slow employee listening to podcasts, interviewing with a cold, and more

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

1. Slow employee is listening to podcasts while she works

We hired someone, Beth, a few months ago. She is doing usual entry-level work and is slow, with lots of mistakes. We hired another person, John, who’s doing the same work, but much better. So I know that it’s possible to do that work better as an entry-level worker.

Beth listens to podcasts and stories during work. I think that may be the cause of all the mistakes. How do I talk about this to her? We allow listening to music, but it feels like podcasts are different.

If Beth were performing at a high level, I’d tell you to leave it alone since it’s obviously not causing problems. But in this case, she’s slow and making mistakes, and it’s reasonable to wonder if eliminating distractions might improve her work.

Have you given her feedback on her work yet? Does she realize that she’s slower than she should be and making too many mistakes? If not, that’s actually the more important issue; she’s not likely to improve if she doesn’t realize there’s a problem, and telling her that might prompt her to stop with the podcasts on her own, although you can also suggest it as part of that conversation. But if you’ve already given her that feedback, then just check back in with her and say you’d like to see if eliminating the podcasts improves her speed and accuracy.

In either case, I’d word it this way: “I’ve noticed you listen to podcasts and stories while you work, and I think it might be impacting your focus. Let’s try a couple of weeks without them and see if it helps you improve your speed and accuracy.” You could also add, “To be clear, it’s fine to listen to those things as long as it’s not impacting your work, but in this case, I think it might be. So I’d like to eliminate whatever distractions we can and see if we can get your work up to the level we need it at.”

2. Explaining why I left a job at a religious college

I am curious about how to describe my reasons for leaving a job; it was 10 years ago, but the position has a lot of relevance to the kinds of positions I’m looking for now. The position was at a private Christian college and required adherence to a statement of faith and a code of conduct. They’ve been in the news lately for their firing practices, so there’s a small chance an employer will know them. I lasted a year there and left because I got a divorce. Working there became unpleasant, petty, and solely about me explaining my (totally justified) divorce over and over, up the ladder, and to bigger committees. My director loved me, but ultimately couldn’t shield me all the way up to the president. I wasn’t fired, but I left before it got to that.

Because I was newly divorced and broke, I took several jobs at once that were low-paying and beneath my “qualifications,” and performed them well until I found a “better” position that was more in line with my degree. Employers since then have asked about reasons for leaving the college, and I never know how personal to get. My record demonstrates I didn’t leave for something better. If I say, “I violated their code of conduct and statement of faith,” it sounds like I was cooking meth in the student lounge. If I say “we had philosophical differences,” it sounds like I wanted to come in late everyday. If I say, “I got a divorce,” that is taking the conversation to a weirdly personal level that I hope doesn’t matter in the real world outside of this bizarre college. I’m remarried, have kids, and live a completely stable and happy life — I don’t even want to tell anyone I’ve been divorced. I rarely even think about it and don’t want to live in a world where my employer does. And I hate that I’m forever professionally associated with a school that I’ve come to detest and a religion I’m slowly leaving. (It’s complicated, but I don’t want an employer to think I am complicated.)

Is there a smooth way to answer this question on an first-round online application? Is there a smooth way to address it in person? Can I do it without badmouthing a former employer while also signalling that I am no longer a wacko religious person? (Don’t answer that last question.) And please reassure this ex-fundamentalist that the rest of the world isn’t as concerned about my every move.

How about: “Religion ended up playing a stronger role in their workplace than I’d anticipated it would, and I found that I prefer a more secular environment.”

Really, when interviewers ask why you left a job, they’re just looking to make sure there are no red flags (or to get a better understanding of a move that raises question, like if you left after six months). This answer will make sense to people, and it’ll also do the double duty of conveying “I am not going to bring religion into your office in ways you might be worried about.”

3. Greeting interviewers when you have a cold

What do you think is the appropriate etiquette when greeting job interviewers while you have a cold? I recently interviewed someone who opted to forego the handshake (which makes perfect sense! no one wants your germs!), but opted instead to grab the interviewers on the shoulder instead of the handshake (both in hello and goodbye). Is that a thing? It was a bit awkward, especially since the candidate did it to every staffer she encountered. I heard later some people didn’t appreciate being touched at all.

What do you think is the best approach to greeting someone when you have a cold?

Grabbing people’s shoulders is a bit weird. But it’s fine to decline a handshake and just say something like, “I’m getting over a cold so I shouldn’t shake your hand, but it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

4. Mentioning in a cover letter that I’m paying my way through college

I’m currently applying for several jobs in marketing and am wondering if it would be appropriate to include the fact that I’m putting myself through college on my cover letter. Here’s how I’d use it:

“In the past two and a half years, I’ve written more than 21 articles a week for publications including A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H… (I don’t want to include the exact publication names, but they’re very well-known). My freelance writing career began as a creative outlet during freshman year; 27 months later, it’s become successful enough to enable my financial independence and completely pay for my college education and expenses. I’ve managed to grow this “side job” while also managing several extracurricular and volunteer positions, graduating in three years, and maintaining a 3.9 GPA. These combined responsibilities have made me an expert in time-management, prioritization, and organization—strengths that would prove invaluable in the (X) role.

Furthermore, not only am I well-versed in identifying relevant topics, gauging audience interest, pitching articles, promoting content, building a brand, and, of course, writing, I’ve also learned how to communicate professionally with fellow writers, editors, influencers, marketers, PR representatives, businesspeople, and more. As your (job title), I’d use these skills to…”

Okay, you get the point. I’m conflicted because, on the one hand, I’m really proud of my accomplishment and think it says a great deal about my work ethic, drive, and capabilities. On the other, I can see how it would be a little off-putting—after all, I’m mentioning my personal finances in a professional context. What do you think?

Use it! It’s excellent. It’s not really about mentioning your personal finances; it’s about using concrete examples to demonstrate exactly the traits you’re talking about — drive, organization, etc. It’s compelling and convincing, and it’ll impress most hiring manages.

5. My coworker won’t wear a uniform when our manager isn’t around

I work at a major retail store that went through a dress code change within the last two years. We must now wear uniforms on top of our shirts. While all this is fine by me, one of my coworkers who only works the weekends refuses to wear a uniform—or rather he’ll wear a uniform while our direct manager is around and then immediately remove it when they leave.

Other managers (even the store manager) see this and don’t comment on it, but the fact he waits for our direct manager to leave before he does it implies he knows what he’s doing is unprofessional. None of the managers who care work on the weekends, and reporting to an assistant or store manager seems like it would just fix the issue for that one weekend before they forget and thing continue as they have. Thanks so much for any advice you can give.

I’d let it go. The store manager has seen it and apparently isn’t addressing it, so it’s not really a thing that falls to you to address.

{ 310 comments… read them below }

  1. KH*

    Re: #2 – I think you mean “more secular environment”. Secular = non-religious. Non-secular = religious.

    I would suspect if they’ve been in the news lately for religious firings/dismissals, then anyone in your industry or field would at least marginally be aware of it. I’d likely say something like “Their code of conduct for employees imposed some religious restrictions that wound up being uncomfortable for me. (I’m a bit more direct – I might say something about how it infringed on my private life, but that’s just me). I chose to move on rather than deal with that.”

    1. Mando Diao*

      Do you think it’s even necessary to mention the code of conduct? I think most interviewers would be satisfied if OP said, “I wasn’t happy working for a religious institution.”

      1. Artemesia*

        Code of conduct immediately suggests ‘mis-conduct’ — I would not ever use that phrase. I would say something about the divorce before uttering the words ‘conduct code.’

        1. Mando Diao*

          Yeah, I personally wouldn’t have a problem with saying, “It was a Catholic institution, and it turned out that they felt justified in treating me poorly and jeopardizing my position after I got divorced,” though I understand why OP would rather not bring it up.

          1. Monique*

            I don’t think I’d mention ‘they felt justified’ – it sounds a little adversarial. I agree otherwise though – I don’t see why the OP couldn’t mention that the Catholic institution took issue with her divorce on religious grounds, and it became an uncomfortable place to work as a consequence.

          2. Random Lurker*

            As a hiring manager, I would not want to hear this. Not because I’m Catholic (I’m not), nor anti divorce (I’m not). I only have a few minutes to draw conclusions on an individual based on the data points they provide. This response would make me wonder:
            – is this person going to have a problem with religious people who may be in the office?
            – is this person always going to over share? Because a divorce is a deeply personal thing to mention when you are supposed to be selling yourself on how to help my organization.
            – is this person paranoid or have a victim complex? I completely believe the OP while we are in a blog context, but the “they were out to get me” line of reasoning plays very differently when you are in an interview context. I would never want to say something that makes the interviewer think, “what’s the other side of the story?”

            OP – sorry if this sounds harsh, I am sorry you went through all this. But I think less is more here. A hiring manager doesn’t want to hear all this. I wouldn’t even use Alison’s wording, since religion can be so polarizing. Why risk alienating someone who may be religious themselves? I’d say something like, “Due to some major life events, I unfortunately had to leave this position.” People leave jobs all the time due to divorce, sickness, child needs, etc. I think most people are capable of reading in between the lines if an answer like this is given.

            1. OP #2*

              I like this short response. I want to answer the question without oversharing, or badmouthing any previous employer or religion, or appearing angry. See how complicated it is? I wish I could say, “Look, don’t worry about it, it’s all fine and I’m a normal person. You won’t have the same issue with me that they did.”

            2. Just Another Techie*

              I disagree. “Due to some major life events” sounds to me like the OP has something to hide. “They felt justified in treating me poorly” is too adversarial though, I agree with you there. OP can say something like “Their required statement of faith ended up being uncomfortable for me” without implying that she would have a problem with religious coworkers (she doesn’t have to agree with their faith to work with them) or denigrating any specific beliefs or practices.

              1. neverjaunty*

                Not so much that OP has something to hide, but “due to major life events” implies “I have trouble balancing my personal life with my work obligations”. OP, I think you are right to want short and sweet, but bringing your personal life into it is problematic. Put the focus back on the workplace, as AAM’s suggests.

            3. CMT*

              Something *that* vague makes it seem to me like you’re trying to hide something. And I bet you’ll get a follow up question if you say this in an interview. I’d go with Alison’s wording over this response.

          3. F.*

            Nowhere in the OP’s letter does it state that it was a Catholic institution. Rather, it states that it was a Christian college. Please do not make assumptions and then use them to denigrate a particular religion.

            1. This doesn't really matter at all but*

              I got the feeling it may have been an LDS/Mormon or southern Baptist a la The Duggar’s type of place. Either way, it really doesn’t matter what it was..

              Whatever the scenario, it didn’t work for the OP and she chose to move on. Unfortunately she has to list it because of the skills she developed while there, and so it becomes a talking point, even though it was so long ago.

              1. Not me*

                I got the same impression. It could be a particularly nosy, dysfunctional school affiliated with a denomination you wouldn’t expect this from, too. Let’s just go with the information OP gave us.

                (I’m derailing at this point, but the Duggars are Independent Baptists.)

              2. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

                The Honor Code at LDS schools doesn’t have anything to say about divorce. I doubt it’s an LDS school.

            2. Monique*

              I don’t think anyone was denigrating a particular religion, F, it was just an example. Me, I saw Catholic and didn’t read back to the letter to verify it had in fact said Christian. I don’t think the specific religion matters here, and no one is denigrating a religion as a whole based on the appalling behaviour of one unnamed institution.

              What matters is that the institution in question – and it will be clear to the interviewer who they were, from the OP’s CV – took issue with her divorce on religious grounds, which meant the OP couldn’t comfortably work there any longer. I don’t see the problem with pointing that out.

              1. Chinook*

                “Nobody is “denigrating” anything.”

                I disagree – jumping to the conclusion that a religious school that fired someone for becoming divorce has to be Catholic is denigrating because it makes assumption about the Catholic Church which are not true. We are a (large) subset of Christians who are not fundamentalists who believe in creationism or that divorcees are going to hell (though we do include people who think like that because they hide very well among us). Add to that the fact that some Christian fundamentalist groups believe we are the “spawn of Satan” and you are in turn insulting them because you are calling us one of them.

                Do Catholic institutions have codes of conduct that are more strict than a secular institution – of course otherwise they are no different. But these usually include a part about compassion as well as give you the ability to appeal to the local bishop or even the Vatican if you believe you are being mistreated by the misinterpretation of Church teachings.

                1. Marcela*

                  Nobody is denigrating anything by saying Catholic institutions are against divorce and request personnel working for them to respect this. That’s a well known rule for us (although I’m not religious, I am still counted as Catholic in my country, I was educated in Catholic schools and I did the First Communion ceremony) and in many, many countries schools and universities do fire divorced people, which at least in my home country has ended in lawsuits. Hell, if you are divorced you shouldn’t take the communion!

            3. Anna*

              The description was vague enough to be an actual Catholic institution in my city and considering the responses below, it sounded like a lot of people had similar things happen with other churches in their area. I think Catholic was selected randomly; not to call it out specifically.

          4. Chinook*

            “Yeah, I personally wouldn’t have a problem with saying, “It was a Catholic institution, and it turned out that they felt justified in treating me poorly and jeopardizing my position after I got divorced,” ”

            Can I ask how this went from “religious institution” to “Catholic institution”? I say this because the Catholic Church is not anti-divorce but anti-remarrying after divorce without an annulment (which can’t be had without getting a civil divorce first) and, if the OP was having the issues described mentioned at the level she mentioned, someone should have pointed out they were misinterpreting the Catechism grossly.

            1. Marcela*

              Oh, no, Chinook. The Catholic church IS anti divorce. It’s not only something I know because I was taught to be Catholic since I was born, but in every single tear my mother cried when she separated from my father, without even going legal, and the full force of the anti-divorce rule was shown to her, a practicing Catholic for several years. My parents were back together after some years, but while they were apart, she was not even allowed to take the communion.

