wearing a Halloween costume to an interview, talking to an employee with fuzzy thinking, and more

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

1. Wearing a Halloween costume to an interview

I have an interview on Halloween. Would it be ok to wear a costume to show my fun spirit?

Nooooo. Unless you’re interviewing someone where “fun spirit” is a major and key job requirement, this would be a very bad idea (and even then, I wouldn’t do it).

While I’m sure there’s some interviewer out there who would appreciate it and think it’s awesome, there are far more who will find it off-key and inappropriate for a professional situation. Plus, you want the focus on your qualifications, not what you’re wearing.

2. How to address performance problems with an employee who makes excuses

I have a new director’s role at a large-ish nonprofit and will soon “inherit” some staff. One of these employees has a pattern of executing tasks we hadn’t agreed on, misinterpreting things, and in one notable, recent case, not remembering something he’d emailed me the day before. When I ask for clarification or otherwise address these, he often claims to be “not thinking clearly.”

Over a month ago, I was also contacted by a former manager and a former colleague of this employee. They both reached out to warn me this staff person is not up to the job and not to be trusted.

I have been trying to be as fair as possible but I must confess, the “not thinking clearly” excuse distracts me. I need to set forth some performance expectations but “clear thinking” can’t be one of them. I’d love to hear any advice on how to handle this.

If he has a pattern of performance problems, the fact that he attributes it to “not thinking clearly” isn’t an excuse. You need him meeting the requirements of his job, regardless of whether he’s thinking clearly or not. And that’s the way to approach this: by sitting down with him and laying out what you need him to do differently, period.

I agree with you that “clear thinking” isn’t an especially measurable performance metric, but it’s certainly an issue that you can raise, because you need him thinking clearly and you can say that. It’s perfectly reasonable to say something like, “I’m concerned by the pattern I’m seeing of incidences like X, Y, and Z. I need you to do ___ differently. When we’ve discussed that in that past, you’ve mentioned that you weren’t thinking clearly. I know we all have moments like that, but going forward, I do need clear thinking in this role.” Also, be explicit that your concerns are serious and that the problems will jeopardize his job if not resolved.

Ultimately, the thing to keep in mind is that you want to describe what great performance looks like in the role, and how he’s currently falling short of that. It’s absolutely reasonable to hold him to that bar; don’t get distracted by the “not thinking clearly” response.

3. Am I obligated to give a witness statement about an incident with a coworker?

At my place of employment, there was a situation between two coworkers. Two other women and I were around at the time. So when one employee went to the manager to complain, she named me as a witness to the situation. I was pulled into the office 8 days later and, to be honest, do not remember word for word what happened because I was carrying out my own business. I can’t even remember what I did 8 hours ago, let alone what someone else said 8 days ago! But I was asked to write a statement of the event to help determine proper disciplinary action! Am I obligated to write this statement being as though I am uncomfortable with the fact that I may be causing someone to lose their job over something I do not fully recall?

Yes, you’re obligated to share what you know; that’s a perfectly reasonable thing of your employer to require of you when trying to sort out an incident that happened in the office. However, you’re not obligated to claim certainty that you don’t have; you’re only obligated to tell the truth. It would be perfectly reasonable to say, “I wasn’t paying a lot of attention when it happened and my memory is hazy. What I recall for sure is ___.”

4. Including quotes from performance reviews on LinkedIn

What do you think about quoting performance reviews in the experience section of LinkedIn? Yay or nay?

Meh. In general, I don’t even typically advise it for resumes — although if the quote is truly phenomenal (and contains real substance and concrete specifics), it can be effective. The problem is that more often than not, when people do it, the quotes just aren’t that superlative and they end up sounding like they don’t really know what top performance looks like. I’m even wary of telling people that it’s okay to use one if it’s truly superlative, because some people have a much lower bar for “superlative” than they should and if the quote is anything less than unusually fantastic, it can really leave the wrong note.

But back to LinkedIn: As with your resume, it’s going to be all in the execution. I can imagine it done well, but I can also imagine it done pretty poorly.

5. Bullet points in cover letters

You’ve got a lot written about good cover letters, but I haven’t seen any addressing bullet points. Is it okay to use bullet points in a cover letter? Someone is suggesting that instead of wordy paragraphs, I highlight my skills and accomplishments with a few bullet points. He used them successfully, so I think I’ll try it out, but I’m curious what you think.

Skills and accomplishments belong in your resume. Your cover letter shouldn’t repeat what’s on your resume (since that would be squandering the opportunity to say something additional).

If you can use bullet points as part of a compelling narrative that isn’t just regurgitating what’s on your resume, then sure, go for it — but the most important thing is your content, not its format. (That said, in general, I think it’s a little harder to write a great cover letter that’s heavily focused around bullet points, although not impossible.)

{ 178 comments… read them below }

  1. Artemesia

    #2 has a great opportunity to make a difference by turning around or getting rid of a problem employee. I watched how a new manager took care of an employee that had been the bane of everyone’s life for years. Often people assume people who have been around a long time are untouchable. When this person was gone, the office was transformed.

    I think AAM is spot on that it is important to be very clear about expected performance and then to follow through quickly and clearly and not let it drag on if the employee continues to be a poor performer. It is also important to know that she has the authority to fire him before she embarks on this. (no secret deals with board members or something)

    1. Sarahnova

      Heartily seconded.

      A problem employee who has been around a long time constantly and tacitly sends the message that managers don’t really care about problem employees, or work standards, or a productive environment. #2, you might well be very pleasantly surprised to discover how performance-managing this guy out delights the rest of your people. And stop listening to his “not thinking clearly” rubbish. It’s doing what he intended it to do, i.e. sidetracking you from the issue of his not performing onto WHY he is not performing, and making the “why” both vaguely sympathetic and unaddressable.

      Stop caring why. These are his job expectations, he needs to meet them consistently, and if he can’t he can’t stay in his job, period. Keep the conversation focused on that.

      1. Artemesia

        Not thinking clearly is not even an excuse; it is the equivalent of ‘I wasn’t paying attention.’ Unless of course the employee has dementia in which case he also needs to be eased out. I might protect an employee with early dementia to make it to their pension if that was an issue — but only if it were a sterling employee who was now slipping and needed to be put in a low pressure low impact set of tasks till he could retire.

      2. catsAreCool

        “you might well be very pleasantly surprised to discover how performance-managing this guy out delights the rest of your people.” This!

    1. Amber

      I work at a computer game company, mostly people in their 20s and 30s, a lot of people dress up for Halloween (or events like comic-con), we even have a costume contest at work for Halloween. It’s built into the industry culture and not at all weird.

        1. dev me

          Other person here, same industry- I know for a fact my company’s done interviews in costume. That was the employees, not the interviewee, but I don’t think a silly hat would be out of place, esp. If you can bring it in your bag and only take it out if it seems appropriate.

