self-harm scars at work, “years of experience” requirements in job ads, and more

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

1. Will self-harm scars keep me from moving into a management role?

I have some very noticeable self-harm scars on my left arm. They cover my whole forearm (all the way around – I’m pretty thorough) and it’s very obvious what they are to anyone who isn’t exceedingly naive. My “issues” are in the past and I have no problem talking about the scars/self-harm if anyone asks.

With that being said, I struggle a lot with work. I’m very conscious of the uniform of places I apply to and avoid anything that doesn’t have a long-sleeve option. This is particularly uncomfortable in summer as where I live is often 45C/113F. I frequently get “aren’t you hot??” comments, which I usually laugh off and make some reference to excessive air-conditioning or getting sunburned easily.

I have aspirations of being in management and I feel that if I show my scars, people will doubt my ability to be a manager. Self-harm is generally associated with emotional instability, so I fear they’ll think I’m unable to handle the stress of being a manager and that I’ll spiral into a breakdown. In reality, my reason for self-harming wasn’t stress related. I’ve actually always handled stress very well.

I was wondering how you would perceive an employee with extensive self-harm scars? Would you doubt their ability? Would they have to work harder than someone else to gain a promotion? I’m also concerned how coworkers would react. I’ve had mixed reactions from people in the past (mostly positive or neutral, but a couple negative) and I don’t want to make work uncomfortable for anyone (including myself). Could you imagine this being a significant problem?

If they were fresh scars, indicating that it was ongoing, I think that would be on people’s minds, and their concern for you would probably get in the way of being able to see you in a management role. But they’re older scars, so I really wouldn’t worry about it too much. We all have scars from past behavior; yours just happen to be visible.

Given that they’re old, the thing that will have the most impact on people’s impression of you is how you operate now. If you come across as emotionally stable and good at what you do, and as a reasonably cheerful and pleasant person, I think your scars will quickly fade into the background in people’s minds. (And in a way, they come with the advantage of signaling to people, “I’m human and I’m probably not going to give you crap when you’re going through short-term difficulties of your own.”)

2. The person I referred for a job keeps bugging me for updates

I just recently left my first job out of college for a similar job at a much larger company. I am now in a more senior role and I love my company.

A colleague of mine from my old job was recently laid off. We did not work closely together but had collaborated a few times over the years. Since my company had some openings that this colleague was qualified for, and they have a referral program, I submitted a referral for this colleague.

Fast forward about a month and a half, and I am getting weekly questions from this person about where things are at in hiring for these positions, or where their application stands. The company is very large and I don’t have access to any hiring information, so this isn’t really something I can answer. I want to help this person out, but I just don’t have that kind of time on a weekly basis to chase down questions I can’t answer. Is this something that should be expected of me as the referer? If not, how can I politely back out of this?

In addition, I found out from the person I referred (after the fact) that they have applied with the company over a dozen times. Something tells me they might have been blacklisted (no idea why – they have always been great to work with from my standpoint). Will it reflect poorly on me that I referred someone who has already been passed over so many times?

Nope, you’re not expected to provide those kinds of updates. I’d say this the next time she requests one: “I’m really completely out of the process from this point forward and won’t have any more information than you do. Sorry I can’t help!” If she continues sending requests for updates after that, I’d feel fine about ignoring them, or reminding her one more time. Continuing it at that point would also cause me to make a mental note never to refer her again.

And speaking of that … the fact that’s applied a bunch of times previously won’t on its own reflect poorly on you. If the reason she keeps getting rejected is because she has a terrible resume or was rude in an interview or something like that, that could possibly reflect on you. I’d just make sure that any referrals you make in the future are people whose work you can truly vouch for — or that you include a clear disclaimer saying something like “I don’t know Jane well and only worked with her a little, but her background looks like she might match what you’re looking for.”

3. Understanding “years of experience” requirements when applying for a job

I’m in the process of changing fields and finding that some of the jobs I’d like to apply for include “X years experience in Y setting” in the qualifications. I’m comfortable explaining how my previous experience in stock pot design will be useful in my hoped-for future career in the teapot field. But when the job posting states “1-3 years in teapot design” and I just don’t have that, I’m not sure what to do. Is there a better strategy than just applying anyway with the best materials I can and understand that if all else is equal, I’m going to lose out to the teapot expert?

Nope, that’s the right strategy! And when it’s “1-3 years,” it can indeed sometimes work. However, if it’s “5-10 years” and you don’t have any years, that’s probably prohibitive and I wouldn’t spend time applying.

Also, be aware that those sorts of things are rarely hard and fast rules (although in some cases they are). Often it’s more of a guideline intended to give you a sense of the profile of person who would be right for the job, rather than a rigid cut-off.

4. My name was spelled wrong on a thank-you plaque

As another Alison, I’m sure you can appreciate this. I walk into my office this morning to find an engraved plaque thanking me for five years of service. Unfortunately, it is thanking “Allison,” while I spell my name with one “L” Alison. I don’t know if I should tell my boss or let it go. It is the thought that counts and I’m afraid by saying something he might feel I’m nitpicking, but at the same time, I want him to know that’s not how I spell my name and also have to explain to others if I display the award (as many do) that is not the correct spelling of my name.

Say something. It’s not nitpicking to want your name spelled correctly on something that’s meant to be on display in your office.

I’m an Alison who barely cares how people spell my name (unless they’re a close friend or relative, in which case I expect them to get it right), but this is different than how someone addresses you in a casual email. If I spelled an employee’s name wrong on something like this, I’d be mortified.

I’d say this to your boss: “I really appreciate this so I hate to point this out, but did you realize they spelled my name wrong on this? I’d love to keep it in my office, so I wonder if there’s a way to get it changed?”

5. What should I read to prepare for managing?

I’m being promoted to a management position in my nonprofit organization. Thanks in large part to your blog, I feel excited and ready for this new challenge. As part of the transition, my HR department requires the reading of two books on management and the writing of a summary. Odd as the requirement is, I’d like to make the most of the opportunity to prepare myself to manage and support my new team. Do you have any recommendations?

It’s a little “junior high book report,” but I like that they’re at least making some sort of effort to call people’s attention to the fact that managing well is a different skill set than whatever they’ve been doing up until now.

I really love First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, by Marcus Buckingham. And at the risk of being insufferably self-promoting, I would encourage any new manager to read the book I co-authored, Managing to Change the World; it will walk you through the nitty-gritty of what managing well should look like day to day. (And you’re in a nonprofit and it happens to be geared toward nonprofit managers, so your HR department should be especially pleased — although 99% of it applies in any sector.)

* I make a commission if you use those Amazon links.

{ 185 comments… read them below }

  1. peanut butter kisses*

    I had a name spelling error on a 25 year award, given to me well after 25 years, and they didn’t care and I got flack for bringing it up. The award stated how much they cared and appreciated me but their attitude over not knowing or caring how to spell my name or exactly how long I have been there said something else entirely. This takes place in an academic library where pearls are clutched every time the student paper has a story on us and how many errors are spotted.

    1. Cassandra*

      I have a “Careeer Achievement Award” hanging proudly in my office.

      I can just be amused by it, because it isn’t from my immediate circle of colleagues — my immediate circle successfully nominated me for an award at a higher level of my (large) workplace.

      1. Elizabeth West*


        My company gave me a little Lucite block award thing at one year of service, and it has my first name on it. Which I don’t use. Since my name is the way I actually like it on my cube nameplate, and that’s the first thing people see, I let it go. They meant well, LOL.

        1. HRish Dude*

          I have the exact same thing.

          Also, it’s remarkably hard at some places to correct the spelling of someone’s name if anyone – the recruiter/IT/HR – entered it in wrong in the hiring process. For some reason, people at my company love to randomly throw an -s onto the end of a last name.

          If your name is Shelia, it’s pretty much never going to be right.

          1. Tracy*

            That’s so true! I started a new job over a year ago and the hiring manager put my name in the system as (not exactly the real name but close) “Bilder” when my name is actually “Bidler”. It’s been following me around since; popping up at inopportune times!

    2. BRR*

      I have a name that’s similar to Alison with one “l” and I just have learned to enjoy these things. Not the hill I want to die on. An exception for truly important things though.

    3. Ama*

      I went to a school growing up that was named after someone with an alternate spelling of a common last name — AND to make matters worse, the person it was named after had the same first name of a very famous person who spelled their last name the other way (along the lines of ” Jim Hensen” instead of “Jim Henson”). Since there were three kids in our family who all attended that school for over a decade we had *so. much.crap* that had our school name on it spelled incorrectly. It was a public school, they weren’t going to waste pencils or other supplies just because the school name was spelled wrong. The worst part was that half the time the district-wide newsletter didn’t get it right.

