colleagues keep interrupting my conversations, the carpool nose picker, and more

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

1. Employees keep interrupting my conversations with customers

I’m a new supervisor in a customer service environment, and my two employees have been at the company for at least five years each. One is five years older than me and the other is 15 years older than me.

I’ve worked in this type of environment for many years and am familiar with best practices and procedures. However, when a customer comes up to me and asks me a question, one of my coworkers will abruptly interject. Recently, I started saying “I’ve got it,” but they are still not getting the hint. I’m starting to feel that they might find me incompetent or they don’t trust my professional experience.

Stop hinting. You’re their manager, regardless of age, and the best thing you can do is to tell staff members clearly and directly what you want from them.

I’d say this: “Hey, when I’m talking with a customer, I prefer to manage the conversation myself. If I need assistance, I’ll of course come ask you.” Or, if you want to make sure they’re not responding to some concern that you don’t realize they have, you could say: “I’ve noticed that when I’m talking with a customer, you’ll sometimes interject to answer their question. I’d rather handle those conversations on my own. Have I given you reason to worry about my ability to give them the right information?”

I don’t think you’ll get any pushback, but if you do, you can simply say, “I appreciate you trying to help, but unless I ask otherwise, I’d like you to leave me to handle those conversations on my own.”

2. Carpooling with a disgusting nose picker

I desperately want the carpool nose picker to completely and permanently stop this form of personal maintenance while traveling in the carpool.

Point to note: The picker always sits in front passenger seat unless it’s picker’s turn to drive.

If picker wants to “pick and flick” in picker’s own vehicle or those of the other carpoolers, that’s one thing (still hugely gross), but when picker picks while sitting right next to me in MY car, I am equal parts disgusted and pissed off! I really want this behavior to stop, in my car in particular, although in the entire carpool would be ideal! Please advise.

Eeuww. This is gross, but also very straightforward: The only way this will stop is if you say something. The next time you see it happening, just say, “eeuww, please don’t do that in my car.” That should be enough to shame the picker, but if for some reason it continues after a direct request to stop, then say, “I asked you to stop that. I’m not willing to keep carpooling if you’re going to do that while we’re riding together.” And/or, “YOU ARE FLICKING THINGS FROM YOUR NOSE ALL OVER MY CAR. Stop.”

Seriously. This isn’t one where you need to find magic words; just be direct.

3. Telling a client not to bring my former coworker to lunch

I am in sales and have a very good client who now works with someone I used to work with. I really do not care of this ex-coworker and have not seen her since she left. I asked the client out to lunch and she has asked me if the ex-coworker could come to the lunch! How do I politely say no and not hurt my client’s feelings?

You could try something like, “Oh, I’d love to catch up with just me and you” and hope that she gets the hint. But beyond that, I don’t think there’s much you can do — this is a client relationship, not a personal one, and if she wants to include her colleague, I don’t think there’s a graceful way to tell her not to. (But I’m really interested in hearing if other people have other ideas on ways to do it.)

4. Application system didn’t let me submit a cover letter — should I try to send one now?

Today I submitted an application through a form on the organization’s website, but by the time I got all the way through and hit submit, I realized there had been no place to attach a cover letter. Perhaps I should have attached my cover letter and resume as one document, but there was no indication I should do that, and I assumed there would be an opportunity to upload a letter on a later page. After I submitted the form, I received an automatic response: “Your resume has been received. Should we determine that your experience and skill set match our requirements, we will contact you. We are only able to contact those individuals who are selected for interviews. If you do not hear from us, we have not been able to best match your qualifications to a current open position.”

What I’m wondering is whether it would be inappropriate to respond with a cover letter, explaining that I had not seen any place to put one in the application but feel it’s important to give them a sense for why I’d be a fit for the position beyond the bullet points in my resume. What do you think about this?

Nah, don’t do it. If these people cared about cover letters, they wouldn’t have created an application process that excludes them. They’re apparently in the category of employers who aren’t interested in cover letters. (I object to this category’s very existence, but it does exist.) It would have been fine to include one with your resume (as all one document), but it’s not worth going back and trying to submit it separately now.

5. Can my employer call me while I’m home sick?

I am currently off sick from work due to anxiety attacks. My employer has just tried to phone me at home. I know it was work, as it showed up on my Caller ID. Are they allowed to call me at home? As this has now made me more nervous, I feel this is a setback to my recovery. I have to have a blood test tomorrow to see if all is okay there, but I still feel they should not have done this.

Yes, they’re allowed to call you. If you’re on regular sick leave, there’s no restrictions on them contacting you. If you’re on FMLA, they can contact you to inform you that you need to re-certify your FMLA leave or your intended return date, or they contact you about work questions “within reason” (like where a documented is located or the password for a file, not to do actual work).

{ 245 comments… read them below }

  1. neverjaunty*

    OP #2, what about bringing a purse pack or box of facial tissues, and then just handing them to the picker with a neutral “Looks like you need these”?

    1. fposte*

      Somebody openly picking their nose in somebody else’s car is more likely to take that as a help for their hands than a hint to blow their nose.

      And honestly, this is about the least subtle situation ever, so I wouldn’t worry about trying to be subtle.

      1. BRR*

        Yeah, just ask them to stop. I don’t think you need to publicly shame them but just say “please don’t do that in my car” or tell them once you get to work when you don’t have other people around.

        1. LBK*

          It’s not “publicly shaming” to say something about what’s going on in your own car. She’s not posting a video to Twitter.

          1. Three Thousand*

            Public shaming doesn’t have to be literally visible to the public. People gossip. They’re probably already doing it, but there’s still an argument for being kind and telling the person in private to stop.

            1. LBK*

              I don’t think doing it in front of the same audience that’s witnessing the behavior is public. If she did it in the office in front of a bunch of people who didn’t already know it was going on, fine.

              Somehow we’re getting derailed already, but my point was just that I don’t see a problem with doing it the way Alison describes. This isn’t potentially unintentional behavior like someone with a distinct body odor where I’d argue for a discrete conversation – this is a pretty deliberate action that’s being taken in front of an audience. Unless someone wants to argue there’s a medical reason for nose picking in front of others.

              1. Hotstreak*

                Wow. What makes you think it’s deliberate? Like people deliberately get overweight, or deliberately wear slightly unstylish clothes, or deliberately have an eye twitch. Shaming them is wrong and disgusting, I can’t believe I’m reading this here.

                1. I'm a Little Teapot*

                  …what? What’s so horribly offensive about telling a grown adult to stop disgusting behavior in front of other people? This is not the same thing as shaming someone for their appearance *at all*, and your comment to LBK was really rude for no good reason.

                2. fposte*

                  Huh? It’s a conscious, voluntary action. It could be a habit, but habits are still conscious, voluntary actions. What meaning are you hearing in “deliberate” that doesn’t fit that?

                  I don’t think you need to post the person’s picture all over the office with “Nosepicker!” splashed across it, but this is an egregious social violation, and the people who have to sit with it matter more than the person committing it.

                3. Hotstreak*

                  I’m responding to both Alison’s and others suggestion that you should shame them (meaning they are a bad person) versus correcting their behavior (meaning they’re doing this one bad thing).

                  As for habits, the scientific research is clear that many are neither conscious nor voluntary. Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit” is a good introduction to this.

                4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I don’t think anyone is expressing an opinion on whether the coworker is a bad person or a good person. But the coworker’s behavior is indeed unacceptable and it’s fine to make that clear.

            2. Ruffingit*

              I would leave out the “eeuww” part and just take this person aside privately and say “I notice that you pick your nose when we’re carpooling. Please stop doing that.” A mature and private conversation is better in my view.

            1. LBK*

              Fair enough, but with a phrase as loaded as “public shaming” it doesn’t seem like nitpicking to me.

                1. Green*

                  The other coworkers don’t need to be involved. I’d go with “I don’t know if you’re aware that you do this, but I’ve noticed that…” language in private. Again, there are lots of different cultural, family and personal views regarding nose-picking and the like (and for a lot of people with anxiety disorders, picking” of skin, chewing of nails, etc. are all things that are difficult to control — same with facial expressions). It’s worth asking at least once privately before saying something that could embarrass them in front of others they work with.

        2. Anon today because of reasons*

          Chronic digger sheepishly chiming in here. :S

          If this was me, a direct “Hey, can you not do that?” would do the trick. I’d be totally mortified and never do it again. Chances are this picker might not even realize they are doing it. After ~30 years of my life, it’s a pretty automatic habit and one I do my best NOT to do period, much less in front of other people, but sometimes it just happens. Tissues (blowing my nose) don’t seem to help, especially when the weather is dry.

          Sidebar 1: In elementary school, some kids in my grade found out and started making fun of me. The teacher’s response was to gather us all up and make an official class announcement that “I’m not going to name any names, but people who pick their nose are gross and should at least use a tissue or go to the bathroom.” Of course the whole class looked at me. THAT is public shaming. (Also note: it didn’t work).

          Sidebar 2: I am not a guy.

          Sidebar 3: I would not be surprised if it was something medical related but haven’t bothered to ask a doctor about it. My nose basically always feels like it’s on fire.

          1. Nez*

            Same. I don’t think about it but… it happens. I’ve mostly got it under control where I don’t do it around people but I’ve woken up picking at my nose so it’s not like every time I go “Yeah, let’s cram a finger up my nose and dig around!”. Anyway, a polite “please don’t do that in the car” is totally sufficient to make someone realize what they’re doing.

          2. fposte*

            Fabulous kids’ book recommendation here, by the great Louis Sachar. Marvin Redpost: Why Pick on Me? It’s an early reader about a kid who becomes the brunt of a nose-picking smear campaign (sorry for how that phrase sounds) and deals with it by taking a survey about whether or not people have ever picked their noses. Everybody, including the principal, says “Yes”–save for the bully who accused Marvin in the first place.

            1. Three Thousand*

              nose-picking smear campaign

              This is the last turn of phrase on earth anyone should apologize for.