          1. TK

            I work in a university library, and we’re holding a costume contest for students later today. The staff members involved in running the contest all dressed up. One of them is transferring to a different position internally on Monday, and so has what she called a “kind-of exit interview” for her current position with our dean today. She said that will be an interesting experience with her in costume!

          2. Busy

            We are currently conducting interviews in costume. I think we have at least three candidates here today…

          3. tech worker

            I worked for a tech company known for quirky culture, and it was well known that interviewers would be in costume if you interviewed on Halloween. Most people didn’t take the risk, but one woman had what I thought was a brilliant costume — Clark Kent. She wore a typical interview suit with a collared shirt. But hidden underneath was a Superman shirt that she could decide to show or hide based on her assessment of the situation. She pulled out her “Clark Kent” glasses to show me, but then took them off for the remainder of the interview. It was the perfect way to subtly show her culture fit while remaining professional. (We hired her because she was a very strong candidate. The costume was just a bonus data point to show her culture fit, and make her even more memorable. But she would have been a very strong candidate regardless of the costume).

        2. Colette

          It’s normal in my industry and company to dress up for Halloween. (Not everyone does, but there are Halloween costume contests or pumpkin-carving contests.) Even so, when I had an interview on Halloween, I did not wear a costume, because it’s just not appropriate.

          1. Turanga Leela

            Agreed. If you really wanted to observe Halloween, you might be able to get away with subtle accessories—like tiny spider earrings, or a scarf or tie with a pattern that, upon close inspection, is made up of skulls. But I think even there, the risks outweigh the benefits.

            I once had to be in court on Halloween and thought, “Oh, it’s a minor case, I could wear a costume if I wanted.” I didn’t anyway, and I was so glad about that later. The case turned out to be unexpectedly emotional and upsetting, and it would have felt so disrespectful if anyone had been in costume. Lesson: there are some situations, and some jobs, where you really can’t dress for the holidays.

      1. Traveler

        Yeah, but that’s a very specific instance where its normal. Heck, it would probably be normal to do this on an average day in some industries. I assume Dan meant in general, and in general at your average office I think it is a little weird. Far too many people fall into the pitfalls we’ve discussed here with costuming at work. That happens a lot less for people involved in the world of things like comic con and such, as they’re usually familiar with what constitutes a problematic costume.

      2. bad at online naming

        I’m also in software, and the same. I myself am wearing a particularly violent shade of neon orange clothing for the holiday.

        I’m also meeting two candidates today – now I wonder what they’ll be wearing. (Work-appropriate) Costumes would be a little odd, but not a deal breaker. Themed jewelry/ties/shirts would be perfectly fine, and what I’d do if I were interviewing.

    2. Ashley

      I work in HR for a large halloween retailer. I have an interview today for a buying position. If my candidate shows up in a costume, I will politely ask her to reschedule because there’s no way she will be taken seriously.

      But, for the record, I’m wearing cobweb print tights under my dress today (because everyone else is dressed up and I’d look like a turd if I didn’t do SOMETHING).

        1. ThursdaysGeek

          Years ago, I worked at a place where a sweet older lady dressed as a turd. Well, actually “Miss Fecal” with a sash over her brown and lumpy costume (with brown lumpy tights). But we worked in a testing laboratory that got fecal samples, so it kind of fit in.

    3. The IT Manager

      I don’t like to make myself the center of attention. I don’t like to dress up even for a halloween costume parties. So I have a bias against it. Mosly I think you should dress for an interview as well as or better than you would wear into work everyday. (ie Wear an “interview suit” where my job’s dress code allows jeans.) A costume does not meet that bar of equal to or better than daily work wear.

      LW#1 clearly loves dressing to even consider dressing up for an interview. At least she’s asking someone, but it seems like a horrible idea to me unless its a very specfic industry. That also make me wonder what kind of costume she has in mind because “sexy” anything is probably a bad idea for work as is anything making fun of politicans or using a ethnic group or culture as a costumes (ie sexy Native American).

      In addition to being a bad idea, I just think costumes can be fraught with inappropriate signals for work.

    4. INTP

      I happen to hate Halloween and have not worn a costume since pre-puberty. However, I’m pretty sure that we are in the minority. When I tell people I hate Halloween and costumes, it’s like I’ve just revealed that my hobby is kicking puppies. People truly don’t understand the fact that I skip certain parties because costumes are mandatory. I’ve even been reprimanded for not wearing a costume to work (apparently I should have known that it was required for me in particular, though optional for everyone else, because I was the HR and marketing assistant). So for me it’s one of those things that I don’t get at all, but seems so common amongst people other than myself that I can’t rationally judge people for it.

      1. the gold digger

        I attend costume parties only reluctantly and with low-effort costumes. For example, one year, I wore a blue dress that I already owned, pinned a q-tip to it, and said I was a White House intern. Another year, I wore one of my many bridesmaid dresses and said that yes! I WAS wearing it again!

        1. Cath in Canada

          I have a friend whose birthday parties (October 30th) are always billed as “token effort” costume parties – normal clothes plus wig, that kind of thing. You’d fit right in there!

        2. Artemesia

          We used to have halloween costume parties for many years and we had a costume competition. There were 5 categories; one of those was ‘mimimalist costume’ i.e. the best costume with the least effort. One year the couple that won pinned a couple of big pinwheels on the backs of their shirts and college tshirts for the college they worked for and went as ‘Name of College fans.’

      2. Cassie

        I don’t hate Halloween, but I also don’t care much for it. When people at work ask me why I don’t dress up, my response is “because I’m no longer in elementary school”. Some staff dress up for the whole day (makeup, hair, costume, everything) while others only put on a costume for the party at lunch. I don’t participate at all and try to ignore all the chatter about costumes that goes on all day long (and for days beforehand). I just get frustrated when 10 different people ask “why aren’t you dress up?”. I wish I could sit in a cone of silence and just do my work! :)

    1. Lizzy

      Hahaha! That is a one helluva self-sabotaging stunt. A quick search shows no one has tried it…yet.

    2. MJH

      It would be awesome if you interviewed on Halloween and the interviewer joked, “Forgot your costume?” and you could say, “I’m dressed as the World’s Best Employee.” :)

  2. Dan

    #2

    Not taking responsibility for one’s actions is a deal breaker for me. I’m projecting past experiences onto this, but if one’s regular response to criticism is “I was having a bad day,” “not my fault,” ” come on, it’s no big deal” or some other stuff that doesn’t acknowledge the situation and their role in it, they’ll find themselves on the fast track out.

    People who display that kind of behavior consistently are impossible to deal with, and I’m not going to.

    1. Beyonce Pad Thai

      Yes! I am aware I forget stuff all the time – so I write everything down. I misinterpret stuff (work in an office where the dominant language is not mine) so I double-check important stuff by repeating the request back to my manager make sure I got it right.

      I totally get “fuzzy thinking” – but it’s not an excuse when there’s simple remedies!

