I don’t have any work to do at my new job, awful resume feedback, and more

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

1. I don’t have any work to do at my new job

I am a recent graduate who has just started my first job. When I started on my first day, the company gave me a bunch of self-study materials and a self-training schedule for a month that I must adhere to (which I happily obliged).

But now a month has passed, I have finished all of the self-study materials, and I still have not been given any task to do. I have asked my supervisor about this 3 times (through internal messaging software, email and verbally), but the answer is kinda vague (“I need to find simple tasks for you first” or “study this first for now”). What should I do? Any advice on this? I don’t want to be too pushy, but I don’t want to be seen as ‘that lazy new employee’ either.

I have tried googling about this particular problem, but most of the answers seems to be directed to experienced people (“make a proposal on how you could improve projects that you have worked on”).

Well, first, stop trying to address this over I.M. Instant messaging is for quick, time-sensitive, not super important things; this requires an actual, substantive conversation. Email your boss and say this: “Now that I’m done with my month of self-study, I’m eager to get started! Could we set up a time to meet in the next few days to talk about how you’d like me to be spending my time now?” If the problem continues after that, then say this: “I’m really eager to get to work. How would you like me spending my time over the next week? (Or, if it would be easier on you, I’d be glad to see if I can help Jane or Fergus until you have time to get me started — just let me know if you’d rather I do that.)”

If there are other people in your office who are at your level or just above it, you might also ask them if they have advice for how to handle this stage of things. They might have some insight into how long it usually takes your manager to get her act together with new employees, or about why it’s taking her a while in this case (for example, if she’s preoccupied with, say, an upcoming board meeting for the next two weeks, that could be useful to know).

2. What’s up with this awful resume feedback?

I’ve applied to a few places through online websites and received an email from one site explaining that they offer free “critiques” of resumes to assist in their site users’ success. I didn’t even realize that it wasn’t one of the sites that I submitted my resume to but didn’t care because it was at no cost or effort to me, and nobody’s resume is perfect so bring on the critique, I love getting better through advice. But after reading their elaborate assessment of my resume, I was left confused because everything she was saying went against everything that I had been taught by active hiring professionals. She even mentioned that my document file size was way too small at 17k and therefore I have more room to format. That was a first for me; it’s either .pdf or .doc.

But she offered an email link to contact her with questions so I did and got no response. Just to be sure, I did some research and read your “10 Things Leave off Your Resume” and most of your items matched hers — except they were the opposite. Even I know not to waste space with objectives or bios outside of a cover letter. Then I noticed the big bold package prices for their resume service that they offer and it clicked. My question is, and I’ve attached my resume just so that you can see what she saw. Are my suspicions accurate that this company intentionally rips resumes apart and gives harmful advice to obtain business like a shady mechanic, or was she giving honest, accurate advice?

I doubt this company is doing this to deliberately harm people since I don’t know what would be in it for them — I think it’s rather than they just suck. And they do. I read the critique you forwarded to me and it’s ridiculous. I can promise you no hiring manager in the world cares that your resume file size is “too small.” They might care if it were several gigabytes, but “too small” isn’t something that’s even going to register. This person/company is shady and incompetent. Avoid.

3. I was called for a second interview but the job was reposted meanwhile

I interviewed for a position where I will be the manager of the same type of department I currently work in. I was interviewed by 2 department heads and the administrator. I was called the very next day for a second interview by the company administrator, but in the past 6 days, we have been playing email tag about scheduling it. I was told this was because they were trying to set up a time in which more of his colleagues could attend. This afternoon, which is a Monday, I confirmed it for Thursday at 5pm. However, I was told that there was a department meeting at that time he had forgotten about and he gave me 2 other times. However, the exact same job has been re-posted twice since my interview. In fact, it was re-posted about the same time my interview was cancelled and the offer of re-scheduling was made. I am really starting to feel strung along. Why would a company be scheduling second interviews while still apparently seeking out more candidates?

Many companies keep job listings active until they’ve made a hire. It’s actually the smart thing to do, because they have no way of knowing if their current crop of candidates will lead to a successful hire or not — they might end up not wanting to hire anyone from the current group, or the person they want to hire might turn down their offer. It’s smart to keep candidates coming in until they know they have a certain hire.

4. Interview handshakes when you’ve got arthritis

I’ve got really awful arthritis and I don’t like to call attention to it, especially in interview settings. I write for a living – I don’t want people to think I can’t type! I physically can shake hands, but I can’t *not* wince when someone squeezes powerfully. Is there a tactful way to ask for a wimpier handshake (or turn one down completely) in a professional setting without being too weird?

Just be direct before anyone has a chance to grab your hand, like you might if you were declining a handshake because you had a cold. For instance: “Excuse me for not shaking hands — I’m dealing with a minor issue in my hand right now.” (Or “I’m having some minor pain in my hand right now — nothing too serious, but gets in the way of me shaking hands.”) Say it confidently and it’ll go over fine.

5. What happened after this phone interview?

Recently I discovered that a company had an opening in my weird niche field in a location that I love. I applied, and a friend at who has contacts here (the company is a client of his company) called and put in a good word for me, but warned me that I may be overqualified / too expensive for the position.

About a week later, the HR department called me for what was supposed to be a 30-minute interview, but was actually only 10 minutes. The HR person started off with a question about why I wanted to leave my current job. I responded that I would like to work with a different flavor of teapots and that my current location was hard on my marriage because my wife has very limited career opportunities in our current location. I also mentioned that my company had been very good to me and I would not leave lightly, but if the fit were right and it would help my personal situation, then I would move.

HR asked about my current salary and benefits, and I gave approximate numbers, following up later that day with an email outlining the specifics. In the phone interview, I was very (too?) candid and mentioned that medical benefits were of particular interest because of a past condition that was in remission and likely (but not necessarily) cured. After the phone interview, HR sent me an email thanking me for the interview, attached their benefit summary, and told me that they would be in touch in the next two or three days to schedule an interview with the hiring manager.

I had a question about their medical benefits and called HR the next day and left a message (no details, just a request for a call). I also sent an email ( also no details, just a request for a call). No response. 16 days pass. Still nothing, so I sent a follow-up email: “Hi, (name), I’ve not received any communications from Company since you and I spoke. I wanted to follow up and make sure nothing got lost in the ether. Thanks! (my name, phone number).” Still no response. That was two and half weeks ago.

What’s going on? Did my friend say something that I’m not aware of? Did I commit some gaffe that I’m not seeing? Is the company just terribly unprofessional? My weird niche field is very small, and I’ll likely have to interact with the folks involved again. Yet, I’m curious (and let’s admit it, indignant) about the complete lack of response after having received such a positive, initial interest. What, if anything, should I do?

Well, it could just be that they’re moving forward with different candidates and don’t think you’re as strong as those. It’s really common for companies not to bother to update candidates when that happens — rude, but common. Or it could be that you’re still under consideration but the hiring for this position is taking a back seat to other priorities right now. It’s still rude for them not to get back to you to explain that, but again, very common.

But it’s also possible that you were too focused on benefits too early in the process. Rightly or wrongly, that can be a real turn-off for many employers, who prefer to save detailed discussions of benefits (especially nitty-gritty details of particular medical plans) for once you have an offer.

Regardless of the reason — and you’ll probably never know which it was — they did owe you an answer about your candidacy. But there’s a good chance you won’t get one — that’s just the way some companies do things. I’d write it off, move on, and let it be a pleasant surprise if they do contact you at some point.

{ 248 comments… read them below }

  1. Leigh*

    Thanks for answering the question about arthritis. This issue just cropped up for me yesterday, albeit in a volunteer setting rather than a professional one. I am only 33, but I have early-onset arthritis, and someone shook my hand so hard yesterday that I thought I was going to cry. I’m also a writer who types a zillion words per day, so the OP and I are somewhat kindred spirits.

    1. Soupspoon McGee*

      My sympathies! My arthritis started right before 30, so I have a lot of experience with wincing. Now that I’m older, I have no bones about telling someone their handshake was painful, but in my younger days, I’d hold a pen or put a band-aid on my hand as a signal not to squeeze. Unfortunately, the squeezers seem to be making some sort of power play, so they may not be deterred by cues–so if you’re unsure, it’s best to avoid shaking.

      1. PeculiarHR*

        To avoid the big squeeze, you could always go for the old two-handed politician handshake. You just have to be smooth about it and do it in a way that doesn’t come off cheesey.

    2. Former Professional Computer Geek*

      Yep. Me, too. Arthritis in my hands set in when I was about 30, same as my mother and her mother as well.

      I’ve learned to simply say, “Excuse me for not shaking hands – arthritis.” Arthritis is so common for people of any age that nobody has ever said a word about it.

    3. LBK*

      I don’t suffer from this myself but my one tip is that I’d practice saying your line about not shaking hands out loud several times beforehand so you can get comfortable saying it. Usually you’ll only have a split second to interject before someone tries to shake your hand, so you don’t want to flub up the wording and have it come off weirdly.

    4. C Average*

      This was helpful to me, too. I have eczema on my hands and, while it doesn’t hurt me to shake hands, sometimes I wonder if people are horrified by the way my hands look and feel. I’ll try this the next time I’m in a handshake situation.

      1. Allstonian*

        I have psoriasis on the backs of my hands and I worry about the same thing. I find myself over explaining sometimes (usually something about how I am not contagious.)

    5. louise*

      I’m embarrassed to say I’d never thought of this possibility when people have a weak handshake. Quite wrongly (I now see), I’ve been judging people on their handshakes. I have tiny child hands that I have made up for with a very strong shake, but going forward I will be more sensitive to the other person.

    6. Malissa*

      I have the same problem ans absolutley loathe handshakes. I had one salesman that loved to crush fingers. I Told him one day that him grip was too much and just didn’t offer my hand.

    7. jennie*

      I can’t wait until handshakes go out of fashion entirely. Between germs and the opportunity to cause pain, there’s really no benefit to keeping the tradition going.

    8. Vicki*

      I have a bad thumb. Unfortunately, it’s on my right hand. No problems typing but writing by hand is more difficult than it used to be.

      Some people have tendonitis.
      And then there are people who just like to Squeeeeze in a handshake (power play?).

      Be honest and upfront. And/or consider buying a hand “brace” at the drugstore (~ $20) and wear that to make it more obvious as you use Alison’s suggested wording.

  2. MsM*

    Yeah, LW #4, if I were the hiring manager in that scenario, I’d have been turned off by that much focus on what the company can do for you before we’d thoroughly established what you can do for the company. But even if you hadn’t emailed about the benefits, and while it is weird they told you they were going to schedule something and never followed up, I think you might have read too much interest into the phone interview to begin with. It was an initial screening, and not a particularly detailed one at that. Who knows, maybe they reached out more as a favor to your friend than anything else.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      I agree, at least in part. I think “Why are you considering leaving your current job?” does sort of call for an interviewee-focused answer, rather than a what-I-can-do-for-you kind of answer. But if I were a hiring manager asking that question, I’d like to hear more about why the job itself is appealing to you in addition to things like “I’d like to move to your city.”

      All in all, though, there’s no way to know. Maybe there was an internal candidate that the company’s going with. Maybe they looked at your current salary and decided they can’t afford you. Maybe they’re awful people and discriminating against you because of your health issues. Maybe your HR contact ran away to Bermuda with a barista and deleted all the email archives before leaving out of spite, and no one knows you ever existed. (Ok, doubtful.) All you can do is move on and be professional if/when you come across these folks again.

      1. Liz in a Library*

        I agree that I would have wanted to hear a more work-focused answer to why the OP was thinking of leaving. It’s important to point to the merits of a specific job, so that it doesn’t seem like you’re looking for just any job.

        I think Elizabeth is right though: not hearing from them could be because of any number of things, including things out of your control. For example, your friend mentioned you might be too expensive; maybe after your follow-up they realized you are. Good for both sides to know, but sometimes, frustratingly, employers just don’t communicate with candidates when they move on.