      The only time I remember them actually having stuff reprinted was for things the parents paid for directly — the graduation T-shirts for my brother’s class, for example.

      1. Ama*

        Forgot to add — that experience has made me the kind of person who triple checks everyone’s names if I’m issuing something that’s going out to the public. We currently have a valued volunteer with an alternate spelling of a common name and when I send his name to my coworkers I always have to remind them not to “fix” it.

      2. Chinook*

        I proudly own a t-shirt from the University of Alberta that has, in beautiful embroidered script “Alberta University” (along with details about its founding in 1905) on high quality cotton. As a student, I was grateful that they didn’t return it to the supplier but instead sold it at a cut rate because that was the only way I could afford to buy anything at the campus bookstore with the school logo on it.

        1. GeekyDuck*

          UofA! UofA!

          I came here from UWO, which has rebranded itself as Western University. I feel your pain and laugh right along with you.

          Also, the bookstore is equally as unaffordable now.

        2. Pixel*

          While getting my Master’s thesis ready for submission, I’ve only gone through it about 5,000 times. My supervisor went over it. The committee went over it. And when it was all done and printed, the *front page* proudly said that Pixel wrote her M.Sc at Tel-Aviv university. I’ve come across it when organizing my basement, and it still bugs me.

    4. Bea W*

      #1 I have many large visible scars on my arms and legs from self harm I did in my teens/early 20s. I started my career 16 years ago, and my experience has been that people notice my skills and quality of work over anything else. If you have and can demonstrate strong leadership and management skills and are a solid and reliable employee you will probably have no issues.

    5. Lily in NYC*

      My office’s awards are so crazy bad that I just have to laugh. One year: I got a framed award but the glass was broken. For my “thank you for being here for three years” present, they gave me the same exact key chain that I was given during orientation on my first day of work. It had our old logo on it that we had changed two years before. And, the kicker, I won the president’s award and they put my coworker’s name on it by mistake. I never told them and I have both the broken glass one and the wrong name one up in my cube because I think it’s hilarious.

    6. justsomeone*

      Oh jeez. These horror stories are what keep me awake once a month. I order my company’s “Years of Service” awards and I *try* to catch any spelling errors, but occasionally they slip through. I definitely want to make sure our team members have recognition awards that have their names spelled correctly! OP #4 shouldn’t have any reason to fear simply saying “Oh, hey, I noticed a typo here. My name ends in an ‘s’ not a ‘z’.”

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        This is not directed specifically at you , but I would think, similar to ordering business cards, when ordering these things the person would check directly with the employee that all their info is correct? Or is it supposed to be a surprise and that’s why it gets messed up sometimes??

  2. Jeanne*

    You can apply a dozen times to a company and not be blacklisted for anything. It often just means you weren’t as good as some other applicants. I don’t know if I made it to a dozen but I know some companies I applied to maybe 5 jobs there over time. No interview, no response. I highly doubt I was blackmailed. There were a lot of layoffs in the industry and a lot of good candidates.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Yes, but this sounds like a dozen jobs at once! I can’t imagine that they’re a great fit for all of them, so while I doubt they’re blackballed, they are still probably suffering for it. I know I would start taking someone a little less seriously after the 2nd or 3rd application for a position for which they really weren’t well-qualified.

      1. LBK*

        If it’s a large company, there’s some positions that could exist in some form in every department that you’d be equally qualified/fit for, especially if the company doesn’t use a shared services model for things like marketing or system administration. A dozen is a lot, but I think I probably applied for 5 or 6 very similar positions at my current company all at once.

      2. OP 2*

        It was over a dozen jobs (actually well over, closer to two dozen) “over the years”, not all at once. We actually do have quite a few openings for which this person is qualified, and we’re one of the major employers in this metro area, so it’s feasible that there were more than one or two openings for which they qualified, or that they might qualify for a position that opened up many times over the years. But even so, that’s a LOT of jobs to apply for and not be considered.

        1. The Bimmer Guy*

          I agree. It may not be that the person was blacklisted, but there may be some glaring error or faux pas on this person’s submission materials that is causing him/her not to get past the application stage. Or it might be that one of the applicant’s references has something less than flattering to say about him/her.

        2. pieces of flair*

          Or it might be that she constantly contacts HR the way she contacts you and they find her annoying.

  3. peanut butter kisses*

    LW 1. I had a boss years ago with scars like that. I was mildly curious but nothing more than that. She was a great boss and it wasn’t any of my business. I really would have rather had chit chat about our respective weekends or the weather so I never asked about them and no one ever brought them up. If we ever spoke about her begin her back, it was usually about her shoes and where we might find some just like hers. We finally asked and so each time she got a new pair, she would let us know all about them. So in other words, it was mentally noted and then ignored. It was a small part of her but by no means indicative of her whole.

    1. MK*

      Also, there is a definite possibility that many people won’t immediately know it was self-harm. I know the OP says it’s obvious, but many people aren’t familiar with the issue and/or might not connect their cheerful coworker with it. In any case, most people don’t spend time noticing other people’s scars; I for one am very careful to not let my eyes rest there (this goes for any non-standard physical characteristic), because I am afraid it would come across as rude staring.

      1. Merry and Bright*

        Me too. I am aware of self-harming issues but there are so many causes of scars – e.g. accidents, animals, domestic violence – that I wouldn’t jump to one conclusion over another. Added to which, it wouldn’t be my business to ask.

        Also, self-harming is one of those things that happens much more frequently then many people realise so passing judgement can be so way off.

        OP 1, if you are in a different place now that’s really cool and best of luck at work :)

        1. Al Lo*

          My husband had extensive surgery on his forearm as a kid (after a playground accident left him with metal plates in his arm), and the scars that are still there can look like the result of self-harm. He’s been asked about it at times, and some nosy people have tried to get the scoop, but most people either don’t notice or don’t comment.

          (He also had reconstructive surgery on his upper lip and nose after a dog bit his face, and they used tissue from his bum to rebuild his face. I tell him that it makes him a perpetual ass-face and me a perpetual kiss-ass.)

        2. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Our church office administrator has scars on her arm that I never noticed for a long time, until I was talking to her at her desk one day and the light from the window highlighted a network of fine, crosshatch scars all up and down her arms. At the time I just thought that she’d had difficulties in her past that were emotionally hard to bear, but now I suppose it could be from a childhood accident or some other thing that I don’t know anything about. Whatever it is, it doesn’t change my opinion of what a great person she is.

        3. blackcat*

          Yeah, someone I went to school with got into a fight with a raccoon when he was six.* Thinking back on it, the resulting scars (many of which were scratches from claws–his fingers got puncture wounds but his arms didn’t) could really look like what the OP is describing.

          *It is tremendously important to teach children that wild animals are wild. Even if they look cute and cuddly. All of the wild-animal caused injuries I saw growing up (mostly snake bites and tarantula bites, a few hawk/owl/eagle attacks, one bobcat cub attack–thank god mama bobcat wasn’t near–and a couple of raccoon injuries) were due a kid picking up or trying to pick up a wild animal. Even small animals, particularly small hawks, can do truly spectacular amounts of damage.

          1. OriginalEmma*

            And can carry potentially fatal diseases such as rabies. This includes not just wild animals like raccoons but lost pets like cats, one of the fastest growing reservoirs of domestic rabies cases in the US.

          2. Chinook*

            “It is tremendously important to teach children that wild animals are wild. Even if they look cute and cuddly. ”

            Ahhh…but half the fun of talking to some of the tourists around here is when they ask where they can go to pet the bear, moose or beaver. It can be very tempting to tell the annoying ones that it is best to approach the ones who are younger as they haven’t yet learned to be scared of humans.

            But, of course, we don’t because approaching wildlife is very, very, very bad. And you should never, ever get between a mother and its young, no matter who cute those young are. And feeding the wildlife is doubly bad as they become habituated to humans and start to rely on humans for their food. The most aggressive animals I ever came across were the deer in a park at a Japanese shrine who practically rummaged through my backpack while I was wearing it to look for food.

              1. Cath in Canada*

                I was just there a couple of weeks ago – one of the deer bit me in the ass! But I ate some venison a couple of days later so I win.

                The animal kingdom did get its revenge when we got home, though – I woke up on Tuesday to water dripping through my bedroom ceiling. Raccoon damage to the roof shingles + major rainstorm = leaky roof. At least it didn’t happen while we were away…

        4. SpyGlassez*

          One of my closest friends has a number of scars. She worked with children with severe disabilities and psychological issues who would bite, scratch, claw, etc. Some of the scars are self-inflicted, and others come from a later abusive relationship. I had never even paid attention to them until she brought it up and explained. I won’t say I didn’t notice; I’m sure I did, but they are obviously old. Likewise, I have a couple of these kinds of scars myself, and by this time in my life, no one notices or comments on them. However, you might be surprised how many other people have a history with this and might not judge at all for it.