      1. Sans

        Exactly what I was thinking. The suggestion that he write lists every day of what he needs to do … and making updating that list the last thing you do when you leave so you have an agenda for the next day … should be included in his performance plan. If he doesn’t want to do it, well, that’s on him and he risks losing his job.

        My memory is not what it used to be. I make a LOT of lists. It works pretty well.

        1. Colette

          I don’t know if I agree about including that in his performance plan. Shouldn’t a performance plan be a list of what he needs to do, not how he should do it? “What” is the standard, “how” is up to him.

          1. Judy

            It may not be on his performance plan, but it might be on a list of suggestions of ways to improve performance.

            My dad learned to swim by being thrown into a cow pond. I took lessons. Who would you want to be? The manager should have some coaching suggestions. If you are struggling, hopefully you have been trying everything you can think of to resolve the issues.

            1. fposte

              But neither of you were being paid to swim already.

              It’s not just about what would be the nicest possible thing for the employee. It’s a pretty standard expectation for employees to keep track of their own work. If somebody was new, or actively sought help, I might provide more guidance, but if I would have to micromanage to get more than mediocrity out of a long-term mediocrity, I’m better off starting fresh.

            2. Colette

              The problem with providing solutions is that different people manage things differently – some people rely on lists, some use calendar reminders, some use sticky notes – and it doesn’t matter what technique the employee uses, just that they manage things more effectively.

          2. Zillah

            Yeah, this. You can certainly suggest it, but the idea of telling people, even people performing poorly, how to do something like that bothers me. Tell him what he needs to do, by all means, but let him decide what an effective strategy is.

            1. danr

              He wouldn’t know what an effective strategy is by himself. He’s proved that. He needs some explicit guidance.

              1. Colette

                Maybe he just hasn’t made it a priority – but even if he needs guidance, I don’t think being micromanaged (which is what dictating how he meets the goals is) will help anyone. The suggested technique may not work for that employee, and the manager can’t devote that much time to one employee on a long term basis.

                1. Simonthegrey

                  I agree with Danr’s overall idea, though. As a tutor at a community college, for example, I work with a lot of students who don’t know how to take notes and prepare for tests. I could spend hours talking about note-taking methods, but we don’t have that kind of time. I pick two – generally margin notes and notecards – and explain those to the students. I make sure to tell them there are other methods, but that these work for most people. Will they work for everyone? No. but they work for many people, and if they have no idea what a note taking strategy looks like, how can they implement one on their own. I don’t think it belongs as part of the PIP, but certainly a manager could suggest that one way other people deal with this is making reminder notes.

              2. Artemesia

                If it were a new employee who had not mastered these kinds of techniques because they were 22 and it was their first real job, then I would tutor them in how to be organized on the job. A long time screwup? No. The worst outcome would be if they learned to skirt the line with techniques you suggest and thus stumbled along just barely above the ‘fire me’ line indefinitely. I want to see a real transformation or be able to let them go.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale

      Until I got to the part about past managers saying not to trust the guy, I felt for him. When I was first starting out in my career, I sent a gazillion emails with a gazillion requests every day, and I would put them out of my head (but not my email!) once they were sent. People would come by and interrupt what I was doing (not maliciously, just that every question was an interruption) and say things like, “Remember that thing you sent me last Monday?” and I never would. I have an excellent memory for many things, so it was disconcerting to me, but usually they would say, “Oh, that request where blah blah blah,” or I would pull up the email and all was fine. So I have a lot of sympathy.

      However, if this is a consistent pattern and the “not thinking clearly” is a constant excuse– as opposed to, “I’m so sorry, there have been so many emails this week”– then yeah, it’s a problem and needs serious addressing. To start, and to give him the benefit of the doubt and a chance to improve, I would personally email all my questions to him if she isn’t already. Gives him a chance to look for answers without feeling like he’s put on the spot.

      1. LBK

        as opposed to, “I’m so sorry, there have been so many emails this week”

        Even that isn’t an acceptable excuse over several occasions. That might be acceptable once every few months when it’s a particularly busy week, but if that’s your excuse daily or even weekly, you’re still not up to the requirements of the job.

        The bottom line is, regardless of your reason, if you repeatedly fail to perform the responsibilities of your job you are not right for that job.

        1. Jamie

          I agree it wouldn’t be an excuse for dropping a ball, but I don’t expect anyone to be able to recall exactly what I mean if I say “that email I sent last Monday.” If people do that to me I take a second and pull up the email. I don’t make excuses for it, I don’t think not having every conversation/email on instant recall needs an excuse.

          If something slipped through the cracks I agree it needs to be used sparingly. We all have crazy periods, but using this too often can make it look like you’re overwhelmed by the regular pace of the job.

          1. Us, Too

            Exactly.

            In my work environment, given the quantity of emails I send and receive in a day (and as is typical for EVERYONE in this organization because we are an email/skype-driven culture), it is entirely normal for me to not remember the content of every one of them in a passing conversation. Here’s why:

            Susan: I have a question about that email you sent me last week.
            Me: I sent over 800 emails last week, and probably 60 of them I included you on. Which one do you mean?
            Susan: The one about project X.
            Me: That gets it down to 20 emails.
            Susan: The one about Part A of Project X.
            Me: That gets us down to 5 emails.
            Susan: Let me just pull it up…

          2. LBK

            Oh yeah, I totally agree that immediate recall of every email you send is bananas and I don’t think that should be a requirement in any job. I was speaking more generally about any excuse being used repeatedly. AvonLady’s scenario is actually kind of weird to me – I can’t imagine that people would actually expect you to remember an email you sent a week ago without taking a moment to search for it and refresh your memory.

            1. Lamb

              I’m customer-facing, and I can’t believe the different ways people have approached me and expected me to know who they were. Aside from the run of the mill “I’m the one who just called” (several people just called, more if you expand “just” to encompass “about 20 minutes before I left to come here” which seems to be how a lot of customers calculate it), I’ve had a man show up for his appointment and announce he was “the one with the funny name”, and another stop by as “the one with [hugh partner organization we do a lot of business with]”.
              A lot of people expect that they and their goings-on are very distinctive and memorable.

        2. MaggiePi

          I think this really depends on the circumstances. I send a ton of emails and have 50-100 files active at any one time (nature of the business, we all do).
          I have a coworker who frequently just starts talking to me about whatever she’s working on and assumes somehow I’ll know which email from however many days ago she’s talking about. For example, out of the blue she’ll say “So, did he send it yet?” or “Did John get back to you?” (where John is not someone we work with more than 3 emails every six months, or could be 1 of 20 different “John”s.)
          I agree that “I’m so sorry, there have been so many emails this week” isn’t an excuse to not do work, and if not followed up by action, then yes, it’s a problem. But if it’s said and followed up with, “Give me a minute to pull out my info on that,” I certainly think that’s okay.

