using a reference-checking service, is my first job awful or am I too picky, and more

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

1. Minimizing the impact of my medical condition on coworkers

I have a medical condition that causes pain at night. A typical flare-up involves waking up after 3-4 hours of sleep and being unable to fall back asleep due to the pain. If I take painkillers at night, I often can’t make it to work on time because of the sedation. These flare-ups are unpredictable and typically come in clusters, so if I get many in a row the sleep deprivation renders me to unable to do my customer-facing job acceptably. I take an unusual amount of (unpaid) last-minute sick days because of it. I’m seeing specialists, but in the mean time, I need to deal with it.

My boss is thankfully very understanding, since I have a history of being a good performer, but I want to know: how can I make this easier on my boss and coworkers, and make sure that my coworkers don’t get a bad impression of me? Is it acceptable to send a late-night email if I don’t think I’ll be functional the next day, or should I try to call in the morning? Should I warn my boss if I think it’s likely I’ll need to take a day off in the next few days? When I straggle in late, exhausted, and groggy off painkillers, it might look like I’ve spent the night out, but I’m genuinely struggling.

Ask your boss! If I were your boss, I would be delighted if you raised this question with me, both because I’d welcome the opportunity to talk about it with you and because it would demonstrate a real conscientiousness about your job and the situation.

You could say something like this: “I really appreciate how accommodating you’ve been. I was hoping we could talk about whether there’s anything I can do on my end that will minimize the impact on you and others. For example, do you prefer if I email night at night if I don’t think I’ll be functional the next day, or would you rather call in the morning? Would you prefer to get a heads-up if it’s likely I’ll need to take a day off in the next few days, even if I’m not positive yet? Or are there other things you’d like me to try on my end to keep the impact to a minimum?”

2. Using a reference-checking service to see what my references are saying about me

Is there any downside to using someone like to call a former employer? I’m thinking of using their reference checking service. Or if there’s another company you recommend, I’d appreciate that too.

I don’t know anything about the quality of their work, but looking at their website is pretty alarming — they have some icky and factually misleading information about “reverse discrimination,” misleading stuff about wrongful termination, some questionable advice about handling positive references (send flowers!), and it generally just doesn’t scream “high quality.” And looking at their sample reference reports and the questions they ask, they don’t appear to push references even a little bit for anything negative or use any follow-up questions, which is where the most interesting stuff often comes out.

But regardless, you don’t need to pay someone to do this for you. You can have a professional-sounding friend do it for free.

3. Is my first job actually a bad one or am I being too picky?

I’m in need of either validation or a reality check about my first entry-level job.

I graduated from college last May. After spending the summer sending out applications, the only lead I had was working for the owner of a small marketing business. The business is extremely small – only the owner and myself. Initially, everything seemed fine – the owner seemed engaged and helped me along with learning the position and the quirks of the business.

As time has gone on, however, I’ve become disgruntled. I’ve had to occasionally do tasks that I consider unprofessional, such as picking him up from the mechanic while one of our recurring business trips has us staying overnight at his relative’s house. Once, I had to even move furniture for his family on said trip. While I understand that there is bound to be overlap between the owner’s personal life and his business, the fact that he may ask me to do something I find uncomfortable at any point to be concerning. Personality-wise, I think we’re a mismatch – my attitude toward him varies from “ambivalent” to “active dislike.”

He has an inherent lack of personal boundaries, and oftentimes I feel that his expectations are overly demanding. Coupled with the fact that I find the job too stressful for a field I care little about, I have grown very unsatisfied and deeply resentful. After 6 months, I’ve already started looking for a new job.

That being said, this is my first real job out of college – am I being overly dramatic as someone new to the work force? Or can/should I do better?

You can and should do better. None of what you reported here is outrageously egregious (although the moving furniture gets the closest), but two-person companies tend to be rife with boundary violations and — perhaps even more importantly — because they’re usually universes unto themselves, they don’t do a great job of preparing you to work at other organizations. They can throw off your sense of what’s normal and how the work world works in a way that’s pretty unhelpful to your career. I’d get out simply because that element will hold you back.

4. Is an archaeology discovery resume-worthy if I no longer do archaeology?

I used to do archaeology and I have my work as an archaeological supervisor on my resume even though I’m not applying for any archaeology related jobs. I have it structured to illustrate my experience supervising a team of students, international experience, attention to detail etc.

But under my supervision, my team found what is a fairly notable discovery for the field. So much so that it even made international news outside of archaeology circles (some religious groups have also jumped onto arguing it proves certain Biblical narratives). I think of it more as a “fun fact” than anything, but could I include it as a single bullet-point (worded professionally, not the way I described it here)? I feel like it’s a unique detail that spices up the description a little bit. It’s not currently on there and I don’t mind leaving it off if it it would do more harm than good.

Include it! That sounds like a genuine accomplishment, as well as interesting and fun. Sure, you’re not applying for archaeology jobs, but I bet lots of hiring managers will find it intriguing. Not like get-you-the-job-intriguing, but certainly appropriate to have on your resume and something that might spark conversation.

5. Asking about a prospective new job’s cost for benefits, union dues, and taxes

I’m interviewing remotely (via email and phone so far) for a job that would require a cross-country relocation. I’m doing the math, filling out an expected living-expenses budget on a spreadsheet, and trying to make the financial decision of whether to change jobs as apples-to-apples of a comparison as possible.

Is it too specific to ask for exact figures on the costs of benefits (health care, dental, etc.) and taxes (federal, state, local) that end up being deducted from a worker’s paycheck? Additionally, this job has a union workforce, which would be new to me, and I’d want to know the cost of union dues, too.

In most jobs, the hourly/salaried pay rate is stated and negotiated up-front, but these other X factors could end up making this (or any) job either more or less attractive, depending on the cost. Is it appropriate to get this specific on these matters? If so, when can I ask about these matters?

Don’t ask them to figure out your taxes for you; you can do that yourself by looking up tax rates so it would be an odd question. Plus, in order to give you an accurate answer, they’d need a bunch of other information about your financial situation.

But it’s very normal and smart to ask about exact costs for health care and union dues. Wait until you have an offer, and ask about it then (before accepting, obviously).

{ 168 comments… read them below }

  1. Mando Diao*

    OP3: Get out as soon as you can. In addition to the reasons Alison gave, small business owners don’t tend to be all that knowledgeable when it comes to employment laws. If this is a guy who launched a company and did everything himself until you came aboard, there are almost definitely a bunch of things he doesn’t know. Are you being paid on the books, with the proper taxes being deducted? Does your boss have a clear understanding of the difference between hourly and exempt employees?

    I certainly don’t mean to tarnish every single small business owner with this brush, but I have yet to work for a small business owner that wasn’t of the “I used to pay the neighbor kids in pizza to do this stuff, and I still haven’t taken a single business course” variety.

    1. T3k*

      This this this. Run! If you’re disgruntled 6 months in, it’s just going to get worse. I’m in a very similar position, having realized a month in that the small business I work for isn’t going to get better (granted, it’s a family business, so it has its own share of problems it doesn’t want to fix). The one time a competent employee was hired, she got offered a new job elsewhere a month later and when she asked me what she should do I told her the same thing: run and don’t look back.

      That said, there are some small businesses that do run well. My first post-college job, while most hired on were new grads and it had a high turnover (most were just part time and pay wasn’t the greatest), it was very organized and clear that the owner understood how to run the business well.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        I was a summer intern in a similar company and I was quite naive about the world of work at the time. (This was in the very early days of the internet before the word “Blog” had even been invented!) It is a good idea to be already looking as it gives you a focus outside of all the annoyances in the office.

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      Yeah, and even if your taxes are being deducted properly, Op, it sounds like you’re doing a lot of personal assistant type tasks, which just takes away from gaining more professional (marketing?) experience. Hopefully you have enough to spin it positively on your resume, because you probably don’t want to put “moved a 3 bedroom house full of furniture in six hours” as one of your accomplishments.

    3. Dee*

      This so many times. I made the mistake of working as a Girl Friday in a three man home office, thinking I had exposure to a lot of different areas of expertise. While I sort of did I also learned nothing about actual work in an actual office and my soft skills and professional development suffered. Get out and don’t work anywhere too small to have an HR department.

      1. Anon Accountant*

        Absolutely. I was a “Girl Friday” (yes my boss actually called me that too) in a business that employed less than 10 people. It was a total dysfunctional nightmare. That company was bought out by a company that employs 25 people and is as bad. There are no boundaries at all and everyone is job searching. Poor mismanagement has caused many clients to leave.