        1. Judy*

          But does the answer to “Why are you considering leaving your current job?” have anything to do with the new job? I guess you could say something about how the new job had more emphasis on X and that’s where you want your career to go.

          I would most likely answer this with something about how I’m happy in my current job, but our family really loves Hershey, PA, and when I discovered the opening, I was excited about the job in X, Y, and Z ways.

          It’s not bad to mention you like the area, but liking the area is the reason you were looking in the area, not the reason you applied for that job.

          1. Artemesia*

            I am going to be less thrilled with ‘we want to move here’ than ‘this job offers me the chance to develop my skills in lid design which is where I’d like to see my career develop’. I don’t want to hire someone just looking for a free move rather than someone excited about the job itself. Of course adding the desire to move to the city reinforces the idea that you are going to accept if there is an offer; one danger of distance interviews is that people are more likely to back out because they decide they don’t really want to move.

            Couple, ‘I see this as a free ride to this city’ with ‘tell me all about your medical insurance as I have a condition’ and you have telegraphed a message that is all about ‘what can I get’ rather than ‘what can I do.’ I would think the combo would turn off the interviewer.

      2. Kate M*

        Agree – and mentioning that your current situation is “hard on your marriage” really seems like TMI to me. If you had to say anything about location, I’d say that the opportunities in [new company’s area] are more aligned with your career goals or something. But honestly I’d leave the whole thing out, and say why you are interested in this particular job. And yeah, talking about benefits this early was a big misstep I think.

    2. MK*

      On top of that, the reasons the OP gave are sort of sources of external pressure? “I want to move to yoyr city” is different than “I think I should move somewhere my spouce has more career opportunities”. I mean, they might have given the impression that they applied mainly because of their possibly unhappy spouce and/or fear for their health; which might make a hiring manager fear they will regret leaving their well-paid job that they love, once they are hired.

    3. Brandy*

      To consider– the LW stated that his salary was likely too high. since the initial screen had a question (asked and answered) about salary, without (unless the LW didn’t include it) a caveat that he’d be negotiable on the salary given a good fit….they could have said “LW makes $X, this job won’t be paying any more than $X-Y- so he out of our range.”

    4. Michele*

      You are probably right. I understand that people are working to make money and that they need to get certain things out of a job, but it is really common to hear them give a personal reason for why they should be hired, and that doesn’t matter to me. They need to show what they can bring to the table, not “my family lives in the area” or something else.

      Last year, I interviewed a woman who had greatly exagerated her qualifications on her resume. Of course, we didn’t offer her the position, and she was informed of the decision. I got weekly emails from her saying that she really wanted to work here. She had been offered another job, but they wanted her to relocate, and she wanted to stay in the area. That was completely irrelevant and did nothing to address the issues of being extremely unqualified and lying on her resume. I ended up blocking her emails.

    5. LBK*

      I agree – I’m kind of surprised Alison’s response was so neutral. OP’s answers focused almost entirely on his personal life and how working there would be a benefit for him and his family. Add on top of that that he said he’s happy with his current job and would only leave it the exact right opportunity came along, and I’d walk out of that interview wondering why he even bothered to apply.

      1. sunny-dee*

        It doesn’t seem like a red flag to me at all. I recently interviewed a woman who had been at her job for almost 15 years, and I asked why she was leaving. I really wanted to know for *culture* reasons — I had other questions about her experiences, interest in the job, and professional stuff. But I wanted to know why she wanted to leave. And it was for the same reason as the OP — she wanted to move cross country to be closer to family and this was a job that fit a relatively niche skillset. That’s entirely reasonable to me; I liked that she had stability and loyalty for work and that the reason she was leaving was one that 1) wouldn’t negatively impact our culture and 2) wasn’t likely to change once she was in the job.

          1. Melissa*

            But that’s what sunny-dee asked and wanted to know – why do you want to leave?

            and I asked why she was leaving…I had other questions about her experiences, interest in the job, and professional stuff. But I wanted to know why she wanted to leave.

            1. Michele*

              That is why her answer is OK. However, if she is trying to explain why she is the best candidate for the job (and early screening interviews such as the initial LW had are just looking for reasons to eliminate people) then that is not an appropriate answer.

        1. LBK*

          It sounds like you used that in conjunction with a lot of other information about her qualifications. Obviously we don’t know all the content of the OP’s interview, but what we do know is really heavily focused on himself. And keep in mind this was a phone screen, not even a full interview, so there’s likely to be very limited information discussed.

    6. BananaPants*

      I probably wouldn’t have brought up the spouse’s career issues or anything at all about medical benefits. Especially in a first/phone interview it comes across as being about what the company would offer you rather than about how you can make a positive impact for them, and that can be a turn-off. I’d want to hear a more work-focused answer about why you want to leave your current position AND why you want to work for my company, not get hassled about details like benefits during what amounts to a phone screening. Get to the offer stage and then make a decision, don’t count your chickens while the eggs are still incubating!

      1. sunny-dee*

        I do agree that the focus on benefits is way out of proportion for the phase of the interview process.

      2. Melissa*

        To be fair to OP#3, though, she explicitly says that HR asked her about her current salary and benefits. So maybe OP went into too much detail, but HR/the interviewer was the one who prompted the question about it. They can’t mad if people ask about benefits when they’re the ones who bring it up (or rather, they can, but it’s silly.)

        1. MsM*

          Anyone who’s reached the “you might be overqualified for this role” stage of their career should really know that question translates to “are your expectations of what we can pay you reasonable?” and not “why don’t we get the negotiations out of the way now?”, though.

    7. ANB*

      Completely agree with this. The only other thing I would add was in OP’s initial voicemail and email, you didn’t mention any details about why you were calling. Recruiters are very busy, so if they know that you have a question that can easily be answered, they’d be more likely to respond with a quick answer. If they have no idea why you’re calling, it takes more time to contact you back, as they have no idea how long the phone call could take thus have to book more time for it. Also, because you didn’t leave details, they could have assumed you were calling back to ask about your candidacy, which could read as too eager to be asking about the next day.

    8. MM*

      I was going to say the same. Unfortunately, there was too much focus on what they can do for you instead of what you can do for them.

  3. Kala*


    I went through a multi-year wrist injury, and I still can’t handle a firm handshake. What I do is revolve my hand so that the top of the wrist is facing up, and take a gentle hold on their hand. It seems to instinctively cause recipients to give me a gentle shake instead of a firm one. I am female; I’m not sure if gender plays a role in this working.

        1. Pipette*

          I don’t know about arthritis, but I’m recovering from a wrist injury now, and was told to ditch the brace and use the hand as much as possible to encourage bloodflow and speed up healing. So of course I forget my hand is injured sometimes and start shaking hands as usual, only to abort mid-shake. Super awkward! But people are very understanding once you explain.

        2. Michele*

          That is what I was thinking. Or an Ace bandage or other support, even if it is just cosmetic. If people ask, you can give the “oh, it’s just a minor injury” answer or tell the truth.

    1. misspiggy*

      I have dodgy joints and do that too, instinctively – and squeeze very quickly and withdraw, so they know the squeezing part is done. Totally works, but I am female.

    2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      I have a health issue that makes tight hugs really painful, and if i cant speak quickly enough to prevent a hug, i fold one arm in front of my body, which makes the hug so awkward that the person can’t really squeeze.

      Also, there is nothing wrong with my hands but I once had a candidate shake my hand so hard that tears came to my eyes. My hand was throbbing during the entire interview and I didn’t hear a word he said. In retrospect, he was probably a strong candidate.

    3. Michele*

      I think that can usually work for women, but men would have a hard time making that work, and would likely be judged harshly for it. I have had men squeeze my hand so hard that it was all I could do to hold back a wince.

      1. Anon369*

        I hadn’t thought about health issues making handshakes difficult, and have judged people in the past for wimpy handshakes. I’ll be more cognizant of this going forward!

        1. Mimmy*

          It’s interesting how advice about body language doesn’t account for occasional physical limitations and differences. With the handshake, they always say “firm–not crushing, but not limp”. Not everyone can handle even a firm handshake.

        2. Windchime*

          I know someone else who judges people by whether or not they have a firm handshake, and that always seems confusing to me. Gripping and squeezing my hand so hard that it makes my hand throb for an hour isn’t somehow a sign that they have a strong character!

          I am fortunate to not have any painful hand conditions, but sometimes when men shake my hand it can really hurt, especially if I’m wearing a ring. No need to crush my hand, people!

          1. Michele*

            I know people like that. First of all, like Mimmy said, there is a difference between firm and crushing, but these people don’t understand that. Secondly, what is a feat of strength when you meet someone supposed to prove? Is this a subsitute for unzipping and measuring? Can we chose some other random physical act? I am a pretty good runner-let’s substitute a 5 mile run.

        3. Kala*

          Definitely. I know that my handshake comes across as weak/girly because of the way I compensate for my injury. I always make sure to make direct eye contact and warmly start saying whatever nicety is appropriate (thank you, pleasure to meet you, etc) while I’m reaching for their hand. Culturally, a firm handshake is a symbol of trustworthiness. Eye contact is as well, so if you make the spoken/visual part of the handshake interaction comfortable and confident, I think a weak grip triggers less prejudices.

      2. Emmy Rae*

        I have reception duties, and my company hires a lot of employees right out of college. I have endured some very painful handshakes, but my assumption is they are new at it and trying to do it right. I will sometimes say “ow!” out loud and hopefully save the next person’s hand.

    4. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

      I think this approach can backfire on you. I’m female and I’ve shaken hands with women who’ve done this to me and I’ve seen women offer their hands to men in this fashion and to me it says Scarlett O’Hara in the workplace. It’s as though she asked the interviewer to carry her bags for her or something and definitely gives me a poor impression of that person.

      On the other hand, if someone said to me “I’ve got arthritis / a hand injury /a cold / whatever” I’d barely notice, just not shake their hand and move on. The same could probably be accomplished by wearing some kind of non-functional brace or taping two fingers together if you want to non-verbally communicate the same information.

  4. Sherm*

    #2: My experience with a “free resume critique” was a person saying “No, no, no, this part is wrong” and “No, no, no, this part makes no sense.” How were those parts wrong and senseless? I’ll never know. That would have cost me.

      1. Jessica*

        Like shopping at the make-up counter! Geez, didn’t realize I was so HIDEOUS! :-)

        There is a big difference between critiquing and insulting, and I find a lot of these companies just have broad, unsubstantiated statements meant to make you second guess yourself, like the business version of negging. Stay away.

        1. Claire (Scotland)*

          That happens at makeup counters? Good grief! I’ve never encountered that, but maybe this is one of those things that are different between the US/UK? Or maybe I’ve just been lucky. I dropped by the Urban Decay counter (one of my favourite places!) on my way home earlier, just to browse, and ended up buying a lipstick because the staff there are so lovely and made me feel so good. I can’t imagine actually buying anything from a counter where I was made to feel bad!

          1. Hlyssande*

            Staff at makeup counters in department stores here in the US are often very pushy – similar to the mall kiosk people who get in your way to get your attention or physically grab you in some cases.

            1. Nashira*

              The perfume counters can be bad at some stores, too. That’s a big problem when you’re allergic to common perfume scents, like orange blossom. Thankfully, my parents taught me that breathing was more important than politeness… and how to dry swallow Benadryl.

              1. Kelly L.*

                Perfume-wise, the worst for me was always Hollister. The one at the mall in my previous town would actually pump perfume out into the corridor with a machine. I guess this was to entice you in, but it had the opposite effect on me, especially since they used that “clean water” note that always gives me a headache. The Bath and Body Works was right next door, and I actually avoided it sometimes so I wouldn’t have to pass the Hollister gauntlet.

