week-long vacations as a summer intern, staff lunches that you have to buy yourself, and more

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

1. Taking two week-long vacations as a summer intern

I was recently hired as an intern in a large scale company, but small scale office. Many of the employees are at a senior level, whereas about three of them are entry level. I was chosen as an intern for the summer.

I recently took a one-week vacation in which I was not required to work out of the office, after only interning there for a short time. In another eight weeks, my family is going on a one-week vacation. Is it reasonable to expect that I will be able to attend this vacation? Do you think this will make me look bad (taking two vacations in three months) if they’re in the middle of a hiring process where I could be a potential candidate? I would obviously state that I could work from home if needed.

Yes, it’s likely to make you look bad. Two weeks in a single summer internship is a lot, unless you negotiated it ahead of time as part of accepting the offer. If it’s, say, a four-month internship, you’re talking about being gone for more than 10% of it.

At most, you could say this to your manager: “My family invited me on a one-week vacation in July. You’ve already let me have a week off so I’m not expecting to be able to go, but I wanted to run that expectation by you — am I right in thinking I should pass on that?”

I don’t think I’d even say that, though, since you’re being considered for a full-time job with them. You risk coming across like you’re not fully committed to being there.

2. When your coworker doesn’t have great tech skills

At what point does someone’s incompetence with technology become a problem for her job? To be more specific, I have had a few incidents at work that have really made me wonder if there is a bar for computer skills in a workplace where those skills aren’t something that we look for when hiring.

To give some context, I work at a small organization (10 people) and we have a major prerequisite for employment, which is fluency in a specific language, but other than that we all have varying backgrounds. Recently I discovered that a colleague (1) didn’t understand the “hide/unhide” function in MS Excel and (2) didn’t know that deleting a shared folder in Google Drive deletes that folder for everyone. If these incidents didn’t affect me, I normally wouldn’t care, but I was directly affected by these issues and I felt my time was wasted. So in a work environment that isn’t directly related to all things technology, is it ever okay to let a colleague know that her computer skills are a problem? Personally, I am no whiz kid at spreadsheets, and I am sure that standards vary quite a bit from industry to industry. I am curious as to what you and the commentators think could be the bare minimum for computer skills in a white collar job and what to do if someone doesn’t meet that standard?

Absolutely there are times when someone’s computer skills aren’t measuring up to what’s needed. Where that bar is will depend heavily on what the role is — and sometimes on what other things the person brings to the job. (For example, if you’re a rainmaker who’s bringing in huge deals, your employer might be perfectly happy to accommodate a dismal lack of computer skills.)

As for what to do when it’s causing a problem — it depends on the context, but in some cases, the message should really come from a manager, who will be able to talk in more detail about exactly what the person needs to improve and will be able to monitor the situation to make sure that happens. But in other cases, often depending on the relationship, even if you weren’t the person manager it could be appropriate to say, “Hey, we will both be able to do our jobs more easily if you spend some quality time with Excel help menu.”

3. How should I handle staff lunches that we’re asked to pay for ourselves?

In the past, our old manager would very occasionally call for a group lunch — when a new person came on board, when she retired, etc. She always asked for our input as to where we wanted to go and always paid. I had assumed she was using a company card, but that doesn’t seem to be the case because…

The new manager (internal promotion) called for a group lunch last week to welcome a new person. He named the place because it was easy to get to and, while I don’t love their food selection, I was okay with it because the expectation that lunch would be paid for was there. Fifteen minutes before the lunch, he emailed his staff (including me, the most junior member in terms of duties on the team) saying that we could pay him back when we returned from lunch rather than try to split the check there. The place is pricey and not something I would ever choose for myself. I feel blindsided and I’m not even sure I have the cash on me to pay him back. He’s also requested we chip in for the new person’s lunch.

I don’t think there’s much I can do at this point other than offer to write a check tomorrow if I don’t have the cash today, but I’m really uncomfortable with all of this. As it may come up again in the future, what can I do? Just be aware that it’s a possibility? Decline the group lunch (I don’t really think that’s an option)? Call out sick that day? My lunch is going to cost more than I make in an hour…please help!

I’d say this: “In the past, the company covered these lunches. If we’re going to be asked to pay for our meals going forward, would you let us know in advance? I probably won’t be able to attend many of them because they’re out of my budget.”

(I’d default to assuming that it was the company footing the bill in the past, not your old manager personally, because that’s the most likely scenario. If it turns out that’s not the case, your new manager can explain that — but I’d assume that until told otherwise. Either way, though, asking for advance notice and explaining you can’t attend if this is the new arrangement is the way to go.)

4. Addressing someone by their first or last name in email

My job often requires me to reach out via email to users of my company’s product, e.g. to request permission to feature them in a newsletter. We’re a start-up, so we try to keep a friendly, casual tone. I always address the person with their first name and sign the email with mine. They usually use my first name in their responses. Sometimes a younger user will write back addressing me as “Ms. Lastname,” but I stick to first names and they usually switch as the conversation progresses and they get to know me.

I’m less sure though when it comes to users who are much older than me (I’m in my late 20s). If I email someone in say their 50s using first names, and they write back addressing me as “Ms.” and sign their full name, does that mean they prefer to keep things on a last-name basis and I should address them by theirs in my reply? For some reason I feel like I should let older people set the tone. A vast majority of older users just match (or exceed!) the casualness of my emails, but the few who don’t are throwing me off. Does it ever make sense to switch to “Mr. Stark” after having initially addressed someone as “Eddard”?

Ooooh, good question. You could argue that you should be letting them ALL set the tone, not just the older ones, since you’re the one reaching out to them and requesting contact. However, I do think you’re right there’s at least somewhat of an age divide on this. Nearly all of the time (at least in my experience), when people in their early 20s use Mr./Ms. in business correspondence, it’s because they think they’re supposed to — and they’re happy to switch to first names when they realize that’s an option. Frankly, I think the same is true of a lot of older people as well, but there’s more of a chance there that it’s deliberate and preferred — so in that context, I think you should err on the side of following their lead.

If you wanted to, you could get the whole thing into the open in the second exchange you have by just writing, “Feel free to call me Catelyn.” Someone who continues to sign their emails with Mr. or Ms. after that is telling you clearly what they prefer.

5. Are commission-only sales jobs a scam?

Are outside-sales jobs which are commission-only a rip-off as entry-level jobs? My nephew has spent 100 hours “training” for this sales job by shadowing someone. He won’t receive any money for this time, and his college field of study is not related to marketing or sales. He is not receiving academic credit for this “internship,” nor is he getting paid. His college internship office told him about this company. I think he should walk away and find something that pays. He’s worried that he will look bad walking away from an internship.

Honestly, I don’t know a ton about this so hopefully others will chime in, but my impression is that there are some legit commission-only jobs, but they’re (a) generally only really high-yield jobs (think real estate agent) and (b) unlikely to be the type that are hiring entry-level recent grads.

Your nephew’s case sounds pretty sketchy. Also possibly illegal, since commission-only jobs are only legal when your commissions work out to at least minimum wage. 100 hours of “training” for free is almost certainly going to be illegal.

He will not look bad walking away from a job that hasn’t paid him a cent yet. (And future employers won’t even know about it.)

{ 519 comments… read them below }

  1. enough*

    For #1. I don’t know if it’s may age or just the way my family dynamics worked but it would never have occurred to me to take a week long vacation during a summer job let alone two. Neither would it have occurred to any of my children. Maybe an extra day fro a 3 day weekend. My son did “senior week” at the beach in a weekend.

    1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

      I have had a couple of my interns take a week long summer vacation, but both raised it during the interview stage as something they had pre-planned and at least a few centered around the Fourth of July, which most of my team is out for anyway.

      That being said, I’m a really flexible manager and even I would balk at a second week-long vacation that was brought up after the intern had already been out.

    2. Artemesia*

      I sure wouldn’t be hiring the intern who took family vacations during a summer internship.

    3. Graciosa*

      Unfortunately, I have to agree with Not the Droid You Are Looking For and Artemesia.

      Our internships are competitive – and fairly well paid – and we use them to audition the members of the intern class for post-graduation roles.

      Candidly, one of the things we’re evaluating is your work ethic.

      I wrote a lengthy comment not long ago about the importance of vacation time, and I’m extremely flexible with my staff taking time off. That said, they already have a job on my team, and have already established their work ethic.

      Yes, of course you’d rather be on vacation – we all would – but if you can’t be bothered to show up for two weeks of the internship because you’re taking multiple vacations, I’m going to assume you are not very interested in either the work or just doing the job.

      I have a limited number of slots available for permanent hire, and better candidates to whom to make an offer.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Hm. I’m a bit troubled by the number of folks discussing this in the context of “work ethic.” Taking (at least) one week off in the summer is pretty standard in the white-collar world, and it gives me the willies to suggest that an intern wanting to take a similar break isn’t hard working. Vacations are a part of work. They make us better at our jobs, let alone all the other benefits to ourselves.

        Now, I’d (obviously) also tell the LW not to ask for the second week of vacation. It will make her look naive, and if I were her manager I wouldn’t approve it. But, for me, it wouldn’t get into the thicket of judgment about “work ethic.”

        1. INTP*

          Totally agree. I’m not sure how vacation time is less important for an intern, or how a 20 year old taking a week of vacation says worse things about their work ethic than a 22+ year old doing the same.

          I can see vacations being frowned upon if the internships are for a set amount of time that don’t encompass all of summer break – say, 8 weeks maximum – so that the intern already has vacation before and/or after the internship. I did my internships with a company that gave us flexible start dates, so I would usually choose to start right after school so I could go on family vacations later in the summer when it worked for the rest of my family, and I don’t think that means I have a poor work ethic compared to the other interns who took vacations before starting the internship and wound up doing the same number of weeks of work. Luckily my employer was open-minded enough to let me demonstrate my work ethic through my actual work!

        2. eplawyer*

          Presumably, you have an employee for the other 50 weeks of the year. So them taking 2 weeks is no big deal. If someone is only working for you for 3 months and they know it’s only 3 months, but out of those twelve weeks they only want to work 10, that says a lot about their thinking. For a yearly employee that would be 8 weeks vacation a year. Plus how burned out and needing a vacation is someone who just started a 3 month job?

          It also says something about planning. If the family takes a family vacation every year even if the date is not set, you should expect that. Then you don’t take a previous week off just because.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            I agree with your comment about planning, but I still don’t accept that this translates into concerns about work ethic.

            Interns, almost be definition, are new to the fields in which they are interning. They don’t know most professional norms. Asking for too much vacation suggests naivete, not laziness.

            As for being burned out: First, students can be pretty burned out by the end of the school year. I always went straight from school to my summer internships, and a vacation would have been lovely. (I have no idea if I ever took any; it’s too long ago for me to remember!) But more than that, vacations are not just burnout preventers. They are time with family, time to do things other than work. I value that for myself AND for others.

            None of this is to say that I would approve a second week of vacation for an intern. I’m just troubled by the negative judgment folks are laying on this young person.

          2. INTP*

            But interns are students. They cannot take vacations during the school year at all, aside from winter break depending on the length of their school’s break (mine had a mandatory January term so our breaks were short, but my grad school gave us 5 weeks off). *Maybe* during Spring Break if they don’t have massive projects to do (many of my online classes would just ignore Spring Break and other classes would have a lot of due dates right after) and can afford the inflated airfare. If it’s an 8-week internship then I agree that they shouldn’t take a full week off, and I also agree that 1 week should be sufficient and the OP shouldn’t ask for a second, but if it’s a longer internship then it’s likely their only chance for a break during any time of the year other than the holidays. It’s kind of silly to compare it to a regular employee taking 4x that in vacation.

            1. Kate M*

              There’s also fall break, and federal holidays which make up several three day weekends. Plus as a student you have the ability (especially in later years) to create your schedule how you want it – many students only have classes 3 or 4 days a week if they arrange it right.

              Not saying that every student ever can take vacation over fall/winter/spring break and federal holidays and can arrange their schedule like that, but I think ones that never get a break in college are rare compared to the ones that do. It’s not correct to say that they cannot take vacations during the school year at all.

              1. Ife*

                There is also a lot more freedom as a student to say, “Nope, not going to class today, don’t feel like it.” Sure, it can sometimes affect your grade, but in my experience it was way easier to skip class than it is to call in sick to work.

                I don’t think I ever managed to get one of those mythical four-day weeks. If I did, the day off must have been in the middle of the week. There was always That One Class that met on Friday…

                1. Ms Tig*

                  That is definitely NOT universal. Its going to depend on where you study (though I’ll concede that perhaps its different depending on what country you’re in – my experiences are with Australia).

                  At my college (which was one of the top college’s in the state, so demand to get in was also high), you would be penalised in all your classes if you were absent without a medical certificate.
                  Similarly, all of my university courses would have a ‘participation’ component to grades, and a part of was attendance – most lecturers would do a ‘random attendance’ every now and again, mostly on days people were likely to skip. If you were ill, you had to send your lecturer an email before class.

          3. Koko*

            Yes, that’s exactly why it’s an issue. If you’re only on the job for 16 weeks, you really need to be on for all or nearly all of them. It’s not a normal summer doing routine work – you’re doing a focused, intensive job to gain invaluable experience in a condensed time period. And you’re saying something like 1/8 of that time is not important to you. That does, for me, reflect something about the value you place on working and gaining work experience.

            Taking 2 weeks of vacation during a summer internship is, to me, equivalent to trying to take 2 weeks of vacation during your company’s all-hands-on-deck busy season. For an intern, the summer is their “busy season.”

        3. Laura*

          I believe the vast majority of interns don’t work full-time, and thus don’t really “earn” a vacation the way full-time employees do. Regardless, I think it would be inappropriate to ask for a second week (!) of vacation now that the internship is well under way. The only acceptable time to bring that up would have been during the offer stage– but even then, an internship is about work experience, and you miss out on a lot by taking two weeks off.

        4. NK*

          One difference is that typically internships don’t start the Monday after classes end and finish the Friday before classes start. With my MBA internship, I had two weeks on either side – and my internship was 2 weeks longer than many of my classmates’. So it’s a reasonable expectation that my rest and relaxation would take place during those times rather than during that internship.

          I would not ask for time off for a run-of-the-mill vacation during an internship at all. If it were a major and special family event I probably would, but I’d be very clear about the circumstances and the fact that I understood that vacations are typically not to be taken during internships. I’d also probably offer to make up the week, assuming the internship timing allowed that kind of flexibility.

        5. HR Dave*

          IMO it’s not a double standard at all. Yes, vacation time is important and we should all take advantage of what we’re granted. But let’s look at it on even terms:

          If you started a new job with a new company, one that could potentially catapult your career to the next level, would you take 2 weeks off for 2 separate vacations during your first 3 months on the job? I bet you wouldn’t – not if you wanted to make a good impression.

          This is the same for an intern as for anyone else as far as I can tell.

          1. Graciosa*

            Our regular employees are not normally allowed to take any time off in the first 90 days (some exceptions if negotiated during the offer period – I had someone who wanted to attend his daughter’s wedding, and yes of course that’s fine).

            I’m a little puzzled by some of the previous pushback on this (along the lines of how dare we judge someone for wanting time off!) as I’m actually a big supporter of vacation time for my team. This is different.

            The intern experience is a limited duration activity during which the interns *know* they are being evaluated for offers of permanent employment. Even if they don’t end up working for us, they have a limited amount of time to learn everything they can before the opportunity ends.

            So yes, I would absolutely judge someone who took two weeks off for multiple vacations during this limited window, and I would judge someone who didn’t treat this seriously enough to have spoken up at the offer stage about missing this much of the program.

            If *multiple* vacations during this limited window are too important to miss, it does speak to the intern’s priorities.

            At least this will provide a realistic introduction to the work force, where positions are competitive, the company is looking for the *best* candidates, and – even if your parents or teachers would have accepted your excuses with no real consequences – your choices and behavior really do affect your career.

        6. BananaPants*

          Our summer interns are typically here for 11-12 weeks. Most colleges/universities give 14-15 weeks for a summer break, so they’re not starting the day after the spring semester ends and leaving the day before they move in for fall semester. The interns can take a week before starting work or a week after their internship before going back to school, or both.

          We plan projects for interns that are a slight stretch to be completed in the time that they’re here, so taking off for vacay for 1/6th of their program would likely cause the intern to not be able to complete their project. Interns who are here for at least 4 pay periods (two months) get 1 paid day off. They may also take unpaid time off if, for example, they’re ill or would like to take a long weekend to go to NYC or Boston.

          Our internships are competitive to get, our interns are paid very well (I think we’re up to $18/hour?) and we consider internships to be an audition for a full time position here. Taking vacation for what amounts to 1/6th or more of a summer internship would not be viewed as a positive.

          1. Green*

            I packed a lot into my law school summers (in part because you get paid very well for those jobs, so I maxed out). My first year, I started a 6-week internship in another city the Monday after exams. The Monday after that internship ended, I started an 8-week internship in yet another city. Similarly, the next year I started a 10-week internship across the country as soon as exams were over. The Monday after that internship was over, I started a 4-week internship back on the other side of the country. And then went back to school and got married.

            I love vacation. REALLY love vacation. I take a lot of it. But those two summers? I decided getting a job was way more important than vacation. It was frankly more important than classes. I took my vacations during the school year and just missed class. It’s tough out there in the job market, and it demonstrates poor judgment to miss extended time in an internship where you’re being evaluated for a permanent position unless it is a very good reason (immediate family member getting married and you’re in the wedding, death in the family, etc.).

    4. Random Lurker*

      A couple of summers ago, I had two interns for a 10 week internship. 1 showed up and on his first day, handed me a list of days he couldn’t work, including a week off around the 4th of July (annual golf trip with his dad, he said). The other saw the internship as a learning opportunity and wanted to squeeze as much out of those 10 weeks as he could. I only hired one at the end of the summer. Unfortunately for the vacationing intern, he gave me enough information on his very first day that he wasn’t going to make the cut.

      Interns have a relatively short time to make a lasting impression, not to mention benefit personally from time on the job. There just isn’t time to do this if you are going to be gone for 10% of it or more.

      1. Artemesia*

        A major mistake interns and newbies to the workforce make is to think that childhood lasts forever and that school breaks and such as well as short college days are the norm for their life. When you take a vacation in a short summer internship you are announcing that you are still a child and expect to have school holidays; not a promising start for an audition for a job. A single long weekend for say the golf trip with dad might fly if arranged early and if permission were asked but not demanded. But a whole week, much less two is going to firmly establish you as a kid not an adult who plans to work.

        1. Hiring Mgr*

          Two weeks is a little much I agree, but one week if it was mentioned in advance doesn’t seem like such a big deal

            1. INTP*

              For family vacations that’s often not possible – too many people need to coordinate their schedules (parents with jobs, siblings in K12 schools, etc) for the one week after Spring finals or before Fall semester to work for everyone. But I do agree that if the internship is for a set amount of time and that time gives a buffer with the school calendar, it is best to do your vacation before or after the internship starts. Otherwise I don’t see a big difference between an intern working for 12 weeks with 1 week of vacation or for 11 weeks with a vacation before/after.

              1. Kate M*

                But once you’re an adult you aren’t guaranteed the ability to take a “family vacation” anymore where you have to work around your parents schedule. If you had a family vacation as an adult that fell in the busy time at work, you might not be able to take off. If you’re looking to be treated as an adult, don’t ask for time off because “mom and dad said so.”

                That’s like interns who tell me that they need to discuss their offer with their parents, or that their transportation is contingent on their parents driving into the city for work (and so won’t be able to be in before 10 AM – true story). Your parents aren’t the ones with this job, so their schedules/thoughts/feelings aren’t my concern.

                1. INTP*

                  It’s not a guarantee or a natural right, but I think most of us here would agree that if there is no practical, work-related reason that a person shouldn’t take a reasonable length vacation on a particular week that works best for them, then their employer shouldn’t deny the request or hold it against them personally based on some principle or personal idea of when vacations should be taken. I think interns deserve this respect as much as a 40-year industry veteran does.

                2. Kate M*

                  I agree, but I think most people here are saying that there is a “practical, work-related reason” that an intern shouldn’t take a long vacation during an internship, and that is that they are generally short -term anyway, so taking off a week or two during a short term internship is going to have a greater impact than another person who is there 52 weeks a year taking off a week. Percentage-wise, it’s a much greater time off of their whole.

                  It’s not like I’ve never let an intern take a week off, but it always surprises me when they ask (since they can choose their start and end dates), and two would be majorly excessive.

                  And I’m not sure what respect has to do with taking time off – but first impressions are so important. If I’ve worked with someone for 2 years who has been excellent and decides to take two weeks off, I know they are going to get their work done beforehand and will be responsible about it. If an intern comes in after working here two weeks and asks for two weeks off this summer, yeah I’m going to have a negative impression of that. You need to be so aware of how impressions early on come across.

              2. BananaPants*

                These young adults don’t NEED to go with mommy and daddy to Disney World. They’re not children, and I’d expect college students to be capable of understanding the fact that in the working world you can’t always take off whenever it suits you.

        2. Kate M*

          Exactly. It is sort of a transition time when you’re in college; you’re still in school, get summers off, parents may still be footing the bill for some things, but you are an adult and should be preparing for the working world. I had twinges of sadness during some summers when I realized that I wouldn’t be able to go on a family vacation (as the oldest child) because of work, since it meant that childhood really was ending and I was entering a new stage. It’s completely fine to have mixed emotions about it. But for a short internship (8-12 weeks), there really isn’t a reason you HAVE to take a vacation during that time.

          Plus, many of my interns start a week or two after their semester ends and finish a week or two before their next one starts. You can always try to take a vacation before or after your internship. I’d rather an intern give me a start date that’s a week later rather than coming in for two weeks and leaving for a week.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I agree with this–also, if you’re an adult, you should be able to go to your parents and tell them, “Hey, I have this internship and it wouldn’t be good for me to go on holiday in the middle of it. Can we plan this for another time? No? Well, sorry–I won’t be able to go.”

            Contrary to what I thought as a kid (!!!), one thing about adulthood is you can’t always do what you want when you want.

            1. Oryx*

              I remember trying to have discussions like this with my family regarding taking time off. My mom is a teacher so she had summers off. My dad and sister are in situations where they just pretty much tell their managers they are taking off and when. Neither seemed to understand that I had to *ask* my manager and only after I’ve gotten approval can we go ahead and start planning stuff (and there was a chance they’d have to play without me).

        3. LBK*

          I mean…vacations do still exist as an adult. Not an entire summer off obviously, but it’s pretty common to take a week off (I’m taking off two weeks this summer, for example).

          It seems like summer internships fall into a weird gap to me where you’re expected to prove your dedication by not taking vacation so that you can become a full-time employee and be granted official vacation time. I understand it conceptually but it is also a bit weird that as part of supposedly preparing to enter the working world and being treated like an adult, interns are supposed to pretend vacations don’t exist.

          1. Kate M*

            But I think the point for internships are that they are for a specific term, usually just a few weeks, and often don’t last the whole summer (plenty of times you’ll get a week or two before and after the internship between semesters). Plus, as someone said below, taking two weeks of in the summer could be the equivalent of taking 6-8 weeks of vacation a year, and I don’t know anyone who gets that much off.

            To me, it wouldn’t be weird for an intern to take a long weekend, BUT I generally see interns coming in with much more lax attitudes about time off than they should have. You have to work to earn that – the top people in our firm may have 4 weeks of vacation a year, but they worked for years to earn that.

            1. LBK*

              I was responding specifically to the idea that wanting time off shows immaturity because it says you’re still thinking of your schedule in terms of school vacations. I think it shows a certain level of tone deafness, certainly , but I wouldn’t specifically link it to a lack of realization that you don’t get as much time off when you work as when you’re in school.

              College students may be inexperienced but they’re not idiots; my company hires a ton of college interns/co-ops (I’m in Boston, so we have people from Northeastern’s co-op program in almost every department in the company). Based on my experience and not being that far out of college myself, I think the comments here in general are wildly underestimating how much of a grasp most college students have on things like this. Obviously the OP does understand that this is potentially an issue, otherwise she wouldn’t have bothered to write in.

              Sure, there’s naive interns, but there’s naive people with decades of experience, too. In fact we’ve just had two letters recently about regular employees doing questionable things with their PTO (Bob, who took off a month during the company’s busy season, and Jane, who blocked off all the days around holidays in an office that only allows one OOO per department). In both of those cases, this was something the person had actually already done; at least the OP has had the foresight to check with someone before they make the request. Let’s give credit where credit is due and not treat college students like newborn fawns taking their first steps.

              1. Green*

                I’m not seeing comments where people think OP is a doofus for noticing this may be a problem and writing in for a gut-check and advice, but I am seeing comments where people are saying it would reflect poorly on the intern to take time off at an inopportune time (which, for brief internships, is the entire length of the internship).

                1. LBK*

                  It’s more the general vibe of “they’re college students so they don’t know what they’re doing” that I’m picking up in many comments than anyone specifically chiding the OP for writing in or even considering this; people aren’t being that harsh, but I am seeing a theme of writing college students off as not even having a basic understanding or gut sense for what’s appropriate in the workplace.

          2. Revolver Rani*

            The trouble with this formulation is that interns are not supposed to pretend vacations don’t exist; rather, just not take them during one 8-12 week period. I go more than 12 weeks without a vacation (save perhaps the odd long-weekend or personal day here or there) as a matter of course; nearly everyone I know in the working world does too.

            So, take your vacations before and after your internship. When you’ve got a very brief and finite time both to make a good impression and learn as much as you can, it doesn’t look great to cut into that time with vacations. I’m not saying I would discount an intern completely for nothing other than asking for a vacation – if it’s asking rather than demanding, and if it’s done with a reason (family plans, etc.) beyond just not wanting to work for 12 weeks at a stretch. But if I am making a list of pros and cons, comparing multiple interns to decide whether I wanted to hire some but not others – it wouldn’t be a plus, and it wouldn’t even be neutral.

