telling a college career center that they’re giving bad advice, I don’t want to go full-time, and more

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

1. I agreed to go full-time at some point, but now I don’t want to

I started my current job almost a year ago. During the interview, it was mentioned that I’d start part-time and in 3 months go full-time if everything was working out. This was not in writing, but rather a verbal agreement. Everything was working out, but the business hit a slow season and I was enjoying working part-time. Months passed and full-time was not brought up. Now, as we are getting busier, my boss said we need to get me full-time. If I would go full-time, my commute (in a heavily congested city) would be lengthened by almost an hour! Taking everything into consideration, including time spent driving… I wouldn’t be making much more. Would it be wrong of me to insist that I stay part-time, and offer to job search/train someone if they need someone full-time?

If you want to stay part-time, it’s not wrong to be up-front about that, as long as you recognize that that might not work for your employer and they might need to replace you with a full-time person (which it sounds like you do realize). I mean, yes, you did agree to go full-time originally, but it’s not like you’re refusing to do it three weeks in — you’ve been there nearly a year, you’ve realized that the original agreement won’t work for you, and you’re willing to opt out completely if they’d prefer. (And really, I could just as easily argue that they too changed the agreement a bit; after all, they’d originally promised you full-time work after three months, which didn’t happen.) It’s fine to try to renegotiate.

2. Being offered a different job while waiting on a formal offer from the one I really want

I recently completed a multi-month evaluation process for a city job that was publicly advertised. I got to the final selection interview and was told they were not going to select me for the job I had been interviewing for, but they liked me so much they were going to create a position for me right away. I have had multiple phone discussions about the position they want to hire me for, even so far as to discuss start date, salary, etc. I have effectively verbally agreed to the verbal offer. The most recent update was that the process is taking a longer than anticipated but that a written offer would be coming in the next couple of days and I should plan to start in four days.

In the meantime, I have received another offer from a private company, in writing, that also wants me to start in four days. I want to politely decline the private company but leave an opportunity to have discussions again if for some reason the city job just completely falls through. Can I openly just tell them that I am finalizing a city offer and that I would like a chance to talk with them if the city gig doesn’t work out?

Sure, you can do that. You can also call up the city job and say, “I have another offer that needs a response quickly. I want to take the job with you, but until I have a formal offer, I’m uncomfortable turning down the other role. Is there a way to expedite things?”

Of course, in government it’s rarely possible to expedite things, so you might also see if you can get a little bit more time from the second employer.

3. Should I tell a college career center that they’re giving out bad advice?

I took up a new hobby and a new circle of friends, many of whom are younger people who recently graduated college and are looking for their first non-retail jobs. A company that I used to work for hires a lot of people in that stage of their careers, so I’ve passed along a couple of resumes.

I recently got one resume that was put together in a way that made it hard to read and included a lot of non-specific information and filler, which surprised me because this candidate had quite a bit of directly relevant work experience. Doing a little digging, I found that this resume was built on advice that came from a local college’s career planning elective class.

Should I send this college a note and let them know what they are going is going to hurt their graduates down the line? It may not matter much for a first job, since there usually isn’t a lot to put on a resume anyway, but after that a resume in that format is going to put them behind candidates with better resumes, regardless of their qualifications.

Yes, please. College career centers so frequently give out terrible advice and they need to hear that feedback if there’s any hope of them changing. You’d be doing their students and alumni a huge service if you pointed this out to them. And let them know specifically that their advice almost denied one of their graduates a job.

4. Mentioning personal, non-professional qualifications in a cover letter

Is it a good or bad idea to talk in a cover letter about how my personal, non-job-related background has (in my opinion) enhanced some skills necessary for the job I’m applying for? It’s a job doing administrative and editorial work for an international organization, and they specifically mention that an ability to work in a multicultural setting would be an asset. I immigrated to the US at a young age and grew up in communities of immigrants, and from a young age was doing things like proofreading ESL speakers’ written communications. I’m not intending to use this experience as evidence of my proofreading or other technical skills, but I do think my entire background has made me comfortable interacting with people with different levels of English ability and cultural assimilation, and I’ve been thinking about how to improve intercultural communication for a very long time. Since this is a skill they want and I think I have, I think I should mention it; on the other hand it feels weird and possibly unconvincing to be talking about my childhood in a job application. What do you think?

Sure, that’s great to mention. There’s no rule that you can only talk about specifically professional experiences — sometimes there are other things in your life that demonstrate experience or skills that are highly relevant. (There IS a rule that you can’t generally do it if those experiences are from things tons of other people have done — like raising children or planning your own wedding — but what you’re talking about isn’t so universal that it would trigger that rule.)

5. Signaling that I’m a woman, despite a male-sounding name

I’m a woman with a very male first name and a neutral middle name. I know employers assume I’m a man, and in one phone interview, the interviewer went incredibly cold upon learning I was [first name] and I wasn’t able to salvage that interview. Within the hour I got the “We’re no longer considering you” email. Most interviewers aren’t so rude, but I do worry that it’s impeding my ability to find a job.

Do you have any advice? I feel like drawing attention to my gender in resumes/cover letters would be tasteless. I try to laugh off the initial confusion with “I know, it’s an unusual name for a woman,” but I’m not sure if that’s actually helping.

Sign your correspondence like this:
Ms. Sam Plufferton

It’s more formal than most people use, but it will be clear why you’re doing it. That’s a pretty common way of handling this.

{ 244 comments… read them below }

  1. Shell*


    A slight variation on Alison’s suggestion: the way I usually see signatures for this issue is “Sam Plufferton (Ms.)”, and I like that a lot better than Ms. Sam Plufferton. In my opinion, having the honourific in front makes it actually sound formal because that’s how the address is read aloud (or in one’s head), but noting the honourific at the end feels more like an FYI mention.

    1. lonepear*

      I had a colleague who used this form–she did a lot of correspondence with people outside the US, and while most English speakers would recognize her name as feminine, many others wouldn’t, so her clarification was often appreciated.

      1. Shell*

        I used to work in law, and that’s where I saw this type of signature a lot. I’ve screwed up on pronouns more than a few times myself, so I really appreciated the heads-up. Our email exchanges were always fine, but I often didn’t know my correspondent’s gender from looking at their name and they didn’t know mine.

    2. UKAnon*

      That said, I am entirely unclear as to why an interview became unsalvagable because she was a woman not a man… Personally, I think it matters not a jot what gender you are and shouldn’t come into the hiring process in the slightest. That said, if you want to avoid confusion, I think I prefer Shell’s way because it does sound less formal. The bigger problem, to me, is that employers still need to know gender in job applications though.

      1. James M*

        Some people (<3 weasel words) become very upset when their preconceptions are challenged by reality. They regularly make up their own "facts" and show hostility towards anyone and anything that contradicts those notions. For example, one such person might honestly believe that photocopying a mirror will produce another photocopier, and then they'll call tech support when it doesn't work.

        1. SophiaB*

          Oooh! I am borrowing this analogy for when my days are full of Help Desk Requests that boil down to ‘the system is working as expected. It’s not supposed to do what you’re asking it to. Because that would be illegal’.

        2. Artemesia*

          Maybe. I am sure the failure to meet expectations is part of it. But most of all, this is sexism. He isn’t interesting in hiring a woman.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Yes, this. And probably assumed that the LW was somehow deceptively using a male name to get past the ‘proper’ filters that would have screened her out.

            LW, I know it’s disheartening, but if you had a more feminine name you’d just be screened out before the interview stage.

            1. LW5*

              “LW, I know it’s disheartening, but if you had a more feminine name you’d just be screened out before the interview stage.”

              Ugh, you’re probably right but that’s absolutely disgusting!

            2. Not a Jane*

              Possibly, but I think it equally could be what James’ suggested. I have a very male name (think Roger or John rather than something ambiguous like Sam or Alex) and more than once someone has called me and hung up in surprise when they realize I’m not a man. I also have a lot of people assume I am a PA or receptionist and repeatedly as to speak to John Roger even after I tell them, “Yes, speaking.” and “Yes, that’s me.” Some people are just really thrown when their preconceptions are incorrect.

              1. neverjaunty*

                Well, sure, but there’s a difference between ‘oh, wrong number’ or being a little thrown off, and deciding to be personally offended and tossing out a candidate over it.

              2. Student*

                There’s actually a pretty substantial body of research on the impact your name has on getting screened out at the resume stage. It’s very easy to research, unlike the rest of the process – send out the same resume, but change the name, and see what the different response rates are for various names.

                Women do get screened more than men. Names with minority ethnic or racial overtones also get screened. One of the more fascinating studies I read indicated that women in particular get screened out primarily by young women – low-level HR employees who serve as resume gate-keepers at many companies are predominantly women.

              1. Pineapple Incident*

                That’s kind of terrifying, and very sad. As a woman, it hurts. But we see that all the time, and there was also that story about the guy who changed his name on his resume from Jose to Joe and immediately started getting interviews. That initial screen is the killer.

        3. Shay*

          I’ve seen this happen a lot online, where most of the time, there is no indication of one’s gender. I’ve had people make assumptions about my gender that were almost always false, and then get mad at me / berate me when the truth was somehow revealed. I’ve been accused of lying about my gender. Not the case — I didn’t mention it at all, and they made a false assumption. That’s not my problem.

          It sounds like that’s what happened to the OP — the employer made a false assumption, and then tried to make that her problem.

          1. manybellsdown*

            There’s actually a website where you can plug in a sample of your writing, and it will guess the gender of the person who wrote it. Apparently there are actual differences in how men and women (in a very general sense) type. This cleared up something for me – which was that unless my online name directly specified I was female, I was mistaken for male. Often I was told I “type like a man” and I had no idea at all what that meant. But if I plug my writing into the “gender guesser”, it comes back marked “strongly male” almost every time. Even when the writing sample was a short story about a girl visiting her childhood home and contained solely female pronouns.

            1. Shay*

              If this is true, 99% of the women I know “write like men” because they’re mistaken for men in written mediums. I’ve used a gender guesser online too, don’t know if it was the same one. I think the reason is not that women write like men, but that writing, historically, is a male activity — so when women do it, they must be men.

              Once I used a pseudonym like “Penny” and another like “Sally” and both times, was referred to as “he”.

              Hell, once, in college, we read an article written by a woman named Laura. It wasn’t published as L. Lastname, it was Laura Lastname. My classmates still referred to her as “he”. And one guy was horribly offended when he realized her name was “Laura” — he even said “No way a woman could write this, it’s too good.” Our (male) TA chewed him out for that one.

            2. AW*

              The problem is that the male gender is considered the “default” so that unless something makes it explicit that the person in question is female, they’re assumed to be a male.

              It isn’t that your writing has something in it that implies a guy wrote it, it’s that you writing doesn’t have anything in it that implies that a woman wrote it. (What that would be, I have no idea. I can’t even guess at what would make writing ‘girly’.)

            3. Katie*

              I find this fascinating! I just went to one the sites to tell you which gender wrote it – and I was expecting it to say ‘99% female’ … I used a recent cover letter I wrote for a job that I thought was well written … but it says male, overwhelmingly! So I tried a recent blog post – figured that was more informal, a journal entry style – and still male, over the top! I never know this was a thing!

      2. Sarahnova*

        Yeah, I think the lesson I would take from this is that LW#5 dodged a bullet in not working for a guy who went “cold” as soon as he found out that HE had made a mistake in thinking she was male.

      3. MK*

        The only borderline sane explanation is that he felt the OP has misrepresented herself somehow.

        1. LW5*

          I think people think I’m Transgender (still no reason to discriminate!). I’m also concerned that when I apply for front desk style positions that it’ll cause problems because they don’t want to confuse their customers. I’ve been job searching for a year and it’s just getting really disheartening and hard not to worry my name isn’t part of the problem when so many interviewers focus on it. :/

          My name is much more masculine than Sam. It would be more like “Ms. Jacob Sonso”

          1. Dynamic Beige*

            Can you do just an initial? Ms. J. Sonso? That way, if someone asks (which they will inevitably do), you can tell them your name — “Oh, yeah I use my initial on formal correspondence because my given name is Jacob and many people make the mistake that I am a man. It’s lead to some rather uncomfortable situations, I can assure you. Sadly, my middle name isn’t much clearer or I’d use that.” Or if they don’t ask, you can say “Please call me Jacob… I use my initial” etc. One thing you may wish to consider doing (if you haven’t already) is legally changing your name if this is something that really bothers you. Someone I knew was given a name more traditionally associated with boys because she was supposed to be a boy — surprise!

