I’m getting collection calls for my former coworker, a recruiter is blocking me from a job, and more

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

1. I’m getting collection calls for my former coworker

I took over from someone who left my company roughly 18 months ago. She had been in this position for a long period of time, and the decision was made for me to keep her phone number so that vendors wouldn’t have any issues with getting in contact with our department. I have had no issues with this, except for the fact that she apparently fielded collection calls on the regular.

While I’ve had a lot of success over the last 18 months in telling these creditors that I am not Jane Smith, I am now getting robo-calls about litigation being taken against this former colleague. I want to reach out to her via LinkedIn to tell her that she’s getting a call about a case being pursued, before I go forward with telling this creditor to stop calling me. At this time, I do not have her personal phone number or email, since I had been advised to not contact her at all regarding the job after she left.

Would this be a breach of professional etiquette to reach out to her? Should I just tell the collection agency that I’m not her instead of reaching out?

I don’t think it would be a breach of etiquette to reach out to her, but if your company has explicitly told you not to contact her, you should clear it with your manager first. Their instruction about that might just be a “don’t bother her now that we’re not paying her” kind of thing (in which case an alert like this would fall outside of that), but there could be other reasons for it that could be in play. So check first.

But if these creditors are aggressive enough to call her at work, they’re probably also aggressive enough to track her down at home or elsewhere too; it’s likely they’ll find her regardless. I think if you prefer to just tell them to stop calling, that would be perfectly fine and not shirking any obligation or courtesy to her.

2. Rewarding employment milestones

Our organization would like to begin recognizing employees for their length of service with a tasteful gift presented at each 5- or 10-year employment milestone. However, we have several employees with over 20 years of service, which leaves us unsure of how to begin an award program. If an employee with 20 years of services receives a watch and an employee with 10 years of service receives a pin (with the understanding that she would receive a watch in 10 years) the 20-year employee may have hard feelings about missing out on the awards for earlier years of services. This could become particularly difficult if we choose to award service in 5 year increments and a person with 25 years of services expects a pen, a pin, a watch, etc. How would you proceed?

I’d skip the pins and watches all together; most people won’t care about them and will see them as a gesture from another time. Give people an extra week of vacation time instead — that’s something that everyone, no matter their taste in watches, will greatly appreciate.

If people complain that they didn’t get particular rewards at their earlier milestones, before the program existed, your choices are basically to (a) offer them to them now — not totally crazy if you’re talking about something like vacation, especially if you spread it over two years, or (b) acknowledge that benefit packages sometimes change, and that you hope they’ll be excited with what you’re giving them now.

3. What to do when a recruiter is blocking you for a job you know you’re right for

What do you do when you know you are right for a job ( know company/know you can implement every responsibility.etc.), but an executive recruiter for all kinds of reasons might be a block?

You move on, because in fact you can’t know that you’re really right for a job from the outside. You don’t have the same information that the employer does about what they’re looking for. So you respect the decision of the person they’ve put in charge of hiring and move on.

The only exception to this is if you have a personal connection to the hiring manager, in which case you could apply with them directly.

But the vast majority of the time when rejected candidates are sure that they were right for the job, they’re actually wrong. And it’s not because they suck or anything like that; it’s because they’re not sufficiently familiar with the nuances of what the employer is looking for, or what qualifications other candidates in the applicant pool bring. (In fact, you could be great for the job, but other people are just better for it. In that case, you’re still getting rejected.)

4. Referring a friend for a job when I’m still new

I started a new job that I’m really excited about. It’s especially refreshing after working in a toxic work environment.

I want to refer my former coworker (who is still working for my old toxic company) for a position that just opened up at my new company. I wanted to know the best way to do that, as I just started this job literally a week ago, and don’t want to look like I’m asking for favors so soon. Should I wait a while to ask?

Well, you’re not asking, “Will you give my friend a job?” You’re suggesting a candidate who you think will be an excellent solution to a problem your current employer has (a job vacancy). So if you really think she’s outstanding, there’s no reason to wait. But you’d want to be really, really sure that she’s a strong candidate — otherwise it can reflect poorly on you.

5. Is it unethical to have students write letters of recommendation for professors to sign?

I work at a college and my colleagues and I have students asking us for letters of recommendation all the time. We’re actually in the busy season for that right now. Of course, they need to be done, and we do them, but they tend to pile up.

A colleague of mine said he stays on top of the letters by asking the student to write the letter themselves, and if my colleague agrees when he reads it, he will sign the letter as if he wrote it. I told him I thought this was very unethical and not what employers or search committees are asking for, and plagiarism. He was honestly shocked. He thought since he learned this from a mentor that it was okay.

He started to ask where the unethical line is: asking the student to make an outline, asking the student for points to highlight, etc. I didn’t know how to answer since I write letters from scratch and have never done it another way. Am I overreacting? Where is the ethical line?

It’s actually pretty common for employers to do that (although generally with employers the whole effort is wasted since few employers care about letters of recommendation outside of academia and apparently law). I don’t know how common it is for academic letters though. I tend to agree with you that it’s not what search committees are asking for (although it still might be common practice — maybe others in academia can weigh in here?) but I don’t think it’s plagiarism; it’s more like ghost-writing.

{ 303 comments… read them below }

  1. Artemesia*

    I have had to write lots of letters for students over the years and would never have them write the letter BUT I expect them to send me a resume and a brief description of highlights of what they did in my class (e.g. the research project they conducted, the team they worked with on a field based project etc) and some of their other experiences related to the job. Faculty don’t remember these details for 100s of students — and need to be reminded if they want a letter that will be convincing.

    1. Daria*

      Artemesia, I have a Google form that I send them! I got that idea at a conference, and it’s saved me a billion hours. A resume is also a great plan.

  2. Jessica*

    Re #2 – Does anyone really like that kind of stuff? I would honestly like to know. I thought the days of the gold watch were gone, especially since it’s not as common for people to stay at one company for so long. I know that’s for retirement, but I hate those kinds of things…. plaques of any kind, awards, pins, mugs. They remind them of my daughter’s “participation trophies”… what do you do with stuff like that? I would be thrilled to have more vacation or a raise, just like I’d like to reward my kid with a fun trip out, not more stuff that I have to find space for. But maybe that’s just me.

    1. DBAGirl*

      IMO, if 5 year milestones are to have any real meaning, it should be by means of something real – like an extra week PTO from that point forward. That’s a benefit that newer employees might find attractive….much better than a trinket that will be thrown in a drawer and never thought of again.

      1. Jessica*

        Totally agree. *That* would keep me at a company if all other parts of the job were satisfactory. No trinket would ever make me want to stick it out. They’re all so taste-specific and they’re usually junk. G0d, I hate plaques. Wonder how this works in a multi-generational workforce? Are boomers still interested in plaques and watches, in addition to the other perks? I can’t think of anyone my age that would want a trinket (early 30’s).

          1. Merry and Bright*

            Plenty of older people these days are familiar with IT whereas a watch or plaque is really dated now. Anyway, someone who has worked for an employer for 25 years might still only be in their 40s.

            1. Lauren*

              My 60-year-old father got a tablet for his 25th work anniversary. He loved that thing, but of course most people in that position who wanted a tablet would buy one. (Then they laid him and a bunch of older workers off a few months later, but that’s another story.)

              1. cuppa*

                A family friend got an iPad for working a certain number of years. He already had one, but gave it to his son who wanted one but couldn’t justify the cost.

          2. Kay*

            My dad got a Kindle Fire as a retirement gift from his company. We all thought it was odd because my dad is not really into gadget stuff like that.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          We got a little plaque for a milestone, but it was also an ounce of pure silver. I thought that was kind of neat. My spouse has received pure silver dollars as awards too. Those are a little fancier than a $20 bill, and aren’t much harder to spend, if you wish.

        2. Arjay*

          I’m not saying this is a better idea than extra PTO, but a former job had a catalog of rewards that you could choose from to at least maybe suit your taste. I still wear a pair of silver and garnet earrings I was able to pick from the catalog.

      2. hermit crab*

        That’s what we do! And if you hit a really big milestone, like 20 years, usually we have a party.

    2. Purple Dragon*

      I received a gorgeous crystal decanter for my 10 years. I was given a catalog and picked what I wanted. I love it !

      Maybe the OP’s company could give the people a choice ? If people could pick something they actually like (up to a value) ? Maybe people at 5 years could pick something up to $20; 10 years $50; 20 years $75; 25 years $100 for instance ?

      I like the idea but I think if I’d just been given something like a watch or pin then I’d like it less.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        My husband just got us a nice bread machine from the company’s catalog for his twenty-year anniversary. Other choices were crystal vases, fishing rods, etc. Better than a pin of a plaque, but not as good as an extra week of vacation.

        1. Jessica*

          I think that is nice… maybe they can’t afford to give an extra week of vacation (or maybe they can; who knows?), but they can afford to give something meaningful to that specific person. That’s my issue with all these across-the-board gifts. They are probably not meaningful to everyone.

        2. cuppa*

          My husband picked out a coffee grinder for his anniversary. At least it was practical.
          My company still does a clock (!), but you have to be here a while.

          Things I wouldn’t mind: a nice pen, a letter opener, a plant, a gift card, extra vacation or money, or picking out something from a catalog.

      2. SJP*

        Yea at the first ever company I worked for they did give gifts and I still have them. For 5 years you got a fancy silver pen and for 10 years you got a sterling silver letter opener. I still have both these items and have taken them with me from each job I’ve been at since.
        I think we also did get some more PTO but those little things were still nice. The letter opener I keep at home for my mail those as I didn’t really want it growing legs if left in a pen pot at work. The pen I keep in my handbag for when writing a cheque or list or whatever

        It was from a job and company I liked so to receive these from them and still use them is a nice reminder of the time I spent there

        1. VintageLydia USA*

          Those gifts are a lot more useful than pins and plaques! I’d keep them too, even if I didn’t particularly like the job.

      3. Lily in NYC*

        That’s what we do and I like it much better than getting a cheap watch or pen. I got a Kindle for my 10-year. The other choices were so bad – a silk scarf with the NY subway system printed on it or a subway token necklace that makes your skin green. But I LOVE Alison’s idea of an extra week off (I assume she means a one-time only deal, not an extra week every year). My sister gives her EA the day off on the dreaded “admin professionals day” which is very well-received, I’d much rather get that than the half-dead rose I get every year.

        1. AmyNYC*

          I was reading it as an extra week every year. Years 1-5 you get 10 days, years 6-10 you get 15,and if you’ve been there 10+ years you get 20.

        2. hermit crab*

          We build up extra weeks of vacation (per year) by years of service, like AmyNYC (but on a shorter timescale!). You start with 2 weeks per year and work your way up so that you have 4 weeks per year when you’ve been here 5+ years.

            1. hermit crab*

              Yes, it’s really generous! Of course, nobody ever takes that much vacation, but it’s there if you want/need it.

          1. Cath in Canada*

            Yeah, we start getting an extra vacation day per year after five years of service. We start out at 20 days and it’s capped at 35 days per year for people who’ve been here for 20+ years. It’s a really nice way to do it, I think – you start seeing some benefit after a relatively short length of time.

          2. C Average*

            I think we have something like that.

            This is embarrassing to admit, but I have no idea how PTO accrual works here. I’ve just always had lots of it.

            My first few years here I never took time off, and it seems like I got capped pretty quickly. Our cap is 300 hours. I take a day off each month to stay just below the cap, and I probably take about two weeks’ worth of long weekends and short vacations per year, but I still manage to be pretty close to the cap all the time. I think I’m around 270 hours right now, after taking nearly a week off last month.

            There’s kind of a tacit understanding around here that you get capped before you go on your sabbatical and then you just extend your sabbatical to burn a bunch of the PTO. It’s just way simpler. When you go on sabbatical, your email gets turned off, your badge gets deactivated, and your team has to make a plan to do without you. Extending all of that for an extra month or so is no big deal for anyone.

      4. Sadsack*

        My co does the same thing. Many of the gifts in the catalog are crappy though, but at least we are given a choice. I got a pretty nice silverware set for my 5th anniv., which I was in need of at the time, so I was very happy.

        1. Burlington*

          Yeah, that’s one benefit of the catalog approach. It allows people to get a reasonably nice version of something they actually want/need.

        2. Windchime*

          They give cash and a recognition dinner for landmark anniversaries at my workplace. HR tried to modernize (or so they said) and change to the “catalog” thing, but people were really ticked off so they went back to the cash. I don’t want a fishing pole or a tent; maybe I want luxury yarn or a sweater from Nordstrom or some money towards fine jewelry. I have to give my workplace credit for listening; people were really ticked off and they reversed the decision within days of announcing the catalog thing.