          3. Miss B*

            I am also not a guy, and I will never give up picking my nose! (Alone, in my own apartment, with no witnesses, and a tissue to dispose of the evidence.) But man, it’s a tactile pleasure on par with blackhead squeezing, and I genuinely enjoy doing it when the urge strikes. (Is this super weird, or just something people don’t admit to in polite society?)

            That said, I’d be mortified if anyone saw me doing it and I would _never _ do it anywhere as public as someone’s car!

      2. The Other Dawn*

        I agree with fposte. Someone who is comfortable enough in a car with co-workers–not even family–is likely not someone who will take the hint that this is the most disgusting thing ever. Just be direct and don’t worry about possible embarrassing them.

        1. Green*

          Why would you just not worry about possibly embarrassing someone you work with if there’s a kinder way to try first?

          1. fposte*

            I think it’s fine to offer a tissue if somebody wants to. But I also don’t think the person doing the unacceptable thing in public is the priority here, and that a direct approach is fine even if it embarrasses them. Same goes for masturbating, spitting, etc.

            1. Green*

              There is a world of difference between sexual activity and nosepicking. Also, let’s remember that this isn’t exactly an immoral thing to do. It’s something that lots of Western people find gross and some find it extremely gross, but it’s not something someone is doing “at” or “to” you. The main point of etiquette is to be kind to others, so if you disregard this person’s feelings when there are kinder ways to address it, you’re not really standing on the etiquette high ground.

              1. fposte*

                Neither of them are immoral things to do, and I don’t think there’s a world of difference between them; they’re both common self-soothing methods and tics that involve physical gratification–nothing special about sex there. Neither of them are being done at somebody most of the time. (We could also throw looking at porn into the mix, if we wanted to further complicate the picture, but I’m sticking to the “chimps do it” kind of stuff.)

                That something isn’t immoral doesn’t mean people have to treat you kindly for doing it in their car, though. If you’re differentiating, and you wouldn’t feel obliged to kindly offer the masturbator–well, maybe not a tissue, but a politer intervention than “Beth, zip it up in my car, for heaven’s sake,” maybe you could elaborate on why they’re different to you.

                1. Three Thousand*

                  I would say the reason my response to someone rubbing one out in my car would necessarily be different is that I don’t understand it to be something psychologically healthy people do in front of other people who aren’t sex partners. (I could be completely wrong about that, of course.) Not because masturbation is immoral or anything, but because I think it’s a bigger hurdle to leap in public. I also don’t think my immediate response would be an admonishment to zip it up.

    2. Purple Dragon*

      #2 – I’m now trying not to throw up after just reading this. I hope you can get them to stop. If no-one elses advice works maybe you can throw up on them – but do it in their car when they’re stopped at lights ;) Kidding – sort of.

      I would probably say something like “You did NOT just do that” but that probably isn’t the best response.

      Good luck – I’m now going outside for some deep breathing and thinking about kittens or something.

      1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

        I know. I caught this over breakfast and am now thoroughly nauseated. I’d go with “If I ever see you do that again I will refuse to drive with you at all”. I bet you’ll find some support from the others too! And if not, frankly, it’s worth the extra gas money to leave the carpool and this snotbag behind.

      2. Winter is Coming*

        I can’t wrap my mind around how this person thinks this is OK! Why are they not embarrassed? I would never pick my nose in front of someone, much less a co-worker. I just don’t get it.

        1. Green*

          They may not realize they’re doing it. Yes, it’s technically “conscious, voluntary behavior” as fposte noted above, but people can certainly wind up engaging in repetitive behaviors they don’t actively intend to do when they’re anxious, distracted, tired or on auto-pilot.

      3. AMT*

        I just bought a car and have been trying to keep it nice, so my potential responses to this situation range from “CHRIST, what did you just DO in my CAR?” to “WHAT makes you THINK you can do this in ANOTHER PERSON’S VEHICLE you BOOB?!”

        I am clearly not cut out for any position that involves tact.

    3. Not Today Satan*

      Idk. Sometimes if I’m with someone who’s sniffling up a storm, snot running down their face and offer them a tissue, and they decline. And sniffling is a lesser offense than nose picking, so I really don’t think this person will get the hint.

      1. the gold digger*

        1. It made me nauseated to read this, too. I am impressed that LW has stood the situation this long. I think I would have thrown up.

        2. A guy behind me on a plane was sniffling super hard once. I wanted to say, “Would you just blow?” but that would have been rude. Instead, I took some tissues from my purse, turned around, and handed them to him. He took them and did blow. So maybe he knew he was being obnoxious but had no way to resolve the situation.

        1. Ad Astra*

          I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been then guy in your second paragraph. Occasionally, someone does give me a tissue, and I really do appreciate it.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I carry tissue packets all the time because I have allergies and my nose runs like a fire hose. I’ve shared them on many occasions. In fact, I usually have extra packets. I’ve given them to mums trying to clean up kids, snifflers and sneezers, and crying people. They’re cheap and it’s no biggie.

            1. Winter is Coming*

              That’s nice of you! It seems like whenever one of my kids sneezed, I was without a tissue. I could have the same pack of tissues in my purse for months, but they were nowhere to be found when needed.

        2. Kael*

          Oh I cannot tell you how many times I have been that guy in your second paragraph! For years I had severe allergies, overly inflamed adenoids, and a few other contributing factors and was incapable of blowing my nose even when it felt like I desperately should. It was terrible and extremely uncomfortable. I still remember every single time people would offer me a tissue (or a teacher would come place an entire box of tissues on my desk – the worst!) and I would accept it and blow but knew that it wouldn’t help and I would continue irritating them. Even though I have now resolved my issues, I still get unreasonably stressed out when I hear someone offer people a tissue. So I apologize on behalf of all of the sniffly people who cannot help it (I can’t speak for those who can).

          1. TootsNYC*

            I think that if I were the person giving you a tissue, I would know that you had *tried* to blow your nose, and so if you were still sniffling, it wasn’t because you weren’t trying to do the most basic thing to cope with it.

            The fact that you tried would be visible to me, and it would mitigate my annoyance.

        3. Cactus*

          I felt so tempted to do that during my junior year of college–there was a guy who sat behind me in class who seemed to have a permanent case of snuffles, and never had any tissues with him. I wanted to just leave a packet on his chair, but my boyfriend at the time basically told me that doing so would make me a horrible person. Whenever this dude showed up in one of my classes after that, I made sure to be sitting on the far opposite side of the room.

    4. Ad Astra*

      I actually think this is a good first approach. Many people who pick their nose in public think they’re getting away with it, or are doing it kind of without realizing it. The tissue will likely keep the picker from leaving boogers in the car, and may alert them to the fact that, yeah, you noticed the picking without embarrassing them.

      If that doesn’t work, or if you’re someone who’s comfortable being direct, Alison’s advice is perfect. But many of us would rather be subtle if we can still get results, so I think offering a tissue is worth a shot.

    5. Dr. Johnny Fever*

      Do some people think that public nose digging is acceptable? I work on an open floor am constantly amazed by the amount of people who work for a golden nugget, inspect it, then flick it toward a window. It’s even worse in the conference rooms. FWIW it’s worth, if I happen to watch someone do this and they see me, they’ll act sheepish at getting caught – doesn’t keep it from happening again.

      Tissues are a good idea for the car. I would need a Costco-sized pack to handle my office.

      1. Anon for this (ahem)*

        I think it must be one of those reactions that’s so automatic, people don’t realise they’re doing it in front of an audience. I’m the same with (horror) ear digging. I only notice I’m doing it halfway through, and nonchalantly try to make it look like I was fiddling with my hair.

        Hence I vote for the offer of a tissue – while not strictly relevant, it’s a non-humiliating way to call attention to it. If the picker has any sense of social propriety, they’ll probably then sit on their hands on all future rides.

        1. fposte*

          That’s my theory. There can certainly be a compulsive element to any body fiddling. I guess the upside is that it’s not masturbation.

          1. I'm a Little Teapot*

            I knew someone in college who did *that* publicly, in front of me – and my mother. Tbe person was one of those friends you don’t really like but spend a lot of time with because they have no other friends, are ridiculously clingy, and and you can’t bring yourself to tell them to go away because they’re pathetic and incredibly annoying, but not malicious. I used to have a terrible problem with people like that glomming on to me….

            1. fposte*

              Yeah, it wasn’t a theoretical example–I unfortunately also know that’s a thing. And for me the nose-picking is in a similar category, in that however absent-minded it is on the part of the practitioner, it’s enough of a solecism that the witnesses’ feelings matter a lot more.

        2. Hmmmm*

          I sometimes do ear digging… I hardly notice I’m doing it sometimes and I do the same thing.

          I’d also agree to offer a tissue, and then see where it goes from there.

          1. Green*

            I compulsively pick at my scalp, my nails, my fingers, etc. When I catch myself doing it, I try to stop. But I realize that I’m doing this things in public all the time. I would hope someone who had a real problem with it would treat me kindly if they felt the need to address it.

            1. fposte*

              I can understand that. My feeling, though, is that there are areas of behavior that, whether compulsive or not, are sufficiently offensive that the priority is the offended and not the offender, and I’m putting nose-picking in there. As long as you’re not dropping bits of your skin in somebody else’s car, I wouldn’t put picking in there.

              1. Green*

                I think the priority with colleagues should always be resolving the problem and maintaining the relationship where both are possible. I don’t know why there’s so much resistance to “hey, try talking to them privately first”, but if I was the nosepicker (or I had body odor or a performance issue or … basically anything) I would prefer someone try to address it privately first.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I think talking to them privately makes it into a much bigger, more awkward deal for the OP. Now she has to have a separate conversation at some other time when it’s not happening … whereas just saying something in the moment when it’s happening is actually a lot less awkward.

                2. Green*

                  I think the fact there are one or two other people who are also colleagues in the car who would hear is the factor that makes this really unfortunate though. I wouldn’t think highly of the gross coworker, but I would think even less of a coworker who called them out in a group setting.