            2. Marcela*

              As a matter of fact, Chinook, my home country -Chile- didn’t have a divorce law until 2004 mostly because of the ferocious opposition of our local Catholic Church. And their influence was so strong that the procedure forces people to wait one year if both want to divorce or 3 years if only one of the does it.

              1. Chinook*

                Marcela, that is the opposite of what I experience here in Canada where our local diocese runs monthly meetings for the recently divorced and separated. Our bishop is vocally conservative and very active here, so this wouldn’t be happening with out his knowledge or approval. And we also currently have to separate for a year to divorce in Canada (or file a complex and expensive divorce process, which takes a min. 6 months and the clock restarts if one of you changes provinces) and the Church has less influence here.

                That doesn’t mean that TPTB in an area are not more conservative than the Church they claim to represent. When even the Pope is getting lauded for “changing the church’s stance on divorce” even though all he is doing is restating clearly the church’s position that grounds for annulment are probably more common than most people realize, it can be easy to see that too many people in charge are using their power to trap people in painful relationships.

                Which goes back to the OP who should never have lost a job due to her marital status.

            3. AthenaC*

              Chinook, as a lifelong Catholic, I understand your impulse to defend Catholicism, but I don’t think that’s helpful here. In many ways, there really are two (or more) Catholic Churches:

              1) The Church of the Catechism – the Official(TM) teaching which, as you note, is not anti-divorce per se.
              2) The Church that people actually experience – the influence of friends and family, priests and other clergy, and the Internet Catholic Doctrine Warrior (ICDR) who bravely battles any instance of compassion and realism with only a QWERTY keyboard to shield him.

              If you experience stigma and shunning from Church #2, that Church is far more real than the graceful words of Church #1 gently telling Church #2 not to treat you like that.

              1. F.*

                However “church #2” is NOT the official Catholic Church (Church #1), and should not be mistaken as such.

      2. Ellie H.*

        I disagree. I think it’s perfect to say “Religion ended up playing a stronger role in their workplace than I’d anticipated it would” because that reveals absolutely nothing about your own relationship to religion in general or the religion of your former workplace. You could be a very religious person and still be very uncomfortable having it at work. Saying “I wasn’t happy working for a religious institution,” to me, sounds a little argumentative (besides, why did you even work there in the first place if you are so anti religion)

        1. Adam*

          Agreed. I’m probably more religious than most people here, but I have my limits. I’ve read stories about religious organizations that would bless the copier when it wasn’t working right. As a person who prays pretty much every day, I would find that strange and be wondering if this was the right environment for me.

          1. Adam*

            Not to make fun of people who would try that mind you, but we all approach these things differently and this is why faith ultimately is such a personal thing. Only you know how to walk a road of faith in a way that makes sense and is comfortable to you.

            1. Kelly L.*

              I’ve tried consigning it to the other place–results were of limited efficacy, so I’m willing to try something different. ;)

              1. AnonInSC*

                My cursing at it doesn’t seem to work…so maybe I should try it! I’ll try anything at this point.

                1. afiendishthingy*

                  I’m a behavior analyst, and one of the core principles of my discipline as that it’s the consequence of behaviors that determine their future freqeuency. So I tried some positive reinforcement in the form of patting and praise last time our smaller printer actually worked. No data yet to show whether those were effective reinforcers, though. ;)

            2. Adam*

              You know, I don’t know. I didn’t know the people in the story and thankfully our copier tends to be pretty reliable. Around here though I probably should say a prayer before I answer the phone.

          2. super anon*

            I work in a 100% non-religious oriented workplace and my coworkers bring religion into the work place in this same way. One woman prays to the “angel of technology” any time something isn’t working right, and they have had prayer circles when their web-conferencing software wasn’t working properly. On that occasion when the IT guy came and fixed it they told him “our prayer worked!” and 100% believed that Jesus himself was the only reason the problem was fixed and if they hadn’t prayed together it never would have worked. The call to IT someone else made had absolutely nothing to do with it…

            I have nothing against religion but coming up against this on a daily basis drives me insane and feels totally inappropriate. It’s one of many reasons why I’m looking for a new job.

            1. Elsie432*

              This reminds me of a show I saw in which a Western surgeon went to North Korea to provide life-saving surgery to several patients. After the successful surgery, grateful family members gathered around a picture of Kim Jong-il to give effusive thanks to the noble leader for saving the lives of the patients while the surgeon and his staff stood off to one side.

              1. neverjaunty*

                Well sure. The family members don’t have to worry that the surgeon and staff will imprison them for failing to show the medical team insufficient gratitude.

          3. Chinook*

            ” I’ve read stories about religious organizations that would bless the copier when it wasn’t working right. As a person who prays pretty much every day, I would find that strange and be wondering if this was the right environment for me.”

            Ditto – basic common sense says to check for paper jams, refill toner, call the repair guy and then pray over the stupid machine to see if it works. Prayer is a last step, not a first (as Bl. Br. Anthony Kowalski would say and he is legendary for using prayer to get machines to work).

      3. BRR*

        I might leave it at statement of faith and not say code of conduct. Just something that would say the lw didn’t like having their job be guided by religious rules.

      4. INTP*

        That would make me wonder why the person signed up to work for a religious employer in the first place – do they not think through their commitments well? I also wouldn’t use a vague mention of a conduct violation because that implies that they agreed to something and didn’t stick to it. On the other hand, hearing specifics (not the whole story, but “to be honest, I got a divorce, and with the religious rules on conduct, it resulted in a series of meetings that made me feel like the employer was not a good fit anymore”) would convey to me that everything was justifiable on the candidate’s part, and not about a lack of foresight or agreeing to rules she wasn’t happy keeping or anything.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I think she said she was slowly leaving the faith, so I assume she was a member of the affiliated church. We have a college like that here–they have to post their jobs, but their careers page mentions they strongly prefer to hire members and they also have a code of conduct.

        2. Anna*

          There are plenty of religiously affiliated organizations that aren’t going to use our personal situation against you.

          1. INTP*

            Yes, but the answer “I wasn’t happy working for a religious institution” doesn’t even convey that the employer did anything unfair or over the line. It risks coming across like she agreed to it and then decided she didn’t like it, which is not a crime by any means, but maybe raises questions about the candidate’s judgment in knowing a position is a good fit before accepting. Vaguely mentioning the code of conduct could come across the same way – like she agreed to it and then changed her mind about wanting to follow it. For me as an interviewer, knowing the breaking point was that OP needed a divorce and the employer wasn’t happy about it would remove any suspicions of bad judgment and make it seem like a 100% reasonable decision, without coming across like an excessive share of personal info.

        3. One of the*

          Re “do they not think through their commitments well?” I’d go the other way, and assume she felt that because she DID think through her commitments, eg getting married and meaning it for life, she thought she’d be ok.

          Anyway, not everyone chooses to get divorced (if their partner decides it’s a done deal), or feels like they have a choice not to (domestic abuse, finding out a deal-breaker they can’t live with like criminality). I have tons of sympathy with someone who thought she was in a happy marriage, so could sign with impunity, and then, on top of getting divorced, having to have people dissect her story to see if it’s a ‘righteous’ divorce, or tell her she should have prevented it, or whatever.

    2. Just Another Techie*

      I wouldn’t say code of conduct for the reasons later commenters mentioned, but if OP isn’t comfortable getting into her divorce etc, she could say they “required signing onto a statement of faith that wound up being uncomfortable for me.”

      1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

        I quite like this, although I think it still risks conflating work and religion. Perhaps it’s too wordy, but I’d be tempted to add a caveat, so along the lines of “a requirement of the role was adherence to the organisation’s statement of faith which, because of my personal circumstances changing, became untenable for me to abide by”. I think that framing the problem as the org’s statement of faith could be a very tactful way of putting it, though.

    3. Josh S*

      I’m pretty sure OP #2’s letter is written about my Alma Mater. And I think there’s a lot that could be said for keeping the wording neutral, since there’s been a LOT of press lately (especially regionally, and if you’re in circles where religion is discussed).

      Given my suspicions of the place, saying, “Religion ended up playing a stronger role in the workplace…” is disingenuous–this is a place known specifically for the role that religion plays in its academics, its faculty and staff are required to sign multiple agreements on both theological beliefs and how they will conduct themselves. They don’t mince words when hiring, and it’s actually one of the big draws for many who work there. (The fact that divorce is essentially a “firable offense” is ridiculous, though.) For anyone familiar with the institution, this language will come across as misleading at best and outright deceptive at worst. Otherwise, I’d agree that it works.

      Referring to “I had a major life event that caused me to leave” is both true and non-worrysome. Good phrase, Random Lurker!

      1. Tinker*

        If it was a school that I knew to be very open about its strict religious requirements for employees, I think I’d take a statement like that as being inaccurate, yes, but in the mode of “tactful” rather than in the mode of “deceptive” — i.e. that their motivation is to convey that there was an issue with the religious code such that explaining what happened intrinsically touches on religion and/or other personal issues, and they’re endeavoring to convey this while avoiding a diversion into their personal life.

        I think Alison’s advice is the one likeliest to be generally safe to deploy without much specific social reading — it goes “oh, there was a fit issue with personal beliefs, that’s fair”. But if the controversy is so notorious that passing it off in that way would be weird, I’d go with a slightly higher level of detail rather than dropping back to a reason that sounds more like “personal problems meant I couldn’t do the work” rather than “my work was excellent, but they only want employees that follow their religious doctrine”.

        Maybe something like “X-school requires all of its employees to abide by specific religious beliefs and practices, and during the course of my employment matters changed such that I could no longer agree to that. My supervisor valued my work and advocated for me, but unfortunately the differences proved irreconcilable and I chose to resign.” Then (per the usual pattern for this type of question) pivot into examples of why your supervisor didn’t want to lose you. It opens the can of worms, but if this issue is pretty widely known (and I think it is, or at least that practice is known to me) the can is already open.

        Putting myself in the shoes of the interviewer, most reasonably tasteful allusions to the practices of that school are going to convey to me a) this person left for reasons that are not their fault b) this person left for reasons that are unlikely (in my case essentially impossible; it’d be illegal, an egregious violation of company policy, actually unprofessional in the sense of neglecting true professional responsibility, and probably in violation of MY religious convictions to float anything like a statement of faith to a prospective employee) to ever apply to me. These being essentially the fundamental points that one is looking for when one is asking that question.

        1. TheAssistant*

          I like this, or even a simple “I’m seeking a secular workplace at this time, and I’m excited about X Job because I get to use the skills I learned at Y School in an environment more suited to me.” People leave offices all the time to change environment – wanting bigger, or smaller, or more casual, or more formal, etc. To me, this is the same and would set me at ease.

    4. KH*

      All great comments, but the thing that shocks me most – you can actually lose your job because of a divorce? How is that even legal? I try my hardest to be progressive and open-minded, but that is simply unjust and I don’t think it should be acceptable in our society.

  2. Engineer Girl*

    OP#2 – lifestyle agreements, non-disclosure agreements, security agreements, etc. often have unpleasant limitations that are a surprise in a first job. People often are unhappily surprised by the reach back into their lives. And boy, can there be reach back! You did the right thing by leaving when you found you could not abide by that requirement. That said, you did sign the agreement so you shouldn’t be surprised that there are consequences. Your statement that you are “no longer a wacko religious person” sounds bitter and blaming on how things ended up. It also sounds really intolerant. If I were a hiring manager it would be a red flag that you could cause problems for any employees of that faith.
    Also – there are jobs where they care about your every move. It isn’t just religious institutions. Many government and private places have them. It could be travel restrictions, Internet restrictions, behavior restrictions, financial restrictions. You might want to consider that in your job search.

    1. misspiggy*

      I don’t think the OP was suggesting saying the wacko thing to a potential employer. Among friends, as this blog community hopefully is, it should be OK to vent a bit of bitterness about a situation where one felt poorly treated. She’s criticising both her former self and an institution that has a reputation for treating people unfairly – doesn’t sound intolerant to me.

      1. OP #2*

        Yes. I just want a diplomatic way to answer the question and move on. I don’t want to badmouth an employer or get defensive or personal about my own life if it won’t affect me in a position I’m interviewing for.

    2. Sue Wilson*

      I’m not sure if you intend this, but it seems like you’re implying that OP’s aversion to religious restrictions makes them naive to workplace restrictions in general or unlikely to like any restrictions. I don’t think that’s something you could glean from the letter as written and it seems to ignore the very peculiar way religious restrictions might play out. First of all, while many have specific conduct that is prohibited or discouraged, there is frequently a catch-all “don’t do immoral behavior” where what is “immoral” is left up to the institution. In other words, it’s fairly unlikely that “divorce” was mentioned as prohibited behavior and therefore to the average person incredibly unclear that a consequence would involve explaining that divorce to multiple committees in order to keep one’s job. I’m pretty sure the average person who is not familiar with religious institutions’ codes of conduct would be surprised by that.

      I’m also not sure why, when the OP is trying to find a neutral way to explain their leaving, their more exaggerated wording needs correcting since it’s fairly obvious to me that’s not what the OP ever intended on using.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        Yes, I think there’s a big difference between signing on for clearly spelled out restrictions and later changing your mind, and discovering that your employer has a totally different interpretation than you do of a fairly general wording in the job description. I do think that if an employer has unusual expectations of their employees’ conduct, particularly outside of work, it’s their responsibility to disclose this before the job is accepted (and having to justify a divorce or get fired is definitely unusual, even for many religious organizations). Government jobs, for example, tend to be very, very detailed about their rules.

        For a non-religious example, a non-profit could say in their job description that they’re looking for people who support their mission, and the employee, who is very enthusiastic about the work they do, only later finds out that “support” actually means working unpaid overtime volunteering and donating a portion of their salary back to the charity. For the employee, it’s not so much a matter of having been naive, as not having been sufficiently cynical and suspicious.