      5. Karowen*

        My department handles my company’s 10-year gifts. Unfortunately, the whole catalog thing can be cost prohibitive. If we have 10-15 employees per year that hit 10 years, we can get one generic thing with a little bit of customization, stock up for 4-5 years at a time, and save a lot of money. Everyone picking their own thing tends to cost more because you’re not buying in bulk.

        So (not actual prices), if we can afford $100 per person and the gift we want is $110 if you buy in batches of 10, we can instead buy in a batch of 50 and get the gifts for $90 each, then throw something extra in with it. Our biggest success – and the one we’ve stuck with longest – has been nice travel bags. Gender neutral, people seem to really like them, useful, etc.

      6. VintageLydia USA*

        I got a nice crystal decanter for my 5 year! Came with 6 old fashioned glasses. Hilariously, it matches my mom’s crystal pattern, but it was a classic style and not TOO outdated. This was especially weird because it was for a retail store. My friend picked out a Coach purse. I think our gifts were in the $150-200 range. I wonder if that’s because people rarely stay in any particular company in retail for longer than 2 years so they felt more comfortable giving more expensive gifts? I left less than 6 months later so it’s not like they bought my loyalty with it or anything, though. I doubt they give those types of gifts anymore. This was in 2009 before we really knew just how bad the recession was going to be.

      7. esra*

        It just seems like you can’t win with gifts. Like, at 25 years you’d want something hella more expensive than 100$. Whereas pretty much everyone likes extra vacation or money.

    3. Sherm*

      I’d prefer more vacation time, too, but if they’re either giving me a trinket or nothing, I’ll accept the trinket. I’d just hope it was done discreetly. If my company had problems/potential problems with age discrimination or favoring new blood over long-term employees, I wouldn’t want my decades of service to be loudly announced.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        I seem to remember long standing employees at my company getting flowers or champagne and dinner with the bigwigs at Chez Posh. I think there might have been some extra days holiday too (however this is somewhere which already offers generous holiday entitlement).

      2. Lily in NYC*

        I still laugh about my 3rd year gift. It was an ugly key chain with our logo on it. Even better, it was an old logo that we had since updated, and I also received the same key chain in my orientation packet on my first day. And I already had a box in my desk with 100 of them in it because we used to give them out to visitors. Way to make me feel appreciated by giving me an obsolete gift someone probably found in the bottom of a file cabinet!

      3. manybellsdown*

        All I’ve ever gotten for long-term service is vested retirement funds ;) but, Mr. Bells’ last position was a startup company. After 10 years there he was the most senior employee besides the owner. They threw him a little luncheon and said they had an “awesome gift” coming for him as well.

        Two years later he left without ever hearing that “awesome gift” mentioned again. Apparently, some of the artists on staff had come up with a lovely and meaningful tribute that the owners had scrapped in favor of … nothing. The only thing worse than a trinket or nothing is the promise of a trinket that ends up being nothing!

    4. WoW Fangirl*

      Blizzard gives a sword for 5 years, a shield for 10 years, a ring for 15 years, and a helm for 20 years. Yes, I would absolutely like to have these!

      1. OriginalEmma*

        That looks like a years-of-service gift program that really appeals to its workers. Cute.

      2. Jessica*

        *Immediately stops everything and starts searching jobs at Blizzard*

        That is awesome.

    5. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      People absolutely appreciate tangible commemorative gifts from their employers. It’s a major concentration over at Wakeen’s and that section of business alone keeps many of our teapotters employed.

      Literally, and this is a true story, we literally don’t offer any years of service pins or watches. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but, old fashioned in our opinion.

      People appreciate it when it’s a nice gift. High end technology gifts are very popular right now. Depending on the environment, jackets go over well. In other places, nice crystal is a good choice.

      For years of service, a choose your gift catalog (something we don’t do, it’s a sister industry), you can’t go wrong. Of course I’d combine that with a nice gift with company branding also, see: keeping teapotters employed.

      To the OP’s question: why not play catch up with the folks who have been there longer and give them the milestone recognitions they have missed all at the same time.

      1. Marzipan*

        Yeah, I was going to suggest a catalogue; or even a gift card would mean that people could pick something that actually liked/would use. My dad got a long-service gift of a watch, which he does appreciate and use, but he was able to choose the watch (and would probably have been much less enthusiastic about someone else’s choice).

        I do think a pin after 10 years might be a teeny bit underwhelming to the recipients, if I’m honest. It’s not useful (except possibly to the employer, in certain limited contexts), it’s not likely to be particularly attractive, it’s cheap to buy – it doesn’t shout ‘look how valued you are’ so much as the other thing, to me.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          My mantra is *nice* when it comes to giving employees anything, especially something to commemorate lengthy service.

          There are jewelers who specialize in commemorative employee jewelery, so it’s not just a lapel pin (the way you’d think of it) but a piece of jewelery made with precious metals and even stones. I think it’s old fashioned but if a program has already been going for many years, who am I to suggest a change.

          It’s likely still current in a customer facing environment. Employees seem to like to wear them in retail? Also, I think still popular in the medical profession.

          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

            BTW, I just read Mike C’s post about lapel pins below and I’m really really glad I threw the “who am I to say” into that paragraph above.

            The right choices are both industry and company culture dependent, aren’t they?

            Who am I to say!

            The larger thing is having a culture at all. You can’t force culture on a company or employees by whatever you do at milestone events, but how you choose to celebrate them can express or reinforce the culture you’ve already a built. Howaboutthat.

          2. VintageLydia USA*

            It’s less that employees like to wear them in retail and more that they are required to, even if they are congratulatory pins (like ones you get for outstanding customer service.) “15 pieces of flair” and all that…

            1. Not So NewReader*

              This. No one actually likes them. If you don’t wear it the boss says, “Where’s the wonderful gift we gave you?” I have had a few coworkers just toss them in the garbage. Whoops.

        2. Sans*

          Why not just a nice Amazon gift card? In larger amounts as you attain more years. At least you get to pick what you want from a pretty sizeable “catalog”.

          1. manybellsdown*

            I love those, because it’s permission to splurge on something I’ve wanted but don’t necessarily need, or wouldn’t buy for myself just because.

      2. Tennessee*

        Where I am, we had the choose your gift catalog for a while, but the choices were all cheap logo’d items. It was hard to pick anything at all. We’re now getting Visa gift cards which is better, but I’d much prefer PTO even if it was just a one-year addon.

      3. JB*

        I think maybe that’s *most* people, but I would much prefer vacation time or something along those lines to more stuff.

    6. Flora*

      No, I wouldn’t see any value to these kind of trinkets. Honestly, this whole thing would just be mildly embarrassing to me. If you HAVE to do something, give vacation time . Trinkets are just clutter I don’t want or need.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, the thing I like about vacation time is that it’s a gift the person can’t get for themselves. Most of the other stuff, I’ll buy myself if I want it (and I’ll choose exactly the item I want so that it’s my taste; I’m picky). Vacation time, though — that’s something I can’t purchase on my own.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Annnd, no one checks to see if the trinkets work, so it’s just tossed out. For whatever reason I kept getting Cross pens. None of them worked. I tossed them. I almost felt bad about that one.

    7. AdAgencyChick*

      Agree. The only time I’ve ever heard someone be excited about such a gift was when, instead of just giving everyone the same watch or plaque, a friend’s employer handed out a gift catalog from which the employee was allowed to choose any item she wanted. She picked something nice like a food processor. I mean, I don’t think she would stay at the job just to get that food processor, but it was a nice gesture that increased the goodwill she already has for her employer.

      An extra week PTO, on the other hand, would actually be something I’d think about when deciding whether or not to stay with a company.

      1. Natalie*

        A friend of mine got the same deal from her company, except it was a website. There were different lists depending on what the service year was. She picked a pretty nice watch.

    8. Remy*

      Our vacation time, which is already generous, is increased by a week when we hit 3 years and then by another week when we hit 15. I think this is a great way to do it. We have a monthly birthday meeting where milestone anniversaries are recognized.

    9. AmyNYC*

      A big company in my area has “inVESTment” ceremonies for people who have been there 5 years. You get stock … and a company vest.

      1. HigherEd Admin*

        HAHA I love the company vest. Not that I’d ever wear it, but man, I love puns.

    10. anon today*

      We have swag for the small milestones, nice pens, a bag with the company logo…but everyone knows that they are really just to recognize dedication. It’s not really about the value of the item.
      But we have a gala ball for the big milestone. When you make 10 years of service, a limo comes to your house to pick up you and your SO. You are driven to the fancy dinner and it is kind of like a roast where the other “senior” members celebrate you and give a few jabs. We are a smaller organization, but our people are dedicated and there is a good percentage that are over 10 years of service. It really is something to look forward to.

      1. Daria*

        I HATE roasts, for me or anyone else, and I find them extremely uncomfortable. I literally cringed when I read this! That would not be a celebration for me at all.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Yeah, I hate watching that stuff. If I were the focus of the roast, I think I would suddenly get very sick and be unable to attend.

    11. LMW*

      My old company gave checks. Number of years x10. Plus paid vacation increased a week every 5 years.

      1. Hlyssande*

        Hot dang, that’s awesome! At this point that’s roughly giving me an extra paycheck.

        If you don’t get bonuses, that’d be pretty sweet.

      2. Garrett*

        My company does the same thing. We get $25 per year at five-year intervals. So it’s a nice little bonus.

    12. hbc*

      This wasn’t technically an anniversary gift, but when I left my last company, they took one of the machines that I’d spent a *lot* of time on, took out most of the guts, and programmed it to run a screensaver filled with pictures of my colleagues and projects I’d worked on and such. I’m literally tearing up just thinking about it.

      Something that takes effort and is personalized for the company and the recipient would be a very nice gift on the 25th.

    13. JoAnna*

      When I hit my five-year anniversary in November 2013, I got a certificate and was able to pick from a variety of gifts from our online company store. I chose a nice wine opener (one that retails at around $25-30). In addition, I received an extra week of vacation time from that point forward. Both were great but if I had to choose, I’d go with the vacation time.

      My employer has since ended the gift portion of the program and now just gives paperweights (plus a certificate and the bump up in vacation time).

      1. Anon Friday*

        I got a clock on my fifth anniversary, and a nice paperweight with the company logo on my 10th, and I was also allowed to select something from a catalog using the “points” I was awarded for being there 10 years. Unfortunately, before I could make my selection, the company changed vendors for the points/gifts program, and because there was a dispute that went on for about a year and a half, I couldn’t use my points. I argued that the dispute with the vendor was not my problem and that they should just award me the appropriate number of points in the new system, but they said they couldn’t do that. I emailed the people in charge 3-4 times over the year+, and my manager tried to intervene on my behalf, but after their response to the first email, they just ignored all emails. Did NOT make me feel like a valued employee! After almost two years, they just added $100 to my paycheck. I think I did get an email saying they were going to do that, and I replied, thanking them, but I also asked if they could gross it up so I could actually receive $100, but they ignored that email, as well. This company has nickel and dimed me on a couple of other occasions (upper management sucks, but my managers and the people I work with are great), and I have zero loyalty to them. But I work at a client site that makes up for all of their deficiencies, so I’m still here – for now.

    14. C Average*

      I’m finding it funny to read this particular post today, as it’s my work anniversary today (a boring one–eight years).

      At my company, tenure is a really big deal. People who have been here for a long time are revered. At each five-year mark, we receive a large framed certificate with a big Roman numeral in the center representing our years here. And everyone displays the certificates on the office or cube wall. So if you walk into someone’s office and see a “XXXV” certificate (as does one woman in my department), you know that person could probably tell some good stories.

      We get a six-week paid sabbatical at 10 years, and sabbaticals every five years after that. I think we may get some physical trinket at each five-year mark, too. At five years, I got a desk clock (which is permanently set to five o’ clock because I forget to replace the battery, and I like the idea that it’s always five o’ clock somewhere).

      I think how people feel about this stuff is related very much to how much prestige is associated with tenure. At my company it’s quite a bit, so we tend to value the items that mark those milestones. The certificates in particular are always displayed with pride.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think how people feel about this stuff is related very much to how much prestige is associated with tenure. At my company it’s quite a bit, so we tend to value the items that mark those milestones.

        That’s a great insight. I think you’re right.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          You can’t put the cart before the horse.

          If a company doesn’t treat its employees very well, somebody who has been dying to get out of their job isn’t going to be happy to be reminded with a commemorative of 10 years.

          I was insanely proud to hit my 25 years with my company. Other than my children, it’s my life’s achievement. Ironically, we don’t officially commemorate anniversaries (shoemaker’s children), but PTB got me an iPad , which makes me happy every time I look at it.

          We’re talking about setting up an official commemoration system because we have so many people now at 10 to 20. I think that’s great but also, I want my damn thing that actually says 25 years so I can put it up, even though it’s three years late. :-)

          I think in companies where longevity is valued rather than god have I not gotten out of here yet, this stuff is appropriate.