        OP get out ASAP.

    4. Ornery PR*

      I have to say, I completely disagree with both this and AAM’s assumption that this job will hold the OP back. I came from working in small startups (in both marketing and other industries), and think it’s exactly what has given me my strong work ethic and self-motivation today. I now work for a larger company and am not held back in the slightest. In fact, the opposite is true; I have been given yearly raises, bonuses and consistent opportunities for leadership and exciting projects. But I would have never gotten here without what I learned working for 2-3 man companies. That’s not to say that there aren’t either ignorant or willfully negligent bosses in startups, but that is also true of larger companies, and personally experiences with the bad ones made me stronger and have taught me to be resourceful in ways that I don’t think I could have learned working in a corporate setting right out of college.

      OP, by all means, don’t get abused, but take this opportunity to find intrinsic motivation, to learn to have some flexibility and range and realize that what you get out of a situation is exactly what you put in to it.

      1. LBK*

        I don’t see it indicated in the letter that it’s a startup, just a small business. I think working for a small startup is completely different from working for an established small business.

        1. Ornery PR*

          LBK, True. But I’ve done both, so I guess I was just lumping it all together. I worked for a guy at his business for 7 years from age 19-26, just me and him. My point is that working for a small business didn’t hold back my career. And I don’t think that even in general they will. I usually agree with AAM 100%, but I just can’t get on board with AAM telling the OP to leave because that microverse will likely hold back OP’s career. I do think the OP was being too picky and by this response is not getting the perspective that this opportunity could alternatively set them up to be an effective worker geared up for a great career.

          1. LBK*

            I think the point still stands that having your very first job out of college be one with such wildly different norms than the majority of the working world will make it harder to transition to a larger company with a more standard definition of professionalism. We hear all the time about workplace PTSD, where it takes people years sometimes to readjust to working in a healthy environment after coming from a toxic one, and I think that effect is likely to be even more pronounced when it’s your first job.

            It would be one thing if there were unique experiences being provided that could add to the OP’s resume in a way that she couldn’t get elsewhere, but I don’t think moving furniture or acting as a chaffeur enhance’s the OP’s marketability, and it doesn’t sound like the rest of the work is even directly related to what the OP wants to do. I can’t see the benefit in staying at a job that makes you unhappy and isn’t doing anything for your career path.

          2. FirstJob*

            OP #3 here. There are certainly some opportunities in this business, and I’ve tried to take advantage of them as best I could so far: I’ve implemented new internal processes, started to write a procedures manual, and I’m helping relaunch the company’s website.

            The difficult thing is that these more interesting opportunities are frequently put off by the daily responsibilities put onto me by my boss and his own lack of focus. He’d certainly love if we could fully accomplish all of the tasks I previously mentioned EVENTUALLY, but it just doesn’t seem to fit into his current, immediate vision -whatever that may be. I mentioned in another comment that he’s taken a freelance contract that pulls him four days a week, leaving me scrambling to run the business day-to-day. While this is only for a few weeks longer, it does make me question his priorities.

            He wants to me to help improve his business, but I feel his behavior consistently prevents from me doing so. I can try to accomplish as much as I can on my own, but I’m just not sure how to navigate a relationship where my boss effectively undermines the things he hired me to do.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Why not talk to him about adding another person to free you up to do the business improvement stuff?
              Think about it this way, if he is doing the work himself, then he does not have a business. All he has done is bought himself a job. Until he lets go of the day to day stuff he will not be able to grow the business.
              It sounds like there is enough of work for at least a part time individual. I assume he is compensating you for doing improvements, if yes, you could point out that you are not doing improvements you are simply maintaining/helping him tread water.

          3. Mando Diao*

            I think the concept of “holding you back” is a bit of a red herring here. Someone with decent social skills and a logical mind can adapt to a new environment after an initial adjustment period, even if the “office ptsd” thing applies. The point I was making is that it sucks to work for a boss who doesn’t know that he’s asking for things that aren’t common.

    5. Lamington*

      If you can find something better leave. I had a similar job in college and after being an office assistant, it start becoming more of a personal assistant: get coffee, mail, pick up dry clean, watch their dogs (in the office none the less), pick up after the dogs, drive the wife around (did not pay for my gas), etc. I got laid off supposedly because the company was dping bad but the reality was his daughter needed a job. 4 years went down the drain.

  2. Jade*

    #5- Definitely ask about the cost of benefits beforehand. I learned the hard way that you might not like what you hear. At my last job I found out the insurance plan was the exact same one that I had through my current job at the time, but the premiums were over 3 times as much per paycheck. Since I took a pay cut at that new job to start with, combined with the much higher cost of insurance, I started to wonder if I could literally afford to keep working there. It was a very unpleasant surprise, and I kicked myself for not asking about that before I accepted the offer. While discussing terms of employment at my new place, I specifically asked about these costs and they were happy to give them to me. It made the decision to take the job much easier for me.

    1. Nobody*

      I hate how companies provide all the information about their health insurance plans except the cost of the premiums! A lot of plans look great in terms of deductibles and coverage until you see how much you have to pay in premiums.

      1. Elysian*

        When I started my most recent job, they told me they pay approximately $XXX.00 toward the premium. But wouldn’t tell me the cost of the full premium. So… not really that helpful for me. The job before they told me they paid 75% of the premium, but again wouldn’t give me a price list. So again… not super helpful.

        1. Newbie*

          While higher ed has it’s disadvantages, one advantage (at least with my employer) is a wealth of information right on their website. Anyone can search the site to find the union CBA, significant details about insurance coverage, and price lists for the different insurance and benefit options available. And for full-time positions, every interview has a portion of time devoted to the candidate meeting with an HR rep specifically to be able to discuss benefits.

          In previous job searches I was always able to obtain answers to questions about benefit coverage and cost when I inquired at the offer stage. I think I would view it as a red flag if the information wasn’t easily provided. Benefits are a component of compensation and candidates can’t make an informed decision about a job offer without that detail.

          1. Chocolate lover*

            My university also has tons of that info online. However, very few of the positions ever met HR. At all. Hiring manager and dept handle interviews and process, all HR does is mail you the offer letter.

            I’m sure they would meet with you if you had questions and wanted to talk.

            I would consider it a red flag if an organization wouldn’t answer those questions for me.

          2. Elle the new Fed*

            Same for government work. All of that info is public knowledge so it’s easy to look up in advance.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        That’s a great point too. While I’ve usually been told what my deductions per month will be, I’ve never known the total cost to my employer until I worked here. Every year at open enrollment they give us a nice breakdown of what employee pays and right next to it what the entire premium really is. It’s quite eye opening.

    2. Michelenyc*

      I did too! I was in what I thought to be a desperate situation and completely did not ask this question before I started at my last company. It was one of many reasons I started looking for a new job. Not only were the benefits terrible, they were extremely expensive. On top of that none of my doctors took any of the plans the company offered. It was so frustrating!

    3. Not Karen*

      I’m surprised. My job gave me the exact numbers in the benefits summary with the offer without me even asking.

    4. Stranger than fiction*

      Yes! I’ve made this same mistake too. It’s amazing the difference from company to company what percentage of the premium they cover for the employee. I’ve had everything from 50% to 100% (for the employee, then what they cover for dependents varies too). So my payroll deductions have been as little as $150 ish a month to over $450. And that’s just medical.

  3. After the Snow*

    #5 not just the costs, you need at least a basic description of the policies. If the deductible and/or co-pays are different your overall costs could increase more than you realize.

    1. Anon for this one*

      Absolutely! We’re currently going through union contract negotiations (hence the anon here) and the most contentious battle is the health care costs. The premiums going up is one thing, but the co-pays they are pushing are making it so people will actually be getting a pay cut assuming they visit the doctor more than once or get more than 1 or 2 prescriptions a year.

      1. Artemesia*

        It never ends. Our social security letter this year explained that we were not getting a COL increase because there was no inflation and living costs had not gone up. IN the same letter they informed up that medicare costs were going to go up dramatically and since this is deducted from the social security check, the amounts we receive would be going down.

    2. the gold digger*

      Or if your company has its HQ in Michigan and you have BC/BS of Michigan (yes, I HATE YOU GUYS), then you will think you are visiting a specialist for the $45 co-pay but then discover that BC/BS, unlike all other plans, counts such a visit as a hospital visit (for $460) if the doctor has her office in a hospital, as all the specialists around here do because that is where the state medical college is.