      2. Anon Accountant*

        I’m truly sorry you have to deal with that at work daily. I think I’d have to put up drywall around me or something. Or some privacy screens I could carry around to not have to look at that. Gross!

    6. Stranger than fiction*

      I was also going to suggest offering Booger McGee some tissue. (In addition to telling him “Gross!”.)

  2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

    #1, Once you cross the threshold into professional work, you’re all just adults, and you need to give feedback without regard to age. If it helps, you can try imagining what you’d say to someone your own age (or younger), see if its different, and then try to sort that out. Most employees have no problem with a younger manager who is respectful, matter-of-fact, reasonable, and a good decision maker. Focus on that stuff and it will get less uncomfortable.

    1. F.*

      Great advice. I didn’t really see what age had to do with it, either. This is more about the OP needing to take an assertive stance with their subordinates.

        1. RVA Cat*

          Sounds like some resentment and undermining is going on here. Is it possible that one of the co-workers put in for OP #1’s position and didn’t get it, and is now trying to sabotage her?

          1. OhNo*

            I wouldn’t go that far right off the bat – especially since it sounds like both of them are doing it. It’s equally likely that their previous manager liked for them to jump in and/or take over customer conversations, so they’re just used to doing so.

            But you have a good point that it can sure seem like undermining, particularly from the outside, so it is really important to make sure they realize that it needs to stop.

      1. LBK*

        It’s not that uncommon for people older than their managers to be resistant to taking direction from someone younger than them or to assume competence until proven otherwise like they would with a manager their own age or older. And it can happen regardless of the ages, so I’m not trying to imply this is some stereotype about stubborn Boomers – it happened to me when I was 22 and my employee was 35.

        I think it’s also pretty normal for managers to feel timid managing people older than them since we have a societal standard of deference to those older than us, so it feels weird to give directions to someone closer to your parents’ age than your own. Employees pick up on and respond to that timidness.

        1. Kai*

          I think a lot of it in this situation also has to do with the employees having been there for years, and the OP being new. Whether they intend to undermine the OP or not, it’s a natural impulse to jump into a conversation when you have the experience and knowledge to know how to answer right away. OP should definitely be direct and put a stop to it, though.

          1. LBK*

            I did wonder if the employees are genuinely trying to be helpful because they know the OP is new and may not know how to answer some of the questions customers are asking. I trust the OP’s judgment of their demeanor, though – I think it’s usually clear whether someone is trying to come to your rescue or if they’re trying to show you up.

            Either way, I think Alison’s script works, maybe just with a line adding about appreciating their assistance, but that the OP learns better by practicing without assistance and she’ll absolutely ask for their help if there’s a question she can’t answer herself.

            1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

              I agree that Alison’s script works. What I would do in the moment is to immediately interrupt the interruption and say “Jane, let me come check in with you in just a minute when I’m finished talking to customer” and then immediately return my attention to the customer. Then I’d pop into her office right away and pleasantly say “Hi – tell me what you were saying earlier?”. If she replied with something I’d already told the customer, I’d say “Great. I did let her know that”. It might be a little indirect, but this is what I’d do first, and then I’d move to “don’t interrupt me” if it happened again. At least the first time, I’d prefer to give the person the benefit of the doubt that they didn’t realize they were being rude.

              I’m no longer a surprisingly young manager, but even when I was, people did not interrupt me when I was speaking. So much so that I’m sometimes surprised in social situations when I am interrupted! I’m sure plenty of employees have felt weird about my age, and that’s their own thing to deal with, but it’s my responsibility to either stop feeling weird about it or at least not act on the weirdness. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it is an important thing to be aware of.

              1. AnonyMoose*

                I was once the young manager too. I found the ‘I know better than you’-itis ended after it was clear that I was 100% empowered by the Big Boss in my role. Until then I was basically seen as basically playing dress up or play acting. SUCH a PITA.

          2. LPBB*

            That’s what I was thinking. When I was working retail, I was the “senior” employee with tons of institutional knowledge and almost always working with people who had a lot less knowledge who would often look to me for the answer or confirm what they were saying was correct, so I developed the really bad habit of just jumping in and answering the question. I tried not to do it, because a) it was annoying and b) my coworkers really needed to learn so they could handle things when I or our boss weren’t around, but sometimes I just couldn’t help myself.

            Eventually we hired someone who did this to EVERYONE, regardless of whether she knew the answer or not and regardless or whether the initial askee was floundering or not. You wouldn’t believe how quickly I cured myself of that bad habit once it was being done to me!

            Tl;dr: I wouldn’t immediately assume a nefarious purpose behind their behavior and I would also talk to them and them that you would prefer they not do that.

        2. Stranger than fiction*

          Yes, well put. Age can sometimes be a factor and I don’t think the Op was being ageist (sp?) by mentioning it just in case it is a factor here.

        3. manybellsdown*

          I’ve seen this at a job I had too: the manager was younger than all of us, but he was the very first employee the place had hired when it opened. Most of the other employees seemed to really resent being managed by someone who was, in a couple of cases, only 2 years younger than they were. I remember someone complaining to me “Ugh, Mike is always so bossy! Don’t you hate it when he’s telling you what to do?” Like, he is my actual boss. He’s supposed to.

          And I was the oldest person working there at the time, so he’d ask me to do tasks like “Um, if you don’t mind, could you possibly do this thing for me and if not it’s ok.” Poor guy.

        4. TootsNYC*

          And sometimes older employees (or employees with a timid manager) are acting under the same instinctive societal norms.
          It doesn’t have to mean they’re consciously undermining their younger/timid supervisor.

  3. SCR*

    For #4, I’m always fascinated by the insistence of cover letters on this site. I haven’t written one in 10 years (I’m in my early 30s) and have gotten very good jobs. Maybe it’s my industry — digital agency / consultancy — but my most recent job search / switch took place during this August and September and I had interviews with 6 companies, some in London and some in Dubai, for Senior Manager / Associate Director level positions and got the interviews based on CV alone. I am American though so maybe it’s more expected there? But I never wrote one for any jobs I got in the States either. I’ve even talked to recruiters who say they never even bother reading the cover letter if they get them.
    In some industries maybe they are still de rigeur but for a digital marketing job? Or an agency? And on the opposite side, I haven’t received a single cover letter when looking for junior people over the past year.

    1. Not The Droid You Are Looking For*

      I find that really interesting, as I manage a creative department, and we require cover letters as part of our application proces…also we’re about the same age and I’ve always been required to submit one along with resumes and portfolio.

      I wonder if it is the difference between in-house creative vs. an agency?

      1. SCR*

        Everyone is busy so my next comment is not meaning to imply that agency dwellers are somehow busier but… I barely have time to even manage my small team because I lead projects for a few huge clients and I’m expected to be developing internal structure and process and there’s just a lot on one’s plate when you are in the business of client services. Our whole leadership team is the same way and they have zero time or patience to read a cover letter. All I want is a CV that shows relevant experience and I’m sold and ready for an interview. Nothing anyone says in a cover letter would replace what I get within a CV. As for creatives, I feel that would be doubly true for the portfolio. What are you saying in your cover letter that tells me more than your work? It feels superfluous.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          What you’re saying in your cover letter is a short summation of what your resume will show – how and why you’re perfect for the role; a tease if you will, to get the hiring manager’s attention. It should be short and to the point of course. Reading an entire resume for relevant experience can be a lot more daunting than reading the cover letter, in my opinion. In general, in the fields that like cover letters, you’d go through your stack and see what cover letters catch your eye, then look over the resume once they’ve caught your attention. Perhaps in your industry, their relevant experience is more obvious on their resume and that’s truly all you need to look at. But it’s not always like that.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I’d actually dispute that a bit — the best cover letters don’t summarize the resume but add something new. Lots on this in the cover letter posts!

            1. Stranger than fiction*

              Yes yes ! I didn’t mean summarize maybe summation was the wrong word. I meant a short description of what about your and your resume makes you awesome.

        2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          How well you write. What has mattered most in your work in the past. What you’re most proud of. How you view your work as contributing to the organization’s work. What skills/experience/insights/etc. do you have that might not show up in a resume. What you value. What you’re looking for. What you care about. and on and on and on.

          1. SCR*

            This maybe seems asshole-ish but I really don’t care about all that when I’m hiring. I want experience that is relevant and valuable. If someone has the right experience then I’ll find that out in the interview. Anyone can lift a good cover letter — how do they do on the spot? I find it to be so pointless. Especially for designers! Can you do good work? Cool, you’ll be valuable to our clients so you’re hired.

            And on my side, my ability to write is covered in a CV. I don’t know. I’ve read several things recently about how people don’t bother reading cover letters. I don’t care if you can sell your experience or spin your experience. For my industry I need clear relevant experience most of all, you wouldn’t be able to hold a certain position in an agency if you didn’t have great communication skills. It really is moot.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              I think of cover letters the same way I do oral argument for appellate law work–they don’t always help the way people think they will, but they can sure hurt. In other words, cover letters don’t always tell me this person will be great (as you said, people can find them online), but a bad one tells me a lot–and I’d rather find out that information before I take the time to interview.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Well, as with anything, you need to know your industry. (And I can’t speak to non-U.S. norms on this at all.)

      In the U.S., there are employers, and perhaps industries, that don’t care about cover letters. But there are also a ton that do, and a ton more who won’t even consider an application that arrives without one. As an applicant, you generally don’t know who you’re dealing with (unless you know for sure that it’s not a thing in your field, but that would be the exception to the rule), so for most people it makes sense to put effort into one, considering that there’s a good chance it will pay off. My mail is full of letters from people who talk about how their job search changed dramatically once they started writing better cover letters. In most cases — not all, but most — it matters.

      And sure, some people get hired without cover letters. But it raises your chances significantly when you do a good one (again, in most industries). Given how much people are looking for ways to rise above their competition, it’s hard to argue for not bothering unless you know for sure that it’s not a thing in your field.