    15. Blue Anne*

      The Dream Boss who lives in my head would, at my ten year anniversary, gather all my co-workers round to tell them how helpful I was, congratulate me on being there for so long, and then give me the crappiest mug she could find, probably a flawed one from the dollar store that said “World’s Best Aunt” or something. Then let me know that in addition to this FABULOUS PRIZE, I could have an extra week off sometime if I thought that was useful or whatever.

      Someday, Dream Boss, I will find you, and we will snark at each other mercilessly, and it will be glorious.

    16. MaryMary*

      OldJob used to give additional PTO (one week for five years, two weeks at ten, up to a max of four weeks) and let you pick a gift from a Service Awards catalog. The five year gifts were hilariously odd, like a set of walkie talkies or an inflatable rubber raft. I chose the picnic backpack, an insultated pack with lightweight silverware, plates, and cups. It was a running joke that the picnic backpack was popular because the picture in the catalog included two bottles of wine, but wine was not included as part of the gift

    17. Treena Kravm*

      My cheap non-profit org gives us…wait for it…paper certificates! They give them every single year with no change at significant milestones, except a pin at 5, 10, 15 etc. This last time, they didn’t even bring enough cardboard holders for the certificates, so about half of us got actual pieces of paper, and that’s it.

      1. Vivalakellye*

        Ha! We get acknowledged in a monthly HR newsletter (emailed, of course). Those with tenures of 5, 10, 15, 20, etc years get a potted plant and a certificate.

      2. Pony tailed wonder*

        I got a paper certificate as well – with my name misspelled and it was over a year after the milestone that was to be celebrated.

        We used to have the catalog thing but they only ran it for four years. You were supposed to be able to order something every five years. I was in the portion of people who missed the whole catalog thing due to where my anniversary hit.

        My boss at the time gave me a framed word cloud with spelling errors on it as well. I was supposed to display it on my desk but the errors were too annoying.

    18. Hlyssande*

      At my company, you get some sort of glass thingy every 5 years. The 5 year one is a sort of pyramidal blue and clear paperweight that’s hefty and very pointy on top. Good for self defense and absent fidgeting on the desk. My boss’s 30 year one is a gorgeous sculpture thing that I really like.

      We also get to pick a gift card out of a specific list of places (I picked Zappos for the 5 year one) and a bump in vacation accrual. At the luncheon I went to, everyone got a gift bag with some sort of branded jacket and other things except me (they don’t carry my size in company gear) – I got a sweet Oigo duffle that I use all the time.

    19. puddin*

      At Old Job they did the giftee thing. BUT they were known for high end gifts and the items were custom made by in house designers exclusively used for the anniversary gifts. I still use the ones I received and get compliments on them every time. I remember people had a hard time choosing which item to get because they wanted them all. (At each anniversary period you could choose from 3-4 gifts.)

      That being said if they do this at Current Job (I do not even know if they do and I hope I do not make it to my 5 year this summer – by my choice) they will mess it up.

      An extra perm week of PTO or sabbatical gets my vote.

    20. Ada Lovelace*

      Last year was my father’s 30th anniversary at his job. Usually they give my dad some extra vacation time (which he usually refuses) and/or a cash bonus. This time, they gifted him a really lovely watch and decided to pay for him and whoever else he wanted flight’s to the Dominican Republic, round trip, first class. My father of course denied it and the family (ownership) basically begged him to take it as a token of their appreciation. If I didn’t already respect them for the way they run their business and the loyalty they show to their employees, that sealed the cake.

    21. CH*

      We get gift cards for 5 year anniversaries–the longer you’ve been there the higher the value. I think currently they are American Express ones, so just like cash.

    22. Chinook*

      I know I am late to the game but I know that my colleagues do like that they get to pick from a catalogue from a very nice store (Birks) and can get things like jewelry (boss is excited about getting the necklace next year for the earrings she got at her 5 year mark) or good steak knives. Then again, this company is good to them in other ways and this doesn’t feel like a token.

      My only complaint is that they only count the years of service as an employee and not as an employee contractor (which makes a difference whenmost people have to spend years as a contractor before getting hired on).

    23. Melissa*

      I think in the days when they were more common, they might have been more wanted/liked – people would know what they meant and people respected longevity at a company.

      Nowadays longevity at a single company doesn’t mean much to people any more – it’s not a mark of honor. So I think fewer people like it. I would always prefer a vacation. (I wouldn’t mind a mug. I drink a lot of coffee. But any of that other stuff will just add to my junk.)

    24. Vicki*

      Yahoo! gives employees a gumball machine at 5 years. Many 5-yr employees keep theirs on their desks, stocked with M&Ms.

      Mine is in its original box in a closet in my home. My job was eliminated a month after my 5-yr anniversary. Which says a lot about the employee / company relationship…

  3. Dan*


    I wouldn’t go out of your way to make sure the intended recipient receives the “message.” If she’s got unpaid bills, she knows it. Second, for them to actually sue her in court, there’s a formal process that must be followed, and that requires much more work calling someone threatening to sue them. And those people will call and threaten to sue a lot… I’m not sure how many will actually follow through with it.

    The unintended side effect of informing the person that a debt collector is looking for them is that your former coworker can actually sue the debt collector under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act for telling third parties about the debt. Once the debt collector knows that they are not speaking to the debtor, they’re in violation of the law.

    The funny thing is, the debt collector probably won’t stop calling just because you tell them you’re not the debtor. Debtors say that all of the time :) Debt collectors also break the law on a regular basis, lots of debtors don’t know their rights, and because of that, the few times the debt collectors do get caught, the “time” is worth the crime. But if you respond to them as if you’re someone who knows their rights, the debt collector will back off and fast. If they don’t, you can get your old coworker to sue them.

    1. Jessica*

      I also wonder if the debt collectors don’t believe OP; maybe they think that she is just pretending to be someone else to get them off her back. Debt collectors are notoriously relentless and aggressive. Who knows if notifying the coworker will help. If she’s hiding from creditors, I would be surprised if took care of it on her end.

      1. Dan*

        The irony for the “hiders” is that all you have to do is write the debt collectors a letter telling them to kiss off, and they have to. You can then sue for violations.

        The thing is, when the debt collectors call the OP, they’re violating the law in one of two ways: 1) The debt collector has to cease calling the debtor at work if the debtor informs them that the employer prohibits those calls. Or: 2) The debt collector is violating the law by discussing the debtor’s debt with someone other than themself.

        You’re right, they debt collector may not believe the OP, but once the OP starts throwing stuff like that around, the debt collector better wise up fast, or the next person they hear from will be the debtor’s lawyer (if they’re going through BK, they’ve got one) or the person serving the court summons.

        1. Ben Around*

          LW #1: I agree with Dan — I wouldn’t get involved in that mess one bit. Do what you can to get the robo-calls to stop by being firm regarding the calls to a workplace, and let the debt collectors figure it out.

      2. Mephyle*

        Why would OP say “I’m not Debtoresse?” Wouldn’t it be more to the point to say “There is no one here by that name. Please stop calling.”

        1. Anna*

          My work cell is the same number that’s it’s been since they decided to get this phone. The person who had my job before apparently used it as her personal phone, too. I was getting collections calls on it pretty frequently. They would leave a number, I would always call them and tell them this is a company phone owned by a government entity, the person who had the phone before no longer works here, and to stop calling. They FINALLY got the message, but I just got a call the other day from another debt collector (I think) telling the person they were being served papers on this date between these times, call us or else. That one sort of pissed me off. So I called them back and told them they probably don’t want to move forward with their paper serving plan since they didn’t actually reach the person they were forewarning and to take this number off their list of contact numbers for this person. What my longwinded story’s point is, even when you tell them to stop calling, they don’t necessarily stop calling.

      3. manybellsdown*

        I had a collection call for a different person with the same (very common) first name as me. The woman kept asking me if my maiden name was Smith, which it definitely wasn’t. Finally, I thought I’d made it clear she had the wrong number and got off the phone … which rang again 2 minutes later. It was her again. She demanded to know if I’d ever lived in [City]. I’d gone to college there. It’s a BIG city. And apparently having a common first name in a city of over a million was enough to convince her I was a terrible liar and the person she was looking for.

        I know people lie and say they’re not the person, but it’s sure frustrating when you’re really NOT the person! (And if I were lying why would I admit I’d lived in that city??)

    2. Natalie*

      Armchair Psychology Warning.

      There’s a lot of (undeserved, IMO) shame attached to debt, and debt collectors know that and play it up. In my experience, that shame sometimes means that it has literally never occurred to someone that they may have rights surrounding debt collection. They are clearly such a terrible person, a little phone harassment is getting off light for such a monster. And that’s on top of whatever money situation is leading to the unpaid debt in the first place, which brings it’s own stresses. Stress can really mess with your brain’s executive functioning.

      And then, since debt is repackaged and sold cheap, the profit margin is pretty low for the debt collector. There’s no incentive for them to pay decently or offer the kind of working conditions that might attract better employees, and lots of incentive for them to lie, manipulate people, collect debts that aren’t remotely valid, and so forth.

      Business debt seems to carry none of this cultural shaming. We file court and eviction actions against former clients all the time (including a certain political party enamored with fiscal responsibility, which as you can imagine ended up in the news) and every single one of them DGAF.

    3. Leslie Knope's Waffle*

      I dated someone a few years ago who worked as a debt collector while in college. He would tell me stories about calling up debtors , screaming obscenties, and threatening their lives. The scary part is – I think he really enjoyed it.

      Needless to say, the relationship didn’t work out.

      1. JoJo*

        I’ve never understood the people who listen to abuse over the phone. I would have hung up the minute I realized it was a debt collector, the same way I do with telemarketers or prank calls before caller ID.

      2. Helka*

        Yikes :(

        I also know someone who worked in debt collection for a while — and even though he’s someone who is generally really hard to rattle emotionally, he said it was the most soul-killing work he’d ever done and he would not do it again, no matter what his financial situation became.

    4. danr*

      Yes, ignore the suit threats. We got called regularly since a scammer gave our address and phone number to hospitals where he was being treated, way out of state. Only a couple of collection services had an opt out procedure. The others called all the time and left threats of suits on voice mail. While they sound official, they are empty threats. It’s taken about 3 years, but the calls have finally stopped (kw). We could tell when a collection agency had sold the debt to another sucker.

    5. MmePomme*

      I’ve experienced something similar to OP#1, collecters calling about unpaid debt racked up by the former employee (who I will call Dude) that previously had my phone number.

      They stopped calling finally when I laid it all out for them:
      (1) You are calling a place of business and this type of call is not allowed,
      (2) I am not Dude, I do not know Dude, and I do not have information on how to contact Dude, (3) Do not call this number again.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      The robo-calls are really something else. We have a repeated call at work. It’s a recording asking for a particular person who probably does not live in this area. They call several times a week. I followed the prompts and ended up getting an ad something about I could book a trip to Bermuda for $500, which (amazingly) could be charged to my credit card.
      I have DNC bookmarked on my computer and I report the call a couple times per week, for whatever that is worth. I did find people complaining about this collection agency when I Googled the company name.

    7. Mander*

      Ugh, collections people are so annoying. We still get threatening letters for the woman who owned our house 8+ years ago, despite writing to all of the ones that sent letters when we bought the place telling them that we have no idea where she is or how to contact her. The house was repossessed and we bought it from the bank, so we never even met her.

      I’ve even had a representative come to the house looking for her, and letters threatening *us* with various legal actions, repossessions, etc. It’s all bull but it does make you feel a bit harassed!

  4. Dan*

    “If an employee with 20 years of services receives a watch and an employee with 10 years of service receives a pin (with the understanding that she would receive a watch in 10 years) the 20-year employee may have hard feelings about missing out on the awards for earlier years of services. This could become particularly difficult if we choose to award service in 5 year increments and a person with 25 years of services expects a pen, a pin, a watch, etc. How would you proceed?”

    Trust me, nobody cares. That 10-year employee isn’t thinking about the watch they’ll get in 10 more years, they’re thinking about job hopping to somewhere that’s going to give them a 20% pay raise.

    That 20-year employee isn’t going to care about a $15 pen that they never got. They’re thinking about never working again if they’ve saved enough money for retirement, or they’re thinking about how their company is cheap for not paying them enough to save for retirement.

    1. Ella*

      I dunno how I’d feel about pins and mugs specifically, but whatever they end up giving the employees, I would give the 20-yr folks some cumulative thing (maybe not the 5-yr prize, but the 10-yr prize and the 20-yr prize). A year or so ago, my employer gave everyone in my position at the company a raise, to get us closer to market rate for our skills…only now everyone’s basically at the minimum of the salary range. Getting a raise was nice, but I’m making exactly the same amount of money as the girl who was hired yesterday and the same as my coworkers who have been in the job twice as long as me. And that feels a little weird. So I’d encourage them to distribute the gifts retroactively.

