here are things I’ve changed my advice on over time

Years ago, someone asked me to do a post about instances when I’ve changed my opinion or advice about something over time. I’ve been pondering it for a while, and here’s what I’ve come up with:

1. Land lines vs. cell phones. Until 2012, I staunchly told people to use a land line for phone interviews. That seems weirdly quaint now. I swear it seemed reasonable at the time.

Here’s me beginning to question it in 2011: is “use a land line” outdated advice for phone interviews?

And giving in, finally, in 2012: fine, you can use a cell phone for your phone interview

2. How much does industry knowledge matter? I still agree with the substance of what I wrote in this post (that hiring managers too often over-value industry knowledge), but I cringe when I read the headline, which is a total overstatement of what I should have said. It reads “how much does industry knowledge matter? (not at all)” — which is just wrong.

3. Following up on a job application. In the very early days of this blog — 2007 and 2008 — I said it was basically fine if, after you submitted a job application, you followed up on it once, as long as you did it via email and not a phone call. I now disagree with my advice then, and have for quite some time: Don’t follow up after submitting an application. It rarely results in anything, is annoying, and keeps you anxious and fretting rather than moving on mentally like you should.

4. Following up on a sales job. For a while I believed the myth that sales jobs were an exception to the “don’t call to follow up on your application” rule, but eventually enough readers in sales told me that was wrong.

5. Writing samples edited by others. I was just wrong in my answer to this letter from someone asking whether they could submit writing samples that had been edited by people other than them, or whether it needed to be work untouched by others (#3 at the link). I said that it needed to be a piece that no one else had edited, or that they should note it if that wasn’t the case. My answer was apparently wrong for a lot of fields (maybe even for most fields), which I now know thanks to commenters calling that out.

I took norms from my own professional experience and incorrectly applied them across the board — and then I even dug in my heels for a while when people told me that I was wrong. I’m glad that people corrected me.

6. Date-seeking recruiter. In 2009, my response to a letter-writer who was asked out by a recruiter at a career fair was naive. I told her that she should tell him candidly that she wasn’t interested in a date but that she’d love to talk to him about business. I re-ran that post in 2013 with an update, where I noted that it was bad advice — that if she did that, she’d probably end up fending off attempts at flirtation anyway.

7. More broadly, over time I hope I’ve gotten more nuanced about how to handle being in a bad job or working for a bad boss. I’m more likely now to acknowledge that there are times when staying in a bad job is the best option for a person (or their only option, at least for a while), as opposed to defaulting to “run!” In part, that change is borne out of seeing how many varieties of bad bosses and bad workplaces are out there, and realizing that if I tell people to run every time something is off, they’ll have to constantly be leaving jobs. I try now to balance noting when something is messed up and bad management with the reality that most people can’t run every time — and that whatever they run to may come with its own problems.

There are still times when you should run, but I’ve tempered my enthusiasm for that as an easy answer over the years.

I’m sure there are other things too where my opinions and advice have evolved, and where that will continue to happen — but these are the ones I could track down.

{ 142 comments… read them below }

  1. College Career Counselor*

    I will say with regard to #1, if you CAN use a landline for a phone interview, the quality of the call is likely to be better. I have talked to students on their cell phones, just across campus, and it’s often a muddy, garbled mess. But, yeah, most people are using their cell phones for this kind of thing because they may not have a landline, they may want to go to their car to take the call, they may need to be able to pick the call up while traveling, etc.

      1. Nighthawk*

        The modern 1.6 GHz cordless phones are crystal clear, and don’t suffer from any interference. They don’t share spectrum with WiFi or microwaves, so the signal is much cleaner.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      I was going to say, I have a few older relatives with cheap flip cell phones — not that there’s anything wrong with that — who I have trouble hearing if they’re not in a very quiet, non-echoing room. If you intend to do a phone interview via cell phone, you could try to check for yourself what you sound like by leaving yourself a message, or give your friend your cell phone and have them call you on another phone (preferably a land line, so if there’s a sound issue you know it’s your phone that’s the cause).

      1. auntie_cipation*

        I strongly dislike using phones in general, and cell phones especially, which is one reason I avoided having a cell phone until around ten years ago, and still have only the flip phone I got at that time. I’m pretty opposed to getting a smartphone, although I accept that when my flip phone finally dies, that might be all that is available.

        That said, one of my ongoing objections to cells is the poor quality of the call — it reminds me of long-distance calls during the 1960s, when static and breaking-up sounds were common, along with random distracting background noise, including sometimes the ability to hear other calls being made! I have a very hard time making out words/meaning/context when there is distracting background noise, so I’m often having to ask people to repeat themselves. I have no idea if the call sounds as bad on their end, but assuming they would speak up, it’s just me having the problem.

        Anyway, all this to ask — are you suggesting that the quality of smartphone calls is significantly better than the quality of flip phone calls? I’m in a very remote area with only a few cell towers (one Verizon, one US Cellular — my phone is Verizon) and I’m usually speaking across fewer than 50 miles, if that makes a difference, for local folks, and then with my mom who is about 400 miles away. If that is even the relevant criteria…

        1. Hrovitnir*

          The quality of cell phones calls has improved hugely in a pretty short time, though I can’t say if it’s smartphone-specific and I have no idea how much the sparcity of cell towers would affect it. But definitely, landlines are still better, but a lot of cell phones aren’t that far off.

