract. Ironically, the place in Quebec we bought came with blinds but no appliances, so we had plenty of privacy while we saved our pennies for a stove and fridge.

            1. Diet Coke Addict*

              I’ve never rented a place in Canada that came with blinds or curtains. Nor has anyone I know. The only reason blinds came with our house that we bought was because the woman moving couldn’t use them in her new place and didn’t want to bother moving custom pieces.

          3. MaryMary*

            Every apartment I’ve lived in (and I’ve been renting for over ten years) has come with some sort of window covering. However, that includes wonky/broken blinds, paper shades held up with clips, and roller shades older than I am. I’ve upgraded to Target/Ikea curtains several times.

    2. Mister Pickle*

      It is for sure possible that the boss is not considering your financial status in your pay decisions – but I’m in my 30th year working for a large corporation and I’ve seen this kind of thing happen many, many times. It’s very difficult to prove. And perversely enough, the boss usually feels like they’re doing a Good Thing – kind of like Robin Hood on a small scale – doing their part to ‘help’ workers who are perceived to be in need at the expense of other workers ‘who can afford it’. Especially when there’s a limited amount of raise or bonus money to go around.

      While the best strategy is to avoid telling people about your finances, sometimes it’s difficult: if you buy a new car, it’s like you need some kind of carefully rehearsed cover story to explain how you could afford it. And – as distasteful as this sounds – when my mom passed away a few years ago and left me her estate, there were co-workers who asked leading questions hinting around how much I inherited (which was most easily dealt with by saying “I have no idea … my family is reeling from our loss” and then endeavoring to avoid that person for the indefinite future).

      1. Poohbear McGriddles*

        And yet, strangely enough, after my last job laid off several key people, the owner didn’t seem to worry about how to justify his new Maserati.

        1. Mister Pickle*

          Well, yeah, Poohbear: charity is all well and good, but when you are depriving your own family of food and Italian sports cars, you’re taking it a little too far.

    3. Nikki T*

      I thought the same thing. I’m wondering if the Boss was fishing for info…
      If someone said that to me I probably would have said something very snarky about curtain rental shops, or windowless apartments….

    4. MK*

      There are curtains and then there are curtains. When I rented, I went for nice but cheap ones. When I bought curtains for the flat I own and plan to live in possibly forever, well, let’s just say I had to save for months to get the ones I wanted. The OP mentioned they “bought curtains from a certain shop”; probably this shop is known for selling high-quality, expensive fabrics.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Yeah, I wondered if he meant “why did you invest in quality curtains when you’re renting” or some such.

      2. Miss Chanandler Bong*

        Yeah, I don’t like to pay a lot of curtains on my rental, because every time you move, you have to buy new ones anyway, since the windows are never the same size.

  13. GrumpyBoss*

    #4 – I’m not getting into the rhetoric of LinkedIn recommendations and their perceived value. But I will say this: if this guy is so passive aggressive that he cannot just say, “Hi, I can really use some assistance in my job search. Would you mind writing me a recommendation? I’d gladly return the favor”, he isn’t worth the response. I’m too busy to play this game with people. If you want something from me, ask for it. Don’t pretend you’re doing me a favor first.

  14. Cat*

    The problem with pretending to rent when you own is that inevitably some homeowner issue is going to come up that you have to miss work for and your boss will say “just let the landlord deal with it.” I feel like being vague about the money “oh. I was lucky and home ownership was really important to me” combined with flat denials “sorry, I’ve never been comfortable talking about finance,” are better than pretending to rent.

    1. Judy*

      You don’t need to pretend to not own. A mortgage may or may not be less expensive than renting. If pressed about how they got a mortgage on their salary, they could mention the inheritance and say that it made a mortgage more equivalent to renting.

      No one needs to know you own your house outright vs mortgage. And not all mortgages are 20% down payment, it could have been 70% down payment, to make the payments much less than renting.

      1. Colette*

        Agreed. Vague is fine – there’s no need to share the full information. Even something like “the time was right for me to own” or “I’m lucky to have a place I’ve been able to afford” is true, but doesn’t share all of the details.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Good advice. Have a pat answer ready and use it consistently.

      When I lost my last parent, people assumed I would come into money. My deflect for that was “It will take up to six months to collect up and sort all the outstanding medical bills, so we will not know for a while where all that will land.” Most people lose interest after a few weeks, so to them six months was too long a time to pay attention to my situation. Odd things work well.