        5. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

          This is an excellent point. While I do have scars from self injury, the scars that most people comment on are actually not from that! They’re claw scars from working in a pet store, burns from working in a bakery, related to medical procedures, and from various assorted downhill tumbles (I’m not very graceful, can you tell?).

          I’ve also been able to say (honestly and as a deflection) “wow I’ve had that scar so long I don’t even remember!” because yeah it could have been me but also it could’ve been that time I wrestled an iguana into a box and either way it was 10 years ago.

          1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

            You should just claim that all your scars are from wrestling iguanas, because that is an awesome answer.

        6. Just Visiting*

          I have two thick, keloid scars on my forearm that look exactly like self-injury scars, and they technically ARE… but they’re from when I cut myself as a five(?)-year-old to see what would happen. I never got stitches because I knew I’d been a bad kid so I just tied some paper towels around my arm and hid it until it healed. My parents were kinda oblivious, LOL. I have numerous other scars too, a few of which are in common self-injury spots, but they’re all from careless accidents. I wouldn’t mind people thinking they’re SI scars, maybe in some ways that would be better than being seen as accident prone, but you really can’t assume anything.

      2. Bwmn*

        I’ve have two friends who have some very noticeable scars from childhood on their faces (one from a fire and another from a dog bite) – and while I would never say that I didn’t notice them at first, as time goes on, they really do fade as being something I don’t think about at all.

        I would also add that while I’m familiar with the concept of what cutting scars look like from media sources – I think the reality is that it’s not super common for lots of people in their daily lives. And while I wouldn’t say that there won’t be people who do feel it’s not a problem to ask – I’ve seen my friends shut down conversations by giving a historical response “Oh, they’re old – from childhood/adolescence”.

      3. Agile Phalanges*

        We had a suicide scare with my sister (she’s fine now), and when I drove to meet her as she was checking herself in to a mental health facility, I got there and broke down in tears, both because I was relieved to see her (I’d honestly thought she might have done it, and called in a welfare check on her by her local police, who did find her fine hours prior, but still), and because I was worried about her, especially after seeing all the scars on her forearms. A few days later, when she came home from the mental health facility (which was useless, but that’s a whole other issue), I found out the scars were from her exuberant yet sharp-nailed Shiba Inu dog. Yes, she had been suicidal, but had not actually self-harmed herself in that way.

    2. Menacia*

      Hubby has noticeable scars on his wrists from when he broke them both. His initial surgeon was a hack so you can pretty much see each scalpel and stitch mark. I can see how people might wonder what the scars were from, but that’s their problem. I’ve always heard it said about people with tattoos, once someone gets to know you, they see YOU, not your tattoos, I would think scars are the same. Trying to hide them might make people wonder more?

    3. The Other Katie*

      I’m in a project management role (management title, but I don’t manage people) and I have very obvious scars on my left arm from self harm (for some reason the scars on the right arm faded, didn’t get that lucky with the left!). I’ve only had a couple people actually comment on them, and that was a long time ago. I usually just give a non-committal answer (oh, I brushed against a grill or oh, probably from the pizza place I used to work!) and no one ever has brought it up again. I wear short sleeves all the time, and I don’t think it has held me back at all.

  4. Alma*

    OP 1, if you feel the need to cover the scars, there are makeup brands made to cover port wine birthmarks, tattoos, and scars. They look very natural, ‘set up’ completely (you won’t sweat it off, or it won’t rub off on your clothes). Covermark is one of the brands, with shades for every skin color.

    With that being said, healed scars are a reminder we lived through something and came out as a survivor. I agree with Alison’s statements about the way you present yourself will speak more clearly about your abilities and self awareness. Be confident in your wellness, and in your ability to make eye contact and present yourself as strong and capable.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      In addition to makeup, if you do decided you need to cover them in certain circumstances, there are also “sleeves” you can buy that slip over your arms, so the rest of you wouldn’t get hot. There’s athletic and medical versions. But, I do agree with what others are saying, that it really shouldn’t be a big deal after people get to know you, they probably won’t even think much of it.

    2. Liz*

      Thank you for that tip! I’m about to start a public-facing job that’s more corporate than my current role, and I’ve been a little bit worried about the highly visible cat scratch scars on my arms.

  5. Mando Diao*

    OP1: You absolutely do not have to explain or cover up your scars, but if you’re self-conscious about them, you could hide them with an ace bandage or one of those fabric “casts” for carpal tunnel. Once you feel comfortable and secure in the job, you could ease out of wearing it.

    I know a few people with tattoos who’ve done this. They weren’t ashamed or trying to hide themselves. They were fitting in with dress codes or just avoiding dealing with crap from closed- minded people. Do whatever makes you feel comfortable.

    1. blueiphone*

      For years I worked with a financial administrator who had tattoos up and down both arms–but he always wore long-sleeve, button-shirts at work so I would have never seen them if I hadn’t also crossed paths with him at a mutual friend’s barbecue. I don’t think anyone at work ever gave him grief about them. And parts of the department had a more casual dress code than others so he probably could have gotten away with short sleeves sometimes.

  6. EmmaUK*

    My daughter self-harmed a few years ago, the scars she has now aren’t really noticeable unless you are directly staring at her arms close-up. I bought her bio oil to rub on her arms when she felt self conscious about showing them. I feel proud that she feels ready to wear short-sleeved clothes now. I am sure she thinks the scars stand out more than they do, we all feel like that about stuff, right?

    I have a fairly noticeable scar on my forearm from an accident and I can honestly say very few people have ever asked me about it.

    By the way– if I noticed my daughter’s scars not knowing the history as a stranger, I would assume she had been in an accident in the past and would not assume self-harm.

    1. Mando Diao*

      I have a surgical scar in my arm too and I’ve never thought much about it. However, I do think that millennials at every savvy about these things, and they can spot the difference between surgical and self-harm scars. I don’t think it’s a sign of weakness to not want to reveal physical evidence of one’s private medical history.

      1. A Non*

        Yeah, unfortunately some types of self harm scars are pretty distinctive. But honestly, the only reason I know how to recognize them is because I used to have them myself. I’ve noticed them on a few other people, and my thought process is usually “oh, there’s someone who had a rough time in the past” and “there’s someone who will probably understand if I have to talk about my issues.” Usually I knew the person for a while – sometimes years – before noticing the scars. It probably feels like they’ve got a neon glow and are the first thing other people will notice, but I promise that’s not actually the case.

        OP, if I were in your shoes I’d probably try to wear long sleeves or makeup the first few days on a new job when you’re making first impressions, and then start wearing short sleeves later. But it’s your call.

  7. Hapax Legomenon*

    #1: If the scars make you self-conscious enough to be worth paying to cover up, Dermablend makeup is where it’s at. It’s a little pricey, but I’ve used their face covers for very noticeable acne scars other makeup never came close to covering, and my sister used their leg and body cover for her own scars and says it works great.

  8. Laurs*

    OP1 – I have scars similar to yours which are clearly all old. I was in the exact same boat worrying about uniforms and the like for years but then realised that
    a) unless you draw attention to them they’re not the first thing someone will notice about you
    b) life’s too short to wear long sleeves every. Single. Day.

    I’m a senior manager in a non-profit these days and no one has said a word. We all have scars from our lives – some of them are just a little more visible.

    On the covering front the texture of SH scarring is often as much of a problem as the colour. There are a range of products which may help to flatten them and even things out a bit including silicon sheeting which I used to great effect – it’s a long-term solution but worth speaking to a dermatologist or plastic surgeon if you can (other things that worked for me included pressure garments and laser treatment on the darkest)

    Good luck!

  9. Marzipan*

    Hey #1! I’m in a management role and I have a lot of really quite significant self harm scars on one forearm. I generally do cover them with long sleeves for a couple of reasons (partly because in my role I actually do sometimes have to support people who are actively self harming, and although my personal history helps me to be empathetic towards them I think it would set up an unhealthy dynamic to be all ‘Look! Me too!; and partly because I have a tattoo on the other forearm).

    I do have some fairly sheer long-sleeved tops, which I find you can’t see my scars through at all, so you might want to look at what fabrics you’re wearing if you want to keep your scars covered but stay cool. But personally, people have long since stopped worrying if I’m too warm, they just know I wear long sleeves and don’t think about it. I do, however, wear short-sleeved tops or dresses to work events, and no-one has ever batted an eyelid.