            My mother had an unusual name (seriously, I’ve never met another person who had it) and when she was younger, hated it. She made sure that her kids were given “standard” names, which has actually put me in a bind because there isn’t any flexibility in my name to shorten/lengthen/use the more formal version — imagine naming your child something along the lines of Betsy instead of Elizabeth. I have considered changing it, but I dunno, it’s kind of my name and I haven’t really seriously thought about or found one I would like better or had the circumstances where it seemed like the right time to do it (i.e. marriage)

            1. LW5*

              On changing names: It would still come up in background checks, so I’d have to explain it. Also, I have a toddler and that’s the name on his birth certificate and I can’t change it (I asked). That’s important to me, so I’m not changing my name.

              I am giving the initial thing a try now. :)

              1. Anonymous trans*

                I changed my name from a normative female one to a male one and I’ve a 2 background checks since (once to volunteer with teens) and no one has asked me about it so maybe it would not come up.

                1. LW5*

                  I didn’t realize that background checks were so rare. I missed out on a job over a background check- the HR didn’t actually have a problem with it, but the company who did the background check did. By the time I’d gotten it sorted out, the position had been given to someone else. :(

              2. Dynamic Beige*

                Yeah, but a “why did you change your first name?” question is easy to answer — “While my parents had their hearts in the right places when they named me, people have mistaken me for male my entire life because of that name. It’s lead to a lot of problems and very uncomfortable situations, like people asking me if my parents hated me. And so I decided that I’d like to simplify my life and just be Julia instead of Jacob. I’m sure you can understand why.” It’s not like you would be changing your name to avoid prosecution or dodge the cops. Women change their last names all the time because they married. Except for maybe in the case of applying for a passport or enrolling him in school (?), no one is going to need or ask to see your son’s birth certificate on a regular basis. And if they do comment on why the name is different… work out an explanation similar to the above and just say it. There are a lot of people out there who are unhappy with their given name for any number of reasons. People who write professionally or go into show business adopt stage names/pen names. I’m sure that once you tell your story you will get more sympathy than condemnation. I know I feel for you! When I was a kid, my father would call me a boy’s name ’cause he thought he was being funny or whatever (he liked to torment, but I was always “too sensitive” ) and I freakin’ hated it.

                Your other option would be to informally change your name and go by a nickname you give yourself. You would have to change your LinkedIn profile (as an example) so that anyone who Googled you would still find you that way. You would have to contact your references and let them know so that anyone calling looking for Julia Sonso is actually Jacob that they knew and they can adjust. On the day when you start your job, you would have to report to HR and go through the whole “Oh Julia is my preferred name, I just find it easier than my legal name, here is my driver’s licence/other ID, because most people assume I’m a man.” Everyone else in the company will not need to know, nor will care that your real name is Jacob and they will just address you how you wish to be called.

                However, the downside to that is going to be if you’re in a job that requires travel because without your proper legal name being on an airplane ticket that matches what’s in your passport, you ain’t going anywhere. If you cannot book your travel for yourself, this will become an issue where you will have to follow up every time and make sure the information is correct before the booking takes place. Some conferences, travel is connected to registration and… name badges so the dreaded Jacob would be put on it, unless there is a “preferred name” field (I’ve seen that a few times). I know you haven’t got a job yet so this is cart-before-the-horse territory but IMO, if you really don’t like your name, if it continues to bother you that people make the wrong assumptions, if you feel this disconnect is holding you back professionally, then it’s really no different from someone who’s got a very long last name/one with more consonants than vowels/that’s hard to pronounce changing their last name to Smith. It may upset your parents/other family members but they don’t have to live with it, you do.

          2. Noelle*

            Yeah, that’s tough. My first name is really unusual, but I’m able to put my first and middle name (Noelle) on my resume so it’s obvious. Do you have any nickname that would be more feminine? But really, it’s stupid that it’s making such a difference in job searching. Most normal people wouldn’t react the way this guy did, he’s in the wrong. :(

            1. ace*

              That’s what a friend with a ambiguous gender name did, too. Think Quinn Elizabeth Farquhar (instead of Quinn Farquhar.)

              1. manybellsdown*

                This is going to be helpful for my daughter, because I gave her a name that’s not common in America but is a common male name elsewhere. Even though it’s not a common name here, people still often think she’s male by default.

            2. Shay*

              FWIW, I agree that most folks wouldn’t react the way this interviewer did. Most of them would eat their own embarrassment and move on, really. But regardless, this isn’t ideal for the OP, unfortunately.

      4. Brooke*

        It is possible that the interviewer couldn’t adjust quickly to the unexpected turn of events, things got awkward, and the interview went downhill from there. So he could be a bad interviewer and probably a bad boss withiut necessarily being sexist.

        Recently I phone interviewed a lot of engineers with rather ethnically diverse names that were hard for me to place as one gender or another. On several occasions, the voice that came on the phone was different than the gender I was expecting and it always threw me for a bit of a loop. I’d like to think that I recovered more gracefully than the OP’s interviewer (and we ended up hiring one of the mixups) but a little (Mr.) or (Ms.) heads up would have made my life easier as an interviewer.

        I’ve also had recruiters give me phonetic spellings of challenging candidate names ahead of time. That’s also helpful!

        1. MK*

          Being unable to adjust to a candidate being female (and having such a disproportionate reaction to it) IS sexism. I mean, why be so very awkard about a simple (and apparentely understandable) mistake? It shouldn’t cause so much angst.

          1. Myrin*

            That’s my take also. I can understand expecting a person of one gender and getting one of another gender and being surprised/confused by that for a second, but there’s really no need to behave like one’s entire worldview was shattered.

          2. Mike B.*

            Yeah, unless you actually planned on treating candidates of one sex differently, this should not throw you completely off balance.

        1. Shay*

          Yes, like the “Jerome” who started including a picture so that interviewers could see he was white and not black…

          I knew someone in college, a woman, who went by “Jon”. It was short for a long, ethnically diverse name of which the first syllable was close to Jon. She was encouraged by our college career counselors to leave it as “Jon” on her resume specifically for this reason.

          It’s pretty gross that this stuff still goes on, but there it is.

          But the OP’s name is not really androgynous/unisex/ambiguous, it’s explicitly male. If I were calling someone named Quinn or Taylor or Lane, for example, I wouldn’t be surprised at whatever voice was on the other end. If I were calling Roger or Jane, on the other hand…

          1. blackcat*

            Yep, this is why my first publications were under First initial Male-sounding-Middle-name Last name.

            In that technical field (which I’ve left! in part because of sexism), I was 100% encouraged to do this by mentors, both male and female. Some women mentioned that it was “so great” I had that a male sounding middle name.

            Though I bet this might go the other way when applying for jobs traditionally held by women (someone might prefer to higher John the engineer and Jane the receptionist).

            1. Nichole*

              We chose a slightly feminized spelling of a male name (think Jaymes vs. James) for our daughter’s middle name, as well as a first name with a fairly gender neutral nickname, so she could do this. She has a very feminine and somewhat trendy first name, so we wanted to give her as many options as possible to allow her name to fit her needs and personality. It makes me aggravated how much evidence we’ve seen since naming her that giving her the “D. Jaymes” option was a smart call on the job search front.

        2. Alex*

          I am sad to admit this but I am often very thankful to be able to go by “Alex” as a female. I honestly feel that it has helped me get interviews for positions that are held by a majority of males.

    3. M-C*

      #5, don’t be deluded that letting them know up front that you’re a woman is going to help your chances of getting a job. All you’re going to accomplish is that you won’t even get that phone call. What you’re seeing is sexism in action, the fact that you’re seeing it more clearly than most because of your name isn’t going to make it go away.

      1. LW5*

        Ugh, that’s awful. I really would have preferred thinking that it was just being thrown off by a woman with a male name than not wanting a woman period. I started applying with a female nickname and haven’t gotten any responses, though, so it seems like that’s the case.

        1. Dovahkiin*

          My first name is Daniel – and I was named after my grandfather. In my mother’s country, it is pronounced as the female variation (Danielle), but the spelling for the male/female name is the same. I’ve never put Ms. on a resume, but my work experience includes policy work at a major women’s/feminist organization, and I got a Master’s from a women’s college, so reading between the lines – there are some gender signifiers in there.

          I’ve experienced some comedy of errors type double takes and assumptions when I’ve come into interviews, but they’ve always been smoothed over in seconds. When interview phone calls are scheduled, I just usually off-handedly mention, “by the way, my name is pronounced Danielle.” I know you might not have that luxury, but I think mentioning it once you get your foot in the door – “I just want to mention, because it’s surprised people before, that I’m a woman named Ryan (or whatever)” is less awkward than gendering a resume, which most people don’t have to do. Also there’s that whole sexism thing – honestly, while you’re job searching, you want any edge you can get.

          I think you dodged a bullet with the jerk who went cold!

    4. Wren*

      Interesting. That seems really awkward to me and I would wonder why the person would put it that way. It seems to call attention to itself because it is a non-standard way of doing it.

  2. Jess*

    My university’s career office was the worst. When I decided to change majors they had me pay a hundred dollars for a two-day battery of tests to determine my strengths, weaknesses, and interests. I filled out a ton of scantrons. Then, at the moment of truth, the woman sat across from me at a conference table, opened my dossier, and told me I was perfectly suited to be a rock star.

    Totally flabbergasted, I managed to say, “You don’t have that major here.” She looked kind of disappointed in me and asked, “Do you play the guitar or anything, maybe the drums? Could you join a band? This is what it says you’re supposed to be when you grow up.”

    1. BRR*


      Did you ask for your money back? This is like a psychic telling you want they think you want to hear.

      1. College Career Counselor*

        I’d bet you won’t get your money back ($200 seems steep to me–places I’ve worked had a deal for $41 dollar), because they’re trying to make money on students. Which is terrible. My employers have always defaulted to low/no-cost assessment instruments and have generally picked up the cost to students (we did charge a break-even for alumni out more than a year).

        That said, that’s terrible advising on the part of the career counselor. You NEVER take those results as a “this is what you’re meant to do in life” directive. If they’re used properly, it’s supposed to provide a guideline to additional research/exploration AND the counselor is supposed to review/analyze the test-taker’s experience, skills and background to figure out what might legitimately make sense.

        As for the orginial letter about the crappy resume advising from the career center, you might have some traction if you indicate that for your field/industry, their format doesn’t work. If you’re feeling particularly generous, offer to do a tutorial. Now, if it’s just crappy advice (ie, only functional resumes in purple 8 point font with obscure yet lengthy objective statements), that’s not going to work.

        There is a non-zero chance that the student has completely misinterpreted the career center advice and botched the resume on his/her own. But it doesn’t sound like it in this case.

        1. Megan A.*

          Sounds like someone who is realllly bad at interpreting the Strong Interest Inventory. When we provide students with feedback on their Strong results, we specifically say that just because the battery says you should be something does not mean you should run out and change your career path. Rather, think of the qualities and roles of the careers that are mentioned. For example, if the Strong suggests the military as a career, perhaps the person would excel in an environment with lots of structure, specific deadlines, and challenges. The Strong is a starting point for a much more in depth analysis and discussion of one’s career path.

          As you can tell, I work in a college career office, and I may be biased, but I think we give our students great advice and work diligently to remain current on hiring trends. Sometimes, students really misinterpret or flat out ignore the advice we give. Case in point- to prepare for the required internship that all students must do, students are required to utilize a Resume Writing Guide to create a rough draft of their resume, attend a Resume Writing Workshop where they refine their rough draft, and meet one-on-one with a career counselor to get feedback and make changes. I’d say 50% of the resumes that come to me (their internship coach) are absolutely terrible. When I ask if they remember learning about achievement statements, they certainly know what they are. They have just neglected to actually utilize the information they learned while creating their resumes. Certainly, there’s room for improvement for our career center in terms of ways in which we deliver information, but it’s also shocking to me how many students just think that we’ll write it for them if they end up doing a terrible job.

