birthday cards at work, calling hiring managers before applying for a job, and more

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

1. Birthday cards at work

I work in a small nonprofit/event management practice of about 12 people. Whenever a staff member’s birthday comes up, it is my job to order their favorite dessert, pick out a birthday card for the entire staff to sign, and choose a time for the staff to “celebrate” in the conference room as we eat cake, cookies, etc. together.

While no one objects to the practice of eating sweets and hanging out, the office is clearly divided on the birthday card. Half of our employees hate signing and receiving cards. The other half still wants to do it. For the time being, I have made a mental note of those people who don’t wish to participate and do not approach them about signing a card and do not get them a card. Personally, I am all for doing away with the whole birthday card thing because it seems kind of silly and not all that meaningful. My immediate boss is on the pro birthday card team which is why I can’t really discontinue this process. I would love to find out if you have any thoughts or recommendations on how I can better handle this issue.

Eh, some offices like it and some offices don’t. Coordinating it for the half of the office that does want to participate and not forcing it on the half that doesn’t seems like the right compromise, so it sounds like you’ve ended up in a sensible compromise. I don’t think there’s anything you should be doing differently.

If your office was forcing birthday celebrations on people who didn’t want them or pressuring people to spend their own money on cards and gifts, that would be different. But circulating a card to half a dozen people six times a year and putting some company-purchased food in the break room for people to share seems pretty inoffensive.

2. Calling hiring managers before applying for a job

I am applying for jobs. Most often, there is a contact number and email to call the hiring manager to discuss the role. Until now, I have had great discussions regarding the jobs when I call. Recently, I called and emailed two different hiring managers (they are not in HR, but would be my direct line manager) several times over the past week, and they have not replied or contacted me. I think this is really rude, and am not sure if I want to apply for the roles anymore. To me, it sounds very disorganized and maybe they already have someone in mind for the role. What are your thoughts? Also, say if I end up applying and getting an interview/offered the job, how can I address this issue?

Wait, you’re saying that normally you call hiring managers and discuss the job before you’ve even applied, and they’re fine with that? I’m guessing you’re not in the U.S. or you’re in a very niche industry, because it normally doesn’t work like that. Normally hiring managers want to you to apply first so that they can decide whether they’re interested in spending time talking with you — although as you become increasingly senior, that lessens a bit; at more senior levels, hiring managers are often more willing to talk to people before they’ve applied, although even then, it’s still pretty common for them to choose not to.

All of which means: Don’t be put off by the ones who didn’t get back to you, because it’s incredibly normal in most contexts, and definitely don’t raise it later in the process as a problem you want to address. And definitely don’t try contact them more than once (and frankly, probably not at all if you’re in the U.S., unless you’re in some rare field where this is a thing that’s done).

3. Suggesting that a reference checker contact HR instead of my current manager

Instead of saying “no” to a prospective employer asking to contact your current “supervisor,” what about recommending that they contact the Human Resource department instead? Is this a good alternative?

Not really. Good reference checkers want to talk to the people who managed you, because managers can speak to the quality of your work in a way that HR can’t. HR can really just speak to basic facts, like your title and dates of employment. Plus, if you’re trying to prevent an employer from talking to your current manager, directing them to HR instead doesn’t guarantee they won’t make their way to your manager eventually. If you don’t want them talking to your current manager — and that’s a very reasonable thing to say, since it can jeopardize your current job — just say no, and explain that your current employer doesn’t know that you’re looking.

4. Coworker makes racist and violent comments about our callers

I have been at my current position for just about two years. I have a coworker who is responsible for answering incoming calls and answering questions. After these calls, she normally groans loudly and complains about whoever she just spoke with, with complaints varying from disparaging remarks about their supposed ethnicity to “being a bitch” to apparent lack of intelligence based on their questions.

However, occasionally she makes violent remarks like, “I just want to hurt them.” Today, she said, “I wish I could shoot him in the head.” She has also mentioned things like “I want to stab him between the ribs,” “stab her in the throat,” “punch him in the throat,” and various other violent fantasies.

My cubicle is right next to hers, and she says all of this loudly enough for anyone and everyone to hear. It makes me extremely uncomfortable. Frankly, I don’t want to confront her directly since those comments would then be turned toward me. What should I do?

Talk to your manager, immediately. Tell her that when your coworker gets off of calls, she regularly makes offensive racist comments about the person she was talking to, insults them in rude and vulgar ways, and talks about violence. Tell your manager that you’re uncomfortable with these remarks and want them to stop, but that your coworker’s violent language makes you unwilling to ask her directly to stop. Ask your manager to intervene.

Any halfway decent manager will take care of this immediately. If she doesn’t, you should go to HR and have the same conversation with them.

5. Applying for a job with an organization that does similar work to the nonprofit I started

I have a conundrum. I have been a director of finance for two different social service agencies over the past 12 years. I have also started a nonprofit devoted to hunger issues (not related to the agency I work for now.) I am the volunteer executive director.

I am not happy in my current paid role and have been looking around. Lo and behold, an associate executive director position has been posted for the food bank in my town. I want to apply. Will it do more harm than good to mention the nonprofit I volunteer for? On the positive side, it is aligned with the mission of the food bank and shows I have a passion for their mission. On the negative side, it could/would be perceived as a conflict of interest. I would most certainly not continue the volunteer executive gig should I get the job (unless I can somehow combine the two).

It should be fine to mention it as long as you’re really, really clear that you’d end that work were they to hire you, because yes, they’d almost certainly perceive it as a conflict of interest.

You’d also want to be prepared to answer questions about why you thought it best to start a new organization rather working with existing organizations doing the same work. (This can be a source of frustration for nonprofits, since new organizations doing the same work often end up duplicating efforts, dividing funding, and spreading the overall pool of resources too thinly, and it can sometimes seem motivated more by “I want to be in charge” than “I want to advance X mission.” I’m not saying that’s the case with you — I obviously have no idea — but you’d want to be prepared to talk about that subject.)

{ 242 comments… read them below }

  1. Blerp*

    I’m not sure if I read #2 wrong but are they emailing and calling those people several times a week and are concerned they aren’t getting a response? Because if that’s the case it seems like a little overboard on contact. If contacting managers prior to applying was normal wouldn’t that still be a lot?

    1. Cambridge Comma*

      I think if the OP has left a number of voicemails for the hiring manager(s), they have probably scuppered their chances of getting an interview.

      1. Monique*

        Yeah… I’m not sure there’s even much point in applying at this point, even if the OP decides that he wants to after all.

    2. UKAnon*

      This. At this stage if I were the hiring manager I’d be more concerned about being stalked than thinking you were the most wonderful, dedicated and talented candidate who could apply.

    3. hbc*

      Called *and* emailed several times in *one* week. I have important issues with coworkers and customers that might take me longer than a week to address. Even if I had every intention of reaching out eventually, if I got that second contact within 5 business days, they’d be round canned unless there was some explanation about the unusual need for urgency.

    4. BRR*

      I read it as they called and emailed each hiring manager multiple times during one week. I think doing it at all before you’ve applied is “a lot” so I’m not sure if doing it multiple times is too much.

      But to the LW, they might have not gotten back to you because you called and email multiple times.

    5. AnotherFed*

      It is WAY overboard on contact. One email would be okay if there was a significant conflict or hole on the posting, like conflicting education requirements, but even one phone call would be pretty irritating – the job posting might be the potential candidate’s priority, but it probably is not very high on the hiring manager’s priority list, and doesn’t warrant catching them on the phone.

    6. Ad Astra*

      I’m surprised OP has ever received a positive response from this tactic, but it makes sense that she’d continue behaving this way if it got her the desired results in the past. Sorry, OP, but your past experience isn’t typical; most hiring managers will call you if they want to talk to you.

      1. A is for A*

        But she still hasn’t been hired… maybe she thinks it’s going well, but it’s probably not.

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          I know if someone called me about a role, and caught me unaware, we would have a pleasant conversation where I would answer their questions…but it wouldn’t be because I was happy about the phone call or excited about a candidate reaching out.

          I think A is for A is right and the candidate may be mistaking politeness for success.

          1. Anonymous Educator*

            You’re much nicer than I am. I’d say that I wasn’t expecting the call and ask the person to apply with a cover letter and résumé if interested in the position.

    7. Green*

      Some companies offer the phone number or non-online mechanism of contact so that people can call if they need ADA accommodations in the application process.

      In my industry at least, I would never ever call before applying unless I was VP level or above (large company).

        1. Charityb*

          I don’t know if it’s really a VP thing, but I think that there are a lot of situations where someone might need to inquire more details about a job before even taking the time to apply. If the hiring process is itself protracted and energy-intensive (like an executive recruitment search for example), someone might not want to even bother starting the process if the compensation package is too small for example.

          There are a lot of businesses that are really cagey with details about their postings for whatever reason — they don’t put the salary, they don’t put the location or they put a really vague/meaningless descriptor like (“D.C. Metro area”), etc. If you have some leverage (such as a VP) as a candidate you might be more able to get some real answers about exactly where you’ll be working whereas other applicants might have to just accept not knowing.

          1. CEMgr*

            For my level of role and field, it’s very normal for the successful candidate to have pre-application conversations with a hiring manager or recruiter. I’d go so far as to say it’s been the norm for me and people I know in similar roles (Silicon Valley, well into 6 figures, mid-career team leader developing consumer electronics products). Probably related to the extensive networking people do and the fact that these roles are heavily recruited for (in addition to being heavily applied for). I took a new role 6 months ago, and filling out the actual online application was not until about 3/4 of the way into the process, after I’d spent perhaps 8 total hours in phone calls and F2F interviews.

            1. Honeybee*

              In my role it’s pretty common too. In fact, we’re currently “recruiting” even though we don’t have any open positions. It’s a hard-to-fill role, so we like to contact people when they’re still in graduate school and gauge interest early so we have some contacts to go back to when it’s time. I actually had a pre-interview conference call with my manager’s manager about the role and what it entailed before I entered the full process.

      1. Green*

        For me it would be a largely needing to meet some pretty specific basics before even considering a jump, and with executive level jobs those things can vary wildly. Meanwhile, the company would presumably have a much greater interest in getting the right executive in the role and would be more willing to invest in an up-front discussion prior to filling out an automated form.

  2. Bee Eye LL*

    #1 – We used to do a birthday club at my old job where everyone would kick in like 5 bucks (there were only 5 of us) and get a cake and card for somebody on their birthday. One lady waited until her own birthday had passed, then decided she didn’t want to do it any more and killed the whole thing. Then the next year she suggested bringing it back…shortly before her birthday. We never did it again. :(

    1. JessaB*

      We had a thing like that where I worked, but because there was a credit union on the property that served the residents and employees (it was literally a one building thing, it was not a national place, I worked for a state institution before they started doing away with them in exchange for putting residents in group homes,) there was an account there and two managers of different departments had to sign to get money out but everyone put in like 2 bucks a month into the pot then they bought a gift and a cake from it and did potlatch for the food.

      Nobody had to join if they didn’t want to and if someone bailed after their birthday they were not invited back but the amount in the fund was usually sufficient to cover people that came after them. It had been going on for years and there was probably somewhere around 150 bucks more than they used vs the people paying in so there was a cushion against greedy flakes.