                1. Natalie*

                  Ugh, I despise all “water” notes in fragrance. I don’t know smells they are made of, but none of them smell at all like water.

                2. Windchime*

                  I think I have a dysfunctional nose. Most perfume smells the same as bug spray to me, especially when they are spraying it around at the stores. I don’t mind sweet, light scents but the ones that are musky just smell like bug repellant to me.

              2. Cath in Canada*

                WHY, in an age where people are generally more aware of allergies and sensitivities than ever before, do so many department stores still make you walk through the perfume section to get to everything else?! I try to hold my breath and walk through as fast as possible, but sometimes there’s too much traffic to get all the way through and I end up having to use my asthma inhaler :(

                1. Artemesia*

                  Feel the same way. Either hold my breath or try to enter another way. The worst innovation ever in the history of the world was Ax body spray for men. It is bad enough when women use lots of perfume; to have men doing it as well is gross.

              3. Hlyssande*

                Yeah, really! I’ve seen multiple perfume counter people actually straight up spray people without their consent.

                Not only does that ruin whatever scents people might already have on, but it can trigger allergies and asthma instantly and is a gross violation of boundaries and rights when done without consent.

                I have a friend who could literally die from being sprayed with perfume if it gets her in the face and she breathes it in. She is allergic to alcohol in all forms and cannot use an epi-pen because it’s an alcohol solution. Either way it would trigger an ER visit.

                I have another friend who gets asthma attacks just walking through the perfume areas. I myself get migraines or nausea triggered by strong scents like many perfumes, coffee, and smoke.

                Perfume counters are the bane of my existence.

            2. Observer*

              It depends on the counter, though. The really good ones make you look good – and that’s how they get you to buy. I don’t remember the last time I got pushed. Yeah, sometimes they try to upsell, but it’s always been in reasonable boundaries.

          2. Tris Prior*

            Yes. It happens at hair salons also (at least to me, and once I started talking about it, discovered that many friends had dealt with it too). Because, you know, how else are we women going to want to buy products and services unless we believe that we’re all hideous trolls in need of fixing??

            1. Jessica*

              I had a laughably insulting hair stylist once. Super catty and mean and basically told me I had bland, awful hair. I gave her two or three tries, to see if she had an off day, but she was just rude. Quit going to her and started going to a guy in the same salon. I don’t give a crap if he is just saying this, but he tells me every time how beautiful my hair is and fawns over it like no other. THAT is how you make someone want to come back to you! He still provides critiques and I’m FAR more likely to actually listen to his suggestions because he doesn’t act like I’m a hideous Frankenbeast that needs every product under the sun. Same with make-up counter people… if you say something that is more insult than critique, I’m not buying from you. I don’t care if I want the product, I’m not getting it from you. And I’ll probably make a complaint about you too.

              To bring this into actual context with the resume services… they just want your business so badly that they will throw out whatever critiques they can, founded or not, to make you think that you *need* their help. That’s where critique turns to insult in my mind, when they aren’t really interested in providing valuable feedback at all.

              1. Artemesia*

                HOw weird. I have terrible hair. Babyfine, frizzes a bit in humidity, doesn’t hold a style. Awful. Every hair dresser I have ever had has said nice things about it. I have let it go grey now that I am retired. Every hairdresser I have had since raves about its beautiful color. They know where their tip is coming from.

              2. mutt*

                I got a lopsided haircut from someone who had great reviews. She was very condescending the whole time, borderline rude. The last straw was when she looked directly at me and said “now what do you want to do about this mousy-brown hair?” First and last time I ever went there. Can’t imagine what she was like with her returning customers – I was brand new and she was awful to me.

            2. INTP*

              I had a hairstylist literally LAUGH when I told her what brand of shampoo I used. And it was the same price range and marketing gimmick as the one her salon sold, but she acted like it was the most ridiculous shampoo to use.

              I have a personal rule. If you hard-sell me on something, I don’t tip. IMO you can be a customer service/tips person or you can be a sales/commission person, but not both. I don’t have to tip you for insulting me and pressuring me into buying crap.

        2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          When I was 12 a woman at a makeup counter told me I had really small eyes. I was self conscious through most of my teenage years until I started dating….and hearing what big eyes I have.

          1. Kelly L.*

            I can’t remember if I’ve told this story here before. I know I’ve told it elsewhere. I was 15, zitty as most teenagers are, and browsing in a mall department store. I passed the makeup counters and this lady bursts out and SHOUTS at me, “I have just the thing for your blemish problem!”

            Because a 15yo could afford her stuff anyway, and because all awkward teenagers just love having their cosmetic flaws broadcast to the whole store.

        3. Whippers*

          Or going to a new hairdresser and them making comments like “Who cut your hair before?” and shaking their heads disbelievingly. One hairdresser actually asked me if I had cut my hair myself…..

          1. Mephyle*

            I hate it worse when dentists do that. I mean, everybody knows their own hair, but I have to trust my new dentist when he says that my fillings are outdated and need to be replaced.

              1. Bea W*

                That is such a bizarre comment from a dentist. As far as I know this is not a thing. I would be looking for another dentist!

    1. OriginalEmma*

      My experience with a “free resume critique” was a person saying “No, no, no, this part is wrong” and “No, no, no, this part makes no sense.”

      Was this person Jim Trott and did you live in Dibley at the time?

    2. INTP*

      Sounds like they’re using the standard “negging” technique. Make a potential customer feel insecure so they feel like they really must need your help. I disagree with Alison that they aren’t doing it on purpose – sounds like they are, but not to hurt people per se, just to make sales.

      It’s the same thing as when your hairstylist says “This shampoo will be better for your coarse hair than any drugstore shampoo” or a cosmetics counter sales person says, “This concealer will be perfect for your under eye bags.”

  5. Miso*

    OP#1: I have been (well, still in…) this situation! I second Alison’s advice and also want to add that if it takes somewhat long for your supervisor to get you started, use that free time to learn as much as you possibly can about the ins and out of the company, other people’s work, other organizations connected with your company, etc. Reorganize your desk/space, take important notes, be as self-sufficient as possible. It may just be that your supervisor is very busy and needs a bit more time to prepare. Hang in there! Hope you are able to get properly started soon.

    1. Zara*

      I’ve been there too, and there’s no longer workday then a workday with nothing to do. Great advice! And also, when you learn stuff about the industry you’re in, developments at competitors et cetera; share it with your coworkers and manager. Even if it’s just to show them what you’re doing all day. Email articles, things like that. You can start your emails with a subtle not-a-know-it-all-disclaimer, like “Changes are you all already know this, but I found it so interesting I wanted to share”.

      1. ism*

        I would caution against emailing them articles and things like that, especially if they’re too busy to train you further. They might see it as annoying and scramble to find some unpleasant busy work just to get you out of their hair. And they might not need to know you’re reading internet sites and newspapers during work hours, especially if there’s a policy. However, chatting about an article you read outside of work hours, with coworkers and supervisors who have a minute to small talk, would be good. Work in how you see it applying to your role or their role and the company goals. Basically schmooze – just don’t email them news articles unless it’s a very specific kind of workplace where this is common and appreciated (journalism etc).

        1. MsM*

          Wow, I really disagree with this. In fact, I’m curious where you work that sending around a link with a “hey, saw this, thought it might be relevant to X; should we talk more?” note is so strongly discouraged.

          1. Marcy*

            If I am so busy I can’t get a new employee up and running on time, I am too busy to read their emails about articles I am also too busy to read. This would annoy me.

      2. AnotherFed*

        Status emails summarizing what you’ve been doing = good. Sending internet articles to a supervisor who doesn’t have the breathing room to get tasking appropriate for your level broken out for you to do is really not. If you were doing that to me, I would be so irritated that I would probably start filtering your emails (even just mentally) as Not Important/Can Wait.

        You can try asking for tasking from some of your coworkers, and include what you’re doing and learning in your status emails. Just make sure you clearly explain that you’re picking up work because you don’t have any major tasks and are ready help your actual supervisor however you can.

    2. Anon for this*

      I’ve been where you are, too. I realized that I would need to reach out to my peers for my on the job training, maybe this doesn’t apply in your situation.

      1. Michele*

        That is just what I was going to suggest. Find someone who will show the ropes, but make sure the manager understands that you still need an assignment.

    3. Sadsack*

      Would it be ok for the OP to ask the manager if she can just ask some of her coworkers if she can assist them with anything until the manager has a plan? I would hate just sitting there organizing my paperclips, waiting for the manager to actually give me work. I think there must at least be filing or other type of tasks that the new person can do without the need for a lot of instruction.

    4. kozinskey*

      I started my current job as a recent grad, and it was definitely slow to get going. It drove me nuts for a while, but I eventually found a number of professional resources to read through / watch during the down time. I think all the extra time was beneficial in the end, because when I did have things to do, I had plenty of time to do them exactly right and that helped make a good impression. Also, I eventually just had to get comfortable with going to people in person and asking them for work, even though it felt like I was pestering them at first.

      1. kozinskey*

        Oh, and another thing I did was I picked a specific area where I wanted more experience, and asked my manager to help me get experience in that area. He found someone in another department I could shadow for a while, which did help me feel more comfortable in that area and also helped me make friends in the office. It might not always be possible depending on what you’re doing, but I’m really glad it worked out for me.

    5. Jennifer*

      Hah, I went through that with starting my current job, they were really oddly slow about starting the training process. Eventually they got on the stick…it didn’t help that I started during a “busy cycle” too and I guess nobody really had time to train me. I actually went on a vacation (not that this is an option for you, I just transferred rather than started a new job) at one point because my boss was going to be gone then and nothing was going to get done so I might as well.

    6. Ife*

      This letter was super timely for me, as I’ve been in the same situation for 2 months. I mean, I gleefully accepted a meeting about our health insurance discount just to pass the time! My manager has said multiple times “you will be bored for the first few months,” and reiterates that when I bring it up or ask what to do. I’ve been afraid to push it too hard.

      After reading all the comments and suggestions I decided to ask the person who’s been intermittently training me if I could just hang out with him for a couple hours and observe his work/processes. He’s pretty busy (as I observed today!), and I think he assumed that I had other projects to work on, so inviting me to shadow him didn’t seem beneficial from his point of view. But it was hundreds of times more beneficial and interesting than re-reading the same documents (and, er, AAM…), and he gave me a couple tasks because it occurred to him, “Oh, this would be a good thing for Ife to work on,” which he probably wouldn’t have thought of if I weren’t sitting there.

      So, OP, I’m seconding the advice to go ask someone if you can watch them work for a few hours, and keep checking in with your manager.

  6. Jessica*

    Re #1 – That’s frustrating. It can be painful to be at work with nothing to do, working slowly on what few projects you have in order to not look lazy. I went into a job where I was told to self-study a lot, but it was because they just didn’t have anything for me to do. I self-studied for the sake of self-studying, with no real purpose. It was agonizing.

    It’s a tough one, because as you said, most people would just suggest you make yourself useful in other ways. Only thing I can say is don’t let your boss off the hook on this, no matter how many ways you need to say it. Doesn’t sound like you are, but don’t consider yourself pushy because you want to work. Just curious; they made you self-study for a month… where is that studying supposed to lead you? I’m assuming there was a purpose to it, and it wasn’t just busy work. And I’m also assuming there was a job description at some point, so I would use that to inform your discussion with your manager. If you were hired to make chocolate teapots (first chocolate teapot reference for me!) then you can say how excited you are to be making them after reading the chocolate teapot manual.

    1. Steve G*

      #1, I feel sorry for. This is yet another type of situation where “millenials” are getting screwed, and older people aren’t being of much help to fix it.

