how to tell an employee to stop cc’ing my boss, exclamation points in cover letters, and more

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

1. How to tell an employee to stop cc’ing my boss

I’m a new manager and I have an employee who consistently copies other people on emails I’ve directed specifically to her. What is confusing about this is that sometimes the emails are related to situations that may not have been well handled by her. I’m trying to be supportive and encouraging and make these things teachable moments instead of “you’re in trouble” moments, but when she then turns around and copies my boss in her response it makes me look bad for not immediately reporting the issue to him.

I don’t know how to explain this to her without making it sound like I want her to hide things from my boss. Do I just cc my boss every time I think her judgement may have been off to get ahead of the problem? That would probably get her in trouble more, which I don’t want either. I don’t have a problem with her telling my boss about an issue that has come up in her area, but when I’ve responded saying something like, “You used your best judgment in the moment; let’s figure out how to fix it together,” it’s a little jarring to then discover that she’s included my boss in her response.

The good news here is that you’re her boss so you can just direct her to stop doing this. I’d start, though, by asking what her thought process is when she does it. For example: “Jane, I’ve noticed you’ll often cc Fergus on a response to me when I’ve initially sent the email only to you. How come?” She’ll presumably respond with “I thought he should be in the loop on X” or something similar, and then you can explain why that’s not the case: “Actually, Fergus doesn’t need to be involved in that. If I decide that he does, I’ll of course loop him in, but part of my job is fielding this sort of thing so that he doesn’t need to spend time on it.” And then give the clear direction to stop: “Going forward, please leave Fergus off emails about this kind of thing. I’ll loop him in if I think he’d want to be informed or be able to give input.”

I think you’re feeling weird about saying “don’t tell Fergus things,” but that’s not the message; it’s “Fergus has other things he needs to focus on. He and I are aligned about when to bring him into the conversation, and I’ll do that when it’s needed.”

(Also, I wouldn’t assume that you’ll look bad to your own boss for not immediately reporting issues to him, unless they’re truly big enough that he’d want immediate notification. Your employees will make mistakes. You only need to loop your boss in when those mistakes are big ones that will impact things he needs to know about, or when it’s enough of a pattern that you’ve developed serious performance concerns about an employee and need your boss’s buy-in on your plan for handling it.)

2. Exclamation points in cover letters

I have a question about the use of exclamation points in cover letters. Yes or no? I wrote a very compelling cover letter and used a total of three exclamation points (all appropriately) throughout the one-page document. I shared the cover letter with a former colleague. His feedback was that my cover letter “contained WAY too many exclamation points.” What’s your take? There is very little advice on the subject.

There’s no hard and fast rule here because it really depends on the content of your letter, but in general I’d say that one or two exclamation marks are fine, but three is probably a little overboard (and I’d bet you could change one or two of them to periods without losing anything).

Also, keep in mind that you want your text, not your punctuation, to do the heavy lifting when it comes to conveying tone.

All that said, there are many enemies of exclamation points out there, some of whom believe they never belong in professional correspondence (I disagree), and if this was your colleague’s only piece of feedback on your cover letter, he may have such leanings.

3. My ex-husband with anger issues was just hired as a temp at my new job

I was laid off over a year ago. Since then, I have been on unemployment and doing temp work at a local hospital, which is a very difficult place to be hired. I have made many friends and love it there; it’s a great place to work. I also volunteer there weekly. Long story short, I was finally offered a full-time permanent job there, and I start in a week.

Yesterday, my daughter told me her father, my ex-husband, who was just fired (again) from his job due to anger issues, was hired at the hospital as a temp worker. He starts tomorrow in the same office as me!

I have been divorced for 14 years. Without going into the horrific details for the break-up, I had a restraining order for the first few years, and I have had very little contact with him since.

I do not know my new supervisor well enough to tell her how I feel about working with my ex-husband or the possible liabilities he poses to the hospital due to his behavior towards women. He acts very polite and friendly to other people. He doesn’t start to “slip up” until he feels comfortable. I really need this job and do not want to jeopardize losing it. I am nervous to be anywhere near this man and feel he purposely applied at my workplace to be near me. I was thinking about talking to my current supervisor about the situation. What would you suggest?

If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your new manager, start with your current manager and ask for advice: “I just learned that my ex-husband, who I had a restraining order against for years because of abusive behavior (or fill in whatever broad description is correct here, if you’re comfortable sharing it), has been hired as a temp in the department I’m moving into. I feel really awkward raising this as a brand-new employee, but I feel unsafe and am concerned he may have applied purposely to be near me. Can you give me advice on the best way to handle this? Should I talk to (new manager)? HR?”

Alternately, just go straight to HR. They should be able to help figure out what to do about this (and since your ex is a temp, it’ll hopefully be pretty easy to handle). Do it ASAP though, like today.

4. My boss is pressuring me to consult after I leave for a new job

After a year and a half with my first post-college employer, I got a job that fits very well in line with my long-term career goals. Because of the structure of my new company, I was able to give my current employer nearly four weeks notice. I was glad to be able to do this because my department is very small and we’re all very overworked. It’s given me time to close up some projects so my boss doesn’t need to rush to replace me. However, she asked me last week if I could sign on as a consultant to work a few off hours (a couple hours on a Saturday or in the evening) in the spring for one project that she is worried can’t be done without me.

While I appreciate that she thinks so much of my work, and I’m not totally opposed to it (more money could be a great help for certain loans of educational persuasion), I’d have to get permission from my future employer and I don’t totally feel comfortable going to them and asking them to approve my working for another company when I haven’t even started with them.

This is a smaller part of my larger concern over how big of a deal my boss has made about my leaving. She’ll concede that it’s better for me in the long run, but three to five times a day since I’ve given my notice, she’ll (half-joking…but not) say, “Please change your mind” or “You’ll miss us. You won’t have fun like this at your new place.” She’s even gone so far as to quiz me about all of the benefits with my future employer and commenting that by taking this new job, I’ll have to wait to apply to graduate school for another two years (I didn’t sign a two-year contract; this is just her thinking) and I’ll be too old to be accepted anywhere good.

I’m not sure, at this point, which is more exhausting, laughing her off/defending my career decisions, or the workload I have to complete in my final week. I don’t want to leave this place on bad terms because she does like me a lot and would give me a very good reference. I’m just concerned that if I do not complete everything by the end my final week and if I do not sign on as a consultant, I’ll wind up leaving with lower marks than I otherwise would have.

Unless you strongly want to do the consulting work and aren’t just being influenced by her pressure, say no — for all the reasons here. Say this to her: “I’ve thought about your suggestion, and I think I’ll be too busy with my new job to take on other commitments.” If she keeps pushing, “I really have thought it over, and I just can’t do it. But I’ll leave things in good shape for the next person.” And then repeat as necessary.

This is a reasonable stance to take, and no reasonable manager will hold it against you, even if they’re disappointed. Same with the workload: as long as you’re putting in a good faith effort to get done what you can and — importantly — keeping her in the loop about what can and can’t complete, that’s all a reasonable manager will ask of you. And even most unreasonable ones won’t go so far as to hold it against you in a reference.

As for the constant “please change your mind” and “you’ll miss us” comments, smile and ignore. You’ll be out of there soon.

Read an update to this letter here.

5. Am I right to be turned off by this volunteer interview experience?

I applied to work as a volunteer with a nonprofit charity. The position involved working directly with members of the community, so I did expect a fairly thorough process. I initially filled out a lengthy paper application, including reference information. I really hate inconveniencing references unnecessarily, but I assumed that they wouldn’t check them until after an initial interview. This assumption was wrong, as I found out directly from my references that they had been put through a lengthy and detailed telephone interview about me (note, at this point I have not had as much as a phone interview myself). I was a bit surprised, but moved forward with setting up an in-person interview.

Initially the interview went well. The representative told me a lot about the work the nonprofit does, and we talked about how my experience could play a part in that. About half an hour into the interview, she casually mentioned that they only train new volunteers once a year, seven months in the future, and that while I would be a good fit, she wouldn’t be surprised if I wanted something sooner! I was quite stunned that no one had mentioned in the long thread of emails to this point, or even earlier in the interview, that they weren’t looking for new people, and that they had contacted my references knowing this(!) but managed to politely finish the interview.

Several months later I was contacted asking if I wanted to enroll in their training, but I had booked an out-of-state trip that weekend (it was a major holiday weekend) so I declined. Was I right to consider their interview process to be somewhat inconsiderate and almost rude, particularly considering that I was about to commit a significant amount of volunteer time to them? It really turned me off the organization, and I hope that I am not being petty.

Good lord, no, you’re not being petty. There’s no reason for them to contact references before talking with you and confirming that they wanted to bring you on and you were still interested. And there was no reason for them not to tell you when they reached out to schedule the interview that the role wouldn’t be available for seven months, and see if you were still interested in talking now. They were thoughtless and inconsiderate of your time on multiple fronts.

If you wanted to, you could send them a polite note pointing both of these things out. It might be helpful for them to hear it from a volunteer applicant they were interested in.