          1. LBK

            I agree that “I’m so sorry, there have been so many emails this week” isn’t an excuse to not do work, and if not followed up by action, then yes, it’s a problem. But if it’s said and followed up with, “Give me a minute to pull out my info on that,” I certainly think that’s okay.

            That’s what I meant – sorry, I should’ve been more clear. Using that as your momentary excuse while you pull up the email is totally fine, I probably do that 20 times a day. Using it as a reason that you’re falling behind or missing work is not.

          2. Ethyl

            My bosssssssssss is like thisssssssss and it drives me insannnnnnne. This is a transcript of a recent conversation, prior to which we had both been working quietly in our own offices:

            Boss, from across the hall: Hey where do we keep those files?
            Me: What?
            Boss, coming into my office: Where do you save those files?

          3. Ask a Manager Post author

            I might be wrong, but I read the situation more as the employee dropping the ball on something / not doing something, and when the OP asks why, saying that “there were so many emails this week.” So less about recalling specific details on an email in the moment, and more about not handing requests.

            1. OP #2

              Thanks for all the excellent comments. Re: email, to clarify, the employee had sent me one less than 24 hours before saying he had taken action on a contract, then was unable to remember anything about that email nor was he able to call it up from his desktop when I asked about it on the phone the next day. We do get lots of emails and we all, myself included, can’t remember everything.

    3. INTP

      I think that’s perfectly rational, past experience or not. You can’t fix a problem if you don’t acknowledge that there is one. There is no way to get this employee to improve if he won’t acknowledge his role in it. Even if he’s not thinking clearly due to ADHD or something else that isn’t his fault, he can’t be useful to the company if he doesn’t figure out a way to control it so that he can still do his job. Unless he quickly realizes the cause of his thinking problems and figures out a way to fix them, he’s useless to this company.

  3. LucyVP

    #4
    I personally ignore quotes from reviews or recommendations when I am hiring. They are generally fluff, don’t offer much substantial insight, and can be difficult to verify.

    In fact, earlier today I received a resume on which the first page featured 2/3 of a page of highly edited (lots of ellipses) quotes from previous supervisors and it was a MAJOR turnoff. This applicant had good industry experience but the emphasis on these snippets of text seemed like smoke and mirrors, it made me wonder what they were trying to compensate for.

  4. swimmingly

    #3

    The fact that you remembered there was a situation between the two coworkers to begin with should be suffice. Jot down what you’re comfortae with and then let management determine the actions afterwards.

    1. Stuck in the Middle

      I actually contacted HR, so that’s what I did wrote what I did recall. I was sure to let them know that I was uncomfortable with the idea of being a “creditable” witness. Thanks!

      1. Judy

        One time that I had to do that, they wanted to know what I noticed. Basically I was working and heard through a closed office door past 3 other cubicles yelling, and then pushed my chair out to stick my head into the hallway. The window in the office door was situated where I could see the chairs the employees were sitting in, so I knew who was in there with the manager, and he was at the end of the desk getting within one of their personal space bubbles. I also certainly remembered some of the phrases used.

      2. QualityControlFreak

        Well … the one time I had to do this, the coworker in question wanted to be fired (long story). So he came in to work with a brown paper bag with a six-pack of beer in it, and went around showing it to all his coworkers. On a military base. I wrote down what happened – all of us did – and he got his wish. Took me about a minute and a half.

  5. Chocolate Teapot

    1: I suppose it means you will not be forgotten in a hurry:

    “Oh yes, wasn’t Jane the candidate who turned up in a bat outfit?”

    1. HM in Atlanta

      Every Halloween we remember the lady who came for the interview in her star trek uniform. The best part – the interview wasn’t on Halloween.

    1. Beyonce Pad Thai

      I honestly don’t think so! There is a lot of terrible advice on the internet about “standing out” (mail in your resume on perfumed paper! send a cookie bouquet with your thank you note! send a cover letter in the form of a video!) and we’ve seen some examples of people doing things like this on this blog. I think they do it in good faith, maybe desperate to stand out among hundreds of other candidates – it’s the unqualified “career coaches” putting terrible advice out there who are doing these people a disservice.

      1. en pointe

        Yeah, I didn’t think hoax. Aside from all the bad advice you mention, Alison also notes that there probably is some quirky hiring manager out there who thinks this is a good idea. So it stands to reason that there probably are some quirky or just misguided job seekers who think this might be a good idea too. OP sounds like one of them.

        But regardless, I hope we don’t need to bang on too much about the OP not already knowing. That’s kinda the point of writing to an advice blog. Now she’s learnt something and has potentially helped give other people an opportunity to learn too.

    2. Juli G.

      We had an internal candidate do this. I thought it was weird but my manager thought it showed confidence. She was the best person for the job and got the offer.

      Very different from an external hire though.

      1. INTP

        It could also have been expected on her team. I know at least two companies where the HR team is required to wear costumes. I’m sure there are other business areas where it’s often required or “not mandatory, but if you won’t do it, you’re not a team player.” I would have changed into regular clothes for an interview, especially an external one, but I can see someone thinking “if this is expected by my team, it won’t be held against me by Other team.”

    3. AvonLady Barksdale

      I can totally see it! Seriously. I work in an industry that prides itself on “thinking differently” and “being awesome”, and I can definitely see people saying, “Halloween is so fun! I need to show that I’m fun! And they’re a fun company! I will totally do this!” Some people in my industry would get a huge kick out of it, but others (like me) would look askance at interviewing someone in costume.

      Oddly I have an interview myself later this morning. I’m not a Halloween person and I don’t do costumes, but when I was setting up the interview, I ALMOST wrote something like, “I look forward to meeting [X]! I promise I won’t show up in costume.” I have a really good rapport with people at this company. But even that, I thought, would be a weird, overly familiar statement, and I decided against it. (As you see, I am an avid AAM reader, so I know better.)

    4. Chloe Silverado

      My company goes all out for Halloween – everyone gets very elaborately dressed up and we have a big (optional) party with food, cocktails and prizes for best dressed. We’re not in an industry that would naturally seem into Halloween. We also have a lot of employees who have been here for 10-15 years or more. I could easily see someone who is completely ingrained in our company culture thinking this might be ok or even cool to do for an interview on Halloween, forgetting that not all companies are into Halloween and that this might be very ill received. I wouldn’t do it for an interview cause that’s not my personality, but I don’t think it’s crazy that someone would think to do this.

  6. Anon for this one

    #2

    I agree with you that “clear thinking” isn’t an especially measurable performance metric

    This is one of the metrics everyone in my company is measured on at our end of year review. You also have to put forward examples of your clear thinking in the part of your review you submit to your manager.

    1. C Average

      If clear thinking is a metric at your company, are there some ways you specifically cultivate it? If someone at your company wasn’t exhibiting clear thinking, would his/her manager be able to recommend some specific steps to take to improve that area of performance?

