new coworker makes a lot of mistakes, excessive hand-shaking, and more

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

1. My new coworker is making a lot of mistakes

Six weeks ago I started a new position with the organization I’ve worked with for five years. When I was hired, our department head was on leave, and so I received little formal training. This has been frustrating, and is unfortunately common in our organization due to hiring freezes that mean we are rarely trained by our predecessors. But the acting department head, who also heads another larger department, and a senior colleague have been very helpful, and while I’ve made some small errors, I’ve caught them myself, learned how to resolve them and have generally managed my work well.

Our department hired a new person from outside the organization three weeks before I transferred. He’s a bit green, but amiable, and while we haven’t hit it off, we get on fine. He also received patchy training and unlike me does not have the benefit of internal institutional knowledge about how things are done. Since I started, I’ve noticed errors in his work. Sometimes they’re subtler, like addressing clients by incorrect titles in email or doing tasks that are supposed to fall to me when our other colleague is off sick, meaning I get less experience learning them (he is definitely better at them, so I feel extra awkward telling him not to do them, but I can’t learn if I can’t practice) or that we end up repeating work, but he has also sent incorrect documents to clients or said we couldn’t access documents that were available but difficult to find.

We receive little supervision and I don’t expect that to change until the new year at the earliest, so I may be the only person catching his errors. I am reluctant to point out more than the absolute necessary ones because it doesn’t feel appropriate since I’m not his supervisor, plus everyone makes mistakes! And I’m so new myself that sometimes something I’ve silently grumpily blamed him turned out to be a computer error or the fault of the temp who preceeded him. I mentioned a couple of early errors casually to our acting supervisor but feel childish running to her with every little thing, especially when she doesn’t have time to micromanage. But our busy season starts soon, and I am the client-facing staffer and so am the public face to any problems. How do I deal with this?

Tell your manager about the overall pattern, not each individual mistake (both because the pattern is what’s most important and because this will prevent you from having to do a steady drip-drip-drip of reporting small things). This isn’t tattling; it’s giving your a manager a heads-up that there’s a work-related problem that needs her attention.

I’d say it this way: “I’ve noticed Bob is making pretty regular errors with things like X, Y, and Z. I feel a little awkward correcting them every time since I’m a peer, so I wanted to mention to you that he might need some additional training in those areas.” Depending on her response, you could also say, “What’s the best thing for me to do when I notice that type of thing? Should I correct it myself, flag it for you, or something else?”

2. Vendor shakes my hand every time he sees me

The sales rep for one of my company’s vendors, an older gentleman, comes by about once a month to see who is running out of what he supplies—and every time he comes into my office, he shakes my hand, I guess as a form of greeting. For context, I’m the only female sales rep at my company, and by far the youngest (I’m in mid-20s; the others are all in their 50s on average). I strongly suspect he doesn’t do this with the men, but I don’t have proof and don’t feel comfortable asking them. He also bought me a small bottle of wine when I was promoted to my current role (the brand name was the same as mine), which made me feel really weird. (I didn’t tell anyone about it and threw it away unopened, but wonder now whether I overreacted.)

On the one hand, I don’t get creepy vibes from this guy; he’s a warm person who’s well liked around our office, and the way he does these things has never weirded me out, in part because I don’t think he’s trying to hide them from anyone—in other words, I’m 90% sure he doesn’t think he’s doing anything unusual or wrong. On the other, I don’t get why he feels the need to shake my hand Every. Time. He sees me, and why he does it to me and no one else… I can’t help but wonder whether he’s singling me out because of my age and gender, and touching him makes me uncomfortable. Ideally, I’d like it to stop.

Do you think I’m making something out of nothing? Is shaking hands with someone every time you see them normal? And is there a way to tactfully get out of it? For what it’s worth, I’m moving in a few months, and while I’ll be working for the same company I’ll see him in person much less frequently, if at all. In light of that, should I get over it and say nothing?

This actually sounds pretty normal to me, assuming that he’s doing similar things with other people. Shaking hands is a really normal business greeting! It would be odd if he were shaking your hand daily, but if he only sees you once a month, it’s really not weird. Not everyone operates that way, of course, but plenty of people do (and I think it used to be even more common, so I’m not surprised that someone who’s been in the workplace a while would be doing it).

With the gift, vendors often give gifts to clients; it’s a pretty common relationship-building thing in sales.

Now, if he doesn’t shake anyone else’s hands and you’re the only one who got a gift (and you’re not the main contact on the account, which could explain it), then yes, this is all weird. But it doesn’t sound like you have reason to think that’s the case, so I wouldn’t worry much about any of this. If you want, you could make a point of noticing how he interacts with others or even just ask some male colleagues — but absent an actual reason to think he’s singling you out, I’d assume it’s just run-of-the-mill business behavior.

3. My coworker keeps wanting to discuss both of our renovation plans

My coworker (let’s call him Bob) and I happen to be moving into new apartments this year. Because of this, Bob thinks we now have something in common or that I know all the answers. We are in the same lunch group so we see each other often. Every time we meet, he wants to talk about renovations and the house (both his and mine). Sometimes he comes up to my desk to talk about it. He even sends me lists of furniture suppliers and posters about furniture fairs (all unsolicited). Questions range from asking about my furniture budget, what furniture I’ve bought, which interior designer I’m hiring, how much the their quote was, how does the billing for the power supply work and have I activated it. Or else he is telling me all about the decisions he has made or is considering for his house (“I saw these curtains and I’m thinking of getting them. Do you think the budget is acceptable? Would you get something similiar for your house too?”)

Overall, it just comes across that Bob is unconfident and indecisive or maybe even obsessed about his new house. Perhaps he is simply overexcited about it, so I have been trying to be patient. But there are only so many times in a week you can hear the question, “How’s renovations?” before you get very tired of it. I wish I were exaggerating when I say this has happened almost every single day since April (!) and it’s September as I write this letter to you. Last week, when he asked me again, I was so done I just deadpanned, “Nothing has changed between yesterday and today.” (He had asked me the same question the day before, I kid you not.) I thought he would get the hint, and then a few days later he asked again. ARGH. I dread having to go through this for another few months until both our renovations are completed. But I don’t think it will stop there as he is likely to keep comparing both places.

How do I get him to stop without hurting his feelings and thus making things awkward at lunch and work? I’m considering not inviting coworkers to my eventual house-warming party so I don’t have to invite him so that he doesn’t keep poking for minute details and pricing of everything in sight. Is that a bad idea?

It sounds like Bob thinks he’s bonding with you or that the two of you have a shared camaraderie, and he’s just being sort of clueless and tone-deaf about it. But I bet he’s trying to be friendly and not picking up on you wanting him to stop. The next time he asks you about renovations, I’d say, “I’m swearing off renovations talk for a long while; I’m enjoying not having to think about it when I’m at work. I know you’re having fun with it all, but I’m not — can we talk about something else?” and then immediately introduce a new topic.

I’d assume that you’ll have to redirect him a few times after that; people in this kind of craze often don’t get the message after hearing it just once. So I’d also be ready to say things like “Bob, you’re killing me with the renovations talk — you’ve got to give me a break from it” and “This is a renovations-talk-free zone. How’d your paper go at last weekend’s conference?”

4. Finding a job with zero work history

I’m in a rough spot at the moment. I’m trying to find a job to help me get through college, but the problem I’m facing is that I’m 23 years old and have absolutely no work experience. I’ve always been focusing purely on school and never bothered to get a job. As such, I’m having a really hard time finding a job. My resume looks very unimpressive as I can’t list any places I’ve worked before. Do you have any advice on how to possibly strenghten my applications?

The good news is that you’re still in school, and can take advantage of some of the opportunities that are more easily accessible by students than others — like internships and on-campus jobs — and can ask your campus career center for help finding job leads (they may have connections with local companies that like to hire their students). Take advantage of those opportunities while you still have access to them!

I’d also look at retail, food service, and even call centers since those can be easier to get jobs in without experience.

And actually, if your schedule allows it, I’d put some as much energy as you can into fleshing out your resume further if you can do it — even if just by volunteering. Being out of school with no work history is a lot harder than being in school with no work history, so do whatever you can now to set up your future self’s resume. Good luck!

5. Reusing a cover letter when applying for job a second time

I have been unemployed and job searching for several months. When I find a position for which I am qualified for, I customize a cover letter for that company and position by adding a little extra information about me and some details not offered on my resume.

A position I applied for was reposted after a few months and I would like to apply again. Technically, it’s listed as a different position since it has a slightly different title. That said, I didn’t hear back from the company regarding the first application at all.

I reviewed my cover letter and really cannot think of what to change as I had customized for the company (why I am interested in them) and my extra information on why I am a good candidate still stands. I have no gained any additional work experiences that I could further supplement. That said, somehow reusing the same exact cover letter doesn’t feel good. In such a case, is it acceptable to re-use the same cover letter verbatim? Will this reflect poorly on me to send another application with exact same cover letter?

Don’t do it! That letter didn’t get you an interview the first time; it’s not wise to use it again when it didn’t work previously. Plus, if they happen to notice that it’s the exact same one from earlier, it just looks a little weird — sort of perfunctory, like you’re not putting real time or care into reapplying. This analogy isn’t perfect, but think about how odd it would seem if someone on a dating site approached you a second time with the exact same message of introduction — wouldn’t you be thinking, “Um, you already said this to me earlier?” This is a second contact, and it should be different than the earlier one.

{ 220 comments… read them below }

  1. Sal*

    Ugh, #5, I feel you. I’ve applied to the same org maybe 6 times over the past five years for the same position (with one Skype interview the time before last) and it’s painfully awkward rewriting the cover letter. “As you might remember…”; “You know that…”; “I’ll remind you that…”; “The last time we spoke…” I’m thinking of swearing off applying just because I can’t think of any more ways to revamp the cover letter (this last round, I rewrote it based on how the Skype interview went).

    1. T3k*

      I’ve just did this very recently, where I applied a second time to a company. Never had an interview, but got an email that made it sound like they actually cut the job altogether. There was one paragraph in it that really explained why I’d love to work for them and I kept it for the 2nd letter because I couldn’t think of a way to rewrite that part (I rewrote everything else). Hoping they won’t hold that against me. I don’t know what I’ll do if I apply a third time.

    2. MegaMoose, Esq.*

      I’m currently writing my fifth cover letter in four years for the same job. I actually got an interview the first three times I applied (and a second interview the second time I applied), so it’s not like I can say that my original letter didn’t work. Mainly I’ve tried to emphasize what’s happened between this letter and the last one to make me a stronger candidate. Even if it’s just a sentence and much of the rest is the same. So far it’s worked twice and failed once, so here’s to number five!