{ 217 comments… read them below }

  1. Pokebunny*

    #2 What I do is replace the ! with a period, and read it aloud. Does it make sense, still? I assume the ! is there to convey some form of enthusiasm, but sometimes the period doesn’t achieve the same goal (compare “That’s great!” to “That’s great.” The second sounds like a roll-your-eyes kind of reply). If the period changes the meaning, I try to think of another way to re-word the sentence so that it doesn’t end on a !. Like Alison advises, I think one or two is okay, any more than that is treading on thin ice. In the end, my cover letters only have one ! in them, “I look forward to speaking with you soon!”

    1. Sadsack*

      I wish I had career that would warrant the use of exclamation points in my cover letters!!!

      1. College Career Counselor*

        To reference another thread, I think the signature could work….


      2. Marzipan*

        You could take a job at any employer in Westward Ho! or Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! and then you’re good to go.

    2. Koko*

      I’m a naturally bubbly person and I tend to write out my thoughts as they come, like it’s a conversation, and will unwittingly end up peppering 2/3 of an email with exclamation points, so I always follow the old school advice to write something, and then go back and see how many unnecessary words you can take out/see if you can rewrite any of the sentences to be more concise. I also use this opportunity to pare down exclamation points.

      “Thanks for getting back to me! It sounds like what we should do is figure out a way for the Chocolate Teapots to be heat-proofed so they won’t melt if they’re left sitting out during transportation. What temperature should we set? I’m thinking 75–maybe 85? It can get hot in those trucks!”


      “Thanks for getting back to me. We’ll need to heat-proof the chocolate teapots. How about 75 or 85 degrees? It can get pretty hot in the trucks!”

      1. Mabel*

        This is awesome! (That is a serious exclamation point, not sarcasm) I love your example of the edited email.

  2. neverjaunty*

    OP #4 – It sounds like you have a pretty dysfunctional workplace – overworked, understaffed, an unprofessional boss – and in that kind of workplace, it’s very easy for your sense of what’s appropriate and what’s not to get knocked out of whack. It is NOT right for you to be in fear that you have to give into your boss’s ridiculous demands or risk a bad reference. It is COMPLETELY beyond the pale for your boss to repeatedly grill you about your new job and make dire predictions about how it’s going to harm you.

    Please know that your boss is very unlikely to give you a crappy reference, and if she did out of spite, well, you’re going to be at a better job, so who cares what she thinks? Also, keep in mind that there are plenty of ways to deal with an unfair reference from a prior employer. But I doubt it will come to that. Your crappy boss is relying on guilt to try and keep her claws in you. Reject this!

    1. F.*

      The boss’ snide remark about being too old in two years to get into a good grad school is pure BS.

      1. Dr. Speakeasy*

        Yep, age is not one of the criteria we use for deciding on graduate students. (In fact, in the MA program, I much prefer students who have been working for awhile and know how the MA will fit with their career goals). Many MBAs use salary history as a criteria so actually the more work experience you have the better your chances.

        1. Ama*

          I used to work with graduate students and postdocs in the humanities — we were a very small program (around 6 full time students and a dozen postdocs on one year fellowships) and still averaged about a 20 year age difference from year to year.

      2. Librarianna*

        Yes, I completely agree. I’ve completed two master’s degrees, one when I was 22-23, and one when I was 27-29, and there were people of all ages in both. I actually felt like my life experience really contributed to my understanding of the course material in the second degree. I was a little nervous about going back after being out of school for four years, but it was no problem.

        1. Simonthegrey*

          I was one of the youngest going through my MA program at 25-27; most people were in their 40s and the amount of experience they brought clearly helped them understand the material in ways that were still beyond me. I almost wish I could retake some of those classes at 35, not because I didn’t do well, but because the life experiences I would bring to the large group discussions and presentation sessions would give me entirely new information.

      3. Liana*

        Right? That’s just an awful, untrue thing to say. My mother got her master’s degree in her 50s and she went to one of the top schools in Boston, so that person’s statement is pretty much BS.

      4. Mander*

        What age does she think you need to be? I was 26 when I started my MA, and a month shy of 30 when I started my PhD. And I was not the oldest person in either cohort.

      5. Cassandra*

        Yup. I was age 30 when I started my professional master’s program. I was right smack in the middle of the age range for my cohort.

    2. OP 4*

      So I’m the OP for #4, this really seals what I had already been considering which is just to say no. As for the overbearing stuff, I could go on. There are parts of her that made her a good manager–mainly that really engrained CYA in my mind, and covering me when I was early in the job. That being said, she had this really over the top belief that she has a say in my life–not just my career but my personal life (periodically she’ll comment that I should break up with my boyfriend-we’ve been together for 3 and a half years and I’ve never confided in her about any issues we may have). She pressed my colleague, who came six or seven months after I did, to get a graduate degree in economics, so much so, that when he decided not to apply to graduate school, he was really anxious about telling her. Now, I’m just kind of using this to vent. But it’s been many long months of unsolicited life advice that I’m just now realizing all of it has actually affected me. It hasn’t steered me off of my goal career track (my new job is what I’m counting as my first real job, in that it’ll be my goal title…) but it just is overwhelming to have someone else strong arming their way in my train of thought.

      1. Finman*

        Most people advise you to wait a minimum of 5 years to start your MBA so you can truly apply experiences from work to the things you are learning in the program. I had a few classes with people 1-2 years out of undergrad and in many cases when we were discussing application of topics to real life experiences/what-ifs they weren’t able to add as much to the discussion.

        If you do decide to do the contract work, make sure you ask for way more than you were paid as an employee. Do a little research on what rates are being paid for external help. Contractor rates are usually at least 2x the hourly rate of an employee. Your boss may not pressure you as much once you mention your contractor rates.

        1. Kristin (Germany)*

          This is such a good point (well, they both are, but I’m focussing on the second part of your excellent comment here). If you want a clean break and don’t want to do the contract work, OP, don’t do it!! But if you decide you would like the money, definitely research contractor rates, do NOT back down from the full standard amount, and think about having them sign a contract agreeing to your hourly rate and to payment terms with a built-in penalty for late payments.

        2. Rater Z*

          Another thing – as a contractor, you will be responsible for covering your own taxes. I always advised my clients to figure at least 30% to cover the taxes. That leaves some wiggle room. They normally would tell me the next year that I was right and they were happy with it.

      2. KR*

        This kind of behavior is so intrusive. You need a clean start. Just do it. You’ll feel better for it.

      3. F.*

        Don’t let this boss’ lack of boundaries set your boundary bar so low that you tolerate intrusions like this with future employers. I know AAM (and probably Captain Awkward) have some good advice about setting boundaries in the workplace. It’s YOUR life, and your boss has no say in how you live it outside of work.

      4. themmases*

        I had a boss who would give me this kind of unsolicited (and incorrect) career advice and as I got to know them better, it became clear that it was really because of something going on with them. They didn’t seem to think anyone was marketable outside our organization, or that the job market was OK in any role at all. They were pretty down on the idea that I could or should advance even within our organization. My good friend from that job left to go to medical school and they gave her dire warnings about how that might not work out! In retrospect I think my boss didn’t consider their own MBA-type career worth leaving a creative field for.

        I didn’t know what to expect from a reference from my old boss. We got a long but I know they didn’t want our department to have someone in my role at all and they didn’t support me much. However when I got my next job, my new boss told me a couple of times that my references were just great. Due to the timing and who I think had gotten back to her, I’m 80% sure the awesome reference was from my old boss. So you never can tell, I guess.

      5. Elizabeth West*

        You need to get far, far away from this inappropriate person. If you’re feeling hinky about it, then you’ve already answered your own question–and it sounds like the answer is no freaking way.

        Tell her no. And enjoy your new job.

    3. Newbie*

      I’ve changed jobs a few times in my career. In some cases I did do some work for the prior job after leaving in order to smooth the transition, but it was always mutually agreeable. In one case, because I changed roles within the same company, the supervisor in the old office attempted to force me to provide a longer notice period. He actually had the gall to talk with my new supervisor about it behind my back and then told me he had arranged for the longer notice period and the new supervisor was fine with it. Well, I wasn’t fine with it and the HR office actually backed me up – two weeks notice it was.

      You’ve already given more than sufficient notice and it sounds like you’re doing everything you can during your notice period to wrap up projects and leave things in the best possible state before you leave. If you want to be able to focus entirely on your new job, don’t feel guilty.

  3. A Non*

    #3 – If/when you talk to HR, it may be useful to bring a copy of the restraining order with you. I assume it’s expired by now, but it may be helpful for them to see a tangible court order saying this guy’s behavior towards you in the past was legally unacceptable. They should believe you regardless, but making things more concrete for them never hurts.

    Good luck, and I hope they have your back.

    1. Carpe Librarium*

      OP#3, I sincerely hope you feel safe in your workplace again very soon.
      Isn’t it (not at all) weird that your ex pops up just as you get a little more security in your circumstances.
      Remember, you already must have a solid reputation amongst your colleagues and supervisors as evidenced by your new permanent role (congratulations on that, by the way).

      1. LeRainDrop*

        I agree with Alison, A Non, and Carpe Librarium. OP #3, if you still have a copy of the expired restraining order(s), I like A Non’s idea to bring that with you when you speak with HR. Remember, you already have built up a bunch of goodwill with your co-workers at this hospital, and they know you to be a good, credible, likable person — that will weigh strongly in your favor. Don’t let your ex scare you away from taking these precautions — have confidence in that speaking up to your current manager or HR is the right thing to do. I am very optimistic that they will support you here. (And please send Alison an update afterwards!)

