open thread – September 30-October 1, 2016

It’s the Friday open thread! The comment section on this post is open for discussion with other readers on anything work-related that you want to talk about. If you want an answer from me, emailing me is still your best bet*, but this is a chance to talk to other readers.

* If you submitted a question to me recently, please don’t repost it here, as it may be in the to-be-answered queue :)

{ 1,382 comments… read them below }

  1. Anon13*

    Yay, open thread time! My question is about hair color in a professional environment. I used to have platinum blond hair. Needless to say, it was difficult and costly to maintain and, while I only dyed the roots, I had to get toners frequently, which wrecked havoc on my hair. I switched to a subtle ombre/balayage look about six months ago and have been loving it. It’s significantly easier to maintain and is a softer look. It’s dark blonde/light brown at the roots and light blond (but not platinum level light) at the ends. I’ll know you’ll just have to trust me on this, but it’s well done – I went to a salon that specializes in this and the color change is gradual. Earlier this week, I was pulled aside after a meeting and told that I need to work on my “polish” since I’ll be representing the firm at some upcoming trade shows. I honestly had no idea what the person who pulled me aside was referring to until she specified that it was my hair. She mentioned that it looked good in the pictures we had taken (when I had my platinum hair), but now it’s “all over the place.” (My hair is simple in style – not stick straight, but straight with a tiny bit of a wave, so I know she was referring to the color, not the texture/style.) She asked how I could not see that it was a problem and whether it was intentional and I said that yes, it was. After way too long of a time spent chastising me (about fifteen minutes), she said, if this is how younger people wear their hair, I can keep it this way, but I could tell she doesn’t approve (to provide context, I’m 33, she’s 66). Further complicating things is the fact that she has no authority over me. She’s an organizational coach our firm is working with. So, now I’m left wondering if I should change it. All of the other actual employees of the organization (as opposed to contractors) are men, so there’s no one I can turn to there for advice. FWIW, it’s a small law firm in the rust belt, so a conservative industry, but not a conservative/formal area or firm.
    I rambled on, so, TL:DR version: Is subtle ombre in natural colors unprofessional?

    1. Kelly L.*

      Aaah, I think she thought you just had roots showing. I think it’s probably fine, but there will likely be a few people like her who don’t realize it’s in style and don’t “get it.”

      1. Natalie*

        Assuming it’s well done as the OP says it is, a balayage shouldn’t look like roots showing, though – it should be a gradual color change from top to bottom, similar to blonde people who’s hair naturally gets lighter the longer it’s exposed to sun.

        1. my two cents*

          The Coach is 66 and yeah, my 65 yr old mother also thought ombre’d hair was ‘roots showing’. And honestly, I wouldn’t at ALL be surprised if this Coach was looking for something to comment upon. (as opposed to the management having asked the Coach to address ‘the issue’)

          1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

            My mom hated my balayage…she hates the rose gold coloring even more now.

            But that’s the one good thing about being Creative Services…everyone appreciates it when you are a little funky.

    2. Leatherwings*

      Hm. It’s hard to know, because in this context it might be. Law in particular has stricter rules about this.
      It’s possible that the coach is overly concerned (and the young people comment is just obnoxious), but she also might be right. Is there a close friend at the firm you can ask? Maybe even your boss?

    3. Beancounter in Texas*

      I think a good compromise is to style it conservatively when at the trade shows – hide the ends if you can in chignon bun – or in other very public places where you’ll be representing the company.

      1. Busytrap*

        This. I’m not sure I agree with this coworker that your hair is a problem, but I can understand you might not find it worth the fight. If you want to compromise, you can put it up to hide it.

        I have fantasy-colored tips on my platinum blond hair (same technique as balayage, but with bright-ass colors). I’m an attorney. At the company I work for and in my super-crunchy industry, it buys me cred (our lawyer has pink hair!!). When I’m interviewing/attending court/doing in-person negotiations … not so much. What I end up doing for those situations is a Gisbon roll or chignon to hide it (and swap out my piercings with a spacer, not sure if that’s applicable). I’ve never had any problems. Hell, I did this for an interview recently with a very conservative company and made it to the final round, but ultimately took myself out of the running because they (hey earlier comment!) finally disclosed the salary band and the top range was 2/3 of my current salary.