  5. SCMill*

    We get $$ in the form of a preloaded debit card. Amount is determined by the # of years service being recognized.

  6. AcademiaNut*

    For letters – I think it would be pretty obvious to the person reading the letter that it was written by a student, not the professor, unless the letter is generic enough to be useless. So not necessarily unethical, but not necessarily very useful, either. I would definitely ask students to provide a brief summary of their achievements and experience. For undergrad reference letters, I’d keep a couple of generic templates that can be easily adjusted for a particular student, while for higher level letters (applications to grad school and beyond), I’d write one from scratch for a particular student and then modify that.

    I find that within academia, letters can actually be quite useful, once you know how to read them. If the writer genuinely thinks that the candidate is exceptional, that comes through clearly, as do subtle references to personalities issues. Mind you, my field is small enough that past the undergrad level it’s not hard to informally contact someone who knows the candidate and their work; I was asked just that recently for a student graduating from a difficult student/supervisor situation, from a potential employer who wanted an outside opinion of the student’s capability.

    As far as pins, pens and mugs go, I’m with those who feel that a token gift like that is not really worth doing. Pins and pens are the kind of thing you get as a free conference hand-out, and watches are not really something you can buy for someone else without really knowing their style. Extra vacation time sounds like a wonderful idea, if that’s hard to swing, something like an Amazon gift certificate (ie, something that’s easily usable for a variety of goods) would be better than random junk.

  7. Morning, keep the streets empty for me*

    #3: I had to procure a number of letters of reference from past co-workers for my last promotion. I found it was invaluable – necessary, even – to write a short ‘reminder’ (which was sometimes just a bulleted list) of the things we’d worked on together. I had one person ask me to compose a letter – which they then modified a bit and sent it back to me signed. I don’t think anyone had any ethical qualms about any of it. I mean, sure, we’d all like to think that when we worked with Bill Clinton 20 years ago that he still has fresh memories of our invaluable contribution to the effort. In practice, it might take awhile before he gets around to writing that recommendation unless you jog his memory a bit.

    Occasionally, I’m asked to write a recommendation, and I don’t have any problem telling the person “write something up for me to get me started.” In my experience, people are pretty honest and, if anything, often say fewer good things about themselves than I end up including in the final version of the letter.

    Natch, if I got something that really veered from my recollection of reality, I’d have to have a talk with the person.

    And, pragmatically speaking: about half the time I’m asked for a letter, I’ll say “write one for me” – and I never hear from the person. This is often a time-saver: if a person wants a recommendation from me, but they apparently can’t be bothered to put some kind of draft together for me – then maybe they don’t deserve recommendation.

    1. MsM*

      A time-saver for you, sure. But if I’m in the midst of a stressful application process that may require its own set of essays, and you’re not enthusiastic enough about me as a candidate to put together a page or less on my behalf, even with the help of a resume and some bullet points? Darn right I’m going to tell you “thanks but no thanks” and ask someone else.

      1. the gold digger*

        Yes, but the person writing the recommendation is the one doing the favor. You are not doing her a favor by asking her for a recommendation. That means the burden is on you to make it easy for her to do what you want.

      2. Morning, keep the streets empty for me*

        I’d probably work from bullet points and a resume, if someone offered them to me. The point isn’t that “I need them to write a letter for me” – ’cause I’m almost certainly going to re-write it – but that they need give me something to work with.

        Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve had more than a few people hit me up for LoRs who (for whatever reason) weren’t really serious about it. Getting a letter, or a list of bullet points, is how I get them to put some skin in the game.

      3. hbc*

        Do you realize that a professor or someone who’s been a serial mentor/manager may have dozens of these to write themselves, on top of their own regular work load? And possibly reviewing all the applications for people just like you. If you don’t want to take into account that it’s a favor, at least consider that the easier you make it for them, the more they’ll be inclined to praise you.

      4. Not Here or There*

        That’s one position you can take, and you’re free to do so. However, teachers and academic advisers get asked to do a ton of these things. While I was in school, I had to get them from teachers when I applied for certain scholarships, when I applied for a study abroad program, when I applied to graduate (because I had a non-traditional minor), and when I applied for grad school. Most of those required letters from three different teachers/ advisers.

        If you multiply that by the number of students applying for scholarships, grad school etc, that’s a whole lot of letters, and they’re often all needed at once. I can hardly blame teachers, who are busy teaching, grading and prepping themselves for wanting to put some of the onus on the students. Even the teachers I worked most closely with didn’t necessarily remember details of my academic achievements. While most of the teachers I requested from simply asked for a resume and bullet points, but a few did ask for me to compose a letter (generally my academic adviser, because he got more requests than the average teacher). I never felt like it was a personal slight or that they felt unenthusiastic, but simply that they were not equipped to handle the influx of requests.

    2. Jen S. 2.0*

      I wouldn’t be surprised to be asked to draft a letter for a professor to edit, amend, sign, et cetera. I also wouldn’t be surprised to be asked to provide highlights.

      The recommender doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel every time. I don’t think it’s “cheating” or plagiarizing or wrong as long as the recommender reviews it and is willing to vet it, sign it, and vouch for what was written. To me, the vetting and vouching is the critical part, not the drafting.

    3. Mander*

      Every time I’ve asked for a letter from my PhD supervisors, especially now that it’s been a few years, they have asked me to write a draft for them and attach my CV, plus any other info that will make it easier to write a letter that actually addresses the salient points of the application in question. Maybe this is more common in academia? My supervisors have had hundreds of students and are asked to write a ton of these things — my time under their tutelage was just a small part of the huge amount of stuff they do. It’s arrogant for me to expect them to remember my work with them in any detail.

      Plus, in my case, my PhD did not go well at all. When I think back on it I mostly think about how much I screwed up, and I expect that my supervisors do, too. If I ask them for a letter I want to be sure to highlight the stuff I actually did well, and if I write the first draft myself I can be a little more delicate in describing my bad points. They will change things, of course, so that it reflects their own views accurately, but I’d like to think that giving them a “nice” draft of a letter will psychologically prime them to think well of me.

  8. Dan*


    ” (b) acknowledge that benefit packages sometimes change, and that you hope they’ll be excited with what you’re giving them now.”

    This messaging only works if the service award is meaningful. If the OP is truly moving ahead with watches and pins, ain’t nobody going to be excited about that, and it will come across as tone deaf.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s certainly true. I think the watches and pins should be a no-go though, so I meant that in the context of the OP doing something more enticing, like extra vacation time. (Frankly, I think watches and pins themselves might come across as tone-deaf at this point!)

      1. Dan*

        How would you do vacation time? Would you treat it as a permanent step increase (ie every five years your vacation accrual increases by a week) or would you treat it as a one-time only payout? Ie, on your fifth year you get an extra day to use that year, on your 10th you get two?

        1. Newsie*

          My company does it as a permanent step increase. I appreciate it greatly, believe you me.

        2. misspiggy*

          After 10 years we got an extra week’s holiday, as a permanent increase; after 5 years, 2.5 days. It was accompanied by a letter thanking us and signed by a higher-up, and was very much appreciated. Any physical gift would have had to be very high value indeed not to come across as an insult, given the stressful and demanding nature of the job.

        3. Jennifer*

          We get a one-time amount that expires on reaching the next milestone, when you get an even larger amount of vacation time to use. It gets up to more than an extra month if you’ve been here a really long time.

          I agree that extra time off is going to be more meaningful to most employees than “trinket” type things. Although at particularly prestigious places, and if there’s a long-standing tradition, tangible objects do seem to be more appreciated.

          Vacation could be slightly problematic depending on your goals and other situations, though. For starters, it’s definitely more expensive – even for a minimum wage employee a week of vacation is going to cost the company more than a pen. It’s also much harder to pull back on if, in the future, you find the company’s needs changed, maybe your workforce is too stale and you want less emphasis on rewarding longevity. And if it’s defined specifically as vacation, that may be time that has to be paid out upon termination, even if you fire the person the day after reaching the milestone. I also don’t necessarily love that a vacation reward is worth much more money to someone in a higher salary grade than someone in a lower-paid position, although there often would be an argument that rewarding loyalty, valuing institutional knowledge, etc. is more important to the organization in those more highly paid positions than in lower-paid positions, I’m not sure that’s always the case. When the VP who hits 20 years and the security guard who hits 20 years get the same catalog to choose a gift from or the same watch or whatever, it does send a different message than one getting a vacation reward equivalent to a few thousand dollars while the other’s is worth a few hundred. I think the more potentially valuable the reward is, the more you need to be clear about what exactly you’re rewarding with a longevity program and why.

          1. the gold digger*

            one getting a vacation reward equivalent to a few thousand dollars while the other’s is worth a few hundred.

            That’s not how I look at it. A day off with pay is precious to me no matter what my pay grade.

            1. Colette*

              Yeah, exactly. I don’t think most people have the option of taking the time off without pay – maybe in exceptional circumstances, but not because they’ve used up their vacation and want a week off – so it’s not about money, it’s about time.

              1. Jennifer*

                This is probably another thing that varies a lot by organization. We have much more of an issue with people not being able to use all of the vacation time they already get than with people running out of PTO. (Some of this is management and budget issues, some of it is people thinking they’re more critical to operations than they really are and not using the time.) Because we have a fairly generous program of PTO and it rolls over up to a limit, no use it or lose it, it’s incredibly rare for anyone who’s been here long enough to earn the extra vacation to not have a cushion of vacation time already. It’s really tough on some of the departments that have low turnover and so lots of long-time employees to be able to accommodate the time-off requests. This probably works better in places that don’t provide a ton of PTO to begin with, I imagine. And with smaller additional vacation amounts than our policy awards.

                As far as the actual dollar value, I’m probably looking at that more from the company perspective, comparing a program where you spend the same amount on every employee reaching 25 years vs one where the dollar amount spent varies widely. The latter makes sense if it’s really considered part of their compensation package. Milestone recognition, to me, is more honoring a relationship than compensating for work done, and spending more on a highly compensated employee than one in a low pay grade feels too much like the “cover your plate’ school of thought on wedding gifts, which also sticks in my craw, though I know it’s widely accepted. (IMO if I’m equally close to two friends, I’m likely to spend the same on gifts recognizing their milestone; just because one is marrying someone whose parents are paying for a swanky reception and one is having a backyard cookout shouldn’t mean I spend way more on a gift for the first.)

                1. Colette*

                  I think the gifts are equivalent, though – it’s just that they’re not financially equivalent. One week of time is one week of time.

                  Now, if the norm is that people don’t use all of their vacation, maybe time off isn’t the answer, but it might also be a good company-sanctioned way to encourage people to take a break.

            2. Zillah*

              In fact, I’d argue that it’s often more precious if you’re in a lower pay grade, because you tend to have fewer perks than upper management in the first place.

        4. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think in general employers should do permanent step increases as tenure increases. But if you’re looking for a special gift like this OP, I’d also do a one-time extra week or something like that.

      2. Mike C.*

        See my post below, done right an nd not treated as an either/our situation it’s actually a nice way to recognize long term employees.

      3. jamlady*

        I was laid off in October and still had to participate in a 5k fundraiser with the company the following weekend. It was fine and for a good cause and I had zero issue with being laid off (the timing worked out well for me). However, they obtained all these tote bags for the event with pens/paper/stickers/etc. and my former supervisor kept handing me bags all day. I know she felt bad despite my reassurances, but I would have rather gone home with nothing but a “thank you” as opposed to 16 pity tote bags full of junk haha. I don’t know what it is about that stuff, but regardless of the situation, it feels like an empty gesture.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          See, that’s a perfect example of tone-deafness around this stuff. She felt guilty and was doing that to feel like she was being nice to you, but what are you supposed to do with a bunch of pens and stickers? Now she’s laid you off and loaded you up with clutter that you need to get rid of.

          1. The IT Manager*

            “Now she’s laid you off and loaded you up with clutter that you need to get rid of.”

            This is exactly how I feel about trinket -non-usefull – gifts – it’s clutter that I will have to eventually get rid of. The only good idea I heard here for gifts was handing people a catalog so they can pick something that they want.

            1. cuppa*

              Honestly, this stresses me out more at Christmastime than anything else. I try to remember the spirit of things, but I always come home with a carful of crap that I don’t want, don’t need, and now have to figure out what to do with.

            2. Elizabeth West*

              Me too. Exjob gave a jacket at five years–by the time I got to that milestone, they had switched from a really nice padded jacket to a super-ugly grey windbreaker with the company logo on it. Great. Then I got laid off and had to get rid of this disgusting thing that advertised a place I no longer worked and that I never wore.

              Another old job did the catalog thing. I loved that –I ended up with a complete socket set that has come in very handy!