      I hate you, BC/BS.

      1. DeepBlueC*

        Thanks for the heads up…I unexpectedly had an appointment in the university hospital in Ann Arbor (thought it was going to be Taubman like my last specialist appointment was– of course this was the one time I didn’t get a thing in the mail telling me where to go!). Those buildings are literally connected, so I’ll be really mad if that’s BC/BS’s excuse for upcharging. :/ (I have Blue Care Network, which means an extra level of nonsense.)

        1. Cafe au Lait*

          Yes, the University Hospitals are nuts. I can see them from my office window. Sometimes I amuse myself by trying to track where one building ends and the other begins.

        2. Jess*

          That happened to my sister in law. She got a bill for $500 because she saw her specialist at his office at the hospital instead of the $20 bill she would’ve gotten if she’d seen him at his office on the other side of Ann Arbor. It was literally just a location difference.

      2. The Cosmic Avenger*

        GD, have you tried contacting the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services? I know a lot of states only pay lip service (if that) to consumer protection or advocacy, but some do a pretty good job, but many people don’t know they exist.

        (Link in a reply, you can probably just Google DIFS.)

        1. the gold digger*

          No, I have not! Thank you! I will do so.

          I have appealed the claim (which I had to do with a physical letter sent via USPS) and sent a copy to the CEO, telling him that if they are not going to pay their claims the way normal people would interpret the policy language that they need to make it clear. (I had UnitedHealthcare and they always paid the specialist visits at the hospital as office visits.)

          1. Elle*

            I feel your pain, and you have my sympathy. It feels like insurance companies and providers can pretty much do whatever they want. We have two local health providers (I’m talking to YOU, Cleveland Clinic & University Hospitals!) that charge “facility fees” if you see a doctor in one of their stand alone clinics. I’m just talking a normal, run-of-the-mill doctor visit, nothing fancy. They will charge anywhere from an extra $80 to several hundred just for the pleasure of being seen at one of these places. When you’re on a high deductible health plan, this means your insurance doesn’t pay it. It makes me really angry, but apparently it’s legal (I checked), so I’m just doing my best to avoid both places. It’s kind of hard around here though, as most doctors belong to either/or.

            1. Meg Murry*

              Ugh, facilities fees. For a while there you could call and fight the facilities charges and get them waived, but from what I understand, it is harder to do so. And yes, that $100 doesn’t count toward your deductible or out-of-pocket max, so it seems like straight up fraud to me. And every time I turn around, a formerly independent doctors office or hospital is swept under the UH or CC umbrella. And for added fun, one of the major health insurance policies in the (MedMutual) doesn’t cover UH main campus as in network, because there was a falling out between MedMutual and UH years ago.

              On the far west side we still have Mercy as an option as well, but then you have to throw the fact that it’s a Catholic hospital and what restrictions does that bring into the mix.

          2. Ad Astra*

            Glad to see you’re appealing! I would be just as mad as you are if they charged me for a hospital visit when they should be charging for a specialist visit, but that doesn’t match my past experience with BC/BS (in a different state).

          3. JessaB*

            The problem might NOT be the insurance co. It might be the billing dept at the hospital not being clear that this is a specialist visit. When I had surgery, and had a small bill to pay, the surgeon had an office in the hospital. When I got a dunning call, it did not come from the staff of the Dr.’s office, it came from the hospital billing department. A lot of the doctors who have offices in the hospital save money by using the hospital billing clerks, it’s part of the perks for being inside the hospital and answering call and things. And everything goes by the codes they put in (and they recently revised the coding system so mistakes WILL be made.)

            So in addition to calling the insurance regulator, call the doctor and make sure the bill was coded as an office visit and not a hospital visit.

            1. Stranger than fiction*

              Oh, great point! It’s all in the coding. My adult daughter had an issue a few years ago where she kept getting billed several hundred dollars for urgent care visits. It was one of those places that was a regular family practice+urgent care. Finally, when she spoke with the insurance company, they told her the urgent care was supposed to have billed those visits as urgent, but they were coding it as a regular checkup type visit.

              1. the gold digger*

                Good points. I did call the hospital and they said that they billed it as an office visit (which they did – I looked up the billing code) but have hospital as the location code. (And they also have that horrible facility fee charge, just like Starbucks charges you separately for the coffee and then for the privilege of walking into their store.)

                The hospital billing person said that this is how they code and that some insurance companies are using that as an excuse not to pay. But when I had United, I was in the exact same building and didn’t have the problem. My hairdresser’s plan (not United and not BC) doesn’t charge her as a hospital visit, either.

                I hate BC so much. I used to work in that industry years ago and even back then, BC had a bad rep as being super cheap. I would present my company’s proposal and the prospective customer would say, “But the BC bid is so much cheaper!”

                I would try to explain that BC paid at only 50% of reasonable and customary and that they took a very long to pay their claims, so of course it was cheaper.

            2. Noah*

              That’s what I’m thinking too. Double check what procedure codes were used on the bill and which provider code was used.

              The insurance company might actually be your advocate here. They don’t want a $460 bill to go towards your deductible because eventually they will owe a large portion of that bill. My deductible is $1000 and then I owe 10% after that. I’m sure the insurance company would rather pay for a few office visits at the regular rate than a few at the $460 rate.

            3. Elizabeth West*

              That happened to me once–it was an urgent care visit, and the clinic was inside the hospital near the ER and it was billed as an ER visit. I had to cough up an extra $60 in copay above what I paid that day–I’m guessing they fixed it but did not indicated that I had already paid the copay. I should not have had to; it was their mistake, AND the hospital got in huge trouble for using internal collections and pretending it was an outside firm (or something like that). But I had no recourse, and they wouldn’t leave me alone, so I paid it. >:(

            4. fposte*

              And there’s a whole brand new coding thing that happened in October–there was apparently a mandatory introduction of 56,000 new codes.

              In general, I’ve found that appealing and pushing at the insurance company have an excellent success rate and are well worth the doing.

      3. mander*

        I used to work for BC/BS years ago, albeit not in Michigan. It was like answering phones for Satan. I felt awful telling the customers that yes, that poorly-worded policy means that you really are liable for that outrageous bill. Sorry.

        That job triggered a lifelong struggle with depression.

    3. Jade*

      Good point. I mentioned above how I was surprised to find out my new employer offered the same plan as my old employer except for 3 times the price. What I forgot to mention was that the plan itself SUCKED. High deductible to start, then you paid 20% of costs up to the high out-of-pocket maximum. I needed some surgeries while on that plan over the years, and it cost me over $15k of my own money just to cover my portion of costs. There was no way I would have been able to afford the cost of getting sick or injured with a lower salary, the high premiums deducted from my paycheck, and the individual share of costs in the plan. One trip to the ER and I would’ve been ruined.

  4. Dot Warner*

    #4: Yes, keep it on! I work in a completely different field now, but over 10 years ago I worked at a chocolate teapot company and wrote a grant that garnered the company a large amount of money (as in, staying in business vs. not). Written communication is still a big part of what I do, and the grant proposal shows that, plus it gives interviewers something to ask me about besides “where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      Yeah, it’s a way of saying “here is a measurable way that a team I led succeeded in its goals.” True, it won’t be directly applicable to the future goals of teams you might lead elsewhere, but it’s still a cool accomplishment that’s tangentially related to future leadership!

      1. Adam*

        Also it’s really unique! However many applications get sent in for a position, that’s an achievement that will stand out for sure. If he’s a good fit for the job on paper everywhere else then sticking in the reader’s mind in such an intriguing way could be another boon in the job search.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            And now I am dying to know what it was!!

            Way off topic, but when I took an archaeology class, we took a trip to Kampsville, IL to the Center for American Archaeology and visited the Koster site (where a very important dig took place in the 1970s). It’s a pasture now, but they were digging test pits in the field below it, and we got to play in them a little. I learned how to dress down the sides of the pit and while doing so, I found a stone tool. :) It was in the plow zone so it wasn’t worth anything chronologically, but still very cool, since I was the only one who found anything other than rocks, LOL. I didn’t get to keep it–it went to the Center, but I took a picture. It was on this trip that I got to feed a bottle to a baby bear named Boomer at the petting zoo in Kampsville. Why they had a bear I have no idea!

            We also learned a bit of flintknapping and went to Cahokia Mounds. I was totally broke and bummed over a breakup, so my instructor bought me a little flintknapping kit to cheer me up. I still have it and we’re still friends. :)

            /end non-relevant archaeology anecdote

      2. Archaeology*

        I never thought about it as a demonstration of leadership, good point. I’m glad to hear it’s something that I can include since I do think it’s something that sticks out.

