companies that lie about salary, controversial issues on your resume, and more

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

1. How can I avoid companies lying about salary and location?

I was working for a nonprofit and my direct supervisor left. Several months later, he contacted me and asked if I would be willing to interview at his new place of employment. We had gotten on fairly well at job #1, so I did and I was offered a position. At the same time, I was also offered a job at a third company.

I told my former manager that Company #3 had offered me a certain pay level ($6,000 more a year than company #1 was currently paying me) plus a $2,000 sign-on bonus.

He told me that his new employer could meet the salary but only provide a $1,000 sign-on bonus. I accepted because the hours were better and it was closer (VERY close) to my home.

However, the pay is actually $2,000 less per year than I had been earning at company #1, and the sign-on bonus was explained away as “a joke.” Additionally, now they want me transfer me to a site over an hour away in a different county, in the middle of a snow belt. During winter, I would be commuting both ways in the dark and my night vision is not good. I feel cheated and taken advantage of, and am quickly becoming very unhappy and resentful. I am seeking another position. Going forward, is there any way to avoid this type of situation with future employers?

Yes — get job offers in writing, along with any other commitments that you care about. Absent a contract (which most U.S. workers don’t have), employers can still decide to change the terms of your employment (although not retroactively) or your location, but getting the basic terms in writing will ensure that you’re in agreement about pay and that promises aren’t later going to be called “jokes.” That’s horrible.

2. Should I remove any mention of a controversial issue from my resume?

I want to preface this by saying I have no interest in inciting some kind of debate about the appropriateness of the political issue involved, but I have run out of people to ask about this.

I’m searching for a position more in line with the field I am pursuing a masters in (public health). I have a resume question regarding my volunteer work with an organization that has a political agenda regarding reproductive health options, including abortion. The work that I do with this group is purely awareness-related, and the organization also supports initiatives and health clinics that promote proper prenatal care, safe sex practices, and testing for sexually-transmitted infections, in addition to their attention to abortion access. I have this contribution worded neutrally on my resume, and have asked several people about their opinion of how it’s worded. Everyone I have asked has said it is worded in a professional manner that doesn’t sound as if I am trying to face off with the world on this issue, but agree that its very presence on my resume may turn off employers who are reading my information.

I do support increased access to reproductive health options as a public health issue, but I know that if I really want a better job, this is not the hill to die on even though it is important to me. Despite the fact that I take pride in being involved in this volunteer program and have learned skills from it, I think I need to try taking it off my resume. The only other problem that I have with taking this off is that it will appear as if my volunteer work screeched to a halt when I graduated from undergrad a little over two years ago, which is a sticking point with me because my job is only slightly related to public health and my volunteer work has always been more relevant experience. What should I do here? I’m so desperate for a job that engages me in the field I love, and I don’t want to turn any employers off with the only chance I might get at an impression.

Well, I say this as someone who has marijuana policy and animal rights work on my resume, but I think that you’re being more cautious than you need to. Especially in public health, I just don’t think this is going to be a huge sticking point for the majority of employers. (Are the people who are telling you to take it off hiring managers in your field? I’m betting not. I’ve noticed people who aren’t actually hiring tend to think this kind of thing is far more of an issue than it actually is.)

The work experience will help far more than it will hurt you.

Read an update to this letter here.

3. I’m being undermined in my family business

Through some light internet digging, I landed on your article from 2012 about how to be more authoritative at work, and I wish I had read it back then. Without going into great detail, what happens when the workplace is a family business and no matter how many routes you take to gain authority, you are constantly being undermined by the owner and general manager and even through conversation to the owner, aka your father, he still makes all of the major decisions with the general manager at the workplace when initially you were brought in as a management role? It’s become an uphill battle that I’m constantly losing and my self worth/esteem has taken a huge hit.

Thanks for taking the time to look over my question and I hope you can provide a different perspective that will bring back my motivation for the job that was once a career.

Get out. Family businesses can sometimes work, but when they’re dysfunctional, they’re really dysfunctional. Go work somewhere without family members; you will be happier.

4. Should I send my thank-you note by LinkedIn?

I just had an interview that I’m thinking went pretty well. The interviewer said to me twice that he could see why I got this far in the recruitment process. Of course, I know I don’t have a job offer until I have a job offer.

Unfortunately, he did not give me his name card during the interview. I found his profile page on and he has a LinkedIn page as well. Would it be too stalker-ish to send him a thank-you note via or LinkedIn?

I also feel like I could have answered one of his questions better to show my skills, but I am not sure how to word it properly in my email without sounding desperate. Basically the question was “how do you address issue ABC?” I mentioned that this issue requires a lot support from the management team and my supervisor works closely with management. I also elaborated on why management support is important and talked about the contrast I have seen with this issue, with and without management support. He said my answer made sense, but I now realize I should have highlighted my own involvement in this. Should I mention this in my email if I do contact him?

If you absolutely can’t figure out his work email address, go ahead and send it via LinkedIn. Include a mention that you realized you didn’t have his email but wanted to reach out to him, so that he understands why you’re contacting him there.

That said, it’s not ideal; not everyone looks at their LinkedIn messages regularly and there’s more chance of it being overlooked there. Direct email is better if you can guess it (which is often pretty straightforward if you’ve seen other email addresses at the company, since they usually follow the same structure).

You could certainly elaborate on your answer to the question you mentioned when you email him. I’d say something like, “I thought a bit more about your question about ABC and realized I didn’t touch on my own efforts in that area.” (Followed by whatever details you wanted to share.) Keep it short, but it’s a reasonable thing to mention.

5. Required to read a book before a staff retreat

I’m a non-exempt employee. My boss has instructed us to read a specific book before an upcoming staff retreat. Can he require us to read the book outside of work hours? If I wanted to read it outside of work, is that a problem from a legal/overtime standpoint?