            1. Jenna*

              If it’s an 8 to 12 week internship, and it’s a proper internship where you are actually learning rather than just being used as cheap labor, then treating it as a class lab where missing days would cause you to fall behind seems reasonable. A good internship is kind of like an extension of school, but, that 8 to 12 weeks is class lab, and the only built in breaks would be weekends and any holidays that the company gives you. As in any class lab, missing a class makes it hard to catch up to your classmates. Missing a full week of eight hour days of lab time would put anyone seriously behind.
              Some of what an internship is teaching you is also that in the work world, it isn’t just the projects that you turn in that matter. What people judge you on is the entire experience of working with you. It is a performance, in addition to anything you physically produce. If the prize that you want at the end is a job, and there may be only one spot(or none, if they don’t pick anyone) then you have to deal with it differently than in a large class with a letter grade, where you are only judged on tests and projects.

          3. RKB*

            I’m a to-be speech therapist and we get summers off!

            We work 10 hour days though, but only get paid the extra during the summer. :(

            1. Chameleon*

              School teacher, suckers! Sure, there are often 12-hour days and a tremendous pay cut, but summers off are super nice.

        4. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          Yikes, this seems excessive. I’m a (37-year-old) adult and I take vacations in the summer.

          I think I see what you’re getting at — and I agree that the shift from orienting oneself around school to orienting oneself around work is hard and confusing — but I don’t take nearly as hard a line as you do. As I said upthread, I’d consider the request for the second week naive, I’d say no, and that would be that.

        5. Anxa*

          So many internships are unpaid and depend on interns being able to rely on their familial support networks. I do think you have a good point about failing to let go of the concept of summers off (although many industries are seasonal and many established professionals count on having slow periods), but I think you are overlooking the difficult place of being young and wanting to establish yourself professionally without having the autonomy to do so fully.

          You might see yourself as an adult personally and at work, but you still have to navigate your relationships with family as an adult child. Skipping graduations and weddings and funerals because you don’t want to ask for too much time off because you’re an intern can cause rifts in families. Of course these are different from a golf holiday or a purely travel holiday, but if your family is traveling to this events and making a vacation or longer visit out of it, you may be expected to do the same.

          1. Kate M*

            I have been thinking of this in the context of paid internships, but yes, if they are unpaid internships, I’d definitely expect there to be more flexibility for interns. If you are expecting them to work for free, then don’t be surprised when they take some time off.

            If they’re paid internships, I’m much less flexible.

    5. Some Sort of Management Consultant*

      The only difference might be if the OP is from a country where you have to get vacation days even for an internship.
      All summer jobs I’ve had in my own country had a vacation pay component, meaning I got paid a little extra since I didn’t get any paid vacation days. But that was not the case in Germany. When I did a 12 week internship there, I got 2 vacation days for every month I worked. and I had to take them. So basically, I did 11 weeks of work and had 1 week of vacation. I found it very strange, but it was apparently. completely normal.

      But if that is NOT the case (and it doesn’t sound like it from what the OP’s written), gosh, they really shouldn’t take vacation.

      1. Mary*

        We have a vacation pay component, 1.5 days per month of work in this country. But I take on my interns and I tell them at the interview, this is a 24 week placement, I need you to work the 24 weeks and not take any vacation. It will be paid to you at the end of the placement. You are here to learn and to gain experience not take holidays. I have very little sympathy for the intern that comes to me and says, oh my sister is getting married, I need to take a week off for the wedding, or I am planning to go on my annual family trip in August. You were told up front and why would you expect things to change. And of course you can take the day of your sisters wedding off but that is it.

        1. DVZ*

          Really? That sounds like overkill tbh. You expect interns (who presumably don’t get paid as much/don’t have the same benefits as a full time regular employee) to work 24 weeks with no vacation, except maybe a single day for a wedding?

          Of course interns are there to learn and gain experience…but they are still people, with lives and other commitments? If I got an internship like that somewhere, I would gain my experience and then immediately take it elsewhere, to a company that was a bit more flexible. It’s a two-way street…

          1. INFJ*

            I had the same reaction. That’s almost half a year with no break. I’m no slacker, but I’m not looking to work for a place that will run me into the ground, either.

            1. Mary*

              These are intern positions that their university work hard to obtain. They have a break before they start and a break after they finish before they return to college. Their university expects them to gain 24 weeks experience, not 22. They get paid less than people with their degree, and they have all the benefits of other temporary staff. They know this internship is coming up with 2.5 years, they have had plenty of time to plan. It is pretty common for all staff to work 24 weeks without a holiday, people want to save their vacation time for the summer or Christmas, and there are public and company holidays in that time as well. If I was starting my first job I would be very reluctant to ask for vacation in the first 6 months.

              1. Jadelyn*

                “They had plenty of time to plan” doesn’t mean that their family will have decided to shape their worlds – including major events such as weddings – around the future of one family member’s internship. And if the wedding is happening at a non-local place, what then? You really expect an *intern* to skip their sibling’s wedding for work – ie, prioritize a single 6-month internship over a major life event in their family that will not be repeated (at least not anytime soon or regularly)?

                I mean, you manage your interns how you like, but I have to say that seems unnecessarily harsh and inflexible to me. I’m with DVZ, I’d take that experience and bring it with me to a company that’s prepared to treat me like a real human being with a life outside of work.

                1. Kimberlee, Esq*

                  Well, TBF most people schedule their weddings for Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Taking a 3 day weekend to travel is not unreasonable. I’m sure if it were sufficiently far you could get a Friday and a Monday. You don’t need a week off to attend a wedding.

                  Yeah, if someone has an internship I expect them to prioritize it over many other things. This policy clearly allows for emergencies, and you can get a day off here an there to attend something important. Especially if you’re getting a week off before and after, burnout is not an issue. This does not seem so Draconian that they would have trouble recruiting from their intern pool.

          2. Murphy*

            Yeah, I get not taking vacation for an 8 or even 12 week placement, but 24 weeks? That’s nearly half a year. Of course they should get to take some time off (especially for something like “my sister is getting married”). Honestly, this attitude would make me very much not want to work for your company and if I had options I’d be exercising them,

            1. Kimberlee, Esq*

              Actually, since they get a week off before and after, they’re getting about as much vacation as anyone can reasonably hope to get in a 6 month period.

          3. Green*

            This is seriously harsh. 24 weeks with no vacation? And if your sister is getting married too bad that you didn’t plan your sister’s wedding (that you didn’t plan at all) better? Yikes. At least when I was talking about my 14 week internships like “back in my day I worked all summer!” I was getting paid the same as a first year associate to drink booze and write memos.

        2. Katie F*

          24 weeks is… 6 months? Not a single day off in a 6-month internship? That sounds pretty rough, honestly. Although I’m going to assume what’s left out of this is “except for those vacations/family needs already planned for and brought up during the interview process” and “except for emergencies, which are decided on a case-by-case basis.”

          Otherwise, this is definitely an excessively harsh policy. Although I understand the motivations behind it. I would also say it would depend on the internship pay rates, benefits, and workload. This is probably a pretty industry-specific thing.

          1. Rafe*

            I think the US workforce has changed since the late 1980s-early 1990s. We did summer internships. Three months. Sometimes we’d continue during the school year in paid positions with familiar real-world non-school titles (stringer, freelancer, consultant, whatever — we just happened to be students). These 6-month internships — and I’ve seen people talking about internships longer than that are a whole different world to me, and it seems I’ve really only seen a lot of references to this since after 2008 onward. Unless this is for interning at a hospital or somesuch this makes no sense, I don’t get it, and it seems really exploitative. But that’s really a different issue.

            1. Lindsay J*

              Yeah, I graduated college in 2009, and really very very few of my classmates had internships (besides teachers doing student teaching, if you can consider that an internship).

              In fact, the only time I really heard the word “Internship” during my schooling was in connection with summer internship opportunities in Washington DC, which were almost like a study abroad experience but in DC IIRC; you paid as much to go as you would for a regular school semester, lived in campus housing, and had to take at least one academic class, but you were also guaranteed to be placed in an internship if you were accepted.

              Also when I was in school I feel like the term internship implied that the placement was approved by the college and that you would receive academic credit for it, which doesn’t always seem to be the case anymore.

        3. Evie*

          Six months is a long time without a few days off and frankly seems unreasonable. And having a commitment come up after the interview, but within a 6 month period is normal.

          A summer 10 week internship is different than 24 weeks.

        4. Oryx*

          That seems…..extreme. And I say this as someone who did an internship (that was flexible enough to understand that, yes, I’m there to learn and all but I have a life, too).

          So if someone says during the interview process, “I have a very important wedding to attend in four months and am going to need a day or two off” you won’t hire them on that basis alone?

          1. Mary*

            A day to attend a wedding is not an issue. Most wedding here are on Saturday, so this would be a day before or after a wedding, so a 3 day weekend would be fine. Totally different from taking a week long vacation in the middle of an internship.

        5. Hiring Mgr*

          There are plenty of jobs where interns are treated well and can take time off like normal people.. They can still learn and contribute plenty AND take some time off as well.

        6. LD*

          I am seeing lots of comments that make it sound like not getting to take a vacation day off during a 24 week time frame is harsh. In my first corporate job, we had to earn our vacation time and unless it was earned, you didn’t get it. We had holidays and we had some “personal time” we could use for an occasional personal appointment during the work day…but not taking vacation for six months was not considered a hardship. It was a job with two weeks vacation time each year plus some sick leave and holidays. Going six months without a vacation day doesn’t sound particularly harsh to me. Yes, it was hard because I was used to long school breaks and summers off, but it was the norm. I don’t think jobs have changed that much, my current employer is pretty strict and not particularly generous with its leave policy.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            This. I’ve gone six months without a vacation before. Presumably these interns get weekends and holidays. I mean, I don’t think it’s *admirable* that the company does this, but I don’t think it’s draconian either.

            1. Oryx*

              Well, sure. I think we’ve all gone six months without vacation before — I’ve gone years without a vacation before. But that’s sometimes a personal choice, not everyone takes a regular annual vacation or even a staycation. Even not being able to take something within the first 90 days is pretty reasonable with most jobs.

              But being told, no I can’t take a day off for six whole months is a bit extreme. Especially, if something like a wedding came up where I may need that day for travel time.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                Not when you have a new job that doesn’t give PTO until you’ve worked there a year. And that is surprisingly common the lower you are on the totem pole. My current job is the ONLY job I have ever had where I got PTO after being here through the probationary period, which was only 30 days instead of 90. All the rest gave you insurance after 90 days, but you got no vacation for a year.

                1. Purple Jello*

                  Exactly! I had to work one entire year at my first job (minimum wage!) before I was allowed one week of paid vacation. No sick time. Six paid holidays a year. Unpaid time off allowed, but if you took too much, you were let go.

            2. Bowserkitty*

              It’s one thing to not have a vacation, it’s another to not be allowed a single day.

              1. Mary*

                I tried that in the past, of course you can take a day here and there but not a holiday. But the students did not seem to understand that at all and wanted to take multiple 4 day breaks in the intern period. It is much better to be clear up front and tell the students in the interview what is expected. One of the things each student wants when leaving is a good reference and one thing which they need to prove is work ethic. Will they come in every day on time would be a big indication. Most students don’t have enormous family commitments and should be able to demonstrate this consistently.

                Each student can nominate which company they are interested in, they ask the previous years intake for their impressions. We get plenty of applicants each year.

                1. Bowserkitty*

                  Okay, this makes sense. Multiple four day breaks seem a bit much for an internship!

                2. Jadelyn*

                  There’s a big difference between “coming in every day on time” and “take no time off at all for six months”, as far as ~demonstrating work ethic~ goes. I just don’t see how a blanket NO TIME OFF FOR YOU policy is preferable to dealing with unrealistic expectations on a case-by-case basis for those who approach you with them.

                3. Green*

                  This is all just for a good reference? There’s no job at the end of this sad, sad rainbow?

          2. AFT123*

            From your vantage point, I can see why it doesn’t seem overly restrictive given your experience. I’d wager that a majority of people have had a different experience just judging on the comments alone. Nearly 6 months is a long time to expect to work with little to no leeway for sick time or outside commitments.

          3. Liana*

            Yeah, I think no vacation in six months is pretty harsh. I also think a policy of only two weeks vacation time per year is pretty harsh, although unfortunately the norm in the US. Some people are comfortable working that long without a break, but many, many more people are not, and need time off to recharge. I wish more US-based companies realized this.

            1. ThursdaysGeek*

              Two weeks vacation is only the norm in the US for professional and office jobs. For many, many people, there is no paid vacation or sick time at all, and if you take off much unpaid time, you lose your job. Of course, many of those can’t get full time hours either, so they have plenty of time off.

              I’ll agree that people need time off to recharge, and I’m very glad I’m in one of those jobs that gets a meager 2 weeks of vacation plus sick time plus holidays.

          4. INTP*

            But a student is presumably doing other things for the other 6 months of the year, too. You definitely can’t take a vacation during the school semester. If this internship encompasses the full summer that is expecting the students to never take a vacation that year. Then they will have another year with another internship, or start jobs with bosses whose attitudes may be “Why is it such a hardship not to take a vacation in your first year of work?” You can’t just close your eyes and pretend that your internship is the only flexible thing going on in the interns’ lives and they have the other 28 weeks of the year to vacation all they please.

            1. Mary*

              Our students have 2 weeks before the internship and 2 weeks after the internship when they are not in college. Plus they get all public and company holidays.

            2. Graciosa*

              Our interns propose their start and end dates (different schools have different calendars) so that they can fit their vacation in outside that window.

              We do have defined experiences during a window that works for the overwhelming majority of school calendars (presentation from our Fortune 100 CEO exclusively to interns, for example).

              Taking off in the middle of the program does mean that you’ll miss out on those experiences.

          5. Shelbey*

            At my current job in County government, the probation period is 6 months. In those 6 months you accrue vacation time, but you aren’t able use it until you pass probation. You also get sick time that you can use, but is definitely expected to not take vacation in those first 6 months. It doesn’t seem that harsh to me, but I’ve been working here a while.

          6. MissDisplaced*

            I had to work a whole entire year before I could earn 1 week paid vacation. That was it. Just 1 week per year!

        7. Lindsay J*

          Yeah, this seems ridiculous to me.

          I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t miss my sister’s wedding because I was in an internship. And one day off may just plain not be enough – often if you’re in the wedding party you need to be there all day for hair and makeup to be done in the morning, help the bride into her dress, do pictures, etc. So you would need to arrive the day before. And if you’re traveling across the country you might need a day of travel. And most weddings I have been to end rather late at night and with people at varying levels of sobriety, which means that people aren’t traveling home immediately afterwards – they’re spending the night in the hotel, then beginning their travel home in the morning. So that’s a minimum of 3 days needed for the experience.

          Though honestly, most weddings I have been to have been on Saturdays so if the internship is a M-F 9-5 could probably get away with just having Friday off to travel. But if the couple is having the wedding on a Friday most people would probably need 2 days.

          And I don’t think it’s an unfair expectation for them to have it.

          Nor do I think it’s fair to expect interns to not take any days off for a 24 week internship. Yes, an intern taking 2 weeks off during an 8 week internship is a little ridiculous, because they’re basically taking 1/4 of their internship time off. And it’s not unreasonable to expect someone to go 8 weeks without taking a day off. (Though, if their sister’s wedding is in those 8 weeks, there should probably be a conversation with them during the application process about how if they need to take days off for that that it’s probably not the right time for them to do the internship.) And if they are legitimately sick then they should be able to take a day off no matter how short or long the internship is.

          But 24 weeks is 6 months! Most people in white collar jobs in the USA get like 2 weeks of vacation time to start with. So, to divide that, the interns should get a week of vacation time. And if they do, then that’s 1/24 of their total work time. I can’t see how taking that little time off could negatively affect their ability to work, learn, and gain experience. And since this sounds like a non-US country with the vacation pay component, I expect that normal workers get even more time off than those in the US, and that the interns probably should too. I can see saying, “No, you can’t take days off that week because that week X, Y, Z happens and it’s really important that you’re here,” but not 6 whole months.

          1. Mary*

            I am not in the USA so I am not 100% how vacations work there but I have often heard of people having 10 days vacation in the year. So if they want to take a 2 week vacation as in 10 days in a row this means they end up working 50 weeks without a vacation day? That is their personal choice, so it can’t be unusual to work 24 weeks without a vacation day.

            As you say most weddings are on a Saturday so taking the Friday and having a 3 day weekend is acceptable. But would it be acceptable to say, oh there is a wedding dinner on the Thursday night and on the Monday after the wedding there is a family BBQ. Would a manager not be entitled to say no to the Thursday and the Monday and the student still gets to the family wedding.

            My interns get 2 week vacation after the 24 weeks and before they return to college. Why should they expect another week or two vacation time in the 24 week placement. Work is not like university, people need to show up and keep showing up every day to do their work. Once you have a permanent job they you have to comply with the holiday policy of that company and there can be many many restrictions on when and how holidays can be taken.

            One of the reasons we have interns in the summer is to allow our regular staff take their annual leave, who gets precedence?

            1. Green*

              People with options don’t choose to work at places with 2 weeks vacation. I get 4 weeks.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            Well I would assume you know when your sister’s wedding is well in advance, right? So when you take the internship, you could negotiate it in–“I have to attend an important family function on X dates and will need to be out at that time. Is that acceptable?”

    6. Raine*

      I was under the impression even calling out on a sick day during a summer internship would get you serious side-eye unless you were basically in the hospital.

      1. KarenT*

        I’m in the camp above that would not be okay with an intern taking two weeks off during a short internship (we often hire interns on full-time after the internship and this would definitely be a deal-breaker), but a sick day is totally fine. Interns get sick too!

        1. myswtghst*

          For me, sick days and vacation are two very different things, so I’d feel the same way as KarenT. A sick day is usually not something you can plan for, is just 1 day (maybe 2), and chances are, the office is better off without you there (spreading germs / being less than productive). A vacation is something you plan in advance, and is usually longer than just 1-2 days, so it has a bigger impact on the office (and on your ability to get the most out of an internship).

      2. Laura*

        It depends on the industry and the management. I briefly held an internship where the manager told me I would not be allowed any days off at all. Made it easier for me to say “I quit” after two weeks!

      3. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        Yikes! I had an intern who caught a horrible summer cold and tried to come in because it had been pounded in her head that she could not miss a single day of her internship.

        I sent her home and told her to take as much time as she needed, also promising that we would make up her hours so she wouldn’t lose money.

        1. Mary*

          Gosh no, you don’t want people who are sick coming to work. Life happens, you get sick, you stay home.

      4. BananaPants*

        I missed the last several days of my second summer internship because I had pneumonia – the days off were unpaid, of course. I had been quite sick but toughed it out to get my intern presentation done and wrap up my project. When I was told by my doctor that if I didn’t immediately go home and rest she would be hospitalizing me, I called out. My manager understood and said he’d see me in December; we already had planned for me to do a short internship during the winter break. Didn’t stop me from being hired for another summer internship there the following year, or getting a job offer halfway through my senior year!

    7. Christopher Tracy*

      Agree with everyone here. Unfortunately, OP #1, you are not an employee of this company and, therefore, don’t get the same benefits as an employee. Most reasonably run companies would have no problem with their full-time permanent staff taking two weeks of vacation over the summer – but you’re not permanent. I like what someone upthread said about you auditioning because that’s essentially what you’re doing. Hell, when I began at my current company in the eight month training program, I didn’t take vacation the entire eight months even though my manager told us we could (we were permanent employees after all).

      However, I was rotating through several divisions and essentially acting as an intern or temp for a few weeks at a time – these people didn’t know me or my work from Adam. Taking time off in the middle of these rotations would have seen me miss opportunities to learn more of the higher-level tasks/assignments and, instead, I probably would have been relegated to doing admin type tasks for the remainder of the rotations because sending emails for people and taking phone calls isn’t something that requires an investment of time on the trainer’s part – and me being gone would have signaled to them that I wasn’t interested in more investment.

      If you really want to get hired from this internship, OP, tell your folks thanks but no thanks and stay in the office.

    8. LC*

      I think it partially depends on the nature of the internship. I took a week off my unpaid internship last summer for my brother’s cross-country graduation. But I discussed it with my supervisor shortly after receiving the offer and phrased it not as, “I need this time off,” but as, “I realize this may be somewhat unusual, but I was hoping I could take some time off to attend my brother’s graduation.” I also worked from home and stayed several weeks longer than most of the other interns.

      Then again, it was (a) unpaid, (b) had flexible start/end dates, and (c) not a trial period for a later job. I’m in the running for a paid internship at a place I’d like to ultimately work full-time at the end of the summer, and I won’t be taking any vacations if I get it–both because I want to make a good impression and because it’s a structured x-week program, so the expectations are clear from the off. And I certainly wouldn’t take two!

    9. Accountant*

      Yeah… In public accounting the internships are competitive and are basically a several months long interview. Interns tend to be on their best behavior, and those who aren’t stick out like a sore thumb and are not hired later. I would 100% not even ask about taking the second week of vacation, if I were you OP #1. Just focus on doing great work and being pleasant to work with the rest of your time. It would be one thing if this were something you had cleared ahead of time. As it is, I think it will only make you look back to ask.

    10. New Girl*

      While I do think two weeks of vacation during the internship is too much, I don’t really see much wrong with taking a week for a vacation. In my experience, interns are usually also students. Meaning that they plan trips during the summer when they aren’t in class. They also have lives, and things come up just like any other employee. I’m actually surprised to see how strict some people are about intern expectations.

      1. Liy Rowan*

        Presumably, the internship doesn’t run from the last day of classes in the spring until the first day of classes in the fall – they should have the opportunity to have time off.

        1. PurpleMonkeyDishwasher*

          This – I interned every summer for all of college and grad school, and none of my internship programs was ever more than 10-12 weeks. Since you’re usually off from around the beginning of May to late August/early September, there was always at least a week or two buffer on each end of the internship when you could take a vacation or go home to visit family or whatever. I mean, sure, you’d RATHER go to your family’s lake house for a week in July like you have every year since you were little or whatever, but just because you’d prefer to do something doesn’t make it the best career move.

          Just like you’d plan your vacation around your company’s busy season or a big project or something as a working adult, you need to do the same as an intern.

          1. Analyst*

            +1. Time to tell mom and dad that they need to factor your work schedule in too or you aren’t coming. Sure they can buy you vacations, but I’m assuming they want you to grow a stable career so they don’t have to fund your life. That means you need to train them to think of your availability, and PMD and others have pointed out that your availability needs to be that week or two gap between school start/end and internship start/end, not during the internship.

            1. LCL*

              Yes, the aspect of this that I find astonishing is that grown adults still take family vacations with their parents. WTF? I am wondering is this another blue collar/white collar divide. We had one person in our group that would always schedule vacations with their grown kids, and I considered that an aberration. This person always had problems with the vacation request process and was always trying to get more time than accrued or otherwise game things.

              1. Analyst*

                You know, it’s funny… at my work I have a few different coworkers (rough ages 30-50) who take annual family vacations with their parents/siblings still and these are people who grew up wealthy and the parents are still well-off. But of course, the difference between them and the intern is that they are full-time, established in their careers, and have the vacation time banked.

              2. Graciosa*

                I have been known to take vacations with my parents long after I was an independent adult. It’s not a slur on anyone’s independence – we all pay our own way and find a schedule that works for all of us (including all our employers). It isn’t even a regular thing, but it can be a great way to reconnect and share special experiences.

                My parents are not going to be around forever, and I’m really glad I took these kinds of opportunities. I’m kind of sorry to hear that other people who presumably also like their parents don’t view it the same way.

              3. Oryx*

                I don’t understand the WTF reaction. It’s been a couple of years since I took a vacation with my own parents, but I did it last year with my SO’s family. I know friends who take an annual tropical vacation with her parents.

              4. SJ McMahon*

                My mom’s a widow. She and my dad used to take a long vacation every summer, but now that he’s gone, you can bet I take vacations with her, albeit much shorter ones because of the amount of time off available to me. It’s not a blue collar/white collar thing or a maturity thing. There are a *lot* of reasons why someone might vacation with their parent or parents.

                1. myswtghst*

                  Similar situation here! My Mom usually goes up to WI with her sisters for a week in the fall, but there have definitely been years recently where they couldn’t all make it during the week of the timeshare, so I went with her (in large part because I’m much more amenable to a week of antique shopping than my Dad is). :)

                  I also take long weekend trips with my parents & younger brother (30yo software engineer) from time to time because we all graduated from the same university, and will go back for football / basketball games together.

                2. Christopher Tracy*

                  I take the rare vacation (more like long weekend) with my mom because she’s in poor health and if I don’t drag her out of the house every now and again, she’d further work herself into the ground.

        2. INTP*

          I would often schedule my internships to run for that length of time, minus a few days buffer for moving from school to my internship city and vice versa. My family could only make vacations work for everyone mid-summer and I couldn’t afford to travel by myself so it was basically that or no vacations for all of college.

          1. Roxanne*

            When I was in University, I was either in school, working part time or working my summers full time. There was no vacation for me, nor was there any expectation on my part to do so. I did take three days off for a wedding and I arranged that well ahead of time and booked overtime to cover the time away.

            I needed the cash more than I needed the vacation. I didn’t take my first week of vacation until well into my 2nd or 3rd year of working professionally due to lay offs, switching jobs and stingy employers with their vacation rules.

            If you are interning, meaning, in college and working towards entering the work force as a functional adult, the expectations that you will always be able to take a family vacation will have to change. You may get a new or first job with two weeks…only to find that the two weeks have to be earned and you can’t take them until your anniversary date or the company’s start of their new fiscal year, or if they do allow you to take them before you’ve earned them and then you leave the company, you owe them that time/money.

            And, vacation is not always “out of town/out of state.” Vacation can be a wonderful day at home doing nothing.