        1. Meg Murry*

          I think for every item on your resume you have to look at “how much space does this item cost me, and what do I have to leave off instead”?

          For a 1-2 line bullet point under a job that is still on your resume, I’d keep the discovery (because that’s pretty darn cool!) and look for somewhere else to cut a line or two. I think the bigger question comes in as to when is it time for the archaeology job to be cut off the resume altogether, but so long as the job makes sense to be there, the discovery bullet point definitely should be.

  5. Stephanie*

    #5: Taxes you can look up. When I got an offer from a unionized job, the cost of union dues was included in my offer letter. This wasn’t in a right-to-work state, so the offer letter said something like “And as a teapot specialist 1, you will a part of the National Brotherhood of Teapot Specialists, with mandatory dues of $20/paycheck.”

    But you can ask if/when you get an offer about the union dues. You may also not be eligible immediately (at my current company, I believe bargaining unit employees aren’t eligible until day 30).

    Benefits, HR can provide when you get an offer. Definitely read the details about what your insurance covers specifically (like out-of-pocket maxes and such) as the initial premium could be misleading.

  6. Suzanne Lucas--Evil HR Lady*

    I switched my advice to hire a reference checking firm if you suspect someone is giving a false reference based on Donna Ballman’s advice. She said a reference checking firm is what she recommends for her clients.

    If you just want to know what they are saying, a friend is fine. Also, people don’t realize that for an official HR reference, you can just call yourself and HR will tell you what they’ll say. Your former manager won’t be forthcoming, but HR will tell you if they’ll disclose termination reason and what that is, etc.

    1. Jen*

      This, though HR isn’t a reference… Our HR told me when I was laid off their policy was spcificifly to only verify period of employment, and, if I wanted to and signed a form, confirm salary. They do not give out reason for separation or any other details.

      My *reference* is supposed to talk about how great I am.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ah, because it’s easier to cite a firm that provides an official report in a defamation case than a friend. That makes sense in that context. I wonder if Donna has a firm she recommends (I’ve only looked at the one unimpressive one cited in the post). I may ask her!

      1. Suzanne Lucas--Evil HR Lady*

        Exactly. I didn’t ask Donna if she recommends a certain firm, but if she has one, let me know!

        I think as a general rule, asking a friend to do so is probably fine, but if you’re looking at building a legal case against them, a professional firm makes mores sense.

        I’ven ever dealt with any firm, either, though, so I’m clueless.

        1. Koko*

          Seems like you could start with a friend and then escalate to a firm to get better evidence. It wouldn’t seem unusual for you to be applying for more than one job and get more than one reference check done.

    3. Washington*

      Yes to using a firm. If your former employer is generally reasonable (a rogue manager is the one giving false info), a report from a firm carries more weight in getting them to address.

  7. Nobody*

    #5 – You should be able to find information about union dues in the collective bargaining agreement. Some unions charge a flat fee, and others charge a percentage of your pay. You may be able to find the CBA on the union’s web site, but if not, you can ask HR or the recruiter for the CBA — and in fact, I would recommend you look at the CBA before deciding whether to accept the job, because it contains the terms of your employment as a union member.

    For taxes, Google “paycheck calculator.” There are many web sites that can help you calculate taxes based on your personal situation (location, salary, filing status, allowances).

  8. anonforthis*

    My former manager was providing false information about me, and I hired the service mentioned in OP2’s question. Alison’s reaction reflects my experience. My manager had actually left, which I didn’t know, by the time I hired them, so they only talked to someone at HR, who provided minimal information. So…pretty useless. The kicker was that I had a limited time to view the report. If you don’t save it with a screenshot of the online view or something, then you have to pay *again* to see it after a certain number of days. This was a while ago, so the second charge may have changed. If they had talked to my manager, I might feel differently, except for the part about the second charge, but I did not feel it was worth the money

    1. fposte*

      If I recall correctly, there was once a post where Alison talked about reference checking and several testimonials to the wonders of this firm appeared spontaneously in the comments from posters who had never been heard from before and never were again.

  9. Minister of Smartassery*

    #3 I’m not making excuses but is it possible that this is a cultural issue? My former employer came from a country where it seemed that employees were considered servants with no limits as to what we would be asked to do. He employed more than 50 people, and he expected his employees to do things like go his house and set up his surround sound system or build a swingset for his grandchildren. He demanded one employee use his personal vehicle to go pick up an oversized package from a freight shipper on a Saturday, when the office wasn’t even open. He called a new receptionist at home on Valentine’s Day (a Sunday) and started yelling at her because she hadn’t ordered flowers for his mother or wife. She had no idea she was expected to do this. None of these assignments had ANYTHING to do with the employees professional field. And if you complained about any of these expectations, he would say it fell under “other duties as assigned.” If you said no, you would be fired, eventually.

    “Culture” doesn’t make it OK. It’s still unreasonable and awful. It just may explain the weird expectations. Asking you to sleep in a stranger’s house when you travel is not a reasonable expectation. Asking you to move that furniture? Nope. I would find another job because once someone feels this entitled to your time, it’s not likely you’re going to be able to “reprogram” them.

    #4 I would mention it. That’s awesome.

    1. FirstJob*

      OP #3 here. I’ve thought about why he behaves like this, and the best I can come up with is that he’s just very used to the “culture” of small business. He treats his vendors and clients like friends, so for him, his personal life and his business intermingle quite often. That’s fine for him, but I take issue with him expecting the same for me.

      He expects me to be “always on,” capable of answering e-mails even when I’m home for the night. He’s said that this isn’t the kind of job that I can just leave at 5 pm and not worry about until the next morning- I understand that’s not terribly unusual for work, but I find myself constantly stressed out because of this. Just because his company takes up all of his time, it doesn’t mean it has to take up all of mine.

      1. A Dispatcher*

        Ah the always on thing. This is why I love my job. I truly can (and have to) leave it at the door when I walk out. I think it is fine (to a certain extent) to require employees to be available to work or answer an email or what not after hours, but you need to be paying them for that, be it in a higher salary, on call pay, great benefits, generous OT, or whatever is acceptable based on the job classification and business needs. It also should be made very clear during the hiring process.

        For the owner of a small business, they tend to be very vested in the success because as it grows, so to can their assets and income. For an employee, that is generally not the case. There may be some raises, but generally the salary stays pretty much the same no matter how the business functions. So it makes sense for owners to put in a lot more time than employees, unfortunately they don’t always see that and/or they wonder why employees aren’t as dedicated as they are. Well, duh…

        1. CADMonkey007*

          2nd paragraph is on point. I work for a small business and this is exactly how it is. OP, you are an employee, not a “part of the family.”

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Came down here to say this. FirstJob, I don’t blame you for not wanting to be on all the time. It’s one thing I love about being non-exempt; I don’t have to be on call or available. Once I’m clocked out, that’s it. I would definitely check.

      2. Newbie*

        Your boss is the owner of the company and can certainly chose to intermingle his business and personal life, being “always on.” If you are an hourly employee, there are legal limits (which can vary by state) to what he can expect when you’re off the clock. When an employee wants to be helpful and is willing to give extra, that can sometimes be taken advantage of, particularly by the type of boss you describe. It might be worth checking into the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which is the federal law governing hourly employees, and your state labor board web site for local laws. Being new to the work force, it could be helpful to know what the laws are to minimize the risk of being taken advantage of.

      3. the gold digger*

        the kind of job that I can just leave at 5 pm and not worry about until the next morning

        Are you a transplant surgeon? Because that’s the only job I can think of right where you have to be available like that. Corporate marketing can wait.

        1. Charity*

          I think availability demands have stretched with the technology. Now that we all have cellphones and email available at a moment’s notice, pretty much everyone can be treated as if their role was as life/death important as transplant surgeon.

          Of course there are always genuine emergencies, but because it’s so easy/cheap to keep people tethered to work nowadays the standard for what constitutes an emergency can turn into trivia.

          It kind of reminds me of that other letter a while back about the company that wanted to install tracking devices on their employee’s personal vehicles. They claimed it was a legitimate business need, but honestly… if they had to pay the full cost of having a private security agent personally follow every employee vehicle 24/7 they would probably decide that it’s not as necessary as they think it is. But because it’s cheap, why not do it?