      2. Engineer Girl*

        I mean exactly that. As far as the company is concerned, these things are part of your performance evaluation. Failing to adhere is failure to perform and is grounds for termination. For example, an engineer can do great engineering but still be terminated is they fail to keep a trade secret. The company decides what that is. Someone paid a price for showing Steve Wozniak one of the new iPhones before the launch.
        I remembering being very unhappy when my former company changed the travel rules. I had to get my Vice President to sign off on my private travel to certain countries. A friend had to sell all of his oil stocks when he changed divisions at the USGS – and that included his wife’s stock. We may think these things aren’t fair but we can lose our jobs over them.
        And using the word wacko when referring to a religious belief is a very strong term. Yes, it does bear mentioning as something to watch. Many places have peculiar restrictions that are unseen ahead of time.

        1. Sue Wilson*

          Anything not illegal is grounds for termination, that doesn’t let companies off the hook for being reasonable.

          It’s very odd that you keep equating this particular moral restriction with other business restrictions, especially since you keep giving examples of things that are reasonably foreseeable or clearly defined. I am also not sure why fairness is brought up when that’s not what I’m talking about; agreeing to unreasonable terms is something that is okay to bring up when those terms are reasonably foreseeable. It’s ridiculous to chide someone, or to question their ability to follow any restrictions, when those terms are not reasonably foreseeable. That’s not a position that deserves respect.

          There may be places with peculiar restrictions but if they aren’t clearly spelled out or able to be determined from the language used then those places aren’t complying with reasonable norms and shouldn’t be respected either.

          1. Mike C.*

            To add – no one gets married with the expectation of getting a divorce. Sometimes people realize that the person they’re married to is unfaithful or actively harms them. To force someone to stay in such a position is gross. The fact that there is no business need for such a rule makes it that much worse.

            1. Allison*

              my dad grew up Catholic, but distanced himself from Catholicism when a family member left an abusive marriage and was effectively shut out of her church because of it. A lot of people believe that their religious community will back them up even if they have to technically break the rules for their own well-being, and are understandably surprised when that’s not the case.

              1. Anon On This One*

                My aunt is still married to an abusive man for this reason. She was being physically and emotionally abused and when she went to her church for council, she was essentially told this was the “for worse” part and that nothing was more important than preserving her marriage. The man is now physically unable to do anything and is in care, but still my aunt remains the faithful and loving wife. She is not Catholic; this is a gross attitude that can be found in many religions.

              2. Chinook*

                “my dad grew up Catholic, but distanced himself from Catholicism when a family member left an abusive marriage and was effectively shut out of her church because of it”

                Allison, let me tell you that your dad’s church was wrong. No where does the Catholic Church teach or require you to live with the spouse you are married to. The restrictions only deal with remarriage and even that becomes a non-problem if you apply for an annulment after the civil divorce (which usually can be done based on the fact that the abuser hid or lied about being abusive before the marriage).

        2. Mike C.*

          I think it’s really a bit much to put something like “don’t have a divorce ever” in the same bucket as “don’t break NDAs” or “don’t have conflicts of interest”. This is really nothing more than an equivalency fallacy.

      3. Ketchup is a vegetable*

        Also who necessarily anticipates their marriage might fail when they take a job. People usually get married with the intention of it working out for life, however, if that arrangement becomes unsafe or a miserable place, etc then it dissolves. It’s ridiculous that some believe people should stay in a marriage no matter how the other partner is treating them because “divorce is a bad thing” this is how people end up in very terrible situations for life, because they are burdened with the weight of their religion or the judgment of others…

      4. OP #2*

        Thank you!!! I took great pains to stress that I want a non-controversial, diplomatic way to explain that time of my life and then I blew it with my last, frustrated, tossed-off “wacko” comment!

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I certainly didn’t read that as you planning to say wacko to a potential employer. I read it as you blowing off steam because that’s how you are seeing the divorce policy/dogma. Which, IMO, is pretty ridiculous.

          I’m a bit disgusted with religion right now (not with God, just people), so that may be coloring my thoughts a bit. Fortunately, it’s easy to avoid a religious employer, though not necessarily religious coworkers.

    3. Knitting Cat Lady*

      Due to the nature of my job there are several countries my employer strongly discourages me from visiting. I have no problem with that. It’s entirely reasonable.

      It’s entirely unreasonable to restrict the romantic relationships of employees. In fact such restrictions are illegal in many parts of Europe.

      1. V*

        Due to the nature of my job, and the systems I have access to, I could lose my job if I had a serious relationship with someone from the wrong country. It’s a reasonable restriction in some situations.

        1. Knitting Cat Lady*

          Those not that common, though.

          Honey traps are a risk in some jobs, obviously. But restricting relationships with specific nationalities strikes me as a bit short sighted.

          Hypothetically speaking the people trying to gain access could hire a person with an acceptable nationality to seduce the target.

          A thorough background check before committing to a serious relationship is what I would do.

        2. MK*

          No, actually, it’s just racism. It’s assuming that all people with the wrong nationality are potential spies and all people with the right nationality share your organizations politics and would never be indiscreet or immoral.

          If your job requires confidentiality, you simply don’t share sensitive information with people in your private life; perhaps it would even be wise to avoid discussing your work altogether. Simply forbidding romantic relationships with the wrong kind of foreigner accomplishes nothing.

          1. Elysian*

            I disagree. It’s not every job where its going to matter, but in some cases I can see issues. If the Ambassador to Israel starting dating a Palestinian, if you work for Homeland Security and start seeing an Iraqi citizen – not a Iraqi-American, but someone whose actual citizenship is in the other country exclusively – there would be at the very least some questions. Nationality is not the same as race, and there are some (albeit probably very few) jobs where it makes total sense to scrutinize romantic relationships across borders.

            1. Dan*

              You’re right that nationalism isn’t the same as racism. Second, scrutinize shouldn’t be interpreted as a blanket ban. There are many cases where he government will scrutinize a relationship with a foreigner, but then permit because no harm is likely to come from it.

              1. fposte*

                Nationalism isn’t the same as the current American definition of racism, anyway. But we don’t have a corner on the meaning of the word, and historically and globally that’s a much more dominant meaning than the way the U.S. uses it.

                1. Aunt Vixen*

                  I’m with you, fposte. I’m not sure why Dan chose to change “nationality != race” to “nationalism != racism” – technically true, but these are not remotely the same statement. Nationalism is also not the same as national security or (even) patriotism. It’s a fine but very bright line.

                2. fposte*

                  Yeah, it’s weird, when you grow up American, to realize that our definition of “racism” is really this funky little digression, kind of like the attempt to concretize the notion of race pseudo-scientifically itself. We’re so indoctrinated with it that it feels essential, but it really isn’t.

          2. Dan*

            Nationalistic policies aren’t racist for two reasons. (Side note: We so overuse the term “racism” in the US.) First reason: discriminating on the basis of national origin isn’t the same as racism, and second, there needs to be an element of inferiority or superiority.

            Presuming the commenter up thread holds a US security clearance, the term “may lose my job” or “could lose my job” is accurate as written – it shouldn’t be interpreted to mean that the poster WILL lose their job.

            The government does not assume that every person from a given country is a spy. What they do is investigate the relationships of the person from the foreign country, they’re looking for relationships to people with ties to the government who might exert influence on said spouse. As in, said spouse might not be a spy, but if spouse’s dad is a spy there is going to be trouble.

            The government is actually quite fair in who gets denied clearances. If the DOD denies a clearance, the candidate can appeal. The adjudication results are published on the Internet, I’ve read tons of them and very rarely thought that the appeals judge denied a clearance unfairly.

            1. Sue Wilson*

              We so overuse the term “racism” in the US

              We actually underuse it. Like in publishing we people say we need “diversity” when what they should say is that the publishing industry is racist. Now you might be saying people frequently misuse it (which I also doubt), but that’s not overuse.

              1. Ketchup is a vegetable*

                +12312 People who aren’t burdened by their race, in this country (and across the world, lets be honest) often seem to think we “overuse” a term that is actually underused. When you aren’t the one affected by it, you tend to get annoyed by it instead.

                1. voyager1*

                  I think one can not really look at the ills of society without looking at class as well though. Race is just a part of that picture.

                  Speaking as former one time “homeless white trash” (got called that) male back in my late teens, I can speak that society is rough if you are low class, no wealth and zero power. Lucky for me I was able to join the military and get out of that, but for many it becomes a cycle.

                  What we need to be asking is why does URM seem not to be able to break the cycle of poverty and hopelessness to escape it. Racism may play a part but there are also other factors involved too that are probably beyond the scope of this blog.

                2. neverjaunty*

                  Seriously. I don’t know how Dan intended it, but ‘we call everything racism’ so often means ‘could you please stop pointing out all the racism’.

                3. voyager1*

                  never jaunty,
                  I think Dan is basically saying thar here in the USA racism and prejudice and bigotry are basically the same thing and labeled as racist in many cases when they are not.

                  For example I am prejudiced against peanut butter. That doesn’t make me a racist or a bigot.

                4. Sue Wilson*


                  Well frankly, when a privileged race engages in bigotry or prejudice against a non-privileged race, then that’s racism. I’ve only really seen privileged races believe that racism and bigotry/prejudice were the same things when they weren’t, because that supposed prejudice was directed toward themselves.

                  Race is not simply part of the picture of class. Class and race are each their own separate oppression even if they frequently intersect. As for why POC have trouble breaking the cycle of poverty, that’s because racism is embedded in those political and social institutions which were founded to combat class issues. For instance, New Deal social security excluded jobs which were staffed primarily by black people. Redlining in housing was a federal example of racism that aided lower class white people but not lower class black people. There’s plenty of articles elsewhere which discuss the impact racism plays on class for POC if you want to go beyond the scope of this blog.

                5. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Y’all, we are getting way off-topic here. This is an important conversation but this particular post isn’t the place for it, so let’s move on. Thank you.

            2. BananaPants*

              When my brother re-does his security clearance, he has to provide my full name and address on the questionnaire (SF-86) and I’m just his sister! For his original security clearance the investigator needed to know where I worked and the nature of my work and also wanted to know if my fiance (now-husband) was a natural-born citizen. My brother has to list every interaction he’s had with a foreign national in the last 7 years and the nature of their relationship (personal, romantic, business, etc.) – friends, business associates, etc. If I ever needed to fill out an SF-86 for myself it would be a nightmare given that I currently work with people from all over the world (including some from countries that the US has a troubled history with).

              I have coworkers who are permanent residents of the US but are foreign nationals of certain countries who need special permission and constant escort around certain corporate facilities where they do defense-related work. In the parts of the company that do defense work, employees who are foreign nationals have special badges with a big red bar on them to indicate that they can’t go into certain work areas. When I was taking graduate classes at one of those locations I had to get a special badge and go through a vetting process just to get into the building without an escort.

              I can absolutely see the government being concerned about people with security clearances who are married/dating a foreign national or have inlaws who are foreign nationals.

    4. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

      “That said, you did sign the agreement so you shouldn’t be surprised that there are consequences. Your statement that you are “no longer a wacko religious person” sounds bitter and blaming on how things ended up. It also sounds really intolerant.”

      Well, nobody signs up to a job thinking “Better take this one in case my marriage fails and my boss disapproves of divorce!” And getting divorced = losing job is, frankly, not “consequences”. It’s a completely unreasonable intrusion by a workplace into someone’s private life in a way which cannot possibly be justified by reference to the job.

      I agree that I winced slightly at OP’s comment, but it was clearly meant as tongue-in-cheek, and, being frank for a moment, it’s what most people who aren’t fundamentalists say about fundamentalists outside of situations like work where tact is absolutely required. I think misspiggy is right that in a community like this it should be ok to not be on best behaviour always.

      There’s also a huge difference between restrictions (and I think we could debate the ‘correctness’ of some of these all day) on not commenting on political matters publicly because you represent the Govt and are supposed to be neutral and others of that ilk and saying that somebody has to stay with a spouse (whatever their behaviour has been) or lose their job. One is a fairly minor and annoying restriction; the other is hugely intrusive and controlling, and moves into taking away autonomy from their workers in all areas of their life.

      1. Mike C.*

        Well said.

        Also, what happens if I’m working in such a situation as the OP previously did and my wife seeks out the divorce? She could do this quite easily in my state, she didn’t sign the agreement but here I am in violation of an agreement I signed anyway. Is it simply my fault for “not doing everything in my power up to and including the sort of things only found in a Lifetime movie” or what?

        1. neverjaunty*

          Yes. A lot of people are surprised to point out that even in states that have fault-based divorce, nobody needs their spouse’s permission to divorce, and you don’t have to have one person or the other agree to it. They can divorce you whether you like it or not.

      2. OP #2*

        “It’s what most people who aren’t fundamentalists say about fundamentalists…” YES. Yes, my apologies for the last “wacko” comment. I was trying find a way to signal that I am not an employee for whom religion will be an issue. And after living through that year & my divorce, I came to feel that religion got tied up with everything in a way that it might not in another employment situation. My goal is to avoid commenting on religion, divorce, or blame in an interview. All of the rest — whether or not I am at fault for taking the job in the first place, for instance — is interesting conversation but not one I want to have in an interview!

        1. Afiendishthingy*

          Kudos to you for your thoughtful comments here, you seem like you’re handling the situation with a lot of grace. I know a number of former fundamentalists who are pretty traumatized and bitter and conflicted about their relationships with religion – and you’re right to not want to delve too deeply into that in an interview. I think AaM’s wording strikes the perfect tone. Best of luck in your search.

