new employee wants me to hire her boyfriend, managing student workers, and more

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

1. How can I explain to an employee why I don’t want to hire her boyfriend?

I have a relatively new employee (6 months) who wants me to hire her boyfriend to work in a small call center I manage. I can think of a number of reasons why this is a bad idea but outside of not being right for the position, what is a nice, compassionate way to explain to the employee why I’m passing on the application?

“In general, I avoid hiring significant others if they’d be working together, because I’ve seen it lead to problems. But he sounds like a great guy and I hope his job search goes well.”

If pressed, you can explain that too often couples have trouble working together professionally, take on each other’s battles at work in a way that helps no one, and/or cause tension if they break up. In response to the inevitable “we’d never do that,” you can say you absolutely appreciate her position, but you have a personal policy of not taking that risk.

2. Is this kind of supervision unavoidable with student workers?

I hire and manage two student office assistants. I have always hired undergraduates, because they stay at the school longer and so I have less turnover. The only continual problem I have is that they tend not to remember daily tasks, even with checklists, reminders, etc. I feel like a mom, constantly telling them to do things like pick up the mail, check the bin for work, clean up their workspace. Do you have any suggestions ? Should I hire graduate students even if they are completely overqualified?

Some of that tends to come with the territory if you’re hiring undergrads. Not every time, but in general undergrads are just learning about workplace norms and they require a lot of handholding at first. If you’re not up for that, I’d look at grad students instead — or older, returning-to-school-after-life-and-work undergrads, if that’s an option.

Alternately, if you want to try a different approach, you could try setting out expectations very explicitly for your undergrad workers when they first start with you — be explicit about what bad habits you’ve seen in the past and what you want them to do to avoid that, and give them some intensive coaching in the first few weeks to get them trained in good habits . You could also reexamine your interviewing process to see if there’s opportunity to do more screening on that end as well. But to some extent, undergrads will always be an additional time commitment; they’re brand new to the workforce (usually) and you’re volunteering for the job of orienting them.

3. How can I get out of my new office’s birthday celebrations?

I am new at my company and have noticed that frequently (at least once a week) there is a birthday card being passed around for someone and a simple birthday celebration with a song and treats. People also decorate offices for the birthday person with balloons and streamers.

Well, my birthday is next month. I don’t know people here very well and I would feel incredibly awkward if people recognized my birthday this way. Is it tacky to say something to my manager or coworkers?

If your only reason for feeling awkward about this is because you don’t know your coworkers yet, this is a pretty good way of getting to know people better.

But if you’d just rather not be fêted on your birthday in general, try to find out who organizes it. It’s totally fine to say to that person, “Hey, I think it’s really nice that you celebrate birthdays here! That said, I tend not to like a fuss made over mine, so I wanted to ask you to leave me off the roster — but I’m glad to continue celebrating with others for theirs.”

If you just say “leave me out of the birthday shenanigans,” you risk chilling relations, so the key to the language above is that you still sound warm and friendly.

4. Should I send a handwritten thank-you on top of my thank-you email?

I’m trying to get a job in a tough market. Interviewed on Friday before Labor Day weekend. Thought it went well. Sent a thank you email on Monday (Labor Day) so she would get it first thing Tuesday. Haven’t heard from her, not even a “thank you, got your email.” So I was thinking about sending a handwritten note to thank her and be a bit more personable. Thoughts?

Nope, don’t do it. You already sent a thank-you note. Sending a second would be overkill.

It’s been a few work days since your interview. This is foremost in your mind, but it’s probably not the hiring manager’s top priority — and even if it is, you still might not hear something right away. Give it at at least two full weeks before you reach out again. And meanwhile, put it out of your mind.

5. My rejection email contradicted what I was told earlier

I applied to this amazing company for a great job and I had several phone interviews (the company is on the opposite coast). I even met and interviewed with someone who’s with the company since they happened to be in my town for business. After emailing a few times and not really getting a response, I followed up a week later and was told that they weren’t hiring anyone at the time (the person who started this program actually left the company and I guess they’re restructuring). I understand that this happens but I just received an automated email saying they were moving forward with other candidates. So I was wondering from an HR perspective, which is it? Are they not hiring anyone or did they find a better candidate?

It’s impossible to say for sure from the outside, but the most likely explanation is that the first answer you got was correct, and when their HR department went to rejections, they didn’t bother to modify the wording of their rejection email to account for the specific circumstances in this case.

{ 129 comments… read them below }

  1. You Graze Me Up*

    1, since you work for a call center, is it fair to say your company is medium to large? If so, then maybe there’s a company policy you can point to?

    3, at least they’re having a birthday celebration. My former workplace had mini-celebrations every month for that month’s birthdays. Well, they didn’t announce when those parties were (until the morning of).

    Long story short, the one for my birthday month was on my day off. I like to think that was just a coincidence.

    5. I got a rejection email not too long ago that basically looked like it was not revised

    1. Jessa*

      The other response to number 1 is, “I believe you that you’d never do that, but I can’t trust that the next person won’t, and if I let you, I have to let them. So no. No exceptions are going to be made. Sorry.”

  2. CAF*

    I taught undergrads for nine years, and they aren’t wired to follow directions. Something different about how people are raised now, or just inexperience. But it’s a major reason I had to stop teaching. I had a writing heavy course and they has to learn MLA style, which is all about remembering to do the same things each paper. It was deeply frustrating.

    1. Dan*

      In what field? I did engineering and computer science, and if you can’t follow directions, you sure as sh!t ain’t passing the class. In many cases, you either get it right or you got it wrong. Coding is a bit different; while you may have gotten the right answer, there’s a difference between good code and bad code.

      It’s probably worse as an adjunct in a lib arts field where there is a lot of discretion — there can be lots of pressure to pass marginal students if you want your teaching contract renewed.

      1. Jake*


        In my statics class and calculus 1 class 85% failed the first test for not following directions. The only way for a professor to get folks to follow directions is to give them an appropriate grade when they don’t. It was widely known that 25% of students would drop those classes and another 30 to 40% would fail. It is simply up to the professors to actually grade appropriately.

        1. Lisa*

          I teach composition to ESL students at a design college, and I give my students an essay prompt the first day that asks them about their experience writing papers (surprise! not all countries share the US love of 5 paragraphs essays – who coulda known?) and one of the questions is, “What, in your opinion, are teachers looking for in an A paper?”

          The answers are always interesting, but one student really nailed it – “I think mostly that teachers want you to follow the directions.” There’s a little more to it, but yeah, we will probably have told you what that is too… thing to keep in mind with undergrads is that if successive cohorts keep getting the same thing wrong, it’s also your directions. So greater clarity on the OP’s part will help, if not solve, the problem.

          1. CAF*

            I agree that the directions should be looked at. One problem my students had was that the text they were supposed to use for grammar and MLA did not provide the clearest presentation of either.

            1. manybellsdown*

              I went back to school a few years ago after 20 years working, and I had no idea what MLA format was. Typing your paper on a computer was still fairly new the last time I was in school! So I found a guide for MLA in the student bookstore and used that to learn it.

              My younger classmates were astonished “Wow, where did you find that?!” I think it doesn’t occur to a lot of younger students that they can find directions for things on their own. So yeah, I agree about a lot of handholding.

              1. Loose Seal*

                My field uses APA and our classes have the current manual listed in every book list for every class. There’s no excuse for a student not to have it handy.

                That being said, it’s a big manual and very picky, as I imagine all style manuals are. And if you don’t realize you should look something up — like different embedded heading styles — you will miss it. But over four years of undergrad and then grad school papers, if you do that, you should become pretty adept at it.

                The professors in my department will give a paper back to a student that doesn’t at least attempt APA (font, spacing, title page, etc.) and will count off the late submission penalty when it’s corrected and turned back in. Then they will usually knock off points, up to a full letter grade, for mistakes after that. I’m told the professors get a lot of complaints from the students for that since this is a licensure program not a research one but the professors feel that it’s important.