          1. Koko*

            When I worked as a delivery driver, the restaurant wanted all the drivers to install a GrubHub driver app that, along with useful things like queuing up our orders and providing GPS directions, also tracked our car so that customers could see where we were similar to how you see your Uber on its way to you.

            I don’t think a single one of us installed the app. It seemed like not only such a gross violation of privacy, but a recipe for making customers angry if they decided their driver took a stupid route that ended up taking them too long or whatever.

        2. Murphy*

          Child welfare social worker is another. But yes, I always say that no one dies if I don’t answer my BlackBerry right away. And frankly, if I’m truly that invaluable, I want a salary to match that. We’re talking seven figures.

          I do work evenings and weekends when necessary and can be reached outside office hours, but the expectation that I’m always available? Nope. Nope. Nopeity Nope.

        3. bridget*

          Many lawyers are “always on,” or always on within some reasonable limits (and, often have some flexibility to use their judgment to decide whether a particular email can wait until the morning – a lot can). But, they’re generally compensated accordingly.

      4. Koko*

        I had a similar experience working at a small NGO. The ED made a competitive salary, had multiple degrees including a JD, served on multiple boards of other NGOs in our vertical, and was the primary major gifts fundraiser. She lived and breathed our work, and especially as a major gifts fundraiser she spent a lot of her “off” hours flying around the country networking/nurturing bonds with funders and potential funders which includes more social activities like dinners and parties. Even when she was home she worked from home frequently, it was as you say, there was a blurry boundary between work and personal life from her – which she was fine with because she was generously compensated and was building a super-impressive resume with all the boards and honors she earned as a result of spending so much of her downtime networking.

        The four of us who worked under her, on the other hand…not so much. We made typical mid-range nonprofit salaries – not the starvation entry-level wages that you see at some NGOs, but probably comparable to entry-level skilled positions in the for-profit world. We weren’t getting the 6-figure pay or the industry prestige that she got out of working 24/7, but she seemed to expect us to be available at all hours just like she was. (She wasn’t an ogre about it, we had a generous comp time policy that meant working on the weekend or staying late in the office at her request resulted in more vacation time – but at the same time, those nights and weekends were mandatory.)

      5. Rex*

        I think the “able to go home and unplug at 5 pm” varies wildly by industry, unfortunately. Some places it is normal, some places it would be unacceptable, and some places you can do it but it’s up to you to establish the boundary. Also, in a more senior position, I understand that sometimes I have to be available off-hours, but I do what I can to protect my reports from having to do it too much. The flip side is that because of my seniority, I have a lot more standing to draw a line in the sand about when I am available and when I am not.

        But I think this is another example of how your sense of what’s appropriate might be getting warped by staying there. It sounds like it’s not a good fit. Time to start thinking about moving on.

      6. Anon Accountant*

        It sounds like it’s time to consider moving on. It’s okay to want to have time for yourself and not always be ” the clock”. Good luck and please keep us updated.

    2. Mando Diao*

      I think this read on #3 might be too charitable. People launch small businesses because they don’t want to work for someone else, and a lot of times they’ve never worked for anyone else (or they have, and normal office culture didn’t jive for them). The more common answer is that these people simply have no idea that they’re being unreasonable because they’re so far removed from norms.

      1. I'm a Little Teapot*

        YES. Sometimes they even start their own businesses because they can’t get or keep a job any other way. Or they’re slick, schmoozy types who conned someone into fronting them a lot of money and either don’t know or don’t care what they’re doing. Or they’re rich kids who inherited the business or the startup capital and are totally unqualified to actually run anything. There are certainly good small business owners, but there are a lot of terrible ones and they generally have no accountability to anyone else, unlike managers in most other settings.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I just don’t get those people. I wouldn’t even TRY to launch a small business unless I were as educated on how to handle it as I could possibly be, including having accounting and payroll set up with someone, reading Alison’s management book, knowing the rules about hourly / exempt employees for my state, shipping, etc. But that’s just me, I guess.

  10. FirstJob*

    OP #3 here- thanks for the advice. I’ve had a bad feeling about this job for some time now, but I’m somewhat relieved that it sounds as bad as it seems.

    I’ve already started applying to other jobs, and I even have an interview lined up next week. What I’m concerned about, though, is how I’m going to exit my current job. A few weeks ago, my boss accepted a freelance contract that pulls him from the company for four days a week, leaving me to handle a lot of the day to day activities. While this certainly hasn’t helped matters, I feel guilty about the prospect of leaving for another job while he’s on this contract, leaving him without an employee while he’s away from his company.

    However, this contract isn’t finished until early-mid April, and I’m worried what to tell potential employers if I decide to hang around until he comes back full time. I guess this is out of courtesy, but I’m also very concerned about him giving me a hard time about leaving, even if I wait until he’s finished this contract.

    Any advice on how to handle?

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      Leaving a job is very normal, and a part of business if you get any push back or guilt trips when handing in your notice that says more about your boss than anything else.

      You handle it by giving two weeks notice and offering as much help with the transition as you can in the time you have left.

    2. AcademiaNut*

      I would say don’t compromise your own future, and don’t take emotional responsibility for your boss’s business decisions.

      You have no guarantee that if you wait until April you’ll be able to find a new job in a timely fashion, or that he won’t take on another free-lance gig with the same parameters. Employee turnover is a fact of life, and your boss, as the business owner, should have a plan in place to handle it. If he’s taking a freelance contract and leaving the majority of the work for his main business to a single junior employee – that’s a risk that he has chosen to take. Give your two weeks notice, or a bit more if you want to and can swing it, and be matter of fact about it.

      But do be careful about vetting your *next* job before accepting, because you’ll want to stay in it a while, and to have good future references from them.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But do be careful about vetting your *next* job before accepting, because you’ll want to stay in it a while, and to have good future references from them.

        This is really key! One short stay at the start of your career is no big deal. But if it turns into two, it’s going to be a lot harder to find the job after that. So take the time to make sure the next place is somewhere you’ll want to stay for at least two years.

        1. LBK*

          What do you do/how do you prepare in the event that what’s supposed to be your highly-vetted job changes significant after you start? I have a friend who took a job expecting it to be his longer-term role to make up for a couple job hops and a month in, his manager who loved him left and was replaced by someone that hated him.

          He ultimately did quit again and add another year-long stint to his resume, but I’m just curious how people would handle that. Do you tough it out at a job that’s now miserable just to save your resume?

          1. Murphy*

            Unless I was about to be fired, I would personally stick it out if I was worried about a job-hopping resume. At least until the two year mark. It sucks and can be soul deadening, but if I want options in the long run I know I need to build them for myself. But yes, sucky.

          2. fposte*

            I think it depends on how miserable you are and how bad the resume is. Are you so miserable that it would be worth risking depressing your income for a few years to get out? Is your resume so bad that you’d be unemployed for longer than you can afford if you quit? Basically, it’s figuring out where the intersection hits for you.

      2. Smithy*

        100% on this.

        Early in one of my friend’s careers he was in a very similar place for an art gallery owner – that was just the owner and himself. Lots of similar issues, and he eventually looked to move on. He was hired at a “large” gallery and quit after 3 days because it was such a bad Devil Wears Prada type experience. He was lucky to have a previous job to quickly fall back on, but I think that having been in an odd two person bubble for a while definitely gave him a skewed perception of what the art gallery world would be like and how he was (or wasn’t) suited for it.

        End of this story is that he’s ultimately found a wonderful career that works for him and that experience from his 20’s hasn’t followed him – so I don’t think any of this is the end of the world, but yeah….it’s important to keep in mind.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          If you only worked someplace for three days, I would say that never needs to appear on your resume ever, unless for some reason you’re moving on in a very small industry with a lot of word of mouth. And if it’s that bad, everybody else probably knows about Anna/Miranda.

    3. NJ Anon*

      It’s not your problem. Besides just because you have an interview doesn’t mean a) you will get the job and/or b) you will want the job. Make sure you go into the interview with plenty of questions to ask. This site has tons of great advice. Good luck!

      1. FirstJob*

        Fair point- I don’t mean to count my chickens before they hatch by assuming I’ll have an offer within the next few weeks, but I’m still curious about the possibility. Thanks for the advice!

        1. RVA Cat*

          So best case scenario they give you an offer in mid-March, you give notice and start New Job in April. Old Boss should have a contingency plan to handle the contract – if he doesn’t, that’s not your fault.

    4. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

      I’m going to chime into your question from a different angle.

      I agree 1000% with everything Alison said, but while you are looking to get out, I challenge you to get as much hands on experience with as many marketing tasks as you can.