    4. AshK434*

      I would ignore this (rude) lady. If your manager or anyone else higher up the food chain in your org has never brought this up before, then I think you’re fine. I mean, if you’re really concerned about it could you ask a work mentor or your boss about this and mention that this organization coach brought it up?

    5. Sibley*

      Personally, I don’t like that trend. Just doesn’t do anything for me. However, there’s nothing inherently unprofessional about it, except for individuals who don’t like it at all, and that’s not rational.

      If it’s done badly and looks terrible, that’s another issue.

    6. Sunflower*

      I have tons of friends who do this look- I usually let my highlights grow out so I end up doing this look. Given I work in the Northeast US but I’ve never heard someone complain about it. I would check with your boss if you are concerned but my guess is if she hasn’t said anything to you yet, you’re probably fine.

    7. Clever Name*

      I’ve had a section of my hair dyed purple. Now it’s kind of a very dark maroon color with blonde highlights in my bangs. But I’m a scientist at a consulting firm, and I primarily do technical work, so I think that gives me a bit more leeway with not having a conventional hairstyle.

      Do you trust this woman’s judgement? How does she dress? Do you think she looks “polished”? I think sometimes outside experts that companies hire sometimes miss the mark on these things. We had a coach come in and give a presentation about professionalism, and she mentioned tattoos and piercings as being unacceptable. One of the principals chimed in and said, “Yeah, we really don’t care about that”. So she may be totally off base.

      If you’re really concerned that your hair is unprofessional, you could ask your other colleagues. Chances are, this woman just has an old-fashioned opinion of what hair color should look like.

      1. Anon13*

        I wish I could have my hair a fun color! I’m sad that I never did it in college since, unless I switch industries now, I’ll never be able to have some of the gorgeous looks that other people rock so well. Although, my 66-year-old mother did accidentally leave a toner in too long and she wound up with lavender hair and people loved it, so maybe it’s something I can look forward to when I retire!

        As for this consultant, she does have, I guess, old fashioned views about some other things. For example, she had made comments about nylons being required for professional dress. (We’re business casual and only dress business professional at things like networking dinners, etc., so I don’t think she’s ever seen that I don’t wear them. When I start here, though, there was a woman who trained me and she said they aren’t necessary.) She generally does look nice and polished, but I think she may just have old fashioned views about things. (Which is not intended as a knock on her age, in my past job, the women in their 50s and 60s were the ones I always looked to for stylish, pulled together professional dress.)

        Unfortunately, our firm is very small (fewer than 10 people) and no other women work here, so I’m not sure there’s someone I can turn to for advice on what they consider professional for a woman’s hairstyle. However, I am involved in some local networking groups. That might be a good place to start!

        1. brightstar*

          Her comment about needing nylons gives me the impression she just isn’t current with all the norms.

          From the sounds of it, your hair seems like it’s fine and if it was indeed a problem I think a higher up at work would likely have mentioned it already.

          1. Nada*

            I always think the nylons thing is weird – my friend worked for a state representative in DC and the requirement for her office was “closed and hosed.”
            Closed-toed shoes, and nylons.

        2. Mustache Cat*

          I think this lady is just old-fashioned. I mean, it’s good to file away the information that people like her are out there in your field, but I don’t think it’s worth changing your hair to suit this small subset.

          (And your hair sounds pretty!)

        3. zora.dee*

          Yeah, after the nylons comment, I’m even more convinced this lady is out of date and old fashioned, and you should ignore what she said and keep your hair the way it is. I doubt this will be a common opinion at the trade shows. Most celebrities are wearing their hair like this these days and I think the vast majority of people won’t care.

          If you were in an extremely conservative industry like finance or law, I might be concerned, but I don’t think you should worry about it.

            1. zora.dee*

              oh missed that. Yeah, if she was going to court often and there was a particular judge that was conservative about hair, this might be a concern. But for trade shows? Nah, ignore it.

        4. Formica Dinette*

          I agree with the others who commented that her advice sounds like it’s out of date. I suspect it’s sexist too. Corporette might me a good place to check for advice on professional hairstyles.

        5. motherofdragons*

          She sounds a lot like our Program Director, my boss’ boss. She is also in her 60’s. We have an admin (not public-facing) who gets creative with her hair color. She once dyed her hair a pretty shade of blue, and the Director made a comment along the lines of, “I don’t disapprove, but I’m confused about this trend, because I connote blue hair with old ladies!” I’ve also approached my boss about adding some purple streaks to my blonde hair, and she said “Oh that’s fine with me! But Director probably wouldn’t like it.” So possibly a generational/age/outdated norms thing for you, as well. I’m a professional in my late 20’s and your hair sounds lovely!