    3. LW#5*

      LW# 5 here. Thanks for the comments. I felt a bit sheepish to re-apply, but did anyway. Unfortunately, I was hasty, not in the best frame of mind, and due to the different process of application (first time was a direct email to a recruiter, i.e. Dear Ms. So-and-so; and this second application was one of the online application systems), I had went ahead and re-used my cover letter as is. That said, I’ve learned my lesson based on comments here, and Alison’s response as well, and will definitely revamp my cover letter for any future re-applications. I hadn’t thought of it as Alison put it, but it’s definitely possible if my application didn’t progress the first time around, perhaps my cover letter might be partly to blame.

      1. Anion*

        LW 5, please, *please* take this in the friendly and helpful way it’s intended and not as criticism, but if you know someone skilled at grammar and written communication, please ask them to have a look at your letter. I’ve noticed several errors in both your original question and your above comment; none of them are the world’s biggest deals, but given that you’re applying for work (and I don’t know what kind of work it is) and we don’t know if the hiring manager or whomever is a stickler for such things…

        “…a position FOR which I am qualified FOR…”
        “I have NO gained any additional work experiences…” (NO is probably just a typo; they happen, and I realize the above isn’t from your cover letter, I’m just mentioning it. I also think it should be “additional work experience,” which just sounds smoother.)
        “…that I could further supplement.” (“Supplement” isn’t the correct word choice here, or at least, it’s not used correctly.)
        “I felt a bit sheepish to re-apply…” (I felt a bit sheepish re-applying.)
        “I was hasty, not in the best frame of mind, and due to the different process of application…” (I was hasty and not in the best frame of mind, and due to the different application processes…”)
        “…Dear Ms. So-and-so; and this…” (Don’t need “and” with a semi-colon; a semi-colon is not a comma)
        “I had went ahead…” (“I went ahead,” or “I had gone ahead.” “I had went ahead” is really not good grammar.)
        “…but it’s definitely possible if my application…” (“But it’s definitely possible THAT if my application…”)

        Again, I completely understand that you’re writing comments on a website, not double-checking your grammar and word usage. Please don’t think I’m implying that you’re stupid or a poor communicator or anything of that nature. That is not at all my intent. And I’m not saying that your cover letter exhibits any errors of grammar or word usage; it very well might not. My point is just that I noticed some errors of the type that are usually habitual–as in, people who say “had went” tend not to realize it’s wrong, for whatever reason, and use it regularly rather than just casually–and habitual errors are the type of error that we don’t notice when checking our own work.

        I really hesitated to leave this comment, but I decided to do so because if you don’t know these are errors, and have used them in your cover letters, you ought to be given the chance to fix them. And, honestly, errors like those are common, so if anyone else has made similar ones in their letters, perhaps they’ll see this and take the opportunity to correct them, also.

        I wish you the best of luck, and I sincerely hope that I haven’t hurt or upset you.

        1. LW#5*

          Hi Anion, LW#5 here.
          Thank you for the luck and I am not hurt nor upset whatsoever. :-) Thanks for catching my mistakes and suggesting instances of better grammar structures (I did see the typo after reviewing email to Alison “I have NO gained any additional work experiences…” , but had sent email and thus it was too late to fix.) However, that means I didn’t do a good enough job proofreading BEFORE I sent the email!
          I appreciate the feedback. It’s good to be reminded to proofread more and I agree some of the word choices can be better.

  2. Chaordic One*

    #5, I reused a cover letter recently, but only because I knew for certain that the previous head of HR (to whom applicants were directed) had been replaced with a different person. It’s probably the only situation in which you could get away with it.

    But, yeah, generally you’re much better off to rewrite it.

    1. Bobbo*

      Sometimes letters are addressed to the Head of HR, but actually read by an HR clerk… or the actual hiring manager.

      1. CMT*

        Yeah, I’d be more likely to reapply if I knew the hiring manager had changed, but HR turnover wouldn’t mean much to me.

  3. Dan*


    AAM, your headline reads “trying to find a job as a recent graduate” but the post clearly states that the OP is still in college, as they’re trying to find a job “to help me get through college”.

    So… If I were the OP, I would *not* mention my age, as one has generally completed their BS/BA by that time, and is typically working on an MS/MA at that point.

    Work advice: Retail, food service, or anything other thing employers hire college students for. If the OP in fact does have a BS/BA, I’d omit it, because that just tells the employer you’ll bail at the first possible moment. (My dad hires entry level retail, and he’s had more turnover the in the last two months than he has ever seen in the two decades he’s managed there. The economy is getting better at the bottom rungs.)

        1. Chocolate lover*

          Yes, at my university, probably 90 % of on campus jobs are for those with work study finding. It’s extremely difficult getting a job on campus if you don’t have it.

        2. LesleyC*

          I’ll second this. I worked several on-campus/work study jobs while in college, and it gave me some great starting-out points for my resume. Go to your Financial Aid office to ask. Or, if you want to inquire about on campus jobs that don’t require a work study grant, go to Student Services.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      #4’s situation was a little confusing to me. . .but taking them at their word that they’re looking for a job to get through school and have no work history, I’d suggest self-employment. Things like nannying, tutoring, dog-walking, house painting, etc. are going to pay more per hour and can be flexible for a college student.

      1. Lindsay (Not a Temp Anymore)*

        I think that they’re not really in need of money, they’re looking more for experience so that they have something to put on a resume when school is over and they need to start applying for jobs in their field. The things you list will still work for that. There’s still someone who can speak to their work, but I don’t get the feeling that money is the motivator here, and they may get more XP in things like soft skills (which is often what you learn most in entry level positions) with employment that’s a little more public.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          That was my first take on it, too, but it really wasn’t how the OP phrased the letter.

          I think the self-employment could still be okay for resume-building, depending how you do it. You would need repeat clients who could be references, and a story to tell about how you marketed yourself and ran your business.

          It also depends what type of career the OP is looking at post-college. My company doesn’t value work experience that wasn’t interning very highly, so for resume building, you would probably be better off with career-related extracurriculars and volunteering than working in retail or fast food. (If you couldn’t intern, for my field, you would want to find the highest paying work you could so you could spend fewer hours working and more hours on the not paying resume-building stuff.)

            1. Kyrielle*

              OP says “to help me get through college” though. That does sound to me like it’s about the money – like it wasn’t an issue before, but is now, perhaps because something changed.

              1. the gold digger*

                Oh, right! Thanks! I had just glanced at the letter again and saw only the “never bothered to get a job before” part, which I have to admit was kind of shocking to me, as the only way I got money when I was a kid was by working. :) OK – I did get 50 cents a week as an allowance, but that does not help you buy a bicycle, a camera, or clothes.

                1. Kyrielle*

                  I’ve known people who had to work their way through college, people who *could* do without a job (whether they did or not) because their parents were covering all their needs and perhaps some of their wants, and people whose parents covered needs and gave them spending cash *conditional on their NOT working during the school year* because they felt they needed to focus on their studies.

                  Crappy for the resume, and very very privileged at the same time. But if it’s what your parents suggest, at that age, I think you’d be more likely to think ‘huh, this must be the best thing I could do, focus only on my classes’ – and hey, it also means less work.

                2. ThatGirl*

                  I was actually not allowed to work during the school year (except for activities like the campus newspaper, not really a “job” per se) as a condition of my (full-need, but not full-ride) scholarship. But I did have summer jobs and internships to help offset the cost of books etc.

              2. Worker Bee*

                When I was in undergrad I had a stipend for housing and food (or however I chose to use it) as long as I joined the band, so I didn’t get a job for a while. I imagine some people use their student loan money for expenses as well.

            2. Lemon Zinger*

              Well said. A good friend of mine graduated with no job experience (his parents refused to allow him to work), and he is still unemployed, over two years later. I’m not sure how long his parents will keep supporting him.

              1. Liz*

                As someone who was just grateful to get to college and hadn’t even started considering “job experience” after graduating, there really are tons of options in any college that don’t have to be a “job.” I was in leadership of a campus organization which paid a stipend, and looked awesome on a resume for having experience. You have to be working hard to AVOID opportunities if you can’t see them on a campus. Every organization always wants more hands to help at their events.

        2. J*

          If money isn’t the driver, an internship is a great thing to try to get into. Provided one has an area of focus. (If you’re pre-med, I don’t know what kind of internship would help you out in the long run. Maybe something to do with paperwork. Medicine involves so much paperwork.)

        3. Bang on the Drum All Day*

          I think it would be a good idea for LW #4 to aim for a job in retail or food service especially if they’re in a financial position since they have never worked before. I know these jobs may not seem like “real” jobs to those who are aiming for white-color work after college, but the experience that people gain in these positions are really valuable. First of all, it changes your perspective as a consumer in a really important way but it also gives you a way to bond with people who may not be the same socioeconomic class.

          My husband had a very nice upbringing– private schools all the way through high school, no college debt at an elite private college (because his grandparents paid) but he also worked at a waiter in a tourist trap junior and senior years. He earned spending money that way but learned so many practical skills, made friends with a lot of people he would have never met on a college campus, learned to talk to anyone and everyone, and gained a real sense of appreciation for people who work on their feet all day. He’s now 20 years into his white-collar career but his time waiting tables still works in his favor and gives him a point of connection with colleagues who didn’t have as easy a road educationally as he did.

          After a layoff recently, he drove for Uber, mostly just to keep himself sane. I doubt he would have been as open to it if he hadn’t worked in the service industry before. This is another track the LW could try. It’s not glamorous work but it’s interesting and people LOVE talking to people who have driven for Uber. Again, you earn people skills and get experience working in the service industry.

          And, heck, without that experience, I would have been much more wary of dating him in the first place because I came from a much rougher, harder background.

    2. Audiophile*

      I ran into a similar problem in college, but was a little younger than the OP. I was about 19-20, had never worked because I was told to focus on school during my HS years and so when I started to apply for jobs I couldn’t even get an interview. I ended up applying to a Target that had just opened in my hometown, was interviewed right away and the interviewer actually brought that up during the interview. I knew why I was having difficulties, I had no work experience and was competing against peers who had been working since they were 16 years old. I stayed in that job for about 9-10 months and moved onto another retail job that was a little closer to where I was living.

      1. Cordelia Naismith*

        I was the same — I never worked in high school. The summer between high school and college, I applied for jobs all over, and I just couldn’t find anything. I didn’t have experience, and my competition did! I remember being really frustrated — I couldn’t get a job because I lacked experience, but you can’t get experience until you get a job! It’s a catch-22.

        My first jobs were through work study during college. I worked for one year in food service in a campus dining hall and then three years in the campus language lab. I’m so glad I had that chance! If I had graduated from college without any work experience, getting that first post-college job would have been almost impossible, I think.

    3. sarah*

      Another thing to look into is SAT/GRE prep if the poster is in grad school and has good scores. My experience is that they hire pretty exclusively on whether you have good scores and care less about prior experience; a few people I went to grad school with did this and while it’s not necessarily the most fun, it does pay well.