      When I had my 1st office job, as recently as 2001, it was like “thank God you’re here” and I was handed a stack of papers to either type up, various scribbles to enter into various systems, and notes on stuff to look up/buy/people to call for simple things/etc. Not everyone know how to enter their own contacts into outlook or use excel at all then, so simple tasks like that that directors, etc. do for themselves were passed along. Also, much less people knew how to do advanced stuff in excel and word, so if you could, a lot of work was delegated to you. Also, the economy was great and less stuff was automated, so everyone was busy at work.

      Fast forward only 7-8 years….I see people hoarding work because they feel threatened by new employees, after all, we all saw lots of people getting laid off in the recession because they weren’t 100% necessary…I’m also seeing more people getting more and more advanced MS Office skills, so simple-to-medium level spreadsheet work is no longer being delegated down, higher level employees are just doing that stuff themselves. Delegating filing is also getting harder as efiling systems are the norm, and since the files are on the higher-level person’s computer, it just makes sense for them to do their own filing half of the time.

      So I’m seeing the nature of lower level jobs changing from a processing mode to a “manage the process and make sure stuff is happening correctly” mode. The latter can be harder, because you aren’t technically producing anything, but that is the type of work the OP needs to try to get. The boss isn’t going to have a stack of paperwork to hand you to enter into the computer and make a spreadsheet of like he would have in years past. This OP needs to get a task like data integrity – make sure that their are files set up in the efiling system for all customers, and all documents needed for each customer are there…….or look through Salesforce and make sure that all account info is up to date…or if you have a relational database in SAP or Access, make sure that the relationships are still up to date. For example, if you sell to hospitals, maybe xyz was a part of Catholic Health West for years, but it is now independent, so that relationship needs to be updated in the system so sales reports are correct…………and if there is no work like that either, look at job ads for which computer programs are in demand and start learning one

      1. Jessica*

        So very true. I’m on the old end of the millenial generation and experience this myself still. I think it goes hand in hand with the employers not wanting to do on-the-job training anymore, when they can just hire someone skilled. And I feel like the, “ask your coworkers for projects” is a band-aid, not a long-term solution. Yes, you would be more busy, but that’s not what you want to do for a job! You want to do what you were hired to do, so to give the manager an easy out by finding your own projects will not necessarily help OP in the end. Not sure from reading the post that OP will even need to push this hard, as the manager could truly just be disorganized, clueless about lack of work, or just too busy. But I consider that one of many life lessons I’ve learned from work. If you were hired to do a job, do everything in your power to make sure to do *that* job.

        1. JM in England*

          I’m nearly three months into my current job and my boss & immediate supervisor have simply been too busy to train me properly. It seems that no employer that I’ve been with to date has grasped the common sense maxim of hiring people BEFORE busy periods so that they can be up to speed and pulling their weight when it does get busy. Even though I’m highly experienmce in my field, I still need training to familiarise myself with the ins & outs of a new workplace.

          1. Jessica*

            This issue I had was the opposite. I had NO prior experience when I went into the job. Employer wanted the best of both worlds, though, with hiring me on the cheap, yet thinking I was magically going to figure it out. You can’t have it both ways. Hire someone less experienced and pay them less, but expect to spend your time/money training them. Or, hire someone experienced and pay them more, spending your money that way. So it was a lot of self-study for me, without any real training, then a pissed off boss because I wasn’t doing things they way he wanted. He wasn’t busy, though. Just lazy and incompetent.

    2. Bea W*

      #1 was frustrating for me to read, being someone in a group that has too much work for too few people (due to not being permitted to hire people, not because we can’t find them). It kills me someone is sitting idle like this being bored while her manager makes excuses for not giving her actual work!!

      1. Anon in AZ*

        This is happening on my own team. They are super busy, and I keep having to ask for assignments. I regularly send emails requesting work, both to get some work and to cover my ass in case my productivity is ever questioned. The tasks I get are not the level of challenge I felt I was hired for. I normally get tasks with detailed step-by-step instructions, where I should be getting more creative-type work. Recently, I was finally given a project with only a little to go on. I was thrilled and put my all into based on the information I had. The work apparently didn’t meet expectations. It was picked apart after the fact.

        I am coming to the conclusion, rightly or wrongly, that what’s going on is that those on my team are faking it more than they let on. I think they know what it shouldn’t look like, don’t think they are able to clearly explain the expected outcome, since I don’t think they have identified it for themselves (ironic for the kind of work that I do.) When my work doesn’t match that vision, I don’t hear the end of it. When ask questions to clarify expectations, they get upset. The bright side of this is that I’m gaining confidence to assert myself.

    3. FJ*

      #1 – My company is historically bad at getting people projects to work on right away. Normally lots of reading material to go through. I agree with the suggestions to go to peers or other managers parallel to your manager. They can often help you out while you keep working with your manager. If your product is testable or has trainings for users, go through that to learn the details and pain points. Then, when you are more senior, see what you can do to make it better for your new hires!

      1. Bea W*

        We toss people into the fire, which is also bad, but that is how backed up we are with work. Okay, we don’t toss them too badly into the fire, what my manager does is redistribute tasks so that the the most awful stuff is covered by the veterans who know it best, and the less overwhelming or critical to get right the first time tasks go to the new person and tasks that are good learning experiences and will also help familiarize them with the project rather than tasks that already require extensive background. It’s not perfect, but new people certainly aren’t bored. We can even find things when we’re waiting on a computer configuration for the new hire. We’ll find a computer. We’ll find things that can be done without a computer. I have a huge stack of backlog scanning and filing I always offer up to people who are having tech issues (often declined because people usually have their own backlog). I did that myself when I had tech issues. :D

  7. UK Nerd*

    My experience of free CV critiques is that they are all an attempt to sell you their paid CV writing service, no exceptions. Best to ignore.

    1. Swedish Tekanna*

      Definitely. They will say anything to get hold of your cash! A couple of years ago, as a kind of experiment, I sent my CV off for 8 free critiques. They all came back with different faults although more than one came back with “Oh, you need an Objective”. There is good advice available but the CV industry (that is what it is) is full of charlatans. The criticisms from a free check are bound to be generic but I am so glad I did not fork out for any of these people. Also, they are not likely to be experts in your particular profession or industry and some recruiters like more emphasis one particular things. For instance, I work as an EA and if I leave out something basic such as Outlook skills, I will get recruiters saying “Oh, employers won’t know you have email/diary skills etc”.

      I decided some time ago that the best free advice is available on AAM! In any case, if your CV is already attracting interest/getting interviews there must be something right on it.

    2. Allison*

      Yup, I got a solicitation on LinkedIn for this very thing, and ignored it because I knew it would be nothing but a useless sales tactic.

      1. Leah*

        Yes! They’re like infomercials, offering solutions to problems that never registered before. Isn’t it tough to open those pesky milk cartons, Kevin?

        1. LW#4*

          Opening those milk cartons is hella hard for some folks! If I didn’t have a significant other, I’d be all up on one of those jar-opening machines.

  8. AnonieGirl*

    #5 – you may have overstepped in this case. Phone screens are done as a preliminary “fact finding” mission (as my HR Director calls them). By focusing way too heavily on benefits and your own personal situation, you may have missed the point of the phone screen and misinterpreted what they said. In depth benefit discussions (at least at my company) do not happen until we send an offer and it really turns off HR when candidates focus on benefits over the actual job in the preliminary and early stages. Not saying this is you, but I had a candidate that was told we’d be scheduling interviews the following week with candidates we were interested in and they heard it as we wanted to schedule an interview with them the following week. I think the best thing to do is learn from this experience and move on.

    1. LW#5*

      Yes, I think you (and the other commenters above, e.g., Michelle, Brandy, MK, Liz, MsM, Elizabeth, et al) are correct. I jumped way too quickly on the benefits/medical issue thing and that killed it. We don’t know that for sure, but that strikes me as the most likely scenario.

    2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      I agree. It feels like unnecessary work to get all this info for a candidate before you’ve established mutual interest.

  9. cmerun*

    I might get a negative response here, but OP1, ENJOY your down time at work. You will be so busy one day, you will miss the time you didn’t have too much on your plate!

    1. Natalie*

      I would agree with you if OP had a few tasks they could do slowly and carefully, but it sounds like they have literally no work. That’s different.

      8 hours a day trying to make up tasks and not look like a slacker to your co-workers is tough, especially if you’re a brand new employee early in your career.

      1. Swedish Tekanna*

        I agree, Natalie. It is surprising how often an employer will spend weeks or months recruiting for a role and still not be ready when the new person starts – even when the original advertisement had phrases like “high pressure role” and “the successful candidate must hit the ground running.”

        1. Leah*

          Yup. Even if there’s no fear of being laid off, it SUCKS to feel useless and unnecessary. You end the day thinking, would it have mattered if I’d spent the day in bed watching Scandal and eating popcorn?

          1. Oryx*

            This exactly. I have no fear of being laid off but I am SO BORED at my job and often feel completely useless and unnecessary except for those few times that I am and everyone panics when they can’t find me. Those moments don’t make up for the 95% of the other time when people don’t even notice I’m there.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I get the sentiment, but in this case, I strongly disagree. My last job was absolutely, horribly, soul-crushingly boring– I was hired into a brand-new position with no plan, and I was left twiddling my thumbs for a good 70% of my 13 months there. It got to the point where I was so damn bored and so used to filling my own days with crap (and I worked in a solo office, so there was no one around to complain that I was lazy), I didn’t want to do any tasks that DID come my way. It is a terrible road to go down– and I’m an experienced professional with resources and connections. The OP has just entered the professional working world, she wants to be challenged, and she needs to establish good work habits sooner rather than later.

      The OP is in a tough spot. No one wants to start looking for a new job so soon into the current one, so I would advise her to listen to Alison and keep pushing for work. She has a good attitude about it right now– wanting to do something instead of feeling lucky she’s not busy.

      All of this comes with the caveat that yes, we should all take advantage of down time when it comes, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that 2 weeks or more of down time is good for anyone’s brain!

      1. Jessica*

        Yes, and I feel like downtime affects people differently and I can’t quite get a read on if OP is mildly annoyed or already agitated. I, like you, find downtime soul crushingly boring and what work I have suffers because it puts me off me game. And I know that people often say that you should offer to help others, but that can be a slippery slope sometimes. Manager may see you doing that and get the mistaken impression that you are busy, thus deferring the projects you actually want to do. Or the people you help could get used to all the extra help and request it, taking you away from what you were hired to do. That’s why I feel that it’s really imperative that OP keep after her manager. Give me a job where I’m swamped day in and day out over a boring job any day.

      2. Chairman of the Bored*

        I’m so glad you said that about not wanting to do tasks once they are given to you. Because that’s how I feel. I have almost nothing to do at my job. I’ve tried asking to take on more duties. I’ve offered to help in other departments and was told a flat-out “no.” Why? Because the people in management who have been there 20+ years have the whole thing down pat, and they don’t want to work and they don’t want anyone to figure out that there is no work. So they have this system in place where everyone sits around twiddling their thumbs. I’m thinking the best thing for me is to find another position. Especially since I took this job thinking I was going to get an advanced degree in this field, and now I’m no longer interested.

        1. Chairman of the Bored*

          Oh, and to add to this: I no longer feel like I have valuable or marketable skills. I feel like a nobody and that keeps me from applying to other jobs.

        2. Jessica*

          Ah, this sounds so familiar! And because of this, I am so sorry to hear you are going through it too. When I had no work at LastJob, I offered to do all sorts of things, from marketing to HR to sales whenever I ran out of relevant work (it was a very small office). Was turned down every time. I swear OldBoss was content with barely scraping by and was worried that he would actually have to do work if I brought in more clients. I mean, how else do you justify paying someone to do nothing when they are offering to do more work? It’s not like anyone was assigned to any of those tasks.

          What I’m trying to say is.. I get it. This kind of situation can be soul crushing, mind numbing, and make you feel worthless. I felt truly worthless and lost and it negatively affected my whole life. In my case, being laid off was a blessing. I had to be creative though. When I really thought about it, I had a lot of soft skills from the job. Also, what about volunteerism? Can you build skills that way in the meantime while you job search?