        2. Former Employee*

          Yes, you can still get a new flip phone. I just got one earlier this year from Verizon. It’s an LG Revere model. It wasn’t very expensive and the phone plan (talk & text only – no data) is $30 a month before taxes. However, the quality is only fair, which I blame on the surrounding mountains.

    2. NASA*

      I sat through a very painful 10 turned 30 min webinar presentation yesterday. The presenter decided to use her cell phone rather than her office phone. Everyone was so irritated and annoyed. To echo you: it was a muddy, garbled, echo-y mess!!! It literally tripled her presentation time because of the technical difficulties. Who knows what she even said a good 30% of the time.

      I know it’s 2016, but there are so many places where service still sucks.

      I agree, use a landline IF you can.

    3. SlickWilly*

      Hear, hear! (Literally.) Cell phones STILL sound terrible, especially when the interviewer is using a high quality office phone. That said, it’s expected that people will call from cell phones, but if the interviewee can get on a land line (or high quality VoIP) the experience will still be far better than the cell phone.

    4. JC*

      Or at least, get an idea of what your cell phone actually sounds like before making a decision. I used to have a terrible cell phone carrier and changed recently. My mother just told me, “oh, yeah, I could never hear you on your old phone.” Thanks, mom! I had no idea.

      That said, the only landline phone I have access to is the one in my office. I haven’t had a personal landline phone since 2004. So you’ve got to make do with what you’ve got.

      1. Kelly L.*

        My boyfriend had a phone *case* for a while that continually blocked the mike and made him sound like the adults on Peanuts. It took him forever to figure out what the problem was.

      2. Meg Murry*

        Yes, this! If you know there are places where you have better or worse cell phone coverage, use that knowledge. For instance, I lived right at the very edge of the Sprint coverage range, so some days my call quality was pretty crappy at home and not much better at work. When I had phone interviews scheduled and I had the option to do so, I would schedule so I could take an hour or two off of work and drive to a parking lot halfway between home and work that was near one of the towers.

        When in doubt, ask someone to do a test call with you.

        Oh, and if you use a mediocre smart-(but-actually-stupid and underpowered) phone like mine, consider making a point to restart the phone (fully shut down and reboot) at least once a day when you are in the middle of a cycle of important calls. I use my phone for so much all day, but hardly every for actually talking on the phone, and when I’ve been pushing it past it’s limit sometimes with the number of apps I’m simultaneously running it will crash when the phone is ringing and then I can’t actually answer it, which is super frustrating.

        1. Nighthawk*

          My phone randomly reboots during the day, so I never have to worry about restarting it :\

    5. LQ*

      I have found the best tool is VOIP (skype) with a good headset. The mic/earpiece quality is so important.

      But if you take a “landline” call outside (mom…I’m looking at you!) it will be just as bad as a cell phone outside, take a call inside a space, ideally that isn’t moving and doesn’t have a ton of external noise. Certainly some complaints about cellphones aren’t quality complaints, they are location complaints.

    6. PlainJane*

      I’d add that if you must use a cell phone, choose the best possible setting for the call. A quiet place indoors is usually best (wind can make really obnoxious background noise, not to mention traffic and other outdoor noises). Choose a place where you know you get good reception. And I’ll probably get pushback on this, but please don’t do a phone interview while you’re driving. I had a candidate do this: the background noise was awful, and the quality of the reception varied as he moved. Plus, it doesn’t seem like a safe thing to do. How do you keep your mind on the interview and on traffic?

    7. Ruffingit*

      Yeah, I don’t know where I’d find a landline to take an interview call on. The only people who seem to have them are businesses and I certainly wouldn’t want to be taking an interview call on my office phone. So there’s little choice these days but to use a cell.

  2. One of the Sarahs*

    I love that you wrote this Alison – it’s super-interesting to see how things change (like the phones, but also the nuances), and it’s pretty rare for advice-types to say “I was wrong”, so brava!

    1. Allison Mary*

      Agreed – I love this! What a great post. I love the self-awareness that this demonstrates. :)

    2. Chinook*

      Add me to the voices congratulating you and marveling at your willingness to admit your advice has changed. Too often humans aren’t willing to admit to past mistakes or how their opinions have evolved out of fear of losing face. Ironically, because you are willing to admit to these changes, I find our advice even more compelling.

    3. Lia*

      Yeah, this!

      Alison, I hope this isn’t creepy, but you’re my real-life hero/role-model. I really hope my work self can be as sensible, deft, and competent as you one day. :)

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I must admit that I am surprised people are so surprised at this!

      I’m really skeptical of people who never change their minds or evolve in their thinking. Do they never get new information, reflect, or listen to other people?! (In fact, one of my standard interview questions for managers is about how their approach to managing has changed over time — are there things they do differently now or think about differently than they used to? Good managers have a whole list of things. Most of them laugh and say something like, “Where do I start?” But then sometimes I get someone who says they’ve been pretty consistent the whole time, and it always raises my eyebrows a bit.)