          Finally, I have encountered faculty who have given bad resume advice. Perhaps that’s the case here?

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Not just a musician, but a rock star specifically. How useful to know that it’s that easy to just decide that that’s your path, and then poof, you’re a rock star! I feel like thousands of teenagers could use this information.

      1. Stephanie*

        This and the Jess’s comment made me literally LOL.

        I feel like that could maybe be useful in saying that you should look for jobs that involve a lot of presentations or something, but just earnestly suggesting you become a rock star?

        I am glad I didn’t pay for my university’s career test battery.

    3. lonepear*

      Going by the job postings I’m looking at here in Silicon Valley, I think there may be some openings for you…!

    4. TheLazyB*

      “This is what it says you’re supposed to be when you grow up.”

      Supposed to be. Wow. This is possibly the best worst advice I’ve ever heard.

    5. Brenda*

      Every time these questions come up about university career services I bristle a bit, because I work in a university career service and the advice and guidance we give is pretty much in line with everything I read here, and we try to be up to date with current hiring practices.

      This is absolutely the worst thing I’ve ever heard. There are so many things wrong with this practice that I can’t even ….. I hope she’s not still there. Ugh. We are not all like this!

      1. Chocolate lover*

        Agree with Brenda! My former office provides GREAT service, and the employers we worked with supported us and agreed with us. And we work with some pretty big name/powerful companies. AND the advice is also in line with what Alison says.

        The rock star thing is appalling. First, my office provided those assessment tools at no charge to students, though I realize not all can afford that. But more importantly, those tools aren’t typically intended to mandate that someone do one, specific career, and the advisor should know that. They’re meant to suggest possible career ideas, and to help identify some patterns and trends that could suggest possible other career paths or industries to research and explore. That particular person was definitely out of line!

        1. little Cindy Lou who*

          I graduated from the school of business at my university and they did a pretty good resume review. All of the Big 4 audit firms recruited from there and PWC was a regular donor (I sat in accounting classrooms branded with their logo) so I think they kept a pulse on what employers wanted out of their grads. Granted they did teach objective statements, but that was 2005. At least they didn’t tell us to buy resume paper.

      2. Anon-na-na*

        Seconded! I also work in university career development, and it pains me whenever I hear stories like this. I love what I do, and I work hard to stay current through my many relationships with hiring managers and recruiters, professional associations, and marvelous blogs like this one (especially this one). We are definitely not all dispensing outdated, uninformed advice (and many of us form lasting connections with our alums, providing resources and advice through their first decade out of uni and beyond).

        1. Artemesia*

          I worked for a time in a university program where our undergraduates, although basically liberal arts graduates, has a great record of job placement and early promotion. They were supposed to use the very expensive (to our college — we essentially paid taxes from tuition to support it) — career center but the advice when forthcoming was ludicrous. We ended up having to create our own staff to help students develop resumes, create search strategies, practice interviews etc. I know that 10 or 15 years ago they were doing ‘objectives’ but most of the rest of the advice was pretty consistent with what is suggested here and in particular a focus on achievement and competence.

      3. Sabrina*

        I wish I had known about schools with good career centers a couple of years ago when I was going back. Mine is useless.

    6. Mimmy*

      What the….? I thought my friend’s test indicating she should be a forest ranger was bad!! (this was way back when I was in college). She was an art major and loved animals. After years of constantly taking those free online career assessments, I’ve learned that without proper guidance from a professional, they’re useless. Sounds like the advisor in OP3’s case was just as useless, though.

      So disheartening that this is such a common complaint about university career centers. It’s probably true for government career centers too (e.g. county One Stop centers).

      1. Adam*

        I took one of these tests and it told me I should be a Christmas Tree farmer. At the time I was completely confused, but now it actually sounds kind of appealing…

        1. Harley Quinn*

          LOL…the Christmas trees we get are grown and sold by ex-convicts. (They’re in a special organization which provides work experience to people in transition.) I wonder what was in your answers that made you score that career?

      2. knitcrazybooknut*

        Mine was Forest Ranger, too!! Awesome. I currently work with massive amounts of data, and I’m often trying to see the forest for the trees. Does that count?

        My favorite mention was when Daria was told to become a funeral home director.

        1. EEE*

          I took one of those in high school, and it told me I would be best as: a therapist, a fashion designer, an interior designer, or a horse trainer. While I’ve wound up as none of those, it actually did a good job at pinning down some strengths: I’m good at psychology, and I have a good eye for color. I think those tests can actually be really helpful to high school students, just to remind them that there are SO MANY types of jobs out there, not just generic blue- or white-collar jobs.

      3. Cath in Canada*

        I took one that came back with “teacher of a subject I’ve never studied in my whole life” as the top hit. After I’d painstakingly entered detailed information about every subject I’d ever studied.

    7. fposte*

      This reminds me of regular poster Rana, now on hiatus, who had a career center tell her (a historian) that she should be a submarine captain.

      1. Nashira*

        The Navy genuinely wanted to put my husband on track for that, with his former sub captain uncle supporting it. I’m so glad he got injured and they stopped calling…

      2. Editor*

        I explained to the career center advisor (I ended up with the director and thought he would give great advice…) that I no longer wanted to be a librarian. Among other things, the job market had cratered and I would have to borrow to get the master’s degree.

        Admittedly, this was a looong time ago, but his advice still rankles. I was married, and he informed me that his wife was a librarian, it was an excellent career for a married woman, and I should forget any alternatives and become a librarian. There was no discussion about my skills or any alternatives.

  3. BRR*

    1) I would ask, not insist. Also by asking to stay part-time they may not want to keep you around while you job hunt/they hire someone if it doesn’t match their needs. I’m not sure how much you need the money but just consider that when making your decision. A possible alternative could be going full-time and starting a job hunt.

    2) Not only does government rarely expedite things but it stuck out that they created a new position. A government job being created quickly doesn’t strike me as something that happens often (or really at many employers). Congratulations on two offers!

    3) I wish there was a way to politely recommend Alison’s book. Last time she ran a sale on it I posted it and said for people to gift it to all recent grads. You might get push back from them but it’s in the students’ best interest for the career center to be set straight.

    5) Ugh that sucks that it really throws people off that much. It’s not like you’re lying about anything. I think people just get an idea in their head and when you differ from it, it’s too late.

    1. Z*

      ” I think people just get an idea in their head and when you differ from it, it’s too late.”


  4. Ali*

    #1 sounds a little bit like a situation I’m in, with some changes. I expressed to my supervisor at my second, part-time job around three months ago that I wanted to go full-time. We have a good relationship, she likes my work and I like what the company is doing. Unfortunately, it’s a small company with not a lot of financial resources, and while there’s enough to pay me consistently for my part-time work, there just isn’t enough money for more salary for a full-time role. I’ve ended up having to look around for other full-time opportunities (my boss doesn’t know this). But yeah, the original plan and optimism hasn’t panned out yet after the same time period, but I want to look out for myself. Admittedly, though, I feel a little bad that I’m looking around for something more stable, even though my boss and I didn’t have an agreement on a date I’d become full-time. I do trust that if I find something, she’s not going to go crazy (others have left the company too and she’s been supportive of them), but it does feel kind of crappy of me after saying I wanted to be full-time.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If they didn’t agree to make you full-time (and it sounds like they didn’t), it’s not crappy of you to be looking for something that is full-time. You asked if they could do it for you, they said they couldn’t, and so it’s very reasonable to now be looking for an employer who can.

    2. Stephanie*

      Please. Don’t feel bad. It’s a business, not a charity. If y’all have had the conversation about full-time work and it’s not an option, I’m sure she won’t be surprised if you do end up leaving for full-time work.

      Current Company hires lots of people part-time (myself included) and they are not at all surprised when people leave for full-time work. I think most reasonable employers know that a lot of people can’t live on a part-time salary without some outside form of support.

    3. neverjaunty*

      Why would it be crappy of you? This is business, not a marriage. You need a full-time job, they’re not able to offer you one.

      1. Zillah*

        This. And, while PT is indeed what some people are looking for, there are far more PT jobs than there are people who only want to work PT. At the end of the day, hiring people to work PT saves the business money. The trade-off of not having to pay people to work FT (with all the benefits included in that) is that you’re unlikely to have the same stability as you might for a FT job. If they don’t understand that, they’re living in the stone age.

  5. no mutant enemy we shall certify*

    #5: Long story, but I used to have ‘public facing’ persona who was female. I’m male, straight, and have a really deep voice Sometimes I’d have to talk to someone on the phone who didn’t know the reality of the situation and the reactions could be “interesting”. But after a minute or two, people adjusted. No one – not even the extremely conservative member of congress I was once assigned to work with – had an issue with it that interfered with us working together.

    And so, to my mind, it is more than slightly odd that you encounter the behavior that you do from potential clients. Are there other factors involved? Say, geography, or culture, or the nature of your business, that might somehow lead people to act like this? I guess there is a part of me that simply does not want to accept that the notion that these people are men, who expect to deal with a man, and they reject you because they don’t think a woman can do the job. So I’m wondering what else it could be.

    1. Delyssia*

      Alternately, one possibility is that getting a man when expecting a woman is viewed as a bonus, while getting a woman when expecting a man is a disappointment. Not that anyone would be consciously thinking that, but if on some level, they rank men higher, it could play out that way.

    2. Sherm*

      I wonder whether the OP’s unpleasant experience with that one interviewer (who probably would have been difficult to work for anyway, so good riddance) has left her overly wary. I would hope that any sane interviewer over 12 can quickly get over it when there’s some gender confusion.

      1. Z*

        It certainly has, although a lot of interviewers make note of the name in the interview (beyond the initial confusion- which I’m still not sure how to address). Given how rough the job market is, I really can’t help but be worried that my name is being used as a black mark against me and that if they have to choose between 2 or 3 near-equally qualified candidates, I’m getting tossed out because of that. :/

    3. LW5*

      Is your legal name female? People have A hard time with that. A public persona is easier to swallow. It’s not just something I’ve gotten while job searching- I had one person ask if my parents hated me. :/

      It’s sad how gender normative people still are. It shouldn’t matter, but it does.

      1. Treena Kravm*

        The gender norms do play a role, but honestly lots of people just feel uncomfortable with the unknown. I have an rare, ethnic name (never met another person with it, ever) that is most definitely, 100% female. But for some reason, most people looking at it written just assume it’s a male name. Any google search would clearly indicate that, but people/hiring managers tend to be really lazy.

  6. Andrew*

    #1 It seems like the majority of your concern about going full-time is the commute being longer, which I’m guessing is due to rush hour traffic. Maybe you could negotiate what times you come in and leave so you can avoid the traffic?

    1. Wee*

      Yes! This is what I’ve done in my job and it does make a difference to get in at 6:30 and leave at 3:30. At least in my area it helps with traffic.

    2. SophiaB*

      Yes! A lot of our customers have our consultants work with them from 0800hrs – 1500hrs for this reason. They only have to get up half-an-hour earlier than usual, because the commute is short, and then they’re released earlier so they beat the traffic and have time to do things after work.

      I was opposed to it initially (I’m a nightowl and hate getting up in the mornings), but my consultants are really happy about the change in hours.

    3. Adam*

      It is amazing what shifting my schedule an hour earlier can do for my commute. I feel like I have so much of my day left that getting up earlier doesn’t seem like a big deal.

  7. Zahra*

    #5: why would you want to advertise your gender in your application materials? Chances are, you’re getting more calls because of the masculine name! That interviewer was an ass and the way he behaved could probably be used as proof of discrimination (although it probably doesn’t cross the bar by itself).

    1. Lee*

      Actually, I kind of took it the interviewer assumed OP was submitting the name in a way that would get more interviews and had this confirmed with the reaction.

      1. olives*

        Even if that’s what they think is happening, I’d still say go for it. It doesn’t make it not discrimination just because they think you were trying to get past their discriminatory behavior.

    2. Sarahnova*

      Yeah, I’ve gotta admit, my cynical first thought was that being read on paper as male is probably helping LW#5 get through CV screens, and anyone who cuts her from consideration on finding out she is female is someone she really doesn’t want to work for. (The interviewer from her story sounds like an unreasonable ass who would make a horrible boss.)