    2. Wehaf*

      Also, if you know for a fact that he’s been fired multiple times for anger issues, and can give contact information for formers bosses/coworkers of his who can vouch for it, that’s a pretty compelling argument against hiring him, and one that doesn’t depend on your personal relationship with him at all. As wrong as it is, your employer may respond more favorably to that since it may seem more “objective”, and also because it’s linked specifically to his workplace behavior and not his personal life (which some people don’t feel comfortable making decisions based on).

      1. Roscoe*

        I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of that. I think she should focus on what she knows is true (the restarining order), not what she things. Sure, he has left jobs. Maybe was fired. But does she KNOW it was because of his temper, or is that her assumption. They probably did some due dilligence before hiring him. But I don’t think the past work stuff should be brought in, because then, to me at least, it looks more petty. A restarining order, even if expired, is more about safety and what is known to be true

        1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

          She said he is being brought in as a temp. I know that some of the temp agencies I worked with never called my references or former employers depending on the work I was doing :(

          1. Former Retail Manager*

            Virtually none of the local area temp agencies in my area do any type of in depth due diligence. It tends to be more geared toward verifying that they actually worked at prior employers with no information obtained about character, behavior, etc. Temp agencies are typically dealing with too many people to perform the sort of due diligence that a candidate would get for a more professional/long term position. Hospital temp positions also tend to be entry level/low pay/short term positions for which the temp agency doesn’t care if you work out or not. They’ll just send someone else. My mother was a temp for many years and worked with many agencies. NONE of her references were EVER contacted. One temp agency employee went so far as to admit that they didn’t bother to verify employment either since most people didn’t have work experience in that field and would need to be trained, or would just hate the job and quit in the first couple of weeks, so it wasn’t really pertinent whether or not their work history could be verified since it didn’t carry any weight in their selection process. They could have been hiring a serial killer and wouldn’t have cared. They just wanted a body in the position so they could get paid.

            So yeah…I wouldn’t put much faith in the temp agency at all. I’d take the copy of the restraining order right down to HR. I hope everything works out for you OP and he moves along to something else. I’m sure the temp agency has other openings at other businesses.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Agreed — “this is my abusive ex who I had a restraining order against” is a much more reliable way to the outcome she wants here. Any competent manager or HR person is going to be highly alarmed by that, and it’s much more straightforward than opening up a whole thing about whether he does or doesn’t have anger issues and what his references might say.

          1. Apollo Warbucks*

            But if the reason that he got sacked from his last job was due to anger issues surely that would be highly relevant to the new hiring manager.

            I mean either issue on its own is a massive problem but presenting them together would be more effective?

          2. Wehaf*

            In general I agree, which is why in my comment I said “if you know for a fact that he’s been fired multiple times for anger issues, and can give contact information for formers bosses/coworkers of his who can vouch for it”. I’m not arguing for vague accusations here, only concrete, verifiable information.

          3. Observer*

            I agree that the restraining order is the thing to lead with. But, if she knows he’s been let go for anger issues in the workplace that is important in this context. Like, if HR says “Well, that was years ago. Maybe he’s gotten it together.” The job history says “Probably not.”

        3. Observer*

          Your assumption that they did “due diligence” is not based in fact.

          And, in tis case it’s not “petty” at all – anger issues in the workplace are about safety. And, in this case it is extremely relevant, because it indicates that this is not just about the OP and her abusive ex. That alone SHOULD be enough for her employer to tread cautiously. But, in real life, it doesn’t always work this way. So, showing that he’s not someone who saves his rages for outside of work situations is something that the employer needs to know.

    3. Jimbo*

      We had a guy at our office (a director, no less) with serious anger issues. You could see his demeanor change as you talked to him if you were delivering bad news. He never threatened anyone directly but multiple people have stated they felt in danger when dealing with him, like he could snap at any moment. He resigned to take a better job and I think the owner was a little confused to see people high-fiving each other when the news was announced. Senior management tends to only see numbers and he wouldn’t dare let his anger flare up with them (proving that it was in fact controllable) so they had no idea.

  4. Looc64*

    #5 The places I’ve seen that only recruit volunteers tell you that up front before you apply. Not mentioning that is a waste of your time, your references’ time, and their time, so that situation is definitely weird.

  5. BadPlanning*

    On OP #1, how tempting would it be to send an email that says, “Stop CCing Big Boss on email replies.” Then wait for a the reply and CC.

    Hm, OP#1 probably wanted helpful advice.

  6. Chocolate Teapot*

    5. I would be fairly annoyed to discover at the interview that there was a 7 month wait for training. Also the contacting references in advance of even being interviewed yourself seems unusual. I did once meet a recruiter who asked for 3 references before he would even consider working with me, and I thought this was too much.

  7. jobhopper?*

    OP from 5), if Cheltenham, Gloucester or Worcester are any good to you geographically, the charity I volunteer at based in these three locations could help you. We offer all kinds of support work opportunities, including supporting homeless young people, children in care, young people and vulnerable adults in police custody and providing advice on mental health and financial difficulties, amongst others. Our volunteer recruitment takes a month at the most, from application to induction (this is what I support as a volunteer).

  8. Jwal*

    The thing about exclamation marks is that (at least for me) they’re really obvious in a piece of writing. They don’t just blend in like other bit of punctuation, so when I read a piece of text that has several exclamation marks in it’s a little jarring.

    I also feel that I should read the sentence in my head in a different tone! This gets annoying! Very quickly!

      1. Doriana Gray*

        I laugh at my own jokes all the time and even I don’t use exclamation marks in business correspondence.

        1. Gandalf the Nude*

          I always laugh at my own jokes because sometimes it’s the only laugh they get.

          1. Florida*

            I laugh at my own jokes too. It’s like the canned laughter on TV – it tells other people when they’re supposed to laugh.

            1. straws*

              Me too. I also like to inform my husband when he’s supposed to have laughed (once I’m done, of course). He’s not very good at recognizing my brilliant humor for some reason.

              1. Koko*

                Oh man, you’re so right. Now I am always going to think of one of these when I see the other.

            1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

              Haha, I needed to scroll down just two more inches. Who knew two inches could make such a difference.

              [That’s what she said]

      2. Afiendishthingy*

        The other day my coworker received a job application in which one of the responses included “lol.” The applicant stated she had left her last position to be a stay at home mother, “which has its own challenges lol.”

        My coworker was all “smh…”

        I’m pretty cautious about exclamation points in business correspondence, but it could be worse. Lololol!!!

    1. nep*

      I’m one of those who says use exclamation points rarely to never. Preferably never. Love Alison’s line — let your text and not punctuation do the heavy lifting.
      I know not everyone is, but I am hugely turned off when I see an exclamation point in any kind of text. It comes across as childish and unprofessional. It is unnecessary. If a point is to be forceful, the words should do the job, as Alison says.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        Alison also said she doesn’t agree with the opinion that they should never be used in business correspondence. I use them once in a while. Rarely. But not never. I am not childish nor am I unprofessional.

        1. nep*

          Certainly — commenting just on how they come across to me. My involuntary reaction to them. Not saying my perception is ‘correct’ or even widely shared. Exclaim away.

        2. Sadsack*

          I use them occasionally in exchanges with coworkers, but wouldn’t use one in a cover letter for my resume.

      2. Kylynara*

        I’m curious, when you say “any kind of text” is there an unspoken work/business/professional in there? Because I think I would be pretty turned off by a fiction novel that never had any thing exciting enough to warrant an exclamation point happen.

        However, exclamation points don’t massively stick out to me, so perhaps that changes my perception.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Hmmm… I can’t think of a relevant use for an exclamation point in fiction at all, unless you mean in dialog.

          The car plunged down the cliff!



          1. Megs*

            I initially missed your “except dialog” aside and set out to find one of my favorite passages to prove you wrong, only it’s from dialogue and on rereading your comment, you clearly exempted that. I’ll post anyway, since the googling has been done.

            “Maybe because so few of us would be able to give up something so fundamental for something so abstract, we protect ourselves from the nobility of a priest’s vows by jeering at him when he can’t live up to them, always and forever.” She shivered and slumped suddenly, “But, Jimmy! What unnatural words. Always and forever! Those aren’t human words, Jim. Not even stones are always and forever.”

          2. Sarah*

            I read a lot of kidlit and it actually seems to be fairly common to punctuate key sentences like that in children’s books, though it’s not universal. It always strikes me as detracting from, rather than adding to, the drama of whatever’s happening. If you need to add an exclamation mark to clue me in that something exciting’s happening, how exciting could it have been originally?

            I’ve rarely seen it in anything intended for ages 13+. (Outside dialogue, as you said, or the occasional sound effect, like Bang!, which is probably my favorite use for them.)

          3. Kylynara*

            Most the examples I can think of are in dialog. Also psuedo-dialog, like log/journal/diary entries or character thoughts, particularly when a character is alone. I can’t think of a need or example outside of dialog, but I also can’t think of a fiction novel that doesn’t contain any dialog or psuedo-dialog.