      1. SCR*

        I think maybe it really is my industry because there’s lots of stuff that’s discussed here that is very different for digital agencies. People job hop all the time, it’s weirder if you don’t almost; raises are very common every year; working billable hours means the way you work is structured differently; the interview process is usually different, for example I require junior PMs to demonstrate skills through a dummy scenario and presentation and have had to do this myself several times and so on. And when I’ve tried to hire PMs, I got over 900 applications on LinkedIn and can’t recall a single cover letter. I think I can chock that stat up to Dubai though, that’s maybe a lot for a job in the US.

        Just my two cents. But yes, I see you mention cover letters all the time and I’m always a little bit embarrassed, confused, or something because I haven’t written one in such a long time. Yet I’m very gainfully employed.

        1. Jules the First*

          I don’t usually write a cover letter either, but that’s because I’m usually getting a job through one of my head hunters or through a personal referral (ie a mutual acquaintance says ‘hey Jules, can I introduce you to Jack? He mentioned he could really use some help with X’)

          I absolutely expect to see a cover letter from people who have applied directly to work for me, and in fact the last guy I hired came through an agent but still brought an awesome cover letter. Would we have hired him without it? Absolutely. Did it hurt his case? Not at all.

        2. Ad Astra*

          Does LinkedIn even offer a place to attach cover letters? If that’s how you’re taking all your applications, it makes sense that you’re not seeing any cover letters. As an applicant, I’m a huge fan of applying via LinkedIn because it’s so much faster and easier than most systems.

          1. Liza*

            It doesn’t, but when I posted a job on LinkedIn I specified that applicants should include their cover letter and resume as one document. (I was dismayed how few people followed that instruction–but I didn’t consider any applicant who didn’t include their cover letter, because I need someone who does follow instructions!)

                1. JB (not in Houston)*

                  Yes, this is exactly the kind of thing I meant above when I said that cover letters can help show who you *don’t* want to hire.

          2. SCR*

            LinkedIn allows you to attached multiple documents so yes it does. It doesn’t have a “ATTACH COVER LETTER HERE” field but it certainly allows for cover letters.

            1. SCR*

              Welp. I just double checked and it doesn’t have that anymore or maybe I’m going insane. It thought it used to allow multiple docs.

      2. So Very Anonymous*

        I’ve worked in several different fields and in all of those fields a cover letter was absolutely necessary, so much so though that an application would probably be tossed out if there were no cover letter. Good written communication is required in these fields, so a cover letter serves multiple purposes — it’s both a marketing document and a writing sample. I’m sure there are industries like yours where they’re not relevant, but you’d have to know that they’re not relevant. Because they are relevant in many fields, AaM provides a real service by talking about them and offering advice on them. If this advice isn’t relevant to you, then you’re free to not feel embarrassed, right?

        1. BRR*

          “it’s both a marketing document and a writing sample”

          Exactly my thoughts. It’s a chance to let employers know anything that wouldn’t be clear in a resume and it can help elevate your candidacy among a pile of similar resumes. Also written communication skills are important in a lot of jobs but most don’t need a writing sample, a cover letter is usually enough.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            Yes. When we were doing a search for an executive assistant to the dean, for example, the cover letters, as “marketing document and writing sample”, were what differentiated the five finalists who would be invited for in-person interviews. We had narrowed the pool to ten top applicants, and then we perused the cover letters to put the applicants into “yes” and “no” piles based upon the content and the quality of the writing. Even when considering the final five, the writing samples provided via the cover letters still figured strongly in the ultimate decision. This was for a position where the person would be doing a lot of correspondence on behalf of the dean, however; I could see that in some technical (or other) fields that it might not matter so much. It still matters to me, though. I think people should be able to communicate effectively in writing.

            1. Stranger than fiction*

              You bring up a perfect example, Executive Assistant. Now that’s a role that would vary widely from company to company in responsibilities and duties, so rather than make the hiring entity read an entire 2-page document looking for, say travel planning experience, that the applicant may have had a couple of jobs ago and it’s now on the 2nd page of their resume, so the cover letter would be the perfect place for them to bring that forward if that’s something the applicant sees in the job ad that they’re looking for.

          2. Blue_eyes*

            Yes! I recently did an online application that asked for a writing sample, but not a cover letter. It was in an industry that would be a change for me, so I really needed a cover letter to explain that. Of course I got a rejection notice.

      3. hbc*

        I’ve had a very low percentage of people respond to my ads with cover letters, so I’ve certainly had to interview and hire those without them. Someone with a strong resume is getting a call. But your chances go up dramatically if you’re not a 100% match for the position if you can explain why that qualification that I asked for isn’t obvious from your resume, or why you want to move to our industry and would thrive there, or that despite working for giant companies you understand and welcome the challenges or a tiny organization. Putting “unofficial mentor” on your resume would be goofy, but you can spend a few sentences in your cover letter on how you functioned that way if you’re making your first step into management.

        But yeah, if it’s obvious why you want the job and that you’re a good match, that kind of explanation isn’t crucial.

        1. JMegan*


          The quantifiable part of my job is X, and that’s what gets written on my resume. I did X, and I accomplished X1, X2, and X3. But the *important* part of my job is selling X to my colleagues – where X is boring and administrative and never anyone’s top priority. So the thing that makes me good at my job, and the thing that makes people want to hire me over other people, is that I genuinely love doing X, and I’m really good at explaining it to people and getting them to work with me. And that kind of thing just doesn’t lend itself to a bullet-point resume format – there’s really no way to get that across except in a cover letter where I can use natural language.

          In my industry, a cover letter is an absolute requirement, and your application will get tossed without one. But even if it weren’t, I would write one anyway, because they are two different documents with two different purposes.

          SCR, thanks for sharing your story – it never hurts to be reminded that my own experience is not universal!

      4. Letter writer #4*

        Thanks, Alison, for the response to my question, and thanks, everyone else, for your thoughtful discussion of the topic. To give you a bit of context, I made a slight shift in fields when I got my current job, so I don’t have as much experience in my field as many people I’ll be up against. Because of that, it seems especially important to me to have cover letter that makes a strong case for why I’d be a great fit for the job. Also, my search has mostly focused on small nonprofits, where it seems likely that a cover letter will pack more punch.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Yeah, there’s definitely app systems out there that don’t have a spot for your resume. I ran into that too last time I was searching. Next time, have one PDF with both your cover letter and resume ready in case that happens. But it may not be the end of the world, they might understand the limitations of their own app system and not expect everyone to do that.

      5. Mockingjay*

        I just applied on Monday to a small company that did not require a cover letter. (Although I had prepared one!) They lease an automated job application service – follow the link posted on the corporate website. I filled out name and email, answered three (voluntary) Fed disclosures on sex, race, and veteran status, then uploaded my resume. Very basic.

        My guess is a lot of small companies only pay for minimal services because that’s what fits their budget. For instance, my current, very small company has repeatedly looked into automated payroll services and application services, but the cost is too high for a company with less than 50 employees.

        Before I uploaded my resume, I considered inserting the cover letter into the PDF of my resume. But they didn’t ask for one, so I figured I better not. “Does not follow directions?” Thoughts?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          A cover letter is such a standard part of applying for a job that no one reasonable employer will have an issue with you including one even though they didn’t specifically ask for it.

    3. Mando Diao*

      I’ve noticed that too. In terms of sheer number, I’d wager that more than 50% of all job openings don’t ask for cover letters. The retail and service sectors certainly don’t ask for them, and it’s rare to need one when you’re applying for entry level office positions in any industry.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Retail and service sectors probably not, but entry level office positions in many industries do very much require them! In fact, at that level it’s really hard to distinguish yourself from other candidates, so a good cover letter can be the thing that does that.

        1. coyote_fan*

          I work in corporate finance/accounting and have never been asked for a cover letter. I personally wouldn’t want to sit down and read through a cover letter when I hire entry level finance people. For me (and roles I would hire folks into), it’s more about the initial phone interview to analyze how people think and work through a problem as well as their knowledge of Excel. This type of information is really hard to convey via a letter.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            Well, I guess for strictly entry-level, the resumes won’t be too long for you to look over. But, in the case of Excel, I would hope your applicants have that on their resume, but if someone’s an Excel Expert, that would be something one could put on a cover letter to make themselves stand out (assuming it’s in the job posting that you need an expert)

      2. Oh Susannah*

        Not asking explicitly for them doesn’t mean they don’t want them, and doesn’t mean a good cover letter won’t help a candidate’s chances, though.

        Our job ads don’t explicitly state that candidates are expected to send a resume and cover letter, but we’d certainly expect a good candidate to do so.

      3. F.*

        Asking for and actually getting them are two different things. When I advertised a clerical position with heavy emphasis on copy editing requiring excellent spelling and grammar skills, I required a cover letter. I only received one with approximately ten percent of the resumes.

      4. Chocolate lover*

        I work at a university, cover letters are absolutely required for entry level positions just like any other position, and at many of the other local universities as well.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          I work at a university, too, and our application system won’t let a candidate submit their application until both a resume and a separate cover letter have been uploaded. Now, I’ve seen applicants submit inadequate, one- or two-sentence cover letters (I respectfully submit my application for the position of Junior Teapot Poobah. Sincerely, Wakeen Feenix) just to minimally fulfill the requirement, so the system can be subverted.

          1. Chocolate lover*

            Yes, it definitely can be subverted. Though definitely in the offices I’ve worked in, we’d discard those without consideration.

          2. MissDisplaced*

            I admit I have occasionally submitted very short/basic cover letters of this type to jobs where the employer is unidentified (such as Craigslist or Monster and sometimes LinkedIn depending) or if the job description is lacking in details. But this is rare.

      5. Felicia*

        I wouldn’t say it’s rare to need one if you’re applying for entry level office positions in any industry – we’re hiring for an entry level office position where I work and all the applications without cover letters were discarded. I’d say with that type of position, cover letters are even more useful because you’re qualifications might not be as obvious in your resume. When I was applying to that type of job , the vast majority also explicitly asked for cover letters.