      I would personally not make any changes, at least when applying for jobs.

    3. Chicken Lips*

      It’s sad to me that someone’s male-ish name would make them a more desirable interview candidate in 2015.

      1. Sarahnova*

        Sad, but, as studies demonstrate, true.

        We should all do our bit to keep changing that, but if a male-coded name helps in the meantime, milk that cow for all it’s worth!

      1. neverjaunty*

        LW #5, one jerk or a difficult job market doesn’t mean you will “never get the job” – don’t get discouraged! And you also won’t get a job at a place that screens out women.

        1. LW5*

          It just feels like it. This was actually a bad day for this to be published. I’ve had 2 crackers and a few sips of water in the last 24 hours because my job thought it was acceptable to force me to work around heavy cleaning fumes in an unventilated area. I complained to everyone in my department and got shrugged off. Ignoring how sick I am, I’m also in a state of absolute despair that I’m trapped at a job that doesn’t give two craps about me as a person. :(

            1. LW5*

              I am. I’m not sure what to do about it. I’m thinking about putting in a complaint with hr. Any suggestions?

              1. neverjaunty*

                First, document everything – keep notes (at home, not at work) in a neutral manner. i.e., don’t make personal remarks or rant, just something like “March 27, while working in Conference Room #1 started to feel sick from chemical fumes from the hallway cleaning going on. Asked Wakeen and Parsleigh for a respirator or to be allowed to take a break and was told ‘stop whining.”

                If your boss is responsive, talk to your boss; Senior Blogger Green may disagree, but I’m not sure that HR is a help here.

                You can also complaint anonymously to agencies like OSHA, though keep in mind your work may suspect it was you and retaliate:

                If your work is an ongoing pile of suck, talk to an employment lawyer. If you are in the US, most states’ bar associations have referral programs where you can talk to an attorney in the relevant area (in your case, employee-side employee law) for free. Also, most employee-side lawyers work on contingency, meaning you could pick one and talk to them for free anyway to find out what your options are. Note, this doesn’t mean you have to run off and sue your employer! But they can give you advice on your legal rights, whether and where you should complain, and so on.

                1. LW5*

                  I’ll see about it… I’ve been having a lot of problems, and I’m not the only one (a co-worker got bullied out of taking pumping breaks :( ). I really just want to find another job, though.

      2. Ms Kyle*

        I’m another woman with a mostly male-sounding first name and an unambiguously male-sounding middle name. I just want to chime in and say that you’re totally not imagining this… I have experienced the conversational death that happens when someone realizes they’ve been mis-gendering you since they first saw your resume.

        I think partly it’s sexism but it’s partly just awkwardness. And if someone assumes you’re female, then realizes you’re male, then realizes that they’re disappointed that you’re not male, then they notice that they’re kind of sexist and they feel bad about themselves, which doesn’t make them want to give you a job. It’s kind of a sexism-awkwardness double-whammy.

        Just saying “Ms.” helps a lot less than you would think. I still got loads of people assuming I was male. I would advise you to put as many clues to your gender as possible. Other things I have done: made sure I have a photo on my LinkedIn and that I look unambiguously feminine in it (I’m conventionally feminine-looking – if you have a more butch or androgynous look this might not be best for you), mention women’s organizations I belong to, even if they’re not all that big of a deal to me/relevant to the job, left the fact that I was the treasurer of my college’s women’s chorus on my resume waaaaaay past when I otherwise would have.

    4. CC*

      Indeed. I am reminded of the story of Mr. Kim. (Short version: man named Kim consistently got rejections until he put “Mr. Kim” instead of “Kim” on his resume, then consistently got interviews. Resume was otherwise identical.)

  8. Kathlynn*

    For the question with the male sounding name. Would this be an incident worth reporting for gender discrimination?

    1. LW5*

      That specific incident happened a year ago and I haven’t faced anything so blatant since. I wouldn’t know how to report that, and in the hiring process it may be very hard to prove.

      1. Lemon*

        Every state has an agency responsible for handling discrimination complaints, and you should definitely consider reporting this to your state agency. You can find a list here:

        Even if what happened to you might not be enough, on its own, for action against the employer, it’s always possible they have something else pending against the employer (or will in the future), in which case the information from you could help to build that case.

  9. Stephanie*

    #3 – Yes, please! Tell them! You don’t have to be like “Your resume advice sucks”, but give them constructive, actionable feedback and be clear to tell them a student almost didn’t get a job.

  10. Marzipan*

    #3, by all means flag up to the college that someone who’d taken their class produced a horrible resume, but bear in mind that you’ve only heard the college’s advice through the filter of that person so don’t know at first hand what they’re actually advising.

    I manage a team of students, and the senior team members have to reapply each year and go through a competetive recruitment process alongside new applicants, so we can ensure we have a committed senior team. I remember one of them once filling his application with loads of waffle about sport, even though the role doesn’t relate to sport at all; and he hadn’t related the sport to the role by mentioning the transferable skills he (as someone with relatively little work history) could demonstrate from his sporting activities (although there would have been plenty of these). He just gave a lengthy description of how he spent his spare time, basically.

    As it happened, he was lucky – there were relatively few new applications that year and he was reappointed him in spite of this. When I made a point of sitting him down and explaining how it had hurt his application, he said he’d been told it was good to include sport! Now, I’m quite sure the university careers service didn’t advise him to do that in a blanket way – I know them, and they provide students with a good service. However, he’d heard the part about sport and not absorbed the part about what he’d be trying to achieve by mentioning it.

    So, I absolutely think it’s worth telling the college about the poor results the students who take their class are producing, but I wouldn’t 100% assume it’s because the advice was bad to begin with. The end result is the same – an iffy resume – but if you tell the college ‘don’t tell your students to do x, y, and z’ and they never actually told them to do this things in the first place, they may not take it on board; whereas if it’s couched more in terms of ‘I noticed that a student who’d taken your class did x, y, and z on their resume which was a problem because a, b and c’ then, if their advice is generally solid but being misinterpreted in places, they can tighten up those areas. (And if actually their advice is rubbish, you’ve still told them.)

    Personally, I found the most useful thing in strengthening my own applications was learning what actually happened to them at the other end – the first time I ever helped shortlist for a job, I learned a huge amount and massively increased how often I was invited to interviews from my own job applications – it was a total lightbulb moment. So, I always try to pass that understanding on to my own team.

    1. Chocolate lover*

      +100. While I’m sure there are some career centers that provide poor service (the rock star example up-thread being one of them), some actually do know what they’re doing. But advising and teaching college students, I’ve also seen plenty of cases where information or advice gets “lost in translation” along the way, or someone latches on to what they want to hear, etc. Of course that’s not at all unique to college students, people of any age do that. But I do feel like sometimes the default is to automatically bash university career centers, when they’re actually only one part of the equation, with the student being the other part.

      Now if the OP saw a sample resumes from said career elective class and it looked like the new grad’s resume, there’s reason to be concerned.

    2. Annonymous*

      OP#3 here. Half this resume was taken up by three paragraphs generally describing the candidate’s writing skills and ability to learn new software – think boiler plate from the most generic cover letter you’ve ever seen. Also the work experience was in chronological order, oldest first. We’re not talking questionable prioritizing of content; the resume was a formatting train wreck.

      When I sent back my feedback, the former student’s response was “That is exactly the opposite of what my class told me to do. “

      1. fposte*

        But I think it’s a legitimate point that you don’t know what the student actually heard, so if you do reach out to the career center, I’d allow for that possibility.

      2. ComputerGeek*

        I’m not convinced that a stranger reaching out to somebody at the career center is going to accomplish anything other than wasting your time.

        Why not have the student contact them? “This is feedback I was given. I thought I would return the favor of your helping me with my resume so you have an example from a business.”

        If I were the counselor, I would place more emphasis on data coming from a known source than some possible crackpot contacting me out of the blue. I’d delete such unsolicited email after a 20 second read.

        If one of your friends were advising you similarly, instead of me, would you give it more weight? :)

        1. M-C*

          Deleting mail from ‘crackpots’ unread is probably a large part of why career services often dish out such bad advice.. Setting an example for students not to listen to advice from people in a position to give it.

  11. AGH*

    #3, there must be a rule that all college career centers are terrible. Mine gave me terrible advice about my resume and provided me with outdated info on finding a job in my field. Luckily, my mom had some sense, helped me redo my resume and talk with a professional after graduation!

    1. Brenda*

      I said this above, but we are not all terrible! I’m sorry you had a bad experience, but not all career services are filled with idiots.

      1. SophiaB*

        It’s also worth noting that College / University career centres can’t get it right for everyone in every career. It was a complete waste of time sending me to the careers office when I was working towards a military career, because the selection process for that is so different to everything else. My friend who was doing her teaching qualification got tons of helpful advice that she could put into practice.

        I appreciate that most advice around CVs etc. is applicable across the board, but if you’re going for something niche and technical, you’re going to need different advice to someone who’s goal is to become a film director.

        I feel for careers officers who have to deal with people like me!

        1. Artemesia*

          This is a good point. My college’s career center was fair for placing accountants, engineers, teachers — people who had a clear career track placement process. They hosted corporations interviewing for trainee spots etc. But we were producing generalists with excellent organizational and people skills in our program who needed a creative search process. The students when they got management trainee, HR, etc positions did well, but they got zero help from the career center and what advice they got was not much better than the ‘show gumption’ advice of their grandfathers.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Not all terrible! But many are. I was actually just thinking about this yesterday for some reason. I am in the alumni database at both my undergrad and grad universities. Every email I’ve received via the undergrad alumni database has been inappropriate in some way. The latest was an email in June requesting an internship (not an interview, an internship) at my company, saying “they could use some more of the passion that [alma mater] brings.” Uh, no, dude. When I emailed him back to tell him I no longer work there and here’s the link for the internship application, I got no response. I also got an unsolicited resume asking for a job from a person who had no idea what I did for a living or what department I was in.

      At my grad school, however, you have to sit through a seminar before you’re allowed access to the database, and that seminar teaches you the ins and outs of informational interviews and alumni contacts. They encourage alumni to give feedback, too. I’ve become good friends with people who contacted me through that database. So yeah, not all bad. :)

    3. Bunny*

      I think employment advice places can be quite awful in general, when they’re ones you HAVE to go to rather than ones you choose to attend. During our years (YEARS! It was Hellish) of unemployment/underemployment, the other half and I had to attend regular meetings at a G4S-run employment facility (UK government stuff – I’m not going to debate the merits/issues with our current govt’s treatment of the unemployed here).

      The basic idea was that the facility would help us have a better chance at finding work, by monitoring our job-searches, offering “training” opportunities and career advice. Of course, we were mandated to attend these things, and often had to at least appear to follow the advice given even if we knew it was bad advice, or risk sanction.

      I think my favourite “helpful” tip from that place was “Make your CV stand out so they remember you! Try printing your CV on coloured paper, or in landscape so they have to pay more attention to it!”

      1. Artemesia*

        Oh save me from mandatory training. Many horrifying examples during my working life. (Trapazoidal to the left anyone?) But the worst was the required state training when we became foster parents. The agency made us sit through this nonsense that we could have done better and then could never answer actual important questions like ‘can I let the foster child go out with her grandparents when they are in town?’ ‘how can I get state permission for her to go to girl scout camp?’ i.e. things we needed to know. Mandatory training is so often given by the clueless who are not very good teachers either.

      2. LW5*

        My dad actually swore by submitting his resume on light blue paper. It made it easier for the hiring manager to find (“it’s the light blue one”), is less harsh on the eyes, etc. Landscape is interesting.

        1. fposte*

          It sounds like a dad-era thing, though, since I think most people aren’t looking at paper resumes anymore anyway.

          Mostly, it seems to me hiring managers either are already paying attention to resumes, in which case this is annoying and insulting as well as gimmicky, or they’re not, and this really isn’t likely to change it. If there’s a conceptual or aesthetic motivation for a change that makes sense in light of the industry you’re trying to work in, that’s worth considering, but otherwise it’s just being wacky to catch the camera’s attention. People don’t want to hire the guy being wacky to catch the camera’s attention.

          1. LW5*

            I agree, I don’t know many places that still accept paper applications. My dad’s a strong candidate overall, I don’t know how much the gimmick actually helped.