      3. Toby*

        I agree wiht you. But I’m in a similar situation with the OP. I got hired into this small company and after 1 month into the job, I spent the last 2 weeks being 60% idle. I feel guilt sometimes that I’m being payed but doing nothing. And I resort to mostly browsing the net trying to look for something to keep me sane and not bored. But there is only so much pretending and working slowly on a any tasks, because you will still reach the end point that reads “nothing to do”. I’m a go getter and want to be productive, so i ask manager to give me work, but all i get is “i dont have anything for you right now”…As I still have a long way to go in my profession to learn and develop, its not motivational and unethusiastic.

        Its fine to be bored once in a while after being busy giving you breathers, but not to the point of having 5-6 hours out of 7.5 hr day of doing nothing. Its definitely not how I am as a person that can just get free money by doing nothing.

    3. Oryx*

      People with busy jobs always tell me that, but they don’t seem to realize that working at a job where you are underemployed is awful. There’s a difference between “down time” and being underemployed. The latter leaves you bored and unmotivated so even when something does come along that requires your attention, you are so sucked into reading forums and AAM you don’t want to stop. (Y’know, just as an example.)

      1. Jennifer*

        Mostly you just sit there wondering when someone’s going to notice you have nothing to do and lay you off. That’s the worst thing about it.

        1. Sabrina*

          Yes, this, exactly. I had a job where for 10 years I didn’t have enough to do and I was constantly worried that I was going to get laid off. I begged for more work, constantly, tried to do things proactively, nothing kept me busy. Most of the stuff I tried to do “on my own” I was told not to do. Looking busy is harder than being busy.

        2. Oryx*

          Yes and no. I know they can’t lay me off because my position is required and also requires my degree. At least it does on paper, but the work itself does not. So even if they *did* lay me off they’d still need to hire somebody with my skill set who would be equally bored. But I do wonder if they’ll notice I have nothing to do and cut my hours.

          I help co-workers when I can, either when they ask or I volunteer, and it benefits both of us because at least it gives me something to do. But most of the time I sit around lamenting what a waste of my time and talent the job is.

      2. Bea W*

        I am drowning in work, but I’d rather be drowning in work than twiddling my thumbs most of the time.

        A friend of mine was in a horrible situation where her company was planning on laying off her entire department but before they officially did they they ceased working on any existing projects. It was 6 weeks between the time they were told to stop work on *everything* and when they got their layoff notices (which let them stay on not doing any work another month). It was excruciating. There were days she just left a early and went home, because sitting around the office doing nothing and waiting to be laid off on top of that was depressing. There was only so much job searching she could do to fill up 8 hours in a day.

    4. Allison*

      I’m gonna disagree with this. One cannot just show up at work, do nothing, and expect to become a valued member of the team. Downtime is nice as long as you have *something* to work on, or you can proactively come up with a way to optimize some process or organize some information, which OP can’t do when they’ve just started. Even if they don’t have much to do, being unproductive is a great way to make a bad first impression.

      1. Natalie*

        Exactly, a period of no or slow work is only “downtime” if there’s actually some “uptime” (work) somewhere.

        1. De Minimis*

          For #1 it really depends, is the OP the only new employee or is there a group of them? Are people expected to network their way onto projects? Is the workload expected to increase later on?

          I had a job like that where I could never get fully “on board” and it was horrible. It is just soul-crushing to have a job where you just come in and sit at a desk with nothing to do, for weeks and weeks.

          1. Natalie*

            But if that was the case, don’t you think the boss would say that? It honestly sounds like the LW has been given zero tasks and the boss sounds like they’re stringing LW along, frankly.

            Totally agree on the soul-crushing aspect. This happened to me about 2 years into my current job and I used to go back in the file room and cry out of frustration. Eventually I turned it around by starting a project my boss had resisted signing off on, but at that point I thought I was probably going to get fired anyway so I was at the DGAF stage.

            1. Oryx*

              I have found that as long as I have personal projects on the side — either literally done on the weekend or done at work (and nobody notices/cares as long as I do what needs to be done when it needs to be done) — that keeps me motivated to go to my actual job. Before figuring that out I spent months crying my eyes out from soul-crushing frustration.

              1. voyager1*

                Been in the same boat. Got hired by a large bank, 4 weeks later it was announced we would be merging with another bank. I litterally did not a thing for weeks and weeks. Luckily I used that time to find another job.

            2. Miso*

              I’m so glad that I’m not the only one who has cried out of soul-crushing boredom. It’s quite awful to feel useless and unneeded at work. I used to feel guilty for even making money for doing essentially nothing all day.

    5. Anonymous Ninja*

      My first job out of college I did nothing. Absolutely nothing. I had no desk, no computer, no phone. I was given a chair to sit in and a co-worker allowed me to store my purse, etc. in one of her desk drawers. For 11 months I tried to find something to do, asked co-workers how I could help them, job shadowed, went around and talked to people, volunteered to do things. I was always shot down – don’t need your help, I’m too busy, and my favorite, “don’t worry, we’ll find something for you kiddo” (that was from my manager).

      There was nothing to enjoy. It was depressing and debilitating. I had just spent five years completing a very rigorous degree program only to be relegated to a chair, building no skill set and no accomplishments I could put on my resume. I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.

      1. Traveler*

        Can I just say that this no desk/no computer/no phone thing is not okay? I get that sometimes it can’t be ready on day one (it should be, but I’ll give places a grace period). It makes your company look disorganized and is insulting to the employee to go long stretches of time without access to these things.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I agree. After a week, I would expect them to be set up. After two weeks, if they still weren’t, I’d be having a one-on-one with the manager. If she waved me off, I’d probably think about quitting at that point.

          1. NickelandDime*

            I think they should be set up the day they are to arrive. Anything beyond that first week, something is wrong. Even the smallest organization should be able to manage this. And I agree, after a week, and talking to my manager didn’t help, I would probably quit. I know people that arrived at jobs with no desk/workstation, computer, phone, etc., or work to do, and it never ended well. One ended in a layoff a few months later.

    6. The IT Manager*

      I agree with many of the responses to you. I find having too little work more demoralizing than having too much work. When you have too little work to occupy you, you can spend time bored, annoyed, frustrated, and thinking about how bad your situation is.

      It is different if you’re normally busy and have a slow period where you can catch your breath and catch up on the unimportant things you let drop when you were so busy. Then its enjoyable. It is entirely different if you’re raring to go but have nothing to do.

    7. Steve G*

      I don’t agree. It was VERY demoralizing to work at a competitor once seeing everyone running around busy, doing things I used to do, but the competitor gave me very limited responsibility and I didn’t have enough work to fill the day. Never a good case. What is the point of waking up early and rushing to work and giving up your whole day if you aren’t gonna be doing something once you get there?

    8. A Teacher*

      Disagree. I worked as an athletic trainer where I was at a high school during the school year and did some work comp stuff as well. In the summer, it made more sense for me to ramp up on the work comp because assessments made the company like 1300-1600 a pop (4 hours a day of my time). Instead, I had a supervisor that wanted to be really controlling and she’d stick me (and all of the athletic trainers) into a clinic with nothing to do. PTs didn’t want to give me part of their case load and legally I couldn’t treat Medicare where it would be paid for by Medicare because CMS still bans ATs from treating patients–they are PT only. One summer the high light of the day was counting how many loads of laundry I could do in my 9 hours in a clinic (26), it was awful. Another summer she put me at a clinic that was an hour and a half drive one way, because she could. Literally, I cleaned tables and the clinic director would give me and a student worker money to go to McDonalds and buy everyone pop and ice cream each day. 6-7 hours of nothingness. The senior VP walked in one day and asked why I was there. I said because my supervisor said I was “needed there.” Needless to say upper management wasn’t happy. I ended up doing work comp where I could bill for more money and actually make the company money. I last 3.5 years there before moving on. Hours of mindless nothingness sucks.

  10. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

    Do you work for me? I’m so sorry!

    I was talking about this in open thread the other week. We hired 8 people, virtually all recent grads or folks on first real job, in Dec and Jan. Ordinarily, we’ve a pretty good process and flow for new folks, but the most we have ever hired at a time is 3 with an expected retention of 2. This new group is so fab, the only washout was a 9th party who didn’t make the first week. So now we have a bunch of great new people, happy, eager, and bouncing in their seats for real work. We’re trying as hard as we can, but there’s not enough work at their level, yet, to keep all of them full and busy for a day.

    In our world (teapots are surprisingly complex) , there’s no task that a body can’t learn from. Short of sticking a new person in a room by themselves for a few months to sort blue lids from gold lids, anything you give a new person gives them a background in the world of tea. We’re too busy to make work for people but we’ve been finding projects and tasks for the newbies as the weeks have gone on.

    Everything will be right as rain by April, when our world really heats up, and by September we’ll all be straining at the seams again. We just have to get from here to there with new folks still happy and energetic and engaged and learning.

    Okay so to the OP’s boss I’d say: I have sympathy for you in this situation, but, you still suck. Yes, it is often very hard in these situations to find enough work but, undirected self study for a new grad at a desk for a month? And no end in sight or plan laid forward? Come on. Boss, you suck. It’s bad for the OP and it’s bad for the future. Whatever you are doing right now is not more important than the future. Carve some time to make a plan with the OP and keep her engaged.

    To the OP: Ignore everything I said above to your boss because it doesn’t help you to think she sucks. Just keep the sympathy part because, honestly, I promise you, this is difficult for so many people to manage. Bosses who are great later on can have a very hard time at this phase.

    The new employees who have gotten the most from us in this round were the most vocal/nicest about volunteering for “anything!! how can I help??!! whatever I can do!!”. I have one employee who has had full work for two months doing data entry for a marketing project. We felt bad that’s what she’d done for two months and offered to rotate her out and she mostly said “pry this out of my cold dead hands”. She’s happy, we’re happy and it’s noticed that she loves to work and is great with detail.

    I think you can be more proactive/vocal without alienating anybody with a “what can I do for you?” approach. Good luck!

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Yeah, but it’s interesting text, with good information, so I didn’t mind climbing the wall. :)

    1. CAA*

      We’re in a different line of work, but I’ve (mostly) solved this problem by assigning each of my newbie developers a personal mentor from my group that’s been here about 2 years. I tell the mentors to let the newbie watch them work at first, then do some pair programming, then start handing off bits and pieces of their own work. They can even have them do some of the maintenance work we never have enough time for.

      It turns out that a lot of people think it’s an honor to be chosen as a mentor and they’re pretty proud of how well their trainees do, even a long time later when the newbie doesn’t need them any more.

      1. Vancouver Reader*

        I was thinking along the same lines, perhaps the OP can shadow someone there? I think it could help in terms of learning parts of the job that someone who’s been there a while might take for granted, and perhaps the OP could then use future down time to write a manual for the job.

      2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        If I had a do over on the genesis of this group, I’d do it that way.

        It’s a very different business but, knowing what I know now about the parties, this model would have worked. The next time we hire a larger than few people group, we will try this.

    2. The IT Manager*

      I have experienced this a good bit in military. They know you’re coming, but they still don’t have a desk or computer ready for you and you’re boss is not sure what you’ll be assigned to do. An experience like that led to the worst experience in my job where I had too little to do and a passive-aggressive, micro-manager boss.

      I hate it and try to be prepared with things for new arrivals to do. The thing is, LW, there is probably work for you to do if your boss will give it some thought, assign it to you, and trains you or assigns someone to train you on how to do it. Alison’s answer is very good. Schedule a meeting with the boss and give her time to plan for it. When you IM and catch her in person, she may not yet be prepared to get you started. It still sucks though.

