letting job candidates know what they’re doing wrong, helping my coworker improve her work, and more

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

1. Do I need to help my coworker improve the quality of her work?

At my job, we work in pairs. I’m considered a top performer, and I’ve recently been assigned to work with someone who’s not very motivated. She’s one of the least productive employees in the department, and hasn’t made much of an effort to learn our more difficult tasks. We usually get to divide the work amongst ourselves, and she asks to do the easier work while I do the more difficult work. Even when management assigns her to do the difficult work, she often asks me for help or just blows it off until I do it for her. She tends to make mistakes on the difficult work that I end up having to fix.

I don’t mind doing the more difficult work because I like a challenge, and I’ve become good at it through experience. I honestly think my coworker and I would both be happiest, and probably get the best collective results, if we continue this way — she does the easier things she’s comfortable doing, while I do the more challenging work. I’m not sure, however, what management expects from this pairing. She was previously paired with another unmotivated employee who probably set a bad example for her, and I don’t know if management made the switch because they want me to help her improve or just so I can pick up her slack. We have the same title and I have no authority over her.

I thought about asking management directly, but I don’t know if that would help. They consider performance management to be private and would never discuss an employee’s performance with a peer. I’m not sure if they even know the extent of her performance problems, since she’s good at schmoozing and management is fond of her, and our department is very successful overall. How much responsibility should I take for her performance? Should I try to make her better, or should I just try to get the best results by continuing to do the more difficult work myself?

I don’t think you have any responsibility to try to improve her work, since you’re not her manager or responsible for her performance. And if you’re happy with the way the two of you are dividing work, I think that’s fine. My only caution would be to make your manager aware of how you’re arranging things, so that you’re getting appropriate credit for the (presumably greater) contribution you’re making.

I would say something like this to your manager: “I want to let you know that Jane and I have decided that I’m going to do A, B, and C and she’ll do Y and Z. We’re both happy with this arrangement and think it plays to our strengths, and I just wanted to let you know who’s handling what.” If your manager points out that it seems like you’re carrying the brunt of the load, I think it’s fine to be relatively candid and explain why this arrangement seems the most likely to get the right results.

2. Talking to an employee about a promotion that might not come through

How open should a manager be with her employees when it comes to the internal workings of the team? My particular question is regarding potential promotions: should I tell an employee that if she reaches certain goals, she *might* be promoted? The thing is, her promotion is not really up to me (there are 4-5 layers between me and the CEO, and promotions are ultimately approved at one of those levels). If she delivers on her goals, I have better arguments for my manager as to why she should be promoted… but there is a not-insignificant chances that budgets, etc. would prevent that. If I mention a promotion that doesn’t come through, would that be like dangling a carrot in front of her? Or would it be a good thing, as she would be able to focus on her goals? (For the record, from my point of view she is already eligible for that promotion, but my own manager thinks it’s too soon; promotions are usually announced at the end of the calendar year, so she has about 5 months in which to deliver some tangible results.)

My questions stems from the fact that my manager does not share much about such things: he has never specifically said that if I did so-and-so I could get a promotion, he sometimes does not loop us into the big-picture plans for the teams, and he does not share anything when it comes to addressing performance issues. I understand that some things should be confidential, but I think his lack of openness has caused some confusion and insecurity in the team.

Err on the side of transparency. In this case, I’d say to your employee: “I think you’re doing great work and I’d like to see you promoted. I want to be candid with you that there’s no set formula to make that happen, and I can’t promise you that if you do X, you’ll be promoted. But what I can tell you is that the best way to position yourself for promotion is to do X. That will give us the best shot at making the case for it.” Ideally, you’d also add, “If you succeed at X and we can’t get a promotion through, I will go to bat to get you ___ instead (a raise, a bonus, extra time off, whatever it is that you might be able to offer).”

In general, aim to be as transparent about the inner workings of the organization as you can, without badmouthing anyone. Matter-of-fact explanations about how things work that aren’t accompanied by a tone of frustration — even when it might be warranted — are a huge gift you can offer employees; you’re helping them understand how the company works and what they can and can’t expect, while modeling calm and professionalism for them, even in the face of things that might be legitimately frustrating.

3. Should I let applicants know how they’re messing up?

I’m a young person (23) who is managing a small team of 3 people. In addition to this, I am hiring and doing all the HR for applications, interviews, etc.

Some of the applications/interviews have been so painfully bad that I feel it’s my duty as a fellow young person to let the applicant know. For example, one girl was dead silent and only answered “Yes” or “No” to almost every single question we asked her. We asked her, “What about this position made you decide to apply?” and she responded, “Just everything about it.”

Then another girl was loud and brassy. She came into the office and didn’t say hi to anyone, and treated my colleague like a secretary. But worst of all, she brought her mom in! So her mom was sitting on the sofa, completely still and quiet.

Then today I see a CV and cover letter. The entire cover letter is a fill-in-the-blanks, ad-lib style thing. The guy forgot to fill in the blanks. So it goes: “Dear [name], As a hardworking and dynamic professional with extensive experience in team building, sales, and customer service, it is with great excitement that I submit my resume for consideration for [Company’s] [Position] position.” … “[Company] needs a [Position] who is able to reliably perform many tasks in a fast paced environment. I have a proven history of doing just this in my previous positions.”

It’s just embarrassing. These are fresh graduates, maximum 1-2 years out of school and sometimes just graduated last month. I’m definitely not going to hire them, but is it wrong or unprofessional for me to reach out and tell them why? These mistakes are so egregious that I feel they deserve to be aware. What do you think?

It’s not wrong or unprofessional, but it’s also not your job. That doesn’t mean that you can’t do it at all — we’ve all felt that impulse to help applicants who are clearly really getting it wrong, and it can be kind to do it — but I’m getting the sense that you want to do it a lot, and that’s not a great use of your time (and your company may not be on board with you offering a bunch of unsolicited feedback anyway).

The reality is that when you hire, you see a ton of awful applicant behavior. It’s just part of the process. You can’t correct all of it. And really, this is the process working the way it’s supposed to — you’re getting information about these applicants that’s letting you see they’re not people you want to hire. That’s a good thing for you as an employer.

But giving out occasional feedback here and there is totally fine (although make sure you’re not saying anything legally problematic, such as inadvertently implying you rejected someone for illegally discriminatory reasons) … as long as you brace yourself to have some people respond in fairly ungrateful and even hostile ways, because that is a thing that sometimes happens.

One last thing: Unless you are interviewing teenagers, these are women, not girls. If you’re expecting these applicants to take themselves seriously as professionals, you’ve got to do them the courtesy of referring to them as adults!

4. How much time off can I take for a cross-country move?

I’m moving across the country (Colorado to Pennsylvania) for my husband to attend an MBA program. I told my manager about our move and have been approved to work remotely! (Yay!) Because we’re moving across the country, my husband and I want to make a road trip out of it, stopping at interesting camping spots along the way and enjoying a less rushed drive (and some much needed quality time) before he starts an intense MBA program.

What is a “standard” moving allowance in terms of time? I know it likely varies from company to company, but I don’t want to stray too far from a norm in my time off (either too short or too long).

It really does vary. In your case, are they really giving you a moving allowance or just letting you take time off for the move? Since you’re not moving for work, I’d assume it’s the latter. If that’s the case, I’d say to handle it like you would any other vacation request, which for most U.S. workers generally means no more than two weeks at a time — and possibly less, depending on the norms in your company.

Why not ask your manager and find out directly what her opinion is, rather than me guessing for you? I’d just say this: “We’re hoping to make the move a road trip and do some camping and tourism along the way. If I took two weeks to do that in August, would that work on your end?”

5. Including a fitness certification on a resume

Should I list a fitness certification on my professional resume? I am currently undergoing a rigorous training program to become certified in a fitness sector. I am seeking a position that is not in the fitness industry (for now).

It might help you with a handful of people who will find it interesting, but in general it’s going to be neutral. Assuming you have more relevant things to do with that space, I’d leave it off and focus on content that’s more relevant to your candidacy.

{ 201 comments… read them below }

  1. Spirits are using me, larger voices callin'*

    #4: something to consider: are you using a professional mover to move your furniture and other possessions? If so, you’ll want to take into account when they’ll pick up your stuff in Colorado and when they’ll drop it off in Pennsylvania. It’s been a rather long time since I’ve dealt with this myself, but if you aren’t in Pennsylvania to meet the movers, you might end up paying extra for storage or dealing with other hassles.

    1. Carly*

      #4 There are so few opportunities to take time off in life… I think two weeks is absolutely appropriate. If you don’t have enough vacation days, ask for unpaid time off.

      1. lynne*

        I agree! (i am the question asker for #4) That is my thought process too. We are planning on 2 weeks for a long road trip to camp, rock climb and see family on our way across the country – considering the magnitude of the life change (in my world), 2 weeks feels appropriate to say goodbye to our beloved state and welcome the new life in PA.

    2. Another HRPro*

      I’ve moved cross country a few times – each time with professional movers. Generally I take two days off for pack and two days off for the unpack – but your time may vary depending on how much stuff you have. The movers generally took about 5 days transport my stuff (from CA to VA). If you are not there when it arrives, you would have to arrange for storage and then a separate move from storage to your home.

      1. lynne*

        good point! we’ll be using a ubox as we live in a tiny apartment currently but that’s an excellent point about moving our stuff – i think ubox is a 1-2 week process anyway. another factor is the set up in PA – we won’t have internet initially so i’ll have to seek out space in a coffee shop or co-working space.