You can indeed be required to read it outside of work hours, but as a non-exempt employee, you’d need to be paid for that time (including overtime, if it puts you over 40 hours that week).

{ 122 comments… read them below }

  1. Dan*


    For things like this, I’m not a fan of linked in, or even trying to guess at the company’s format. Lots of people use a secondary email attached to their linked in, sometimes I get “you’re now connected” messages so long after I sent them that I forgot I sent them.

    As for guessing at company formats, I’d only try that route for small companies. I work for a rather large company, and while we have standard format addresses, there are exceptions, and you’re not going to know what those exceptions are. You also may not know if the person uses a nickname or if “Bob Smith” is really going to be “rsmith.” My email uses the first two letters of my first name plus my last name, while “first letter last name” is the standard. Why? Because “my” standard email belongs to some guy I’ve never met, and he’s probably too busy to forward messages meant for me to me.

    Did you interview with other people that day, who might have the primary interviewer’s email? Do you have access to their admins or front desk, who just might actually give that to you if you ask nicely? At one interview I had, when the “standard format” email kept bouncing, I emailed the department admin (who arranged my travel) and she happily gave me the guy’s address. My current company has an electronic phone directory, if you were to reach me through it and leave a voicemail saying that you’re looking for my email, I’d probably call you back and give it to you if I thought you were a promising candidate, or were on the edge to the point where the follow up would help you and I was interested in reading it. Bonus points to you if you let my return call go to voicemail, but if you pick it up, just write it down and say thanks. Don’t try and pitch me. If follow up from you wouldn’t help your case no matter what, I wouldn’t call you back and risk an awkward pitch.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Depends in part on the company and the interviewer’s name! I absolutely *did* guess the email of the hiring manager for the position I’m now in…but the company uses first_last format, and in addition, his last name was highly unusual. All I had to do was guess whether his email was the nickname he went by or the full version of it for his first name. (I guessed wrong, my email bounced, and I re-sent it to the other one successfully.)

      But if his last name had been Smith or another common name, I think I’d have sent my email to the internal recruiter (who had been emailing with me) to forward on, because the risk of getting the wrong person with that name would be too high.

    2. BRR*

      I second the email formatting point. I work at a university and the first naming convention is first initial last name. Well a student started before me who has that so I am first name last initial. So your thank you note would go to a student. For people with a super common name like John Smith, their email is their initials followed by numbers so the John Smith I work with is JS22.

      1. BRR*

        Also throwing out someone I interviewed with for my current job goes by a different name then their legal name.

      2. Kyrielle*

        Yep. The college I went two had two students whose names were as common as John Smith. They ended up with (jsmith) and (jasmith) where A was the middle initial.

        …they both had the same middle initial, which made it even more ironic.

        1. mdv*

          It is when I hear things like this that I don’t mind, at all, having such an individual name that I am the only person with it in the whole world! Other days, I don’t love it so much, since I am the ONLY person with my name in the WHOLE world…

    3. Koko*

      I also tend to feel a little annoyed when people guess my email address. If I didn’t give it to you I probably didn’t want you emailing me. It’s circumventing the normal SOPs we have set up for certain types of email to flow through certain points of contact in the department. There are some people for whom answering email from job candidates or salespeople or members of the public is one of their primary job functions and they have all the form letters on hand and plenty of time set aside to answer them. People often guess my address to send me questions that would have really been better asked of the people whose job it is to answer those kinds of questions, but because they guessed my address I become responsible for it. Unfortunately none of my job goals or metrics relate to answering inquiries like this so it becomes a competing priority with the things I’m actually evaluated on vs the nebulous sense that it might reflect poorly on the company if I don’t answer promptly….I definitely take longer to answer emails than the people who are actually designated as points of contact, partly because of my competing priorities that are more directly my job, partly because I have to look up things that the points of contact would have already had available, and partly because, I’ll admit it–I punish people who think the rules don’t apply to them and that they’ll get special treatment if they are clever enough to email me instead of a general mailbox, when in reality they’re either just gumming up the works because I have to redirect them to the general box anyway, or they’re creating extra work for me that the people who handle the general box should have been able to take care of but now I have to put aside my other work to handle it. I don’t want to reward people for breaking the rules by giving them faster or better service than someone who followed the rules. That probably makes me a bit of a hardass, but I’m not the only one out there…

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But this is a bit of a different situation — there’s no question that someone sending you a post-interview thank-you intends for it to go to you and not someone else.

      2. Lindsay J*

        I don’t see how it’s a difficult thing to just respond to the candidate and copy the general mailbox and say something like:

        I’m including Jane in HR on your email to assist you with your question. They handle all questions about benefit packages since they have the most up-to-date information available to them.

        Admittedly, doing that takes longer than not dealing with it at all, but certainly less time than looking up information.

        And punishing people for it rather than just letting it go seems like it makes the issue take up more mental space in your mind than it needs to. I doubt they’re trying to circumvent the established procedures to get special treatment – they might not known that there is a specific box set up to handle these things, or might feel like since you’re the hiring manager that all of their communication should be filtered through you or something and that them not receiving your email was just an oversight.

    4. Audiophile*

      I once tried to guess the email for court employee, when writing a thank you note. Long story short, a week later, I got reply from a judge saying I’d sent my email to the wrong person. Lesson learned.

  2. Stitch*

    Okay, but for #5, how would you bring that up without being laughed out of the room? “Boss, I was looking into it and legally you have to pay me for the hours I read this book.” Like I just can’t imagine that going over well with a boos who has already gone and assigned a book to read for a retreat.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        And if the boss says “that’s to do on your own time,” you say, “Because we’re non-exempt, I don’t think we can do that without getting in trouble.”

        1. Three Thousand*

          I’m trying to imagine saying this to a family member of mine who’s owned a business for 30 years, employed hundreds of people, and blinks quizzically when you mention words like “non-exempt” to him.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            But this person says she’s non-exempt, so I assume it’s a concept that’s in play with her boss.