                1. Anonymouse*

                  APA and MLA formatting: Please refer students to your academic library! Many college website have wonderful info about citing and formatting, including webtools to do most of the work for them.

                2. Jessa*

                  Every class we had where there was a specific type of citation needed, the citation book was on the book list. Seriously. You didn’t have to get it, nobody was going to say “everyone hold up the book,” but they did warn people.

              2. CAF*

                There was a lot of learned helplessness, which frustrated me because I am all about doing stuff on my own. Don’t know how to put the name and page number in the top right corner? Look it up! But the kids would just leave it off and then complain in class that they didn’t know how, when googling would have solved the problem in 30 seconds.

                1. Jake*

                  In my upper level writing classes we would just keep failing until we did it right. In civil engineering 300 we had 8 lab reports worth 5 percent each.

                  The class average on the first 2 were less than 50%. By the last it was up to 90%. There was a lot of complaining, but we eventually figured it out and now I’m glad the professor stuck to her guns because I can use charts and graphs better than anybody I’ve worked with since graduating.

                  All that being said, the lower level general education writing courses (which it sounds like you were teaching) may not have been allowed to do stuff like that.

                2. Wednesday*

                  @Jake, my husband says something similar about his research experience in undergrad. Because he had to learn so much for one course (research), he had an easier time than his classmates the following year when it came to formatting engineering papers, creating charts, etc. He was forced to become comfortable with the tools of the trade.

                3. CAF*

                  @Jake, it was a required class for the whole school, and I had to give them a few chances to fix stuff (because I wss supposed to be teaching them this unteachable formatting thing) before I just gave out wholesale F’s.

          2. Jenna*

            I had an English instructor who could not or would not tell me what I was doing wrong in my weekly essays. All he was doing was reading examples from prior year students, and all I was noticing in them was that the sentences were long, complicated and contained a lot of ten dollar words. In high school I wasn’t really up to changing style like that, though I knew and understood the five paragraph essay by then.
            I switched classes and got an A in some one else’s English class. I’m so happy that there was another class to transfer into!
            This could be the embryonic beginning of my distaste for business speak. Things that are complicated just for the sake of impressing someone and gussied up beyond clarity frustrate me. Tell me what you want, and I will happily do it, but, please don’t make me pick through a page long(or longer!) document for the one thing that you want done by Monday.

      2. AnonyMouse*

        Yeah, it might depend on the school/field…but I was an undergrad fairly recently in a quantitative subject, and professors had absolutely zero qualms about slashing grades/failing students who didn’t follow assignment instructions. Of course, there were still some people who didn’t do what they were told, but they didn’t do well, and typically didn’t do it for very long!

        As far as work and the OP’s question go, I has a few different student jobs when I was in school, and I think I did decently well. I eventually had responsibility for training some new student workers, and I think the key is to remember that standard workplace expectations may be new to them. So just the very basics of what you need to do each day without being told…they’ll probably have to be told, for the first couple weeks anyway. If you have student employees who still aren’t performing simple tasks like picking up the mail even with a checklist, it’s probably not just because they’re undergrads – they may not be very good workers, period!

        1. Youth Services Librarian*

          I hire high school students for my aides – yes, they do need a little more hand-holding, especially their first weeks, but I expect them to be fine working on their own after that. I have a list on the bulletin board that reminds them of daily tasks (first thing to do when you come in, what to do when all the shelving is done, etc.) and a list of projects. I have had some that were less stellar than others but if they can’t handle the basic requirements of the job they’re out. I don’t have time to hold their hands and remind them every day of what they’re supposed to be doing – and I shouldn’t have to. When I was a teen and in undergrad I had multiple jobs ranging from TA to receptionist to library clerk to cashier. If I needed a cheat sheet to remember responsibilities, I wrote it out myself. I took notes on assignments to keep track of everything if the job required it. I’d say you might want to reconsider how you’re interviewing/training and if you’re making expectations/consequences clear. “These are the tasks that must be done every shift. You are responsible for making sure they get done. If you can’t do them for some reason, you need to let me know immediately” and then follow up “I have noticed that you are not regularly collecting the mail. I told you this had to be done every day. Is there a reason you are not doing it?” and if the reason is “I forgot” or mumbles, give a warning and then if they still don’t shape up, they’re out. Unless y

          1. Youth Services Librarian*

            oops, cut off. Unless your school has something massively wrong with it, or your job is shoveling sewers or something, I can’t believe there aren’t plenty of responsible students hunting for a nice office job to eke out their student loans.

            1. en pointe*

              Yeah, I agree. I’m an undergrad worker myself, and I definitely needed more handholding and to have some pretty basic things explained to me at first. For example, I had no idea how to address an envelope. (I’ve never sent anyone a letter. That’s why we have Facebook.) And my boss did mini-workshops with me on the best ways to speak to clients, taught me to never tell a caller that someone was on the toilet, etc. The first month was kind of like an internship.

              But OP, I thought Alison was way not harsh enough on your employees, given the kinds of ways in which you said they’re dropping the ball. I mean come on, how hard is it to remember to pick up the mail and clean your desk, with daily checklists / reminders? (!) If they’ve been with you for more than a little while, and they’re still failing on such basic everyday tasks, it sounds like you might just have shitty employees.

              And/or you’re not holding them accountable and enforcing consequences properly. My boss is an extremely demanding woman who hates mistakes, so I don’t make many. I’m not saying that’s necessarily the best approach or that you need to be a tyrant or anything, but your employees are adults. If you handhold them like they’re children forever, they’re probably not going to start practising the initiative / responsibility that you need.

              1. Liz*

                Side-track, but I was completely flabbergasted by your example. Even if you’ve somehow managed to make it through high school without ever sending a card or letter, presumably you’ve still received some – shouldn’t that give you some idea of how to write out an envelope? Your boss sounds like she had a good handle on the situation though.

                1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

                  I dunno. I haven’t addressed an envelope in over 10 years, at home or at work, nor written out a check. I suppose I have some residual memory of how to do it but I don’t think it’s weird at all that people who have come of age in this decade have no clue.

                2. Laura*

                  A lot of people I know get the mail, see their name, open the mail – but I can see where, if you never sent any, you might not know what all the required components are and the order they must be in. You’d know they go in the middle and the name goes at the top, probably, but would you know the rest? Or what to do with two-line addresses or apartment numbers or delivery boxes, especially if you’ve never had one?

                3. Jessa*

                  On the other hand in this day and age, Googling “address envelope” should give you plenty of examples. And to some extent I’d expect an employee to try and look it up before coming and asking.

                4. Wednesday*

                  What got me when I got a job and needed to write mail was that I was terrified I was missing some big secret. Sure, mail I sent to/received from my family and friends was easy to label, but I was worried that in Business there was some Special Style I had never heard of which would make me look stupid. Overthinking, I know, but I really did have to relearn in a professional environment.

                5. en pointe*

                  Ha, Laura pretty much got it. I’ve received mail of course, but never really examined the outside of the envelope; I’m generally more concerned with what’s on the inside. So never having done it before, I knew the address goes in the middle, but not the finer formatting details.

                  I didn’t ask for help though. They asked me if I knew how, the first time they wanted me to mail something to a client. My boss treated me kind of like how we treat our interns at first – proactively teaching me workplace norms and little things like envelope addressing that would probably be assumed knowledge if I was older.

                6. Peeved*

                  This is my biggest pet peeve these days – people who walk around with their face glued to a tiny computer all day long who then complain that they don’t know how to do something. It makes me crazy to see comments and questions on the internet, “What does X mean?” etc… I feel like an insane woman screaming at my computer “You’re on the INTERNET writing this question? Freaking Google it!” Geez.