      It seriously did not look good on you though if you only paid through your own party. And whilst it probably didn’t cost anyone promotions or anything, if you were other personnel services (temporary) you might not get hired permanent because you looked like a louse that nobody could trust.

      1. FiveWheels*

        It’s standard here that you bring in treats on your birthday. There’s enough people that most weeks there’s a birthday. If you like that sort of thing you can spend a lot making sure you have top notch treats, but if you don’t a few bags of sweets are cool.

    2. snuck*

      If it’s just a card and the office is springing for it out of petty cash (because come on… it’s a few bucks.. and I assume the cake and cookies are business paid for?) then why won’t they sign?

      Regardless of who pays for it… why not just send a generic email to the whole lot of them (after all it’s only 10 others, plus you and the birthday person right?) and say something like “Jimmy Bob’s birthday is next week, please swing past my desk if you want to sign the card – it’s in my in tray, and if you want to make a contribution then pop it in the envelope” and see what happens.

      Personally I don’t hold the idea of cards being so special that only those who pay money can sign them, I see them as a personal way to mark a person’s birthday that the team who spends eight hours a day together can join in on – so anyone can sign the card (which is provided if I get my way out of petty cash, or I’ll pay myself – but that’s how I roll) and if people want to put in for a present then that’s their call. If it’s a pot luck or a pay for attending a morning tea then… that can be known.

      1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

        I don’t think for the OP the problem is who’s paying (it sounds like it comes out of petty cash – or if not then people are still clearly willing to pay for treats, so it won’t be making a huge difference to the budget) so while I can see wanting to compromise and not approaching people who’ve made it clear they aren’t interested, it also seem weirdly… hostile not to. If I was starting there and only half the office signed my card, I’d wonder what I’d done to upset the other half.

        1. President Bill Clinton*

          At our office, we have had people sign fake celebrity names. Bill Clinton always signs. Once, we were able to get Socks the First Cat to sign.

          1. BRR*

            Ooh that sounds fun. And I’m a no card person (Brainstorming, I wonder if Alison could create a polling feature like “do you like birthday cards from coworkers”).

        2. snuck*

          I agree… it’s weird to not sign the card – especially in a 12 person office. You’d notice pretty darn quick.

          Also someone might not want to receive cards but is happy to sign them. Or might only want to sign them for ?the people who wear black shoes and never the people who wear brown shoes? … the OP might not know the criteria, or who is feeling friendly or whatever to someone else.

          Easier to just tell everyone where it is, let them work out their own level of priority to it, if on the morning of the cake you see only one person has made it to your desk to sign send out a quick follow up to remind people… and even have people signing it in the background while the candles are being carved up and the cake splattered.

        3. CEMgr*

          Yeah really. How exactly does one decline to sign a birthday card for a coworker? “I’m not signing that thing…..not after what HE did..!” ???

      2. TootsNYC*

        We had a guy in our office who had a stamp made that said:

        Warmest Personal Regards, Will

        And he used it to stamp every single greeting card. It was hysterical. I’m really not sure that most people got the joke, but I sure did.

        1. CEMgr*

          Wow, he went to a fair degree of trouble to make the point that he didn’t really care. I wonder why?

    3. BRR*

      At my past job we celebrated birthdays at monthly team meetings. No need to arrange special times to get together and we got food to get through the meeting. The only problem was we didn’t have enough people to have food at every meeting. The meetings without food were rough. I felt like Elaine in Seinfeld without my 3:00 sugar rush.

      1. KR*

        “food to get through the meeting”.

        In a small, completely part time team of public access government camera operators, we surprised everyone with pizza and cupcakes for our end-of-summer meeting and it was a big hit. It will definitely be a more frequent addition in the coming meetings and the fact that we were all sitting there munching pizza meant we talked a lot more about ideas we wanted to film.

        1. BRR*

          My team meeting was also an hour and a half so food was especially important (it needed to be that long).

    4. Nervous Accountant*

      I just don’t understand what is so offensive about a birthday card?

      At my company, they used to do individual birthdays. But then upper management completely forbid b-days for a while because there were so many going on seemingly every other day. The company downsized and individual birthdays started happening again slowly. Right before my birthday, they put a brand new policy in place, that all staff birthdays are celebrated once a month. The company pays for the cake and card, and everyone else pitches in for the gift cards for the birhtday people. A folder is passed around with the envelopes, and a column that says “paid/will pay”…. I don’t think anyone is pressured/forced to give in when they dont’ want to.

      1. Ad Astra*

        There are some people who don’t celebrate birthdays for religious reasons, but in my experience they’re very good about making that clear and politely declining to participate in birthday festivities. Beyond that, I can’t think of why a birthday card would bother someone.

        1. Natalie*

          It mildly bothers me at my office because somehow it became standard to write a fairly long personal greeting, and I just don’t know my coworkers well enough to say anything beyond “happy birthday”. That said, it doesn’t bother me enough to boycott the cards, I just wish we could switch over to signing our names only.

          1. TootsNYC*

            Why can’t you? Just sign your name; nobody’s going to come after you. And if you aren’t that close, the coworker won’t care.

            You can reject the “keep up with the Joneses” mentality if you want.

        2. Lily in NYC*

          I absolutely despise celebrating anyone’s bday at work, my own included. I have no reasons other than I don’t give a crap about birthdays and I think they should be celebrated outside of work. I don’t want to sign a card, I don’t want to chip in for cake, I don’t want to have to go to a conference room and sit around looking at a bunch of awkward people trying to make conversation.
          But there is no way to say it at work without being seen like the weirdo party-pooper.

          1. coyote_fan*

            I don’t think I’ve ever been in a job where I wasn’t able to make conversation with my coworkers that wasn’t awkward. Whether it was by the coffee machine, over a cube wall, at a babyshower/birthday celebration, etc. If I worked at a job where everyone felt uncomfortable talking to one another, I wouldn’t be in that job too long. It makes the day go by slower when you can’t take 5 minutes to chat about life/weather/sports with coworkers.

        3. pony tailed wonder*

          I have worked with people who do not like to be thought of as older and one person whose religion did not celebrate birthdays. We coped by wishing them a good day.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        We didn’t have pay things at Exjob. The company kept a stock of cards on hand for birthdays and work anniversaries, and whenever someone had a birthday that month, I’d pick out a card for them and pass it through a round robin (avoiding the birthday person) for everyone to sign. This was in the office, mind you. At quarterly meetings, the company had a cake and they read people’s birthdays out loud. It was my job to order and pick up the cake. Sometimes I got cupcakes. :)

        For everyone, I sent out an email that said, “Happy birthday, Bob!” or whoever, and I would go online and find a picture of a cake to post in the email. For shop personnel, I printed it out and posted it on the board in the break room. The funny side was I got to pick out my own card and birthday cake picture–invariably Batman-related, LOL. We had a couple of people who asked me not to email their birthdays. I would leave them off the announcement list too, if they wanted. I knew them all because I had to maintain the employee list.

        I think everybody would have been pissed off if they charged us for that. It was something the company initiated. I got paid to do it as part of my job responsibilities.

    5. Ad Astra*

      What? If you want treats at the office for your birthday, bring in treats.

      My office does cards for everyone on our floor, and has a system to make sure everyone signs each card. It doesn’t seem like the best use of money or the admin’s time, but I can live with it because it recognizes everyone’s birthday and it doesn’t cost me any money or much of my own time.

      The only time we collect money is when a few people want to go in on some catering for our occasional potlucks instead of actually making something (and you do have the option of not participating in the potluck at all).

      1. Lily in NYC*

        But does anyone think to ask the admin how s/he feels about having to do this all the time? I think that the duties should be spread around and everyone has to take their turn. This was my least favorite part of being an admin (it’s not my responsibility here but people who are junior to me still ask me to “go get a card and cake” for various coworkers and I just look at them blankly and say no).

        1. Oryx*

          Except what if someone forgets and that birthday person doesn’t get recognized?

          It’s petty, obviously, but at ExJob, managers handled birthdays. Which worked well until managers started playing favorites and in the three years I was there, my birthday went unnoticed while other people got cake and ice cream and a big group singing happy birthday every single year. But how do you complain about that as a 30 year old professional adult without sounding petulant?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I think the key would be to make it not about you, while still slipping the info in there. Like this: “Hey, I think we might need a better system for celebrating birthdays. I think we’re doing it for some people but not others. Mine was last week and was skipped, and it’s not a big deal, but in case I’m not the only one, I thought I should flag it that our system might be causing hurt feelings at some point.”

        2. Ad Astra*

          At our office, the admins are also in charge of cleaning out the fridge, wrapping up leftovers from catered meetings, washing the dishes, keeping our plastic spooks and forks stocked, etc. It makes more sense for us to have the admin handle birthday cards (she’s got a spreadsheet and a company credit card to buy the birthday cards) than to spread that job across the 50 or so people on the floor. If she doesn’t want to be in charge of birthday cards, I’d feel just fine about no longer doing birthday cards — but I’m not really willing to handle them myself.

    6. lfi*

      so at my old job my boss would get dessert/a card for everyone… except me. :(

      womp womp. oh well, guess i gotta get over it and that’s why i’m at new job.

    7. Anna A*

      I once worked in an office that celebrated birthdays a little differently. If it was your birthday and you wanted to celebrate with the office, then you would bring in the treat of your choice (cake, cookies, doughnuts, etc.) This way, if someone didn’t wish to participate, it wasn’t forced on them.

  3. Artemesia*

    #1 When I was hiring we would have a couple of hundred applicants for the jobs we posted. I had an actual job to do — hiring was not my full time gig — It would be absurd to have to speak with 200 people about the role much less 200 plus those who are ‘thinking about applying.’ I talked with people when I chose to do the phone screen; we usually talked with about 10 of the strongest candidates. I really didn’t want to talk with those we had not put in our final pool and would have though it quite rude for a potential candidate to call ‘several times’.

    1. Felicia*

      +1. Last time we (only) got 100 applicants but if they had all called it would have been horrible. Most listings I see say no phone calls for a good reason. Ours didn’t because we assumed on one would call, because who does that? We did receive one phone call, and had she not called to “discuss the position” she may have gotten a phone screen. I had far too much more important things to do, which is why we were hiring someone else. That call is what got her into the no way pile.

    2. Blurgle*

      Back in the day when they did this in Canada, I remember calling only once: when an ad called for three years experience with an operating system that had been released six months earlier.

      1. Lindsay J*

        See, I always assumed those were the types of things the phone number was provided to ask about. Or things like “When I click the link to the application it takes me to a 404 page not found error.” It would never occur to me to call and expect to have a nice chat about the position.

      2. Lynn Whitehat*

        That’s probably not the kind of thing they intended to be called about, but they completely have it coming. So many job postings are poorly thought out. Fielding 200 phone calls asking how anyone can have 5 years experience with Windows 10 is your punishment for letting that be published. Next time you’ll think things through a little better, and only have requirements that are physically possible.

  4. Carrie in Scotland*

    #2 – In UK, I have seen job adverts that have “If you wish to discuss in further detail please email/call Apollo” although I have never felt the need to do it. Personally, I have always found the job description more than enough.

    You say that you have called several times. STEP AWAY FROM THE PHONE. You risk your application being flagged up & not in a positive way.