      6. LBK*

        Are we differentiating between applications that say “attach cover letter here if desired” vs requiring it? I think for most entry level positions here it’s not required in the sense that the website allows you to submit your application without one…but you can also submit it without a resume, and that’s obviously implicitly required. “Required” as in “we will not review your candidacy without this document” is different from “it’s unlikely your application will be considered a strong one without this document,” and I think the latter is fairly common outside of the service industry.

        To Alison’s point above, you also can’t tell if the latter is true or not in most cases since you can’t ask the hiring manager beforehand, so it’s usually safer to submit one if there’s a place to do so. As she’s also mentioned before, most people aren’t good at writing cover letters, so if you can deliver a knockout one it’s a good way to genuinely stand out (as opposed to all the gimmicky ways).

        1. Ad Astra*

          I typically go by what the ad itself says. If they ask for a cover letter, I’ll write one. If they don’t ask for a cover letter, I probably won’t write one, even if the ATS has a place to upload one.

          But the safest way to go would be to send a cover letter every time unless you’re asked not to. And it’s interesting that people are mentioning ads that specifically request no cover letters; I’ve never seen that.

    4. FiveWheels*

      Every job I’ve applied to in years has specified no cover letter, no CV, nothing but the application form (which is often identical for every position in the whole company). Even phoning to ask if your application has been processed can get it thrown out.

      Anti discrimination laws here are strict (if ineffective) and a lot of employers go out of their way to make sure they don’t fall foul of them.

      I once applied for a government job in which every qualified applicant was called to interview, interviews were scored purely on which keywords you said, and they offered the job to the person with the highest score even if they knew it was a bad fit.

      I got the job, it was a bad fit, but at least nobody discriminated against me :-P

    5. s.b.*

      Cover letters are The Worst and I wish more companies/industries would at least de-emphasize them. I got my current job via a referral/informal application (more of an introductory email than a cover letter), and got my last one via a CareerBuilder application that didn’t require a cover letter at all. So much less stressful!

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I haaaaaaaate them. Even worse, try writing query letters. They’re like super cover letters. One gets you an interview; the other gets a request for pages. If you’re doing it right. I’d rather write a synopsis than a query letter, but I have to get it right or no one will ever see my work.

        *bangs head against wall*

      2. Blue_eyes*

        I can’t say I love writing cover letters, but I’m glad to have them. I’m trying to move to a different kind of work within my field, so I really need the cover letter to explain why I want to move and why I would be good at the new kind of work. If I didn’t have a cover letter, I wouldn’t have any chance at all because employers would just see on my resume that I haven’t done that kind of work before.

        1. Turanga Leela*

          Yeah, I’ve always felt that my story is more effective than my resume. I don’t mind writing cover letters, either, because the process helps me figure out why I’m really interested in the position.

      3. Charityb*

        I think the problem is the way we usually teach and use cover letters. The basic form is just restating your resume in paragraph form. On a more advanced level, people say things like, “a cover letter is great if you’re relocating since you can emphasize that you’re moving to the city that the job is located in” or “a cover letter is great if you’re changing industries so you can explain why your resume is full of completely unrelated jobs”.

        While those are great uses of cover letters they’re not all encompassing so people can get confused why they have to write a cover letter in other situations.

        That’s why I really like the idea of “cover letter as writing sample” which I think is the most helpful framing for entry level workers in particular who might not be comfortable with the idea yet. Not everyone who writes a cover letter is relocating or changing industries, but they all want to put their best foot forward and demonstrate their writing skills.

    6. Ad Astra*

      I am guilty of avoiding cover letters when they’re not absolutely required, and even more guilty of putting off an application for a ridiculously long time when a cover letter is required. I don’t have my own computer at home, so composing a cover letter is a hassle, and I’m lazy. Most of the jobs I’ve applied for have been in news or marketing, and I do notice many of them don’t require a cover letter.

      Perhaps some of the hiring managers you know have been so inundated with terrible cover letters that they’ve stopped bothering to read any of them? Most people write bad cover letters that simply recount what’s already on the applicant’s resume, but in more stilted language. I can see how a “don’t bother” attitude would develop.

      That said, a good cover letter can work wonders for your candidacy. It helps the hiring manager draw connections between what they want and what you have, and gives them a sense of your writing ability — which is important in a lot of fields, even if it’s not a writing job.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        I know it absolutely worked wonders for my candidacy. Especially because last time I was switching from customer service to admin, so I really had to draw a connection between my admin experience from several years ago, and how my more recent experience in customer service was relevant (for example, I’m very good at Excel, but not all customer service folks would necessarily have that experience, but they needed it for my current role and I know that was a contributing factor to my getting hired.)

    7. Bostonian*

      Other non-US folks on the site have indicated in past threads that CVs are sometimes longer and more thorough in other parts of the world than resumes are in the US. I wonder if that could play into it at all, since you’d have more space on a CV to showcase your qualifications?

      1. SCR*

        I find CVs to be exactly the same as resumes. The only difference I see internationally is that additional personal info is included (visa status, married or not, photo, DOB, nationality. etc.)

    8. Zebra*

      I just got an interview in digital marketing based on my cover letter, which they used as a writing sample. My resume is all over the place, so it sure wasn’t that that got me in the door.

    9. Lily in NYC*

      I used to think they were pointless until I started screening resumes for the open positions in my dept. There have been some decent resumes with unbelievably awful cover letters, which shows that the person probably had lots of help with the resume or paid someone to write it. And you would not believe the number of cover letters I get that reference a completely different job (as in they didn’t proofread) or they just talk about random crap that has nothing to do with a job (one guy told us he wanted to work for us because he just got divorced. WTF?). Or the guy who sent a cover letter that was simply a giant photo of his head with a few ALL CAPS sentences that were just weird motivational phrases.

      1. Windchime*

        That last one kind of freaks me out. How strange.

        I don’t know if our candidates are submitting cover letters. I’m a member of the interview committee for our department and the only thing that trickles down to us is the resume. Most are a traditional resume, but one guy just did a huge long run-on paragraph in the body of an email that was a combo cover letter/resume. I personally thought it was awful and I’m not sure how the poor guy made it past the phone screen, but we spent an hour interviewing him even though I would have rejected him on the basis of the weird email thing along.

      2. Blue_eyes*

        I re-use large portions of my cover letters when I write new ones for similar positions, so I often duplicate an old cover letter and than make changes. I’m always afraid that one day I’ll forget to change the position title or company name and look like a total fool! I did realize at one point that I had sent out at least one cover letter that mentioned wanting a position as a “project manger” instead of “project manAger”. Oops.

      3. MissDisplaced*

        Or the guy who sent a cover letter that was simply a giant photo of his head with a few ALL CAPS sentences that were just weird motivational phrases.

        OMG! This just makes you wonder.

    10. Winter is Coming*

      Has anyone heard of something called a “brag book” for interviews? As an HR person, I would be totally turned off by someone who showed up with one. I thought it was really over the top. I don’t need to see your diplomas, certificates, and other evidence of your awesomeness anywhere except on your resume (the exception being for creative/artistic positions where this already the norm). They even went so far as to suggest presenting a 30/60/90 plan for how you would approach your first 90 days on the job. In an interview. When you are still trying to learn about the job.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        I’m in creative so I have one. But it contains design and writing samples NOT awards, diplomas and the like.
        For recent grads going into marketing/PR/Comm etc., I can see the value of a sample book, but perhaps they are misunderstanding the concept?

      2. Merry and Bright*

        When I was on BigJobSearch a couple of years or so ago there was a lady called Peggy McKee on the internet dishing out advice. Apparently without a brag book or a 30-60-90 plan it is hard to get hired… You can even buy webinars, resume reviews, the works. Kid you not.

        I did not fall for it and since then have discovered AAM anyway.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Ugh really. If we got a 30-60-90 day plan from an applicant we’d be like “Uh, no you’re not, you’re going to be in training for 90 days) dismissed.

      3. Chalupa Batman*

        I think bringing examples of how you can actually do the job is fine when handled well, but when done poorly really makes you seem out of touch. I saw one once while serving on a hiring committee, and it was super awkward. We passed it around like “what are we supposed to do with this?” It was basically a bunch of certificates, like the ones you get when you complete one of those online trainings that no one likes but we all have to do. It suggested that the candidate was completely full of themselves, which they went on to reinforce in the interview and super braggy, tone deaf “thank you” e-mail. Not hired. I did see a candidate in another search who brought a few examples of things they had formatted and edited for an administrative position that required similar tasks, and that did work in their favor. The materials were presented to us as “I did this thing…would you like to see?” when the relevant skills came up, while the previous candidate demanded we look at the brag book before even sitting down. We went with someone else for other reasons (internal candidate with more, relevant experience), but the overall impression was favorable.

      4. Ad Astra*

        In a lot of fields, it would make since to have a portfolio with examples of your best work, though many people opt to just set up a website these days. And I know some professions, like firefighters, are really into certifications and they keep a whole binder with all their certificates. I don’t know if they actually bring those to an interview, though.

        But a “brag book” in the way you describe sounds really silly. I don’t need to see your actual diploma or your project management certificate or something; just tell me on the resume that you have one.

        I do keep a “brag file” on my computer of praise or accomplishments at my job, which I plan to use whenever I ask for a raise or promotion, and maybe eventually when I’m updating my resume.

    11. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Huh! I can’t even imagine hiring without reviewing cover letters. They contain SO MUCH more useful information than resumes: how well the candidate writes, how aware of professional norms they are, what they think is important to highlight, what story they want to tell me about their work and how it connects with what we’re trying to accomplish. I suppose a resume can tell me most of that (except the writing, which is key), but I always get a lot more out of the cover letters.

      1. SCR*

        This is where it goes back to the industry. Agency world is super cuthroat. My boss just cut one of our PMs loose at 3 weeks because the client didn’t like him and he wasn’t picking up the work fast enough. 3 weeks! And they had moved him to Dubai from Lebanon. And interviewed him extensively. It’s just an industry where you will not last a month if you can’t cut it. So if you have had jobs at other reputable agencies for a year or more then you are likely very capable.