  4. Mags*

    #2 – All of the actions you described sound completely normal. You mention “I strongly suspect he doesn’t do this with the men, but I don’t have proof and don’t feel comfortable asking them. ” And then you state he does it for you and no one else. I wouldn’t assume this is something that is just happening to you. Again, shaking hands when meeting a business acquaintance (even someone you have met many times before) is totally normal. It would be weird if he worked in the office next door to you, but that’s not the case here.

    So I have to wonder why your reaction is so strong. Sometimes people aren’t being actively creepy, but our instincts still kick in and steer us away. Maybe that’s what’s happening?

    1. Dan*

      You’re suggesting that this guy may be a predator, and that he’s “grooming” his victim. I really wouldn’t want to encourage that line of thinking over things that are completely normal business norms.

      Remember, she can’t “prove” he doesn’t do that to anybody else. It’s not like people stand around the water cooler discussing who shakes hands.

      If the guy is a hugger (or migrates to it) I’d be the first one to tell the op to crank up the Heebie Jeeby meter. (Even hugging guys is outside the social norm, so if you don’t do it to a guy, you don’t do it to a woman.)

      1. Gaia*

        I don’t know that Mags is suggesting that at all, Dan. I think Mags is suggesting that something might be clicking a subconscious instinct in OP #2 and that could be anything from “this person is a creeper – stay away!” to “this person reminds you of someone you can’t remember but did not like – dislike them.”

        1. Dan*

          Well sure. But whole books have been written about listening to your instincts and running like hell even when you have no clear evidence that what someone is doing ventures into creepville.

          My phrasing above might have been a bit strong, but it really doesn’t take much for innocent behavior to be heavily scrutinized.

          1. Trout 'Waver*

            I think the books generally say to listen to your gut and take a step back. But then try to figure out why your spider sense is tingling. In this case, that’s exactly what happened. Scrutinizing innocent behavior is perfectly acceptable. How else do you determine it’s innocent?

        2. Mags*

          Yes, exactly. I think I might have worded it in a confusing manner.
          The OP clearly states that this man isn’t creeping her out, but then acts creeped out by him. Maybe he has a limp handshake that weirds her out, maybe his voice reminds her of a creepy guy she knew in 9th grade, maybe she’s experienced sexist treatment in past workplaces and it’s clouded here judgement here… who knows. The reaction is at odds with the description, so I was suggesting maybe something about him is kicking up those instincts.

      2. Mags*

        No… that wasn’t what I was suggesting at all. I merely said that she stated he wasn’t acting creepy, but yet her reaction is pretty extreme. To the point where she threw away a gift that was given to her.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Possibly, but in this case the OP says “I don’t get creepy vibes from this guy; he’s a warm person who’s well liked around our office, and the way he does these things has never weirded me out.”

        1. MK*

          I think this is the issue: the OP describes perfectly normal behavior, says she is not creeped out by it, but her reactions are those of someone who is extremely creeped out.”touching him is uncomfortable”, when the touching is a handshake? Suspecting he doesn’t shake hands with the men, with no reason to think so and when men shaking hands is practically a cultural compulsion? Throwing away a bottle of wine, which is what you do when you suspect it’s been tampered with? There is some disconnect here.

          1. Trout 'Waver*

            Throwing away an unwanted gift generally is done because the recipient wouldn’t be able to enjoy it or because they feel it comes with strings attached. Not because they think it was tampered with.

            1. LW #2*

              To be honest, a big part of the reason I didn’t drink the wine is that I rarely drink at all! I definitely didn’t think it had been tampered with, FWIW.

            2. MK*

              I suppose that’s a matter of personal viewpoint, but I don’t throw away unwanted presets, I give them away. And if you are worried about strings, you should refuse the gift; what’s the purpose of accepting it and then throwing it away?

              1. Trout 'Waver*

                The purpose is to avoid unwanted conflict. In this specific case, refusing the gift would apparently have gone against convention in LW #2’s industry. And giving it away could have prompted discussion of her inexperience or of her perception of the sales guy.

                It seems to me that LW #2 handled the situation well.

                1. An Average Guy*

                  Surly if you want to avoid a conflict you refuse the gift and my guess is it would have been regifted in private so no one at the ops work would have known she passed it on to a friend.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It sounds to me like she’s creeped out by the handshaking and the gift but not by the guy himself, if I’m reading the letter correctly. She doesn’t realize those are normal business practices so they’re making her uncomfortable — but it reads to me like if she did realize that those are normal practices, there wouldn’t be anything else making her feel uneasy. OP, does that sound right?

          1. LW #2*

            LW #2 here—yes, that’s exactly right! Alison, I appreciate your response and the comments so far—they’ve made me realize that I’ve been overreacting. For context, this is my first job out of college, and like I mentioned I work in an (older) male-dominated industry/company, so though I’ve been here three years I’m still learning the norms—and still somewhat sensitive to perceived sexism… I think I reacted so strongly b/c I suspected he was treating me differently than the men I work with, but like I said in my letter I don’t know that for sure. There are literally no women besides me in my role here, so sometimes all I have to rely on is my own judgment, which I think in this case was just plain wrong.

            Again, thanks for the responses, everyone—the outside perspectives have really helped!

            1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

              Hey LW#2, I’ve been in and known people in a couple of those positions too, and I really strongly recommend finding a women-in-your-industry group to connect with, either online or in your city if possible. It’s so easy to question yourself in cases like this, but having a group of people who actually get what you’re going through and can help navigate situations like this can be such a fantastic resource.

              1. LW #2*

                This is a great idea, and I’m definitely going to look into it… It does sometimes feel isolating navigating this stuff alone. I’m honestly not sure if such groups exist in my industry, but I am moving to NYC soon; maybe I’ll start my own!

            2. Jesmlet*

              Just remember that being treated differently isn’t always about sexism. Maybe he thinks he’s being respectful, maybe he’s doing it because he thinks it will make you more comfortable, maybe it was the way he was raised, etc. When you’re working somewhere where no one else looks like, whether it be race, age or sex, it’s easy to jump to conclusions but with something so innocuous, you should try not to read into it too much. It honestly seems pretty harmless, like a standard vendor/client relationship.

              1. LW #2*

                It’s definitely easy to jump to conclusions—and that to me is the hardest part about being in the (gender) minority here! Sometimes it’s impossible to tell whether something is sexist or not—but I know that, in a less unequal company/industry/world, it wouldn’t be nearly so hard… The uncertainty, and the second-guessing yourself, can be the most frustrating part.

              2. Susan C.*

                Well… I’m all for taking a nuanced view on people’s behaviour and giving credit for good intentions and all, but benevolent sexism is still… sexism, you know? Not that I think it’s terribly likely this is what’s happening here, totally agree with your last sentence, but in principle.

            3. Lora*

              LW2, my job frequently brings me into contact with sales people who are selling business-to-business, and most of them I get along with fine, but some just…urrrrgh, it’s like their previous job was selling used cars and it’s carried over into selling $2million pieces of equipment. Something about their hard-sell personality grates on my nerves, and they are like that all the time, not just when they are selling to me. I will say “no” and they won’t take NO for an answer, and they argue like they will change my mind with the exact right combination of words – and when they do that, all it does is make me want to buy from the competition who understands that I am not interested in listening to someone talk at me. I said No politely once. I said it firmly once. I’m gonna say it rudely if you didn’t hear me the first two times.

              One of my colleagues says it has to do with there being different personalities and backgrounds in different departments even within a field: he says that it’s different selling to a Finance group full of MBAs who don’t know or care much about the technical aspects, than selling to geeks like me who want to know all the technical information only. I’m told that what comes across to me as pure Used Car Salesman actually works on manager business-y type of people, while technical information is just boring to them even though to me that is the most critical aspect.

              One of the sales guys at my current job has this personality. He has in fact been thrown off the sites of companies where he did a hard sell to the geeks, so it’s not just me. If dude gave me a bottle of wine, I wouldn’t drink it either, although I’d probably re-gift it. He shook my hand exactly once; I did my best death grip and he stopped. But he does sell successfully to companies where he makes his pitch to MBA finance people, it’s not like he suffers for it.

              1. LW #2*

                Yeah, it’s funny because the guy from my letter is a sales rep for his company—and I’m actually a sales rep for mine! Luckily, our approach is much more based around finding/reaching out to people who might need our services (which are fairly specialized) and figuring out whether it’s the right fit for everyone involved; I’m definitely not expected to shove our company down people’s throats. (In fact, it would be frowned upon if I did…)

                People who have known me for a long time are sometimes surprised to find out I’m in sales now; I’m an introvert, was shy as a kid, not naturally gregarious, just not the type of person you typically associate w/ the word “sales rep.” But I’ve always figured there are plenty of people out there who would rather work with someone like me than w/ those hard-selling, super extroverted types. It’s working out pretty well for me so far…

            4. BobcatBrah*

              What I was really weirded out by when I moved to Florida was when (female) coworkers and clients kissed me as a greeting. The cheek kiss greeting thing isn’t done in Anglo-American culture, and it really threw me for a loop.

              It’s been a year and it’s still a little uncomfortable and I’d prefer handshakes, but you adapt.

    3. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.*

      I think the OP’s reaction is so strong because she’s not used the part that a (male especially) sales person vendor is likely to shake your hands A LOT and buy you gifts and it’s normal.

      I tilted my head reading the post because it so very normal but then thought to myself, if I’d never been exposed to it before, the customs would be odd to me also.

      1. LeRainDrop*

        Yeah, I agree with this. Everything about what the vendor guy is doing sounds to me like totally normal behavior between his role and her role — from monthly hand-shaking to nominal gift-giving.

        1. Yetanotherjennifer*

          Also, some cultures shake hands more than others. And I think people used to shake hands more in the past than they do now. Since he’s older he could just have the habit of the older social norms.

          1. Joseph*

            “And I think people used to shake hands more in the past than they do now. ”
            Frankly, I’m not even sure that’s true – shaking hands is STILL super, super common when you run into people who you don’t see on a daily/weekly basis – vendors, clients, people from other companies, even among male friends*, it’s pretty much common practice that the very first thing you do is shake hands during the “Hey, glad to see you again, how have you been” start to the conversation.
            *IME, the standard for two males is a quick handshake, two females seems to be a hug and the standard for one male/one female varies wildly based on the actual people involved/the friendship/etc.

            1. LBK*

              Agreed, I’m on the younger side working in an office filled with people on the younger side and handshaking is still very much the norm, especially for someone with whom you have a slightly more formal relationship (like a vendor). I don’t think this is an old fashioned custom at all.

          2. Tau*

            +1 on the “this can be a cultural thing” comment. I occasionally get weirded out by posts/comments about shaking hands because I’m German and apparently we shake hands a lot more than US people do!

      2. Jack the Treacle Eater*

        Maybe I’m old fashioned, or just old, but it really surprised me the OP would think this was NOT usual.