    Just because the ad says you can call doesn’t mean you will come off any worse than someone who did, it’ll be your application/cover letter that shows you’re a candidate worth speaking to.

    1. Marzipan*

      Yes, I was going to say that it’s common in the UK for a contact to be listed.

      That said, a word to potential applicants: just because someone is listed, that doesn’t mean you *need* to contact them. You will not ‘stand out’ by doing so. By all means, call if you actually have a specific question or need to clarify some aspect of the job in order to know whether it’s worth everyone’s time for you to apply, but don’t call just for the sake of it in the belief that this will create some sort of connection that will benefit you when they come to read your application. A colleague of mine, a week or so ago, had to return 20+ calls of this nature in ONE afternoon, and it made no difference to those people’s eventual chances of success. It did, however, have a significant impact on my colleague’s afternoon!

      1. Ad Astra*

        It’s not totally unusual to see contact info listed in the U.S., but I had always assumed that was just in case there was some issue with your application, and so you’d know how to address your cover letter. Many of the companies (community newspapers) I’ve applied to will ask you to send materials directly to the hiring manager, but even then they’re not expecting multiple calls about the nature of the job.

        1. AVP*

          The job board that I use for hiring makes you put in a contact name – I think more to prevent spam, and so they can hold you accountable if you try to suggest something illegal (like paying under the table or below minimum wage). It is a little odd because the company name plus my name means that you can google and find my office number and generally there will be at least one persistent caller per posting. I’ve had to train the people who answer the phones to say, strongly, “I’m sorry, but we are not taking calls related to this posting, please email AVP if you have any important questions.”

        2. OhNo*

          As someone mentioned above, it is also often used so you have a contact point if you need accommodation under the ADA for the hiring process. I’ve seen some job postings that indicated that was the only reason to contact the person listed (e.g. “If you require accommodation, contact X”).

          Man, I really hope that whoever OP#2 has been calling multiple times isn’t the ADA contact person, because boy would that get old in an awful hurry.

      1. snuck*

        Yup. Coming to say this – common in Oz.

        But… if you’ve rung several times and they’ve not replied… it means they are either too busy, or not interested (in your, or the advertised vacancy) enough to reply.

        There’s a good chance that they are fielding a lot of calls about the job from a lot of people and they probably also have to do their own job on top of this. It likely means they are swamped, and while you might have a good chat with them if you catch them at the right moment it doesn’t beat anyone else when it comes to interview and panel approval time (and I assume these are panel interview type jobs if they have a contact, HR dept etc).

        Why are you ringing? If it’s to ‘put yourself in their mind’ then I’d knock it off – all you are doing is chewing up their valuable time. While some might remember you, many might remember you as ‘that guy who rang three times and then I couldn’t politely get out of the call with them’ or more benignly, but not much more usefully as ‘the guy who was nice on the phone’. Neither is going to get you an interview. (Speaking from experience here.)

        If you have a genuine question about the work conditions specific to that work group (not something you can find out in any other way) then ring, but if it’s to clarify something obvious in the job application pack (like qualifications required or specific skills) or obvious in your industry (ie if you are applying for a professional role the certification process for that profession and ongoing personal development), then work it out yourself, otherwise you look like someone who doesn’t have the nouse to work it out yourself. Or a person who is a time waster.

    2. Cambridge Comma*

      In careers lessons at school in the UK in the 90s, we were given the advice to contact the company (or University when applying to UCAS) before sending the application with some kind of intelligent question to ‘make your name stand out when they see it on your CV’.
      I wonder how widespread this bad advice was.

      1. Snargulfuss*

        The thing is, I JUST attended a panel discussion where the panelists were internal recruiters and 2 of the 3 recommended that students reach out to let the recruiter know the student was applying for the job. Granted this is a tiny sample size, but it just goes to show that although the majority of recruiters and hiring managers don’t want to be contacted, some do. Also, college recruiting is very different from experienced job searching in some key ways, so I can’t entirely fault young job seekers for doing things like calling and emailing to follow-up after submitting an application.

      2. Rebeck*

        I got that advice a lot. (Australia, late 90s). It’s still n my head as a ‘thing to do, although I don’t because I hate calling strangers.)

    3. Ruth*

      I’m from the UK and came to say the same thing. I always see it on adverts for jobs at universities, so it could possibly be a requirement that universities put it. It’s quite normal to be able to ring to discuss a job here, my mum, who works at a university, even suggested it once when I was applying for job to check if it was right for me. (Nothing too lengthy; just clarifying a few things such as would the position be part of a team etc.)

    4. Another UK poster...*

      Also from the UK and have been on the hiring end of such calls. They are highly irritating, especially as the majority of questions asked are clearly outlined in the job description. I had one particularly persistent applicant who called repeatedly and insisted on only speaking to me (because a mutual acquaintance had given her my details) even though another colleague was actually the hiring manager for that particular role. Having eventually discovered, from one of my colleagues who was sick of her calls, that I was on holiday, she called me at 9am on the morning that I got back into the office! And also emailed… When she finally got through to me, I was able to answer every single question she asked with ‘That information is in the job description’. Needless to say, she got blacklisted.

      1. Lindsay J*

        Ugh, I had someone like that in front of me at Luby’s (cafeteria style restaurant) today. All the entree options were clearly labeled. She pointed at each one of them and asked what it was. (And it wasn’t a reading or language barrier issue – she had a coupon with her that she could read fine). I admired the employee’s patience in calmly and pleasantly telling the woman what each thing was. I was getting impatient just standing behind her, and I don’t know if I could have resisted an “As it says on the *label*, that’s the chicken pot pie.”

    5. Apollo Warbucks*

      I don’t know why but whenever I’ve seen contact details I’ve always thought they were for an external recruiter not the hiring manager, but I can’t think of a time I’ve ever called to talk about a job before or after applying.

      1. Elise*

        In Finland we usually add a line to the end of the posting with contact details and when their time is available. Something like:
        For further information please contact Risto Räppäjä, VP Title, phone +358 111 222 333
        on Friday 23.10.15 at 10.00-11.00 (EET) or Thursday 29.10.15 at 10.00-11.00 (EET) or Monday 2.11.15 at 10.00-11.00 (EET).

      2. Elizabeth West*

        I’ve only called when something was unclear–not something in the job description, but something about contact details or a problem with online applications. If I have a question about the job description, I can ask it during the interview. If I didn’t get one, then I didn’t have to worry about it!

    6. Ana*

      I came to post the same thing; I’m in the UK and see this all the time. In my field as well the ‘invitation’ to call is always worded quite positively, I often see things like “interested applicants are welcome/invited to ring Suzy Q for an informal conversation about the position”. I’ve never done it because I’ve not felt it necessary, though, and I’m not sure what such a conversation would entail. And even IF the posting said that, I agree that multiple attempts to contact is quite over the top.

  5. Marzipan*

    #1, I would personally draw a distinction between receiving a card and signing one. I don’t especially care about celebrating my own birthday, but signing someone else’s card takes like three seconds and is a nice gesture, so (in the absence of some financial implication like a collection for a gift) I’m not clear on why people would ever strongly object to that, unless the two things (celebrating one’s own birthday, and the concept of birthdays in general) are getting muddied together such that people feel they can’t object to the one without stepping back from the other.

    Also, am I understanding correctly that you also don’t get cake on the no-card people’s birthdays (which makes sense to me), or are you literally saying they want cake but just don’t want the card (which, not so much)?

    Also-also, I would be a bit concerned that the ‘mental note’ system could go wrong if you’ve incorrectly inferred that someone doesn’t want their birthday celebrated when in fact they do.

    I’d suggest slightly formalising whether each person’s birthday is celebrated. If someone opts in, they get a card (signed by everyone), and a cake party (open to all, where the cost is either met by the busines if they’re heavily pro-birthday, or where the person whose birthday it is brings in the cake themselves since they want to celebrate). If people opt out, no card, no cake, no fuss. Putting the emphasis on whether each individual wants to celebrate removes any weirdness for people who don’t want to, dodges any financial implications for people who can’t afford to contribute to others’ celebrations, and gives people who enjoy the birthday spotlight the opportunity to occupy it.

    1. Shan*

      I agree! I can definitely understand if people don’t want to celebrate their own birthdays, but OP says nobody objects to the sweets, but half the people object to signing/receiving the birthday card. That’s the weirdest thing to me. The card is less personal and takes way less time than hanging out and eating sweets, so why is that the activity that’s hated by staff? I really don’t understand why it’s a big deal. I wouldn’t force someone to sign a card for someone else, but as someone mentioned above, it seems unnecessarily hostile to refuse to do it (unless it was because of their religion, but there’s very few that don’t celebrate birthdays.) The only reason I could see them objecting is if it’s inconvenient, but as you said, that could be solved with a simple email letting people know to stop at Jane’s desk to sign a card.

      1. TootsNYC*

        Well, people may not object to the sweet so much because they figure, “hey, at least everybody else gets to eat cake, even if I don’t really like being focused on.”

  6. Merry and Bright*

    If it were organised fun or enforced jollity people objected to, I would be with them all the way. Someone people don’t mark birthdays or participate for faith reasons though even then they will often wish the person a happy day. But apart from that, even if the birthday person isn’t your favourite person in the office, why not just write “Happy Birthday from Fergus”? Will it hurt you? Just be a civilised adult. Think how these statements might look against you. That’s not so much the reason you should sign, but you can soon get a reputation for being the office jerk if you keep doing stuff like this.

    1. INTP*

      I’m wondering if the cards are being handled in a way that makes them seem burdensome to some of the employees. Like, is this a 50 person company and everyone is asked to sign every card instead of dividing it by teams? I could see getting birthday fatigue if it happens weekly. Or is OP going up to each person individually with the card and they feel like they have to sign it right then no matter what they’re working on? I just think an unwillingness to even be asked to sign the card – by several people, it seems – is odd enough that it’s a cue to maybe tone down the birthdays. Maybe an opt-in system with the cards, like send out an email that says “Percival’s card will be at my desk, please stop by my desk if you want to sign,” would be less burdensome to both OP and the employees.

      1. Ordinary World*

        This was an issue at OldJob, and much of the ill will had to do with the unusually highly-organised and extremely pushy system to get signatures, handled by otherwise slip-shod staff who were somehow always “too busy” to do their actual jobs.

        And many of the people who didn’t want the cards were quite frankly just irritated by the waste of it. Here’s an impersonal card, hurriedly signed by a bunch of people who are crazy-stressed and would like to go one single week without a high-priority “HAVE YOU SIGNED THE CARD?!!” email. Try not to throw it away on the very same day you get it, and be sure not to ever throw it away at work, because someone will notice it in the waste bin and call you out in front of the other festivities-driven crew, and there will then be an impromptu matinee of Why Don’t You Like Your Card theater.

        Sorry, just still recovering from that place. I’m with a few of the commenters here: birthdays should be on the person having them. They decide what, if anything, happens, and that way, everyone gets what they want.

    2. LBK*

      Yeah, this whole thing is so weird – there’s people who don’t like taking literally 3 seconds to write something on a card? Are these adults? I have to imagine there’s something more intense than just a card involved here, because I can’t see how on earth this is something even worth discussing.