        You want to work at my (international, huge, holding company held) agency then you should demonstrate your experience via a thorough CV. No one cares about your story, they care about your ability to deliver results.

    12. FelineFine*

      When I’m hiring, I usually don’t consider any applications that don’t have a cover letter. To me, the cover letter is a great place to expand on why you are applying and what you can offer me.

  4. Melissa*

    Re #4, I’m actively job searching right now and have come across a non-trivial number of systems that don’t really allow for cover letters. If I notice I try to put my cover letter and resume together as one document (cover letter, then resume on second page) and hope for the best. Interestingly, one flagship research university where I’ve applied for several positions explicitly does not allow for cover letters. They don’t allow for any document uploads, actually. I don’t know if this is just for staff/administration positions or university-wide, but I did find it strange.

    1. Mando Diao*

      I really think cover letters are being phased out. As a job seeker, I’m simply not seeing many companies asking for them anymore. If you send one when it’s not requested, they assume you didn’t read the listing properly.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That is very much not my experience (or the experience of lots of other people here). It’s possible that it’s the case in your field (or your in country if you’re not in the U.S.), but in general they’re very much alive and useful in the U.S., whether employers specifically request them or not. As Oh Susannah points out above, an ad not requesting them doesn’t mean employers don’t want them or that it can’t still help. I don’t know who these employers are who you say are penalizing people for them, but they’re very much not the norm (and you can find employers doing all kinds of crazy things, but that’s not something to design a job search strategy around).

        I really can’t overstate how many letters I get from people who tell me that their job search completely turned around when they started writing the sort of cover letters I talk about here — as in, going from no interviews for months to multiple interviews in just a few weeks. It’s easily the number one most helpful thing most people can do to get a better response rate when they’re job searching and I hate the though of people dismissing it.

        1. misspiggy*

          It’s possible that in some countries the ‘personal statement’ on an application form has replaced cover letters – this is often the case in the UK. But a personal statement does exactly the same things as a cover letter. In some places the convention of having longer CVs also allows you to put in things that would be in a US cover letter. But that information on why you fit the specific needs of this job still needs to be there, in whatever format.

        2. Stranger than fiction*

          And it’s one of the first things that pops up when you google AAM. I always get Ask A Manager site first, and Ask A Manager Cover Letter is the second. Clearly a popular topic!

      2. Apollo Warbucks*

        I’ve never used a cover letter to get a job, but I know I’ve gotten interviews that I wouldn’t have got but for writing a decent cover letter.

        1. Blue_eyes*

          That’s exactly the point of a cover letter, to get to the interview stage. Do you mean you’ve never ended up being hired from an interview that you got because of your cover letter?

      3. Lurker*

        I would never consider anyone who didn’t submit a cover letter. Furthermore, if your ‘cover letter’ is a paragraph filled with generic phrases you’ll go in the “no” pile. Cover letters are extremely important in my industry (arts not-for-profit) – it illustrates how well you communicate and also provides information that supplements the resume. We get nearly 300 applications per position (a lot for us) so having a well-written cover letter is useful to set your resume apart from hundreds of others.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          I was just thinking; personally, I don’t like writing them, because I don’t like that they’re so much more subjective than a resume. (I hate subjective criteria.)

          But I think they’re a useful medium between the resume, with its more objective facts, and an interview, which gives you a lot of information on subjective fit and attitude and all that. A cover letter gives you a little bit of insight into the person behind the resume, which can tell you whether you want to learn more about them.

      4. Chocolate lover*

        Actually, I’ve had employers I work with tell me that they expect cover letters without having to explicitly state that, they take it as a given you will send one. Granted, I do think they should explicitly state that if they want one.

        1. Lindsay J*

          This is what I always assumed – that including a cover letter is the default state and so a company doesn’t need to tell you that they want one.

      5. Liz in a Library*

        I’ll throw out there that I rarely see cover letters explicitly asked for (in libraries, staff higher ed, and ed tech), but I always submit them and was asked about info in mine at the interview that landed me my last job.

        Anecdatum, my husband started getting more bites on his last job search (in-house accounting) after he started including cover letters and beefed up his resume. Can’t say it was 100% the letter, but I doubt it hurt.

        1. OhNo*

          Fellow librarian here – I noticed the same thing. Larger universities and systems will sometimes say something like, “Please submit resume, cover letter, and references/salary history/etc.”, but most organization don’t.

          Having recently been on the hiring side, though, I can tell you that even though we didn’t specifically ask for a cover letter, none of the applications we received without one were even considered seriously. Just the fact that an applicant sat down and wrote out how their experience makes them the right fit for the job saves us a lot of time and interpretation, and makes them seem like a more thoughtful, well-qualified candidate.

          (I do wish we had stated that we wanted a cover letter, though. I feel like some of the applicants we glossed over could have been good, but they didn’t have a letter so now I’ll never know…)

      6. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        I don’t think that not asking for one means they don’t want it. They might interpret a candidate not sending a cover letter as evidence that they aren’t familiar with professional norms or that they didn’t bother to put time into their application. If they don’t want to read them, they don’t have to. If I have firm minimum requirements, I often glance at the resume first and if its’ obvious that the person isn’t qualified, I may not read the letter. But I use the letters to help me decide who to interview from those you are at least somewhat qualified. Bottom line: It’s more of a risk not to send one than it is to send one when you aren’t sure if it’s wanted.

    2. Cambridge Comma*

      There isn’t always a match-up between what the system can do and what the person doing the recruitment expects to get (I don’t mean the university you described, that sounds clear enough). Where I work, the system we have and the one that replaced it didn’t request a cover letter and didn’t allow uploads, but the hiring manager expected a cover letter all the same (in the miscellaneous remarks box), so people who did include one had an advantage. It isn’t possible to add clarifying information, apparently…

    3. Anoning it Up*

      I just had this trouble with LinkedIn. The company that listed the position on LinkedIn wanted a resume and cover letter (it said so in their blurb) but LinkedIn would only let me upload one document. I don’t know how applying to jobs with LinkedIn’s system is supposed to work – am I supposed to ignore the opportunity to apply with LinkedIn if the employer sets it, and just go with emailing someone or applying directly from their website so that I can attach the right documents? Am I supposed to assume my LinkedIn profile will count as my “resume” and attach a cover letter (though I hate that idea). Combine them as two documents? I was confused.

      1. the gold digger*

        I just copy my resume and cover letter into one document in those cases. I am not going to let some stupid online system that thinks I majored in “English studies” beat me.

      2. Sunflower*

        I’m not sure if LinkedIn tells you to do this but I always combine my cover letter and resume as one document and attach that.

    4. Lily in NYC*

      I would like to recommend that people submit a cover letter even if it’s not required (unless they specifically say not to). Our software is set up so that you can upload a cover letter, but it is not required. However, the people in my dept. who do the hiring (I just do the initial screening) do not like it when it’s not included and they make a point to note it in the rankings. Which I think is unfair, but it’s not my decision.

    5. Stranger than fiction*

      I’ve seen those type of systems, where they ask you to copy/paste plain text from your resume into a box rather than attach any documents. In that case, I never included the cover letter.

  5. Merry and Bright*

    The cover letters thing is interesting. I’m in the UK and when I began work in the 1980s cover letters were probably more common than now, and when I was at college we were told to always write one. Now, I follow any instructions in the application. Sometimes they not only ask for one but tell you what to include in it. Some places specifically say don’t include a cover letter or any other correspondence. Some say any cover letter will be disregarded or even invalidate your entire application. Others don’t mention letters at all. It is not at all clear cut. If nothing is mentioned then I send one but I suppose it’s a question of judgement.

    Cover letters on online applications are a whole different ball game. In fact, just don’t get me started on online applications.

    What I will say is that in my most recent job search, when I did send a cover letter and used Alison’s advice on putting it together, I got interviews.

    1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

      I find cover letters and applications which don’t allow them but do ask a number of questions of the “Demonstrate your skill in X” or “When have you worked with Y” that essentially build the information of a cover letter anyway in about equal measure. I wonder if employers are getting better at finding other ways of getting the information from candidates because so many can’t write good cover letters?

  6. Regular poster going anon for this.*

    I sit opposite a chronic nose picker at work. It is so, so stomach-churning. The trouble is, he’s my manager.

    1. Mimi*

      Sorry to hear you work for my old boss. Mine used to pick and then wipe the results on his pants. Then stick his dirty booger hands all over everything. I lost a lot of weight working for him.

  7. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*


    You can’t, not if you want to keep this client. Not only can’t you say you don’t want to lunch with the ex coworker, you can’t even hint it. And not only all of that, you have to pretend you like the ex. And be all nice and all “omg, how have been! this is great!” Client retention always up for grabs. You are not allowed to have bad blood at a client’s place of business.

    Welcome to sales and one of the reasons the sales people are usually more highly compensated than the next person.

    Zero options there but here’s the option you do have: you can not care whether you keep the client. If ex is so odious you’d just as well be out, replace them with another client. As long as you are willing to do the work, you can risk offending your contact and seeding an enemy within against you.

    If you want the client: suck it up, smile, and pick up the check.

    1. MK*

      Frankly, it sounded odd to me that the OP is trying so hard to avoid a ex-coworker they sumply “do not care for” (I would think differently if it was an abusive bully). This is a bussiness lunch, not hanging out with friends; who you like or not is irrelevant. And if the client cares enough for this person to ask they be included in the invitation, why risk coming across as stingy or antisocial?

      1. Lily in NYC*

        To be fair, we don’t know the reasons. Maybe OP was just trying not to write a really long comment…

      2. TootsNYC*

        “if the client cares enough for this person…”

        Didn’t you just say this was work, not social? In fact, the sentence right before this was: “who you like or not is irrelevant.”

        The client should only be including this person if she’ll be important to the interactions in work-related way. The client shouldn’t be setting this work lunch up to be a chance to hang out with her friend on the OP’s company’s dime.