      1. Artemesia*

        I am astonished that co-workers would ask such a thing. When my last parent died, no one friend or co-worker raised that question at all. I got several hundred thousand which astonished me as my parents never made much, my mother never worked outside the home, and my father soaked up several hundred thousand for nursing homes his last 4 years when my mother could no longer care for him at home (he had broken a leg and was no longer mobile – he was never able to rehab to walk given his dementia.) I was just grateful that they didn’t need me and my brother to support them — an inheritance was a surprise. And I have banked it hoping to be able to pass it along to my own children who will probably need it more than I do (unless I have to dip into it for some future nursing home bills.) I can’t imagine asking someone who has lost a loved one ‘how much did you get?’

  15. BRR*

    #2 If the advice here doesn’t work, do you know when these projects are coming? I know they come late in the day but if you know they’ll come late in the day on tuesday and thursday can you ask to come in late those days? Or if they’re spontaneous could you ask to come in late the day after you get a late in the day assignment?

    1. OP2*

      OP of #2 here.

      First off, thanks BRR (and Allison!) for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

      If/when she gets hit with this request, my wife plans to respond pretty much as Allison suggests above. Which, in any rational work environment, should work out just fine.

      My concern is that my wife’s employer might not be rational about this. Which is a not unjustified concern.

      BRR: I didn’t want to get into it in the original question, but the nature of my wife’s job is that she is the final step needed to complete a project. In a rational environment, all project managers would schedule things like “Thursday: all input due!” / “Friday: final step” but in practice what tends to happen is that projects get dumped on her 30 minutes before COB on Friday. Attempting to establish a rule such as “projects must be submitted by 1pm to be processed by COB” simply doesn’t work.

      I wouldn’t say the workplace is “toxic”, but it is a bit dysfunctional. If they insist that my wife be at her desk at 8am, I see this as they’re changing her job from an ostensible 40 hours/week (where she in truth averages 45-50+ hours a week) to 50-55+ hours a week. Has anyone attempted to renegotiate their job/salary along these lines? Or is my thinking off?

      1. ArtsNerd*

        I think trying to renegotiate salary would be a little tone deaf and ineffective, since workplaces like that are likely to say “well we’ll get her the projects earlier” but then never actually do it. Plus I’ve been in a position multiple times where hours increase some (50 hrs to 55 hr, say) without a pay increase. It just comes with the gig and you make it work or you move on.

        It’s much more pragmatic to keep pushing for the later start.

        1. OP2*

          Thanks, ArtsNerd. You nailed it with ‘“well we’ll get her the projects earlier” but then never actually do it’ – that’s dead-on accurate.

  16. Sarahnova*

    OP#1 Yikes. I would be Gift of Fear-ing this candidate, in that I would send her a form rejection immediately, with a single personalised line tailored to the likelihood that she’s merely desperate and a little dense, rather than obsessive and unbalanced: “Please note that we do not accept gifts from job applicants.”

    Then I would resolutely ignore any further contact attempts by her and, indeed, discard all “gifts”, if possible unopened. She is attempting (in a rather unsophisticated way) to manipulate your emotions; remind yourself of that if you feel guilty.

    Also: do not speak to her at all yourself outside the rejection note, otherwise you’ll be teaching her that the “price” of your attention is X gifts/notes/attempts at contact. If she shows up again after receiving your rejection notice, coach your receptionist on saying, “We can’t accept that” to any notes/packages and “I’m going to have to ask you to leave” if she refuses to do so. This may seem cruel and heavy-handed, but she’s already demonstrating a slightly worrying level of investment here; if she continues to show up after receiving a clear rejection notice, it’s a bad sign.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I agree. If it is against company policy to accept gifts then say so. I have worked for places where even accepting the smallest item would be a problem. My current job, I have to even watch my conversations. (It doesn’t bother me because I just speak up, however, outsiders should be aware that they maybe causing problems for an employee.)

      1. Jazzy Red*

        When I worked for the world’s largest retailer, who has a “no gifts” policy, my boss made me send back a gift of food. The no gifts policy does say that food gifts can be accepted if the food is shared at work (and flowers/plants, too – the receptionist puts them in the lobby), but my boss was adamant. I was completely embarassed that my boss made me send it back, and I wrote the nicest note I could to thank them. However, this is the boss who went crazy (shouting and waving a gun around on airport grounds) a few years later and was committed.

        1. Sarahnova*

          I think that was a slightly different scenario, though; the jobseeker in #1 is attempting to use gifts to obligate the LW to engage with her. Some companies do have good reasons for not accepting gifts ever, and it does seem to me that not accepting gifts from jobseekers is a reasonable blanket policy, given that accepting them could certainly be perceived as biasing hiring decisions.