      3. plain_jane*

        I use exclamation points for the personal bits in an email, e.g. “Thanks!” and “Have a great vacation!”

        Terry Pratchett is relevant here: “‘Multiple exclamation marks,’ he went on, shaking his head, ‘are a sure sign of a diseased mind.'” Granted, he meant in a row, but I still think it applies.

        1. Megs*

          Yeah, adding exclamation points to my emails was one of those big “how not to come off like a jerk” adjustments that have been discussed here many times.

          1. Sparrow*

            Yes, this! Especially when your work relationship happens entirely over email and they don’t have the opportunity to get a sense of your rl personality. I do think cover letters are a different story, though. I agree with Alison – one or two may be appropriate, depending on context and culture, but I think anyone would have a hard time justifying more than that.

        2. Murphy*

          Yup, that’s how I use them too. A punctuated “Thanks!” is an attempt to show genuine appreciation. But in a cover letter I’m not going to lie, I’d be really, really turned off. It would sound juvenile and unprofessional to me.

      4. F.*

        I think exclamation points are a lot like swear words: if you use them all the time, what are you going to do when you really need one?

          1. F.*

            Slightly OT, but I worked with a man who could use a certain f-word as a noun, verb, adjective, adverb and preposition – all in the same sentence. He spoke like that all the time. I always wondered what he’d do if he, say, dropped a hammer on his toe.

            1. LQ*

              Well when he swears it was likely less effective when he said the f word than when a not swearer does. (I feel like I injure myself way more at work than at home (maybe because I wear heels at work but not at home?) and I have to stop myself from swearing and it hurts SO much more when I can’t say a giant string of fbombs to relieve the pain.

            2. Amy Farrah Fowler*

              Reminds me of the quote from Juno when she’s in labor… “Ow, ow f***ity ow!”

    2. Random Citizen*

      When I read exclamation points, the sentence always inflects up at the end (in my head) – I feel like we need an additional emphatic punctuation for serious situations.

  9. anon for this*

    I hate exclamation points in almost all writing–fiction, nonfiction, and, yeah, cover letters. In addition to looking unprofessional, they make the writer seem extremely immature to me. It’s not like I would toss out every applicant who ever used an exclamation point just for using an exclamation point, but it definitely would not be a point in your favor.

    My (admittedly extremely biased) inclination is to leave them out even if they’re being used appropriately. You might be sending a cover letter to someone like Alison, who doesn’t mind them in small doses. Or you might be sending a cover letter to someone like me, who really doesn’t like them. And nobody (or at least nobody I’d want to work for) would specifically not hire someone because they *didn’t* use at least one exclamation point in their cover letter.

    So, really, the safe way to go is to leave them out. There are so many other silly reasons that you could be possibly be rejected for (you have the same name as the hiring manager’s ex, your alma mater is the archenemy of the hiring manager’s alma mater, who knows?). Why not just avoid this easily avoidable potential reason?

    1. katamia*

      Whoops, that was me–went anon for something last week and my browser autocompleted with the wrong name.

    2. Doriana Gray*

      Agreed 100%. I only use exclamation points in fiction after dialogue if a character is shouting because that’s what it looks like to me – shouting. I don’t want to be shouted at every other sentence while reading.

    3. John*

      Yes, immature. And bubbly. Like the dreaded person you meet at a mixer who is “Soooo happy to meet you!” and you can’t shake them for the rest of the night.

      OP, if you wan’t a hard-and-fast rule, I’d say use a maximum of one, but really question what you gain from that one. As someone suggested above, try substituting a period and see what you’ve lost anything. I doubt you have.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I use exclamation points all the time here — probably in most posts — and now I’m curious about whether you’ve all found me unprofessional and immature this whole time, or whether you’re overlooking the fact that they don’t always come across to you that way.

        1. F.*

          This is a different type of writing. I have used them in comments here, too, but I would almost never use one in a professional email and never in a professional letter or memo. To me, exclamation points in professional correspondence are almost as grating as Comic Sans type.

          1. Anna*

            I use them occasionally because I tend to want my writing to sound like my voice and once in awhile I speak emphatically. Too many periods in a row makes things sound dull to me.

          2. Doriana Gray*

            This. Informal writing and blog posts are very different. And personally, I don’t think people who do use them in business correspondence are unprofessional or immature – I just prefer not to see them for the reason mentioned above. But I also understand not everyone sees exclamation marks as shouty – it’s a YMMV thing.

            1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

              I’m with you. The style on this site matches my general style, which tends toward the informal yet respectful.

              I use !, lol, and emoji in emails. Not with everyone, of course, but with certain colleagues depending on the context. I don’t use them in first-time correspondence. Since a lot of my communication is email based, I do have to indicate tone at times when the words can be misconstrued.

              I guess I don’t think of writing as formal or informal, but highly flexible and dependent upon message and intended audience.

              1. Windchime*

                This is how I do it, too. I am an admitted exclamation point abuser. I try not to do it here so much, but I know that they still slip through. I use them in informal work emails (“Thanks!” or “Have a great weekend!”). But in more official work emails where I’m emailing a group or trying to get an important point across, I avoid them because I don’t want to appear to be angry or excited.

                WINDCHIME! ::::jazz hands:::::

                1. Random Citizen*

                  +1 for the jazz hands!!!
                  I tend to avoid them in professional communication because they always end up sounding like up-speak in my head, but maybe that’s just me? I’m curious now.

        2. videogamePrincess*

          I would think they’re more like sweatpants. Nice to wear while you’re lounging around the house, but can very, very occasionally be used in a tasteful outfit. Allison is one of those people who can use them tastefully.

        3. John*

          Not in the least. Your writing here is opinion-based, so that’s part of the difference. When you do it, it totally works! (See how I did that. ;) )

        4. katamia*

          Blogging and blog commenting are different because a lot of people blog like they speak. It’s not formal writing like a cover letter. So, no, it wouldn’t look immature to me in this context unless you were using one after every sentence, just like I wouldn’t automatically jump to “Wow, this person is so immature because they sent me a text message with an exclamation point” because that would be ridiculous. And, frankly, some of the letters you get justify the use of a few exclamation points, lol.

        5. I really like your advice. Please don't hate me(exclamation point)*

          I haven’t found them unprofessional, but they do take me out of the response and act as a big, jarring pause. I have to take a moment to process “exclamation mark” and then keep reading. So while I wouldn’t say they bug me, per se, I definitely notice them more than I would a period or comma.

      2. Anonyby*

        On the other hand, a lot of the jobs I have applied for want someone who is upbeat and bubbly and chipper (receptionist-type positions), so I see the selected use of exclamation marks in a cover letter as me portraying that kind of persona to whoever is reading it.

  10. Apollo Warbucks*

    #3 What a horrible situation to be, it totally sucks that after 14 years you’re still not done with this bullshit.

    You should definitely talk to your supervisor, you are a known quantity who they will take seriously, he is just a temp so it would be very easy to cancel the arrangement with the temp company and from the sounds of it the way he treated you was bad enough, but add into that plenty of red flags in his previous employment it is information that any reasonable manager would be very grateful to have and in no way should it reflect badly on you or jeopardize your employment.

    One thing I would recommend is stressing the importance of confidentiality to the management that you speak to, as your ex is abusive and has harassed you in the past the last thing you want is for him to use this as an excuse to start again. You might also like to pro-actively talk you local police force so they are forewarned if your ex does start harassing you. In the UK police forces will red flag an address for a high priority response where domestic violence is an issue, I’m not sure if the US has a similar scheme but if you think your ex is an active danger it’s something to look into and talk over with your local force.

    When you say you feel he purposely applied at your workplace to be near you, do you know how he might have known in advance of applying that you worked there, would a Google search link you to the hospital, might your daughter have mentioned it in conversation? (If your daughter might have told him, then it may be worth talking to her about the information she shares with her Dad about you.) I only ask as it seems very odd to me that if you’ve had very little contact with him over the last 10+ years it seems totally bizarre that anybody would get a job working closely with an ex after all this time with the purpose of messing with them, is it possible that he jerky behaviour got him sacked and he called some temp agencies and it was sheer bad luck he got placed at your workplace?

    Obviously you know your situation way better than me and if there are other bits of supporting information you have, but didn’t include in the letter then ignore my last paragraph and please know I don’t say that to dismiss or diminish your feelings or concerns but only to provide another perspective you might like to consider.

    Good luck with talking to your manager and I hope you get a good outcome.

    1. Roscoe*

      The “purposely applied there” thing got me too. If this is a smaller town, which it sounds like it may be, its not that out of the realm of possibility that a temp agency happened to place him there. Bringing up something like that sounds a bit paranoid

      1. Apollo Warbucks*

        I wouldn’t say paranoid for all we know the OP has every reason have come to that conclusion, but point was the OP might do well to take a step back and try to asses the situation more clearly to work out her ex’s intentions, they might not be as malicious as they appear.

        1. Roscoe*

          Yes, and I’m not saying she IS being paranoid, but it could definitely come across that way is all I’m saying.

      2. Former Retail Manager*

        This is TOTALLY an issue in smaller towns….think 20,000 or fewer. There are only so many “large” and stable employers in a town that size and it’s very difficult to not run into exes, family members you hate, etc. in towns this size. At some point, it’s inevitable. I’m shocked she hasn’t run into him before now.