            (If it weren’t, though, then you use the “looking out for the company” approach, as in, “Hey, I think we need to look into this because it sounds like we could get in a lot of trouble if we don’t handle it correctly” approach.)

            1. OP5*

              My boss never remembers that I’m non-exempt. He expects exempt employees to work at least 50 hours a week. He made a comment to my direct supervisor about me being a clock watcher and she had to remind him I’m hourly. We’re a small department in a very large company so I think if I said anything about it being a problem for the company he would think I was joking.

              1. RMRIC0*

                I’d imagine that’s going to be the same reaction that a lot of people would get in that same situation, the infraction seems to trivial that it’s easy to get away with or dismiss because the power in the relationship is disproportionately in the hands of the employer. Unfortunately these little abuses tend to add up dramatically.

          2. The Cosmic Avenger*

            It sounds like the best time to mention it to him is some time after passing the bar, because if he’s that obtuse it sounds like he will refuse to do the right thing unless his business is threatened.

    1. UKAnon*

      I just want a job where I am instructed to read books. As a book worm, that is my idea of perfection.

      (Though I would also be pushing for the staff retreat to be ‘let’s all sit around silently and read more books’)

      1. MK*

        I wouldn’t trust anyone who thinks it’s a good idea to make people read a book to choose one I would want to read.

        1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          I have asked my management staff to read a book before (not something inspirational….very directly related to a strategy we we’re implementing). I don’t think it’s weird if it is a form of training or professional development. I’ve also had people request time to read books on a topic instead of attending workshops on that topic (and we bought them the book). Fine with me if that is how they want to learn. And it’s pretty cheap compared to a class. However, they were given the option to take work-at-home time to read and not expected to do it on their own time.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Well, it’s not about choosing one you’d read for pleasure; it’s about choosing something related to work in some way — as Ashley says, related to a strategy or otherwise training in nature.

        3. Koko*

          I’ve had assigned reading at work but the goal wasn’t for it to be a book I wanted to read – it was things we needed to learn. I work in marketing so have been asked over the course of my career to read all kinds of books about specific sub-schools of marketing strategy/approach. I didn’t always agree with everything the books said, but those disagreements and criticisms were exactly the kinds of things the marketing department discussed as a team when we discussed the book we read. The department head used these periodic reading assignments to keep the department aligned around our general marketing philosophy/approach as well as to make sure that our approach stayed current and was continuously evolving to keep up with best practices and stay aware of new trends.

      2. Kyrielle*

        I had one and wasn’t thrilled, but I was (properly) classed as exempt and was expected to read it on my time.

        Luckily, it was fairly short and easy to read. Unluckily, it was…not very useful. lol

      3. hayling*

        Trust me, you don’t. They always pick horrible books! You’ll resent the time you could be spending reading something good.

      4. Lindsay J*

        It’s probably “Who Moved My Cheese” or “The One Minute Manager” or something banal like that.

        1. BenAdminGeek*

          Oh man, the management at OldJob LOVED “Who Moved My Cheese.” They loved it so much that I couldn’t bear to read it- better to not know than have to try to scrape banal writing out of my memory banks and pretend I’d loved it.

    2. KJR*

      I would love it if it were mandatory for all business owners and managers to attend a basic employment law seminar. It took me YEARS to convince our owner and management team that I was not making up FLSA rules myself. From not understanding the difference between exempt/non-exempt, to thinking they could just arbitrarily decide who was classified as which, to wanting to look the other way when non-exempt employees worked unpaid overtime. I was persona non grata for awhile. The owner finally understood the importance of complying with these laws when I explained to him that his business could be at stake. That, and he talked to some other business owners who had gotten into serious trouble. He listens to me now thankfully.

  3. Turanga Leela*

    #2: When I was in college, I interned at an advocacy organization and worked on an early draft of a report. A year or so later, the organization published the report, I was thrilled to be credited in it, and… they had given it an extremely inflammatory title. As in, I was now the proud co-author of a report called, essentially, How the Government Lies to You About This Controversial Subject.

    I kept it on my resume for years. Employers asked about it, and I explained the work I did on the report. I never had a problem with it, even when I applied for very mainstream, apolitical jobs. Just own it and be up-front about what you did and how it makes you awesome.

    1. Jeanne*

      Very good way to handle it.

      I think for the OP this is only going to be a problem if she applies to a job at a Catholic owned hospital. Everyone else should see it as relevant work in public health.

      1. Kas*

        Any organisation where this would be a problem would be unlikely to call you for an interview. And they wouldn’t be a good fit for you anyway :)

  4. Ann Furthermore*

    #3: I agree with Alison. The only successful family work situation I’ve ever heard of is with my husband and his little brother. My husband is the shop foreman, and his brother works for him. They get along great, and never have any weird family issues. Other than that, though, it always seems to be fraught with drama and weirdness.

    I did the books for a small family business while I was in college. As an outsider, the family dynamics were quite apparent, and things happened there that never would at another company. It was a very interesting experience. The oldest son had issues with addiction, to the point that drugs had pretty much fried his brain. He would have been unable to hold down a job anywhere else. He would not show up for work, come in late, call in “sick” at the last minute, and so on. The family kept him employed as the janitorial person — he cleaned the bathrooms, emptied trash, swept up in the shop area, etc. When they were really busy and had a big order to get out, he would help out with the easier tasks, but never anything too difficult. It was the family’s business, their money, and their choice, so I didn’t really have a problem with it. But I also knew that he would have been fired from anyplace else in a minute.

    The office manager was the owner’s wife, and she was a very sweet woman, but also the office mom and there were no boundaries for her. At all. She was also very into astrology, and once asked me what sign my parents were. When I told her my dad was an Aries and my mom was a Scorpio, she looked at me like I was the spawn of the devil. LOL.