        1. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.*

          I won’t even get into the part that for some reason, the teapot industry is super huggy kissy. Oddest damn thing but it’s hugs and cheek pecks all around and hand shakes are actually *standoffish*, once you’ve met the person initially. Next time you see them you are supposed to hug!

        2. AMT*

          I could totally understand it from someone who has never dealt with sales reps. If you’ve never been in a situation where you’ve had to interact with salespeople, your first exposure might be something like, “Why is this person being so friendly?! WHY ARE YOU SMILING SO MUCH I WANT TO CRAWL INTO A HOLE NOW.”

    4. Bette*

      I feel like this is what relatively recent trends in parenting have wrought–a generation of young adults so attuned to potential harassment and microaggressions that they see threats and offense in totally innocuous behavior. It’s just such an overreaction–throwing away an unopened bottle of wine? Why on earth? Even if one doesn’t like or drink wine, just give it as a host/ess gift the next time you go to a dinner party.

      It’s going to be a bumpy ride for some of these kids.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Eh, if there’s been some occasional overcorrection, that’s got to be far outweighed by the benefit of the increased awareness of actual sexism and racism.

        1. LBK*

          Agreed, I would much rather we get in the habit of double checking if sexism or racism is at play in an interaction than to just continue to put blinders on to all but the most egregious instances. That’s the only way we’re going to rout the biases that perpetuate institutional prejudices.

        2. Brogrammer*

          I think a lot of behaviors that are seen as generally acceptable in a sales context are creepy. I tried sales very briefly and found I didn’t have the stomach for it. I was instructed to push back against any objection, even a flat “I’m not interested in your product. Please take me off your list.”

      2. MashaKasha*

        It’s not the trends in parenting. It’s the younger generation itself being more aware of what is creepy, sexist, racist, etc, where we, their parents, didn’t notice, or were afraid to say we noticed, anything out of the ordinary, unless a colleague was ripping our clothes off or something. As a parent of two young men, one thing I notice is that the members of this generation of young adults hold themselves to the same higher standards. It’s not like they are giving themselves a green light to treat others however they want while looking for the smallest signs of “harassment and microaggressions” in everyone else. I see it more as respecting others, seeing, and treating, other people as unique individuals instead of as walking stereotypes, and expecting the same attitude towards themselves. We did not have that luxury when we were their age.

        I think these kids are going to do just fine, and will avoid some of the problems their parents had to face.

    5. LW #2*

      LW #2 here. I think I reacted so strongly because I suspected he was treating me differently than the men I work with—but like I said, I don’t know this for sure, and you’re right that I shouldn’t assume! I work in a male-dominated industry/company/role within that company, and while I haven’t experienced tons of overt misogyny myself yet, there have been a few incidents that have put me on my guard—probably, in this rep’s case, excessively so… Based on other commenters’ responses, it sounds like what he’s doing is pretty normal and I’ve been overreacting.

      1. Jack the Treacle Eater*

        Thanks for chipping in. For what it’s worth, I work in an industry which is perhaps relatively traditional and where it is common for reps to visit regularly, either to check regular stock orders as in this case, or just to keep awareness up and see if there are opportunities.

        To reinforce (repeat) what’s already been said, it is absolutely standard in my industry to shake hands each time, possibly at both the start and end of each meeting, and to present small gifts on significant occasions – a promotion, Christmas, that sort of thing. It might be felt odd if it didn’t happen. We had so many gifts at Christmas they were stockpiled and put in a free employee raffle.

        Not sure about Wakeen’s industry hugginess though! One thing I don’t understand is a current trend to overfamiliarity or distinguishing between sexes – why, for example, would you kiss a woman on both cheeks if you’d shake hands with a man in the same position?

          1. the gold digger*

            Because it’s a two-kiss country? I finally got used to the one-kiss when I worked in Chile and then I met an someone from a three-kiss country. It gets hard keeping track.

              1. Colleen*

                It takes f o r e v e r to get through everyday greetings when some of the people in a 3-kiss country actually prefer the 4-kiss method. I recall one 4-kiss aficionado complaining (in a friendly way) when Americans didn’t actually touch/kiss his cheek a full 4 times. No air kisses were allowed!! :)

            1. Nameless for This*

              When I lived in an Arab country, it could vary from village to village if it was 1, 2, or 3 kisses. Luckily as a female, I didn’t have to deal with it as much directly and I shook hands or nodded to men and kissed the women, but the # of men was higher. But I was impacted as it would slow down the start of a meeting because all the men had to go through the kissing ritual. And there was this one guy from one of the 3 kiss villages and watching when he came through the office (we had all glass walls) it was such a production because I swear it was in slo-mo. And our very open office space was quite echo-y and when said visitor got to our IT guy (they were from the same village) it was sooo loud.

            2. Jack the Treacle Eater*

              Not a two kiss (or any kiss) country, but might be an imported and somewhat pretentious habit.

            3. Mephyle*

              Living in a one-kiss country, and sometimes traveling to two-kiss countries, where we sometimes meet friends from three-kiss countries has resulted in many awkward greetings and farewells… After a while it occurred to me to wonder why I have to be the one to adapt and remember what everyone else does? Why aren’t they adapting to to me?

            4. cleo*

              I just came back from a business trip in Nairobi, Kenya and colleagues there greeted me with either a handshake, one kiss or two kisses in a way that seemed completely random to me (I’m sure there are social norms, I just couldn’t figure them out over a short time and no one I asked could articulate them for me). So I just kind of followed the lead of whoever greeted me. One of my Kenyan colleagues said she’d never noticed or thought about the one kiss or two kiss greeting until she traveled to Chicago (where I live) and observed that most people didn’t do that.

              I’m part Italian-American and in my extended family we mostly greet with 2 kisses – it does add a significant amount of time to family gatherings but it also adds to the sense of celebration. (I’m also part WASP, and that side of my family greets each other with hugs or chilly nods, depending on the person).

          2. Fjell & Skog*

            I am decidedly not a hugger, and when I moved to Norway I was happy to hear that Norwegians like their personal space. Unfortunately for me, the custom in my organization seems to be to hug and kiss on the cheek (once or twice depending on what country they are from) when seeing each other at meetings (we all work in different Nordic cities and meet up 2-3x per year). Ugh, I dread the hug and kiss on arrival day, even with the people that I like, but even more so with the people I don’t really like. Sometimes when I see one of the people I don’t really like coming in the room, I suddenly get very busy making a phone call, or have to go under the table to plug my laptop in, etc. I wonder if they’ve noticed I’m avoiding greeting them (I say hi later).

          3. Trig*

            Oh yes. (In case you haven’t encountered cheek kissers, it’s more of a “tap cheeks/jawlines together while making a kissing noise” thing than a “lips connect with cheek” thing.)

            Anecdote time! My office is in a city that borders on another city with different language/culture. In the foyer of the office one day, my manager and I ran into two men who rarely come in, who we hadn’t seen in a while. One is from this other culture. He cheek-kissed my manager, then, after a brief pause, me (awkward), then shook Other Guy’s hand.

            Other Guy did a big sarcastic “Where’s my kiss?!” and we all laughed. Thanks, Other Guy.

            Cheek kisses are definitely not the norm in my office or in my city. In these situations, I really wish cheek-kissing culture people would conform to non-kissing culture norms. I’m fine with it if I’m in France, for example, because it is entirely the norm there.

            1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

              The other day I was visiting my grandmother and she was watching re-runs of Family Feud from the ’60s. The host would kiss ALL the women on the show, and not just on the cheek, but on the lips! It was so uncomfortable even watching it. I can’t imagine being one of the poor contestants…

              1. Formica Dinette*

                Good ol’ Richard Dawson! I’m not sure if it makes me feel better or worse that plenty of people thought it was icky back then, too.

            2. Anna*

              Why should they conform to your cultural norms and not you conform to there’s? I’m not kidding. You guys share a border so that exchange goes both ways.

          4. Sunshine*

            Yes, there are. In my experience, it’s just someone who grew up in a location where that’s normal, and hasn’t let go of the habit. Used to annoy me, but less so as he and I have worked together longer.

        1. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.*

          Nobody knows how the industry got this way. I’ve been it for 30 years now and it’s always been like this. I love sociology so believe me, I’ve investigated and informally interviewed people over the years and nobody knows the answer.

          Women hug women, and often kiss cheek. Women and men hug and often kiss cheek. Men and men clap each other warmly on the back, grasp and shake each other’s shoulders, hug on occasion and, I’ve never seen a kiss cheek.

          A couple of times guys have tried to kiss lips with me. That did NOT go well for them. ;)

          1. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.*

            Mmmm, maybe because what we do is like a team sport?

            We’re teapot distributors so we handle getting the customers and orders, and then the suppliers handle filling and shipping the orders. We both need each other and on the best day, we’re scoring a lot of touchdowns together.

      2. Meg Murry*

        It is possible he is being slightly over solicitous because you are a young woman and he is treating you in more of a “older gentleman being extra polite to a young lady” way – but not so much that you should be offended by it. It’s also possible he is giving you slightly more attention than some of your co-workers because you are new and don’t yet have established relationships with any vendors, so he wants you to develop a good relationship with you early on in the hopes that it will last throughout your career – but he would do that with any new employee in your role, male or female.

        However, in general, salespeople tend to be more handshake-y, gift-y, make a point to stop in and say hello types. It’s part of building a relationship.

        However, regarding the bottle of wine, you should probably ask another employee what the policy is about accepting gifts from vendors. Some companies only allow it if under a certain dollar value per gift, others only a certain dollar value per year, and others make you turn them in to be shared with the whole office (food gifts put in the break room, non-perishables saved for a company raffle, etc).

        But yes, I could see how this feels a little off and makes you wonder if it’s because you are a young woman vs if this is how he treats everyone. I’m willing to bet it’s more on the side of “how he treats everyone”, but if it does make you feel a little iffy there is nothing wrong with keeping up your guard slightly and making sure things stay on the side of “business acquaintances”.

        1. LW #2*

          “Slightly over solicitous” is a good way to put it. He’s more formal with me, his client, than I am with most of my own clients—but many of my clients are much closer to my own age… So I’m thinking it’s partly a generational thing and partly, as you say, related to my newness in the role; after all, he’s been working with some of my colleagues for 10+ years! So the solicitousness that felt unusual and a bit excessive to me is mostly likely his way of establishing a connection—and because that way is unfamiliar to me, it set off (unnecessary) alarm bells…

          I will definitely keep an eye out for anything definitively weird in future but I honestly doubt it will happen… Based on your and others’ comments I think I overreacted to what is pretty normal professional behavior!

          1. hbc*

            For what it’s worth, I think oversolicitousness (I don’t care if it’s not a word) could be coming from treating you like an older man should treat a lady, or a kind of deliberate inclusion to show that he doesn’t think you’re worth less than your older male coworkers. An overcorrection in an attempt to show equality.