      3. JMegan*

        Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean you’re wrong. And it sounds like the OP has good reason to be paranoid in this case, regardless.

        OP, please do what you need to keep yourself safe. I agree with those who are saying talk to HR immediately, and bring a copy of your restraining order if you have one. And I would consider giving the police a heads up as well, just in case. Better paranoid than the alternative.

  11. hbc*

    OP2, if your tone is fairly exclamatory/rah-rah/upbeat, it can feel like there are exclamation marks all over the place, even if there are only a couple. Maybe that’s what you’re going for and maybe your former colleague prefers dry-as-toast cover letters, but it’s worth checking if you can cut the exclamation points and still get your point across.

    “I was the employee of the month for 15 months in a row!”–unnecessary. It reads like someone cheering for themselves.

    “I was the employee of the month for 15 months in a row.”–carries all the information and makes it sound more like “Yeah, I achieved this, outstanding performance is second nature to me.”

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      Yes! Also the Nanny Diaries, in which communicating extreme enthusiasm through the liberal use of exclamation marks is the secret to getting quickly hired. And I also suspect that Elle Woods in Legally Blonde may have used several exclamation marks on that pink, scented resume paper of hers.

    2. Cath in Canada*


      Emails that say things like “Congratulations.” or “Fantastic. That’s great news.” just seem wrong, and yet I have a couple of colleagues who send a lot of them. I think of Elaine every time I receive one!

  12. AnotherFed*

    OP 1 – Your boss probably isn’t getting a negative impression of you or your work from your employee’s cc’d emails on minor issues. However, they probably are getting irritated about being dragged in on extra email they don’t need to deal with! If this employee needs credibility with your boss ever, she needs to stop the cc’ing and show that she understands what’s appropriate and not appropriate to loop big boss in on – even if that answer nothing, because she doesn’t have the judgement to understand what’s important and what’s not.

      1. CMT*

        I’m sorry, I can’t take what you said seriously, since you used an exclamation point. You’re obviously immature and unprofessional.

  13. MiouMiou*

    Regarding the ex husband working at your new place of employment. This exact same scenario happened to me. I thought everyone at my job would be supportive of me, I thought I had made friends with my co-workers, we were supposed to be a cohesive team, but from the moment I told people in my office, my job was never the same. I was looked at differently and gossiped about. I lost the respect I had built up on my team. My boss did NOT want to deal with any perceived problems that would arise. I could feel the difference in the way I was treated. Meanwhile, “golden boy” kept his head down and his mouth shut so I was the “dramatic” and “overly emotional” one. I ended up getting fired.

    I was in a domestic abuse situation with this man, so I understand where the letter writer is coming from, but if I had to do this all over again, from a work standpoint, I wish I had kept my mouth shut.

    1. MK*

      That is a horrible, but -I am sorry to say- not all that surprising, outcome.

      I wonder if it would be better (safer) for the OP to inform her new boss of the situation, but (assuming she doesn’t feel immediately threatened by her ex and is not wholly against working in the same office with him) not demand he be fired. As in “I heard the X has been hired as a temp in our department. I must tell you that he is my ex-husband and our relatioship is not good; years ago I had a restraining order against him and we have had minimal contact since. I am not unwilling to work in the same office with him, provided he behaves professionaly (if the OP can say that sincerely), but I thought I should inform you of the situation beforehand, just in case”. Frankly, my own reaction as a supervisor would be to transfer the ex to another deaprtment, if at all possible; even without the abuse. who wants to deal with hostile ex-spouses in their office?

      1. CADMonkey007*

        The problem here is most people do not want to be inserted into other people’s relationship problems, and telling boss about previous restraining orders and anger issues and really trying to persuade any particular action against this guy can easily work against the OP. It’s a set up for he said/ she said and if the ex ends up being super well liked and behaved, OP will be the one sidelined.

        I don’t know what the right answer here, but my gut is OP should inform her boss but keep it as objective and non-accusatory as possible. He is her ex, they do not have an amicable relationship, and OP is concerned that his presence may affect her own work. Boss may have some ideas from here how to proceed.

        1. Chriama*

          The restraining order is important to include. It brings it from “this was a bad breakup that I’m still bitter about” to “this guy was once considered a danger to my personal safety and may still be.” Be factual and honest, yes, but don’t leave out details because you’re trying to seem unbiased/impartial. Or rather, leave out opinions or judgements on his character and stick to facts.

          1. Sunflower*

            Most people are also good at figuring things out. For example simply saying ‘he is my ex husband and I used to have a restraining order against him’. I think most people will be able to figure out it didn’t end well without OP having to bring up any of the specifics of what happened.

          2. TootsNYC*

            yep, the retaining order says, “this guy was once considered BY A JUDGE to be a danger to my personal safety.”

            And I agree, try not to give a lot of judgment that comes across as though you’re trying to argue a point–but give factual statements. “He said” and “he did” but not, “it was so awful!”

            You’re aiming at maximum credibility; you want to come across as the really sane, measured, professional one.

    2. Tuckerman*

      Ugh. That’s awful. I think OP has an (advantage?) in that she can present a restraining order, which is kind of the legal way of saying “see, I’m not being dramatic!”
      Sorry you had such a negative experience.

    3. Granite*

      That sucks Miou. Sadly, I do agree with the advice to have the discussion, but keep it short, fact based and positive. I might even do it by email, trying to give it a more casual vibe, but still having a record that you did notify the manager of the history. Maybe something like this?

      “I just learned that my ex-husband Fergus will also be working in this department. While it wasn’t an amicable divorce, I let the restraining order lapse X years ago, and we’ve shared custody of our daughter since then without problems, so I don’t expect it to be an issue. I wouldn’t usually get into personal things like this with my manager, but I thought if I was in your shoes, I’d want someone to tell me that two employees used to be married, rather than figuring it out when I saw pictures of the same child on both our desks.”

      1. Kelly L.*

        I really feel like this script is focused in a totally different direction from what the OP’s situation actually is. She’s not looking for ways to let the boss know they used to be married; she feels unsafe.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah — she’s not just giving the manager an FYI; she’s saying it’s a situation where she understandably feels unsafe.

          Also, this guy has been hired as a temp. The manager isn’t that invested in him. The likely outcome is that they’ll just ask the temp agency to send someone else, but she needs to be straightforward about the situation to get that to happen.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Yup. And I definitely wouldn’t add any kind of semi-joking comment like the kid photo one.

            1. Librarian Ish*

              Gotta chime in on that comment – often, it’s not “letting” a restraining order lapse. Restraining orders aren’t for life – in my state, they last for one year. After a year is up, the survivor has to apply for an extension, including showing why they are still afraid. If the abuser moved away or hasn’t attempted to break the order in the time, it’s likely the judge wouldn’t extend the order.

              Just because you used to have a restraining order and don’t have one now, doesn’t mean you don’t *need* one now.

    4. Former Retail Manager*

      As another commenter said, this is not surprising. I am female and I have managed ladies who were victims of domestic abuse. Some were great…they just wanted the ex to stay far away, have staff tell him she wasn’t available, run him off if he showed up or call the police on him, etc. and some were drama llamas who appeared to thrive on the extra attention their situation got them. It was the latter group that was difficult to deal with, especially when they would seek a restraining order and then be spending time with the person a few weeks later. I don’t think that my experience with managing people like that was isolated. I’m sure many managers have experienced similar things and it’s hard to know which type of victim you are dealing with right off the bat. It’s unfortunate that the drama llamas color the perception of those who handle the situation differently.

      1. Claire*

        I don’t want to go off-topic, but I’m really uncomfortable with the characterization of abuse victims who behave in a way you don’t agree with as “drama llamas” who are somehow giving a bad name to other victims. That’s full of a lot of really shady implications.

        1. Doriana Gray*

          And not only that, Stockholm Syndrome is real. That’s why a lot of abuse victims end up going right back to their abusers.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Aka capture bonding or traumatic bonding. It’s not in the DSM but it is an observed thing. I did a truckload of research on it for my bank robber book.

        2. Myrin*

          Yes, I’m reminded of the letter a few months back by a manager who saw her employee with her ex(?)-husband she knew she had a restraining order against. The wording there made me super uncomfortable as well.

        3. One of the Sarahs*

          +1. As a civil servant I used to work with domestic abuse policies, and have read a lot of research, and the idea that there are “good” and “bad” domestic abuse victims is really pernicious, and doesn’t help anyone. People’s lives are complicated, and managers deciding their staff aren’t dealing with things correctly, or are “drama llamas” actively causes harm. Domestic abuse is hugely complicated, and I’d strongly advise people who aren’t trained in the area from thinking it’s simple.

      2. Sue Wilson*

        No what’s sad is that domestic violence and it’s affect on victims isn’t well-known to many people and that people need perfect victims in order to do their jobs, and feel okay protecting those people.

        1. Lady H*

          Amen! No one deserves to be abused. Would we all like to see victims of abuse act in their best interests 100% of the time? Yes. But do they need to do that in order to not deserve abuse? No.