                  Sorry – this culture of helplessness is maddening. If I didn’t know how to address a letter, asking my boss would be a last resort. How about get off Facebook for 5 minutes, go to Google and type “how to address a letter”? There are pages of links, images, and even YouTube videos showing exactly how to do it. All of the world’s knowledge is literally in the palm of your hand. Use it for something other than entertainment.

                  When I was in school, they taught us how to learn. We were constantly given assignments where figuring out how to figure it out was the primary goal. The point was the journey rather than the destination.

                7. en pointe*

                  I can’t quite tell if this is directed at me or the world :) I’m short on time right now, but the former would make me a little dismayed, so ima just gonna copy and paste.

                  “I didn’t ask for help though. They asked me if I knew how, the first time they wanted me to mail something to a client. My boss treated me kind of like how we treat our interns at first – proactively teaching me workplace norms and little things like envelope addressing that would probably be assumed knowledge if I was older.”

                8. Dmented Kitty*

                  I may be showing my age, but writing letters was part of grammar class in grade school. Every year until we reached high school it was part of our grammar books. So while I might be a bit rusty on the formats of different letters, I still could address envelopes. Also, since I have good penmanship, everyone in my family has asked me to write on gift cards for them — my husband asks me to address holiday greeting cards to our elder members of the family because I have better handwriting than him. So I guess I still have practice.

                  When I was in second grade or so, my dad taught me how to use a typewriter, and I used that to type his checks. I guess he worked like my boss — I was really terrified of any typos because I thought it cost a lot to toss a check made in error. And I took that knowledge up to this day.

              2. esra*

                (I’ve never sent anyone a letter. That’s why we have Facebook.)

                Aah, this is like chewing on tin foil for me.

                I work in design and technology, and there are a ton of people out there who know how to use Facebook and maybe gmail but that’s it. I don’t think I could really deal with that every day, especially if I’d made checklists and reminders and people were still asking me about common sense things.

                1. Lamb*

                  But addressing a letter isn’t “common sense”; common sense is “I shouldn’t put something heavy on that rickety table” not “zip code after state, stamp in the upper right corner”.

                2. esra*

                  @Lamb The common sense part would be looking at a letter the office received and following the layout. Or googling it.

          2. AnonyMouse*

            Yes, agreed! A couple weeks should be plenty of time to get basic requirements down, assuming these aren’t unusually demanding student jobs. Any more than that, and maybe being let go would teach them a valuable life lesson.

            1. en pointe*

              I agree with you that the OP needs to make these students more accountable, but I think the couple of weeks thing is really going to depend on the nature of the role in question. For example, my job is not complicated but it is varied, with lots of little things to remember. The other thing to think about is that the OP’s employees aren’t full-time. In my case, because I’m an undergrad student, two weeks is usually only four days in the office during the semester. I’m really, really glad that they didn’t fire me because I didn’t have everything down after four days.

              To the OP, are these problems continuing throughout the whole duration of your student worker’s employment, or just in the early days? I think, at first, you might need to give an undergrad worker similar handholding to what you’d give an intern, because they’re both (usually) just learning workplace norms. But that’s fine for interns because internships are short, and meant to be primarily for the benefit of the intern. If you were to hire that intern into a paid role, you wouldn’t expect to keep holding their hand forever.

              So in the beginning, I would recognise that your undergrad workers will probably need considerable handholding / orienting, but only for the first few months max (like if they were there for an internship). And I wouldn’t just be cutting slack; I’d be balancing that with the orientation stuff Alison suggested like intensive coaching, talking about habits to avoid and setting out very clear expectations. But at some point, you need to start upping the accountability. Because they’re not there for an internship. They’re a paid employee, irrespective of their age. And it sounds like your paid employees kind of suck.

              1. AnonyMouse*

                Yeah, I should have been more clear here – I was really talking about the basics, not every detail of the job. It would probably be unreasonable to fire anyone, student or not, because they hadn’t mastered every single task they would ever have to do in two weeks. But the OP specifically mentioned things like cleaning up their workspaces and picking up mail, and for things like that I stand by my statement that it really shouldn’t take you more than a couple weeks to learn, especially if (as the OP says), you’re being reminded frequently.

          3. the gold digger*

            I can’t believe there aren’t plenty of responsible students hunting for a nice office job to eke out their student loans.

            Exactly! I had jobs when I was in high school – I was a cashier at a department store, I was a lifeguard, and I was a swimming teacher. In college, I added working at the faculty club to the list. Each job required that I show up on time and do my job correctly, which I did. It should not be that hard for a college student to collect the mail or any other basic task, especially if there is a written list of duties. Perhaps you are hiring the wrong students.

            1. Felicia*

              +1. When I was a high school and college student I worked and I showed up on time and did my job correctly. As did all of my fellow student coworkers. Except for one, and she was quickly fired. There are plenty of undergrads who are capable of doing a simple office job like that, and remembering what they’re supposed to do everyday, especially if there are consistent daily tasks. Also the majority of people I knew in undergrad had their first job in high school, so it was rare that someone’s first job was in undergrad.

              1. Liz*

                I think the OP meant their first office job was in undergrad. A retail job may be primarily reactive: a customer comes in and your job begins. Office jobs don’t have the same starting point, and don’t have the same sort of visual reminders.

                1. Pennalynn Lott*

                  The retail and restaurant jobs I did in high school and college definitely had daily duties that needed to be done regardless of whether we had customers or not (prepping the salad bar a certain way everyday, making a pizza according to instructions, straightening and re-sizing the clothing racks, cleaning the bathrooms, vacuuming the carpet, washing dishes, processing new clothing inventory and getting it put in the proper place in the store, etc.). The only written reminders / instructions I remember were for how the pizzas were to be made, and they even have a visual step-by-step to go along with the written instructions.

                  I worked at the pizza place my sophomore year in high school. Salad bar prep only happened before we opened (after that, it was just refilling ingredients). I could only open the store on the weekends, so I only got to do salad bar duty 4-8 times per month. And yet, after the boss showed me how to do it the first time, I got it right every single time after that. I am flummoxed that anyone over the age of 18 could have trouble with “Get mail for the department every day that you work here.”

                2. K*

                  Retail jobs have many other duties besides helping the customers. Stocking, cleaning, setting up displays, unloading the delivery trucks, taking inventory, price changes, recalls, checking the shelves for outdated items, plus a lot more.

      3. Liane*

        The lab courses I took in bio & chemistry were the same way. You HAD TO use whatever format the professor in charge of that lab wanted–and they were often all different. One of them actually took the time to explain why–beyond your grade–you should follow them: All science journals have their own format for submissions and if you didn’t submit your research in that format, the editors wouldn’t publish it.

        1. Monodon monoceros*

          As editor of a scientific journal, it amazes me how many very experienced scientists apparently never learned this lesson. I used to fix things for them. Now I send the manuscript back if I see more than 1 problem.

          1. Gene*

            So, which is more important, the desired format or the clear and concise communication of the research?

            1. Loose Seal*

              The desired format actually leads to the clear communication. When you read journals in your field, you get used to seeing things in the style that your field has adopted. It becomes easier to read and understand if everyone is doing the same thing. It seems really picky when you are learning to write in that style but it does help the reader.

              1. Monodon monoceros*

                +1 Exactly.

                In addition, it’s not like good science is getting thrown out because of not following instructions. The authors always have the option of fixing it and then sending it back. Then the science gets sorted out in peer review. But I don’t waste reviewer’s time with a paper that the authors haven’t bothered to follow the instructions.

              2. AcademicAnon*

                This. I can find out what question the author’s were asking or answering, how they did it, and what other research they based it on, just by how it’s laid out. Things only start getting weird from articles published in the 1940’s or earlier as the style was majorly different.