          2. Us, Too*

            The 10+ years working with the other team members might explain the hand shaking differential, if there is one. Sometimes and in some contexts, there is some point in a business relationship that handshaking stops because you already know each other super well and it seems weird/awkward. I don’t know if that’s the case here, but it’s something to consider. :)

            Then again, I’ve had clients that I greeted warmly with a handshake or even a hug (I know, I know, but that’s what their culture did) after 5 years of working with them, so who knows? :)

          3. Jack the Treacle Eater*

            Any difference in behaviour towards you compared with towards your colleagues might also be explained by length of business relationship and familiarity. There’s definitely a point when you relax into a business relationship and aren’t quite as formal.

            I also think there’s definitely more informality in business relationships among younger people, perhaps because of social media and the internet; at one time you’d never start a business letter ‘Hi’, but it’s done with business email all the time now.

          4. Coffee and Mountains*

            I’m a younger(ish- not as young as I used to be lol) person who has a lot of vendors — and the handshake is pretty standard in this kind of interaction. In fact, I usually don’t wait for them to reach out but I reach out first.
            It’s funny, because I think I get your point, LW. There’s one vendor who sticks out for me as being kind of weird with the handshake thing — and I think that what got to me was he just felt ingenuine. Like, it was kind of sales-y and he didn’t navigate that persona very well. This might be the source of your weirdness? But otherwise, totally standard.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          This wouldn’t surprise me. I work for an organization that serves a medical community. A lot of our patrons are retired M.D.’s and they tend to treat my whole department this way, even my supervisor, who is a middle-aged man, but they especially do it with the rest of us (women in our late 30’s to early 40’s. Not young but quite a bit younger than the doctors). It’s not predator-creepy, it’s just a little more formal than I’m used to seeing with men my own age or who know me better personally.

      3. Kathleen Adams*

        I kind of want to go up to this guy and give him a warm handshake myself. Shaking hands with a business acquaintance you see once a month is totally normal…but what’s also totally normal (though unfortunate) is for a guy to get all twitchy at the thought of shaking hands with a woman – that is, at the thought of treating her like he would any other (male) business acquaintance. Many, many men are kind of weird about it, for some reason I cannot pretend to understand.

        So the fact that this guy is treating you like a normal business acquaintance is refreshing, really. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been in an all-male group and had someone come up and shake hands with everybody except me. I’ve perfected this little act in which, after everybody else’s hands have been shaken, I then stick my hand out too and say “Good to see you!” and pretend this is totally normal.

        1. Middle aged accountant*

          I thought the rule of etiquette (possibly now outdated) was that a gentleman was supposed to shake a lady’s hand only if she offered it. Perhaps you have run across people being polite in a slightly old-fashioned way, and not actually intending to be rude.

          1. Petronella*

            A woman offers her hand to a gentleman in a social situation. In a business situation, the more senior person offers their hand to a more junior person, or, as in the LW’s case, the vendor tends to offer their hand to the client.

        2. Marisol*

          I’m late to the party but I appreciate you saying this–I had the same thought. This guy sounds like one of the good guys to me. (And I like your little “act” btw.)

      4. Lluviata*

        LW, is it possible that your creep alarm is oversensitive because you are in an environment that feels unsafe?

        I’m not saying that this particular interaction is improper. I’m bringing it up because some of the things you’ve said (being on your guard, sensitive to perceived sexism) remind me of times when I was being bullied or devalued. I didn’t see the pattern until after i had left the environment, but I definitely walked into work with my shoulders around my ears, feeling like I needed to be in my guard and always ready to protect myself from the comments.

        If you think this might be happening, I highly suggest finding a mentor to discuss the incidents you mentioned and any other incidents that occur and how you want to respond. Another poster’s suggestion to go to an industry networking group is good. Sometimes when little things keep happening, it’s easy to lose your perspective on what’s really Not OK. You can be like a frog that slowly boils without realizing that the water is getting warmer. Being in your first job makes it harder too to recognize inappropriate behavior.

        I wish I had talked to someone about the incidents at my first job. I’d this rings true for you, please talk to someone about it and get a second perspective.

        1. LW #2*

          I appreciate your bringing this up—and yes, it’s definitely possible. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I feel unsafe: on the one hand, the company owners (all middle-aged men) have been extraordinarily supportive and kind to me as I transition into my new role; I feel like they’ve become mentors to me and I’m extremely grateful… I’m a sales rep here, and the handful of other reps (also middle-aged men) have been nothing but welcoming, too. Just about everyone else in my company treats me well; our clients too.

          On the other hand, I do have one colleague who’s incredibly crass and makes racist/misogynistic remarks fairly frequently… And there have been incidents like a vendor (not the one from my letter) saying we would “rape” another company during one of our monthly sales meetings (he repeated this twice). Luckily, one of the owners took him aside afterwards and told him this was unacceptable, then followed up with our group about it as well… So I’d say my experience has been 90% positive—and I’m aware of how fortunate that makes me—but the other 10% (like the “rape” comment) definitely has me on my guard.

          1. Anna*

            Gaaaaaaaaaahh. I feel for you, LW. It’s not appropriate if everyone was a man in that situation, but it’s really easy to change your language. Some things are for your head to say; not out loud.

            1. LW #2*

              Yeah, I was pleasantly surprised… He said afterwards that he wished he’d said something in the moment and would do so next time, but I was just grateful he said anything at all.

          2. Lluviata*

            Yeah, I searched for a word to use for a while before settling on ‘unsafe’ as close enough. I don’t mean physical safety; I was trying to describe a sense of being verbally attacked and needing to defend yourself, even if the incidents aren’t regularly occurring. I’m still not sure exactly how to label it.
            Regardless, it sounds like you aren’t feeling that. Good.

      5. KTM*

        Hi LW #2 – I’m in a very similar position to you (male-dominated industry, early career) and have had similar interactions with vendors. I typically view it as a normal business thing (bringing small gifts, handshakes, etc) that they are trying to make a good impression on a client. I know what you mean about always being on guard, I’ve said in the past I’m always on ‘aware mode’ haha.

        1. LW #2*

          Thanks for commenting—it’s good hear from someone in a similar position! I do think I overreacted here and that it was partly because of that “aware” setting I too am often more or less on… I’m still learning how to calibrate that setting—when to trust my intuition, when to be more skeptical, etc.—but everyone’s feedback here has helped a lot in this case.

      6. Mags*

        Oh, that’s understandable. Especially in a company of all men I can understand being a bit hypersensitive to these things.

      1. Jack the Treacle Eater*

        Don’t want to speak for the OP, but I think the subsequent discussion indicates that it’s perhaps not the guy’s fault it’s weirding her out. It’s not unreasonable to be wary but excessive paranoia can be damaging as well.

  5. Stellaaaaa*

    OP4: If you qualify for federal work study, your school has to find a position for you; they have to give you the opportunity to earn that money. Be a little pushy about it if you have to. And put real time and effort into finding a good internship. Work study + internships make for a perfectly respectable resume.

    If you can, pick up seasonal retail or serving work during your winter break.

    1. Gaia*

      That isn’t actually true. Schools have budgets for how much federal work study money they receive – if they have already allotted the positions they are gone. In addition, you still often need to apply and be hired, your school will not often just hand you a position.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Yup. I always qualified, never got one. There were a pretty small number of positions at my school for a loootttt of people.

        1. Barefoot Librarian*

          I work in colleges and universities and I can attest that this is true. They do tend to have a limited number of positions and, though they will try to prioritize the students in most need, there is still the expectation that students will apply and be interviewed to give them the opportunity to hire the best matches. I employ two student assistants in my department currently, but I always have a dozen applicants each year.

          However, the advantage to being at a college/university is that there are normally opportunities for internships and volunteer positions also. They may be something unpaid, but, if the OP just needs the experience to flesh out their resume, that could work fine. I’d recommend checking with the library, college archive, or college museum (if they have one). Help is always needed with processing collections. I know that, on our campus at least, athletics often needs volunteers. It might be that an unpaid internship could be created on campus for the OP specifically. It’s a win-win for faculty and staff because they get the extra help they need, and the OP gets a position to list on their resume. Obviously check with the department they are earning their degree through first as there might be off-campus or paid opportunities available.

          For the most part I think that colleges and universities want you to do well when you graduate. It makes them look good too. It’s in their best interest to help if they can.

          1. Joseph*

            “It’s a win-win for faculty and staff because they get the extra help they need, and the OP gets a position to list on their resume. ”
            Along these lines, professors can be a nice option here too. Many of them have a much longer mental list of all the research they’d LIKE to do but can’t due to funding/staff limitations, so they can usually create some kind of unpaid volunteer position for you. Even if it’s just “hey, can I look through the journals and research the topic”, it still looks awesome on the resume (you’re learning about your field!) and gets you in good with the professor (pays off down the line after graduation).

      2. Joseph*

        Maybe it depends on school, but I know at my Large State university, work-study was actually preferred among the on-campus employers – because it came from the federal government or overall school budget, NOT the individual Department of Housing or Food Services or whatever. So hiring work-study employees instead of regular students really helped balance the budget since it made labor costs into Somebody Else’s Problem.

      3. Biscuit*

        It would also be worth looking into just regular student jobs. At my undergrad, the only student positions were work study and were few and far between. When I went to graduate school though, practically every student I knew (undergrad and grad) had a campus job, none of which were work study. While the grad students worked as GAs and TAs, the undergrads did all sorts of stuff. One worked as a graphic designer for the food service company the university used, which she turned into a full time position after graduation. Several others worked as designers at the press shop. One student I knew was the lead student in housing, responsible for coordinating repairs and such in dorm rooms and residence halls, students that worked as painters and handymen and women in the summers, and one guy worked as an assistant electrician all four years. It depends on the school I know, but you’d be surprised what some schools have for student positions.

    2. Chocolate lover*

      As Gaia mentioned, not accurate. You have to apply and be hired just like anything else.

      That being said – most on campus jobs at my university require work study funding, and many jobs go unfilled because we have fewer students who qualify every year.

      1. Temperance*

        This is really surprising for me to hear. I grew up very poor, and at the time I went to college, I think my family income (not that it should have counted, since they didn’t help, but whatever) was only $40k for 6 people. I still didn’t get one of those coveted work-study jobs, and I desperately wanted and needed one.

        1. J*

          I’m surprised the financial aid office didn’t allot a portion of your aid package for work-study. When I was in school (when dinosaurs roamed the earth), I had work-study as part of my aid package, but it was on me to find a job to earn the amount. I could have skipped it if I had another way to make up that portion of the package.

          (Qualifying for work-study was an automatic thing after filling out the FAFSA. FAFSA calculations informed both the amount I received for my Pell and the work-study allotment.)