    I do make a point of mentioning past self harm on any medical questionnaires or whatever, when I’m appointed to a new job – it means I can explain clearly that this was (at this point) almost 20 years ago, and that it was a valuable experience for me in learning to recognise any stresses and address them in better ways. No one has ever had a problem with this, but it means that if ever an employer were to comment with concern about my scars, I could point out that they’d had the info when I started. (Note that I am in the UK, where insurance is not a consideration – I don’t know if that’s relevant at all).

    Occasionally in other contexts (most bizarrely, having fertility treatment) I have had to be cheerfully firm about how self harm affects probably one in ten people, shouldn’t be assumed to mean I am or was suicidal, that it was a long time ago when I was a teenager, and that it’s Not A Thing. When this happens, I’ve found it helpful to remember that it’s because the person being an arse just doesn’t know much about it and has misconceptions – so, treat it as a sort of friendly, detached opportunity to educate people. I have basically a 100% success rate with this approach – as soon as you’re a) clearly not embarrassed or ashamed and b) telling them something interesting, they back right down.

    All in all, if you want to go for management roles, go for them! You have just as much right to do so, and just as much chance of success, as anyone else. Good luck to you!

    1. Laurs*

      The cheerful firmness in the strangest situations is something I’m still bad at – I think I might borrow your approach as I currently just get angry

      1. TootsNYC*

        I call this “channeling my inner daycare worker.”

        My kids were in a great daycare, and I learned so much by watching how they handled infuriating but age-appropriate things. With firmness, but also matter-of-factly and in a friendly or affectionate manner. They never scolded or yelled.

    2. Hlyssande*

      Oh gosh yes, the SH but not suicidal thing. That’s how I got put in inpatient for a week as a teen because the psych had no idea how to deal with it. It was ridiculous and terrible.

      OP 1, I agree with what others have said. If you do decide to wear short sleeves (and I heartily encourage it), it will be a good signal to any of your reports that may also be struggling with mental illness that you’re not going to judge them for it.

      1. Anon for this*

        Just curious and if you aren’t comfortable explaining, disregard. I worked in corrections where we were required to prevent all self-harming behavior, even if the inmate wasn’t suicidal. So that meant someone self-harming got placed on a similar “watch” as suicidal behavior (often one to one) and the person wasn’t allowed any accouterments with which they could self harm.

        I would imagine that likewise, with a minor, if it is impossible to watch them 24/7 or keep anything with which they could hurt themselves away from them, in-patient is the only way to stop the behavior.

        So, my question is, because it isn’t suicidal, do you think self harming behavior shouldn’t be as urgently stopped even though it can lead to scarring and infection? Would it have been a better approach to allow it to occur and address it via therapy so it wasn’t immediately risking the inmate’s life? I’m not in that field anymore but curious how we could have done better.

        1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

          Instinctively I would say yes, leave it alone. Often, an ill thought out or inappropriate intervention can make it worse, and self-harmers are able to look after themselves (damage control, wound care etc)

        2. A Non*

          A lot of self-harm is of the ‘stick a bandaid on it’ severity level, or even milder. As pointed out upthread, pets can easily do the same level of damage by accident, so concern over scarring and infection is a bit of a red herring.

          Self-harm is usually a way of self-medicating for really bad emotional pain – it releases endorphins like woah, and gives people a sense of control. Forcing someone who is not a threat to themself into inpatient care is mostly going to result in them distrusting the mental health system and being unwilling to reach out for help in the future. I think it’s better to treat it the same as other types of self-medication like heavy drinking. Therapy and lots of it is appropriate, but in-patient treatment is IMHO best reserved for situations that are truly physically dangerous. Which, self-harm comes in all forms, and some of it is that severe. But the great majority of it is not.

          1. Anon for this*

            Thank you. That’s very useful information. I actually tend to pick at the skin on my scalp when I’m stressed so I can relate to the concept of self-medicating / endorphins. In my facility we had a variety of levels of self-harm including the band aid type to types that are to gruesome to repeat here. Are level of intervention could have been better modulated. In a correctional environment, one of the concerns was also what contraband was being used to cause the harm but sometimes it was caused by fingernails or teeth even.

            To this day, I pick up staples and paperclips I find on the floor because those were often tools used in that setting. I appreciate that you took the time to answer my question. Thanks.

        3. Marzipan*

          The way I teach my team, is to see it in terms of self harm often being a person’s coping mechanism. Obviously, it’s not an ideal coping mechanism, but it’s the one they have, so trying to make someone stop doing it is basically taking away the thing that enables them to cope, and leaving them with nothing to fill its place. Stopping is totally possible eventually, but it’s a process of learning better ways to cope, not a slamming on of the brakes.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      I like that approach, and I’m going to adopt it when talking about sensitive subjects at Christmastime. I’m big on people having the facts but I’ve been struggling to come up with a way to do it that doesn’t sound like “ACTUALLY…….”

      I have a scar on my neck from when I got two moles removed as a teenager. The scar formed a keloid, and then another one when they took that off. At that point, I said no more. It eventually flattened out and faded somewhat, but people still ask “Oooh, did you have a trach?” and stuff like that. The truth is so prosaic that I often make stuff up. “No, that was from my ninja training/vampire hunting/the time I got into a knife fight with a crazed hillbilly.” (Yes I have used all those, LOL)

        1. Bea W*

          I have a lot of keloids including one that reminds me of a centipede or some kind of creepy crawler, and it’s about 23 years old.

      1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

        I had an acne scar on my jawline that keloided, and after having plastic surgery to remove it, the new scar keloided too. It finally flattened out after my dermatologist gave me a 100% cortisone shot. In my face. Hurt like the devil. But the scar went away (well, there’s still some discoloration, but at least it doesn’t stick out).

  10. Laurs*

    Oh, and OP5 – read Managing to Change the World. It’s a really good starter for ten for non-profit managers at any level and you can dip in and out of it for thoughts on specific subjects

    Alison – thank you – the goals section has just helped me write the activities for my planning sessions with staff today.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I just added it to my wish list. I had to comment on the title of the book, I couldn’t think of anything more engaging and inspiring to call a book! It’s like poetry!

    2. Formica Dinette*

      Even thought I’m not a manager, I borrowed “Managing to Change the World” from the library, and it’s now on my to-buy list. As you said, I like that you can dip in and out of it for specific subjects. I also appreciate all the tools that are included.

  11. Lee Ann*

    It’s an old joke in the software industry that HR will say “5 years experience” for technologies that aren’t even a year old. Treat the years as an indication of what skill level they’re after: in software 1-3 is a beginner, 5 and up an expert. If you’ve got skills at that level in a related area, say it, and explain how they’re similar: “10 years experience in OlderTech, which is one of the major influences on ShinyNewTech” got me a job doing ShinyNewTech.

    1. Kyrielle*

      YES. So often I see ads for relatively-new technologies and more experience than even the beta testers of it could have gotten, and I have been known to mutter, “So basically this position is for hiring away part of the development team on it, then?”

      Of course, it isn’t. They just have no clue. But it’s still funny.

  12. Amber*

    #1 If you’re not comfortable showing your scars, another option is to admit that you have scars and just leave it at that. That is being truthful but still vague. “scars” could mean from a surgery or a fire, it’s not their business. Also I’ve known others in the work place that always wore long sleeves even on hot days, my first assumption is that they were covering psoriasis.

  13. Eve Chan*

    To OP 3, at least in my experience working in HR, government job requirements are strict on the number of years experience in Canada. There might be some other particular industries or companies, but I think that is exceptionally rare though.

  14. Ignis Invictus*

    OP1 – other folks have posted some great advice on covering up, if you can, I’d highly suggest you do so, if only to make yourself feel less self conscious. You may not be able to though (being very thorough). I have several self harm scars on my left arm, one is a burn scar that unfortunately became a keloid – raised and bright red (according to my 5 year old nephew “it looks like a worm”). It looks like this ten flipping years after the self harm. I’ve had a steroid injection to reduce the conspicuousness (probably due for another), it’s still insanely obvious. AND. PEOPLE. ASK. ABOUT. IT. ALL. THE. FREAKING. TIME. Well meaning, albeit oblivious, people express concern, because the damn thing looks recent; well, and for the most part I wear clothes that cover my upper forearms so it’s shocking when they do finally see it. Every other scar has faded to not-unnoticeable / not-comment-worthy.

    So how do I respond to those well meaning oblivious oafs? I lie. “It’s a welding burn from a class I took in collage. Hot metal looks the same as cold.” As a general practice I don’t endorse lying. Truth is kinda awesome – except when truth hurts someone for no other reason than to hurt, i.e. don’t lie to save someone’s feelings if it’s something they need to hear for their own well being. Here’s the kicker: Your feelings of hurt count too. If you find people’s reactions to an honest answer of how those scars happened alienating, embarrassing, irritating, etc. then there’s no harm (and a while lot of positive for all involved) in a calculated falsehoods. Now as to believability…. In the back of my head I always think that surely someone it going to call BS. They are OBVIOUS for krikeys sake! OP no one ever challenges my (flagrant lie!) version of events. Not once in ten years. Not. Once.