      4. CAF*

        English. They wouldn’t fail for not following MLA until towards the end, but some did fail because they didn’t read the directions of our assignments, which were designed (not by me) to be different than the five paragraoh essays they were used to and did throw them off.

        To the people below: I slashes grades towards the end of the semester, but since I was supposed to be teaching them how to use MLA I usually have them chances to try again earlier on. Usually there was one essay where I had to give back 75% of the papers and made a big stink about it. Not following the directions for the essay always resulted in a F. I still had students who couldn’t get it, and this was at a school with smart students. Not following directions is a pet peeve of mine, so I found it tough to just pass out F’s and move on, which was my problem, so I quit.

    2. cajun2core*

      Sorry to derail the topic (this is AskAManager, not AskAProfessor) but this was such a brilliant idea, I feel I have to share it. I once had a professor who had an excellent way of teaching us how to follow guidelines in writing a paper. It was a Theology class. Our first paper was a very general paper on our own thoughts about a specific theological topic. There was not right or wrong answer. The paper was graded but it did not count towards our grade. However, if we did not do the paper, our final letter grade was lowered by one grade (from an “A” to “B” for example). This showed us what he was expecting from us but it did not count against us if we did awful on the paper.

      Maybe, the LW/OP could take this idea and change it somehow to fit her situation with her undergrads.

      1. Monodon monoceros*

        Similarly, when I taught Intro Biology (mostly freshman who did not have a lot of paper writing experience), for their first paper, I had an “early due date” where they could turn it in, and I would comment on it, then give it back to them for them to turn in on the final due date. It was not mandatory to do this, but the students who did it learned what I was looking for, and because of that almost always got better marks than their peers who didn’t do the early commenting offer.

        1. Simonthegrey*

          I always do a two-draft system for papers; they turn in a rough draft, I return it with comments, they turn in a final draft. If they get the format wrong on the rough, I will point it out but not generally take off points (not on the first paper or two at least, since this is an intro to comp class and many people who take it have not written formal papers). On the final draft, if I told them to fix something and they don’t, it drops them a letter grade at the very least. They tend to learn….at least most of them.

    3. Dr. Speakeasy*

      I’m right with you – I’m on the front line of learning APA style for our department (and I take the hit on my evals for it too). And it can be SO frustrating when you get work that clearly shows a lack of caring (like all of the references being formatted differently). I have an early assignment that I grade harshly and they fail heavily (but they can re-do with a penalty). Once the penalty kicks in they start doing it right (or more right). Undergrads are people, they learn to prioritize quickly. If they can get away with turning in crap, they will because there are other things (whether that is classes, sports, work, social life) they need to prioritize. If they can’t get away with it they’ll turn their attention to it. It sounds like maybe there aren’t enough consequences for doing well (and I know some work-study students do treat their jobs as if they show up and are a warm body they can’t be fired) so they aren’t prioritizing what you need them to get done.

    4. manybellsdown*

      From my experience as a returning student, they also have a really hard time with things that fall outside of their experience. Getting help as an adult, nontraditional student from the young, traditional student employees was so difficult sometimes. My school had a really ridiculously bad policy on counselor appointments; basically you had to show up first thing in the morning and wait in line all day and maybe you’d get one. With two children in tow that wasn’t going to be possible for me. The student workers just could not understand the problem. I ended up having to go through the Dean’s office to get an appointment made.

      1. Lamb*

        Didn’t understand the problem, or didn’t know how to help you with it? From my customer service experience, a lot of people go straight to “you’re not helping me because of something wrong with YOU” (lazy, incompetent, intentionally dense) as opposed to “you’re not helping me because of something wrong with the system/the equipment/your training/my outlandish request”. In your case it sounds like an obnoxious appointment system that the student workers might not have had a work-around for (because really, if they did, who would get an appointment the way you mention?)

    5. Artemesia*

      It does get depressing as a teacher when you are putting more effort into feedback then students spend revising. The word processor/computer has made it easy to revise work without giving it any thought at all. Just insert a sentence, perhaps the same sentence the professor wrote in feedback, and leave the thing as is. Hardly worth reading and providing thoughtful assistance when the student has no ownership or desire to excel — only to improve the grade. Students were always stunned when I didn’t raise a grade on re-write as they were used to other professors just raising the grade half to a full grade just because it was re-submitted. I expected to see actual improvement. This was a foreign concept to many. With grad students the experience tends to be different, but this was the norm with undergrads.

    6. soitgoes*

      I think it goes both ways. I remember rolling my eyes at the EN-101 professors who didn’t understand why non-English majors didn’t put much effort into a required core course.

      This is probably going to be a controversial statement, but with college degrees becoming the new high school diploma, I’ve seen so many people on college campuses who really didn’t belong there. They would have been so much better served by getting specific vocational training or entering a blue collar field right out of high school. Instead they’re stuck in a class that has nothing to do with their major, wondering why a professor is so intent upon forcing publishing-level documentation standards upon 3-page papers about the Iliad.

      I don’t think either education or the workforce has ever dealt with the reality that a lot of people just aren’t fluent writers or even natural readers. It’s not the kind of thing that becomes apparent until you stick them in an office setting and try to get them to write an email memo. When tutoring someone who had trouble writing cohesive sentences, I would say things like, “Say the sentence out loud and then write it down word for word. We’ll go back and make it less casual during the editing process.” She just couldn’t translate her natural rhythm of fluid speech into words on paper. It’s very common among all generations, but older people talk about “texting ruining REAL writing” because they had other options besides desk jobs.

      1. Alter_ego*

        It’s always bothered me that “I’m just bad at math” is a totally acceptable thing to say. No one thinks it makes you universally stupid, no one mocks you for it, why would they? Lots of people are bad at math, and it’s fine, you make it through alegebra and geometry, and then no one asks you about it again.

        But “I’m a terrible writer” is just not something you can get away with. You have to take endless English courses, you get mocked constantly if your writing skills aren’t what people think they should be, and it’s seen as a sign that you’re stupid, or don’t know what you’re talking about.

        1. soitgoes*

          Exactly. Writing is a skill like any other; some people are really good at it and others are not so great. The issue I described (being able to speak perfectly well but being unable to write at a similar level) is a very common translation issue. Or “issue.” Because it shouldn’t be seen as a problem to fix. Just get these kids to a basic level of competency and then let them focus on the things that will lead to careers.

          It’s a version of “Pshaw, I’d never date someone who doesn’t read.” Whatever dude. It’s a hobby, and given all of the amazing television we’ve seen in the past 10 years, book-people can’t claim to have the monopoly on quality narratives.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          I never think people are stupid for not writing well, unless they get in my face when I edit them. I don’t care if you’re not perfect. It’s my job (at work) to edit your report to look great. When I correct something, it’s not personal. I never write a perfect first (or second or third) draft either. The stupid comes when people say “My writing is perfect and needs no correction!” This is where really crappy self-published books come from. *pet peeve*

    7. soitgoes*

      I had a thought – I never had a professor who ever taught me how to do research. It might be because of my age (I was in high school right when EBSCOhost and the like were landing in libraries so I got some early usage with it, but the teachers weren’t really equipped to teach us how to use it), but research is one of those weird things that college profs assume you already learned in high school. I didn’t learn until grad school what a journal actually was (I got my BA in piano performance and got my MA in English). My undergrad education wasn’t research-heavy, and whenever I had to write a paper I would use actual books. I guess I thought a journal was what we would call a primary source document, like someone’s actual diary from the Olden Times. No professor or teacher ever said, “Here, this is a journal. It is basically a magazine for grown-up research papers.” To take it further, I had no clue that the pdfs on EBSCOhosts were scans of those magazines. Had I known that, I would have had a better grasp of what MLA was documenting. If college students have never had “real” research in hand, they’re not going to have a concept of what this documentation system is meant to accomplish.