            Wait until you are fully established in your career / job and then start planning to vacation with your family again. These early years are critical to establish work habits, reputation and your career.

      2. Meg Murry*

        I think 1 week is probably ok but not ideal, and that it’s the kind of thing that should be discussed when you accept the internship or shortly before you start (in an asking permission way, not a “these are the dates I’ll be out” demanding way). Two weeks out of 10-12 is pushing it, especially since as others mention below, 2 weeks is as much or more than entry level hires get.

        For anyone reading here that isn’t the OP – unless the internship has fixed dates like May 15th – August 15th, I’d recommend taking vacation either between when the semester ends and when you start your internship or giving yourself a week between the end of the internship and when you go back to school for a vacation – but plan that before you even start, don’t announce partway through the summer that you’ll actually be wrapping up one week early. Or as others have mentioned, taking a Thursday and Friday off instead of a whole week is also a good option, rather than taking a whole week mid-summer. Overall, I’d rather have an intern for a solid 10 or 11 straight weeks than 12 or 13 weeks with 2 vacations in the middle.

      3. Jinx*

        Here’s my issue with immediately disqualifying interns for asking for vacation – they are students. Many interns don’t have a grasp of what’s normal for a professional workplace, and they aren’t used to making decisions with reputation in mind. Asking for two weeks off out of ten seems really, really clueless, yes, but I distinctly remember being that clueless when I was new to the workplace. There were a lot of professional lessons I learned later and facepalmed my student-self for, but honestly very few of them were pointed out in the moment.

        So I guess my point is, to all the folks who are rejecting interns for requesting vacation, I hope you are at least sitting them down and explaining why. Interns are there to learn, so they should be told when their actions are impacting their professional lives. That way they can do better in the future.

        1. myswtghst*

          I tend to agree, Jinx. I’m impressed OP#1 had the foresight to write to AAM and ask, and I think this is an important lesson for a lot of new interns / graduating students to learn, so it’s wonderful if someone who manages interns is willing to teach them.

          However, I’d be much more likely to gently explain to an intern why this might not be the best idea if they phrased their request as, well, a request, rather than a “need” or an order. In a few comments upthread, it sounds like interns demanded time off, which is something I’d find off-putting from good full time employees, so it would be hard not to let that color my opinion of an intern (who should, in theory, be on their best behavior).

      4. AVP*

        I think it depends on how long a summer internship runs for – many are only six or eight weeks! If that’s the case interns should schedule trips before or after.

        If there’s a semester-long internship it’s easier because you can go with the flow of the semester. Typically our fall and spring interns will take off for Thanksgiving break or Presidents Week which I find normal because a lot of dorms and college cafeterias are closed when the school is on a break.

      5. PennyLane*

        Agreed with this. I almost always took a vacation during my college summer internships, and no manager ever had a problem with it (and weddings, family reunions, etc. don’t always line up with time before or after the internship). I also managed interns at a former company and didn’t have a problem with an intern taking time off (within reason), but the earlier they mentioned it, the better. I was treated, and thus treated interns, like adults and how they’d be treated as employees, and starting someone off with a guilt trip about vacation is not the best tone to set, in my opinion. (Of course, multiple vacations and lack of notice would be strike marks, but the occasional long weekend or one week-long trip wasn’t an issue).

    11. INTP*

      When I interned it was very common for the interns to take a vacation week. Most employees took up to a week at some point in the summer and I think it was understood that the interns wanted a vacation too.

      However, the timeline wasn’t structured or anything. I could see it being different if you had an 8 week structured internship versus my company, where you could basically choose your own start and end date according to school schedule, and could take a vacation week and then do an 8 week internship or take 1 week in the middle of a 9-10 week internship. And I think it WOULD stick out if you took multiple week-long vacations.

    12. Mim*

      I think it makes a difference whether the intern is paid or unpaid and whether there are hiring expectations at the end or not. I would not have taken a week off during a ten-week summer internship – though I might have taken an occasional long weekend – but I wouldn’t have been that shocked if my peers had, given that most summer internships were/are essentially free labor that often do not meet the educational component they are meant to have. I definitely agree that this is something that you should speak to your supervisor about ahead of time, however.

    13. Stranger than fiction*

      That kind of surprised me too. If you’re lucky enough to get the opportunity of an internship, it seems your priority should be work, whether it’s summer or not. You’ll have the rest of your life to take summer vacays.

    14. Anxa*

      It wouldn’t occur to me to take a week-long travel vacation.

      But, I would like to take a week-long vacation to visit my hometown and stay with family. It’s tricky when you’re underemployed and always taking short term things because you’re always new to a specific company so you are never an established employee, and you’re perpetually in a bit of an audition phase. Yet to friends and family it feels like you should be able to take a break and come visit or help them already.

      A three day weekend means I’d spend 2 days driving and one day visiting, meaning I don’t have much time to help out around the house. Also, it’s not at all cost effective.

    15. De Minimis*

      We were hiring a summer temp [not an intern] last week and this came up so much that I had to ask recruiters to screen for it…we had three candidates taking week long vacations during the timeframe of the assignment [which is not even three months.]

      The argument one of the team members made was that if people are looking for temp assignments they need to forgot about vacation until the assignment is over [“they’re there to cover other people’s vacations!”] We actually would be okay with a day or two here and there, but anything else turned out to be a deal breaker.

      1. Christopher Tracy*

        Yup, that’s another good point – a lot of interns do end up serving as coverage for regular employees. So trying to take a break when the regular employees are taking breaks is very tricky.

        1. De Minimis*

          Honestly I think it wouldn’t have been a problem but this was a project-based assignment involving various special events that were taking place this summer.

  2. Dan*


    I’d be real careful here, your examples don’t describe a person who is “incompetent with technology”. As you put it, they are examples of someone who has annoyed you. You talked about one aspect of excel and a technology that I’ve never used and how it got in your way; if be pretty offended if you called me incompetent because I didn’t know those things.

    With many things tech, you only really know what you need to do your job or whatever someone showed you along the way. For example, my excel skills suck because I’m a software developer who doesnt use excel. I’d have trouble with those temp agency skills tests. Does that make me or my “tech” skills incompetent? Hell no.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      My read of the letter — and I might be reading too much into it — was that in this particular job, there’s a need for those particular skills.

      1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

        Alison, I read it the same way.

        Of course, I am also the person who has had to spend a lot of time leading trainings on Google applications (drive, forms, sheets, etc) both at work and for my volunteer organizations. And had to explain to people that when you delete something from a common drive, everyone loses access.

        1. Sophie*

          Can’t the OP just do that? Explain that deleting those folders deletes it for everyone and tell their co-worker what not to click to prevent it happening in the future.

          But then, I didn’t read it as being a constant thing, like deleting the same shared folder a few times a week, but as a single one off event added with a few other ‘I didn’t know you could do that’ moments.

          I mean, I’d say I’m tech savvy but there are a lot of things I ‘accidentally’ found you on various programs I’ve been using forever that are common / faster practices. I’d appreciate a co-worker saying: hey, can you just hide this row when you send X file to me. And fill me in quickly if I said I wasn’t sure how to do it.

          I’m not sure why the manager would need to get involved, unless you had an extensive mental list of “times co-worker did a common knowledge tech bungle which impacted my job” – in which case, yes I would bring it up to them.

          1. Anonymous Educator*

            Yeah, I don’t think these specific gripes are that big a deal.

            Honestly, it’s not an automatic assumption that deleting a shared folder from Google Drive will delete it for everyone. If, for example, you share a file with me, and I move the file to another folder on my Google Drive, it doesn’t move the file to another folder for your Google Drive. So I could see a case for someone thinking (of course, wouldn’t you test and double-check?) that it may not affect others.

            Same deal with hiding/showing columns in Excel. I had been using Excel (pivot tables, formulas, macros, etc.) for years before I knew about showing/hiding columns. It’s just trivia. It isn’t a skill. You either know about it or you don’t. You aren’t tech-illiterate and hopeless for not knowing that.

            But then, I didn’t read it as being a constant thing, like deleting the same shared folder a few times a week, but as a single one off event added with a few other ‘I didn’t know you could do that’ moments.

            This, to me, is the big question. Everyone makes mistakes. And everyone has stuff to learn. Are they willing to learn? Can they learn quickly? Can they avoid making the same mistakes multiple times? That’s all I care about.

            When I first started my job, my boss said to me “You’re going to set up [name of program] for us,” and I was like “Cool. Sure.” And I had never heard of [name of program]. Did it matter? Nope. I trained myself on [name of program], and I manage it well now, and my boss is happy. Not once did he say “You’ve never even heard of [name of program]?” In fact, I’m actually helping others on a professional mailing list with [name of program].

            1. Lindsay J*

              Lol, I consider myself a pretty good excel user, and I forgot yesterday that the “hide” function under cell formatting wasn’t the same as the “hide column” function. When it didn’t do what I expected it to, and read the mouse-over text I realized my mistake, and searched and figured out how to use VBA to do what I wanted to do (hide some data in a pivot table).

              Not knowing/forgetting a single function in a program doesn’t say anything about someone’s overall tech knowledge.

          2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

            Like AAM, I read this as a consistent issue that impacted the LW’s work and these were just two of the recent examples.

            In terms of a “manager getting involved,” I reference it below, but I like to know when the people on my team are offering support like this because training a coworker in software is not on their list of job duties. It’s my responsibility as a manager.

            MS Office proficient means a wide variety of things, and people judge their skills differently. If someone on my team doesn’t understand a program, it’s my responsibility to ensure they have adequate training and resources, so they can gain the level of proficiency required.

            1. Anonymous Educator*

              Yes, and all some of us are saying is that these are bad examples to give. Sure, they’re probably two examples of many, and the many other examples are probably legit. Just saying—these two don’t mean the co-worker is tech-incompetent. The co-worker may, in fact, be tech-incompetent, just not because of show/hide in Excel and not understanding folders in Google Drive.

              1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

                Yes, and all some of us are saying is that these are bad examples to give.

                I was not trying to invalidate people’s comments and am almost hesitant to reply…but the hide function is something I would expect someone who checked the “MS proficient” box on their application to understand.

                1. Anonymous Educator*

                  And I’m disagreeing with you on that. To me, it’s just trivia. If I can write macros and formulas and make pivot tables and use conditional formatting, does it matter if I know in advance how to show/hidden columns, as long as I can learn it once you teach me?

      2. Dan*

        What skills, exactly? Is hiding columns in Excel a skill? Is using Google Drive a skill? I’m not trying to be pedantic, but skill assessment in “tech” isn’t a trivial matter. For example, I’m a Java programmer. I’ve been writing code in that language for almost 20 years. But there’s large parts of the language I never use that would be a big deal to some. If someone writes in a job ad, “needs an intermediate level Java programmer” I honestly have no idea what skills they are looking for. They really need to spell out what they’re looking for. Then you get into this whole debate about “needs to know,” “nice to have,” and “will train.”

        It’s just that with the OP’s letter, the things she cites really seem like they’re something you could teach someone in five minutes, so they’re not what I would use to baseline someone’s level of “tech” skill. She seems particularly annoyed with this coworker, but the examples she uses aren’t really indicators of “tech” deficiency. “Tech” is too broad of a term in the way the OP used it — she’s focused on specific applications.

        OP asked a broad question to the audience, and the real answer is, if it’s fundamental to the job, you can certainly screen for it, but if that doesn’t work, be prepared to train for it. I’m not going to hold someone’s lack of knowledge of a particular Excel feature against them, but if they’ve never used Excel before at all, and Excel is commonly used at that job? Well, that’s a much bigger deal then. However, as you also hint at, how easy is to find a person with OP’s language skills? How easy is it to find someone with those language skills that is relatively proficient with Excel? OP may find that they are stuck hiring for the language skill, and training for the Excel skill. That’s more or less how the labor market works, actually. If you can find everything you want in an employee, then great! But if not, then you have to make concessions.

        So what’s reasonable? Whatever you can find on the labor market.

        1. snuck*

          I agree with you Dan.

          What is normal for one person to know isn’t for another. Sure… if you are hiring a specific set of skills for a specific role (think graphic designer, and needing to know design programs) then you can assume a minimum standard, but in most software there is more than one way to achieve the task and they might do it differently.

          In less technical roles then I’d say there is a minimum knowledge required – but the examples given aren’t necessarily minimum levels for me. I would expect a business analyst or accounting person to understand how to work excel, but not necessarily an office manager or admin assistant. And executive assistant should have a good grasp around things like hidden columns, but not necessarily around Google Drive requirements.

          One thing to remember is that the more you know, the further you are away from the time you didn’t know much. Your new ‘normal’ can rapidly shift miles away from other people’s normal – Google Drive is a good example – it’s not a common tool in many offices – so it seems normal to you know this stuff, but a lot of people won’t have had the same experience even in comparable roles. To expect them to have the same knowledge isn’t reasonable. I can calculate serious statistical outcomes in Excel, program data report crunching in it using formulae, I can make Word do amazing things, and I was gobsmacked when I found out that the bar for “advanced user” for these was somewhere around pivot tables and mail merges… That was sooooo low a bar in my mind.

          1. aebhel*

            Yeah, the Google Drive thing especially…a lot of workplaces just don’t use it. I know how to use it, but that’s because I use it for my own purposes. I’ve never used it in a workplace setting. And I have no idea what the hide/unhide function in Excel is, although I’m pretty sure I could figure it out if I needed to.

            1. Chinook*

              aebhel, the inner teacher in me finds the need to explain hide/unhide in Excel. It is exactly like if you took a paper spreadsheet and double-folded it so that an entire column or row is hidden in the fold but all the other columns/rows are hidden. You can only tell if it has been done because the column letters/row numbers seem to be missing something in the sequence. (example: If you hide column H, then the sequence goes E, F, G I, J, K).

              It is handy for some things but I have still to figure out which things I can drag through a hidden row and not have it affect that row (I think dragging formulas affects the hidden row as does copying and pasting but not formatting?)

              1. snuck*

                Dragging forumulae will affect the whole row. If you are doing lots of rebuilding it’s often best to unhide all columns and rows so you can see what’s happening….

                Hidden isn’t exempt from actions, it’s just hidden – the folded paper analogy is good.

                Most people use Excel as a super simple spreadsheet and don’t need to hide things. And then a lot of people use hide, when they want something to not be visible (which is silly because anyone can unhide it)… there’s other better ways to keep data in the spreadsheet and make it that the end user can’t relatively easily get at the hidden stuff – but you actually need to be quite competent at Excel (which means super dooper advanced user probably *grin* ).

          2. Jinx*

            I’m a programmer. I have a slightly-above basic skill in Word, and I’m still figuring out neat things with Excel. In fact, I just found the hide columns feature myself a couple weeks ago and I’ve never used Google Drive. “Computer skills” encompasses sooooo many things – do you mean development skills, Office skills, hardware skills? If certain things are needed for the job, screen for them, but I think every employee will have gaps in “computers”. If something is more of a nice-to-have, then maybe invest in some basics training for specific programs such as Excel.

            1. Not Karen*

              Ditto. By the time I learned about hide/unhide columns in Excel, I knew three programming languages. Am I not skilled in tech? While I would somewhat agree understanding the nature of shared drives is important tech knowledge, the hide/unhide thing is part of the “tips & tricks” area, not a skill.

              A couple years ago I gave a presentation to my fellow SAS programmers. Someone in the audience didn’t know what | meant. Does that mean he didn’t know how to program SAS? No, he just was one of those people who always used “or.”

        2. Random Lurker*

          I think “tech” is a red herring here. The issue is she is having to help her coworker with things that she feels the coworker should know. Ultimately, it’s a discussion to have with her manager if it is taking away from her work, especially if she is showing the same things over and over again. It doesn’t really matter if it’s an Excel function, or how to fill out the office TPS report – if a coworker isn’t grasping certain things, it’s a management discussion.

          1. Raine*

            Yes — the examples aren’t really any more than knowing how to scan a document into a printer correctly and then send it from there in email form to a coworker. That might require one basic 2-minute demonstration, really I wouldn’t even call it training. Or you could get angry, say nothing, try to screen for knowledge of the company printer, and still have the employee not know what she’s doing.

            1. Jinx*

              I had to ask my manager to show me how to fax something a few months back. That was fun. :) It definitely wasn’t an issue, and now I know.

              1. Kelly L.*

                And that’s one of those things that can vary by office! Even with a regular fax machine, a particular office could have codes you have to enter, etc., and I worked one place where the “fax machine” was an email address. You’d email your document to it and it would fax the document to the number you specified. (This was fine when the document was already in electronic form. Saved paper! But if you only had a hard copy, then you had to scan it first and then email it, which was a pain.)

          2. Kate M*

            Yes. I think an important point though, is is this coworker trying to google the answer first? A lot of this stuff you could probably find out for yourself. Of course, there’s a problem when you don’t know what you don’t know (and therefore don’t know if there is something to Google). But my criteria for helping people generally are:
            -Is this something they didn’t know they needed to do?
            -If I taught them this once, did they remember it the next time, or do I have to keep reteaching them every few days?
            -If it’s something they know they need to do but don’t know how, did they try to find the answer themselves first? (And then again, hopefully I only have to teach them the first time).

            If they’re trying hard, learn the first time, and look up things themselves, them asking for help usually peters out after a few weeks.

            1. DNDL*

              >is is this coworker trying to google the answer first?

              This, right here. I think the expectation should be less about hard skills. Who cares if you can or can’t do x, y, or z in a common or uncommon program a workplace may or may not utilize? What matters are the soft skills. I care about if you can intuitively find the answer. You know that most programs have a help menu, and you can generally navigate those. You think to look for the answer in the program or online before you default to throwing your hands in the air and asking for help. When you do ask for help, you write down the answer to refer back to later. You apply some amount of common sense and logic to the question as you search for the answer. It’s one thing to not know how to preform a random function of excel. It’s another to not take a few minutes to explore the different menus and options when you encounter a problem that you need to solve.

            2. A grad student*

              Definitely this. Sometimes in the course of our work, my lab uses an easy-to-use visualization program with a very limited menu bar. One of my coworkers will not even click through the menu before asking someone for help. I’m sort of seeing this question through that lens- it’s not the specific things the person doesn’t know how to do that’s the problem, it’s the general attitude toward the technology, but framed as a “tech problem”.

          3. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

            This! Instead of using “tech skills” if the letter writer had use “MS Office proficiency” we would all be focused on the nature of the question.

          4. myswtghst*

            The issue is she is having to help her coworker with things that she feels the coworker should know.

            To me, this is they key. And I think the LW shouldn’t be focused so much on “Is it bad my coworker doesn’t meet my standards of proficiency?” They should be focused on “what does my boss / co-worker’s boss want me to do in these situations?” The boss should absolutely know if this is eating up LW’s time and impacting shared resources, so they can help the LW determine how much to help, when to direct co-worker to their mgr, etc…

        3. Anon for this*

          This is a good point.

          I didn’t know you could hide columns in Excel. But that’s because the only thing I use Excel for is expense reports. I wouldn’t expect someone who works extensively with Excel to, for example, know how to parallelize image processing code, which is the kind of thing I need to know for my job.

          For the second one – it’s really easy to assume that the things you know well are obvious to everyone. If someone hasn’t worked with shared online drives (which is easily possible) I can see how someone could think that the data had been transferred to their local computer and could be deleted.

          If something like Excel skills are integral to the job the person is doing, then yes, it’s reasonable to expect they’d know this sort of functionality, and if you’re hiring people who don’t, then you need to re-evaluate how to interview. If you have an employee who has a pattern of making errors that indicate a basic lack of knowledge, then that should be addressed.

          But I wouldn’t leap from a couple of mistakes that another person thinks are obvious to assuming that the person is incompetent with tech in general.

          And I’ve also seen some pretty dumb errors made by very competent tech people when they weren’t thinking, including accidentally (and permanently) deleting important things on their own computer.

        4. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

          The examples in the letter surprised me, given our vast experience with new hires. Our new hires are usually first or second job out of college.

          We’re dealing with young’ns who have grown up with computers but those aren’t things we’d expect them to know without being trained.

          If you’ve never used a shared drive before, you might not grasp the “shared” part unless it is explained to you well. (We sometimes have to beat people to not save crap to their own computer ***beat*** them, because that is what they are used to doing.) Hiding on Excel? I’d expect people not to understand that “where did it go!!!” unless they’d claimed to be Excel proficient.

          Now, if after having it explained well, Maisy continued to delete shared folders or continued to botch basic Excel issues, that’s different. That’s a lack of aptitude. But not knowing out of the gate, I wouldn’t blink an eye.

          1. AvonLady Barksdale*

            I think that’s the real problem– not the not knowing, because everyone doesn’t know something, but the not retaining and not caring to. We all have moments of, “Hey, I know you showed me how to do this, but I totally forgot, would you please show me again?”, and that never annoys me. What drives me absolutely bonkers is showing someone how to do the same thing 5 times and it never sticking.

            I deal with someone regularly who cannot or does not pick up certain skills that would make their life easier, like how to do something in PowerPoint. Instead of learning how to do what they need to do, they get angry at PowerPoint, and I get really, really annoyed.

        5. INTP*

          I think the LW meant overall technological literacy. It sounds like this person just doesn’t understand a lot of concepts that are considered basic knowledge to some. One doesn’t have to specifically understand Google Drive, for example, to understand that there is a difference between a cloud storage platform and the hard drive on your own computer and that you can’t just delete shared folders from the former because you don’t want to look at them anymore. And while you can teach those particular tasks in 5 minutes (maybe), if a person is overall tech-illiterate, then small mistakes like that are going to continue happening because you can’t possible pre-emptively know every single thing that person isn’t going to know.

          That said, I don’t think a “You need to be better with technology” conversation would be fruitful. That’s like telling a person “You need to be more educated” or “You need to be more likeable” – they won’t even know where to begin teaching themselves if they don’t know what they don’t know. But I totally understand what the OP is saying and I don’t think it’s an unfair or petty thing to get annoyed over when it repeatedly causes problems for you.

          1. Megs*

            This is how I read it as well, and I totally get how exhausting it can be when instead of saying something like “open the shared drive” it’s *point to the start menu* “now select computer”, *point to the menu* “no, don’t right click,” “that means pressing the right side of your mouse,” “no, don’t close that!” *headdesk*

            My current project had to change work-spaces recently and the facilities manager asked where I wanted to be seated since I’m quasi-managing. I said anywhere except next to the lady who’s going to need computer help five times a day.

            1. Meg Murry*

              Yes, if it’s this, I’m sorry for the OP, but there isn’t much you can do about training people to be better at learning tech. You can potentially screen for it (tell me about a time when you had to learn something new?) but even then it’s not 100%.

              I am currently in the process of writing some how-to’s with screenshots, but I’m having trouble balancing the needs of my most tech illiterate co-worker with the need to not make it 300 pages long for a single procedure. For instance, I put “Open this file”: and then a hyperlink that is also the path to the file on the shared drive. I expected the person to click on the hyperlink, or go to my computer->Shared Drive-> etc until they opened that file. I didn’t realize that my tech illiterate co-worker would try to open our specialised Chocolate Teapot software and then try to open the excel file from there. Ugh.

        6. Stranger than fiction*

          Well…I think the Op is implying that at their company (and like a lot of office environments), employees should have basic MS office proficiency, and she’s surprised by this persons lack there of. Hiding columns in Excel is basic, IMO, but I could see where someone who’s writing code all day, or heck even performing surgery, and doesn’t need excel or word to do their job would feel like you do about it.
          But keep in mind I’m kind of the resident excel expert at my work (even though technically I’m probably intermediate). And I’m constantly amazed at the things I’m having to teach our controller and marketing manager, for example. They’re higher level and paid way more than me, and I expect if I show you something once, you’ll remember, or at least know how to right click for your options or use the ribbon of tabs and options to find what you need. Sorry if my bitter is showing but I taught myself so when coworkers that make way more than me are constantly asking for help with super basic MS office stuff? Yeah it gets annoying.

          1. Karina Jameson*

            +1 I have worked with people that don’t understand the most simple things, like attaching a document to an email, or like you say, what Right/click means, or how to change the font color in a document, and it’s a complete pain in the butt. It’s 2016, not 1993 and having a basic level of MS Office skills is absolutely a reasonable expectation in most office settings.

            1. Chinook*

              Rule #1 about teaching someone MS Office skills is don’t show them how to change font or font colour because it often leads to documents typed in hot pink (and why do the field guys default to hot pink) in gigantic comic sans. Same for letterhead/stationary in Outlook – no one needs to know it exists.

        7. themmases*

          I agree with you, Dan, and I read the letter the same way. The OP is basically asking if this person was too incompetent to have ever been hired, because they annoyed the OP twice.

          Excel comes up a lot at this blog but I really think it is a terrible example to use about whether someone is computer literate or not. Many people never use it until they get into their first job. Many others (including me) have very technical jobs but rarely use it because it is not powerful or specialized enough for what we do. In the areas where Excel is the right tool for the job, it’s quite flexible, feature-rich, and extendable with commerical add-ons; there are many correct ways to do something.

          Also, I would question why the OP’s coworkers were apparently not trained on how sharing and deleting work in Google Drive, and why their company’s drive wasn’t set up to prevent people from deleting entire folders. This doesn’t work the same way on every cloud service. That seems like a bigger error on the part of IT and management, who could easily have foreseen this very common mistake.

          1. Lindsay J*

            And some places people jerry-rig Excel to do things it was never meant to do because they’re afraid of using the correct technology (usually some type of database), leading to spreadsheets that take 10 minutes to load and break if someone looks at them the wrong way and having one person position themself as the “Excel expert” because they made them 5 years ago and are the only one who understand the insanity, when if really they were an expert they would A. have done things in a more straightforward way B. have said, “Ya know, Excel isn’t really designed for what you want it to do here. Lets use X instead.”

            Uh, maybe that’s just one of my former workplaces.

