I have nothing to do at work, should I explain why I’m declining an offer, and more

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

1. Should I feel guilty for having nothing to do?

I’m a salaried, exempt employee making $30,000 per year at my first professional job. I get all of my work done in a timely fashion. Beyond the normal feedback that comes with being trained while new, there have been no complaints about what I produce. Sometimes we have a big crunch, and then I go hard all day, but on the other hand we have slow periods too. I literally run out of tasks unless I make them for myself, which I’m not really authorized to do (e.g. business development inquiries; I’m too junior).

The office is organized. I’ve suggested initiatives to my boss — upgrading the website, for example — and he’s been really slow to authorize me to work on those types of things, because he’s out of town all the time and his default response to anything speculative is “we’ll talk about it when I get back next week” ad infinitum. I ask my main colleague if I can help him with anything and he almost never says yes.

How much time can I spend reading stuff online before I need to feel guilty? Am I making enough of an effort to stay busy in service of the company? Is this an issue I need to raise with my manager, or is it okay to take advantage of the slow periods while staying at the office to keep up appearances? I don’t want to be a shirker.

You don’t need to feel guilty at all. You’ve asked for more work, you’ve looked for new projects yourself, you’ve asked a colleague if you can help him. There’s no cause for guilt here.

That said, I’d draw up a list of projects that you’d like to work on, and the next time you’re able to grab your manager for any significant type of conversation, get the list in front of him and ask if he’ll okay you working on any of them. If he says you’ll talk next week, follow up with him next week. And meanwhile, it’s perfectly appropriate to use the slow periods to do things like work on developing a skill, or reading industry news, or anything else that’s nominally work-related.

Read an update to this letter here.

2. Should I let a company know that I’m declining their offer because of how long they took to get it to me?

I received an offer from a company that I feel would be exciting to work at, even though it pays slightly less than my current job. I considered taking it because it is in a new field for me. However, after receiving the offer, I didn’t hear back from the company for nearly two weeks. This is even after my following up with them after they made the offer. I heard back from them yesterday and the offer is still on the table. I was asked to send them my earliest possible start date and the date I could send them my final answer by, and they said they would send over a written offer letter. I immediately sent over the requested information. It’s been a full day later and I have yet to receive the offer letter, which I need in order to evaluate and give them an answer.

I feel frustrated, and that maybe this is a flag for this company. Is it appropriate to let them know that I’m not accepting this position, and a large part of the reason is the communication around this interview/hiring process? Or is it best to just decline and walk away?

If you’re absolutely sure you’re going to decline, I’d just decline and not get into their delays — although if you wanted to hint at it, you could say, “In the time since you first reached out with the offer, I’ve moved forward with other companies. I regret we weren’t able to nail down the details sooner.”

But before you decide for sure, why not ask them about it? At whatever point you do finally get the formal offer, you could set up a time to talk with the would-be manager for the position to ask a few questions about the offer (which is totally normal to do), and in that conversation you could say something like, “I noticed that it took a few weeks to hear back once you made me the initial offer. Can I ask what was behind that delay?” You might hear that their HR team is notoriously slow but isn’t typical of the rest of the company, or that a key person was on vacation (not uncommon in August), or that they have tons of bureaucracy and this is normal. I don’t know what you’ll hear — but it could be interesting data before you make your decision.

One other thing: In some fields, this kind of timeline is very normal. Since you’re switching fields, it’s possible that you just don’t realize that this is totally in line with your new industry’s norms. I’d talk to others in the field to find out for sure before you write them off over it.

3. Manager wants me to cancel a medical appointment

I have been dealing with a serious problem with my eyes, requiring follow-up appointments with my eye doctor. I make these appointments outside of core work hours, up to four months in advance. I do not require time off work for these follow-ups.

Recently, my manager scheduled a meeting, outside of core hours. I explained that I could not attend as I had a prescheduled medical follow- up. I was told to reschedule my appointment. When I said I could not/would not, I was told I could/should reschedule and that she (my manager) has hair appointments she makes four months in advance that she “cancels and reschedules all the time.”

She may not fully understand that this isn’t something like a routine appointment that wouldn’t be a huge deal to delay. Say this: “While normally I’d do that, this particular appointment is a doctor appointment that I absolutely must keep for medical reasons; delaying it isn’t an option, medically.”

4. Applicants are ignoring instructions to include a cover letter

I’ve just started a search for an administrative assistant position at the law firm where I work. I posted an ad that includes a sentence that states: “Only resumes that are submitted with a cover letter will be considered.” I did this because the last person we hired ended up having terrible written grammar, and I want a cover letter to serve as an informal writing sample (and of course because it is helpful in getting to know an applicant beyond the resume). I have gotten 90 applicants for the position, and out of those 90, only a handful have submitted cover letters. (And one of these “cover letters” actually just said, “I’m looking to relocate ASAP.” I wish I were making that up.)

Now I’m wondering if it’s unreasonable to expect that the general public is aware of what a cover letter is or how to write one. I was taught to always send one when applying for jobs, and yet all of these applicants don’t seem to have gotten that same instruction. Some of the applicants have decent resumes, but I’m bothered by the fact that they didn’t submit cover letters. Do I address this, or just let it go?

Don’t consider the people without cover letters. In your first interaction with them, they showed that they don’t follow basic instructions. Be glad they screened themselves out early, and focus on the candidates who followed directions.

And no, your expectations aren’t unreasonable. Plenty of admin candidates manage to include cover letters; it’s not some sort of esoteric know-how.

{ 153 comments… read them below }

  1. A Dispatcher*

    #5 – I’m one of those weird people that keep records of all job applications/resume and cover letter iterations, etc and I just looked, and I did in fact submit a cover letter when I applied for my very first office job when I was 20. It was a horrible, cut and paste from a template letter than I am cringing at as I read it cover letter, but a cover letter nonetheless, and I wasn’t even out of college.

    I definitely don’t think it’s too much to ask, and in the case of an admin assistant it’s a very valuable screening tool, not just as a cursory writing sample as you mentioned, but also because of what Alison mentioned; it shows whether or not the applicant can follow the most basic of instructions. In the type of job you’re trying to fill, that is a very important skill. We’ve had the discussion here before about the privilege some have of growing up in white collar vs blue collar families and the leg up they get in job searching, which may include learning to submit cover letters, but I’d like to think a worthwhile applicant from any background would see the phrase “Only resumes that are submitted with a cover letter will be considered” and pick up on the fact that they at least need to look up what a cover letter is.

    1. A Dispatcher*

      Sooo here I am preaching about attention to detail and following basic instructions and I got the numbering wrong. That should be #4. I will blame it on being so conditioned to see 5 questions per short answer post that I just immediately assume the last must be #5.

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        Sorry, this means you will no longer be considered for the role of Chief Commenting Officer. We thank you for your interest and wish you luck in your search.

      2. Cajun2core*

        Yes, but you caught it quickly and admitted that it was a mistake on your part. That does count for something.

    2. UKAnon*

      I think what’s worse is the person who clearly intended to submit a covering letter but only included one piece of information.

      Now I’m wondering why (this will bother me all day) The most rational explanation I can come up with is that they thought this was a computer requirement that they just needed to get through a filter for, but even then…

        1. afiendishthingy*

          omg I just started reading the comments on that. Holy crap. Anyone who’s been complaining about comments/comment moderation here should go take a look at those.

        2. Moonbeam Malone*

          Thanks for the link! I feel bad for the folks whose handiwork is featured in the article but hopefully others can learn from it. (Definitely a solid reminder of some important cover letter “don’ts.”)

      1. OP #4*

        Unfortunately, multiple candidates have submitted cover letters that basically state their name and that they need a job. It’s really depressing.

        1. omgomgomg!!!*

          LOL, I have so many emails that think a link to the Craigslist ad is sufficient as a cover letter.

          I hire for food service, but our business is a little more niche and we’ve had some really bad hires in the past that have damaged relationships with customers. (The most recent one to leave took to sleeping with customers and half the former staff after her marriage broke up, then bragging about it to other [rightfully] horrified customers. You don’t even want to know the vile and graphic updates the current staff was subjected to.)