      1. Liza*

        I think it’s more that you admit that you changed your mind–there are plenty of people who change their minds but won’t admit they ever saw things a different way than how they see them right now!

        1. One of the Sarahs*

          Yes, exactly! And lots of them don’t even have the self-awareness to know they *have* changed their minds (my family has this problem!)

      2. Corporate Cynic*

        In addition to echoing the others, I have to say that this piece has inspired me to reflect on my own thinking and approaches to things (including my current job search), and evaluate where I might need to evolve. Thank you for this!

      3. Jake*

        You not only admitted to changing your mind when asked (or even admitting you were wrong), but you even pointed it out for everybody to see.

        Good leaders understand that this makes you seem MORE competent because you have the confidence to admit fault, but many of us have dealt with enough bad leaders and managers to truly appreciate this.

      4. Milton Waddams*

        CYA culture makes it supremely risky to say “I was wrong”, because it opens up the opportunity for blame; once the opportunity is there, it will attract opportunists looking for a scapegoat for whatever problems they want off their table. This is why you get silly euphemisms like “Mistakes were made”.

        1. neverjaunty*

          That’s the excuse, but it’s less about actual career risk and more about ego.

  3. F.*

    #7: Thank you for recognizing that not all of us are in a position to immediately leave a toxic job environment. I know I have been one of the more vocal people here about how dysfunctional my workplace is and particularly how difficult that makes my role as HR Manager. I found it terribly naive that commenters (NOT you, Alison) told me to simply quit and accused me of having Stockholm Syndrome for not doing so immediately. Although it has taken the better part of a year, I just now have had the right combination of opportunities come up where I can make a move for the better. The recruiting ad to replace me went live today!

    1. Punkin*

      So happy for you!

      It’s good to have input from unbiased parties.

      But only YOU can know all the data points that affect your employment decisions.

    2. Ros*

      This. I stayed in my last job for 3 months after it became intolerable (aka: I, who NEVER cries, was bursting into tears after parking my car in the morning, and having stress-related issues) because I was pregnant and needed the maternity leave and couldn’t afford to quit and lose both the pay while pregnant and the pay while on leave with a baby.

      It SUCKED. Don’t get me wrong. But you can’t really job-hunt while 6 months pregnant, and what are you gonna do, expect money to fall from the sky and pay the mortgage?

    3. Joseph*

      Yeah, #7 is definitely the one that’s most generally applicable (for better or worse). It’s the sad reality that:
      (a) no matter how terrible your workplace/boss is, there’s always a worse one out there
      (b) you might have no choice but to deal with it for a while due to either short-term financial reasons or long-term career reasons

      “Quit your job immediately!” is one of those principled stands that we all wish we could take, but realistically most of us can’t due to the consequences.

      Also, congrats F. on successfully surviving your year of purgatory and making it to the heaven of a much better job.

      1. Jennifer*

        Also (c) job hopper reputation if you end up in more than one bad job.

        Sometimes you are just stuck, really.

    4. Ruffingit*

      Yes, I love the people who say “Leave now” as if that is a possibility for everyone to just dump their job and hang out at home until they get their next one. Whenever I make a “leave” comment on a post about a toxic job, it’s with the implication that doing so should be done if and only if the poster can do so without major damage to other parts of their life such as being able to pay bills, keep a roof over one’s head, etc. This is the same issue I have with people who say “You always have a choice.” Sure, Sophie’s choice because for most people, they like to have a roof over their head and it kind of irritates me when people imply that there’s a choice to be homeless if you don’t like your toxic job. Yes, that choice is there, but it’s not really a viable one for most people.

    5. NicoleK*

      A different perspective on the “quit your job” comments. I’ve made that suggestions to posters in toxic work environments. And that same advice has been suggested to me. Some people are fortunate that they can quit with nothing lined up. Some feel they have no choice. And some are not able to quit until they have a new job. There is no one size fits all.

      For me, Quit your job (or anything along those lines) = your work place sucks and that isn’t going to change. Not quit right now and walk out the door.

  4. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

    Thank you Alison! This is a perfect example of why I love this site so much!

  5. Anonymous Educator*

    For #7, I think it’s mainly a balance of your “run!” advice and your “don’t be a job-hopper” advice. If you find yourself wanting to leave three or four jobs in a row, because they’re horrible… it’s very possible you’re an extremely unlucky individual who landed several horrible jobs consecutively; it’s far more likely that there’s something you need to change to make work work for you.

    1. Meg Murry*

      Yes, at this point you need to evaluate whether the trend is that :
      -you are just unlucky (not likely after job 3 or 4)
      -you aren’t paying attention to the red flags before taking a new job,
      -you are too picky and will hate any job, and you either need to learn to deal with reality of the work world
      -whether your industry as a whole is toxic and you need to find a new (or parallel) industry, or you aren’t qualified to move out of the most toxic positions.

      I think the most important part of the “don’t be a job hopper” vs “run!” balance is that most of the time it isn’t “run now” but rather “go start planning how you can escape and think how to make sure you don’t end right back up in another terrible situation”

      1. JessaB*

        You’d be surprised at how many people get bad job after bad job. It’s the same as people who get bad partner after bad partner. Something about the way they look at things is skewed, so what would be a huge flag to someone else, isn’t to them. They think it’s normal and don’t realise it consciously. So it’s not really about being unlucky. They actually have to be taught how to view things so that they don’t pick the same problems every time.