      I admit I have never previously thought of clear thinking as a specific behavior, but I’m realizing as I think about it that I know exactly who does and doesn’t exhibit it in my workplace. I’m wondering if someone who doesn’t think clearly can become someone who does think clearly by adopting specific behaviors, or if an unclear thinker is stuck that way.

    2. Joey

      its not hard to measure clear thinking. Or more accurately the lack of clear thinking- they’re essentially dumb mistakes.

    3. Bea W

      What exactly is “clear thinking” though? Does your company define it in a specific way that allows it to be measured?

    4. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

      Possibly I’m just not a great clear thinker, but I’m pretty sure I would struggle to come up with examples. Would it be things like “When Manager X wrote me an email and asked for Document A, I sent it to her”? ‘Cause, um, yeah.

  7. Long time lurker!

    Just something to think about for #2: was this employee ever a good employee, or has he always been like this? The whole ‘thinking clearly’ thing plus the pattern of behaviour described in the email makes me wonder whether he has some level of cognitive decline and is in denial about it. :(

    1. Not an IT Guy

      I agree. I know I have untreated sleep apnea and I know I’m not as sharp as I’ve been in the past. Plus there are employers out there who frown upon getting any sort of medical treatment. So I would rule out any health issues before making a judgement.

      1. Colette

        If the employee has a medical issue that is causing problems, he can bring it up and explain what he’s doing about it – but it’s not up to the manager to start fishing for different excuses than the ones she’s already getting.

        1. fposte

          And a medical problem wouldn’t make it okay for him to do the job badly–it just opens up the possibility that it could be resolved medically, but it’s perfectly legitimate to have a time frame for improvement regardless of the cause.

        2. Kelly L.

          Well, the employee may not even know it yet. I’m not sure exactly how you’d go about asking him if he might want to get checked out–maybe it could go in the same conversation where you say “clear thinking is important” etc.

          1. LBK

            You really can’t. I believe the ADA actually prevents you from asking someone if they have a medical condition, which I assume includes undiagnosed conditions.

          2. Judy

            Sometimes people know things are happening, but don’t realize how bad. One of my uncles reported to his doctor that he was having tiny blackouts “a couple of times per day”. He was told to make tic marks on a paper when it happened. When he came home from work with 45 tic marks on his paper, my aunt called the doctor, and he was admitted to the hospital that night, ended up getting several stents placed the next day. (My aunt hadn’t even heard him talk about having the blackouts before.)

            1. fposte

              Sure, but that’s not the workplace’s job to solve, or even to accommodate. Especially if it were an employee whose work had previously been good, I could see making a glancing reference to checking yourself out medically, because that’s always worth considering, but I’m not a detective trying to find out why here. And why doesn’t always really matter–it’s whether it can be different or not.

              1. HM in Atlanta

                You should ask about accommodations, especially when the person has previously been an acceptable employee. A significant change in performance/attendance/behavior, is a triggering event for the interactive dialogue requirement under the ADA.

        3. Armchair Analyst

          This. It made me think it’s a bland excuse for stress on the homefront, or drug use, or something similar.

        4. NavyLT

          Really? The manager shouldn’t ask if there’s something going on that might be affecting the employee’s performance? I ask because I’ve had that conversation with two of my sailors over the past few months, and in both cases the answer was yes–which means that I can give them some time as appropriate to deal with the problem(s), with the expectation that when they’re at work, they focus on work. People don’t bring it up because they think they can just take care of it, but if you ask point-blank, you might get an answer that they wouldn’t have volunteered on their own.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            You can definitely say something like, “I’m noticing X. What do you think is going on?” (And it’s a good idea to do that before you start making assumptions yourself about what’s causing it. For all you know, the person is going to say their spouse is terminally ill or that they are — you want to ask questions first.) But you really shouldn’t be probing into possible medical stuff — just giving them the opportunity to safely bring it up.

            (That said, if you noticed someone’s brain appeared to be functioning differently than it used to, I think you could nicely suggest they talk to a doctor.)

            1. NavyLT

              Right, I’m not talking about making a pre-emptive armchair diagnosis, or asking about specific medical issues, but it seemed like people were saying that the manager should only be addressing the performance issues, and not ask if there was anything that might be causing them.

              1. LBK

                I think the point is to be EXTREMELY careful how you word it. “What do you think is going on?” sounds like a good way to me, because you could easily answer with a professional or personal reason. “Is there anything going on that might be causing this?” implies a more personal answer, at least to my ear. It sounds more like you’re asking if there’s family trouble, stress at home, medical issues, etc. which are not really appropriate to ask about.

        5. Jamie

          This. I thought the same thing, that perhaps there’s a medical or medication issue at play here, but it’s not up to the manager to float that out there (and in fact a very bad idea to do so.)

          It’s up to the employee to let the employer know if they have an issue going on for which they need accommodations and then to work with the employer to determine if there are reasonable accommodations which would allow them to do their job properly.

          Although this sounds like a well entrenched issue judging from the statements of people he’s worked with previously.

    2. Kelly L.

      I thought this too! I normally don’t like to jump to medical hypotheticals, but my every instinct is screaming “medical” on #2.

      1. Zillah

        Ditto. I mean, ultimately it doesn’t matter if he can’t do the job, but I definitely thought medical issue.

      2. MaggiePi

        Ditto. And he may not realize it. I have a medical condition and untreated it causes what my Dr called “brain fog,” so quite exactly not “clear thinking.” But a lot of the symptoms are really subtle and I probably had it for years before I knew it, and tons of other people probably have it right now and don’t know it.
        The dilemma then is, as others have mentioned, can the manager do anything to try to alert the employee to this kind of thing without violating ADA or other legal boundaries?
        Maybe calling him out and telling him the excuse is not okay and his performance needs to improve would be enough to push him to see a Dr if he’s been suspicious of symptoms but not wanting to go in. But unfortunately probably not.

    3. OP #2

      I don’t know, other than the calls from the former manager and colleagues. I guess I will have access to old personnel files once things are finalized.

  8. brightstar

    Regarding #1, if I had a candidate come in for an interview wearing a Halloween costume, I would question their professional judgement. When you’re an external candidate going in for an interview, you have only a few metrics to try to understand what kind of worker they would be and how they would fit into the culture. I wouldn’t think “Oh, that person is fun to wear a costume to their interview! I wonder if they’re into cosplay?” I would think they didn’t have the common sense to realize the purpose of a job interview.

    1. LBK

      Agreed. At the heart of it, the question is how does being “fun” make you a better candidate? And if you get a hiring manager who hires based on people who exhibit how much fun they are, do you want to work for that person? Personally, I’d rather work for a manager who hires people based on talent, responsibility, drive, professionalism, etc. Fun is about 19th or 20th on my list of desired traits in a coworker.

      1. brightstar

        Exactly. Plus, in certain office environments, “Fun” can be seen as a detriment because it raises the potential of not understanding that, at times, professionalism is more important than having a good time. Depending on the office culture, of course.