      3. DMC*

        I just want to say I think I know what Former Retail Manager means, but yes there are so many factors as to why someone might be in contact with an ex even after a restraining order (but legally that IS problematic for the victim, but often ex’s do have some kind of coercive hold over victims, whether it be financial or otherwise). I did have a friend who got a restraining order on an EX, blasted him all over social media as a psycho with anger issues (and he probably was, though I never met him in person) but would keep communicating and meeting him and, at one point, asked me out to dinner and, when I met her at the restaurant, sprung on me that she had just invited her ex to join us. I told her to enjoy her dinner, but that I wasn’t comfortable spending dinner with him, so I left. I let her know that if she wanted to meet me in the future for dinner or drinks, to do it without her ex. Not cool. So, yes, it did have me scratching my head a bit. I’m human.

    5. JDT*

      That is some grade-A bullshit (the way you were treated). I am really sad to hear this happened to you.

  14. IisAwriter*

    #1 – maybe the employee feels the need to address and quash the concern to both you and your boss, figuring you’re both aware of the issue. Or she may have addressed this with big boss who directed her to cc them. I wouldn’t approach her with an attitude of “stop doing this now,” but maybe asking her first why she feels the need to cc the boss (as Alison advised). Or it may be the culture of the dept? I once worked in an environment of full transparency. I had a new manager who didn’t realize when we would email certain things, we were to cc the big boss and some of the other lower managers – they raised this to me but when I explained certain people are to be cc’d they were able to verify and understand.

    1. C*

      I don’t think this is the best interpretation of LW’s situation. The employee is doing something inappropriate, and needs to stop.

    2. JDT*

      I was actually coming here to say the same thing – it could be a totally normal and expected part of the office culture, and if the manager is new, this is another rope they need to learn. Maybe Fergus *asked* to be CC’d on these types of emails in the past. OP #1 won’t know until they ask their employee, so I’m definitely in agreement that it’s a good place to start (as opposed to going straight to “Stop that”).

  15. PeachTea*

    #5, I really, really, really don’t understand companies contacting references before ever contacting you. All of my references were very understanding and also we’d worked together for so long that they were true friends as well so they’d always tell me when they got a reference call or email. A school district is applied at sent a ridiculously long email reference request to all my references the day after I applied. Not once did I ever hear from them. I thought it was bizarre and it definitely turned me off to them too! I think it screams “we don’t care about anyone’s time but ourselves!”

    1. TootsNYC*

      well, it’s a stupid use of their OWN time, so they may not care about their time either.

      Nearly everyone gives references who are guaranteed to give positive information.
      Therefore, the biggest value of a reference is in how you can tease out extra details on stuff you’re wondering about–after you’ve investigated the person (met them?) enough to HAVE some things to wonder about.

  16. AvonLady Barksdale*

    OP #4: your boss honestly said, “[you]’ll be too old to be accepted anywhere good”???? She is, at best, a loon. At worst, she’s trying to manipulate you (and that’s the more likely scenario). This consulting gig sounds like way more trouble than it’s worth, so please run away. And for what it’s worth, you’re never too old for grad school. Good luck with your new job!

    1. 12345678910112 do do do*

      I came here to say this. Too old? For grad school!? Um, no. Part of the joy of graduate school is that your class isn’t all the same age. You bring different life experiences to the table, and often you’re coming to grad school from varied fields so you each have a different perspective. Do what you want with the contracting/no contracting (though I’d recommend not contracting), but know that when she says you’ll be too old for grad school, she’s grasping at straws.

    2. OP 4*

      I believe the exact words were something like, “more than two years out, will look bad to competitive schools.” Though her opinion of what I should do for a graduate degree is so far off the mark from what I actually aspire to do. She’s convinced that an MBA is a magic degree that will guarantee anyone a fantastic/high paying job. An MBA is a great degree if it’s the right fit. It’s not the right fit for me and my goals.

      1. AVP*

        Also that’s really bad advice for MBA prospects! My friend was just telling me the other night that she was glad she waited 5 years after undergrad to attend her Ivy MBA program because she didn’t think she would have gotten nearly as much out of it without the work experience in between. Plus the efficiency that she’d learned in the working world allowed her to get he MBA work done easily and have time to have a life. Either way, don’t listen to your current manager and enjoy your new job!

        1. TootsNYC*

          My mom dropped out of undergrad to get married. Decades later she decided to get her degree part-time, and she was SO much more efficient with her time, and the learning was more powerful, and it was easier to get good grades.

      2. Artemesia*

        Two years may be unexpected for an academic degree but it is highly desirable for an MBA — most good places don’t even want people who have not had work experience. It is also desirable for education related degrees. And it isn’t going to bother other grad or professional programs if you have the scores and academic record they are looking for.

      3. TheAssistant*

        That is legitimately terrible advice for MBAs, as well as life. I’ve just gone through the top-10 MBA application process. Most people have 5-7 years’ experience. The average age of matriculation is 28. Even in very regimented industries, like investment banking, where there are clear tiers of moving up, one can still move up, move related, move to a different team, etc. and apply after 4-6 years. Most professional grad programs want to see progression, not a strictly-defined # of years of experience.

  17. Ann Furthermore*

    #4 OP, your boss is trying to shame you for leaving. Pay no attention. I’ve tried the whole “stay on as a consultant” thing and regretted it almost immediately. You chose to leave your job for a reason, and continuing to work there can feel like you’re unable to move on and start the next phase of your career. Plus you want to be able to completely focus on your new role, and still having to worry about duties at your last job will keep you from being able to do that. Just make a clean break and be done with it.

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      Seconding this. Especially with a manipulative, boundaries-challenged boss like that. If consulting were a thing OP were truly interested in and the boss was reasonable and respectful, then fine. But neither the former not the latter seem to be true of this situation.

  18. Sarashina*

    OP #1: Ooooh, I’m cringing with recognition – this is remarkably similar to a bad habit I brought from my toxic former workplace. (I think in some cases it was less stressful to fling myself on my own sword before anyone else got there!) Whatever her reason for doing this, I know you’ll both benefit greatly from your kindly, and firmly, quashing it.

    And I agree with Alison – I can’t imagine this reflecting badly on you with regard to your boss.

  19. Roscoe*

    #3 That’s a crappy situation, however you may need to prepare that you will have to work with him anyway. For a lot of people 14 years is a long time. People can change a lot in that amount of time, and though you don’t think he has, he may be able to convince others that he has changed. You also say that you haven’t had much contact with him since, so it doesn’t sound like he has been harassing you. Would you be ok if you just never had contact with him there? I’m not sure how big your office is, but there are some people in my office who I almost never see. Or is it more just knowing he is around going to be too much for you?

    1. Doriana Gray*

      I can’t speak for the OP, but my grandmother wants absolutely nothing to do with my grandfather, and hasn’t even been in the same room with him since they divorced back in the ’70s. He was physically abusive throughout their entire marriage, and so she’s understandably concerned about her safety when he’s around. My grandfather still has violent tendencies and rage issues, though health problems have mellowed him out a bit in recent years. But my grandmother has no way of knowing that. What she knows is that he’s the man who threw her down a flight of steps when she was six months pregnant causing a miscarriage. That’s all she needs to know.

      OP, stay strong and stay safe.

        1. Doriana Gray*

          Yeah, she’s still not over it, but she did get the last laugh – because he dragged out their divorce for years, she was still entitled to half his pension, which she gleefully took a couple years back without his knowledge. When he finally did figure it out, he was so pissed until my mother (rightfully) pointed out, “She earned that money.”

    2. TheAssistant*

      In a domestic abuse situation, there’s no such thing as “a long time”. I have not spoken to my ex for at least four years. I last saw him three years ago when I renewed the restraining order. At that time, I was told by a domestic violence intake counselor that I had no business renewing the order because he hadn’t hurt me. I stopped renewing the order. But I still have nightmares. I still look over my shoulder. I still screen my phone calls. Just because he hasn’t contacted me, just because the order is expired, doesn’t mean I want him working, living, breathing, etc. near me.

      I once worked with a client who started screaming at me because I needed to send her ex-husband (of 20 years) a legal document. She was inconsolable with the thought of him even remotely involved in her life. There’s no getting over a situation that traumatizing.

      1. Doriana Gray*

        I’m sorry that happened to you, TheAssistant, and that’s what I tried to say in my long winded way. This hospital, if they have any sense or compassion, will contact the staffing agency for a new temp and be done with this. 14 years or 14 days – it doesn’t matter. The ex was a danger enough to the OP that she had a restraining order against him, and she should not be forced to even be in the same building as this man.

      2. aebhel*

        That’s insane. The whole point of a restraining order is to KEEP someone from hurting you.

    3. Renee*

      My company is a small one, but I can say with confidence that we would take the situation very seriously and this guy would not be working for us. The potential for drama and even the remotest possibility of violence would not be worth it for a temp. We’d also want our employee to feel valued and safe. The amount of time would not matter in light of the potential badness that could occur (even if the badness is just that it affects the performance of a good employee).

    4. OP*

      The only contact I have had with him is running into him in a store etc. He always finds a reason to talk to me when this happens, sometimes he is nice and other times he is angry. He has some very deep issues. I was never abused by him until after I left him. I didn’t want to get into the details, but he did something to my oldest daughter which is the reason I left. We went through the police, family court etc. My younger daughter talks to him but not my oldest, for good reasons. I will just be nervous knowing he is there in the same room, I know he won’t do anything to me with 25 other people around. I never applied to his place of work, I think it is unfair he applied to mine. I am sure he was hoping to run into me at least.
      I haven’t told my oldest daughter yet of the situation, which poses a different problem for me outside of work. I briefly talked to HR and they said they will let my new manager know.