    1. MK*

      I know of many successful family companies and also family companies that are great places to work in. But it’s true that there are dynamic is different and I would understand why someone would feel it’s not for them. Also, when things go bad, they have the potential to go catastrophic.

      1. SevenSixOne*

        IME, small family businesses are definitely worse than larger ones, but even a large corporation isn’t immune to family business awfulness.

        I worked for a large company that was run by the family of a Ted Turner-esque local zillionaire. The founder was retired, but most of his extended family was in executive/senior roles. It seemed to be the model of a functional family business… but then the founder died and everything went pear-shaped amazingly fast. The founder hadn’t been in charge of the company’s day-to-day operations for 20+ years, but there were still plenty of things upper management wouldn’t dare change until Daddy Dearest was gone… then all bets were off.

        1. steve g*

          I interviewed at a family owned business in nyc with 300 employees, they had very bad glassdoor ratings and high turnover but I decided to interview anyway. I interviewed four times and did get a sense that one of the issues was management. The CEO is a 30yo family member. I could never get my head wrapped around why it was so important to rush the person into a ceo role instead of doing what is right for the company – a hundred million + per year company should not be used as fodder for a 20 something to experiment with an executive role IMHE. The blind acceptance of this made my interest in the job totally fizzle (if you’re glassdoor ratings have many people saying. “Run, don’t work here,” and you can’t acknowledge your business has issues, that in and of itself is an issue!).

          1. Ruffingit*

            Yeah, I worked for a family business once (that also made millions) that appointed one of the sons as the CEO. He didn’t even have a high school diploma, he had dropped out. No GED either. Just didn’t want to bother. He also thought he was the smartest person in the room when he was surrounded by people who not only had college degrees in their specific job, but also loads of work experience, which he didn’t have. He wasn’t CEO for long.

    2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      I work for a family business and it’s shockingly functional. Of course there are quirks but as part of senior management I get to see pretty much everything and I’m shocked how functional they all are. It helps that every one is highly competent (well educated, significant job experience outside the family business before coming in) and also that they are bunch of sane, nice people.

      1. AVP*

        I think I’ve mentioned before, my family owns a business that seems pretty functional (I don’t work there). I think one of the biggest keys is the fact that most of the family employees have extensive experience at outside companies! The ones where everyone has only ever worked at Family Inc worry me because it’s easy to rationale some really irrational/unprofessional behavior if you’ve never seen what a “normal” company looks and feels like.

        1. Bekx*

          I just remembered that technically my current job is a family business. I always forget because really the owner is the only one who works here. His sons have been interns, and one of his children will probably inherit the company as the current Pres did from his dad. Current Pres had to work outside of the industry before he could work at our company. Then, he had a few different jobs….starting in maybe sales and then doing some other aspects of the business before his dad let him join the company full time.

          He plans on doing the same thing with his kids. They have to have jobs outside of the company before they get to work here. I like that, and I’m fairly confident that everyone loves the owner. We’re over 1000 people.

    3. Pennalynn Lott*

      The one and only family business I worked for was where the owner’s wife (also the bookkeeper and HR-ish person) told me that all blacks should go back to Africa so they can abort their babies there and not in God’s Country (aka ‘Murica). And that women only joined the military to “ruin” the innocent young men, and to find a “baby daddy”. And how dare those young mothers go off and leave their children for months at a time! And that atheists aren’t true American citizens (even though she knew I’m an atheist). Also, the owner and his son (who was the COO) made a point of buying Chik-Fil-A for everyone in the office on local gay pride days.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This. can’t. be. fixed. There are too many problems.

        I am glad to see you left the company.

      2. Ruffingit*

        WHAT???? Wow. That is not just bad management, that’s legit insanity. So glad you don’t work there anymore.

    4. VintageLydia USA*

      My husband tried to work with his dad for almost a decade and it just didn’t work. He simultaneously treated my husband like he was young child, and paid him accordingly, but also giving him way way more responsibility than any other employee. It was the worst case scenario for working with family.

      Husband’s uncle, however, own a garage and his daughter works there as an office manager and it’s by all accounts a functional business. His grandson will work there occasionally and so will his dad (my husband’s 80+ year old otherwise retired farmer grandfather.) I mean, it’s true he wouldn’t fire any of his family members, but they’re good workers who care about keeping the business running well and profitable. I pays the family’s bills, after all.

  5. TheLazyB*

    #1, that is horrifying. And so many degrees worse because you used to work with him and presumably thought he was trustworthy. I hope you can get out of the new place soon without too much damage done :(

    1. Kyrielle*

      Yes, this! I was going to say that one step is not to take that person’s word for a company deal again. At the very best interpretation, he misunderstood what he was capable of promising you.

    2. Ruffingit*

      Oh no kidding! I really wonder what OP’s old co-worker has to say now about this. I hope he’s been incredibly apologetic.

      1. RMRIC0*

        Yeah, honestly if someone did that shit to me I’d probably have called company 3 back.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      It was a terrible bait and switch. I don’t know what you can do to salvage it, unfortunately.
      Of course you can refuse to go to the other location and see what happens.

  6. TheLazyB*

    #2, I want to work in PH too! I am getting closer :)

    I speak with a UK perspective here (most people are ok with abortion existing, even though many people think rights should be restricted – there’s a discussion for another day and another forum) but in the world of public health, I really don’t think this would count against you, unless there is context you’re not mentioning – do you know for a fact it’s damaging your chances – if so, how? Because if it’s just one person who’s said it, I would discount that. If it’s just that you’re not getting interviews there are myriad reasons why that might be, nothing to do with that.

    Now if you’re living somewhere where this is a particular issue, that might be different, but I would have thought you’d mention that?

    I’ve taken a detour into evaluation in the h&sc sector, but hopefully it’ll help in the long run :)

    1. MK*

      Being against abortion is not the same as advocating it being made illegal. I think only people with specific mindsets and organizations with certain agentas would deny someone a job based on this.