        2. Paige Turner*

          Good luck, OP! I think since this job was 10 years ago and you’ve done a lot of other things since, that you’re right to want to spend as little time as possible talking about why you left that job. It would be a different situation if you’d just left a few months or so ago and hadn’t gotten another job yet. It’s smart to have an answer ready in case an interviewer asks why you left, but I doubt that a reasonable interviewer would keep digging after that one question, since they will probably want to focus on more recent experience.

    5. Nea*

      There is a vast gulf of difference between “my job regulated my personal life to to point that it is now in the news for illegal practices” and “I cannot abide by any work strictures on my personal life in my workplace.”

      1. Engineer Girl*

        There was no illegal practice mentioned. Let us not do all or nothing thinking. It interferes with discussion of issues when we go black and white. Most job situations are grey.

      2. RVA Cat*

        You could say that “my employer intruded into my private life, in ways that have caused other people to take legal action.” This shows that A) they were way out of line (and brings in the context of the news stories) and B) you chose to leave rather than sue them.

        1. Not me*

          I agree with this, and I also think that it might be good to emphasize that intrusion into OP’s personal life was the reason they left, not being uncomfortable in a religious workplace. Talking about discomfort with a religious workplace can sound like OP would have trouble working with/for religious people.

          1. RVA Cat*

            Exactly. The issue is the boundary violation of penalizing the OP for her divorce (strongly thinking her just because it sounds like there was a patriarchal bent that may be a cause of OP’s bitterness….)

    6. Kelly L.*

      This sits really, really badly with me. This didn’t happen because it was her “first job” or because she wasn’t prepared for the unspoken interpretations of the code. And her wording was tongue-in-cheek.

    7. Allison*

      It’s possible that the adherence of faith agreement and/or code of conduct didn’t specify that divorce was a no-no for staff members. It’s also possible it was in there but OP assumed it was an outdated rule that wasn’t enforced anymore, or that OP simply wasn’t planning on getting a divorce when they took the job. So while OP might have been surprised by the intrusion, it’s also possible that OP was okay with it at first and then realized that it would be a bigger problem than they anticipated, and simply realized that that kind of job wasn’t for them anymore.

    8. JB (not in Houston)*

      Go back and read the letter again. Nowhere did the OP say that she would tell an interviewer that she was “no longer a wacko religious person.” And sure, lots of jobs care have restrictions on how you can behave in your personal life, to a limit, but very few jobs will fire you for getting a divorce. Plus, as others have pointed out, few people get married expecting to get divorced.

      Non-disclosure agreements are common. Security agreements are less common but still not that unusual. Employers who will fire you for, say, being indicted for a felony are not that uncommon. Employers who will fire you for getting divorced are very uncommon in the US. You really can’t realistically use that job as an example of what a potential employee should expect going into the workforce.

    9. OP #2*

      Hi, everyone, and thank you for your comments on my question. I appreciated Alison’s response. A lot of you are taking issue with my last, frustrated comment on “wacko religious person,” and probably rightly so. Let me stress I would NEVER use that outside of this forum! Alison picked up that I just want to signal that religion will not cause problems for me in any workplace… and really, when people see this particular institution on my resume, that might be a concern for them. I am trying to come up with a way to quickly address that job without getting bogged down in potential complications that ultimately have no bearing on my life 10 + years later. I’m a happy, healthy person with great references. On most days, I might still call myself religious. But I don’t want to inadvertently let the conversation “go there” during an interview.

      1. Mike C.*

        No worries, I think you have every right to be frustrated and express such frustration in this forum. There’s a huge difference between here and the interview room.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I bet you can cut through a lot by starting out with, “well, that job was ten years ago…” The time frame alone should help distance you from the significance of the job.

        I am big on redirects. I do not do them well, so I have to line up a couple in advance. Say what it is you want to say and then quickly segue in to your redirect for the conversation. So this looks like: brief explanation of old, old, job then segue into new topic that is very interesting to the interviewer. “I left there and went to ABC, Inc where I learned [Things interesting to the interviewer and relevant to current opening] and I did [tasks, accomplishments relevant to current opening].

        The subtle thing here is that by examples you show that you are not just all about religion rather you have all this other stuff that you do going on, also. A well-rounded person is able to talk like… uh, a well-rounded person. Let the depth and width of your work experiences show all of the professional you.

        When you ask them if they have any questions and they go back in on “why did you leave X place?” then just say, “Sadly, I had a lot of changes in my personal life that made the move necessary. My old boss was very sorry to see me go, but he understood.”

    10. Afiendishthingy*

      The incident was 10 years ago… I don’t think you can say at this point that the OP is surprised. It sounds like she endured a lot of painful interrogation and castigation at the time- and I’m sure a lot of that was internal as well- so I don’t see the point in further scolding her here for not predicting she would get divorced and break with the church.

      And no, codes of coduct that are that strict about entirely private matters are not very common in non-religious institutions.

  3. Adam*

    #4 That actually sounds pretty cool! You have published work in recognizable titles so you are essentially saying that you’re already doing this kind of work professionally while maintaining a successful academic career. You sound like you’re ahead of the game to me!

    1. Doriana Gray*

      Yeah, I thought OP #4’s example letter was fantastic. I’ve never been a hiring manager, but I have participated on interview panels at my current employer, and if I saw this letter and experience on a new grad’s resume, I’d be hounding the HM to hire her. (And I probably wouldn’t have to since the hiring managers I know would snap her up as soon as they saw it, too.)

  4. Perse's Mom*

    #1 – I have to agree with Alison – remove the barriers to concentration and see how she does. If she’s new, she might just not be catching on as fast as John, but you won’t know without some experimentation. It may just be me, but it’s a bit odd that she’s both slow AND making a lot of errors, so I wonder if going back over any relevant training along with removing distractions would be beneficial. Particularly if this position is one with a lot of unpredictable variables, which makes it nigh impossible to catch everything in training.

    I am aces with my ipod – but I’ve had to learn over time how ipod and job intersect.
    A: Process I’ve done a million times and requires very little concentration = podcast/audiobook time.
    B: Process requiring more concentration/focus/interruption-heavy time of day = music. Then I can just drop my earbuds to take a call, answer a question, dig into a problem and put the buds back in when it’s all clear, rather than trying to figure out where I was in the hour long story.

    1. Adam*

      If I have a problem with earbuds per se it’s not so much what I’m listening to; it’s that I generally don’t bother to take them out when I’m walking around the office so I almost always have them in unless I’m going to a meeting (my job is boring) which makes me look anti-social. I try half-heartedly to break the habit sometimes, but usually revert pretty quickly.

      One interesting quirk of mine though: if I really need to focus on something and not be distracted I know just the thing: Soundtracks to video games. It works surprisingly well. Video game music is designed to both be immersive but not distracting, and there’s often no lyrics so it’s super easy to keep your mind focused without constant shifts in the music to pull you out of it. Most of my final papers in college were written with 90’s era video game tunes playing in my ears.

      1. Andrea*

        I can totally relate to this– although for me it’s movie soundtracks. I may not have a graduate degree of not for the John Williams Pandora station.

        As for lw#1, I will listen to podcasts/npr at work but it usually serves as background noise. If it’s something that requires primary attention I’ve found it not possible to do my job well and hear every word of a book on tape for example. If the employee isn’t aware she’s slow and making errors and it’s brought up she may realize why without being told.

        1. potato battery*

          Yes to soundtracks! Stirring yet wordless. I, too, credit my grad degree at least in part to such music.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Soundtracks are nearly all I listen to. Games, TV shows, films. :)

        I can’t concentrate at all when listening to music with vocals. A podcast or audio book would give me the same problem as the OP’s employee. I do have albums with lyrics on my phone, but the only time I listen to them is when I’m doing something completely mindless, like cleaning, or while driving, when I can sing along. Because I always want to sing along.

        1. Chalupa Batman*

          I actually sing along to concentrate! I’m a very nervous driver, so when I’m at that in-between point between when I start to get uncomfortable and needing absolute silence to focus, I turn familiar music up really loud and sing. It dampens my anxiety enough to focus on driving. It has to be something I know well, though; I can’t listen to the radio and get the same effect, for example. I think bringing up that the podcasts may be a distraction could help if the employee hasn’t ever considered what types of listening help and what types hurt-switching to something else could make a difference once it’s suggested.

      3. finman*

        At work, I usually only put one earbud in, that way I can hear the music, but still be more “in tune” with the office. If I was really needing to concentrate on something , I pop in the second earbud. You could even post a little sign that says 1 earbud go ahead and bug me, 2 ear buds send an email.

    2. Schnapps*

      If you’re using it to block out external noise, you can try a white noise generator as well. I have one on my phone that has multiple sounds: rain, train running on the tracks, frogs croaking, etc. I find it really helps with attention to detail.

  5. SCR*

    #1 — It very well could be the podcasts but I feel like this is really unlikely. I listen to podcasts at work because music is actually more distracting to me. I constantly want to change the song or playlist or whatever and it’s so much better for me to segment out work by 45min to an hour long podcasts. I work until the podcast done if I’m doing spreadsheets or stuff like that and then take a quick break and then maybe start a new podcast. If my boss told me I couldn’t listen to podcasts anymore I’d be really miffed.

    This is probably really specific to me but I find podcasts help me focus. I have ADD and the lull of voices speaking is so much better for my brain while working then music. It’s hard to explain but focusing on that helps me block out outside noises in my open office and actually work. Yeah, she’s slow but I’d address that not what she listens to.

    1. Gem*

      Yay, me too! I don’t have ADHD or similar, but I have exactly the same issue with music. I can’t even listen to a musical soundtrack all the way through in the order of the story, so I just podcast/audiobook. If I need to do something that requires concentration, I’ll listen to something I’ve heard before, so I don’t have to worry about missing things/etc.

    2. Brightwanderer*

      It’s interesting that it works that way for you – I’m the complete opposite. I can’t have anything with dialogue or narrative playing if I’m trying to concentrate on something else, because it will always compel my attention whether I want it to or not. I can’t be in the room when someone else is watching TV unless I’m okay with watching it too – I can’t block it out and do something else.

        1. mondegreen*

          Same here. Even during routine tasks, I get distracted by words (or even song lyrics in a language I speak). Sometimes I start transcribing what I’m listening to into the document I’m working on.

          Even with numbers-only spreadsheets, I had to stop listening to “wordy” audio after making a couple mistakes. That’s probably because the row/column labels are still words even if the main body of the spreadsheet is numeric.

      1. Chloe Silverado*

        For me, it depends entirely on what type of task I’m doing. When I’m doing something that requires critical thinking, music or silence works better, but if I’m doing something more routine a podcast helps me focus.

        1. jmkenrick*

          I’m the same way. I also can’t listen to podcasts while I’m still learning something new (since my brain still needs to master the habit), so that might be part of the issue.

        2. Just Another Techie*

          I can’t even listen to instrumental music (no voices or lyrics) when I’m trying to concentrate on a technical task. I get distracted by the structure of the composition.

        3. Elizabeth West*

          I got into old-time mystery radio shows a while back. They’re GREAT to listen to while housecleaning or doing something really boring and mindless; they make the time go by much faster.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              There’s a club online that has them–or did. It’s on my computer at home, so when I get there I’ll post a link. I think it was $10 for a membership. iTunes used to have a bunch of them but I think they’re gone now. :(

      2. BRR*

        I think people need to be honest with what works for them. That some people might not be able to work with any music or podcasts but that’s boring so they do anyways. It took me a long time in college to figure out I needed to study in silence. No headphones. It wasn’t nearly as enjoyable but it was more effective.

        1. Allison*

          When I work from home I almost always have the TV on as background noise, or I’ll stream something on Netflix. Usually a familiar show like The Office or How I Met Your Mother, something I don’t need to pay a lot of attention to to know what’s going on, but it’s better than complete silence interspersed with door buzzers, garbage trucks backing up, cars honking, people talking in the hallway, etc.

          1. MsChanandlerBong*

            I absolutely cannot do any work unless I have some kind of noise. I listen to Pandora a lot, but I have to be careful because I sometimes abandon my work in favor of conducting the Boston Pops from my living room (I work from home). If I have the TV on, it’s definitely something I’ve already seen (The Office, Friends, Criminal Minds, Law & Order SVU, etc.). Otherwise, I get sucked in and don’t pay attention to what I’m doing. I’m hoping to finish early today because I just discovered Pushing Daisies and can’t wait to watch the next episode!

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I’ve been binging Fargo all weekend!

              One thing I miss about cable is endless SpongeBob reruns (hush; I love SpongeBob). Those made great background noise without being too distracting.

              1. Windchime*

                I’ve been binging Nurse Jackie all weekend (it just went up on Netflix on the 31st). I seriously don’t want to do any work today; I just want to watch Nurse Jackie.

                I love podcasts, but I can’t listen to them while I’m working because the conversation distracts me. If I have to listen to something, sometimes I’ll do music but mostly I do white noise.

            2. bkanon*

              If you’re conducting the Pops, I’m in your imaginary orchestra. There’s a lot of air violin going on here.

          2. bkanon*

            I use sitcoms as white noise a lot. Got the complete series of several of them for just that reason. Wings was a Christmas present!

      3. Talvi*

        I’m the same way – I can work fine with music (especially if it’s in a foreign language that I don’t speak and have never studied!), but talking absolutely destroys my concentration. Normal workplace noise usually includes conversation (be it casual or work-related) – but if I can hear it, my brain will zero in on it even if it’s completely unrelated to anything I’m doing and I cannot focus on anything until the conversation ceases or I block it out with music. (It was the same in school as well, and fortunately my junior high and high school teachers didn’t care if you listened to music when doing individual seat work. Otherwise, I would have never finished any worksheets at all due to all the chatting going on around me!)