          1. Anna*

            You have to request it, it isn’t automatic. When you apply for financial aid, there’s a part that specifically asks if you’d like to receive work study in lieu of a portion of a loan. If you don’t indicate you’re interested in doing that, they don’t set aside funds for it. In addition, it doesn’t add to your financial aid, it’s a way for a person to lessen their loans and still come out with the same amount of money. You earn the money instead of borrowing it. And it is very little money.

          2. Stellaaaaa*

            Yeah that’s what I was talking about…the money has already been allotted to that one person. I think there has probably been a shift because when this stuff comes up, anecdotally, all my friends in their 30s and 40s have the sane recollection.

        2. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.*

          Yeah, it’s literally part of your financial aid package and I think but am not sure that if you are getting Pell Grants, there’s going to be an amount for work study on it. $40k 6 people would surely be Pell grant territory?

          I was Pell Grant/work study 35 years ago in college (although, I still had to interview for and be granted the actual job on campus), and my sons GF is Pell Grant/work study today. I was remarking to her how it surprised me so little had changed in the process.

          NAFAE – not a financial aid expert

    3. CMT*

      You still need to apply and actually get hired to get a work study job. It’s not like they just hand them to you.

  6. S'more*

    LW#2: I’ve been in male dominated fields for decades and often been the only female in a role/company/building.

    I would be willing to bet money the vendor DOES shake hands with your male counterparts every.single.time.
    You say you’re in your mid-20’s, this is still new to you, but it is business as normal and the professional way to greet a colleague with respect. Same for the bottle of wine. I would imagine he has offered similarly token gifts in the past to others in your company and at any of the other companies he supplies. Enjoy them – he’s saying “Good on ya’! or Congratulations on the good job!”

    I can’t stress this enough – sign of respect, nothing wrong here!

    1. Foxtrot*

      I was wondering if he doesn’t shake hands with the men, he could still be doing it out of respect. She’s not getting the creepy vibe, which is good. But she’s the only female, and significantly younger, in an office of middle-aged men. I’ve noticed as a female in engineering, some people are overly sensitive to these differences and do really weird things to make you feel welcome. Maybe he’s just being too friendly and trying to show her that she’s a colleague? It’s really, really easy to get shuffled into administrative tasks when you’re the younger female. I’m thinking that you wouldn’t really shake hands with the receptionist when you go to a business meeting, but you would with everyone else in the actual meeting.
      Sorry this is a rambling post! I was having trouble finding the right words.

    2. LW #2*

      LW #2 here—I appreciate your perspective! This is my first job out of college so I’m definitely still learning business norms, and hearing from more experienced commenters helps a great deal. I think that being relatively young/inexperienced, the only woman in my role here, and in the vast minority in my industry at large has made me sensitive to perceived sexism—sometimes overly so, which is what happened here…

      1. Barefoot Librarian*

        LW #2 – just to add a small additional perspective (I think everyone’s covered the topic pretty well), I deal with vendors constantly and they often have an eye out for the people who make decisions about what gets purchased so they can be especially nice to them. If this guy sells office supplies, he might just assume (rightly or wrongly) that you, as the woman in the office, make a lot of these purchases and want to make a good impression with you. Gifts from vendors are totally common though. I look forward to December because the vendors I spend the most money with always send fancy chocolates and cookies lol.

      2. fposte*

        I’ll also say that when I grew up boys were taught how to shake hands and girls weren’t, and I felt really weird shaking hands in business situations as an adult for the longest time. I don’t know if anybody’s really taught to shake hands anymore, but some of this may be about your uncertainty about a custom that you’re just not used to yet.

  7. Old Grumpy Guy*

    For LW #2- Shaking hands is so ingrained in some lines of business that you can see someone in the morning at a meeting, shake their hand twice (at the hello and goodbye) and then you can meet again for an afternoon meeting later THAT SAME DAY with another go around of hand shaking (“good to see you again, I hope you had a nice lunch during those 60 minutes we were not in the same room”). I kid you not, and, yes, it is kinda silly.

    I also wonder if some of the weirdness is that he is going out of his way to shake your hand on purpose to show you he is treating you as an equal or like anyone else, even though you are younger and female. So it might feel more deliberate and “off” to you, like someone trying a little too hard, even though there is nothing untoward about it.

    1. Queenie*

      Also cultural – I used to au pair in Germany and, while I’m sure it can’t be universal, but when the grandparents came to visit they’d shake hands with everybody, from their children, to me, to the grandchildren. They visited once a week.

      1. Jen RO*

        The guys in my office (Romania) shake each other’s hands every morning and afternoon, every work day of the year. I’ve always found the excessive hand shaking ridiculous. (And I also find the female equivalent, women kissing each other, just as bad – if not worse.)

        1. Judy*

          When I was visiting Poland on business, that’s what I observed also. As each person came into the office in the morning, they walked around and shook hands with everyone there.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Ooooh, that is so interesting! Long ago, we did an open thread about customs in offices that were not in the U.S. and it was fascinating. Possibly should do it again.

        3. Photoshop Til I Drop*

          Do you get a lot of sick leave? That sounds like a great way to spread germs like wildfire.

      2. Myrin*

        A handshake is actually way too formal to be done between family members (I’m German, btw) but I have seen it nonetheless, especially, as you say, with grandparents. Most of the time I got the feeling that it was a somewhat weird attempt on the side of the more “authoritative” family member (i. e. older and of a parent relationship) to establish some kind of “we’re on even ground here, I’m not better than you and accept you as an ~*~adult~*~” feeling. It’s also become the standard “cool” greeting between “bros” in recent years, weirdly.

        1. Petronella*

          Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was photographed – and lightly ridiculed for – shaking hands with his young children when dropping them off at school.

      3. Kyrielle*

        Yep. Every time one of the managers from our office in France come over here, they shake everyone’s hand. At least once a day. They will approach people they’re not directly interacting with to shake our hands if it’s the first time they’ve seen us that day. I’ve learned to stand up and come out from behind my desk as they come in the door, as it makes the whole interaction a lot less awkward. It did surprise me a little bit at first, because it’s definitely not the norm here.

        1. Us, Too*

          A French colleague of mine and I have always manage the most awkward greetings when we see each other in person after a long gap. Fortunately, we have a warm relationship so we can laugh it off together. It’s different every time, but it’s always some super awkward combination of hug, kiss and handshake. We manage to fumble it every time in an effort to try to accommodate the other person’s cultural preferences and not repeat the last time.

          For example, last time he reached out to shake my hand just as I tried to lean in to kiss him on the cheek French style. AAAWKWAAAARD.

          How much you want to bet, next time he tries to kiss me and I go for a handshake?

        2. Coffee and Mountains*

          I read in one of those French parenting books that this is totally a THING. Like, when parents have guests over, the kids are expected to come out and properly greet the guests. So this does seem to me like it’s a big part of their culture. Fascinating.

          1. Bang on the Drum All Day*

            One of the reasons many Americans find French people acting hostile towards them is Americans skip the greetings. When you go to the bread store, you greet the person who is about to wait on them and wish them a good day. If you launch right into your order, it’s a major gaffe.

          2. anonononononon*

            But wait, isn’t that a thing that Americans do, too? I always had to come and greet the people my parents had over growing up. I was also expected to say hello or some other greeting when I walked into a room and people were there (like siblings, parents, etc) (although that was looser so if I had just been in the room a couple of minutes ago and left to go get something I wouldn’t need to but if I had been outside playing for a while I probably should). And you normally say hello to people too when they walk into a room that you are in? I don’t do that every time at work because it would be distracting, but I usually (verbally) greet people the first time I see them in the morning.

    2. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.*

      Very good point about the trying just a tad too hard thing.

      He sounds like a thousand nice guys I met on my way up the food chain.

    3. MK*

      I think this is very probable. An older salesperson is very likely to have behaved in a way that came across as patronising and/or condescending to young and\or female clients and been called out for it, so he is now going for extra pointed formality to avoid that.

    4. LW #2*

      Thanks for this—as someone who’s relatively new to the business world (this is my first job out of college), this kind of context is really useful… It’s definitely not the norm in my company/industry to shake hands that often, which is partly why this rep’s behavior stood out to me—he’s the only person I’ve encountered in my three years here that does business in quite this way, but it’s good to know that in other contexts it would be considered completely normal.

      1. Kathleen Adams*

        I said this above, but just in case you missed it…

        It is totally normal. And what’s actually also totally normal, though not in a good way, is for a man to shake hands with other men and then get all odd and uncomfortable at the thought of shaking hands with a woman. I don’t know why so many men are so uncomfortable about this, but the fact is that many are.

        I cannot even estimate how many times I’ve been in a mostly male group and been introduced to someone only to have that someone shake all the guys’ hands but not mine. I’ve perfected this little schtick for these situations when I can feel the guy wondering “Aaaauuugh! Do I shake her hand or not?” and in those situations, I just stick my hand out myself, saying “Nice to see you!” or whatever, as though it was the most normal thing in the world. It simultaneously makes the guy feel a bit better (“Ah, so that’s what I’m supposed to do!” I can almost hear him thinking) and also reminds him that, yes, you are supposed to treat a female business acquaintance the same way you treat a male one.

        1. IowaGirl*

          I think men are sometime uncomfortable about this because they know women are not consistent about it.

          I don’t always want to shake hands and occasionally do the opposite of what you do by just giving a head nod & eye contact while saying Hi. I’ve rarely had man seem uncomfortable after this. We can say the norm should be the same for men & women here, but the fact is that it isn’t and men know that at least on a subconscious level.

          (FTR I shake hands much more often now than I did when I as OP’s age. Hand shaking just really seemed like a weird thing to me when I was a new (much younger) professional.)

  8. Cat Steals Keyboard*

    OP1: all other things aside, if documents are hard to find maybe it’s time to rectify that by rethinking the system a bit, whether it’s paper or computer files?

    1. Purest Green*

      One of the first things I did in my current position was restructure and bring much needed order to our shared files. BUT! I had the approval to do that to the folders for my role only. So if it’s not possible to re-do the whole thing, maybe you can copy the documents you both need to use and save them in a way that makes sense for both of you.

    2. Petronella*

      Yes, I can never understand why some organizations feel it a point of pride to maintain utterly counter-intuitive filing systems that are impossible for an average, reasonable person to navigate without extensive training. My theory is that’s it’s some weird form of territoriality, or trying to make the work and materials seem like a bigger deal than they actually are.

  9. LarsTheRealGirl*

    LW 2, you seem to think that shaking hands is somehow just for the first time you meet someone? Am I reading between the lines right? It is a professional greeting and nothing more nothing less. Think about if you were to walk into a client meeting with clients you hadn’t seen in a while. You’d say “hello, Dick, Jane” and shake their hands.

    Shaking hands is a normal part of business, especially with slightly older generations, ESPECIALLY in sales jobs.