  2. UKAnon*

    Thank you, Alison, for pointing out we’re women! That is such a huge bugbear with me. It’s become so ingrained that people don’t seem to see what’s wrong with it anymore (every time I see an advert for a campaign trying to get women engaged in sport which reads “this girl can” I want to scream) but it really is problematic for women in the workplace.

    tl;dr This isn’t the sixties.

      1. CoffeeLover*

        I see “girls” as being comparable to “guys”. You refer to men as guys and women as girls. So it’s “men and women” and “guys and girls”. We have gotten into the habit of calling both men and women guys, but I don’t think that’s any better than saying girls. I don’t find it patronizing, but I’m still in my early 20s so that might influence me.

        1. UKAnon*

          The problem I have with that is that “guys” isn’t used to keep men down, infantalise them and harm them in the workplace in the same way. Believe me, I am far from sensitive about language* but this really does make me cross. Referring to everyone as guys isn’t quite so bad – I try not to on the grounds of poor English, but I am a frequent offender! Girls, on the other hand, I just found patronising and somewhat insensitive.

          *Not that there is anything wrong with being sensitive about language. I say this merely to emphasis *quite* how much I mind ‘girls’.

          1. AnonAnalyst*

            Yup, this. I know it often isn’t intended this way, but I see it as the equivalent of “boys” for men, which is not used in the same way as “guys.” It just gets my back up whenever I see it, especially when referring to women in the workplace.

            1. Another HRPro*

              I agree. No one ever calls adult men at work “boys” but it is perfectly acceptable to call professional women “girls”. That plus referring to a group of people that include women as “guys”. I’m not a guy, don’t call me that.

              1. Student*

                People do refer to adult men at work as “boys”. Specifically, black men sometimes get called “boy” as a racially coded way to … keep black men down, infantalise them and harm them in the workplace. It’s considered very offensive to do this.

                For some bizarre reason, using the term “girl” to degrade women is somehow much more socially acceptable than using “boy” on grown men in exactly the same way.

                1. kt (lowercase)*

                  It is absolutely not socially acceptable to call black men “boy”, at least not among people I’ve ever spent any time around either online or in meatspace. It’s flat out racist and wildly inappropriate, I would argue far more so than calling grown women girls (I’m a white woman FWIW). And calling grown white men “boy” is not a thing at all that I’ve ever seen.

                2. kt (lowercase)*

                  Strike “I would argue”. It is far more inappropriate. Calling grown women girls is problematic (and a huge peeve for me), but it comes from the lack of a feminine or gender neutral “guys” and from the fact that there is naturally a transition into thinking of yourself as a real grown-up when you are young. It’s problematic, but it doesn’t carry the weight of generations of racial contempt.

                3. Not Yet Seeking*

                  The feminine equivalent to “guys” is in fact “dolls” or “gals.”

              2. louise*

                I’m curious about this — a lot of the older men where I work refer to each other as “ol’ boy” and younger men as “kids.” This is a blue-collar environment in a largely rural area of the midwest US, so I think it’s more a reflection of them not knowing professional norms and most having fairly limited education than it is them purposely trying to keep anyone down. I *do* speak up when I hear racially coded language, but I’ve had to pick my battles on the other stuff or I’d be the language police full time and never get the rest of my HR duties done.

                They address me as ma’am or young lady. I’d prefer my name, but it hasn’t felt worth it to insist. I did break one jackass of addressing me with “Hey, good-lookin’,” but the others don’t have a jackass attitude.

              3. Elizabeth West*

                I had college instructors who would say, “Hey, people,” instead of saying “Hey, guys,” which I liked because it included everyone. Some people use guys informally, and that rarely bothers me, but it’s a little casual for a work meeting.

              4. PoorDecisions101*

                This isn’t absolute. In my old office, cost control were the “girls” and fleet delivery were the “boys” and I remember both groups refering to themselves in the same way. Ages in both groups ranged from twenties to fifties.

          2. Apollo Warbucks*

            I don’t think people using the term girl or girls are using the term intentionally in an attempt to keep women down, infantalise them or harm them in the workplace, I agree that it’s patronising and insensitive, but I think its more indicative of a lack of thought an understanding rather than people choosing particularly loaded language on purpose.

            1. UKAnon*

              I don’t think it’s necessarily intentional but – like some of the debates around here on racist language for eg – I do think it’s good to call it out when you hear it, because those are the – unintentional and unconscious – effects that it has.

              I also think the sports campaign should know better, for one.

              1. Apollo Warbucks*

                When I read the comment it “isn’t used to keep men down, infantalise them and harm them in the workplace in the same way.” I took that to mean that UKAnon thought the use of the phrase was used intentionally to be degrading or damaging to women.

                I didn’t say it was harmless and I do think that it is harmful, but I don’t think that implying something is intentionally offensive, when it is not helps conversations about racism of sexism.

                For example I was talking to a guy at work who used an incredibly offensive racist term in the context of a kids nursery rhyme and a big UK news story. His justification was that it wasn’t meant to upset or offend it was just a silly rhyme from when he was a kid. If I had called him a racist he would have not have been able to see that, he manages a team of people from all over world (and was very supportive of the women in his team that had babies) he obviously doesn’t hate anyone based on their membership of a class. So I explained to him that no matter how he meant it, that word was going to upset and offend the people who have been abused by it in the past and not only that but someone that doesn’t know him so well will judge him so hard for using that sort of language.

                I like to think explaining the external consequence his actions made him more concuss of the problem, rather than me calling him racist (which he isn’t and never meant to be). His response to that would likely be defensive and that “racists hate people based on their skin colour, I don’t hate people because of that, therefore I not racist.”

                Given UKAnon’s reply to my comment now I’m thinking I misinterpreted what was meant.

            2. Student*

              I call BS. Look at the way the letter writer here used the term. It was to describe women that this letter writer was stating are grossly ignorant of workplace norms. Implied is that the letter writer feels very superior to these women – superior enough to hand down unsolicited feedback on how they ought to be performing their job hunt. Superior enough to refer to them as children by comparison.

              I’m not disagreeing with the assertion that these women are, apparently, grossly ignorant of workplace norms. That doesn’t mean they need to be treated as “less than” by the letter writer.

              1. Apollo Warbucks*

                I don’t know where you are getting that from, the letter talks about unprofessional guys as well as women, and for all we know the OP is a woman.

              2. Sunflower*

                I think you’re reading too much into this. I’m 26 and have to make an active effort to not refer to women as girls at work. In my personal life, I refer to my friends as girls. For me, it stems from the fact that we don’t really have a casual term for females like we have ‘guys’ for males. I don’t think she was trying to degrade anyone. I also wasn’t getting superiority at all from the LW. It sounds like she is 23 and has a lot more experience with applications and hiring than most 23 year olds do. It’s no secret that many recent grads(really workers of any level) are victims of receiving terrible job advice. People write in many times asking if it’s okay to offer unsolicited feedback on applications and we never accuse them of thinking they are superior for simply wanting to.

              3. MK*

                A hiring manager, especially a potential boss if the candidates, does have a superior position. Also, as a professional (woman, but I don’t think it matters) who tries to behave appropriately I do think of myself (and people who also behave appropriately) as more than men and women who exhibit the grossly inappropriate behavior described by the OP. I don’t mean that they have less value than me as human beings, much less that they should be treated with anything other than respect, but I think it’s perfectly reasonable to think less of someone based on their behavior.

                However, I agree that using the term “girls”, if done to note that these candidates are not exhibiting adult professional behavior, is sexist (probably unconscious), especially since the OP doesn’t use a similar word for the male cadidate.

                1. #3*

                  I actually did use a similar word for the male candidate. I used the word “guy.” I wasn’t saying girls to imply that they’re unprofessional. It’s simply how I grew up. My mom is a girl, too (although sometimes I call her a lady). The way I use it is as a gender descriptive. I completely understand that some people find the term girl offensive (I had no idea until today). So, I am going to try to stop using it in certain contexts.

                  However, the offense that “Student” took was completely misplaced and, in my opinion, a somewhat hostile and overly sensitive reaction. I am a girl and see the other girls who applied as my equals, which is why I want to help them when I can. Just like I depend on my peers to help me out when they know something I don’t. (I used the term “girl” just then to emphasize that although some might see it as offensive, it is a term I have always used to describe myself and in no way use it to degrade someone else, and certainly not for being female.)

                2. Zillah*

                  @ OP 3 – I think most commenters get that – but the issue is that because “girl” is treated as analogous to both “boy” and “guy,” it has slightly different connotations than “guy” does. I get where you’re coming from – I’m 27, and it’s still a little weird for me to call myself a woman and I hate that there’s no genuine informal equivalent to “guy” for women. I also do think that referring to women as “girls” in a professional setting, there is an undercurrent of unprofessionalism, intentional or not.

                  However, like I said, I do get where you’re coming from, and tbh, when I was 23 I was just starting to think about this, too, so yeah – totally get where you’re coming from, and I think that some commenters are being a little harsh.

              4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I don’t think it was in any way intentional. The letter writer is 23. I referred to myself as a girl at that age too, I think. I remember it feeling really awkward when I finally made the switch to “woman” about myself and my friends. But my point is that it’s worth making yourself stop, because while no harm is meant, harm is done (both to the speaker and to the people she’s speaking about). Language has power.