            And yeah, every workpace I’ve been at has protection set up on the shared drive so you couldn’t just delete or move majorly important folders. (Though I’ve never worked anywhere where they used Google Drive as the shared drive either so I don’t know if it’s possible to do that on there.)

      3. aebhel*

        That was my read as well, but neither of those are really advanced skills that require a lot of retraining, unless the person in question really is technologically illiterate (which isn’t necessarily a given from the letter). Both those issues alone can be pretty easily solved with a quick heads-up–it’s not like the person needs to be competent at Python and has never coded anything in their life.

        1. JaneB*

          My read was that the problem is that the person SHOULD know, as in, these are things that are set up as part of the job and everyone has been told about/is expected to use, but can’t.

          Like a colleague of mine who despite training courses and the provision of a step-by-step instruction leaflet in paper form, on the intranet and via the email still looks stuff up on the student information system by means of asking someone else to do it for them. It’s a waste of time and energy – and this is a very smart person with a PhD in a professional job, if their memory/systems for keeping information they need/ability to search the intranet are THAT poor, then they have a more serious problem. They just find it easier – for them – to get someone else to do the work. Sigh! But not large enough to take to our (very hands-off) manager…

          1. LD*

            It may be hard but people have to quit doing the other person’s job for him/her. Walk to their desk and give them step by step instructions for how to do it as you stand over their shoulder, or ask them, “What happened to the step-by step instructions we gave you? Here, I’ve just sent a copy of it to the printer where you can go and pick it up.” Then go back to your own work. Do this every time and get others on board, too. And you and your coworkers will need to be consistent. This person has trained everyone else to do the work for him/her! And as long as everyone else does the work, the person will never need or choose to do it for his or herself.

      4. INTP*

        Same – my take was that this person’s tech mistakes caused extra work for the letter writer and potentially other employees as well.

    2. Vicki*

      Deleting a shared folder for everyone is not “something that annoys you”. It’s a major error in judgement and technical knowledge and can have huge ramifications to a project.

      1. Anonacat*

        I agree. I do think it’s basic knowledge that one can show or hide rows in Excel (especially in a job that apparently requires spreadsheet knowledge), but I can understand how someone might not have come across that. But deleting folders from a shared drive? Wow.

        1. Dan*

          I’ve never used Google Drive, so I have no idea what’s reasonable to expect people to know.

          Unfortunately, we don’t have much context for what the OP does. She talks about language familiarity as being the #1 thing to screen for, so I’m wondering if native speakers of said language come from disadvantaged areas and do not have much experience with “tech.”

          I get that the OP is annoyed with this coworker, and I get why. But it’s a big stretch to go from “You don’t know these things that I wish you knew” to “you’re incompetent.” And you can’t really tell someone in a professional context that they are incompetent. What you very much can do is 1) Fire them or 2) give them specific areas in which to improve/software applications to learn.

          I admit, I’m a bit hung up on that OP’s company is hiring for foreign language fluency, and wondering if that has adverse impacts on the people who get hired. I’ve worked in “tech” for a few years at this point, and it’s very very fair to say that Hispanics are the most underrepresented group for any professional white collar job that I’ve had, and this starts way back in college.

          1. Mookie*

            (Since we’re being pedantic: a native speaker is not normally described as “fluent” in their first-acquired language, as fluency is based on both proficiency and fluid use of a second-, or third-, or fourth-language. Speakers are said to be especially fluent if both native and L2/3/4 speakers can readily understand them. I don’t know what language the OP is referring, but I would caution against assuming she is referring to Spanish, the second or third most common language in the world with nearly 100 million living native and L2 speakers. Being common, of course, is not the same thing as being in-demand. If language fluency is a non-negotiable requirement in the OP’s industry, that may in fact mean that fluency in that language in her part of the world is comparatively rare and native speakers hard to find or keep.

            Also, Hispanics != Latinos. The socio-economic and cultural disadvantages Latinos face in the US, for example, have little to do with being Hispanic, given that they are more likely to be bilingual than other US Americans.)

          2. StudentPilot*

            You’re assuming the OP is American. The company could be located in a bilingual region of Canada (say Montreal or Ottawa – Gatineau for example).

            1. cardiganed librarian*

              Haha, yes, I work for the Canadian government and I can easily imagine one of my c0-workers writing a similar letter about me. “Can you believe she doesn’t know [insert fairly easily-learned skill] and they hired her just because she speaks French?” I hear similar sentiments all over the place – that any fool who happens to be bilingual can get a job here, beating out qualified applicants. Not saying that’s what’s going on here, but there are a LOT of complex politics at play in the language question here!

          3. Mando Diao*

            If we’re going to go down this road, Google Drive is a pain in the butt anyway, one of those weird programs that was seemingly developed with the designer’s personal left-field preferences in mind, as opposed to any notion of general widespread convenience. I have the basic IT/computer/tech knowledge of a 30-something office worker, and I can barely navigate Google Drive. It’s not the easiest program to use off the bat, and it takes forever to load. God I hate Google Drive.

            tl;dr I would never judge anyone who struggled with this particular program, as there are a lot of computer-savvy people who aren’t down with it.

            1. Government Worker*


              I have a bunch of shared folders on Google Drive left over from from grad school group projects, and I occasionally think about getting rid of them. But whether I can delete them and have them remain accessible to others or whether deleting them from my Google Drive permanently deletes them for everyone is never quite clear to me. Fortunately I can avoid Google Drive now that I’m out of grad school and I just ignore the question.

              And I spend all day every day working with the Microsoft Office suite, a variety of databases, plenty of specialized applications, etc.

              1. Meg Murry*

                Yup. And Google Drive will change its look/layout every so often and re-confuse the heck out of everyone until they can hunt down the button or setting to click in order to make it look like what they were used to. Although Microsoft does this pretty often too (stupid ribbon, I’m still mad about you 10 years later, and I just had to teach a coworker that they had to click “Open Other Workbooks” at the bottom of the Excel screen to browse for files that weren’t in the recent list).

                FYI, you can create a folder in Google Drive called “old stuff” or “archive” or similar and then move all those shared folders into it – that doesn’t screw up the sharing. But if there are items in there you might want to refer to again and you weren’t the original creator you should probably back them up just in case – as mentioned above, the other people you have it shared with could delete the files, or make major changes to them.

                1. Anxa*

                  I’m still salty about the ribbons, too. I use a 2008 Mac version of Office and I thought the ribbons were just a mac thing until recently. I don’t mind my version bc even though there are ribbons it was before MS really amped up all of the nonsense changes.

                  I will never get over the weird Word document templates.

                2. Elizabeth West*

                  Tell me about it–I just upgraded to Office 2013 at work so my team lead and I could share documents in similar formatting and ARRGGGGGWWGGGGBBBBLLLGG. I use Word 2013 at home, but not the way I use it here–and Outlook has been giving me fits.

                  I’ll get used to it eventually, but for now, I’m grinding my teeth to stubs.

        2. Chinook*

          “But deleting folders from a shared drive? Wow.”

          As I said earlier, it is easier then you might think if you don’t realize that it is the shared folder that you are in. The woman who did it to our group’s photos honestly thought she was cleaning up duplicates that were resting in her phone and not the original folder because her phone was giving her “memory full” errors. Its not like she went into the actual program to access the folder.

          As for me, the lesson learned was to ensure that everyone knew a)that they are only seeing links on their computer/phone, b) let people know it is okay to admit the error because I (the admin for the folder) can undelete them within 3 months and c) there is a function that will email me a list of all changes to said group of folders once a week so I can verify that nothing has been accidentally deleted.

          Was it a user issue – definitely. But user issues are fixed through training, not getting angry (as the latter will just cause people to hide their mistakes).

      2. Meg Murry*

        At every job I’ve ever had, we’ve had situations where someone has accidentally deleted a folder on a shared drive, or a file within a shared drive – even jobs where tech skills were fairly high. And even more common was when it looked like a folder disappeared only to find it had accidentally been moved into the folder above or below it.

        While it is important for people to be careful in what they are doing and pay attention, these things happen, and most companies need to have a Plan B for this kind og situation. For instance, every company I’ve worked at had at least a daily backup of the shared drive if not multiple times daily – so files could be recovered with a loss of no more than 24 hours of work lost – which is annoying but usually not catastrophic. I’m not sure what system OP’s company has in place (and it probably makes a difference whether they are using a paid Google for businesses solution or just free gmail accounts) but I think there needs to be some serious thought behind backing up those shared folders, not just relying on employees not to delete them.

        That doesn’t mean OP can’t be annoyed at the co-worker for deleting the folder and the resulting downtime and extra work it would take to restore the backup – but if there is no backup happening, OP needs to redirect some of her annoyance at whoever decided to use a system that allowed a user to delete the folder so easily with no backups.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

          We have different drives with permission level locks on them. The drive with our sensitive information (not sensitive in the Security Clearance level part, sensitive in the “some yahoo better not delete this stuff” way), you have to get my personal permission to have edit access. I’m the only one that IT will allow to sign off on that.

          Maybe 10 people out of 100 have edit access. I know who you are and will hunt you down if something gets moved or goes missing.

          Obviously, we had a few bumps along the way to get to the need for the mutli drives and permission levels but I don’t think that’s out of the ordinary.

      3. Anxa*

        I haven’t used in a shared drive (except for passing around a usb) in years. I think shared drives are less of a technical issue and more of a workplace issue. As an intern, I didn’t even has access to a computer; I had no login. I’d have to borrow other people’s. So, not very techie. But I was sharing .csv files between others that contained data generated by various technologies to use R (which I have to run off a USB). I guess it’s not wrong that we’re kind of incompetent and lack basic tech or computer skills, but basic is kind of a subjective term.

      4. Karina Jameson*

        I agree with you, Vicki. And with people lacking in this knowledge, it’s so hard to even know where to begin.

      5. LD*

        Yes. And many commenters keep referring to Google as if knowing how Google works is unreasonable to expect. It’s not Google, although that may be another issue, shared drives exist in lots of systems that are not Google. Still, if someone has never worked with a shared drive, that would be one of the first things that should be covered when explaining how it works, that the files are used by everyone and DO NOT DELETE. It’s a basic description but it needs to be explicit for people new to them.

    3. uh*

      I work in IT and have never used google drive. Pretty sure I am not considered incompetent!

      1. JessaB*

        Yes, but would you delete a file that’s shared without checking to see if it deletes just for you, or for everyone? I mean I don’t use Google Drive either, but I’ve used shared resources before, and I would not delete one without making sure it’s not a local work copy that only I have access to. The fact that it’s Google Drive specifically, is a different issue to someone in tech not understanding how shared things work. One is minor details, the other is kind of basic stuff.

        1. Dan*

          In some senses I get why there’s a debate on whether knowing (or not knowing) what a shared drive is makes someone incompetent. But really, there’s two choices: Fire the person or educate them. Just labeling them incompetent doesn’t help anything though.

          I err on the side of “we’re all human and make mistakes. Sometimes costly ones.”

            1. Dan*

              Sure, but only with specific action items. Otherwise it’s the equivalent of “this paper you turned sucks.” True statement, but absolutely not helpful to the recipient.

            2. Meg Murry*

              I think since it’s a colleague (an equal not a direct report), you can probably make some suggestions as to how the person can learn some additional skills (this specific YouTube series on software X is really helpful, for instance), or you can tell the person that you can’t take time to do all their tech tasks for them or keep re-showing them the same thing over and over again. Bit I think the “Jane, your tech skills are not up to par” conversation isn’t appropriate to come from a colleague – OP should go talk to the employees manager about the situation, especially if it is creating more work for OP.

              I also agree with others that unfortunately OP’s minimum bar is probably a little higher than average. I think there needs to be a minimum bar for overall computer familiarity and ability to pick up new skills, but most people learn the ins and outs of programs like Excel from on the job experience, and Google drive is actually not used in most of the corporate US (and even if a person uses it for personal use they may not have used shared folders, etc before).

              However, OP can certainly suggest either some basic new-hire training or some skill testing during interviews if the person has Excel on their resume, that isn’t out of the question. But I do think their “bare minimum for a white collar job” bar is probably set a little high for a new hire – but isn’t an unreasonable bar for someone to get to after a year or so with some actual training.

            3. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

              The two examples she gave, though, are on the job learning, especially the drive one. I don’t know how the employee would go off to improve tech skills. There’s not a class or book for that.

              Because we deal with a lot of n00bs, we push, hard, to foster an environment of questions. The way I read the OP letter, she’s not asking how she can help her colleague, she’s asking if we’ll all agree the colleague should have never been hired in the first place.

        2. Bluesboy*

          I use Google Drive, but when I first started, I could easily have accidentally deleted something for everyone.

          Thing is that on Google Drive it doesn’t actually say ‘delete’, at least not on mine! It says ‘remove’.

          Google Drive is a group of shared access folders and files. I have access to them through my login, and I basically have access to them through a kind of Google Drive ‘desktop’. If I have the option to ‘remove’, I can see someone thinking that they’re basically deleting a link to the file, rather than the actual file itself.

          I think the problem here is that some people think “Well if you don’t know something, ask or look it up.” And sometimes they forget that you can only look something up if you are aware that you need to know it. So she doesn’t know about Excel hidden rows – how can she Google it? She doesn’t know that ‘remove’ actually deletes? How can she know it needs Googling?

          Of course someone could take an Excel course to make sure they need everything they need to know, but you can’t take a course in everything because there might possibly be something that you don’t know, but don’t know that you need to know (does that make sense??)

          Both of these are examples of things I (I regularly use both Excel and Google Drive) I would have not known about until someone told me.

          To get back to the original question by the OP “Is it ok to let her know that her computer skills are a problem?” Yes and no. Yes, have a word and make sure that she understands what she needs to understand. But don’t just go with “Your computer skills are a problem, you need to improve”, as that isn’t enough to let her know what she needs to work on. Maybe she just needs a 20-minute explanation of Google Drive and Excel and she’s done.

          1. Ella*

            I work with Drive in my job and this whole thread confused me because I specifically remember deleting shared files and getting a “One file removed. One file is still accessible by 4 other users” notification. I guess I’m deleting them from My Drive and not the Shared Drive. Unless it’s a file I myself created and shared, I wouldn’t expect that deleting it from my drive would delete it from everyone’s. But hey, now I know.

            1. Anxa*

              I’m actually organizing my Drive b/c of this thread and I did get that “one file….4 other users” notification for some things I deleted, but not others.

        3. ReanaZ*

          I mean, really, this is on the person who set up the security. If you don’t want users to be able to delete shared folders for everyone when they may not understand the difference between deleting a folder and removing themselves from the folder… maybe don’t give them permissions to delete the folder?

          I work in IT, and there’s no way this is the “incompetent’ user’s fault that folder got deleted.

          1. Meg Murry*

            Yup, that’s what I was saying above. There are ways to set up shared folders to avoid this kind of problem. Now obviously you can’t set up a tech solution for every eventuality (as one of my favorite IT sayings goes “I can make it secure and come up with a solution for the most common errors, but I can’t fix stupid”), but accidental folder or file deletion is a pretty common thing to happen and there are straightforward ways to prevent it.

          2. Government Worker*

            I work in an agency with thousands of employees. One of them deleted our department’s shared network drive a couple of months ago. She’d moved to a different department and thought she could just remove the link to the drive, but ended up deleting the entire thing, with gigs and gigs of data. Fortunately it was (mostly) backed up and easily restored. But I put the blame entirely on IT for that one, and not on her, because an end user shouldn’t be able to accidentally delete the department’s network drive.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              But I put the blame entirely on IT for that one, and not on her, because an end user shouldn’t be able to accidentally delete the department’s network drive.

              NO KIDDING. HOLY CRAP.

            2. Jinx*

              For sure. Security shouldn’t rely on “oh, everyone understands how this works”. If an option / button / link is visible to the end user, SOMEONE will end up clicking it.

            3. Anonymous Educator*

              I don’t know what your situation is, but in the schools I’ve worked in, it’s fairly typical for departments to have entire read/write access to their own folders. I’m not going to tell an English teacher, “You can modify only these English department folders.”

      2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        I don’t think the the OP’s coworker is at all a bad person for not being familiar with technology, but this can definitely make it frustrating to work with someone. Especially if, as I think might be the case here, it’s not just a matter of “doesn’t know the specific ins-and-outs of software X” but a lack of the intuition about software that comes from working with it a lot.

        Attitude also matters: did the OP’s coworker apologize and seem eager to learn how not to make that mistake again? Or did she just smile and say, “Oh, I’m no good with computers!”?

        Partly I think this is the company’s fault. It sounds like Excel and Drive are both things that the OP’s company does use, so testing new hires on their knowledge and giving training to fill in the gaps should be part of orientation. However, I think it’s also fair for the OP to feel mildly annoyed by the impact her coworker’s lack of knowledge is having on her job.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Omg that really gets under my skin when someone just throws their hands in the air and says “I’m just not technical!” [Especially when part of their job function requires constant improvement of such skills]
          I’ve actually had success with one coworker that used to say that all the time. So one day I said “Jane, stop saying that. Anyone can learn this. I did, you can, even your 5yr old can!” And she stopped. And she’s improved. And my opinion of her has done a 180.

    4. Cambridge Comma*

      The person deleted a whole folder of work in the shared drive, though. That seems like a huge problem to me, and does seem to indicate a lack of basic computer literacy.

      1. Mordecai*

        Yeah. Sure, you can give them feedback not to do that in future … but the fact that they would do that in the first place indicates a general lack of computer knowledge that would be hard to remedy.

      2. Mreasy*

        Google Drive specifically is not a user-friendly platform. The folder should not have been set as editable by all users.

        1. Liza*

          You say that as though someone with that kind of knowledge (like IT) set up the drive, though. Google Drive folders are generally created by the users, who may or may not understand/care about the different security settings.

    5. Jen RO*

      I tend to agree with the OP. A competent person would google before clicking any buttons s/he doesn’t understand! I work with someone similar and, while tech skills are not a priority for our job, it gets so frustrating having to explain basic things over and over again… And sometimes it’s not that clear cut, like “learn Excel”. We are a small department in a big company, and we use tools that no one else uses, and everyone is expected to be able to do some individual learning and figure out new tools. Some of my coworkers try to figure them out by themselves, or use google, or ask questions. Others simply come to me every time they run into a problem (despite repeated trainings). Because the job only requires people to use the tools at a minimal level, these problems don’t rise to a level where a PIP or firing would be involved – but it gets so, so frustrating being tech support and training people and feeling like I’m talking to a wall!

      1. Jen RO*

        And, as an aside, is there a way to screen for this type of skills? A way that doesn’t involve hands-on testing, because we are not allowed to do that per company policy.

      2. Clewgarnet*

        Are you me?

        My coworkers are network engineers, and most of them have worked first-line tech support at some point, but I still get them coming to me with the slightest issue with the new system tool, with, “There was an error message. I don’t know what it said. I haven’t looked at the logs.”

        As you say, it gets UNBELIEVABLY frustrating.

        1. Jen RO*

          Oh it’s much worse for you! At least my coworkers don’t have a technical background – yours should know better!

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        If they’re tools specific to your company, can you or someone create an FAQ or guide?

        1. Jen RO*

          Most of them are not company-specific, they are commercial tools, but they are used by just 15 people in a company of 500. They have their own documentation (from the vendor), plus tips & tricks, troubleshooting, and training documents written by me and other coworkers… and still, it’s far easier to come to me with problems instead of following the instructions. I’m too nice for my own good so I do sometimes help, but I’ve been trying to push back and direct people to the documentation. (And then they get stuck at step 5 because they are following the steps blindly, without even trying to understand the “why”, even though it’s been explained to them countless times over the past 6 years… but I digress.)

    6. Ivy*

      Deleting shared work in Google Drive is not okay.

      Your personal tech skills might be okay, but someone who is deleting everyone’s work has a problem.

    7. Overeducated*

      I disagree. I think knowing what happens when you delete something, and hesitating and finding out if you don’t know how it works in a particular piece of software, is a basic, basic tech skill. Hiding columns, maybe not so much, but caution with deletion of shared or important documents is common sense, much like saving regularly and backing up data.

    8. Roscoe*

      I had the same initial reaction. I very rarely use excel. So while I’m sure I could figure things out, there are things, like v lookups, that other people do in their sleep that I can’t do. But I sell software for a living. So I’d be annoyed if someone said that about me. But I just never use excel in my job. Doesn’t mean this person is incompetant, just that they need to learn anoter system.

    9. J.B.*

      I think the thing to screen for is willingness to do things like google and read help when you don’t know how to do something. The drive deletion can happen, but shouldn’t happen more than once.

    10. White Mage*

      The OP didn’t say her coworker didn’t “know” how to hide/unhide things, they said they didn’t “understand.” Maybe she meant the same thing as know, but saying she didn’t understand could mean that the coworker has been told over and over how the hide/unhide function works and just doesn’t get it. If they have large spreadsheets and rely on these tools to use them and her coworker doesn’t understand them, that’s a problem.

      These are also just two examples of what may be many.

      I had a coworker like this who didn’t understand a lot of things not only in Excel but in Word. For example, despite doing mailings on a monthly basis, it took her hours to do a mail merge when it would take less than one for others.

    11. moss*

      I agree with you Dan. The examples provided do not point to incompetence on the part of the user. They are mistakes that anyone could make.

      I also wonder about the professionalism of the company…what kind of IT department even uses Google Drive to store important files, and what kind of system allows any old user to delete folders at all.

      The ins and outs of Excel can be mysterious and not knowing some facet of it certainly doesn’t imply technical incompetence.

      I can understand being annoyed but be annoyed with your IT department on the deletion. A good IT department doesn’t allow mistakes like that to be made at all and will also have backups for restoring deletions.

      1. Chinook*

        “what kind of IT department even uses Google Drive to store important files, and what kind of system allows any old user to delete folders at all.”

        In Alberta, all school boards seem to use Google Drive for both student and teacher use. They are far from unprofessional and they do see value in the collaborative nature of Google Drive. Students also no longer have the excuse of forgetting their work at home or saying their dog ate it – the teacher can see exactly how much work was done and when it was last saved. It is also cost efficient as no student needs to buy a specific computer program – they just need a cheap computer with internet access (I believe subsidies and/or loaners are available for those who show economic need).

      2. Anonymous Educator*

        what kind of IT department even uses Google Drive to store important files

        My IT department. Pretty much any organization that uses Google Apps for Business or Google Apps for Education. What’s wrong with using Google Drive to store important files?

        1. moss*

          So you and the commenter above seem to be saying that schools use it. That’s fine, schools are underfunded etc. But a company that takes data security seriously would not be using Google Apps.

          1. Anonymous Educator*

            Your question was about what kind of IT department, and I’m giving you an example: school IT departments. Teachers like to collaborate, and Google Apps for Education gives them a good (and cost-free) platform to do so for curriculum.

      3. non-profit manager*

        As a nonprofit organization, we are able to use Google Apps for free. You better believe we use this to store and share documents, as it means we do not have to pay for cloud storage. It also means we do not have to pay for remote access for all employees. We are careful to not put sensitive information on Google Drive, but it has been a good (and free) way for employees to share documents.

        1. non-profit manager*

          Additionally, as a nonprofit organization, we do not have access to network and security systems that many other companies might have. We do the best we can with our financial constraints. And we try to balance access to documents with safeguarding documents. This means any older user can, in fact, delete folders. We sometimes lose documents, but do have a backup system in place and most can be recovered with a minimal amount of effort.

    12. Chinook*

      “I’d be real careful here, your examples don’t describe a person who is “incompetent with technology”. As you put it, they are examples of someone who has annoyed you”

      I have to agree. On my volunteer team, the person who accidentally deleted an archive of photos because she thought she was only deleting them from her phone and not the entire Dropbox was also the one other person on that team that organizes everything we do via email, can figure out how to run pivot tables in Excel and actually understands how to use styles in Word. She just didn’t understand this one (huge) no-no in a shared cloud folder and, until that moment, neither did I nor did I realize that you could recall items from the deleted items folder if you are that folder’s admin.

      As for hid/unhide, if you have never had a need for it, you would never think you could do it. I have pointed out how I find hidden columns to so many people that I have lost count. Never have I had to do it twice to the same person, though. The reality is that there is no “office computer program course” you can take or how-to manual available that will cover all the aspects of a given office program. For me, I would be more worried about a person either being so overconfident that they think they know everything than I would ever be about someone who actually asks questions.

  3. KR*

    As lower level tech support I can understand #2… I am willing to answer questions, wall you through things or help you out sometimes but at some point you need to either look it up yourself, go take a basic computer class or just be willing to learn something new. I think a lot of people shut off when they look at a computer screen. They’re so convinced they aren’t tech savvy that it creates a mental block and prevents them from learning or problem solving on their own.

    1. Vicki*

      My Mensa-member MIL, when she got her first Macintosh (the candy-colored bubble iMac, i.e. the friendliest Mac they ever made?) kept worrying out loud that the thing was “smarter than she was”.

    2. T3k*

      It sucks even more when the person refusing to get basic computer training is your own boss. My past boss refused to go electronic, complained that one of those pay screens was too complicated (like Square), and wouldn’t even switch to sub-folders within the company’s gmail account because that was too hard to understand. I tried everything and she still wouldn’t budge, relying on me to help her and I finally went “You do realize I’m quitting and going to be gone soon, right? You NEED to take a basic computer class.” Her response? “No, I don’t need to take a basic computer class.” *headdesk* And she wonders why I gave up trying to be helpful…

      1. Ayla K*

        At my last job, our team admin had to show the team manager how to turn on her computer almost every day. (!!!) This manager was in more of a sales-oriented role, but had 15+ years experience in tech companies.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve watched coworkers come in in the morning after we had a power surge or outage the night before, and went running to IT immediately before even trying to power on their computer.

      2. greenbeans*

        Yes. My current boss: “I don’t trust software.” We have a lot of paper processes. He uses a paper datebook. Le sigh.