      1. Dr. Speakeasy*

        And that is exactly why I lug in paper copies of journals to class on our “this is how to find research” day.

  3. Graciosa*

    Regarding #1, if really pressed, you might add, “Another problem I’ve noticed is that members of a couple have a hard time regarding each other with the professional distance of typical co-workers. For example, normal employment decisions that are inherent in managing a staff are treated as involving two people rather than one, which is one of the things that causes disruption in the workplace. It is already apparent that you are overly involved in my decision about whether to hire your boyfriend, and I’m having a hard time believing that you could maintain an appropriate professional distance in the workplace if I hired him when all the evidence so far says otherwise.”

    If pushed even further, you could switch to pointing out that the time investment in having these discussions is taking focus away from other aspects of managing the team. I do think it’s ironic that your employee doesn’t see that pushing this hard is proof that having both of them on staff will be a problem.

    Regarding #2, I think another valuable lesson you need to teach them involves the consequences in the real, adult world of repeatedly failing to perform at work. I can see giving undergraduates a little bit more leeway perhaps, but not to the extent that there are no consequences for failing to do their work. This continues the idea that there will always be responsible adults around to take care of things so that the individual employees don’t really have to take that responsibility.

    You are not doing them any favors by picking up after them / reminding them repeatedly of what they need to do beyond the normal expectations of someone very new learning a new job. All that does is send them on to their next job completely unprepared to be treated as a professional adult.

    1. MK*

      If OP1’s employee pushes that hard for her boyfriend to be hired, the OP probably has a bigger problem on their hands. Considering the employee is a relatively new hire, she should know that she has even less leeway to push this than a long-standing and valued employee.

  4. Dan*


    There’s a general attitude from undergrads that “school comes first” and rightfully so. I’m there for an education, and if this $9/hr job is getting in the way of school, then it gets the boot without a second thought.

    But you still operate in the real world, and TBH, the sooner you teach them a lesson, the less painful it is. They might laugh it off at first, but getting fired builds character. If you let them get away with murder, they will… get away with murder.

  5. Maggie*


    I may be the outlier but I was successful with student assistants, in two different roles/departments. Admittedly the first took more effort because it was highly unlikely the students would have the skill set right out of high school. I made sure that there were always two students working a shift together (as well as FT staff nearby) to ensure that questions could be answered and to maintain the professional culture. They mimic what they see (keep that in mind when scheduling your pairs). The second role was primarily admin and they didn’t really need any extensive training after the first month or so. Targeting the criteria to what you need is key. I looked for multiple instances of leadership in their previous academic or volunteer/church/social group participation. Leading and working successfully on teams taught them the professional expectations so I didn’t need to start from scratch (like you’re going through). At this level you really just want to make sure they have the right attitude and capacity to learn.

    I would do what Allison said above: quickly implement ‘real consequence’ management and open your position description to indicate the you’re looking for leadership and teamwork history and you should be good.

    And yes, you are their office mom, but looking back, students were by far my favorite to lead. They are usually really positive, want to contribute and learn super quickly. We end up hiring one of the ‘star’ assistants FT by the time their cohort graduates. I actually can’t think of when we haven’t in the last decade or so.

    1. Sarahnova*

      Excellent point on “they mimic what they see”. They’ve never BEEN exposed to ‘professional’ office behaviour – the only ideas they have of it probably come from TV & film. Give them something to imitate – even consider telling them that’s what you’re doing. “This is what a professional phone call sounds like. This is how to answer an email professionally. If you’re stuck, look at Karen, she knows this job really well. Do it like she does.”

  6. GrumpyBoss*

    #3 – I also try to opt out of the birthday stuff at work. I don’t mind signing a card or having a slice of cake, but I don’t really enjoy it if that is directed towards me. Most places I’ve worked will be decent about it if you talk to the birthday coordinator (and there does always seem to be one person spearheading the celebrations!). Like AAM outlined, if you focus on the fact that you don’t enjoy it or it doesn’t make you comfortable, most rationale people will understand. But you might get labeled as “that person who is weird about birthdays”.

    My foolproof way of avoiding it: I take PTO on my birthday.

    1. jag*

      ‘But you might get labeled as “that person who is weird about birthdays”.’

      Which is true. If that’s the only thing they label you as, that’s a problem, but that’s just one thing among many, it’s a good situation. Now they know.

      I’m one of those people. I don’t mind people knowing it.

    2. Laura*

      I saw someone take PTO on their birthday and just get a celebration the day after.

      On the other hand, my birthday – which I would have loved to have recognized – was subsumed into my boss’s birthday, which was the next day.

      Later we went to monthly celebrations of “all the birthdays in X month” which was less uncomfortable. (And, um, hilarious when we had cake in April one year despite no April birthdays among the then-current employees.)

      And now that the person who was organizing that has left, we don’t do anything. I miss the free cake, but otherwise, life is good. :)

  7. Carndt*

    When hiring students, I had a hard requirement that they had to have had a job before…and not working for a relative. Fast food, lifeguard, grocery bagger…doesn’t matter, but they knew how to show up and do work. I only had one student who was bad enough to not ask back.

    1. voluptuousfire*

      ^While I can see this rule working (it makes total sense), but what if the job in question was with a relative…and they were excellent at it? Would there be an exception for that type of person or is it truly hard limit?

  8. Rebecca*

    #3 – so glad we don’t do the birthday thing any longer. Before our company was purchased, and there were a lot more people and departments, individual departments would hold a monthly celebration, there would be one per moth just for office people, and our department had a mini celebration on that person’s birthday. Oh, and as a bonus in our department, you were responsible for getting the goodies for the next person on the list. It was what they wanted, too, so if Sally wanted gingerbread with whipped topping, that’s what you had to find, purchase or make, and bring in. Then you’d split the cost up between everyone except the birthday person, and collect each person’s share. This went on all. year. long. When I asked to be left out of the rotation, I got the “we’re a family” speech, and families celebrate. Gag.

    This is the one good thing that came out of the sale to the other company. No more birthday celebrations.

    1. Zahra*

      Eek, you’d think people would have reasonable demands like “I hate coconut and go crazy for chocolate and red berries (together or separate).” I’ve had jobs where it was the monthly celebration (plus a card on your birthday, given by someone you had to guess), others where it’s just a card, but I’ve never worked in a place where the celebrations were more elaborate.

      1. Rebecca*

        The gingerbread part is absolutely true. Do you know how hard it is to find gingerbread, in March, let alone for dozens of people? At least the coworker who followed my birthday always wanted fruit. That was easy.

    2. GrumpyBoss*

      Ugh I’d hate that. I once was working for a company that acquired another company and I inherited a team at the newly acquired company (their manager was a casualty of the merger). They were pretty demoralized, so when they talked about their birthday cake celebration they did every time someone had a birthday, I saw it as an opportunity to try to build morale and offered to pay for it out of my pocket since the company wouldn’t. I went to get a very specific cake from a very specific bakery – cost me $125. That was the one and only cake I ever purchased for birthday celebrations. People complained and moaned but I noticed nobody stood up to purchase the cake themselves or put together an office pool to fund their outrageously expensive cake. But I got plenty of the “we used to be a family before you came/before your company bought us” speech a lot.

      On a related note, it’s crap like this that has turned me into a grumpy boss.

    3. Kai*

      I absolutely detest the whole “we’re a family” concept at work. No, we’re not a family and I wouldn’t want us to be. Blech.

      1. Dan*

        My OldJob was pretty good at keeping the “we’re a family” stuff to a minimum, except when coworkers gave birth to new babies. Then, the boss would send out company-wide “There’s been a new addition to the family!” with the obligatory pictures.

        I was ok with that, until we started laying off people in an uncoordinated fashion. No, you don’t throw “family” out with no consideration and no notice. You just don’t.