      1. Doriana Gray*

        Oh, hells no. Your ex definitely needs to be kept far away from you and any other vulnerable people who happen to be in that hospital.

      2. One of the Sarahs*

        Dear OP, I hope you’re OK, and everything is OK for you. Big internet hugs to you.

  20. AnotherHRPro*

    #1: This is a trust issue. OP, your employee is ccing your boss to make sure Fergus hears her side of the story. Jane must believe you are sharing all of her mistakes with him and wants a voice. Think about why Jane may not trust you. Is she insecure in her performance and thinks you’re documenting her performance issues for a PIP? Think of ways to build trust with Jane. Maybe her concern is that you are sending her feedback in writing vs. talking to her about your concerns. While sending feedback to an employee is often necessary, most times a conversation is what is appropriate. Otherwise the employee may feel threatened.

    1. afiendishthingy*

      It certainly sounds like in this case a conversation is necessary, like Alison suggests, to figure out Jane’s motivations. However, I think giving feedback in an email is often fine – the employee can refer back to it later if they forget how to handle a certain process, and if they have an emotional reaction they don’t have to deal with it in front of their boss. Obviously there’s the danger of tone being misread, but I don’t think the take-home message here is “don’t email feedback.”

      1. Roscoe*

        I actually think feedback should always be given in person first, then if you want to summarize the discussion in email, thats fine. But I’ll admit, when I don’t get conversations, and just get a lot of email “feedback” it tends to feel like people are trying to build a paper trail to use later.

        1. AnotherHRPro*

          Exactly. I am a big believer of providing written feedback when it is warranted to ensure that everyone understands the feedback and that the message is clear. But a conversation should always take place first. If feedback is always provided in email it can come across as a paper trail to which the employee may feel the need to respond.

        2. Former Retail Manager*

          I totally agree that it feels like they are trying to build a paper trail and I don’t care for it either.

          My personal rule is positive feedback = always in writing (even if also spoken) whereas negative feedback = always verbal. I may send a “Per our discussion earlier, here’s how to handle X process/situation” after the negative feedback, but the feedback itself will never be in the e-mail. You then have documentation that you discussed it with them, informed them of correct procedures/processes, etc. without the negative feedback in writing. Should a PIP later be needed, the e-mails you’ve sent make it obvious that you continued to instruct them as to how to do something which will presumably be supported by your documentation of conversations.

          I just personally hate opening negative e-mails and I’m sure other people do too. You get that knot in your stomach and the “oh great….what now” feeling. No one likes that. And things rarely translate as well in e-mail as they do in person.

          1. Kyrielle*

            This is *fascinating* to me, because I prefer receiving negative feedback in email, by far. It gives me time to absorb it and think through it without having to navigate a conversation as well. (And if it’s very negative feedback and I get stressed, I’m not abandoning a feedback conversation if I have to dash to the restroom because stress sets off my IBS.)

            1. Doriana Gray*

              I prefer this too. Verbal conversations can quickly escalate to something much bigger depending on the manager’s tone. Tone is hard to gauge in email too, but at least I can close or walk away from an email that may be upsetting in order to get my bearings so I can really understand the message being conveyed.

        3. BananaPants*

          Frankly, as an employee with an ineffective and lazy manager I *am* building a paper trail when I CC his boss – purely as a CYA move. All of the higher-level individual contributors in the group do, after each of us got thrown under the proverbial bus by Boss early in his tenure as group manager. Boss does not share potential bad news with Big Boss because he doesn’t want to make waves, so unless we forward selected important items to Big Boss he ends up in the dark – then Boss blames it on his direct reports. There are only so many times I’m willing to be bitched out publicly for not CCing Big Boss before I just start CCing him on anything that seems important.

          Super-dysfunctional, I know. (Don’t get me started on the stories of him spending his workday literally birdwatching from his office window.) I don’t want to imply that OP1 isn’t a good manager, but in my experience, folks don’t CC higher up the food chain unless they feel they have a reason.

  21. Hornswoggler*

    There are actually very few legitimate reasons to use an exclamation mark. Originally its use was limited to indicated exclamations (there’s a surprise). Therefore, using it for “How sweet!” or “What a mess!” or “How lovely are thy dwellings, oh lord of hosts!” are all perfectly fine.

    Of course it’s now used as emphasis, or to indicate amusement, enthusiasm or surprise on the part of the writer, or to indicate that the reader should be amused, enthused or surprised.

    I find that reverting to the classical usage means that I cut almost all of them out, even when writing fiction. I can’t think of a single instance in which I would use it in a job or tender application, unless the actual job or project I was applying for had one in its title (not completely unknown in my field, I’m sorry to say).

    A propos, Lionel Bart’s movie musical ‘Oliver!’ did awfully well. A alter movie musical, based on the Robin Hood myth and called ‘Twang!!’ did not.

    1. Hornswoggler*

      Dash it – that should say ‘to indicate exclamations’ and ‘a later movie’. Sorry.

    2. anon just in case*

      My college roommate and I once went on a quest to several video stores to find the Beatles movie “Help!” while under the influence of, ah, lots of herbal jazz cigarettes. (Turned out to be out of print.) I still remember earnestly telling a Blockbuster employee “It’s called Help. Help, exclamation point. It’s called Help! with an exclamation point.” “Is it A Little Help with the Care Bears?” “NO. It’s called Help Exclamation Point and it has the Beatles and it’s just called Help. Exclamation Point.”

      Sweet youthful times.

      1. Elysian*

        Did you end up getting A Little Help with the Care Bears? I mean, under the circumstances that sounds like it could also have been an entertaining backup choice.

      2. KR*

        I want to bring to your attention that the Help! movie is now available on DVD as well as Yellow Submarine. I have it and I love it. The jazz cigarettes are optional.

          1. afiendishthingy*

            hahaha I actually didn’t think about how my regular name is a reference to that movie. Outed myself there. And yes, I do know it’s now on DVD. On that fateful night we actually just went out and bought a VCR (which were still available if not common at the time) because I still had a VHS recording from my childhood.

              1. Afiendishthingy*

                And then we watched it, rewound it, and watched it again. It was a good night.

          2. Lily in NYC*

            Curling? The sport that is played on ice? I guess it’s obvious I’ve never seen the movie.

  22. LQ*

    Not sure if this is true at your place of business but at mine, if I started CCing my boss’s boss on everything my standing with him (boss’s boss) would fall, quickly and through the floor. Filling up his inbox with stuff he didn’t need would make him question my judgement.

    If this is true of your boss I think it is worth at least pointing out. (maybe not quite that harshly)

    I also don’t think that your boss is likely to have a bad view of you not telling him every single thing that comes up.

    1. TootsNYC*


      In fact, he’s more likely to have a bad view of you if you don’t stop your employee from looping him in every time you “discipline/teach/correct” her.

      That might be something I’d actually say to my employee: “You will make yourself look bad to him, especially when it’s a situation in which I’ve been critical of you. So you really need to stop.
      “The only things you take over my head are things where I’m insisting you do something illegal or unethical. If that happens, by all means you should let him know, so he can investigate and fire me. But this stuff? It’s my job, and Fergus wants me to take care of it. That’s why he made -me- your boss.”

  23. Bwmn*

    OP #5 – there are a lot of reasons why different organizations use volunteers. And because those more brass tacks reasons are rarely said out loud – finding the right match for interests and commitment can easily be challenging to tease out. If you get a bad feeling early – for whatever reason! – there’s no reason to continue with the process.

  24. Lizzy*

    #4 – Your soon-to-be-ex boss is foolish. Too old for grad school? Depending on the degree, many prestigious programs don’t take applicants without a minimum of 3-6 years of workforce experience.

    1. Student*

      It might just be the field, but I’ve never seen a grad program that only accepted people with a certain number of years in the workforce. However, I have seen prestigious programs that only accept someone who is less than X years out of their bachelor’s degree, specifically because that legally allows them to exclude the 40s-50s crowd.

    2. LQ*

      Yeah, several of the programs I was interested in for a while had a minimum number of years of experience in the workforce. (I was just on the shy end of the goal but what I was looking at was more like 7+ years at the time.)

  25. Erin*

    #1 – Definitely keep the focus on the fact that your boss has bigger things on his plate. He needs to concentrate on “revenue producing activities” or whatever phrase you think would be appropriate. I’d phrase it as, you’re asking her to only bring Fergus in on things if the situation absolutely warrants it, and you’ve noticed it usually doesn’t. (That way she’s not taking away from it, don’t EVER tell Fergus anything.)

    In fact, if it feels right for you, I might even say something like, “You know what’s great about Fergus? He doesn’t like to micromanage. As CEO (or whatever) he prefers to concentrate on the big picture issues for the company; he really doesn’t need to be bothered with our day-to-day tasks. So I’m going to ask you stop CCing him on our daily email interactions, unless of course the situation really does warrant it. But for most things, I’m confident you and I can hammer this stuff out together.”