          I don’t expect something that is amazingly written, but I am looking for potential hires to tell me a little about themselves. Are you in college? Have you been in this industry for a long time? Do you have little experience but are obsessed with cooking and trendy foods? I need something to help me make the determination over the standard food service resume (cause, honestly, I get slammed with them).

  2. Seal*

    #3 – Your manager is trying to equate cancelling a haircut with cancelling an eye doctor appointment for someone dealing with a serious eye issue?!? Wow. As someone who’s dealt with a vision-threatening eye issue, I say don’t even THINK of canceling your appointment in favor of some after hours work meeting. You don’t want to mess around when it comes to your eyes.

    #4 – Perfect answer. If these people can’t follow simply instructions while job hunting, what would they be like as employees?

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I know sometimes the eye doctor appointments can be difficult to get, but could you shift it up/back an hour and then do a phone call-in to the meeting or something as a compromise? I mean, I don’t know what the medical situation is and if this is for a treatment or just a follow up, but the meeting also sounds important if they’re making this into a huge deal.

      1. Blurgle*

        If she’s where I’m from, it’s not actually possible to “shift” a specialist appointment.

        1. Charlotte Collins*

          I agree. I live in mid-size city, but we have major medical research facilities here. People literally come from hours away to see specialists around here. Once you get the appointment, you might not be able to reschedule for weeks. A hair appointment is never comparable to a doctor’s appointment.

          Also, I bet the manager’s hairdresser hates that she constantly reschedules. The hairdresser’s trying to run a business, too, and that time could be used for someone who will schedule in advance and show up.

      2. A Manager*

        If the appointment has to be scheduled four months in advance then “shifting it up” is not going to be an option. The fact that the OP schedules these after work hours tells me this is a specialist who is so busy that they have extended hours. The only option would be to reschedule the appointment four months later when they have another opening and that is not acceptable. The OP said it was a serious eye issue and the fact that it takes multiple follow-up visits attests to the seriousness of it. If you haven’t dealt with serious vision-threatening eye issues/disease or had someone close to you dealing with it then you just can’t understand how serious it is and that is where the manager’s head is. Most people just think of how it is when they go for a regular vision exam and can’t really imagine what is going on. OP, a doctor’s note might help get the message across.

    2. Biff*

      I agree — I can’t BELIEVE a manager would ask for a medical appointment to be adjusted. That’s a huge red flag and even my previous Boss who was a huge ass wouldn’t have done that.

    3. Adonday Veeah*

      The manager is probably thinking this is a routine exam which could be done at any time (much like a hair appointment), not a medically necessary appointment. Just clue her in so she knows. If she balks at that, then you know you have an asshat on your hands and you should escalate. But first, give her the benefit of the doubt.

  3. Tara*

    #3 I think I have to agree with Alison. At first I was appalled that your boss made off-hand remarks comparing a medical appointment to a hair appointment, and was surprised Alison didn’t seem to mention anything else for if your crazy manager continued to be crazy. Then I re-read. Since you said it was an appointment for an eye doctor, it makes a bit more sense. It’s likely that if she’s acting that way, she thinks you’re just getting new glasses or updating a glasses prescription in a minor way, or if you don’t have glasses, that you’re starting to think you might need glasses. It’s still a little weird to think these things aren’t important, but its a little less urgent feeling, so you should just make it clear to her that this is actually a medical issue, and not just your eyes are gradually declining in focusing ability.

    1. Could be anyone*

      Even if it is a routine appointment it might be difficult to reschedule. Depending on what type of eye professional it can be weeks to get an appointment.

      1. Could be anyone*

        Especially as the appoint was not during core hours which I take to mean it was very early or late in the day. And these times can be difficult to get.

      2. TL -*

        Right but an annual eye exam isn’t generally an urgent matter in the slightest.
        Let the boss know this isn’t routine.

    2. Grand Mouse*

      That’s if she even told her boss it was for an eye doctor. My policy is to be very vague to my supervisor about what I need time off for (eg “medical reasons” “medical appointment”) and I assume the LW did the same. Sometimes more information can make it seem more legitimate, but they could also decide it’s not that serious, too.

      1. Elise*

        She sounds very much like my direct supervisor (a she). I have had so many problems with this kind of attitude that I am quitting, just 1 week to go. No new job lined up yet, but I definitely need my sanity back.

        1. Lisbonslady*

          Best of luck moving forward! Fellow ‘had to quit without a job lined up yet, because of a bad manager’ person here!

    3. AdAgencyChick*

      This is the ONLY explanation that wouldn’t cause me to want to slap OP’s boss around on her behalf. OP, here’s hoping your boss simply thinks it’s something like a glasses fitting appointment at LensCrafters that can easily be rescheduled, and that she’ll back down immediately once informed that this is not the case.

      If your boss does still try to make you reschedule — stand firm, OP! Your health isn’t worth caving to stupid people. Since this is outside of normal hours, you shouldn’t *have* to talk about intermittent FMLA, but it might be worth saying, “if I need to apply for FMLA to have the time I need to deal with this medical issue, then that’s what I’ll do” (said in a firm but non-confrontational gone) so that she realizes she can’t retaliate.

      Whatever you do, OP, don’t let her intimidate you into rescheduling unless it truly would be *easy* to do so. (Presumably if it were, you’d have done that already!) I recently let my evil boss stink-eye me into canceling a medical appointment (it was too difficult to reschedule, and I already felt like my job was on the line with this woman), and I’m sorry I let her push me around like that. (Felt so good to resign later on!!!) It’s not worth my health, nor yours, to please unreasonable people.

    4. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      Yes. I think it’s worth clarifying. We ask that our employees not schedule route in appointments (teeth cleaning, regular eye exam, etc) over certain key meetings, which are scheduled a year in advance. We do allow them to miss these key meetings for other medical appointments like sick visits, hard to see specialists, etc. However, we don’t ask. If it is the latter, all they have to say is “non-routein appointment” and that’s fine. It’s worth finding out if your manager assumed this was not time sensitive. And don’t use the word “follow-up” which makes it sound cursory.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        Maybe there is a way OP can arrange to call-in to the meeting or something via Skype or Webex unless the meeting time directly overlaps the appointment.
        We have employees do that all the time, and at least they can listen in.

    5. Anx*

      Even an eye exam could be urgent if you have a driver’s exam/renewal and depend on a vehicle to get to work, or if you depend on insurance to cover the cost and may not have insurance anymore by the time an appointment is scheduled.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes, it could be. But it’s not outrageous that the manager might have assumed it was something routine and easily reschedule-able if the OP hasn’t explained yet that it’s not.

  4. katamia*

    OP1, I sympathize. When I was just out of college I had an admin job where there was nothing for me to do most of the time (someone else answered the phones, so most of the time I didn’t even have to do that), and it was torture for me. Even though I was hourly, I left early every time my (very nice and understanding) boss let me because I just. couldn’t. take it. (I also did not feel guilty and spent most of my time reading webcomics and news websites–which my boss knew–but I would much rather have had actual work to do.)

    I’d recommend emailing a copy of your project list to the boss so he can look at it while he’s traveling if he feels like it. Depending on the kind of travel he does (like if it’s travel with lots of waiting in between stops), he might read it sooner or even respond while he’s traveling. This also decreases the chances of him losing it or it getting shoved under a pile of papers.

    1. dang*

      I had a very similar experience in my first job out of college, although I was the receptionist so I did answer phones. Some days the phone wouldn’t ring for a good four hours. I used to do the Sudoku puzzle from the paper so often that one of the partners bought me one of those electronic handheld sudoko games, lol

    2. Simonthegrey*

      My current position is grant funded and I work with students, so when no one is coming in for help, I don’t have anything else I can do. I have to be present in case I am needed and there aren’t a lot of tasks available. When I am busy, I am slammed, but plenty of times I feel guilty watching Netflix on my phone because there is no one for me to help.