    3. Steve G*

      My only “critique” if you will…is that whenever this happens, and as I commented above, I think it is more and more common as the work world is changing…..I think that more senior employees always look to simple, one-off process tasks to hand off, and lo-and-behold there aren’t any.

      I think instead the senior level employees should be looking for an entire process to cut off and hand to a new employee permanently. Yes, there will be an ongoing back and forth, but so what?

      1. AnotherFed*

        The ‘so what’ is that there’s a big up-front time investment on the part of the senior level employees. If you have been understaffed for a while, it’s easy to get yourself to the point where you’re too swamped with work and busy putting out critical fires to be able to do that when you finally get the new employees.

        Now, the only way you get good senior level employees is by taking the time to break off meaningful work for a newer employee to do and then providing ongoing training and mentoring so that they can succeed in it. You just plain have to find the time, but that doesn’t make it easy!

  11. V.V.*

    #4. My stepmom had lupus and a too firm hand-shake could instantly bring her to tears, but to be polite she would offer her hand anyway and hope for the best as she felt it was an inescapable part of the social contract. Most people were gentle. Some had to be asked to ease up, some others seemed to crush intentionally (those who do that need to knock it off, it isn’t funny).

    That said, when I have encountered situations where shaking hands would harm the other party, and I have never been offended when my hand was declined nor when the other person insisted on only the most gingerly shake. I know I would be greatly shamed if I hurt someone this way, so please don’t be shy about speaking up! I don’t think most people will give it a second thought, much less jump to any negative conclusions about your abilities.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Yeah, it’s not really a big deal, and if it is, the person is probably kind of a jerk anyway. I tend to adjust my handshake to the other person’s (does anyone else do that, or is it just me?) so if they have a weak one, I assume there’s a reason for it.

  12. Juli G.*

    OP1, have you asked coworkers if you can help them? I’ve done this twice in your same situation and it seems like already doing work helped the manager figure out how to give me work.

    1. Chloe Silverado*

      Good suggestion. My sister recently started a job where her manager was on vacation the first week and incredibly busy catching up the second week, and this is how she got around that. Her busy co-workers were happy for the extra help! Asking co-workers if you can help them in any way is also a good way to build relationships in the office.

    2. Oryx*

      Yes, this. I am often asking if my co-workers need help and they always seem to appreciate it and it keeps me busy so it’s a win-win for everyone.

      1. L Veen*

        I did this too at a previous job where I had virtually nothing to do… until one coworker said that our boss had told him not to let me help him with anything because she wanted to make sure I would have time to do the work she assigned me. Which would have been great if she had ever bothered to assign me anything!

        1. Oryx*

          Ugh, that sucks. It’s like the supervisor doesn’t realize that she is clearly just keeping you around “in case” she needs you but then doesn’t realize that just leaves you waiting around in the mean time.

        2. EditBarb*

          Awful. At a former job, I proposed a bunch of new projects and included them in a version of the budget that I gave to my boss, who cut them without telling me, and told other managers that I was swamped. I had some work to do, but was able to take on a lot more. So frustrating.

  13. Suzanne*

    #1-been there, done that more than once. I’ve been surprised at how often it has happened in my career. Why have someone start work when there is nothing for them to do? In my experience, this also was often a first clue to a mismanaged, chaotic workplace. At least the OP apparently has a computer! I had jobs that I had to wait several weeks to get a computer and/or any logins. A new hire can ask for guidance or offer to help someone, but if the company can’t get organized enough to have someone to train you, or at least be in charge of your on-boarding, probably asking won’t accomplish much.

    As to #5, whatever mistakes the OP did or did not make, I will get on my soap box as to why oh why do hiring people consistently tell interviewees things like “we WILL call you in a few days (weeks, whatever) to set up the next step” and then never do? Words do mean something after all! Is it too difficult to say “We MAY call you if necessary” when that is the case? It apparently is because it has happened to me and far too many people I know. I understand that hiring plans change, things come up, & that there is no job offer until there is a job offer, but why play this silly game? I the hiring manager doesn’t know for sure that there will be a follow up interview, then why not just say so? I don’t get it & don’t think I ever will.

    1. Jusrt Tea For Me*

      I completely agree with your statement on #1! I am currently in the same boat (again). Luckily this time it’s an internship for a company I was dying to work for. Long story short: nothing to do and terrible management. I don’t want to work for them anymore. Using my time to send out application letters. Good luck OP ##1!

    2. Helen*

      I can *sort* of get intending to notify the people you don’t select but then getting busy and forgetting about it. But I really don’t get why you wouldn’t respond to a follow up email asking about it. It reminds me of the “ghosting” concept in dating (not responding to any calls/texts and hoping the other person gets the hint. it’s practiced by cowards.).

      1. fposte*

        I’ll disagree slightly in that I think ghosting (aka the Kafka Romane Dissolver, tm Miss Manners) is okay in dating. It is not, however, okay in job hunting.

        1. LBK*

          I parsed “romane” as a typo of “romaine” instead of “romance” and was quite confused about what this topic had to do with lettuce.

          1. fposte*

            Do you not know the famous Kafka story where the narrator turns overnight into a head of lettuce? Ironically, he’s then eaten by a cockroach.

        2. Helen*

          I was thinking more of ghosting that happens in an established relationship, not after the first couple of dates. But then I guess that makes the comparison make less sense.

          1. Allison*

            Do people really just disappear on someone they’re in a relationship? I know some people become significantly less responsive, stop proactively calling/texting their partners, and become unwilling to plan dates a week or so leading up to a breakup, but I can’t imagine someone would be so cold as to suddenly ignore someone in that scenario.

            1. Natalie*

              Sure, someone has done this to me. I mean, we weren’t deeply in love or anything but we had been casually dating for a little less than 3 months and spending most of our weekends together. He just stopped responding to my texts one day.

              (We have mutual friends so I know he didn’t get hit by a bus or something)

              1. Allison*

                Yikes, I’m so sorry! If you go on 3 dates and stop responding that’s one thing, but if you have “a thing” together (label or no label) you should end it properly. Have a conversation, tell them why, even if it’s simply telling them you’re not feeling a connection anymore. It’s always crappy to leave someone wondering “what’s going on?” or “what the hell happened?”

            2. TeapotCounsel*

              story from a friend of a friend: Guy’s girlfriend had serious anger management issues, and Guy was really concerned about what would happen if he broke up with her directly and in person. One day, my friend got a call from Guy. “Dude, she’s gone to lunch with a friend. Get here RIGHT NOW with your truck.” They hurriedly took his stuff out of the apartment and high-tailed it out of there before she returned.

              1. I'm a Little Teapot*

                That’s understandable – if your SO is scary/potentially abusive, ghosting might be the safest way to get out.

            3. LBK*

              It happened to my sister. She’d been officially, exclusively dating a guy for close to 6 months and he just kind of disappeared – she decided after 3 weeks of not hearing from him that they were broken up.

            4. Liz in a Library*

              Lots of stories here already, but happened with a very close family member of mine. Everything was normal, until his wife came home on her lunch break one day to find the house trashed and all of his stuff gone. Wouldn’t answer calls for hours, and when he did, it was just to let her know she should call the utility companies, because the lights were going on.

              It’s a move that you can and often should make when you’re in a situation where you fear for your safety (as others have mentioned here…my family member was just a dick though). Otherwise, it makes you a pretty horrible person.

            5. Mephyle*

              Do people really just disappear on someone they’re in a relationship with? This happened to my friend – her husband of several years ghosted away on her and their three kids. I would never have believed it if I hadn’t seen it happen. And he had seemed normal and friendly the times I’d met him.

            6. Marcy*

              This has happened to me. It sucks, but the worst time I’ve heard of was from a woman who called me to try to get some money out of her retirement account. She said everything was normal when she and her husband went to bed but when she woke up the next morning he and all of his stuff was gone. No note or anything. She said he even took his dirty laundry out of the laundry hamper! She was amazed that he could do all that without waking her up. He must have been motivated. She heard through the grapevine later that he moved in with a mistress.

            7. Soupspoon McGee*

              I’d been dating a guy for almost a year. I came home on Friday to find his key on my table. No note, no text, no call–just a key and silence. Several hours after he was supposed to show for our date, I called. Surprisingly, he answered and asked why I didn’t get the hint. I said a flaming bag of dog poop on my porch would have been clearer and about as kind.

              He followed up weeks later to ask why I wouldn’t respond to his overtures for friendship.

        3. Allison*

          I do think there is a difference in that you don’t really “need” an SO to get by, so in dating it’s rude but won’t have a huge impact on someone’s livelihood, but when it comes to job hunting, a person is trying to get something they need (income), so it’s more important that they be kept in the know about their status in the process.

      2. Traveler*

        It’s practiced by cowards? Have you ever done any online dating? I can’t tell you how many times I tried the “It’s not you, it’s me” “I don’t think we’re the right people for each other, but I think you’re a great person.” etc. let downs and had the person I had one or two dates with go into melt down mode. A few of those and it will poison the well for anyone who wants to do the right thing (and I assume it’s the same thing for hiring managers). But I think there’s a big difference – one is a professional context, and one is casual. Different rules apply (though I generally do agree that dating/hiring situations can mimic each other quite a bit).

    3. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      I sort of agree with you on #1 and sort of don’t.

      We have (except for strains in my post above) a pretty smooth onboarding process. Trainers standing by, a decent entry plan/process, HR working smoothly, IT working smoothly and everybody together. You walk in first day and you’ve everything you need including your log ons. I agree about the importance of all of that or we wouldn’t have made having that happen such a high priority.

      However, none of that process magically happened. We had to work for years to make it all seem natural and every day. (You try telling the sole and grumpy overworked IT guy that the new person’s machine is the most important thing on his to do and see what happens next.) Everything was righted by proper staffing and process, process, process.

      Point being, bumpy onboarding can just be bumpy onboarding. Not good but, there’s a lot of it going around and it doesn’t mean that what happens after onboarding is necessarily bad. If a new person has nothing better to do, extending benefit of the doubt to PTB is good.

    4. AnotherAlison*

      On #1, although lack of work for a new hire *can* be a sign of chaos and mismanagement, sometimes there are good reasons.

      My department is all client project based. There are unpredictable peaks and valleys. Sometimes everyone is swamped, and three days later, everyone is looking for work. We only have 2 new grads, out of 40, and they’re the hardest to give work to. If it’s too complex, they have to ask someone for help and then it takes twice the hours, and we don’t have budget for that. There usually seems to be something “real” that pops up that they can help with, but they may find they have to go ask around every day if there’s something they can do. (The protocol here is for the new grads to ask the senior engineers, then the PMs, then only to to the dept. manager as a last resort).

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        From the Not As Obvious As You Think Dept, explaining to the new hires the process of getting them work (which I’m sure you have), goes a long way. It’s uncomfortable knowing that you are leaving a new, eager person without enough to do and the temptation to avoid the subject is strong. I think that’s where the OP’s boss is really screwing up.

      2. Suzanne*

        I understand to a point, AnotherAllison, about budgets, etc, but I still have trouble wrapping my mind around the notion of bringing employees on board & then just kind of leaving them to their own devices, hoping they’ll eventually figure out what they are supposed to do. I understand not having a training budget, but isn’t paying someone to sit around & practice telepathy to gain insight into the job detrimental to the overall budget as well?

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          Sure, but there’s a gap in there where even good orgs/bosses, aren’t going to have enough for new employees to do. It’s not easily solved up.

          Scenario #1: You wait until directly before your absolute busiest time of year to bring new people on. What happens next is the new people get to watch experience people flying around, getting work done as fast as they can, with absolutely no time to give off work that has be explained or checked.

          Scenario #2: Do the exact opposite. Bring new people on at your slowest time of year. Problem then is, there’s just not enough work to go around and new people still don’t have a full day’s work.