  9. L McD*

    It’s really common to write your own letters of recommendation and just submit them to be signed. I’ve had plenty of professors offer that in the past. Plagiarism is unethical and often illegal because a) the person being plagiarized doesn’t know, and b) the person doing the plagiarizing is the one who stands to benefit. Neither is the case here. This kind of situation might feel a bit weird, because how comfortable would you be telling someone that you’re not going to sign the letter they gave you because you don’t agree with it? But it’s hardly the same thing and it’s definitely not unusual, from my experience.

    1. Cheesecake*

      I did as well, both with professors and employers. Obviously they were free to amend my draft as they feel like (read: add more positive stuff). I think people are eager to do a favor, but writing a letter from scratch is too big of a deal here and there is nothing wrong to provide them with something.

      1. A Kate*

        I think it’s key that the professor amend the draft, particularly for their most excellent students. Otherwise they are doing those students a disservice and putting them in the awkward position of trying to assess their own performance. I’d imagine that the best students might underestimate their performance or at least undersell themselves. How embarrassing would it be to write a letter about how great you are and have the professor open the email and ask themselves “is she serious?!” (even if you never found out about the reaction). I think a lot of students would be conservative with praise to mitigate this risk.

        I’ve administered programs that require letters of recommendations, and the best ones offered information about students’ performance relative to their peers. If so-and-so got an A, good for him. If he got one of only two A’s you handed out that semester, I’m impressed. If Sandy was active in class, good for her. If Sandy stood out from other students as an intelligent contributor to class discussions, I want her in my program. Students aren’t always in an position to know how they stack up against others or whether they’ve made a particular impression on their professors. That’s why letters of recommendation are useful. Having students draft their letters is fine, but professors need to add this kind of information. Failing to do so will prevent great students from getting noticed.

        1. Turanga Leela*

          Bingo. If a student is one of the most talented you’ve ever worked with in your 30-year career (and I’ve seen professors write that), the student will have no way of knowing that. She might know she’s good, but she will not have the context that you have. The value of academic letters of recommendation is that the employer/selection committee/etc. gets to hear the professor’s opinion of the student.

          That said, I totally agree that professors can ask students to remind them of their work, re-submit papers, give them resumes, and so on—anything that makes it easier for the professor to remember and recommend the student accurately.

          1. Anonsie*

            My professors that required students to write their own letters did make it clear that they would be editing it and sending off the final product (without us seeing it, for application types where they are for some reason very staunchly insistent that the student not know the content of the letter).

      2. MKB*

        I was going to say the same thing — the first time an employer (though in academia) asked me to write my own, I was totally unnerved, but then I found out it was a really common practice.

    2. Rat Racer*

      I’m not in academia, but I did ask my direct report to write her letters of rec when she was applying to B-School. I edited them, adding in my own flavor and perspective. I also “plagiarized” myself from her annual review. I am a big fan of pragmatism.

    3. Cath in Canada*

      yeah, I’ve found this to be common practice in academia. Not universal, and not really ideal, but incredibly common. It doesn’t meet the standard definition of plagiarism, and it’s most certainly not unethical!

    4. WorkingFromCafeInCA*

      +1 to being very common in my experience
      as an admin at a university, especially in STEM programs. In fact, the only times I knee professors to write the letters themselves were in the cases of those few exceptionally talented students.

  10. Dan*


    Ok, I admit I’m a bit of a pessimist about this stuff. I think it’s worth really examining what you are trying to accomplish with service awards. My last employer gave out cash ($500 at the five year mark, not sure what others got) and recognition at the next all hands meeting. If you’re truly thinking of giving out trinkets, a simple shout out is fine.

    If you’re looking for something truly meaningful… you know what? I don’t want my employer to wait five years to show they value me and my accomplishments. I want that done on an annual basis, with a wage increase that properly reflects my value to the company based on market rates, because that’s the #1 reason I go to work… and btw, I work for a non profit.

    My last job was with a for profit that underpaid us and gave out $500 service bonuses (and an ipad to an old timer), my current job is with a non-profit that actually pays much better… and gives out clocks as one-year service bonuses. I really don’t need the clock. I’ve also got three coffee mugs already… and I don’t drink coffee.

    1. Jessica*

      YES! Just appreciate your employees and reward with feedback, raises, bonuses, and incremental PTO increases. I can think of nothing else I would expect or be excited about.

      A clock? Good grief. At least it has a daily function. Here’s my list of crap I’ve gotten and hated, not necessarily for years of service: A company logo sports bag and towel, so many damn mugs (specifically, cheap travel mugs with plastic interiors that I really don’t want to put hot drinks in), one of those pens that looked fancy but had that really dry ink and never worked, service award plaques, a fleece blanket, a lanyard, an umbrella, stress balls, and a really nice leather portfolio…that had the logo embossed in it. Where’s my Newton’s cradle or dippy bird???

      1. Stephanie*

        Ha, some of that stuff has a function at least. I interned at a MegaCorp in college and they gave the interns company fleeces. I actually still wear it periodically as it is good quality and the logo is very subtle.

        1. Jessica*

          Subtle logos are great! Bright red, humongous ones… not so much. I do keep the fleece blanket and umbrella in my car. The leather portfolio is so beautiful, but could really only be used at that job, not for interviewing which is what I would like to use it for.

      2. tesyaa*

        Are these items given to employees specifically, or are they leftover swag from client gifts? We get a lot of the latter.

        1. Jessica*

          I think they are leftover swag, mostly (umbrella, lanyard, mugs), but they tried to pass them off as “Look at how much our employees mean to us!” gifts. It was a very corporate culture that I got most of those things. Plaques, obviously, were for service. But like I said, those are like participation trophies to me. You get it and then what? It has absolutely no other function. At least functional gifts can be useful. I’d take a, “Great job!” any day over a plaque that I have to find space for.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I have thrown out so many plaques. What do you do with them if you have a road job and not an office job, I mean really.

            One of the my favorites that I have seen is each year one more day of vacation time is added. You start out with 2 weeks, then they start adding after you pass year number 2 anniversary. That felt like some meaningful recognition to me.

      3. Lamb*

        If you know someone crafty, maybe that logo could be obscured with a wide strip of nice fabric? Like a black and charcoal herringbone suiting (if the leather is black) hemmed and glued down to make a wide stripe down the front, or around the middle if the logo is centered vertically.

        1. Jessica*

          Any tips on covering a logo on the leather portfolio? I’d love to be able to use that more often.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            When you say portfolio, do you mean a note book with space for a legal tablet inside or do you mean something similar to a narrow briefcase but lighter weight and less bulky?

            1. Jessica*

              The folder type….when opened, legal pad on one side, pen holder in the fold, interior folder for resumes and loose paperwork on the other. Worked great when at the company to take to meetings.

              1. Jessa*

                Sew a fancy fabric book cover for it? That’d work also (I was thinking below that it was the “thin briefcase sort” as opposed to the pad portfolio.

          2. Jessa*

            Take it to a shoemaker/repair shop or saddlemaker and see if they can overstitch a contrasting bit of leather, and if they have the tools maybe emboss your initials or do fancy work (the saddlemaker would have this skill)? Take it to someone who can sew and see if they can maybe put a bit of fancy fabric over it? go to a craft store and find an applique that is large enough to cover it and use an iron?

      4. Hillary*

        I’ve returned a few of those gifts to the team swag drawer. ;-) We’ll give them to a non-employee eventually.

      5. Cleopatra Jones*

        I received a fleece blanket one year as a department Christmas present. It had our city’s NFL team on it. I’m going to tell you, when I got I thought ” I don’t even watch pro football. What am I going to do with that?”. Well, 8 years later, I still have that fleece blanket. It makes a wonderful lap blanket when sitting at my home computer.

    2. Lily in NYC*

      I do think that’s a bit pessimistic. Ideally, these awards are in addition to everything else you mentioned. That’s how it works in my office – things like extra vacation after 2, 3 and 5 years (I’m up to 6 weeks off!) are built in and not even considered awards – more like job benefits. We get annual increases plus merit increases and the service awards are just visible tokens of appreciation.

  11. Seal*

    #1 – Are you sure these robo-calls are legitimate? There are plenty of scams out there where the caller threatens to sue unless the person they’re calling sends them money. They even ask for that person by name and might have enough personal information to sound legitimate, but they’re not. It’s illegal to give a third party any information about someone else’s debt; debt collectors who follow the law are not going to threaten litigation over then phone. No point in contacting your predecessor about these, although you might looking into having numbers blocked if these “debt collectors” keep calling back.

    1. some1*

      “It’s illegal to give a third party any information about someone else’s debt”

      This. They are allowed to call the LW to ask if she has her former coworker’s contact info, and then they have to stop calling if she says so.

  12. Mike C.*

    Regarding recognizing milestones:

    First off, this isn’t an either/or situation. I work somewhere that does this, and trust me, a few custom pins doesn’t take away from more meaningful rewards. The higher up awards receive a nice gift and a nice catered lunch with their team in the person’s honor, where managers take turns talking about the contributions the employee has made over the years. These aren’t bullshit either, it’s the real deal. I’ve been lucky to see two of these where one was handed his 30 year pin, and the other 35.

    More importantly, these are not, in any way, shape or form, seen as anachronistic or useless trinkets. Even the most crusty of cynics wear their pins on their lanyard with pride. One woman holds the record at over 70 years, having started work during World War 2.

    I’m not saying you have to hand out gold watches here, but to see this tradition dismissed so casually as nothing more than participation trophies or worse neglect the contribution the employee has made and the knowledge and experience gained. To someone like me in my 30s, it shows that there’s great deal of things to be accomplished and to work towards, that this job isn’t something you simply hop in and out of. I don’t have a pin yet, but I do have mission patches for the first delivery of the department I work for, and they were a nice treat.

    To the OP specifically: You give the old timers the awards they would have earned had the program been in place earlier.

    1. Stephanie*

      Ah, interesting take. I bet some of this, too, is that it’s so uncommon nowadays for people to stay at a company for 35 years that a lot of places don’t even have an idea for a 35-year award. I bet for places that do have lifers, service awards are much more meaningful.

      At my old job where the longest tenure was five years, the idea of a service award would seem weirdly anachronistic.

    2. Dan*

      Hm. At my last job, you were “senior” (metaphorically) at 5 years, and a dinosaur at 10. At my current job, I know several people with dates of hire before my birthday, and I’m 30+. So I think about what I want at whatever milestone.

      What I don’t want is what my last job did, and call people up 1 by 1 to receive their service award and a “thanks.” Do that with a cheap trinket and forget it.

      Your lunches, OTOH, are much more meaningful, and the things you get are more reminders of the kind things that were said about you.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        You’re making me want to sell Mission Patches.

        I could do this. I have the power. :p

        1. Mike C.*

          You really should, it’s a nice badge for folks who worked on a particularly difficult or long term project.

          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

            Mike, I am so doing it.

            I spent a couple hours this morning looking at supply and market to sell and we’re probably not in a position to be the best source right now, but this is on my radar. I only launch things when we can be circa 90th percentile of available choices. Sources dovetail with some other projects we’re working on though, so, maybe sooner than later.

            It’s just cool. And my art folks love working on projects like this for customers.


              1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

                Ha ha. My clever anonymity disguise slips more every day. Better shove the glasses/nose back on.

                I’m here for the comradery, not to sell you stuffs. :-)

                Teapots is all I have.

              1. Merry and Bright*

                Or, maybe as a limited company you are already in the UK? If so, please open some more locations!

                1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

                  ha ha, not in the UK.

                  But the UK is the Motherland for tea, yes? We must have a branch there.

          2. Hlyssande*

            That reminds me of the fancy dinner cocktail thing I was invited to after a difficult migration of our largest business unit into the global customer database.

            Everyone got swag for the migration and I was really sad when the desk clock that would let me see the times for all of our major world locations at a glance died.

          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

            It’s good for the geeky. You have to develop deep product knowledge about a **ridiculous** variety of things and the new is constantly hitting you.

            I think that’s one of the reasons our retention rate is so high, if you’re intellectually curious, you can’t get bored. (Er, but also easily amused. Best if one is intellectually curious + easily amused.)

        2. puddin*

          I am going to implement a Mission Patch program at some point in my career. This must be done! Best Idea Eveh!

          1. Mander*

            I have a bunch of space shuttle mission patches somewhere — my Dad worked in Air Force Space Command in the 80s and brought them home for my sister & I. One more thing to look for when I someday take a whole summer to sort out the rest of my stuff from my parents’ basement!

            1. Mander*

              Oops, submitted too soon.

              I think it might be fun to design your own “mission patch” for personal milestones, even if it never makes it beyond a sketch. I’m now imagining patches for my PhD, laying down the laminate flooring in the front room, finally tackling the clutter in the filing cabinet…

      2. Kathryn*

        My company has done these for milestones the company hit. I’m weirdly attached to mine.

    3. Al Lo*

      In Mike C’s workplace, the pins seem almost equivalent to the Disney pin trading and the pass-holders’ lanyards around the parks. To wear it outside of that setting doesn’t mean the same thing, but within that community, there’s great value in how they were acquired and the events/timelines/longevity/milestones they represent.