        In the middle of the layoffs, the boss sent out a different email: “Good news!” it was titled. I thought “phew, we’re getting some new contracts in, thank god.” Nope, a former coworker (left on his own initiative) just had a baby and the boss want to spread the “good news.” That was the most let down I felt in a long time.

        I really thought about going to her office and telling her that in the current business climate, the only emails that warrant a “good news” header are ones announcing new contracts. There’s nothing wrong with announcing the birth of a child, but a simple “announcing the birth of xxx xxx’s child” is sufficient.

    4. Jessa*

      We had a birthday club, there was an onsite credit union that served the employees and residents and you put in x per month (I think it was like 2 bucks,) if you wanted to be involved. They had an account for it, and there were two people who were signatories, you had to have both signed. For that they did a cake, a potlatch and a card with a small group present, in the canteen during lunch. If you didn’t want a party, you didn’t put in any money. It was kind of like a susu for birthdays only.

  9. Former NYC Librarian*

    I can’t resist this. I worked in a small extremely busy public facing department. At one point a librarian couple were both assigned to this rather plum department. Every time . Every time ! One had a paid vacation day, the other would call in sick. Leaving us short staffed by two instead of one. Our manager was a long timer on the homestretch to retirement….came in late, left early…she had ” put in her time” Nothing was ever said to them. I was the lowest ranked member of the department.
    I occasionally see one or the other (they are married now for over twenty years) at professional events and I am not sure I will ever let go of the resentment.
    ( hearing the song, Let it Go in my head as I type this)

  10. AnonyMouse*

    Agreed 100% with Alison’s advice on #1. Just telling her it’s your policy across the board should be enough. And on a related note, for anyone who’s in this situation (thinking about hiring the SO of a current employee) now or in the future, one other thing to consider is that even if both members of the couple seem enthusiastic about it, you don’t necessarily know how they really feel, and it could come back to haunt you. A while back, a friend of mine was getting pressure from her boyfriend to get him an interview where she worked, and she pushed for it because she wanted to help him out…but she really wasn’t enthusiastic about the prospect of working with him. He ended up getting an offer somewhere else, but if they had worked together, I’m sure she would have been much less satisfied with her job and it could have caused problems. Ideally, she would have spoken up before it got to this stage, but the point is that relationships are complicated, and it can be a really bad idea to bring them into the workplace if you don’t have to. Especially with employees you don’t know very well. Just something to consider!

    1. Windchime*

      I’ve worked places where there was a romantic couple (fiancés) who were both employed there. When they were together, they were good about keeping things professional. But when the breakup came, it was horrible drama. All. The. Time. Crying, fighting, arguing….we had it all and it was awful. Very disruptive and distracting.

  11. jhhj*

    #3 — I worked somewhere that people celebrated birthdays (nothing big, someone would bring in cake and we’d take half an hour off) but mine wasn’t celebrated. I also was hired in a rush, and was the only person not given a proper company tour, didn’t get the “we’ll take you out somewhere nice your first day” lunch, etc. Better to be included than not.

    1. No cupcakes*

      I think it is so important to be equal in situations like this because it does breed resentment. For example, my team brings in a treat for birthdays – nothing fancy, maybe a pan of brownies or a some mini muffins from a local bakery.

      But when fail to do this for everyone, or completely forget someone’s birthday, it’s almost better if you do nothing to celebrate it as a group. It’s hurtful and people feel like they are not really a part of the team or that their team doesn’t like them I general.

      And also – if there is typically one person who coordinates the birthday stuff, please don’t forget about their birthday. It really sucks. Sadly, I speak from experience.

    2. Snarkus Ariellius*

      I had a very maternal coworker who INSISTED on celebrating her preferred coworkers’ birthdays. INSISTED. One year, she INSISTED that Sam had to have a homemade German chocolate cake. It couldn’t be out of a box either. So the cook in the office slaved all night and did a five tier cake for Sam. Three days later was Emily’s birthday. My maternal coworker didn’t like or get along with Emily. Nothing was done for Emily’s birthday.

      And my maternal coworker wasn’t a mean-spirited person. She just plain forgot people who weren’t on her radar.

      When I was complaining about not celebrating birthdays, I reminded her of Emily’s birthday. She felt super bad and then wanted to have a cake for her. This conversation took place eight months after the birthday week. I told her to forget it.

      1. Artemesia*

        I hate the way this some times spirals out of control. I worked in a small office with an officious busy body AA who was a sort of office/wife persona for the boss (not his preference). She sucked up continually to him and the other male high status person and escalated the opulence of the birthday celebrations for her favorites. She disliked me because I had caught her in an unethical behavior that caused her problems and she was generally obnoxious to females in positions of power (I was on the same level as the director and male professionals). The apex was when at an end of the year party for 50 people associated with the department she had a fancy cake for his birthday. Someone pointed out to her that my birthday was the same week, so she had my name added to the cake. There was a public giving of gifts. She had taken up a collection and purchased a fancy leather briefcase for Mr. Wonderful; I was publicly presented with a small wrapped gift which yielded up an odd rubber thing lined with fake fur that was designed to be glued to the floor of a car to protect the back of your high heels from scratches while driving. There was a collective gasp when I unwrapped this thing and held it up. I laughed and thanked the AA effusively. That was the last ridiculous over the top birthday gift given in that department. (I still have the stupid fuzzy thing — I can never bear to throw it away because I find it so hilarious.)

        1. Artemesia*

          Oh and that rubber furry thing had been a give away apparently for some purchase at an auto store.

  12. Bea W*

    2. Is it really just undergrads though, because there are plenty of grad students who have spent their entire lives in school and don’t have a clue about the working world.

    1. Artemesia*

      In my experience grad students have at least demonstrated being well organized and successful in school and many of them have had responsible jobs before arriving in grad school. I had fabulous grad students including a former Army sgt who ran a research project I was Principal on with incredible efficiency; I would never had had the success with the project which involves data gathering across the country at over 20 sites without someone with her professionalism and organizational abilities. I had several grad assts over the years who were just fabulous; there were a handful who had their achievement thermostats set too low and did poor work — but as a whole grad students are self starters, good managers and are also interested in improving the quality of their work and so take direction.

    2. Cassie*

      Agreed – my graduate students can’t seem to remember to submit monthly timesheets without me sending reminders. Some of them are pretty responsible. Others are book-smart but clueless about everything else.

      As for following directions/instructions – I was an undergrad student worker years ago, and though I probably remembered the routine things that I needed to do without prompting, I wouldn’t have minded if my supervisor had written instructions that I could refer to (she was a bit disorganized and probably didn’t care *how* things were done). I also helped out another employee and she was very specific on how to name files, logging orders, etc. To some people, it may have felt nit-picky, but I liked knowing exactly what I was supposed to do (rather than guess or have to ask).

      I have grad students who can’t follow page limit guidelines (and the sad thing is that even though they exceed the limit, professors still accept them – probably because the professor didn’t even notice).

  13. gradstudent*

    Regarding undergrads, I was in charge of hiring undergraduates to work for my boss (a professor). We found that if we could find undergrads who had some kind of previous job experience, they were a much better fit, because someone else had already done some of the work of training them. So you might look for sophomores and above who would have a better chance of real-life experience. Also, if you are able to hire as part of a federal work-study program, students are slightly more dedicated because it is paying part of their tuition (and usually, this means you pay them less because the government chips in)
    As a grad student, I would caution you against hiring them if they are supremely overqualified, only because they will most likely keep looking for other jobs that are a better match for their skill set.

    1. Artemesia*

      But the job of the professor is precisely to train those hapless undergrads to become more competent. I think you have to recognize that they don’t arrive with job ready competence and train them in how important being organized and effective is — a week on the front end helping them organize their repeated tasks and telling them explicitly what is expected is time well spent.