          3. reader*

            At my last job every man, from the plant manager on down divided the women into two groups. If you were under ~35 you were a girl, if over that age range then you were a lady. I found it annoying, but I was very ladylike about it. :)

          4. Artemesia*

            Exactly. I’ll have ‘my girl call your girl.’ Every heard a boss say ‘I’ll have my guy talk to your guy.’

        2. jhhj*

          But you refer to small children as boys and girls, not guys and girls or boys and some other word.

          You can, in some contexts, get away with guys and gals. Using guys for everyone doesn’t always work because we don’t really perceive it as gender neutral even though we would like to or even think we do.

          1. AAA*

            I’m all for “gals” as a casual stand-in for women. “Girls” is infantilizing, “guys” is too masculine. I do wish we had a non gender binary way to talk about people.

            1. L*

              Personally, if it’s a group, I go with hi everyone/you all/y’all depending on your location. There is no need to address anyone by their gender.

                1. Pinkie Pie Chart*

                  Or everyone. When I’m emailing a group I usually lead off with “Hi everyone.”

            2. Evey Hammond*

              I sometimes use “my dears” to refer to a mixed group, but it’s DEFINITELY a situational thing- I would only ever use it with peers with who I have an established rapport. (Even then it can be touchy, since depending on tone “dear” can come across as infantilizing.)

              1. Kate*

                I sometimes use “chickadees” with the interns I manage. Hope they don’t mind … aside from that idiosyncrasy I do my best to treat them very professionally, provide them with opportunities, give valuable feedback, etc!

          2. LBK*

            That’s a really good point that honestly helps reshape my thinking about this a little – why is it that when you get old enough to move from “boys and girls” to “guys and girls,” only the male part upgrades? Women still get stuck with their childish term being the default.

            1. Artemesia*

              I grew up in the Northwest where ‘boy’ was not used as a demeaning term for black men. So to me a 17 year old black kid is a boy. But I learned long ago that this is a term that has heavy heavy freight in the black community and so I learned not to call teenage black males ‘boys’ or worse yet, guys in their 20s ‘boys’ even though from my elderly vantage point they are ‘boys.’ You don’t have to be intentionally mean to hurt people and everyone ought to be in 2015 able to figure that out. I am in my 70s; that means I came of age in the 60s not the 40s or 50s, so anyone still in the workplace did not grow up in a time when ‘girls’ was acceptable to apply to women in the workplace. The excuse of habit and the times we grew up in simply don’t apply anymore. This was not news in the 70s — it is certainly not news in the 21st century.

        3. Decimus*

          I tend to see the female equivalent of guys as “gals” – guys and gals wouldn’t set me on edge, but girls would.

    1. Afiendishthingy*

      I say “girl” sometimes with friends, but I can’t stand it in a professional context. I have a client who consistently refers to my staff (women in their early 20s) as “girls” and it drives me bonkers.

      1. anonanonanon*

        Agreed. I also find “ladies” really off putting, because from men it sometimes comes off as outdated or a sleazy way of hitting on a group of women and from women it sometimes comes off as patronizing or cliquey. (I’m obviously not saying everyone who uses these terms means them this way.)

        Honestly, I’d just prefer for people to stop addressing groups or individuals by their gender and start addressing them neutrally or by their name. Like, “candidate A wrote a horrible resume” or “The IT group is awesome” or “Hi, everyone, we’re starting the meeting now”.

        1. Bruce*

          Back when I was waitressing I, a city girl, developed a folksy accent to combat using gendered words.


          1. Artemesia*

            Y’all is an extremely useful term for a group of men and women. It is the south’s great contribution to our language since most of us don’t feel that ‘you’ is plural. And as you note it neatly sidesteps ‘ladies’.

    2. Ad Astra*

      My coworker and I are both in our late twenties and I keep hearing the more senior colleagues in our division refer to us as “the marketing girls.” It drives me nuts.

      1. hayling*

        In my early 20’s, an older female colleague always referred to me as “her PR girl.” *Shudder.*

      1. MK*

        I seriously doubt anyone thinks “dolls” is an improvement on “girls”. And ever since I saw that Marvel film, it reminds me of the Bucky Burnes character and makes me want to laugh.

        1. Not Yet Seeking*

          *waves* I think it is, indeed, an improvement, as it is more accurate, and a better musical as well.

    3. Connie-Lynne*

      It drives me nuts that there are so many women-in-tech support organizations that do this. “Girl Geek Dinner” “Girl Develop It” etc etc. They’re doing great things for women in tech, but dangit, I’m 45 years old, I’m not a “girl” to anyone but my mom!

      1. Saurs*

        Definitely. I tend to cut the Girl Geek / Geek Girl squad a bit more slack here, because in some ways they’re reclaiming from cootie-fearing male-gatekeepers the Fake Geek Girl pejorative.

    4. Vicki*

      #3 – if she brings her _mother_ along to the interview, she’s a “girl”; I don’t care what her chronological age is.

  3. Student*

    #3 I think one needs to have the right mentality to do this successfully. Primarily, you need to be prepared to hear extremely defensive or negative responses to this kind of unsolicited feedback. If you can mentally understand that that’s an automatic defensive response, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that the candidate will ignore your advice / hate you forever / complain to your supervisor / sue you, then you’re in a good position to give this kind of feedback. You’re kind of stepping into the role of teacher, and some fraction of people will respond very badly to that.

    If you think you’d react badly to a confrontation response, or you’d start having sleepless nights the first time someone made a baseless threat (lawsuit, complaint, worse – all of which they are massively unlikely to follow up on), then save yourself the headache.

    1. Colette*

      I think it also depends on how cut and dried the unsolicited feedback is. Something like the incomplete cover letter is pretty clear, but isn’t something they need you to tell them. Other things might be more personal preferences, or something they’ve received advice in favour of.

      personially, I think the potential for a negative response would outweigh the possibility to help in most cases.

      1. steve g*

        I’d really want to tell the one who didn’t talk that the interview didn’t provide a chance to get to know them at all because they didn’t provide enough information, only yeses and nos. I know the general consensus here is not to give feedback, but I don’t see how there can be a negative backlash here, except if the person asks for a second chance!

        1. MK*

          I think it would be easier in that case, because the OP can naturally convey it in the rejection letter: “We are unable to offer the position, because your contributions during the interview were to succint to give us a good idea of whether you are a good fit”. But it’s very hard to say “Bringing your mother to the interview was in appropriate” in a natural way.

        2. Mints*

          I think in the letter, the candidate with the Yes/No answers would be the easiest to address. “I would have liked to hear more detail and the background about the answers you gave” or something along those lines. The cover letter adlib thing is probably obvious once he reviewed the application (I would hope?!)

          I think I’ve probably only got one response that was actually useful when asking for feedback. (It was in answer to “How are your milk chocolate skills?” and I guess I answered “Bad” and didn’t explain anything to salvage. [Milk chocolate was the core of the job]. I kind of don’t remember; it was one of my very first interviews ever.) I’ve gotten lots of “You’re great but we’re going with someone who has done this job already” which might be the truth, but I’m like, shrug.

          My point is, if the person seems like they’re really trying and floundering a little, and they specifically ask for feedback, I’m pro-feedback.

  4. AnnieNonymous*

    This letter reminds me of some comments that have been posted in the open posts lately. Lots of stuff about “I have negative feelings toward an employee who isn’t stepping out of her comfort zone and voluntarily taking on work that hasn’t been assigned to her.” Not everyone is an overachiever, and lots of have past experiences that discourage completing work that has not been explicitly assigned to us. If an employee is supposed to be completing a task, she needs to have it officially assigned to her, and if it’s especially challenging, the employee should be given a pay raise to go along with her augmented role. You know how we’ve been chatting about the stresses of not being able to unplug, of employers expecting way too much of us? Employers view this as a problem of us not being motivated, so I’m not thrilled when I see questions like this being asked with such aplomb. In many cases, the employees are doing exactly what they were hired to do, and the employers are annoyed that the employees aren’t volunteering to to extra or more difficult work for the same pay.

    It sounds like OP1’s coworker might be shirking work that is officially hers, but it also sounds like management is avoiding the issue by pairing employees up. Of course she’s not jumping to do the harder projects. Her pay rate is the same no matter what, and she’s likely happy in her current role, especially if management likes her.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But in this case, the OP specifically says that the coworker “hasn’t made much of an effort to learn our more difficult tasks” and “even when management assigns her to do the difficult work, she often asks me for help or just blows it off until I do it for her.” I don’t think this is a case of being expected to do work that hasn’t actually been assigned, and there’s no indication the employer is asking too much.

      1. AnnieNonymous*

        I qualified some of this in my second paragraph, but I do get the sense that OP1’s managers are assigning work as a “group project” with the knowledge that OP1 is going to be the one doing it no matter what. She needs to talk to her managers about relieving her of this responsibility, but even so, I think she also needs to step away from language that sounds like, “How do I get this employee to take on harder work?”