    Give yourself permission to lie.

    1. Camellia*

      This! People who demand information that’s none of their business don’t deserve candid answers.

  15. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

    #1 – I’m going to say something slightly different to people above. Like you, I have extensive SH scars which couldn’t possibly be anything else. When I first told my mum, one of the first things she said was that one day I’d stop noticing them, and then nobody else would care either – and that’s so true. I went through a period of doing the treatments etc (and I still have a couple that I hate, so maybe one day when I have the money) but in the end I just stopped, and started wearing whatever clothes I pleased again. The only people who ever ask are medical professionals, who seem to feel that they “just need to check” (yep, thanks for bringing back all those memories). In fact, I’d never even thought of associating scarred arms with the workplace until I read your letter today; by the time I entered my first proper job, I had got used to them, and I was comfortable in short sleeves again. Nobody – in work or otherwise – has ever asked me about them or commented on them, and if they’d did I’d probably just brush them off with something inane (“Oh, yes, that was on one of my adventures with Spiderman when I was mauled by a hyperventilating super lion” – or, it’s none of your damned business)

    Honestly, career wise, I think the best thing is to find the confidence for it not to matter in the slightest. People usually react to the cues you give them, so if you turn up in short sleeves one day and just act like it’s normal, 99% of the time everybody else will accept it as normal and won’t say anything either.

    tl;dr I know it’s easy to say and harder to do, but honestly and truly one of the most freeing things I’ve ever done is to literally roll up my sleeves and get on with it.

    1. Sydney Bristow*

      This has been my experience too.

      I think that we think they are super obvious and that people will immediately know what they are. I think mine are completely obvious because there is no way any sort of accident or surgery would cause the numbers/pattern of scars I have but nobody seems to visibly notice. Doctors ask but nobody else has. Not even friends or certain family members who don’t know my history. They might notice but I’ve never felt that anyone treats me differently.

      My plan if anyone ever brings it up is the quick straightforward answer that I give the doctors. “I used to cut myself when I was younger but I’m better now and it’s in the past.” If they push they’d get a deflection/change of subject or a request to stop talking about it.

      I hope that one day you will feel less self-conscious about it and will be more comfortable in short sleeves.

    2. Bea W*

      So true. I often forget or I just don’t think about it and often look puzzled when people ask what happened, because I assume they are noticing a recent injury or something I’m not aware of and I get all concerned and look at myself to see what’s wrong.

      There was one time I had a whole conversation with someone that I thought was about the car accident that messed up my neck. A bit later I realized she’d been asking about the scarring on my arms and not about my chronic neck issues.

  16. That Is Not A Mouse*

    OP #1: Are you me??? Seriously, when I read the title I thought maybe I’d written this in my sleep or something!

    I actually was going to write in about something similar myself. I have self-harm scars from 7ish years ago. I’m in a new job, and it’s summer here, and I’ve just started wearing short sleeves. I was worried about what people would think, especially when it comes to having more job responsibility, but Alison, your advice made me feel so much better, and when I think about it, it totally matches up with my experiences. I think because we’re sensitive to it we feel like there’s a flashing neon sign saying “look at this!!! she can’t cope!!!” but most people don’t actually notice/care (or are too polite to say anything) and probably wouldn’t factor it in when it comes to promotions if they already know your work/personality. The only thing I will say is I do wear long sleeves for interviews/first couple weeks of a new job because I know I will feel more confident letting them get to know me for a while first, but I think it’s all about your own levels of comfort and confidence.

    I’m surprised (in a good way!) at how many people are so supportive/helpful about this, though I totally should know by know that the commenters on here are awesome :P I don’t want to hijack this thread, but I’d love to ask people about how they got on with telling people about their self-harm (~ahem~ i.e. years later haven’t told my parents…) so I’ll put a question on the open thread :)

  17. Carpe Librarium*

    #2, perhaps the constant requests for an update on the status of an application is why your former colleague hasn’t been accepted for positions by the company previously?
    They’ve probably not been put on a Do Not Hire list, but have just pestered themself out of contention.

      1. OP 2*

        Also definitely possible. They mentioned that they were having a difficult time navigating the recruitment site (which is kind of a maze, to be fair) so it’s possible they are throwing out an SOS in any direction.

    1. OP 2*

      It’s definitely possible. I’m not so invested in this that I feel like I have to find out, or that I ought to coach them, so I may never know how this all shook out.

  18. OP1*

    OP #1 here.

    I just wanted to thank everyone for the advice and kind words. I definitely feel better about the prospect of wearing short sleeves at work now.

    I appreciate the make-up recommendations. I might buy some to help minimise the appearance, especially for the ones that turn bright purple when I get cold (I work in cool rooms/freezers occasionally). I’ll also continue to wear long sleeves for interviews and maybe for the first week or so at a new job. Otherwise, I’ll just act normal and be honest about it if anyone asks.

    Thanks, everyone! :)

    1. Hiding on the Internet Today*

      I came here to give similar support, I’m glad to see its been handled!

      I’m a senior manager with self harm scars and it’s literally never come up in a professional setting for me. Some other parts of my spotty mental health history have, but mostly I’m respected for being very self aware, empathetic, and able to help recognize and prevent burnout/too much stress in my staff and others. All of that comes from skills that I refined in recovery from mental health issues and happens to be really important for management in my industry.

    2. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

      I’m glad the advice here has been helpful! Ultimately, it’s whatever gives you confidence (one other thought: could you try and find a couple of really nice outfits/tops that are so wonderful you can’t not wear them? If you can concentrate on how great you feel in short sleeves would that be something that works for you?) and I think a lot of SH survivors would say that there’s always an element of fake it ’til you make it. But if you treat them as completely unimportant, only complete idiots are going to try and make a big deal out of it, and you can disregard their opinion anyway.

    3. Blue Anne*

      I can honestly say that when I’ve spotted self-harm scars on people who are working, it makes me better disposed towards them – “Oh, here’s someone who’s actually a human being and has had mental health concerns just like me”. There’s a barista at my local starbucks with scars all up her forearms who regularly gets big tips from me.

      I hope it all works out well for you!

    4. Laoise*

      The manager at my first office job had extensive and obvious self-harm scars all along her forearms. She wore short sleeves almost exclusively. To my knowledge, no one judged her negatively.

      I also have some visible scars. That manager gave me the confidence to wear what I was physically comfortable in, even though it showed my own scars. I don’t work with her anymore, but her attitude of no-shame effected me deeply and helped me improve my own self-image.

    5. Bea W*

      It was July-August and impossibly hot during my last interviews, especially the one in Aug. So hot I said eff-it after trying to tolerate being covered up. I got that job. Still have it. :)

  19. TL17*

    #4 – my middle name was misspelled on my law degree. The response when I pointed it out and asked for a new one was, “but this is a way to spell .” Yes that is *A* way but not the way I spell it. Begrudgingly, they fixed it. Not sure why it had to be a controversy.

      1. Hlyssande*

        Me too! You’d think they’d want to be super careful that the name on a law degree is, you know, the person’s actual legal name.

    1. Daisy*

      My first name was wrong on my diploma and I called and the woman just laughed and said what did I do now. I had a new one in a week.
      I’m shocked your law school would respond that way. They know you would be framing/hanging that up in your office.

    2. irritable vowel*

      I have four Social Security cards with different variations on my name, because that’s how long it took them to get it right. And the last time they changed it (to the correct version), somehow my day of birth got changed in their records, so now when I e-file my taxes I have to lie about my birthday because the IRS uses the SS database to verify identity. Hooray for government! (Someday I’m going to get around to going to the SS office with my birth certificate and have them change it, I swear…)

  20. NYC Weez*

    OP #1: In my experience, most people take their cue from your attitude. If you project a “no big deal” attitude about something, the majority of people will either pay very little attention or move on quickly from the topic. It may help you to have a stock answer that addresses the natural curiosity factor with, to crib an up thread description, a “cheerfully firm” brief explanation that is as explanatory as you feel comfortable being. The only other consideration is how approachable you want to be about this topic. You have a lot of experience regarding a difficult journey, and while some people may be judgey about it, others may simply want to ask for advice or empathy in relation to their own challenges.