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          I like the way Meg Murry explains it above:
          you are too picky and will hate any job, and you either need to learn to deal with reality of the work world

          You may, in fact, have bad job after bad job, but maybe, with your standards, every job is a bad job. I know someone well (and have worked with this person) who is an excellent worker but has a very low tolerance for working with less competent people or reporting to less competent managers, so this person has been miserable with almost every job, because there are few places where every person she works with is someone whose competency she can respect or that rivals her own (she’s not exaggerating—as I said, I’ve worked with her in the past, and she’s good).

          What’s more in her control, though? Finding the exact job that will have only as-competent-as-her people? Or finding a way to work with and to still somewhat respect people who are less competent?

          I’ve been happy at pretty much every job I’ve had, even though each one has also been toxic in some respect or another. I’m not saying it’s all in your mind, but sometimes how you approach things and process things is the only thing you can do to make things better (and other times it’s legit toxic, and you have to leave right now).

          1. Creag an Tuire*

            “You may, in fact, have bad job after bad job, but maybe, with your standards, every job is a bad job.”

            Or else, you keep panicking and taking the first offer that comes your way without evaluating it — to go back to the “relationship” example, that’s like the person who’s so afraid of being alone that they end up in a string of lousy relationships.

              1. Creag an Tuire*

                Thanks! Was this a change in the blog upgrade a while back? I could swear this didn’t use to work.

        2. I'm a Little Teapot*

          I used to be that person. I think it was because I deliberately looked for jobs so undesirable I figured I’d have very little competition because I thought I wasn’t good enough for a decent job. I still often feel that way, because my employment record isn’t great.

      2. Jennifer*

        I have one friend in particular who ends up hating every single job she’s ever had in her life. Admittedly, it does sound like she deals with a lot of jerks in her industry, but at this point I’m pretty well convinced that she’ll never like any job. Well, as long as she keeps on working instead of pulling passive-aggressive crap that will get her fired…I’ve known some people who do that.

        She started a new one today and was sending me pics of the place, but I’m expecting she’ll hate it by …probably tomorrow. Sigh.

        1. LBK*

          I have this friend, too. About 6th months in to every job he’s had since I’ve known him he starts job hunting. He just started a new job a few weeks ago and if he ends up hating this one too, I might need to have a Come to Jesus meeting where I say “Hey, maybe if every job you have is terrible, you’re the problem.”

      3. Sophia Brooks*

        I used to attract bad bosses like some people attract bad partners. I started with an newspaper advisor who threw a chair while yelling at me, through tons of small-time narcissistic theatre directors, to retail, to admin at a university. Every time I got a great boss- they retired and I got another narcissistic person who tried to gaslight me.

        But I think it was at least partially me, because I felt some sort of pride in being able to “take it” and do a good job. And I was really lucky in terms of pay/promotion, because my last difficult boss ended up giving me a huge raise to make me stay, and since I internally transferred, I am still reaping the benefits

        I finally realized that I could actually leave a job when I was hiding in the ladies room trying to fix a laminator that my student worker had accidentally broken and gooped up with lamination plastic. Because there was no excuse for a mistake, and I didn’t want my student fired and me to be “written up” for somehow not stopping the student from making a mistake! I just realized it was ridiculous to live like that. The whole office was in on it- we had a lookout!! I wanted to be the person who could say- we made a mistake, we will order a new laminator and try to fix this one and move on with our lives, but it wouldn’t be allowed.

      4. Cristina*

        I wonder how much age/experience level plays into this. When I was younger I seemed to have a lot of crazy and toxic work environments. But I also didn’t have a lot of choice in the jobs I could get plus I didn’t necessarily have the skills to anticipate problems and set boundaries early. Interestingly in the past 8 years or so, no crazy work environments. But I’ve certainly had to point out to my junior co-workers that the fact that someone is grouchy one day or has an annoying quirk does not constitute a toxic work environment.

    2. PlainJane*

      Yep. I think you also need to consider whether you really, truly must stay or whether you’re living in a cage you yourself have constructed. That definitely isn’t always the case–sometimes staying is the best choice for a whole host of reasons that each of us has to evaluate for ourselves. But I’ve known plenty of people who felt trapped when they really weren’t; they just didn’t consider other alternatives as possible for them, either because those weren’t options they’d ever thought about (like relocating) or were out of their comfort zones.