    3. katamia*

      I have ADD and need music to focus. Podcasts don’t work for me, but a lot of people still give me the “Oh, well, if you say so” response that makes it really clear that they don’t believe a word of it. If I don’t have music going, though, every single noise I hear drags me out of what I’m doing. I don’t find it hard to believe at all that someone else could be like that with podcasts.

      At my last office job, they usually let us listen to music, but at one point my headphones broke, so I couldn’t listen to anything for a few days. It was a super quiet office, but every time someone’s chair squeaked or a door opened or something I’d get distracted and it would take a good 5-10 minutes to get back to what I was doing. And then someone else’s chair would squeak or another door would open and I’d get distracted all over again. *sigh*

      It is possible that the podcasts are slowing her down because some people do have a harder time working with noise and don’t quite realize it or care, but it’s also possible that without the podcasts she could be even slower.

      1. Afiendishthingy*

        I love Simply Noise, which is a white noise app /website. I can do some kinds of work with music, but would have to be really mindless work to listen to podcasts. Everyone is different! But I think it may be worth suggesting to OP’s employee that she try an alternative to spoken word.

        1. katamia*

          I’ve never used it (white noise isn’t enough for me/makes me antsy), but that sounds like a good compromise the OP could suggest to Beth if Beth doesn’t work well with silence. (Although it sounds like she’s not working particularly well without silence, either.)

          1. afiendishthingy*

            I also sometimes use it in combination with relatively unobtrusive music, which really blocks everything out. I’m very picky about white noise but they have a few options that are, as the name suggests, just NOISE and not The Rainforest or Ocean Waves, and they are pretty awesome.

          2. Windchime*

            I love white noise, but I tried “pink noise” once and it totally made me antsy. It’s like it just found my Anxiety Dial and cranked it up to 10. Something about the frequency of it was just WRONG for my brain.

        2. Hlyssande*

          I’ve got ‘White Noise Free’ on my phone and it has a whole bunch of different options, including heavy rain/thunderstorms, purring cats, waves on a beach, heartbeats, etc. I use it to sleep when I’m travelling. It might help Beth to explore something other than plain white noise.

          1. JMegan*

            I have that one too, and actually I think it was on AAM that I first heard about it. I can’t work in silence, because there is no such thing as true silence – as katamia says above, there’s always somebody coughing, or a chair squeaking, or the printer starts running. I find those incidental noises a lot easier to deal with if I have some background noise to smooth things out. I also have a CD called Mozart For Your Mind, which probably doesn’t make you smarter as the advertising claims, but it is designed to improve your focus.

            But actually the thing I listen to most is CBC-1 (available on cbc-dot-ca on the internet, or the actual radio if you’re in Canada.) It’s mostly talking, commercial-free, and I find it gives me the perfect balance between focus and distraction for most of what I need to work on.

            OP, I agree with Alison’s advice that you’ll probably have to ask Beth to turn everything off, at least at first. But if you find that she really does work better with some sort of background noise, there are lots of options other than podcasts for her to try.

      2. SystemsLady*

        The best way I’ve found to explain it, though no doubt those same people would respond the exact same way to this:

        You know those “I’m bored” thoughts that kill your self-motivation and make you more easily distracted? Imagine them hitting you constantly and almost immediately after starting a task, even a task you enjoy, unless you were under serious stress to finish it or it’s the kind of thing you get so wrapped up in that whoops it’s suddenly 8pm.

        That’s the reason why I need to drown out my brain with something neutral and enjoyable.

    4. Brandy in Tn*

      Yes, this is me. I liten to sports talk all day almost because Im just using my Walkman and can get tired of NPR but Id rather hear a voice speaking then music all day. And sometimes I sit witht he headphones on my ears but the Walkman off, when I need to concentrate. It can drown out the other office sounds for me.

      1. afiendishthingy*

        Ok, no judgment here, but I honestly didn’t think anyone still had Walkmans! I commend you for keeping it all these years.

        1. Brandy in Tn*

          Love it. Free radio is all I need at work. I ought these in the past 5 years (2, I drop it a lot, bought at Target). I so old school, my headphones are huge, I hate earbuds as I don’t want something in my ears. My headphones rest over my ears.

          1. JMegan*

            Me too! I said above that I listen to CBC at work, but I’ve had a heck of a time finding a radio to listen to. When I explain that I want to listen to the local radio station, at the same time it is broadcasting, and that I do not want to use data on my phone to do so – people look at me like I’m a dinosaur. :) Maybe I am, but you will pry my local radio from my cold dead dinosaur hands!

            1. Brandy in TN*

              Exactly. I can keep my data at 2 GB and not have to charge my phone so much. I freely accept being a dinosaur.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                I’m the same. I use my phone like a music player and keep an eye on my internet radio stream (I have an app). When something comes on I want to hear, I tap the app and listen. The downside is that I forget to check and miss stuff.

                Also a fan of big headphones. Earbuds don’t stay in and hurt my ears.

      2. Persephone*

        I listen to sports radio all day too. My focus goes in and out depending on what I’m working on.

    5. Dan*

      I’m really backwards when it comes to this kind of thing. I don’t do audio books or podcasts because I can’t focus on my work and what people are saying.

      Heck, I actually issue music to *create* background noise. I work sligtly irregular hours, and during the day, the normal commotion is fine, and I don’t need to drown it out. But about 6pm when most of the office is gone, I find th silence maddening.

    6. LQ*

      This is one of those things where I wish it was easy to do a quick and effective self-test for these things. Put on headphones and do these tasks in these kinds of situations. Silence, background din, music, podcasts*, whatever. Now do a creative task, a mindnumbing task and see. Here are your results. Sorry cupcake you work best in quiet so stop wasting years trying to figure out why you get veery when you have music on. Or try a mildly engaging audio, something that doesn’t suck you in to the point of stopping typing, but keeps you from gouging your eyes out.

      *I find it odd that people say that they can just put on a podcast and not pay all their attention to it. I don’t listen to podcasts I don’t like enough to pay attention…I used to do background talk radio that would replay the same stories when I didn’t work in an office with a background din though so that could be it. I can only clean or walk when listening to podcasts.

    7. INTP*

      I have ADHD and am the same way when doing any sort of boring task. I get crazy with boredom with no mental stimulation which certain work tasks just don’t provide. Music is overstimulating in a sensory way and makes me feel tired but it’s understimulating mentally.

      That said, I’ve also been known to tell myself a podcast was helping me concentrate when it was really me trying to avoid concentrating on something I didn’t want to concentrate on. If her performance is inadequate with the podcasts I think it’s fair to suggest she try not using them as a way to attempt to save her job.

    8. SystemsLady*

      As a fellow ADHD sufferer I have exactly the opposite thing going on! Music = good as long as it isn’t too stimulating [no classical for this nerd], podcasts = bad unless the activity in question is driving.

      In fact, one of the reasons I sought treatment was a complete inability to think in environments with more than one conversation going on (and completely blocking out sales guys on calls with headphones is…difficult). Which is almost not an issue at all anymore, so yay!

      But it’s a great example of how different people work different ways. What works for you and (possibly, could go either way) Beth won’t work for others. So jumping to the podcasts being the problem isn’t necessarily the answer here.

      And glad you brought up ADHD, because lots of people, even people without but especially with ADHD, function better with the sort of additional stimulus that would act as a distraction to others (and vice versa). The more people hear that, the better!

    9. Mimmy*

      Yes, many people like to listen to something to help them focus or to block out the office background noise but doesn’t realize it’s impacting her work productivity.

      I’m the complete opposite of many people though – I don’t mind the normal office noise as long as it’s not loud and it’s a fairly steady, low volume din. But as soon as I hear people cackling and carrying on, I’m in full BEC mode. In fact, my tolerance has actually gone down a bit. Don’t even THINK about eating that bag of chips near me!!!

      But I refuse to do headphones or even earplugs because I’d worry that I would miss someone trying to get my attention.

    10. Observer*

      To be honest, I don’t think it matters. The person is having an issue. Podcasts are a common enough issue that it makes sense to try eliminating that. If she already knows that this won’t work, then it’s on her to speak up. If she doesn’t know that, then it’s a reasonable thing to try.

      But, I do agree that this pretty much depends on the OP providing clear feedback on the performance issue directly.

    11. KC*

      This is interesting because I am the exact opposite. I will listen to music to tune things out and concentrate at work, or just make work a little better. I will listen to podcasts at work too, but only when it’s really slow and im not doing anything, because i can’t really listen to someone/something and do work at the same time.

      You might benefit from a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones.

    12. get some perspective*

      I find it remarkable that you can judge the situation as unlikely based on one example (your own).

      “I feel like this is really unlikely”

      I find it remarkable that you can have a strong opinion on this based on one example (your own).

      I don’t know enough about it to say if it’s likely or unlikely, but it is surely possible and thus probably worth exploring for the OP.

      1. SCR*

        There’s lots of examples above of this and others I know personally agree. Podcasts slowing someone down is just as much of an inference as I’m making. What someone listens to is very likely not the straw that broke the camel’s back. This boss is sort of coming out of left field and making major assumptions. So I did the same.

  6. McDerp*

    #3 – I feel like this is one of those things it’s a bit silly to be paranoid about. Everyone’s about to sit in a small room together breathing in the sicky’s germy exhaled breath anyway. It makes little to no difference whether you also touch hands for two seconds. We all of us breathe in everyone’s gross breath all day long in the office, on the bus, on the train. For etiquette’s sake, if you’re obviously stuffy and sniffly, Alison’s greeting is a nice way of putting it. If no one would be the wiser (whether because you took some antihistamine or you’re beginning to get over it), I don’t even see the point in mentioning it.

    1. LBAUTHOR*

      Actually, handshakes are the most likely way to share germs in a professional environment. There’s a big difference between sharing air and touching hands.

      1. McDerp*

        The germs have to leave the body first. Once they’re in the air, they can get on anything, and some of them are going in your nose and mouth whether you touch hands or not.

        1. kimberly*

          No, not really.

          The flu and most colds (rhinovirus) are transmitted via droplets or via direct (contact)/indirect (vector) transmission.

          Shaking hands is an example of direct (contact) transmission; me touching my nose and then a table and you touching that table is an example of indirect (vector) transmission. These are both really common ways to transmit germs.

          Droplet transmission is a little harder, because droplets are relatively heavy and don’t go far — a couple of feet. This is why it is so important to cover your mouth/nose when you sneeze/cough (and then wash your hands!) as far as spreading disease is concerned.

          What you are describing (“once they are in the air, they can get on anything …”) is airborne transmission, and it isn’t very common. There are only a handful of diseases that are transmitted via airborne transmission . TB, chicken pox, and either measels are a few examples.

          So in general, being in the same room as someone with a cold/flu isn’t going to be enough to catch it unless you are sitting close enough for them to sneeze/cough germs onto you, you shake hands, or they touch a surface that you later touch (like a doorknob).

          1. kimberly*

            “either measles” sorry … that had been “either measles or german measles”; when I looked up the CDC guidelines to post a link that is in a separate post I saw that it is measles rather than german measles and did an incomplete edit :).

              1. fposte*

                It follows the pattern kimberly describes for droplet transmission, but it doesn’t have the aerosolized staying power of measles.

        2. fposte*

          Rhinoviruses do seem to have more airborne transmission than some viruses (thanks to the powerful sneeze, I would bet), but in general skin to skin contact is a big transmitter of viruses whether they’re airborne or not.

          1. McDerp*

            Responding really to both you and kimberly, but you’re lower so I’ll just leave it here.

            I didn’t say LBAUTHOR was wrong. I am aware of how germs are transmitted. I just said there’s going to be germs whether you shake hands or don’t. The sick person may touch the table and then you touch the table. Whatever. It’s still leaving the body via the breath and fluid that is coming out of their germy lungs and mouth and there’s no way to entirely prevent any of those microscopic beasties from getting inside of you. If the person felt well enough to come to the interview (and I’m not saying they should, but if they’re already there), it probably isn’t going to be that big of a deal to shake hands. Especially when you consider all the disgusting things we’re inhaling and touching all the livelong day.

            Anyway, LW was asking from the point of view of the interviewee, so if she feels like she needs to say something, I’ve already said I think Alison’s wording will do the job. But if it were me, and I felt well enough to show up, I guess I’d just be gross and not mention my cold and shake your hand with my grody germs on it.

            1. fposte*

              Sure, but the goal isn’t to keep things sterile, it’s to reduce the transmission of germs. Minimizing skin to skin contact does help with that. It’s not like it’s only worth doing it it achieves complete prevention.

      2. MK*

        Sure, but that isn’t limited ot sick people; anyone could have germs on their hands by touching a doorknob a sick person touched.

    2. Random Lurker*

      I once interviewed someone who was very sick and refused to shake hands. I remember finding it very unprofessional, but to be fair, he said other things in the interview that were not appropriate and probably clouded that judgement. I would wash my hands after a meeting where I’ve exchanged handshakes with strangers.

      If someone is really that sick, I’d prefer that the interview be rescheduled.

    3. hermit crab*

      My mom interviews teenagers every day at work (she’s an admissions counselor at a college). There was a kid one time who was like, “Don’t shake my hand, I have mono.” And it turned out that he decided to come in for the interview because he wasn’t allowed to come back to school yet. Obviously you don’t catch mono just from being in the same room as someone, but yeah, don’t be that guy. :)

      1. Hlyssande*

        Hey, at least he was honest about it and didn’t want her to catch it. Could’ve said it better, though.

    4. Melissa J*

      I had an interview last March where my interviewer didn’t want to shake hands because she was getting over a cold. I kinda had mixed feelings. Part of me appreciated it because I tend to get sick easily. The other part was a little thrown off because it was the standard greeting and it felt weird.

      If I’m sick enough to be contagious, I do not go in. I had either an ear infection or bronchitis (I was super sick) when I had an interview scheduled and ended contacting them and having them do a phone interview. I did not want to bring it in to them.