    The wine thing is pretty normal for a sales rep too. I think generally this is just a sales guy, and this is a pretty standard MO.

    1. Roxanne*

      Heck, shaking hands is a very standard thing among men outside of work! I see it all the time and they often hesitate when they come to me (a woman). My fellow Scout Leaders shake hands all the time and we see each other weekly. It’s very common!

    2. Lucie in the Sky*

      Yup, Inside Sales rep here in a mostly male field, when I go visit a buyer there’s almost always a handshake at the beginning and ending of a meeting. My first sales job a few years ago wasn’t my first job but it was for a lot of people on the team, and the Senior Sales rep it turned out had to stress how important it was to our PM’s and Sales people to shake hands with the customers / be polite / courteous / respectful and dress well.

  10. Excel Slayer*

    #4 – We’ve all been there. Retail and fast food is a good one, especially since you’re going to be looking for those evening/weekend shifts that people don’t like much. There will probably even be a change to pick up more shifts around Christmas. It might not be in the field you want, but you’ll learn some valuable stuff nonetheless. And I’m a firm believer that everyone should work in retail at least once.

  11. LesleyC*

    OP #4: I know that with school work and trying to find a job to make ends meet, you might not have a lot of extra time to entertain Alison’s suggestion about volunteering–but if you can make it work, I’d highly recommend it. Volunteering is a great place to build the kind of interpersonal and problem-solving experience that future managers value. Having it on your resume shows that you’re active in your community, which makes you look good. And if your job-that-pays-the-bills isn’t in your degree field, seeking out volunteer opportunities related to your course of study could help you feel more confident about seeking employment in your field after you graduate. Good luck!

  12. Blue collar college grad*

    Just chiming in on #4:
    Most, although not all, on-campus jobs are work-study which means they are funded by federal student aid. If you haven’t filled out a FAFSA then do it. I’ve noticed that non-work study on campus jobs tend to be found at cafés and similar. AAM should keep in mind that usually students have to pay to do internships because they are paying their school for X number of credits, so somebody that needs help paying for school might not be able to afford an internship. Otherwise I agree with what AAM said.

    1. Blue collar college grad*

      Also if you are at a big university sometimes you can make a little money by participating in studies the faculty and grad students are conducting. I’m talking about behavioral things, not testing some new drug for side effects. Check with the psychology and/or sociology departments.

    2. Chocolate lover*

      I wouldn’t call it the “norm” for interns to have to pay, in the total scheme of all internships. It does happen regularly, usually because the employer themselves require that the student get credit as an attempt to protect themselves from liability and other issues. Or if it is a university hosted program built into their academic curriculum and includes guided supervision by a faculty member. (I work in this field and deal with related issues on a regular basis.)

      There are many internships which do not require students to pay, though the other part of the problem is the large number of unpaid internships.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        Yeah, having to pay for an internship isn’t necessarily the norm. It can depend on your school, how many credits you are already taking, and what season it is.

        For example, at my alma mater, if I’m a full-time student, I can take 15-20 credits for the same price during the fall and spring seasons. Some of these credits can be the internship. If I’m interning during the summer or winter, I may have to pay for extra credits.

        In my case, most of my internships were either fall or spring. The one that was during the summer just required get some school credit… so I only paid for one credit at school but worked at the internship enough for four credits, and that fit their criteria.

        1. EddieSherbert*

          Oh, and only one of my internships was paid (and it was paid through a school grant that my alma mater obtained for students in my area).

          But that strongly depends on your field – my field RARELY has paid internships… and some of my friends in engineering were getting paid almost as much in their internships as I did at my first job!

      2. Miss Betty*

        If you’re getting school credit for your internship, you’re paying to do it. It’s not money from your pocket to the employer’s – it’s money from either your student loan fund, your scholarship fund, or your pocket to your school. You get credit to graduate (as if for a class), the employer gets free labor, the school gets money jsut as it would for any other class you’re taking.

        I had an internship in library school that cost the same as any other master’s level, 3-credit class; it received a pass-fail grade if I remember correctly. In paralegal school (quite awhile ago), we didn’t get credit or a grade for our internships and they didn’t cost money, but we did have to do one to graduate. I was fortunate to already be working at a law firm and was allowed to use my paid work hours as my internship hours, as was anyone else working in the legal field. Students who were not already working in the legal field basically had to work an unpaid part-time job around their regular work hours. It was very difficult for some of them to find and complete those internships, but I think everyone managed.

    3. echosparks*

      The percentage of work study jobs likely depends on the campus. Where I went to school I would say 30%ish or less of the jobs were work study, all the others were available to anyone. I worked as an admin assistant for an engineering department and it wasn’t work study.

    4. Blue collar college grad*

      Ok, I guess I should have specified that in my experience in STEM (not tech), paying your school for internship credits is the norm. Yes the huge quantity of unpaid internships is a problem. Whenever I take an alum survey for my alma mater I lean on them hard about the internship requirement being a financial hardship for students from certain socioeconomic backgrounds (my alma mater is big on social justice, so I think they take what I say into consideration). I ended up doing a thesis because I needed to keep the money from my summer jobs (I’m pretty sure thesis is rare now). When I finally get to what I consider financially comfortable I’m going to start donating to my alma mater specifically to scholarship intern credits for students who are in financial hardship. I already donate little bits for lab equipment and supplies where and when I can.
      Back to ways OP4 can find jobs: there are sometimes competitive paid fellowships in STEM fields for upper level undergrads, I can’t say for other fields. There is also AmeriCorps at many colleges and universities. You should also network via your advisor and professors, obviously this is harder if you are at a big school in a class section of 200, but it can be done. The summer jobs I had as an undergrad were always through my networking with instructors.

      1. Blue collar college grad*

        Also, every college or university I have ever visited or attended has a Career Center (or something with a similar name). Some are more alum-focused while some mainly serve current students. Find the one at your school and hopefully they don’t tell you any of the dumb things that give AAM heartburn (using an objective, calling to follow up an interview, using a portfolio outside of certain fields, etc.).

  13. taco*

    OP#4, have you talked to your major department? A lot of departments (especially STEM) need students for grading, TAs, and other positions. And you wouldn’t have to qualify for work-study for some of those, because they are more “skilled” positions that have requirements other than being a warm body. Plus those kinds of positions are generally flexible, work around your class schedule, and give you great opportunities to learn how to work and develop relationships with staff and faculty, which means good recc letters later.

    1. hermit crab*

      Yes, this! I had up to four on-campus jobs at a time when I was an undergrad (all with varying time commitments and levels of flexibility), and none of them were work-study.

    2. Sir Alanna Trebond*

      I was a lab TA in college, and it was more fun than a barrel full of monkeys. Highly recommend this if it’s at all feasible. I loved teaching, and it served as a review of material I’d learned earlier in college.

    3. zora.dee*

      The last university I worked for also had needs for students to proctor tests, at $50 a pop. Not a ton of money, but a way to get your foot in the door and something to put on the resume.

  14. Purest Green*

    OP #1:

    doing tasks that are supposed to fall to me when our other colleague is off sick, meaning I get less experience learning them

    I think it’s fine to bring this up with him directly using the reason you already gave. Ideally you could ward him off if you know in advance that your other colleague will be out. “Jane is going to be out tomorrow, and I need more experience with painting the teapots. Since you’re already so good at it, I need to cover this task for Jane when she’s out from now on.” You could also explain that it’s something your boss has specifically tasked you with, if that’s the case.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      This one sounds mostly like a training/management failure to me. It doesn’t sound like he can’t do the tasks: It sounds mostly like he either isn’t clear on which tasks he’s supposed to be doing, or hasn’t been adequately informed about where the materials are to do them. My supervisor told a few patrons that we didn’t have some materials that we did have, because his predecessor was disorganized and had a quirky, to put it gently, system of organization. I knew where to find these things because I’d been dealing with the chaos for a long time, but there was no way for a new person to find it through a logical search. But I didn’t know he hadn’t been told where these were and there were a few errors before I realized it. I would hate for the coworker to be a casualty of bad management and training.

      (Also, my teeth are just slightly set on edge by LW’s possessiveness about some tasks. Yes, she’d like the experience, but if it means patrons are waiting longer to get what they need, she needs to let that go and accept that sometimes it’s better service to let him handle it and she’ll have to do it when she has less on her plate and can afford to make it a priority.)

      1. Purest Green*

        OP clearly stated that her new coworker could do the task, and do it better, and that they both received poor training. That doesn’t mean she can’t speak up if painting teapots is something she’s supposed to be responsible for when their colleague is out. There’s no sense in repeat work effort.

        I don’t think it’s fair to assume she’s possessive about working on this task, especially if she’s the one who is supposed to do it (i.e. her boss told her to). She seems matter-of-fact about it in her letter.

  15. Been There, Done That*

    LW2 – You don’t mention what kind of school you attend or if you’re a full-time student looking for part-time employment, but depending on your situation, campus student jobs might be an option. They’re usually called “student assistant” or “work study.” The pay isn’t huge, but I knew many people who had the same campus job for years until they graduated, giving them a work history and reference.

  16. annoyed and anonymous*

    LW #3 – I wish I worked with Bob! I’m going through a renovation and would love to have someone to commiserate with at work.

  17. crazy8s*

    #4 Volunteering is a great idea to beef up your experience. Also, I have found that any job–food service, grocery store–anything like that–is better than no job experience, and many of those places hire people without experience.

  18. Kore*

    OP #4, does your college have its own call center, of students asking alumni for donations? Quite a few colleges do, and it’s not a terribly difficult job to get, since the prospect of calling people for a job doesn’t appeal to everyone. This job is actually a fairly solid post-graduation resume booster – you can list improved communication skills, knowledge of the school, how much money you raised. It’s also great because it’s by design flexible with class schedules, and if you’re at a similar office to where I worked you can study in between calls.

    1. Sadie Doyle*

      This was going to be my suggestion — my college just about always had call center jobs open.

      Also, if you’re good at subjects like math, statistics, accounting, or foreign languages, check to see if your college’s tutoring office is in need of tutors (they may also offer other subjects, but those were always the most in demand when I was a tutor). If you’re good at English, your college may have a writing center, but sometimes the requirements to get hired are different (my friend was a tutor and had to take a class first to qualify).

      1. all aboard the anon train*

        In my experience as a writing tutor for my alma mater, it’s incredibly difficult to get hired. I had to take a year long class and then was on a “probationary” period where student reviews determined whether or not I was helping enough or giving the right type of advice (my biggest “criticism” was that I looked angry, which I blame on my resting bitch face, but whatever). Each year only about 20% of the people who applied to the class were selected, and the selection was based on grades, interviews, and previous work history.

        You needed to go through the same process to become a tutor for any of the departments, too. It’s a great thing to add on a resume if you’re chosen, though, and it definitely taught me a lot (and was also the highest paid job on campus at $15/hour, which is more than I made per hour at my first job after graduating).