    2. OP #1*

      I’m sorry my question offended you, but I’m a little confused about why you feel that way. I don’t expect my coworker to volunteer to do extra or more difficult work than what she’s assigned to do. We typically receive assignments as a pair, with the expectation that we will divide the work equitably. As it happens, I don’t mind doing the more difficult portion of the work, even though I’m getting paid the same as she is, because I find it more interesting, and it’s easier for me to do it myself than try to walk her through it. This works fine as long as she’s paired with me or someone else who is willing to divide the work like this, but I’m worried that I’m doing her and the company a disservice in the long run by enabling her to avoid learning to do part of her job, which she may be called upon to do in the future, say, if she gets assigned a different partner. I asked this question because I’m trying to figure out if it’s my responsibility to worry about the long run, or if I should just focus on making sure our assignments get done now.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        If the assignments are really divided up, my inclination would be not to fix her work on the easy ones. Don’t get me wrong, I will go way out of my way for my coworkers when they ask, but that’s because they all work hard and are very reluctant to ask, like me. But I think that you’re not only keeping her from the consequences of her actions, you’re also keeping management from getting a better idea of her performance. I don’t blame you though! I do have trouble saying no to requests, especially for tasks that I like to do or that I know I can do well. I’m just lucky that I don’t get many like that.

        The only issue I can foresee with that plan is if your supervisor sees every team member as responsible for any work defect on work assigned to your team. That kind of “black box” management, where all they care about are the results, not the process, is shoddy and lazy, but unfortunately somewhat common.

        1. OP #1*

          Well, they do manage kind of like that. I don’t get a letter in my file or anything for her mistakes, but management tallies the mistakes of the whole department, like, “You guys made X mistakes in the past month.” Or, conversely, if we go a long time without anyone making a mistake, they buy us lunch. I don’t really have time to check all of her work, but if I notice a mistake or she asks for help, I’m inclined to go ahead and fix it.

          1. Persephone Mulberry*

            I think at a minimum you need to stop picking up slack and fixing mistakes on the work that is being directly assigned to her. I totally get wanting to put the quality of the work first, but you’re right that you’re doing a disservice to whoever she might get paired with next, and you don’t want to burn yourself out trying to do your job and hers.

            1. Jesse*

              It’s tricky when it sounds like nothing is specifically assigned to the coworker — it sounds like all assignments are given to both of them as a pair. So mistakes by the coworker reflect on the OP, as well as the whole team, it sounds like.

          2. ginger ale for all*

            I would go over the mistakes with her though. I once worked with someone who I thought spelled awful incorrectly. She spelled it offal. It turns out that is a word and she meant to use that word. You might surprise one another with the mutual feedback and, jmo, it would be useful.

            [aw-fuh l, of-uh l]

            1. the parts of a butchered animal that are considered inedible by human beings; carrion.
            2. the parts of a butchered animal removed in dressing; viscera.
            3. refuse; rubbish; garbage.

      2. Future Analyst*

        I don’t think you necessarily need to worry about what she’s not learning. Though it may be inconvenient for the company later on to find out that she doesn’t know how to accomplish the more difficult tasks, it’s a fair assumption that they know this might be the case, since they have you all paired off. Unless you’ve been given very specific instructions regarding what she should know after working with you for 6-12 months (“We expect that she will be able to accomplish tasks X, Y, and Z on her own”), you are not responsible for making her learn things she’s clearly not interested in learning. As long as you’re okay doing the work as is, this is something that may become a problem for her later, but shouldn’t come back to haunt you in any way. [Also, I think we all know individuals who get promoted up the chain without knowing the harder things… it may not even end up harming her or the company, but that’s besides the point.]

      3. Artemesia*

        I understood your point and can only said, while it may be your monkey, it is not your circus. It is not up to you to fix this person. You should do what makes your job work well for you IF she has not shown an interest in learning to do the tougher stuff. It would be unfortunate for you to just have grabbed up the interesting bits because it is ‘easier for me to just do it.’ But apparently you have come to an agreement with her. I would still when a new batch of tasks arrives have that meeting again and ask if she wants to learn to gild teapots in case she is called upon to do it in the future or if she is good with you doing it and just cleaning the gilding equipment.

        1. OP #1*

          We basically get a new batch of tasks every day, and I always ask her what she wants to, and she always asks for the same types of things. But maybe I should say specifically, “I don’t mind gilding the teapots if you would rather clean the gilding equipment, but if you want to get some practice gilding the teapots, we can switch.”

          In theory, she should already know how to gild the teapots, as she received the same training I did, but since she never does it, she hasn’t picked up some of the finer points of the work and doesn’t know what to do when there are problems. She also takes longer to do it than I do.

      4. steve g*

        No advice but I sympathize. You are reminding me of a few years ago where we had two people who were afraid of customer contact, which was difficult in this case, because you were making sometimes complicated requests and the customers would push back on various things (for example, sign four forms +. add info on your building, and they’d complain they don’t have time to fill out the forms, don’t have the info, and don’t like to sign things without legal’s approval)….it seemed that whenever a project was stalled it was because a customer needed to be contacted. Many a’ times I had to step in to contact the customer, which was annoying, because I then had to get up to speed on the project first, which was a huge waste of time.

      5. Erin*

        Yeah I think her (his?) comment could have been phrased better. What I took away from it though was that maybe the employee is in fact doing exactly what’s asked of her from management, which is a valid point.

        From your comment here, and original post, it sounds like management is trying not to micromanage. They’re not specifying to her exactly details of what to do because they assume the two of you will work it out together.

        Your observation of the larger pattern of her skirting the bigger projects in this teamwork approach – no, I don’t think it’s your responsibility to worry about or bring to management’s attention unless she is specifically doing or not doing something that really hinders your ability to do your job. But it sounds like what needs to get done is getting done.

        I am admittedly torn on this one though, because I think this depends on a lot on your managers’ attitudes and appreciation of employees. I basically think you should go on as you have been since you don’t mind picking up extra slack and take pride in your job. Ideally this is being noticed by the higher ups and will pay off in the end.

        BUT if your managers don’t notice or appreciate your extra efforts then…I suppose I could see that becoming a problem for you down the road if you end up resentful and unhappy.

        Sorry for rambling – but in short I’d say leave it be for now.

        1. OP #1*

          Yes, this is pretty much the situation. In most cases, management doesn’t care who does what as long as it all gets done, and it is all getting done the way we’re doing it now. Most pairs split the work more evenly, but I think in the cases where one person takes on more of the load, management does take notice. They don’t give a lot of feedback along the way, but they did give me the top raise last year, so I think they recognize my contributions (even though I had been working with someone more motivated than my current partner).

    3. Colette*

      It sounds like the coworker is avoiding doing work that’s part of the job because she doesn’t want to learn or do the more difficult tasks. That’s not a sign she’s underpaid – it’s a sign this isn’t the right job for her.

  5. Kethryvis*

    i must be weird. i refer to myself as a girl all the time, but i also call my male counterparts boys. So… i’m an equal opportunity offender?

    i really don’t care. i’m on the wrong side of 35, i have magenta hair, tattoos and wear chuck taylors to work on a regular basis. And yet i have three degrees to back up my knowledge and profession. Calling me a “girl” or a “woman” doesn’t define my worth. My work quality does.

    1. UKAnon*

      But typically ‘girl’ is horribly patronising and at least gives the impression that (and I am sure often does influence) people viewing your work differently.

      1. StarHopper*

        Yes! I am an adult, and I prefer “woman.” Most people who refer to women as girls do not call men”boys” as well. Although I do find it less icky when it’s ” guys and girls ” as opposed to “men and girls.”

        But nothing is worse than “female” as a noun.

        1. Three Thousand*

          I recently overhead “he’s been dating the same female for 15 years.” Never hear the word “male” used quite like that.

          1. UKAnon*

            Well, our Parliament is up to the same tricks, somewhat depressingly (if, ironically, scientifically)

            (Google Hansard Science: Female – link to follow)

          2. Harper*

            I’ve always noticed that there are two groups that use “female”. One I will not describe as to not get into a political debate and the other is biologists. :D

            1. Expendable Redshirt*

              I’m guilty of using the words “male and female” in conversations. Most assuredly it comes from my Biology/primatology education.

              “Human males show great behavioural diversity in XYZ. Females tend to ABC. Isn’t that interesting random people I am speaking to?”

              *puzzled blink*

              1. oldfashionedlovesong*

                But your use of “human” absolves you, because you’re then using male/female in their intended way, as adjectives modifying the noun “human”. I think what most of us are objecting to is the word “female” as a noun. It makes me shiver with irritation when people do this and I’m seeing it more and more often to the point that I’m wanting to call it out: “Sorry, female what? Penguins?”

                Also, +1 to your username, Expendable Redshirt :)

                1. Nashira*

                  I think I’m going to start asking speakers to clarify species when I hear female used this way. “Female penguins? Okapi? Sandcats? Inquiring minds want to know!”

            2. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

              The first group is Star Trek fans who identify with the Ferengi, right? ;)

          3. kristinyc*

            “Female” makes sense in two scenarios:
            1. Biology
            2. The theme song to “Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt.”

        2. Rye-Ann*

          +1 It is a huge pet peeve. Personally I think being called “a female” is way worse than being referred to as a girl, though I see plenty of people refer to themselves that way (“As a female, I…”) so I guess it isn’t universally bothersome. :\ Clearly they haven’t seen enough Deep Space Nine. :P

      2. Kethryvis*

        If someone doesn’t like me because i am not-male, how they refer to me isn’t going to change their mind. “Woman” can be just as demeaning as “girl” to anyone who already has a patronizing view of women.

        And to be honest.. if i’m calling myself a girl, it’s a bit hypocritical for me to not allow anyone else to call me that.

        It’s just my opinion; and i totally get anyone that doesn’t agree!