  21. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*


    Teapot trivia: fixing a misspell on an engraved plate that is placed on a plaque is a minor cost. It wouldn’t cost more than $10 to fix it. Plates are cheap and if the spelling error was external (the plaque source) rather than internal (bad info given), the supplier would pick up the cost. It’s only anything engraved directly on an award that requires full replacement (think engraved crystal awards). Wakeen’s tries to avoid personalized teapots because in a moderate sized batch there is always something needing a redo because of someone’s error. (Please contact Percival’s Tea Emporium for all of your personalized needs. )

    So: speak up anyway, but know that what you are asking for is both minor and routine and you should have your name spelled correctly!

    1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

      This is my most special story on the topic, where a plaque for James Earl Jones was engraved James Earl Ray for an MLK celebration:

      Four days before the celebration, Lauderhill officials received their plaque and were horrified to discover that it bore an inscription thanking James Earl Ray for “keeping the dream alive” — not James Earl Jones, but James Earl Ray, the man who pleaded guilty to assassinating the renowned civil rights leader at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis in 1968. “It’s a real outrage,” said Commissioner Margaret Bates, who also chaired the city’s Martin Luther King task force. “To confuse James Earl Jones with James Earl Ray — just think of the significance.”

      I know how that could happen. You’ve got somebody typing up an engraving list at the supplier and somebody’s brain just switches “Jones” for “Ray” and somehow it never gets caught in proofing. It was a fairly public scandal for a few days. (That I know a couple of the people involved with this probably kept the story fresh in my brain all these years or the fear of but for the grace of god……)

    2. Blue Anne*

      Good to know! As always, you are a font of knowledge I didn’t realize I needed, but which I absolutely do. :)

    3. AnotherAlison*

      We had a batch of engraved plexiglass awards a few years ago and 90% of them broke off the base in shipping. The supplier picked up the cost, so I guess Percival’s Tea Emporium is pretty reasonable to work with, too.

  22. CQ*

    OP #1,

    I just wanted to tell you that if I had a manager with self-harm scars, I would really feel comfortable with her. Like, I feel like I would be able to tell her when my psychological problems are getting in the way of my work, without her treating me like I’m some kind of untouchable, way-beneath-her, sick-minded crazy person, the way my “totally sane” managers treat me now.

  23. Allison*

    #4: like OP and our fearless leader, have a name that’s spelled a bunch of different ways, and actually, my name is often spelled with one L instead of two, unless I clarify upfront! Sometimes it doesn’t matter, like if I’m just putting my name in at a restaurant, but if my name is engraved on a plaque or trophy, then the spelling does matter and I would absolutely bring it up with someone.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      I also don’t care when it’s in passing, but I’m with you and Alison and the OP Alison on this one. It’s going to be there forever. It should be right.

      I had my home computer hard drive replaced a few weeks ago by an independent guy (as opposed to a Geek Squad type place). It came back with my profile set up as ALLISON instead of ALISON. I’m sure this can be fixed if I took the time to figure it out, but mostly I’m annoyed that he didn’t take the time to make sure it was correct and now I have to screw with it. I’m also annoyed he replaced a 1TB regular hard drive with a 500 GB SS HD without telling me he was halving my storage, and annoyed that the pos computer only lasted 14 months, but those are other issues for another thread, lol.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I have a name with an “e” before my “y” (like, Stacey instead of Stacy).

        If you don’t care enough to spell my name correctly on the plaque after I’ve pointed it out, then you must not really care about the honor of giving me the plaque, and you shouldn’t be upset when I throw it out.

        YOU were the one who set its value.

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      I used to work with a Jenifer (one N), and I felt so bad for her because everything of hers got spelled wrong it seemed. Note to parents: try not to do this when naming your children, either go with the traditional spelling, or make the whole thing spelled completely different.

      1. Catherine from Canada*

        Yabut, I didn’t KNOW that his name was commonly spelled Jonathan!
        Jonathon looks better and is closer to the way it’s pronounced.
        (I’m sorry Jay, I know I’ve made your working life difficult…)

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          My brother’s first grade teacher tried to correct the spelling of my brother’s name. Jonathan is the typical spelling, and it’s what he had, but she insisted on Jonathon. She was wrong (on several levels).

      2. AnotherAlison*

        I’m sensitive to this because of my name, but I went ahead and named my kid the third most common spelling of his first name.

        We named him after a relative’s middle name that was spelled this way. It’s a more common British spelling, but the least common US spelling.

        It’s been fine for him because not many kids his name have this name any way, but he had one teacher read his name off role call and say:


        instead of


        1. Stranger than fiction*

          I was speaking in generalities and didn’t mean any offense. Of course I realize there’s family names and sometimes more than one spelling that’s traditional.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            No worries, I meant I’m sensitive to the ISSUE of using the uncommon spelling, not your comment specifically. I would hate to be Alycen. : )

      3. VintageLydia USA*

        And then there are names with multiple wildly different spellings that are all fairly common. My son has one of those (well, two common spellings, and one spelling that is uncommon but not particularly rare, either.) My second kid may have a similar name. Not to mention all the Katherines/Catherines plus all the nickname variations (Cat, Kat, Cathy, Kathy, Kitty, Katie, Catie…)

      4. AnotherAnon*

        +1. My parents gave me a fairly uncommon first name, and then changed the spelling significantly for cultural reasons (Think: Alyzabeth instead of Elizabeth). To this day I cannot stand my first name. Hardly anyone spells it or pronounces it correctly. Thanks, mom and dad.

  24. JC*

    OP #1: you say that it is really obvious what your scars are from, but I wonder if you are underestimating how naïve a lot of people might be. I am one of those naïve people, and I imagine that if I met someone who seemed put together and who also had obvious scars on their arms, I wouldn’t immediately assume the scars were from self-harm. I’ve never been close to someone who self-harmed in that way (or maybe I am really really naïve and have not noticed??) and so self-harm would just never be at the forefront of my mind. If you told me they were from some kind of accident I am gullible enough that I would believe you (not that I think you should tell people that, but that is the kind of thing naïve people might think they are from).

    I wonder if there aren’t a lot of others like me who just wouldn’t suspect it because they don’t have personal experience with it.

    1. OP1*

      I say it’s obvious because they’re very uniform straight lines all over my forearm. Think |||||||||||| on each side from elbow-to-wrist. There’s no accident I can think of that would cause something like that.

      Maybe if the scars were more randomly distributed the cause would be more ambiguous. But I have yet to encounter someone who didn’t realise what they were from.

      1. A Non*

        Tragic accident with an industrial sphagetti maker? Mutant lion with too many claws? Hm.

        Have you seen Fury Road? One of the main characters has facial scarring from self harm, which makes sense in context, but it’s never talked about in the show. I love it.

        1. SJPufendork*

          Taut wire fencing? (yes, I do have those on my left arm….admittedly they are “enhanced” by SH in my later teen years, but the base ones — along with the one across the back of my neck — are from a fence)

      2. get some perspective*

        “But I have yet to encounter someone who didn’t realise what they were from.”

        I don’t think you can possibly know that unless you’re talking about it with every person who sees them.

      3. Bea W*

        You’d be surprised how many people actually don’t recognize what that means. I have the same pattern, and very few people who have said anything actually had no idea and assumed I must have been in a terrible accident.

        1. Laurs*

          Indeed – outside of people who work in that field or who have some level of personal experience – most don’t recognise it as SI as it’s not their first thought.

          Many assumptions have been made about horrible accidents, particularly by slightly older people.

  25. EmmaB*

    The years of experience thing just kills me! I’d love to know where the magical job that give everyone their 1-3 years experience are! On the flip side, I applied for a position where required qualifications were 1. a masters degree, 2. an industry specific certification (of which you can’t even take the test for unless you have a masters in the field or at least 5 years experience), and 3. 2-5 year experience. I have both the masters and the certification, but only a year experience in one block of the field. Think teapot handles instead of entire teapot design.

    Either way I still applied, and got a phone interview. The lady started the phone interview with “well this is a full-time position, sometimes at little overtime and will start at $10 an hour. Does that sound OK to you?” If I wouldn’t have been so shocked, I’d have laughed. Uh, no. It doesn’t work for me. $10 an hour! I made more than that hosting at a restaurant through college. Where do these hiring managers come from?

    1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

      I am currently job searching, and never realized how bad the salary situation is in my city.

      I am constantly seeing ads for director level positions that want 10 years experience and a Masters degree, but are paying $30-$35,000 a year.

      1. EmmaB*

        It’s crazy! I see it too! I don’t know if my expectations are too high or if some of these company’s just haven’t done their homework when setting their scales. With the phone interview, I think I ended up saying I was looking more towards $20-$25 an hour so it didn’t sound like a good fit. Which brings up another pet peeve, not listing the salary range on the listing! I would have still rolled my eyes and thought to myself that they were crazy, but I wouldn’t have wasted my time applying and doing the phone interview.