      2. Blue collar college grad*

        I grind my teeth whenever I get a voicemail from a student at my undergrad alma mater, but then again I am an old grouch.

    2. pugsnbourbon*

      I did this to supplement my research income one summer. The money was decent but I was HORRENDOUS at it – I think I convinced one person to give the school $35 the entire time I was there.

      1. AnonAlum*

        Going anon for this one since this can’t be all that common, but I also spent a few semesters in the call center trying to get donations. I did ok, except for the semester where the Board met very late into the night and our President disappeared before the next morning. We all had a hard time getting donations when we had to dance around that as a personnel matter that we couldn’t discuss (and we really had no info, just rumors). But, the pay was better than my regular work study job and we all got snacks at the end of the night, so it wasn’t a bad gig overall.

  19. Cathy*

    Regarding #4, my husband has a 38-year-old friend with ZERO job history. He also dropped out of school just a few credits shy of his degree. At this point, he’s going to have a Herculean struggle finding work, though I don’t know if he even searches.

    1. MissMaple*

      Wow, that is a tough situation. Does he have volunteer experience or anything to put in a resume? He must have been doing something since school?

      On an unrelated note, I know Alison has addressed this before, can anyone point me to the advice on being nominated to attend a training or meeting when you are thinking of leaving right before/after? Thanks!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I can’t find it, but the basic gist is to go — you may not leave when you think you’re going to, so you need to continue along as if you’re not leaving until you actually have finalized plans.

    2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      I have a cousin who must be around 26 or 27 whose only job history is a few months working for another cousin’s construction company before he was fired. He lives with his parents, who support him. I don’t know how he spends his days (I’d be surprised if he managed any household stuff, either).

  20. Tiny_Tiger*

    OP #1: I feel your pain on the lack of training. When I first started a new position in the company I work with, no one communicated at all about who was going to train me to do what and I ended up floundering around for a good 1-2 months after my predecessor left. It’s highly frustrating when you can’t get the help you obviously need to do your job well. That being said, it’s entirely possible that your coworker is feeling that frustration. If you catch his errors (especially small ones) I would give him guidance on how to rectify them. If you want to get a higher up involved, I would say definitely do it to make them aware that they need to have a better plan on training people, as you can’t blame people for not knowing things they were never taught.

    1. Little Miss Cranky Pants*

      A-bleeping men to this! Having been in this enormously frustrating position myself (not knowing the process, not being trained well on the process, having absolutely NO documentation of any process in the office), being held to an impossible standard of error-free work can drive one to drugs. Serious, serious drugs.

      For the LW, this really sounds like an issue to bring up to *your* supervisors. He’s not being trained properly, you’re having to re-do and correct his work, and it all impacts your customers. Do both of you a favor, and ask for more thorough training for this poor guy.

      You don’t know what you don’t know.

    2. LoFlo*

      Six weeks is an awful short time for a new person to absorb any institutional knowledge. Exactly how are you catching these errors, and what are you doing to help him not do it again? Are you business partners complaining? I would appreciate it if someone would say to me things like: “Hey did you know that Jane’s job title is Tea Pot Painter, not Designer? In case you don’t have this, here is an org chart/client list with peoples’ job titles.”

      As for him covering your duties, I wonder if he only wants to show that he is a team player since he is new?

      1. Petronella*

        Yes, this. How on earth is he supposed to know people’s titles when he’s had so little introduction to the team? Couldn’t you share information with the guy a little bit more, rather than stewing over his minor mistakes and whether to report them to the boss? Why assume incompetence when the more likely issue is the lack of proper onboarding?

  21. Cristina in England*

    OP 2: Totally unhelpful, but you reminded me how much I used to love it when people gave me bottles of Santa Cristina!

  22. Former Retail Manager*

    #2…another possibility, which I can’t tell from your letter, is perhaps he only shakes your hand (if that’s even the case) because you are the newest sales rep. You say you’re younger than everyone else at your employer so I imagine that could be the case. This could be the vendors way of trying to build or strengthen his relationship with you whereas he may already have strong relationships with your older and more tenured co-workers.

    Also, in my mind, I am picturing an older, very polite, Southern gentleman. I am from and live in the South and this is very common here and considered to be very polite and somewhat expected in most scenarios. Once again, without knowing where you or the vendor are from, it’s hard to say if this factors in.

    1. LW #2*

      Other commenters have brought this up and I think they/you are exactly right! Someone mentioned that he may have relaxed into his relationships with the other reps (some of whom he’s known for ~10 years) in such a way that shaking hands with them would be strange. I hadn’t considered this before but it makes a lot of sense.

      We’re not located in the South, and I’m not sure where he’s originally from—but yes, “older, very polite Southern gentleman” is the vibe! I think a combination of factors (my inexperience and the fact that I’m the only woman/youngest person in my role, plus some casual but odious sexism from certain coworkers) caused this to set off alarm bells it shouldn’t have. The commenters here have really helped me put things into context.

  23. Jaguar*

    Letter 1: I’d like to stress that you should build a rapport with your co-worker and use that rapport to try and help them when you notice mistakes. By going directly to the manager about mistakes he’s making, especially given that he’s new, you can be unfairly putting his job at risk (or even your own, if these things are small and your manager gets the impression you’re trying to sabotage the guy). Don’t let the fact that he’s been there three weeks longer get in the way of this. If you deliberately make your observations not sound accusatory, he shouldn’t feel hurt by the help you’re offering. If he’s still defensive or acts poorly to your help, well, that’s a bigger problem and probably should put his job in jeopardy. But please don’t go to his manager before he’s even been made aware of the mistakes he’s made. If your goal is to help him correct his mistakes, involving the manager is another completely superfluous step in the process: just go to him directly.

  24. Rex*

    #5: Are you *sure* this is the best cover letter you could possibly write? As I got more experienced applying, my letters got better. You’re probably better at this now, too. Take a hard, critical look at the letter — I bet you can find ways to improve it. Alison has a lot of good advice on this site about how to write a strong letter, and it isn’t just about filling a formula.

    P.S. Do not, do not, do NOT plagiarize a letter. We hiring managers know how to google “sample cover letters” too, I’ve had to toss some promising candidates for this. In the past 6 months, seen at least 3 plagiarized from this site.

    1. CMT*

      It’s a big jump to think that this person would plagiarize a cover letter or even doesn’t have experience.

    2. LW#5*

      You pose a fair and good question and as there’s almost always room for improvement, the answer is I don’t know if it is the best I could possibly write. However, I do put time and effort into my letters (takes me a few hours to research the company – even if I know of them, make sure I can capture why I think I fit into their organization, what skills I have that match what they are looking for), so at some point in time, it was the best letter I could write. That said, as suggested above, I should make some changes so as to not have a verbatim letter.

      As to plagiarizing – this is something I would never dream of. Thanks to CMT to reflect is is indeed a big assumption that I would. My letters are very specific and personal – hence the angst to re-write what took so long to do in the first place. :-)

  25. Anna*

    For #1, do you see any of his work before it goes out? Instead of bringing up the small mistakes to the manager, how about saying to your coworker directly, “Oh you put the wrong name on this outgoing document.” And maybe don’t say more than that. And about the other area where you want to learn from, you can always ask him, “Hey, can I shadow you while you do this job duty? I’d love to get more experience there.” It sounds like you two will be working close together, so I’d almost be reluctant to get a manager in so soon while he’s this new, especially about small errors. If you can address it yourself and maybe try to make it casual, it may help.

    Also, for the person who doesn’t have work experience…could you be a TA for a class while you’re still in school? I put that on my resume while in college. Also is there maybe some sort of mentorship program or something for younger students?

  26. Ren*

    #2 Oh my gatos! Get over yourself lady. It is not a good habit to assume that every man who is ever nice or polite to you is in love with you or has nefarious intentions. My advise is to step outside yourself and focus on your job rather than getting all worked up over hand shakes and a congratulatory bottle of wine.

    1. fposte*

      Hey, ease up a little, okay? Letter writers are nice enough to write knowing they’ll be exposed to public comment; let’s be nice to them in return.

  27. Clever Name*

    #4: So here’s what I did to get employment during college. My aim was to get a summer job, so around spring break, I’d walk around my major’s department and I asked who was looking for a research assistant. I’m sure it helped that I got good grades, and I participated in class, so the professors generally knew who I was. I never failed to get a job, and often the summer full time employment transitioned to more part time employment during the school year. Since I had a job as a student worker, it was easy to work around my class schedule. Sometimes I worked as little as 4 hours a week during the semester, but by the time I graduated, I had at least 3 research assistant jobs and an internship, all in my field of study.

    Academia being it’s own little world, I’m assuming this wouldn’t be ridiculously out of place to do this. But this is how I did it some 15 years ago.

  28. CanadianKat*

    #3 You don’t have to invite coworkers to a housewarming party (because, as you’ve mentioned, if you do, you would have to invite Bob). If you decide to exclude them, just keep quiet about the party. When asked what you did that weekend, you can simply say, “Had a few friends over.” And if asked when your housewarming party will be, you can just say you’re not really planning on having one. Totally normal. I’m a pretty private person, and I wouldn’t even consider inviting my coworkers into my home.

    1. LW #3*

      Thanks for the advice! I am also a rather private person when it comes to my personal life, especially when it comes to money matters. I just hope that after these few months of talks, Bob doesn’t expect to be automatically invited to view the final product (via party or privately), considering he will likely invite me to his own housewarming party.

  29. twenty points for the copier*

    OP #2, plenty of other people have already said what I’d say (that this sounds like very normal sales rep behavior to me), but I did want to say that it’s great that you took the time to ask someone who would know rather than just assuming something is or isn’t normal and potentially continuing to feel uncomfortable in the workplace.

    Nobody starts out knowing this stuff. I’m also in a male dominated industry and it takes time to know what’s normal vs. what’s an issue (and getting that confidence to know makes it a lot easier to speak out when someone really is being a creep).

    1. LW #2*

      Thank you—that’s really nice to hear. I wrote to Alison hoping she and the community could give me a reality check, and that’s exactly what I got… The business world is still relatively new to me, so I’m still learning how to tell which gut feelings I should trust and which are skewed by youth, inexperience, etc.—but AAM has been a great resource, and the perspectives I’ve heard today have been super helpful. I’ll definitely feel more at ease in these situations moving forward.

  30. Insert Creative Name Here*

    Similar to #5: I’m considering applying to a job I’ve applied to before. I had a fantastic phone screen with the HR person but then the hiring manager declined to interview me (I got an offer elsewhere after the phone screen, which I told them about to try to get a sense of where I stood and such (and ideally speed up their process). They didn’t respond very well to this info and I was told I didn’t get another interview after I told them I had declined the offer (it would have involved massive life changes). I later found out that they were trying to slow down the hiring process in general). How much of my original application packet should I change?

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