      1. neverjaunty*

        It doesn’t, but the resume isn’t putting down the OP’s nuanced feelings about a controversial issue; it’s showing that she cared enough about a particular political group’s activities to give her time to it for free. How people will react depends on which group it is, would be my guess.

        1. MK*

          I was refering to the people who would view the resume, not the OP. Many people have reservations (ethical, religious, philosophical, whatever) about abortion, but not all of us believe that the rest of humanity should be legaly forced to abide by our personal beliefs. Or even that it’s ok to make hiring decisions based on those beliefs.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Yes, I know. But the person reading the resume is not a mind-reader; they go by what’s on the resume. Listing volunteer work for a group that provides support and assistance to women placing their babies for adoption sends a different message than listing volunteer work for a group known for posting the home addresses of abortion clinic workers online, even though both use the label “pro-life”.

            1. MK*

              Does that matter? My point was that to most reasonable people, it wouldn’t make a difference either way.

              1. neverjaunty*

                Really? You don’t think most reasonable companies would see a difference between “I belong to an organization that tries to promote X point of view by helping people do X,” and “I belong to an organization that encourages extralegal harassment so X won’t happen?”

                You seem really stuck on the idea that nobody should be judge on their views about abortion, and that’s not really the issue here.

                1. MK*

                  That’s very much the issue, as far as I can tell. And it’s about hiring,not judging. Your main issue was that people who read the resume won’t know exactly what the OP volunteers to. Well, reasonable people either won’t care or they will look it up/ask the OP. And they won’t let it affect their hiring decision unless it’s likely to cause problems. It would take someone pretty unreasonable to notice the volunteering in the resume and toss it just because they cannot immediately identify what the OP volunteers to.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          This doesn’t sound like a purely political group though; it sounds like Planned Parenthood or something similar (providing reproductive health services, while also supporting abortion access), and I just don’t think that’s going to be an issue in public health (or most fields).

          1. OP#2*

            For the record, it’s NARAL Pro-Choice America, which does do work to involving political initiatives and legislation promoting expanded access to women’s health services. Beyond that though, they also do a lot of work on the ground sharing this information with the public, and partnering with organizations like Planned Parenthood to get the word out about health centers that serve women regardless of background or ability to pay for any of the healthcare services they offer.

            I definitely appreciate the insight on this- I will be leaving this experience on my resume, because everyone here is right==> I really don’t want to work for an organization that gets super judgy over the fact that I sometimes participate in events and campaigns with NARAL.

            1. Rocket Scientist*

              A bit of a tangent – but thank you for the work you are doing, to advance women’s health initiatives. We need more people like you!

            2. Just Jane*

              #2: Especially with this additional context about which organization you’re referring to, definitely leave it on your resume. I worked in public health for close to a decade, including as a manager. Most professionals in the PH field support comprehensive reproductive health anyway, & this is a well-respected organization whose policy work is competent and professional. If I saw this on a resume I’d assume you would have been likely to pick up some useful skills, as well as substantive knowledge about reproductive health issues. Unless you’re in a super-conservative/rural area, the vast majority of hiring managers in the PH world would see this work as an asset.

              1. themmases*

                +1. I am in public health and while I’m sure there are people with varying personal opinions on abortion, people are pretty solidly on the side of access to comprehensive reproductive health care for the simple reason that evidence supports its association with positive health outcomes for children and adults. That’s especially true within maternal and child health where the OP’s volunty experience is most relevant.

                Many, many public health topics are political because their aims are best achieved by public policy means. My experience has been that most of them only appear controversial to those outside public health. I would be very surprised if this experience hurt the OP with any reputable public health organization, rather than being seen as the relevant experience that but is.

                1. Not So NewReader*

                  I agree. I think OP’s volunteer work dovetails well with working in public health. I think that most people will not bat an eye. I agree, it will be seen as a plus by potential employers. I am basing this on years in human services. OP, I am glad that you will leave this on your resume.

              2. Anx*

                I think the regional consideration is huge.

                I have some public health experience, on the environmental health side. It’s been very, very difficult to find volunteer opportunities in my current location. If there was a reproductive health center within a commutable distance, I’d probably be tempted to do it, regardless of how passionate I was about the services or my personal feelings on the matter.

                But that may hurt me here. It’s more conservative. Even our comm college guides students to crisis pregnancy centers for their reproductive healthcare. I can’t tell if it’s intentionally steering them there, completely oblivious about it, or if it’s because there simply is no other low-cost option.

            3. BeenThere*

              Thank you for the work you do. I’m a. Expat living in Texas who is appalled by the lack of access to services and the attempts to decrease it.

            4. Broke Law Student*

              I also used to volunteer at NARAL, briefly worked at Planned Parenthood, and now am getting a joint JD/MPH and want to work in reproductive rights. I was really worried going into law that people would be very judgmental, as law is a generally conservative field. I’ve found, though, that lawyers and public health people alike from a variety of backgrounds are interested in my experience. Especially within public health, I think most people recognize that abortion/contraception access is a serious public health issue, and will not screen you out even if they themselves are not pro-choice.

            5. Kate*

              I work in public health – I can’t see this being an issue unless you’re applying somewhere like CRS or one of the small faith-based NGOs that specifically advocate for adoption. I actually know someone with the opposite problem – she worked for one of those small faith based NGOs (not doing anything related to reproductive health, though) and now is worried it will hurt her chances when she applies to other orgs.

      2. Melissa*

        Right, and given the OP’s former volunteer work, those would probably be places she wouldn’t want to work anyway.