    2. anonanonanon*

      What you decide to call yourself is different from what you decide to call other people or what they decide to call you. I have no problem with someone referring to themselves as “girl” or “boy”, but I’d be annoyed if they thought it was okay to address me in the same manner, especially professionally since it can often come off as infantilizing or patronizing.

    3. kt (lowercase)*

      Cool story. I’m a grown woman who does not like being called by a term that denotes a child. Of course it doesn’t “define my work”; that’s really not the issue. The issue is that I should not have to put up with overt disrespect. Being called a broad wouldn’t “define my work” either, but I’d sure as hell object to that too.

  6. Adam*

    #3 While I think your heart is in the right place, wanting to reach out to every bad interviewer of your own accord has a little problem: there would be no end to the helping. As Alison can attest to and as you’ll no doubt found out as you go on is that you’ll end up being in a lot of bad interviews. Some people may just be having a bad day, and others may genuinely just be terrible at this part of the process. But either way if you try to assist every sub par one that walks through your door you’re going to run out of time to do the work you were actually there to do.

    I think it’s ok to offer feedback here and there and definitely so if they professionally ask you for it, but if you make this your personal mission I fear you may get burned out before you know it.

  7. misspiggy*

    For OP2, I’ve always offered feedback when I send interview rejection emails/letters – ‘If you would like any feedback back on your interview, please send me an email’ type of thing. Surprisingly few people have taken me up on it, and it’s usually the better candidates who have done so. The OP might want to try this for a while, and see whether the resulting extra work is manageable or not.

    1. Nobody*

      This is a great suggestion. I used to ask for feedback after every interview, but I never once got any useful feedback (if I got any response at all, it was something like, “You were great, but we had a really strong candidate pool and we went with someone else”), so I stopped asking. If someone specifically offered feedback, though, I would definitely take her up on it!

      1. Heather*

        Me too!

        For the record the question “why do you want to work here” is one of my least favourite. Why don’t you tell me about this place and then I can decide? Because most job ads and company websites don’t give me much. The reason I applied is because the job fits my skill set which you can see from my resume. (and the question ‘what interested you about this job? is right in there too. Because it fits my skill set. I know there’s more to the job than can be fit in an ad so tell me about it and I’ll decide.)

      2. Mints*


        I get the same type of feedback, but if someone had something really actionable for me, I’d be all over it.

    2. Erin*

      I love that you do this! That is surprising most don’t take you up on it. Great suggestion for the OP too.

    3. Sunflower*

      Yeah I like this because I’m getting diff. vibes from the candidates OP described. The one who forgot to fill in the blanks- that’s just total lack of caring about the application/job. I’ve seen cover letters where they’ve forgot to change the company name/job title but he didn’t even make an effort on this one! Not sure if there is any fixing that- unless he attached the wrong attachment?

      The one who barely spoke could use some interview advice. The one who brought her mom could probably most benefit from some advice as it sounds like she just isn’t aware of workplace/job interview norms.

  8. Three Thousand*

    I really hate getting all “kids these days” because I’m only in my early 30s (not that it’s ever really okay to get that way), but there’s a part of me that marvels at bringing your mom to a job interview or having her argue with your professor for a better grade or whatever else I would think she shouldn’t be doing for you at this point in your life.

    I understand there are overbearing parents and young adults who have no experience setting boundaries with them, but a lot of the time it seems like neither parent nor child is at all embarrassed about the situation. I wonder if it’s just a changing social norm.

    1. Sunshine Brite*

      I think the mom was there for transportation because she sat there quietly vs stepping in, not that she shouldn’t have stayed in the lobby, outside, or at a nearby shop if possible.

      1. Future Analyst*

        But even this raises the question of how she will conduct her work life if she were hired. Will she be having her mom drive her every day, and would her mom then be sitting in the lobby all day, every day? Theoretically, we’re all on our best behaviours and try to make the best impression at interviews, and I just don’t see this playing out very well, regardless of an innocent explanation for why her mom was there.

        1. UKAnon*

          I agree that it was unprofessional to have her mum come in with her. Travel-wise it could make sense – I’ve been in situations where being unemployed I couldn’t afford public fares to job interviews so my mum or dad drove me and picked up the cost; obviously I would have been fine once I had an income. This is one of those where I think the interviewer should have asked and clarified the reason (not that the candidate is owed that – personally I’d do it just out of curiosity – but it does help to prevent a false-negative data point)

          1. Sunshine Brite*

            Agreed, some people could take public transport or buy their own car or figure out if there is a carpool situation that would work better once they’d be able to contribute.

            1. KittenLittle*

              Speaking from personal experience, sometimes there is nothing you can say to get a parent to stop interfering in such situations, and it is terribly embarrassing.

              1. Allison*

                Truth. There are definitely times where a young person will ask their parent(s) to go with them, or for the parent to ask “do you want me to go with you” and the young person says “yes,” but I think a lot of these cases are better summed up as “their parent came with them,” NOT “they brought their parent.” Let’s be honest, if the parent is doing the driving, they’re not being brought anywhere!

                1. KittenLittle*

                  When I was in college, my mother insisted on driving me to my campus at the beginning of each semester; when the semester ended, I would have to pick her up at the airport so she could drive me home. She had to sit behind the wheel at the start of each trip, complained about the confusing layout of my college town, and said my father made her go with me (and my parents were divorced). No matter how many times I offered to switch places, she absolutely would not pull over and let me drive my own car–and the trip was 600+ miles and took 12 hours!

        2. Allison*

          It’s possible her mom either didn’t even think to go somewhere else, or there wasn’t anything to do nearby and she thought it would be inefficient to drop her kid off only to come back a couple hours later. I highly doubt she was planning to hang out at her daughter’s office during the workday.

          It’s entirely possible that she will get a ride to work in the morning, and someone will pick her up in the afternoon. This could get complicated if she ever needed to work late or leave early, but plenty of people do manage this – and to be fair, it’s not just young people. Domestic/married couples do it too, and I’ve even given my mom a ride to work on days where we were trying to navigate 4 working people in a house with only 3 cars.

          Or she’ll take public transit, if it’s available in her area. Remember, we don’t all live in areas where public transit is an option.

          OR she’ll use her first few paychecks to put a down payment on a car.

          Just because someone needed a ride to their interview doesn’t mean they can’t handle a daily commute. Come on now.

          1. Future Analyst*

            I didn’t mean to imply that she couldn’t handle her daily commute, only that her mother shouldn’t be in the lobby of the company she’s interviewing with. As she is making her first impressions on the employer, it does seem concerning that she didn’t consider it strange to bring her mother, or if she HAD to, that she didn’t address it with the interviewer.

      2. Erin*

        Exactly. Nothing shameful about needing your mom for a ride but for heavens sake have the woman wait outside or in the car.

    2. L*

      I had this same reaction. My only other thought was maybe the individual had a disability of some sort and didn’t want to bring a service animal/device in without fair warning? I can’t imagine where this is possible, but maybe?

    3. Dr. Speakeasy*

      I hear the “oh kids these days” that have their parents call about grades, etc a lot but in 12 years of teaching I’ve had a parent call me once (and there was so much other crazy going on in that situation).

      1. Kyrielle*

        I was tempted to call about my son’s grades this year, but that’s not because I wanted to complain about the actual grades. I wanted someone to explain them! I hope it’s only kindergarten they use this weird non-explained grading scale where they don’t (apparently, deliberately) tell us what’s “expected” so we just have pluses / minuses / does/doesn’t marks without any idea what is good, normal, behind, whatever….

        Seriously, why give grades if the people looking at them can’t even tell what they mean? O.o

        1. Dr. Speakeasy*

          I think in kindergarten it is okay/expected to call your child’s teacher – at that age you and the school are a team.

          I was talking about my college students.

          1. Kyrielle*

            …yeah, I have nothing on that, except I’m glad that you have had only one call of that type, because wow.

        2. Alison Hendrix*

          I recall an episode off of ‘Fresh Off The Boat’ where the mom spoke with the principal about what the deal is with these kindergarten grades – and she pulled out a card with mostly emoji-looking things. It was hilarious.

    4. I'm a Little Teapot*

      I’m 33, and when I was 23 and going on a job interview near my parents’ house my mom drove me – and told me she wanted to come in for the interview with me. I was horrified and said ABSOLUTELY NOT. So it’s not new, and whenever I hear these stories I assume it was the parent’s idea.

      1. Ama*

        I also remember a situation well over 20 years ago now where an irate parent tried to get my high school choir instructor fired because her daughter didn’t get the lead in the school musical. Helicopter parents have always existed I think the internet has just made them both more visible, and made those with those tendencies find each other and think their behavior is appropriate.

      2. Three Thousand*

        I agree that helicopter parents aren’t new at all, and my mom definitely has an overbearing side herself and has always had a hard time making herself believe I can do anything without her help. Some parents are just like that.

        I think something different is happening here. In this letter, the applicant is described as “loud and brassy” and the mom as sitting quietly and not interfering. This doesn’t scream “helicopter parent” to me as much as people who simply don’t know bringing your mom to a job interview generally isn’t done.

        In grad school, I heard of more than one undergrad who would hand the professor their cell phone and insist they speak with a parent during an argument about grades, or drag a parent into the professor’s office for a grade conference. These stories might certainly have been made up or exaggerated, but I don’t think they reflect helicopter parents as much as young people who somehow seem to think they’re giving themselves the upper hand by involving their parents. This isn’t something that would ever have occurred to me.