      3. Anx*

        We have something similar in the US.

        It’s horrible. The worst part is having to pay $10 in train and bus fare to get to each meeting and having less money available for new makeup, shoes, interview attire, and transportation to actually look for jobs.

  12. Bob, short for Kate*

    #5 I also have a masculine first name which probably got me a ton of interviews in IT when I worked at a contractor. Most of those interviews converted to offers. I suggest that LW5 change nothing, except realising that anyone who has that reaction on discovering that you’re shock and horror female is not someone you ever want to share office space with.

    1. LW5*

      Do you have advice for getting offers out of it? I’ve been job searching for a year and haven’t had any decent offers. :(

    2. Jennifer*

      Well….you sound like you are working in “traditionally male” fields so that’s probably an advantage there. LW#5, what’s your field and what’s the usual gender makeup of it?

      1. LW5*

        I’m mostly looking for clerical work as well as graphic design. I don’t know for sure, but I feel like clerical is stereotyped as women’s work.

  13. Musereader*

    #1 if they really need you to do more time maybe you could come to a compromise where you have shifted hours like starting at 10 so that you don’t meet the traffic. Or even work from home. If you explain the commute issue any resonable boss would work with you to minimise it.

  14. Rose*

    The matter of names is something I’ve struggled with while applying to jobs. I have a very hard to pronounce ethnic name, which I’ve been told makes it more likely I get passed over on initial screens. On the other hand, I’m a woman in a male dominated industry and my ethnic name is gender neutral.

    I’ve more than once pondered changing my name either legally or just using a nickname when applying for jobs, but I’ve never gone through with it.

    1. AnotherFed*

      Do you have a nickname that’s still gender neutral, but easier to pronounce? I see a lot of resumes like Sam Lastname or Srini Lastname. In both cases I’m pretty sure that’s not the person’s full name, and I can’t tell what gender they are based on the name. I am grateful because I probably can’t mangle 1-2 syllables beyond recognition and feel like I started an interview or phone call off on a terrible note. Upon hiring, the person can continue using the nickname, pick a different nickname, decide to go by their middle name, or come up with something else.

      1. Rose*

        No, I’ve never used a nickname, so I’m pretty open to thinking about a gender neutral nickname. But #5 has me wondering if it might across as misleading to people, and if constantly catching people off guard in their expectations may end up being harmful ultimately in terms of first impressions?

        Of course, with the recent trend of everyone posting pictures on LinkedIn, maybe it’s a moot point.

        1. LW5*

          My name int gender neutral, it’s outright masculine. I doubt you’d get problems from a gender neutral name. :)

          1. AvonLady Barksdale*

            I feel for you. I once dated a guy whose sister had a masculine name, and while I never met her, she apparently had a very hard time growing up and a difficult time accepting her own name. That’s a crappy position to be in. While I definitely hope that’s not the case for you, LW5, I think it’s awful that your own name has given you any problems at all.

            My boyfriend has a name that used to be mostly male and is now gender-neutral but predominantly female. And his middle name is a family name that would be a girl’s name with one extra letter. It doesn’t affect him too much these days, but I know he’s had some difficult moments with people expecting him to be a woman.

            1. Jennifer*

              I read a book called “Someday My Prince Will Come” by Jerramy Fine. Who is female and there’s a lot of grumbling about what a pain in the ass her name is, gender-wise and spelling-wise.

  15. Not Today Satan*

    #2 Reminds me of a situation I was in. I interviewed twice for a city job, and it went great, and I was positive I had it in the bag. Then they finally told me they didn’t have enough money to hire me for this position and were going to create another, higher level position. (They didn’t explicitly say it was tailor-made for me, but it had a bizarre combination of duties that very few people have experience in.) They created that job, sent me the job ad, posted the job ad on the city job site… and that was 6+ months ago (it’s still posted). According to a friend who works in city gov’t, there is a semi-hiring freeze going on that might be a factor, but they haven’t even responded to my emails about it.

    Personally, I think this is a “bird in the hand” situation. If you think you’d really like the other job (or just plain need a job), I’d take that. (Although them wanting you to start in 4 days gives me pause.)

    1. Annonymous*

      The short start date isn’t that out of line from what I’ve seen, but reasonable companies will give you more time if you ask.

  16. RH*

    OP#1, can you suggest a compromise of full time during the busy season and part time for the rest of the year? If it was just a few months of fighting traffic, it may be do-able.

  17. Sualah*

    #5 – I have a male sounding first name, too (actually my father’s name). My middle name is more feminine so I use both on the resume and for my personal email address.

    1. A Kate*

      I think if I got an email from a “Benjamin Jennifer Smith” I’d think, this poor dude’s parents gave him the middle name Jennifer? Why is he putting it on his resume? First names are somehow such a signifier, since more people have weird/unusual middle names more often than first names. Granted, if I called “Benjamin” and she turned out to be a woman, I’d think “Oh, that’s why,” apologize if readjusting the image in my head caused any lags or awkwardness in the conversation, and move on.

  18. mel*


    …Or not! They can hardly hold your given name against you and it sure sounds like if they knew for certain that you are a woman, they wouldn’t have even considered you (woah, sexist much? Damn). If having a versatile name is the only way you can get someone to even take a chance to speak with you, by all means, use it.

    1. Shay*

      I agree with this. I guess the issue is that OP’s name is not versatile or ambiguous, it’s explicitly male. It’s more like John than Sidney. In the latter case, I would totally agree.

  19. A Cita*

    For #5

    Like others, I wondered if discrimination was at play. There’s literature that associates discrimination in hiring and promotion and name screening. There’s the research everyone knows about where male and white sounding names are shown to get more call-backs from similar resumes across all professions with job postings during a period of time. But I’m also thinking about the study of the promotion of women with nominally male names to judgeships in South Carolina. The study looked at all the bar associated lawyers, clerkships, and judges in the entire state and found female professionals with male-sounding names were promoted more. (The method for how they determined whether names were nominally male or female was interesting too.)

    1. Treena Kravm*

      This reminds me of something I was thinking about the other day. I was voting for ACLU leaders, and one of them was named Molly. I voted for her, but then thought about how she probably wasn’t going to be elected because Molly is not a power-name, and it solidified how young she was. I wonder if there’s any data on the success rates of “strong”/”weak” female names as well. Molly, Betsey, Becky vs. Susan, Rebecca, Mary.

      1. fposte*

        Depends how you define “weaker.” Your examples are all nicknames, and yes, at least in women, higher-level executives are less likely to use nicknames. However, there are also class components (which often overlap race components, but aren’t identical) that affect name perceptions. A quote from one site (which sounds like it’s describing actual demographics but I think is actually researching perception) says: “Katherine goes to the private school, statistically; Lauren goes to a public university, and Briana goes to community college. Sierra and Dakota, they don’t go to college.” Basically, if your namesake was married to or fathered by Henry VIII, you’ve got a perceptual advantage.

        1. Treena Kravm*

          Yes, that’s exactly what I was thinking, the perceptions of the names. I agree that my examples are probably terrible, because I have terrible perceptions of what names “mean” aside from recognizing wealthier-type names.

          Isn’t it interesting that there can be Bobs, Dicks, Toms, Robs, etc. when you’re a high level male executive, but the female equivalent tends to drop off?

          1. Jennifer*

            Anything male gets an advantage. Men can pretty much do what they want high-level.

            And to be fair, Bob isn’t Bobby, Dick isn’t Dickie, Tom isn’t Tommy (Fresh), Rob isn’t Robbie.

          1. Sigrid*

            I’m now curious as to what extent my name being *explicitly* Scandinavian has affected people’s perceptions of me. I’m trying to think of a way in which the bias wouldn’t be unconsciously positive and I’m not coming up with anything.

        2. A Kate*

          This is why I use “Katherine” on my resume and in interviews (ignoring Alison’s advice to put the name I really use on my resume). People take me more seriously as Katherine. I think particularly since I’m relatively young, it can bump me up a level in the perceived competence/maturity category (backed by actual competence and maturity, of course). Usually once I’ve gotten a job offer and accepted it, the tone of emails gets more casual anyway, and I start signing off as Kate. That way my new boss isn’t totally confused once they get to know me. They usually ask which name I prefer on the first day.

          In a perfect world, it wouldn’t matter. But from my experience, it really does.

    2. steve g*

      Interesting study… wondering what other factors goes into the white-names-get-better call back things. I’ve only looked at resumes at one job that got a low volume of applicants and the main reason candidates were tossed were salary expectations, not local and no description of what they are doing to get local and our feeling that our job wasn’t worth moving for, and most of all, experience in cushy/process jobs when we needed people with a more startup mentality. Nothing to do with race. Though I did think the Americans were better able to express the start-up mentality in interviews whereas foreigners tended to say variations of “I’ll do whatever you tell me I work hard,” which is great, but this isn’t a job where someone is telling you exactly what to do every day. So I’m leaning towards the “there are reasons besides discrimination” slant.

      Also, there is no proof that sex was the issue (though I give some credence to op’s feeling that that was the issue). I for example had a horrible phone screen last week where the person said “hi is this steve??” then was silent, no “how are you, thanks for being available” or nothing. There were lots of silences throughout the call and the person clearly had little people skills – they were the exact opposite of how a smooth talking salesperson behaves……it had nothing to do with sexism, etc., or even me, because I can make anyone talk, but this person was just a…board of wood

      1. LW5*

        I remember one case where a man named Jose started writing his name as ‘Joe’ on resumes- he suddenly got a LOT of responses. Not every single hiring manager is like that, but it does happen and not infrequently. There’s also been studies showing that applicants with the same qualifications but different names (male/female, ethnicity, etc) get widely varied salary offers.

        Also, I’ve had interviewers make a really big deal of my name. Spending 5 minutes on a candidate’s name is not normal and I’m really not sure how to direct the conversation back to my qualifications without being rude.

      2. Not Today Satan*

        I’m not sure I understand how this relates to A Cita’s comment. These studies don’t compare apples to oranges (ie a white man asking for 45 and a black man asking for 55) they make sure the applications are very similar. Often these studies will actually submit identical resumes for Henry, DeSean, and LaToya and only receive a callback for Henry.

        1. A Cita*

          Yes, my comment below more fully explains. They control for these confounding factors. The particular study I mentioned is particularly rich with data because they describe how they created the resumes to not only look near identical, but to also look appropriate for the particular industry. So the methods data is nicely rich.

          Also, this was just looking at callbacks. Not what happens in actual interviews where it may be impossible to control for confounders.

          For in-person interactions, studies usually try pair-testing (Training 2 people, one x demographic and one y demographic, to present themselves similarly, dress in similar style, interact similarly, ask the same sort of questions, etc). This wouldn’t work in interviews (as we’ve seen from a previous letter!), but it has shown to demonstrate bias in housing (where white people are shown more housing units than blacks or latinos) and in medicine (where black or women or black women patients presenting with the same symptoms are referred to less test and less treatment than their white counterparts).

          Of course, now this is completely off track. Sorry!

      3. A Cita*

        One study I’m can think of off hand looked at why Canadian immigrants were having a hard time finding employment. They sent out 4 resumes that were near identical (in terms of level of experience/content of experience/salary requirements, etc) to all job postings in a 2 or 3 month span (don’t recall all the details–but the point was to remove industry as a confounding factor). They sent out thousands. The 4 resumes were: English name, Canadian experience, Canadian education; Chinese or Indian name, Canadian experience, Canadian education; Chinese or Indian name, Canadian experience, international education; Chinese or Indian name, international experience, international education.

        The English names received 30-something percent higher callbacks than the others.

        2 interesting points: I believe the data showed for the English names, that women actually received more callbacks. And second point: Although they deliberately demonstrated that the Chinese or Indian names were clearly fluent in English, follow up interviewers with the various recruiters showed that the recruiters cited concerns over language ability as the reason for the lower callback numbers. This highlights the implicit biases people have–biases they don’t realize having–which they attribute to other, easily disproven factors. (And there’s tons of work on implicit bias out there.)

        I don’t recall the citation, but a quick google should find it for you if you’re interested.