      1. Shan*

        I agree, it seems odd. I can understand some people not wanting to celebrate their own birthdays, but OP said it’s just the card that people object to, not the cake or celebrating. Weird, since a card is far less time consuming and less personal. I’m thinking that it’s possible the way the cards are signed is inconvenient for people, which is really what’s hated, not the card itself.

      2. MashaKasha*

        Joining the “confused out of my mind” club. At OldJob, we had one coworker who was always up in people’s business, had everyone’s birthdays on her calendar and was always up to date on everyone’s other life events, always passing cards around, etc. I didn’t want to receive her cards. So I kept her completely in the dark about my life events (I’m guessing my boss was on my side in this, because I once came back from bereavement leave dreading a card, and no card ever showed up, yay), and did not respond to her multiple requests to tell or email her when my birthday was. Problem solved. As for signing other people’s cards, I too do not understand what the issue is. If signing someone’s birthday card is the most unpleasant thing these folks ever have to do during their workday, I’d say they have a pretty neat job and I’d like to trade places with them. Just scribble something on a card, pass it on, and forget all about it.

      3. no cards*

        We stopped doing cards when the organization reached about 40 people. It worked when we were smaller. But the nature of our work and volume of other things being passed around made signing cards kind of inconvenient. Yeah, only a few seconds to sign, but often a large amount of time figuring out who to pass the card to next. The assistants were spending increasing amounts of time running down cards and shoving them under people’s noses to sign in time.

        We still celebrate birthdays, but we celebrate them at the nearest “all-hands” meeting. Sometimes there is only one birthday, sometimes multiple. Birthday people get their choice of a treat, which the organization pays for and one of the assistants purchases. Everyone prefers this more-personal celebration of birthdays than receiving cards.

        1. MashaKasha*

          We did this at OldJob! It worked great! We’d do a birthday celebration once a month for everyone who had birthdays in that month. The admin assistant would schedule 15 minutes on everyone’s calendars, everyone would emerge out of their cubes and sing “Happy Birthday, dear Tywin, Cersei, Jaime, Joffrey-Myrcella-and-Tommen, happy birthday to you.” Everyone would get cake and go back to work. There may have been individual cards, though. Don’t remember.

  7. Merry and Bright*

    I agree with the commenters above that you sometimes get a piece in a UK job ad saying something like “For further information or an initial chat please call John Smith on 123456789123”. I did actually do this once (quite a few years ago) but the poor guy had his phone ringing off the hook. HR had posted the ad and not told John Smith about the invitation to call. I was told this when I went to the interview.

    1. Hlyssande*

      That poor guy, and boo for that HR department! At least give him a heads up that he’s not going to get any work done at all!

  8. BritCred*

    #4 Do you ever make phone calls (especially if you are on the phone alot)? If so phrase it to your manager as being concerned people on the phone can hear it and might well be unhappy to do so.

    I had a coworker who would come into the office and loudly say lots of things I don’t want my contacts hearing and once I even had a Accounts Payable for a large company pause for a long time when they heard him say something that was rather coarse and included swear words. I spoke to my manager and said that whilst I appreciate its a different atmosphere on the factory floor and I don’t personally mind most of the comments myself when I am on the phone trying to sort a major problem with a customer contact it doesn’t help to have that sort of conversation and comments in the background for contacts to hear.

    The guy at fault did try to coach it later as me being “too sensitive” but luckily my boss understood and didn’t allow that attitude to continue (at least outwardly). When its racist comments that would apply even more that customers shouldn’t hear that even if you can’t quite get them on board that co-workers shouldn’t have to put up with it either.

    1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

      I think that in this instance the behaviour is egregious enough that it warrants being called out as unacceptable full stop. OP’s coworker mustn’t think that they can continue saying this sort of thing as long as OP isn’t on a phonecall. They have to be told that it’s unacceptable, childish, rude and possibly creating legal liabilities for the company and it has to stop, now. Anything else gives them an excuse to continue unprofessional behaviour.

      1. BRR*

        Yeah I agree. Even if I sit all day on my computer and don’t even have a phone this behavior is still unacceptable.

      2. The Cosmic Avenger*

        I agree too, but we all know that some bad managers might try to play this down or ignore it. I think that’s a good “business case” to make if the manager starts (wrongly) making this about the OP being too sensitive.

    2. #4 OP*

      I actually really like this idea. At this point, everyone in her direct vicinity knows about her comments because she’s far from quiet so unless I phrase my concerns like this, I’m afraid they’ll be brushed off. The coworker in question has been here 10+ years and, as far as I know, has always had the same personality including stuff like this.

      1. Jazzy Red*

        Considering the frequency of violent incidents in workplaces, schools, churches, etc., your management *must* take this seriously. Anger issues like your co-worker’s only get worse. Your manager and/or HR cannot wait until this woman whips out a gun and starts shooting up the office to relieve her frustrations. If they don’t take you seriously, ask the others in your office to speak up as well.

        Also, make sure you know every hiding place and every exit in your office. You just never know…

  9. Emily*

    #2 – Australian here. If there’s a “for more information, phone ###” on the job ad, then I take it as an invitation to call for more information. A few times the job listing hasn’t provided all the info that I wanted, or I’ve wanted to have a chat with someone before deciding whether to apply, and have always had good conversations with the contact in those conversations before applying (or not).

    1. JustSomeone*

      It’s quite common here as well. I’ve been advised to ‘always find some reason to call’, which I think is bad advice, but when you have a genuine question(s) it’s fine to call. I mean, OP is overdoing it, but I have never had a bad reaction from someone I called with a real question when the job ad specifically said I could call them.

  10. Lou*


    I’ve never called I don’t know what we’d talk about! Anything I want to ask can be asked at the interview stage, if I get to it. I’d have no questions come interview if I called lol.

  11. TT*

    Have you considered they aren’t responding to you bacause they’re working? And you’re (at the moment) just some randomer they have no connection or interest in?

    In fact, by bothering them you may forfeit your chance; they’ll probably have a process that they need to follow, potentially talking to you ahead of time could be seen as biasing the process, and could label them unprofessional (and thus you unprofessional for putting them in that situation). I wouldn’t contact them until you’ve survived the HR phase.

  12. Former Retail Manager*

    #1….just a general question/comment really…in my time reading various AAM posts there seem to be quite a few people in the world generally that don’t want to sign cards/participate in workplace birthday celebrations. Are there really people out there that hate their coworkers so much they can’t sign their name to a birthday card? Because realistically, I see no other reason to not sign a card other than you hate the person, unless you are part of certain religions, which I don’t think is the case here. You spend 40 hours a week with these people and are presumably working together to accomplish various goals. WOW! Just WOW! It seems so petty to me.

    1. Blue Anne*

      I don’t think it’s about hating your coworkers at all. It’s just about feeling meh about your coworkers and being expected to pretend like they’re your besties.

      I always sign the cards, but I feel awkward that I have nothing to say other than “Happy Birthday Persephone!” Normally when I do birthday stuff for someone, it’s heartfelt and genuine and more than just “yeah, happy birthday”. I don’t bother sending birthday cards to acquaintances. It feels… cheap and insincere to do so for coworkers, because while I guess I do hope they have a happy birthday, in the general sense that I’m sad for people who have crappy birthdays… I don’t *really* care. They’re not my friends. They’re coworkers.

      It’s like all the “Have a great summer”s in your school yearbook. The vast majority of those people didn’t really care whether you had a great summer. Doesn’t mean they hated you and hoped you drowned in the pool, or anything.

      1. AdAgencyChick*


        Also, I might add that when one is a copywriter at an ad agency, one feels pressure to come up with a more creative thing to write than “Happy birthday Persephone!” Which I realize may be all in my head, but I still don’t like it.

      2. LBK*

        But it takes 2 seconds. Who cares? This is just bizarre to me – it’s not some huge moral dilemma, it’s a courtesy. It’s the equivalent of asking “How are you?” when you pass someone in the office; no one is inferring that you actually care about them and really want to make sure they’re doing well, it’s just being polite.

        1. Blue Anne*

          I don’t particularly like being insincere even if it takes 2 seconds.

          And when I ask how someone is, it is because I actually care and want to hear how they are. I don’t understand why people use it as a greeting.

          It’s not a huge moral dilemma. But it’s not great.

          1. LBK*

            It’s the equivalent of small talk. It’s not being insincere because the other person isn’t taking it as some great emotional task, either. It’s not like the person receiving it thinks “Wow, Blue Anne cares about me so much!” They’re taking it as “Hey, my coworkers are acknowledging me as a person, how nice of them.”

            No, they don’t have to be your friends, but they are still humans and it’s nice to show some small token of acknowledgment, especially one that costs you literally nothing except 3 seconds of your time.

            1. Blue Anne*

              Yes, and that’s why I do take part in it even though I don’t really like it. It’s expected, like small talk. I respect that, I understand why people like it, even if I don’t.

              I *do* think it’s insincere, in the same way that someone saying “How are you?” while walking by in the hallway and making no attempt to actually hear any answer strikes me as insincere. That’s why I don’t like it, and I think that’s probably why a lot of other people don’t like it, including the OP.

              I’m not trying to prove that you shouldn’t wish happy birthday to someone, or anything, just trying to point out that you don’t have to hate the person to not like signing cards.

              1. Ad Astra*

                Oh I hate when people say “How are you?” in place of “Hi.” Don’t ask me how I’m doing if you can’t even pretend to care about the answer.

                1. MashaKasha*

                  My personal favorite “how are you” story. This happened at my very first US job, in 1997. I had a coworker who was an entry-level like me, and was also my age, except unlike me, a fresh immigrant, “Karl” was a local dude, so should’ve been familiar with the concept of small talk. So one Monday morning, I run into Karl in the breakroom and greet him with “Hi Karl, how was your weekend?” I still remember his answer verbatim:

                  “Ugh, terrible! I had stomach flu! I had diarrhea all over the place, was vomiting all over the place! ” (wait, it gets better) “But I’ve got work to do now so I’ll tell you all about it later!” He walks out and leaves me standing in the breakroom with my jaw hanging open. Mind you, as someone new to the country, I’d been warned multiple times by then never to answer “how are you?” with a description of how I was. My mind was blown.

                  He was being dead serious, too, not sarcastic at all. He just didn’t have a whole lot of social skills, so to him it was a perfectly good answer.

                2. gg*

                  Thank you!

                  This drives me up the wall. It’s especially bad if I’m having a bad day. Because I can’t tell them the truth, because that would be socially unacceptable. But having to lie and force out a “fine” puts me in an even worse mood.

                3. MashaKasha*

                  @gg: Come to think of it, the only time I really got a kick of being asked “how are you?” was when I was going through a divorce and only two people in the office knew. Coworkers would ask me “how are you?” and I’d beam at them and go, “I’m GREAT, thanks!!! and yourself?” all the while thinking, “I’m having the shittiest time of my life and you will never find out, Ha!” Made me feel so… subversive. Weird, I know.

                4. Blue Anne*

                  I think actually I started to hate that stuff when my dad was dying in high school, and people would talk about what they did on the weekend or how stressed out they were about the test. It was just like… last weekend I cooked all my family’s meals and tried not to comment on the smell of my dad’s colostomy bag? I’m really stressed out that his chemo isn’t working? No one really wants to hear what’s actually going on unless they’re your friends, which I completely understand, but I wish we could just drop the pretense.