        1. JMW

          That’s the bottom line here, isn’t it? The person in the costume is making assumptions about your culture before even meeting you. Who wants to hire someone who lacks cultural judgment?

          1. LBK

            And who, in the absence of knowledge about the culture, errs on the side of being super informal? The general rule is to err on the side of being too conservative and then loosen up if you see the culture indicates it’s acceptable. For whatever reason, it’s easier to overcome appearing too formal in an casual environment than it is to overcome appearing too casual in a formal environment.

  9. Cautionary tail

    But a Halloween themed tie should be acceptable for gents. As long as it’s subtle it can be professional with a little bit of “I’m fun but don’t tell anybody” je ne sais quoi.

    1. Helka

      And similarly, Halloween jewelry (tasteful) for the ladies. I’ve got a pair of gold spiderweb earrings that make a nice touch.

    2. Zillah

      Agreed. There’s a difference between dressing up as Superman and wearing a themed tie or jewelry. The former is poor judgment, but I’d find the latter fun.

  10. C Average

    I admit I am one of the alleged grown-ups who loves Halloween and wears a costume to work every year. It’s usually something themed around my workplace. Back when I was working at Starbucks, I dressed as the mermaid (fully covered, though) one year, and last year I dressed as a character from an interactive game we had just released.

    I wouldn’t wear a costume to an external interview that happened to fall on Halloween, but internal? Well, as it happens, I *do* have an internal interview today, with someone I know well and who knows me well. My costume is relatively low-key (a rubber squirrel mask and a shirt that says “SQUIRREL!” along with my regular attire), and I will show up wearing it and then remove the mask for the actual interview.

    I don’t know why I like this holiday so much. I guess it just somehow aligns with all the kinds of good dumb fun I really enjoy, plus there’s candy. I usually spend weeks making costumes for my stepkids and husband and myself, and we always give out the best candy on the block.

    1. C Average

      It should be noted that the majority of people in my department also wear some kind of costume, so it’s at least likely that my interviewer will also be in costume. I hope he’s not also dressed as a squirrel. That would be so awkward.

      1. Lily in NYC

        LOL, I love your costume. Halloween is my favorite too but sadly, it would be the kiss of death to wear a costume where I work. I did decorate my very visible cube and people seem to love it.

      2. HigherEd Admin

        I hope he’s not also dressed as a squirrel. That would be so awkward.

        Thank you for giving me something to chuckle about all morning!

    2. Kelly L.

      I wore a costume to work on Halloween the year I worked at a public library. We had a large kid clientele, so a lot of us did. I went as Princess Fiona–I wore a headband of the ears and this green medieval-y dress I’ve had for ages. I do love Halloween.

    3. brightstar

      I once worked at a law firm where it was an unwritten requirement you decorate your space for Halloween and dress up in costume. That year I went as a hipster zombie because it allowed me to wear jeans (this was a place with no casual Friday) and I could just add some makeup and fake blood.

      1. WanderingAnon

        I used to work at a financial company that had some pretty crazy Halloween goings-on. Not everyone wore a costume but everyone went to the pre-Halloween Friday afternoon party. Before the party parents would bring in their kids to go trick-or-treating from cube-to-cube showing off costumes. The kids always had great costumes. The adults ran the gamut from fun (one year all the women dressed up in formalwear with costume jewelry and gloves) to trendy (Lady Gaga, though sadly not the meat dress) to damn inappropriate (a terrorist with “dynamite” strapped to his chest, a pregnant trailer trash zombie with a t-shirt that said ‘Who’s the daddy?’).

        My current workplace, in higher ed, is hit or miss. It’s okay to dress up but most people don’t. I was dared by a coworker to come in dressed up – if I did, this person would buy me lunch. (I’m a purple minion this year with a huge crazy wig, but fully covered with overalls, boots and long-sleeved purple shirt.) So who’s got two purple thumbs and free lunch? Me!

        But would I wear a costume to a job interview? Heck no – that would require an extensive knowledge of the culture that’s really hard to have as an outsider to a company.

    4. Cath in Canada

      I’m the first one in to the office this morning. I’m currently wearing a nice t-shirt and cardigan, but depending on who else shows up in costume, the cardigan may or may not end up being replaced by the Princess Leia hoodie I’ve stashed under my desk.

      1. ThursdaysGeek

        I’m a Slitheen, but that is just a zipper on my forehead (that I can easily remove) and some fart putty. I could do it with just the fart putty, too.

    5. Bea W

      My current workplace is not a costume culture, but my last couple were, and I always enjoyed it even if I didn’t dress up myself. One employer actually had a party and costume contest. It’s nice to break up the stress of business and relax on occasion.

    6. catsAreCool

      That sounds fun. I also like the dressing up. I don’t usually do a lot for it – I have a couple of costumes that I use, and I’ve been thinking about making a new one (aquarium costume made of thick white paper with fish drawings on it), but it’s fun being silly for one day.

  11. TotesMaGoats

    #1-No, just no. Fall colors. Sure. Or a pin or tie that isn’t garish. I’ll give you those but a costume?
    #2-How to address these problems? “Not thinking clearly isn’t acceptable.” These are your performance expectations. We all have bad days but you use the excuse frequently. If it’s truly a healthy issue, see your doctor. Otherwise, here are my expectations regarding your performance.
    #3-If the truth is that you don’t remember much of anything then that’s what you say. Balking at saying you don’t remember anything seems unnecessarily uncooperative.
    #4-This just strikes me as strange. I’m not sure what I’d think if I saw this on someone’s profile. A little too much like bragging and could probably be better spun as an accomplishment for your resume/cover letter.
    #5-Don’t. I just had an intern run her cover letter by me and it had bullet points. I think it was just so it looked longer. A narrative approach will better tell your story. It was so visually unappealing.

  12. Ashley

    As I commented above, I work in HR for a Halloween retailer and I am conducting an interview today for a buying position.

    And now I’m actually a little worried my candidate will show up in a interview.

    1. Ashley

      UPDATE:

      No costume. Tasteful, trendy, black suit and small spider earrings. Adorable, not distracting, and appropriate.

  13. HR Manager

    #1 – Yikes, unless you’re interviewing to be an entertainer , I can’t imagine when that is ever appropriate. If you want to show off some personality, wear an orange tie or something discreet (e.g., a Jack O’Lantern lapel pin) and still tasteful.

    #2 – This is so common for problem employees to offer amorphous excuses. In building a performance plan and setting expectations, it’s important not to fall into that trap. You should have clear expected behaviors. If he’s “not thinking clearly”, what behaviors would you expect someone who is thinking clearly to exhibit? Describe those behaviors and be explicit. For example, I expect you to ask clarifying questions when there is confusion. When you encounter a problem, I expect you to bring a proposed solution to me so we can discuss and assess (this can demonstrate if employee is thinking through the problem correctly). These are all observable behaviors that should be fair game in a plan.

