I don’t speak French but my job requires it, do I have to tell my boss I’m writing about astrology, and more

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

1. I don’t speak French but my job requires it

A few months ago I applied for a job with a large multinational which required French language skills. I met all the other requirements for this role, and made it clear in the cover letter that I did not speak French but considered myself to otherwise be a good fit for the position. When I did an interview screen with a recruiter, she said she was aware I did not speak French and this might be a problem, but said she’d leave that to the hiring manager to make that call. I went through four rounds of interviews, and in the last round, with the VP for the department, she asked, “How quickly can you learn French?” with a smile. I thought it was a joke and said I would make an effort to learn some French outside of work.

Ultimately, I received a job offer and was very excited about it. However, I have now started the role and it’s very obvious that French language skills are essential. I am required to travel to our sites in French-speaking Africa 25% of the time, my handover notes are in French, and the colleagues at a similar level as me all speak French. I’m really uncomfortable about this because I’m not able to interact with or contribute to the team in the same way that I’ve been able to in other roles. Try as I might I’m not going to learn enough French any time soon. I mentioned my concerns to the VP and she brushed them off, saying, “You’re learning, how long could it take to learn French?” Adding to the confusion is the fact that my surname is French so people presume I speak the language. Finally, the manager I report to is off on maternity leave and will be back in one month’s time – she did not interview me and doesn’t know I don’t speak French – but I have been taunted by a colleague who likes to gossip that she will be “incredulous” when she learns I was hired. What should I do?

Ugh. Ideally you would have asked directly before accepting the offer, “How much of an issue will it be that I don’t speak French?” — but it’s far more on them for not getting this right than it is on you (and it sounds like they might have wrongly believed it was okay anyway, so that question might not have helped).

Talk to the VP again, and this time answer her question about how long it’ll take to learn French. Insist on having a real conversation about how to proceed, given that you’re not going to master it in the next few months. If that doesn’t get you better answers, then I’d plan on talking to the manager as soon as she returns and explaining what happened — that you were up-front about your lack of French in the hiring process but it’s become clear that the work you’ve been assigned requires it — and see what she wants to do. Meanwhile, though, I’d be job searching — there’s just too high of a chance that they hired you for you a job you can’t do. That’s their fault, not yours (and you might be able to negotiate severance because of it) but it sounds like it might be the reality of it. I’m sorry — that sucks.

2. Giving references for multiple people for the same job

If I know several people who are applying for the same job, are there ethical issues around who I should recommend?

The hiring manager for the job in question was my boss before I left to go to grad school. I left under excellent terms, have continued to publish research with him, and am in regular contact with him. He’s asked me multiple times over the last few years if I happened to know any candidates who would be interested in positions he has open. I think I have good reason to believe that my recommendation carries more than the usual amount of weight.

A position just opened up with the company, and Former Grad School Classmate 1 asked me for a recommendation, since s/he knows I used to work for Boss. I agreed, because I know his/her work and can give him/her an enthusiastic recommendation. Boss got in touch and we arranged to chat about the position and the candidate next week.

The next day, Former Grad School Classmate 2 asked me for a recommendation! Classmate 2 is also excellent, but his/her skill set might be a slightly better match than Classmate 1’s. I haven’t yet heard from Boss about Classmate 2, but given that we all graduated from the same program around the same time, I’d be surprised if he didn’t ask me which candidate I thought would be a better fit.

I guess it’s sort of a nice problem to have: they’re both very good candidates (at least in my view), so I can say that to Boss with a clear conscience. But it seems a bit unfair, somehow, to Classmate 1— who after all, asked me first— for me to talk about Classmate 2 in slightly more glowing terms. What do you think?

You don’t want to give references based on who contacted you first — there’s no calling dibs with references. And I promise you that your former boss definitely does not want that impacting what you say to him.

Be candid with him about each person — strengths and weaknesses — and it’s fine to be honest about who you think would be better for the job if that’s something you have an assessment of. (Wouldn’t you be dismayed to learn that a trusted contact was pulling punches in talking to you about candidates she knew, just because one of them contacted her one day earlier than the other?)

3. Do I have to give my boss a heads-up I’m writing about astrology?

I have been an administrative assistant for a solo practitioner in the healthcare industry for several years. Outside work, I am heavily into astrology. I don’t discuss this at work because there is enough drama at that office that people clearly do not need one more thing to have a drama about. When I go on vacation to an astrology conference, I am “visiting friends.”

At the last such conference I attended, I was approached by a woman who asked me to write an article for her astrology blog. I am excited about the opportunity and hope I could wind up writing more than one article for her blog, but I would first like to get a sense of what the blowback might be at the day job. I do not intend to discuss the blog or work on the blog at the day job, but what could happen if the day job nonetheless found out?

The day job has an employee handbook — explicitly identified as not a contract, but guidance — and the guidance given therein on “Moonlighting” asks that I check with the practitioner before engaging in outside activities “that bring discredit or embarrassment to [the practitioner].”

Well, who gets to decide what is discredit or embarrassment? I clearly don’t think astrology is an embarrassment, but I suspect the practitioner would not react well if I were to run it by him. Weirdly enough, I did not worry about this kind of thing at all when I volunteered for political campaigns advocating gay marriage and various Democratic Party candidates — popular enough in our town, and with the practitioner, but could perhaps be taken differently elsewhere. I didn’t talk about the political volunteering at work either, but I didn’t worry that something bad would happen if I was found out. The employee handbook also mentions that they do not discriminate based on a long list of factors including religion. So where do you draw the line between an embarrassment and a religion?

It’s pretty much up to your employer to decide where he feels that line is, in a case that isn’t not going to invoke protected characteristics like race, sex, or disability (with the possible exception of a couple of states like California that have stronger privacy protections for employees’ out-of-work activities, but even there, employers have some leeway for stuff that can argue impacts their business).

It sounds like you’re saying you see astrology as a religion. If it’s what the law considers a bona fide religious belief, you have more ground to stand on in asserting your right to do this without it impacting your job.

Otherwise, you’d basically have three choices: check with your boss, do it without checking and hope he doesn’t finds out or doesn’t care, or write under a pen name.

4. Is there a database for employers to find out about firings and other work history?

I have had a lot of people brag to me about how they lied on their resume. Sure, they have a master’s degree, but it’s in psychology and it’s from Strayer even though their resume says it’s an MBA from Wharton. Their grants administration experience is really experience getting people to apply for credit cards in retail stores. The eight years in a law office with progressively greater responsibilities? Never happened. I know people who throw a party when their old employer goes out of business since it means a posthumous promotion from clerk to supervisor.

This is wrong, isn’t it? I mean, there are databases that the big companies subscribe to that note what an employee really got fired for, aren’t there? We have no real privacy rights in the USA, and salespeople can get very detailed information about spending habits so there must be databases about how and why people got fired, right? Only you can’t check it like you can check a credit score.

Who are you hanging with that you’re encountering this with such frequency?? This is a thing that happens on occasion, but it’s not typical — and it’s pretty easily catchable if people do it.

There’s no central database* with the kind of information you’re talking about, but it’s pretty common for employers to verifying schooling (easily done by contacting the school) and employment. It’s true that when an employer is out of business, things get harder to verify, but a determined employer has ways of doing that (asking to be put in touch with previous managers or colleagues, asking the next employer what job they hired you out of, etc.). It’s also true that the older things are on your resume, the less motivated an employer will be to do extensive verification, but older stuff isn’t going to strengthen your candidacy all that much anyway, so you’re not gaining much by changing a job title or whatever crap your friends are doing.

Moreover, if you lie your way into a job by claiming experience you don’t have, it’s pretty unlikely that job is going to go well for you — since you’re going to be given work that depends on experience and skills you don’t have.

* There is a thing called The Work Number that employers can pay to subscribe to. It tracks work history and sometimes salary (!), but it’s often missing information or just plain inaccurate (and definitely doesn’t track things like reasons for firings).

5. Thanking a boss who got me a full-time offer

I have recently been made an offer to convert from a contract worker to a full-time employee at a very large corporate company. I know this is in no small part due to my boss, who has gone to bat for me over the last several months to make sure I was extended a generous package in a timely manner, even when things on the back end were uncertain.

How do I appropriately express my genuine gratitude to him? It is such a big deal to me and I know he went out of his way to make it happen. Do we hug it out? Should I compose a thank-you email? Do I carry on as business as usual and not say anything? I do want him to know how thankful I am to him but am at loss of how to express the gratitude appropriately.

Just tell him in person in a direct and sincere way. For example: “I know you really went to bat to make this happen, and I want to let you know how much I appreciate it. Thank you so much.”

{ 429 comments… read them below }

  1. JessaB*

    There are some exceptionally good courses for learning languages quickly (the State Department and military have been using them for years.) If they value you as an employee they’d probably be willing to put you in one of them. There are also some pretty darned good free courses you can take (my library subscribes to Mango languages so I could sign in for free and learn.) There are others as well. But the faster you get proactive about learning French in a structured manner, the more likely you’ll get to keep that job if they like you for all the other qualifications.

    1. Christopher Tracy*

      This is a good point; however, like Alison, I have doubts this is going to end well for OP. It sounds like this job needs her to know how to read, write, and speak French pretty fluently, and I’m not sure how realistic it is to think this will happen with a few online courses in the next couple of weeks or even months. Maybe if there’s some hardcore French immersion program out there for adult beginners, I could see this working, but I don’t know if OP’s company would want to spend the resources, or could if they wanted to, to get her up to speed when it’s much cheaper to just hire someone who can speak the language of and then train them how to do the rest.

      And I’m really side-eying the VP here. “How long could it take to learn French?” Um, for non-native speakers who don’t start young and who may or may not have the aptitude for languages, it could take years.

      1. MK*

        Yes, that comment, even as a joke, was downright idiotic. The way I see it, the person who should have made the hiring decision was on leave and their replacement screwed up.

        1. babblemouth*

          I’m a native French speaker, and learning other languages has made me realize how difficult French is. If you’re starting from a Latin language like Spanish or Italian, it can go a bit faster, but in general, learning languages is hard. An entire year of full-immersion is usually what it takes to achieve fluency.

          1. MK*

            I think any language, even supposedly “easy” ones, would be difficult to learn good enough for work. I can read newspapers in German, but handover notes, absolutely not. Also, I can more or less communicate with people in everyday conversations, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing the same in the workplace; it’s one thing to stumble for words and get grammar and syntax wrong when ordering lunch and another to be the person who struggles to be understood in a meeting.

            1. Newby*

              Yeah. It is easy to learn enough to get by in a pinch. It is hard to learn enough to communicate complex ideas or not sound like a 5 year old.

              1. Anna*

                This so much. Imagine learning complex ideas in one language and then having to speak about them in another. I learned a lot of linguistic and literary concepts in Spanish. I can’t really talk about them in English the same way.

                (English is my first language; Spanish my second.)

            2. Joseph*

              This goes double with the OP being in-country with the client. If it was all formal conference calls or a one-off, then it might be easier, but being there in person so much (25% of the time!), OP will have to deal with all sorts of semi-informal language – colloquialisms, shorthand, jargon, local dialects, and so on. Rosetta Stone/Mango/whatever isn’t going to really teach you these. And without the years of experience and vocabulary in the language that other French speakers have, OP probably won’t be able to puzzle out meanings via context clues.

              1. SS*

                Not even just trying to understand the slang and colloquialisms, but imagine trying to learn all the technical, industry specific vocab as well!

            3. Nina*

              Yeah, this is a crucial point. Learning a new language for casual or social reasons is one thing, but learning it for work is an entirely different animal. OP has to learn the basics of French, but she also has to know how to properly communicate about specifics of her job, which is like jumping from basic to advanced in one step.

            4. vpc*

              It depends how you learn. French was actually my fourth language, and I learned it by immersion in a work environment (in West Africa, actually). While I am extremely comfortable leading a meeting or reading notes written by someone else, I really struggle with some of the basics like ingredients on a menu item, and playing car games with my friends’ kindergarten kids in French? forget it.

              In conversation I can talk without a hitch and my grammar sounds right, but heaven forbid I actually try to write something – I guarantee you I’ll screw up almost every verb tense, but you can’t tell when I’m speaking.

              OP, it took me about six months of immersion to be mostly okay for work in W Africa – I found the accent there much easier to understand and words more clearly enunciated than when working with French or Canadian native speakers – and probably two years before I really felt fluent.

            5. FirstTimer*

              Yours is an interesting perspective, and I have to say I’ve had the opposite experience. I am living and working in Francophone Africa and my French skills were very basic when I arrived, so my position was fairly similar to OP. That was two years ago and my French is almost fluent now (I live with lots of Anglophone colleagues so I haven’t been fully immersed in the language). However I am much more comfortable holding a performance review or a meeting with government officials in French than I am reading a newspaper or going to a party with people my own age in French! I’ve just had much more experience using French in the workplace than in other settings.

              I would recommend that OP speak with their manager (or the VP during the manager’s leave) about setting aside ~15% of their work time in her first few months to focus on their French language development, either with online resources that others have mentioned here and/or an Africa-based tutor by Skype (to get used to the accent). Set realistic goals about what you can achieve, and use your manager to keep you accountable to these goals. Everyone’s language learning capacities are different but it’s not an impossible task!

          2. Colette*

            The Canadian government is bilingual and has been known to send people on full time language training for a year to get to a good-but-not-fluent level. Of course, immersion is different, but expecting the OP to get there in a couple of months while working full time is not reasonable.

            1. LaurenB*

              I work for the Canadian government, in a pretty Anglophone region no less, and this was my thought – it’s not unheard of for higher-level hires to be sent almost immediately on full-time language training. My senior manager did this, and she’s now conversant enough to get by. (However, where we are, sometimes the best option is to show that you’re willing to speak French but that it would be too painful for the Francophone to deal with – if they choose to switch to English, your bases are covered. I’ve never heard someone choose to continue in French with Senior Manager!)

              If OP1’s employers are serious about keeping her on, they could grant a leave of absence for this purpose – but it’s a pretty serious investment for the OP as well.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                Ha, we had French Canadian customers at Exjob, and I learned pretty quickly not to greet them in French when speaking on the phone because they would then assume I was fluent. My straggling, pitiful leftover college French wasn’t enough to deal with it. At least I could apologize and tell them Je ne parle pas Francais; parlez-vous Anglais, s’il vous plait? And of course really sh!tty pronunciation is a dead giveaway!

                1. Chinook*

                  Having worked in Ottawa in a department of Quebecois Francophones, I learned very quickly that they made language assumptions based purely on last names and/or where you were born. This was problematic as they were coordinating volunteers and wouldn’t even bother to ask for someone’s language abilities before assigning them to a French or English section. They just wouldn’t believe me when I said I came from Francophone stock that lived in Alberta since the 1860’s and that I was only a first generation Anglophone (though I am the first to admit that my family speaks a dialect of French closer to Parisenne then Qubecois). They also wouldn’t believe me that I had family members with French language university degrees (as in the language used in the school was French, not English) from the University of Alberta from a college that was almost 100 years old (Faculte St. Jean).

                  It was an enlightening conversation on both sides (I couldn’t believe that they were so surprised) and eventually lead to a full rewrite of their applications.

                  As for speaking French in Quebec, I eventually gave up because I couldn’t speak Quebecois (and there are no real books or dictionaries out there) and I knew enough French to understand perfectly well the rude things being said about my accent. I would have picked it up in a few months if others had made an attempt to understand as I have no problem reading and listening, just pronouncing. But that is only because I have been hearing it basically since birth, studying it on and off since grade 1 and just need a chance to bring it from the back of my mind to the front.

                  But for OP #1’s boss to expect someone with no experience in the language itself, especially if they have never learned a second language (which sort of requires rewiring the brain to get around the concept of 2 ways to express the exact same thing), in just a few months is insane. I lived alone in Japan for 2 years and I was still just pointing and gesturing to buy food after 6 months and wasn’t able to hold a conversation until after a year.

            2. Jen*

              Speaking as a Canadian government employee of many years, the full-time immersive training is a pretty rare thing reserved for executives, and it’s with the intention that they come back with a very high level of French (think advanced or exempted from being tested again level, not beginner/functional).

              There are other courses that are offered for people new to the language, but they’re usually group classes offered once or twice a week. Even one-on-one training is less common, since it’s much more expensive (though mileage varies from department to department).

              All of that to say, I’m blown away that they would hire a candidate who said she didn’t speak French to a role that requires an advanced level knowledge of the language. It’s going to take a lot of work on her part to get up to where she needs to be, and I hope she and her hiring manager can work something out.

              1. Chinook*

                “All of that to say, I’m blown away that they would hire a candidate who said she didn’t speak French to a role that requires an advanced level knowledge of the language.”

                Me too, and I speak as someone who was able to convince the hiring manager to change their language requirement from fluently bilingual to conversant in the other official language. and that was only possible because a)a director of the organization was able to recommend me highly to that department and b)I was able to point out that I wouldn’t be answering overly complicated questions in English or French as they would be passed on to the 3 other bilingual subject experts anyway. All they really needed was someone fluent enough to make the caller think I could speak French before I transferred them to someone who could help them, which is very different from being fluently bilingual.

          3. Alston*

            It also depends how fluent she needs to be. If she needs to be able to speak conversationally and read and write some it may not be that long.

            I did an exchange program in high school in Italy and I started learning Italian by brute force. After a month I was conversational and could read and write well enough to get by. Fluency took longer but it is possible to learn quickly.

            Depends also, do you want this job if you have to learn French OP? How long have you been there/have you started learning yet?

            1. Whats In A Name*

              “well enough to get by” isn’t going to really work in a professional setting where 25% of her time is spent in a french-speaking country.

              Overall, I just feel bad for OP. It sounds like she made a few attempts to find out if this was a necessity and unfortunately it sounds like it really is but no one else seems to get the importance of how this might affect her professional (or personal for that matter) future.

            2. Bwmn*

              I think it’s reasonable to bring up that a lot of jobs like this don’t need genuine fluency – however I think having a task that seems so necessary to thrive in a job is going to make learning French incredibly difficult. Being able to take an immersion program requires the time to just focus on the language.

              While there are likely some night time adult learning classes for French, their quality will likely have a wide range and the OP may be in a position of having to wait for the right class to start.

          4. Ginny*

            I’m American and my husband is French-Canadian and, even though he is completely fluent in English, I wanted to learn French since it’s his native language. Between speaking only French with him, having a tutor (basically a francophone lady that I paid to converse with me in French) a couple of days a week and using Rosetta Stone, I’d say that it took me about a year and a half before I was comfortable wandering around Quebec City without a translator.

            1. Ginny*

              Sorry, I forgot to add that I’d taken French through high school and college so I did have a good foundation to build on.

        2. Technical Editor*

          Agreed. It reminds me of a former VP at ToxicJob. Two days before I was leaving for another job, the VP asked me, “So you can translate our training classes into French before you leave, right?”

          I just laughed at him.

          1. babblemouth*

            Ugh, that’s another thing that annoys me so much: the assumption that because you have fluency in another language, you can be a translator/ interpreter on a whim when it’s needed. There’s a reason it’s a full job that people train for. It takes so much more than fluency.

      2. Elysian*

        I think when I was teaching children who were second language learners we were told it takes 7 years of immersion to become truly fluent. I don’t know if that standard works for adults, but I can only imagine it is harder for them.

      3. Neeta (RO)*

        And I’m really side-eying the VP here. “How long could it take to learn French?” Um, for non-native speakers who don’t start young and who may or may not have the aptitude for languages, it could take years.

        I always found it weird how some employers just sort of assume people proficiency in a foreign language.
        Once I was contacted for a job that said French language skills would be nice to have. As the recruiter contacted me, I was upfront about my lack of language skills, but was assured it was not a deal-breaker.
        And then the prospective team lead looks at me all baffled: “Surely you must know SOME French .” I was nearly tempted to empty my pockets to prove that I didn’t mistakenly carry some forgotten French knowledge around.

        1. Chickaletta*

          The thing is, a lot of people all over the world speak at least two languages, and once you know at least two languages, the others become easier to learn.

          The language problem is unique to Americans who tend to be mono-lingual, so people who already know several languages don’t realize just how difficult it is for an adult to learn a second language when they’ve never spoken anything but English their whole life. So when the manager asked “how long?”, she may have been serious. For a mono-lingual American to pick up French, it may take years. But for someone who already knows say English, Spanish, and Russian, picking up French might take just a couple months.

          1. Neeta (RO)*

            The thing is, a lot of people all over the world speak at least two languages, and once you know at least two languages, the others become easier to learn.

            Easier sure, but becoming proficient enough for work will still take time.

            For example, I studied German in high school for about 6 years. I liked learning languages, was good at it, to the point that I even participated in German language contests. After I finished high school however, I hadn’t spoken/read/listened to the language for about 10 years.

            So when I was hired by a company that valued German language skills, it took me about 6 months to become confortable enough in the language, to easily converse via e-mail/IM with clients. And that was by attending German classes 2 times/week, reading at least 2 German books/month, and grabbing every opportunity to converse with clients in German. Most of my colleagues, who started from scratch were nowhere near conversant after 2 years (by relying solely on the aforementioned classes).