    3. Confessions of a Serial Job Hopper with a Dangerous Mind*

      Ok, I’m a serial job hopper. Is is bad luck or me?
      Job #1: (Circa 1990’s) Worked there 5+ years. Company sold to larger conglomerate. I saw the downsizing on the wall and Hopped.
      Job #2: Ad Agency (thought I needed the agency experience). Job was a toxic nightmare and abuse of salary/OT and I only stayed a year + a month and even then only because 9/11 happened and the economy tanked. HOP!
      Job #3: Small family run company. Nice people. Was way overqualified and bored but otherwise happy until I was enticed to come and work at a company where a former boss was working in step-up to management position. HOP.
      Job #4: Worked 3 years at that job until they got into steep financial difficulties and outsourced all the work to the India. Layoff.
      Job #5: Found other job in same field. It was fine, but after a year I gave notice because I (somewhat quickly) decided to move out of state. Bounce?
      Job #6: Worked at great company in new state for 2 years until they closed the division. Layoff.
      Jobs #7-8-9: Part-time job, contracting, freelancing and college during recession.
      Job #10: Two years at nonprofit with many financial troubles (including not paying us!). Eventually ran out of funding. Layoff.
      Job #11: Accepted a job that I thought I would love, but it was vastly misrepresented. During first month another job made me an offer that was, quite simply, too good to refuse (double the pay-yea!). Hop.
      which brings us to
      Job #12 Planted. At last. For now?
      That sounds bad. I know. But 2+ years-in the company has undergone a LOT of changes in structure/form/ownership and top level management that in no way could have been foreseen. The workload has become nearly unbearable as people are not replaced, and there have been a couple of layoffs already. The only consolation is that the pay/benefits are still good and I (mostly) like what I do. But as we know, things can change on the flip of a Wall Street Trader’s Turd, and the minute money is lost or the Suits want special deals where they get their kickbacks, the quicker heads will roll if you happen to be one of the unlucky ones they deem expendable. Given my rather unlucky history, I’d prefer to be ahead of the game and not face another layoff.
      I really don’t want to… but. To Hop or Not?

  6. Brooke*

    Just a comment to say that this post, as well as your commitment to growth and sharing your expertise, is really appreciated. Thank you!

  7. Bob*

    I’ve done the checking an application move in the past. It is very common advice so AAM wasn’t alone. I think this grew out of the days when you would actually send a paper copy and then cross your fingers it got to the right person. Those of us with fancy online resume systems know it often still doesn’t get to the right person but you now look a little nutty calling to ask about an electronic application.

    “Did you click submit and then see the complete screen?”
    “Then we got it.”
    (awkward pause)…OK, thanks!

  8. Brett*

    You could replace #1 with “Use a cell phone or skype instead of computer audio.” Run into this a few times where people where people wanted to use computer audio through meeting software instead of using a phone. The audio ended up garbling on them badly and eating half their answers until they switched to a phone.
    (Skype seems to be the exception that has consistent audio. Probably others out there, but cell phone is still safer.)

    1. Liza*

      I’ve used Google Hangouts to make phone calls, when I was doing phone screens. The only time I had a problem was when the headset I was wearing started to emit a thin wisp of smoke(!). I took off the headset in a hurry and completed that phone screen using the computer’s built-in speaker and mic.

    2. Wendy Darling*


      I know I’m a headphones hoarder but MOST headphones nowadays come with an inline mic and they’re actually quite good! You can get perfectly fine earbuds with a perfectly fine in-line mic for $12!

      Unless your Liza and smoke came out of the headset. Then use the built-in mic because I’d rather try to hear you from the bottom of the sea than have you set your head on fire.

      1. De Minimis*

        I did a Skype call with a recruiter once…never again! The internet access is too sucky where I live–the connection kept resetting and we never could get it going again. Thankfully it was a recruiter and not an actual job interview.

        1. Wendy Darling*

          I’m fortunate to have mind-bogglingly fast internet (because every time I get mad at my provider and threaten to cancel they talk me down by giving me more speed). Skype calls actually sound fabulous… as long as people are using a headset.

      2. LQ*

        YES! I cannot recommend the Logitech (the one that is like $25 or so) one highly enough, but really you have to be aware of it. And if you use earbuds with a mic please lean forward, don’t lean back because then you will be sweaty and it will get stuck to your cheek or neck at some point and will sound horrible. You can get an ok one with a mic on an arm in front of your face (which I’m sure has a fancy name) for about $10 as well.
        And test it! With someone who will be brutally honest, not someone who says “it’s fine” because they can mostly understand you.

    3. Liane*

      Skype advice from my game group’s experiences (no, it isn’t work-related Skype usage but take advantage of our low-stakes experiences so your high-stakes job interviewing or meetings go well.)
      1–if it is likely to be a very long meeting/interview, over an hour or so, don’t use Skype. Around 2-2.5 hour mark and the call quality goes down drastically–echoes, static, repeated drops of several seconds–often to the point where we have to restart the call.
      2–As with your cell phone, try out Skype beforehand.
      3–Make sure Skype is updated, and test it again before the call. Sometimes Skype won’t let you start or join a call if you don’t have the latest update.

  9. Mike C.*

    This is what separates Alison from other so-called business experts – the ability to publicly consider changes over time rather than loudly declaring what is right and leaving it at that.

    1. Laurel Gray*

      I came here to say the same only about politicians! People evolve and so do their opinions and it is so refreshing to hear someone honestly acknowledge this. I hate the way politicians are reminded of something they said 10+ years ago and they dance around it vs. just admitting their opinion changed.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Yeah, this.