      The same is true in the classroom if you expect group work. People are not born knowing how to be effective team participants and how to organize groups to be productive — so if one is going to use that type of project some responsibility in helping them function is important.

    2. soitgoes*

      You’re suggesting that the OP hire work study students over better workers because they’re cheaper? That’s not what the work study money is for.

      1. Natalie*

        Huh? It doesn’t say anything about choosing them over better workers, and the primary reason given is that they think work-study students *are* better workers.

        I’m also not clear on why you think this violates the purpose of FWSP.

  14. AB Normal*

    #5. My rejection email contradicted what I was told earlier

    I’d say there’s a 95% likelihood that AAM’s explanation is the correct one. By the way, any time you get an automated email that contradicts what someone from the organization told you, go with the person’s account, not the email’s! For my current job (which I love), during the interview process, I got an automated rejection letter right after confirming the first interview in an email exchange with the head of HR. I immediately followed up with a note explaining the situation and saying “I understand that things change and you may have decided not to interview all pre-selected candidates, but I wanted to make sure the email was accurate.” I immediately got a response saying nothing had changed and to please disregard the notice — their application management tool was just misbehaving.

    And, OP#5, I know it’s hard, but see if you can learn not to spend your time or energy trying to figure out which explanation is the right one when something like this happen. As someone who spent a lot of time on job applications (because my line of work tends to favor time-boxed contracts), I learned that the sooner you “move on” from a rejection, the better for your job search. Focus on what’s ahead, not behind you: learning more about the job market and what hiring managers are looking for in the type of role you wish to be hired for, perfecting your cover letter, practicing interview questions until you are comfortable showcasing your skills, and so on. Time spent trying to guess why exactly a company didn’t move forward with your application isn’t very helpful (unless an interviewer is willing to provide individual feedback) . The information about the org restructuring is useful; you could add a reminder to check back the company’s website a month from now in case things have settled down and they have started hiring again. But any time you spend trying to second guess what’s up with the diverging stories is not going to help you get closer to a wonderful new job. Good luck!

  15. some1*

    It’s normal not to get a response to an interview thank you note, even when you ultimately get hired. The lack of response is not an indicator of whether the position will be yours or not.

    1. fposte*

      Thank you! (And you don’t have to respond :-).) I don’t know anybody who responds to interview followups–they’re a concluding note, not an opening to a conversation.

    2. Nichole*

      This has been my experience as well. In one job, a member of the hiring committee made an offhand mention after I was hired about how nice my thank you e-mail had been, but otherwise no one even acknowledged it. After working there for a while and seeing how the hiring process worked, it was clear that for anyone to have responded would have been considered outside the norm and quite inappropriate to the ‘chain of command’ nature of their hiring policies. ONLY HR speaks to applicants outside of interviews, no one else.

  16. danr*

    #3… have the birthday party and go to the other ones. As new employee it’s a great way to meet your fellow workers. After a year or so it won’t look odd if you opt out, or, you might get to like them. At my old job people usually brought in something for their dept on their birthday, but if they didn’t, no one made a fuss.

  17. some1*

    I agree with Alison and the other commenters that sometimes rejection emails are worded strangely and not really appropriately for the specific circumstance. It’s definitely best not to try to read between the lines.

    I once got an email rejection from a hiring manager I’d interviewed with that read: “Although your resume was impressive, we’ve decided to move forward with other candidates”.

    Since I had interviewed, I guess the email could have implied my actual interview was unimpressive, but I chose not to analyze it, and instead moved on.

  18. Seal*

    #2 – I have supervised undergraduate student workers for over 20 years. During that time, the nature of student supervision has changed quite a bit. Early in my career, it was rare if not unheard of to hire students who didn’t have some prior work experience; most students had jobs in HS and came in knowing the basics of having a job (i.e. setting and sticking to a schedule, punching a time clock, etc.). These days, more often than not you have to teach the students the basics of having a job, such as calling in if you need to miss a shift, planning ahead for tests and finals, not encouraging your friends to visit you at work, and the like. The other thing that’s changed both with our student workers as well as our entry level full time employees is the sense of entitlement more and more of them seem to bring to the job. There is FAR more grumbling today about the type of work that is generally assigned to our lower level employees – they think they should be able to come in with no experience and do managerial-level work. My response to that is 1) this is the type of work you were hired to do, and 2) those of us in managerial positions got there by starting at the bottom and working our way up.

    Don’t get me wrong – I have had some truly outstanding student employees over the years. But working with student employees does have some unique challenges.

    #3 – Several years ago due to a retirement and subsequent reorganization I took over a badly managed department. One of my new employees gave me their party planning procedures – a 3-page document that spelled out what events (ALL birthdays and holidays, including those most people have never heard of) were to be celebrated, how and when they would be celebrated, and how much fun people could have at these celebrations (ok – I made the last one up, but not by much!). The procedures also mandated that all full time employees regularly donate money to a kitty to support these events – something that is illegal since we are a public institution. In quietly polling the rest of my new employees, I discovered everyone HATED the mandated celebrations and wanted them to go away. So I immediately dumped the party planing procedures in favor of end of the semester potlucks – basicly 3 gatherings a year – with no separate birthday celebrations. The lone exception is if a full time staff member leaves – we generally have a small party because it happens so rarely. My staff are very happy with this new arrangement. The one staff member who was overly-invested in the old procedures at first tried to circumvent the new policy by sneaking in cards and treats for birthdays and holidays, but with some coaching (her actions made everyone uncomfortable, since it was obvious she was doing it for her own pleasure) she finally stopped. Having fewer parties means the ones we do have are events people look forward to attending, not obligations people feel they can’t ignore.

  19. sjw*

    #4 and #5 – I wish applicants realized how very many competing tasks, and how very many applicants, the HR department and/or the hiring manager are dealing with. To #4 — the thank you email was very much appreciated and noted, I assure you (they are very rarely sent and always give you a few extra points) However, the recipient was most likely returning to work after a 3 day weekend, with a full email in-box, and 5 days worth of work to do in 4 days. So the fact that you haven’t heard anything is most likely a reflection of how busy she is. And AAM is correct — that 2nd thank you note would quickly move you to the annoying and needy category. And #5 — I no longer send auto responses because of the many “oopsies” it caused. It is not uncommon for me to receive several hundred applications to some jobs, and I do not respond to anyone unless we’ve had some sort of further contact. I just don’t have time .

  20. Snarkus Ariellius*

    When I asked not to have my birthday acknowledged…

    “Maybe other people in the office want to do something for you, okay? It’s not about you.”

    Yes seriously this happened.

    Then I had a battle with the Word document on the shared drive. I would delete; someone else would put it back on there. This went on for two years. I was able to, however, take my birthday off the office calendar at the beginning of every year. For some reason, whoever was adamant about publicizing my birthday always forgot the office calendar.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      That’s really rude of the person forcing you to public celebrate when you don’t want to, my coworker doesn’t celebrate their birthday for religious reasons and would be massively offended if we ignored that.

  21. Anonymouse*

    In regards to #2: Hiring reliable student workers.

    What has made a huge improvement in our experience in hiring student workers is SCREENING!

    We now review applications for 3 things: A GPA over 3.0, a minimal Math qualification, and a minimal English or ESL qualification. Your institution needs may differ, but I strongly recommend a minimum GPA. Students who can demonstrate ability to keep a certain grade level tend to know how to follow directions, manage their time, research, etc.

    We pass over those who are in their first semester in most cases, preferring to interview those who have a demonstrated track record.

    1. Anx*

      I had the opposite experience.

      In my experience GPA was an unreliable indicator of the commitment we could expect (we were students ‘managing’ students). Many of the students who touted their academic success and grades would quit or flake out near exam time. Some of the workers with average grades or lower grades were extremely dedicated to the work, and excelled in our organization when they had the opportunity to apply skills that don’t always translate to good grades.