      1. not telling*

        We had a problem with slow internet in our office this summer and after digging around it turned out that the reason was all the interns were streaming video and music on their computers and phones. They were consuming all the bandwidth and it was preventing the rest of the office from getting legitimate work done.

        I don’t think there’s anything wrong with keeping your mind occupied if you don’t have any work to do, or leaving early if your boss says it’s okay. But watching movies in the office could be a problem.

        And yes, if you are streaming movies or videos on your phone, you are using bandwidth. Wifi receives the signal wirelessly but the signal is still coming from the router that provides all of the internet access. The only way to not take up bandwidth is to turn off your wifi connection and rely solely on your data plan.

  5. OP #1*

    Thank you for the advice, Alison! I will make a list for my boss. This is also a helpful direction: “it’s perfectly appropriate to use the slow periods to do things like work on developing a skill, or reading industry news, or anything else that’s nominally work-related.” That makes me feel better.

    1. Uyulala*

      You might check out free learning sites like Coursera or edX to see if they have courses that will help in your career.

    2. Blue Anne*

      When I was in the same position at my first job, I bought myself an excel course off Groupon and worked through it at the slow times. It turned out to be incredibly helpful in my next job. :)

    3. mskyle*

      One thing I found very helpful when I was in a similar position (of not having enough work to do) was to identify specific areas where my colleagues seemed very busy and offer to help with those tasks. Like, “Hey, Jake, is there anything I can help you with?” might not get me anything to do, but “Hey, Jake, would it help you if I pre-process the requests that come in after hours?” got me some work to do.

      1. SevenSixOne*

        YES. When someone asks me if there’s anything they can help me with, not only is it annoying in the same way as a little kid saying “I’M BOOOOOOORED THERE’S NOTHING TO DOOOOOOO” is annoying, but it almost feels like they’re creating MORE work for me, since I have to stop what I’m doing, think about which task I could outsource to them, explain the task and how I’d like it done, then shift gears back to what I was doing when they asked.

        When they say “would it help if I [specific task]?” it’s a lot easier for me to say “sure, thanks!”

      2. RG*

        Well depending on how new OP is she might not know 1.) what specific tasks her coworkers do; 2.) all of the specific tasks her department covers; and 3.) what she is and isn’t allowed to do. There’s only so much OP can do when it comes to something like this that includes a bit of ad hoc training.

        1. Nashira*

          #3 can be a big deal. In my office, there are only so many tasks I can help other people with, due to the walls our client draws between our duties. I can help with certain steps of bill processing, for instance, but not others, because of other duties that are mine and mine alone. Which means sometimes I end up with a few days where my tasks (and those that I can assist others with) are done by noon and I’m stuck praying the phone rings. Thankfully, my company has a lot of e-learning stuff, so I’ve been studying for a certification I want to get.

    4. Darcy*

      OP#1 – One other thing that stood out to me in your letter is that if you don’t have the authority to work on projects on your own, you probably don’t meet the duties test to be exempt. I know that’s not what your letter was about, but with the proposed changes coming to the salary basis test you may not remain exempt and it will be more important than ever that you have enough work to be clocked in all day.

      1. fposte*

        Oh, good point. I don’t think they would go into force until next year, but next year is coming up fast.

      2. azvlr*

        Or it could be that they are very new in their role. A year ago, this letter could have been written by me! It took time to learn some complex procedure and earn my teammates’ trust to be able to do one of our processes independently. Now that I have gotten over that hurdle, I have more than enough to do, believe me!

        I used my down time to work on course, establish working relationships, and document processes. The documentation part turned out to be sorely needed. All of my training was verbal, but now a new person could step in and follow the step-by-step procedure that I created, with only minimal peer training.

        1. fposte*

          It’s a moot point, though; they won’t be able to stay exempt if the salary threshold for non-exemption is passed, and at that salary rate it’s unlikely they’ll get the pay raise to clear the bar.

    5. MissDisplaced*

      There are always lots of free webinars for industry topics and for more general topics such as social media marketing, email marketing and the like. You’re bound to find something helpful to your job or the business. All you have to do is sign up for them and have a computer and headset.

      And yeah, any time you can take training on Excel, Powerpoint, Word, Access, Sharepoint, etc., is a plus. I can’t count the times I’m required to help people with simple MSOffice tasks, when they could just as easily look it up in the Help menu the way I sometimes have to.
      Learning a little Photoshop or HTML can be even more of a plus, especially as you’ve mentioned wanting to update the website.

    6. TootsNYC*

      I want to take online training in Visual Basic for Applications, to see if it’ll help with a project I’ve got. So any kind of online training that’s remotely related to work would be smart. It’s out there!

      Another thing to consider is asking your colleagues if you can help create documentation for any routine-but-sort-of-complicated stuff they do. Then you sort of only need their permission instead of your mutual boss’s permission.

      I would think that the most junior person could re-do the department phone list, make new signs for the coffee maker,

    7. Chinook*

      OP #1 – I am in a similar job with periods of down time and I have learned (beyond ways to fill my time like so many others are recommending) that you sometimes just have to learn to accept that you are being paid to be available when they need you (vs. Temp jobs where you wait, for free, for someone to want to hire you). That type of availability is probably worth it to the company because what you do do can’t be done by others (due to their schedules) and is done scattered enough through the day and week that a part-timer wouldn’t work well. Or, they think that an average employee would be kept more busy but you are above average and take less time but they don’t want to lose the full-time position on the books.

      On the plus side, this is the perfect opportunity to look for growth within your job. I have done this in many positions, sometimes by taking on-line classes, by finding ways to “pry” work out of a supervisor’s hands that they shouldn’t be wasting their time on (only recommended for those who know their bosses will be okay with it) or by jumping in front of a project no one wants but you are capable of in order to help out (which I just did – turns out engineers hate creating skill packets more than even having to do them.) As long as your primary duties do not slip, this is a good way to explore and expand a career.

    8. Charisma*

      OP #1
      As an aside to what others have mentioned here about what you can do in your spare time, I would like to point out an additional point of etiquette towards your co-workers. When you say things like “I’ve suggested initiatives to my boss — upgrading the website, for example” I hear and what I suspect your co-workers hear is “I think your job is really easy and I could totally just do it in my spare time with little to no training or oversight whatsoever.” When in reality today’s company websites, no matter how small, typically take teams of professional people weeks to months of work to complete.

      This is by no means unique to you, I was guilty of it myself when I first started out. It could very well be that you are being brushed off because your requests are seen as inconvenient to your boss when you phrase yourself in a way that comes across as obtuse towards your co-workers.

      It’s very much along the lines of “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know”.

  6. Sharon in NZ*

    #4 – I wouldn’t feel guilty about screening out the applications who don’t include a cover letter. Whenever I recruit for an admin assistant anyone without a cover letter is automatically rejected. I don’t even read their CV’s. If they can’t follow one simple instruction then it doesn’t bode well for how they would perform on the job.

    1. AMT*

      Yeah, even if the application instructions didn’t specify a cover letter, it seems suuuuuper weird not to include one. Is there any field where this isn’t the norm?

    2. Cajun2core*

      To the OP/LW of #4. The one thing I have to ask is where in the job posting is the request to include a cover-letter? If you have 2 page job posting (think government but especially VA job postings) and the request to include a cover-letter is right smack in the middle hidden between the EEOC information and the requirements which only apply if you already work there, and is in an 8pt font, I would suggest that you move the requirement for a cover letter to a more prominent position. However, if the request for the cover letter is clearly and easily visible, quickly chuck those applications!

      1. OP #4*

        This is a good point, but the job posting isn’t overly long (basically just 2 short paragraphs with bullet points), and the sentence requesting a cover letter is in bold type right after a list of the job requirements.

  7. HKM*

    When I first started my current job, there wasn’t much for me to do and I found that I learned a lot just by listening and observing what was happening in the office, as well as reading all our internal wikis and finding/bookmarking some key industry websites.