  7. Academic Librarian*

    In my first library job, over twenty years ago, we had a core reading list of over 100 books ( some were picture books or children’s books, mostly it was to familiar with all kinds of genre for readers reference ) to be read over the year with monthly professional development meetings. You were allowed to read at the reference desk when things were slow, but for the most part, the reading was off the clock. ( my friends would laugh when I’d say , I have to take “lost time”) The group was a cohort of new hires. We were Union and every minute at work was accounted for….I even got written up for coming in early ( I liked to get my desk in order before we opened)
    There was a guy in our group who refused to read, filed a union grievance because ” you can’t make me read” turned out that was true. On the other hand, the librarians who did read are now respected directors, serve on boards and national committees ( we see each other at national conferences) and he is a branch manager in small inner city neighborhood. He might be very happy where he is. Pick your shots.

    1. StarHopper*

      That reminds me of a story I was told about a teacher in my district who refused to do morning bus duty (monitoring students in the gym or cafeteria before the official start of school, something very necessary to keep the day running smoothly) because it feel outside the bounds of our teaching contract. They couldn’t fire her for it, but she was transferred to the least-desirable school in the county.

    2. AnnieNonymous*

      Thing is, that’s not an endorsement of doing extra work off the clock. That’s the kind of thing that creates pressure to keep doing those things even though they’re illegal. It’s not a badge of honor to be promoted at the expense of someone who stood up for his legal rights.

      1. Dynamic Beige*

        While I agree with you to a certain extent about the promotion bit, I don’t think that was the point of the story. I seriously doubt that reading all of those 100 books was a “requirement” of being promoted… but it did show who amongst all the candidates was the most passionate or committed about what the job entailed — being familiar with the subject matter and loving reading. That probably bled out into other aspects of the job and distinguished them from everyone else as being more knowledgeable and passionate about the organisation, more helpful to the patrons. Who would you rather promote? Someone dedicated who enjoys the work, or someone who says “you can’t make me, our union says so?”

        1. steve g*

          +1. We are talking about a library after all! I’d be not very happy if the people working at mine didn’t like to read, totally sounds like the wrong profession for him.

          1. Liblady*

            I am the librarian at a 9-12 grade school. I have a lot of time to read when not helping students, and I love YA books and need to be conversant with the collection so I can recommend books for whoever needs something. I consider it a great perk of my job, although I do still feel weird when I am “caught” reading when other staff members come through the library.

          2. De (Germany)*

            Sure they should like to read, but a) not necessarily the books that are “assigned” and b) they might just plain not have the luxury to read much in their free time because of commitments.

            Also, by that logic, you could also say that all software developers should work on open source projects in their free time, or nurses should be thrilled with looking after sick family members. Not every job needs to be a calling, and sometimes you just wanna do other stuff.

            1. Melissa*

              Not even just open source projects, but this specific core list of open source projects we’re going to give you that just coincidentally help make you better at the job we want you to do. That sounds an awful lot like work that should be compensated.

              1. De (Germany)*

                And if that’s something for new hires, it sounds like basic training.

                I think this might be viewed differently because reading is a leisure activity for most people, so it seems odd to be compensated for reading fiction, but, well, sounds like it was part of training in this instance.

            2. Dynamic Beige*

              Everyone who likes to read has a favourite genre, and that can make a person’s list not very eclectic. If all you read is science fiction, then that’s all you know. I would bet that the assigned list was to give a broad range of topics so that they could broaden their experience. I would also guess that if one of the new people had offered a suggestion that instead of reading X, Y is a better choice because: reasons that suggestion would have been accepted. I seriously doubt that all 100 books were things like the unabridged War and Peace, both Don Quixote and the sequel, the Divine Comedy, and other extremely long form books (BTW, I’ve read all of those). They may not have the luxury of free time, but it was stated that they were allowed to read on the job if they didn’t have anything else to do. Which is kind of amazing since it’s hard to get any kind of training nowadays (or so it seems). I think my problem with working in a library would be “Oh, that looks interesting, I should make a point to read that” and I’d have a list of thousands that I’ll never get a chance to.

              As for your second part. No, I would imagine that nurses are not thrilled by the idea that they should have to look after sick relatives in their off hours — no one is thrilled by that, whether it’s their profession/calling or whatever. But there’s a big difference between the family that tells a child “you should become a nurse so that you can take care of us in our old age” and having to do the same duties that people may have to do when other people are sick — they may just be better at them having been trained how to do them properly. My mother trained as a nurse back in Ye Olden Days when they paid you to go to nursing school. One of the first things I think a nurse learns is how to toughen up/not be a sucker for a sob story (I’m sure there are all sorts of wonderful, compassionate, caring nurses out there but that has not been my experience with the mercifully few I’ve had to deal with). If a nurse can’t use that same backbone at home that they do at work and enlist the help they need, there’s something wrong there.

              One of my best friends is a programmer and she is always learning new things in her spare time so that she can become a better programmer, learn new techniques and because she is just really interested in coding. No, she probably would not work on open source projects in her spare time because she would rather make money. But if her boss came up to her and suggested she explore NewHotCodingThing, she would and she would do it on her own time if she thought it was interesting enough and saw possibilities in it that she could apply in her work. If that thing turned out to be just meh, she would also report back what she learned about it and whether she saw any potential in it — but you need to have some pretty broad range of experience in order to do that.

              1. De (Germany)*

                “I seriously doubt that all 100 books were things like the unabridged War and Peace, both Don Quixote and the sequel, the Divine Comedy, and other extremely long form books (BTW, I’ve read all of those).”

                I seriously doubt that the average for a book was less than 1 to 2 hours, though. Probably more like 3 or 4. That’s a lot of hours. And Academic Librarian said that most of the reading was off the clock, I presume because there wasn’t enough downtime at the reference desk to do all the reading on top of the workload.

                I am not sure what you mean with the section about the nurses example.

                If my employer came to me and said I needed to learn a new programming language or such, I might do a part of it off the clock, but certainly not most of it. That’s something I am doing on request by them.

            3. MK*

              It’s not the same though. A nurse doesn’t stay current in her field by looking after sick relatives; how would a librarian who doesn’t read be able to understand the needs of the patrons of the library and provide information? It’s like a chef who never tastes the food he makes. It’s not about it being a calling, it’s about being informed about your work.