    3. The Rat-Catcher*

      “They’re so convinced they aren’t tech savvy that it creates a mental block and prevents them from learning or problem solving on their own.”

      +1000 this. I know my coworkers are smart enough to solve their computer problems on their own, but they’re too intimidated to try.

    4. Lindsay J*

      Yeah, this stuff drives me nuts.

      Me: “Open the Internet”
      Them: “I don’t know how.”
      Me: “Click on the blue ‘e’ on your screen.
      Them: “I don’t see it.”
      Me: *points* “Right there.”
      Them: “I’m not good with computers.
      Me: *internal screaming* being good with computers doesn’t have anything to do with being able to read the letter E.

      1. Cactus*

        Them: “I’m not good with computers.
        Me: *internal screaming* being good with computers doesn’t have anything to do with being able to read the letter E.

        Ahhhhhhh does that kind of thing ever bug me! The last time I trained someone (for a receptionist job), we got a complaint about a reckless Teapot Delivery Truck from some other driver, and the girl I was training said to me (after I helped her handle the call) that she didn’t think she’d be able to do that part of the job because she didn’t know how to drive. But DRIVING wasn’t required for that, customer service was. So long as she could listen, sympathize, and direct the call to the appropriate manager, all was fine (which I showed her). This part of training people can be so frustrating.

  4. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

    OP#2, I always tell my team if it’s you showing another team member a tip or trick I don’t need to know, but if it’s your coworker not understanding a function of the program it needs to be elevated to me – I also tell them to come to me if they are showing multiple people the same tip or trick, because likely it should be added to the manual.

    I want to know if someone’s lack of understanding of a program is causing problems for the person or the team. If it’s a program they are not in all the time (for example, me in Dreamweaver) I’ll help them with instructions relating to the feature the parts they need to utilize. However, if it’s something they are going to use a lot, I’ll facilitate the employee taking a class, or provide team training.

    A lot of people struggle with the Google applications and we have had to do several group trainings on the functionality.

    1. Dan*

      I actually get frustrated because my department uses a particular application quite frequently (Tableau), but it’s one I rarely use in the course of my day-to-day job. I mean, they sent me to a four day training session almost two years ago, and I’ve built three or four basic dashboards since then. I have a hard time getting my boss to understand that what Tableau is used for is a skill in and of itself, let alone learning the tool is yet another challenge. I had to tell my boss that since I don’t regularly use Tableau, telling me to “just make a dashboard” isn’t productive. What do you want to see? How do you want to interact with it? And even then, I still need to actually know the danged tool.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        This is something I have actively worked hard to fix for my team. Whereas I completely believe in cross training and accessibility, I fundamentally do not believe that every person has to be an expert in every program.

        “Just make a dashboard” –> that phrase grates my ears. Early in my career, I worked for someone who always wanted reports or “dashboards”, but never knew what she wanted on them or how to read them, so when I would ask questions about what she wanted, she would get incredibly flustered. This was with a combination of MS Project and Excel, I couldn’t imagine throwing in a program like Tableau!

        1. Dan*

          It’s funny, I had the “I cant be an expert in that” talk with my boss… but sometimes Tableau is the right thing for me to do something in. When I have an actual reason (aka, I know what I want to do with it, not just an unfocused “make a dashboard” mandate) I can hack enough stuff together to make it useful. When I do that, the bosses are like, “See! Tableau isn’t that bad after all!”

          SMH, no, I never said it was bad. I also never said I didn’t want to learn it. But I can’t learn it and get good/be good/stay good at it if you don’t rearrange my workload such that regular Tableau use is now part of my job function. And if you do that, then we’re going to have to take some things off my plate. The thing is, what I do I am more or less uniquely qualified to do, so if I don’t do it, it’s not getting done any time soon.

          Boss says to me, “When you put it like that, I get your point. I took a course in Python a few months ago, and haven’t touched it since. I probably can’t code anything.” I smiled, looked at her and said, “Why not? Python is a easy language.”

          1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

            I love it!

            When we were switching from MS Project to Basecamp, I had an employee who was super geeked about the functionality and really wanted us to use the system properly. I was able to rearrange his workload so he could build out processes and an instruction manual, in addition to getting all the back-end/system stuff set-up.

            It was such a win-win. He got experience and great exposure, while I was able to focus on other things in the department.

        2. Hillary*

          oh gosh, now I’m having flashbacks to my last boss.

          Him: Make me a dashboard for this
          Me: That’s a pretty broad request. Can you draw out what you want?

    2. Mary*

      I agree, there needs to be a distinction between the two types.

      We have shown you this functionality and trained you, so you need to use it and be competent. If you constantly “forgot” how to do this task then this is an issue.

      The other type is where the person is working on a programme and someone tells them “this is how to hide a row” or this is how to “copy down into all blank cells in a column” which is a new functionality you may find helpful. Excel has masses of functionality and you don’t need to know it until it becomes helpful in your job. Once shown by someone then it becomes something you are competent in, but I would not say you have poor tech skills because you did not know it before hand.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        I feel like I show my incredibly smart/tech-savvy new hires tips and tricks in excel all the time because most users will never, ever use a huge amount the programs functionality.

        Also, they are often amazed by my keyboard short cuts.

        1. Lindsay J*

          Yeah, I’ve pretty much learned everything I know how to do in Excel by coming across a situation where I needed that feature, looking it up, and using it. I feel like it’s hard to learn any other way because there’s just so much there, and some things you may not ever need or might only need once in a blue moon so rote memorization of features, formulas, etc isn’t helpful.

          1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

            I lucked out that in my very first “marketing” job where I worked mostly as an admin for the CEO/CFO, our CEO loved excel and created these extensive tracking documents.

            I really had to learn the ins and outs of the program.

      2. Little Miss Cranky Pants*

        “We have shown you this functionality and trained you, so you need to use it and be competent. If you constantly “forgot” how to do this task then this is an issue.”

        And if, indeed, this function has been thoroughly demonstrated, shown to the trainee, reinforced with practice, provided with written documentation and/or screen shots, and then further reinforced with repetition, then, yes, your person might be “trained.” If, however, your “training” consists of standing over someone’s desk, talking fast, telling them which buttons to push, and doing it just ONE time, and expecting him/her to absorb the instruction *and* take notes to provide their own written documentation, you’re asking too phucking much.

        Whoa, can ya tell I’m a bit bitter about the alleged “training” I’ve been getting?

  5. Sera*

    What responsibility (legal, or at least ethical) responsibility can one expect of one’s college internship office as in this example? If they are directing students to scam worksites, could there be any recourse for any who’ve been victims of this? I would imagine students and their parents put their trust in any official school office to guide in the right direction and this scenario surely violates that.

    1. Artemesia*

      I’m with you. This is clearly not an internship. There is a lot of exploitation in ‘internships’ but this one isn’t even close to an internship.

      1. Lindsay J*

        Yeah, this sounds like the “marketing” companies that advertise on Craigslist in my area all the time. They promise like $1000-$1400 a month in their job ads and explicitly call it marketing, not sales. Some even claim they are hiring marketing managers. It’s not until you google the company name that you find out that it’s commission only door-t0-door sales. I’ve heard stories of people showing up for an interview and basically being driven out and dropped with a trainer and told that it’s a working interview and they need to go and show they’re able to sell and get sales.

        I also remember Vector Marketing (Cutco Knives) plastering advertisements all over campus advertising “jobs for college students $17 an hour”.

        I wouldn’t put it past any of these companies to pose as an internship to lure in more people.

    2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      I doubt there’s any kind of recourse in terms of getting reimbursed for lost time, but definitely the internship office needs to hear that their advice is so off-base. That message should go to people high up, too, so it can be fixed all the way through.

      Also, this is a sign that this is a Bad Job Advice Service, and the OP’s nephew should go elsewhere for future advice and leads. Sigh that this is so common. I don’t think it was intentional – never attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence, after all!

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Well, I don’t think shadowing someone is a scam. I believe the rule is if you are doing actual work for the company during training, you should be paid. 100 hrs seems a lot though. There are legit jobs that are commission only, like real estate and car sales. Where I work, the salespeople are commission only, but there’s a draw (I believe that’s how they meet the minimum wage req) for the first few months while they ramp up. After that, it’s uncapped commish and our salespeople make a boat load of money.

        1. Lindsay J*

          Pretty sure you should be paid for shadowing, too. You would be paid for classroom based education from the company, so I don’t see how shadowing would be different.

          The only difference might be if the shadowing isn’t part of a hiring process or job offer, and comes with educational value for companies outside of just that one specific company. I’m pretty sure that that provision is what allows realtors to charge for real estate classes and tax prep companies to charge for tax preparer training classes; you’re not guaranteed a job after completing the training, and you would be able to go to another company in the area and get a job using that same training.

          Otherwise, unless the “internship” otherwise meets the requirement for being an unpaid internship, shadowing should be paid.

          And yeah, the people who make it though the first few months are good sales people and make a lot of money afterwards. What about the people who can’t cut it and flame out during the training process? If they have to pay back the “draw” I find that completely unethical (and I’ve heard of places requiring that).

          I think a draw is pretty shitty regardless. That time is still basically unpaid because they’re just taking a loan against their future pay. That doesn’t meet the spirit of the minimum wage law to me. If you were required to pay $8000 up front to start working so the company could pay that back to you during your ramp up period and not run afoul of the minimum wage law (while, you know, not having to invest anything into employee training) people would be up in arms. Why is it okay basically to go, “Okay, you’ve worked 6 months at minimum wage, now pay us $8000 for your training period,” then?

          Companies need to be willing to invest some money in their employees training period in order to get good work from their employees. (And I’m sure if the sales people are making boatloads of commission then the company is making even more money than the sales people are.) Doing otherwise is really crappy and unethical. And if they company can’t afford to do that, maybe they should change their business model or not be in business.

    3. Nobody*

      I don’t know how much you can expect a college career office to investigate internship opportunities. When I was in college, there were companies that came to campus job fairs advertising internships that were really just sales jobs. I don’t think the school checked into every company that signed up for a job fair — they probably just took these companies at their word that they were hiring. These companies can be pretty good at making themselves sound legitimate, anyway.

      1. misspiggy*

        True, but hopefully a career office would want to hear that they have directed a student into being illegally exploited.

        1. Meg Murry*

          Yes, I agree. Our career office had a big caveat that basically said “we are just functioning as a bulletin board, these companies and postings are not pre-screened in any way.” However, if something was found to be not as represented (like in this case) you could report the company to career services and they would either ban that company from posting in the future or work with them to make sure their postings were a better representation of the actual job (so in this case it would be better categorized as “unpaid” not paid, etc).

        2. Nobody*

          Yes, I agree that the career office should be told about this and should stop sending students to this company, but I would be inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they didn’t realize this was the situation. I might be misunderstanding this, but it looks like Sera is suggesting that students and/or parents could sue the career office or the college employee who told the student about this internship.

      2. One of the Sarahs*

        I recently finished a degree as a mature student, and saw the internships from both sides, as a student, and when I was setting one up with the university for a company I was temping for. For the university to advertise internships, they had to sign up to minimum standards (time, pay, benefits) and have a specific job description about what the student would do, that was checked by the university.

        Yes, this obviously took them time, as it’s a big uni, but they were using the internship programme as a selling point to attract students, and to promote their links with businesses – so I can tell you it’s definitely something that’s not only possible, but also desirable. There’s a difference between things that happen at career fairs, and things that are directly recommended to students, and if a career office can’t verify something, they shouldn’t be promoting it.

        1. Christopher Tracy*

          Yeah, this is what my school’s career center did. They vetted all of the companies they advertised in their co-op books (at least for the journalism majors – don’t know what they did for everyone else), and if we wanted to do an outside co-op that wasn’t set up through the school, then we were responsible for vetting it ourselves. And I agree with you – if the school can’t verify the validity of a posting, they really shouldn’t promote it unless they have the caveat mentioned above that they’re just acting like a bulletin board.

        2. Lindsay J*

          Yeah, I’m pretty sure my college vetted all the companies that were at job fairs, too. Though most of the companies in our job fairs were major companies or at least well known in the region. It might be more difficult to vet it if they were small local places.

      3. Artemesia*

        If a student is getting internship college credit then the college should have requirements of the placement and be monitoring the student’s work. This kind of exploitation should become apparent. If it is an internship without college credit then it should be paid and the college should not be listing ‘opportunities’ that are not paid.

      4. Sunflower*

        At my university, internships could be taken for credit or not for credit. Lots of people took internships not for credit. The university made it clear that they were not a part of them in any way.

        If you’re taking an internship for credit, the internship needs to flow through the college and they have to approve it.

        1. Anxa*

          In my opinion, course credit should not be what distinguishes an internship from a volunteership or should-be-paid position.

          I’d much rather be matched to a long-term volunteer position (which I get doesn’t work with a business, but could work in nonprofits, etc.) then go into more debt for another job reference. It seems more exploitative to charge for an internship than simply not to pay.

        2. Nobody*

          When I was in college, I did a co-op (I worked at a company for a semester in lieu of attending classes) for college credit. I found the co-op on my own, not through the school, and in order to receive credit, I had to get the company to fill out paperwork from my school. This paperwork was really about convincing the school that I was learning something; I don’t think the paperwork even asked about the pay. I also did an internship with the same company the following summer, with no college credit, and the school didn’t know or care about it because it was during my summer break.

          The school had a web site where companies could post job/internship/co-op opportunities, but as far as I know, they didn’t do any vetting of the companies that posted opportunities. There are so many students looking for internships that I suspect the college was happy to have as many positions listed as possible. They only looked into an internship/co-op if a student wanted to get college credit for it. If a student went to the career office asking for help finding an internship, the career office pretty much just pointed students towards the web site, or perhaps looked at the web site and said, “Here’s a company taking interns with your major. Why don’t you apply there?”

    4. OP #5*

      I’m having trouble finding a way to figure out what consitutes an “internship” versus just making it “a job.” I always thought you had to either get academic credit, learn skills that benefit you in your future career, or get paid. Like, at least one of those three things had to be true in order for it to be an internship. Door-to-door sales following the “trainer” who is making $50 a day in commission his or her own self doesn’t cut it.

      Who does one report a company like this to? How does my nephew attempt to get at least some payment for his time worked?

      1. Jwal*

        In the UK we have placements and work experience, and you wouldn’t expect to get paid for the latter. If you wanted to go into sales then following somebody to watch them do their job, and maybe doing some photocopying on the side, would be work experience.

        I don’t know if internships in the US fall into the same split.

        1. One of the Sarahs*

          At my UK university, the summer internships are a specific programme where they are paid a minimum amount (I think something like £1,250 before tax for 6 weeks), ran for 6 weeks between set dates in the summer, and had to be for a specific project – so they couldn’t be for things that the company would normally pay a full-time person for, but could be eg working on a short-term project.

          They didn’t have any academic credit attached to them, but they obviously help students get jobs after uni, so they were very much encouraged.

          Work experience was a separate, unpaid thing, and a lot of degrees in media/journalism etc, there was a “professional practice” module each year where work experience counted to the grade – and again, it was presented as the more the better. There were big caveats, though – the uni was constantly being approached with “exciting offers to help students develop their careers” to basically work for free by exploitative asshats, and the good courses stomped on those. So even with the unpaid things, if they were offered through the uni, they were vetted to ensure they were good for the students. Self-arranged stuff was of course up to the student, but there would still be a ton of advice.

      2. Kelly L.*

        At my old job, we had someone call and try to get approved as an internship opportunity, and as I talked to her, I realized she was actually an MLM salesperson and was looking for regular old MLM downlines, not “interns” at all, and not really even in our field. *game show wrong answer buzzer* We were a small department and people listened to me, and so Ms. MLM got no interns from us! But she knew the right buzzwords to maybe convince a bigger, more harried office, and that’s the scary part.

        1. One of the Sarahs*

          Oh my goodness, I knew MLMs were generally awful, bit this is a new low!

        1. Dr. Speakeasy*

          Google DS/Max or Cydacor. Although – if it is them, I’m surprised your nephew is making zero. Usually they get new people going with some money early on to convince them there is money in the long term.

          1. OP #5*

            Not them, but something very close to that deal. Looks like his place is under a new-enough name that it’s only now starting to show up on Ripoff Reports.

    5. BringtheCannoli*

      I tried to read through all of the comments, so I apologize if this is repeating any information.

      I am an Advisor in my university’s Career Services Office. I appreciate this blog and read and quote it often to help students stay current.

      I want to mention that Career Services offices try very hard to filter out these types of positions, but are unable to complete filter everything. I tell any company that recruits on campus that it must abide by the US Department of Labor guidelines for internships. There are very clear guidelines about what can and cannot be unpaid internship experience. Getting course credit does not constitute compensation. We expect the companies to abide by the law and expect the students to research the companies before applying.

      Please do tell your Career Service’s Office, and you are welcome to site the DoL guidelines http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs71.pdf.

      That being said, Career Services only serves to assist students in career development and the search process, and help the student get connected to resources and jobs. It is the applicants responsibility to ask questions and fully understand what they are applying for when they apply for a position. We can only do so much to help protect them from these types of opportunities. However, I do agree they should not be encouraging students to pursue these opportunities. It is likely they just do not know, or they believe that it is a good fit for some students and not others (for example, insurance sales are 100% commission based, and some of my business students apply for those internships, but it wouldn’t be a good fit for my engineering students).

      1. OP #5*

        Thank you very much for this factsheet from DoL, and for sharing your understanding of the process. The factsheet is exactly what I was looking for (without knowing what to look for, lol). And your comments about the responsibilities of the students are dead-on, as well. Nephew quit on the job today, despite the “smooth talking” from the company, and some minor, veiled threats. I really appreciate AAM running my question, and everyone’s input.

  6. Mando Diao*

    OP1: It’s not about the time off in and of itself. It’s the fact that you shouldn’t have applied for and accepted the internship at all if you thought you might be away so much.

    1. Tuckerman*

      Right. Or at least OP should have brought it up at the interview. If I really wanted to hire an intern because she was clearly much better than other applicants, I might be willing to accommodate 2 weeks off. But I would want that information up front.

      1. Lindsay J*

        This. The discussion should have happened before the job was offered. That way the student could walk away if getting the time off was a dealbreaker, and the company could reject them and select another applicant if the time off was a dealbreaker.

    2. ElectricTeapots*

      Yes– even if the details of the internship weren’t worked out until spring, presumably most students know whether or not they’re going to *apply* for an internship fairly early on. In that case, it would be reasonable to plan 2 weeks of vacation early or late in the summer, since start or end dates are usually a bit more flexible than asking for vacation time you have not and will not accrue. (For instance: at my company, we ask for a 10-week commitment for the summer, so if you have 3 months off from school, that gives you two weeks on either side to do whatever you want. Interns do accrue a couple days of vacation time, so taking a long weekend would be fine, but not two significant interruptions like that.)

    3. Pwyll*

      I’m not sure I agree with that, but certainly this is something that is brought up in the interview/at the offer stage. I wouldn’t necessarily have a problem giving an intern 2 separate weeks off if they were a great candidate and I knew about it in advance. Especially in a summer internship: a reasonable workplace understands family vacations happen. If we made a rule that no one could apply for internships unless they promised to devote 100% of their time only to working that summer, I think we’d miss out on some really great candidates.

      That said, springing this on an employer after already taking a week off is probably a mistake. Unless there was some pressing need to attend this family vacation (it involves seeing an ill relative, for example) I probably would skip it entirely and keep this in mind for next year (to bring up at the offer stage).

  7. Vicki*

    #2 – my team at LastCo hired a project manager who, as it turned out, had never used either a Windows PC or a Mac (the two options in our company). She had never used Word, Excel, Outlook, or any of the suggested equivalent email programs. She had no experience with a web browser.

    She came from 10+ years at a tech company where she had used the company’s proprietary internal software. She did not disclose this during interviews and no one thought to ask.

    She did not ask for training. She said she preferred to learn by making her own mistakes. Which she did. A lot. It had an effect on everyone else’s work until she left after 6 months.

    In 2016, at many companies, certain computer skills (and other things) are taken for granted. Those things need to be asked about in hiring.

    1. Anonacat*

      No experience with using a *web browser*? Or Macs/PCs? This is pretty mind blowing. They were a tech person who’d been in a Linux-only shop for 10 years, and yet couldn’t figure out everyday programs? I’m honestly very curious, if you’re willing to share any more details.

      1. Anonacat*

        I just can’t get over the web browser thing. just … How is it possible that this person had never used the internet? Was this in like 1995 or something? My mind is boggled.

        1. Ella*

          I work in a public library, and help people who don’t know what a web browser is almost every day. They dont know what a dialogue box is, they don’t know how to highlight text, they barely know how to use a mouse. They show up because they went to a restaurant looking for a job as a line cook and the restaurant manager told them they only take online applications now. So they’re in my library struggling to figure out how to type up a format a resume, learn how to use the internet, open an email account, and fill out a multi-page online job application. In two hours (because that’s how much computer time you get per day in my library district).

          Theyre all ages, too. Baby boomer down to people my age (34) and even younger. The tech divide is so, so real.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Yup. BTDT. And if a computer didn’t have IE on the Desktop, folks would think it didn’t have The Internet at all. They didn’t know Firefox or Safari was also The Internet, or that IE was probably still there, even without a desktop shortcut. And people would think every malware ad was legit. If the flashing ad box said to click here to update Windows, they thought it was for real and necessary. It was sometimes hard to explain why clicking *this* box was OK but clicking *that* box would just get you a virus. So much of what’s second nature to a lot of us…isn’t.

          2. AFT123*

            I get it. My father in law uses the internet to check his email a few times a week, and his home page is set to Google, so he Google’s “yahoo” to get to the link to sign in because he doesn’t know how to go to the page directly, hehe. It’s kind of endearing, though I’d be shocked and annoyed if I were his employer!

            1. Ella*

              Our computers’ home page is set to the library district’s website. I met a patron once who had somehow figured out how to do all of his internet navigation and searching through the library website, because he didn’t know how to get to google. And I don’t mean he was searching the library catalog, no. I mean stuff like clicking on the library’s social media buttons to get to facebook instead of typing in “facebook.com”. He had some similar (though more complex) process to get to his email and to craigslist. It was fascinating.

      2. Pwyll*

        This actually sounds to me more like a defense contractor or bank security contractor. Some of them still run in secure environments where all you’ve got is a UNIX thin terminal, and no external internet/e-mail/web are allowed.

    2. Anonymous Educator*

      I think experience with particular programs or operating systems is overrated, but clearly that person wasn’t able to generalize her experiences to apply to other similar situations.

      I’ve certainly been in a number of new jobs that use software I’ve never used, and I’ve been able to master that software. I’ve also seen a number of new employees claim to know certain programs and not really have any mastery whatsoever of those or any real competence around computers.

    3. Sunshine*

      This. What we call “the basics” are the things we usually take for granted. I had someone who worked for me for quite some time before I found out she had no idea what Excel was. As in… her trainer said “Open Excel”, and she said “What’s Excel?” Obviously we’re not intensive users, but it never occurred to me to screen for proficiency at the interview stage. I assumed by that time everyone knew the basics. Lesson learned.

      1. rock'n'roll circus*

        I work with a rep who is in title a step above me, but I don’t report to, and she doesn’t handle any of the customer work / doesn’t travel, and doesn’t work on quotes. I don’t actually know what she does, nor does HR who mentions this to me frequently when we talk they always want to know what Jane does. Jane was hired in less then a year ago to support someone who is no longer here, and doesn’t work with the new boss, so really no one has any idea what Jane does.

        Jane asks me weekly how to save something to a pdf / how to delete a row in excel / and doesn’t know how to use even a single formula in excel. Not even something simple like =A5*B3 she instead does all the calculations manually and inserts them in her totals.

      2. Ayla K*

        I had an internship one year in a communications/PR agency. There were 6 other interns there with me, all from different schools. We were working on a group project and one intern kept asking (what I thought were) basic questions about Excel. She finally got frustrated and yelled at me, “why should I learn about this anyway? At my school, only the BUSINESS students use Excel.” She was a Politics major, same as me. This was in 2009 or 2010 and we were both around 21.

        She also asked for a week off work when her boyfriend of 3 months broke up with her…

    4. writelhd*

      The trick with screening for computer skills when hiring is separating *types* of computer skills from skills in specific software. I would agree that there are certain “basics,” but defining those would still be very job-specific. The trick is that now more than ever there’s a huge proliferation in software brands that do similar functions. Excel vs LibreOffice vs Kaliedescope, PC vs Mac, etc. And I would be that the more technical you go, the more true this is, because the tendency of most technical fields is to get more and more specialized, plus in some technical fields, there’s not One Common Software Package. And because, as an example from my own industry, big drafting software platforms like AutoCad vs REVIT are expensive, and most firms don’t want to pay for the license for more than one type, so the experience you get on the job is the luck of whatever software your company chose to use. If you want someone with specific Brand X Software experience or experience Only In Doing Y Thing With Brand X Software, you might be limiting your pool of candidates too much. Someone with a general mastery in the *concepts* associated with a type of software, I would argue, could generally be expected to transfer between brands without tons of trouble and with good training, and should still be considered for a job if they have other transferable skills that make them desirable for that role just like anybody else whose experience is not absolutely perfect but who brings something to the table, but someone with less mastery of that general type of software might have more issues. Attitude toward learning new computer skills is key, but it’s crucial because of just how many and how varied are tasks that involve computer skills of some kind.

      1. Lindsay J*

        This. In my industry there are several versions of software that all do the same damn things. Some of them are proprietary and used by only one company. Some are used by maybe 2 or 3 places. If you know one, it’s pretty easy to pick up another one. I’m talking like a few days for ramp-up.

        So many job descriptions I’ve seen require X years of experience in program Y.