    4. OriginalEmma*

      Based on your comments here, it sounds like your company really values employees in many other ways besides trinkets, dinners and shout outs. That valuation, I’m sure, makes the commemoration events much more meaningful in your company and culture.

    5. Kelly L.*

      My co-worker was honored similarly for her milestone last week. It was a really big deal to her; she didn’t see it as a participation trophy at all. (This is in academia.) She might well also have gotten something compensation-wise, but I didn’t ask. :)

    6. Jubilance*

      As soon as I read your message, I knew your industry was aerospace or defense :-) I agree with you, in that industry, the longevity and pride in the service awards is very strong. I think that pride is waning with younger employees.

      1. the gold digger*

        I worked in the paper industry and am now in other heavy manufacturing. In both companies, there are people who have been with the company 30+ years. Fortunately, those people are valued.

        The pride is waning, I think, because companies no longer reward that longevity. At the paper company, they used to have a defined-benefit pension. That’s something that’s worth sticking around for. A pin, not so much.

        Once younger people see other people laid off while the CEO still collects a $12 million bonus, they start not being so attached to the company, and rightfully so.

        1. allisonallisonallisonetc*

          Once younger people see other people laid off while the CEO still collects a $12 million bonus, they start not being so attached to the company, and rightfully so.

          Yep. I’m a younger (in my 30s) worker in Aerospace, and I have no alligience to my current employer. It’s a toxic environment, ineptness is rewarded while innovation is quashed, and the executives monthly pensions are more than most of our annual salaries yet the higher ups have no problem gutting our benefits and laying off a good chunk of the workforce right before christmas.

          I actually did have pride in my first employer (who I would be coming up on 10 years with if things had been different), but as much as I felt respected and appreciated by my higher ups there, they just couldn’t find another job for me in the company (they tried) when the contract I was working on ended.

        2. Anonsie*

          Yep. Staying at a company long term isn’t more rewarding than moving around periodically– and in fact can be the exact opposite, since salaries commonly stagnate when you stay in one place.

          There’s also been a turnaround on this on the other end that’s set a certain example for us. Many of us lost important jobs early in our careers (or couldn’t get one at all) during the recession, and everyone probably saw people from previous generations who’d been dedicated to their jobs for decades suddenly laid off in a hurry at the same time. Many people also had caps suddenly put on their future at their companies due to major mergers, which became increasingly common at the same time. The idea of working for only the company you like best seems kind of quaint to most people I know, and the idea of staying somewhere long term for the benefits is nearly anachronistic. Nobody gets pensions anymore. People don’t promote internally like they used to. The vacation time as compensation thing is a big one because many places are still extremely stingy with their PTO, even for long-term employees.

    7. AW*

      One woman holds the record at over 70 years, having started work during World War 2.

      That’s awesome! Please high-five her for me.

      1. Mike C.*

        She was also the company’s first female engineering manager. She’s just that awesome.

        1. Nashira*

          She sounds amazing. I have much respect for the geeks who came before me, especially the women.

    8. Mrs. Psmith*

      This made me happy to read. My company gives out milestone recognitions (we’re a publishing company) and we regularly have employees hit the 20- and 30-year mark. Several have hit the 40-year and about two have hit the 50-year mark in recent years. We used to do the catalog thing, and many moons ago they gave away gold watches (very, very nice ones according to employees who were here at the time).

      However, I’m curious what other people think about the part of the LW’s question about what to do for the people who have passed the milestones before they started recognizing it. I’m going through that issue now. As I’m sure everyone is aware, publishing is going through some massive contractions, so my company did away with service award recognition in 2009 and only started up again last year (you still received your additional vacation days when you passed the 5-year, 10-year, etc. marks). Now there is a nice catered recognition lunch for people hitting their anniversaries each quarter, with a small presentation and a gift (corporate fleece kind of things). I passed my 5-year mark during the years we weren’t recognizing people, so now won’t receive any recognition until the 10-year one (this is my 8th year). And I have to say it irritates me. People who have been with the company for less time (and we get a LOT of turnover now) are getting recognition, yet the people who stuck it out during the lean years got skipped over. It feels petty to complain about, but it’s one of those small things that erodes my loyalty to the company.

      1. puddin*

        I think what your company should have done – too late now – is when the program was started up again to award the recognition to those who would have earned it during the hiatus. It would have been a great way to re-launch the effort as well as recognize that you/your company ‘survived’ the downturn and have (hopefully) bright futures ahead. I don’t blame you for feeling left out. It is small potatoes, but even small potatoes can provide some nourishment.

        In the OPs case, it would be nice to have one big ceremony/announcement for the 20+ folks and a special award just for them – like a founders club gift. A luncheon would be appropriate and the recognition should be communicated to the whole staff even if not all can attend the lunch.

    9. Jessica*

      It sounds like the importance of your gifts is tied more to an underlying culture, not the actual gifts themselves, and the gifts are just one way of providing a ceremonial respect. I think that’s awesome that people respect each other like that there and it gives newer employees something to attain. However, it seems like the vast majority of pen and plaque ceremonies just do them as an empty gesture, which can have the opposite effect on employees… “I’ve worked here 5 years and all I got was this lousy pen???”

      1. Jessica*

        And my participation trophy comment above was more about functionality, not importance. If companies just give out plaques for everything because that’s how little thought they’ve put into a gift, they have no meaning. And then what do you do with them? At least some gifts have function.

        1. Mike C.*

          The plaque thing would irritate me because it’s large and generally ugly. That’s why I like pins – they’re small and if you want to tuck them away then they won’t take up a lot of space.

          1. Jessica*

            In your situation, the pins remind me of the civilian version of medals and insignia in the military. In your company culture, if I saw someone walking around with a lanyard full of pins, I’d think, “Damn, that person is awesome. I hope I’m that awesome at my job someday.”

    10. Jessa*

      I think there’s a huge cultural difference between a company that has been doing this long enough to have a 70 year employee with a lanyard full of year pins, and a company NOW deciding to do some kind of recognition thing.

  13. Stephanie*

    #1: I read an interesting book about the debt collection industry last week called Bad Paper. It was pretty interesting–the more successful collectors tended to be the empathetic (but persistent ones). Anyway, what I gleaned from that is that trying her work number is just one strategy and they’ll find her regardless. I do think they’re supposed to stop it you say it’s a place of business (although plenty ignore this).

    #2: I did find my grandfather’s old service pins from when he worked at the Coca-Cola factory. They were pretty cool.

    Anyway, my current company does trinkets like this and it’s definitely the definition of an old-school stodgy place (as in, customer facing employees can’t have facial hair unless it’s for medical or religious reasons). I’d skip it, especially since it’s not some ingrained part of the culture.

    If you want to do gifts like that, my dad’s old company (also another old-school stodgy place) had a catalog where employees could pick which gift they wanted.

    (Not to say stodginess is bad, per second, but that stuff’s definitely a relic of a different era.)

    #5: I don’t think this is uncommon. My old professors usually asked for a resume (or something listing highlights), grades you got in their class, and a personal statement draft or outline (if this was for grad school). I think some would only write the letter from scratch if they had a lot of direct contact with the student (several classes and/or they were an research assistant), but needed guiding if they weren’t intimately familiar with the student.

  14. jamlady*

    To the OP regarding being blocked by a recruiter:

    Alison’s advice is spot-on. I’m currently going through a tricky interview process for a job that’s been open for quite a while. They’ve interviewed dozens of people over the phone and only a couple have made it to the “send me samples” stage (including me, but I was surprised I was even called for an interview, so we’ll see haha). Each person who has made it to that stage before me barely got their resumes on the table before the group who was supposed to be looking it over gave the Project Manager a flat-out “no”. Now don’t get me wrong, this company is wonderful, but their clients are SUPER picky. And they have every right to be. Because they’re military! And the job is sensitive. The job posting was legitimately the most perfect thing for me that I’ve ever seen in my life (seriously). However, there are a million little things outside of the posting and my first interview that I know they’re looking for in a candidate because of who their client is. My husband is military (which is likely an advantage) and he’s worked with this particular group of people in this area before (even more of an advantage) so he’s been very helpful with insight about the little things they’re looking for in a candidate. I think I’m perfect for it and even the company I’d be working for loves me, but when it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter how great they think I am if I can’t impress their clients. It’s very tricky and can be quite frustrating because their various expectations are kept quite secretive during the process. So don’t get disheartened about being blocked – you don’t know the whole story (and probably never will).

  15. Lizard*

    #5–I actually don’t have an ethical problem with people drafting their own LORs but agree that unless they know the relevant catchphrases for that particular field they are likely not going to be helpful. A roommate once asked me to write a letter of reference for her for her medical school application (not weird in itself; I was a student at the medical school in question and they encouraged us to write letters for people we thought would do well at the school). But she wrote the letter for me and wanted me to just sign it. It was so, so horrible. It’s been a long time so I don’t remember all the details but I do recall that it contained the phrase “I hear her tinkling laugh from down the hall…”and some oversharing about her issues with her parents. I knew it would never ever get her into medical school so I completely rewrote it, but to be honest it ended up being a substantially more tepid recommendation than she would have received otherwise. She didn’t get into that school, but she did get in somewhere else (that I didn’t write a rec for).

    I now write a lot of LORs for medical students applying for residency and I usually have to ask the students for their CVs, etc., so that I can supplement my personal experience of working with them, and I’ll often ask them for their essays so that I can try to align my recommendation to what they say they want to do. Otherwise I wouldn’t put my name on something someone else wrote without enough editing to make it basically my work, which moots the point.

    #2–I can see that giving extra vacation time might be more of an expense than your organization is hoping for, but I agree that a pin or pen/watch is unlikely to be received in the spirit that it’s meant unless it’s meant to be a tangible trinket that comes along with something like a cash bonus or an extra week of vacation. Give a gift card or something instead.

      1. Windchime*

        Haha, laughter isn’t the first thing that the word “tinkling” brings to my mind.

  16. Marcela*

    OP#5 My husband and I have been in academia for more than 15 years and I don’t think I ever saw a professor writing a recommendation letter from scratch, except if he was very close to the student and wanted to write an more than excellent letter. As another commenter said, most of the time we would submit a draft of the letter and a copy of our cv or our project. Even more, we are are applying now for something I don’t dare to even hint here, and our lawyer told us to write the recommendation lettes ourselves, and ask professors to sign them. We told them this in the email where we asked for their recommendations, and all of them said yes without reservations. It is very normal, in my experience.

  17. UK Nerd*

    OldJob’s long service awards consisted of:
    An email to all staff to tell us who was getting them.
    A card from senior management.
    A bonus.

    Nobody ever complains about extra money in the pay packet.

  18. Kathryn*

    I’m going to be the lone voice of semi dissent on the blocking recruiter angle. I love my recruiters, but I know they don’t deeply understand what I’m looking for in my candidates. I work in a highly specialized field with a lot of ways to get into it, so they can’t just scan for keywords and x years of experience with y – I’m looking for a package of suitable skills that will be able to be developed into what I need. (I’ve given up on finding someone who shows up with everything I need.) I work closely with my recruiters to find a suitable candidate pool, but mostly, I rely on referrals from other people in my small, close knit industry. Hiring becomes a much more intimate process, I’m looking at tens not hundreds of resumes, and interviewing maybe 3-4 people.

    If you have contacts within the company who can recommend you to the hiring manager, consider doing so.

      1. Green*

        I’ve gotten job offers from jobs recruiters declined to refer me for. For example, I lacked 1 year of the experience range they wanted, but they liked other things about me and thought my experience was sufficient, given experience in a different role in same field. I googled the job based on the recruiter description and submitted my resume anyway.

        (My current job also advertised for 5 years more experience than I have. Turns out they were happy to take me and change the position for one rung down.)

        1. Alano*

          I had the same thing happen to me. This wasn’t my company’s internal recruiter – it was an external agency. The agency said I was unqualified for a management position because I didn’t have previous management experience. But I knew that my field is very specialized, and when a management position opens up companies often have a hard time filling it. So I started Google’ing phrases from the agency’s job descritpion until I found the ad on the company’s website. I applied, quickly got the job, and it has worked out wonderfully. So I would say for external recruiters, be willing to go around them if you think they have a poor understanding of the market.

        2. KimPossible*

          I had something very similar happen to me. I was approached by a recruiter on LinkedIn and met with them about the position. She said she would give me a chance and refer me to the hiring manager but was very candid that I would probably not get the job because she had put forward other candidates that were much more experienced than I was, some with up to 7 years of experience when I was a recent grad. I ended up getting the job :)

  19. Swedish Tekanna*

    I have done long spells with two employers in the past which both increased the annual holiday allowance by 2-3 days at certain intervals which was very nice. My last long-standing job gave me a stainless steel paperweight(?) which I “forgot” to take with me when they made my role redundant later that month.