              I do agree that there shouldn’t be a mandatory list; it would make more sense to have a selection of 1,000 books and ask that the librarian reads a 100 of those.

              1. De (Germany)*

                No, a nurse stays current in their field by training, which is usually paid for by their employer. I am not saying all reading a Librarian does should be compensated or anything, but if you have very specific requests for a new hire, that’s part of their training, not their free time.

                1. Koko*

                  Exactly – the argument isn’t, “You can’t assign reading to librarians.” It’s “You must pay non-exempt librarians for time they spend doing assigned reading, which is categorically different from pleasure reading of their own choosing even though on the surface the two activities are similar.”

              2. academic librarian*

                I do agree that if the “assigned” reading isn’t connected to your own job or would benefit your own professional development, it should be on company time.

        2. Melissa*

          Yes, but that’s kind of the problem, I think.

          For me it would be less of a gray area if it weren’t presented as a required reading list. I would expect librarians to be avid readers who love books and have recommendations for me, and if I were managing librarians, I would want to promote the ones who showed a deep interest in books in many genres and seemed to have a vast knowledge of the books in their area (or generally). So reading extra books in your spare time would not be required for a promotion, per se, but it would go really favorably towards getting one.

          But at the same time, the whole point of a union is to make sure that people get compensated for the time they spend doing required tasks. So if the library required new librarians to read the books but didn’t want to pay them for the extra time, I don’t think they should hold it against a librarian who chooses to exercise his rights and ask to be paid for the time he’s spending working rather than doing other things. And the thing is, it might not even have been that he didn’t want to read the books or that he didn’t like to read; it’s the principle of the thing.

        3. neverjaunty*

          And by “someone dedicate who enjoys the work”, we mean “somebody who will work for free even if you’re supposed to be paying them”. Certainly, that is the kind of person most employers prefer.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I might argue, though, that the librarian situation would be more parallel to something like “keep up with the latest developments in your field in your own time” as opposed to the OP’s situation, which is more “do this activity that isn’t directly connected to your regular job.”

      Technically the first should be paid if it’s truly a job requirement, but people who balk at it will look like they’re not interested in investing in their own professional development. Whereas the OP’s situation feels a little different.

      1. academic librarian*

        Yes, it was “required” but there was no penalty if you started that “cozy” or “police procedural” or Iceberg Slim and just couldn’t get into it. This was professional development so that as a line librarian in a public library, you could be well versed in genre and help patrons. I don’t think the protester to this was in anyway punished for not reading but I did see that his refusal to participate indicative of not being proactive in his own professional development.

        1. academic librarian*

          I do agree that if the “assigned” reading isn’t connected to your own job or would benefit your own professional development, it should be on company time.

        2. academic librarian*

          on the other hand 20 years later, if I run into someone from the East Coast Urban Library System and ask how Wakeen is doing… he is always remembered as the librarian who couldn’t be “made” to read.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        OP is not in the book biz. Some jobs bleed over into your personal life. Sewing. mechanics, technology, books- things like this tend to attract people who also work with these things in their personal lives. Other jobs end at quitting time.

        I understand the stance of using your personal time for mandatory reading. I also understand that sometimes things seem to be a negative and in time work into a huge positive. I could go either way on this one. From my own experience, I used to be very careful about using personal time for company work. I have changed, I do more stuff on my own time and I am finding that it works for me, not against me. Conversely, I have a good friend who works terribly long hours and her time is at a premium, reading a book like this would be a huge imposition and a danger to her financial well being, as her finances are precarious.
        OP, you have to do what makes sense for your setting and context. If this is Dream Job and you expect to be with this company forever, then you might have to suck this one up. At the opposite end of the spectrum, if this is Worst Job Ever then it might be the best choice to approach the boss on this point. Probably reality is in the middle somewhere which makes this harder to decide. It could be that you compromise. You read the book but you let the boss know this is not a good idea to make a habit of mandatory reading that is done on personal time.

  8. Apollo Warbucks*

    #2 Leave the experience on your cv and treat it in a matter of fact way. Maybe some people will judge you badly for it but that’s only going to be a tiny minority of people and my guess is you wouldn’t be happy working for them any way. Those that disagree and still respect a different point of view wont hold the work against you.

    1. Merry and Bright*

      Good advice. Anyway, on any CV if you wait long enough there will always be someone somewhere who will find something to object to whether it’s the field, political objections or whatever. Things are what they are.

    2. nona*


      I have an internship for a controversial political organization on my resume. Being matter-of-fact about it works best.

  9. MF*

    I do regular volunteer work for an abortion fund (which is in the name of the organization), and I recently was debating the benefit of keeping it on for every job I apply for. Most jobs I’m applying for are at left-leaning nonprofits (or at least orgs where the staff is fairly like to be pro-choice), but I decided that I’d leave it on regardless of where I apply, part because I know i wouldn’t be happy at a place where it would be an issue. That may not be exactly the case for you, but in public health, I can’t imagine you’re going to find that to be an issue for many people- your experience there is important and I agree with Alison that it’s likely to be much more beneficial than hurtful.

    1. Felicia*

      My resume includes volunteer work for an LGBT group, a job at Planned Parenthood and volunteer work for feminist group. All of this work was directly related to my career path and to the jobs i was applying for and I briefly worried how it would be viewed, but then decided it was important relevant experience and I didn’t want to work anywhere that was against any of these things. And it said a lot about who i am as a person, so at least potential employers would know right away, if they were against it. I also live in a big city, and in Canada, so it’s less likely that i’d encounter employers against any of these things than in parts of the US or other parts of the world. I also put the experience very neutrally and focused on the experience, not the organization (you only knew what it was because of the very obvious company names)

  10. CJ Record*

    #2 – another thought to consider: if you continue volunteering with said org while working at the new job, that volunteer work will likely come up at some point during your tenure at said job. It might be useful to know if such service would be a terminal problem _now_ for you and your employer-to-be while you can still say that the job isn’t a best fit, instead of six months down the line (with all the “job-hopping” issues that would attend).