    2. Loose Seal*

      I don’t know if I’d go all Gift of Fear on her. She’s obviously read or heard that gift-giving and cheesy one-liners is the way to get ahead with interviewers. It doesn’t mean that she’s going to step up to stalking next.

      But, yes, I’d discard the gifts and let her know that they aren’t acceptable at her office.

      1. Sarahnova*

        To be clear, I’m not advising a full-on harassment management strategy yet – only if she fails to listen to a clear rejection (or God forbid steps her campaign up). I’m also factoring in that she seems to be making OP#1 feel uneasy, if only because she’s fighting a “socially obligated” urge to respond.

        And the “do not engage” strategy is a useful one even when you don’t actually fear the person and just want them to be quiet and go away.

    3. Nancie*

      #1. You may want to leave the gifts with the receptionist for a week or two after you send the rejection. Somehow, I just have the feeling that the applicant may roll up in a huff demanding that the gifts be returned.

      #3. If you’re cornered again about how you can afford your house, maybe you can just say that your family (or the inheritance) “helped out with the down payment”. (It’s still a down payment if it’s 100% of the price, right?) I’m sure most people will assume that you still have some sort of mortgage to pay off.

  17. rory*

    I really feel for the job candidate in #1. I have been told by people to give plants as a way to make me “stand out”. I’ve never done it, but there is definitely this advice floating around that you need to do more than just apply, you have to Go The Extra Mile and provide gifts and raise your profile so they know who you are.

    This is an entry-level job; I suspect this job candidate has people telling her she needs to do this. A polite notice saying that her advisers are wrong and this strategy doesn’t gain you friends will probably really help her in the future.

    1. Allison*

      When I was job hunting out of college, the “go the extra mile” advice was everywhere, and my peers and I were constantly told how important it was to stand out. The problem is, if you pull some gimmicky garbage to get attention, or harass the company, you’ll stand out all right, but for all the wrong reasons.

      Luckily, while I did get some god-awful advice (“get out there and pound the pavement!” “send out a ton of resumes every day! it doesn’t matter if you’re qualified, just keep trying!” “you sent an e-mail yesterday? not good enough, you need to CALL them NOW!”) no one ever told me to give a gift.

  18. Bea W*

    Today, the note quotes MC Hammer, as she is “Too legit. Too legit to quit… trying to get an interview.”

    I believe the proper response would be “Can’t touch this…job.”

    1. louise*


      I feel like people have taken TV shows too much to heart. The MC Hammer thing seems like something Erin from The Office would have done to land an interview. Obviously if you want a boss as ridiculous as Michael Scott, that’s the way to go.

  19. Bea W*

    #3 There is an awful lot of mind reading going on there. The comment from the current boss in no way confirms a thought process of “She doesn’t need to make as much money.” It likely means exactly what he said, no more, no less. A good manager does not base pay or raises on need.

  20. Jennifer*

    I feel like someone needs to take the gift woman aside and flat out tell her, “Giving gifts makes us think LESS of you, and also makes us feel stalked.” Mostly because “we don’t accept gifts” might get through, but she sounds like a pushy sort who ignores hints.

    1. Sarahnova*

      I think that’s Step #2 if a form rejection is ignored or even causes escalation. However, I also think that it should not be LW#1 who does this, because she already feels uncomfortable around the candidate and the candidate seems to have glommed onto her.

      I think Step #3, if it comes to that, is most definitely total radio silence and lack of engagement, though.

      1. fposte*

        I think an email rejection is fine, but I also don’t see any reason why the OP couldn’t deliver such a message. She’s uncomfortable because the candidate is awkward, not because she’s threatening, and there’s no evidence of any personal component to this.

        1. Colette*

          Agreed – I think the OP can deliver this message (via email) if she chooses to. And fposte, I know you don’t mean that she has to deliver the message, but I also think it’s important to recognize that she is not required to do a favor for this woman, and that there is a potential cost of her to doing so. (I.e. there is a reasonable chance that people who get feedback they don’t like will react badly to it, and the OP doesn’t have to put herself in a position to deal with that if she doesn’t want to.)

          1. Loose Seal*

            She has to because it’s her job to deliver the message. It’s not fair to push this onto the receptionist and it’s not wise to tell your boss you can’t handle this (it would be different if there was actual stalking involved).

            I get that OP feels this attention is personal because the gifts were given to her. But OP, ask yourself if anyone else was the hiring manager, would they have gotten the gifts? Of course they would have. It’s not like this applicant is trolling your Facebook to see if you prefer sugar cookie scented candles over the pine scented ones. She’s just doing this to check off another box on her (admittedly over-the-top) job-hunt checklist.