                5. Perse's Mom*

                  This is more in line with MashaKasha’s story.

                  The former CEO of my company used to great everyone with ‘hey, how ya doin’?’ One day, I startled him by answering with ‘I’ve been better.’ His response: “Anything I can do?” Me: “Not unless you want to pay for my car repairs.” (my unspoken second possible answer was ‘not unless you can cure cancer’) His response? He stared at me for a few seconds, then strode into his conference room and closed the door behind him.

                6. Ad Astra*

                  At work, I will accept responses like “Hanging in there!” or “Surviving!” as more professional ways to say “I’m doing kinda lousy but thanks for asking!” Cause, no, I don’t want to hear about the details of your divorce, coworker whose name I can’t remember, but I do care about how you’re doing. You don’t have to say “great” every time.

                7. pony tailed wonder*

                  I hate it when they ask that at the drugstore when I have the largest pack of feminine products possible, a bottle of midol, two or three chocolate bars, and perhaps a bottle of wine. How in the world do they think I am feeling?

            2. Sunflower*

              I totally agree. I also don’t think it’s insincere. Insincere is when you don’t mean what you say. You can not really care if someone has a great birthday but still hope/want that they do.

              Plus I think most of us know what’s up with birthdays in the office. I don’t think most people take it as anything more than what it is which is really just a nice gesture.

              1. LBK*

                Yes – it’s not insincere unless you genuinely don’t want that person to have a good birthday.

                I also say all of this as someone who isn’t generally a birthday wisher – I don’t do it on Facebook, for example. But in the office it’s nice to inject touches of humanity and acknowledgment that you exist as a person outside of the office.

          2. neverjaunty*

            Because it’s a polite social ritual. It’s not about sincerity or insincerity; when you say “good morning” nobody believes that you have carefully considered your options for greeting them and have selected that one, a wish for a good day, over (say) wishing curses on their descendants.

            1. QualityControlFreak*

              Yes. It’s a non-optional social convention. I sign cards for all my coworkers, even if I actively dislike them. I’m not creative; “Happy birthday – enjoy your day!” Done.

            2. LBK*

              Yes, “good morning” is an even better example than “how are you?” It’s not meant to be conveyed or taken literally, so there’s no reason to question the sincerity, especially if literally all you’re writing is “happy birthday!” and not “I hope you have a wonderful and glorious day that fulfills all your dreams” or whatever.

      3. Ad Astra*

        This is exactly how I feel about it. I’m willing to sign birthday cards for people I barely know to avoid rocking the boat, but I doubt my “Have a fabulous birthday!” note makes them feel special.

      4. MashaKasha*

        It’s just about feeling meh about your coworkers and being expected to pretend like they’re your besties.

        Thank you so much! Now I finally know why I’ve always been trying to avoid being on a receiving end of workplace birthday celebrations. It’s just weird, awkward, and fake, the whole thing up to and including the cake. (Let’s admit, workplace birthday cakes are probably on top ten list of worst-tasting foods any of us have ever eaten.)

        I’ll still sign a card. I don’t mind signing stuff. As someone who once bought a timeshare, I can say in good conscience that I’ve signed worse than workplace birthday cards. It just means absolutely nothing. Like when Facebook tells you that it’s Joe Blow’s birthday and you immediately respond with “happy birthday, Joe” – you don’t even have to type it – at least on my phone, I type “happy” and my phone software does the rest for me. Then I forget all about Joe Blow till his next birthday.

        1. Blue Anne*

          Exactly. I feel like there’s got to be some kind of bad juju attached to continuously receiving cheap drug store greeting cards full of lukewarm obligatory messages from people who are just like “meh, Blue Anne seems like a decent sort, I hope her birthday cake doesn’t set her hair on fire.”

          Dunno. I sign them too. But I don’t really like any part of it. Maybe it’s because socially I’m very different than my colleagues (I’m a goth likes video games; they’re mostly into sports and drinking.) So while we get along absolutely fine there aren’t really any illusions that we’d consider getting together outside of work.

      5. TFS*

        Just want to jump in here and agree with Blue Anne, who has explained pretty much exactly how I feel. It seems like a small thing (and it is), but I dread birthday cards and “How are you” exchanges because of the insincerity and the way it highlights to me that I spend so much of my life with people I feel meh about.

      6. Honeybee*

        You don’t have to be besties to sign a card…maybe I’m just a super enthusiastic person, but I’ll put something like “Hope your birthday’s the best!” or “Have a great day and don’t eat too much cake!” or something similarly pseudo-familiar.

        And on the birthday receiver end, it’s just nice to see all the “happy birthdays”. I don’t think anyone besides the most psycho coworkers are analyzing your word count or the content of the writeups.

    2. BRR*

      I don’t think it’s that people hate their coworkers, I think it just feels a little forced/insincere. Like Blue Anne I want the people to have a happy birthday but I guess it’s more like I wouldn’t get them a birthday card on my own so it feels weird to sign one. I also don’t care about receiving one because again it feels a little fake to me.

    3. Pipette*

      If they don’t sign birthday cards in general, then the reasonable assumption would be that they don’t like the celebration of birthdays in general. There are quite a lot of us out there who don’t, and for various reasons. Personally, I’m fed up with congratulating every Tom, Jane and Harry on their birthdays. I save it for close friends and family members.

      I did work at one place where they passed around cards for everyone to sign. I signed them. It was a pretty tense place for many reasons and not signing them would have made things even more tense.

    4. INTP*

      I don’t hate my coworkers, I just don’t really feel connected to the ritual of birthday cards at all. I don’t feel anything when a coworker signs mine any more than when I sign theirs. Or when I receive one at all, unless there’s a meaningful note inside from someone I am close to. So in the context of work, where maybe you’re already overly busy, and annoyed about the requirement to act like you enjoy your coworkers way more than you do, it can be extra annoying to spend a few seconds on something that feels pointless. I don’t go so far as to refuse to sign though.

      1. Potluck*

        I was always very happy to receive a birthday card signed by my coworkers. It made me feel good, even if I knew people were just signing to sign. It feels nice to me knowing someone took a few seconds out of their day to acknowledge me. Not everyone feels the same as you.

        1. INTP*

          I didn’t say everyone feels the same as me. I was just putting my feelings out there to show that it’s not always (or usually) about hating your coworkers. For me it has nothing to do with my feelings about my coworkers at all, just birthday cards.

    5. Bostonian*

      I had a similar reaction. My old office did a card and cake at birthdays, much like the OP’s office. I never had anything particularly interesting to say for the card and it felt a little silly to be exchanging these kind of pro forma markers of each other’s birthdays, but that was the office culture and it would never have occurred to me to refuse to sign. It took at most 2 minutes to think of another generic phrasing given what other people had signed – have a great day, hope your birthday is a good one, best wishes for a wonderful year ahead, yadda yadda – and some people liked it. Would I have started the card tradition if the office hadn’t already had it? No. But refusing to go along with it once someone else started it? There’s no reason to be that petty with people you work with every day.

    6. OwnedByTheCat (formerly Anony-Moose)*

      Celebrations at my office are a bit of a hot-topic issue. They’re uneven, so one person might get a fantastic birthday celebration and one person might be entirely ignored (my birthdya was 100% ignored this year!). AND all gifts/celebrations come out of our professional development budget. I learned this after begin told I couldn’t sign up for a $40 webinar because our PD funds were tapped, but hey, we were having a going away party for someone on another team. So now every time we have any celebration, I just get a bit more annoyed. And I love birthday parties and celebrations to the max!

    7. BananaPants*

      I don’t hate my coworkers, but for the most part I don’t particularly care about their birthdays, just as I’m pretty sure they don’t care about mine. Birthdays are a big thing when you’re 5 but not so much when you’re 35 – we all have a birthday; there’s nothing special about them. I like my coworkers well enough but the overwhelming majority of them I would not consider to be friends. It’s probably a good thing that we don’t celebrate anyone’s birthday in the office.

      I think of office birthday parties like that scene in Office Space, a bunch of people tepidly singing “Happy Birthday” to a boss they loathe, and someone missing out on a piece of cake. Like, why pretend that everyone’s some big happy family who actually cares about each other’s personal lives? It’s a business, not a family or group of close friends.

      We do cards for new babies, marriages, bereavement, major illnesses/injuries, and retiremennts, coordinated by our admin assistants. Signing is optional; an email will go out to the entire organization with something like, “As you know, Wakeen was recently in a serious car accident and is in the hospital. If you would like to sign a get well card for him, it’s in the red folder at Jane’s desk.”

    8. Lily in NYC*

      Then I guess I’m someone you would consider petty. I am so tired of the constant stream of cards I have to sign and gifts I have to chip in for. We do it for people who are leaving as well and this is a big office and it’s just getting ridiculous. I signed two cards yesterday and already got an email this morning about another one (all of them also asked for donations for a gift). No one just signs a name; we have to write something heartfelt and witty. I’m sick of it. I don’t even sign birthday cards any more unless it’s for one of the 8 people in my dept. And I generally like my coworkers – it has nothing to do with how I feel about them. It’s about the frequency.

      Couldn’t I turn it around and say that I think it’s childish to celebrate bdays at work? I wouldn’t say that because it’s mean-spirited. Just like I think it’s unkind to call someone petty because they have a different opinion on this than you do.

    9. Elizabeth West*

      It’s not about hating them; that seems a bit hyperbolic. But if you had to stop work and sign a card every week, that gets old after a while. Plus many people feel weird doing personal things for/with coworkers. It’s a business relationship, after all.

      That said, for some companies, it’s part of the culture, and it would seem slightly standoffish not to participate. Others don’t do anything like that at all. I would never assume that someone who was too busy to sign or didn’t particularly care about birthdays actively hated me, however. If they did, I’m sure they would show it in more obvious ways.

    10. Jozie*

      Yeah, I do pretty much agree. I think you can look at it one of two ways – how do you feel about it versus how does the other person feel about it? I understand that there are people who feel insincere wishing coworkers happy birthday when they aren’t very close, but it’s possible the recipient sees it differently. Frankly, I’d be happy to receive a birthday card from random coworkers with a generic message. Obviously I wouldn’t be sitting at my desk going, “Oh, Fergus is going to be spending lots of time today thinking about how it’s my birthday.” It also wouldn’t be the highlight of my day (though maybe it would be for some people, also an important consideration). I see it a lot like offering condolences to a stranger for their loss or wishing someone luck on a test, race, or presentation. I’m probably not going to spend a whole lot of time thinking about that person, but maybe the words I spent five seconds saying will mean something to them (especially when bolstered by a bunch of other people saying the same thing).

    11. no cards*

      I posted a similar comment above …

      We used to do cards, but it became very problematic as we grew. And no, no one here hates each other. In fact, I would say it’s the opposite. So much, that forced card signings always felt fake. Some of the ways in which the cards become problematic include the sheer volume of card signings, cards being buried on desks with lots of other things, assistants spending increasing amounts of their time chasing down cards and shoving them under people’s noses to get them signed in time.

      We still celebrate birthdays. We do it in person, at the end of our “all-hands” meetings. We get to wish happy birthday in person and share a treat of that person’s choosing. The treat is paid for by the organization and purchased by an assistant. Sometimes there are multiple birthdays and we get to choose from multiple treats. People who do not wish to celebrate their birthday can quietly opt-out and no one is the wiser. We all agree this is a much better system than the forced-card system.