      1. Anx*

        One thing that helped, though, was choosing students with a demonstrated ability to follow through. Sometimes good grades and academic achievement was our indicator for this. Students who didn’t have much of a track record yet but had a carefully considered plan for accomplishing their goals with our organizations were also considered.

  22. soitgoes*

    #1 If you’re doing so, stop saying things like, “We’re so understaffed” or “We need to hire more people,” especially if you don’t have particularly rigorous hiring standards. There’s a reason your employee thinks there’s a position for her boyfriend to fill. I know that it’s generally frowned upon to hire the significant others of current employees, but it mostly sounds like you just don’t want to hire him. Which is fine, but don’t bend existing policy into a new shape to explain your subjective stance. If the boyfriend didn’t acquire the necessary academic degrees or does not have the right types of experience, tell your employee the truth about those things. Anything about the relationship-factor will just invite debate.

    #2 What you’re describing are mistakes that are common in young workers who are just learning to transition from retail or food service to a professional office setting. They’re used to being bossed around and treated like idiots. If you want them to solve their own problems and take initiative, you really just need to tell them that.

    1. soitgoes*

      For #2, I’m curious as two whether the two positions are required to be student workers or if that’s just the choice that the school or your office made. Your primary concern seems to be avoiding turnover, which inherently means that you’re not going to be drawing in the best candidates, who are graduate students and basically anyone who has their lives together in such a way as to shorten the college experience as much as possible. You could seek out people who are likely to be fifth-year seniors, but is that a work ethic that you want to pay for? A job that requires some degree of permanence should not be offered to someone who will be graduating eventually.

      Are these work study positions? I’ve always very much disliked it when colleges use that government money to avoid hiring full-time adult workers from the larger community. Why not just bite the bullet and hire a real adult who will stay there permanently?

        1. soitgoes*

          If a job that requires a full-time adult worker to fill it is instead filled with work study students, I don’t see how the OP can justify being frustrated that the work isn’t being done properly or on time. If there’s no money in the budget for a real salary, using work study money to fill it is lousy and not the point of work study.

          1. Cassie*

            There’s no guarantee that full-time adult workers are any better – believe me, we have a fair number of full-time employees that need a lot of hand-holding. And the student workers are more willing to take corrections/criticisms. (We have our own problems that the hiring standards are really poor).

            Based on the OP’s job descriptions, it doesn’t seem like the work warrants a full-time staffer. It’s not like the position requires making judgement calls, analyzing data, or anything. Just in my experience, we have plenty of full-time staff, plus plenty of student workers. We could get rid of 3/4 of the full-time staff and hire a few more student workers and we’d be a much more efficient workplace. That will never happen, though, because once you get rid of those FTE, you’ll probably never get them back.

  23. Taz*

    For #1, really a supervisor doesn’t need to explain to any employee why a candidate isn’t suitable for a position. I’m kind of uncomfortable with statements about not hiring spouses etc. unless there’s a company-wide policy already in place, because you just know as soon as the supervisor makes such a comment there will be the perfect exception, and this employee will witness the hiring of that person.

  24. the_scientist*

    Re: hiring student workers (I help interview/hire work study student at my current job and have hired volunteers in this job and past jobs). There are a couple of things I see about this letter.

    First, any position that hires students is going to have some turnover. Especially if it’s a position that is maybe not related to their future career plans. I.e. if you’re hiring admin assistants/clerical staff (which, by your description, it sounds like you might be?), many students will leave to pursue positions that boost their resume more than clerical work (for example, lab technician, research assistant, co-op positions in their senior years). Maybe by thinking primarily about how to avoid turnover, you are screening out the most motivated, “with it”, self-starting candidates?

    Secondly, as a fairly recent university graduate myself, I find it baffling that ALL of your staff seem to have problems with simple tasks, which leads me to believe that *you* or your instructions may be the issue (or you are hiring some bottom-tier candidates). Yes, there is a lot of hand-holding and teaching of workplace norms with undergrads, in all cases. However, not remembering to look in the bin for work? That’s like, a basic, basic, basic task….if they aren’t checking the bin, what exactly *are* they doing? Are they twiddling their thumbs and playing on their phones until someone assigns them a task? I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around this, to be honest. I’m wondering if they are getting conflicting information from somewhere in the office about who does certain tasks, or if other people are assigning them work to the point that they are not getting a chance to do these other tasks.

    Or, everyone you hired sucks. You’ll have to evaluate which is the most likely reason, I guess.

  25. Emma the Strange*

    Re #1: Thinking about AAM’s “but we’d never do that” scenario, it bugs me that people would even think that that’s a persuasive argument in these situations. The people who use it are essentially saying “Boss Who Barely Knows Me (and my partner not at all), you should take my word for it that I am one of those rare and special people who has a completely objective and unbiased assessment of both me and my boyfriend’s character. Unlike billions of young people before me, I could not possibly be deluding myself about our ability to work together professionally/our odds of breaking up/our ability to keep relationship and possible break up conflicts from impacting work. No, I don’t need to provide you any proof of this, I could not possibly be wrong.”

    If you* use the “we’d never do that” argument, that would make me *more* concerned about your relationship issues impacting work, not less. If you don’t understand why it’s a realistic concern for employers, then you’re probably not going to be self-aware enough to notice if/when your relationship issues *are* impacting work, much less be able to mitigate it. Also, if you refuse to believe a suggestion that “this is an issue that could happen in the future,” then you will probably refuse to believe it if/when your boss tries to tell you “this is an issue that’s happening now, fix it.”

    tldr: If “take our word for it” is the most persuasive argument you can think of, they probably shouldn’t take your word for it.

    1. soitgoes*

      tbh I’m thinking of it more in the context of….this place is hiring, the economy sucks, and the young woman’s boyfriend needs a job. I understand why she’s asking; it’s not like call centers are known for having strict standards. If the OP is talking a lot about a current wave a new hires, it’s only natural that the girl would try to get a good word in for her boyfriend. That’s why I think the OP needs to distance herself from the conversation (“Oh, he wasn’t qualified,” or “The job has already been filled”) than by inventing a retroactive policy to justify her decision.

      1. Emma the Strange*

        I’m not saying the employee should not put in a good word for her boyfriend. I’m saying that if the OP tells the employee “I’m concerned about relationship issues affecting work,” the employee should not say “But we’d never do that!” and expect that, by itself, to convince the OP (if the employee presented a realistic proposal that addressed the OP’s concerns, then that would be different). Now, we don’t actually know if the employee would respond that way. The majority of people (even young, naive people) have enough self awareness to recognize, at least on an intellectual level, that “we’d never do that” is not a convincing argument. But it’s a common enough attitude that AAM had to address it, and I wanted to take the opportunity to express my frustration with it.

        Also, I don’t think that the OP needs to have an official policy about hiring romantic partners in order to justify not hiring the boyfriend. The concerns about relationship issues affecting work that people have mentioned are valid enough to stand on their own.

  26. Wednesday*

    #1 mentions that she looks for undergrads to reduce turnover, so I get the impression that her employees are with her for several years. I’m surprised they’re still having difficulty with tasks that it sounds like they do every day, especially with a to do list. Is it possible for her to sit down with an employee and say, “Look, I need this to do list to be done, daily. I’ve got to be able to rely on my staff to do that without reminders, and I’m not currently getting that from you.”

    The reason I ask is because at that age I was working by myself in a food services setting, where following the daily checklist was a very, very important part of my job for us to stay in compliance with food regulations and health standards. My boss needed each employee to take responsibility during their shift, because no one else was there.

  27. Cassie*

    #2 – how about having a daily checklist with items that need to be done? The student worker can go through the list, make sure each item is complete, and check off each item. Maybe google “student employee daily tasks”?

Comments are closed.