    Now I’m fully into the job, and crunch time means 20 hour days for several months? Downtime is a glorious luxury. Enjoy it, use it to have chilled tea/coffee breaks, and if your manager allows it and you’ve exhausted all other options – bring a book!

    I know this won’t apply to everyone! I work in a weird industry.

    1. Meg Murry*

      I definitely would not go to “read a book” unless you have explicit permission from your boss – that’s too far from working, and would not reflect well on OP, especially to other coworkers besides his boss, unless it’s well known that this position is meant to have slow periods waiting for work to come in (working a front desk where your main task is waiting for the phone to ring or some one to come in, for instance).

      Are you giving your coworker plenty of notice in asking if he needs help? For instance, if someone walks up to me mid-task and asks me if I need any help, I’m usually mentally in mid-stream and can’t come up with anything. But if you sent an email that said “I’m having a slow week, please let me know if there is anything I can help out with or anything you want to train me on” I would be more likely to approach you when I came up with something.

      In the meantime, other things you could do:
      -Make documentation of how to do your job/use certain software, with screenshots. It shows initiative, and is producing useful work for anyone hired in the future.
      -Similarly, a flow chart of how you do certain processes can be helpful, and you might be able to use that to streamline some processes in the future, or take ownership of more pieces.
      -Subscribe to Google Alerts for your company, your industry, your main competitor, your main clients, and read those when times get slow.
      -Make a mock-up of how you would update the website, or a list of out-of-date or info to update if that is what you meant.
      -Use tutorials to teach yourself useful skills, such as:
      -Look at an excel document someone else created and click on the formulas to teach yourself how them work
      -Teach yourself how to use SUM, IF, SUMIF, AND, OR, VLOOKUP, etc in Excel. Learn how to make pivot tables and various graphs and charts and how to use conditional formatting.
      -Teach yourself how to use styles in Word. Learn to make table of contents, footnotes, indexes, etc automatically. Learn how to mail merge to make form letters, envelopes and labels.
      -Learn how to use any other piece of software installed on your computer you aren’t very familiar with (Access, Publisher, Photoshop, etc, etc)

      1. Meg Murry*

        Oops, replied under wrong spot! HKM’s advice is good, I didn’t mean to sound like I was criticizing it. My comment was for another commenter – that reading a book, especially a novel, would be going too far in the “not related to work” tasks.

        1. Blurgle*

          Although I know more than one successful novelist who used down times at work (with permission!) to write their first novels.

      2. Artemesia*

        Great advice to pick a work useful skill (even if not at this workplace) Excel up to advanced fluent levels is an endlessly useful one; budget preparation is another. Grant writing would be another that might have utility. My daughter was able to parlay her very limited grant writing skill from a job in college into a business development role that led to a promotion at her current job and she has landed several big projects for the small struggling company. I agree that reading a novel is something that will project a bad image, but clearly working on spreadsheets etc will look like work to some and will seem like taking initiative to the boss if he observes.

        1. MissDisplaced*

          Unless you work in publishing! :-)
          But yes, otherwise maybe read company literature or things that pertain to the company industry.

      3. books*

        Learn index match! Then one day, something will come up that us just itching to be index matched and you’ll do something in 15 minutes that would take another person 2 days and the rays of glory will shine on you from above and angels will sing!

        1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

          My goodness yes! I learned index match to dump a CSV report into a workbook and automagically fill in the mainsheet with all the data. Automated a report down to an hour (including scans for cell errors) that used to take nearly 5 days of manual effort to complete. It freed me up to take on a ton of other work, expanding my skillset, and made me look an Excel god (even though I am totally Pivot-stupid).

    2. Shannon*

      I could only see bringing a book to work if the book was about something related to her job or she was in a job where she was basically on standby for long periods of time and there was literally nothing else to do. I had two of those jobs when I was younger – as an EMT or a Vehicle Operator (the job description was basically: sit in X spot until Y happens). Unless you’re working in an office with just an insane amount of down time, like my EMT job (I spent many nights sitting in the clinic for 12 hours straight with nothing to do), I would exhaust all possible options to look remotely busy before going to “read a book.”

  8. STJ*

    Re #1, I manage a team that absolutely must complete all tasks with 100% accuracy within tight deadlines. Sometimes something unusual will happen that will slow things down so to compensate for this I have to build in extra resilience into the department workload by having “spare” capacity to cope.

    When everything goes well (and particularly when I have a fully trained experienced team) this can result in downtime with nothing to do. I have no problem with members of my team learning new skills, building working relationships or just reinforcing their current knowledge during these periods. So don’t be worried OP, you are doing the right things by highlighting the spare capacity with your boss.

    As an aside, when I was coming through the ranks in my current job I was in exactly the same position as the OP, I couldn’t work out why I had spare time and why it was allowed, but the first time 2 staff members took sick while another was on holiday it suddenly all became clear.

    1. Clever Name*

      This is hugely important. I just overheard a conversation about a contract we’re going after where we’re billing ourselves as able to jump in to solve problems on a moment’s notice, except the only way we’d ever be able to do that would be at the expense of everything else we’re working on now. We have no extra capacity at all, and it’s wearing on people.

  9. Buu*

    For #1 yeah it’s definitely good to get some kind of plan together for when it’s slow and get approval for it. My boss doesn’t ( I think he’s worried we’d get our main budget slashed) so consequently most of my time at the moment is spent *pretending* to work. It’s really frustrating as we’ve not spent any of our training budget ever, and I’m 6 months overdue for an appraisal.

    This kind of thing has come up before and I remember on here a call centre worker mentioned their employer was open about it being slow and a temp job for most people, so they were encouraged to study in downtime.

    For #3 what a pain, if your Doctor is willing I’d be tempted to ask if they’d write a short note explaining you need the appointment? I don’t know if every Doctor would, but it might smooth things over.

    1. Sparky*

      I had a nightmare job in a call center for and ID Theft Protection/Resolution Co. as an admin assistant to the manager. When he was too busy to give me projects, I’d go through our customer database, plug in zip codes for hard to spell cities, like Albuquerque and Cincinnati, and clean up the misspelled entries. The phone agents weren’t very well educated and were in a hurry to get the customer’s info and move on, so despite the fact that we were promising to monitor and protect their identities, we demonstrated that we couldn’t even spell anything correctly. No one asked me to do this, no one probably even noticed, but I looked busy. And I was! As I came across clearly misspelled street names, or even customer names I took a stab at fixing those as well.

      I don’t consider Perth Amboy hard to spell, but I found it in the database as Perth Bam Boogie. Hephzibah GA, which I will admit is not a city you see very often as well as hard to spell, was in the database as Hepzicacah. Anyone in a similar position might be able to kill time with a similar project.

      1. OriginalEmma*

        Ha! I had something like that happen, where a town name was just written as “Hack, NJ” with no zipcode. Hackensack? Hackettstown? What?!

  10. SandrineSmiles (France)*

    For OP#2 :

    As a frequent reader of AAM, quite frankly, the time doesn’t strike me as that horrendous, unless the industry works differently than others. After all, we’ve seen comments here testifying to the fact that in some cases the hiring process took months…

    I think you should “investigate” a little (like Alison says) before you drop the whole thing. Don’t let misconceptions take a potential good job away from you :)

    1. Not Today Satan*

      But I think what makes this different is that they fell off the map *after* making an offer.

      1. Ani*

        Honestly, this was nothing compared to the bureaucratic delays I went through after being offered my best-paying job ever. Really. Some places just have that many internal hoops and due diligence steps. It’s two weeks — OP might kick herself one day for being apparently willing to throw away job offers (!) and burn bridges by lecturing companies that offered her a position over TWO WEEKS IN AUGUST.

        1. BeenThere*

          Yeah I’m inclined to agree that two weeks isn’t a red flag on it’s own. I’ve worked for wonderful companies where it can take forever to get the paperwork and proper approvals in place. Sometimes they can’t ask for sign off on the position until they have a candidate and then it might require to go to a C level exec. Can you imagine how long it takes to get approval if it has to go that high.