  26. AFT123*

    I’m finding the conversations around exclamation points in professional correspondence really interesting. (I really wanted to put an exclamation there…). I would never put one in my resume but I’ve purposefully put one or two in my cover letters because I felt that it conveyed more of my personality than using all periods. I will take all of your feedback to heart though and will try not to do this anymore – it doesn’t seem like a risk worth taking, and it will force me to craft my words to do the heavy lifting.

  27. grasshopper*

    #5. Having the process take 7 months is too long, and you should let the organization know that. However, many volunteer positions are treated similarly to job openings with applications, reference checks, interviews etc. Organizations can be liable for the actions (or inaction) of their volunteers, so it is always a good idea for them to conduct thorough screening and interview processes. There is also a catch 22 situation where organizations that need the most help are usually the most understaffed and have the most difficulty in having a staff person available to recruit and supervise volunteers.

    1. KR*

      We’re having this problem as a public access television station. Ideally, the content for these stations is mostly created by the public but without a full time person to coordinate such a program, we can’t get it off the ground.

    2. MsChandandlerBong*

      Your last sentence really hit home with me. I’ve been a bit annoyed because I’ve been using Volunteer Match to try to get involved in my community (I just moved to a new city), and I have not gotten ONE response to any of my applications. Not even an automated, “Thanks for applying. We’re swamped, so it may be a while before we get back to you.” Maybe the orgs just don’t have someone to recruit and hire volunteers regularly.

    3. MayravB*

      The hospital where I volunteer treated my hiring like a job application and it really put me off–it involved two interviews, three visits to the hospital clinic for a TB test, two visits to my doctor, a blood test, a vulnerable sector screening, a trip to the pharmacy where I had gotten my flu shot, and then training. It took about 4 months and cost me 70 dollars (in Canada) for all the documents. Now, if I was being paid I wouldn’t mind the inconvenience and cost so much, but I’m giving them skilled labour as a research assistant for free and it wound up costing me money. I get that all of those steps were necessary, but I felt like if they’re getting hours and hours of free labour they otherwise can’t afford, then they should really have bent over backwards to make the process as convenient as possible.

      1. grasshopper*

        Any organization should absolutely be doing something to show their gratitude and appreciation for volunteers, and making you feel that your time is valuable.

        However, hospitals in particular have to have incredibly rigorous standards for volunteers because you’d be working in an environment with vulnerable people and there are huge issue there about liability, privacy, etc. The patients’ best interest is the priority, not you. It wouldn’t be financially viable for any organization with limited budget to cover all the costs for every person who wants to volunteer without any idea about how long someone will volunteer, the quality of their work, etc. Hospitals aren’t grassroots shoestring operations, so if the process has been a hardship for you maybe you could propose that after 100 hours (or however you value your time) of volunteer work those costs be reimbursed to you.

        Volunteers can be amazing and wonderful and fantastic and are absolutely necessary for many non-profits. But they can also be impossible to manage if there are any performance issues and flake out on their commitments because it isn’t a paid job. And it requires staff resources to ensure that the volunteering process is merely smooth, let alone fulfilling the expectation that the organization bend over backwards for volunteers.

        Remember that as much as volunteering is about you feeling good about yourself, it shouldn’t be about you at all, but about what is best for those you are trying to help.

        1. MayravB*

          I agree, and, as I said, I get that all of those steps are necessary, and I’m not working for free as a research assistant to feel good about myself; being in a windowless room with the files of very sick people doesn’t give much emotional return. I don’t take issue with the steps, I take issue with not handling the process efficiently. I don’t think OP 5 felt that reference checks are ridiculous and I certainly didn’t say and don’t think that a vulnerable sector check is at all unreasonable, but not being up front about timeline, doing steps out of order (calling references so early) is not a good way to attract and retain a good volunteer workforce.

          1. mander*

            It’s the fact that they didn’t mention the timeline or the process for references that bothered me. I would be really irritated in that situation, and I’d probably tell the organization why.

  28. TootsNYC*

    #4, re: worrying about her giving you a bad reference if you don’t complete that huge workload:

    Start managing her perception. Be sure to look very busy (and be busy), and keep saying things like, “You’ve given me a lot to get done in these last 2 weeks–I don’t know if i can get to it all, so I don’t have time to talk about doing any consulting work.”
    And when you get to the end of the notice period, then say, “I’m SO sorry I couldn’t finish it all. I tried to prioritize the stuff that’s most important or hardest for someone else to pick up later.”

    Also, I think that deep down she probably knows that what she’s given you is too much, and any reference that she gives won’t really factor this time period in too much.
    Ditto, she knows that asking you to come back and work is kind of unusual too, and I don’t think she’ll really remember it as much as she’ll remember that for the longer time period, she thought you were great.

    1. Artemesia*

      Yes and this is the moment for ‘Oh I’d love to be able to do that but it just isn’t going to be possible; it would be a conflict with my new job.’

  29. Bowserkitty*

    “Loans of Educational Persuasion.” I like this and shall use it from here on out!

  30. Anxa*

    ” I really hate inconveniencing references unnecessarily, but I assumed that they wouldn’t check them until after an initial interview. This assumption was wrong, as I found out directly from my references that they had been put through a lengthy and detailed telephone interview about me (note, at this point I have not had as much as a phone interview myself). I was a bit surprised, but moved forward with setting up an in-person interview.”

    Oh goodness, do I hate this!

    I feel like I’ve completely burned out my references, and it’s definitely holding me back on my job search. Every time I see a qualification I don’t fully possess, I freeze, because I think, “do I really want to waste a reference on this?”

    I don’t know where the bulk of the commentators are interviewing, but the in-depth references seems to be the rule, not the exception, for me so far. Of course, by encountering that early on…it’s made made me a shyer applicant, so I’m sort of selecting against having better experiences.

    It’s so frustrating. I wouldn’t mind if they just wanted me to jump through hoops, but I hate asking for these type of favors.

  31. nep*

    Come to think of it I do occasionally use (in emails, texts, informal correspondence) the single, standalone exclamation point to signify me stunned, stupefied, speechless.

  32. Laura W.*

    #5: As a volunteer coordinator, I’m aghast at the experience you had. Unfortunately, when volunteer coordination is an ad on to another person’s role, often best practices aren’t followed. I would encourage you to provide feedback to the organization including ways they could improve (e.g., posting training dates on their website, letting you know about the training when scheduling the interview to see if you wanted to proceed or wait on the screening).

    I only contact references after completing a volunteer interview. I do require applicants submit the names and contact information of references on the volunteer application. Since reading Ask a Manager, I updated the application to let people know I would only contact their references after an interview – I didn’t want anyone to be concerned I would do what the organization in question did.

  33. spek*

    #4 One part of your letter intrigues me – the part where you state you would need permission from your new employer to do outside consulting work on your own. I am seeing this more and more and it mystifies me. Unless you are working in defense with security clearance issues, or are considering working for a competitor, why should any employer have the right to interfere in your desire to have a second job if it won’t affect your performance? I have a regular full time + 50 hour per week job, and also two part-time jobs, and it’s nobody’s business but my own. I am very well paid at my first job, but with a nod to the young Yelp letter writer, I live in San Francisco, where 6 figures is barely a living wage, and I need to earn more $$ to afford luxuries like living alone, going out and a car…
    In any case, it really irks me when employers think they can control your off hours in any way, as long as you are not doing anything illegal, or bringing issues back to them through outside employment or other actions…

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      In many cases, it’s because they want the ability to point out a conflict of interest that you might not have realized could exist.

      1. Rocky*

        Exactly. I have to disclose all my consulting activities annually to my employer. For obvious reasons, Teapot Designs Inc. wouldn’t want me doing work on the side for Designer Teapots Ltd. They don’t care if I work for Basket Weavers of America, though.

        1. spek*

          Makes sense. Understandable in a lot of circumstances. Still seems a bit intrusive, to have to ask Teapot Designers, if it is ok to drive for Uber or pick up a couple of bartending shifts at (privately owned) Joe’s Tavern…

  34. Jade*

    #5- I can totally relate to this. I went through a lengthy application and interview process with a local chapter of a rather well-known volunteer organization for kids, and the experience left me not wanting to be a part of it. The whole interview I got the impression the interviewer thought this was wasting her time and she couldn’t care less to be there. Ended with her saying they’d call me back in a few months if they were ready for me, but they never did. Another organization didn’t respond to my emails until almost a year later. I made sure to email both of them and tell them the reasons why I was no longer interested in volunteering for them. I know volunteer orgs have a lot going on and little money, but still you think you’d have people in place that are capable of screening volunteers (aka people offering to do free work that keeps your organization going) in a timely and professional manner. You were right to be put off by them. They were not professional about this.

  35. HRAwesomness*

    #5 I once applied to a job that I thought would be a great fit. Literally…the job description looked like it was tailored form my slightly off the wall experience. We set up the interview and it went beautifully. Until I got home and discovered they had emailed my references a 6 page..6!!!!…questionnaire. And not just simple questions. These were essay questions that took one person 2 days to complete. (I baked them a freaking pie for that one!) And after all that, I didn’t get the job. They went with someone who had more experience writing policy despite the fact that they needed someone who was more people oriented. Dodged a bullet, I think. I love the company I work for now!

Comments are closed.