            1. Red*

              I’m in the same boat as you w/r/t early German language education. I’m confident I could become conversant again if I were immersed in a German-speaking community or really, really needed to study the language again… But fluent in under 6 months, especially from scratch? Nah.

          2. MashaKasha*

            Uh, no. I’m fluent in English and Russian and I could not learn enough French in a couple of months to be able to use it for work if my life depended on it. Believe me, I tried.

            1. babblemouth*

              I’m fluent in three languages, and trying to learn language #4, and it’s proving to be a real problem. Some languages are just SO much harder than others…

          3. pope suburban*

            I think this is a big part of it. I was lucky– I grew up speaking French as well as English, and I picked French as one of my foreign languages in middle and high school. Now, I can blunder my way through a surprising amount of French, just because that foundation has always been there. I could probably get functional in whatever time frame this VP wants– in French. Not so for, say, German or Russian or even Japanese (My four years of it in high school have gone poof). Looking at it from that side, I can’t say as either party is wrong, although I would hope a VP of a multilingual company would be a bit more aware of cultural differences when it comes to language and number of languages spoken.

          4. Xay*

            I don’t think it’s that simple either. Most of my family is multilingual (English, Zulu, Afrikaans, and Xhosa) but most grew up speaking those languages or being immersed in those languages at school from a young age. That’s very different from picking up a language in a nonimmersion setting as an adult. Perhaps learning languages that are similar to each other or learned simultaneously from a young age is easier to pick up, but being multilingual isn’t enough, especially for use in a professional setting

          5. Just Another Techie*

            Not really. I learned enough French and Japanese in high school to pass fluency exams (JLPT ni-kyuu, back when the JLPT had four levels, and the junior version of the DELF). I was totally unable to “pick up” Spanish when I worked with a bunch of Spanish-speakers. It would have taken serious study to get to being able to do more than sort-of kind-of following along while the people around me conversed.

          6. Intrepid*

            I think this is partly true, but not to that extent. I studied French almost to the point of fluency in high school and college, and then started studying Russian in grad school. I have no doubt that if I really buckled down and tried to learn Russian, I could get to the same level in less time, because I learned how I learn– that rote memorization really is THAT important, that I learn by writing things out and translating better than just reading… and that I suck at learning languages overall, so I need to sink time into it.

            That said, the difference wouldn’t be that huge–more like I’d get there in 5 years vs. 6 years, not 6 months. I think starting with Duolingo et al could help OP show a good faith effort when her manager comes back– but she won’t be conversant.

          7. Aurion*

            Ha, I speak English and Mandarin fluently, and I took classes for Japanese and French through school.

            I assure you I would not be able to pick up Japanese or French–both of which I’ve studied before–in a few months.

          8. Chickaletta*

            I’m not talking about knowing a language from studying it in high school or college. I’m talking about being completely fluent in another language from speaking it everyday with native speakers. The people I know who have that kind of fluency in another language were more likely to learn a third or fourth language quicker and with more confidence than someone who has never become fluent in a language other than their native tongue.

            Of course, I may be looking at it backwards. Maybe the people who have the confidence and aptitude for other languages are more likely to learn them. Either way, high school foreign language classes aren’t what I’m talking about here.

            1. Aurion*

              I wasn’t very clear in my post. To clarify, I speak English and Mandarin fluently and speak with native speakers in those languages every day. I also took Japanese and French classes in high school, but have forgotten them since.

              Despite having fluency in two languages already, and despite having learned French and Japanese before, I guarantee I will not approach anything resembling conversational fluency–never mind professional fluency–in either French or Japanese in a few months, even with intensive study. Maybe my previous study and/or my literacy in English/Mandarin can speed up my learning a little, but I would still need to put in a minimum of one or two years of regular study to not be a complete embarrassment. I’m guessing the OP does not have that kind of time.

            2. Neeta(RO)*

              That’s all nice and well, but how many people do you know whose fluency is mother tongue level in more than one language? I sure haven’t met many, and I’ve worked jobs were we had to do a lot of client facing work with foreigners.

              1. doreen*

                I know many – and they still often take time to be able to conduct business in one of the languages. Because even if you have spoken both Cantonese and English since you began talking, it doesn’t mean you will have the vocabulary to sell building materials in both languages.

            3. Tau*

              I don’t think I agree with this. I’m effectively a native speaker of two languages (I learned English at age five via my family moving to the US; apparently that doesn’t make me a native speaker in the technical linguistic sense, but I do consider myself one for all practical purposes), but I heavily doubt I’d be able to go from zero to fluency in a few months for any language. I’ve dabbled in other foreign languages since – French foremost, which I took for four years in high school – and although it’s true I’ve always been good at learning languages I don’t remember experiencing the sort of huge, significant advantage over monoglots you’re describing here.

      4. GreenTeaPot*

        I heard French growing up in an old French Canadian neighborhood, yet having taken two years in high school and five semesters in college, I still do not speak fluently. It’s a language best learned by immersion. I get by in France and Quebec, but could not conduct business in French.

        1. Christopher Tracy*

          Yeah, I had a French professor in college tell me that my reading and writing of the language was great and I was on track for fluency, but she said in order for me to become fluent in both, and in spoken French, I’d need to move to France like she did for a couple of years to really get it. My response was to ask if she was going to pay for it, lol.

        2. Smithy*

          From my experience with bilingual postings – for positions like the International Red Cross – fluency usually isn’t expected. Rather high level professional functioning, which in my experience isn’t always truly fluency.

          This isn’t to dismiss high level professional functioning, but I think it’s also possibly where the OP’s employer was coming from with the whole “oh, you’ll learn French”. I’ve worked with a number of international agencies where being bilingual can make a lot of room for loose definitions of the strength of that second language. Whether it’s the heaviness of the accent while speaking to being unable to write in the second language. That being said, an honest reality of a number of these positions is that you may not truly know till you get there how bilingual you actually need to be and how that will impact your job. And it really is important for the employer to be honest with themselves when hiring candidates in terms of how loose that can get.

          1. M-C*

            I totally agree that perfect fluency isn’t necessarily required. Fairly recently I worked for a company with many clients in Africa, and we were all more or less winging it. My supposedly bilingual-level colleagues were anything but fluent in English, and the clients were most often not native speakers of either the French or English we used to communicate. So everyone agreeing on basic, as clear-as-possible communication was a given, with much request for clarification on both sides, and minimal use of colloquialisms.

            Africans are smart, and almost universally multi-lingual, they won’t hold English against you AS LONG AS YOU’RE MAKING AN EFFORT. Which means OP stopping to wring your hands about how unfair it is that you’re being asked to make the same effort as everyone else, and getting to it. Yes you may well lose this job once someone realizes they’ve hired a dud in a major area. But meanwhile you have a few weeks to pick up -something- to prove you can learn. If I can manage to explain Unix system snarls to a client in halting, infinitive-laden Spanish, you can spit out a few polite but relevant phrases. Comprehension comes much quicker than fluency too, and it matters most.

            Learning language is a lifelong process. I know many emigrants of all types who still have recognizable accents, slaughter the occasional gender, and can’t subjectify themselves out of a paper bag, even after decades of immersion, but who still -function- in life, and function well. Meanwhile, at work you can agitate for an Alliance Francaise stint, or just sign yourself up for an evening class, it’s expensive but worthwhile, it’ll get you on track with grammar. The main problem with teaching language to US adults is that they have almost no concept of grammar in their own language, so they can’t learn anything else efficiently.

            And load up Duo Linguo on your phone this minute, and do it all day, every day, replace facebook or whatever other phone vices with it. It’s not a panacea, but it’s good immersion, imho it gives you a decent foundation once you’re going.

            And mercifully you have a huge backlog of French movies to watch, whether free at your public library or just on netflix, no matter what style of movie you may like otherwise (beware however of Canadian movies, this is not at all the same French and it won’t do in Africa!). A friend of mine would watch a movie 3 times in quick succession: with English subtitles to get what’s going on, with French subtitles to integrate the written and the oral, and without a net to check it was all being integrated. Rinse, repeat as needed. If you did nothing but that every day till your real boss comes back, you might be able to impress her with your progress, or at least your attitude.

            1. Neeta(RO)*

              OP stopping to wring your hands about how unfair it is that you’re being asked to make the same effort as everyone else, and getting to it.

              That’s quite and unfair attitude towards OP. As far as I see it, their problem is that they don’t speak French AT ALL, while the rest of the company is fluent enough to be able to read/write/speak using work-specific language. IMO that’s a significant gap to bridge in just a few months.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Yeah — and the OP isn’t say it’s unfair that she’s being asked to do what others are doing. She’s concerned that she was hired for skills they clearly knew she didn’t have.

              2. Smithy*

                I agree completely.

                My initial post had nothing to do with putting this as a doable task on the OP. As I’ve said down thread, I was in a very similar hiring position – the job asked for someone with two language skills. Despite having some of the second language, I didn’t feel it was in a professional level and said so in the interview. The organization determined it wasn’t a deal breaker – and to their credit, they were right. Internally there was one meeting a week where someone was asked to translate for me and there were a few external meetings/trainings where it wasn’t ideal – but that was it.

                So having the expectation that it’s not necessary isn’t ridiculous, because there are countless other “bilingual preferred” jobs where it’s preferred but not necessary. It’s truly the organization’s duty to have a realistic understanding of those limitations and hire accordingly.

      5. Mae*

        To this point, I think the employer should pay for immersive French lessons. THEY hired the OP knowing full well that he/she doesn’t speak French. It’s up to them to find a solution, IMO. And there’s no reasonable answer to, “How long will it take you to learn a language?” Excuse me? That’s absurd. I learned Spanish starting at a young age, and am now 85% in Italian (self-taught and currently immersed). No amount of lessons or grammar homework will replace full immersion, however. And if part of the job is translating documents and learning industry jargon, it could take years and years. The most OP can do at this point is make an effort to utilize free language resources (I like Duolingo despite its glitches) until he/she has a chance to sit down with direct manager. Also, there’s nothing easy about learning a language- that in itself is a major accomplishment. I get annoyed at phrases like, “Spanish is a joke- try learning Polish,” or “Italian just rolls off your tongue- it’s so easy.” No. No matter the language, a serious rewiring of your brain is required, and learning it in adult life is much, much harder because our brains are already developed.

        1. Lemon Zinger*

          I agree, I think if they really like her and want to keep her, it’s on the company to make sure she gets up to speed with French.

      6. Lucie in the Sky*

        I think it will depend greatly on where the OP is located and the amount of French speakers in the area, but I agree that it doesn’t look promising. However, if there is a lack of french speakers, they might be willing to work with it make /adjustments.

        For example, I work in a Japanese company, in an area that is filled with Japanese companies. For some of the places I have worked they are so desperate for Japanese-English bilinguals that they hire people who’s experience amounts to a few college classes and push them to continue on with schooling in post work hours. For myself, and the couple other truly bilingual people I know, we get head hunted like crazy.

        Unfortunately, I am afraid that probably there’s not a lack of French skills in the area that the OP is. But I can’t know that for sure, but based on it being more common of a language in the western world then Japanese. However, just in case I wasn’t to point out something different.

      7. Stranger than fiction*

        Well perhaps they couldn’t find a French speaking candidate with the other qualifications that were as strong as the OP and they would in fact be willing to send her to a submersion program. Of course I have no idea how long that would even take, but maybe it’d be enough to get her going??

    2. StarHopper*

      I’m a language teacher, and there are great programs out there. FluencyFast is an immersion-style program for adult learners. I recently attended an advanced French workshop, and it was amazing.

      If the OP (or anyone else) is serious about learning French, the best way is to find a way to listen to and read as much comprehensible French as possible. Find a language school for adults. Find a tutor to practice with. Duolingo and Rosetta Stone are not enough to get you there.

      1. Overeducated*

        Middlebury College offers good summer ones too ….but as a new employee getting that kind of time off work would be a long shot.

      2. Alston*

        And I advocate for flash cards. Lots and lots of flashcards for vocab. It can really help to have a base of words when you are trying to figure out the grammar.

        1. phedre*

          Yeah, I used to be pretty conversant in Spanish and I found that as long as my vocabulary was there, the grammar was less important because most people can figure out what you’re saying as long as you’re in the general ballpark with the tenses. But if you don’t know the words for basic things it can get really hard!

          1. Marty Gentillon*

            Yep, ful immersion programs can certainly do the job, after all, Mormon missionaries are ready after only 9 weeks of language training. You should also look into the “where is your spoon” game, which usually leads to speedy learning. The real trick to it is to practice in realistic conversational settings, with no English.

            1. Marty Gentillon*

              I got the wrong object, it’s the “where are your keys” game. It is truly amazing for learning languages.

    3. Smithy*

      I had been going to university in Israel taking courses in English as well as Hebrew classes for two years. I was never a particularly strong language student, but I showed up and wasn’t failing my classes or anything. When I graduated, I was hired for a job that wanted fluency in English and some Hebrew. When I interviewed I directly said that I had no professional Hebrew (despite the fact that at the time I was considered advanced intermediate) because I didn’t want my job performance to have any intersection with my language performance. And unlike the OP, that message was clearly heard.

      However, at the time I also wanted to get better at Hebrew and was taking adult night classes and my roommate at the time was also a Hebrew teacher. Starting a new job and taking language classes was terrible. By the time I’d get to class, I was exhausted and not shockingly our teacher treated the students like adults as opposed to children. The school expected students to do homework and participate in class. If you felt like spacing out and not raising your hand, it was entirely your right to take up space. I attended the entire semester but didn’t take the final exam (no way I would have passed), but did try to take the same level the next semester with similar results.

      There are plenty of stories of people going to Israel, engaging in intensive language study, and getting to a place where they can be professionally employed in Hebrew. But for me, the mix of a new job and language study just did not mix, and I wasn’t starting as a beginner. Additionally, the type of Hebrew I would have needed was not just conversational and for the newspaper, but rather legal.

      There will be stories of people who’ve made it work. There will be stories like mine of people who had plenty of opportunities to get it but don’t. But I would be very skeptical of someone saying they could just learn a new language for a job – especially if at the time they’re only fluent in their mother tongue.

    4. Janelle*

      Even the State Department estimates that becoming relatively fluent–depends on the degree of specialized language required for the job as to what that means–would take around 600 hours of study.

      Benny Lewis can do it in 3 months, but he’s concentrating on conversational fluency to carry on a conversation in a bar or on the street rather than reading/writing/speaking fluency.

      That said, the OP should absolutely be taking advantage of any kind of language training available!

    5. Ife*

      I am remembering a friend from college who majored in Russian. She started Freshman year and took an intensive Russian program, which required you to meet certain internationally(?)-defined benchmarks for fluency. Four years later, she was only at a high-intermediate level. Learning languages, let alone learning them well enough to be fluent, is really hard for adults, and it takes a long time. So I’m skeptical that OP is going to be able to learn French to a working-proficiency within enough time to perform her job.

      1. AJS*

        I took Russian for 4 years in high school–by the end I was reading Pushkin and Lermontov with relative ease–and now, 30 years later, just about the only thing I’ve retained is the alphabet. Once learned, it never leaves you.

    6. Tequila Mockingbird*

      There are also foreign language exchange classes, where you mingle with other French speakers in a conversational setting (ie, lunch or happy hour). In my city, at least, they’re free and easily found on Meetup.

      But I tend to agree with other commenters that if OP #1 is starting from zero, which it sounds like she is, she can’t possibly get up to professional-level fluency in a month. One of my best friends (originally from Australia) got a job in Paris, and arrived with zero French language ability. Through tutoring, daily study drills, frequent French Conversation Meetups, and generally immersing himself in a French-speaking city, he was able to achieve professional fluency after about a year. There’s no way that casually “making an effort to learn some French outside of work” is going to cut it.

    7. BananaPants*

      It takes a lot of time to gain reasonable fluency. US military linguists go to school at the Defense Language Institute and their programs range from 6 months to over a year, depending on the language. They go to school for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week. I doubt that the OP is going to be able to be truly fluent in French without a substantial amount of effort and practice. Duolingo or Rosetta Stone alone won’t cut it.

      I took 5 years of French in middle and high school. I can still read enough French to translate passably (other than technical French, where I’m useless). If a French speaker speaks slowly, I can sometimes pick up on what’s being said. When it comes to speaking and conversing, forget about anything more complicated than, “Where is the toilet?” or “I would like an Orangina, please.”

  2. Seianus*

    Since astrology is pure pseudoscience, the boss may question your judgement and critical thinking capability. So it may be in your best interest to not tell it to your boss. On the other hand, people may be perfectly capable of rational thinking in one area while completely giving up on it in another, so as long as you do your job right, you believing in pseudoscience shouldn’t be relevant. And last but not least your boss may be into astrology himself, even businessmen aren’t perfect rational beings. But I believe the safest bet is not telling.

    Oh, and while you are heavily into astrology, read up on some criticism on it too. Reading just one sided information can be really dangerous and impact your world view in a negative way.

    1. Mags*

      The letter writer asked for advice handling their work situation. I’m not sure it’s at all appropriate to bash them for their beliefs when that wasn’t a part of the question. And for all we know, the letter writer is already informed on both sides and has simply chosen a different one than you have.

      1. stevenz*

        The LW asks about how her interest in astrology will be perceived. Seianus is providing one of those likely reactions and therefore his post is legitimate and on-topic.

    2. Feo Takahari*

      Let’s cut this off here. OP’s beliefs aren’t creating trouble in the workplace, so criticizing them is outside the scope of a workplace blog. (It would be different if, say, OP refused to work for a woman because of a belief that God made women subservient to men, but that’s not the case here.)

      1. Seianus*

        It’s up for the boss to decide if he knows it, and I explained why the boss may think of it as a negative. I am simply stating a fact, not criticizing.

        1. Christopher Tracy*

          Your comment was very condescending towards OP’s beliefs, and yes, was critical, hence why you got the response you did. OP knows she may get blowback because of it – that’s why she asked how to proceed. Nothing in your “advice” was particularly helpful in giving the OP a script to use or action to take that will allow her to do something she’s passionate about while keeping her professional reputation intact.

      2. Jerry Vandesic*

        The OP’s beliefs aren’t creating any trouble at this point because her employer doesn’t know about them. I know many scientists that would in fact question the capabilities of someone on their staff that believed in astrology. Not sure how the OP’s employer would feel, but their scientific background in healthcare might be make this an issue.

        1. ABK2R*

          Good point. Even if the compay preference is for OP to avoid writing about astrology and OP follows this guidance, they are going to know about OP’s passion. Even in the fairly liberal environment OP is apparently in (based on the political comments) could lead to some judgements by whomever OP talks to. And unfortunately there isn’t really anything stopping the boss from gossiping about OP either.

        2. Observer*

          That’s a valid point. But that last paragraph of the comment goes waaay beyond the pure workplace issues potentially presented. I’m not saying this to defend astrology. It’s just that Whether and how to evaluate astrology is totally not germane to the discussion. And the way that advice is couched goes even beyond that.

    3. Ellie H.*

      There are many people who are interested in astrology for a variety of reasons. Astrology isn’t just looking at stars to predict the future. I’m interested in it (in a totally amateurish way) because I think the principles provide an interesting framework to reflect about your life, relationships, thinking about patterns in events and how you feel about them, stuff like that. It is a framework that you might find useful for reflecting on these things. Like the Myers-Briggs or Love Languages. You don’t necessarily need to believe that it describes the world the same way Newton’s Laws of Motion do in order to find it helpful and relevant in some situations, and interesting to study.

      1. Libra Rising*

        Indeed. And, as the OP mentions, it can be an part of some people’s religious practices. If many scientists can be OK with people believing in God, they can deal with people practicing astrology.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          Ugh. This comment is offensive on so many levels.

          There is no inherent conflict between religion and science unless people set out to put one there. Science tests hypotheses. Religion covers the things we can’t test.

          I’m going to leave aside the false equivalence between belief in God and astrology, because I think that topic is probably too heated for this discussion.

          1. Libra Rising*

            I am saying only that astrology can be a part of people’s religious practice and faith, and that people who can deal with the one can surely deal with the other. They do not have to agree with it. It’s not that they are the same, or equivalent in value, but that they are both aspects of SOME people’s religious practice. And religious tolerance can surely extend to people who practice faiths outside the mainstream, I would hope.

            I can see that the usual US attitudes to religion are probably too entrenched here for this to be a meaningful conversation however.

            1. Trout 'Waver*

              Calling someone too entrenched for meaningful conversation is, at best, unnecessary and unproductive.

          2. Anon Pagan*

            I need to push back here. Astrology is absolutely part of my religious practice. I’m a modern pagan working within the western (European and northern African) esoteric traditions, and astrology has been central to many of those since at least the second century CE. I don’t DO modern astrology, in the sense of natal charts, but I would be pretty likely to write about astrological topics. Your supposed “false equivalence between belief in God and astrology” is a true equivalence for me and many people like me.

            1. Trout 'Waver*

              I think we’re working from different definitions, then.

              The by-the-book definition of astrology is that it is the belief that the movement of the stars and planets affects thing here on Earth. Going along with that is the belief that by studying these movements, one can make predictions about things. These are testable hypotheses that have been proven false many times over.