        Like — okay, it can be a little questionable when someone is claiming to believe the exact opposite of what they believed a decade ago. But give me a good story about how you thought about it and looked at the evidence and decided you had been wrong, and my opinion of you goes way up! If you try to prevaricate and pretend that you’ve been consistent, the impression I get is “lying jackass,” not “reasonable human being who is open to new information.”

      2. Mike C.*

        Political pundits and columnists are even worse. Outside of maybe Andrew Sullivan or Nate Silver you’ll read/see endless predictions and speculation that never comes to pass with no thoughts towards why they were wrong in the first place.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Andrew Sullivan is a really bad example if you’re going for “sensible people who can admit they’re wrong”.

          Otherwise, this is indeed what is great about AAM.

  10. AnotherAlison*

    #2 – I feel like there has to be another “but” here. . .Seems like it would be fairly dependent on your role. Line jobs are going to be more industry dependent than staff jobs.

    1. voyager1*

      I agree about the “but”. To me the “but” could be “how regulated is your field”. I work in a highly regulated field, the team I work on doesn’t have time to teach a manger the regulations and laws.

  11. MsMaryMary*

    Thanks, Alison, for this post! One of the things I struggle with at my current job is an institutional resistance to change outdated policies and ways of doing things. Admitting that you’ve changed your mind or adapting to new technologies or customs is a good thing!

  12. Sanguine Aspect*

    Love this article. I’m so glad that you do what you do, Alison! You’ve given me an incalculable amount of good advice, food for thought, and entertainment over the years. I’ve been reading your blog almost daily since 2008, and I’m so proud to be a member of the best community on the Internet.

  13. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I am now realizing I should have saved this for May 28, which is the 9th anniversary (!) of the site. Or even next year for the 10th. Now I need something else for that!

    1. Emmie*

      Happy early anniversary! Thank you for such great advice and for the hard work you put into this blog.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Also, sometime in the next couple of months someone is going to be the one millionth comment on the site! I have to figure out some sort of prize.

    3. Gandalf the Nude*

      How about things you’ve learned from letter writers and commenters? The best teachers learn from their students, after all!

    4. NewBee*

      I’d like a day of posts on your own work experiences, especially if you were able to show how you actually dealt with common reader issues, like a bad boss, interpersonal issues, changing jobs, etc.

  14. dawbs*

    #6, I went with the ‘go to hell’ rule when I had high-school and college kids report to me (because asking people out in those environments was bound to happen and the drama was tricky) (although it works better with “fuck off”–but I was trying to teach them NOT to swear on the job, hence the ‘go to hell’ wording)

    The gist of the rule was, if someone could tell you “go to hell” without reasonably being concerned they would get in trouble, then it *might* be an appropriate time to ask them out. If they could not say ‘go to hell’ without being concerned, you weren’t allowed to ask them out.
    So the waitress when you’re a customer? she can’t tell you ‘go to hell’. no asking.
    The waitress when you run into her off the clock? it may be awkward, but she can tell you ‘go to hell’. consider it.
    Your boss? Won’t ever be comfortable saying ‘go to hell’. no asking.
    Your employee? won’t ever be comfortable saying ‘go to hell’. no asking.
    Your coworker on the clock? has to worry about the boss hearing him say ‘go to hell’. No asking
    Your coworker off the clock? can say ‘go to hell’. consider it.

    Not a perfect system, but it was always the staring place.
    I rather lean toward the recruiter violating the ‘go to hell’ rule, but it’s gray by my thought, so I can still see it as gray.

    1. Cecily*

      I’m laughing a bit at “go to hell” being used in order to not swear on the job – I once said “what the hell” on Facebook and my dad sent me an EXTREMELY CONCERNED message about how SURPRISED HE WAS THAT I WOULD USE SUCH STRONG LANGUAGE.

      1. dawbs*

        That was part of the discussion.
        I was pretty indifferent to ‘Hell’ being tossed around. HOWEVER, my boss, who signed their paychecks, was NOT. Hence “go to Hell” being off limits while on the clock.
        I’m pretty sure the big boss would have had a pile of kittens and a stack of pink slips if she heard them tell people to eff off.

        But funny, when I said “go to hell” was the metric, they all really knew I meant ‘eff off’.
        Because kids are smart that way

    2. neverjaunty*

      This is an excellent way to sum up this rule.

      The advice and comments to that letter stunned me because the OP explicitly said she was concerned about telling the guy “actually no thanks” because she needed a job, and this guy was a recruiter at a prominent employer in her field. It was like AAM (in her original advice) and half the comments thought the OP was living in a rom-com and this guy hitting on her was the meet cute.

  15. Dan*

    Re: Industry knowledge

    I’ve softened on that too, from the opposite end. How much does it matter? You need it on your *team*. So for any given hire, it may not matter so much. That is, if you’ve got plenty of it on your team, you can afford (and may even need) strength in a skill area that lacks industry knowledge. But if you’re lacking it on your team, it may be useful if not necessary for your next hire.

    The longer I stay in the work force, the more I hate home “team work” is done in college. In college, most team work is done by a homogeneous group of people with some designated “leader” who is no more equipped than the reset of the group. In the real world, you have a huge mix of skills and experience, lead by a designated leader who has some experience and authority. Very different.