        I can never tell whether they just really want an internal hire for the position but need to post it publicly for some reason, or if it’s just verbiage that’s put into the job ads by someone without really thinking.

    5. Ineloquent*

      Yeah, I had a coworker a lot like that. It was rough. She also didn’t know how to do any key board shortcuts, click and drag to highlight text – really, anything but basic typing But the worst part was that she wouldn’t ask for help, and she was too scared of screwing something up to try things out on her own. So, we’d either have to check on her every few hours or she’d et no work done. She’s left the company, and while I miss her as a person, I really, really don’t miss her as a coworker.

    6. Stranger than fiction*

      Oh my goodness. Ok ten years at one place with their own software, but what about before that? And no computer at home?! All the project managers I know are constantly connected, this really blows my mind.

  8. BQ*

    Use of honorifics is generationally, geographically, and culturally dependent. I personally am careful to use Mrs/Dr when addressing people of color and people of a certain age in the American South. There’s at least one person from that category who I have worked with for years who I still address as Dr. Lastname.

    1. OP#4*

      Thanks! This is actually really helpful to know, as the email response that inspired me to write in was actually from a person of color in the American South. I’m outside the US and wasn’t aware that that’s the norm in that particular area, as most Americans seem more inclined than the rest of the world to use first names.

      1. Natalie*

        Just some historical context you may not be familiar with as a non-US-person – it’s not so much about it being the norm in that area. Rather, during Jim Crow black Americans were denied honorifics when addressed by white Americans of all ages as part of the system of racial apartheid. You’d have to call those white kids Miss Jane and Mister Joe but they would call you Jim or boy or other words. So it’s extra important to some, especially people who personally experienced that.

    2. KF*

      Seconding this.

      My first two years of professional experience was in rural Mississippi, and if you are interacting with someone in a professional context, they get an honorific and usually their last name. At best, calling someone by their first name is overly familiar; you’re not friends! At worst, it can be racially fraught. I still remember how angry other faculty got when a white lady from the central office called our principal by his first name a bunch of times at a school-wide meeting.

      I would sometimes get Ms. Firtsname, but that was from the people who knew me from stopping by once a week after work to get dinner at their particular fast food location and one kinda creepy teacher.

      I also knew someone who went to school in the UK and got corrected when she called a dean (a Black woman) at my law school by her first name.

      So yeah, if you have little context OR you know the person is old AND/OR Black AND/OR from the south AND/OR is in academia, play it safe and use the honorific.

      1. Graciosa*

        This isn’t a bad general rule (play it safe and use the honorific routinely).

        It creates a situation in which it’s easy for the recipient to say, “Oh, do please call me Agnes,” and avoids forcing them to either tolerate what they feel is an inappropriate intimacy or correct it. “I’d prefer that you address me as Ms. Crumplebottom,” doesn’t exactly add warmth to a relationship.

        Although I also think there’s a lot to be said for simply asking, “How do you prefer to be addressed?”

        1. Engineer Girl*

          This. You’re never wrong in using the honorific on first contact. If they want their first name they will tell you.

          1. OP#4*

            I don’t know that this is necessarily true. Particularly for start-ups, honorifics can reflect a stodginess that runs counter to the company’s desired image. Though I’m happy to call people what they want to be called, it can be important to be seen as rejecting the perceived pretentiousness of certain industries if you’re presenting yourself as an alternative to it.

            1. One of the Annes*

              I’m 40 now but even in my twenties I was put off by company representatives who used my first name on first contact. I find it smarmy and presumptuous, not hip or cool.

              1. OP#4*

                I’ve had this reaction in some contexts too, but in the environment I work in an email addressed to Mr. Lastname would seem weird and stuffy to 70% or more of the people who receive them. So I err on the side of that majority.

                1. irritable vowel*

                  I would advocate for pushing back against that expectation rather than reinforcing it. I know in a startup culture it must sound terribly square to say that politeness counts when addressing people, but it really does. Addressing an e-mail to a stranger with “Ms. Jackson” rather than “Janet,” regardless of their age, ethnicity, regional background, is not rude, and the startup culture (which, let’s face it, is driven by younger, wealthy men) is wrong to assert otherwise, in my opinion.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Yeah, I find it stuffy when people address me that way. I think it’s legit to know your target audience and speak to them in a way they’re likely to be comfortable with. (At the same time, you want to be alert to their cues if one of them seems to prefer something else.)

                3. OP#4*

                  For me, using first names isn’t about being cool or coming from being immersed in bro startup culture (most of which my company thankfully abstains from). There’s a politeness factor to honorifics, but there’s also a formality one that comes into play, and last names would just be too formal for this context. As Alison says, I’m happy to switch if I see any indication otherwise and try to be sensitive to any cultural issues like the racial history others thread kindly brought up, but I really do think it would seem strangely formal to a majority of the people I email.

                4. Mags*

                  ” Sometimes a younger user will write back addressing me as “Ms. Lastname,” but I stick to first names”

                  I know that I would be somewhat annoyed at someone jumping to using my first name, and progressively more so when I was replying using their last name and signing my full name.
                  That ends up feeling patronizing. I understand you using it in the first email if that is the culture you are in- but switch when they respond differently (even if they are a younger user!).

                5. OP#4*

                  Yes, you have a point there. My reasoning there is that people who do this are generally students who I get the impression see me as some kind of authority figure (if I recall, every time I’ve done this, the person’s signed the email with their first name only, which is part of the reason I think that), and I don’t want them to. I’m trying to be the opposite of patronizing! But maybe I need to rethink that or at least be more careful about it.

            2. Jwal*

              From my experience I’d say the rule is that if you know their surname and are sure whether it would be a male or female title, then you’d say “Dear Ms Smith” or whatever. If you couldn’t tell from their name (maybe it’s gender neutral or it’s one you’re not familiar with) then you’d say “Dear Alex Smith”. After the first contact you’d go with whatever they seem to prefer, unless your company has rules otherwise.

              I wouldn’t think that’s stodgy at all. I’d actually think it was being polite.

              1. justsomeone*

                Hah, you made my point before I could. Dear First Last is a good middle ground between the honorific and just the first name.

          2. justsomeone*

            Also not true if you use the wrong gender honorific. I would 100% rather get an email to Hi Firstname than Hello Mr. Lastname. I’m female with an androgynous first name. I could easily be a man or a woman. It immediately biases me against you if you misgender me.

            1. twenty points for the copier*

              I get this a lot as well (my first name is probably female around 80% of the time in this country, but I still get a lot of letters to Mr. Copier because goshforbid we ever mistakenly refer to a man as Ms.). Besides misgendering, I find that when something is addressed to me by last name, it’s usually someone trying to sell me something without bothering to learn about me or my business first.

      2. Meg*

        You know, I learned not long ago that in the Jim Crow South, white postal workers might actually cross out the “Mr.” or “Mrs.” on an envelope before the mail was delivered to a black person. Which really clarified for me why this issue can be sensitive!

    3. GigglyPuff*

      I don’t know if it’s because I was raised in the American South, but I still use last names when making first contact with someone not an immediate part of my organization. I’m in my twenties and have gotten a couple of cold e-mails from people in my field wanting informational interviews, and a part of me is put off by them just using my first name in the e-mail, not even first and last. Sometimes it makes me feel like a throwback but it was just the way I was raised.

      Just wanted to say this because not just people who are older that might prefer it.

      1. Remy*

        I prefer a last name on first contact as well. I’m in my mid-30s. I also like being called “ma’am”, so maybe I’m just weird. I’m not from the South and I was not raised this way. It’s just something I’ve developed along the way that I prefer.

    4. Government Worker*


      This has been tripping me up lately. I recently moved to a new city that’s closer to the Mason Dixon line and I would guess the majority of employees in my organization are African American. It seems to vary unpredictably whether people go by first or last name even withing the organization, but with more last names used in the more blue collar departments. Definitely something I’m adjusting to, as my other recent jobs (all in the northeast or California) have definitely defaulted to first names, at least internally.

    5. PNW Dan*

      This discussion is very interesting! I have never personally had a preference on how people address me, even on first contact through email. For those of you who prefer the honorific, is it different when you meet in person, like at a conference? What about if first contact is over the phone?

      (For some context, I’m in my late 20s, and I am aware of racial issues around the use of honorifics.)

      1. chumpwithadegree*

        I am older than dirt, but my parents were borderline Southern, and I sir and ma’am all over the place. People do think they are getting better customer service when addressed politely.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        Interesting to me too. I can’t even recall the last time someone referred to me as Ms. It’s been all first name basis from the get go everywhere I’ve worked that I can remember. But I’m in CA, so you know, laid back culture and all that. Although, I’ve had customers all over the place, but never has anyone ever corrected me or asked me to call them Mr or Ms something. Probably industry specific as well as regional I’m thinking.

  9. Anonacat*

    #2 – I have a colleague who I introduced to the “find and replace” function in Word. She had really never heard of it! I was astounded.

    1. Xarcady*

      Just yesterday, as someone was training me on some new-to-me software at work, I totally freaked him out by hitting “enter” after filling out a field, instead of moving the mouse and clicking on the “continue” button. He’s in his 30s, I’m in my 50s. You can’t assume any base level of tech knowledge in anyone.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Oh yeah, one of the managers here clicks in each and every field. One day I was like you know you can tab through that right? And they just said they like clicking.

    2. One of the Annes*

      Last month I wowed a manager of another division by copying and pasting. She had not known it was possible.

      1. Chinook*

        “Last month I wowed a manager of another division by copying and pasting. She had not known it was possible.”

        Wait until you show her the “paintbrush” – it will blow her mind!

    3. Mr Data*

      One of my colleagues had never used the shift key to capitalise letters. He always turns caps lock on, types the letter, then turns caps lock off again. The habit is now so entrenched that he’s incapable of using shift now he knows of its existence.

      1. Sualah*

        Ha! My sister does that, but that’s because she broke her wrist and was in a cast while taking a typing class and she couldn’t move her pinky down to the shift row, but could just move it over to the Caps Lock.

    4. The Rat-Catcher*

      A fellow clerical was stunned by “open in new tab.” Now she could work in two tabs at once! Helpful when our system doesn’t allow for the “back” button.

      1. JayemGriffin*

        Yup. I had to explain to an HR professional that you could, in fact, open two websites at the same time.

    5. the gold digger*

      The first time I used powerpoint, I was editing an existing file and had to update some text blocks that were next to little empty box shapes.

      The shapes had gotten out of alignment.

      I didn’t know about the align function, so I was holding a ruler next to the computer screen, dragging the shapes to the left to get them all to line up.

      I was ready to scream with frustration.

      PS I am not stupid or incompetent. I had just never used ppt before.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        I love this. Mostly because I feel like “align” is one of the features I show people the most.

      2. Dan*

        Ha. I can align stuff. Sometimes.

        I was working on a PPT with my boss, and she was flabbergasted that I was cropping my images in paint and then pasting them into PPT. Apparently, PPT has its own crop function.

        Who knew.

    6. Rusty Shackelford*

      I showed a computer-literate colleague that there was a second Ctrl key on her keyboard.

    7. AFT123*

      Isn’t it funny to see what random or (un)obscure feature that otherwise technologically literate people haven’t learned along the way?! I love that. I blew a coworkers mind a few years back when I showed him how to use “Ctrl+F” to find keywords in Word documents and stuff. I had my own mind blown when a coworker taught me how to use mail merge in Word. Another coworker and I were searching for something together and discovered the shortcut for making a bulleted list, and I use it daily now! (Ctrl+Shft+L)

    8. justsomeone*

      I blew my mom’s mind when I showed her Ctrl+Z to undo. She was just floored. It made my day.

    9. Kiki*

      I recently astounded a young coworker by using cntrl-F in a web browser. He’d never seen that — this old lady had to laugh.

      1. Jen RO*

        I just explained this to a coworker today (incidentally, the same coworker I was ranting about in a comment upthread). She hadn’t realized it’s a common command and she thought it was something specific to our bug tracking system.

    10. Kimberlee, Esq*

      My favorite: an old boss who literally never right-clicks. Ever. He’s reasonably computer savvy and gets what he needs done, but I was sending him instructions on how to do something and he was like “right click? What does that mean?”

  10. uh*

    #3 – explaining that you can’t afford it would *NOT* fly at my company if the manager organized the lunch. It would be easier to order something cheap and keep your mouth shut.

    1. Engineer Woman*

      Just ordering cheap might make one feel bad if the check is split evenly rather than itemised, which seems the case here if the group is chipping in for new colleague. I.e. OP is now subsidising others’ more expensive meals, in a way.

      My experience is that most manager-organised lunches are either paid by the company or by the manager personally. If self-paid, I think explaining it is not within your budget and opting out should be acceptable.

      1. misspiggy*

        My experience (in nonprofits where staff make much less than managers) is that great managers pay for these meals, and terrible managers spring the cost on everyone at the last minute. At least this manager made things clear up front: there’s hope that if the OP speaks up, they might change their approach. It might even make them more thoughtful in other areas. But if they stick with everyone paying, I’d be on the lookout for doom ahead.

        1. Sadsack*

          Well, yeah, upfront within minutes of the event. That’s not really very generous. I think OP should say something and be prepared to decline future lunches if the boss doesn’t change his stance on everyone buying.

      2. SophieChotek*

        This – ordering cheap might make on feel bad if the check is evenly split rather than itemised.
        I had a grad professor that would want to organize meals for all the grad students, but then we always split the check evenly. I finally quit going because I was the only person who did not drink alcohol and was also allergic to seafood…so by the time the group of 12 people had gone through several bottles of wine and dessert sherries and ordered appetizers to share (that I could not) I could get stuck with a hefty $100+ bill (!) (in grad school)…it was really frustrating.
        After one experience of that…I turned down future invitations.
        And while we didn’t expect grad professor to pay…it also annoyed us, since grad professor didn’t exactly make it secret he was “wealthy”

        1. Artemesia*

          I had the same experience as a grad when we would go to professional conferences and dine with professors. My grad colleague and I who were poor as churchmice would order a cheap main and not ap or dessert and then discover the bill was to be split while the profs were ordering aps, desserts etc. On one memorable occasion one grandiose clod said ‘I’ll get us a bottle of wine’ and then added this pricey libation to the bill.

          At the next conference my friend and I decided we would just go along with the flow and planned for a pricey meal. We ordered aps, dessert, drinks etc and, I kid you now, Professor Pompous actually said ‘Prices must have gone up, the bill is much higher than our last couple of conferences.’

            1. AdAgencyChick*

              (btw, I mean not cool that your profs did that…what you guys did was brilliant!)

        2. Former Borders Refugee*

          I have that problem with groups of friends- one or two will try to insist on splitting it evenly, and those of us who don’t drink as much will put our foot down (“But we shared appetizers!” “And we’ll all throw in an extra $3 to cover those. I budgeted $30 for this meal, and I am not subsidizing your five margaritas.”).

      3. Ann O'Nemity*

        Yes, this happened to me yesterday. Went out to group lunch. I ordered the cheapest sandwich on the menu, drank water, and did not eat the apps. A coworker suggested we all share the bill equally and several people agreed. I said that I only had $20, which more than covered my portion, but I still got the stink eye.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          Take the stink eye. They’re being unfair and lazy and they know it, and all you did was draw attention to that.

      4. Lindsay J*

        There’s a Friends episode where this happens. The whole episode is about there being a monetary divide between the group. Then the people who make a decent amount of money want to go to a fancy restaurant. The poorer 3 order like side salads and appetizers instead of entrees. Then when the bill comes the richer ones want to split it evenly (minus the guest of honor who won’t pay at all) and that’s the point where the poorer ones finally speak up about how uncomfortable the assumption they always have money to do things is.

    2. One of the Sarahs*

      That’s pretty terrible, though – especially as something that’s the same cost is a different proportion of people’s salaries, depending on how much they earn. Any manager should recognise that the impact of any cost is going to be different to them at the top, and the low wage staff at the bottom.

    3. LW3*

      This time, I did go for one of the cheaper items on the menu. Anything less expensive wouldn’t fit my diet restrictions or would have been an appetizer, which I felt might’ve looked odd.

      1. Bowserkitty*

        If it helps, I’ve known people to order appetizers as their meal? Some places have large portions and if you had to just explain that it’s really good and hits the spot? Or something like that.

    4. I'm Not Lisa*

      Unless it was a prohibitively large group, I would have just selected somewhere median price and picked up the check for my group myself (I have) if it wasn’t something I could expense. I make considerably more than them and am happy to do that for my group occasionally.

      We’ve had a couple of larger social outings planned by my boss where it was 20-30 people after hours with food and drinks and he always tells everyone at first mention – this is a get together, not a company sponsored event, so everyone will pay their own way. I wouldn’t expect he or the company would pick up the check for 25 people drinking and ordering food at a nice bar for several hours. That would probably be a large bill.

      1. I'm Not Lisa*

        Realized it might not be clear – by my group, I mean the people that report to me.

      2. Kristine*

        > I wouldn’t expect he or the company would pick up the check for 25 people drinking and ordering food at a nice bar for several hours.

        It’s interesting that you say that, because that’s exactly what I would expect. At my current company, events like these happen at least once a month. They’re loosely organized, kind of word-of-mouth invitations, but the most senior person there always picks up the bill and expenses it. It’s meant to be a morale booster. But this is also a company where managers and above are paid hefty salaries and anyone below manager makes 10-20% below market for their role, so it might make more sense in this context to expense.

        1. I'm Not Lisa*

          We’re publicly traded in an industry that is hurting pretty bad. Expensing large bar bills for non-customers went the way side a couple of years ago. There’s a constant drive to cut expenses.

    5. CanadianKat*

      I’m not sure the “can’t afford it” excuse would work everywhere. Different people have different spending/saving habits. You may well not afford it because you’re saving most of your (for example) 70K salary for your children’s education, but others would think a $20 lunch is easily affordable for somebody in your position.

      I think this is more an issue of subsidizing everybody else’s lunch. Otherwise, you could just say you’re not hungry and get the cheapest salad, appetizer, or just non-alcoholic drink.

      Splitting the bill evenly is not fair – neither to those wishing to save, nor to those who’d rather get the expensive delicacy / alcohol without alienating colleagues.

      I’m in government, so when we go out on group lunches, we always pay for ourselves. (You don’t *have* to go, of course.) One of us pays for the birthday person / new hire, and then emails the others how much it works out to per person. Nothing at all inconvenient about separate checks, – all restaurants here do it without even asking. And almost everybody pays by credit card anyway, so payment is pretty fast too.

      I would suggest organizing your colleagues to suggest to the boss that everybody pays for their own lunch and chips in for the new person’s.

  11. Chocolate Teapot*

    3. This has happened to me as well. Whilst it is nice to eat at a posh restaurant, I always worry about the price, even if the lunch menu is cheaper. Many is the time I have look at menu prices and thought how many bags of groceries I could get for that!

    From the letter, it sounds like the new manager did the pay-then-everyone-reimburse in their previous team. As this seems like a last minute change, then I think it is perfectly fine to say “Sorry I don’t have the cash on me at the moment, I will pay you once I have been to the cash machine”. Also, if it’s only a couple of times a year, then it is not so bad, but expensive team lunches on a monthly basis would start to get very expensive.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      I don’t think workplaces should require people to spend money on job-related activities, though (aside from some of the generally culturally acknowledged things, like paying for gas to drive your car to work, paying for professional-looking clothes to wear, etc.). I think the OP should speak up, especially since this is a change from how things used to be on her team.

      1. Colette*

        Everywhere I’ve worked, the default has been that everyone pays for their lunch if the group goes out for lunch. If you can’t afford it, you don’t go.

        A lunch out is not really a job activity, assuming it’s a social lunch (such as welcoming someone to the team).

        I think it’s ok for the OP to speak up, since this is a change, but it’s not an unusual situation.

            1. LW3*

              To add context, the manager did not explicitly state the lunch was mandatory (his language just indicated that this was happening and we would all be there), but as it was an event intended to welcome the new person, I couldn’t opt out from my understanding of things. Even if I could, we’re only a team of five and it would have looked pretty bad. I highly doubt I would have been fired over it, but…

              1. Christopher Tracy*

                Well, I always take the stance that if I’m made to feel uncomfortable backing out of something, it’s mandatory. And your boss saying that you would all be there sounds like you were voluntold to come. So yeah – lunch should have been on boss.

                1. Colette*

                  If the manager is pressuring the OP to attend, I’d agree it’s mandatory, but it sounds like the pressure is coming from the OP. That doesn’t oblige the manager to pay.

              2. Murphy*

                Just be careful assuming things are mandatory when they aren’t. I would never expect my team to go to a lunch if they didn’t want to even if they were the only person who opted out.

                Really, this is something you should just bring up with the new manager like Alison suggests.

                1. Colette*

                  Agreed. I think the OP feels more pressure than perhaps the manager intends because the reason she doesn’t want to go is money, but that’s a legitimate reason, and the manager probably hasn’t considered that it may be an issue (particularly if she’s not aware that the manager used to pay).

  12. John Cosmo*

    #2. This is something that I’m NOT proud of, but many years ago I lied on several job applications and said I had experience with Microsoft Word and Excel.

    I didn’t.

    (It was one of those little white lies that didn’t seem too very important for the kind of low-level entry-level clerical jobs I was applying for at the time.) I had, however, taken courses at the local community college in WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3 and I had used those in previous jobs. (Boy, does that date me.) Eventually I got hired by a company that had Microsoft Word and Excel and I learned how to them on the job.

    I’m not sure that I would know how to use the “hide/unhide” function in Excel either, but that’s what the “help” feature is for, and if I couldn’t find the function information there, I’d google it.

    OTOH, not understanding that Google Drive documents are shared and that if you delete a document in Google Drive it’s gone forever is pretty bad. We now use Google Drive as a replacement for DropBox because, supposedly, Google Drive is somewhat more secure.

    I find Google Drive very clunky and awkward to use. Sometimes we type information directly into documents that are already in Google Drive and sometimes we take Microsoft documents and move them into Google Drive and convert them into the various Google document formats. Then we convert them back into Microsoft format again when we take them out.

    It’s a real pain and every once in a while the information will go all wonky in the conversion process!

    1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

      Lotus 1-2-3 , represent!

      God, I loved that program. I whined for years when it went dead and I had to deal with Excel. (Lotus skills were easily transferable to Excel back in the day. And there were big reference books to learn the transfer. It was barely a lie. I absolve you. ;) )

      1. DCGirl*

        I miss WordPerfect. My husband’s office still uses it (it’s become a niche product for law firms due to some features it has that MS Word doesn’t).

    2. BRR*

      I think with hide/Unhide that if its not used a lot you forget it’s there. I’m pretty knowledgable about excel but I could easily pass over a column being hidden. In my current job my manager does it a lot and that’s the only way I can think about its existence.

      I also find google drive clunky and awkward after frequent use.

      1. Xarcady*

        Yes, I used hide/unhide a lot in one job, then moved on and never used it again. And six months ago, I was puzzled as to where someone was getting certain information–the Excel doc on the shared drive had hidden columns. Once he told me that, I was able to unhide them.

        Perhaps the problem with the co-worker is not that they know know the tech well, but that they don’t ask questions when they need to.

      2. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

        Given that I’m supposedly an Excel maven (for the level that we use Excel at Wakeens), I had a semi hilarious thing happened earlier this year on shared spread sheet.

        The spread sheet had a tab for each month. I did an end of the year report on (various things) and was pissed off that someone had only retained the last three months of this log. Wrote a semi snotty email about it. Received back: nothing was deleted. The other tabs were hidden. We hide the previous quarters tabs when we start a new one.

        To myself: 1) DOH 2) wait, you can hide tabs?

        To the other party: okay can you guys not hide tabs going forward because I’m not going to use the info in this way for another entire year and I’m sure I’ll forget again and go “omg! where is the info for the whole year!, again.

        1. moss*

          So because you’re going to forget you have to impede the work flow of the other department?

          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

            Ha ha. Yep. I’m the boss.

            And it’s hardly impeding the work flow, please.

            1. moss*

              They wouldn’t do it if there weren’t time savings or other benefit to them. You’re making yourself the boss that places responsibility on others to handle your shortcomings.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Well, there are many times when it does make sense to slightly inconvenience others to provide time savings or convenience to a higher-level person who’s time is worth more and who may be significantly more busy. (Also, WTL is in a position to judge her own context better than we are!)

                1. moss*

                  I agree there are times like that. There are also times when a higher up can realize that their particular preference is not necessarily the best basis for making business process decisions.

              2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

                Making things easier for me, and saving me time, is part of my direct report team’s job. If someone had a problem with that request, they wouldn’t belong on my team, because it was a nothing request with no impact.

                The point of the story was that it was funny I didn’t know you could hide tabs.

            2. anonderella*

              You know, I get where you’re coming from here, but imo there are very few better ways to demoralize your team than to blatantly disregard learning a very simple task instead of making a small adjustment to a yearly process you do. Which you can undo, then redo for the sanity and convenience of your team, it sounds like.
              You *are* the boss and whatnot, but people will feel the way they feel regardless. Your ability to act respectfully of their needs (and seriously, you want them to change a very reasonable practice so that *once a year* you aren’t slightly inconvenienced (double parentheses : I say slightly, because the info isn’t really gone! You’re just not looking at it right. It doesn’t disappear, you don’t have to redo anything, it sounds like it works out even when you forget how to work the program)???) and appear to consider the peons’ working environment with serious regard to how it impacts the results you’re wanting from your team will measure miles in how much they respect you back (well, in a perfect world).
              I wish it mattered to my manager; I wish she understood that, if I were a higher priority for her and I had the focus/attention/drive level from her that I’d like to have, I could potentially do so much more, take some of her data-entry-type workload, learn more about the company so that when people have random questions, I don’t have to be filled in in order to be helpful, and most importantly what should matter to her is that she would have my fierce loyalty and respect; I wouldn’t be looking to increase my compensation as much as if I felt like I had to be compensated for dealing with tiresome bad attitude, negligence, and wish-washiness.