        That’s why I think the OP could say, “Oh, is Former Coworker going to be working on this project for your team?”

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      I agree. (but do wonder what’s so awful about the ex coworker that they can’t sit through a lunch with them)

    3. TootsNYC*

      Can’t she say, “Oh, is Former Coworker going to be working with our company?” The implication being, “I can add her to the expense account if it’s work-relevant, but if she’s just coming along because, that’s dodgy.”

      1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

        Sure she can but that doesn’t change the part that she has to be willing to put the account in play by doing that. A client asking one other person to lunch isn’t egregious. And the other person doesn’t have to be working directly with the company for that to be okay. If the OP is fine with potentially embarrassing her contact at the company by asking the contact to rescind an invitation she’s already made, then do it.

        And, if she doesn’t want to put the account in play, smile, make nice, pick up the check, and see what happens next.

      2. snuck*

        I was thinking something along these lines… with these lunches would there normally be a reason to bring extra people/are extra people coming/ is there a chance that this ex employee will be working directly or indirectly with you in the future? Is there a history with this relationship of lots of lunches/lavishing perks?

        I know in the past I’d never have brought someone to a lunch unless there was a reason, and not generally “Oh these people used to work together I bet they want to rehash old times”… so if there’s the chance that it’s going to be that the client company plans to leverage your ex-colleagues knowledge of your company it might be realistic to bring them…

        You can politely agree to the extra person at the table, or you might be able to say “We’re happy to have Joe Bob along if he will be working directly with us on the contract, but given the sensitive nature of some of our discussions would it be better to have Joe join us for a coffee after?” and mentally take into account what Joe knows and what he’s going to be doing there. It could be in your favour – to find out what Joe is up to, and how that affects your client relationship. If the client waves Joe off as fine to come to your lunch then the client is saying they don’t care about what is discussed in front of him, and you can take that as valuable information about how they view him.

  8. BRR*

    #4 More responding to Alison, in my recent job hunt I applied to two places that in the posting asked for a cover letter but the ATS only had one spot for an attachment and it was called “Resume.” Obviously I just made it one document but I found it interesting two places wanted cover letters and didn’t have it set up to take them or give instructions on what to do (although maybe it’s a simple test to weed out some candidates). I also found it interesting that when I interviewed at both of these places there were red flags popping up. Not sure if correlation equals causation here and definitely not implying it.

    1. the gold digger*

      it’s a simple test to weed out some candidates

      Makes me think of that episode on “Halt and Catch Fire” where she fired all the programmers who didn’t cheat on the online game.

    2. INFJ*

      This was one of my biggest pet peeves during my job search. Sometimes you don’t know until the end of the application if there will be a spot to upload a cover letter, as these online forms almost never give explicit directions. It’s really frustrating to take the time to compose a tailored cover letter, only to get through the online form and there is no place to upload anything, so you can’t even attach it to your resume.

    3. Observer*

      From what you say, it sounds like co-relation that is significant. Not because of causation, but because of “comorbidity”. ie When you see symptom X you also look for symptom Y, because that tends to pop up in situations where X happens.

  9. Blurgle*

    I wonder how you’d handle 3 if the issue was more than simply disliking the ex-colleague – say, if the ex-colleague had been fired for (I don’t know) wilful misconduct, dishonesty, or the like. Just not liking someone, you can put up with one lunch. But sometimes it’s worse than that.

    1. Colette*

      I don’t think it matters. You don’t get to choose who your clients hire, and if you want them to remain clients, you need to be nice.

      The only exception, IMO, is if the ex-coworker committed a crime against you – and in that case, you would go to your employer and ask for the client to be assigned to someone else.

    2. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

      Reasons don’t matter. It’s binary. If you want to keep the client, suck it up and smile. If you don’t mind losing the client, do as you wish.

      1. Ad Astra*

        Yes, I think if the situation between OP and this ex-coworker was really extreme, the OP would probably have to risk losing the client. If OP truly just “does not care for” this person, then obviously it’s not worth it. If there was some history of abuse or violence or maybe theft, it might be worth taking the hit to stay away from that person.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

          Walking away from clients is (almost) always a choice in sales. It’s one of the perqs for all the shit you have to take.

          Reps who are assigned mega accounts they didn’t develop themselves are a bit more trapped and would have to enlist help to get the account reassigned.

            1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

              ha ha, yes , but you can choose not to make your numbers. You probably wouldn’t choose that if it would also get you fired that quarter but most sales folk’s ice isn’t that thin at any given time.

              I am serious. You always have a choice. If I put up with something from a customer, it’s because I’m choosing to. Knowing that you can walk away and go get another one you like more, if you choose, is empowering (and ultimately makes taking crap or annoyances much easier.)

  10. Not So NewReader*

    Nose picking carpooler. While I agree that it is disgusting, focusing on how disgusting it is could be a barrier to actually having a conversation. I mean, who wants to talk about something that is gross? No one.
    OP might find some relief in thinking of it as a medical problem of sorts. Perhaps you, OP, could say something like, “Stop picking your nose in my car and get to a doctor to find out why you have such a build up of stuff in your nose.”If you chose to you could say that you don’t see others having so much problem. Sometimes telling people they have an issue they need to get to a doctor for is even to jar them and they change what they are doing. And it kind of leaves you an opening where if Picker does it again, you can say, “Did you get that doctor’s appointment yet?” That might be an easier thing to say, than having to repeat the request to stop picking their nose in your car.

    1. Elysian*

      I get that people find this gross, but is it really something that requires a doctor’s appointment? Not everything you don’t like is an illness. I don’t think there’s any reason to come up with deflective wording – just tell the person you want it to stop.

      1. themmases*

        +1. It is not that big a deal to just be assertive and ask someone to stop doing something, especially something like nose picking where there is zero controversy about whether it’s OK to do. The nose picker probably just thinks they are being more subtle than they actually are.

        If it’s hard for the OP to say something that’s assertive and not mean because they’re mad (they sound mad in the letter, and they definitely have reason to be), the solution is deep cleansing breaths or something, not making up a medical issue.

    2. BuildMeUp*

      I get wanting to make the situation easier to deal with, but… they’re picking their nose in other people’s cars. And flicking their boogers in other people’s cars. They’re the one causing the issue by being rude and disgisting; I guess I don’t see the need to be gentle with them.

      1. themmases*

        Also, I don’t really think making up a medical problem and talking to someone about it is really going to help them save face. It takes longer and draws more attention to the issue than just saying “Please don’t do that.” And it implies that the issue is so severe you think something is wrong with them, rather than just conveying that you don’t like the behavior.

      2. TootsNYC*

        Is the worst part the picking of the nose, or the flicking?

        I have to say, I wouldn’t care that much about nose picking. When I do it, it’s because something is uncomfortable. Sure, I know nobody wants to watch me do it, but I might think everybody’s eyes are on the road or something. If I’m even in the company of someone who needs to do it, it’s short and I avert my eyes.

        The disposal of the material is the huge problem to me.

        And I didn’t think there were that many medically fixable reasons for people to pick their noses.

        1. BuildMeUp*

          Definitely the flicking, for me! Although I would generally expect someone to have a tissue over the end of their finger if they’re in public, or have a way of quickly cleaning off their finger after. I don’t know, I think part of it is also that they’re choosing to do it when everyone is trapped in an enclosed space with them!

    3. MK*

      I think this is blowing the matter way out of proportion; nose-picking is rarely the result of a medical condition and, even if it is, one can do in the bathroom wither before going to work or after.

      1. Former Diet Coke Addict*

        Yeah, I agree. This is a really basic etiquette thing, there’s no need to involve the smoke screen of asking about doctors and stuff. Saying “Listen, please don’t pick your nose in my car,” is awkward, but this is so kindergarten level etiquette that I don’t think there’s any need to be more involved than that.

      2. The Cosmic Avenger*

        I think this is blowing the matter way out of proportion…

        You’re right. It’s not worth pointing fingers or picking on anybody.

        (There, I think I’ve mined this topic for all the puns I can.)

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose. But you can’t pick your friend’s nose.

      3. Sunflower*

        I agree. Disguesting-ness doesn’t even need to be brought into it.

        ‘Please don’t pick your nose in my car’. Done.

    4. Mrs. Badcrumble*

      I’ll throw my support behind the doctor recommendation, just so I can tell this story: A long time ago, I got a surgical dataset to analyze, comparing two kinds of nasal septum repairs. In the dataset was a comment variable that indicated what had caused the septal injury. In most cases, it was cocaine use, but in one notable case, the comment read: “Mechanical trauma (picking)”. That’s right, this patient had picked a hole clean through their nose. Anyway, I’m not sure this was any way helpful, but apparently there really are intractable nosepickers in the world. (And if I remember correctly, her repair didn’t take because she picked the hole back open).

      1. BuildMeUp*

        Wowwww that is absolutely disgusting! I wonder if the picking was a compulsive behavior. I didn’t even know something like that was possible!

        1. fposte*

          There’s that great Atul Gawande piece called “The Itch” about a woman who scratched so hard at an itch on her head that she dug through to her brain.

          Happy Halloween, everybody! You’re welcome.

  11. mockingbird2081*

    #5: Does your employer know why you are out sick? I don’t feel the employer was trying to be rude/mean/disrespectful in any way. I run a busy doctors office and I know when I am out sick I am going to get a phone call from someone with a question about something password, where a document is, if I handled a situation etc. It doesn’t bother me because my employer is respectful and knows I”m just out with a nasty cold or something similar. However, I know if my boss knew I was out because I was having some anxiety issues he might be less likely to call as he would want to give me space to deal with the issue. I understand why this stressed you out but don’t let it stress you out in the sense that you start thinking your boss is a jerk or the company you work for is awful.

    1. Not me*

      +1, it wasn’t intentional.