    2. Ella*

      I, for one, wish that I was so in demand/confident in my skills that I could decline jobs based on timelines, and not any other factors.

    3. Busy*

      Agreed – I almost walked away from my current job because HR didn’t get back to me about answering my questions until three weeks after they made the offer. I learned when I got here that HR was just totally swamped because they’d lost some people. And well, frankly, our HR could use some work, but the rest of my company is pretty fab. Definitely investigate, but don’t let it sour you completely.

  11. JHS*

    For #4, depending on the market, this honestly might be too high of a standard. I honestly cringe while typing that and agree it should absolutely NOT be like that, but I have found this to be the case unfortunately. I was used to working in a law firm in New York with an extremely high standard for legal secretaries and paralegals. I moved to a firm in a more regional market for family reasons, and the secretaries are not even in the same ballpark and I’ve been told it’s incredibly difficult to hire good secretaries even with good salary and great benefits because the pool is just not wide enough. I have learned to tolerate the fact that my incredibly sweet secretary (who has been at my firm for 15 years) is just not competent (not even close) to the level that I would expect of a legal secretary in a major market. Even the secretaries known as “the best” in the firm are not of the level that you would get in a major market and this is in a “big firm” in a regional market. I can definitely imagine my secretary not putting in a cover letter where it says to do so or putting in a cover letter that would not be at a level that I would expect. I guess my expectations have been lowered. I do hope the OP finds enough candidates with cover letters to find a good secretary though and proves me wrong.

    1. One of the Annes*

      Why do you think it is that the legal secretaries in your market have such crappy skills? Do you attribute it to the inadequacies of the schools in the region or to the market’s lower pay range? Do the attorneys in your new market also have crappy writing skills? I’m genuinely curious.
      Personally, I think the ability to write competently is just not valued as much as it once was.

      1. blackcat*

        Many schools have deemphasized teaching writing (which is hard & time consuming, and should be taught across the curriculum) in favor of spending more time on the skills tested by more of the standardized tests.

        The writing that is taught more often is a type of algorithmic writing that is likely to be scored highly by standardized tests. I’ve encountered college freshman who are convinced that the MUST vary their sentence structure and use more complicated grammatical constructions. Most are thrilled when I say “Gah! Don’t do that! I care that you communicate the information, not your ability to correctly use a semi-colon. Sure, use the semi-colon when it helps you convey meaning more clearly. But please, please don’t use it because you think you should use it once in every paragraph!” These are often otherwise highly competent students who’ve gone through not-so-good schools. Their competence shows when, with truly minimal instruction, they drop those awful habits.

        So if you’re looking at hiring pretty young workers (<24 years old), keep in mind that NCLB was in full force during their high school years when they should have been developing their writing skills. For many of them (particularly those that came from poor to lower-middle class schools), they learned how to take tests in English class, rather than write.

      2. JHS*

        Interestingly, the attorneys are top notch and have excellent writing skills. That being said, the firm in general doesn’t seem to get that there exists MUCH higher quality office staff in other markets or that their expectations of office staff are truly quite low. They’ve apparently just never had that level of talent. I wish I knew. They also use their paralegals differently. In New York, for instance, paralegals did all types of things just short of attorney work (e.g. legal research). Where I am now, the paralegal generally has one specific job that they do and that’s all they do (in my field, they input language into contracts and help cost out contracts).

  12. Colette*

    #4 – how do applicants apply? Do they send an email or go though an applicant tracking system? If it’s a system, is there a place for them to upload their cover letter?

    1. OP #4*

      The job is listed on Indeed, and there is a space specifically designated to insert a cover letter, so I don’t think that’s an issue. I wondered that too, which is why I checked.

      1. Persephone Mulberry*

        If the ad specifically says applications without cover letters won’t be considered AND there’s a specific box in the application that says “insert cover letter here” – yeah, I’d just be grateful these people are saving you time by screening themselves out of consideration so easily.

      2. Colette*

        Then I agree you just discard the ones who don’t provide a letter. I’ve had experience uploading a resume and hitting “next” only to find that it actually submitted without a chance to upload a cover letter, so I wanted to make sure you’d checked out how your system works.

      3. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        We find that job posting on Indeed, CareerBuilder, etc. attract a high volume of people submitting their resume everywhere, without consideration for where they are applying or their fit. I don’t even know if many of them read the whole ad. It takes just a few seconds, so “why not? can’t hurt.”

        It’s probably true that the small number of people who submitted cover letters are the only serious applicants you have.

        What to do, I think this is this: consider your serious applicants. If none of them fits, or not enough to give you a pool, then go back through the non-serious ones and see if any look attractive enough to you to explore them anyway.

      4. AtrociousPink*

        OP #4: Just a thought here. I could be completely off-base, in which case please ignore me. But I wonder if your ad itself is written in a way that discourages the level of applicant you want. I’m an experienced legal secretary in a major market, pretty much at the top of the salary pyramid — possibly the kind of person you’d want to hire if you have the budget. When I’ve looked for jobs, I was appalled at how badly put together most of the ads are. I passed many over because of either lack of information or some specific turn-off, such as no salary range given, job description too generic, and/or overblown “legal-eagle” type horse hockey. Blind ads are especially annoying, since knowing the firm name would help me research and decide whether it’s worth my time (and yours) to apply. And finally, I’ve even seen a fair number of ads with verbiage I could only interpret as criticism of the position’s former (or current) occupant — specifics like “no gossiping,” “leave your personal issues at home,” “double-check all work,” etc. Those kinds of admonitions are insulting to a true professional, and they also give the impression of a dysfunctional workplace. But all that said, I do think that including a requirement for a cover letter is a good move, since it obviously is saving you the trouble of interviewing candidates who don’t follow simple directions.

        1. cheesyeggs*

          “No salary range listed” – I too am very competent and well qualified in another field. I rarely apply to anything without a salary range listed.

  13. V*

    #3 – I think that your manager is out of line asking you to reschedule a medical appointment. It might help your case to call and see if the appointment can be rescheduled in whatever window the follow up appointment has to happen in.

    That way, you can say “I contacted my doctor’s office, and they couldn’t reschedule my appointment within the medically recommend time for it to occur. It would have to be pushed out 3 months, which isn’t safe.”

    1. Snowglobe*

      I was going to suggest that. Also, maybe it’s tough to get appointments outside of normal business hours, but it might be possible to get an appointment in the middle of the day. In which case the OP could tell the boss that the only way to reschedule the appointment would be to take off time during the day, and ask the boss if that would be preferable.

      Still, can’t believe the boss compared a medical appointment to a hair appointment. I see an opthamologist every six weeks for an ongoing issue with my eyes, so you have my sympathies.

      1. A Definite Beta Guy*

        Yep, see the opthamologist annually myself. Most people don’t know about the health-care field until problems happen. Also, sadly, when people realize the gaps in their insurance coverage.

        More people need to take their eye health seriously. My co-worker started complaining about flashing lights in his eye. I told him he should see an eye doctor IMMEDIATELY. Never did. He’s lucky he didn’t get a full-scale retinal detachment and lose vision.

        Mother Dearest had a little vitreous detachment last year and it panicked her a little since she had so much crap in her vision, but the ophthalmologist could verify nothing was wrong. A little blood when it detached but no continuous bleeding. That’s the kind of thing you’ll want an eye doctor to look at, too, because Heaven help you if you need eye surgery!

  14. 24/7*

    Re: OP#1 This may come across a little ranty and I am sorry but trying to be helpful. It boggles my mind when people say they have nothing to do. I could work 24/7 and still leave a pile of work unfinished. There is always something to do.
    1. What is your next role in the company? If you don’t know – spend some time figuring that out. Once you do know, you can dedicate some time learning that role. If people are not open to to you assisting or shadowing – then get your hands on whatever documents you can- manuals, policy, procedure and learning what you can.
    2. Is there a manual or procedures for your current role? If not – document so that if you won the lottery tomorrow – someone could step in and do your job.
    3. Automate your job. Are there manual processes, reports, procedures that could be automated, eliminated or improved.
    4. What are people complaining about? Fix those things or work out a plan on how they could be fixed. Propose a fix. Understand that many of your ideas will be shot down but you were learn a lot in the process.