              What’s your definition of astrology?

              Also, to claim that the study of a debunked pseudoscience is equivalent to my faith is offensive to me. Especially since I haven’t shared anything about how I practice my faith other than that I’m a theist. If you have a religious component to it, that’s cool. But, like I said, I’m going by the dictionary definition of astrology.

              1. Emma*

                How about, my religion places great stock in the idea of oracles found through nature? Which it does. You don’t get to decide what’s religiously significant to me, and it’s damn insulting for you to claim that you get to be insulted by others claiming astrology is an important component of their faith.

                Your religion is not more special than mine, and just because you think mine is bunk doesn’t mean you have a right to find mine offensive. How ugly of you.

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

      Reading just one sided information can be really dangerous and impact your world view in a negative way.


    5. Elizabeth West*

      I think if the OP has any doubt about any boss or coworker reaction, she could just write the articles under a pen name. Easy to do and unless she’s got it listed somewhere in her professional credentials (if the writing has nothign to do with her day job, it’s easy to leave that off), no one will even know.

      1. specialist*

        This is really good advice. I am a physician. I can tell you what type of response would come from most of my colleagues. Astrology is not viewed positively in physician circles. The first worry would be that astrology would be discussed with patients. The OP states that this doesn’t happen, so good work on that one. I’ve seen employees terminated on the spot for things like recommending that ER patients follow up with a chiropractor instead of the designated physician. Talking to patients about astrology could result in termination.

        However, most physicians think highly of people with scientific backgrounds and think less highly of people who follow non-scientific methods. It has to do with how many times physicians give instructions to handle something and the patient comes back saying that they’d decided to follow the advice of their hairdresser’s cousin instead. We often make running head into wall jokes about this as it is really very frustrating. I think many physicians would lump astrology in with the old wives tales people, which is bad for the OP. There is a high chance that the physician-employer will think the OP less competent if they find out about this. I think the OP knows this, which is why the letter was sent in here.

        Use a pseudonym and you can solve all the problems. You could even make it something having to do with stars.

  3. Ivan*

    re: #2. In this situation should you be candid with each candidate that you’re also giving another candidate a reference?

    1. YaH*

      Nah, it’s irrelevant. Anyone who applies for a job is aware that they’re not the only ones applying.

      1. (different) Rebecca*

        I disagree; I think that one goes into the referring process with a (perhaps misguided) assumption that the people writing for the applicant are completely in their corner. Otherwise, they could choose different references who would be more strongly able to word things for them. It’s unfair to not give the applicant that chance.

        1. Newby*

          I think that if the letter writer is planning on saying that one of them would be better than the other, then they should disclose that to the person that they are only sort of recommending. If then don’t compare them at all I don’t think it would be an issue.

          1. (different) Rebecca*

            I’m an academic, and when recommending people for things (graduate positions/jobs/grants) this would be a pretty clear conflict of interest in that there’s no real way to recommend them exactly equally.

            1. Anna*

              You wouldn’t recommend them exactly equally or even try to unless they were exactly equal in ability. You would be giving your recommendation based on what you know of their abilities and if you don’t know one or the other or either of the candidates or you know them and don’t think they’re up for the task, you would let them know you couldn’t give the recommendation. I don’t see how that would be a conflict of interest unless you were somehow benefitting from it.

        2. Rowan*

          But this isn’t a formal, letter-writing, sealed-envelope academic reference. It’s just a phone call — an informal reference of the type used in industry. Maybe the letter writer and both of their friends have this same misconception, since all three are coming from academia, but I’d bet the industry person asking for the references isn’t thinking this way.

    2. Basia, also a Fed*

      I once applied for a job and used someone as a reference. He wasn’t my supervisor, but a project manager for whom I had done a lot of technical work. He assured me that he would give me the highest recommendation. A former coworker of mine also applied but did NOT use him as a reference. When the hiring manager called him to ask about me, he said. “Yes, Basia would be great in this job, but you know, Broomhilda would be awesome as well.” Thanks?? I got the job.

  4. Feo Takahari*

    #3: In an area where gay marriage is a popular cause, I can’t see PR blowback or customers refusing to buy from the company if you wrote about astrology. Assuming the boss doesn’t have some personal hangup about it, you’re probably on safe ground. (Of course, this would be different if you lived in an area full of people who thought astrology was invented by Satan or something.)

    1. ABK2R*

      All it takes is one person to start complaining, and the Internet removes geography as a barrier. Ask the lion hunting dentist, he got pummeled from all over (which isn’t an invite to debate hunting here, just an example of Internet outrage.)

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        I’m pretty sure people aren’t going to go all Harambe over an admin who writes about astrology.

    2. Purple Dragon*

      I wrote for a while for a Pagan Magazine. I used a pseudonym so there wasn’t any issue. Maybe think about using one so that this never becomes an issue, in your current workplace or any future ones where someone may google you.

      Some people can become quite …….. opinionated* ……. if they find out someone doesn’t have a similar world view to theirs so I’ve found it easiest to keep that separate.

      * not really the best word – but I couldn’t come up with a better one that wouldn’t be construed as inflammatory.

      1. ABK2R*

        “Opinionated” is probably the best term. It covers someone’s standing on everything from astrology to food to jokes to politics to religion to sports to zoos.

      2. Naomi*

        Agreed, I think the problem here is colleagues potentially finding out and giving you a hard time, not that your boss would have a problem. It would be straightforward to argue that you haven’t caused the company embarrassment (make sure you don’t make any reference to your day job in the article). But you don’t want the general hassle of people finding out at work.

        Avoid them finding out via Google, and use a pen name.

        1. Colette*

          I’d be concerned if medical staff at my doctor’s office were into astrology. I wouldn’t complain if they didn’t bring it up at work, but I don’t think her only potential issue is her coworkers. (If she were pagan, I wouldn’t care.)

            1. Christopher Tracy*

              Exactly. And even if she were a medical practitioner, I’m not sure what her belief in astrology would have to do with her ability to perform her job. As long as she’s not brushing off patients’s ailments by telling them to go read the tea leaves for a cure, or conducting all of her consults via tarot cards, her personal belief is irrelevant.

              1. TL -*

                I would be uncomfortable with a medical practitioner that I knew about believing strongly in astrology – I probably wouldn’t care too much if it were a nurse but if it were my doctor, yeah it would bother me.
                But the admin assistant? No, not at all. I’m not depending on them for strong scientific/medical reasoning and I wouldn’t doubt their ability to do their job well one bit if they believe in astrology.

                1. Manders*

                  You’d be surprised at how many do believe in something a bit unusual. Doctors may be very good at what they do, but that doesn’t mean they’ve studied every aspect of natural science. I’ve met quite a few respected medical practitioners who believe the full moon effects people’s mental or even physical health.

                  One unusual belief doesn’t necessarily make someone bad at their job.

                2. Amy Farrah Fowler*


                  Teachers believe this too. Students seem to have more behavioral issues and act sillier/less focused around the full moon. Most seasoned teachers I know can tell when the full moon is by behavior… It’s so strange. (This is, of course, completely anecdotal)

                3. Manders*

                  @Amy Farrah Fowler

                  That’s really interesting! I looked it up and found some studies in reputable medical journals about it. They couldn’t find any proof that the phenomenon is real, at least in emergency rooms, but the fact that someone felt the need to study it in the first place shows how common that belief is.

                4. Cath in Canada*

                  Same here. I do know some doctors who are somewhat into astrology, and I do give them a bit of side-eye (especially the one who made us go around the table in a research project meeting and each give our sign, ugh). But admin staff? Not a problem.

                  (There are actually some doctors (none I’ve met, but I’ve seen posts online) who don’t believe in evolution. That terrifies me – I don’t know how they explain infectious disease dynamics, antibiotic resistance, tumour cells evolving chemotherapy resistance, and about a million other things. I would never, ever see a doctor if I knew they didn’t believe in evolution. I’d see a doctor who’s into astrology, but I’d roll my eyes about it and would be a bit faster to doubt their judgement than I would ordinarily be).

                5. Hrovitnir*

                  @Cath in Canada – I met a woman visiting our lab whose supervisor didn’t believe in evolution. A molecular bioscientist at a medical school. Doesn’t believe in evolution. What.

                  (I assume he had to believe in microevolution because otherwise I don’t understand how he did his job.)

              2. LQ*

                I didn’t go back to a doctor’s office after their waiting room was full of astrology like magazines and nothing else. It can impact the business.

                1. Anna*

                  That is a reflection on the person treating you, though, because it’s in the office. This wouldn’t be connected to the OP’s place of employment at all.

                  And really, unless you feel the same way about a doctor’s office with a lot of magazines about Christianity or Judaism or any other religion, then it doesn’t really make that much sense to me why it matters that it’s astrology.

          1. Chalupa Batman*

            I’m really curious about your stance here, would you mind elaborating a little? Sincere question, not just trying to stir the pot. Is it like TL’s explanation below-that belief in astrology isn’t consistent with strong scientific reasoning-or something else? I can’t see myself caring if my doctor was into it if I didn’t have complaints otherwise, but I tend to view astrology in a casual way, so maybe it’s more complex for people who know more about it and disagree with it. Astrology may not match up with my perception of the truths of the universe, but it’s hardly in conflict with my deeply held values. Using your example, a pagan doctor has no beliefs I know of that conflict with my values, even though I believe different things, so no issue. But if I found out my doctor practiced a religion that advocated child abuse or ritual violence, that’s so disconnected from my values that I wouldn’t trust they can make decisions in line with what I would consider my best interest anymore, even if I had been happy with them previously. Flying Spaghetti Monster or Church of Elvis or likes to carry a radish in his pocket for good luck? Odd, but not switching doctors. However, I’ve known people who strongly believe that astrology=fortune telling=Satan. For them, it IS discordant with their values. I guess I’m thinking through this on paper now, so I’ll stop, but I am genuinely interested in the legitimate reasons why rational people might find this objectionable, and here’s a pretty good place for that (and maybe it will help the OP figure out what approach to use to dispel negative myths about it when discussing it with the boss).

            1. Sarah*

              I’m not the person who originally made the comment you were asking about, but here’s why I’d view astrology more dimly than other religious beliefs specifically when it comes to medical practitioners:

              It’s because belief in astrology, unlike belief in any particular god, has been correlated with belief in other forms of unsupported science among the people I’ve known in the past. Obviously, I’m probably suffering from a huge load of observation bias here – I don’t know that people I knew believed in astrology if they never told anyone, for example. But the people I’ve known who were very religious in other ways tended to manifest it in their social views (if at all). People who were very into astrology, on the other hand, tended to manifest it in their medical views.

              And I do mean medical, specifically. Astrology correlates with naturopathy, homeopathy, belief in chakras, etc. — those kinds of beliefs are linked by a common thread of “mystical energies control our world and affect the human body, mind, and spirit” which I can’t describe as anything other than pseudoscience, in a way that god-based religions seem to be pretty disconnected from.

              I can’t think of a person I’ve known who genuinely believed that star signs influenced human behavior, who didn’t also believe in some form of “energy” or “harmony” connecting the human body to celestial events/spiritual energies/auras/gemstones/etc. And that changed how they talked about injuries — meditation and unblocking one’s chakras being seen as a cure-all for all sorts of things, for example — and diet — eating certain foods that are generally considered safe and nutritious is actually secretly bad because the foods aren’t “natural” enough or have some unspecified “toxin” in them, things that are generally considered not food or even toxic are actually “cleansing” and should be eaten to “remove toxins from your body” despite the fact that the medical establishment knows they cause liver damage, etc.

              Belief in one of those things has, in my experience, gone hand-in-hand with belief in all the others, as if one being true means that they all must be true. Belief in mainstream religions just doesn’t operate that way. It doesn’t mean that every person who believes in astrology will tell me that I should try yoga or use healing herbs to fix a problem that those things can’t actually fix, and of course it’s not relevant to the OP’s case, because OP is an admin. But that’s why I personally would have felt skeptical of a doctor’s office with astrological magazines in it, but not religious magazines. I wouldn’t assume based on my past experiences that a religious doctor would believe I should seek treatment that isn’t medically supported. I would assume that of a doctor who believes in astrology.

              Totally a personal thing, and based on past experience, not actual statistics. It’s prejudiced, maybe, but it’s also a matter of having confidence in one’s medical provider. Which in the end is something that you either have, emotionally, or you don’t.

              1. Colette*

                I’ve also found that people who talk about astrology tend to make snap judgements about people based on when they were born. I don’t want my doctor treating me differently because of my birthdate, and I also don’t want the receptionist deciding how urgent my issue is/how long I can wait for an appointment based on the stars.

      3. Bwmn*

        I think in addition to a pseudonym and depending on the popularity of the OP’s last name – there’s also the middle ground of going the J.K. Rowling route with just initials plus surname. If the OP doesn’t want to feel the need to hide this part of their life, but also wants to shield themselves professionally – that may offer another way.

        1. Laura*

          JK did that to sell to male readers who would not buy books by women. She was advised to do that by her publishers. It has nothing to do with a pseudonym as she was unknown when she published the first few books.

    3. Observer*

      Really? Look at some of the responses right here.

      People who believe in gay marriage can be just as intolerant as those who don’t; can be just as irrational; and can jump to just as many conclusions as those who don’t. They just tend to skew to different sets. But, there is often a surprising amount of overlap, coming from different directions.

  5. Mags*

    #3 – I would definitely just write under a pen name if it seems like this is something your employer would take issue with.

    1. Christopher Tracy*

      Yup, plausible deniability. I ran into this when I began writing horror fiction while working at a law firm that services the financial sector. I was the main contact for a client that our firm was trying to get more referrals from, so I knew if someone from the company Googled my name out of curiosity and stumbled upon my work, it could create problems for my employer since horror doesn’t typically lean conservative. I got myself a pen name and no one at work was the wiser.

      1. Feo Takahari*

        OT, but I’m surprised by your statement that horror doesn’t lean conservative. My experience with non-comedic horror fiction is that it often has themes and morals associated with the conservative end of the political spectrum, e.g. “new technology is evil and corruptive” or “people who come from outside your community cannot be trusted.”

          1. Mookie*

            Not disputing that possibility, but horror is largely regarded–correctly or not–as a conservative genre (US zombie films under Reagan are the classical example because they tease out the tensions wrought by that administration, although in doing so some critique, rather than endorse, those values and consequences. Conversely, gothic horror relies on racism and xenophobia, paranoia about sex, fear of surveillance, the stigma of mental illness, crumbling class stratification coupled with conformity, anti-monarchism, and anti-technology Luddism to create and lend a palpable menace to its monsters. Likewise exploitation and giallo films from the 1950s – early 1980s, whose villains are homosexual or otherwise sexually “aberrant,” rural, primitive, and/or counter-cultural and Cold War films whose golems and plagues serve as stand-ins for communists and nuclear destruction).

            1. Gandalf the Nude*

              Not to mention “The Rules” as outlined in Scream. It’s pretty widely accepted that death is punishment for sexual availability in the horror/slasher genre, and people of color rarely make it out alive.

            2. Overeducated*

              That’s a political meaning of conservative. For law firms and the financial sector, I think the issue is less “literary critics have connected this to Reagan” or “not sexually permissive,” and more “doesn’t match a sober business persona.” Like it doesn’t matter if your Gothic lace costume covers a lot of skin or not, it’s still not appropriate for a business formal workplace.”

            3. Christopher Tracy*

              I write zombie fiction that takes that myth back to where it originated – Haiti. Also, the horror fiction I tend to read and write is subversive (Stephen King aside) and goes against classic tropes. So conservative ideals don’t play a part in my work – like, at all.

            4. Temperance*

              I work in a conservative industry … and horror is considered a niche, sort of out-there hobby. My love of sci-fi (and sci-fi toys in my office) are considered much more normal than horror here.

              1. Christopher Tracy*

                If I remember correctly, you work in a law firm, right? Yeah, when I even mentioned horror at the firm where I used to work, the looks I’d get from people were priceless. Hell, I even get those looks from people where I currently work. The exception to that is one of my division’s AVPs and the guy who hired me. He’s a huge horror fan, so when he found out I wrote it, he tracked down my work (my pen name isn’t that difficult to figure out if one were to really want to find it), read it, and loved it. Then he had his son read it because he too is a horror fan and wants to be a writer when he grows up. I thought that was pretty neat.

                1. Serafina*

                  Yeah, I work at a law firm, and my science fiction/fantasy enthusiasm and writing hobby in the same genres tends to get reactions along the lines of “…how quaint” or “bless your heart.” (Okay, maybe not those exact words, but definitely that tone. I’m pretty much the only self-identified nerd in the office.)

                2. Renee*

                  Lawyer here too and my family is heavy into conventions and sci fi/horror/comics stuff. When I was at a firm it was definitely viewed as something quaint, and sometimes it was trotted out for the clients like I was some kind of exotic game animal: “Oh, she goes to Comic-Con EVERY year, can you believe it?” I have a side gig as a costumer and the managing partner was fascinated and made me bring things in sometimes to show her.

              2. NotASalesperson*

                Meanwhile, I work at a place where my love of sci-fi is strange enough that I don’t talk about it unless my coworkers bring it up.

              3. Cath in Canada*

                A love of sci-fi and fantasy is so normal where I work that people who aren’t into it at all are considered slightly strange! I get emails from Very Senior People with “(first of his name)” added to the signature block, I can see two Darth Vader figurines from my desk, and I’m not the only one with a Stark direwolf USB key.

                1. Rusty Shackelford*

                  I get emails from Very Senior People with “(first of his name)” added to the signature block

                  I love this.

                2. Cath in Canada*

                  It’s the same person who started a whole email chain where multiple people wrote like Jaqen H’ghar: “A man thanks a girl and a man for their edits. A man has implemented most of them. A man will forward to a German Girl for further review”. It was awesome.

            5. FiveWheels*

              Zombie films are a deconstruction of whatever reason they’re in – basically saying if you keep going like this, you’re mindless zombies.

              Scream certainly isn’t conservative – the rules themselves are, but it’s the murderous loons who want to kill people for breaking them. The rules aren’t s good thing.

              There’s probably an establishment belief that horror fans enjoy the genre for sadistic reasons too. It doesn’t read as conservative to me.

              1. Alton*

                Scream is satirizing horror to a large degree. I think it was brought up as an example because it explicitly deals with “rules” that are more taken for granted in a lot of less “meta” horror films. It used to be a major trope in slasher films that characters would get killed if they have sex. Scream helped popularize making fun of and subverting that trope, but it used to be played straight more often without so much introspection about what the rules actually imply.

    2. Preux*

      I would do it anyway. Even if this employer doesn’t take issue (or ever find out) – think about the potential future employers, who may well Google you as part of the hiring process.

      I write all my online paranormal research articles under a pen name. I don’t need my employer to know about it, or for customers to find out and associate it with my employer.

      1. Renee*

        OK, I’m intrigued by this too. I have a feeling I would love a lot of the work of some of the posters here. This is such an interesting group of people.

      1. Christopher Tracy*

        That’s also a good point. I never seem to take future employers into consideration, probably because I know at some point I’m going to have zero effs to give when it comes to working for other people, lol.

        1. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

          I always take possible future employers into account because I’m still a temp and not that economically stable or professionally successful. I’d love to be able to say “if they have a problem with it, I don’t want to work for them anyway,” but I’m not in a position where I’m comfortable committing permanently to that – as writing under my unique real name would be. My current employer knows about my writing (though I don’t know how *much* they know) and they don’t seem to mind, and my last employer was supportive, but who knows what the future will bring.

          1. Theo*

            You know you’re sacrificing your freedom of speech for a paycheck, right? Like, if you really wanted to be cautious you’d stop writing so that you could have a job that they could fire you for anyway. The problem with writing under a pen name is that your work can be attributed to anyone else that concerned parties want to prosecute for the action. The more anonymous it is, the more concerned parties can say, “It was written by X and this is what they really meant. Put them on the terrorist watchlist!” Ahem. Then (if) when you say it was really you, then those same parties say that you are merely a flunky of that more important person they want to target.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              But that’s not really how pen names work. There are lots of ways for you to prove that your pen name is you if you want to (hosting records if it was your own blog, confirmation from editors if you wrote for another site, paychecks if you’re paid for it, etc.).

            2. Marisol*

              I think it’s safe to assume Gazebo Slayer understands the choice she has made. Absolutely everyone who has an employer, as well as most people who are self-employed, makes sacrifices of one sort or another for a paycheck. It’s just the way life works.

      2. CC*

        #3 – We don’t know the details of OP’s style of astrology, but if it attempts to address health matters even adjacently it would be prudent to use a pen name as a firewall between the column and the day job, since the day job involves health care.

    3. Romance Writer Belly Dancing Anon*

      Yep – I write explicit gay romance, and while I don’t think my current employer would fire me over it (we don’t have a moonlighting policy at all), if they found my book I can see it being really weird and uncomfortable. Not to mention that I’m client-facing and have customers that likely would have issues with it. Pen name all the way for me.