    2. themmases*

      I worked somewhere that would do this to people (I posted about it a little in the open thread). Right down to requiring a certification that you can’t even get without working for a few years. It drove me nuts because I knew we had a formal ladder that was supposed to standardize job descriptions and pay for people in my profession. Yet in practice it was difficult to apply to and HR didn’t have our backs and would let these job ads go out all the time that anyone should be able to tell were exploitative.

      The worst one I ever saw wanted a part-time, contingency, summer-only research assistant– a title which doesn’t formally require a college degree at my old employer and at which I earned $13.80/hour in Chicago when I held it. The kind of job people take for the summer to help them get into med school. The job duties were nothing you’d ever trust to someone who should be a research assistant. They wanted someone with a masters degree.

      There is not *that* much of a glut of people who do that job, particularly with a masters degree and a few years of work experience. Some organizations do this to take advantage of the combination of name recognition and non-profit status, and just see what they can get from people. It’s gross.

  26. Jerzy*

    I have an unusual first name and unusual spelling for my last name. People get my first name spelled wrong pretty often, but my last name is one letter different that a more common spelling (think “Smyth” in stead of “Smith”), so that actually gets misspelled all the time.

    I normally don’t let misspelling and mispronunciation of either of my names bother me, but when I graduated 8th grade, they spelled my last name wrong on the “diploma,” which I immediately pointed out, and the school had fixed. If it’s anything official, even a relatively unimportant accolade, your name should be spelled correctly. As long as you’re not rude in your request for correction, no one should have a problem rectifying it.

  27. Queen Anne Of Cleves*

    OP1- As you can see from the comments self harm is much more common than many people realize. You are not alone and congrats on being in a healthier place today. (and honestly, can’t we call drug abuse, alcohol abuse, eating disorders etc a form of self harm as well although you may not see the scars later in life?)
    Op4- Years, I do mean many years ago I had a primary school teacher tell us that our name is our name is our name. We own it and it’s precious to us. She wrote “G-e-o-r-g-e” on the board and said “If your name is Jane but this is how you spell it and pronounce it you are still ‘Jane'” . Probably a bit extreme but I never forgot the lesson. If your name is Alison with one ‘L’ then ALLison is NOT your name; ‘Alison’ is. That lesson made me take the spellings and of peoples’ names seriously as well as pronouncing their names as they wish. If someone came to me with a gift that was engraved incorrectly I would not think twice about getting it corrected asap…no argument.

  28. squids*

    It’s really heartening reading all the answers to #1. I’ve got extensive scarring on my legs, and it was only last summer that I got brave and started wearing dresses & skirts without opaque tights. Like others have said, some people won’t notice at all, and some may assume something else, and some will see them and feel safer around you.

    I’m glad to hear that you’re doing so well these days! :)

  29. In the past*

    For the scars, I’ve covered mine with makeup in the past. I had a friend who was also a makeup expert so it was a somewhat easy fix (but kind of annoying to apply every day). I don’t think you should need to cover them or anything, but if it’s always on your mind and is making you uncomfortable it could be an option.

  30. Bekx*

    OP #1, I’m not sure if this is still a product you can buy…but surprisingly Prefer-On worked for me on some of my scars. They are by the same people as “Head-On, apply directly to the forehead!” infomercials. A boyfriend bought it for me as a joke because I had a scar on my chin that I hated. I used it, not expecting it to work, and it really diminished the appearance of the scar. In fact, I just tried to find the scar again and I can’t. I don’t know why it worked but if it’s still sold somewhere you might as well try it and see if it works.

    1. Wehaf*

      Prefer-on uses the same active ingredient as Mederma (which came first) but is way more expensive. I’ve had good experiences with Mederma, for both new and old scars. There are other scar treatment options out there – silicon pressure bandages, silicon gels, vitamin E oil, derma-rollers, etc. – but I haven’t really tried them.

      1. Blue Anne*

        Interestingly, products with silicone in them generally can be really helpful. I followed a post on reddit where a woman with noticeable, deep scarring improved it significantly by regularly applying a product which included a lot of silicone but wasn’t meant for the skin – I think maybe hair conditioner or hair gel.

  31. Revolver Rani*

    #3, regarding years of experience:

    When I made a big career change around 7 years ago, I applied to jobs asking for “5-7 years experience in X” when what I actually had was 7 years experience in an entirely different field. I approached this problem by thinking hard about how my experience in field Y gave me the equivalent skills and experience to meet the needs of the job. I made this the focus of my cover letter – “Here’s how what I learned doing Y prepares me to do a really good job at X.”

    The job I got was one of those “5-7 years experience in X” jobs – and they gave me a title with the word “senior” in it. My cover-letter bridged the gap enough to intrigue the internal recruiter, and in my phone screen with the hiring manager I addressed the question more specifically (as well as convincing her I would be able to learn the necessary new things to make the transition). Same with my in-person interviews – my company requires a job talk for candidates applying to jobs like mine, so I spent a good part of my job talk on what I did as a Y-person and how it’s great preparation for X-work.

    You definitely have an extra hurdle to jump when the job seeks experience you don’t have, and surely some recruiters and hiring managers won’t give you the time of day (and as noted above, some in government positions and the like will not be permitted to give you the time of day even if they would like to). But if you can address the gap head-on and convincingly in your cover letter, some thoughtful and open-minded folks will give you a chance.

  32. Myrin*

    OP 1, I’m a university student and have for the past years shared several classes with a young woman who has a huge amount of very noticeable self-harm scars all over her arms. In every one of these classes, she was one of the top three, with great ideas and thoughtful and intelligent commentary (which was also recognised by one of the professors who hired her for a student job). When I saw her in short sleeves for the first time, I thought “Oh shit!” and was really sorry that there was something in her life that made her cut herself (especially since there were – and continue to be, sadly – some that were barely healed) but I’d never think less of her for it or somehow have this overshadowing her achievements. In fact, I regularly forget about those scars entirely and am only reminded of them whenever I actually see them but I’d never say anything to her or even react to them at all and I’ve never seen anyone else do it, either. I also find myself admiring some of the pretty shirts she wears, by the way.

  33. BadPlanning*

    OP #4 — Given my experience with my name being spelling wrong, I wouldn’t be surprised if your company submitted your name correctly and it’s the award company that messed it up (if so — the award company should fix it at their cost). I have spelled my name for people and watched them write it down wrong. I have received nametags in which I was the one submitting my name and someone making the name tags and obviously didn’t transfer it correctly.

    1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

      I had a vendor change the spelling of a clients last name on a personalized thank you gift, because they assumed I typed it wrong when I sent it to them. I was not a happy camper!

  34. Myrin*

    Alison, why is there a blue thingy next to some comments? I’ve been trying to find some pattern (like, with regards to nesting or similar) but I can’t seem to figure it out.

    1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

      I think it might be new comments that you haven’t read yet – I like it, it’s really useful!

      1. Myrin*

        That’s what I figured as well (obviously just after I’d hit “Submit” on the question, typical!). And I agree, what a useful feature!

      2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Ooooh! Love it. (Although I’d actually love it even more if there were something I could search for, like “New Comment:” But that’s picking nits. Cool site upgrade.)

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes, exactly — by popular demand! Although it’s not working quite the way it should in all browsers yet, so you may see it go on and off over the next few days while it’s worked on. Once it’s definitely working correctly, I’ll make an announcement about it!

        That’s interesting that it’s working for y’all though — do you mind telling me what browser you’re using? In Safari, it’s just highlighting everything.

        1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

          I’m in Opera and it looks fine.

          Thank you for installing it! I hadn’t even thought about it before, but it was a pleasant surprise and is proving super useful.

        2. Kyrielle*

          Ooo, I look forward to this! I don’t remember seeing it in Chrome this morning and I’m definitely not seeing it in the older version of Firefox (31.1.0) that’s all I have on the work computer.

          1. Kyrielle*

            I lied! I _am_ seeing it now on my older version of Firefox, just hadn’t before this. Strange. I have no idea if Chrome would now show it or not since I’m not near that computer. :)

        3. Not me*

          I really like this! I’m using Chrome and seeing it, apparently, the way it should be working.

          I just tried Internet Explorer and the comment section looks the same as it did yesterday there.

        4. VivaL*

          Im in IE and it’s not working for me. Is the entire comment in blue? The bar to the left? The name?
          I’ll keep an eye out for the change, but it sounds like a great one!!

        1. Not me*

          Hm. I’ll check at home. But without an adblocker, the vertical line beside comments is thin and gray on old comments and wider and blue on new comments.

  35. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees*

    OP #4, you have my commiseration. I’ve spent years correcting the spelling of my real name (which is far, far more common than ‘Xanthippe’). I’ve had mixed success asking for corrections- some people are really apologetic and want to fix the mistake, others think I should suck it up. It’s never hurt to ask though!