      4. neverjaunty*

        “im wondering what other factors goes into the white-names-get-better call back things”

        None. What people are describing here are studies in which IDENTICAL resumes are submitted, with the only difference being in having a name that is most commonly assumed to be white vs. African-American, or resumes which have a clearly male vs. clearly female name. As well as people who did not have much luck submitting resumes changing their name and suddenly getting a bunch of callbacks.

        I don’t understand this need to find any explanation, no matter how hypothetical, other than discrimination. Is it that painful to acknowledge it still happens in 2015?

        1. LW5*

          Honestly, it is. It’s much easier to blame poor people for being poor than it is to realize that there are institutions in place that make it harder for some people to get ahead despite having the exact same qualifications. Every single time I see someone mention how hard it is to be a low-income parent, I see people come down on them for irresponsibly having “kids they can’t afford”. Even though, in this economy, plenty of people who were making a lot of money lost their jobs and couldn’t find anything decent before their savings ran out.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            It’s a psychological crutch we all use (inadvertently). If we can come up right a reason to blame someone for this misfortune, we don’t have to feel bad about it. If it isn’t their fault, then we have to accept culpability… and that’s just too painful, given the world’s widespread poverty and injustice.

          2. Zillah*

            LW5 and Victoria, you both nailed it. And it’s so, so depressing.

            And, I think that along with accepting culpability, it also requires us to accept that we aren’t safe from it, and neither are the people we care about – which is also pretty hard for people to face.

        2. steve g*

          How do you not understand the need to look for non-discrimination reasoning for things where there can be hundreds of reasons why a minority person doesn’t get a job?! Also, as a nyer – you need to spell out sometimes what discrimination even means. I think that elsewhere it means white vs black or hispanic…….but in many neighborhoods and companies, the majority is jewish orthodox, hasidic, hispanic, or black, or mostly women, heck, some are even packed with 25yos who dress like zuckenberg to work.

          As per your last sentence, i don’t think that it’s painful to acknowledge, I think that people such as myself who have worked in diverse companies and haven’t seen it are always looking for other reasons to explain things.

          At past co we seriously reviewed and phone screened applicants from all parts of the world. our office was very diverse. It could have been more diverse, but we went with the candidates who proved they had certain technical skills, the ability to speak a lot on the phone (even if their english wasn’t perfect), and the mindset to work in a startup (not an environment where you have set tasks handed to you). Sometimes it was white males, sometimes it was not. When it was a white male, it was because they had the most computer and engineering skills and were the most outgoing, nothing to do with race.

          My long winded point is that not all companies discriminate and you can’t say that they do just because a study said it happened somewhere.

          I also think race/sex can be a cop-out to solve the real issue. As an example, for an opening four yrs ago I was interviewing people for (i was the senior version of the role, not in hr), my favorite candidate was a black guy. He had a really good resume and good energy, however, he came late to both interviews, like, really late, and he had zero questions, I was pulling teeth to get him to sell himself, because I knew he had technical knowledge we needed….but…all of the effort was coming from my side. we went with someone who was mixed race (and I hate labeling people like that, but when you discuss discrimination, I think you are reducing everyone to labels) and she quit with no notice after a few months, mostly because she was negative and instigated drama with so many coworkers. The replacement? A white girl who came in early and left late and dealt with the difficult customers and learned how to do amazing things in excel, and learned complicated analysis with little training even though she had no experience. The fact that she has the job has nothing to do with race, I would have asked them to hire a unicorn if the unicorn did the same work. It would actually be really weird to come into our office and even discuss discrimination, because we looked like the united nations, and had workers from their 20s to their 60s.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            But surely you recognize that happening to work in an office that doesn’t engage in biased practices doesn’t negate the massive body of research out there demonstrating what a serious problem this continues to be. (I’d also throw in that it’s fairly likely that your office does engage in biased practices, since that’s more common than not, even among people who mean well and try hard to avoid bias, but that you’re lucky enough not to have to be attuned to them.)

            Maybe someone could suggest a good basic primer for Steve that explains some of the research on this stuff? (I don’t mean this to sound condescending and worry that it does — but I’ve noticed you’re falling back on your own personal experience in these discussions, and that’s not a reliable way to gain understanding of the broader reality of this stuff.)

            1. A Cita*

              My area of work is on health & healthcare and discrimination (specifically related to race, ethnicity, and language, but other areas as well). So any “primers” I would have would be related to healthcare and health outcomes. However, Camara Jones, who also shares on health, has written an interesting allegory on race called the gardner’s tale. She talks about 3 levels of racism: institutional, interpersonal, and internalized.

              Her Ted Talk:

              1. Steve G*

                OK, just watched this. She is a pretty good speaker, I like that she moves quick.

                Now a question for everyone, when we are discussing racism here, are we talking about “personally mediated” racism or institutional racism??? Because I am interpreting everyone’s comments here and in past posts as being personally mediated, which is something I don’t agree with. When I say I don’t see racism, I mean that I’ve never seen a bigot actively reject someone based on race (well, not in the past 15 years anyway).

                If we have been talking about institutional racism all along, and I just didn’t get that, then that is another thing completely. I can’t say I haven’t been part of institutional racism because I don’t have enough evidence. But I did, when watching this video, think about how we never had any Hispanic candidates at Past Job. So when I say I’ve never seen racism, I mean that we never discarded resumes based on a Hispanic last name. But what is causing us to not get Hispanic candidates whatsoever, that is a topic I don’t know about. Maybe there is something there. That is a discussion to have, I don’t think we’ve explored institutional racism in some of these comment sections where racism comes up………………………..

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I think most of us here are talking about implicit, unconscious bias, which most/all of us have, no matter how kind and well-intentioned we are. It’s instilled in us by the culture and it’s the most difficult kind to fight, because so many people get defensive at the idea that they’re unconsciously biased, which of course then precludes them from taking the actions that would actually help things.

                  I’d google “implicit bias” – there’s fascinating reading on it.

                2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                  I’ll echo what Alison said, and add that I think we’re talking both about implicit bias and institutional racism. The reason your old company hadn’t hired any Hispanics could likely be both implicit bias (e.g., seeing “Juventino Ramos” on the resume gives a reviewer who believes herself to be unbiased a moment of pause about whether his accent will be offputting to clients) and institutional racism (e.g., there aren’t many Hispanics with the skills you need because Latino folks have often not had the same access to the high-quality education necessary to break into a competitive field).

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Here’s a great example of unconscious bias — people judged writing with a few typos more harshly when they believed it was written by someone black than when they were told it was written by someone white:


                  This is the kind of thing that even well-intentioned people do, even people who think of themselves as “not racist,” even people who actively fight open racism. It sucks; it gets us all, because that’s what the culture has instilled in us.

                4. neverjaunty*

                  Another reason might be if a company has a bad reputation in a particular community. Even in big cities, there are grapevines. People talk about how there’s a thick glass ceiling at Company X, or how at Company Y everybody got the only two Asian employees constantly confused even though they look nothing alike.

                5. Steve G*

                  There was no option to respond to AAM/Victoria/Jaunty comments (on purpose guys, lol?!).

                  Anyways I did just read the thing on writing errors and “laughed” because I am a smart white (blond/blue) male who is blessed by being smart and I’ve always read a lot, etc., but I also make grammar errors a lot because I rewrite things so much, and like to use advanced words IDK how to spell but can say, I never thought of the phenomena in this article as a thing……..

                  Also, I have to say, if everyone is talking about “implicit, unconscious bias, which most/all of us have”……….I didn’t realize that that was what people were talking about. I thought we were talking about more active discrimination. But if we are really talking about implicit discrimination, can people start explaining more of the whys/whats/whos of what is going on? It is really hard to wrap your head around when you live in the UN that is NYC.

                  Also #2, when I mentioned Hispanics not being hired, I meant that I’ve never gotten even a resume from a Hispanic person. So there was no bias at past co. “they” just never applied. If someone wants to discuss why they think that is, why “they” never got the education/experience/computer skills to even think of applying to mid-level technical corporate jobs at certain companies, that would be really interesting………….I mean, I would have seriously considered a “diverse” candidate for the position I mentioned was filled by a white female, but none applied that fit the bill we needed. So there was no discrimination on our end, but now I am wondering why mostly white and Indian people applied to the last opening. I mean, we post jobs on linkedin and monster, they don’t get hidden……….

                6. neverjaunty*

                  Steve G, the blog only allows nesting past a certain level for everyone. Joking-but-not-joking comments about being deliberately cut off from replies doesn’t really further a civil, respectful conversation.

                  Even assuming NYC was a true egalitarian melting pot with no biases by or against any groups, it’s a geographic area, not the whole world or even the US. And that’s kind of a big assumption. You can’t seriously be arguing that NYC’s diversity means there is no such thing as stereotyping, no racism, no conscious or unconscious prejudice on the basis of national origin or culture?

                7. Zillah*

                  Steve, as a lifelong New Yorker, I’d argue that while there’s certainly a lot of diversity in the city at large, there’s also plenty of racism and discrimination.

                8. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                  Steve, the situation you describe at your previous employer is pretty much exactly what we mean when we talk about institutional racism. Your company didn’t (singlehandedly, at least), create the system that led to no Latino people even applying to your jobs. But that system was still there, and to be unbiased in your hiring you have to work around the broken system. That’s what Affirmative Action is about – ensuring that companies take affirmative steps to ensure that they are recruiting from diverse communities.

                  So that would mean considering things like:

                  Where are you advertising your job postings (Indeed and Monster, which apparently led to no Latin@s applying)? What kind of qualifications are you asking for, and are they really what you need? How are you describing the job? What kind of reputation does your company have with various Latin@ communities? Is that reputation accurate? Is it desirable?

                  But it also means considering things that are bigger than your company. Are you ok with missing out on potential great employees because Latin@ kids are routinely denied access to the education or training they would need to join your team? What can you or your company do to disrupt that system?

            2. steve g*

              Thank you. I’m not trying to be argumentative when I make comments like this, it’s that when you live and work in mixed environments where (especially at last two jobs) it would be weird to bring discrimination into a discussion because everyone is “diverse.” so I’m reading here and elsewhere about racial unrest, but then in my “real” life I’m working with people who are black/white/jewish/israeli/middle eastern/pakistani/russian etc and…I don’t know…it makes a lot of race discussions seem very abstract. And I really mean this when I saw this, at my last two jobs, if someone tried to claim discrimination based on race, they’d probably look pretty dumb to the rest of us because there was no majority.

              The only discrimination I may have seen (and I hesitate to say this because I don’t want to throw around accusations) was age discrimination. It was subtle and always phrased as the person having too much or too little experience. I’m mentioning that I’ve seen this to show that I’m not obtuse or unaware. I’ve just honestly never been around race discrimination.

              1. A Cita*

                Hi Steve,

                I posted a link to Camara Jone’s Ted Talk on race and racism, and while it’s waiting to pass moderation, you might want to google it.

                She talks about what you describe, but in a neat illustration of eating at a restaurant. She and colleagues went in to eat. While they were eating, (“sitting at the table of opportunity”) she looked at the sign on the door and saw it said “Open.” But she realized that in fact, on the other, outward facing side, it said “Closed.” So no new customers could enter. It was an analogy about how you can look around at the people at your particular table, see diversity, and wonder, is discrimination or racism really an issue. Because you’ve only seen the door saying “Open.” You haven’t realized that there are many outside seeing you eat but can’t get in because for them, the door says “Closed.”

                Anyway, it’s a great talk. Please check it out if you’re interested. She’s a fantastic story teller.

                1. fposte*

                  I’m working on something relevant to this issue today (which is why I’m slacking off by playing on here), and it’s made me think more about how unconscious discrimination is framed. I wish there was a way to normalize awareness of it to minimize people’s determination that they weren’t engaging in it–to make checking to minimize discrimination and maximize representation be just a regular thing like checking for SPaG errors. It’s better than leaving it to people’s personal goodwill and best intentions, and it makes it part of the conversation, at least. I also think there’s a benefit from making somebody’s slippage in this are something it’s okay to be corrected on without it being so personal that they have to deflect any possibility that they discriminated. However, I don’t know if there’s any way to do that without treating something that straitens and closes off people’s entire lives far too lightly.

                  I do feel like foregrounding diversity has been helpful in our job processes; it puts it in our minds as something we need to think about rather than allowing us to have a hiring process where it doesn’t come up, or depending on an individual–especially a minority–to bring it up. Will it actually make our hiring less discriminatory in the end? I don’t know, but I hope so.