      1. Red*

        Same here — and I also write in another, non-romance genre where using the same penname would inevitably end with confusion and Bad Times. (Are you on DD, if you don’t mind me asking?)

          1. Red*

            Oh! Dirty Discourse. It’s a forum for writers and service providers in the romance writing industry.

    4. Ama*

      Yeah, I wrote for a sports blog for a time and we all used psuedonyms — I wasn’t ashamed of anything I wrote (and really fifteen minutes connecting the dots on Google would have led you right to my full real name), but we did take some positions on contentious issues within sports from time to time and since I work in nonprofits I didn’t want a donor or Board member to google me and stumble immediately into it.

      That said, my current employer has a policy that if we are active on non-org social media, we put a statement up that says our opinions on our personal social media are our own and not in any way affiliated with the organization , so maybe that’s an option?

    5. Dynamic Beige*

      Also, OP, you have to consider — is this something you would want to make as a career change? If so, using your name might be important to you. But, there can be useful upsides to having a pen name. Personally, I think using a stage name would be the best way to go because you never know who is going to look you up online. Your current boss might not care, but your next one (or the one after that) might.

  6. Ann Furthermore*

    #1: See if you can get them to pay for, or help pay for, a Rosetta Stone course. I’ve never taken one, but my company offers it for German and several other languages too, since we have locations in many countries. I don’t know how effective the program is, but there’s always a waiting list for it.

    Another option would be to look for some other sort of class. I was talking to a co-worker today who is relocating to Sweden to take a position in the office there. Another person there is Australian, and when she moved there she took a”Swedish for Immigrants” course. It was enough to get her started with the basics, and then as she started using the language on a regular basis, it was easier to become more fluent. Maybe there’s something similar for French where you are.

    I hope it works out. What a crappy situation to be in. Good luck!

    1. Uyulala*

      I’ve used Rosetta Stone – it’s fun! You do end up learning a lot of spoken phrases, but I think you would also need something separate for the written side.

    2. Nina*

      Class-wise, I thought about the Alliance Française, but it depends on where the OP lives, or if she even has time to do that.

      1. Queen Gertrude*

        Thanks for the tip! I’ve been needing something beyond Duolingo/Roseta Stone type tools for learning French. I just looked this up and found out we have a local chapter. I’m currently trying to change careers and learning French will be very beneficial for that. I need to actually read and write… not just get by as a tourist.

        1. Nina*

          I did it years ago when I was learning beginner’s French. I really enjoyed it, but wasn’t able to stick with it because it was too far. AF is good for immersing yourself in the language.

          1. Queen Gertrude*

            I’m totally looking into signing up for class this fall :) I just have to decide whether or not I want to attempt the intensive program or the regular program. I’m really lucky, they are actually only about 10-15 minutes away from me.

            1. Nina*

              Aw, I’m glad to hear that! Sometimes stuff just works out, lol. For whatever reasons you study French, I hope you have fun. It’s tricky to learn, but I love the language.

    3. Sprechen Sie Talk?*

      OP – If you are serious about getting down to business on learning French and can get the company to sponsor your learning, you may want to see if you can find a chapter of Alliance Francaise in your city for their intensive courses. Ideally you probably want to get to level B2/C1 to have a hope of being able to do the language level required for the job.

      Is there a possibility to identify some options and present it to the VP in advance of the manager coming back? Possibly if you have a plan and timeline that shows you will be learning the language to an expected level of mastery from an accredited place (with VP backing) it may be easier for them to support that goal rather than spend the time looking for a replacement hire.

      All of this depends on a few things, however – your ability to learn languages, the willingness of your company to help, the willingness of your coworkers to lend a hand and only speak/communicate with you in french (so you are somewhat immersed day to day) and be kind and helpful in correcting mistakes. If you know you aren’t good at learning languages, have no interest in learning French, or have an unsupportive environment, you may want to pull the plug right now.

      (sorry for the reply here, had a comment about Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) course, but it isn’t really relevant for the discussion)

      1. the_scientist*

        My friend took a few levels of French through Alliance Francaise and really enjoyed it. She learned a lot, and had great things to say about the quality of instruction and the balance of verbal/written assignments and tests. However, with an Alliance Francaise course, I think you can expect to spend, at minimum, 8-10 hours per week on homework/practice? And likely more, as you advance….which is basically like taking on a part-time job in addition to a full-time job. So OP1 needs to really be motivated and willing to commit to this, and even then, there is no guarantee of fluency.

        1. M-C*

          People I know have had mixed results with the Alliance. It’s really not geared toward oral fluency, but it gives you a solid foundation in reading and writing. The curriculum is based on 50s priorities in France, which means your spelling and grammar are scrutinized on the minute level which isn’t even relevant to young French people any longer. And the materials are mostly taken from Great Past Literature, which can leave you speaking like some 18th-century bumpkin. But none of these things will actually hurt you :-). And imho it’s a lot harder to try to learn a language -without- grammar than with it, those touchy-feely things that try to make you learn in an amorphous fog and without the pain of memorizing vocabulary do you a long-term disservice.

    4. Applesauced*

      See if you can TRY Rosetta Stone before comitting to the course. My boyfriend has lots of family in Latin America, so I wanted to learn Spanish before a visit, and got Rosetta Stone.
      I f-ing HATED it. There were no directions, it’s supposed to be “intuitive” and for the life of me I could not figure it out AT ALL. Maybe I’m too type-A for this learning method not to click, but I’d recommend actually classes with a real live teacher over Rosetta Stone. Since you mention coworkers on the same level, maybe you can arrange a group class or discount with a local school.

      1. Neeta*

        I think that by ‘same level’ the OP was referring to job duties, not language proficiency.

      2. tegdirb*

        OP may be better spending the weekend speeding through Duolingo since it’s free and then moving on from there whether it’s with Alliance Francaise or something similar.

        1. Janelle*

          Some libraries will have a subscription to it and you can use the program for free. My old public library had Mango and then switched to Rosetta Stone. (I liked Mango better.)

    5. mdv*

      A really amazing online course is also Mango Languages. In Kansas, residents can access it via membership in the state library — might be worth checking it out!

  7. OrganizedChaos*

    This is for OP 1. I have found it hard to learn a language in the past but I found an app called Duolingo and if had become incredibly easy to learn a new language. French is one of the languages offered and the whole app is free. There is no cost at all top use it. Hope it helps.

      1. M-C*

        Memrise is fine to learn vocabulary, basically it’s an index-card sort of app, with index cards provided by others which is a bit less efficient than doing them yourself. But vocabulary alone won’t teach you a language. I think Duo Lingo is better in that it teaches you the vocabulary in context, so it’s easier to retain it. And it teaches you other things along with it, like grammar and pronunciation.

    1. Library Director*

      Duolingo is good. With a phone app and website it’s easy to fit in bite size pieces or hours of study.

    2. Jen RO*

      I think YMMV with Duolingo. It’s too unstructured for me and I definitely couldn’t learn a language just with Duolingo. My main complaint is that it has extremely few grammar pointers (and they are completely missing in the mobile app), so you are just basically stumbling around trying to figure out the rules. I am taking German classes and I use Duolingo as a practice method, but the classes are waaay more useful.

      1. a*

        Yeah, I agree. I’m minoring in French, and Duolingo is good for practice, but it really won’t teach you to speak the language fluently on its own. It definitely doesn’t have all the vocabulary you would need to know for work, and I agree with your point about the lack of grammar.

        Also, one of the most important parts of learning a language is using it with other people – figuring out how to express your own complex ideas and understanding what other people are saying (the pronunciations and syntax in the app can be very different from how some people speak).

        All this is to say that Duolingo and other language learning software may be helpful, but OP will probably need to take real classes as well.

        1. babblemouth*

          Duolingo is great for picking up vocabulary, but it won’t get you to fluency, which is what LW seems to need here. It’s a nice add-on to regular language courses though.

      2. Random Lurker*

        I used Duolingo for a year to prepare for a vacation to Paris. How little usable French I had when I got there was very disappointing. It didn’t make me anywhere close to conversational. I doubt it will help OP get to a point to perform in depth business transactions.

      3. Violet Fox*

        Some of the pronunciation is wrong, or not how things actually are spoken for the local language where I live. It is a bit hit and miss, and no substitute for classes.

      4. Neeta*

        Yeah no… learning German just with Duolingo is hard. I found it useful to refresh my German language skills, but there is no explanation for article usage… which is the most important part in German grammar.

      5. March*

        I took French for eight years or so in school, and I was pleasantly surprised at how I could start to recall it when I used Duolingo as a refresher. I’m still awful at French, but it’s been close on a decade since I took the classes.

        Trying to use Duolingo to learn Russian? Using the Cyrillic alphabet? That was a disaster.

        Duolingo is very much YMMV.

      6. ElCee*

        Agreed! I had Duolingo for German, too, and I deleted the app. I need to ask WHY certain grammar rules are there (or why they are being broken. Because German).

      7. Mephyle*

        I’m using Duolingo to refresh German, and I found that if you do it on the computer (as opposed to a smaller device) there are grammar explanations. That doesn’t mean, of course, that it’s sufficient for learning a language for professional purposes, of course, but it’s an invaluable supplement to whatever other method or classes a person uses.

        1. Nina*

          This. I used DuoLingo on my tablet and I think it had grammar explanations, although I prefer using my computer as well.

          DuoLingo is OK for basic stuff and vocabulary, but something more intensive would be better for really learning a language.

    3. Rob Lowe can't read*

      I found Duolingo, in conjunction with some opportunities to practice with native speakers, gave me a good base to build on when I finally was able to take a full immersion class in my target language. (For me, that was/is Spanish.) However, Duolingo alone wasn’t enough to get me to a point where I felt comfortable using Spanish in a professional context – doing an immersion program was truly necessary.

    4. DuckDuckMøøse*

      I think DuoLingo is a good free first step. Since we don’t know OP’s experience with *any* foreign language, there are a lot of possible choices. I vote for free and easy. That way OP can get a little experience in the language, and it can help identify and direct what the next best step would be for them, and clarify a learning path.
      DuoLingo gives you a little vocabulary, grammar, and a chance to understand spoken and written language. I know from my own use of it, I do far better in reading – my vocab memorization is a little weak (I supplement by using Memrise, which specifically reinforces the DuoLingo lessons, at least for the Norwegian course I’m currently taking) and listening also needs work. I also use DuoLingo to review the German I took in college #mumble# years ago. But be aware that the beginning lessons get you some really ODD sentences you wold never use anywhere. I know how to say “The wolf is eating the strawberry” in Norwegian. Yay? ;)
      Making an immediate effort would look good to the company, and help OP get a little confidence in the decision on whether they can take up the language challenge.
      Another good first step is to make a working aid, which would be a glossary of key business terms translated both ways. Depending on the business, this may not be something that is readily available already (like you can buy specific books for Spanish for medical professionals, for example) so it would require some research time to make something truly useful for the OP – but working to create it could also help determine if learning French is right for them.

  8. Nina*

    #1: Sounds like the company really goofed up here, since they were aware that you don’t speak French, and no, learning a new language isn’t something that happens overnight, even for people who like it. Definitely find out the truth about how much you need to know, and when. This is for your job. It’s hard enough to hold a conversation when you can only speak in basic fragments, let alone the whole language.

    I mentioned the Alliance Française for classes, but you can try your local library for French language audiobooks or CDs. The DuoLingo app is a good beginners resource to practice daily. It’s definitely a sucky situation they put you in, but there are some options. Good luck, OP!

    1. Tuckerman*

      Agreed that the company put OP in a bad position.
      Another option is a French Meet Up group, if one is available in the area. OP may be able to get more business conversation there than in a class.

    2. Ama*

      It does make me wonder, since the OP says her permanent supervisor is on maternity leave, if this is a case where the people who did the hiring have an unrealistic understanding of the role and failed to grasp just how crucial French fluency was (perhaps their own roles are less dependent, or their own fluency has made them blind to how much French they are actually using each day).

  9. ABK2R*

    #2 – Would your employer have an issue with a Baptist Republican UFO hunter from writing with MUFON (or any combination of other religious, politically active, unique hobby/expertise) colleague for bringing “discredit or embarrassment” on the business provided they too kept their professional life professional?

    Probably not. Write the articles. Make sure you’re not doing anything related to the side business in the office and keep the policy of not talking about your personal life in your professional life.

    But I’d still use a pen name, so you can also maintain a distance between your moonlighting job and your other lives as well.

    1. Feo Takahari*

      The one exception seems to be porn, especially if you teach children. I have no idea why writing porn about adults makes you a suspected child molester, but there you have it.

    2. nicolefromqueens*

      Yes, OP, if you’re concerned about what your current employer thinks or will do, you should use a pen name. If you ever have to look for a job again, you wouldn’t want this to come up in a Google search as an early impression.

      1. Ellie H.*

        Sure, but maybe she wants it to be under her real name because she is proud of her work on this subject. It sounds like she goes to conferences so she may already have something of a reputation among fellow astrologers and want to link her writing with that. I do agree that if that’s not the case this could be a solution.

        1. hbc*

          I’m guessing she could go to conventions and private chat rooms and such and be open that Jane Doe and Starguide are the same person, but someone outside the community isn’t going to make that link. No one is going to try to “out” her unless she gets so popular that she doesn’t worry about having to keep her day job.

          1. Christopher Tracy*

            This. Within my little horror fandom, my readers know who I really am – the general public would not.

    3. Trout 'Waver*

      The conflict here is more about the nature of astrology being a pseudoscience, and healthcare being based on science. Not liberal vs conservative politics. In a healthcare setting, there would likely be a similar concern about any pseudoscience.

      1. sparklealways*

        I don’t understand how astrology is any different from someone believing in a “god” or “gods”… (I’m not comparing them directly, but using it as an analogy).

        And someone can believe in astrology in the sense that they think it is cool or has helped them in a time that they were struggling and nothing else was working, but still recognize that it is not a true science.

        If I have a doctor or nurse who believes in god, I don’t care as long as they don’t tell me to go pray for something when I walk into their office with a broken leg. Similarly, I don’t care if I have a doctor or nurse believes in astrology as long as they don’t tell me what my horoscope says when I walk into their office with the flu.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          The definition of astrology is the belief that the movements of the stars and planets affect events and people on Earth. This is a testable hypothesis that has been proven false. Personally, I want a doctor and nurse who don’t believe in disproven hypotheses. If a remedy or drug is shown not to work, I want the doctor or nurse to stop prescribing that and find one supported by science. I don’t want a doctor or nurse that tells me that they really believe in it, despite the evidence.

          Note, this doesn’t apply in the OP#3’s case because she’s not the health care professional.

          God and gods are a matter of faith. They can’t be proven or disproven. So that’s something else completely different.

          As an aside, because of the placebo effect and the positive effects of many types of meditation, praying about an illness (if you believe it to be effective) can help with recovery. Obviously it’s not going to set bones or cure infections, but it can help with pain management and anxiety.

        2. M-C*

          Actually, I do care whether my healthcare providers believe in god.. Most health care is routine, but if I should get a massive stroke for instance, I would -not- want to land in the largest local hospital, whose catholic policies wouldn’t align with the instructions in my directives.

          1. sparklealways*

            I disagree that you can test astrology in a truly controlled setting because there are too many factors, but there is real research to suggest that the lunar calendar has an effect on things like pain and moods. (I’m not defending the belief in astrology. I find it interesting and if I am having a difficult time I will sometimes look to my horoscope for ideas, recognizing that it could apply to anyone, but wouldn’t say I “believe” in it as a fact).

            A doctor and nurse can believe in something within the context of his or her own life, but recognize that his or her duty is to the patient and they need to put those beliefs aside and do what is right for them.

            I also would not want to be in a Catholic hospital because the hospital itself has implemented too many restrictions and has too much control, but that does not mean I would not have a Catholic healthcare provider who still respects my wishes and beliefs as a patient.

            1. Student*

              Do you believe airplane schedules affect you in profound ways? How about trains and truck routes?

              Passing jets, while being much smaller than planets, have a much more substantial gravitational effect on someone near their flight path than any star past Sol, our sun – because the airplanes are much closer to you, compensating for their smaller masses, and all forces we know of fall off over distance. If you live in a city, the effects of a skyscraper are going to dwarf anything else. These are simple things to calculate, with gravity standing in for your mystery force, assuming the mystery force decreases with distance.

              You live in and around so much big stuff that if there’s some force, any hypothetical force at all, coming from far-off stars and other planets, it is absolutely dwarfed by the big things you are closer to all the time.

              You’d have to believe in a force that gets stronger with greater distance in order to counter-act that basic physics concept. Then astrology falls short again, because the biggest forces on you would come from stellar phenomenon too far away to observe from earth by conventional telescope, or you’d have to believe that certain astrologically significant distant stars and planets are made up of something fundamentally different from all the stuff around us (they aren’t). You could propose a force that is constant with distance as the last possible option – either it gets stronger with distance, weaker with distance, or stays the same with distance – but then the whole concept of astrology, that things impact you due to their changes in relative positions, again falls apart.

  10. stevenz*

    #1. Astrology isn’t illegal or creepy and a lot of people believe in it. However, in some circles, like the sciences, it has no credibility whatsoever. I’d suggest that if the company you work for is very technology-based you might want to think twice about doing this. Otherwise, go ahead. But I think of astrology much more as a hobby than a religion. In fact, there is nothing religious about it – no deity, no value system, no worship.

    #3. French is not the hardest language to learn, and if you will be in places where your learning will be reinforced by actual exposure, it won’t take you long to become OK at it. Fluency is another matter, and in most work situations something like fluency is expected because of specialized language that comes with every profession. So learn French. It’s a beautiful language. There are immersion courses and fast track educational apps, etc. If you’re young you will pick it up much quicker now than if you wait ten years so do it while you have the opportunity. (Have you taken any foreign language before? Were you good at it? Do you have an interest in language or linguistics in general?)

    But Alison is right. I don’t know why they hired you, especially if your boss wasn’t part of the decision. That shouldn’t be done no matter what the requirements. So you can begin looking for a job, or you can embrace the challenge that has been thrown at you. I think there is a lot of upside to taking on the challenge. Bonne chance.

    1. Matt*

      I think engaging in astrology could be an issue if you’re working in either a very scientific environment (let’s say CERN, Caltech, … “anyone believing in this pseudo-scientific crap is out of their mind”) or in a very religious environment (let’s say some Catholic NGO … “this is blasphemy / the work of Satan / …”)

      Of course one can always happen to have a boss who is strongly opposed to astrology for whatever reasons, but this could also happen with supporting the wrong sports team or whatever.

  11. ABK2R*

    @#1 – I’m curious to know why you applied when a language was a major requirement, but I’m also stumped on why they hired you without a plan to train you on the language.

    At this point all you can do is start learning French as fast as possible, both on your own and by asking your employer for help.

    1. Christopher Tracy*

      I’m curious to know why you applied when a language was a major requirement

      I could see doing it if you thought the employer would be willing to train the right candidate or if you weren’t given a clear idea of how much of the work was going to be language-based. I’m thinking of the job ads that say “10% travel” and it turns out it’s really more like 50%. And then if you have the VP herself telling you, “Oh, don’t worry about it, I’m sure you can pick it up,” you might stick with it and take the job thinking it’s not going to be a big deal if you don’t become fluent overnight – they’ll probably just give you less of the work that requires speaking the language.

    2. Alice*

      I think there’s been a miscommunication. Evidently the employer tonight OP planned to learn it.

    3. Joseph*

      “I’m curious to know why you applied when a language was a major requirement”
      This is not OP’s fault at all.
      1.) Some companies like to soft-pedal requirements with phrases like “Knowledge of French is preferred” or “Ideal candidate will be proficient in French”, which makes it seem like a quality that would be useful but not necessary. I’ll bet something like this is how it was mentioned on the ad/application.
      2.) OP’s cover letter explicitly said she doesn’t speak French. The company brought her in for *four rounds* of interviewing anyways. That’s a longer-than-usual hiring process and yet they didn’t care about her lack of French. So the company’s actions were pretty clear that French isn’t a real requirement.

      1. mazzy*

        “Not the OP’s fault at all”? It doesn’t matter at this point, but that isn’t true at all.

        1. Natalie*

          Yes, it is. Unless the OP lied about knowing French (which we know they didn’t), there was nothing wrong with them applying. Responsibility for hiring decisions falls squarely in the people who actually made the decision.

          1. Mel*

            that just makes no sense. Why would you accept a job if you aren’t confident you can do it? Just because the hiring manager thinks you can do it doesn’t mean you feel the same way.

            I suspect the op didn’t really find out how much french she’d have to use. That’s really on both of them for not talking about that more.

            1. Natalie*

              Why wouldn’t the applicant take the VP’s word that it wouldn’t be an issue? The applicant presumably was confident they could do the job, *based on information the VP gave them*. Between the two of them, the VP is the expert in what the position requires.

              When I was house-shopping, one of my requirements was a dishwasher, but I ended up without one, thinking it wouldn’t bother me that much. A year later, I don’t get to be pissed at the seller of the house because it doesn’t have a dishwasher.

              1. Mel*

                If the seller of the house said you can install one later and you find out you can’t then you do get to be pissed off.