  36. Lily in NYC*

    From Alison’s response to #1: “We all have scars from past behavior; yours just happen to be visible”.
    This really stood out to me as a reminder of why I come here every day. What a great sentence.

  37. Anon.*

    Re #2: it is possible, if this person is collecting unemployment benefits in their state, that they are required to put down a certain number of contacts and follow-up actions every single week in order to keep receiving their checks.

    God knows being on unemployment made me much more annoying (and therefore less employable!) than I would otherwise have preferred to be. Sometimes requirements designed to motivate can really hurt people. :-/

    Either way through it’s still fine to draw a boundary and say you can’t help.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      This. I applied to a bunch of jobs I knew I would never get just to keep the UI folks happy. And our requirement is only three a week, but some weeks, it was really hard to find anything I was even remotely qualified for!

      I think I must have submitted a zillion apps to a local healthcare org (all for clerical work, not just whatever) every time I was unemployed. They never called me until a week after I started at my current job, heh.

    2. OP 2*

      That’s an interesting take! I hadn’t thought of that. This person seems very interested (and, I thought, was very qualified) but may be using the contacts as check-offs for unemployment requirements.

  38. Rusty Shackelford*

    It occurs to me that I’ve never seen anyone with SH scars. Which is, of course, impossible. It’s just that I never noticed them. They’re probably a lot less noticeable than you think. And people who do see them are not as likely as you think to recognize them for what they are. And people who do recognize them are not as likely as you think to hold it against you.

  39. OP 2*

    OP2 here. Further details about this scenario: We work in a fairly technical role that requires a specific level of knowledge/experience that is somewhat hard to find (doing x and y with Teapot Designer Suite software with a particular set of certifications/degrees in Teapot Theory) and this person is qualified for that – they have more experience and a broader portfolio than I do, and I have learned a thing or two from them. We have worked together enough that I felt comfortable vouching for them in a referral as to their skills and qualifications.

    I suspect that there may be something else that’s keeping them out of contention – I’m not sure if there are any gaps in their job history, I didn’t look at their resume and cover letter, and I don’t know what communications happened between them and my company. We have an automated referral process that simply sends an email to the candidate letting them know about the position and that we’ve referred them to it, and then links our name to it as their referrer in a database – there wasn’t any conversation between me and a hiring manager, or anything like that.

    Either way, I was just looking for some validation that yes, I can back away and not feel that I need to hold their hand through this process, and that if there’s something that is keeping them from being considered, it’s not immediately going to bite me in the butt. Thanks, Alison!

  40. Bellen*

    #5 – About a year into my role managing 20ish people, I read The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. Although it’s not directly about managing, there are so many ideas that I was able to apply and see positive results in myself and my team. It’s a quick read and well worth it! Good luck!

  41. Not a Holiday Orphan, Thanks*

    OP #1, I just want to acknowledge that no matter what other people see or think, having your scars out in the open at work is probably going to be a big step mentally & emotionally for you. Try it out on a lower stress work day (or even a social event with work folks) and play around with what makes sense for you.

    I work in mental health, and most of my colleagues have a history of some kind or another. Those who have scars from self harm or use all deal very differently. Some don’t cover at all and refer to them openly as an advocacy or professional use-of-self. Others definitely go the cover-up makeup and layered clothes route. One person (top 3 management) wears a thick leather cuff that covers over the most prominent scars, in line with the rest of her sort of butch/punk fashion sense. My wife insists on wearing thin long sleeves for the first couple months at a job. Wearing a watch with a thick band (Target has colorful unisex ones) or bracelets on your arms might be a comforting thing for you and could give you some peace of mind when people look towards your arms, intentionally or not. Good luck!

  42. JoAnna*

    My husband is “Collin,” and half the time people spell his name as “Colin.” My (now ex) sister-in-law embroidered a pillow for us as a wedding gift and spelled his name “Colin.” If you were going to embroider a pillow as a wedding gift, wouldn’t you first check and make sure that you’re spelling the names of the recipients right?? She had the wedding invitation.

    I have a capital letter in the middle of my name, and normally I don’t care if people spell my name with all lowercase letters. But if it is a certificate or plaque or something, then yes, I do care if they get it right. Not doing so shows a lack of caring or a lack of attention to detail.

  43. Anon for this comment*

    OP #1 – As a card-carrying grown up (have been for many years!), and an individual that still struggles with self-harm, this question meant a lot to me. Navigating the workplace as a professional with this issue is difficult, but I’m glad to see from the comments that there are people who have not only recovered but been able to thrive in their careers despite having it in their past.

    If you don’t mind me asking, were you in the workplace while you self-harmed and how did you deal with it?

    Now, for your actual question: I have found that your attitude can pull it off. If you are confident and don’t act like you even notice the scars, I found most people are hesitant to bring it up. Of course, there is also makeup: if you don’t want to spend extra cash on specialty makeup, I found that using a layer of liquid bandage over the old scar tissue, then powder, then whatever liquid makeup helps the makeup cover old scars.

  44. katieincc*

    #5 – Alison’s not self-promoting, she’s recommending a hugely valuable resource! I stumbled across this blog, and eventually her book, as a new manager who was struggling to figure out how to do things like delegate effectively and provide constructive feedback. Managing to Change the World helped me SO MUCH because she actually breaks it down and says “okay, so here’s what you say and how you should say it.” I can’t recommend it highly enough. After I read it, I recommended it to my boss and our whole management team read it. And, in fact, I just loaned it to a young woman who was recently promoted into management and is facing some of the same challenges that I faced years ago. Maybe I should let her keep it and buy a new copy of my own…

  45. Brett*

    #4 Seven months after I started this job, we had a major flood. Because of my technical specialty, I was tabbed to do _all_ of the disaster briefings; command staff, fema, governor, etc. That was the week I pulled 120 hours in 8 days.
    I was given a major award, one normally reserved for directly saving lives. But my boss made a typo when he submitted my name for the award and put down the wrong year.
    I was given an award dated 5 months before I ever started, and it does not appear on my work record. Unfortunately, this award went a formal process with votes in public meetings and other hard to reverse stuff so changing it was out of the question.
    But even 7 years later my coworkers still love to point out to other people that I am so damn good that I received a major department award before I ever even worked here.

  46. Duncan - Vetter*

    #1. By no means should you let those scars hold you back. They are just a reminder that we, human beings, can be weak, but, at the same time, we can be strong enough to overcome our weaknesses. It is not a scar that defines you, but your abilities and what you have to offer now. You can be the manager you wish to be and your major concern should be how to get where you want. Furthermore, even recruiters face difficult situations, so these old scars will only reveal that you managed to overcome a problem. Working hard should have nothing to do with those scars, but should be your decision to get a certain job.

  47. Griz*

    1: Don’t let the scars hold you back. Speaking from personal experience, I moved up from a work staff position to a management position, and have my share of scars from the past also. I do tend to wear long sleeves as often as I can get away with, it’s not that I’m embarrassed about my past it’s others questions about it that get old after a while. I’m comfortable with the scars, but sometimes I can tell it bothers other people, the same way a tattoo can though, it’s human nature I suppose. Any sort of harassment/discrimination because of the scars can easily be dealt with. As far as being hired and moving up, my boss is aware of my past, understands that I have moved past it, and has no problem with it. The only thing that has been said about them is pleas ask for/seek out some help if things were to et that bad again, which is the ay it should be. Go forth, conquer, be all you can be, and never let your past hold you back.

  48. Lee Ann*

    I have a double first name. It’s really annoying how much software – and real live humans – there are who think that someone’s given name consists of the characters before the first space, and their last name starts at the last space. No consideration for last name first, double first *or* last names, multi-part surnames where only one part is commonly used, surnames that just simply aren’t commonly used at all…

    If, somehow, an award that just said “Lee” made it past my manager to me, nobody on my team would be surprised if I were to carry it at arms length like a stinky diaper back to whoever approved it; they’d be following and cheering me on.

  49. Pennalynn Lott*

    I was a cutter in Junior High. I now own 6 six cats. My scars are easily explained to anyone who notices them. :-)

    (There’s one really bad one on my left arm, which I explain by saying that I was pounding on a window in my back door to get my dog to stop barking in the backyard and my arm went through the glass. Which is true, it just didn’t leave the nasty scar that I have. Honestly, what I did several decades ago is really nobody’s business now. As long as I have an explanation that satisfies them, we’re all good).

  50. Jetta*

    I would never think to ask anyone about anything pertaining to their body, that is personal! It s rude and invasive, unless you are a medical professional. It’s a good time to politely set boundaries if asked about your scars.

Comments are closed.