              Here’s where I’m coming from :
              I’m the lowest totem-pole-man at my company, and by default my boss oversees all the other departments as Office Manager, so she arguably does not have all the time in the world for me, but we regularly go weeks without our weekly meetings – yet, she wants me to update this shared document between the two of us for each meeting (whether we meet or not) that highlights items to be brought to her attention. Well, I tend to organize all the data, sometimes using bullets, sometimes using tables, to show info like what supplies we need to order, etc. She *always* has some criticism about how much info I put on there, this & that, which I would TOTALLY agree with (and of course I do, out loud!), no argument, EXCEPT that she doesn’t ever look at the thing for more than five minutes (we’re supposed to take an hour a week), and the stuff she wants me to leave off, she still has questions about when we do get together! So I have to look through other documents or search the internet to find answers to her questions, when I could have it all in one place, ready to go no matter her question.

              How I see it, the issue between me and my boss is that we prefer to look at information in different ways – which I do get, and am respectful of because of that aspect of authority to our relationship. But in order to give her the results she wants (when we finally do get together), I would have to keep two running agendas (two at the least! One how she wants, and one with all the info I need to give her what she wants), which I used to do religiously, but I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to be doing twice the work I should be when she can’t manage her time well enough to attend our ONE weekly meeting!

              I do apologize for the lengthy post – I guess I needed to vent.
              TL,DR : Look at it in terms of who has to bite how many bullets, and if your responsibility (and opportunity as boss!!!) to improve company culture outweighs your immediate needs as a boss. This particular issue, like you said, doesn’t sound like it ruins anybody’s day – but does it go to color your employees’ overall sense of how you manage?

              1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

                I’m sorry you’re not happy with the way things are going at your company. I hope you get to work with people with a sense of humor.

                This was funny, there’s no drama . It’s my direct report team! I am asking them to not hide tabs, which is of zero issue to them, so that next new years holiday weekend when I’m doing reports while they are having a lovely long weekend, the info is right there for me.

                Everybody laughed.

                Now if I’d started texting people wildly in off hours and on New Years Weekend demanding the info OR if I had one of my team working that weekend to do the reports instead of me, then I’ll hear complaints.

                Otherwise, don’t hide the tabs.

                (And cut bosses a break, sheesh. Not all bosses are unthinking uncaring dunderheads.)

                1. anonderella*

                  Well I agree that there are worse boss-sins out there, but I was pointing out why they may not actually feel the same way. You say they laughed, but you’re also the boss. I think all my boss’ jokes are hilarious – yes.. hilarious….
                  You also say it is of no issue to them, but why were they doing that action (hiding the tabs) in the first place? If it’s only a couple tabs, maybe it really doesn’t affect how someone views the spreadsheet – but if it were a lot of tabs, and someone has a very good reason for wanting them hidden, then, yeah, you’re kind of being obstructive.
                  I just felt you were being sort of cavalier about that, and I was pointing out a personal story to bolster my perspective. I can bet you anything that my boss doesn’t care a lick that I’m annoyed (hell, maybe she’d even laugh at it) – but it would make a world of difference to me if she did toward how I see her/how much time I have to spend battling disrespect in order to concentrate on my job (my job is solely to facilitate communication in my office, build team relationships, and fulfill miscellaneous tasks at no notice, so how people see my work performance and attitude toward others, & how I see others’ work performance and attitude toward others’, definitely counts).

                  I agree with you if it was a small thing, like the boss not washing out his own coffee mug because they don’t know where the sponge/soap/etc is. (In that endearing, simpleton way) But I’m sticking with my perspective on your post, which is that people in superior positions often don’t consider factors of their behavior which have no consequences for themselves, but consequences for others. You don’t have to take the criticism personally unless you think it might apply to you – and, you’re right, even then, you don’t, because you don’t actually have to – you’re the boss. If I had the opportunity to lead people, I’d consider what they wanted in coordination with my own goals. I was just pointing out that you could have the humility to check yourself, or not – your choice, boss.

          2. Chinook*

            You could always find a compromise and grey out the tabs by changing their colour so they aren’t as prominent (because you can also change tab colour!)

            1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

              I forgot you can change tab colors! I love coloring things.

              Nah, it’s nbd. It’s just a log sheet and the only thing they need is the current month. I’m the only one who uses the historical data. All they need to do is keep it saved with the current month on top and nbd.

        2. BRR*

          What?!?! Mind blown.

          Also I want to clarify that my comment was just on hide/unhide. Not trying to explain away any issues in the OP’s letter. Not understanding the feature and forgetting it existed (like the formulas I use once a year for annual projects) are different and I’m taking the LW’s words at face value that the coworker needs improvement in this area.

    3. NJ Anon*

      Wow, Lotus 1-2-3, that takes me back! First spreadsheet I ever used! Used WordPerfect too which, at the time, I liked better than Word. Sigh

      1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

        I still like it better than Word. I don’t get to use it very often, but I always use it when taking notes at meetings. The outline function in WordPerfect is WAAAAY better than the one in Word.

    4. SophieChotek*

      My company also uses Google Drive and Dropbox to share documents between different sites (versus emailing them to each other).

      1. Kiki*

        Ha ha, I’d forgotten about that one! Good times.

        And I am told they still frequently use WordPerfect in the legal professions, and also for script writers. Secondhand knowledge though — I deserve to be corrected if that’s not really true.

        1. A Bug!*

          And I am told they still frequently use WordPerfect in the legal professions

          It’s true, in my region at least. It’s really common for multi-lawyer firms to have licenses for both. (I’ve been audience to a great deal of squabbling over which is better. My opinion? If it works, who cares? I don’t know anybody who uses either one to its highest potential.)

    5. Ellie H.*

      To my mind the only Google product (at least, branded as Google) that works well is regular old google search. ALL of the rest (gmail, google docs, google sheets, google drive) are clunky, lousy interface, non-intuitive, lag, and basically act as last-choice workarounds when you need to use some shared standard online. I don’t get why they bother having these products if they are just cheap knockoffs of MS Office programs.

  13. FD*


    Great question! /cracks knuckles/

    Okay, so here’s my general take on it. There are non-scam commission only sales jobs and, they do often hire entry level people–but succeeding is extremely hard, and you need to be very careful.

    I’m going to address a couple big ones.

    Real Estate

    In most states, you become a real estate agent by taking a course and passing a test. In MN, you can become licensed in about six weeks, and it’ll cost about $1,500. You also have to go ongoing continuing education to keep your license valid.

    As a new agent, you’re required to be attached to a broker. This broker ’employs’ you, and is legally responsible for you; if you commit fraud s/he is also liable. The broker takes a cut of your commissions. I say employs in quotes because real estate agents are all independent contractors, so there’s no obligation for overtime or to get minimum wage. Some brokerages will give a lot of guidance to new agents, and will provide certain things, such as a share of the office managers times, supplies, space in the office. Others provide nothing but the broker’s oversight.

    Real estate can be very lucrative, and I know some successful agents who started right out of high school. However, the first few years are brutal. Successful agents usually work 60-70 hour work weeks for the first few years, and it’s common to make less than $40k per year for that period. People who last that out usually start making substantially more revenue, and it’s common for seasoned real estate agents to make $100k+. In addition, after a few years (depending on the state), you can become a broker yourself, so you can have agents under you, or at least avoid having to give a cut of your commission to your broker. Also, remember that you have to pay for most or all of your costs, from business cards to the cost of your continuing ed credits, so that can really eat into your take home pay.

    What to Look For: Look for a broker who has a strong history of building strong agents. Look for companies that have at least a couple of agents that started with the company and have stayed for 3 years. Also, be aware of where you want to specialize–most firms do either commercial or residential. They’ve very different animals.

    What to Avoid: Real estate has a BIG issue with being something of a good old boys’ club. I would be extra aware of red flags in interviews, especially problematic attitudes towards women and other races.

    Insurance/Financial Advisor

    This is a somewhat controversial one, not least because a lot of people do as well or better by managing their own money. That said, I have used a financial advisor to buy insurance and to do some aspects of my financial planning, and I do think it can be helpful for some people.

    Financial advisors do tend to keep slightly more sane hours than real estate agents (who have to keep odd hours to do showings after others are off work), but long work weeks are still common, especially in the first few years. In addition, financial advisors often end up doing a lot of cold calling, which is really not that much fun.

    Like real estate agents, financial advisors have to get licensed and take continuing ed classes. They are also independent contractors. In addition, some firms exclusively offer one company’s products. For example, a Northwestern Mutual representative can only sell Northwestern Mutual life insurance and financial products. However, Bob Jones’ Financial Services may be able to offer life insurance through several different companies.

    What to Look For: Look for companies that are serious about the quality of their products. Look for companies that offer only products with a high credit rating (yes, the system is flawed but it’s better than nothing), and who try hard to be transparent and honest with clients.

    What to Avoid: Any company that tries to push products on customers because it makes good commission rather than because it’s right for the customer. There are people who are better off with cash-value life insurance–but it’s not right for everyone.

    Overall, non-scam commission jobs do exist, and can be very profitable for someone who’s lucky and stubborn and can afford to wait three years before they make that much money. But there are a lot more bad ones than good ones, so it’s definitely a case where the buyer has to beware.

    1. WorkingMom*

      To add your great comments, FD, I once worked as a personal trainer for a very well known national-chain health club. My job as a trainer was 100% commission. The gym took 51% of whatever I earned, and originally it was up to be to choose how much to charge. Meaning, I could charge more if I wanted to, so I could make more, but you’ve got a harder sale to make. On the flip side, I could offer discounts whenever I wanted to – but of course the gym still takes 51% regardless of what you charge, so you have some control. We also had a “draw” situation. Someone else may be able to explain this better – maybe it’s not even a thing anymore, I have no idea. But – back then, if I didn’t make at least $600 in a pay period, I had to “take draw” – which meant the gym paid me enough to get me to $600 for that pay period (whether it was the full 600 or the difference between what I made and 600). But then, whenever you “take draw” – you have to pay it back from future earnings. So essentially the goal was to never take draw, and I never did. To put it in perspective, I think our goal each pay period was $1200, or somewhere in that ballpark – and I made goal frequently, so setting the draw amount at 600 was reasonable, as in, easily avoidable. I also worked a TON of hours though. That’s essentially a sales environment, if you’re not on the floor meeting potential clients, you’re not making any sales.

      When I got the job and heard about this “draw” setup, I heard that it was fairly common with other sales / commission only type jobs. No idea if they still do that – or if “draw” has gone away from sales /commission jobs or not! Anyone know?

      1. Janice in Accounting*

        Yes, my husband had the same draw setup when he worked as a trainer at a high-end gym just about three years ago.

  14. WineSales*

    OP #5: Entry-level, 100% commission jobs are very common in my industry (beverage alcohol wholesale), but only in established sales territories that have a level of existing business to support a reasonable wage. The high number of chain retailers and restaurants whose lists are set nationally means you can be pretty sure of a certain percent of your paycheck.
    However, training time is paid hourly unless the sales rep is stepping into a position after the previous employee has already left and can start collecting that commission right away.
    It’s that unpaid 100 hours that makes this feel scammy to me.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

      Back in the day, they were the only way to enter the Teapot industry, although they are almost extinct now. I was straight commission for years. I don’t think that happens much unless it’s really really small Teapot companies.

      Training, though? Even way back in the day, 30 years ago, I was paid a small salary for my first year.

      100 hours at no pay? In 2016? I’m not aware of any legit set up that would do that.

    2. OP #5*

      Yes, WineSales, I can see a career stepping into established routes and territories] Not for a 3-month “summer employment/internship” — I would imagine a fair amount of your sales skill is based on relationship building and (to some extent) building trust. This “one-off” visit door-to-door stuff is some crap.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        Wait. This is literally door to door he’s doing?

        Ok. Door to door sales aren’t dead. There are some sectors like, home remodeling, where people (without a lot of other options) can make a modest living. Cable/Satellite TV sales door to door isn’t dead either, I don’t think.

        There’s not a marginally legit company that will do what you’ve described, plus, come on, what’s the income potential there as a “career”. If he was putting in 100 hours unpaid shadowing Wine Sales or someone at Wakeen’s, *that* would be very questionable but you can argue that at least there’s a potential career at the end of it.

        (Wine Sales: I have a friend who does wine sales! She loves her job. She used to work at Wakeen’s but because she speaks Italian and spent a year in Italy, wine sales was a good fit for her. She does well. Interesting business.)

      2. WineSales*

        Oh, I definitely agree that your situation is not right, was just trying to give a little extra info about an example of a legit commission-only job since Alison asked us to chime in. Sorry for being unclear :)

        1. LuckyDog*

          I’m in wine sales as well, and my first job was with a small distributor earning <$500/week + no commission for 3 months, then straight to minimum wage + 10% commission on everything sold. Of course zero sales training. Not quite a scam but certainly the pay structure for a rainmaker/rockstar with a known presence and reputation in the market, not for the young pup like me. It was a sink or swim scene – I lasted one year. Great book though.

          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

            Used to be like that in Teapots. I **loved it**. The people who were successful had unlimited income potential, but it took about 3 years to build a solid book of business. So there was a modest salary plus a modest commission for the first year, and then straight commission years 2+, but your real $$$ didn’t kick in until year 3 when you’d built your book.

            Most people didn’t last but the ones who did were making 6 figures in 1989. We had one woman who made $750,000 in commission one year. In Teapots. I crap you not. (She wasn’t me.)

            Those were the days……..

  15. Bluesboy*


    Try thinking about it proportionately. Let’s say it’s a 3-month internship, if you’re away for 2 weeks, that’s the equivalent of 8 weeks annual leave. If it’s a 4-month internship that’s the equivalent of 6 weeks annual leave.

    I assume you’re in the US, and I don’t work there, but it seems to me that in the States the idea of 8 weeks annual leave would not be very realistic, especially for an intern. Because of that, I wouldn’t ask (unless it was pre-agreed with the company before accepting the internship).

    1. Engineer Girl*

      Or to put it in the other form: In the US an entry level person would get 2 weeks out of a 52 week year. That’s less than 4% of the total. For an 4 month internship that’s around 3/4 of a day vacation.

        1. Bluesboy*

          That’s a good point! I couldn’t do that myself as I didn’t know what was standard for an entry-level position in the US (all I know about US holidays I learnt from this website).

          2 weeks a year though…ouch. My last job (obviously outside the US) was 33 days paid holidays plus national holidays (roughly 7 or 8 a year depending on whether they fell on weekends or not).

          I really do like America, but when I see how few holidays you get, how easily you can be fired and how much you have to spend on healthcare I realise that I’m probably better off in Europe!

          1. afiendishthingy*

            I got ONE week of vacation my first year at current job… which I was misled (I hope accidentally?) about, I was told it would be 3, but turns out that’s not til I’ve been here 5 years! I should have fought that but didn’t, and now it seems like it’s been too long. After the first year I got an additional week per year. I like my job, I’m not looking to leave, but two weeks just isn’t enough time off.

    2. MK*

      And 40 paid vacation days would not be unusual even in countries with very generous annual leave laws.

    3. Raine*

      Also, most US jobs allow new full-time employees zero days of vacation or sick time until they’ve completed 90 days. (Paid time does accrue, though.) So it really does stand out if an intern is asking for pretty much any time off after accepting.

    4. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Well… sortof. If everyone distributed their vacations perfectly throughout the year, I suppose that would be true.

      But most of us don’t. Americans and Europeans (and maybe others; that’s just the work cultures I have experience with) tend to take longer summer vacations. Many of us take time around Thanksgiving and/or Christmas. Some folks take a week in the spring. It’s not equally distributed.

  16. Ruth (UK)*

    5. I ended up doing a door to door sales job for around 10 weeks after I first finished uni. What’s described here sounds quite similar. And they always put weird and misleading things in their job ads too. They always have ‘graduate jobs’ and often put weird things in. One I saw said it was perfect for people who ‘love fitness’ and ‘love the outdoors’ (presumably because the job involved lots of walking.. Outside. They’re not necessarily outright scams… Depending. But they’re definitely not what they try and pretend to be and this doesn’t sound like an internship much like the other job wasn’t perfect for people who love fitness… I’d walk away from this one and never mention it again…

  17. Neeta*

    #4 I have a follow-up question for this: how should you sign the e-mail if you agree with the letter writer’s casual tone?
    Eg: Recruiters often address e-mails as “Hi Sansa” and then proceed with a fairly informal tone.
    I’m perfectly fine with this and will generally reply in the same tone. But when it comes to ending the e-mail I feel it’s much too informal to just write “Best regards, Sansa”, and generally opt for “Best regards, Sansa Stark”.
    Does that come across as me preferring to be addressed more formally? Or am I reading too much into things?

    1. OP#4*

      As someone who thinks a lot about these things, I’d say if you address your response to their first name (e.g. “Dear Brienne, Thanks for your email. Blah, blah. Best, Sansa Stark”) I’d still consider that casual enough. That said, if they write to your first name, it would also be totally appropriate to sign with just your first name.

    2. Jen RO*

      I always sign my first name and that’s it, especially if the recruiter is being informal as well. Actually, even if the recruiter is formal…

  18. Fish Microwaer*

    OP #2, I totally understand your frustration. We have a relatively new hire in my office who lacks basic computer literacy in Windows based applications which are essential for the job. Our basic on boarding teaches the work flows and processes and our monstrous piece of in house software but proficiency in the MS Office suite is essential. My co irker does not seem to know her way around the screen so when instructing her it is useless to tell her to click on the such and such icon on the menu bar or the drop-down or whatever. I saw her try to work around an open dialogue box in the middle of her screen. My boss had me give her some one on one coaching and despite being quite good at instructing people and trying to get feedback about whether i could explain it another way, I made little progress. The rest of the office thought it was funny because they know I don’t suffer fools gladly. I am however kind , patient and professional. Another barrier for this co irker is that she doesn’t listen and talks all over you trying to justify why she screwed up again.

    Then there is the woman who repeatedly refuses to “save as” and leaves confidential information on our Word document templates. And don’t get me started on the new hire who has not yet been fully trained in the processes but goes ahead anyway. I spent all day fixing one of her mistakes and had my own work to complete as well.

    So there are many levels of incompetence and they are annoying and have adverse effects on productivity.

    1. Snowball*

      We made some of our word/excel documents read only on the shared drive to make it much harder for someone to accidentally overwrite them. It prompts you to “save as” when you go to save.

      1. Fish Microwaer*

        We have some docs like that too. There are other templates for eg confirmation letters that are designed to be overwritten and when “saved as” default to the empty template. Except for this one woman who simply saves and then the next person has to clear it, save it , use it and save as. Just laziness.

        What the three co irkers have in common is that they don’t listen.

    2. Excel Slayer*

      For your word documents, would saving as a template (a .dot or a .dotx) help at all? That would force people to ‘save as’.

    3. Sadsack*

      Do you not ask if the job candidates have experience using Word, etc., when they are interviewed? Are these skill requirements included in the job postings? Since you say that these are essential skills, your company probably should be taking these steps, at minimum.

      1. Fish Microwaer*

        The skill requirements are posted as essential criteria in the job ads. However I am not sure how rigorously they are examined by hiring managers as it’s kind of presumed that people have these skills in our field.

  19. Roscoe*

    # 1 This is one of those where I agree with Alison, but I don’t like that its the right answer. I mean this is basically teaching college students before they even enter the workforce that work should take precedence over family life. For a lot of families, summer is the only time they can all get together. Lets be real, the place isn’t going to crumble because an intern isn’t there for 2 weeks. What if its a was a destination wedding for his brother? Or a big family reunion that only happens once every few years. I get that the company has the right to deny it, or say something like “this will be considered when we decide who stays on full time”. But itsk ind of messed up that even by just asking people will think he isn’t committed to the job.

    #5 They aren’t all a scam, but this one does sound like it. I think most of these places will at least cover your training time and pay your for that. I too a job like that right out of college. And while “scam” would be a strong word for it, since I did know some people who made decent money, I wouldn’t ever recommend it to someone else.

    1. Jen*

      If it were a destination wedding for the brother or a big family reunion, it should have been brought up pre-hire. Reasonable employers would make accommodations (or partial ones- go for half the time). But this is “already out once week, think i can ask for another now?)

      1. Roscoe*

        IF this is someone’s first job, then that may be something they wouldn’t even think of. I get that its an internship, but maybe they didn’t work in high school.

        But again, I’m not saying I’d fault the company for denying the time off, just that I wouldn’t think he isn’t committed for asking for it. He could be their best intern when he is there, but now he is a slacker because he asked for some time to be with his family on vacation?

        1. Raine*

          Well, it depends on the internship. I had two summer internships (this is described as a summer internship) that both were about 10 weeks, highly competitive, and highly structured. I mean, even full-time workers going into those companies did not get time off until after 90 days. So yeah. It was a big huge no-no to go into those internships with the idea that any day off would be acceptable. The OP just seems so almost blase about not just wanting one week but now two weeks, which is frankly the more concerning aspect — this is NOT how professional jobs work, it WILL almost certainly hurt the OP’s relationship with the employer whether that means a future job or even a recommendation. So sure. anyone seeking an internship is welcome to ignore all that and treat it like summer in high school, but I’m not sure why this board would be pretending this is okay and not helping the person understand the reality.

        2. Allison*

          Especially since their parents work, and they get the vacation time to go on the trip, and maybe they’ve also told the OP that “it’s the summer, everyone goes on vacation at some point in the summer, no one will mind!” Summer internships (at least structured ones) are a little different than summer jobs or full-time jobs after college, in that you’re only there for a few months and they do expect that you’ll prioritize it over typical summer vacation activities.

    2. Accountant*

      Eeehhh… I dont know. I dont think this is necessarily work taking precedence over family life. I think this is “the potential to get a job after college” taking precedence over two family vacations in one summer. I think working 80 hours a week is work taking precedence over family life.

    3. enough*

      The biggest problem is that it is 2 different weeks. LW should have decided which was the more important vacation. And while a wedding or reunion is a special one time event there are many families who do something every summer. At some point everyone has to realize not everyone will be available every year for that annual trip to the beach.

    4. hbc*

      It’s a terrific lesson that you sometimes have to prioritize work over family life. Not “You’ll never see your family again,” but “You don’t get to have two full week vacations or you might be spending a lot more time with your family as you look for a new job from their basement.” I mean, I “prioritize” work every time I roll out of bed in the morning and wave goodbye to my family, but that doesn’t mean my priorities are out of whack.

      It’s a very hard adjustment to make, going from free summers (or the types of jobs where there are a glut of summer workers and they can spare people) to having to spread 10-15 days of vacation out over the course of the year. But if you’re angling for a permanent position, you really need to demonstrate that you’ve made that adjustment. If you’ve got a rare case (like brother’s wedding) to justify the request, of course you can try, but in this case, I’d be wondering why he didn’t take that into account when taking the previous vacation.

      1. KR*

        I have to agree here. There’s also the issue that OP should have been up front about the time off she needed when she applied for the job. It’s not an issue of work trumping family, but more an issue about following through on a work commitment that could result in a full time job in the future (which is really valuable for most recent grads).

    5. LCL*

      But once you are grown, family vacations with extended family are done. Enjoy the memories you made growing up, but don’t expect things to stay the same as an adult.

    6. NASA*

      I agree, Roscoe!

      I agree with AAMs answer. I totally get it. Don’t ask for another week OP, welcome to the real world, lesson learned.

      I also feel bad for OP (and any other intern out there getting their first taste of workforce) because mistakes and work faux paus are bound to happen. Annoying yes, potential full time hire killer no…but I should be impressed with you while you’re there (vacation or not). Maybe this small side office isn’t used to interns, but I would expect a “large company” to have rules somewhere a la “this is a 10 week internship, time off will not be permitted unless blah blah blah.”

  20. Nick*

    For #5, my girlfriend has been applying to jobs (administrative & educational) and also getting cold calls from sales jobs. They’re very bizarre — won’t mention what the position is and just want to set up an interview. She went to one of the interviews, because she wasn’t sure what it was about and figured at least it would get her used to interviewing questions — but they didn’t ask her a single question during the ‘interview’. She keeps getting these calls, and since she tends towards polite when on the phone (has a problem shutting down telemarketers etc) and they don’t identify what they’re hiring for at all, even when she directly asks, she sometimes ends up with interviews. I’ve said she’s probably okay to cancel the interview when she does have a chance to google and see that it’s going to be commission-based sales, is that alright? They really do refuse to give any actual information and flat-out have lied when asked if it’s about a sales/commision-based position, and she hasn’t applied to any of these places. I’ve also tried to advise her to be firmer on the phone in finding out what it’s about… Is there any other advice I can give her?

    1. NJ Anon*

      If the job posting doesn’t tell exactly what the job is, they are hiding the scam from you. Also, and I live by this, if it sounds to good to be true, it is!

      1. Beck*

        It’s actually really common in sales for recruiters to not tell you the company they’re recruiting for until they do an initial pre-screen and set up an interview for you with the hiring director. It’s not necessarily a scam.

        1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

          But they at least usually let you know that the job is in sales, which it sounds like the scammers aren’t. If the caller won’t even tell you the kind of work you’re going to be doing, run for the hills.

    2. misspiggy*

      Learning to say no to something you don’t want is a vital workplace skill (see Alison’s post of yesterday). Your girlfriend is being given some free opportunities to practise this skill!