                1. Alton*

                  But the OP is making an effort to learn French, which is what they and the VP agreed on. But it sounds like the OP expected, based on that agreement, that full fluency wouldn’t be needed immediately. The OP is sticking to what they agreed to.

                  There’s a difference between understanding enough of a language to engage in brief, simple conversations/written correspondence and being fluent enough to be able to interact in that language for an entire business trip or carry on complex conversations. The latter takes more time. There’s no indication that the OP is unwilling or unable to learn French. But of course they’re not going to be fluent right away.

                2. Natalie*

                  That hasn’t happened here. The OP said they would make an effort to “learn some French”, and as far as we know they have. There is literally nothing in the letter that suggests that the OP has been deceptive or even dissembled throughout this hiring process.

                3. Natalie*

                  That she learn *some*. It’s right there in her letter. She did not promise to become fluent ever, much less within a few months.

                4. Aurion*

                  Sure, but learning a language doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years. If the job is one that requires full fluency in French and the VP hired the OP knowing that OP is not currently fluent at French, that’s the VP (and the company’s) fault. OP has been completely upfront and acted in good faith.

            2. AnonAnalyst*

              But it sounds like the OP was confident she could do it after her interviews. It was only after she started the job that it became clear how important French fluency was. If anything, it sounds like the hiring manager was unclear on the actual requirements for the job and overlooked the OP’s lack of French fluency in error.

              Honestly, if I tell everyone I interview with that I am not strong in X skill and they hire me anyway, I am going to assume that X is not an important skill for the position. Maybe they overstated the necessity of X and a lower level of knowledge is all that’s required, and I can pick up anything else I need to know on the job. Or, they thought X was going to be an important skill, but I bring other skills to the table that they like enough that they are going to shift the job to fit my skill set and assign all of the work that requires X to someone else.

              Both of these situations have happened to me in actual jobs that I then accepted and excelled in. So if I were in the OP’s shoes, I would have thought not knowing French was no big deal based on how the interview process went.

              1. Whats In A Name*

                “if I tell everyone I interview with that I am not strong in X skill and they hire me anyway, I am going to assume that X is not an important skill for the position.”

                Yes yes yes. And yes. Especially if you go through 4 rounds of interviews and pre-screened with a recruiter.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I come down in the same place I came down in the original answer: The OP should have asked directly upon receiving the offer, “How do you see my lack of French playing out in this role? / What would be the expectations for me in that regard?” But this is far, far more on the employer than on the OP — and based on the employer’s actions so far, it’s entirely possible that even if the OP had asked that question, she wouldn’t have received an accurate answer and would be in exactly this same position now.

          3. Leeza*

            Maybe there’s nothing wrong with op applying, but it makes no sense to me at all. If a job required a language I didn’t speak, or any other major skill I didn’t possess, why would I waste everyone’s time in applying? Its just a dumb thing to do. And to all of you suggesting op see if the company will pay for French lessons- why would they want to do that if they can find someone who already speaks french- you know, a candidate who’s actually qualified for the job?

        2. Joseph*

          “It doesn’t matter at this point, but that isn’t true at all.”
          How so?
          If I explicitly tell you in my cover letter that I can’t speak French and I tell you in *four* *separate* *interviews* that I don’t speak French, why in the world are you hiring me to a job that requires French?

          1. AD*

            This is a bit of a fallacy. Alison (and many others) have advocated applying for jobs where you may not necessarily meet 100% of the qualifications desired, yes – a lot of people seem to be repeating this.

            But as an adult, applying for a job, if one of the main qualifications advertised is fluency in an entirely foreign language – and you have no familiarity with that language at all – you don’t really get to abdicate responsibility for making a bad decision. And this is not absolving the company’s decision at all – their hiring choice was not wisely made, and it sounds like the person who should have been the hiring manager was even there.

            1. Aurion*

              Yeah, but learn it in how long?

              If this position requires professional French fluency and the OP has repeatedly said that they don’t know French, it’s ridiculous to think that they could be up to full professional fluency in a matter of months. In the meantime, the job still needs to be done.

              OP has been completely upfront about their language limitation. But if the job needs French right now, not in three years, and the VP hired the OP in spite of them not knowing French? That’s the VP’s fault.

              1. Mel*

                The employer doesn’t really have an issue though with how long it’s taking. It’s the op deciding for herself.

                1. Aurion*

                  The OP is struggling in the role because it requires far more proficiency in French than was communicated to them during the interview process. The OP brought up their struggles and was dismissed with “how long could it take to learn French?” That sure sounds like magical thinking of “oh, it’ll only take a month or three to be fully proficient” to me.

                  No, management has not explicitly said “get better at French or you’re out the door”, but struggling as a new hire isn’t a good sign. At the very least, it makes the job a lot more demoralizing and stressful than it should be if the language requirement was communicated clearly during the interview process. Worst case scenario, if the company decides this isn’t working out once their magical thinking expires, OP would be the one out of a paycheque. OP is right to be worried and the company has really screwed this one up.

            2. Bookworm*

              She never said that she couldn’t learn it – but learning a new language fluently takes awhile. It sounds like they need a fluent French speaker NOW, so the onus was really on them to hire for that.

          2. Mazzy*

            Because it’s not helpful at all to the OP or anyone else in the same situation to hear that a situation like this wasn’t their fault, even though they could have done alot to prevent it.

    4. Christian Troy*

      I kinda blame both of them.

      I work in public health and there are many jobs where fluency in a specific language is preferred but you can get an idea based on the responsibilities and countries involved what that entails. I find it kind of irresponsible on the OP’s part that they continued interviewing knowing what the position entitled (correspondence with French speaking African countries) and still opted to continue with their head in the sand. I don’t know how you get through four rounds of interviews and not realize how much French is a component of the job.

      But at this point it’s moot. Time to start job searching and try to learn French on the side. Deal with the manager when she gets back.

      1. Natalie*

        The letter indicates that none of that information surfaced until the OP had already started the job: “Ultimately, I received a job offer and was very excited about it. However, I have now started the role and it’s very obvious that French language skills are essential. I am required to travel to our sites in French-speaking Africa 25% of the time, my handover notes are in French, and the colleagues at a similar level as me all speak French.”

        1. Christian Troy*

          But the onus is on the LW to ask questions during a job interview – like what is a typical day like? How is french used in this position? This site has numerous posts devoted how to interview for a job and ask questions. I can’t fathom how you go through four rounds of interviews and never ask questions like this.

          1. Bookworm*

            We have no reason to suppose that OP didn’t ask those questions. It sounds like she was very upfront about her lack of language skills.

            I agree that it’s the due diligence of a candidate to ask smart questions about what the job is like, but ultimately it’s the hiring team that really knows the ins and outs of a position. And, as this blog has also pointed out many times, it would be absurd for OP to assume that she had a better understanding of the position than the people hiring for it. So if they glossed right over the need for French, suggesting it was more of wish-list item than a necessity, there’s no reason she shouldn’t take their word for that.

            There’s no question they carry far more of the responsibility here.

      2. the gold digger*

        In the job I had where Spanish was required (working with the Latin America office), they interviewed me in Spanish. But in that case, the hiring manager was sure he wanted a Spanish speaker.

    5. Intrepid*

      I work in a field where jobs often have language requirements, and there seem to be two, polar schools of thought on applying. One is that, like this job, the language will be absolutely essential and you should never apply unless you’re fluent and ready to go in that language… But the other is that languages are the biggest wish-list item in a job description and so they’re the first thing you can ignore. Clearly, that didn’t end up being the case here, but many jobs have it as “well, we’d like this person to be able to read regional newspapers/work with a wider range of vendors/etc.,” where those duties are fairly easily passed off to a junior staff member if an otherwise excellent candidate doesn’t have those language skills.

  12. Chocolate Teapot*

    1. I have attended interviews for French or German companies where the job advert says that good English is needed, but the advert itself is in French or German. At one interview, I was informed the other employees were all native German speakers and there would not be much English required, so we politely agreed to end the meeting!

    Re-reading the question, it sounds like the hiring process was bodged, because there is a difference between needing a language at work to perhaps make phone calls or send emails as part of a mixture of other languages (most of the companies I have worked for have been like this with English as the main working language) and performing high level, technical duties in that language. Certainly immersing yourself in a particular language enviroment can help, but it does sound like there will be a lot of specific vocabulary to pick up quickly.

  13. Gwan*

    Sorry to say, but I have been living and working in France and Belgium for 7 years (and had studied French before that) and I still feel out of my depth at times. African accents are particularly tricky, although I suppose that’s a matter of exposure as well. I might just be terrible at learning languages, but it’s really not something the average person can pick up to a functionally fluent level using an app or an evening class in a few months. It also, as you have already experienced, can be socially/professionally isolating. I was hired to work primarily in English in my first professional job in France, but all my colleagues (naturally) spoke French together and had poor English skills. I ended up so out of the loop on everything outside my own work, it was really tough. Sorry to be discouraging, but without a lot of support from your management and colleagues, I don’t see how it will work :(

    1. Jacquelyn*

      I agree. If he/she is going to be attending meetings where the working language is French, that is not just something you can pick up. I’ve been living in France for 6 years and am fluent in the language, but at meetings when everyone is contributing and exchanges are quick, somethings things still go by me (and people have always complimented me on my ability to pick up languages).

      I just don’t see someone picking up professional fluency rapidly. OP really needs to clarify the level of fluency that will be required for the job and how long they’d be willing to wait for her/him to get there. I wish you luck OP!

      1. AcademiaNut*

        I agree. Tourist language is much simpler to learn – menus, street signs, asking for directions, buying tickets, some assorted polite phrases. My husband is a fluent non-native English speaker, and while he can handle meetings (after lots of practice), noisy social situations with people speaking fast trip him up.

        An intensive course can do a lot, but the problem with intensive courses is that they are intensive. Doing full time language studies plus a full time job is more than most people can handle without burning out, without even throwing travel into the mix.

        I have a feeling the person interviewing OP 1 heard “I don’t speak French” as “…but I’ll learn” rather than an offer to do the job without any French language skills. In some ways that makes sense – if you’re missing a required skill for a job you’re interviewing for, there’s generally an expectation that you’ll learn it on the job, rather than being exempted from tasks associated with that skill.

        The only problem is that for most people, “Learn French” is orders of magnitude beyond something like “Learn SQL”. I’ve known a few, exceptional language learners who could probably do it – maybe the OP’s interviewer assumed she was one of them and knew what she was getting into.

        1. Always Anon*

          There are some people who have an aptitude for languages. We have a friend of the family who speakers six languages (Italian, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and English), which she learned as an adult. She speaks all fluently, and she has friends in various countries around the world who she speaks to in those languages to keep her language skills sharp. But, she by far an away the exception not the norm (and she’s on her country’s equivalent of the federal bench, so she’s pretty much a genius anyway).

          But, more often than not, most people are like some friends of mine from south america who are native spanish speakers. They took english classes before they moved to the US, they’ve lived in the US for a year. Their english is very good, and you can have a conversation with them, but I wouldn’t consider them quite fluent yet (their 4 year old definitely is fluent) and I know that they find speaking in english for long periods exhausting. And they have been really working to learn the language.

    2. Myrin*

      I’m sad to say that I have to agree here.

      I’m German and started learning a bit of English in third grade and then had it as a required, five-days-a-week course from fifth grade on out. I hesitantly consider myself fluent in it now but it took me about eight to nine years to actually get to that point (and I’m someone who’s always loved languages, picks them up pretty fast, and has few problems with grammatical or linguistic stuff in general). And that’s only because I started reading a lot of English websites and books and only really made me good at writing and talking – actually understanding native speakers’ conversations took another two or three years of intensive watching of TV shows and YouTube videos. (Also keep in mind that learning English is generally easier than learning French, so to achieve that level of competency in French probably would have taken even longer.)

      OP’s future life at this company sounds extremely stressful and nigh undoable to me, to be honest, especially since it sounds like she doesn’t speak any French at all. It would probably be different if she’d learned it at school or something and already had the basics down/could review them in a short time, but to start from scratch? I don’t see this working out, I’m sad to say.

      1. Rahera*

        Yes exactly, sadly. It takes years to get French verbs right in particular, and then professional language skills on top of that, on top of a full work schedule? To deal with business French you would have to have a very sound grammatical grounding that would not come quickly, even for a natural linguist.

        I’m sorry the OP has ended up in this situation, and I think it is unreasonable and unrealistic in the extreme for their VP to tell them they can just pick French up.

    3. Matt*

      I also tend to agree … I don’t know any French, but my native language is German and we all around here grow up learning English at an early age, at elementary school, I think I can read, write and speak English quite well, but I’m still not comfortable communicating with native English speakers (phone is worst) – the understanding thing is the most difficult for me, except if they speak deliberately slowly and pronounced. So the point is, I can’t imagine how anyone would learn an entirely new language, in short time, to such a level as to be able to communicate with native speaking coworkers in an acceptable manner.

    4. so anonynous for this*

      The actress Ingrid Bergman who knew a few languages already said it took 2 years of living in Italy and being surrounded only by Italians to truly speak and understand Italian.

    5. Former Diet Coke Addict*

      I tend to agree. Additionally, while things like Rosetta Stone are great for tourists looking to become familiar, they’re just not going to be able to cover professional material. I know people who are perfectly fluent in their second language for everyday use, but who wouldn’t be able to take a professional job using it–the professional vocabulary can take far more time than anticipated to pick up. This is a huge challenge. I’d opt for a new job before I did intensive language learning for one.

    6. CheeryO*

      I took French all through middle and high school and scored extremely high on the CLEP exam (I got enough college credits to practically have a French minor), but I still wouldn’t have called myself fluent. My writing was good, but there’s no way I could have communicated comfortably with native speakers in a casual context, let alone in a business context. I think this would only work for someone who is unusually talented at picking up languages quickly. I feel sorry for the OP that they ended up in this situation. :(

    7. JMegan*

      I have to agree as well. It’s too bad, but I really think this is going to be an uphill battle for the OP.

      I’m a native English speaker, with an undergrad degree in French language and literature. Several years after my undergrad, I took a job in Switzerland, at a place where the working language was French. There were multiple rounds of interviews, some of which were conducted in French, so obviously they thought my language skills were at an appropriate level when they hired me.

      The job itself turned out to be a lot harder than I anticipated. I’m good at my job in English, and I’m good at French when I’m speaking with someone one-on-one and they’re willing to be a bit patient. But combining the two is a whole other story. Although the work itself was the same as what I had been doing in Canada, translating it from English all day in my head was exhausting – it was essentially like learning the job itself all over again, from scratch. Then, I couldn’t participate in the office chitchat. If someone directly asked me how my weekend was, I could answer, but I couldn’t join in when everybody else was talking about their weekends. So I missed out on a lot of the social conversations, which are not critical to the job itself, but which are critical (to me) to a sense of workplace satisfaction.

      OP doesn’t say how much French she already has, or how long it would actually take her to get up to speed. But I think there’s a huge difference between a competent non-native speaker, and being fluent enough to actually do your job in another language and another country. It’s a lot of work, on top of also learning the job and meeting the people and travelling to Africa 25% of the time. OP, I would sit down with your boss as soon as possible and see what you can sort out. It’s going to be an uncomfortable conversation for sure, but imagine how much more uncomfortable it will be if you wait six months. Good luck, and please keep us posted!

    8. the gold digger*

      African accents are particularly tricky

      A (white) friend of mine was a Peace Corps volunteer in Chad, so learned to speak French there. After he was done with his two years, he and another (white) PCV traveled through France. He and the other guy were in a crowded bakery one day and were speaking French to each other. All the French people were looking around trying to figure out where the Africans were. They were very confused to see two white guys speaking with a Chadian accent.

  14. Hankie Enlightenment (formerly Sarahnova)*

    OP#5, I think a very simple card to your boss might be OK, if you want to go beyond just saying thank you in person. It’s a bit more durable and physical than an email, and I think it stays on the right side of appropriate. That said, it’s definitely not necessary – your boss didn’t do this for YOU, he did it primarily for his own good :) although I’m sure the benefits to you don’t hurt.

    1. Kyrielle*

      I think a card might be a little weird, because it elevates it to a little more formal and a little more social – precisely because, as you say, the boss did it for his own good also. That’s a great thing and an awesome compliment, and thanking him verbally makes sense, maybe an email does, but a card just seems odd.

      1. qkate*

        Yeah, what Alison suggested is truly sufficient. It may not sound like much to you, but I guarantee you, even just that simple, verbal “thank you” will make your manager’s day.

  15. aelle*

    OP1, I work for a company where the working language is German, and they often hire non-German speakers (like I was) with the expectation that you will learn. They will in some cases provide intensive language courses, including during working hours on company premises, but usually this needs to be part of the hiring negotiation.

    My advice? Assuming you want to stay with the company, forget about Duolingo or Rosetta Stone. These are okay tools if you want some notions before a vacation abroad, but right now you need the big guns. Find intensive classes, group or private, 3 or 4 days a week minimum, and do your homework on the side. See if your company will pay for them, or if they might be tax deductible where you are. Get yourself a good dictionary and a good grammar book. Attend all meetings in French, read through your emails in French before copy-pasting them in Google Translate, write down and memorize the new vocabulary. Make a point to talk to your coworkers in French as soon as possible, even if you have to switch to English mid-conversation to make finer points.

    I did it for Japanese, I did it for German (and to a lesser extent English, but my English was already fairly good before I started working in the language). Your first 6 months will be absolutely exhausting but it is doable.

    1. Anna*

      I agree with this. If the company wants to keep you, they need to put you in weeks or perhaps months of very intensive language classes. There certainly are language schools that can get you to a high level very fast, although they are expensive. If your expertise is valuable enough, it can be worthwhile for your company to put you through such a course. It will be very hard work for you, but the end result will be that you know another language and that is a great thing to know.

      (If you were in the Netherlands, I’d recommend Regina Coeli, also known as ‘the nuns in Vught’, but I assume that’s not where you are. There probably are similar institutes elsewhere though.)

      Duolingo, Rosetta Stone and the like will not cut it, by the way. Those are nice to dabble a bit in foreign languages, but entirely unsuitable to get you to a high level in a short time.

    2. Construction Safety*

      When I was learning Spanish, I made up my own flash cards on the back of old business cards. After the basic body parts, verbs, nouns, adjectives, colors, nature, furniture, clothing, everyday stuff, etc., I added antonyms/synonyms, industry vernacular, work terms, expletives, idioms, etc. I wrote the English at the top & Spanish at the bottom, which I could hide with my thumb. I spent a lot of time in traffic thumbing through cards.
      Keep in mind that there can be some significant dialectal differences among the languages and that corruption of the language is common, e.g. the noon meal on a construction site might be called “el lunche” not “el almuerzo”

    3. Lead, Follow or Get Outta the Way!*

      This is great advice, IF the OP wants to learn French. But I got the feeling that she is not too keen on it based on some of her comments.

    1. Myrin*

      I don’t see the connection? German is a Germanic language whereas French is a Romance language, so it’s not like you can derive a lot with regards to one from knowing the other (caveat being English, of course, which is also Germanic but has a lot of words rooted in French which make it possible to guess what they mean in one language even if you only know the other).

      1. Julia*

        Maybe Bismar(c)k is trying to imply that anyone who could have learned German could surely learn French as well?
        If so, I (as a German woman) don’t agree. I studied French pretty intensely in middle and high school and was okay at it, but several factors prevented me from becoming great. I started with Japanese when I was already 18 and while I of course make mistakes, people almost never guess I am not a native speaker unless they see my face. So I really think this depends on affinity etc. and not just general language aptitude.

        1. Myrin*

          I’m also German (and I did the (c) thing in my head as well lol) and I agree with you and can’t agree with the notion that having successfully learned German makes it easy to learn French as well. I mean, on a general level that may be true – being good at learning German shows that you are good at learning pronunciation concepts that are foreign to a native English speaker or at learning somewhat complicated grammar, for example, but you can say that about pretty much any foreign language that has a structure that is more complicated than English, so I was somewhat confused about the relevance of German in particular. (If you speak another Romance language like Italian or Spanish, that can indeed help a lot. I know both French and Italian and so many grammatical concepts are incredibly similar but again, not the case for German at all.)

          1. Jen RO*

            As an aside – when I started learning German I figured that at least the accent will be easier than the French one… then I had the unpleasant surprise that the “r” is just as bad in German as well :(

            1. Myrin*

              Oh? How so? I mean, you can roll the “r” or not, but it doesn’t make a difference with regards to meanings, it can just denote where someone is from. Am I misunderstanding?

      2. Jen RO*

        Yeah, what Myrin said. I studied both French and German as foreign languages and they have nothing to do with each other. German has some similarities with English (more than I had expected), and French is easier if you already know another Romance language… but I still don’t see how someone could become anywhere near fluent in less than a year.

        OP, honestly, if the company doesn’t agree to pay (or at least give you several hours a day for language practice), I think there is not much you can do on your own… other than job search.

        1. Anna*

          I studied both French and Spanish in high school. I continued with Spanish in college. Even my Spanish linguistics professor recommended that if I were going to learn another Romance language, I should leave French behind and look to Portuguese or Italian because of the similarities with Spansih. French is a lot easier with another Romance language under your belt, but it is still very unlike the other Romance languages.