    #3 – Please do help, and Alison’s answer is spot on. Nothing is more frustrating when trying to resolve a contentious relationship between employees and no one is willing to share what they’ve seen or heard. A good HR person will not ask you to take sides – just tell me what you saw. In these situations, other employees get drawn into an increasingly tense environment that is unpleasant for everyone. If you want to fix this, help HR to find a solution!

    1. hildi

      re: #2 – this is exactly what I was coming here to say. Agree so much with telling him the behaviors that you expect in terms of thinking clearly.

      So I think you absolutely can tell him that you expect him to be clearly thinking when he’s working on X task. And then you define it. “And what I mean by ‘clearly thinking’ is that……. {insert whatever behavior he’s not doing when he says he wasn’t clearly thinking}” What does clear thinking mean to you? That he remembers details? That his emails are coherent and readable? And so on. Because everyone defines “clearly thinking’ differently, I’d even ask him what he meant. How was he not thinking clearly? Was he overwhelmed with tasks? Was he distracted by something that happened at home? Was he not feeling well that day? It sounds like the guy has an overall pattern of shucking responsibility, but you might found out some useful information if you get into a conversation about it.

      HR Manager said it way more succinctly than I did. :)

    2. Purr purr purr

      I totally agree with your answer to #3! Also, as someone who has complained to HR and named colleagues (who I also considered to be friends) as witnesses, I was extremely disappointed to find that they had told HR they didn’t know anything, even though they were there at the time listening intently. I can understand not wanting to get involved but it generated resentment from me that they had lied and effectively protected the person I was complaining about (for bullying, starting rumours, gossiping and being extremely rude (like saying I was a prostitute)) and later their decision came back to bite them on the butt when the person I complained about caused them issues too. The best thing anyone can do is in this situation is to just tell the truth to HR! Anything else is being dishonest and may end up protecting the wrong person.

  14. Illini02

    While I wouldn’t do it myself (too many questions not just about the office culture, but the opinion of the hiring manager), if I was interviewing and someone came in dressed in costume, I wouldn’t hold it against them either. If they are the best person for the job, what do I care what they wear to an interview? I mean, of course there are matters of taste that come into it. But if they came dressed as Buzz Lightyear or something, I would at least think they were fun to have around. To be clear, thats not enough to make me hire them, but if the are good in every other way, I’d be perfectly fine with it.

    1. Us, Too

      I actually wouldn’t hire someone unless they were absolutely STELLAR in every other way and I couldn’t find a candidate who came anywhere close.

      Professional judgment is really important to me and wearing a costume to a job interview typically exemplifies a lack of that.

      And I say that as someone who works for a company at which Halloween is a HUGE big deal. We have contests, there is a huge party at the end of the day, etc.

    2. Jamie

      If they are the best person for the job, what do I care what they wear to an interview?

      Out of curiosity would you take the same stance if someone came in yoga pants and a sweatshirt? Dressing appropriately for an interview is pretty universal and part of that is showing professional judgement. My skills are what they are whether I’m in jammies or a suit, but I’d certainly expect to get on the do not hire list if I came for an interview not dressed appropriately.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Now is the time for me to admit that I did once hire someone who showed up in a rumpled (possibly stained?) sweatshirt and jeans. It was for an I.T.-ish position and he was awesome. But he had to be that much more awesome to get the offer because I was wondering what was up with the outfit. He did end up being every bit as awesome as I’d hoped though, and more.

        (Later on I asked him about the outfit choice and he kind of shrugged and said, “eh, I’d just gotten off a plane and wanted to be comfortable.” Few people could have pulled this off, but he was great enough that he did.)

        1. Bea W

          Judging by the dress of some of the IT folks in a couple places I’ve worked, he may have thought that was okay. At least you couldn’t see his ripped tighty whities when he turned his back to you.

        2. Mister Pickle

          I confess I’ve played this card many times myself. If you’re in the software biz and you’re good at it, you can get away with a lot.

          I apologize if this sounds like a brag

      2. illini02

        Yep, I would. I know everyone doesn’t share that sentiment, which is why I wouldn’t do it myself. However to me, it really doesn’t take anything away from what they can do. I could see worrying if it was a client facing role, but my office basically wears what we want to work anyway, so it wouldn’t really be terrible in my opinion if they came in wearing whatever (again, within reason). I think the only time I would really care if it was a shirt with bigoted language or something.

      3. Purr purr purr

        I went into a job interview dressed in muddy hiking boots, muddy jeans and a fleece I’d spilled some soup down. I got the job. :) To be fair, they knew I was out hiking when they called me to say they wanted to interview me in an hour’s time and I knew that they must have wanted me badly because I only submitted my resume that morning.

  15. Haleyca

    I just received a text with photos of a friend of mine on his way to work (at a huge tech company that you’ve heard of) dressed in full scaley make-up and a wig to be a merman. He loves Halloween and dressing up so I’m glad he works somewhere where he can do that.

    But to an interview, never.

    1. HR Manager

      We had a bunch of people dress up yesterday (party was on the 30th) and it’s always fun to see the management get into it. Not throwing one something simple but going all out! It was very eye-opening for our new hires too to see their bosses in full costume.

  16. A.

    #1 Wearing a costume to work is completely fine if the culture of your workplace permits it. Wearing a costume to a job interview is not okay–at least not to me. I’d worry about the interviewer(s) being distracted or not taking me seriously.

  17. KellyK

    #1: I second the “Nooooooo!” Maybe, maybe adding subtle Halloween accessories to normal interview attire might be okay. (I’m thinking little pumpkin or black cat earrings.) But I wouldn’t necessarily even do that unless it was someplace that was either fairly low-key about dress or that I knew was big on celebrating holidays.

  18. Interviewing in Costume

    #1 was me yesterday! Sort of. Because I wasn’t sure if I’d come in or work from home today, I showed up yesterday in a bright yellow vintage (70’s) Hawaiian print shirt. It’s truly ridiculous looking and the fit is a little off. I wanted to be festive for the holiday and I got a lot of compliments.

    By coincidence, the manager of another department contacted me and if I had time to meet that afternoon. He ended up tentatively offering me a transfer and we talked about the job and my qualifications while I was wearing that shirt. I felt really silly, but hey, it was (almost) a holiday.

    1. Armchair Analyst

      I taught preschool and it was pajama day. So I wore pajamas. I actually went out later that day. It is amazing how normally people treat you even when you’re dressed like a crazy person.

      1. Bea W

        My 5 year old nephew tricked his mother into sending him to school in his pajamas by telling her it was pajama day. She didn’t find out she’d been tricked until she went to pick him up, and no one else was wearing pajamas.

        If you live anyplace where there are a lot of college students, it’s not that weird to see adults in pajamas at the store.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          My husband and I argue over this all the time. I think it’s totally fine to wear pajama pants to run to the store. He is aghast at the idea. But slowly, over time, I am converting him. I got him to run to 7-11 in sweatpants the other day, which normally would have been unacceptable for him.