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                But is there a way for you to engage in thinking and talking about these issues that moves past your personal experience? Even the most cursory look into this topic will show you how painfully pervasive bias is, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to say “I don’t see it.” It’s like sitting in your house with all your shades drawn while a storm rages outside and saying, “but it’s dry in here, so I really haven’t seen what you’re talking about.” It may be dry where you are; that’s not the point.

                I think if you want to engage in these conversations, you’ve got to be willing to look beyond your own particular experience. There’s so much out there on this — would you be willing to read up on it?

                1. Steve G*

                  Yes I always want to learn/read more about topics that aren’t directly pertaining to my experience (among other reasons, because I’m definitely not that interesting:-)), and I do want to engage in these conversations! It’s hard to convey in an online forum but I actually am very open minded and I try new things and am open to (constructive) criticism. (I mean, I go to yoga, which I’m not good at, and the teacher is always repositioning me and gets impatient with me, but I don’t say anything and keep going because I want to learn it).

                  I guess it just strikes a chord in me when I read some of the comments to work related issues here and they get tied to sexism and racism, because I see certain situations as not having to do with sexism or racism, or only partially, and I don’t like that some discussions (not just here, in the media in general) go right to racism before exploring other solutions for what happened.

                  This being said,

                2. Steve G*

                  pressed enter too soon…

                  Meant to finish “That being said, I can stop writing comments that come across as playing devil’s advocate on this one issue in these discussions, because I have a million other experiences/opinions/thoughts to share on other issues”

                3. neverjaunty*

                  Steve G, I would urge you to look at why that ‘strikes a chord’, and why you are assuming when people talk about discrimination, they went “right to” that, rather than assuming that they are 1) talking about a problem that, as you say, may be at least partially responsible, and 2) they have also considered other relevant factors.

                4. AcademiaNut*

                  I’ve seen results for the resume article for male/female names, as well as other studies. One interesting and important point is that men and women displayed the *same* biases. So it isn’t simply a case of Group X discriminating against Group Y – it’s also a case of Group Y discriminating against Group Y, based on unconscious cultural biases. That’s part of what makes it so insidious.

                  This kind of cultural bias is almost impossible to prove in an individual case, because it’s not blatant and not conscious, but it shows up in larger studies. It can help to think of it as, say, 10-20% effect – in each individual case, it’s a minor component of how someone is regarded or treated, but averaged over a whole population, it has major effects, like systematically fewer job offers, lower salaries, and people in higher ranked positions.

              3. Sigrid*

                I’m really sorry but “I’ve just honestly never been around race discrimination” = “I’ve never noticed any race discrimination around me”. It is literally impossible to not be around race discrimination. It is everywhere. A Cita’s link to Camara Jone’s TED talk is a good one to conceptualize this.

                The problem is that much of it is unconscious — you don’t realize you are being biased when in fact you are. See above for studies that sent out identical resumes with names of different ethnicities and the disparate callbacks they got — when the people they sent the resumes to were interviewed, they all claimed (and mostly believed) that they weren’t biased, and when they were confronted with the evidence of their bias, they attempted to justify it in some way so that they could continue to tell themselves that they weren’t biased. The same studies have been done with identical resumes and classically male versus female names — the males get more callbacks, and are offered higher pre-negotiation salaries, and the people the resumes are sent to honestly believe that they are not biased in their hiring, despite being presented with the evidence that they are.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I think, too, that when you’re in the traditionally privileged group, it’s incumbent upon you not to say “well, I don’t see it,” and incumbent upon you to recognize that being in the traditionally privileged group might prevent you from seeing it as clearly as others. And that at a minimum, if you want to push back on other people’s experiences in this regard, you’ve really got to educate yourself about the issues being discussed first, because as fposte pointed out, anecdotal stories of times you didn’t see it happen really don’t work in this conversation (and can come across as fairly invalidating and out of touch).

                2. neverjaunty*

                  Here’s an example I sometimes use to explain to the guys how this works:

                  I go to a lot of work-related conventions that are venued in Las Vegas (it’s cheap, there are a lot of flights, people like going there). I’m aware that there are prostitutes who work the hotels, but I’ve never actually seen one, and certainly have never been propositioned.

                  Yet every time I go, the guys start rolling their eyes about how often they get approached. “Oh yeah, as soon as I stepped out of the elevator….” “Me too, I changed my shirt so she didn’t realize she’d already talked to me!” “Oh, I walked my girlfriend up to the room so she could take a nap, but as soon as I came back to the lobby…..”

                  Now, does the fact that I never see any of this happening mean the guys are lying or imagining any woman who says hello is a prostitute? No. It means that the prostitutes aren’t approaching me, because they don’t see me as a customer and don’t want to get reported to the hotel. But it would be silly of me to say that these guys are just imagining things because *I* never see it and it never happens to *me*.

                3. Shay*

                  Yeah, TBH, I feel like part of being in the privileged group is being able to not see the discrimination, to choose not to see it. If you are in the disprivileged group, you can’t not see it — you’re living it every day. If there is one thing I’ve learned from the recent police violence and commentary on it, it’s that. Part of privilege is the privilege I have to be oblivious of such things.

          2. fposte*

            Sure, Steve, but there are 119,000,000 people employed in the U.S. today.

            What happens to two of them doesn’t mean anything to overall discrimination. What happens to 10 of them doesn’t mean anything to overall discrimination. That’s why anecdotes about times when things weren’t discriminatory don’t have any value when it comes to disproving (or proving) overall trends and research. Even if you know 10 people, that’s 118,999,990 people whose lives aren’t measured in those stories.

            Sure, there are times when the majority is hired over the majority for reasons that aren’t illegally discriminatory, and sure, who the majority and minority are vary by industry and location. But discrimination isn’t like a bad neighborhood that we find ourselves in sometimes but mostly steer clear of–it’s what our lives are steeped in and built on, and the kind of research we’re talking about indicates that discrimination is therefore not so much something we consciously choose to do as something we have to consciously choose not to do.

          3. neverjaunty*

            My long winded point is that not all companies discriminate and you can’t say that they do just because a study said it happened somewhere.

            Nobody said “all companies discriminate”.

            What people are saying is that many companies discriminate, and that studies meant to eliminate those ‘hundreds of factors’ have shown that overall, there is still invidious discrimination.

            I ask again: why is it so painful to acknowledge that? Why insist that because your company doesn’t discriminate, even unconsciously, that we shouldn’t admit that many companies do? And you understand, right, that you are responding in a logically fallacious way? You’re sounding like the person who says that all those studies about cigarettes causing cancer are bunk because my great-uncle Elmer smoked five packs a day and lived hale and hearty to the age of 95.

    3. A Cita*

      Also, just for giggles because it’s anecdotal (and actually not funny):

      Our research team is all women. When reviewing the comments from an NIH grant we didn’t win, we were sadly not surprised to see one review stating the main reason they scored us low was because: “There are no men in leadership positions on this team.”

      Well, at least the bias wasn’t implicit.

        1. A Cita*

          To be fair, the discrimination in academic research is like societal discrimination on steroids.

          I hypothesize the reason is that there are few consequences for being a blatant asshole in academia.

          1. fposte*

            What surprises me about some of the discriminatory comments I hear isn’t just the prejudice but the lack of awareness of cliché–it’s 2015, you just can’t unironically trot out a reference to your black friend. That is a pretty depressing level of unawareness.

            1. Shay*

              My former coworker, who is white, used to do this about his black wife and biracial son. It was literally like “You can’t claim I’m bigoted! I have a black wife!” and he would pull out his phone or wallet and show you a family picture with him, his wife, and their son. Like, ok. They seemed like a perfectly loving family. But he would mention his wife’s race almost every time.

      1. Case of the Mondays*

        If it is an NIH grant I’m guessing, it is federal, right? I volunteer with a lot of organizations that receive federal grants. Many aim to avoid discrimination by requiring a balance of the sexes/races etc. I think there is concern that requiring a certain number of women/minorities could be held as discriminatory (against the men, non-minorities) they have made their requirements neutral. For example, one organization is required to have its board make up match the population it serves. If the population it serves is 70% female, 60% minority than the board has to be as well. If your organization was all men your grant would have been denied for not having enough women.

        Just to be clear, I’m not defending this system, just explaining it as someone who has dealt with it before.

    4. fposte*

      Then there’s the research about video instruction at the college level, where students would mark the same audio as less understandable if it was paired with an Asian face.

    5. Cordelia Naismith*

      This reminds me of a study that was done a while ago about gender bias in hiring for orchestras. For the study, they erected a screen so the auditions couldn’t see the person, only hear them play. The use of blind auditions increased the likelihood of female musicians being advanced to the next stage by 50%.

  20. Anonymous trans*

    LW5 – I was not in your exact situation (and was not job hunting) but I am a female to male transgender person and for a few years I had a very masculine appearance (I mean, no one ever thought I might be female, I used men’s bathrooms with no issues) but for various reasons had not yet changed my name so that was female (and it was female, not neutral).

    What helped me was to expect that this disconnect would happen and that it would be awkward but to take the initiative in making things easier for the other person to move on from the disconnect: to smile more (the thing about women smiling more here can be to your advantage I think) and be forthright and open and go all out being my most “natural” self. I think it disarmed people. This was not always easy and I found this very energy intensive and depleting (this was way more outgoing than I am, especially with strangers) but it really helped for these business situations where I had to be on and try to get along. Not to say some people won’t be asses and insulting, and I am really sorry you are having such a hard time. Genders and names really should not matter but we are not there yet.

    1. A Cita*

      This is great advice. I think you need to expect it, but not in a cringing way. Also, I know you’re experiencing this with phone screens, OP5, but keep in mind, people can sense a smile on the phone. I would also recommend testing out a few lines (with friends and family) to find one that will quickly put people at ease and get the conversation back on track after the disconnect.

      1. LW5*

        Thanks. I’m giving that a try. I work as an Operator so smiling on the phone is my default at this point. There has been at least one interview that I know I messed up, so I know that it’s not entirely that- but it does make me nervous that interviews are pretty much always started on the “Is [name] in? …Oh, you’re [name]?” note.

        1. Case of the Mondays*

          One other thought on phone screens. I had a transgender witness once but I did not initially know she was transgender. She had a feminine name but when I called her she had a very masculine voice. What through me off wasn’t sexism (I wasn’t looking for an employee or anything) but worrying that I didn’t know if I was speaking with a male or female and if I would use the proper gender pronouns when speaking to this person. Upon further research I learned that she was transgender so I asked her outright what gender pronoun, if any, she would like me to use when addressing her in court.

          In a job interview contexts, they aren’t going to want to say “are you male or female?” but they still want to address you properly. You might address this head on by saying “Hi, yes, this is Josh speaking. I’m a woman named Josh. How can I help you?”

  21. Steve G*

    What the hell kind of comment is this? I am disengaging from this conversation. I’m a bit pissed actually. I am being open minded and trying to understand what people are talking about when they are always throwing around the word “discrimination” and I am still getting crap even after watching the video linked to me and reading a bunch of comments that were a big rough to read. WTF. Sorry, it is not common sense. The Civil Rights Movement was 50 yrs ago, Affirmative Action was a big thing 25 years ago. To hear the word “discrimination” keep coming up so often requires a bit more questioning and discernment.

    I am responding to this one below. Not sure what “nesting” means, and I don’t know what “joking” is being referred to, but these kind of comments are exhausting and pretty negative. But this blog does not have “reply” buttons under every comment.

    This whole discussion started because I didn’t see discrimination in the OP #5 letter. The OP didn’t demonstrate how any of the interview tied in with gender or discrimination. I was trying to figure it out, because most interviews don’t lead to a job and some interviews are just bad, but they don’t get filed under the “discrimination” folder………but apparently some people like neverjaunty don’t really seem to want things to change, when someone they view as close minded (though I’m not) questions thing, they’re just gonna keep piling on

    March 28, 2015 at 9:41 pm

    Steve G, the blog only allows nesting past a certain level for everyone. Joking-but-not-joking comments about being deliberately cut off from replies doesn’t really further a civil, respectful conversation.