      1. Artemesia*

        colds can easily last 10 days and while you are not very sick, the germs are communicable through handshakes — all the person has to do is ‘cover their cough’ and they are a germ factory; you can’t expect someone to stay out of work for that length of time. 24 hour flu is also communicable for a week at least after the person recovers if they don’t meticulously wash hands after using the toilet — and we all know most people don’t.

        I wish we would come up with a professional greeting that didn’t involve clasping clammy palms but so far we haven’t. In the meantime, I appreciate people recovering from a cold not shaking my hand.

    5. OP#3*

      Yeah, I was less paranoid about getting sick and more thrown by the insistence to grab everyone on the shoulder. I wasn’t sure if this was some newfangled advice (like sneezing into the crook of your arm) or an odd personal choice.

      1. Ketchup is a vegetable*

        lol very odd personal choice. The declining to shake hands imo was appropriate, but the need to touch everyone… I don’t know if I would have been able to keep myself from laughing at the third or fourth instance…

        1. OP#3*

          there was also a moment where the candidate broke out a bottle of cough syrup and took a swig during the interview… that was definitely eye popping.

          1. INFJ*

            Oh my! I definitely would’ve waited for a bathroom break if I needed to do that. (Though, if I were that sick, I probably would have tried to reschedule.)

      2. neverjaunty*

        Um, yeah, somebody I don’t know well grabs me by the shoulder, there is going to be, at a minimum, a Discussion.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Yeah, really. I have thousands of dollars invested in one shoulder, not a great idea to grab my shoulder. I’d have no problem explaining that.

      3. Some2*

        I thought this advice was really common? I’ve heard it a ton of times and am surprised no one has mentioned it yet. I personally do think it’s odd, but I’ve been told over and over again that instead of shaking hands you’re supposed to gently touch someone on the shoulder in this sort of situation. I remember at the end of our church services we used to gather in a circle and join hands for the final blessing; if you didn’t want to hold your neighbor’s hand it was suggested that you gently touch them on the shoulder instead. Obviously that’s a very different context from business/job interview, but this advice is definitely out there.

  7. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

    #4 – I don’t know if I am being uptight and prim or just plain British, but your letter seems really… effusive to me. Obviously I can’t speak to American norms, which I suspect are different to here (?) but I’m afraid I found it quite off putting and almost brash. (Which isn’t a criticism of you; I’m sure you’re awesome and not brash at all – different communication styles) I, personally, would probably have gone more along the “Whilst studying, I also worked writing articles for X,Y,Z part-time; I got into this because A,B,C reasons [relevant to role I’m applying to]. It required good time-management skills, as during this time I also [other activities].” line. But then I know the British polite under-statement is baffling to much of the rest of the world!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I hear that from British readers every time I publish an example of a great cover letter! Y’all just have different conventions on this, I think. Not that you are known for being reserved or anything :)

      1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

        I’ve been musing on this. I think the best way to explain it is that the example letter is clearly setting out some great achievements – but because it pushes them and puts them front and centre, it sounds… almost over-exaggerated? It makes it read (to me) like the writer might be making more of their achievements than was really warranted (again, I don’t think the OP is at all, but that’s how it reads). Whereas if I read something which is quite genteel, it reads as if the person is being very modest; which then makes it sound as if they have understated their achievements and are actually even more fantastic than their accomplishments as set out make them sound.

        Which is convoluted logic, and possibly not logical at all outside the UK, but is how I make sense of it. Just because I’m reading them at the moment, I can say that Mapp & Lucia provide a perfectly brilliant example of how the ‘less is more’ mentality is used so crushingly over here.

        1. MK*

          For what it’s worth, it came across as “overly effusive about yourself” to me too; and my countrypeople are the very opposite of reserved. Many people have a general impression, perhaps not based on absolute fact, that if you are really competent and confident, you take it for granted and don’t need to point it out.

          I think what grates about the OP’s example is a) the length (two longish paragraphs) and b) the declaration of qualities (if you have managed full-time studies and a career that pays for them, it’s a given that you are super-organized and great at time management, you don’t have to declare yourself an expert). That being said, I wouldn’t hold it against someone that they are stressing this objectively remarkable achievement; at most, it would get an amused “well, you are no shrinking daisy, huh?”.

          1. Colette*

            “Expert” was over the top to me, too – I consider an expert someone who understands the subject as it applies in multiple situations, not just their own. It’s like someone who considers them self a childcare expert when the only exposure they have to children is raising their own two-year-old.

          2. Myrin*

            I’d actually leave the declaration of qualities in, if only to tie the whole thing back to the role you’re applying for and to not have a hiring manager go “Um? So?”. But I absolutely agree about the length. For what it’s worth, it reads over-the-top to me, too, but I’m not from the US either so I can only trust Alison’s judgment here.

          3. katamia*

            Yeah, I agree (and I am American). Kinda like how if you have to tell people you’re funny and they can’t get it just from talking to you, then you’re not really funny (general you, not you specifically). I think a shorter/less detailed mention of it could work well, but as it is, while I wouldn’t not interview the OP solely based on the paragraph as it is now, I don’t think it would really count in their favor either.

    2. Brit Brit*

      Yeah, I think this is just the cultural divide at play. The letter makes me feel uncomfortable and gives me second hand embarrassment for the OP, but I suppose brashness is to be expected from an American. They are known for it, after all.

      1. Doriana Gray*

        Where in OP #4’s example did she mention a dollar figure? Saying that her freelance business was successful enough that, as a college student, she was able to pay her own way is pretty dang impressive IMO and also signals that she can turn a profit for a business – that alone will get an employer interested, especially if she’s applying for gigs in publishing, which is an industry that’s struggling financially. She should absolutely mention it.

        1. anonanonanon*

          Not particularly. Unless she’s applying for a sales or marketing position at a publishing house, they’re probably not going to care about how much money she made with her own writing. It may help for a very small, independent publishing house, but a bigger one won’t look twice at it as anything special.

          1. BRR*

            I think it’s not about a specific dollar amount but that she made enough to support herself. It shows (not tells) that she is a hard worker in order to earn enough as a freelancer to support her self and/or that she has the skills to generate that level of income while in school.

          2. Doriana Gray*

            I meant in terms of revenue – depending on the type of publishing, you absolutely can write content that generates revenue for your publisher. And if she’s doing something in eCommerce or writing copy for a retailer, it also helps to point out that she can make money by writing compelling pieces.

        2. MK*

          I think it demonstrates that the OP is a bussinesslike person, but I doubt it directly translates to them being able to make profit for a publishing house. The work she did is more relatable go what an agent does, isn’t it?

    3. anonanonanon*

      I’m American and I found it off-putting, too. I think it’s some of the word choice OP4 uses that makes it seem like they’re bragging about how they managed to work full time while graduating early and maintaining their high GPA….which aren’t uncommon achievements. I went to undergrad and grad school with a lot of people who did this and most places I interviewed with after college expected it and wouldn’t single it out as anything out of the ordinary.

      Though, really,I think the “side job” is what raised my hackles because it comes off as sarcastic, and I don’t think that was OP4 intention.

      1. Cat*

        It is not my experience that employers expect recent graduates to have worked full time, maintained a near perfect GPA, and to have graduated early. At all.

        1. BRR*

          Me either. To me these are very attractive qualities in a candidate. Also I think there’s a difference in the type of full time work. This type seems more valuable when applying for full time office jobs than if you worked full time in the university bookstore.

        2. INFJ*

          I concur. I worked full time while getting my second degree with a full time schedule of classes; at the first place I applied to, the HM was really impressed by that.

      2. something*

        Also American, and I thought it was interesting the advice was to leave that bit in the letter. It seems like the letter writer is pointing to personal achievements, that (impressive as they are) may not be appropriate for inclusion in a cover letter. For instance, I wouldn’t think it was appropriate to discuss how you “had a flawless employment record despite taking care of a sick relative”, or “increased sales 20% while juggling soccer practice, ballet, and band concerts for your three children as a single mom”. The accomplishments are *really* impressive on their own and shouldn’t have to be qualified by their degree of extraordinariness in the context of your life circumstances. I think it would be nice to frame it more like, “What initially started as a part-time venture has grown into a flourishing and thriving career”.

      3. OP #4*

        Thanks for the feedback, everyone! I definitely understand how it could come off as *too* brag-y. I’ve always been told to make clear, direct associations between my skills and accomplishments and the job description – but maybe I’m taking it too far?

        I think in light of the comments I’m going to remove “expert” and “side job” from the letter. :) But I’ll leave in the fact that I’m supporting myself. Maybe it’s more common than I thought, but I don’t know anyone who’s paying for everything by themselves (and not taking on any loans).

        1. Ruthie*

          I teach at a university, and I can tell you, working full-time while maintaining a 3.9 GPA is definitely NOT common! As someone who works with college students, I agree with Alison: juggling so much, and doing so with finesse, speaks highly of your work ethic, time management, and attention to detail.

      1. Sara M*

        Marketing is a slightly braggy job by nature. I thought it was perfect. (I’m an American with marketing experience.)

          1. Conga*

            There are a lot of things I’ve worked hard to achieve, but I don’t go around talking about how awesome I am for having achieved them. That’s how this cover letter comes off to me. I think I’d like it better if the achievements were mentioned without all the other stuff (I wrote these things AND went to school AND paid for it all by myself!). I would just prefer “I wrote these things.”

            1. Jo*

              “There are a lot of things I’ve worked hard to achieve, but I don’t go around talking about how awesome I am for having achieved them.”

              But that’s the very definition of a cover letter — isn’t it? To highlight all of your achievements and just generally show how awesome you are?

  8. Pipette*

    #1: The podcasts may very well be causing cognitive interference, especially if the data entry is words rather than numbers. Listening to stories takes up language processing bandwith that may be needed for the data entry. So ask her to switch to instrumental music for a while to see if that helps.

    I’m a translator, so I’m working the language processor in my brain hard every day. I can barely even listen to music when I work, but I have colleagues who listen to podcasts while working. We’re all different I guess. But we all need to take responsibility for our work quality!

  9. hbc*

    #3: My husband explains and offers an elbow. People either react by shaking his elbow as if it was a hand or bumping his elbow with their own. I don’t think I could do it, but it seems to work for him. I’ve seen others do a curt little wave, and once a “virtual” handshake doing the motion in the air. All fine.

    But the shoulder thing doesn’t work. It’s more intimate than a handshake, it brings your faces closer (when the whole point is to be more distant), and the other person is left wondering what to do with their own arms. Awkward all around.

    1. Jo*

      I agree – not to mention that slight moment of wondering whether the interviewee might just have wiped mucus on your shoulder by accident. :| I’d rather someone just said briefly “would you rather I did not shake your hand, I have a cold and do not want to give you my germs” – I’d think that was considerate while acknowledging convention.

      1. Ketchup is a vegetable*

        THIS wording is great Jo “would you rather I did not shake your hand, I have a cold and do not want to give you my germs”

        It feels much less off-putting than “I don’t want to shake hands because I’m sick” but gives the “choice” to the receiver (who will likely always decline to shake) and doesn’t “feel” rude.

        I once met an exes new girlfriend several years later as we all share mutual friends, at a dinner. When I went to shake her hand, she said “I’m not gonna shake your hand, I’ve been sick” but it felt like a huge slight to me and I took it personally and thought she was extremely rude… even if she wasn’t and was being considerate. It just “felt” that way due to her wording (and me wondering if she was being rude because a long time ago her mate was mine) but it really was more so the wording, for me, that felt off-putting.

  10. Nobody*

    A few years ago, during the bird flu or swine flu or some other kind of flu epidemic, people were suggesting handshake alternatives to avoid spreading germs. I don’t remember hearing about a shoulder grab as one of them, but I do remember an idea to bump elbows. It didn’t really catch on :). I’m not sure what would be weirder, grabbing someone’s shoulder or holding up your elbow. But both are so uncommon that I wouldn’t do either at an interview — that’s just asking for them to refer to you as “that weirdo who wanted to bump elbows instead of shake hands.”

    Honestly, I don’t see why any physical contact is necessary for a greeting in a business situation, but I doubt handshakes are going away any time soon.

    1. Racheon*

      Ha, the elbow thing could be funny, specially if we do it like chicken arms.

      But I’m with you handshakes feel so awkward and old fashioned, i don’t know why we need to touch strangers.

    2. catsAreCool*

      I think we should replace the handshake with a quick wave. Easy to do, doesn’t spread as many germs.

  11. Racheon*

    I’m the opposite of letter 1. I have a physical job and work sooo much better with an audio book to distract me from the more repetitive duties. Obviously if I’m reading/writing I tend to switch it off, or i do get distracted. But since my company banned headphones, I’ve been a lot more irritable and easily distracted because I can’t just zone out and get on with work. I know I’m doing it, can’t help it. Luckily, as long as I get my work done I’m left alone ;)

  12. Nancypie*

    #4 – I find the mention of how you’re funding your classes odd. You’re completely paying for it as opposed to what? Your parents? Grants and loans? As an employer, I wouldn’t care. Everyone’s college gets paid for somehow…And lots of people,e put themselves through school, whether they pay upfront or take loans. I think it’s great to include the part where you are taking classes, but I’d leave the finances out of it.

    1. NJ Anon*

      Have to disagree. After putting myself and three kids through college, I would find this impressive!

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Same here. While I worked hard as an undergraduate, completing my graduate degree without any help from my parents while working full-time and becoming a new father was far more challenging. If nothing else, someone who is putting themselves through school has proven that they can be responsible for themselves, while someone who has gone from their parents’ house to campus might not know how organize their time or pay their bills. Yes, there are a lot of assumptions there, and I would try not to assume too much without further evidence, but those assumptions would be based on what I know of the candidate’s experience, which is kind of what we do with all candidates. All else being equal, more experience is generally better.