    That should keep you busy for awhile. Good luck and best wishes!

    1. Hmm*

      I’m not so sure about #3. I’ve known more than one person who automated themselves or someone else out of a job that way. Of course, I also know people who automate their jobs, don’t tell their bosses, and enjoy their free time coasting, but that seems like it would compound OP’s problem of not having enough to do!

    2. Clever Name*

      Yes this does come across as ranty. Some jobs just aren’t that busy. My first job out of college had a fair bit of down time. That’s just the way it was. Luckily it meant I had capacity to jump in when there was an emergency (and I do mean an actual emergency- I worked for an airport). I had another job in consulting where I just didn’t have enough billable project work, yet was expected to be 99% billable. That office just did not bring in enough work to keep me busy. Now I could work 24/7 and not get everything done, but not being way overworked is not a reflection on OP. You probably didn’t intend it to come off that way, I realize.

    3. SystemsLady*

      And I’m ranting a bit here and apologize in advance, because a lot of people give this advice and it doesn’t always help :).

      #1 does not work at small companies or certain industries when you aren’t interested in pure management (promotions are based solely on experience)
      #2 does not always work when your role primarily involves software from a giant megacorp that offers training and has extremely detailed procedures available for download for everything but the parts that require thinking and engineering. There are still procedures to write that don’t get written in the normal course of work, but it’s usually small and project-specific. (Yes, we are spoiled, as I know how some megacorps can be about this stuff)
      #3 does not always work when everybody in your position does this while not on a project and the pool of things to automate gets pretty small. Much of our tools get developed during projects as tasks come up as well, at least when the time needed to engineer the tool is less than the time needed to do the task. Also, learning how to automate – scripting, etc. – is often a prerequisite for this, so for some people there we arrive at something that might not be strictly related to work.
      #4 does not always work when most people are complaining about problems with megacorp’s software that you simply don’t have the power to fix. Or what most people are complaining about would entail a huge project you’d want your boss’s permission to start/need for a meeting to gather opinions/etc. I have one of these on the back of my mind at all times, trust me…

      When you work project to project and worse when new projects get delayed, it’s possible for the TODO list to get not just dry, but bone dry, and if your boss is basically reinforcing that (as OP’s boss is), well, that’s a pretty good sign you’re justified in thinking that.

      I definitely prefer Alison’s advice – training if available for free, skill development, industry articles – here from my lens of experience, but I can definitely relate at some times. I also understand that quite a lot of industries won’t have the problems I run into. Maybe the OP will find something in this list that’ll occupy them for a couple days :).

    4. Anonymous 123*

      I agree with the others – it depends what you do. My first job I had nothing to do. I asked for work and management admitted there was nothing I could do. I asked if I could shadow, they turned it down. I couldn’t even clean out file cabinets because we were ISO compliant and I wasn’t trained in that and no, the company turned down my training request. Management actually consented to me reading books on the job until they could figure out what to do with me. So yes, it can happen.

  15. Mimmy*

    #3: I would go back to your boss and clarify that this isn’t a routine appointment. I would then offer to reschedule with the caveats others have mentioned (appointment during core hours, having to wait extra time that may not be safe for your eye health, etc).

    I too think that comparing your doctor appointment to a HAIR appointment. What the heck??!

    1. Mimmy*

      Whoops – last sentence should be: I too think that comparing your doctor appointment to a HAIR appointment is totally inappropriate.

      C’mon coffee, work your magic!!

  16. Eileen*

    4 – You’re not being unreasonable. Anyone can Google “how to write a cover letter” and come up with tips to write a passable one. Like Alison says, those who have not even attempted to send a cover letter have thoughtfully screened themselves out.

    Consider on the other side of the application process–the applicants who are applying to your role and not following your one instruction are likely going to quantity not quality. They are probably applying to a dozen other jobs at the same time, using the same resume, and similarly not following the instructions. It’s unfortunate that a lot of people give this kind of advice to job seekers, because it is not as effective as choosing a smaller number of jobs but actually doing research and following directions.

  17. Kat M*

    #4, I had to write a cover letter to graduate from high school. This was in an ordinary public school in an average state. I guarantee you that most of those people just didn’t pay attention to the instructions. Even those who were never taught (no shame in that) should be able to figure out how to Google “How do I write a cover letter?” or “What is a cover letter?” or at least ask their local librarian. If not, that does say something about their problem-solving skills.

    1. OP #4*

      I remember doing the same thing in high school, so I’m glad you said this. I do wonder if people just ignored or didn’t read the entire ad. I even put that sentence in bold, too!

      1. Kadee*

        The problem is that the problem isn’t you or your hiring methods. (Although it’s great that you’ve taken the time to put so much thought into it rather than just automatically blaming the candidates!) It sounds like you’re seeing an influx of candidates who are probably doing blanket applications rather than applying for jobs that suit their skills or interests. In many cases, they likely aren’t reading the ads beyond job title and perhaps scanning for key words. I think when the job market is rough or when it’s an entry level position you tend to get a larger number of candidates submitting their resumes, but many aren’t at all suited for the job – they’re just people thinking that they increase their chances by increasing the number of applications they submit. It’s a pain but I think the best you can do is to pull them out of consideration and just move on.

        As others have said, be grateful that they’re weeding themselves out of the process for you!

      2. College Career Counselor*

        In my experience, they didn’t read the entire ad (or didn’t take the instructions seriously). Either way, those people are telling you what their level of attention to detail is. Some years ago, I was involved in a search for a position that was for someone to bring employers to campus to recruit students. At least a third of the applicants fundamentally mis-read the application (which used standard terminology for the field) and talked about their background and experience in working with an organization’s existing employees.

      3. Anon for this*

        OP #4, I recently had a job posting up on LinkedIn and less than 10% of the applicants included any kind of cover letter, even though it said to in the job posting. :-( Slightly over 50% didn’t even include their resume–apparently they just hit the “Apply” button and went on their merry way to apply to another fifty jobs. Yikes. But like you, I’m screening out everyone who didn’t include the cover letter because I really need someone who can (and will) follow written instructions!

        1. Anon for this*

          P.S. I’m glad you wrote in, because I was starting to doubt myself too! I mean, less than 10%–it was starting to make me think I was being unreasonable. But I really do need someone who will follow instructions!

  18. Amanda2*

    OP #1: I just left a job in which I had a lot of downtime. A big part of my job was being present and available when needed by staff for support with clients. A lot of time, I just needed to be available, basically on stand by. There were some days when I was super busy all day, but many days I was not.

    I came to detest this job. Too much idle time really affected my motivation, confidence, and sense of worth at work. I began to dread going in everyday. At first, I thought up all kinds of projects for myself– creating new systems and procedures for my role, new ways of documenting things, improved forms. I started up new programming, I reached out to others to see if I could help them, I presented ideas to my bosses. After awhile, I didn’t get much feedback from my bosses, not too many others were interested in having me help them, and I got bored of re-working systems, procedures, and forms. Towards the end of my employment, my motivation had dwindled down to nothing and many days I was coming in and literally doing nothing all day. I have never felt worse about myself at a job.

    I realized that I was basically rotting away in this role so I went out and found a new, much more structured and busy position. I can’t wait to begin n ext month! And honestly, I am a bit worried that I developed some poor productivity habits in my previous job and hope I can shed them right away.

    1. Shan*

      This gives me hope. My current job is like this…I have nothing to do quite often. Usually I fill up my spare time catching up on industry news, but I feel my motivation and self-worth dwindling since I don’t have many important duties. By contrast, I loved my job in college. It was harder, more menial work, and paid minimum wage, but I enjoyed it because my work was really important to the business, I learned a lot, and I felt valued there. I thought most of my unhappiness at my current job was due to its pay (less than industry standard, even for a recent college grad), but recently I’ve been thinking I just get more enjoyment out of being productive.