      That said, someone doing something upsetting is not a setback in recovery. Learning to cope with something upsetting happening is a large part of recovery. (I have/had a severe anxiety disorder myself, and I mean to say this in a compassionate, encouraging way. This is part of getting better.) Of course, how OP does that is between them and their treatment provider, not them and their boss or an internet stranger like me.

    2. Ama*

      I try whenever I’m out sick to give some estimation of what kind of queries I can handle — “I’ll try to check email this afternoon if anything comes up,” that sort of thing. (YMMV – I prefer email because when I’m ill I sleep a lot, and it also gives my sick/sleep-addled brain the extra time I might need to remember where I might have stored the Spouts file.) I find that just saying “I’ll check email,” reassures bosses/coworkers that I will actually see any urgent email questions at some point in the day and they don’t have to bother me with a text/call.

      Granted, I work at a job where even the most urgent situation usually just needs to be handled by the end of the day and with a reasonable boss and coworker who I can trust to know the difference between a real emergency and “I couldn’t come up with the answer myself in 30 seconds so I’m asking you.”

      1. Ama*

        Oh, and also to add, that if I really *don’t* feel up to checking email, I say “I don’t know that I’m going to be able to check in today.” But again, I understand that some people may not have workplaces that allow for that kind of honesty.

        1. Development professional*

          Yeah, I was thinking this too. Just managing expectations of your availability up front can go a long way. Reasonable employers want you to use your sick time to get better and come back to work, but it’s up to you to communicate clearly what you need to be able to do that.

        2. Stranger than fiction*

          If you’re having to use a sick day, that sucks that you’d have to still answer any email at all.

    3. FJay*

      If I’m sick, I wouldn’t answer the phone anyway AND I wouldn’t let anybody know I’d check emails…that’s what a backup is for.

  12. T*

    I’ve always been under the impression that asking for a cover letter is kind of like asking applicants to dress appropriately for an interview, i.e., it’s something you’re expected to know without being told. So I find it interesting that some industries don’t consider them necessary. I know my organization has chosen to interview people based on their cover letter who might have been put in the reject pile otherwise.

    1. Charityb*

      It depends on the industry. I definitely don’t think cover letters add too much value for entry-level food service positions or retail jobs. Some hiring managers may be turned off because they get so many cover letters that are basically your resume in paragraph form (not particularly useful) so they might not rely on them as much.

  13. Allison*

    #5, yes they’re allowed to call you. Sometimes they need to ask you a question or tell you something important, and if they’re calling you to do work or try to discuss something they want you to work on, you can remind them “I’m off due to an illness right now, I can’t work on that right now, please don’t contact me about work unless it’s absolutely urgent.”

  14. Poohbear McGriddles*

    The word “flicking” in all caps looks like something else entirely this early in the morning.

      1. LBK*

        ..which, in rereading it that way in context, creates an even more disturbing action to be taking in someone’s car. Or at all.

    1. Beezus*

      Muhahaha, reminds me of the second-run theater in my hometown that used to be named “FLICKERS”. If there was ever a sign that needed a serif font, it was that one. They knew what they were doing.

  15. Dr. Pepper Addict*

    OP #3 – Is this an instance where you invited your client out to lunch and you’re also covering the bill? If so, that’s a little presumptuous for her to ask if someone else could tag along, because that’s an extra meal to buy. If this is indeed the case, perhaps saying something like this would work: “My company has only given me approval to cover two meals for this lunch. Sorry about that, but give her my best!”

    1. TootsNYC*

      yeah, this is my reaction: Why is she adding someone to this business lunch? It needs to be a business reason, or she’s pretty rude.

      I like this “my company has only given me approval.”

      Or perhaps the question: “Oh, is Former Coworker going to be working on this project with our company?”
      and maybe even, “I have to give a business reason.”

  16. Elizabeth West*

    I like the way the OP put it in the letter. I’d just say, “I desperately want you to completely and permanently stop this form of personal maintenance while traveling in the carpool!”

  17. Development professional*

    You know what’s funny about cover letters? I was recently involved in the search process for a tough role to fill – lots of responsibility and a fair amount of specialized experience required for comparatively little pay. We saw a wide range of cover letters, some good, some decent, some terrible. We didn’t generally rule anyone out at the first stage based on a poor cover letter alone – if their resume had the experience we were looking for, we moved them on to the phone screen. By the time we got through that first round and were moving people on to in-person interviews, we had ruled out everyone with terrible cover letters for other reasons. And by the time we got to the final round, the candidates all had good cover letters. I noticed this in retrospect, it wasn’t part of the process.

    So, even if you don’t think the letter itself is important or contains useful information, I really think it can be an indicator of a good employee overall *for some jobs* especially those that have communication as a central part.

  18. MousyNon*

    Re: #5, as someone who suffers from anxiety personally, I think this may be one of those situations where you have to take these phone calls as an opportunity to develop strategies to cope. In some companies, you may (within reason) be able to enforce certain boundaries (“I’ll be out tomorrow with no access to email”), and certainly you should set boundaries if the company is abusing the ’emergency call’ privilege (“Bob, the copy paper is in the same closet it’s been since you started here, and this isn’t really an appropriate reason to use my emergency number”) but in no company is that boundary absolute. If they need to get in touch with you, they need to get in touch with you, and you have to find ways to cope with that.

    I know it’s tough. On bad days, when I’m at home, I dread the ‘ding’ of my email, terrified of what I might find there (“oh god, did I forget to do something? did I make a mistake? is my boss mad at me?”) and I just want to bury my head in the sand, but I’ve worked hard to develop coping strategies (for me, deep breaths and “drowning out” the anxious thoughts with music or tv are hugely helpful) so I can square my shoulders and look at my email. It still sucks, and my heart still jumps in my throat, but I no longer let it affect my professional reliability.

    In the meantime, remember that (while arguably all companies should) not all companies DO provide sick time you can use for your condition–that’s a valuable accommodation to have, so make use of it to help move towards a place where a call from your boss won’t set you back to zero. Good luck OP! I know how hard this can be.

  19. RG*

    Honestly, if you don’t make provisions for me to include a cover letter, I assume that you don’t want one. If you require me to submit one, then I’ll do it. But if you just prefer one but don’t require it? I expect to see some provision, in the form of an upload button, or a text box, or instructions to combine it with my resume, or talk myself up in the email I send for my application materials. We’re talking about communication skills – I expect you to be able to communicate how and what application materials to submit.

  20. Lai*

    #4 I work at an organization where our HR system only allows you to upload one document but most managers do care and want cover letters. We usually try to get around it by including instructions in the job posting that say “please include your cover letter and resume as a single document when uploading”.

  21. BananaPants*

    Re: the nose picker. Ew. I’d be direct and if he doesn’t stop doing it, he’s out of the carpool – it’s not like you HAVE to tolerate it.

    The guy who sits across the cube farm aisle from me is known for forcefully clearing his throat and nose of mucus, then expectorating it into his wastebasket. Yeah, he basically loudly hocks loogies into his trashcan. When colleagues have objected to this behavior, he’s explained that in his culture this practice is considered essential for good health because mucus has to be removed from the body, and that blowing the nose or sniffing is not healthy. He feels that anyone who speaks to him about it is disrespecting his culture; he claims this is common in his home country but other coworkers from the same country/culture disagree. One of them told him not to do it at his desk anymore because it’s considered extremely rude here in North America, so now he sometimes walks the 10 feet into the floor’s kitchenette to do it! It echoes in there so the noise is almost worse and he uses the kitchenette trash like a freaking spittoon – NO ONE will use the kitchenette when his allergies are acting up or he has a cold. I also feel bad for our cleaning contractor who has to change out the trash bags in the wastebaskets.

    I’ve given up hope of him stopping. If I have another baby and suffer from severe nausea again, it WILL result in me going to HR again to insist that one of us be relocated.

  22. Blight*

    #5: If your boss is not aware of your condition you should lightly inform them. Just let them know that when you see the phone call that it distresses you and it only worsens your attack and potentially extends your sick time.

    Most people would NEVER think that a simple phone call could create such a dramatic event in your day as most wouldn’t give it a second thought. We have a similar situation with an anxiety ridden employee, we didn’t realize the small things we did were torturous to her. By knowing they’ll be able to adapt and restrain from calling you unless absolutely necessary, or they could instead email/text you so that you know what they need without needing to reasons on the spot.

    1. Green*

      I would think about it pretty seriously before informing your boss of a mental health condition, particularly if you haven’t determined whether it is covered by FMLA or ADA. If you only need to take off occasionally for mental health issues, the better approach is to ignore the call and just say “Oh, I’m sorry, I wasn’t feeling well. What can I help you with now?” if they ask why you didn’t answer.

  23. Anx*

    The comments here raised an interesting point to me that come employers just expect them whether they are requested or not or even if there’s not an obvious spot for them. I think this is probably a hold over from people who applied to their jobs before the company switched systems or who have applied to jobs by submitting their resume to an ad or work in industries/regions where that’s still common. When you respond to an ad, I feel like the cover letter has two roles: it accompanies your resume and declares your interest in a job, starting a conversation and it of course is expresses your qualifications. When you apply through certain systems, you don’t really need to introduce yourself or resume the same way. It still has a role, but in a system where you click to apply and are prompted to answer the questions or fill in the fields asked of you, it makes perfect sense to me why someone wouldn’t include a cover letter. Also, many times these systems have a field asking you explain why you’re interested or if you have any other points. The tone would be different from a cover letter, but I can see why it would seem redundant to include one for some applicants.

    Personally, I am just so, so thankful that I applied my job before they switched to a standard ATS, and that I dropped off a cover letter and resume (it wasn’t completely out of the blue). I don’t think I would have gotten my job without a more tailored resume and a cover letter. I don’t think I could get my job today if I had to apply strictly online through their application system.

  24. nose how to pick em*

    I’m a nose picker. It’s a horrible habit, and I know some people are really grossed out by it. I do it without even thinking. I try really hard to not do it in public. If someone mentioned it, I would be vigilant about not doing it ever again around that person. It doesn’t have to be a big thing.

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