          1. Jen RO*

            I am Romanian, and I learned (in this order) French, Spanish, French again. I didn’t remember much from my first round of French (in school) when started taking Spanish classes, but when I wanted to refresh my French knowledge and took classes again, I found that a lot of the French grammar was very similar to the Spanish one. The French pronunciation is very different though, and more complicated than the other Romance languages, which are (mostly?) phonetic.

            1. Anna*

              Romanian crossed my mind as I was typing that, but it is the one Romance language I know the very least about.

              And yes to the phonetic part. French is not at all phonetic; you do not pronounce every letter like you do in Spanish.

              1. Neeta(RO)*

                As a Romanian myself, one who never studied French, I always found it weird when people told me that I should be able to just “pick up” French, since the two languages are similar.
                I was able to just “pick up” Italian, from TV series. Even so, my speaking/reading level is only good very basic conversation. But French… now way.

  16. Suisse is Strange*

    #1 Qui doit apprendre le français: First of all, a caveat. I am terrible at learning languages. I’m still no where near full professional proficiency Some people have very good innate aptitude towards picking up languages, but, alas, I am not one of them. I describe my language skills as “limited proficiency” or “working knowledge”. I’m studying at the B2 level, but haven’t taken the exam yet.

    That said, I honestly do not think that you could pick up full proficiency in both spoken and written business french just from using things like Rosetta stone, duo lingo, or memrise. Now, if you can get to level, say B1 (of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages), you might be able to get by with the support of your colleagues. And that might really be workable, if your colleagues can provide pretty significant support (for example, written french can be very formal, so you would almost certainly need some one to help you write all but the most casual emails). On the other hand, I personally find readying French to be not too hard, so if that’s the biggest area that you need French for you might have some luck. But, I also agree with Gwan, that if full proficiency is necessary, it really might not work.

    Since I feel bad about leaving such a pessimistic comment, and also since it’s entirely possible that you have a better aptitude for language learning than me, here’s how I would go about learning French:
    – an intensive french course. Yes, I realize this is difficult when you work, but yes, I think it is 100% necessary. I’ve never taken courses at the Alliance Française, but that’s the first place I’d look. Or see if a college in your area has a language program open to the public.
    – a partner/tandem, preferably from Afrique francophone, who you could practice speaking with (there’s a website where you can link up with someone via skype).
    – if you want to watch French TV, the only show I actually watch and can thus recommend is « fais pas ci, fais pas ça » (It’s on Netflix in Switzerland, but not sure about other locations). Start out watching it with French subtitles, and eventually try to move to no subtitles.
    – Watch the news in French: Google “France 24”, change the language to French, and click on “la chaine en direct”. They cover much more news from francophone Africa, so that will also help you with your work.
    – Reading French novels really helped me a lot! La Vérité sur l’affaire Harry Quebert was the first book I read–it’s quite a page turner, although sadly way too long.
    – Online programs for
    additional practice: Duolingo and Memrise: Although on their own, I really don’t think these are enough, they are great for extra vocabulary practice. I don’t use it, but FluentU has videos. I’ve also never used Français Authentique because it’s rather pricey, but it also has good reviews.

    1. Christopher Tracy*

      a partner/tandem, preferably from Afrique francophone, who you could practice speaking with (there’s a website where you can link up with someone via skype).

      This is a good suggestion because the dialect(s) will be different from European French, which is another wrinkle in OP’s plan to learn. A lot of African countries that speak French often speak some kind of patois.

      1. Jen RO*

        Yeah, this is important. I can understand spoken France French (if the speaker doesn’t mumble or rush), but Canadian or African French is a whole ‘nother story.

        1. HannahS*

          Funny aside on that point: I did the “French Immersion” program in elementary school in Canada–meaning we spoke and were taught in French (France French) all day from kindergarten up. When it came time for our Quebec exchange trip in grade 8, I could barely understand my partner and her family. It would be like learning ESL from a Brit, and then moving to Tennessee. So learning the accent and dialect matters!

          1. Jen RO*

            I tried to watch a Canadian sitcom… it was like a completely different language! I watched it on a French TV station and they had France-French subtitles, so you could tell really easily that the vocabulary was very different.

          2. Jack K*

            I had a nearly identical experience. Went on a work trip to Gatineau, was horribly embarrassed — went on a work trip to Belgium and was shocked that I could understand people.

            No envy for the OP’s position. Regardless of whether or not she can learn French to the level the job requires, it’s very demoralizing to be the one person who can barely speak the language of business.

    2. Marillenbaum*

      Another Netflix recommendation: “<> (in English, “A Very Secret Service”). Quite funny, short episodes.

    3. Steve*

      I have been working on my French for a few years, on and off as I can manage to fund it, and I am still at the B1 level– good enough to interact with storekeepers or read the paper but not anywhere close to a professional level. This is after:
      -Finishing Doulingo’s French course
      -taking four part-time classes at Academy Français (about 40 classroom hours each)
      -Two university classes in French reading comprehesion(30 hours each)
      -A six week intensive course (200 classroom hours)
      -A bunch of online classes my employer subscribed to
      -reading a couple books in French
      -listening to the radio in french all day for a few weeks (a helpful excercise I should get back into the habit of)
      -Attending a weekly French conversation club for three months or so
      -Living in Swiss Romandy for a year

      And that is built on a foundation of rusty high-school french, so it’s not like I was starting from square one. I still get tripped up all the time if a conversation gets more complex than an exchange of pleasantries or a simple question and answer session.

      This is not to discourage anyone, but just to say OP will not, unless she is very brilliant, be able to learn French (to a professional level) from free online sources in a few months. To be of much use to her employer, her skills need to hit the B2 level and to do that she need to take at least several months away from her other duties to focus on full-time intensive French training. If her other skills make her valuable enough (but not so irreplacable she can’t be sidelined for half a year!) her employer may be willing to pay the big bucks to put her in intensive french training. If not… then they have someone who can’t speak French in the position and that isn’t going to change in the near future.

  17. lamuella*

    regarding the first question, I have a broader issue with applying for jobs where you lack one of the central qualifications or requirements.

    I work in a field where there is a recognised professional qualification at master’s degree level. I’ve been the hiring manager for positions at this level twice, and on both occasions I’ve had to turn down multiple applicants for lacking this qualification. And not just one or two, the last position I hired for I received in total 35 applications, of which 12 were from people who lacked both the qualification and any experience in the field. I realise some of this will be application-spamming, but some people seemed serious about the job but simply hadn’t thought the essential criterion of the qualification was necessary. had I interviewed one of these people and been impressed enough to hire, I’d still be introducing someone to a workplace where a base level of professional knowledge (as indicated by the qualification) was assumes, which would be setting someone up for failure if they lacked this knowledge or its equivalent.

    I full accept that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, but if an applicant lacks essential criteria are they even on the court at all? (I may have mixed my sports metaphors here). I feel for the questioner, and I wonder what in the world the hiring manager was doing. However I think this is a risk run by applying for a position where you don’t meet the person spec. Hope that didn’t come across as harsh, I really do feel bad for the questioner who is now in a very tough situation indeed.

    1. misspiggy*

      I think Alison’s advice has been that as an applicant you don’t know which qualifications are really dealbreakers for a position, and you don’t know who else will apply. So if you have most but not all qualifications, you should put yourself forward and let the employer decide in the context of the applicant pool. If no one with all the qualifications applies, it’s then up to the employer to decide whether to reissue the ad, possibly with increased remuneration, or to re-prioritise the criteria. Working in nonprofits, we have quite often had to reduce qualifications for a role, because we realise after advertising a few times that we can’t pay what fully qualified candidates can get elsewhere.

      1. lamuella*

        that’s a very good point. There is a temptation to overload the “essential” box with lots of things that are really just desirable. Unfortunately this seems to be one of those times where the requirement was a lot more essential than the interviewer seemed to think it was.

        1. Mel*

          This is the chance you take though when you apply to jobs with “requirements” that you don’t have

          1. Kyrielle*

            No, it really isn’t or shouldn’t be. It’s the chance you take if you apply to a job that has a requirement and you *claim you have it* when you don’t. OP was up front; given how much French is required, they should either have (1) rejected OP or (2) communicated to OP how essential French was and that they expected the OP to be using it at that level in (insert time frame here) and asked if the OP could commit to that. I’m betting the OP would have politely turned them down at that point.

            “A few months ago I applied for a job with a large multinational which required French language skills.”

            OP doesn’t say if it just said ‘French’ or if it indicated fluency, or the even-more-complicated level of fluency needed here (business French and dealing with specific accents for a particular region). It wouldn’t surprise me if it just said ‘speak French’ or ‘French language’ with no more details.

            Then the VP asks how quickly OP can learn French in the last round (and really, that should have been pursued, but was pretty oblique). “I thought it was a joke and said I would make an effort to learn some French outside of work.”

            The “some French” should also have been a red flag to the VP, who should have immediately clarified how much French would be required.

            Yes, OP applied for a position with a requirement that they did not have. They may or may not have known the *depth* of that requirement. If you need just enough French to transfer clients who speak French to your fluent colleague, that’s very different from 25% travel to a region where you’ll be speaking French for everything, and business interactions in French. Unless someone spelled it out for the OP, they might reasonably have assumed lesser fluency was needed or even that the work would be adjusted so they were working in their native language while others picked up the French work, *because they clearly told the company they lacked that skill – repeatedly – and the company still hired them*, which implies the company had a strategy (other than “hey, you, grab your bootstraps and lift!”) for handling the skill gap and still wanted to hire them.

            Definitely the OP needs to find a way out – I don’t think they can pick up French to the level required fast enough – and definitely the OP should have probed more into the French requirement, especially the VP’s statement. But it was not unreasonable to apply, and the company also failed here, repeatedly, to heed the *very clear* information OP was providing them. I don’t understand why so many people are chiding OP for assuming the knowledge of French was negotiable when the company repeatedly dismissed OP’s lack of it and hired them anyway, without a detailed discussion of what would be expected in that regard.

            1. JMegan*

              Yes, exactly this! The OP acted in good faith, and was clear about her lack of proficiency from the beginning. Maybe she could have asked even more questions, but it sounds to me like she expressed her level of proficiency, received essentially a non-response from the VP, and assumed from that that everything was fine. It’s not on the OP to keep digging when she has already received an answer to her question and the interview is proceeding.

              The VP absolutely should have followed up on the OP’s comment in the interview about making an effort to learn French outside of work, and she absolutely should not have brushed off the OP’s concerns when OP spoke to her directly after she started.

            2. Whats In A Name*

              Thank you for describing and posting this with such great detail. I 100% agree with you on this one.

            3. Mel*

              If the op would have said “I don’t think I can learn French” or “I’m not comfortable learning it on the job” then I would agree with you. it was obviously a huge mistake to dismiss the managers comment that she’ll need to learn French. That’s squarely on the op.

              1. Anna*

                I think you’re trying very hard to put the blame on OP when it’s really up to the hiring manager to know exactly what they require and hire based on that. Kyrielle explained it perfectly and you’re still arguing the OP is entirely at fault.

                1. Mel*

                  i never said the ops entirely at fault. I’m saying the op shouldn’t blame the hiring manager because it’s just as much her fault for not understanding how quickly she’d need learn a required part of the job before accepting the job. Do you think learning a few phrases in a foreign language is good enough to work in a country that doesn’t speak your native language?

              2. Kyrielle*

                The OP said they could pick “some” up. And they almost certainly can. But “some” (being able to answer the phone or ask where the restroom is?) and “deep business fluency” aren’t the same thing. Which is why I say (a) the OP should have probed more into the VP’s question, and (b) the VP should have probed more into the OP’s understanding of how much French was needed. The VP and others at the company should have had that knowledge, the OP didn’t.

            4. Whats In A Name*

              #5: I am in a similar situation – though haven’t been hired yet. I consult with a company and am in my 3rd year. My boss fights tooth and nail to get me on full time but never gets the position approved. I appreciate her, I thank her for her fight every time we’ve heard a “no” and that is sufficient.

              One thing to keep in mind is that while this person is fighting for you because they like you for the job, they are also fighting for themselves – to get staff they desperately need to fill a need in their department.

      2. Suisse is Strange*

        Yeah, I’ve seen advice/articles here and elsewhere recommending applying to jobs even if you don’t 100% meet all the qualifications. (Specifically, I remember one in HBR discussing that why women typically don’t apply to jobs unless they meet all the qualifications and this was something holding many women back).

        Also, IME, required language skills are sometimes very necessary to do the job, and while other times it’s just because they want to add a Amharic speaker to the staff just in case they Amharic skills, or the person might send out the occasional email in Portuguese. Given that the OP was completely up front about his/her lack of French, I really can’t say I blame him/her. Same thing with Masters degrees, so many jobs say they are required (at least in my field), and so often they really shouldn’t be.

        I find it helpful when, if a particular attribute is absolutely 100% non-negotiable, you should put “(mandatory)” next to that particular item or put a disclaimer saying something like “candidates not meeting the minimum qualifications will not be considered.” That’s a lot more clear than just saying “essential capacities” with a list of 20 different things.

        1. Blurgle*

          In my experience 90% of jobs “requiring” an MA (and about half requiring an MSc) could be handled, and very well, by an intelligent high school graduate. The MA is all about gatekeeping and perceived value.

    2. Raine*

      I think a lot of people do this though because a lot of employers tend to pad the requirements in the hopes of attracting only the best possible candidates. This isn’t unreasonable but when you (general you) put things like ‘requires ten years of experience’ for a skill or program that has only really existed for five, then you create an environment where job seekers feel like they can’t really trust employers to put actual job necessities in the posting. And in that environment of course they’re going to apply to things they might only be an 80% fit for on paper.

      I know when I first started job searching I had to ignore a lot of the experience requirements simply because… well I was brand spankin new to the work force.

    3. Always Anon*

      I think you have to make it very clear in the ad that this qualification is required.

      But, I would also really consider if the credential is necessary to do the job. For example, in my industry there are several professional certifications are available, and often those are asked for in the ad, however, not having those certifications doesn’t mean that the candidate knows less or isn’t potentially a good fit with the appropriate level of experience.

      However, if the credential or qualification is critical to be successful then I hope it would be spelled out very clearly in the job ad. I would also keep in mind to keep your list of required credentials/qualifications reasonably short. Because I do think people are more likely to apply to a position without one of the required qualifications/credentials if there is a long laundry list of them in the ad. And you will always get some people who don’t read the ad. Every time we hire for web-developer we get people with no experience or qualifications, because they think they can learn on the job, or they say that their experience creating a blog on wordpress makes them qualified.

    4. Observer*

      You have a good point, though as others pointed out, it’s so common to put in “requirements” that aren’t really requirements, that it’s reasonable to figure that applying, while being upfront about a single issue, is worth doing. And, in a sense the OP was right – the people making the call on this all apparently didn’t think it was a true requirement either.

      The difference in your case is that the qualifications is one that is common and recognized in your industry.

    5. JessaB*

      Yeh if you’re going to apply for something that has a base level requirement, you need it, or the equivalent. Now if you had x years of experience and could do the tasks but don’t have the official requirement, I’d apply anyway and explain that in the cover letter. But then I’d be specific saying “I learnt all this at work but I never took the degree because when I started the degree wasn’t the thing, the knowledge was.”

  18. Hornswoggler*

    The best way to learn a language quickly is with a native speaker qualified to teach their language as a foreign language, and to do it very intensively, one-on-one. Also back this up with things like Duolingo and reading newspapers and trying it out ALL THE TIME in the workplace, the street, shops, etc.

    This is not recommended, but according to Harry Flashman*, the best way to learn a language is in bed with a native speaker, but I have no experience of this to be able to back it up.

    *In George Macdonald Fraser’s racy novels.

    1. Reb*

      I’ve learnt some … interesting … vocab from my German husband. Not much help if I needed business German!

      OP, have a look for whether any news websites offer slowed-down French broadcasts. Someone’s doing it for German news and it’s a great way to get exposure to current vocab.

  19. Joseph*

    #4: I think you’re over-estimating the (positive) impact that lying on your resume can have. First off, the lies you specifically mentioned are all incredibly stupid and easy to catch by even a fairly mediocre interviewer much less a great one:
    >Educational background is a quick call to registration or even just asking the candidate to send you a copy of their transcript.
    >Eight years at a law office? That’s a *really* long time on a resume (for a 40-year old person, almost half of their working life!) so most interviewers will ask about it and probably calling the reference/contact number.
    >Grant administration is really selling credit cards in a retail store? If “Target” is listed on your resume rather than “NSF” or something, then I’m immediately going to wonder when you got such expertise. And I’ll certainly ask about your claimed expertise in grant administration.
    Secondly, such a database would be rife with errors, inconsistencies, etc. Since you mentioned credit reports, it’s worth noting that credit reporting companies make mistakes all the time, which is why they’re legally required to give you a free copy once per year so you can check it and tell them to fix things. And they have the benefit of dealing with pure objective numbers (i.e., you either paid your car payment or you didn’t), whereas a work-related database is far more subjective. Is the reason your salary was the same for 3 years because you’re a mediocre employee or was the company struggling to get by? Why were you really fired?

    1. Lucky*

      All of this. And I’ve found that a former employer going out of business is a huge hassle – the company can’t be found online or in any industry database, the owners have scattered to the winds, and most online job application systems won’t let you type “defunct” or “closed” in lieu of contact information.

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      Agree with everything you say. And regarding credit reports, that can actually be a way to find out you weren’t at a job as long as you said and show jobs you’ve left off your resume. I can only assume Op’s friends are getting jobs, like maybe sales, where the background checks aren’t done or aren’t very thorough, because they assume they’ll know by your performance whether you can hack it or not. Also worth mentioning, I’ve seen here on this blog where some people have gotten away with it initially and then when they’re up for promotion some deeper background is gathered and the lie comes out then and they’re fired. I don’t think anyone wants to explain to an interviewer the reason they were let go from their previous job was because they got caught lying.

  20. Macedon*

    #1. Do what you can to learn French now, start job searching as a back up. imo, don’t sign up for an intensive French class out of your own pocket (different story if the company is willing to finance) until your direct manager returns from mat leave. If things take a turn for the worst, you don’t want to be stuck with a heavy course expense while also dealing with the financial aftermath of this situation. That said, be straightforward with your direct manager about what happened during the hiring process. Could be they are okay keeping you on with you performing at a lower level until your French improves. Could also be that your value for the company in other respects makes up your lower performance in areas that require you to speak French. This is definitely a situation that your direct manager should be able to shed more light on.

    Sorry you’re in this position, considering you gave full warning. Uncomfortable at best. I’ve had something similar happen (with industry knowledge, not language skills) and managed to fudge it until I caught up, but it’s stressful, exhaustive and leaves you wondering whether you’ll be out the door half the time.

    #3. You’re clearly not comfortable disclosing your passion for astrology to your workplace, considering you deliberately lie about your conferences. Since your astrology writing does not sound likely to improve your reputation within your current company/sector, I’d say to go with your first instinct and use a pen name. If you later on decide to pursue astrology writing, writing in general, or any other track that would value your blog experience, you can still list it on your resume (just disclaim a pen name was involved).

    1. FD*

      #3- Exactly! You can always include it on a resume if it’s relevant, something like “Wrote 5 blog posts per month for Teapot Astrologers Online, with an average readership of 500 per month (under pen name Eugenia de Stafford)” etc.

  21. L.*

    Re #1 – Something similar happens to me sometimes because I’m Latina, and so my bosses assume that I speak Spanish fluently, or even that it’s my “native language,” even though I’ve NEVER claimed that. (My family’s been in the US for a century, society heavily discouraged foreign language speakers until recently, and I grew up in an English-speaking home. I studied Spanish in school but by no means do I have native proficiency.) It’s a tough situation because when I inevitably can’t do whatever they want and tell them they need a professional translator (in the most recent occurrence my boss asked me to translate a telecommunications contract!) then I’ve disappointed them, even though I think they’d never have the same expectations for a white employee.

    1. shep*

      Many of my friends have encountered the same treatment. That’s so annoying, and I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with that.

      It’s only happened to me in my personal life–my dad is Persian and a lot of my extended family/their friends were always really disappointed when they realized I only spoke English. I certainly wish I DID speak Farsi, but I don’t, and I’ve never had an affinity for foreign language study, no matter what language it is.

      Now when I encounter this (which is very rare), I rather sardonically point to my BA and MFA in English and writing and say, “Nah, but I am really REALLY good at English.”

    2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      Ugh, that’s definitely racist and they should knock it off. In a better world, next time you could say, “Hey, I’m not qualified for this, and you asking me is as ridiculous as if you expected Trish O’Brian in accounting to be able to translate Gaelic for you.” And then they’d get it, apologize profusely, and never do it again. But I realize you may not feel you have standing to call their spade a spade here.