  11. Elder Dog*

    #2 If I were a hiring manager, I would ask you if your political views had affected your work in the past. Then I’d ask your references if your political views had affected your workplace in the past. If not, then I wouldn’t worry about it.

  12. I work in abortion care*

    For #2, I’m hearing a lot opinions from relatively liberal spaces (UK, Canada). The real answer is really highly dependent on where OP is located.

    I work in a very conservative area of a VERY liberal US state, and I am/would be absolutely black-listed from any local public health organization based on my current job. I know I have to seek my next job opportunities elsewhere and I have no problem with that (don’t like the area for many reasons).

    Long story short: the entire county lost out on half a million in funding because the public health department didn’t want to have the money going to an abortion org. Really.

    My org was the only applicant for a state grant that was open for just our county. A required piece of the application was a letter from the dept head of the appropriate public health division. I spoke with her directly and she said she’d love to support us, she just had to get some signatures to OK it. Well 2 days before the deadline, the Public Health clinic manager refused to sign, so the dept head (the one on my side) escalated things to the absolute head of all public health in the entire county, and he basically was anti-abortion too, so “didn’t see a need to interfere with other departments.”

    1. I work in abortion care*

      All this is to say that this could absolutely be hurting OP’s chances if they’re in a small town/conservative area. So you need to really evaluate that first.

      1. TheLazyB*

        That’s awful :(

        But I did say that, and also said that I presumed that if the OP was working in an area like that that they would have mentioned it, so I think it’s unlikely to be the case here.

    2. OP#2*

      That’s awful; I’m sorry you have hit those kinds of barriers.That red tape has got to be very difficult to deal with. I’m in the D.C. area, so it’s less about being in an overall conservative region than your situation sounds.

  13. Melissa*

    OP2, I’m in public health and the VAST majority of public health organizations will be positive to neutral towards work in reproductive health, even with abortion-related issues. Public health overall is a very liberal field. Reproductive health work is a huge part of public health, and your volunteer experience will probably count as a positive pretty much anywhere in the field – especially at any position that has to do with reproductive health.

  14. Controversial stuff on resume*

    I’m really glad Alison published this letter. Not the OP, but reading this is really reassuring. I’d left off a lot of stuff in the past & obfuscated other stuff, based on my legit worry about how others would perceive me (having had some craptastic experiences). But yes, as I’m learning, it’s probably best to be upfront about things… because ultimately, if you do end up in an opposing environment, that can become very draining over time- remain silent and let it wear you down, or engage in debates that lead nowhere, and get run down that way. I’m not sure I want to be in either situation anymore. I’m so tired… I think I need to be with other sparkly rainbow unicorns for a while.

    1. OP#2*

      I figured this would be the best audience to hear this kind of question, and definitely wondered if there were others out there wondering similar things about their own experiences and how they come across. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one :)

      I’m empathize with your position; it’s hard to feel like you have to hide things that you’ve done or believe, especially when they convey important skills or contribute to the kind of professional you are regardless of where the experience came from.

      1. Controversial stuff on resume*

        Yes. This. A thousand times this.
        I raise my glass to you, thank you!

  15. azvlr*

    #2 – If the book is something truly worthwhile, but the company doesn’t have the budget to pay for the time spent reading, perhaps you can suggest it be done “jigsaw” style. Each staff member can be assigned a section to read during normal hours, and then summarize the content at the beginning of the retreat.

    1. UK Nerd*

      So…not by chaining the staff up in a bathroom with a key hidden on the last page of the required text?

  16. Julia*

    Not even my Japanese colleagues always bring something from trips, although most of them do most of the time. I guess if you’d absolutely feel weird empty-handed, maybe buy a big box of local sweets or something similar to put out for everyone, and maybe a little something for whoever covered for you while you were away, if you feel like you owe them. (Although you probably also cover for them during their absences.)

  17. Erin*

    #1 – Although I’ve never had a problem with it, I plan to always get job offers in writing after reading this blog.

    #2 – Since you did specify that you have this worded neutrally on your resume I think you’re fine. You’re clearly not coming off as you have an agenda or something to prove with this controversial issue. You don’t want to diminish your valuable experience by not mentioning it at all.

    #3 – Ugh, I hate when Alison’s answer is “you have to leave your job” but man, that really is unavoidable sometimes. My sympathies to you. Do what you have to do to get by in the meantime, but start your search immediately. Alison’s How to Get a Job book is absolutely invaluable.

  18. OP4*

    If I don’t get someone’s email address, I’ll usually contact whoever coordinated the interview and say something like:

    Thank you so much for setting up a time for me to meet with ______. She was so helpful in explaining ______ and I enjoyed learning more about the ____ role.

    I would love to thank ___ personally. If you have a moment, I would be very grateful if you could let me know the best way to contact her.

    1. re: OP4*

      heh, I meant to comment as “@OP4” – the way I did it is confusing, because I’m not actually OP4, I was just addressing them. Maybe it’s time for more coffee.

  19. JMegan*

    #2, I’m a bit late to the thread here. But I wanted to say that I work for a public health unit, and we have an explicit policy position that we will help clients access abortions if need be.

    I’m sure there are some organizations or industries where your experience here might count against you, but I can pretty much guarantee that public health isn’t going to be one of them. Good luck in your chosen career!

  20. looking forward*

    #2 – I’m happy to see the responses have been so supportive. Living in Texas, I would recommend anyone here leave abortion or anything that might refer to it off the resume. Especially if the new position doesn’t have anything to do with it. Even if it were in a different PH field – say vaccinations – I would still recommend not using that word on the resume. My concern would be that a hiring manager’s opinion would get in the way of them seeing the qualifications. And if it’s not part of the new work environment, why make it an issue?

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