            1. Colette*

              Sorry, I wasn’t clear. I agree she should reject the inappropriate gift giver. However, I don’t think she needs to tell her that the gifts are inappropriate and will hurt her in her job hunt if she doesn’t want to do so.

              1. fposte*

                Yeah, agreed. But she shouldn’t make anybody else do it either. (To be fair, the OP hasn’t suggested that either–that’s just this subthread.)

                1. Colette*

                  Agreed. If that’s a message that she thinks needs to be delivered, she should deliver it. If she’s not willing to do so, she shouldn’t expect others (like the receptionists, for example) to deliver it.

      2. Loose Seal*

        I don’t see where the applicant has glommed onto the OP. It sounds to me as though OP hasn’t even spoken to her; she’s just been the recipient of the gifts and notes because she’s hiring for the position. I think you are making this way too personal.

        1. Sarahnova*

          Perhaps I’m overreacting; something about the OP’s wording did activate my spidey-sense a bit. I’m also responding to the OP upthread commenting that the jobseeker tried to push the receptionist to fetch the OP so she could give her the “gift” in person. I stand by saying that contact (i.e. rejection) should be clear, direct and broadly impersonal, though – if nothing else, to make it clear that the rejection is not up for discussion and is not the first salvo in an ongoing exchange.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Wanting to give the gift in person is pretty typical in this situation; they’re bringing it by as a way to get in front of the hiring manager, after all, so of course they want to use it as a chance to talk in person.

            1. Loose Seal*

              Yeah, it’s not like the applicant wants to give the gift to OP specifically. It’s that they want to give it to the person hiring for the position, which happens to be OP. To me, that difference in thinking takes it from being creepy, stalking behavior to clueless applicant behavior.

  21. Fabulously Anonymous*

    #3 – I don’t understand why you need to say you own your home outright. For the subject of curtains: “why did you BUY curtains if you’re renting?” Seriously, who asks that? That is no one’s business, but okay. “I don’t rent. I have my own home. How do you like your curtains?” If the boss pesters just deflect: “why did you skip renting and go straight to buying?” “Buying was very important to me.” “How did you pay for it?” “I made it work with what I had.” You don’t need to say that what you had was an inheritance.

  22. Anon this time*

    #3 “Your expenses (or lack thereof) are no one’s business, and just like companies don’t pay higher salaries to people with large families or high debt or profligate spending habits, nor should they pay less to people with fewer expenses.”

    As someone mentioned above, I have seen instances where employers trying to retain employees do pay more to people with more expenses or larger families. I know for a FACT that a woman at my work got a title and pay bump because she had a child and suddenly needed a lot more money. It’s framed as “retention” as she would have considered finding a better job to support her and her child. But the fact is, there were at least 5 other people doing much better work than her and no one else got a bump. And she’s not doing any more work, although she was given a bump that normally means a lot more work.

    Yes, it bothered me that this happened. Yes, it might even be illegal. But… part of me thinks that she really does need the money more than the rest of us so I didn’t think it was worth being bitter over.

    How many times do we hear things like, “I want to fire Joe but he’s supporting 5 kids…”

    Just saying that even though bosses shouldn’t take things in to account some mediocre or bad bosses do.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      Beyond financial need, retention money itself is something waiting to bite a manager in the ass. If you encourage a culture of the only way people get money out of you is by making you afraid they’ll leave (or outright saying so), this is not a good thing.

      When managers are stuck without enough money to take care of everybody the way that they would like to, it’s pretty easy to screw up. It think we threaded the needle through the worst years of 2009/2010/2011, but it was nerve wracking.

  23. soitgoes*

    #1 sounds like something my mom would encourage me to do if I were living at home and she were hashing out olde timey folksy “advice” for getting myself out there. Her other favorite is “call every day until you get an interview!”

    I hesitate to say that the job-seeker should be thought of as odd, since it sounds like she’s following really bad advice. It doesn’t sound like something that a young adult would think to do on her own.

    1. Amanda C.*

      Based on her resume, she is absolutely not a YOUNG adult. My guess is that she was young back when MC Hammer was relevant.

  24. Amanda C.*

    Follow-up to #1 – I have now gotten a phone message and an email entitled “Please Interview Me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

    1. Anon this time*

      Assuming you’re the OP.

      And please say something to her. That is just not appropriate.

      I remember the days when my mom said the “only” reason I didn’t get a job at Boeing was because I didn’t go to their corporate offices and demand to be hired…. >.<

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