    For both companies in question, though, there was also a small bonus which was good, of course, but by the time the income tax and national insurance had been taken off there was enough to buy a couple of coffees on the way to work but they say it is the thought that counts. But on balance, unless the bonus is more substantial (the tax issue), I would rather have the extra annual leave because time is precious.

      1. Nashira*

        Mmhmm. My company gave us all $5 giftcards to Walmart last fall, and it was… quite irritating to see how it was taxed on my paycheck. Just give me a branded cup or something already; it’s less insulting.

        1. Windchime*

          Yeah, I can’t think of a “gift” more insulting than a $5 gift card to Walmart. Sheesh.

          1. Stephanie*

            That’s pretty bad, but at least you can buy something for $5 at Walmart. I think even worse would be like a $5 gift card to Nordstrom.

  20. Kate*

    All of my professors in college asked students to write their own letters of recommendations for jobs/internships/grad programs. They still have to sign their name to it so I never saw it as unethical.

  21. Henrietta Gondorf*

    Alison, for some reason I’m able to comment but the site’s not showing me the thread. (I’m using Chrome on my iPhone 5). Going to check with another browser, but any idea what’s up?

  22. The Cosmic Avenger*

    According to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act of 1996, debt collectors are prohibited from contacting third parties more than once and is not allowed to discuss the debt with anyone (other than the debtor, or their spouse or attorney). This all assumed that OP#1 lives in the US, and debt collectors violate the FDCPA all the time, but the penalties are stiff.

  23. Sorcha*

    I have so far managed to avoid the five year “corporate recognition event” (where I would have received a commemorative plaque) and the ten year version (engraved fountain pen) organised by my company, by simply not completing the paperwork they sent me. Apparently less than 20% of those eligible each year actually bother to return the form and show up. But they still keep on doing it. No one cares.

    Next year is my 20th. The “reward” is a crystal decanter and glasses. I can’t think of many things I’d like less. Am looking forward to avoiding this one too.

      1. Remy*

        HahahaHA. We have holiday raffles, and we have door prizes when various groups come along when it’s time to enroll in insurance things. There are always a few big-ticket items (an HD TV, Ipad, Kindle, whatever) and usually several $100 gift cards to restaurants etc. I win once in a while. But I always win the fountain pen with some other company’s logo on it.

    1. Anonsie*

      Man I’d totally take a fountain pen or crystal, if only because I could regift it.

  24. TeapotCounsel*

    In a past life, I was in the private practice of law in a small town, so I’m pretty familiar with folks who’ve had money troubles, debt collectors, and so forth.
    What is interesting to me, in both OP’s question and the comments so far, is that everybody is talking about the merits/legality/rudeness of debt collection. And I think that is because the OP and the commenters on this site are genuinely nice people who think it’s appropriate for OP to be in any way involved in former co-worker’s debt.
    But this is the kind of situation where being nice is not appropriate and will only cause OP trouble.
    ***OP #1:*** Your ex-co-worker’s debt is Not. Your. Problem. Not your problem. You should not expend one iota of unnecessary effort on this. Why call the ex-co-worker? To tell her that she’s being dunned? That won’t be news. Do you think ex-co-worker will promptly take care of the debt so the calls stop? You know that won’t happen. To be blunt, none of this is any of your business, and inserting yourself in it will not help anything. It. is. not. your. problem.
    Now, you ask what to do about the dunning calls? Several options: 1. hang up immediately. 2. drop the f-bomb then hang up (seriously). 3. demand caller stop calling and put you on the do-not-call-list.
    Don’t engage debt collectors and certainly don’t think they’re truly owed anything. They were dumb enough to loan the money, then they get the risk of default. That’s why they charge interest.
    /rant off. :)

    1. Dulcinea*

      As both a lawyer and a former telemarketer I want to second that you’re better off not getting involved AND the part about saying “put me on the do not call list.” My call center bosses specifically instructed us to only remove people who said that exact phrase, it wasn’t good enough if they sad. “Don’t call here again” or “stop calling me.” Also you can call your states attorney generals office if this doesn’t stop. Finally please know that the collections industry is plagued with inaccurate/illegal collections efforts. Seriously it happens all the time. From false threats to sue on something that is last the statute if limitations, to efforts to collect debt . that has already been paid or discharged, it happens all the time. Of course there are people who just skip out in their obligations too. So for what it’s worth don’t pass judgment on your coworker either way. Oh! And anyone who is interested in these issues should definitely read Bad Paper.

      1. hayling*

        Yes this is a good point. Most call banks (collections or otherwise) will only stop calling you if you say certain magic words, usually “take me off your list.” Be very firm.

        You don’t need to contact this former employee – she knows that she’s in debt, and she’s ignoring their calls to her other phone numbers, and postal letters.

    2. jag*

      “Why call the ex-co-worker?”

      If the ex-co-worker is taking any action against the debt collection agency for harassment, the fact that the debt collection agency is talking to a third party and calling a place of work is useful info.

    3. puddin*

      I cannot agree with this more. If you step in -in any capacity- you expose yourself to trouble with both the collection agency and the debtor. Treat it as if it is a wrong number, say the magic ‘do not call list’ words, and move on.

      This truly is nunya business.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Agree. The only part you have in this OP, is to tell the person to stop calling. I have had collection calls for a coworker at a previous job. I got rid of the calls ASAP. My coworker was still employed there. I never said a word. If I mentioned it to him it would do nothing, except maybe embarrass him and give him more discomfort. This debt or this misunderstanding is up to him to resolve, not me. Giving him a message will not be helpful in any manner.

      I could be mistaken but I tend to believe if they are contacting a person at work, that is because they have already contacted them at home. I think a call at work is a way of escalating things.

  25. Michelle*

    Re:#2- My company does vacation. At 5 years, you get an extra week for a total of 3 weeks, at 10 years you get another week, for a total of 4 weeks . That pretty much tops you out. But it’s paid vacation, so that’s nice. We also get 3 sick and 2 personal days per year. The sick time accrues, but you lose the personal and vacation if you don’t take it. My only problem with that much vacation, it that 75% of the staff wait until the end of the year and then try to take it in November and/or December. I’m at 7 years full-time, so I get three weeks but I try to spread it out a bit. (I’m actually at 12 years, but the first 5 were part-time and does not count toward vacation rewards).


  26. Jubilance*

    #2 – I have yet to meet someone who actually wants the “fancy” lunch and small token from their company at the milestone. Allison is right – everyone loves vacation time. Skip the kitschy stuff and give your employees more time off, they’ll appreciate it.

    #5 – I’ve had professors who have asked me to write the letter myself and those who just wanted a resume/personal statement and then wrote from there. I can see how it can be overwhelming to write letters for so many students.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      I loved most of my presents! A kindle (10 yr), and an awesome set of bookends shaped like NYC buildings (5yr). There was one really crappy one but it was so bad it made me laugh so I did get something good out of it. We also get increased vacation after 2, 3, and 5 years but that’s just considered a job benefit here.

  27. Natalie*

    LW #1, I would do what you can to get un-involved in this ASAP. Assuming the debt is even valid and legally owned by that collector (which is a fairly big assumption given how they are behaving), it’s their job to find this person.

    Assuming it’s the same people calling, block the numbers. If you can’t for some reason, stop answering. If they leave you voicemails, delete them without listening. And if one ever gets through to you, just hang up right away.

    1. Lamb*

      LW 1 should clear any of those actions (blocking numbers, letting calls go to voicemail) with their manager since it sounds like being accessible by phone is a part of the job.
      Actually, LW 1 should notify the manager of these calls before taking any next step in case there is a specific action the company would like to take/would like LW 1 to take.

  28. hermit crab*

    #4 — I did almost exactly this, and it worked out great. This was my first professional job, and I’d only been there about a month at this point, but I still consider recommending my friend for the position to be one of the major contributions I made to the company! Like Alison says, you need to think about it carefully, but there is no reason to feel like you have to wait a certain amount of time.

    1. OP #4*

      How exactly did you write to your HR? Did you introduce them via email? Send along their resume? I just want to do this in the most non-intrusive way.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        I would check with HR and ask if they already have a process for recommendations. I’ve worked places where the recommendation needed to be part of the application, others where there was a process separate from the application, and others where there really isn’t a process. So you need to know how your company wants it done.

      2. hermit crab*

        I just directed my friend to the job posting and then had a conversation with my manager (who was the hiring manager for the position) letting him know to look out for this person’s application. At the time, the company was pretty small and my impression was that our one-person HR department didn’t really get involved in hiring until it was time to do the paperwork. Now, though, I think there is actually a space on our online job application where you can mention if any current employees referred you. I agree with Thursday about checking how it’s done at this particular company!

  29. Cordelia Naismith*

    I work for the College of Agriculture at a university. Our “employee recognition ceremony” is a lunch banquet that takes place around Christmas, so it’s effectively a combination holiday party/recognition ceremony, but without the holiday decorations or carols or anything like that (and I still had a smaller Christmas party with my department later on).

    The food was the main attraction. It was all grown and prepared by our students and faculty, and the faculty served the meal so the food service people could attend as guests instead of having to work during the event. It was delicious. Then they called people up to the stage by number of years of service (5, 10, 15, 20, and 25) to receive their certificates/awards. I’m not sure if the honorees received other gifts, too; I’ve only been here a year.

    The whole thing was just really…nice. The appreciation felt really genuine. I can’t really put my finger on why because I’ve worked at places that did the lunch recognition thing before where it really felt kind of fake and just fell flat, and this one shared some similar characteristics as those, but it felt much more truly appreciative.

    The best part is that the banquet is voluntary. If you’re the kind of person who hates that sort of thing, you don’t have to go. It was totally optional.

    1. Anon369*

      Sounds like this one is really about honoring service, not just paying lip-service to it, with the faculty serving.

  30. Suz*

    OP#1 – This routinely happens to my coworker. She replaced some who was fired over 7 years ago. My coworker still gets call for her at least once a month. The most recent was just yesterday.

    1. Anonathon*

      Same here! In my case, the calls were for a contractor who’d set foot in the office maybe twice. (I did let the contractor know the first time that it happened.) But they kept calling! Even though I repeatedly said that he wasn’t there and, in fact, never really had been there.

  31. A.*

    The letter writing thing is 100% normal and standard in academia. As long as the sequence is:

    1. Letter requester drafts letter
    2. Letter writer edits draft
    3. Letter writer signs and sends away draft WITHOUT the letter requester being involved.

    There’s no ethical problem as long as the letter requester doesn’t have final approval of the text.

    This process is so normal/typical it’s actually stranger that the writer of #5 didn’t already know this than that the colleague does it.

  32. Mimmy*


    I think when I asked a professor to write a Letter of Recommendation, she asked that I provide areas for her to highlight, but she ultimately wrote the letter. I prefer that way over having the student write the entire thing, the “ghost writing” that Alison alludes to. It still feels weird to me, but professors are very busy; these methods are probably just time savers.

    On a somewhat related note: I had the opposite happen to me. I was asked once by the school where I got my Masters to submit a Letter of Support for a federal grant application; however, the faculty member who asked me wrote the letter HERSELF and asked me to look over, edit as desired, and sign it. It felt wrong, but I guess it’s okay since I had the chance to review it. (I’m just bitter about the whole thing because it was something I was really passionate about, but it all just fell apart. A different topic for a different day :/ )

  33. AW*

    #1 – Gave me flashbacks to the old days at Consumerist (back when Gawker owned it). Glad to see other people pointing out that there are laws (specifically in the US, though the OP might look into that regardless of location) regarding debt collection.

    #5 – This seems to be common place. I don’t work in academia but this came up when I needed LORs to apply for a Masters program. My (now) husband said that professors get lots of requests for LORs and that being asked to write the letter for them to sign wasn’t unusual. IIRC, he also had to do that when applying to PhD programs.

  34. Jake*

    when applying to universities for undergrad I needed the recommendation letters from high school teachers. One wrote it herself, one asked for an outline, and one told me to write it and he’d review and sign it.

    From talking to folks at one university in particular, it seemed shocking to them that any of the three teachers actually wrote the letter themselves. They looked at it as more of a certification that the contents were accurate than an actual letter from a teacher, in spite of the fact that they specifically ask for letters written by the teacher.

  35. JMegan*

    #2, if you think they really will care about the missed milestone trinkets, why not just give them? How many employees do you have over 20 years? Let’s say a dozen…you’re talking twelve additional gifts at each level. Assuming you’re not giving fancy cars or trips to Jamaica, it’s really not that much extra money to spend. And you’d only have to do the “catching up” part once, so you wouldn’t have those costs year over year.

    If you have established that your company wants to recognize employees in this manner, and also that individual employees want to be recognized like this, I think it makes sense to include all the gifts. You don’t have to, of course, especially if it would be prohibitively expensive. But if the costs are at all reasonable, I think it’s a nice gesture.