        That said, I’m all for giving inexperienced applicants a chance. I just think that paying your own way could count for something, although I wouldn’t necessarily mention it on a resume or cover letter.

    2. BRR*

      I also have to disagree. The primary focus is on their writing accomplishments. By showing it generated enough to pay for school, I would be impressed.

    3. The Expendable Redshirt*

      I’m finding that odd too! Probably for cultural reasons. Finances are Not to Be Discussed in public. Are we both Canadians?

      1. Nancypie*

        Nope – US east coast. But I do not like to discuss finances. I do think it’s impressive that the OP is going to school, I just don’t care how it’s paid for. No different (to me) than saying I did so well writing articles that I bought a sports car. I’m interested in how the OP juggles workloads, etc., but not in how she pays for things.

        1. Ketchup is a vegetable*

          I just don’t really feel like this is discussing finances. There aren’t dollar amounts… its more simply.. my writing is good enough that I am getting enough work to be able to support myself without additional means.. and I’m impressed by that.

        2. something*

          I think it’s interesting that the content of the letter seems to suggest that *not* paying your own way through school is the default. Very few people I know were supported through their education. Lots of the people I know paid their own way, worked full time, and many did so as a single parent with a baby on their hip. I think that is impressive and an amazing personal accomplishment, but not necessarily worthy of inclusion in a cover letter.

          It just feels weird to me, in any context. “What started as a business out of my garage became successful enough to bring me back from the brink of insolvency”.

          1. Beezus*

            I think it’s different for writers, though. Being published is a big deal. Being published in household-name publications and being paid for your work is even bigger. Being able to string together enough gigs like that to pay for school is very impressive this early in the OP’s career. I think if the OP is looking for work in the publishing/journalism industry, it merits a mention because it tells the reader something about his talent and the caliber of work he’s producing in a measurable, meaningful way.

        3. Observer*

          Yes, but this speaks to the question of juggling workloads. ie See, I can work enough to make serious money and still do well in classes.

      2. Allison*

        I’m on the east coast of the US, but my dad’s Canadian and I too am under the impression that one’s finances are a personal matter, much like one’s health, that shouldn’t be discussed because it can make others feel awkward.

        As someone who did not put herself through school and only worked for spending money (and to help build my savings for when I graduated), I am impressed with people who can do it, but if I’m evaluating an applicant, I care more about their professional (internship, co-op, part-time, freelance, etc.) and academic achievements than their personal ones, and I often feel put off when someone brings up personal achievements on a cover letter.

        1. Doriana Gray*

          I care more about their professional (internship, co-op, part-time, freelance, etc.) and academic achievements than their personal ones, and I often feel put off when someone brings up personal achievements on a cover letter.

          But this is a professional achievement – her freelancing job is what allowed her to pay her way through school. It would be totally different if she wrote in her letter how she worked part-time waiting tables or in retail while earning enough to manage to pay for school herself. But her letter, as written, basically says, “This is the work I did, and here are the results (no debt).” The personal and professional are intertwined in this case, and she can’t really separate the two.

        2. Tara R.*

          I’m Canadian, and IME this “do not discuss money” is very much a middle-class thing that does not extend to lower income families. Coming to university, where everyone is much, much wealthier than what I’m used to, this was one of the first changes that I noticed!

    4. Observer*

      As an employer, knowing that someone is skilled enough to be able to make that kind of money while still taking a full course load and doing well with it (which takes time) should be of interest to you. It also signals that this is not child coming out of a protective bubble, which is becoming all too common. That’s also something experienced employers tend to value.

    5. INFJ*

      I kind of agree. I think the accomplishments achieved with the work should be emphasized; the most impressive part is being published in well known publications. The amount of money made while doing it is…. way less impressive, IMO. The number and quality of publications is what matters.

    6. CMT*

      Also, technically speaking, people who use loans to pay for college are going to be paying them back themselves, too.

  13. Out of the Dust*

    #2: I would go with a more general “It wasn’t a good fit”-type answer. If people have been following the news, they can connect the dots.

    My undergraduate degree is from a church-affiliated but fairly progressive liberal arts school, and when I graduated from college I assumed that other religious colleges were much the same as mine–a weekly, non-mandatory chapel service… maybe more religion-oriented student groups than the average state school… a few required religion classes (I used to study for the required introductory religion class with a guy who founded a HUGE megachurch, much to the amusement of several of us who knew him in college).

    Ha! Back in my Bible Belt hometown, I applied at Fundamentalist U. and went through their rigorous employment process–the statement of faith, an essay about my personal religious beliefs, multiple interviews (including group interviews with the other applicants), etc. All for an entry-level admin job. I was honest in all of that, and was surprised every time I wasn’t eliminated–it made me think that all of the stuff about my beliefs was just a formality, because while I was moderately religious at that time, I was definitely not at their level (but I knew the language to use around evangelicals, because I had friends who used language like “walkin’ in glory” in regular conversation; I won’t say I didn’t use any of that knowledge during the interview process, but I know I didn’t give it the full court press). After the final round, when I didn’t hear from them for a while, I was actually pretty relieved, and found another job and moved to another town. Nearly a year later, my mom called me and asked if I knew Fergus from F.U.; he had called to offer me the job. If I had gotten the offer immediately after I interviewed, I probably would have taken it, thinking that it couldn’t possibly be that bad; I had always known people who worked there, and for the ones who buy into that school’s codes, it was a great place to work at that time (not so much now; it’s lost a lot of money in the last 10-15 years, and has cut staff salaries, benefits, and perks). But I know, looking back, that I would have HATED it there.

    All of that is just to say–I wouldn’t go with “religion ended up playing a more important role” as a reason, because it seems a little naive, especially if you had to go through a long process to get hired in the first place. If they press you on “It wasn’t a good fit,” then you could get into religion, but otherwise, I would be afraid that many interviewers, looking at a school that’s been in the news recently, would not necessarily understand that it might have been a different environment 10 years ago when you worked there–or if it wasn’t, you probably wouldn’t have known when you applied, because it wasn’t in the news for its HR policies.

    FWIW, as a formerly-but-now-not-at-all-religious person, I don’t really see a problem with having worked at an institution like that and then leaving after a year. I think it would be difficult for most people who aren’t deeply invested in that particular culture to work in that environment. It sounds like you perhaps went in deeply invested, but your experience there soured it for you. That’s on them. Instead of offering you understanding and friendship, like ordinary people would for a co-worker going through a difficult time, they offered you judgment and censure. That’s wrong for so many reasons, and I’m sorry your early work experience was so negative.

    1. OP #2*

      Oh, thank you for this perspective. I always wonder how others view this situation. I definitely did think I could sign on to the statements/codes as I started the position, and anyone who knew me would expect the same. And even now, people are surprised to find out I have a divorce in my past. Really, it’s just a nice relief after all this time to see it discussed here, openly.

      1. JMegan*

        OP2, you have gotten a lot of good advice about wording here. But I also wonder if you’re twisting yourself in knots a bit, trying to avoid mentioning your divorce? To most reasonable employers, it would be a complete non-issue, so I think it would be fine to bring it up in an interview in this context. You wouldn’t want to lead with it, obviously, but if they start probing into your “not a good fit” or “too much religion in the workplace” answers, it might just be easiest to say “I had to leave because I got a divorce.” It’s simple, it’s direct, and it doesn’t leave them wondering what other issues you may or may not be hiding relative to your relationship with that employer.

        I get that it’s no one’s business but your own, and that it shouldn’t be relevant to your life now. But it *is* relevant to why you left that particular job. So if it comes up, I think you’d be better off just telling the truth and moving on, rather than trying to figure out a way around it. You sound like you’re in a good place now, so I can’t imagine a new employer would read anything else into it at that point.

        1. OP #2*

          Yes, I’ve loved reading all of these opinions and finding out that there isn’t one obvious answer I’m missing — but also that I just shouldn’t twist myself into knots over it (as you perfectly describe it). It’s a huge relief, reading your comment (and others) and imagining myself saying something straightforward, brief, and confident.

          1. Student*

            There’s a pretty high chance that whomever you are interviewing with has either had a divorce or is very close to someone who has had a divorce, if that reassures you at all. About 10 million additional people in the US have gotten divorced in the last 10 years, which is roughly 4 % of the US total population. It’s a very common occurrence, and there’s a broad acceptance of it in the US outside of a small minority of religious communities. And virtually nobody actually wants to hear details about some stranger’s divorce, so a short explanation should end the matter.

            Statistically, they’re more likely to think your employer was weird for having a policy forbidding employee divorce than to think you’re weird for having a divorce. If it were my problem, I’d just say, “I got a divorce, which is against the religious employment policy of Employer X, so I quit rather than wait for them to fire me over it”.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              This is what I thought, too. Sooo many people are divorced. OP, if you try too hard to hide it or dance around it, people might put 2 and 2 together and come up with 5.
              “Gee, OP, worked at religious place. And she seemed really reluctant to talk about her divorce as her reason for life change. OH NO! I am divorced, is OP going to judge me??? I mean she is religious and all that. If she can’t process her own divorce then what about Bob in accounting or Sue in sales?”
              Give them enough so they know where you are at now. “I found I prefer secular work places”, is a way to bring them up to your current thinking.

          2. ImprovForCats*

            I agree with this, fwiw. I think this is a place where the general ettiquette principle is good, but maybe is over-complicating this–if it were a less concrete/succinct ‘life experience’ that led to this, it would be messier, but I think this is straightforward enough that trying to hedge around it is actually more distracting/produces more speculation.

            (I’m guessing I also am familiar with your previous employer, although not via direct affiliation–I personally would probably fill in some blanks no matter how vague or diplomatic you were, but that’s probably influenced by my own experiences. OTOH, as a commenter above said, I would think it a little odd if it was phrased in a way that suggested the overall concept, not the execution, of religious expectations at that school was a surprise to you. )

  14. ET*

    LW1 are you me?

    We have a whole team entering data while listening to music/podcasts/TV shows in the background.

    The only thing I have found to work is clear and specific feedback on their work at regular (but not predictable) intervals with clear (and negative) consequences for poor data quality. And when I mean specific, I mean ” see here on line 27, you have entered a 1.2 but it should be 1.3 and here you have interpreted this letter as M but this is actually how they write their N’s in this region.”

    Negative consequences here involves termination (after a certain period of continued poor performance and no improvement). Positive consequences are mostly verbal “I have checked your work from yesterday and found no errors whatsoever, great work!”.

    I recommend Data Quality: The field guide ~Thomas Redman


    Analysing Performance Problems by Robert Mager and Peter Pipe

    Both excellent books that helped me get to the root of the data quality issues we were having and actually put in place systems that improved it.

  15. anonanonanon*

    #1: I find it interesting that music and podcasts are viewed so differently. I’m way more distracted by music, but I like podcasts because it’s generally a soothing voice I can tune out very quickly. I prefer listening to podcasts or documentaries when I work because it’s less distracting background sound. With music, I either get distracted by wanting to switch a song or focusing on the lyrics or having to adjust the volume.

    Is there a way you can address her mistakes before bringing up the podcast issue? If the podcasts are truly the issue, definitely address that, but if they’re not, I think limiting what someone can listen to might end up causing a bigger issue.

  16. The Cosmic Avenger*

    OP#5, believe me, I understand the aggreivation at being the one following the rules when other people aren’t. I see it every day while driving or doing just about anything. But you shouldn’t worry about other people unless and until their actions affect you. Ideally you should be doing the right thing out of pride in what you’re doing rather than to stay out of trouble. You can rest assured if your direct manager ever makes an unannounced/unplanned visit, you’ll look even better next to your coworker’s lack of professionalism.

    Of course, management isn’t always right, and if the uniform is really something that management decided without any care for the wants, needs, or preferences of customers and front-line workers, I might decide to skirt the rules very cautiously, and if it’s the rule that bothers you more than the coworker’s flouting of it, maybe you should, too….AFTER you consider and weigh the consequences and benefits of your choice.

    tl;dr version: don’t worry about your coworker. You do you.

    1. Conga*

      I once worked a retail job where dress shoes were required (it was completely ridiculous. We were on our feet all day. Two of my managers ended up getting foot surgery while I was there because of this). I gave a month’s notice when I left, and for my last two weeks, I wore sneakers. Nobody said anything to me until the last couple days when a fellow employee said, “How are you getting away with wearing tennis shoes?” And I responded, “I’m leaving in four days and I’m a good employee.”

      1. Erin*

        I too have seen the no sneaker rule in a retail environment waved for certain special people. I spoke up about it once to no avail. One employee claimed he was wearing “boat shoes” but they looked like Converse to me…

        OP#5 – It’s tough, and it’s not fair – heck, a lot of retail-ness isn’t fair anyway – but I’d agree with the notion of worrying about what you’re doing and not what you’re coworkers are doing. It will save your sanity and keep your professionalism in tact.

        In my case, I had to accept I couldn’t wear sneakers when other people clearly could, which made absolutely zero sense.

        You already stated you don’t mind the uniform, so hang onto that thought – you don’t mind it, it’s fine, just wear it, try not to concern yourself with what other people are wearing. :)

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          Although I hadn’t thought about the shoe thing in a while, I do remember all-black sneakers passing as dress/work shoes at one job, although it’s been decades so I’m not sure of the circumstances. I think they were OKed by management as an acceptable alternative.

    2. Jennifer*

      We did this at my volunteer job. Theoretically you must wear the uniform apron and a name tag at all times as dictated by upper management, who usually doesn’t even come into the building at all, and the actual in-building management doesn’t care at all–patrons can figure out who’s working just fine. However, when an upper management person decided to actually patronize the business after hours on our shift, we suddenly had to be uniformed and tagged until they left.