      Thanks for your insight and best wishes for your new job!

    2. TFS*

      I’m in a similar situation and it’s really, really terrible. It sounds ridiculous to complain about being paid to do nothing, but it saps my motivation and confidence. At first it was exciting and energizing to work really hard creating wonderful things no one even thought of doing, but lack of interest and acknowledgement of the hard work has turned it into something that is just frustrating and demoralizing. Now I do very little, and no one seems to care or notice a difference.

      Good luck at your new job! I’m sure the new environment will energize you and you’ll do great!

  19. F.*

    OP#4, do not assume that the cover letter is representative of their writing skills. I hired an admin with a grammatically correct cover letter only to discover that it had to have been heavily edited by someone else. Her written grammar was terrible.

    1. SevenSixOne*

      Yeah, there’s no shortage of templates just a Google search away, plus people who are lousy writers sometimes have friends and family who will write their cover letters for them.

      …and even people who can write well with plenty of time to draft, proofread, and edit their work may struggle to write well when they only have one hour to write 15 different emails.

    2. fposte*

      It’s not a guarantee, but you can also pretty soundly weed out people ode cover letter writing isn’t up to your required skills, which is more the point.

  20. Lisbonslady*

    As a job applicant, as much as I dislike writing cover letters (and I’ve been told I’m a good writer) I send one if the posting requests one. I absolutely send one if the posting says it’s required, otherwise I don’t apply.

    There are many job seekers out there who just send their resumes and barely read the ad. I would consider the applicants who put the time in to understand your instructions and follow them.

    Good luck with the search!

  21. Tyler*

    #1 – What’s keeping you from working on one of those projects without explicit approval from your manager? I would encourage you to take the initiative and begin working on one of those projects on your own. Then you could present the idea to your boss, and have some progress to show her. Maybe she can’t envision the value of one of your proposed projects like you can. Don’t wait for authorization. Easier said than done, but the best employees know that sometimes it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

    1. LookyLou*

      The thought of that makes me cringe. I once did this at work and thought my boss would be impressed at me taking initiative during the down time… instead I was yelled at because I was wasting time on something they didn’t authorize and had no interest in. I was then told to NEVER do something that takes up time outside of my responsibilities without express permission or it is considered wasting company time.

      1. RAM*

        That’s terrible… if you were missing deadlines or if the rest of your team was really busy and needed a hand, then I would understand him being frustrated that you were working on a side project.. but if it was truly downtime, what would he have preferred? You browsing Facebook?

    2. Sigrid*

      That could be really dangerous to do, depending on her field and what these projects are. “Not having authorization” to work on projects independently might mean that she needs a rubber stamp from her boss, or it might mean that she doesn’t have all of the information or materials to do projects correctly and, if she started one on her own initiative, could mess up a project badly enough that it could cost the company money or clients. She also would be doing something explicitly against instructions, if I am reading the letter correctly, which is not likely to impress her boss and could be enough to get her fired. I know that if one of my employees had started a project on their own initative, back when I was a manager, after I expressly told them not to, I would be seriously considering whether they were someone I wanted to keep on.

      In short, I’d strongly advise her not to do so unless she is really, really sure it will be well-received.

    3. Charisma*

      That’s actually really terrible thinking for a few reasons.

      OP #1 has to consider
      1) Are you sure the project doesn’t already exist? It could already be on another co-worker’s plate.
      2) Which brings up – if the project existed, would it even belong to you?
      3) Is the project going to be using up resources in a way that the boss is able/willing to authorize?

      Working on a list of proposed projects that can aid colleagues and looking into online educational resources is more than enough. It shows that she’s thinking of using her time wisely. Instead of overstepping and risking her project being unnecessary/a conflict of interest/redundant. She wouldn’t necessarily get fired for it, but I’ve seen this situation turn sour too many times to not speak up and warn against it.

  22. Gatling-type 3-mm hypervelocity railgun system*

    #1: I can easily see this happening at your first professional job. You’re young and full of energy and ambition. There’s no shortage of companies that would love to exploit this. But I’m guessing that people who have been there longer are pretty much okay with the pace of the job. I don’t know your company or the people who run it, but perhaps they’ve set the place up to run at a “speed” that they like. Not everyone is a greedster who demands “more more more!” from their employees. Granted, some companies will fold if they don’t run at maximum speed all the time.

    That said: if you truly can’t deal with the boredom, maybe you should look for a new job. Again, I don’t know you or your company but my latest experiences in the Wonderful World of Hiring lead me to think that a new college grad could probably do better than $30K/year[1]

    Or – as others have mentioned, take advantage of the time to learn new things. I’d recommend Photoshop and/or AfterEffects: having the ability to toss together a logo or an icon or animation will definitely make you stand out from the competition[2].

    [1] “but not everyone can have sandwiches!” yeah yeah yeah.
    [2] “Joy Lin knows Photoshop.”

    1. LookyLou*

      For me in my position I am dealing with the same thing – not enough work to fill my time most days. Despite asking for more work and trying to take initiative, there is still nothing to do and I need to stress out about looking busy because I am seen as lazy and unwilling to take initiative.

      I find that it is less of an issue of the pace they have set and are comfortable with and instead a disconnect about my actual workload. I found out after a few months that no one had actually stayed in the position for longer than a 4 month period – so no one ever got past the learning stage. One I was past my learning stage I was much quicker at my work and more confident… as a result there was a lot more time. Since no one ever made it this far I guess they didn’t think that it was possible to be running out of work and therefor think that I am just being lazy.

  23. Not an IT Guy*

    #1 – I would make sure that your manager/co-workers are receptive of you wanting to learn/do more around the office. My manager when I worked our IT department went to great lengths to prevent me from learning more about my job, and even screamed at me when I asked about wanting to do more for the company. He later removed me from the department on the grounds of “you’ll be happier doing something else.”

  24. LookyLou*

    #1: I have the exact same problem in my first out of school job. I sometimes have so little to actually do that I wonder if they know that this shouldn’t be a full time position. For a couple of weeks in a month my job is busy enough to keep my occupied, but for the rest of the month I am grasping to find anything to do so that I look busy.

    A while back I got in trouble for wasting time on the computer. I tried to explain that I wasn’t be challenged and had nothing to do – they gave me “more work” that really only takes up an extra hour per month and it is just busy work anyways. I am not allowed to read any work related articles as that is wasting time, I am not allowed to work on new skills to benefit my employer and there are very few things I am able to take initiative on. I used to constantly ask my supervisor if she needed help with anything but the answer is always no, even if she needs help.

    Despite my efforts to find work and keep occupied I am seen as lazy and unwilling to take initiative. There are only so many times you can ask for more work or permission to take the initiative to do something and be rejected. No one should have to stress out about looking busy at work when there are things that they can actually do. While I do bookkeeping I would not mind doing cleaning tasks to life the burden from the receptionist – but I was even told that it was a ‘waste of my time’ and instead should just find something else.

    1. ReluctantBizOwner*

      Have you tried asking anyone other than your manager? Like the receptionist? When I started at my first job, my supervisor was really insecure and refused to let anyone learn past “barely competent” in their own jobs, let alone cross-train. She and the old timers were overwhelmed, while the newer employees kept getting sent home for “lack of work.” I asked the old timers to teach me specific things, to lighten their loads behind her back, which they gratefully took me up on. Other times I manipulated her into teaching me things by teasing her about her workload (not the most mature or professional thing!) until she threatened to train me on certain tasks as a punishment. It’s pathetic that I had to do that, but all of those little tasks added up and paid off in the end. I became a valuable employee on track for promotion-as soon as a position opens up, and I have a reputation among my colleagues as helpful and knowledgeable-which has come in handy when situations like yours pops up-having nothing to do but not being allowed to help anyone else. You’ll be given the benefit of the doubt rather than assumptions of the worst kind being made.

      Start chatting up your coworkers, if nothing else. They may need help with things management isn’t aware of (or refuses to believe they need help with). You’ll learn more about operations, which will help you make informed decisions in the future.