      Marketing (which is a good chunk of my day job) can’t really be learned in college, it’s an on the job thing. You can learn principles but only some of those even apply in the real world. If boss is going to be an ass, well use him right back to get as many “I handled XYZ projects 5x” things for your resume, cover letter and interviews. Rip projects right out of his hands if you have to.

      It’s really important. Marketing is hard to break into, but once you have skills and experience, entirely different.

      1. Cat Lady without a Cat :(*

        Totally agree. My first job out of college was at a tiny online marketing firm that consisted of the owner, his buddy and me. The owner used to work at a giant corporation, knew how “normal” businesses are run at a larger scale, and managed his tiny firm pretty well (read: no personal errands, clear boundaries). So thankfully I didn’t suffer from the small business issues that the OP mentions, but after 6 months or so I did start feeling limited in terms of the range of projects that I could take on, because the firm was just so small. Getting not much exposure to a diversity of thoughts also became frustrating.

        I did learn a lot about marketing, particularly as a new grad, and I did get a huge amount of hands-on experience and fairly high-level work that I wouldn’t haven had a chance to tackle if I’d been an entry level employee in a big firm. (I eventually got hired by one of the clients, where I still am.) So, OP, I’d say get as much experience as you can while you are there, accumulate accomplishments that you can put on your resume, and get out when a good opportunity comes along. Small businesses have their downsides, but they can be a good place to get your hands dirty and learn on the job.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

          Yeah, there’s no college course on “how to manage three print projects at one time with a difficult end user and a ditzy printer contact and OMG THEY CHANGED THE DEADLINE AGAIN”. Marketing is marginally about ideas and mostly about execution and post mortem evaluation of results of same.

      2. Master Bean Counter*

        Yes, Take all the experience out of that job that you can! I skipped out on years of entry to mid level work in my field by using my first post-college position for all that it was worth. I was very much underpaid for the work, but I got enough experience to double my salary when I left.

    5. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Agree with the previous comments that you shouldn’t pass on a better job just to support your current employer’s lack of redundancy…as we say, what would happen if you got hit by a bus tomorrow? But when you get an offer, if it’s during a busy time you certainly can ask if you can wait 4-6 weeks to start. Even if they need you right away (or, at least, in two weeks), if they’re a decent employer they’ll probably be impressed that you’re trying to support your current employer even as you are leaving.

    6. neverjaunty*

      Your boss can get a temp or a new hire. Any decently run business can cover in this situation – I mean, what would he do if you were suddenly hospitalized? Make you answer email from the ICU?

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Me either, TBH.

          Dear Ask a Manager,

          I got hit by a bus and my small business-owner boss is making me send marketing emails to our customers from my hospital bed. He even gave me a cell phone with a switchboard app so I could answer calls. I’m having a splenectomy tomorrow and I told him I won’t be available while on the operating table, and he said, “Cant they just give you a local?” Is this legal?

          Signed, Help!

          1. SusanIvanova*

            Stories like that show up on clientsfromhell all the time – “oh, you broke your leg and are on pain meds? Well, you didn’t break your fingers, so where’s my drawing?”

    7. Artemesia*

      Make decisions that benefit YOU not decisions that keep you in indentured servitude to a boss who doesn’t treat you well. Maybe if a few of his ‘girls’ move on when he behaves like they are personal servants he will run a more professional operation.

      Your boss would fire you in a heartbeat if it were in his interests to do so. You should make decisions that are in your interest. Of course give two weeks notice and leave the job in good shape documenting procedures for the next person. Start that now so that the transition will be smooth and you won’t be scrambling when the new job comes along. BUT make your decision based on finding a job that it is in your interest to accept and don’t hesitate to take it. Running his business is his problem — your life is yours.

    8. I'm a Little Teapot*

      In my experience, people like your boss are experts at pushing, manipulating, and guilt-tripping. They’re good at making you doubt your own feelings, perceptions, and needs. I had one who, when I told him I was leaving, told me he was doing me a favor because I wasn’t hardworking enough or good enough to get a job anywhere else (even though he paid me far below minimum wage). It’s probably best to give your notice while he’s gone most of the time, to minimize his chance to manipulate and intimidate you. Don’t feel bad for him; he brought it on himself.

      1. RVA Cat*

        “(even though he paid me far below minimum wage)”

        Your boss was a criminal, in addition to all the manipulative gaslighting etc. you mention above.

        1. I'm a Little Teapot*

          Yes, and he wasn’t even the same guy as the boss who went to trial for assaulting my coworker at another job that same year. These (and a few others) are much of the reason I’m so cynical and take such a dim view of small businesses.

      2. Alicia*

        Yeah, I had a boss tell me I was a lazy, manipulative, backstabbing person who would ultimately be a professional failure when I gave my 3 weeks. The more space I get, the more insane it seems that that was normal/expected behavior from him.

    9. NK*

      Mid-April is only 6 weeks away! Even if this interview next week turns into an offer, that could easily be two weeks away, if not more. I think most reasonable employers would understand if you told them you wanted to give three weeks’ notice to your current employer, especially since it’s such a small business. That means you are leaving your boss to cover both his contract and the office work for maybe a week at the most. Definitely nothing to stress about! And even if it were a situation that forced him to cover both responsibilities for a longer period of time, I fully agree with the other commenters’ opinions – this isn’t something you need to be overly concerned with.

  11. Newbie*

    LW#1: I completely agree with Alison’s advice. I’ve been on both sides of this situation and talking with your manager is the best thing to do. Your manager and coworkers may have some preferences for communication and coverage but are hesitant to bring it up with you. They know you’re dealing with a medical issue and may not want to ask you to do things that might be difficult for you or add to the stress associated with managing illness. So having you bring up the topic allows you to show that you really do care about them and the work and provide the opportunity to find mutually beneficial strategies for when you’re having a flare.

    In addition to how best to communicate, you might want to also ask if there are any things you can do that would make it easier for those coworkers that need to cover any of your work when you’re out. Do they have the knowledge and access to files/data needed to complete necessary tasks? Is there clear documentation or cheat sheets for how to complete tasks? Do they have access to voicemail passwords to check messages (if necessary)? When I’ve been in the situation of having to cover for someone else who is out of the office, it’s frustrating if I don’t have the knowledge or information to handle the necessary tasks. Or the drawer that has the file I need is locked and the key is with that coworker who is out.

    1. LH*

      Just to add to this great advice for LW#1, would be possible to adjust your hours at the office? If mornings are the most challenging time for you, perhaps your boss might be willing to adjust your schedule since you are a top performer. For example, you could work 9-6 or 10-7 instead of the standard 8-5. Hopefully that’ll let you save more of your sick days for the really bad clusters you mentioned.

  12. Bea W*

    I checked out the Allison & Taylor site. $395 for a “highly effective cease and desist letter”. Really? They probably have a low paid assistant type some personalized information into a template. Do they print it on gold?

  13. Revolver Rani*

    Regarding #2: Having a professional-sounding friend check references for you. A very dear friend once asked me to do this; I was quite uncomfortable with the idea and after some thought I said no. How do you folks feel about it? Have you done it? If you were a reference and you found out this was being done to you, would it give you a bad impression of the person for whom you were providing the reference?

    I guess I am surprised to see Alison advising this course of action so casually as if it were obviously no big deal to do – I want to ask whether my own deep discomfort with it makes me an outlier.

    1. A Dispatcher*

      I think it really depends on the reference. It would probably feel a bit odd to do that to someone who I trusted and valued their opinion, but then again, those are not the people I’d want to be checking up on anyway. I think having someone check is more for the bosses that were a little off kilter or you didn’t necessarily get along with best, but are still the most relevant people to have on your list and/or someone that a good reference checker might find, even if you haven’t listed them. In that case, I don’t have any moral qualms about it at all.

    2. Yetanotherjennifer*

      I have no experience with hiring and would be very nervous about asking the right questions so as not to tip my hand. I think it would be best to ask someone with experience checking references. Then again, last time I had my references checked, I heard back from both of them that the person who checked was terrible at it.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, that’s the thing — some offices delegate reference-checking to junior people who have never done it before and just give them a list of questions. It’s not like it’s going to stand out as really odd if your friend doesn’t sound 100% like a polished reference-checking pro, as long as she sounds basically professional.