  36. minuteye*

    Regarding letters of reference: NO. NO. NO. Do not do this. Most of the applications that I’ve seen, the student isn’t even supposed to SEE the letter, let alone write it themselves?!?

    Maybe in other fields this is okay, but academia is really strict about stuff like this. If I were reading applications and it became clear that a student had written their own letter of reference (and these things can be easier to spot than you’d think, writing styles are pretty individualized), then 1) The student would be immediately off the list, 2) The value of a reference from the professor in question would go into the dirt. Part of the importance of a letter of reference from somebody respected in the field is that letters from them are highly sought after, and they only have enough time to provide references for a limited number of students. A letter of reference does not just represent an endorsement, it represents a time investment in the student.

    By all means, put together a list of courses you’ve taken with someone, maybe some writing samples of work you’ve produced, and give that to the professor to help jog their memory and save them time. But if the professor does not have the time, can’t remember the student well enough, or just can’t be bothered to write the letter of reference themselves, THEY SHOULD NOT WRITE THE LETTER.

    I am completely flummoxed by people saying this is standard in academia. What the heck part of academia are you from?

    1. A.*

      Several elite universities, including working as administrative assistant to a very senior professor who wrote dozens of letters a year. He never, ever drafted his own letters. If he needed a letter from someone I drafted it and sent it to the relevant person for signature. If someone wanted a letter from him, they provided a draft and he finalized it. This was standard for promotions, grants, letters of reference for graduate programs, etc. He didn’t rubberstamp the letters but any means; it was his signature and he read the drafts he signed carefully and made the adjustments he thought appropriate.

      I honestly don’t know where you can possibly be that you think professors restrict their letter writing to only a few people or that most of the letters you read are written from scratch. Although, the ghostwriting definitely becomes more common as you go up the food chain. In my experience most undergraduate professors will draft for their students but as you go up the ladder you’re expected to write your own because you should know how.

      The requirement that the student not see the letter is kept as long as as the student doesn’t see or control it after it’s been signed.

    2. Anonymous Ninja*

      Another voice of disagreement. This is very common. Of course, the student never sees the final letter.

    3. jag*

      What A and AN said.

      I haven’t worked in academia beyond internships, but have degrees from two Ivy League schools.

      1. jag*

        Oh wait, I actually forgot I did work in academia teaching for a couple years. Ack, am getting old.

    4. Marcela*

      Two elite centers, both Ivy League schools and several universities in Europe and Latin America. In all of them, the experience is the same, with professors in the top of their areas. I have to make clear that the student or subject of the letter never sees the final letter, which is sent by the professor, so we don’t really know of the professor edited or not before sending it. But in many, many informal conversation with them, all of them say they are too busy to write letters for all the people that ask them, so they receive the draft, sign it and send it just as it is. This is the standard procedure. It is not a secret.

      We have the theory that nobody writes “bad” recommendation letters. Either they are excellent or they are kind of cold, probably many times the ones we write ourselves, as it is very hard to write “I’m the best researcher ever” and we tend to be very humble. So people reading recommendation letters know how to read between lines.

      1. Marcela*

        And, I forgot to say, the higher ranked the University or the professor, the more recommendation letters they are asked to write without personally knowing or working with the person asking for the letter. For example, my former boss, a Harvard professor, used to tell us about the many letters he would be asked to write for people he didn’t know because he was in Harvard and he had a very high profile in his area. Maybe they were a special kind of recommendation letters, as all he needed to say was that the research of the candidate was groundbreaking, useful and very promising, but he simply didn’t have the time or inclination to write them. But he would not refuse, because he had to ask for the same thing when a younger researcher.

    5. Anonsie*

      The other points have already been addressed, so I’ll just note that I know plenty of academics (I might go so far as to say a majority of them once you get to a certain level of achievement) who don’t write letters whole cloth for anyone under any circumstances. The student’s doing the first draft, or one of their grad assistants is, or even someone on the admin staff is doing an outline from an existing letter written for someone else, or they’re just looking at their own letter from before and following the guidelines, or something but I’ve yet to see any academic of note write their letters of rec from scratch and it has nothing to do with how invested they are in the student’s success.

      Whether this is a good idea overall or not is a different question, but realistically if you dismissed any academic who didn’t write full reference letters and any student who received such a letter, you wouldn’t be left with a lot of people.

    6. Mel*

      Well said, totally agree. That said, it happened once to me (as a student), and I occasionally hear of it happening to others. Even grad students often do not know how to write good letters – this is doing them a disservice.
      -faculty in a STEM field at the top grad program in the US for that field.

    7. Mander*

      Absolutely standard practice at my PhD university, which is one of the top universities in the UK. The profs/lecturers will edit my draft as they see fit and I will never see the result. It’s very common for job applications to demand a reference from your PhD supervisor, even if they don’t really remember you that well. Mine have asked me to provide a draft for them to modify every time I’ve asked for a letter.

  37. Green*

    One quibble: law doesn’t require (or encourage) letters of recommendation. The only times you need LORs are (1) applying for law school (or graduate school), (2) law fellowships (most of which are academia or housed in universities) or (3) clerkships. But those aren’t legal careers, they’re usually 1-2 year programs. The vast majority of firms do not want LORs.

  38. Austinite in the tech industry*

    #3 – What to do when a recruiter is blocking you for a job you know you’re right for

    This is a rare case in which I’ll disagree with AAM, only because multiple times in my career, things worked like this:

    1) I submitted my resume to a job. Heard nothing.
    2) Months later, a recruiter asked me if I’d be interested in the same job. I explained that I had already submitted an application. The recruiter asks if I want him to investigate, and I say yes. He writes back to say the internal recruiter didn’t think I had enough years of experience in the particular domain, but being told I come with excellent references will keep me in mind for another job.
    3) A person with connections with the hiring manager contacts me and asks if I’m not interested in the job (which now has been open for 3 months). I explain the situation. The person says, “nonsense!”, talks to the hiring manager, and bingo — I have an offer.

    There are ton of recruiters who have no idea how certain types of experience would translate to the job they have to fill, so they create unnecessary barriers for people who would be great candidates. OP #3, I’d encourage you to try to find a connection (LinkedIn is great for that) to the hiring manager or someone in the same department through someone in your network, and see if you can get your foot in the door that way. I’ve already lost count of how many times a hiring manager was interested in talking to me after a recruiter has put my resume in the reject pile!

  39. Swedish Tekanna*

    Hi OP#1

    I sympathize here because it is a real pain inheriting a colleague’s personal mess. I once moved internally to replace a colleague who had left the company during a house move and I spent weeks fielding calls from surveyors, glaziers, carpet fitters and all kinds of stuff. Not abusive but a real pain in the whatsit even so. And this is what puzzles me. Why do some people take all the personal stuff on their office phone number? We have mobile phones in the 21st century. I mean, even if the employer doesn’t mind, why risk annoying your coworkers – apart from letting them be party to your personal business (especially for a debt collector of all things)?

    Do you have a special number in your location where you can report abusive phone calls?

  40. ThursdaysGeek*

    #2 – In the last couple of years, our company has added a couple of holidays. And, rather than sadness that we had to work those days in the past, I think everyone is happy that the benefits have changed and we now have those holidays.

  41. ZSD*

    The practice of having students write their own LORs is terrible. More information is available at this great blog post (which I did not write):

    1. ZSD*

      By the way, Alison, there’s a typo in the auto-response system: When I first tried to post the link, I got an error that said, “Sorry, but you are commenting to [sic] fast.”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It comes that way, which is so annoying! I have to figure out how to change it. I think I’d figured it out at one point and now it’s changed itself back.

  42. Mel*

    Re #5 – I work in academia (non-tt faculty in a graduate program). In my 11 years as an undergraduate and graduate student, I only had one person ask me to write my own letter, and that was a senior faculty member who was not very invested in students. As a faculty member, I write letters for students from scratch, although I will ask them to send me the latest version of their CV so that I can make sure to get the details right. I’m not sure it’s plagiarism to have the student write their own letter, but it certainly does a disservice to the student, as most students don’t know how to write good rec letters.

  43. Person of Interest*

    #5 – I’m not in academia, but when I have needed an LOR for professional programs, my boss liked for me to write the letter for his review, so that I could be sure to highlight what I thought was most important about my work and skills, and what my new knowledge would do for the organization. I think his rationale was that I had spent the time researching the program and thinking about what it would do for me, and so I could best articulate why I would excel at or benefit from this particular thing, rather than him just writing about my general level of fabulousness!

  44. southern commentator*

    Regarding the gifts for longevity the non-profit organization that I work for several people, including myself, have reached the 20 year mark in the last few years. I received a modest piece of artwork presented at an event where many long time “clients” were present and a co-worked received a photo book where folks he had worked with and helped wrote notes. Our managers and co-workers knew us well enough to know what we would like. It’s a great culture and so there isn’t really a worry about jealousy in folks getting different things (and we appreciate the personalization) and our vacation and sick time are appropriate as well. So, I’m a little surprised by the “standardization” of the gifts. However, I was talking to someone on the personnel committee recently and suggested that a paid sabbatical would be much appreciated by long term staff even if it was only a one time opportunity.

  45. Cassie*

    #5: I wonder how much rec letters really matter. My boss uses the same basic letter for undergrads in his class (I fill in the specifics of the student, the class/term, etc). It’s actually a little embarrassing when the student asks him for a letter and he tells them to just talk to me. I want to tell the students to find a professor that know them better and would write a better letter, but these letters seem to work in getting students into good grad programs anyway.

    For grad students, he usually asks them to prepare their own letter (they may want to highlight certain accomplishments or research), but he will add to it.

    1. Melissa*

      It depends. Some academics rely on them a lot, and others don’t pay them any attention because they know that professors are writing forms and/or that students are only going to ask people who say good things about them anyway. I wish that at least in academic hiring they would just do away with the recommendation letters and only call references for their shortlist (which usually ends up being around 10 people). It’s ridiculous to ask for 3 recommendation letters from everyone in the first round – academic jobs these days can get 200-300+ applications for a single job, and some really competitive graduate programs can get 500-700+ applicants for 5-10 slots. You know they’re not reading all those letters!

  46. Melissa*

    OP #5 – This is actually pretty common for professors to do, from undergraduates applying for graduate school all the way up to people applying for academic jobs and tenure and promotion. Different professors have different opinions about it. Personally, I HATE HATE HATE it and I think it’s unethical. Students don’t know how to write their own recommendation letters; they don’t know the right language to use, the right buzzwords to put in, and the right tone to strike. They often don’t know how to address sensitive topics that they need addressed, like a low GPA during a period of illness or a period of unproductiveness due to parental leave or other issues. Basically, I feel like if you teach students its part of your job to write them recommendations and asking them to write their own 1) is basically asking them to do their job for you and 2) is putting them at a disadvantage against people whose professors are actually writing their own.

    Asking for an outline or for particular areas to highlight isn’t bad, because the professor in question can always add to the outline in his/her own tone/voice and add things that the student left out. Asking for highlights is actually good, ebcause then the professor knows what to focus on without having to scrutinize the grad program/postdoc/job their student is applying for.

    It’s not plagiarism per se, but it’s not doing the candidate any favors. I write mine from scratch, but I ask my students to give me 1) their CV/resume, 2) a link to the program to which they are applying and 3) if available, a copy of their personal statement for the program (drafts are fine) so I get an idea of why they are applying. I haven’t yet had the experience of writing for someone I haven’t seen in a long time, but I think in that case I would need them to write me a highlight reel of what they did in my class.

  47. Callie*

    When I was a teacher, we never got any recognition for years of service until you retired. If you left for some other reason, OH WELL. I taught at the same school for 13 years; I had been there longer than all of the teachers except for two. I left to go to graduate school. They gave me a potted plant in “recognition” of my service. I gave it to my mom because I was moving across the country and had no idea how to keep a plant alive in a moving van for a week. It died at her house within a month.

  48. s*

    I got a keychain for my 1-yr anniversary, and nothing for 2 and 3, we’ll see if there’s anything silly for yr 5. Starting at I think year 8 you get an extra week of PTO.

    As for Question #5, I’ve definitely heard of this occuring in academia. The professor is supposed to read the self-written recommendation letter and agree to what’s listed before signing it. But I agree that having the students fill out a form, and then inserting those response into a letter would be a bit better. It’s also very common for the TA to write the letter, and for the professor to sign it (I know the grad student I worked with wrote the letter that the professor I worked under sent in with my grad school applications; she knew me a lot better than he did, but his name carried much more weight!)

  49. Ronny*

    I have been in academics for 25 years. It is EXTREMELY common for faculty to have the students write their on letters of recommendation for them to edit (perhaps) and sign. I’ve done it myself a number of times and have never felt any guilt about it.

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