  25. Recruit-O-Rama*

    OP#4- I would consider posting your position on a website for administrative professionals instead of indeed. I use Indeed a lot for many positions in many markets, but a lot of times you get volume over quality. A professional organization’s website will generate interest from candidates who view their work as a profession/career as opposed to people who are just shooting out resumes in search of the next job.

  26. SystemsLady*

    #1 – I’m lucky one of my work-relevant skills is also a hobby of mine :). I’m in an industry where dead spots happen not too infrequently (due to client cancellations/delays stacking up). It’s normally a time to do training, but that dries up quickly when the delays exceed a week.

    What I tend to actually work on with that skill during these periods isn’t strictly work, but as other comments have mentioned, it’s not always a good idea to start a work-related project anyway (unless it’s something that you want to have and use).

    You sound like you’re into web development. I think that’s pretty easy to spend time fiddling around with and it’s a really good skill to hone (even if you already know it, there are tons of tools and libraries to learn).

    For me, things got better after my first year as they started to trust me enough to put me on a more leading role in projects.

  27. Kadee*

    OP1, just make sure that your desire to get the green light on side projects doesn’t become overbearing or you’ll go from being the proactive employee to the employee who can’t figure out how to fill their day productively. You say it’s your first professional job and it sounds like you’re still fairly early on into it. Something like updating the web site might sound simple to give the go-ahead to, but your manager/co-workers may think of suggestions like that in terms like this: “I’d have to figure out who to get the login info from. I’d also have to clear it with Dave before I could give OP 1 that kind of access. Has she ever updated a web site before? What if she messes up and brings down our site? Plus, someone should approve the changes before they’re published…” I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re not trying to blow you off as much as they just don’t have the time or desire to prioritize those kinds of things.

    Eventually those things work themselves out because they get to know you and build trust in you and your own skills/knowledge of the organization grow and you’ll naturally be tasked with more.

    I’d do what Alison and others have suggested and fill your time productively. Look for small things you can do to pitch in and help out. Make your willingness to take on projects known. I remember early in my career taking data and making dashboards out of it in my spare time and one day my boss came over and saw my screen and asked what it was and he was floored at what I had created.

    You sound like a great hire and my guess is that in time you’ll soon find yourself with more than enough work to do. Best of luck!

  28. hayling*

    The first job I hired for was an entry level, part-time admin position. 90% of the applications were crap, and many didn’t include cover letters. I too figured that maybe I was being too harsh about skipping the people who didn’t include cover letters – I thought that if almost everyone is doing it, was there something wrong with my ad or expectations? Nope, it’s just a byproduct of online applications. It’s so easy to apply that most applicants use the firehose approach (quantity over quality). Fortunately, we did have an applicant with an excellent cover letter, and she’s now our full-time Office Manager!

  29. Lexi*

    OP #1 – I agree learning a skill or becoming more familiar with the industry is a good way to use extra time when you have it. One thing you should be careful of is how you answer if you get asked what you are working on (when you are filling free time) by others (not boss/coworker you mentioned) in the office. Saying that you don’t have anything to do can look bad – even though it’s not your fault. I’d have something put together like immediately asking the person if you can help them with something, then follow-up with a brief mention that boss is busy (or still working out how you can best spend downtime – whatever sounds positive and not complaining) and that coworker does not need help right now. That will show that you’ve done your homework (not just sat there waiting for someone to wander by with work for you), but are willing to jump in and help out if needed.

    1. Lynn Whitehat*

      I’m not sure it’s “most people”. I think maybe there are a few bad apples spamming out resumes by the hundreds, and it looks like a lot of people. If you have 100 people, and 90 of them apply for 2 jobs a day, and 10 of them apply for 50 jobs a day, there are 180 “good” applications and 500 “bad” ones going out into the world every day. But most people are putting together a decent application.

  30. Techfool*

    After the banking crisis, our dept had nothing to do, from senior people down. I left when one of them complained that I wasn’t busy . I thought it a bit much when she was doing nothing at five times my salary. I was at the time a glorified typist. It’s diffucult, but you need to cultivate the art of looking busy.

  31. Techfool*

    Re cover letters, make sure they are easy to upload. Some systems only allow one upload so the candidate has to add a cover page to them, It can be awkward making those kinds of amendments if you’re on a substandard pc at home.

  32. NickelandDime*

    Op#3 I’d be a little leery about cancelling medical appointments at the last minute based on the whim of a manager. One, in your situation, it’s important for you to keep that appointment. Two, cancelling medical appointments can incur charges and penalties for YOU depending on when/how you cancel.

    I had a manager force me to cancel a dental appointment an hour before I was supposed to arrive. My dentist was FURIOUS and charged for $350 for cancelling the appointment. I went back and forth with him to try and work it out, my husband got involved and the situation just went downhill. When I didn’t pay it fast enough they sent it to collections.

    And yes, the manager that forced me to do this was indeed an ass.

    You don’t know why people made medical and dental appointments. Even if it’s routine, I don’t think a manager has a right to ask people to cancel or rearrange them. They’re usually made months in advance and everyone usually knows a week or two in advance that they’ll be at the appointment.

  33. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    #2 – yes you are perfectly in line to say what AAM said – you’ve moved on if you had to. I’ve had that happen several times – Acme Company never got back to me, so I went with an offer from Beta Company. One thing – if Acme is REALLY where you want to be, but you are pressed for time from Beta — there is NOTHING wrong with calling Acme and saying “I would like to go with you, I thought we had great dialog – BUT – I have another offer on the table, if I am still a viable candidate, will we be moving forward soon?”

    Then again, if you are “on the bench” or anxious to leave your current situation and it’s the job you want – then consider what they have to say. There have been situations where I’ve wanted “Acme” but then “Beta” offered — and having no option, I committed to Beta — several months later Acme calls.. too late, ya snooze ya lose on the opportunity to hire Anon-2…

    3) You’re not good to ANYONE if you are in bad health. Do what AAM suggests – reminding that this is not comparable to a hair appointment or getting your car’s oil changed. It’s critical and cannot wait. And you only get one set of eyes.

  34. moodygirl86*

    3) While I agree with others that it’s possible the manager assumed this was a routine appointment, it’s still crass of her to compare it with a trip to the hairdresser! OP, my fingers are crossed for you that everything’s OK with your health. That’s what should come first. If it was your boss’s eyesight that was at risk, I guarantee you she wouldn’t be playing the martyr like she seems to want you to do.

  35. someone*

    People aren’t submitting cover letters because the job probably doesn’t require one! Only professional jobs making more than $30k and have real benefits warrant a cover letter.

    You’re not getting one for a $10/hr job.

  36. Snork Maiden*

    I always include a cover letter, but I leave out references when they’re requested right off the bat. I’m starting to think this is hurting me as they may assume I haven’t read the instructions. I haven’t received any call-backs in over eight months of casual searching. It’s a smaller regional centre in flyover country, and I guess who you know is just as important as what you know.

  37. Newby*

    #2: It is important to take into account whether the people responsible for getting you the written offer are the people you will actually be working for. A friend recently had to wait about a month for the written offer for his position because it had to go though HR and they had a lot of red tape. The people who were responsible for the delays were not people that he has to actually work with and those types of delays do not happen in his actual job.

  38. OP#2 (2 years later!)*

    OP #2 here. Thanks to the sound advice here, I did dig around a little bit.

    Here’s what ended up happening after I wrote in:
    – No one responded to me after I followed up again
    – I wrote a review on Glassdoor (it was neutral but I did say the company might be growing too fast because it seemed like they didn’t have the capacity for recruiting)
    – My recruiter saw the review and reached back out to me
    – I took the job and I’ve been working here for almost 2 years

    It’s been a good ride so far. I was promoted from the role I originally started in, and I just transitioned to a new department. I like working here.. and I can also say, after being on the inside.. there was no good reason I was ignored for over 2 weeks after receiving a job offer. Even though things are great now.. if I had walked away then, I wouldn’t have regretted it.

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