    5. Ad Astra*

      I’m not sure it’s a changing social norm. I think it’s possible there were always people this clueless, but things like the Internet make it easier for us to hear about these situations. I’ve heard a million stories about helicopter parents and/or people who have no idea how to act in a professional setting, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it with my own eyes.

      1. MK*

        I don’t know. For example, when I was growing up, my parents (and all parents really) respected and trusted teachers; if you got a bad grade, they assumed that you deserved it and they never interfered with how the school disciplined students. Nowdays, I hear from friends who are teachers that parents show up demanding for a bad grade to be changed or bad behavior to be overlooked, sometimes without even trying to claim that their offspring didn’t deserve the bad grade or the punishment. And they seem to be simultaneously spoiling their kids and pressuring them too much to “succeed”; the whole “you are the best, you must always be the best” mentality.

        1. Ad Astra*

          If that’s the case, then, wouldn’t it be more of a “Ugh, parents these days” rather than “Ugh, kids these days”?

          My husband is a teacher and has similar anecdotes about parents assuming the teacher is wrong and their precious child is right, but he dealt with that a lot more in his old district than he does now. The two districts are in very different communities, which makes me think the issue could be cultural rather than a general shift over time. It’s possible these insane parents existed in other communities when you were a kid, but you never had contact with them because there was no Internet and no Slate and no AAM.

        2. Three Thousand*

          There’s a growing sink-or-swim mentality in our culture that tells us we have to fight hard not only to get ahead but even to have a chance at a comfortable life. We can’t afford bad grades in school, whether deserved or not, and we don’t have to feel bad about it because all successful people lied and cheated their way to the top. That’s just how the game is played.

    6. No Longer Passing By*

      I prefer when the parent, who also is the transportation medium, waits outside in the car so that I’m not even aware that they’re there. I’ve had interviewees tell me at the end if the interview that their parent was waiting in the car. No problem.

      On the other hand, I have had situations when the parent came in, waited in the waiting room, wanted to meet the interviewer, and tried to invite themselves into the interview. That’s too over the top. Inevitably, that same parent then calls after the interview to find out if their child got the job. I don’t care how well that person performed in the interview; I absolutely will not be calling them for a second interview or offering the position.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        We’ve had a week plus of temperatures over 100, with at least another week coming. Waiting in a car would be miserable at the least. If there is a coffee shop nearby, then waiting there would be good, but I can’t imagine having to wait in a car.

        1. No Longer Passing By*

          The waiting room doesn’t bother me either. But the wanting to meet the interviewers and the attempts to watch the interview are waaaayyyyy too much. And it’s happened on several occasions so it’s definitely a thing.

    7. #3*

      Just to provide some more color on this one — it’s possible that the mother was there for transportation, but not very likely. The applicant was working in a retail position nearby. We are in a large city where driving is usually less efficient than public transportation or even just walking. I do not believe she was a “helicopter parent” because, as Three Thousand noted, the applicant was rude and rather aggressive whereas the mother was just silent. She came in with us to the smaller room where the interview was taking place; she refused any water or drinks and simply said “hello” and “goodbye.” It was a very odd experience.

  9. Sunshine Brite*

    #1: I’d definitely say something to your manager. You say this assignment/pairing is recent so you’re likely in a position where it feels fresh again, but at some point stress is likely going to get to you for some reason or another and it would be nice to have an equal work partner able to be flexible with you in terms of work load. It’s better to give them a heads up now when things are good.

  10. Sabrina*

    #3 Under the heading of “no good deed goes unpunished” I think you could be setting yourself up for someone saying “Look I fixed it, will you hire me now?”

    1. Future Analyst*

      Good point, I wouldn’t have considered that side of it, but I could definitely see candidates thinking they have an “in” if they addressed her concerns.

    2. Liza*

      One could make it clear that someone has been hired and the position is no longer open. Maybe take misspiggy’s suggestion above and tweak it to ‘Thank you for your interest. We have hired another candidate. If you would like any feedback back on your interview, please send me an email.’ or something along those lines.

  11. Allison*

    #3, the reality is that you will get pushback from a lot of young people if you’re honest with them. For some, it’ll be an angry, knee-jerk reaction. Others may wax philosophical about why they did what they did. Others will admit they messed up, but will try to convince you to hire them anyway because of reasons and then get mad when you don’t give them a chance.

    Honestly, it may be better if you look for ways to advise young people on how to apply and interview in your spare time. Maybe you give advice online, maybe you market yourself as a speaker at college events, do something to tell people, before they apply and start going in for interviews, what the common blunders are and how to avoid them.

    1. Erin*


      Awesome suggestions.

      My initial thought was that the OP must not be bringing in the right candidates for interviews and these folks should be screened out immediately anyway, but that’s not totally applicable here – they’re all straight out of college and inexperienced. It’s likely to just be more of the same going forward.

      These are great thoughts on constructive ways to offer feedback to this demographic in general.

    2. Artemesia*

      How about recommending ‘since you are new at applying for jobs and interviewing you might find askamanager.org a useful resource for tips about your resume, interviewing and such.’ No personal feedback, just a helpful hint.

  12. LBK*

    #2 – Any chance you could talk to someone about revisiting the “promotions only at the end of the year” policy, while you’re at it? That seems extremely restrictive to me, especially if someone seems ready early on in the year. If I knew I was going to have to wait 10-11 months to get the raise and title I deserved, I’d most likely be using that time to find a new job instead.

    1. Judy*

      In my experience many large companies have the “inline” promotions as part of the raise cycle. Any promotion that was only money and title happened on the day that all of the raises happened. I’m talking about Engineer to Project Engineer to Senior Engineer to Lead Engineer. Promotions that meant moving to a different job, like to manager happened when needed.

      And it’s not unusual to meet the “minimum criteria” for one of those promotions several years before the management review and approval takes place. At a past company, usually your manager would need to start prepping for a promotion 2 years before. During the annual meetings where the directors decided the raises, the managers needed to start talking up the employees for most likely 2 cycles (years) before submitting them for an inline promotion.

      1. LBK*

        That is an absolutely insane timeline to me. There’s no way I’d wait YEARS to get a promotion, even an in-place promotion, unless it was going to come with something crazy like a 50% salary increase.

        1. MK*

          I don’t think two years between meeting the minimum criteria for a position to getting it is particularly crazy. People shouldn’t be promoted as soon as they are barely qualified, and a couple of years (assuming there is significant growth/training/gradual increased responsibility during those years) can be reasonable for a serious promotion, depending on the field. I think it’s inefficient if the company is rigid about the wait period, instead of judging on a case-by-case basis.

    2. AnotherFed*

      While Judy’s timeline seems longer than most I’ve run into, I have seen the general in-place promotions be done on an annual basis as part of the overall raise/budget cycle. For lower level employees, I’ve also seen them be handled around the time of hiring anniversaries, but that’s mostly for the almost automatic bumps from So New The Shine Hasn’t Worn Off to Won’t Get Lost In Our Own Complex Anymore to Normal Working-Level Engineer.

      1. Kyrielle*

        I…really aspire to that first promotion there. Turned the wrong way out of the elevators again this morning.

        1. AnotherFed*

          But you weren’t lost – you knew exactly where you were and just took the long way! :)

          1. Kyrielle*

            To be fair, I wasn’t lost. I saw the refrigerator by the water coolers, groaned mentally, and turned straight around. I knew *exactly* where I was…about ten feet into the wrong wing of the right floor. :P

    3. OP #2*

      (Yes I know I haven’t hidden my gravatar.)

      Judy pretty much described my company – the promotions/raises period is at the end of the year, and there are some limitations – people can’t be promoted before 1.5 years in the initial position and so on. I agree it often doesn’t make sense, but I have 4-5 levels of management above me and there is nothing I can do to change this. (Actually, I’m not even officially a manager – I’m still classified as a Senior [my job] instead of Manager in the org chart.)

      I would not be surprised if the people on my team job searched – the salaries we pay are good for entry-level, but with 1.5 years of experience you can get a 50% raise in a similar position in a different company (someone on a parallel team is leaving this month for exactly this reason). I’ve already told my team that I will support them with advice and references if they do decide to move on, but I really want to retain this particular employee because she does a great job. Unfortunately bonuses will not be paid this year because the company did not hit its target revenue, but I’ve already started inquiring if we might get some paid trainings approved. It wouldn’t be much, but at least it would be *something*.

  13. AAA*

    Re #3: In addition to the reference to “girls”, the mention of “treating someone like a secretary” kind of rubbed me the wrong way. I don’t think it is acceptable to treat secretaries and other admin poorly. (Which was the implication here I think.) I couldn’t do my job without them! The phrase “treated like a secretary” reinforces some negative stereotypes to me.

    1. LBK*

      I didn’t read it as treating them poorly, but more treating them as if they were there to take notes rather than as an equal decision maker to the OP, ie focusing all their attention on the OP and ignoring the coworker.

    2. MK*

      It’s possible the OP meant it both ways: not only did the candidate think a member of the hiring panel was support staff, which shows lack of judgement/possible prejudice (depending on what the assumption was based on), but they are also treated the assumed support staff condescendingly or even rudely.

  14. D.*

    #3, I’m a case of someone who desperately needed some feedback back then. Roughly 2 years ago, my CV and cover letters were so bad that they fitted all the don’ts mentioned on this website. On one of my applications, the HR Manager was kind enough to point out some things I was doing wrong, and basically paved the way for me to find this blog and completely change everything in my life. I’ve since successfully moved country and have an amazing job. Ironically enough, recently a new position opened up on that company, for which I applied, and I have now an interview scheduled with the exact same person (they don’t remember me).