    3. LQ*

      I have both done this and had this done to me. Neither bothered me. I think it might have if I’d been getting dozens of reference calls for the person but it was like two over a few months, she’d had two job offers pulled and wanted to know why. (She talked to me about it after, which is how I know it happened.) The time I did it I just checked two references for a friend, it wasn’t quite as complete as it would have been but it was enough to know that they weren’t bad mouthing or anything, which seemed like enough.

    4. calonkat*

      Only tangentially related, but I once (when working in the office of a temporary agency) had to explain to a kid (who had dropped out of high school and features in my “dumb criminal” story) that it was perfectly OK for him to call the places he’d worked and confirm the dates he’d worked there. NOTHING on his application matched up with what they had, and he really had no idea that previous employers would be willing to tell him that information!
      I agree that it would be weird to call personal references, but if you’re not sure what a previous employer or their HR department is saying? Check it out!

    5. How does this work exactly?*

      Right! What confuses me is how the friend is supposed to represent themselves if asked any questions – basic ones like “what company are you with?” or “what job is the person applying for?” I wouldn’t want to make one of my friends outright lie for me, nor would I want my reference figuring that out in seconds and thinking of me as a dishonest person going forward.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        “Hi, this is (real name) calling to check a reference for Jane Smith. She applied for a job with us and gave your name as a reference. Do you have a few minutes to speak with me about her?”

        In my experience, at least 80% of people won’t ask where you’re calling from (probably more actually — I’ve done loads of reference-checking calls and been asked maybe like three times). If they do: “We’re a small marketing organization (or whatever) and she applied for a job with us doing X.” 99% of people won’t say, “Yes, but what’s the name of your company?” If they do, you can make one up (which is has to be what professional reference-checking firms are doing — people from AllisonTaylor aren’t saying they’re from AllisonTaylor).

        1. Cath in Canada*

          Hmmmm, this would be really tricky for me because there are only a handful of employers in town that I would conceivably be moving to, and they all know each other. And everyone knows I aint moving (my husband’s career is not relocatable).

          I’m dying to know what my last boss would say about me, because I swear he was really a set of identical twins, one of whom really liked me and one of whom didn’t. But I guess it will have to remain a mystery.

  14. Adnan*

    #2 : Several year ago, I used AllisonTaylor to check out my references when I suspected that a former boss (in Canada) might be jeopardizing my job search. My former employer has a ‘no reference’ policy – I read the transcript from AllisonTaylor’s call to him and was amazed the Reference Checker managed to get some real feedback from my boss in spite of him repeatedly saying ‘the company does not provide references’. The questions asked to the boss were thorough and very professional. I do not think any of my friends would have done such a good job with it and I would not feel comfortable doing this for any of my friends either. The couple of hundred dollars I paid for the service were a great investment. I was able to sleep in peace knowing my former boss was not bad mouthing me – in fact his comments to the reference checker showed my boss was supporting me.
    I do not use the other services that AllisonTaylor provides (Cease & Desist letters, etc) so I cannot comment on the quality of those services.
    I did contact AllisonTaylor last year for help with a friend’s job search. We paid for the service and a number of attempts were made by the Agent to speak to the references, but we cancelled the service without completing it because my friend found a great internal position and did not want go though the process anymore.

  15. The Alias That Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

    #4 I’m fascinated that you were in archaeology. Why did you leave? I wanted to become an archaeologist when I was in Jr High and Mr. Owens laughed at me. Jerk.

    1. Archaeology*

      My academic interests just ended up taking me out of the field and deeper into the library for my graduate studies. Though I’m also looking to transition out of “history” into modern cultural issues.

        1. Archaeology*

          There’s actually a lot of field schools that take volunteers if you’re interested. I’m not sure where you are but a lot of the Canada/US/UK digs have the volunteers going home to their own beds every night. Lots of digs overseas also take volunteers. Each site has their own requirements but it’s an interesting way to take a vacation if you’re willing to do physical labour for 5 days a week for a dig season (our season was 4 weeks). Might be worth looking into if you’re interested.

              1. Cath in Canada*

                Also: British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. I did a week of dry stone wall building in the Peak District with them in my final year of high school, and it. was. AWESEOME. Like a giant 3-D jigsaw puzzle! We even found an old glass bottle left by the very old wall’s original builders, with all their names and ages written on a piece of paper inside. We took a bunch of photos, then added a second piece of paper with our own names and ages (plus a photo) and put everything back inside the newly rebuilt wall. We all slept on the floor in an old farmhouse, cooked together every night, and drank a LOT of cider.

                Oh, they seem to have changed their name:

                I guess they got sick of the “Badly Trained Countryside Vandals” and “Blunt Tools, Crap Van” jokes :D

    2. mander*

      I can’t speak for Archaeology, but I’m an archaeologist as well and it can be very hard to have a normal life if you work in professional field work. Most of the jobs are short-term contracts, you often have to move around a lot to follow the work, and it’s usually badly paid. It can be fun to do the moving around for a while but if you want to settle down in a particular place, have kids or other things to attend to on a regular schedule, etc. it can be difficult or impossible.

      Also, regular digging can be murder on your joints.

      1. The Alias That Gloria Has Been Living Under, A.A., B.S.*

        I know a little bit about it. I started out majoring in Geology with the intent of going in to Paleontology. I changed majors because 1. Pay (I didn’t want to get an advanced degree(s) to make $30K a year 2. Chemistry and 3. There’s more openings every year for Governor than there are for Paleontologist.

      2. notmyusualname*

        Yup. I went into it at age 15 and learned very quickly where my skill set needed to go: technical writing and databasing. At 24, I grabbed my MA and a permanent mid-level position with decent pay in the same month. I live near my family in a region where my husband can easily find work and we can think about kids. My pathway was full of luck and is seriously abnormal for the field.

  16. Lowercase holly*

    #1, it sounds like sometimes when you take night pain killers, you could be functional the next day, just later? Sorry if I understood that wrong. Could you ask to arrange an accommodation for those days to work a later set of hours or just fewer hours? Or do you have to take the whole day when you take sick time?

  17. kckckc*

    #3 – From my experience, these type of expectations can be relatively normal when you work in a really small company. A small business can be a fantastic opportunity to get the experience you wouldn’t otherwise get in a corporate environment. I credit my five years at a four-person marketing agency for getting me where I am today. I would never have been able to move up the way I have without it. But, there are many negative things too, like being relied upon to do a lot of personal things for the boss. If you hate, then I recommend looking for a larger company to work for next… it’s not likely to change. Of course, I do recommend waiting until you’ve been there for at least a year to do so. Good luck!!

  18. Jadelyn*

    LW#1 – Couple of things. First, depending on your company and how long you’ve been there, you may be eligible for intermittent FMLA, which will ensure that the days you take off are treated as medical leave and your job is protected. Since this is an ongoing thing, it might be useful to ask your HR department about your eligibility.

    Second, to add to the suggestions that you ask about an altered schedule for days after a flare-up, is there any way you can work from home? Not all jobs can, obviously – I know I can’t – but if you can, maybe your boss would be willing to authorize that for days when you need it.

    1. LW#1*

      Thanks for the advice, but unfortunately I’m neither American or able to do my job at home. (It requires interacting with specific objects at my workplace that are too large/valuable to take home with me.)

  19. Erin*

    #3 – I can tell you from personal experience that Alison’s advice is spot on – smaller organizations like that tend to have more dysfunction, and they truly, really do, skew work norms for you so it’s harder to get acclimated in a new environment when you do make the move.

    As she said though, there’s nothing Earth-shatteringly horribly about this current job – you are going to be okay. But yes, do know that your workplace environment and duties are not the norm, and do give yourself mental permission to job search. Good luck!

  20. Observer*

    #1 You have my sympathies on the pain issue. It makes so many things so hard….

    You say you are seeing specialists. What is not clear is how focused they are on pain management as an issue by itself. If they are not aggressively trying to deal with that, please push them on it. Narcotics may not be the only choice. But, very very often doctors, even good ones, don’t really do much about pain management unless a patient speaks up. So, if you have not had a good discussion with your doctors about the pain itself, do yourself a favor and have it sooner rather than later.

    And, in any case, I hope your doctors find a decent way to control the underlying problem!