          Agree completely that having someone sit at a desk and hoping they learn by osmosis doesn’t do anybody any good but, it’s not all easily solved up. Managers also have to prioritize existing employees, the amount and kind of work they want, and it’s a lot to balance.

        2. fposte*

          To put it another way, training a new employee, especially an inexpensive one, isn’t necessarily the highest priority at a given time; it may be less cost-effective for the business to take people off other things than to tell the employee to read the manual and set up her desk for a few days.

          I agree with Wakeen’s Teapots that it helps a lot to keep the new employee informed rather than just having her sit there wondering if she’s going to get in trouble for busting out her phone. But sometimes with an untrained employee what they can do for the organization at the moment is not to distract people for a few days. It’s understandable that that’s frustrating, but as long as it passes fairly quickly or gets clarified I wouldn’t hold it against an employer.

        3. AnotherAlison*

          In practice, what we try to do is get the new grad to help the senior guy, and we may let him charge half his time to the project and half to overhead, so the project isn’t dinged and the grad learns something. My company can bear the costs of extra overhead, but my project budget can’t always bear 1.5x-2.0x our expected costs.

          I work on small projects ($100K jobs), but on our big projects ($100M jobs), they do take on the new grads full time and bear the burden of training costs.

          But, in both small and big project groups, you do not know when you get an limited notice to proceed from the client. The big jobs are the worst. We track client projects for 2 years sometimes, and projects proceeding is dependent on regulatory issues, financing, etc. We also competitively bid our work, most of the time, so once a job IS going forward, we have to win it. And we often have to start working the day we get the notice to proceed to meet schedules.

          When I hired on I was hired as an experienced person to support Project X. I accepted in early July and my start date was July 25. Somewhere in between Project X was canceled. I sat around training for about 3 weeks, until another job was won that replaced the other one. This was just after a severe downturn in my industry, so my coworkers didn’t have much to share. Yes, I was a little worried, but since then, I’ve always stayed busy in my 10 years here.

          I think a lot of the problem people have is that they don’t understand the business. Because of the roles I’ve had, I know our business better than most. . .not trying to sound cocky, but I’ve worked in strategy and development, engineering and construction, project management, project controls, dept. management. I know as a new grad, I didn’t understand where our work came from (engineering school didn’t cover sales and marketing). When you know the big picture, it’s easy to understand if you have no work because your manager sucks, or if it’s just cyclical in your business and your manager is doing what they can to manage it.

          (Sorry, that got long-winded.)

        4. abby*

          Regarding budgets, I’ve worked in two client-project-based organizations and we always gave work to new employees. We knew it would take longer, we knew there would probably be significant revision, we knew there would be a lot of guidance and explanation up front and during the process. But when we billed the client, we billed for what the time should have been. So that way, the new employee got the benefit of working on client projects, but the client did not have to pay for that learning.

    5. BananaPants*

      Or after a second/third/final interview they say, “We WILL be contacting you in the next week or two, either way!” and then total radio silence ensues. My husband’s been job hunting for 10 months now and it’s so demoralizing to give up what accumulates to a lot of time and even money (getting the suit dry cleaned, parking fees, gas to get to interviews), feel like the entire series of interviews went really well, and be told by the hiring manager that you will be hearing from them – and then you never hear from them. He sends a single follow up email shortly after the time frame and most of the time he doesn’t even get the courtesy of, “Thank you, we’re going in another direction.”
      It’s freaking rude – many hiring managers or HR will rule out a candidate who doesn’t send a prompt, well-written thank you note after an interview, yet the same people have zero compunction about leaving interviewed candidates flapping in the breeze with no contact until they just give up hope.

      1. Suzanne*

        Exactly, BananaPants. Why is it so difficult for the interviewer/hiring manager to be truthful and say “We HOPE to be contacting you in the next week or two” or “The plan is to have this all settled in a week or two, but you know how plans can go awry”? Why say “We WILL be contacting you…” when you can’t be sure that will happen and probably know it won’t? In others words, why lie? So, if that’s how it works, is it ok for me to tell the employer I’ll show up to work, but then fail to do so, or come a week later and say, “Oh, well, plans changed and I went on a little trip, but I’m here now, ready to proceed”? No, of course not, but that’s the type of treatment prospective employees get all the time.
        I don’t understand it and I never will.

        1. fposte*

          It’s not a lie, though, any more than it’s a lie that you’re going to go to bed early for sure on Monday and hit the gym Tuesday morning. It’s just that this is one of the many things they mean to do that doesn’t happen, and sometimes it’s not even in their control that it didn’t happen. It’s not deliberate falsehood. The other problem is that job seekers often hear tentative statements as sure things, much as in the dating analogy; “We’ll call you if we choose to move you forward” gets heard as “We’ll call you, period,” that kind of thing.

          Overall, though, I totally agree that employers should just tell people stuff. Easier on both sides.

          1. LW#5*

            To be clear, I wasn’t given a tentative statement. I was told, in an email, “You should be hearing from A— or M— from our Talent Acquisition team to schedule a 30 minute technical phone interview with G— in the next few days to discuss the position further and to see if there is a mutual fit/interest.”

            Then, nothing, and two subsequent emails and a phone call were ignored.

          2. Suzanne*

            I would say on Monday night that I PLAN on going to the gym the next morning if there was any doubt in my mind that I may not go.Hiring people have to know that plans fall through, jobs get pulled, hiring delayed and that they can’t know with certainty when the hiring decision will be made. I still cannot grasp why they can’t just say that they hope to call in a week, or plan to call, or have been told that a decision will probably be made within a couple of weeks. These are entirely different statements than saying that you WILL receive a call. Words have meaning.

    6. Bonnie*

      On #1 we bring people in when we are ramping up for our busiest time. They can’t help with all the ramping up and are slower than everyone else at that time. What we do is communicate the issue to them. “Right now you are going to be slow. About date X things are going to start happening so fast you are going to feel overwhelmed. Don’t worry we are going to help you with that. Until then check in with your direct supervisor every day about your workload. If you run out of work and your direct supervisor is unavailable (out of the office or in a meeting), check with the following people in the following order, person 1, person 2, person 3. It will be a little hard for you to be completely busy until date X but we are trying to keep you as busy as possible until then.” I think that helps because they know that if by date X they are still not busy then something is wrong. Until then they understand why and how to go about getting help.

    7. Melissa*

      Probably because they know that very soon, there will be more than enough for the new workers to do, and they want them to start and get familiar with the workplace and the coworkers – and go through all that new stuff (getting a computer, getting VPN set up, passwords, getting to know their teams) before the real busy season starts.

  14. Not So NewReader*

    #1 One thing I have done in with this type of problem is to befriend a coworker and see if I can pull small tasks off of them while I wait for the boss. This does two things, I have something to do and I put it out there that I am not slacking, but I am just waiting for the boss.

    One place I worked my coworkers agreed that the boss was never, ever going to release me to do regular work. But, he never checked to see what it was I was doing, either. So my coworkers kept slipping tasks over to me. It wasn’t too long and the coworkers could see I was doing the work and doing it well. This lead to them talking about it, and word got back to the boss and word went forward so that other coworkers found stuff for me to do.
    I never did get formal permission to be released into the wild. The boss got canned. And my new boss was unaware of any constraints placed on me. By that point, I was about 90% up to speed. Odd stuff like this happens.
    My suggestion is look around, do you see a coworker that seems to be busier than others? That is the first person I would approach. If they all seem equally busy (which they can appear to be, if I am not familiar with the group) then I’d recommend going to the person that everyone else seems to be going to, or the person that seems to be quite knowledgeable. I would ask for some work, with the idea that they will probably give me side-work that is non-essential. And I make up my mind that I will not get worried about what they tell me to do UNLESS they tell me to scrub the floor with a toothbrush. Deciding this first before I ask, really helps me.

    1. Judy*

      I’d say many times in engineering groups, that’s what happens. The more senior engineers hand portions of work off. The pieces become bigger, then eventually, it’s a small project. Of course, usually the boss assigns you to a senior engineer so everyone knows you should be assisting Jane.

  15. Helen*

    #5–Last month I had a phone screen and the interviewer said he’d speak with the other managers about when to bring me in for an interview. Weeks passed, so I sent an email following up. No response. Three weeks after that I sent an email asking if I as still being considered for the role. He emailed me back saying, “Sorry! I thought X was following up with you. Can you come in for an interview next week?” (Fwiw, he never responded to my response to that, haha.)

    So, it is possible the company is just delayed and a mess in their hiring process… but it’s also probably more likely they’ve just moved on. I’ve only once ever been notified after a phone screen that I wouldn’t be selected for an interview. And I agree with Alison and the prior posters that discussing benefits in such detail is not a good idea at that early stage.

    1. LW#5*

      Your assessment is ringing true with me.
      And to Suzanne, above, on her soapbox about the rudeness of ignoring emails seeking a promised follow-up, +1. Whatever sins I may have committed by wanting to ensure that I wouldn’t be bankrupted by a medical condition, at least somebody at NewCompany HR could have had the decency to email me back and say, “no.” (folds arms, pouts).

      1. fposte*

        Yes, they absolutely should have called you back. But even if the benefits thing was why they didn’t move you forward, it wasn’t that you committed a sin by not wanting to be bankrupted. It was that you were on a first date and you questioned your date about his/her 401k levels and marital property policies. It’s absolutely important information, but if you ask about it too early in the relationship it can give an unfavorable impression.

        And that’s good, because that’s a takeaway you can control, whereas needing medical insurance isn’t likely to be.

        1. LW#5*

          Thanks. When I said “sin,” I was being sarcastic, but realize that didn’t come through on the posting. I don’t really think I sinned. But I have learned a lesson about when to bring up that topic in job-hunting conversations.

          1. Helen*

            It’s frustrating, especially if you’re already employed, and it won’t be worth your time going to an interview if the job doesn’t meet your basic requirements in some way (salary, benefits, being able to work from home, etc.). I agree that it sucks. But ultimately it will benefit you more to play the game and not ask those questions until later.

    2. Sam*

      I was waiting to hear back about an interview and after a week I followed up. Turned out he forgot to hit “send” and it went to his drafts. He was wondering why I hadn’t gotten back to him!

    3. Michele*

      That doesn’t surprise me. Good thing you took the initiative. Our HR department is very disorganized. For whatever reason, they can’t seem to convey all of the necessary information about interviews. I have learned to proactively contact people and make sure they have all of the information. I also had HR not tell me that they had changed a policy so the hiring manager extended an offer; that had been their role. So we sat for two weeks with no one extending an offer to someone we wanted because they couldn’t communicate.

  16. H*

    #3 the exact same thing happened to me but I was the candidate they called in for a first interview when they where already on round two, and although I agree with Alison that they keep the job open just in case it was annoying to find that out in the interview because I felt at a disadvantage.

    #4 I also don’t shake hands due to religious reasons and I just say upfront that I don’t shake hands. Yes that had put me out of contention for some jobs as it’s expected ( I’m looking for a Paralegal job) but most of the time they get over it and are understanding.

    1. BananaPants*

      How do you address it in interviews/professional situations where handshakes are expected? Do you shake hands with people of the same sex, or just don’t shake with anyone? Do you try to avoid it entirely by holding something in your right hand (a briefcase) or extending a business card? Sorry if the questions are rude, but I’m curious about how this works in practice.

      Years ago I did a panel interview with three colleagues and the candidate came in to the room, offered his hand and shook heartily with the three men on the panel, then just looked at my extended hand and said, “I won’t touch any woman who isn’t my wife.” I don’t know if it was for religious reasons or not but I admit it was a bit off-putting. Frankly I would have preferred he use different verbiage or not shaken hands with anyone on the panel, rather than basically singling me out as untouchable. (The candidate was unsuited for the role for many reasons.)