  13. Ruth (UK)*

    1. I’m finding it odd that the card is being objected to but not the additional celebrations of cake etc as the card seems like the smaller deal. In my office (9 people), when it is someone’s birthday, a card will be passed around in the days before, supposedly in secret though this is hard to do completely in an open office. We then give them the card on the morning of their birthday. There is no additional celebration, or anything else. I think this is the smallest and more non intrusive way to mark someone’s birthday. Id find it weird to go ahead with bigger stuff like stopping work to celebrate but without a card… Maybe I’ve missed something..

    1. Jaydee*

      I don’t know. I’m not a big fan of birthday cards except with immediate family or closest friends. And in that case it’s usually because we live far apart and/or because it’s a really perfect card for them. So while I would never refuse to sign a birthday card for a coworker, I wouldn’t personally find it that meaningful to get a birthday card that literally just has the signatures of my coworkers on it. Let’s cut to the chase. I know it’s my birthday. You know it’s my birthday. Let’s save the $3 on the card, use that to get an extra layer of frosting on the cake instead, and just go eat cake in the conference room and chat for a few minutes.

    2. Tiffy the Fed... Contractor*

      I just think that when a card is passed around and people sign out of obligation, it totally misses the point of a birthday card, which is “Hey I’m thinking about you, and I want to send you a sweet message to show that I’m thinking about you.”

      And as to why people don’t object to food… it’s food, and it’s free.

  14. PolarBear*

    #3 – HR references. In the UK, it seems normal to put HR as a contact. All the big companies I’ve worked for say that references will only come from HR and not to give any other details out. I’ve seen job applications that specifically state only to give HR contact details.

    1. Blue Anne*

      Really? I’m in the UK and I’ve never seen that. I only ever put my former managers as references, never HR. I’ve only been out of uni for about 4 years, though.

      1. PolarBear*

        I mostly put HR down as a reference. I also do fixed term contract work and it seems unreasonable to have a former boss contacted two or three times a year. References tend to be taken for the past three years in jobs that I’ve accepted.

        1. Blue Anne*

          Oh, that makes a lot of sense as a contractor.

          Thanks for mentioning it, even though I’m not planning on contract work it’s nice to know there are options!

    2. Elkay*

      The big company I just left sent me a copy of the letter they would send if asked for a reference which basically said “Yes, they worked here from this date to that date”. Managers make it clear they can only act as a personal reference.

    3. sharon g*

      I worked for a large bank that had a rule that all references must go through HR. If supervisors/managers were caught giving references, they were written up and/or fired.

    4. UK HR bod*

      It’s very normal. An administrator in HR will just give really basic dates – often a reference won’t even disclose you were fired unless you are in certain industries /professions. It’s partly because of mostly unwarranted fear about being sued if somone loses a job over a reference – it has happened – and partly because it’s quicker and easier. Obviously almost all companies who do a tombstone reference will send out a ludicrously detailed questionnaire, because they may get lucky. Some companies have done away with referencing altogether because these brief references make it pointless – mine is considering it.

  15. FD*

    #2- I have seen it done in the US, but there seems to be an unspoken expectation that you only call if you need to ask for clarification, or have issues with the application system. Funnily enough, I actually did have to call the other day–there was a post I was interested in, and the company’s website listed the job location as Minneapolis, but the body of the job post had that it was based in Chicago. (Turned out, someone got lazy about copying and pasting a job description!)

    1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      Our HR team at my former job would get calls all the time because about 60% of our positions were remote, but there were a core group of positions that could only be done at the corporate office (or at least couldn’t go remote until someone was comfortable in the position).

      People would call them to ask if the the locations with a fixed city could be remote.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        If it clearly states in the job advert that the position must be done on location, i.e. “This position reports to the head of the Narnia office and is not remote,” and they call asking that anyway, then DUH. If it’s not clearly stated, I can understand why they would call. Though I probably wouldn’t; I’d ask in the phone screen or via email once the company contacted me.

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          I know the positions I hired for had a line like, “the teapot polisher works as part of a team to build the perfect teapot for each client, and must work out of the Narnia office.”

          HR was pretty gracious about the calls though because we had a lot of similar sounding titles, or one division might allow a position to be remote while the other didn’t, based on the scope of their work.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Yes, I can see where it would vary based on the position, especially if an applicant has had other jobs in the industry where there were quite a few remote workers.

  16. Jwal*

    Re the situation with #2, what sort of questions would one be expecting to discuss with that contact person? Assuming the job description is clear enough I would imagine that any clarification questions could be kept to the “Do you have any questions for us?” portion of the interview.

    I honestly don’t know what I would say apart from “Hi I’m Jwal and I’m about to send you an email”, which is a waste of both of our time…

    1. BRR*

      Or for me significant enough questions that I feel i need to call/email before applying. Sometimes I have questions but I feel like I can just ask in the interview. I’m still curious where the lw lives and what their industry is.

      Although coincidentally I heard one of my colleagues in the development department field a call from what sounded like a potential applicant for an opening in the finance department. My first thought was why are they calling and my second thought was that they likely called any number they could find.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        For whatever reason, I am a pretty findable person and my name seems to be the one the directory likes to pull up when people punch in random letters.

        I *hate* fielding these calls, because usually when I say, “I’m sorry I work in Teapot Design, not HR/Recruitment/actual department” and try to route the person appropriately, I find they have already left messages with those people.

        Also, though I can tell you the responsibilities of another department, I usually cannot tell you what a typical day in finance or operations is like.

    2. Anx*

      There are lots of times I’ve been tempted to call, but I don’t think I ever have.

      For example, there are a slew of jobs posted with an opening date from the summer and an expected hiring date that’s passed in the temporary jobs (the bulk of the jobs are temp at this org) section of their jobs database. I don’t want to be writing a bunch of cover letters for applications of jobs that don’t really exist anymore that are still posted. Not only would that take a lot of my time, but I don’t want to flood that employer with more applications that I already would and several of the jobs seems like great next-steps but they aren’t all going in the same direction and many connect with different past experiences of mine. So I’d like to tailor my application just a little bit to the jobs that are hiring.

      I’ve been tempted to ask if the job is still available, but I’m worried that:
      -they’ll think I’m just dense. It’s posted isn’t it? Why wouldn’t it be available!?
      -They’ll think I’m just dense. The expected hiring date has passed, hasn’t it?
      -I’m not sure that HR would even know anything about it at this point.
      -I’ll be shooting myself in the foot. I’ve had experiences in the past where if you bring up a potential mistake to the person or group in charge, they get embarrassed and freeze you out or subconsciously hold it against you. I don’t want my first impression to be associated with a negative thought of feeling.

    3. Intrepid Intern*

      Once, there was a job description that managed to leave it unclear which continent the job was on. I was interested in the job, so I called to clarify. It didn’t seem with it to apply if I didn’t have permission to work in the country. (I didn’t, and HR changed the job description to clarify.)

  17. Not Today Satan*

    #5–At least where I live, hunger-related orgs are often small and serve people of a specific geographic area. So the food bank/soup kitchen in Town A wouldn’t be at all threatened by the food bank in Town B, or even Neighborhoods A/B in cities.

    1. Lindsay J*

      Yeah, in my city we have the big foodbank that doesn’t distribute directly to the population at all.

      They’re like the giant storehouse/sorting facility, and then they distribute the goods that they get to local soup kitchens, food pantries, etc who each serve their own demographic (usually a specific zipcode, but sometimes more specific than than).

      There are some orgs that don’t go through the foodbank at all, but they also don’t seem to compete with the other orgs. (The one I’m thinking of doesn’t really go by donations at all. Individual people pretty much just make a big batch of food, gather in public one day a week, and serve it. Buying paper plates etc is rotated through different volunteers. And they don’t require people receiving the food to sign up or anything -which a lot of the food pantries do require – you walk up, you get food, that’s it.)

  18. LW 5 for today*

    My volunteer gig is a non profit that supplies perishable items, mostly fruit and veggies, to food pantries who are unable to store these items. I have not found any other NP in my area that does this and we have been well received. (We arrive, give them out and take any left overs with us.)

    1. Jaydee*

      That seems like exactly the type of thing you should mention. It is responsive to the questions of why you want to work for a food-related non-profit and what experience you have that is directly relevant. It also seems like enough of a niche role that there’s less risk of the negative overlap issue that Alison mentions.

    2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      That’s awesome. You need to make it clear in the interview that you thought through the concerns Alison mentioned: not duplicating efforts, working cooperatively with others doing similar work, not causing funding sources to be spread thin, etc. I’d also be prepared to talk about why you want to move from doing your own thing to working for someone else. I might be concerned that you really wanted to be in charge but just needed income and might be unhappy working for me within our systems, vs calling the shots yourself. Also, I think it would be very weird of you not to mention it; the nonprofit world tends to be small, and even if you don’t know the people at the other agency, they may know who you are.

    3. Bostonian*

      I think it would be really weird to *not* mention the volunteer work. Unless you’re in NYC or some other huge city, nonprofits working in the same field generally seem to know each other and try to make connections, support each other’s work, refer clients, etc. If you’re applying for a job at a food bank and you have other connections or experience in the field that gives you knowledge of how to get more fresh produce to the food bank’s clients, wouldn’t your potential employer want to know about that? And once you started working there I imagine you’d end up mentioning something you know through that experience, and it would look weird to have hidden it.

      That said, what Alison mentions about the nonprofit world is true, and you should be prepared to talk about how your work fits in and why you decided to start something new instead of working with an existing organization to create a new program (there can be good reasons to go either way). If nothing else it will also prepare you to demonstrate your knowledge of things like funding sources and the needs of the client base in your area.

      If you have a volunteer ED than your organization is tiny. Have you ever considered fiscal sponsorship rather than being a standalone organization? I’ve seen a number of tiny organizations use larger nonprofits as fiscal sponsors, meaning things like donations and accounting services and insurance all flow through the larger organization. It works well when the smaller organization wants to retain some autonomy but the administrative aspects are eating up a ton of resources, and the missions of the two organizations are aligned well. In most cases when a founding, unpaid ED leaves it can destabilize things a lot because there’s no leadership to fill the vacuum, so you may want to think about how to get the program you started set up for success in the long term.

    4. Ad Astra*

      I had a feeling that would be the difference between your gig and the organization you’re applying to. I love that more and more communities are finding ways to provide fresh produce to people in need. It makes an enormous difference in those people’s quality of life.

  19. Anon for This*

    #3 – currently dealing with a background check where they insist on talking to my current manager, who doesn’t know I’m looking. Not sure what’s going to happen on this. But it’s a pain.

  20. Lilly*

    #4 – I have the same problem! Except that I work for a giant government agency and the offending woman basically IS the HR manager for our department and is non-firable, so there’s nothing I can do. I think it’s partly a cultural thing, and it’s certainly learned from relatives. Just yesterday, I heard her on the phone with her 3-year-old nephew. She said to him, “Oh, so-and-so was mean to you? Want me to punch her in the face? I’m gonna punch her in the face!” She also CONSTANTLY says to her family and her subordinates at work- “You stupid” or “You a retard.” Mind you, she says this is in a joking, jovial way. Heh.