      1. L.*

        Meh, I work in a white-collar industry without much diversity and I’ve learned this is just how it is sometimes. Allison answered a similar question years ago, and I cribbed from her answer there when this has come up in my current job. They’ve asked me and another Latina who works there, and got the same answer, a few times before they finally looked back at our resumes/cover letters/LinkedIn and found neither of us ever claimed we could do business translations. Eventually they hired another girl who IS native bilingual, so they just go to her now. So there was no grand “lesson learned” for these folks.

        1. Mel*

          People who don’t experience it frequently don’t think it’s a big deal until you make it a big deal. Nice shaming has a wonderful way of showing people how ridiculous those stereotypes are.

    3. Art_ticulate*

      This happens to me alllll the time. I’m mixed, so I have a white last name, but people often assume it must be my married name. Ugh. And if they don’t know my last name, my appearance is enough for them to assume I speak Spanish. But I’m like you, my mother’s family has been here since at least my great grandparents. My mother’s parents are bilingual, but mom started speaking English when she started school and her parents then forbade her from speaking Spanish at home so she could assimilate. She and I both understand it okay, but speaking it is difficult. I can’t ever conjugate in anything but present tense and my sentences are very broken. Sigh.

    4. AD*

      That’s not similar to the OP’s case at all. Although you have my sympathies for what you’re going through.

      1. Doodle*

        I think L. might be referencing this part of the letter: “Adding to the confusion is the fact that my surname is French so people presume I speak the language.”

        It’s not totally the same because the OP was hired for a job that requires French, but to casual colleagues, I think they’re getting the same name-based assumptions (which are of course not the same as race-based assumptions).

    5. Anonyby*

      I don’t get it as much because I take after my white side, but my uncle had this problem in his high school spanish class. In his case, he was closer–grandparents were immigrants and his grandmother only spoke Spanish, but it was never spoken at home because his mother (my grandmother) didn’t know any.

      And a former coworker also had this problem with clients coming in–they’d see her looks and name and start speaking Spanish to her. (Well, they also do this to me, but nowhere near as much.) We’re an office with a lot of Spanish-speakers, so I guess it seems reasonable to them that everyone would speak it.

  22. Pudding*

    #4 reminded me of the myth of the ever permanent record that teachers told us followed us through life. I’d cry like a baby when i went into the principals office because I was convinced that this would go on some mysterious record that anyone could look up.

  23. Jake*

    I’d be shocked if an employer disciplined an otherwise good employee for writing about astrology. That being said, there is no way I’d bring it up proactively, as it doesn’t seem relevant to the job at hand.

  24. shep*

    #1 – So sorry you’re having to deal with this! I realize it’s not *exactly* a bait-and-switch, but it reads very similarly. I hope everything works out.

    My own [and comparatively very minor!] run-in with my employer asking me to do something I wasn’t qualified for was when I was a tutor, and I came in for the day to find that I’d been scheduled to teach SAT-level math to a student that day.

    I have a BA in English and an MFA in writing, and have not taken math since high school, and I’d told my supervisor over and over again I wasn’t comfortable with even middle school-level math. I was good at math when I had to be, but once it was no longer a requirement, I was happy to wash my hands of it.

    I think my boss decided I’d be fine teaching it because I’m an intelligent person. The latter is true but the former is a HUGE leap, and I think this is similar to the way your new employer is treating you; of course you could learn French and be fluent, but the time and resources required to get you to a business level of fluency don’t align with working full time already.

    1. Anon for this*

      I get that. I taught a few classes for one of those for-profit schools once, and I was assigned a business ethics course and an introduction to religions class. I took one class in undergrad in religious studies, and one class that was business related in grad school. It’s the number one reason that I believe that those kind of schools are complete garbage.

      1. shep*

        Oh man, that’s awful! Did you end up having to create and teach those courses or were you able to knock some sense into your employer? (Or leave before it became an issue?)

    2. Elizabeth West*

      I think my boss decided I’d be fine teaching it because I’m an intelligent person.

      This is what I’ve run into my whole life with a math LD. “But you’re intelligent and can do X. You can learn this!” No, Poindexter, this is a DISABILITY. There is a dead zone in my brain. It’s like asking a person with no arms to shoot a bow and arrow. Sure, I might be able to learn to do it with my feet, but it would take longer than we have, and you need that arrow shot (or that spreadsheet created) right now.

      These things take time to do–find a workaround for a disability, become fluent in a language, re-establish math learned long ago to a level where you can teach it, etc. If you don’t use it, you lose it–and it’s even harder if you never learned it in the first place.

      The Spock eyebrow was strong as I read the OP’s letter. I kept waiting for someone at the company to realize this, but nope!

  25. SandrineSmiles (France)*

    I am French.

    Who in their right mind applies for a job asking for French skills when you do not have any and do not seem able to learn ?

    (If you cannot learn my language, I do not blame you one bit – it’s awfully hard though I’ll help you if need be.)

    No, seriously. Alison, this time we may not agree: the company may not have handled this perfectly but at this stage the employee should look for another job ASAP.

    *Non, franchement, je ne comprends pas o.o …

    1. Art_ticulate*

      Alison herself has said many times that lack of requirements should not prevent someone from applying for a job. The OP went through FOUR interviews where she said she didn’t speak French. The company had plenty of opportunities to remove her as a candidate, or clarify how important it would be for her to quickly become fluent, and they didn’t. It’s up to the OP if she wants to start job hunting, but she didn’t do anything wrong here.

      1. AD*

        Requirements that are skills-based are one thing – fluent knowledge of a language is another. The company did no one a favor by hiring OP under these circumstances – but it’s not out of line to wonder how OP felt they would/could succeed in this role (regardless of the 4 interviews, etc.). Learning a language from scratch, in which you have to converse at a professional level, is a huge hurdle. Online and part-time courses, like others have mentioned above, frankly wouldn’t do the trick. The OP was a tad naive here.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Depends on what they said! If it was just “French” in a laundry-list of requirements, with no indication of to what level, how frequently it would be used, etc. – I could see applying without knowing French, but raising it firmly as an issue so they could decide if it was important. *Which the OP did* and was reassured it would be fine. At all stages it sounds like they sent the message that French was either a nice-to-have or not needed at a very fluent level, by their actions, until OP was actually hired and discovered that no, business-fluency was going to be a requirement.

          Had OP applied *without* calling out their lack of French in the cover letter and interviews, then I would agree with you. But I’ve seen places that would list a language in a list of skills with no more details than that, and it’s just a nice-to-have – they could use another person with that language for supporting that population, but if not, no biggie, Fergus can keep doing that while the new hire takes some of the other accounts/tasks….

          1. AD*

            Yes, it would be dependent on how the posting was written. And the OP certainly did call it out in his/her cover letter, so they certainly weren’t deceptive about their lack of French.

        2. Art_ticulate*

          I mean, I’m currently working for an educational nonprofit dealing with a culture whose language I don’t speak. The posting asked for proficiency in a language, but worded it as “helpful”, not required, and it has indeed not mattered for my particular job. I applied because I had literally all the other skills. If it had said “proficiency required”, then no, I wouldn’t have applied. Sure, OP was a but naive, but I strongly feel that the employer should clarify these things with a candidate if they are lacking a skill that is *essential* to the job but are otherwise qualified, and the candidate has been upfront about it. If it were such a vital part of the job, and they knew OP didn’t have it, whu continue with the other tjree interviews? If I were OP, I would assume that speaking French didn’t actually matter.

    2. J.B.*

      It depends how detailed the ad was. Having taken some French and studied there, I could see applying to a job that seemed to have it listed as a minor requirement, planning to learn more during the interview process and take refresher courses. Something like interacting socially would be ok, if English was the main language for technical discussions. Had the ad said something that would imply the following would occur: “travel to our sites in French-speaking Africa 25% of the time, my handover notes are in French” – never in a million years. She also said she went through FOUR rounds of interviews and that the VP asked about it in the fourth interview with the answer “said I would make an effort to learn some French outside of work”. I can certainly see thinking the issue had been covered, although clearly more pointed questions were in order.

    3. Rusty Shackelford*

      Who in their right mind applies for a job asking for French skills when you do not have any and do not seem able to learn ?

      The kind of person who reads Alison’s column and has seen her advice on this very topic, perhaps? :-)

      I’m guessing you haven’t been involved in a lot of hiring decisions. A job ad is more like a wish list than a technical spec document. It’s routine to include skills that you WANT but can live without.

      Example: I’m the only person in my department who has a specific technical skill. This skill isn’t required for my main job, but it’s helpful for many other aspects of what we do, and we’ve gotten to the point where it would be inconvenient not to have anyone in the department who could do Skill X. If my employer were replacing me, they would most likely list X as a desired skill. However, if they found an awesome applicant who was really good at everything else I do, but couldn’t do X, they’d probably hire that person and either have them learn X, have someone else in the department learn X, or go outside the department for their X needs. I’m sure OP1 thought they were applying for a job where French was like Skill X.

      Really, if you’re limiting yourself to jobs where you are 100% competent at every skill listed, you’re going too far.

      1. Anna*

        You will also not be applying to very many jobs and wonder why you haven’t found the One True Job Listing that was written for you.

        Ugh, people. Ugh.

    4. Macedon*

      Someone responding to an ad where French language skills are listed as ‘preferred’ or ‘ideal’, not essential. The applicant has no way of knowing the job better than those advertising it. If, after a full disclaimer and several interviews, the employers decrees that the non-French speaking candidate will be a good (enough) fit for the job, the applicant is likely to trust that conclusion.

      OP also gives no indication that s/he is not able to pick up French, just that s/he will not be able to learn enough of the language to be on the par required to communicate effectively at this workplace. That is neither absurd, nor a sign of ill will on OP’s behalf — it’s a probably realistic assessment of their ability or availability to gain this knowledge on the short term.

    5. Dot Warner*

      I agree. Yes, the company screwed up here, but so did OP. If the job listing says that French is required and you don’t speak any French at all, it isn’t a good fit for you. Even if the listing hadn’t been clear about how much French was required, the OP went to four interviews – that’s plenty of time to get clarification about how much French is needed for the role.

      Having said that, OP, I truly do feel for you. I’ve been in your shoes before (accepted a job that I thought was a slight reach outside of my skills and turned out to be leagues beyond what I’m capable of). It’s humiliating and it sucks and I’m sorry. Telling my then-boss that I couldn’t make it work in the role was one of the crappiest days of my career, but I learned a lot from that experience and found a new direction for my career as a result.

      There are jobs out there that you can succeed at, but this isn’t one of them. Good luck.

    6. Abbi Abrams*

      I live in a French/English bilingual city and pretty much every job advertises as “French required.” But in my experience not many jobs actually need the employee to speak French, it’s just something the employers want to have. So it’s not as crazy as you may think.

      1. JessaB*

        It also may be kind of socially required to say “French required,” some bilingual cities have people get very insulted if you don’t act like you want everyone to be bilingual. Even if not every job in the place requires it.

      2. Bookworm*

        I work with some people who create teams where it’s imperative that *some* of the team members are bilingual, but the bilingual caseload is not so much that they need everyone to be fluent in both languages. The role always advertises as wanting people who speak Spanish, but for about half the team, they only need to be good enough at Spanish in order to properly direct the queries that come in to the fluent Spanish speakers.

    7. mike 2*

      We tried to hire a student with Russian/Ukrainian language skills. Girl applied, was asked in email if she can read those languages she said sure.
      We got her in, presented two books in Russian and Ukrainian language (other Slavic languages were a bonus). She said she doesn’t know what is written on either book. Interview over.
      Please don’t apply if you don’t have language skills required. It’s a waste of your and our time.

      1. Rat in the Sugar*

        Your example is different from the OP’s, though, since the girl you talked to lied and said she spoke the language, when OP was clear that she didn’t.

        It’s more like if you asked that girl if she spoke Russian/Ukrainian, she said no, you hired her anyway, presented her with the two books on her first day, and then were shocked –shocked!– when she couldn’t read it.

        I feel that the largest portion of blame here goes to the hiring manager.

  26. Laura*

    #4 – There is a database to check degrees. I got a Bachelors in Business, then went back and finished another major 9 years later. I updated my resume to show both including the dates because it dovetailed into why I changed jobs. I was downsized and started job hunting. 4 years later, a recruiter told me he couldn’t find it. I called the school. They had added the second major to the first degree rather than issue a second. No big deal, but that requires a manual update rather than just the file they send over. I wonder about those interviews that I never heard back from were effected by it, but there’s nothing I can do now. And I really like the job I’m at now.

  27. Not Karen*

    #1: I’m not convinced you have any intention or desire to even start learning French, in which case I don’t feel sorry for you. Sure, it’s okay to apply for a job when you don’t have all the qualifications YET, but you need to intend on acquiring them ASAP. It would be like me applying for a job that requires programming skills in a language I haven’t studied, then getting hired and not even trying to code in that language and sticking to the ones I’m used to. You said “I would make an effort to learn some French outside of work.” What efforts have you made? Please correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds to me like you thought you could get away with never learning French and being about to do the job without it.

    1. Susanna*

      I don’t get that at all from this letter. Even if the OP has been attempting to learn some French through means that might reasonably be available (apps, teach-yourself books, etc.), it’s very likely that she hasn’t made much progress towards professional proficiency, because that’s a long-term undertaking that requires more than independent learning materials.

      Questioning the motives of letter writers based solely on speculation doesn’t add to the discussion.

      1. Anon Always*

        Agreed. And honestly, the intent doesn’t even matter. The LW was told several times across four interviews that the fact that she didn’t know French wasn’t an issue.

      1. Marvel*

        I seriously want to know the answer to this question. What does the OP have to do here to not be treated so rudely by the commentariat?

          1. Rahera*

            (on a lighter note, oh dear. I just realised I channeled the little old lady from the first episode of Black Books: ‘that’s hardly fair.’ Bernard: ‘It’s not fair at all. Goodbye.’ :D

            I’ll try not to do it again, but my point still stands.)

    2. BettyD*

      I agree. I had quite a bit of sympathy for OP1 because the company should have made it clear that fluency in French was a necessity and that’s on them, but then I got to this part:

      “in the last round, with the VP for the department, she asked, “How quickly can you learn French?” with a smile. I thought it was a joke and said I would make an effort to learn some French outside of work.”

      and my sympathy pretty much vanished. I don’t quite understand why the OP would think this was a joke, rather than an indication that they were taking a chance on her with the assumption that she would expedite the process of learning French as quickly as possible. Still unrealistic on the company’s part, but edging close to bad faith on the OP’s part, however unintentional.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Yes, but there’s plenty of blame to go around. If the VP was aware of her lack of French but expected her to expedite the process of becoming fluent, as you suggest, then accepting “I’ll make an effort to learn some” was not only foolish, but misleading. If you need someone to have a workable use of the language in X months, you should make that clear.

        1. AnonAnalyst*

          This. “I’ll make an effort to learn some French outside of work” does not suggest that the OP would show up fully fluent in a matter of months, so that should have prompted the VP to ask some follow up questions to clarify if that was what she was expecting.

          If I were the OP, I would probably interpret the VP’s question about “learning French” to mean how long it would be before I might have some conversational French skills to get by, which would take a lot less time than the level of proficiency than apparently is required for the job. So I don’t think the OP was being disingenuous or misleading here by accepting the job and planning to take some night classes (or whatever the plan was to pick up some French outside of work).

        2. Mel*

          The company isn’t saying she’s learning french too slowly are they? My reading of it is shes just realizing what she got herself into.

      2. Natalie*

        Huh, interesting. I have always understood that fluency in a new language takes years, so “as quickly as possible” might mean 2-3 years instead of 6. It would have definitely read as a joke to me because it’s so ridiculous to assume someone can achieve fluency in a few months.

      3. Jen RO*

        I disagree. It takes years to truly learn a language, so the VP’s question sounds like a joke to me too. I mean, surely he understand that his question doesn’t make sense, so of course he’s not being serious!

        1. Kelly L.*

          Same here. Because I would never assume someone would think you can pick up an entire language in a couple of weeks or whatever.

      4. Reb*

        I’m imagining interviewing for a job that was 25% computer programming, 75% tech writing, and I get a great writing candidate who tells me they aren’t a programmer. And I imagine myself asking them “so how quickly can you learn programming?” with a smile.

        First, I’d never do that, because it’s ridiculous.

        Second, if I did, I’d expect them to take it as a joke, because it’s ridiculous.

        The VP was being ridiculous.

    3. themmases*

      Wow, this comment is mean and it sounds like you didn’t even read the full letter.

      The OP represented their language skills honestly, and reasonably concluded that the job could be done without being fluent in French because they were hired anyway. The job they described requires fluent French skills right now– 25% travel in a francophone country and handover notes in French. No one could get that fluent that quickly, regardless of their efforts outside of work.

      What on earth do you think gives you the standing to accuse a stranger who asked for advice of lying, and announce that you’re withholding your sympathy because you judge their efforts lacking? No one asked for your sympathy! If you find the letter unsympathetic or just uninteresting, maybe don’t comment. You’d certainly look less uninformed and unkind right now.

    4. Rat in the Sugar*

      Alison asks us to believe what the OP says when they write in, and not accuse them of lying. It discourages others from writing in in the future.

  28. FD*

    #3- I would write under a pen name.

    Astrology is something that a lot of people have Opinions on. When future employers Google you, if you use your own name, this blog will come up. Some employers are going to be fine with this, but others are going to think that’s weird/crunchy.

    I get that sucks if astrology is part of your religion, but because of its reputation, I don’t think it’s what you want future employers to associate you with.

    1. Sunny Days*

      I think there are two ways to look at the issue of controversial outside of work hobbies and interests, and it depends on how important to you the controversial thing is. Doing something controversial under your real name disqualifies you for some things, but it can also open doors to things that might be a better fit.

      I know that OP#3 is writing about the rules at her work place, but as a broader issue . . . She could lose a job and have reduced job prospects because of something like this, but she also might be sought out for a job related to writing about astrology. So it’s kind of a matter of career direction.

  29. LQ*

    This experience is so strange. I’ve never heard anyone brag about how they lied on their resume. When I’ve looked over resumes of people I find myself far more often pointing out things they missed (that big project you did the support for? that’s a big deal, put it on here!) than seeing anything riddled with egregious lies.

    The only person I know who radically lied on their resume wasn’t caught until the business collapsed under him. But if they’d called one prior employer they would have found out a lot of the lies.

    This really does highlight the call references part of hiring. I just don’t think that it is that common. Throwing parties? I mean, I guess any excuse for a party but “Taco Tuesday” is enough of an excuse for the people I know.

    1. Nervous Accountant*

      the only time I’ve ever seen such blatant lying is on clickbait articles, like on the “Whisper” app, that let you anonymously post secrets. I really cannot imagine someone getting a 6 figure job based on huge lies. Except for Mike Ross, though.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yeah, between this and the post last week about whether or not to report the former coworker that that OP had heard through the grapevine was lying about a master’s degree, I’m wondering if I either just have an amazing HR recruiter that screens out the crazy for me or if I just don’t work in an industry that invites that kind of craziness. So many of these Big! Lies!! are so easy to ferret out in the internet age that any decent candidate isn’t going to bother.

  30. Trout 'Waver*

    #3, I thought a lot of more public astrologers put on costumes and adopted seer or diviner performer identities. Here’s your chance to do that. It might be fun to get into that kind of role for your writing (and possibly conventions).

  31. Making busy work for HR since 2004*

    I’m currently in reference and background check hell (my references and former employers are getting SO annoyed that they are contacted so frequently for references). I often wonder why there isn’t a “TSA Pre-Clear” for employment. One company that you can pay to verify your background, contact your employers and schools ONE TIME (updating as needed) that all potential employers can just receive as a report. You could even have it expire after one year or have an option to have it “refreshed” when starting a new job. It sure would be better than asking my former supervisor to fill out 10 essay questions emailed straight from a applicant management system for every job I apply to.

    1. SaviourSelf*

      Because there are so many nuanced questions to ask during a proper reference request.

      I understand wanting to make things easier for your references. Certainly asking them to fill out essay questions is not the right way to go about reference checking.

      As a professional and a manager, I understand that providing references is part of my job. For the good employees that have since moved on, I don’t mind supplying as many references as needed for them to land the job they want.

      1. Making busy work for HR since 2004*

        I think you have a really good point about why a follow up phone call to the supplied references is required, but in 2016 we have hit peak absurdity with applicant management systems and HR contacting every former employer. There were crazy stories in the comments of a question a few weeks ago asking why a bad former student employee would list their former manager as a reference. It was quickly determined that the former employee probably didn’t list her/him as a reference, but had included their contact details in the work history of an online application. I personally have a huge issue with the fact that one of my former supervisors passed away and the person who holds that job now is consistently tracked down and asked about me for no other reason that I include the position in my work history. Allison talks about the time she called former employers not included in the supplied references and it uncovered criminal activity, but I think a real background check would have revealed that as well. You can make the case that you wouldn’t be able to trust a background check that the applicant paid for themselves, but the “Pre-Clear” process proves that isn’t necessarily the case.

  32. OriginalYup*

    #4 “This is wrong, isn’t it? I mean, there are databases that the big companies subscribe to that note what an employee really got fired for, aren’t there? We have no real privacy rights in the USA, and salespeople can get very detailed information about spending habits so there must be databases about how and why people got fired, right?”