    Some people just need an eye-opener. The internet and “career experts” are just full of wrong and crap information. I’m not saying that you should reply to all of them, but please don’t refrain from doing it whenever possible.

    1. #3*

      D, that’s a really interesting comment. Yours is the kind of reaction I would have expected, although based on other comments it appears that most people would simply be offended. I see it as the same thing as telling someone she has toilet paper on her heel or something like that — sometimes there is an egregious error that the person is completely unaware of, and (in my mind) the right thing to do is let them be aware.

  15. #3*

    Sorry if it wasn’t clear — when I say she treated my colleague as a secretary, I meant that she walked in, didn’t say hello, and said “I’m here for ___”. My colleague was in the interview with me and we are both equal decision makers, so the fact that this applicant treated her as someone just waiting to take down her name was not a good start. Of course secretaries/receptionists/office managers deserve to be treated well and are often undervalued, which is a shame.

    1. cv*

      I agree that being abrupt and not saying hello are poor form for a job candidate, but what would your preferred approach have been? A lot of offices aren’t well set up for visitors, so I’ve often approached the person whose desk/office/cube is closest to the door and saying something like “Excuse me, I’m here for an interview with [name]. Could you tell me where to find her?” It doesn’t assume anything about that person’s job functions – in an office with no designated receptionist, it’s generally part of everyone’s job duties to greet visitors in a professional manner. The second sentence is polite but not strictly necessary – the appropriate professional response to the first sentence is to offer to notify the person or to point the way to her office. The alternative is for the job candidate to stand around awkwardly [since many smaller offices don’t have waiting/reception areas] and hope the interviewer comes looking to see if the candidate arrived at the appointed time, which would be pretty strange behavior, too.

      1. Rita*

        I’m wondering if it was more about her tone or attitude – how she said it instead of what she said.

    2. ginger ale for all*

      I work in an academic library and if a person who is applying to be a student assistant treats any of us rudely, from the front desk to the head of the department, it is noted across the board. We are a strong team and everyone on it deserves respect. There have been many students who have shot themselves in the foot by being rude to the person ( which could be anyone from another student assistant to the head of the department) who mans the front desk as they come in. We don’t say anything to them, they just don’t get hired.

  16. Bwmn*

    #2 – I really agree with AAM on this one in regards of being very clear and transparent while trying to achieve some kind of consolation if the promotion doesn’t go through.

    One team in our organization was told in the beginning of the year that salaries would be evaluated in June. When this was recently brought up as a “hey what’s happening with this”, the Director was infuriated and claimed this was never the case and was really quite cruel with this team. So I think it is really important to keep in mind that a discussion like this will be remembered by the employee down the road, and to just continue being proactive and informative regarding how the situation looks.

  17. Anonymouse*

    #5 another sure if this is the same thing, but I play the double bass in a community orchestra and I have it listed on my resume. I’ve found that it’s a great conversation starter!

  18. anonanonanon*

    #3: I would caution you against telling new graduates about proper interview or job application etiquette just because you’re a “fellow young person”. Depending how you address it, it could very easily come off as condescending. Some applicants may view it as a “I’m the same age, but look how much I’ve accomplished” type of situation and become defensive or insulted.

    Solidarity and advice can be great, but most people don’t want unsolicited advice and giving unsolicited advice in a way that isn’t insulting is difficult to approach.

    1. #3*

      I see what you’re saying. It’s so hard for me because I was always the person in school who would help my friends with assignments, editing their papers, and just whatever I was good at where I was able to help. I would rely on them in areas where I wasn’t so strong. But my position now just doesn’t allow for that kind of openness, I suppose (at least not right off the bat). Thanks for the input!

  19. #3*

    Thanks everyone (and Alison!) for addressing my question. I will take your advice to not take it upon myself to tell people if they made faux pas during an application or interview. I always feel the need to help people improve their situation (especially if there’s an easy fix), but in my professional role it is just not part of the job.

    Sorry for saying “girl” — I had no idea so many found it offensive! In my mind, it is just a gender descriptive; that’s how everyone I know sees it, too. I grew up with some odd linguistics, so I never say woman because it feels so awkward coming out of my mouth. I call all guys guys, as well as girls sometimes. I think the only time I use the word “man” referring to a human is when I have a negative connotation. I tend to be very casual and direct when I speak. This has been eye-opening, and I’ll take care to watch what I say in certain contexts.

    1. UKAnon*

      Thank you for the gracious response :-) I hope you didn’t feel anything was aimed at you personally – as you say, it’s a common phrase of speech for people. It’s just good to have an opportunity to bring it up in a public forum.

      Incidentally, if ‘woman’ sounds wrong to you then don’t feel you have to run with it, we all have our own rhythm. Guys is fine in most settings – I also hear people, peeps, my friends etc… It can be quite fun to play with sometimes!

      1. #3*

        Oh no I definitely don’t feel targeted! It really was eye-opening to learn that so many found it infantilizing and generally offensive. That’s what is so great about the internet (at least parts of it) — open dialogue with so many different types of people.

        1. Sunshine Brite*

          I’m 27 and just now starting to banish it from my lexicon, whereas when I was 23 it didn’t bother me. My friend just asked for a girls’ night at my house and it grated me the wrong way. Growing and changing happens at such interesting times.

          1. Jen RO*

            I’m 31 and “woman” still sounds weird to me! Maybe it doesn’t really have this connotation in English, but to me “woman” brings up the notion of “sexually mature”. Is it just in my head? (Of course, it’s very possible that it’s due to the fact that in my native language there *is* a female equivalent to “guy”, which is a very good word to use for “women who are younger but are not girls anymore”.)

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Nope, the connotation is just “adult and female.”

              It’s interesting though. Does “man” have a “sexually mature” connotation to you too?

              Also! Would you really call a 65-year-old woman “a girl”? Where’s the cut-off? (These are genuine questions, not meant to sound snarky.)

              1. #3*

                That’s such an interesting observation, Jen RO, because I think that is one of the reasons I feel uncomfortable saying woman. As I mentioned, I also rarely use the word man. It, too, seems to imply “sexually maturity” in my mind. Of course this isn’t the only reason they make me uncomfortable — I’m sure there’s a lot of psychology deep down in there that inhibits me from using these terms more regularly. It’s just something I’ll have to work on.

              2. ginger ale for all*

                My mother is 80 and still goes out with ‘the girls’. It is just something that stuck from when she was growing up. It also cracks me up when she comes back from one of those events and mutters darkly about someone and says things like “she’s not as young as she thinks she is”, etc. Lately, this has meant a make up faux pas in my mothers mind, lipstick that was too bold or eyeshadow that was too sparkly.

              3. Jen RO*

                Yes, “man” does as well. I was actually thinking about the cutoff yesterday as I was leaving my comment – I think it’s around 35 to 40. I wonder if my cutoff will go up as I get older!

      2. fposte*

        At least in the US, I’d say you probably do need to become comfortable with “women,” and Irecommend practicing with it until you are. It’s likely you’re going to have conversations at work where gendered terms are appropriate, and you want to be able use the professional and adult ones without flinching.

        1. Artemesia*

          And as others have noted ‘girl’ is not parallel to ‘guy’ — it is girls and boys and guys and gals. Gals is pretty dated and guys now gets applied to everyone, but guys has never been parallel with ‘girls.’

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes. It sounds uncomfortable to you now because it always sounds weird when you’re at the transition point (it did to me too in my early 20s!) but you do need to do it at some point, and now’s the time.

    2. LBK*

      Saying “woman” felt unnatural to me at first, too, which was pretty eye-opening because it emphasized how ingrained the infantilizing language was in my head. But now (largely because of AAM) I’ve made a concerted effort to use the term and it feels a lot less weird. It takes a surprising amount of practice to reshape your speech patterns but it can be done – I can’t think of the last time I had to catch myself from saying “girl”.

    3. Dana*

      I just wanted to second being uncomfortable with the word woman, especially when someone uses it to describe me! I’m 27 but it has taken the entire 5 years of my boyfriend referring to me as a woman for it to stop being like a stop-me-in-my-tracks-who-are-you-referring-to,-me?? reaction. I think of myself as a girl. It’s weird. I don’t know how to say that I luckily don’t ever need to use “business speak” but I’ve found myself trying out “lady” once in a while. I was also very unprepared to see the comments here about this evidently loaded term.

    4. Ad Astra*

      I don’t think your letter sounded like you meant “girl” in a demeaning way. Lots of people say “girl” instead of “woman” out of habit, with no idea that it can be condescending. I rarely hear someone use it with ill intent, but it’s still a problem — especially in a work environment, where it’s important to be taken seriously.

      So I’m glad Allison filled you in, but please don’t think you’re the only person who wasn’t aware. The only way to combat the problem is to call it out when you see it.

  20. Erin*

    #5 – I would leave it off, but definitely include it in your LinkedIn profile. You could also bring it up in an interview it feels appropriate.

    I used to be a Santa’s Helper at the mall and I kept that on my resume for a long time because I always had great reactions to it – not totally comparable to a fitness certification I recognize – but eventually I took it off to highlight more important things. I do have it on LinkedIn and bring it up if possible.