    1. F.*

      No one is “non-fireable”, though many people like to think they are. Go over this person’s head. She has to have a manager somewhere.

      1. fposte*

        Though I don’t think somebody’s likely to get fired from a government job for that anyway. I can’t tell if the person is saying these fondly or just not angrily, but “stupid” isn’t likely to be that big a deal, especially if it’s the first, and “retard” isn’t the clarion blast to some that it is to others. (And the workplace isn’t likely to care what she tells her nephew.)

    2. Marketing Girl*

      I have the same problem here too! But the company is small (less than 50 people) and HR and the CEO have heard it themselves, and been told about it – and still they do nothing. They really think it’s no big deal even though others are bothered by it and it affects the company culture. She also calls people “retarded” and whatnot. And she yells, “F@CK!!!” a lot when someone sends her an order or gets an email question. It’s a bad hire with bad management all the way around here…..

      1. Mimmy*

        Oh goodness! I had a brief (unpaid) internship a few years ago, and one day the director went “ARRRRGGGGGHHHHH”. No it wasn’t the “F” word, but given her spit-fire personality, I would not be surprised if she ever did on other occasions!!

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Arrrggh is nothing. But someone yelling “FUCK!” and calling people retards would set off my irritation meter. I would probably say, “Jane, would you please knock it off? I don’t want to hear those words anymore. Thank you.”

          If I got in trouble for doing that, then I would know it’s time to leave that stupid company.

      2. BritCred*

        This is why I posted above with the idea of raising it in the terms of customers/contacts hearing – management can be surprisingly lax about stuff at times!

    3. Honeybee*

      I do not say the r-word, but I do use jovial threats of violence and “you stupid” with my family and friends. Not at work, though, precisely because I wouldn’t want anyone to overhear and misinterpret. (One time my husband and I got really, really odd looks in a grocery store because he was threatening to “punch me in the face”. Only the fact that I burst out laughing saved him from getting the cops called on him. We’ve been more…aware of our surroundings after that.)

    4. #4 OP*

      I really think these people do it for attention, like she wants me to ask what the call was about that caused such a reaction. Sorry you’re in the same uncomfortable situation. :(

  21. TotesMaGoats*

    We’ve always celebrated birthdays everywhere I worked. At OldJob, I always asked on the first day of employment if the person celebrated their birthday. If they did, then I always made a cake or something. In one case the person couldn’t have sweets, so we did breakfast instead and had pancakes and sausage. The point was celebrating. Everyone always signed the card. If someone didn’t want their birthday celebrated, we wouldn’t have done it. I think you’ve come up with a good compromise but I’d probably write it down and confirm it so it doesn’t get confused. I do think that not signing a card just because you aren’t super besties with the coworker or don’t celebrate your own birthday (aside from religious reasons) is pretty petty. Sign you name and move on.

  22. Allison*

    #4 – people like your coworker are a big part of why I (and probably many others) have phone anxiety. I do try to be a good customer, but I’m afraid if I make a mistake or a less-than-intelligent remark, or I ask a dumb question or don’t know something, I’m going to ruin the person’s whole day by being “the idiot they spoke to on the phone” or “the dumb bitch they wanna punch in the face.”

    And look, I get it, everyone who’s worked in customer service has dealt with at least one asshole they’ve wanted to smack, but if someone’s making comments like that all the time, that in itself is an issue. The fact that they’re also making derogatory remarks makes it much worse! So yes, talk to your manager about this person, they shouldn’t be on the phone with people if they’re behaving like this.

    1. RVA Cat*

      Yes, that kind of abuse will seep into her customer interactions eventually, if it hasn’t already.

      One of the key things for change is for people to have the social courage to speak out about racist/sexist/homophobic, etc. speech when you’re in all white/male/straight group. I still regret putting up with a lot of racist garbage in a small office early in my career, because they all outranked me (though I did speak up when there was a sexist comment shortly after we hired some other women). I worked hard to make sure I provided our customers of color with the best service I could to try to offset the bias that I knew was going on, but I shouldn’t have to.

    2. LBK*

      If it makes you feel any better, it’s not usually just the people who ask questions or mistakes that are the bad callers, because that’s probably 90% of all callers – there’s a reason you’re calling! The bad callers are the ones who respond to being corrected by being rude, or who insist you’re giving them the wrong information and they know better than you (if that’s the case, why did you call me!?). As long as you’re nice about it, I can almost guarantee you’re never the person being cursed out after you hang up.

      1. Felicia*

        Yes! It’s the callers that yell or swear that are the worst. Or the callers who insist you must be lying to them. Like when I told a caller she didn’t buy x and y, she actually only bought y, and then she started yelling and swearing at me. I tried to tell her i could help her purchase x right now if she wanted, and she accused me of lying to her because she was positive she bought x (she actually didn’t)

        As long as you’re not yelling at me, or swearing , or insisting I’m lying at you, then it’s fine. I don’t curse out people who are nice or pleasant regardless of what they ask.

      2. A Non*

        Yes! A reasonable person’s day isn’t going to be “ruined” by a caller making a mistake. The job is literally helping people straighten out mistakes. As long as you’re polite and attempting to understand, you’re on the good list.

        The few times I got pleasant callers with truly silly questions, it became a fun story that I shared with colleagues. We’ve all seen intelligent people get tripped up in unexpected ways. Truth is call center work is really boring, so we’re happy for anything amusing that happens.

  23. LBK*

    #4 – FWIW, I wouldn’t take the threats of violence so seriously, and even the “ugh, that person was so dumb”-type comments don’t sound that bad to me unless she’s making them after literally every call or using slurs like “retarded”. Part of surviving call center work is sharing stories of your worst callers. The racist comments are really what stand out here to me – those are obviously unacceptable in any context.

    1. SherryD*

      Yeah, for better or for worse, people working in customer service will blow off steam after dealing with their worst customers, once the customers are out of earshot. Without knowing the full context, I doubt the OP’s coworker has true violent intent — just colorful language. (Obviously, racist remarks are never OK.) That doesn’t mean the OP has to tolerant it though, as it’s obviously making him or her uncomfortable. I think talking to the supervisor or manager is a good plan — they’d want to know you’re uncomfortable.

    2. Ad Astra*

      Normally I’d write the talk of violence off as hyperbole, but the OP provided so many specific examples that it definitely made me raise an eyebrow. That’s not to say she intends to cause anyone physical harm, but it’s weird to be constantly making those remarks. And yeah, the racist comments are unacceptable anywhere.

      1. RVA Cat*

        Yes, it comes across as very intimidating – including to the OP, about whether or not to confront her directly. The shooting stuff is definitely over the top, but the throat-punch is a possibility….

      2. BuildMeUp*

        Yeah, the specificity of some of the violent remarks stood out to me in a “Wow, she’s thought about the violent things she’d like to do to people *way* too much” sort of way. It would make me worry she had anger management problems. And the racist remarks are definitely not okay.

      3. Elizabeth West*

        It could just be a habit of speaking, but it’s pretty strong for a workplace. Even a call center, I would think. I’ve only worked one job in that kind of environment and it was very brief–just a few weeks, but I can’t imagine my boss at that job tolerating that kind of talk, especially where people other employees were calling could hear it.

    3. Mimmy*

      True. Though it sounds like part of the issue is that the coworker is saying these things loud enough for the OP’s callers to hear. Okay, maybe they can’t hear exactly what this coworker is saying, but as a customer, I wouldn’t want to hear any sort of angry tones in the background.

      1. Mimmy*

        My mistake: Just re-read the question: She doesn’t say specifically that the callers can hear this woman’s remarks, but does say that it’s loud enough to be heard by “anyone and everyone”, so it’s still possible.

    4. Terra*

      Agreed, the racist/whatever-ist comments are definitely something that should be mentioned and dealt with. I can even see mentioning really explicit threats of violence like “I’m going to drive to their house and tie them up and peel all their skin off and dump them in a vat of acid” because that’s pretty beyond the pale. However, they more general comments like “ugh, that stupid bitch” or “I want to punch them in the face” are fairly common ways or blowing off steam when you have to deal with customers who can sometimes be fairly abusive but you have to take it anyway. If you are going to mention those things you may want to focus on the frequency of the comments rather than the content.

      1. LBK*

        I would be shocked if there’s anyone who can work in a call center for more than a few months and not be at least a little tempermental :) I’ve had conversations that would’ve had Mother Theresa cursing people out.

        1. MashaKasha*

          Not call center here, production on-call support back in the early 200s, but same principle applies. Apparently people at OldJob still remember when I was on a call with a user, asked him “can you please hold?”, put him on mute, let off a string of expletives, and went back to the user again: “ah, sorry about that, okay where were we?” I barely remember this, but the story gets told at each OldJob get-together.

          On the up side, apparently I’m the only one at OldJob who has never thrown a pager or cell phone across the room when an off-hours call came in. Would like to say I’m the only one who’s taken every single support call sober, but that’s not me, that title belongs to another guy in our group.

          But yeah, I agree with you on the racist comments. They are not acceptable and I’ve never witnessed any of that in my on-call support days, just never occurred to any of us to go all racist on a user no matter how mad they made us, because human decency.

          1. voyager1*

            My first thought on #4 was call center. If you ever never have worked in one you really have no clue. Two jobs before the one I am working now I was next to the call center so I heard a lot of what the LW is saying. It isn’t just rude customers that the women in that center dealt with it was also male customers who would get really flirty to sexually explicit at times. I didn’t really believe it till I heard recordings of the calls one day.

            I would tell LW4 to let that stuff go. As for the racist stuff,
            well I don’t see anything racist in the letter, would need a specific example.

            I think people can only work in the call center environment for so long before they get really jaded and or cynical with the public.

            1. Anon the Great and Powerful*

              Working in a call centre makes you hate people really fast. I always had to end calls with “Is there anything else I can do for you?” and EVERY SINGLE man asked me to do some gross sexual thing with him. :|

  24. INTP*

    #1: maybe it’s time to move to an opt-in system for the cards, since they seem to be becoming an annoyance to your coworkers and a burden to you. Just keep the card at your desk and send out an email to let people know they can stop by if they want to sign. That way you don’t have to keep everyone’s preferences straight, and I’m wondering if the objections are more to being asked to sign the cards at potentially inconvenient times than cards at all.

  25. TB*

    We do a similar birthday thing here and honestly, I don’t particularly care to get a card. It doesn’t mean any of my coworkers are thinking of me or even remembered my birthday. It means an admin routed a card. I sign the card for everyone, but to me, the whole thing is just kind of pointless. I’d be happy to opt out and save everyone the money that would have been spent on my card – maybe then we could buy nicer cards for the people who really care about receiving them.

    1. no cards*

      Yes, it really is meaningless. Part of the reason why we stopped and celebrate birthdays in a different manner. (And people can opt out entirely, if they choose to.)

  26. Allison*

    #2, this may be a cultural thing, I’m not sure. I know that I have to make sure my name is never associated with a job post, because if it is, I get messages on LinkedIn saying “[Job title]? Sounds interesting, I would like to know more” or “I saw your job post and would like to know if I’m qualified.” When I post stuff on Reddit I don’t invite people to ask questions, I figure if someone really has a question about a job they need answered before they’ll consider applying they’ll message me and ask, but if I invite people to message me with questions, I either, again, get “I’d like to know more” messages or people sending me their life story asking if they’re qualified.