    Yes, it’s wrong for someone to lie on their resume, just like it’s wrong for a company to lie in their job ad. From a practical perspective, as Alison points out, it’s a bad idea to claim skills and experience you don’t have because you’ll be sh-t out of luck when the job actually requires you to do work based on that non-existent experience. (Unfortunately a lot of employers tend to inflate requirements and demand nice-to-haves as baseline requirements, but that’s a different problem.) But from an ethical perspective, flip it around: it’s not okay when companies lie in their job ads, right? If you applied for a full time salaried work-from-home position with benefits, but found out when you interviewed that it was actually a part-time office-based job that paid by commission and was on a contract basis, you’d be really annoyed with their BS, right? Resume lies are similarly frustrating.

    Companies keep their own records about who they hire and fire, but there’s no central clearinghouse for that info. Prospective employers rely on the applicant providing their own info, and then (should) check it for accuracy in interviews and reference calls. So an employer wanting to know whether someone was fired from a prior job isn’t really a privacy issue—they want to know your job history because they’re treating past behavior as a predictor of future behavior. It’s like asking a date about their past relationships—“have you ever been married?” is certainly a personal question, but it’s not really an invasion of privacy given the relevant circumstances.

    1. Theo*

      “have you ever been married” might be okay, but employment is not dating. We’re back to the “so and so should never work in a responsible position ever again” discussion. Someone is dishonorably discharged from the military. Or they were fired for fighting with a co-worker at a job. Should they never be able to work again? People on askamanager.org always say yes to that. And yet, there are people out there who have trainwrecked through different jobs for years and years. Because they lied. Because they relied on people not calling references. Because if you don’t ask the right question you get no relevant answer at all.

      A central clearinghouse would thwart liars. It would level the playing field and allow applicants to see what the employer sees so that they could really control their job search. It doesn’t pay to be honest when applying for a job. If an applicant lies on his resume he might get caught but it might be the one thing that tips the scale and makes him the “most qualified” for the position. Work is not a popularity contest! If a former employer had ten guys named Chris at a worksite and just decides to give the same reference for any of them, then that’s no good for the Chris who worked really hard and never slacked off. Rattling off the social security number of the particular person would be an invasion of privacy, though it would help references tell Chris from Chris.

      Hiring managers tend to be pessimistic and accusatory. They tend to assume that an employee never really left an employer because of “family circumstances” or that poor customer service actually means that the employee doesn’t get along with people. (It doesn’t. Customers will literally try to pick fights with employees to get discounts, cash cards, or just to make somebody cry.)

      As for resume lies vs. job position lies…it’s not the same at all. Chances are good that the person who lies on their resume actually can do the work. Lying on the description of a job position is basically entrapment of a vulnerable person. See, a resume doesn’t show that a person is passionate about their job, that they read industry manuals or are completely selfless when it comes to getting the job done. Resumes show the whims of other people. Getting the job done is the baseline.

  33. Bowserkitty*

    #1 –
    I mentioned my concerns to the VP and she brushed them off, saying, “You’re learning, how long could it take to learn French?”

    As somebody who majored in a foreign language and has consistent interest with other languages (it was once a goal of mine to speak five different languages – English, Japanese, French, Korean, and Swahili) this really makes my blood boil. It takes months, if not years for some. How long did it take the VP to learn French (assuming she knows it)? Twitch.

    #3 – I think you should just do it under a pen name and not worry about it. That sounds fun!

    1. Allison*

      Maybe that’s it though, maybe the VP doesn’t know French. OP didn’t mention that everyone there speaks it, just that they needed to for that specific position.

      1. Christopher Tracy*

        maybe the VP doesn’t know French.

        This is my guess. No non-native speaking French person who isn’t a whiz at picking up languages would say, “Oh, how long could it take to learn?” if they had to take lessons to learn it. Proficiency in any language doesn’t happen overnight.

      2. Alton*

        That could also explain why the VP doesn’t see the problem with the OP not being fluent right now. I wonder if the OP is fully aware of the amount of French that’s actually needed in the OP’s role.

        1. Tia*

          Or the VP grew up bilingual and has never had to ‘learn’ a language and doesn’t have any idea how hard it is.

          1. Bowserkitty*

            That was kind of my thought, but I can see too like others commented, that perhaps the VP’s role just doesn’t require it.

      3. So Very Anonymous*

        This is what I was thinking. People who don’t actually have a skill may not have an accurate read on how long it takes to acquire that skill.

    2. JessaB*

      Yes, the best basic seriously immersive courses (State Department) take 8 weeks. And that’s full time work to start to get families up to speed for foreign postings. It’s not easy, but it can be done, but if the company wants that degree of fluency they’re going to have to pony up. When I posted above about courses, I didn’t mean to imply that they’re not hard work and time consuming.

  34. mskyle*

    #3 – What are the chances your place of work would even find out? Do you have reason to believe that your boss or coworkers google your name regularly, and if they did would these posts be likely to show up? Most people who have a problem with astrology just think it’s silly; most of them are not reading astrology blogs, and thus they would never know that you’re doing this.

    There are two realistic ways someone could cause problems for you: 1) Someone is specifically out to get YOU, and googles your name, finds the posts and forwards them to your boss; your boss either cares or does not care. 2) Someone you know really, really hates astrology, to the point of trolling astrology blogs looking for the names of people they know so they can go after them.

  35. Newby*

    Re #2: I actually disagree with Alison’s advice on this one. I can see how it would be helpful from the boss’s perspective, but it isn’t really fair to the applicants to say that you will recommend them and then turn around and say someone else would be better. You say that both applicants would be good but one has a more relevant skill set. Why not just say that they would both be good and let the boss decide whose skill set is more relevant? If he asks who would be better you could say that you do not feel comfortable making comparisons and that either would do a good job. The interview process should reveal who is the better fit.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’d be super annoyed with the OP if I were the former boss and she said that and I’d think she was … sort of professionally immature. I also wouldn’t see her as very credible for references from that point forward. It’s because saying that sounds like she doesn’t get what this exchange is all about — he’s looking for candor from her, and that’s the entire value of speaking with her about his candidates. If she basically says she’s not comfortable being candid, then it drains all the value away.

      If she’s really not willing to be candid, she needs to go back and tell one of the applicants she can’t be their reference, but really, this is a normal thing that happens all the time.

  36. Former Contractor*

    Oh wow #5 you’re me a year ago – Boss was still my boss after I switched from contract to internal. I expressed my gratitude verbally, but I also held off and got him a nice ‘Boss appreciation day’ gift and card. Nice is not that nice – it was something he’d use every day that has his college football team logo on it. But the card was very sincere and heartfelt, and that was really the biggest part of the gift – he still keeps it pinned to his tack board in his office. I mentioned in the card that it’s Not A Really Well Known Holiday, just an excuse to give him a gift, (basically jokingly said don’t expect one from the rest of your employees, and don’t expect to see other managers get one).

  37. Alis*

    #1- If this was not a massive hiring fail on the part of the interviewers, I don’t know what is. Sure, sometimes languages are wishes and not requirements. That’s fine. Obviously, that’s not the situation here. I work as an ESL instructor, and I am moderately fluent in French. It takes years, not months, and it’s not going to happen with a computer program. At least, not well enough to converse in business situations. I teach a number of francophone Africans, and they are more often than not polygots, with several dialects under their belt as well. I can’t imagine, in a business situation, that they would think anything favourable of a businessperson who doesn’t even know the main lingua franca.

    I agree that this wasn’t the best choice for you to apply, but at the same time, it is on the interviewer/hiring personnel to make sure the hire has any critical skills. You went in honestly, and they blew it. The least they can do is offer you a positive reference or lead when the job ends. I don’t think this will end well for you, and you need to concentrate on finding a new job ASAP. I disagree with the others who say to start learning right away, with the goal of keeping this job. Languages aren’t acquired in that manner, or else we’d all speak 5-10 languages.

  38. Alis*

    Also, four interviews to hire someone who doesn’t have a critical language skill? Here’s a company that needs a link to Askamanager to save them from themselves!

  39. Lou*

    No database. Everything is by word of mouth and relies on honesty all round. Hah. “You” can even change the dates to make “your” information more current! Considering how poorly even qualified people do their jobs, it explains a lot! People talk, but people lie. People don’t ask the right qurstions.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It doesn’t really rely on honesty though. Good employers verify information. You can’t verify absolutely everything, but you can verify a lot of it.

      1. Pat*

        Where are these “good employers” you speak of? My references never get called. 18 interviews in the past 3 years. Four job changes. NO CALLS. I work with peoples’ money and social security numbers in the USA, so it’s not as though I’m trying to get jobs at the local doughnut shops.

        I always offer to be a reference for people who I have worked with. I have only gotten called once: a former housemate applied for a job as a caretaker for senior citizens.

        1. Marvel*

          I can verify that my references get called all the time when I’m going through a round of applications. References are the absolute most important part of your application in my industry.

          1. PolarBear*

            Maybe it’s different in the UK. I work in banking and reference checking seems to basically consist of making sure you worked at said company and which dates. It’s also really common here for references to go via HR and just state “this person worked here from this date to this date” All the banks I have worked for say references must go to HR, a line manager can only do a character reference, not on behalf of the company.

            One of my employers was slow coming back so instead they asked me for my initial contract and some bank statements to prove I was getting paid by them! That’s it. Just to verify the dates.

  40. Whats In A Name*

    #5: I am in a similar situation – though haven’t been hired yet. I consult with a company and am in my 3rd year. My boss fights tooth and nail to get me on full time but never gets the position approved. I appreciate her, I thank her for her fight every time we’ve heard a “no” and that is sufficient.

    One thing to keep in mind is that while this person is fighting for you because they like you for the job, they are also fighting for themselves – to get staff they desperately need to fill a need in their department.

  41. LW #3*

    Thanks for taking my letter. I am ambivalent about identifying astrology as a religion myself — you look at planetary cycles and see what physical world events happen in correlation with them — but I was really looking through the handbook for anything that might possibly be relevant, and religion, culturally anyway, is sometimes used as a weasel word for whatever one’s weirdness is. Well, what is the actual legal metric for determining what counts for religious discrimination?

    Like I said, I have also been part of the gay marriage movement, and I have observed that, in questions of is something like opposing them an embarrassment versus a religion, they tend to pick embarrassment, even when a conventional-looking religion is involved. Yes, I would like to live in a world where everyone shares my understanding of marriage, so I can understand where the commenters who want to live in a world where everyone shares their understanding of science are coming from.

    But I think this is getting at a larger question of what do we want as a society. In America we tend to be indoctrinated with the ideas that we want freedom and that creativity and inquiry and going outside the box are good things. The more I observe things, the more it looks like this is not what Americans in their actual hearts want, but they are not willing to ask for what they do want directly; therefore, while the government might not punish dissenters, the parallel structures that make up our society such as workplaces and Internet communities do to the point that government inaction becomes irrelevant. This is why Ask A Manager and other advice columns like Carolyn Hax and Dear Prudence are heroes in an age of these undefined social norms that come up and bite a person in the face out of nowhere — they and their commenters at least try to sort it all out.

    While we are at it, sorting out our social norms, why don’t we just make a list of all the things people ARE culturally allowed to do outside work with their real names attached.

    1. themmases*

      I think you have a really good point. How free are you if you feel that your livelihood– and everything that depends on it, like your health, shelter, family, your future– could be harmed by totally harmless aspects of your personality and interests?

      You might find the book “Covering”, by Kenji Yoshino, a very interesting read on this topic. Yoshino makes the point that we all have non-mainstream aspects of our personalities and identities that we cover at times, and discusses “covering” in legal context.

    2. Anna*

      Great post. If you’re looking at this like it’s a hobby, I don’t see a problem. You’re not recommending people use astrology over medicine, you’re not recommending they avoid seeing their doctors until they can consult with their chart reader, so I don’t really see a problem. Unless you have a really unusual name that can easily be connected to you in a Google search or connecting your writing with other personal information (Works as an Administrative Assistant in Doctor Proctor’s office in Wabash County) then I’m not sure you should worry.

      And bless your final line. I attend sci-fi and comic book conventions and I’ve gotten to a point where if you think it’s odd the things I do in my spare time that harm no one, then you might be too judgmental of an employer and I probably don’t want to work for you anyway.

    3. stevenz*

      “… indoctrinated with the ideas that we want freedom and that creativity and inquiry and going outside the box are good things.”

      So true. Everyone talks a good game about creativity, etc. but as soon as you venture into the tall grass, especially in business, you’re yanked back in line and have a book of rules thrown at you. America still has those 400 year old Puritan values at its base. Not that there is anything wrong with (most of) those values – they make for a functioning society – but when they or any system of belief become doctrine, freedom of thought goes out the window.

  42. A non e-mouse*

    OP 3: You should use a pen name. If I was in a medical field, I would have SERIOUS concerns with an employee who believed in any kind of pseudoscience. Even if you feel you are able to separate this from what you need to do in your work, an employer would (rightfully) question how it could affect important decisions/judgments you need to make in your work.

  43. Rusty Shackelford*

    OP #1, I’m reading between the lines here, but am I correct in assuming that you weren’t informed, prior to accepting the job, that it would involve 25% travel to French-speaking countries?

  44. Audiophile*

    #4 I can’t imagine people telling these huge, significant lies. Don’t they worry about being caught? I know I would.
    I can’t say I’ve ever outright lied on my resume, I may omit things but not make things up out of whole cloth.
    Other than the job I’m currently in, every job has run a background check and asked me to produce my degree (either high school or college) as well as my birth certificate and SSN card. Now that I’ve encountered a job where no one verified my degree, I can see how that could happen. But even this company called references.

    1. Sunny Days*

      Before it was easy to look this stuff up online (I’m old), I knew a lot of people who lied on their resumes. When I graduated from college, it almost seemed to be the norm. And the people who lied generally got better jobs.

      In more recent years, I think it’s become less common, at least for things that are easy to look up. However, I think that in certain industries, people still lie about their skills and what they accomplished at each job.

      I know one person who lied about a degree. They said they graduated when in fact they dropped out. This person is now “stuck” at their place of employment because were they to apply elsewhere, the truth would come out.

      I think some people do this because they’re having trouble finding a job without lying, whereas others just want inflated credentials and a higher salary.

  45. Anna*

    For the OP who asked about the astrology thing, this may not be the BEST advice but coming from someone who blogs, that I feel like this – if I was in a high powered position (I’m too lazy to scroll back up and re-read your post to see if you are) I would worry about my presentability at work and how my outside activities impact my job. But if you are NOT in a highly visible, high powered position than I seriously wouldn’t worry. I’ve never had issues with what I blog about outside of work (of course, I go by my first and middle name so unless people did some heavy creepy googling, I doubt that they would find anything).

  46. alex*

    For #1: I am perplexed about the continued comparison between gay marriage and astrology. What??

    For #2: I have the same conundrum when writing letters of recommendation for students applying for the same scholarships, internships, etc.. I have tended to try to be really specific about each person’s strengths and to avoid broad, overlapping terms– just two totally different letters, perhaps with subtle variation in my enthusiasm– and let the admissions committee decide. For you, though, it does sound like it might make sense to recommend explicitly one over the other.

    For #5: Congrats!

    1. Marisol*

      For #1 (think you mean #3 though?) I think the connection is both gay marriage and the study of astrology are considered to be embraced by more “liberal” and/or open-minded people, whereas the OP works at a company that might have more “conservative” values. (Using quote marks to mean I’m using liberal and conservative in a vague way as opposed to having a more precise political meaning.)

      1. Sunny Days*

        I understood it to mean that the OP’s employer is liberal and sort of an athiest / skeptic type; that they support diversity and liberal political views but might have an issue with something like astrology. I didn’t think it was meant to be a comparison, only to shed light on the employer’s stance on outside of work activities.

        1. Marisol*

          oh yes, I understood the letter that way too–I thought alex was referring to what people were saying in the comments, but maybe I am imagining a conversation about that…might be time for me to stop multitasking…

        2. LW #3*

          Sunny Days’s read on the work environment is accurate. I did make a potentially confusing follow-up comment too — what I meant there was, the gay marriage movement has been known to go after people like Brendan Eich who was found out to have made a political contribution opposing gay marriage outside work even though he was not known to be stirring up trouble in this regard in his day to day work at Mozilla. I can see why some people in the gay marriage movement thought that was a good idea, because who would want to use a product made by someone working against their civil rights, but now that commenters here are talking that way about something that matters to me, like they wouldn’t want to go to a doctor’s office if they knew that that doctor or people working for that doctor were into astrology, yikes, that’s kind of a scary precedent.

          Of course, on the other end of the spectrum, people have been fired for being gay too, even if they weren’t making a big deal of it at work — more so in the past, but I think it still sometimes happens. And yet much of the social change we have seen around gay issues in the past few decades has come from people coming out to the people they know in various settings, even at work.

  47. Scott*

    Grew up in the English part of Quebec, and I barely have a grasp of it now. You really need a full year of immersion to pick it up well, and all French speaking people are not very friendly towards anglophones. Here its difficult to find work if you don’t speak fluent French.

    1. Alis*

      The francophones of Quebec grew tired of locals who couldn’t speak the official language, and who expected a decent job without being to communicate in the ONLY official language. Can you blame them? I lived and worked in Montérégie for many years, with intermediate French fluency, without problems.

  48. Pwyll*

    #2 – I’m not so sure I would give the potential employer my opinion as to which person to hire. I think I’d stick to the strengths/weaknesses of each, and if asked to pick one over the other, say something along the lines of “They were both good workers, I would need to know a lot more about your business to answer that question.” Or something like, “Bob’s strengths were x and Tina’s were y, so it really depends on what your role needs.” But I’d be very uncomfortable saying, “Oh, if I had to choose I’d choose Tina.” That seems somewhat unfair to the candidates.

    (This is assuming that I thing positively of each referencee. If I had serious problems with Bob, or if Tina were far superior a candidate, I’d probably find some way to say that without telling them who to choose.)

  49. Yazzmatazz*

    OP1: When I interviewed for bilingual teaching positions, every single interviewing committee spent a portion of the interview asking me questions in Spanish. This way they were able to gauge my true fluency and comfort level for speaking Spanish, even if only for a few minutes. If only your hiring committee had done the same in one of your four (!) rounds of interviews. Could have saved you both a lot of trouble.

  50. Laura*

    One thing I’m noticing is that the employer didn’t hire someone fluent in French. Did they not have another candidate with the skills needed and the language background? With 4 rounds of interviews, I assume there were other good candidates. Maybe the OP can ask why she was chosen to better understand their goals and how she can work with them.

  51. Madeeks*

    I don’t know if anyone mentioned it already, but there is a student clearing house website where those with accounts (like employers) can look up someone’s academic history. It has everything from a person’s major, school enrollment status, graduation date etc. No sense in lying on your resume! Smh!

  52. Sunny Days*

    #1 – I think that foreign languages are one of those things that come easily to some people but not to others. It sounds like the OP isn’t someone who picks up on foreign languages quickly. And that’s ok. She probably has other skills that made her stand out against other candidates.

    I agree with Allison that this is basically the company’s problem because she was upfront about her lack of French skills and they chose to hire her anyway. She might need to wait until the person she reports to returns, but I think bringing it up with management would be the best course of action. They might choose to transfer her to another role, or hire an interpreter for her, or pay for her to take French classes. It’s ultimately their call. And if it’s a deal breaker, maybe she and the management could work together to plan an exit that works well for both parties. Who knows, maybe they know another company that’s hiring for a similar role minus the French skills and maybe she knows other people who’d be interested in her role.

  53. Sunny Days*

    #2 – I wouldn’t go so far as to recommend one candidate over another unless it seems clear cut (for example, one was stellar while the other sometimes didn’t show up). Even then, I’d be cautious because people can change, for better or for worse, and some behavior is situation-specific.

    I’d keep things factual and objective, describing what each person’s role was, what they accomplished, and any issues. “Fergus was punctual, designed 17 teapots on schedule, one of which won an award, and was well-liked at the office. The only issue was the time we had to remind him to remove his septum piercing before meeting with clients.”

  54. Sunny Days*

    #3 – FWIW, I’m one of those people who doesn’t believe in astrology. However, I would be delighted to hire or manage someone who wrote an astrology blog outside of work. I see it as a diversity of beliefs sort of thing. Astrology is like a religion in it’s a belief system. I’m curious as to whether it would be categorized as a religious belief according to the law.

  55. Sarah*

    #3 – This is ridiculous, just go ahead and blog already if you want to! If you’re really nervous, then use a pen name or just your first name, but honestly, there’s no planet in which your hobby as an astrology blogger would interfer with your job as an admin assistant (given that you confirm that the job stays off the blog and vice versa). And honestly, I’m a scientist who thinks that astrology is a bunch of baloney, so this advice is obviously not based on any similar beliefs to the OP#3. But yeah, I wouldn’t view astrology blogging as any different than religious blogging, sci-fi-nerd blogging, knitting blogging, et c. Astrology is well within the realm of what is normal and relatively popular in our culture, so the fact that you’re just really really into it, vs most sympathetic people who just like to read their horoscope, is just not worth getting worked up over.

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