    1. oldfashionedlovesong*

      I definitely second the importance of pain management as a goal unto itself. I have a permanent injury from an accident that has resulted in chronic pain. Perhaps because I was very young when the accident happened and I didn’t know to advocate for myself as a patient, my doctors took a long time to come to the idea that the pain was a permanent part of my life and it needed to be managed as its own condition. A succession of doctors gave me lots of opiates and Rx-strength NSAIDs, and one said I was just depressed because I couldn’t play sports anymore and sent me home with antidepressants. After that brushoff, it took me over a year to work up the courage to go back to the doctor and ask to be referred to someone that specializes in pain, to find options that didn’t include massive doses of NSAIDs, opiates, and unnecessary antidepressants. (Obviously oral medications are an important part of a pain management plan, and I still take some on occasion– but my goal was to avoid developing opioid dependence in my teens/early twenties!)

      I was eventually referred to the Interventional Pain Clinic, a specialty practice within my medical center. They may also be called Chronic Pain Management Clinics. Certainly every practice differs, but my experience was truly revelatory. IP/CPM specialists understand chronic pain is a condition, not a symptom, and that it can impact every aspect of how you experience life, and that having to sedate yourself every time you have a flareup is no way to go through life.

      I hope you and your specialists are able to find better ways for you to manage your pain. Good luck!

  21. Puffy*

    OP2: This is something that my local employment centre (financed by local schools) does once for free when you are looking for work, they are able to tell you if you selected good references or if you need to remove certain people from the list.

    1. fposte*

      Wow, that’s an amazing service. I’ve never heard of one doing that in the U.S. (I’m guessing by your spelling you’re elsewhere.)

  22. Persephone Mulberry*

    Re #4: Can OP, or Alison or someone elaborate on how you would/plan to frame an archaeological discovery as a resume accomplishment to someone not in the field? Knowing nothing about the archaeology except for what Ross Geller and Indiana Jones have taught me, making a big discovery sounds like an interesting talking point, but as something that happened to you rather than something you made happen.

    1. mander*

      I’m a bit concerned about this as well. As an archaeologist myself, I know that often finding something cool is a matter of luck rather than skill. However, I definitely think the attention from international news and the way that was handled, as well as any reporting that the OP might have done, are definitely achievements that can be emphasized.

      (Pedantic side note: isn’t Ross a paleontologist, rather than an archaeologist? Very different fields, my friend…)

    2. Archaeologist in a Past Life*

      You make good points. First, amazing discoveries are all about luck, but quality excavation and publication of something important require a high level of competence. It’s all about how you frame it. Second, the Indiana Jones association is a thing. In my experience, leading even a small team excavators requires a lot of organizational, analytical, and team-building skills. Plus, the work environment can be incredibly grueling — very long hours with a very high workload. Most people aren’t reading the resume with any of that in mind.

    3. Archaeology*

      There’s definitely something to be said about “lucking into” certain artifacts, though I would definitely argue that for a lot of material culture finds, especially in the Iron I period which is what I dug in, if you don’t have proper method you’re going to miss a lot. The first artifact I ever found myself was a ground stone (which is literally a rock). I can only speak for my own site, but it’s rare to find something large the way it’s often portrayed in television/movies. The discovery in question is actually only about the size of a thumbnail!

      With that said, it was my intention, and I assume Alison read it in the same way by her answer, that I wasn’t meaning to say “hire me because I found something cool” but instead it’s a little tidbit that sticks in the readers mind. I would hope that no one would hire me BECAUSE of it.

  23. Archaeologist in a Past Life*

    OP#4, I also used to do fieldwork in that region. I’m now really curious both about what site you dug and how you pulled off the transition out of archaeology. (I’m transitioning to something new myself. I’ve found that people generally think archaeology is incredibly cool, but the transferable skills haven’t really gotten me anywhere.)

    1. mander*

      Me too! I’m currently working in commercial archaeology but I’d like to get out sometime soon. It’s just too unstable. But I have never made any headway in trying to get a job in another field.

    2. Archaeology*

      I’m going to have to leave you guessing on what site it was but I can comment on how I moved out of archaeology.

      Most of the people I know who didn’t stay in academia transitioned into CRM work but I had literally zero interest in that as I wasn’t doing archaeology because I “liked” digging, instead it was the region that I was interested in. So I continued with grad work but moved into the more textual and interdisciplinary side of things. Now I use a methodology to study an ancient culture that is fully applicable to the study of modern cultures as well. So I’m able to swing my expertise as “the relationship between interacting cultural systems” rather than “studied the ancient near east”.

      But, I do have some colleagues who did the CRM thing and worked their way out of the field and into the office. I know for myself I try to play up the administrative side of archaeology and the teaching aspect. I also note if I was responsible for anything significant, such as ” managed all lithics on site” or whatnot (I actually hate lithics, I’m a ceramics gal myself).

  24. HDL*

    LW #3 – I can see why you may be less than thrilled by these “other duties as assigned,” but I think that sometimes goes along with the territory of a small business. Seems like you’re already on your way out of that job, but just for some perspective, I wanted to mention my own first job experience. Granted, I started the job in high school but I continued to work for the same small, family-run business throughout my college years. It was the kind of job that involves spurts of busy time and some downtime in each day. For example, I would have little to do between 12:30-3pm but then be working frantically from 3-6pm. During that downtime, my boss would have me doing odd jobs such as pick up litter in the parking lot or rake the leaves out front or even sweep up his basement (the home was right next to the business). I wasn’t thrilled to do it, but I did want to get paid for all of those hours! And as I extended my tenure as an employee, I did less of the odd jobs and more supervisory work (directing newer staff to do those tasks while I handled customer service). Now, I did like the family and the actual work a great deal. It’s not my current field, now, but I would list that job as more enjoyable and fulfilling than many of my more recent jobs have been. And the owners of the business gave me glowing recommendations when it was time for me to move on :-)

  25. Master Bean Counter*

    #2–Do you have a recruiter you could use to do this? I have a recruiter I’ve worked with in the past, that would do this for me. Mostly because she asked me to contact her should I ever start looking for a job again.

  26. AlsoFirstJob*

    As a follow up to LW3’s query:

    Alison, I wonder if we could have a post/discussion where we can get a “reality check” on whether things are awful or we’re just being picky. I’m also working at my first professional job after graduating from college and often wonder whether things really are dysfunctional/unhealthy here, or if I’m just being a sensitive snowflake and need to suck it up. I’d love to be able to ask people who have been working for longer “Is this normal?*”. I think a lot of us at our first job might not have a reference point to compare to.

    * Note: Not so much wondering whether things are “legal”, especially since that’s something I can look up if I want to. I’m more curious as to whether certain things are normal and expected at most companies – if I were to switch jobs, should I expect to see something similar?

    (Also, to LW3: Best of luck escaping!)

    1. LQ*

      I’ve had this a few times. The place I’m at ONLY promotes internally. Where I was before was teeny tiny and not enough space to do anything like promote internally anyway. (I didn’t want the executive director’s job!) But I have had a few moments of wait, other places hire from the outside when they need someone who specializes in Software X or whatever. I’m all for promoting from the inside, but sometimes hiring outside seems like the best solution. Right? I can’t tell. A “Reality Check” post would be great.

      1. AlsoFirstJob*

        That seems strange to me too but my first comment clearly reveals I have no idea what I’m talking about, so I can’t be of any assistance to you. All I can offer is that I also work at a tiny place where we don’t have enough space to promote internally!

        Here’s one specific example for me: our CEO constantly curses at us, calls us names, and makes inappropriate jokes and comments. (Ranging from offensive to disturbing.) I think light cursing in casual conversation or in occasional frustration seems pretty normal (or is it…?) but we’ll get emails or group messages where we’re being cursed at, or long tirades about how everyone is stupid and incompetent. I mean, I know it isn’t ideal by any means, but do other people experience this too?

        1. Rater Z*

          I actually went thru that in a previous job back in the last century. Not the e-mails – we didn’t have them in those days. I was working as a truck dispatcher and the drivers were paid a percentage of the freight charges. For me, it was a normal part of the job and I expected it. It was some heavy duty cursing, so to speak. Still, a lot of it was light-hearted banter, back and forth, because the drivers knew me from when I had started with the company and shifted up the totem pole. What I found out later was, when I started, some of the drivers were laying bets on long I would last. In my first position, guys didn’t last six months because they left to go into the steel mills which paid better. I had no desire to work in the mills. I was still with the company 12 years later when they were bought out and shut down.

    2. Koko*

      This is a great idea! I find that a great deal of the advice that I give to people who are younger or less experienced is, “Don’t worry. This is normal. You’re going to be OK.”

      1. AlsoFirstJob*

        It definitely goes both ways – sometimes when you’re new and naive, I think you put up with things that you haven’t learned aren’t actually okay. But you can also have preconceived notions of how things should be and be unnecessarily worried too!

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