    Regarding #3 – I think it’s unfair to jump on #3’s usage of “girl.” Many people say girls instead of women, myself included, although I make efforts in the professional world not to. I don’t disagree it should in fact be women here, but it’s sort of not the point of her question.

    However! While we’re on the topic I have a great book recommendation on how to act like a woman at work and not a girl: Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office by Lois P. Frankel. It brings to attention a lot of those things women do that come across as childish – like sitting with one foot under your butt.

    1. Shortie*

      Urgh. Yes, I hear about you the foot under the butt. I catch myself doing this sometimes without thinking and reeeeally am working on training myself not to. The problem is that all chairs seem to be built for 6-foot-tall people, and my feet don’t touch the floor, so that looks bad too. If I’m at a meeting table where I can’t lower my chair enough, then I have to sit on the edge of the chair to put my feet on the floor. At my own desk it’s fine since I have a footrest.

      1. OfficePrincess*

        I have the same problem, but for the opposite reason. I’m on the slightly taller side of average, but I can’t adjust my chair high enough to have my feet flat on the floor without being too high for my desk. I end up feeling like a little kid all bunched up in the chair. It’s no wonder my back always aches.

      2. fposte*

        Yeah, that’s a frustrating one. We’re not doing it because we’re kittenish or immature, we’re doing it because our chairs don’t fit. I was semi-fortunate to work in a job where it didn’t matter, but the back stuff came from the chairs in spite of the foot accommodation.

        1. CEMgr*

          As a 5’2″ woman who wants to protect her back and avoid excessive fatigue, I’m going to keep sitting with one foot under me when it is needed for my comfort, typically in conference rooms where the chairs are obviously designed for a 5’10”, 220 lb person as the norm….the seat is too deep, the table is too high, the armrests are too far apart, and I can’t have my arms on the table and feet on the floor simultaneously.

          Nothing kittenish about it.

    2. Kai*

      Oh man, I had no idea that might seem childish. Bummer! Sitting with both feet on the floor is so uncomfortable.

    3. MegEB*

      I had no idea that sitting with a foot under your butt was considered childish! I do this all the time, usually without realizing it. I’m only 5’0, so my legs always dangle off the seat (although luckily, my desk is shaped in such a way that it hides this). I’ll have to be more aware about this.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Normally when people write “girl” or “female” inappropriately in letters, I just change it to “woman” as part of my standard editing because eewww (and because I don’t want it to derail the discussion, as I suspect it sometimes would). But in this case I felt like it was directly relevant to the topic, so I left it in so I could talk about it.

      In general, I agree with not nitpicking word choices (and in fact ask others not to do that here) — but I really do think it’s relevant to the topic the OP was asking about.

      1. Erin*

        I agree for the most part, I was more thinking of above commenters choosing to focus on that one thing. Although it gave me a chance to sneak in a book recommendation. :)

      2. Saurs*

        Right. It’s part of professionalism, as a “young” manager or otherwise, to navigate the unconscious biases of language, to resist reducing people to adjectives (a “black,” a “female”). I’ve noticed in the past few years — in light of the backlash against that kind of clinical military and policespeak — an upswing in reference to “women scientists.” That’s also wrong. That’s old-fashioned, and reduces women in science, for example, to a niche or an offshoot of the male default. Absorbing popular conventions now and understanding why they are inclusive will help young professionals twenty years from now, when they’ll have to learn and adapt to (hopefully even more enlightened) customs. Language evolves, and that’s okay.

    5. Allison*

      Holy crap, I’m sitting with one foot under my butt right now! I know it’s not normal, but I never realized it came across as immature. I think I do it because I’m short, and having at least one foot under me is more comfortable than having my legs dangle from the chair. I am sure it’s bad for my knees, and probably leaves a dirty spot on my skirt, so it’s not like I’ve never thought “gee I shouldn’t sit like this” before, but this is just another reason not to.

      I can adjust my chair so I’m lower to the ground, but then I’m too low for the desk, and my desk is adjustable as well but it can only go to low! Maybe I need to use it as a standing desk more often.

      1. Kai*

        Maybe putting a stool under your desk would help, too? I’ve been thinking about this a lot today!

  21. TootsNYC*

    Alison wrote:
    “And really, this is the process working the way it’s supposed to — you’re getting information about these applicants that’s letting you see they’re not people you want to hire. That’s a good thing for you as an employer.”

    I have the same urge as OP#3 (correcting applicants). (on the “do whatever it is that you can’t NOT do” front, I sometimes think I should start a consulting business coaching younger job applicants)

    I hire copyeditors, and I’ve seen some mistakes on resumes and tests. I think about alerting people, but then I think:
    “This is a mistake made because they are not good at their job. What if I tell them, they fix it, and the next manager hires them–and they aren’t good at their job, still?” I will have “tampered with the evidence,” in a way.

    I sort of feel like I owe it to other hiring managers to preserve the integrity of the evidence they’ll use when evaluating candidates. There’s a strong network of people in my position–we call one another for input and recommendations I benefit greatly from the judgments my peers make about people they recommend; I owe it to them to return that accuracy.

    I’ve decided it’s a little like giving an honest reference when I’m asked. (Which I’ve done: “this is a weakness; this is a strength; this is something I didn’t really get to evaluate, but I -think- they’d be good at.”
    I feel the same obligation to accuracy, to not interfere with how a job candidate presents herself.

    In other situations, I’ve had potential copyeditors to whom I feel an obligation that outweighs the duty to my peers–but that’s really a mentorship situation; those don’t arise that often. I’m not a mentor to every person I interview.

    1. AnotherFed*

      I agree with you on things like a copyeditor making typos on their resume and other materials. Where I am much more tempted to give feedback is on more general things that don’t show them in a good light. As an example, lots of new hires (especially recent college grads) picking references don’t choose well – it’s not that they pick people who give overly negative feedback, it’s that they pick the manager from a 6 week long job 2 years ago rather than someone from the internship they just finished or the professor they worked for all year. The other thing that gets me is when they use their kids/siblings/other family to answer a question – it’s pretty rare that it’s actually useful information about their ability to work in an office doing the work we need.

    2. No Longer Passing By*

      For this reason, I only give feedback to my finalists who are not getting the offer or who turned down the offer. For example, if someone is turning down the offer due to the compensation or benefits package, “I would advise that they always should loop the employer in and try to negotiate those deal breakers” or if we selected 1 candidate over another because of at least 1 identifiable issue that is within the candidate’s control such as dress or speech, I would say, “We really liked you as a candidate but at that last interview, it was noticed that you dressed too casually or used a lot of colloquial speech. It was something that was discussed when making the final evaluations and there was some concern that it was too informal for the industry.”

      But usually, by the final interview, the difference between the final candidates is really subjective and not based on something that the candidates can change so feedback generally would be unhelpful.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I get this! And I would probably agree with it.

        Because you’ve seen evidence that this person would learn from that feedback, and the next hiring manager would be glad of it. You’re “investing” in a fellow professional in your industry, not providing a temporary patch that would allow a substandard person to go un-spotted.

  22. Isben Takes Tea*

    I know that OP#1 didn’t state this as the reason for her assignment, and there are easily other legitimate reasons for this pairing, but I genuinely hope it wasn’t “Employee A is underachieving, let’s pair her with overachieving Employee B to motivate her!” Because that is completely unfair to Employee B. If Employee A is underperforming, it’s her manager’s job to fix.

    (Admittedly, I’m a high achiever coming from a long history of being paired with underperforming students in hopes that I’d “rub off” on them, which usually means they knew I’d do whatever work necessary to get an A, so they hardly did anything.)

    But I can see the philosophy being applied to the workplace, and it would bug the heck out of me and end up bringing my productivity down.

    Again, it doesn’t sound like OP thinks this is the reason (which is great!) but it did sound off an alarm bell for me.

    1. TootsNYC*

      Such a very “classroom” approach, where they pair the unmotivated student with the motivated one. And very unfair then as well.

  23. hayling*

    OP#1, I’m curious as to what type of work you do and what type of company you work for. I work for a place that’s big on teamwork, but I’ve never heard of this kind of “groupwork” in an office. It sounds like high school!

    1. OP #1*

      It is an unusual work environment, and I don’t want to give too many details because I’d like to remain anonymous, but it is an industrial environment, similar to a factory, in a very large company (Fortune 200). It is a technical role that is focused on day-to-day operations, with little involvement in long-term projects. We work in pairs because there is simply too much work for one person to accomplish in a day, and the nature of the work makes it impractical to have half the employees responsible for A, B, and C and the other half responsible for X, Y, and Z, so everyone is trained on A, B, C, X, Y, and Z. To further complicate matters, we’re staffed 24/7, and if one team doesn’t finish their assignments, the next shift has to get it done before the deadline. We rely heavily on teamwork, and fortunately, most people here are pretty motivated, but a few take advantage of the “groupwork” situation and don’t pull their weight.

  24. OP #1*

    Thanks, Alison, for answering my question, and thanks to all the readers who commented. My manager is not great at communicating expectations, so while my coworker and I have been accomplishing all the work we’re supposed to do, I worry that there is some unspoken expectation that I may not be meeting, and I won’t find out about it until my performance review. Of course no one here can read my manager’s mind, but it helps to get some outside perspective on what’s normal and reasonable for a manager to expect in a situation like this. It seems like the consensus is that I will probably not be held responsible for getting my coworker up to speed in her weak areas, so I should continue to focus on working with her in whatever way allows us to get good results.

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