  17. Allison*

    #1, I agree you should first tell her that her performance is slower than it should be, and she makes more mistakes than she should be making. Give her a chance to improve her performance on her own terms, and then if that doesn’t seem to work, then you can sit her down and have the “let’s figure this out together” talk, heavily pushing for her to drop the podcasts. I don’t think jumping straight to “no more podcasts” is a good idea.

    1. BRR*

      Yeah it seems jumping too far ahead in he process. The lw should take a step back and since they have already realized there is a performance issue, start there.

    2. Myrin*

      That’s exactly what I’d do. It could be that the podcasts are distracting her, but if the OP never told her that her work is sub-par, maybe she hasn’t figured it out. Address that first to see if she’s improving – if she does, there’s no need for the podcasts to go away as they probably weren’t the reason for the problem. If she doesn’t, it might be that she’s just bad at the job but she might as well be more distracted than she realises.

      1. Allison*

        At my firstjob I had a manager who would do things like write out a daily schedule, telling me what I could do when, but would NEVER tell me that there was an issue with my time management or productivity, even when I asked him if there was an issue he wouldn’t admit it. It was incredibly frustrating that he wasn’t being honest with me, and putting all these restrictions to solve a problem he wouldn’t admit existed. Would have been awesome if he’d been up front about the issue and at least given me a chance to come up with my own solutions.

    3. Not Gloria A.A., B.S.*

      I agree. I’m amazed how often managers just assume that you know that you’re not doing a good job instead of actually telling you. You could have been trained wrong, or you could have confused something. If a making the mistake is not immediately apparent to you, you might never know you made it. And you might continue to make it. I’ve been doing my role 2.5 years and every now and then I find out there’s been something I’ve been doing wrong this whole time. It’s infuriating.

    4. John*

      I also wouldn’t tell her you want to experiment to see if she made fewer errors and worked faster without the podcasts, because that is setting her up to prove to you that she is, in fact, more productive with them on, since that is clearly what she wants.

      I might instead tell her that you want to eliminate distractions. Once she proves herself capable of working at a faster pace without errors, the two of you can discuss reintroducing the podcasts and seeing how that goes.

      1. Observer*

        I also wouldn’t tell her you want to experiment to see if she made fewer errors and worked faster without the podcasts, because that is setting her up to prove to you that she is, in fact, more productive with them on, since that is clearly what she wants.

        And risk her job in the process. Remember, boss is telling her that her work has too many mistakes. Now, it’s one thing not to realize that on your own. It’s another thing to be told that and then continue to do that on purpose.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I have helped many people get their speed up in order for them to keep their job. If OP is dealing with a time frame then I think she should just say, “We have to see improvement in the next two weeks.” Let the employee know this is serious.
          I think that suggesting the podcasts might be slowing her down is okay, and if she does not ditch the podcasts, OP can still focus on the expectation that work levels will improve. But over all, from what I have seen in my own experience, targeting one thing as the problem usually lowers the person’s chances for success. Ideally, OP would have several suggestions for increasing speed. In the troubleshooting I have done, I found that usually there was more than one problem. Sometimes it was the order in which the tasks were done. Sometimes it was at a more basic level because the problem was with the steps used to complete the individual tasks. Other times it was the way the work station was set up.

          Offer several ideas OP. And put her in charge of the situation. Make sure she knows what the goals are and have her track her own daily record. Ask her if she has any questions. Left to their own devices, people are amazing in their creativity for solving their own problems. I could tell a lot of stories. But this is how I learned to state what is wrong and step back from my own preconceived notions/solutions.

          I know the poster above is absolutely correct, if you target one thing as the magic bullet that solves the problem you will probably lower you chances of salvaging the situation. Your best bet is to ask her what she thinks she can do to increase her productivity.

          1. Observer*

            You are correct – but you are focusing on a different issue. I would probably also not focus specifically on the podcasts, because it might not be the problem or it might be only part of the problem. But if a person *deliberately* failed to improve to cover the fact that her favored activity is getting in her way, I would consider that a huge red flag. That is not someone who is going to be creative or proactive in getting her act together. In fact, I would bet that she wouldn’t be all that active at all in improving her behavior.

    5. Barefoot Librarian*


      This is exactly what I was going to say: address the problem rather than immediately jumping to restrictions, especially if these restrictions don’t exist for anyone else. She might surprise you and come up with a solution herself and, if she doesn’t, you can escalate as needed.

    6. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The OP may not have unlimited time to give her to improve. If the podcasts might be part of the problem, it’s a kindness to point it out now rather than letting more time go by and getting her closer to the point where they might just need to let her go.

  18. Macedon*

    #2. I think Alison’s suggestion is spot on — “I wanted to pursue work options in a less religion-oriented environment” should be enough for any sensible employer.

    #4. I wouldn’t really mention the personal funding — reads a bit OT. And my reasoning is, as the reader/employer, I’m not particularly sure what I should be taking away from it: are you alluding to high freelance rates? To the volume of your work? The former’s not really of interest to me, and the latter is already documented by you providing an estimate of how many pieces you write / week ( upwards of 21). That said, I wouldn’t think ill of you for disclosing that you financed your own education, but I wouldn’t be immediately able to place your intentions.

    What I think you should take out is the reference of writing as a “side job”, even given the quotation marks. It reads a little dismissive to me – especially when you first introduce your activity as your ‘freelance writing career’. But none of the other commenters have so far said anything on this, so take my input with a bit of salt, as it might just be me on this one.

    1. Macedon*

      Also, not sure if this has been brought up before, or if it’s a consequence of the ad toggling, but this site has been loading very slowly today + yday, with typing speed in comment boxes heavily reduced today. None of the other sites I’m viewing through Chrome are giving me similar issues. Not sure if helpful, but guess I thought to give you a heads up, in case other readers might be experiencing the same !

      1. Barefoot Librarian*

        I’m having the same problem. I won’t stop visiting, obviously, and I know ad revenue probably pays for Alison to maintain her wonderful site, but it’s crippling to Chrome’s speed.

        1. Macedon*

          Yeah, browsing’s smoother (for me), but commenting is a bit of an endeavour right now. I’ve noticed it comes and goes, so I think it might be linked to the set of ads cycling through the roster at any given time, rather than the ad mechanism itself. But I leave actual insight to people who now more about the back end of this kind of stuff.

    2. Erin*

      I think the finance thing is part of the bigger picture of her being able to manage her time and stay organized when working on several different projects and going to school and volunteering and etc. I hear what you’re saying, but I think she framed it just right (probably because she’s a writer! :P) so as not to be off putting, or too personal.

      1. Macedon*

        I think mentioning that s/he juggled work, volunteering and a high GPA (which the OP does) checks off the “organized” and “multi-tasking” boxes well enough already. The only thing the self-financing detail can add is that OP worked either long or expensively enough to secure the funds needed to cover college costs — but we already know how much OP worked (we have the article/week quote) and I don’t think prospective employers are that interested in the now-outdated rates various publications were willing to pay. I just don’t see the point. But, as I said, I wouldn’t think ill of a candidate for including this detail.

  19. A Jane*

    #3 – I went to an interview after recovering from a cold, and told the interviewers that I was going to not shake hands because I was recovering. I also used purell in between interviewers just so they didn’t feel gross. Over kill? Probably, but I still got the job.

    1. fposte*

      A commenter on a previous post discussing illness in the office had the wonderful phrase “clean theater.” I think there’s something to be said for putting on a bit of clean theater when you’re trying to make a good impression.

    2. Solidus Pilcrow*

      I think I would go more this route rather than grabbing shoulders. Alternately, you can warn the person you are recovering from a cold and let them decide if they want to shake hands or not. “Just to let you know, I’m getting over a cold, so I understand if you would prefer not to shake hands.”

      I not really a fan of doing things with elbow or shoulders like some people recommend. After all, you wash your hands, or use sanitizer, more frequently and easily than your shoulder or elbow.

  20. Mimmy*

    OP 1 – One thing I’ve learned in my class this past fall is that everyone has differing styles of what helps them concentrate or learn, and perhaps podcasts is what this person uses (the course was in the context of college education, but I think it can apply to work as well). BUT since she’s performing below expectations, it could be slowing her down but doesn’t realize it. Rather than outright telling her “no headphones”, just talk to her; start off by explaining the performance issues and see where it goes.

  21. Mockingjay*

    #2: If this job was 10 years ago, could you leave it off your resume? If the experience is pertinent and you want to leave it on, concur with Alison’s advice.

    1. Paige Turner*

      I can understand if OP wants to leave Bad Job on her resume because its relevant to the position(s) she’s applying for now…this might not work, but OP, could you leave off the jobs you had immediately after leaving Bad Job? This would help with your concern about interviewers being able to tell that you didn’t leave for a better job. If you don’t have any resume gaps in the past few years, I think this would be a good option for you.

  22. Erin*

    Forgive me because this comment isn’t as well worded as I like to think mine usually are, but…

    #1 – What sucks about this is, if you give her a few weeks to try working without listening to podcasts/stories, you’re not really giving her a chance to prove she can in fact do it while listening – and maybe she can. As others mentioned, she may have no idea that her work isn’t up to par, and she could possibly improve while still being allowed to listen to her stuff.

    (On a personal note, I’ve worked jobs where there was little to do but answer the phones, and sometimes I would “spread out” my work by intentionally working slower so I was actually continuously working instead of finishing my tasks at 10am. May or may not be applicable here.)

    Anywho, I would suggest having a talk with her about the slowness, and asking her what steps she thinks she could take to improve efficiency. And not take away the podcast privilege unless it’s really necessary.

    Of course, other things should be considered here, like do other people listen to stuff while working (is it a work norm in your office or is she the only one?) and your general rapport with her will dictate how candid you can be.

    Ideally you could be fairly blunt and say something like, “While your work quality is good, you’re not completing tasks in the ideal time frame. I’m concerned it’s because you’re listening to podcasts, but I realize that helps some people focus. I need you to (details on completing tasks on time) or we may have to try banning the headphones, which obviously I don’t want to do unless we absolutely need to.”

    1. LQ*

      I think it would be weird to say “banning the headphones” because that might imply that it would be a cross the group thing when there are others who aren’t having problems (who may or may not have headphones) and why bother them if they are working to goals. I do think being direct (even blunt!) if performance issues haven’t been brought up is important.
      (only slightly related because you mentioned work quality and the OP says there are lots of mistakes)
      I also wonder if part of the reason the OP thinks it is the podcasts or stories is because the work quality isn’t good in a way that indicates it is the podcasts. Like if in the middle of …retyping a witness statement there were suddenly several lines out of nowhere and out of the podcast I’d say that would be a reason to put a stop to it immediately.

  23. MillersSpring*

    Your cover letter verbiage is too wordy. Eliminate the history about starting as a creative outlet your freshman year and how you’ve managed to grow it as a side job. “Over the past two and a half years, I’ve funded all of my college expenses by writing 21 articles each week for prominent publications, including… I’ve still maintained a 3.9 GPA and my involvement in several extracurricular activities…”

    Also, when you’re fresh out of school, avoid stating that you’re an expert. I recommend rewording to state that you’ve “developed” or “honed” skills in time management, etc.

    Finally, you should rework the sentence beginning with “Furthermore…” The dependent clause is too long before you arrive at the subject, “I’ve,” and you should avoid starting clauses with negatives, such as “not only.”

    [I’ve been a copywriter and editor in marketing/PR roles for more than 20 years. Currently I lead all of marketing for a large healthcare company.]

    1. OP #4*

      Your comments align with the feedback my dad gave me (after I submitted this question to Alison). I’m definitely going to use what you’ve said – thanks so much!

  24. Corby*

    #2: I was going to suggest just saying “They don’t allow employees to get divorced.” But maybe that’s because I (maybe mistakenly) think 99% of the time people will side with you. I think even most conservative, religious people don’t view divorce as a bad thing in and of itself, and recognize that sometimes it’s not just ok, but necessary.

    I do love Alison’s answer how it serves double-duty. The only concern I’d have with it is that if your interviewer happens to be fundamentalist, the word “secular” might be a red alarm for them and bias them against you. It’s a dog whistle for atheism to a lot of people, and atheists are usually among the least liked group of people in mainstream America. (In polls, people consistently say they wouldn’t vote for an atheist more than any other group… gay candidates and Muslim candidates also score way lower than they should, but atheists are at the bottom.)

  25. Rater Z*

    I am probably biased on this because I spent 38 years in the trucking industry where divorce is wide-spread and it was unusual to run across people who had not been involved in divorce, even if only by working with many who had been thru it. It even helped me get one job because I was paying child support which meant I had family responsibilities as opposed to be being single.

    That said, I think divorce has been so wide-spread over the past 20 or 30 years that most hiring managers would not be surprised by this story and may have heard it. There’s probably little they haven’t run across in their career.

    I would, personally, frame it in the context that I wound up being divorced, that it ran counter to the culture at the college and that I felt it better to move on than to create ongoing undue stress between people at work. I would also say that I am happily re-married with children and getting on with my life and, as one person below said, it was ten years ago. If the supervisor from the college is willing to be a reference, point that out to them to show it wasn’t related to work performance.

    Major life event could mean anything from having a child to spending some time in jail.

  26. Rachel*

    #5 sounds like the Nordstrom Rack. They now wear these horrid fluorescent green t-shirts over whatever else they have on that day.

  27. Maria*

    Ooh! As far as interviewing with a cold, you could try bowing? Obviously not a low, sweeping bow, but just a small bend at the waist, like the Japanese do. After explaining why the lack of a hand shake of course.

  28. Important Moi*

    Putting oneself through school and getting very good whilst doing so is poor form because others may feel bad? Is being valedictorian bad too? Or is it only bad when someone mentions it?

    I am amazed. How does one market oneself now? Do you say “I did what everyone else did. Nothing unique about me. I never mention my accomplishments. Please hire me.”

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