    I figure that 90% of the people who do this don’t really have questions they need answered, either they think messaging me will put them on the fast track to an interview, or they’re trying to “make a connection” to increase their chances of being considered. But I’m a sourcer, I literally have no say in who gets an interview or who gets hired, so messaging me won’t really help your chances. I wonder, how many people were advised to do this and how many people come from cultures where this is part of the application process.

    1. Charityb*

      I think that this is probably why so many people are hostile to unsolicited contact from job interviewees. They’re probably not stressed out by the legitimate questions that a job seeker would need to know before applying, but the somewhat insincere, “I need to ask questions to show that I’m interested,” types that take a lot of time and don’t really benefit either side of the conversation all that much. Getting an insincere, nagging phone call is kind of like getting spam, and I don’t think that as a job seeker you want your missives to be viewed with the same irritation and disgust as spam.

      1. INTP*

        Yep, or conversely, the “I’m not going to bother throwing together an application until I’ve confirmed whether the salary, the clients, and the work hours are all something I’d be interested in” calls. The person answering that call is just as busy as you are. It comes across as “I think you should answer my questions before you’ve seen my resume to confirm whether I’m worth spending YOUR time on, but I don’t think putting together an application is worth MY time before I’ve wasted your time confirming whether I want the job.”

    2. INTP*

      I think this is common in the US. There are no direct phone numbers, email addresses, or names listed on most job postings for that reason (unless it’s a small company and all the applications are just emailed to one person, who probably has a filter set up to deal with them). For some reason people think they need to figure out who to address the emails and cover letters to – it doesn’t make you look unprofessional to write “To whom it may concern,” it makes you look invasive to demand a name when none is given for a reason. Doubly so for trying to directly contact the hiring manager in any way.

  27. Bowserkitty*

    Regarding #1 – this reminds me so much of that episode of The Office where Michael is out doing something else and leaves Jim in charge and he has to decide what to do about the half dozen birthdays everybody wants. My mom was a supervisor at the time and said it was sad how true the scenario was.

  28. Tiffy the Fed... Contractor*

    #1. Ugh birthday cards at work. At my old job, our admin used to send around cards each month for everyone to sign for the birthdays that month. On an average month it was about 3 cards a month, and the system was just to pass around a manila envelope with the cards in it… so the birthday folks got their own cards to sign. It was strange, and I hated it. It felt so impersonal and had completely lost the entire meaning of birthday cards, which is “Hey, I’m thinking about you, and I want to send you a sweet message to show that I’m thinking about you.”

    But I think you’ve come up with a good compromise for the people who really care about the cards. I would totally be one of the ones to abstain.

  29. BethRA*

    #1 – soo, people will eat birthday treats, but don’t want to bother signing a card? I get that some people are uncomfortable having their own birthday’s recognized, and of course no one should be forced to have it celebrated. But how much does it cost you to put your name on a piece of paper for someone else? Sorry, it just seems petty to me.

    OP, if you wanted to make the signature collecting less of a hassle for yourself (tracking down who does like to sign, remembering who doesn’t), you could put the card in a file folder somewhere accessible and send an email to everyone but the Brithdayee saying something like “a card for Joffrey’s nameday on my desk, please sign by X time on Y day). People can opt in or out, and you don’t have to walk it around.+

      1. MashaKasha*

        Seriously! And have you seen what this guy does with his birthday presents? He chopped a book in half! Nope, Joffrey gets nothing!

    1. MashaKasha*

      “you could put the card in a file folder somewhere accessible and send an email to everyone but the Brithdayee saying something like “a card for Joffrey’s nameday on my desk, please sign by X time on Y day). ”

      I like this! Made me remember the one thing I do NOT like about signing office birthday cards – when the organizer puts the card in a folder and gives it to a random person with instructions to sign and pass it to the next person. It is so awkward when a 95% signed card finally comes to you and you cannot find anyone to give it to, because everyone you know has already signed it, and now you have to run around the office and find the one person who didn’t! Or when you sign the card, leave it on the next person’s desk and it disappears, and all everyone can remember is that you had it last. Ugh, so much hassle. This way is so much better!

  30. Mockingjay*

    #1. I wish birthday cards and recognitions at work would go away. I have always celebrated my birthday privately with close family in a small way. That’s just what I prefer.

    My company lists employee birthdays in the monthly newsletter. I requested that my birthday not be listed. It was listed anyway.

  31. Mike B.*

    #5 – I’m not certain I understand why it would be a conflict of interest for OP to remain in her volunteer role. Surely the interests of two nonprofits in the same uncontroversial area would be in alignment, and would only be more so if one person were in a position to influence the operations at both to avoid duplication of effort (though it would appear from her replies above that the larger organization doesn’t serve the function that the smaller one does). There’s also no question that OP would personally benefit from such an arrangement at the expense of one or both of the organizations. What am I missing here?

  32. Three Thousand*

    You’d also want to be prepared to answer questions about why you thought it best to start a new organization rather working with existing organizations doing the same work. (This can be a source of frustration for nonprofits, since new organizations doing the same work often end up duplicating efforts, dividing funding, and spreading the overall pool of resources too thinly

    I never would have thought about this. This is really interesting to know. Of course no one would bat an eye at competition in for-profit businesses, and any competitor who complained to you that you had no right to take their market share would be rightly laughed out of the room, but I can see that nonprofits don’t work like that.

  33. Perse's Mom*

    The response to the birthday card thing is bothering me. Why, exactly, is it ‘petty’ to not want to sign a card for someone you don’t know? Birthdays are a personal thing. It has nothing to do with my job. If I know it’s your birthday, it’s either because I know you well enough *personally* to know that or because someone’s made me aware of it. If the former, I’ll handle it as I would any other family/friend. If the latter, I’ll decide for myself (as an adult who can make decisions, thanks) whether the circumstances of our working relationship means I should say anything at all.

    There are a few other dissenting opinions on this, up above. I second that it’s insincere. I would rather get a card signed by half a dozen people who actually know me over a card with 30 signatures, some of which are from people I couldn’t identify on sight. I would rather nobody got me a card and that if any of my coworkers know me well enough to know my birthday, that they’ll say HB if they feel like it, and hopefully only if they mean it.

    1. KSM*

      I can understand 30 people you don’t know, but it’s a small company of 12. It would be very hard not to identify one of your 11 coworkers on sight.

      1. BethRA*

        This. And for that matter, I do work in a 30-person office, and I still know them all well enough to know who I’m wishing “happy birthday.” Is recognizing a birthday part of anyone’s job? Of course not, but I also can’t see how such a tiny courtesy takes away from it either.

  34. starra*

    Huh, that’s interesting. I’ve always had some contact with the employer before officially applying, usually over email. It’s generally because I’ve been referred by someone or because I have a question about the application process. Although there’s sometimes a resume attached to that initial email, so maybe that counts as “applying”?

  35. That Marketing Chick*

    #2 It’s interesting to me that you think it’s OK to contact hiring managers, and surprising that you think it’s rude when they don’t respond. I’ll assume as AAM did that you are not in the US, but if someone called me (I am currently hiring), there’s no way I would take the time to talk to them (nor do I HAVE the time to talk to them – that’s why I’m hiring!) and would think it extremely rude that they tried to circumvent the system. That’s just not acceptable.

    I get that you want to know more about the job…but let’s wait until I decide I like your resume enough to want to talk to you.

  36. boop*

    1. Of course cards are boring if everyone is just signing their name and passing it along. Who wants that? My previous job liked to pass cards for people who quit, and it was really nice. Probably because it was mostly a teenaged staff, and so they come out more like yearbooks, with actual funny or heartfelt messages (except for the random rude one from That Guy no one likes). My friends give holiday cards with letters written inside. I keep those.

    If I know I’m gonna have to sign some cards soon, and I don’t have anything meaningful to say, I just write a really goofy joke, or draw a random picture, or recall a trivial yet hilarious memory we shared, or something I like about that person. Or write a fortune for them. ANYTHING but just signing your name.

    1. boop*

      That said, I think it would be MORE fun to write a random message and then NOT sign your name, so the receiver gets to go home and guess who wrote them by recognizing the handwriting or any sneaky clues they gave away in the message, heh heh heh.

  37. Jessie*

    In regards to OP #4:

    I have to disagree with Allison a little bit (except for the racist comments part, there’s no excuse for that).

    However, I have to wonder if what you see as “violent comments” are really more of someone who doesn’t understand appropriate humor for your workplace. Suggesting that you can’t talk to this coworker directly about it because of the potential threat of violence might be overreacting a bit.

    I just transitioned from the military and, frankly, those sort of comments (done in jest) were super-commonplace. I had a boss who was known for “threatening” to stab people in the throat when they did something he thought was stupid. It was a big running joke and everyone knew he wasn’t serious. “It’s been a great day! So-and-so only threatened to stab me five times!”. Whether or not that SHOULD be acceptable is another discussion, but the fact is that in some work environments that sort of thing would be totally acceptable and found amusing.

    It’s possible your coworker assumes everyone understands she’s just being sarcastic and expressing her frustration is particularly overdramatic way and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with approaching her about it and saying “Hey, I know you don’t mean any of it literally, but some of your comments make me really uncomfortable.”

    Now, the racist comments about the callers are another story completely.

  38. #4 OP*

    Here is a bit more context for my letter:

    1) We don’t actually work in a call center, even though several people guessed that. :P Without giving too much away, I work at a local tourist attraction where we get maybe 20 calls a day at the most, mainly about hours we are open, rates, etc. Calls last an average of less than a minute. Answering the phone is not anyone’s primary job function.

    2) I have definitely participated in post call venting, saying like wow, that dude was a jerk, etc. This is a perfectly acceptable way of blowing off steam, and I’d go crazy without it! ;P

    3) The humor of the workplace, among my circle at least, actually centers around who this coworker is most likely to beat up when she finally snaps at any given point.

    I just wanted to give more details since you all took your time to read and respond! I think I am going to approach the situation like some have suggested that potential visitors could hear it, which is certainly true. We also have lots of non-employees who come and go who could hear and object.

    1. Jessie*

      If you guys joke about “who this coworker is most-likely to beat up” that doesn’t exactly sounds like the sort of situation where there’s actually something to be worried about. I would just let her know that the comments make you uncomfortable. And stop joking her “beating someone up” if you want her to stop because that suggests that type of humor is totally fine.

  39. Cassie*

    #1 – I don’t like signing birthday cards at work. I usually just write “Happy birthday!” and sign my name, but I don’t like doing it. I even wrote on a work friend’s card “you know how I feel about birthdays…” and she and our other coworkers thought it was hilarious.

    I refused to sign one once – the card got passed to me twice already (I just passed it on to someone else), so when the manager brought it to me to sign, I simply said “I don’t sign cards”. And she said “oh, I didn’t know” and left. If it’s a retirement card or a good luck on your new job card, it’s a little different. People don’t retire or resign every year. They do get a year older every year.

    I like how birthdays were treated when I was in elementary school – you bring treats for everyone if you want to celebrate your birthday. I don’t remember that happening much (actually) but that was the option if you wanted to.

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