      1. fposte*

        That’s just hugely rude, and a candidate who can’t negotiate that better is likely to have some real problems in most fields. Admittedly, it’s a difficult situation to negotiate if you’ll shake some hands and not others–I think I agree that in U.S. office culture you’re probably better off just not shaking hands at all–but you really need to be apologetic about leaving somebody hanging and dismissed. I’ve encountered people who say “Sorry, I don’t shake hands” and smile and wave instead, and I’ll be interested to hear what H does. I think the important thing is to acknowledge and participate in the greeting to make it clear you’re not rejecting the point of the exchange; you’re just not doing the hands thing.

        1. Dovahkiin*

          I used to work for a nonprofit that partnered frequently with the local orthodox community for offering services and support to the poor. I’m a woman – and (reform) Jewish, so I knew shaking hands was clearly not an option. The men were professional and didn’t extend their hands to any party – of women or mixed men and women, so they didn’t violate negiah and they didn’t single anyone out. They would just smile, nod, and touch their hat as a way of greeting, and we’d get on with business.

          I agree that singling out a woman and saying “I don’t touch any woman but my wife!” is not at all professional or polite in any setting.

  17. JoAnna*

    Alison, when I came to the page the ad in the uppermost right-hand corner started autoplaying audio. I couldn’t see a way to turn it off. It was for IAMS Dog Food. Also, I got a full-page ad saying that I would continue to the site in 20 seconds when I returned to the page (I hit the back button when the ad started playing). Can’t remember what that was about, said something about how Covergirl had dropped Ellen? Just wanted you to know. I’m running Windows 7 and using Google Chrome.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, the ads are out of control again. For anyone who sees this, no need to report individual ones — we definitely know it’s happening and are trying to find a solution. Thank you!

      1. JoAnna*

        For what it’s worth, the Google Chrome add-on DND (Do Not Disturb) seems to be working quite well to block the annoying ads.

    2. GigglyPuff*

      Thank you for saying something! I really wanted to, but figured people would just tell me to turn off auto-play in my browser settings. But the thing is, my entire workplace is set-up, so we don’t have access to our preferences folder, which means stuff like browser settings can’t be saved (pain in a freaking butt), so I was frantically searching for a mute button on the ad cause my door was open, and finally after my brain kicked in just muted the sound, but still…o_O

      Stupid IT set-up

  18. Amanda!!*

    #1 – I’ve been in this position so many times. Make sure you don’t use the word “bored” when talking to your manager – for some reason, it comes off really negatively from youthful persons, especially when talking to the less-than-youthful. Gets their hackles up. So talk in positive terms instead, like Alison said, about how you’re eager to start on some projects and are ready and rarin’ to go.

    1. Kelly L.*

      Oh yeah, the same people who like to talk about “gumption” love to rant about the word “bored.” “Only the boring are bored.” Or “if you’re bored, go do (odious task that has nothing to do with what you were hired for.”

      1. JoJo*

        #2 sounds like my mother when I was a kid. She’d have me clean my room if I complained I had nothing to do. It made me learn to entertain myself really fast.

        However, in a work situation, it’s completely different. I can sympathize with the LW because I’ve been in the same spot.

  19. Liz*

    OP #1: I feel your pain! I’m a paraprofessional (assistant, basically) in a Special Education classroom. We have 2 teachers… and 3 students. There’s work for me to do maybe 25% of the day, and I can’t leave the classroom to ask the other teachers if they need copies made. I still haven’t figured out how to be more productive so I don’t have advice… but I sympathize!

      1. A Teacher*

        Oftentimes, no. I have a hearing interpreter for a student and she has a full day of interpreting if her students are here. Her afternoon student has missed more than 40% of the year so she sits in the libary bored out of her mind. She’s made copies for teachers (I hate asking her to do it because its not her job, I’m grateful when she does because it takes time to make a lot of copies) and she helps our librarian with shelving/decorating the library. However, she is still bored most of the time and there are only so many days she can sit reading a book, checking her email, etc…

      2. Liz*

        Occasionally, but not often. One-on-one assistance is pretty much my entire job, but with only 3 students, the main teacher doesn’t need much help. I jump in whenever I can, but I end up just sitting and watching most of the time.

        1. Liz*

          I should add that I’m in a self-contained classroom. Most people with my job go around to different classes to help a particular student, but I spend all day in one classroom that only has 3 students total.

          When I’m not itching for something to do, I love my job. My kids are fantastic, and the school is wonderful. It’s just hard to stay busy enough.

    1. GTA*

      Having been a one-on-one aide in an autistic support classroom, I know what you mean! You’ll know the needs and abilities of your students, but here’s some things that I did to stay busy:
      -learned from the main classroom teacher how to chart my student’s progress towards his IEP goals and kept those daily records
      -created manipulatives for him (and other students) for self-care and occupational therapy tasks (i.e. envelopes to stuff, sorting tasks, shoe-tying, cutting, etc.)
      -cleaning and organizing classroom materials
      -brainstorming other educational activities for my student, running them past the classroom teacher, and integrating those into his work
      -since my student was non-vocal, trying to learn as many of his signs as I could

      I know that the need to be just a body in the room makes you feel awkward during those times you’re just sitting behind the kids during whole-class activities, but believe me, I definitely appreciated those other people who were free the times my student had a tantrum and needed to be restrained! Just remember that you’re keeping everyone safe, and since you can step in to give other teachers a break, sane!

  20. Amber Rose*

    I definitely encourage making yourself useful to coworkers. Every fun thing I’ve ever learned at work came from telling a coworker that they looked busy and I’d love to help out since my workload was light at the moment.

    Don’t say bored. Don’t imply you NEVER have your own work, even if it’s true. These are bad things to say that end up in unfortunate ears more often than not.

  21. Gobrightbrand*

    Unrelated, on my iPhone I keep randomly having my App Store open to Game of Ages or War of Ages or something like that when visiting this site.

    1. Clever Name*

      It’s a problem with the ads on Alison’s ad network. She’s working on it. I had that problem too. Annoying.

  22. Case of the Mondays*

    I had an invisible hand injury for a bit. I’m a fast talker so when I see someone I’d say “Hi, excuse my gentle shake, hand injury” as I stuck out my hand.

    I have also had a couple of surgeries that left hugging uncomfortable, though invisible while recovering. If a friend/family went in for a hug I’d just say “gentle please, still recovering here.”

  23. Cheesecake*

    OP1. I was in this situation as well, but mine was quite brutal.

    I actually had nothing to do for almost 3 months (together with the rest of newly hired team). The manager had no time to even teach us, let alone assign tasks. He always complained how he was working until 1 am, while we left at 5pm and did nothing all day. We tried to ask, beg, reason with him, but it did not work. It got really frustrating because after 3 months when other people asked something, I couldn’t give an answer, without asking the manager. So we went to his manager and complained. He was also busy. Then we went to director. Long story short, manager was fired and sr.manager was sent overseas (yeah right), we got another senior manager who sorted this out and we were absolutely overloaded with work since :)

    Here is what i’ve lernt:
    1 month doing “self-study” happens. Doing this without a reason (like, to complete a specific task) sucks big time, but as you can read above, it happens quite often and i wouldn’t necessarily think about leaving asap
    By all means DO nudge the boss, not by IM, i agree. Do it in person. Do it politely but make it look like it is a big deal. I know the urge to make it seems not so important not to interrupt the boss. This is a wrong approach. Do it often. Ask if he knows of someone else who needs help.If this does not work, go to his superior. If it was your 2nd month, go to superior of that superior.

  24. AmyNYC*

    #1 – this happens to me from time to time during “slow periods” at the office. I like to check in with my boss and just ask what to do. The key is to highlight what you’ve already done, make a suggestion (if you have one) and be clear that you’re willing to take on more. “I finished reviewing those study materials, so I’m hoping to do X that you mentioned a few days back . Would that be the best use of my time?”

  25. PeculiarHR*

    I wish our culture bowed to each other, as is customary elsewhere in the world. It’s much more hygienic and eliminates the spread of germs. I’m not a germiphobe, but after seeing what people do/don’t do in the bathroom, I wonder about it every time someone reaches out for a hand shake.

    Maybe some day the fist bump will be more acceptable or we can greet each other by snapping out fingers. If you really think about it, touch another person you don’t know is very personal.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      But it is a good way to clearly show you’re not carrying a weapon. It’s supposed to be personal!

  26. Malissa*

    #5–Apparantly not following up when you say you will is the new business norm. As of right now I am:
    1–waiting to hear from a big box store about sending a truck out to pick up a large return that was supposed to happen on Tuesday with a follow call on my part on Thursday.
    2–Waiting to hear from the transmission shop. Which promises to get back to me in X amount of time. I call two hours after that.
    3–Waiting to hear anything about a phone screen from last week that said I should definately hear something from them by Wednesday.—I doubt I ever will.

    Is this really the new normal for customer service???

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      As I’ve said more than once, no, it is not new. It’s the same old normal that’s been going on for decades, at least.

  27. Bonnie*

    This happens to us because to be fully staffed during our busiest season we have be slightly understaffed during our slowest. The lack of work falls hardest on the newest employees. We make sure anyone slow on work is checking in daily so they are constant reminder to their supervisor that this person may not have enough to do. We have found that if we don’t do this employees go from being bored to worrying about their long term employment and don’t want that to happen. We try to communicate with them the situation so they understand why it is happening and why it not their fault. Also to keep reminding them it is temporary and when it is likely to be busy again. But this is all on us, the supervisors, and much of it can’t be fixed by the new employee.

    1. Toby*

      Lucky that a good manager like you or company thinks about these things. But the reality is that many managers and bosses simply “do not care”. I’ve been in the same boat before, and its soul-crushing and unmotivational for new employees that have a passion for the career. But the reality dictates other way.

  28. NE*

    #5, I think your friend gave you the answer. You are too expensive for this position. I would not try to read anything else into this. Your 30 minute call turned into a 10 minute call perhaps because the HR rep realized they weren’t going to be able to afford you.

    In general, I don’t discuss money/benefits until I have the company convinced that I’m the person they want to hire for the position. People who thought they only wanted to pay X may pay X+50% to candidates who can demonstrate their value. With the way employers drag out the hiring process, they are often desperate to fill the role by the time salary negotiations come up at the end… so maybe be less candid next time?

    And they still could get back in touch with you. It’s only been a few weeks.

  29. Lien*

    #4 – I used to have severe carpal tunnel, so any touch or random sideways move of the wrist would shoot the pain up to my jaw. I wore a brace on my right hand during work hours. If people wanted to shake my hand, I would just wave my arm and it was pretty obvious that I can’t shake any hand due to a brace. Just get one from a drug store, they are about $10-$15.

  30. Erin*

    To #1 – I have had that problem more than once, one of them leading to my getting laid off – they couldn’t afford me, and didn’t have work for me. So I hear you.

    I 100% agree with Alison’s advice, but just to add to it: I would mention that you’re happy and willing to do any small odds and ends – cover phones during a meeting, organizing old files from 10 years ago that are shoved in boxes in a back room that no one has time to deal with, tedious data entry projects…whatever. It might be “busy work” but if you’re like me you’d rather be doing something than just sitting there.

    Maybe the problem is that they have good intentions in wanting to put you to work but don’t want to give you work that is “beneath you.” When you reiterate how you’ve read the training literature and are looking to get started, I would just mention that you’re happy to do *any* work the company needs while they’re finding the meatier stuff for you. It will not only reinforce for them that you’re an eager employee with a good work attitude, but also that you’re willing to wear many hats and do things that aren’t necessarily in your job description.

  31. Jessie*

    OP #4: I agree that telling them upfront with confidence is the best idea.

    I recently interviewed while recovering from a cold. Although I wasn’t really sick anymore, I had a lingering cough and decided it would be best to refrain from handshakes. I met with four different managers and right after I was introduced to the next one I immediately said “I would shake your hand but I’m just getting over a cold.” It didn’t cause any issues (and I got the offer).

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