    1. Laurel Gray*

      Very true. In grad school I have been designated the “leader” because I believe in rough drafts, proper citations, digging to find credible sources, and having proper grammar and spelling. Add me to the list of people who think team work in college is somewhat useless as a way to demonstrate how adults work in teams in professional work.

    2. Pennalynn Lott*

      I keep getting told by professors that “most business conducted today is done in teams”, and that’s why every freaking class of mine (except maths) forces us to do some kind of team project (usually a presentation). I feel like that older woman on the Geico commercial, “That’s not how it works! That’s not how any of this works!” Because, in my 30 years of work experience prior to going back to college, no team at any job I worked at was haphazardly thrown together and told to “come up with something” resulting in five people saying, “What do you want to do?” “I don’t know, what do you want to do?” for weeks on end.

      The work teams I was on were limited in scope and each person was chosen for a particular skill or strength. And we sure as hell never had to have all of us standing up in front of an audience, taking turns reading off Power Point slides. ::smh::

      1. Not Karen*

        Ha We recently had a couple presentations at work that involved the presenters switching on and off. I was sat there the whole time thinking how awkward the format was.

      2. finman*

        While I have worked on a few work teams, it seemed to follow a certain pattern. When it was multi disciplinary work on big projects, everyone would contribute and then the project manager and finance person would stand in front of an audience and discuss a powerpoint update of the project.

      3. Jennifer*

        Heheheheh. I’ve only had to start doing group projects recently and sure ’nuff, we had one person who just throws fits and ends up doing next to nothing, just like in school.

      4. kb*

        Here’s the thing – what a professor knows depends on how s/he spent his/her professional life. If s/he had worked exclusively in academic environments, they have no business telling people what work is like in professional environments – especially if his/her students have real-world work experience.

    3. AnotherAlison*

      I think a lot of what teacher’s say about group projects, and maybe to some extent the general real work world is simply not true.

      My middle schooler was pretty pissed the other day because his writing/communications class team was not doing their work, so he was going to fail the project. (He ended up with a B. I don’t know; he’s 11 & a drama llama.) In the real world, I can fire someone off my project who is not performing. I have leverage. In classes, you have to motivate someone to perform with no ability to provide incentives or disincentives (if they don’t care about course success or failure).

      1. I'm a Little Teapot*


        As long as we’re looking back at things we’d do differently :-) …in grad school I was part of a group project where someone plagiarized stuff off the Internet. I caught it before we turned it in and rewrote that part myself – but what if I hadn’t, and the professor had caught it and we’d all failed, possibly with major professional repercussions? I was livid at the time, but I vented to my family and fixed it myself. Today, I’d inform the professor too as a CYA in case there was other plagiarism I *didn’t* catch.

      2. Pennalynn Lott*

        In one of my classes, we had to write a team contract wherein we stipulated things like, “If you’re more than 10 minutes late to a team meeting, you have to buy food for the group at the next class or meeting, whichever comes first.” Which actually backfired because a dozen donuts are cheap as hell, and the guys in the group chose donuts over showing up most of the time.

  16. Sami*

    Alison, I wonder what (if anything) you think will stand the test of time? Any particular advice or conventions that won’t ever change?

      1. Cath in Canada*

        Flip side to the original question: is there anything you’re starting to waver on, equivalent to when you started thinking that maybe the cell phone advice was becoming outdated?

  17. KT*

    LOL to #5. I remember reading that and panicking, thinking my whole career was based on LIES because everything that I’ve ever done has been edited at least a little.

    Thanks for being open A!

  18. Prismatic Professional*

    Thanks for this! I appreciate the excellent example (changing opinions with new information over time is normal/healthy). :-)

  19. Gene*

    Re: #5, writing samples.

    We are recruiting for a replacement and one of the practical tests will be a writing exercise. We will give them the information from a self-monitoring report and they will have to determine compliance (Note: the fictitious company will not be in compliance) and then write a Notice of Violation. One of the biggest failings of one previous inspector was his inability to write a letter that made sense. His letters didn’t so much need to be edited as much as they needed to be shredded and completely rewritten. We obviously won’t require that the letter be written our “way”, but that it include the type of information needed and actually make sense.

    1. Mimmy*

      That’s a really good exercise (though I hope there are no applicants reading this ;) )

    2. Anon for this*

      I give a similar on-the-spot writing exercise when I hire volunteer coordinators. I ask them to reply to a fake difficult email from a volunteer so that I can evaluate their writing, as well as how well they handle a difficult situation. It’s always been very valuable, and I usually have a few surprises! (such as someone who seemed reasonable becoming rude/argumentative in their email response)

  20. SusanIvanova*

    #2 – for managers, it’s an interesting question.

    When my software team was searching for a new manager, I was talking to my brother, a restaurant manager, and he was letting off steam about his job and how the restaurant’s owner made things difficult: owner wants a certain menu, doesn’t listen when the cooks say it doesn’t have a reasonable overlap of ingredients (if every recipe has a unique set, you have to stock a lot of different things and are more likely to run out of one critical one). Basically, he has to balance between upper management wishlists and the practical pushback from below. Well, that’s exactly what we needed; we could’ve lived with someone with dodgy software skills if they’d just grasped those concepts.