          1. Chinook

            The only time I have ever allowed myself to run otu of public in pjamas (and walking the dog around the parking lot isn’t “public”) is when I was sick and it 11 at night and I felt super weird about it. I actually felt like I needed to sound sick so everyone woudl understand that this is not how I normally dress.

            But, then again, I also wear a dress when I fly on a plain because wearing jeans or sweats just seems wrong.

          2. Jamie

            We have that same argument – and it is totally fine to wear pajama pants to run to the store and they are clearly on the wrong side of the issue on this.

            It’s not like we’re Lisa Douglas running out for cat food wearing a peignoir set and matching high heeled slippers (although that would be pretty fabulous.)

          3. Purr purr purr

            As a student, I used to run over to the coffee house right outside my front door whilst wearing my pyjamas. Totally normal student behaviour though! ;)

  19. INTP

    #1: We once had a job interview scheduled for the Halloween Party day. The guy was interviewed by Steve Jobs (the COO) and the CTO in a full Scooby Doo costume. I thought that was hilarious.

    (I totally agree that the interviewee, however, should not wear a costume.)

    1. Bea W

      #1 I’m very laid back in the office, and wearing a halloween costume to a job interview would make even me question a candidate’s judgement. Interviewers wearing costumes however, is hilarious and that goes double if it’s a high level exec. Seeing how the interviewee handles that could actually give you some insight into how they handle the unexpected or potentially uncomfortable situation or how well they would fit into a culture where the COO and CTO come to work and think nothing of interviewing someone while dressed as Scooby Doo.

    2. Turanga Leela

      Didn’t someone else on AAM have a story about an interview where the interviewer was in costume? For some reason I’m thinking the interviewer was a bee.

  20. loxthebox

    That could be an interesting interview tactic for those that are trying to throw off the interviewees – interview them wearing a giant banana costume. In July.

  21. Lisa

    #4 – What I usually do after a good review is to request my supervisor to recommend me on Linkedin. Any good stuff in your review may end up copied and pasted on linked by your manager. This only works immediately after a good review though. Can’t wait 6 months to request one or specify copying / pasting from the review. But, if you time your linkedin recommendation request, chances are they will use what they said in your review.

    1. ac

      That is definitely a know-your-business/company point, though. In my field, I think a supervisor would take that request to mean that you are looking for a new job!

  22. Shortie

    On # 2, it sounds like the concerns are valid since two other people reached out to warn the OP about the employee; however, it did get me thinking about personality differences. I am probably incorrectly applying my own experience to this situation, but my boss has a habit of calling me up to surprise me with questions even though he knows that I am extremely introverted (not shy!) and do not respond well on the spot…even when I’m intimately familiar with a topic or project. Of course I should continue working on my ability to respond on the spot (this is a major focus of mine, so not something I’m ignoring), but this is also part of my personality. My boss would get much clearer, more satisfying answers if he would give me some time to pull my thoughts together. As it stands now, he probably believes that I don’t think clearly. And, embarrassingly, I have probably used that phrase to describe myself although it couldn’t be further from the truth. I think clearly, just not when put on the spot.

    1. Jamie

      I had the same issue and I stole this technique from a boss and it’s changed my worklife…

      Don’t focus on getting better at extemporaneous answers…get comfortable with either A) letting them know you can get them the info at X time (and doing so) or (if A isn’t possible and with some bosses it isn’t) letting someone know you need to look it up and do so without worrying that you should have known without looking it up*, you should be chatty or otherwise engaging them as you look it up**, or that you should have anticipated their need for this information so they didn’t have to bother you for it now.***

      *You can’t have every fact loaded in working memory ready to fire, not humanly possible and if you tried you wouldn’t be able to focus on doing your job.
      **This will prolong the time it takes to look it up and if they didn’t want to quietly hold or wait while you do so then they could have sent an email or given you some time to get them the information. If not possible because it’s urgent then they’ll appreciate you focusing on helping them rather than filling the silence.
      ***If you were omniscient you wouldn’t need a job – you’d go buy all the winning lotto tickets and be a billionaire sitting at home on your couch wearing yoga pants and nursing a coconut milkshake while watching TV. (my visions of the life of a billionaire are pretty tame.)

    2. Vancouver Reader

      I had that same problem; I had a supervisor who’d ask me about something and I’d say to the best of my knowledge… and she would respond, but you don’t remember exactly? No, I don’t and I’m sure she didn’t either because not all of us have eidetic memories.

    3. catsAreCool

      When I joined Toastmasters, I didn’t expect it to help with extemporaneous answers, but it has what we call Table Topics, where you get a random topic and then spend a minute or two talking about it. (You can veer off topic or make things up in this, which does help.)

      It really helped the last time I had an interview. I’ve gotten much better and stopping, taking a deep breath, and then talking.

  23. Stryker

    #5: I actually did this with a successful cover letter once. I had intro & concluding paragraphs where I talk about why I wanted to work for that organization specifically, showed off my writing chops, that sort of thing. But the middle portion was three or four bullets where I tackled what I thought were the job position’s top requirements and how I filled that.

    I got the job offer, so it can work, but it’s not something I’d do again now.

    1. Shortie

      I’ve done the same thing twice; both times it was successful. My hope was that even if the HR screener or hiring manager didn’t read cover letters (some don’t) or didn’t read them thoroughly, those bullets would jump out. The second time I did it, I was applying for a position in my own company and KNEW they wouldn’t read everything thoroughly because they think they know me. (Your mileage may vary on that one…I just knew the company and the people involved.)

  24. Dmented Kitty

    My current office doesn’t make a big deal with Halloween. Everyone wore some shade of orange (e.g. socks, since it’s casual Friday – sneakers with some orange). I’m just wearing all-black sweater dress and black boots, with a tiny goth cross necklace. I contemplated wearing my cloak since it’s cold out, but thought it would be too weird for people to see a hooded figure walking across the parking lot.

    ExJob had employees’ kids at a certain time trick-or-treating, but that was OK since the office had day care in the same building.

    For an interview, I somewhat agree that I wouldn’t judge a person with what he wears — for all I know certain personal circumstances may have been a factor why he/she’s not professionally dressed. And I would not want to lose a potentially good candidate just because he wasn’t in formal attire. However, in that case the candidate MUST actually be STELLAR in his resume. Given that, I probably would still take points off if the costume they were wearing is quite distracting for an interview. Imagine talking to someone in full Darth Vader costume, or slave Princess Leia.

    But I would rather err on the side of caution. Either dress subtly for an interview on Halloween, or just dress for an interview.

    1. Dmented Kitty

      Also, if you happen to not be able to afford a suit for an interview, at least dress in the most presentable way possible.

  25. Sunny

    #5 I know that you think you are making it easier for the interviewer, but do you really want a manager that is that lazy?

    I had this happen, got hired and my manager didn’t even know that I hadn’t been in a professional position before! He was too lazy to read the entire resume, or pay attention during the interview.

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