    Even assuming NYC was a true egalitarian melting pot with no biases by or against any groups, it’s a geographic area, not the whole world or even the US. And that’s kind of a big assumption. You can’t seriously be arguing that NYC’s diversity means there is no such thing as stereotyping, no racism, no conscious or unconscious prejudice on the basis of national origin or culture?

    1. Shay*

      Wow, neverjaunty’s comment is really civil. I was expecting much worse when I read “What the hell kind of comment is this?”

      I think I remember you said you were leaving a few months ago when someone spoke out against Catholicism or something?

      Let me guess, you’re ~disengaging from this conversation~ and will be back tomorrow. It must be nice to ~disengage~ while other people have no choice but to be shot and beaten to death for belonging to the wrong groups.

      1. neverjaunty*

        “The Civil Rights Movement was 50 yrs ago”

        …..okay, please insert that Nathan Fillion ‘nevermind’ reaction gif here….

    2. Shell*

      “Nesting” refers to how replies are indented underneath the comment they are responding to, to signify it as a reply. My reply to this comment is “nested” under yours, because your comment here is the parent comment, and child comments are indented under it. Comments on this site are only allowed to be nested 4 (maybe 5?) comments deep to keep it visually manageable. I think neverjaunty believed you were aware of this, which is why your comment of “[no option to reply] on purpose guys, lol?!” seemed joking at best, and sarcastic/facetious at worst.

      And I don’t think the rest of neverjaunty’s comment was that bad. It sounded like your previous two companies were pretty good about avoiding discrimination. But even if they were completely fair in their actions, subconscious bias–including racism–is still pretty prevalent on a larger scale outside of your two companies’ doors, as noted by several other commentors.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      neverjaunty, I think you probably could have cut Steve some slack on that particular comment (although I understand why you’re frustrated / why your hackles are up).

      Steve, “The Civil Rights Movement was 50 yrs ago” is … well, I’m not sure how to interpret that. Are you saying that race issues aren’t a major and real issue anymore? Again, I think you’re really wrong about that if that’s what you mean, and that you really, really need to do some reading on your own about this issue to gain a better understanding of it. That comment shocked me, to be honest. It comes across as astonishingly dismissive and out of touch with social realities. I think before continuing in discussions of racial dynamics here, I’d like to ask you to do some reading on the topic so that you have a better understanding of the very real and frankly terrible bias issues that still exist and still harm people.

      Here are a few good pieces that I think would be useful to you to check out:

      1. neverjaunty*

        *shrug* I thought politely pointing out to somebody that their ‘joke’ came across rather unpleasantly, assuming it was meant as such, was pretty slack-cutting, and in hindsight looks like I was giving way too much benefit of the doubt – though it gave Steve G an excuse to flounce out of a conversation that clearly wasn’t going his way, so I guess it all worked out. However, I defer to Senior Blogger Green. ;)

        1. Steve G*

          Neverjaunty , I want to divide out the issues and the way you responded to them. The issues are what they are. People sent me links. I got them, looked at them. But I still think your comments came on way to strong. You have to realize I am a real, educated person doing a lot of things in the “real world,” not some troll trying to provoke people on the internet. I see things differently I guess. Maybe we grew up around different people. I did not grow up around bigots, I actually went to one of the most ethnically diverse colleges in the world (CUNY Baruch College), and I think partially because of this, I don’t see things always as having to do with race. If you want to discuss that, fine. But your comments still read much more close minded that anything I wrote. At least I gave examples of Pakastani, Indian, etc. coworkers and how in many of my work environments were so diverse that there wasn’t a minority. Even after admitting I don’t know stuff and taking in a bunch of comments/links from people, you had to make 2 what-I-consider nasty comments. You are not helping get any point across in carrying on discussions like this.

          A week later, I still have NO clue what “joke” I made that annoyed you. I didn’t include any jokes in this discussion. You are writing here about giving me the benefit of the doubt, etc. But on what??? We are having a discussion…I wasn’t talking to you directly but to an internet forum, I don’t need you to approve my opinions and give me the benefit of the doubt. It seems that your mad that I am not “getting it,” but you don’t describe what the “it” is.

          You seem angry that I don’t think everything is about race and sexism, but you aren’t explaining why. Other commenters have (in my own words) sent me links to race-related articles that things may be more tied to race than I realize. But they are giving concrete examples, articles, etc. To be mad at me because I don’t have direct experience with racism? Sorry, but even a week later that is coming across as very close minded on your part to assume that everyone is going to be knowledgeable on the topic. It’s actually ironic, you are taking the side of supporting understanding of race issues, which implies that you want all people to be treated equal. Yet you make some comments to me that are quite rude just because I don’t agree with you on something (which you still haven’t explicitly explained). How can you be purporting a position of understanding amongst different groups of people but be so quick to bash everything I had to say? Do you think that helped get your point across?

          Also, any insight as to what you meant by “flounce out of a conversation that clearly wasn’t going his way” would be appreciated. You can’t just write stuff like this because you don’t like something. This wasn’t a conversation where we were one-upping eachother. If you see it that way, that is your choice.

      2. Steve G*

        Hi – I just came back to this blog after a week, now that I am sitting in a nice hotel room relaxing with a drink:-). Thank you for the links.

      3. Steve G*

        I like this quote because it captures what I was thinking: “Acknowledging that people of color have it extra hard in America today isn’t the same as saying all or even most white people have it easy. That’s simply not the case. Most everyone is struggling today in a nation that is rigged to help the very few at the expense of the many.”

        Als0, as per your question about what I meant that “Civil Rights Movement was 50 years ago,” I meant that many obvious (underlining the word “obvious”) race related issues occurred well into the past. The “race” issues today aren’t as obvious, which is evidenced in part to some of the links that you sent me that have to actually spell out the impacts of race, because they aren’t obvious or cut and dry……so I felt it was a little unfair that I was getting comments from people that sounded like “how dare you totally not get the impact race has on everything.” It’s not like we have segregated seats anymore. One of the links you sent discusses a difference in response rates to rental apartment requests from blacks and whites. That is an example of something that I could imagine occurs, but have no proof of and have never knowingly seen. When I said “Civil Rights Movement was 50 years ago” I was saying “hey guys, none of the racism you’re talking about is clear-as-day and obvious, so calm down and stop posting “how dare you don’t get it” type comments.”

    4. Zahra*

      Hey Steve, I haven’t been following this thread, but I’ve got another resource for you, especially if you like playing video games (no need to be a hardcore player to get this one, it’s very accessible):

      …and a good list of advantages in the workplace that men get (written by a white male!):

  22. The_artist_formerly_known _as_Anon-2*

    #3 – also giving out bad advice = state employment and re-training centers. I may have explained that I have a friend who was a talented programmer/technician.

    He accepted his employer’s reclassification of him from full-time employee to part-time, on-call person. I advised him then, START LOOKING NOW.

    I asked “If you went in, and said ‘I have to give you your two weeks notice today. I have another job offer on the table, it’s full time, and I have to get back to them today.’, what would be their reaction?”

    He said “they’d probably say ‘we’ll think about it.'” I said at that point, you tell them, good, you’re going up to the Subway sub shop, you’re gonna have a $5 footlong, and when you come back, you’ll expect an answer there and then.

    He then relied on the unemployment folks to piece his resume together. It was awful. And networking? His LinkedIn connections were all other unemployed people. I went over his resume – and suggested LinkedIn, list professional contacts with people who were either working or retired. He started getting interviews – but – since he had been out for so long, he has not gotten “back in”.

  23. MsChanandlerBong*

    Yes, please tell the career center staff members they are giving bad advice. Our career center director used to have students print their resumes on blue paper with a marbled background. At the time, I didn’t know you shouldn’t do that. Fortunately, the college HR director also taught my personal finance class. During our unit on finding a job, she told us never to let the lady from the career center do our resumes for us.

  24. Barefoot Librarian*

    Someone may have already made this comment OP #5, but my first instinct is that I would not necessarily want to work for a company that reacted negatively to finding out that my gender was female. It would be different if you had misled them about your qualifications or lied about experience, but your gender should have no impact on whether you are qualified to do a job or not.

    1. Barefoot Librarian*

      Never mind! I just scrolled back up and read some of the comments. This perspective was well and truly covered.

    2. LW5*

      I appreciate that, and I agree… but in this job market it’s not easy. My husband and I have been job searching for a year and have a toddler to worry about. I’m working in a miserable job that pays low- I’d much rather a miserable job that pays well!

      1. Barefoot Librarian*

        I completely appreciate that perspective. In fact, I’ve been in that same place. I hope you find someplace positive to work that also pays you decently. Life is hard enough as it is without being unhappy 40+ hours a week.

        Best of luck.

  25. bopper*

    For #1: Another option is you go full time, but you work part of the time from home to mitigate the commute (if that is possible)

  26. AW*

    LW#5 – I feel your pain. I also have a male first name and it’s caused confusion before.

    I’ve had a disagreement with a friend over whether I should make my gender and race obvious upfront, specifically whether I should have my photo up on LinkedIn. I figured if employers are known to toss resumes that have obviously female and/or for someone not white names then I increase my chances by leaving my race & gender unclear. He argued that anyone who would toss a resume just because I’m a woman and/or not white isn’t going to suddenly give me a chance in an in-person interview and that I’d be wasting my time anyway.

    Your story suggests that he’s right. I mean, so does my own personal experience, but your story proves to me that it isn’t just me.

    1. LW5*

      It’s complicated. If I had better interview skills, I could salvage those and spin them and probably even get the job sometimes. An interview is still a foot in the door.

      People go through hundreds of applications and considerably fewer interviews. Not everyone who’d look over you would refuse to hire you or even be bad to work with. Theres a lot of subconcious prejudice and you can just “not feel a candidate is strong” without considering why, but if the candidate gives a strong interview then that bias is overcome. (Not justifying prejudice, but it’s true.)

      At the same time, weeding out companies that still have that bias can make your life easier.

      It depends on whether you desperately need a job or are holding out for a truly good job. Personally, I desperately need a better job so I’m willing to risk some sexism. If you can afford to be choosy, you deserve to be.

  27. Ryan*

    #5 – I’m a woman with a male-oriented name (Ryan) and an initial as my middle name (shortened from my mother’s Polish maiden name) so I use ‘Ms.’ before my full name in my professional email signature – I’ve also made the font slightly feminine and a darker purple color to convey that I’m not a man (I also do this on my resume and cover letter, minus the Ms.). Despite these measures, I’m still called ‘sir’ or something similar at least once a week in email correspondence – mostly with people that I’ve never spoken to over the phone. I’ve even been told that ‘I need to come up with a better story for why my name is Ryan’ instead of accepting that my name is Ryan – no questions asked…that really bothers me; however, I’ve never been negatively affected by having a male name in a professional light. I’m so sorry you had to deal with that, but like many other posters said – you’re MUCH better off than having to deal with a man that can’t roll with the punches!

    My advice to you when someone makes a comment about your name is not to qualify their confusion but acknowledge that they’re speaking with the right person (over the phone, you could say ‘this is her’ or ‘speaking’ and in-person the standard handshake and ‘nice to meet you’) has always worked for me. I work in IT sales, which is a male dominated field and aside from the initial awkwardness when I correct someone that called me sir (which I do over the phone, immediately, to avoid future embarrassment) no one has given me the cold shoulder for my name. Your name will only hold you back if you let it!

  28. Joe*

    #4 – I’m a good example of putting non-work things on a resume and having it work to my advantage. I used to lead a guild in Everquest, an MMORPG. I had it at the end, under personal interests, along with one or two other activities. I described a bit of what I did for the guild and why I thought it was worth mentioning on my resume.

    I had one interview where someone asked me about it, and I was able to talk about the skills I had developed doing that. Organizing events for 30-60 people, managing logistics, etc.; making real-time decisions to adapt to changing circumstances and crises; managing a group of nearly 100 people, mediating personal conflicts, handling promotions, transfers, and specializations within the group, and screening/interviewing potential members for skill set and personality fits. We talked about it for a little while, and I think that it helped me stand out as a strong candidate.

  29. Marilyn*

    #5 – This was literally an episode of “what would you do?” an ABC. Where the interviewer refused to interview her because she was *surprise* a woman.

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