    1. Quirk*

      As someone else in software – who has managed – I’m not quite sure this is correct.

      You need to be able to evaluate the pushback from below and you need to rapidly provide feedback to upper management. An overlap of ingredients is fairly easy to understand and the problem is fairly easy to communicate, even if upper management ignore your communication. Software is overwhelmingly more complex. Describing why you cannot integrate with a third party’s system (and understanding where your team may be overlooking options), estimating the impact of new feature requests before they escape the meeting and make the roadmap, knowing how much effort to divert into refactoring and testing and the cost of skimping on doing so… there are many skills which are vital to be an effective manager in a software context which are learned through experience of developing software rather than managing people. That’s not to say they can’t be learned on the job, but not having development experience is a profound disadvantage.

      I rarely see people with a non-technical background in software project management positions these days.

  21. Kay*

    One of the recommended posts on this is your explanation for using she instead of other options. In it you mention avoiding the singular they because it’s grammatically incorrect. I’m not arguing with your use of she, because I think it’s great and refreshing to see used as the default, but I wonder if you’ve changed your stance on the singular they since then? As a non-binary person who uses singular they, I like to see how people are evolving on this subject. I understand avoiding it in formal writing (I tend to myself) but you would use it if requested, wouldn’t you?

    1. Ghost Town*

      Even just a few years ago, when I was writing or talking about a single person without knowing gender or trying to keep the subject completely anonymous, I staunchly used “s/he,” “his/her,” etc. and convoluted wording (like the first half of this sentence) to avoid using “they/them” as singular pronouns because I considered it grammatically incorrect. I now happily use “they/them” as singular pronouns because language evolves and it is gender-neutral and inclusive. “S/he” and so on still make appearances, but far less often

    2. TeacherNerd*

      Because I’m an English teacher (with a BA in English and education and two graduate degrees in English with concentrations in writing/rhetoric/the teaching of writing), I like looking at evolving grammatical and pronoun usage. I remember hearing that one’s pronoun use should either be “one” (impersonal) or, if one really needs to use a gendered pronoun, to use the pronoun that reflects the writer. (As an example, because I’m a woman, I’d use “she.”) That’s begun to change, using “they” as plural (which I admit I have trouble with, probably for no good reason), but the best advice I have seen is, when possible, to rewrite the sentence to use plurals, which often (but obviously not always) eliminates or minimizes the issue. I see that advice in English-teacher (and related) professional journals as well as a style guide recommendation.

  22. Cheryl Becker*

    I too LOVE this post! I love that you, Alison, the person we think has the answer to everything, admit to making these mistakes! I wonder if it was cathartic to write it?

  23. Corp Cooler*

    Wow I agree with you big time on #3.
    If I’m honest there are generally 2 majority areas that people who follow up more than once fall into:
    1) They’re from India. This is a cultural difference and are taught to be persistent (without regard to whether they are annoying).
    2) Might have some mental instability. Not to say they are crazy but probably in need of some counseling whether it’s due to a personal situation going on or ongoing wellbeing issue.

    I suppose is bottom line is don’t become that annoying applicant, yes you’ll be remembered but negatively and it makes us wonder what kind of nightmare you might be as an employee.

  24. Allison*

    I was just reading all your old posts about following up after an interview. I’m assuming you’d mention if you’d changed your mind on those! It’s really helping me hold off on following up on a job I interviewed for a few weeks ago.

    I know that, chances are, key decision makers and/or people involved in assembling an offer are either super busy with pressing, end-of-quarter matters (hiring me is not one of them) or out for the week, because they are not needed to resolve said EoQ matters and would like to rest and spend time with family. So I’m trying to hold off until early next week to check in, and not go crazy in the meantime.

    Unemployment is scary though >_<

  25. Ryan Porter*

    I question your advice about not following up on job applications. I’m in the midst of a job hunt and make it a habit to follow up by phone about a week later. My follow-ups have told me that one opening wouldn’t even be looked at for 6 months and two others jobs were already filled (even though the listings were active). This frustration of finding out the time spent on applications wasn’t well spent has convinced me to focus on networking more. It is useful information to have.

  26. JM in England*

    Re #1

    A house I lived in about ten years ago was in a “mobile dead zone”; sometimes I only had to turn my head slightly whilst speaking on my mobile for the signal to be lost completely. When I was job searching whilst living there, I had to be quite explicit for phone interviewers to call on my landline for this very reason. Did get a couple that called on my mobile despite being told clearly not to. In those cases, simply told them to call again on my landline.

    However, as others have said already, mobile technology and signal clarity have improved many fold, so the problem is not as bad as before……….

  27. TeacherNerd*

    I admit I have a landline, but it’s VoIP (Vonage), and I like keeping it because my parents live in Ireland and I have free international calling. This was a bigger issue before they (finally) got the Internet. (They lived in a valley in an exceedingly rural part of the country, so finding a provider was tricky.) Even now I like to keep it; even though I’m not planning on leaving my job, at home I do prefer to talk on my landline, although the quality is as good as my cell phone, which is also pretty good. I’d personally use the landline, but I can’t see a problem in someone using a cell phone if the quality is good.

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