    3. Erin*

      I went to two “interviews” right out of college. They were trying to sell the position to me, instead of me trying to sell my skills. This was during the recession in Flint, MI. So any job, even fast food had about 100 applicants for every cashier position. I submitted my resume for a receptionist position at an insurance company for $10/ hour full time. They did a group interview for door to door commission only insurance sales. Where I would have to shell out $1500 for my training, and train for 6 weeks before I could sell. I should have known something was up when in walked into an empty office building with just folding chairs and tables. When I asked about the receptionist position I was told they hired the owners niece three weeks ago. They called me three days earlier. Needless to say I walked out without a word. Very frustrated that I wasted my day. They would’ve told me anything to get me in the door.
      Then I had another one for $15 dollar an hour manual labor/ cleaning job. I went to another group interview in another empty office building with just folding chairs and tables. But I was a little wiser, so I was already suspicious and I drove from far away so I stayed until they pulled out the Kirby. When half of us saw the vacuum we walked out.
      They were definitenately dishonest and wasted my time. I’m glad I didn’t waste any more energy on these dead ends. Lesson learned, if they won’t tell you what company they’re hiring for or the position, or if it’s an empty office building that looks like it’s rented for the day: RUN!

    4. Sunflower*

      I used to get a lot of weird calls like that when my resume was public on big sites like monster or career builder. Tell her to make her resume private on those sites and the calls should cease.

    5. Alton*

      I got a lot of calls like that when I was applying for jobs our of college. The fact that I had some sales work on my resume might have helped attract them…or maybe it was just random.

      A lot of them definitely seemed strange. What annoyed me is that when I got voicemails from them, they’d make it sound like they were responding to an application of mine, and I’d panic because I’d have no memory or applying.

      They never seemed to want to say what the job really was. One person made it sound like management, but when I pushed for details, it came out that it was commission-based sales. I almost got talked into am interview by one but I turned it down. Another company kept trying to get me to come in for group interviews, but would e-mail me about them with too short of notice.

      Most of them seemed to be getting my info from Monster. I made my profile private, and that stopped it.

    6. Allison*

      Unfortunately, a lot of sales places, especially places with unpaid training (or worse, training you have to pay for) will call anyone who seems like they’d be desperate for a job, because if a person doesn’t work out they can toss ’em aside and make room for the next warm body. The good people stay and the bad ones get booted within a couple weeks.

      And a lot of the people who are targeted for sales jobs, both legit and scams, are often given a hard time for not being interested in sales, because “a job’s a job” and “anyone can do sales if they try hard enough!” Which isn’t true, by the way. My company won’t move you past the phone screen unless you’re genuinely interested in sales.

  21. Jen*

    #1: Unless you discussed the vacactions in advance of hire, I would say they are out. I’ve had summer interns gone for two weeks, but they were crystal clear about it up front (and non assuming). You *could* see if you can join your family for part of the vacation- for example, if they are doing a week long beach thing, you could explore joining them Thurs-Sunday. Your internship may be much more warm to a day or two off vs two full weeks.

    Just my $.02, and I would say generally speaking, I unless this is The Vacation of a Lifetime, you should just skip it and do your internship.

  22. Kat M*

    I was all excited about the tech question, because I work with people who don’t know how to find a document if it isn’t saved on their desktop, can’t attach a file to an email, and have completely given up on learning how to rotate an image in Microsoft Word.

    So I save their documents for them, email things to myself, and only take photos in landscape orientation, because we have enough difficulties hiring people with the primary skills needed for the job, much less tech skills. Do I hate it? Yes. But when I suggested screening for basic computer competencies, they asked where I thought these magical unicorns were going to come from. So we make it work. :P

      1. Kat M*

        Early childhood education. You need to be great with kids, have an educational background in child development, communicate effectively with parents of all stripes, and be willing to make $10 an hour for the rest of your life with pretty much no hope of advancement.

        We’re basically at a loss for qualified teachers 100% of the time, and the precious funds for training go straight to our mandatory 24 hours of CE per year and first aid/CPR recerts. Computer skills simply don’t make the cut.

    1. Chinook*

      “But when I suggested screening for basic computer competencies, they asked where I thought these magical unicorns were going to come from. So we make it work. :P”

      It is possible to train work horses into unicorns if you have the right person at the other end of the phone doing tech support. I helped create a database for the field guys to put all their paperwork in. They tried it 10 years ago and there was so much backlash that they gave up. This time, I had our most stubborn work horses beta test it for me and actively give me feedback. And these guys are by definition ditch diggers and not office workers. Ex: when I asked for a screenshot of an error message on the screen, one of the guys took out his camera (they document each step of their process), take a picture, upload it and then email it to me (with no subject line). I solved the issue and came up with a step-by-step guide on how to take a screen shot that I sent to all the guys. The person who sent me that photo was the loudest, most stubborn of the naysayers the last time around.

      The key was having someone like me who could work with them over the phone and not make them feel stupid for not knowing how to do something. They know that I will take their phone calls any time during business hours and drop what I am doing and take as long as it takes. They also know that I take their concerns seriously and we have been able to adapt the program to their needs and use their feedback constructively (which isn’t something you can do with most programs, I admit). Now our most stubborn horse is that magical unicorn of a ditch digger who now not only completes paperwork online in a timely and correct manner but also helps out the other guys in the office.

      So, Kat M, it can be done.

    2. Anonforthis*

      Feel your pain. It took me months as a trainer to convince management that they should give a typing test to DATA ENTRY candidates. Only after they hired one who could only do 8wpm though. It’s a niche field. I had to train them in the software and the industry. Can’t spend two months teaching them how to use a gorram keyboard, sorry.

  23. the gold digger*

    (For example, if you’re a rainmaker who’s bringing in huge deals, your employer might be perfectly happy to accommodate a dismal lack of computer skills.)

    It is so hard to find good salespeople that I don’t get it when companies get pissy about their lack of other skills. When I was in sales, I worked with a guy who was amazing. He is fabulous at building relationships. Clients loved him and he brought a ton of business into our company.

    But he was horrible with expense reports and the day to day detailed correspondence.

    The company would pound on him for that, but I thought that if I were in charge, I would hire someone to do nothing but handle all of his office work so he could spend 100% of his time with prospects and customers, developing new business and maintaining current accounts. He had a rare skill and we should have been taking advantage of that rather than trying to make him change to fit the box.

    1. writelhd*

      I have to work with one of those, and as a detail oriented, non-sales person, it took me a while to successfully see the bigger picture over how frustrated and angry working with him made me, because I spent so much of my time, time that I was supposed to spend doing my own job, fixing his mistakes, and he made some huge ones. He emailed customers the excel document that had the formulas that showed exactly how we calculate profit, for example, instead of a pdf quote. Serious math and computer errors that shorted us in favor of the customer were common, as were errors in creating legally binding contracts. To be fair, in his case it was a dismal lack of computer skills, and partly a lying, highly secretive nature about said inadequate skills and just about his own work in general, which is much worse to deal with. Gets my blood pressure up just thinking about it.

      I did come to realize that he was good at sales and that is what we needed him for, so I have tried let it go to the extend that I can. In a perfect world we would hire someone to do his computer work so he could focus on sales and his manager would deal with his problems with dishonesty and secrecy, but in the real world I don’t see that as being in the cards, so for now I’m just keeping track of how many hours I spend fixing his screw ups and reminding myself to think through each time if problem really outweighs the benefits of the sales.

    2. BRR*

      I work in fundraising and that’s my manager. She’s a phenomenal fundraiser but really disorganized. Someone here worked with her at her previous job and said she had admin who kept everything together and she doesn’t have that here. But she can likely raise more money than someone else and bringing in someone to do her administrative stuff would provide the biggest benefit to our company.

    3. Rusty Shackelford*

      I know someone in this position – she manages an amazing salesperson who was making her crazy until she realized she needed to have someone else do the paperwork, and now everything is golden.

  24. Yep, me again*

    #5 is a scam. There’s training regardless and no, you don’t have to be paid for it since it’s 100% commission but 100 hours with no pay? No.

    Run, don’t walk, away from this ‘opportunity’.

  25. Ida Sales*

    #5 – I work in commission only sales. When I started, we had a small base salary (somewhere around $20K. Keep in mind this was only a few years ago and in NYC) and we got a small percent of commissions from sales I was a part of. I anticipated making about 30K my first year. I had zero experience but I stuck with it, most importantly checked my ego at the door, and learned everything I could. When I moved to straight commission, I was making even less for awhile while I figured out what the heck I was doing . But I stuck with it and now I am clearing six figures, and don’t feel like I am working very hard most of the time, I just understand how to move the sales process along. So the first few years were sort of torture and low paying, but it was like bootcamp that forced me to get better. Now it’s great. I’m not saying every sales job is going to be like this but from the amount of turnover I have seen at my own company, I think some people walk in expecting to immediately make a great salary just because they were willing to walk through the door.

    1. AFT123*

      This is super interesting to me (sales background). Would you be willing to share what industry you’re in?

  26. Laura (Needs a New Name)*

    #1, it’s also time to start talking to your family about vacation planning. They are probably used to being able to say “his is when we are going to X!” and, because you were the student/kid, your schedule was flexible enough that they could expect your plans to accommodate them. I definitely had to start being very explicit with my family that I had my own scheduling and personal constraints. Sometimes this meant saying “I can’t go, have fun!” and having them be super, super stunned that I wasn’t just working it out. If it was important enough for me to go, they would have asked before making the plan! Now they know to either ask about my scheduling or that they’ll need to accept that I might not be able to join.

    1. Allison*

      Yup, my parents ask my sister and I about our plans before they reserve the house. And usually, my sister, myself, and our cousins can’t make the full week. My mom, dad, aunt and uncle are there pretty much all week and the rest of us come and go as our work schedules allow. I’d be sad if my job didn’t allow for even a half week to spend with my family on vacation, because we’ve been doing this nearly every year since I was a baby, but I’d also figure “we’re going to the Cape for the week, if I only get a little vacation time, that’s where I’m spending it!”

    2. KR*

      Yes! I remember the story a while back where someone reserved a vacation for the LW but she was either at a conference or could not take time off. The consensus ultimately was “This is on your parents for not checking with you first”.
      It took a while to get it through my dad’s head that if he wanted me to be able to do something on the weekends he needed to tell me at least two and a half weeks in advance so I could request the time off (I’ve been working 6-7 days a week, most weekends for 5 years now – hopefully I will be on a M-F schedule in the next few months so whoopee!) He’s still pretty bad with giving me advance notice, so I always tell him straight out, “I’m working that day, Dad, but if you had told me two weeks ago I would be able to take the day off. Have fun!” He’s used to it now and apologizes every time.

  27. Not Karen*

    #3 Yeah, that’s pretty terrible. Any chance your new manager just doesn’t know lunch can be charged to the company?

    1. LW3*

      It was an internal promotion, so I’d think it incredibly unlikely as he’d been on the lunches before when (it appeared) the previous manager/the company paid. I suppose it’s possible the lunches aren’t covered by the company as we’re technically a government agency.

  28. JC*

    #3: I think Alison’s approach is the right one, but I wouldn’t assume or even think it was more likely that the company used to foot the bill. If the changeover happened when you got a new manager, it seems very likely to me that your old manager used to foot the bill. But of course, none of that matters–if paying for these lunches is out of your budget, then bowing out the way Alison suggests is a good move.

    1. LW3*

      I’m in a federal agency (though I’m a contractor), so it’s entirely possible the previous manager paid given all of the rules when it comes to spending on stuff that isn’t strictly business. Now, I’m a little torn about when to bring it up. It’s been a couple weeks since this happened, so I’d feel odd about doing it now.

      Part of the discomfort for this is the new person isn’t aware of any of it. Because we paid the manager back afterward and new person wasn’t included in the email, she only ever saw him pay for it and probably drew the assumption that he had paid for everyone. There’s something about that which doesn’t feel right to me, but I can’t quite articulate it.

      Regardless, hopefully I’ll have an opportunity soon.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Yeah, the “repay me later” aspect does make it look like the manager covered lunch, which is awkward.

      2. Sadsack*

        I’d wait until the next outing is announced and then immediately confirm with your manager how he is intending to handle payment. If he says everyone pays for themselves, then have the discussion.

        1. CanadianKat*

          And propose that people pay the actual amount of their bill, if possible (not possible if there are shared appetizers).

          I wouldn’t be worried that the new person doesn’t know. All they know is that they were welcomed with a lunch and don’t have to pay for it. This happened on my first day at work. I fully expected to pay for the lunch, because it’s government, but was pleasantly surprised when my neighbour grabbed the bill. Before our next outing, I found out that one person’s free lunch was covered evenly by all others.

          We do this for birthdays, which works out to one free lunch per year, and about once a month covering a bit of someone else’s lunch ($2-3). Works just fine. I don’t see why the manager should have to cover out of his own pocket if the organization can’t pay for it.

  29. AtrociousPink*

    #2, you have my sympathies. In my experience, employers don’t care about deficient tech skills as long as the employee can muddle through somehow. I’ve reformatted hundreds of Word documents created by people who make their living using Word yet can’t be bothered to learn to use it correctly. What too few people realize is that correctly using technology increases efficiency, decreases error rates, and makes work easier and less repetitive. (I became a Word whiz out of sheer laziness.) Oh, well.

      1. AtrociousPink*

        Yes! Why does NO ONE in my industry (other than a few experts who blog about it) get that? I hope your industry is less backward.

  30. Anon Moose*

    #2 That’s a super specific thing in Excel. Plus Microsoft changes Excel around frequently and menu options have moved. I am pretty tech savvy and I had trouble getting used to the new version of Word for a while, never mind Excel, which has a bunch of functions that if you don’t use regularly, you forget. I only know how to do Excel because if I don’t know how to do something- I google it! And then a microsoft help webpage or a youtube video comes up, I learn how to do said thing.
    Basically, though, your criticism sounds quite harsh. Be more patient when people don’t know every little thing about every little program. That’s common!

  31. Liana*

    OP #2 – are there any training classes available to this person so they can improve their Microsoft Office skills? I understand your frustration, but I remember when I first started out, the vast majority of my MS Office knowledge was learned on the fly, and I was painfully mediocre at most basic Excel functions for awhile. Luckily, my employer offers training classes on Excel (and pretty much every other program). I took a Powerpoint training class one day and it was a total game changer. If your company offers any of these training classes, or is even willing to pay for this coworker to take one off-site somewhere, it could be a great way for this coworker to learn the necessary skills.

    1. Liana*

      I almost forgot to comment on #5, which is essentially, tell your nephew to run the hell away. 100 free hours of training? There’s no way that’s going to be a legitimate, functional place to work. When I was fresh out of college I got sucked into a job like that, basically banging down the doors of senior citizens to try and sell them insurance. I was way too young and naive to know how shady it was. Alison is right – 100 hours of “free” training is almost certainly illegal, and even if the company itself is a legitimate one, the way they’re treating your nephew certainly isn’t.

  32. Allison*

    While I get that Excel functions are a little different from, say, programming in Java, I do agree that computer literacy is important for most jobs. That is, either knowing how to do something or being able to learn how when you need to do it. Don’t know a function in Excel? Look it up! Don’t know how to use a printer? Ask, but make a point of actually learning and remembering how to use the printer! It’s okay to not know how to do all the things, but it’s not okay to refuse to learn and continue asking people to do things for you, or making people show you how to do the same thing over and over. Also, I agree it’s important for people to pay attention to what they’re doing and make sure it’s okay to, say, delete things in shared files. Or reject job candidates who didn’t even know they were being considered for a job (yet).

    I just had a coworker send a bunch of rejection e-mails to passive candidates I found online and put in the system for consideration, because she didn’t pay attention to where they came from, and it’s not the first time she’s done it either despite my constant reminders; this time I’m not saying anything because last time she blamed me for her mistakes.

    I hate when people use the “ohhhh I’m just not used to using this thing” as an excuse for making careless mistakes over and over and over again.

    That said, if it’s a coworker, there’s not much you can do. You can talk to your manager about your concerns, and you can say “I’d like you to learn to do this yourself, I can’t remind you each time” or something, but you can’t tell someone you don’t manage that they need better computer literacy.

  33. Barefoot Librarian*

    OP#5 – An ex-husband of mine ended up getting suckered into working a commission only sales position right out of high school. He had two weeks worth of unpaid training and shadowing, then when he did start making sales himself (which he had to source through cold-calls, set up appointments, and demo the product), the company found reasons to not pay him all of the commission owned. They’d tell him that they financed the customer with a bad credit, high risk loan and they don’t pay full commission for that and things of that nature. By the end of this almost five week venture, he’d made under $500. He was super young and didn’t know how illegal their treatment of him was, but the take away that I got from that experience was that if they aren’t treating you right (and PAYING you) during training, then don’t expect them to treat you well later.

    May I’m negative about this, but I’d say “thanks but no thanks.”

  34. Qestia*

    #3 reminded me how on my first day on the job at a very prestigious university – my new manager said the office would all go out to lunch to welcome me, and when we got the restaurant (counter service but nice place) it was apparent we were all – myself included – paying for our own food. I was pretty shocked that at this famously wealthy institution, not only would the school not pay for a welcome lunch – but that my new manager wouldn’t even foot the bill herself (it was just a sandwich place – it wouldn’t have been extraordinary). It probably would have made more sense to just skip it.

    But I have a lot of stories about that place – and left after eight months.

    1. Ellen Ripley*

      To be fair, universities have different capabilities to expense things than private businesses. Public universities are often limited in the same ways that government agencies are, and even private universities often have restrictive policies to avoid fraud or the appearance of fraud. I worked for a private university a few years ago and my program and position were funded via federal grants, which added another level of complexity and different rules. We could pay for lunch for the fellows, for sample, but not reimburse the catering company for any parking tickets they got while bringing the food. And alcohol always had to be itemized on a separate check and paid for by non grant funds, or personally by our director.

      1. De Minimis*

        I have to do that too, and it’s a huge pain!

        Government agencies [especially federal] are even more limited than grantees; they aren’t allowed to use their funds to pay for any kind of food at all [much less alcohol.] Grantees have more leeway, the only things totally forbidden are alcohol, lobbying, and fines/penalties [including late fees.]

        All in all, I prefer the simplicity of the government agency, where you know nothing is allowed and there’s no wiggle room.

      2. Stephanie*

        It’s never fair to spring expenses on folks. Period.

        If people will need to pay for themselves (because rules related to government spending or budgets just got slashed or whatever), that info should be given early and opting out should not be penalized.

  35. Bowserkitty*

    #4, I deal with this a lot also! I correspond often with doctors and I’ve found most respond back to me (after I’ve initiated contact greeting them as Dr. so-and-so) with their first names at the end of the email. It’s true that after a while you begin to feel more comfortable calling them their first name so I’ve taken the leap with some of them.

    To this day I’ve only had one in-house doctor explicitly ask me to call him by his name and not his title. ;(

  36. TootsNYC*

    Someone who continues to sign their emails with Mr. or Ms. after that is telling you clearly what they prefer.

    Interesting side note: It’s actually bad etiquette to refer to yourself using a courtesy title; You sign your full name, and other people call you Ms. Stark. It’s pretentious to call yourself Ms. Stark.

    There’s a fun moment in a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery where this comes into play; Lord Peter goes to visit an American tycoon and gives him his card, which doesn’t list any title. And the poor guy has to figure out how to address him.

  37. Cautionary tail*

    Are commission-only sales jobs a scam, Op #5
    My college kid just got an offer for exactly what you describe. It was for Vector Marketing to sell Cutco knives.


    Go to YouTube and search for either “cutco” or “vector marketing.”

    1. Lindsay J*

      I thought I possibly smelled Vector Marketing on this one. They used to advertise “jobs for college students $17 an hour” all over my campus.

  38. Cookie Monster*

    #5 I’ve actually been where your nephew is! I worked for a month doing door-to-door sales for a company where pay was commission only. Anything where it’s door-to-door AND commission only I would steer clear of. In my case, I did end up making some money, but it didn’t even begin to cover the bridge tolls, gas, and wear and tear on my car (which I had to use to get to my territories.) After having a total breakdown one morning on some random suburban street where I was supposed to be working, I just walked away. Turns out the whole thing was a scam- I’m not sure whether I’m glad it was only a month of my life, or if I should be upset it took me a whole month to figure it out!

    1. De Minimis*

      I had a job like that when I was younger and didn’t know any better–the job was legit, but the towns I was assigned to were a good 50-60 miles from where I lived. Even in the days of $1.00/gallon gas it wasn’t worth it.

  39. Izzy*

    #5 – there are some “network sales” organizations that target college students. My son came home one day during his freshman year at college so excited because he “got a job!” by responding to a flyer placed on his windshield in the school parking lot. It was selling some very good quality, but very expensive, lets say teapots, through home demonstrations, 100% commission. He had to generate his own leads with friends and family, and then ask them for referrals to people they knew, and so on. Success in this depends on having a social network of friends and family that can actually afford these prices – think $1200 for a tea set- and nobody in our social circle could. Or if they could, they had already bought teapots from their nephew or someone more closely related. There were students who did well at this, if they came from relatively affluent families (who naturally had similarly situated friends and neighbors) but eventually they too ran out of people to sell to. Unless they could build a downline by recruiting kids like my son.
    My son works in sales now, on a salary plus (not very generous) commission, and he’s good at it. Wish he’d go into something like real estate but that’s another story. As a broke college student, he needed an income he could count on though, so his experience was disappointing. He spent a lot of time to earn almost nothing.

  40. TootsNYC*

    The family vacation in the summer–this can be a real adjustment for parents and extended family. They’re used to one paradigm when it comes to the kids, and it changes.

    (It happens at other times–I remember having to point out to my MIL that her grandkids couldn’t just come over for an overnight anytime she wanted them to–they had soccer and homework and friends, which hadn’t been an issue in grade school.)

    I’m going through this now–we’d like to take a family vacation before the high schooler gets summer internships, classes, jobs. And we can’t include the college grad-to-be, because she’s going to have summer internships, classes, jobs. And maybe even a “real” job.

  41. OP 2*

    Thanks for all of your comments. My question, although I did give two specific examples, was more about the general issue of computer/technology literacy in the workplace. There have been a few other incidents where I’ve been surprised by a lack of MS Office skills, basic computer knowledge (think right click type things) but I didn’t include them for brevity’s sake. I’ve always thought of myself as being somewhat lacking in skills in these areas and I was surprised when I started working at my current job at the difficulties other people had. I think as per usual, Alison is spot on. My organization is not going to require a MS Office skills assessment for interviewees (or something similar) because we have a hard enough time finding the core skills for our line of work, but it probably would be fine to let some colleagues know about Lynda.com, youtube, the help menu, etc. We all get along well and this issue is more in the column of “minor annoyances” that AAM provides good perspective on rather than “should I send out resumes?”

  42. Kaybee*

    OP1, I think the advice given earlier about looking at how much time employees at the company accrue is spot on. Our interns are paid and accrue vacation/sick leave similar to any other new employee. Someone with a 4 month internship will earn about 5.5 days off, and someone with a 2 month internship will earn just under three – we’d probably let her make up an hour or two somewhere so she could have three full paid days. We absolutely encourage them to take their earned days off; the importance of a work-life balance is something we try to teach our interns. (Though we don’t encourage it, we do understand if a student would rather cash out their vacation at the end – most of us have been broke at one time or another.) Plus, there are a lot of lessons to be learned around requesting/using vacation time for someone who is brand new to an office environment (sometimes even just teaching them how to put their vacation time on the shared calendar). If someone wanted to use more time than they accrued, particularly if it were significantly more time, it would raise some eyebrows. Of course it’s different if there were something like a death in the family or another emergency, but we would expect that you would use your accrued leave for a family vacation.

    From your email I’m guessing you probably don’t accrue vacation time as part of your internship, but I still would use the amount of vacation time a new employee would earn at your company as a guideline of how much time is acceptable to request off.

    1. Collie*

      Yes! And many public libraries (and employers) subscribe, giving their patrons/employees free-to-them access!

  43. EA*

    I see a lot of comments about how either interns shouldn’t get vacation time, or should schedule vacations around the internship. Whether or not interns get vacation time is debatable, but if they do, they should use the same accrual schedule as the rest of the company.

    At my company, everyone earns vacation based on # of hours worked. For every 120 hours worked, you accrue one vacation day.

    So, for an 8 week internship (40 days x 8 hrs = 320 hours worked), the hypothetical intern would earn 2.6 vacation days that they would be able to take. 24 week internship (120 days x 8 hrs = 960 hours worked), the intern would earn 8 days of vacation time.

    Using that standard, for an 8-10 week summer internship, 1 week of vacation time would be generous, and 2 weeks would be almost unheard of.

  44. eng manager*

    I am really put off by OP#3. I have never had the expectation that anyone would pay for my lunch, unless it was a compulsory meeting or interview, and in those cases I usually ask. As a manager I always explicitly tell people when I am taking them out, and I expect that I would be proactively informed that lunch is on someone else. How strange to see that there seems to be this other mentality where people assume that their lunch is being paid for unless told otherwise!

    1. One of the Sarahs*

      But if it has been the office culture, that management pays, up to now, it’s a fair assumption

  45. BananaPants*

    #3: We have very limited situations in which the company foots the bill for a group lunch. I think service anniversaries are one of them starting at 15 years, and definitely at 20, 25, etc. with the employee being allowed to have a progressively larger lunch group as the number gets higher.
    When someone leaves for a different job or our summer interns go back to school we’ll usually have a group lunch but the organizer makes it clear in the meeting invite that everyone but the guest(s) of honor need to pay their own way, and then all of us end up splitting the cost of the honoree’s lunch. I would strongly recommend that folks do this if it’s pay-your-own rather than paid by the company.

  46. ohthehorror*

    A bit late to the game, but here is my very weird experience with the pay-your-own-lunch thing: my former employer required monthly restaurant luncheons ($15 – $25 per person on average) and required employees to pay their own way. We asked about this policy and expressed concern about affordability for the low-wage earners in the office, and were told that we each could certainly afford it. You could not get out of these unless you called in for the day. Period. No exceptions, ever, at any time. HR officially turned a blind eye as did the manager’s supervisor, so complaining was useless. Generally the consequences of non-attendance (even for reasons such as an emergency client meeting) were tantrums, shaming, exclusion, crummy assignments, or some other passive-aggressive retaliation. Ah, good times. Good times.

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