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I have not thought about the blue hair of the 60s in a long time. THE HAIR that did not move, under any circumstances. You could invert the person and the hair would STILL not move. Picture steel wool pads glued to a person’s head.

            The blues of today are very different from the blues back then. And the hair is not in a state of rigor mortis.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            It sounds like mine–I’m a golden blonde with dark blonde roots and highlights. After I changed it from red, I got so excited that I could put streaks of pink and blue and purple in my hair. But I was worried about doing it at work, until I met one of our team members, whose hair is long on one side, short on the other, and half black-half white. I wore my streaks with impunity. ;)

        6. cat*

          I live in a southern metro area. Nylons are de rigueur for interviews and, depending upon the company/your boss, for work even when it is 113 degrees out.

          If your clients are more staid, it would make sense to have a more traditional hairstyle.

      2. Honeybee*

        Haha, I WISH some outside consultant would come in and talk about tattoos and piercings being unacceptable. Half our principals have rad, highly visible tattoos and piercings.

    8. TheCupcakeCounter*

      Ignore her but I do think some of the tips about styling your hair slightly more conservatively for the actual event (at least the first one until your guage the norms) aren’t a bad idea. Even something as simple as a low pony or adding more waves as a distraction looks a bit more polished.

      1. Pix*

        And see, I don’t think a ponytail would look professional anywhere but retail! I will say that I agree with checking with a professional female mentor. If you can’t, stick with a conservative bun or chignon.

        1. Sarianna*

          Depends on how long your hair is. Mine’s stick-straight, thick, and nearly hip-length!
          My options are:
          1. bun (out of the way but very heavy–at least baseball-sized and that’s just hair)
          2. low ponytail (still out of the way but neat)
          3. braid (out of the way, but forces me to wash my hair more often as it leaves ‘bends’ in the hair)
          4. left down (which only really looks nice for a day, gets caught on things, and is generally a huge pain that I reserve for special occasions)

          It usually ends up in the ponytail or bun, for convenience. I love my hair! But for work, I go for the most practical solution.

        2. Kelly L.*

          There are ponytails and ponytails. I think it mostly depends on where on the head they come from. Top of the head is 80s, high on the head is teen-y, but down by the nape wouldn’t bug anyone I know of.

    9. Mockingjay*

      No, I wouldn’t think it is unprofessional. Your ombre sounds like it mimics natural lightening or bleaching of ends, due to summer/sun exposure, etc.

      In the late 70s/80s, a lot of professional looks for women relied on heavy makeup and intense hair colors (overall dark brunettes, heavily frosted blondes). Given her age, this look is probably the mental “norm” the consultant absorbed in her early working years. Your softer look doesn’t match her expectation.

      As noted in many AAM threads, a clean, groomed appearance is all that is necessary for most business. I would ignore this bit of the consultant’s advice and concentrate on preparing technical and business details for the trade show. That’s what really matters.

        1. sylph*

          This is the first thing that popped into my head as well. Is she offering overall appearance tips to everyone or just to the one woman of the group?

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Although, if her comment was about keeping up with your dying and not getting dark roots, it’s only fair that it would only be offered to the people who she perceived had dark roots.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Yep, and I remember my mom bleaching her hair all the time in the 80s and hating it when the roots came in. Having the roots darker than the ends was like the plague. :D I think it was thought to be a sign of (a) not caring or (b) not having enough money to touch it up. She hasn’t adapted to the new styles in hair color.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I remember that too, and I’m gratified that I can wait a bit longer, but it still makes me uncomfortable when the roots get too prominent. Then I have a grey streak on my part like a skunk. :P

      2. PatPat*

        I have to disagree that trend among professional women in the late 70s early 80s was for heavy makeup and intense hair color. That’s certainly not what I observed. Just the opposite.

        1. my two cents*

          To me, ‘heavy makeup’ might mean maximum smokey eye, but it can mean heavy foundation application – wearing liquid foundation, concealer, and powder, and blush, or you ended up bare-faced with eye circles and acne scars. Didn’t have amazing tinted moisturizers and color-corrective primers back then!

          Hair color has come a long way, too with highlights only becoming A Thing in the 80’s and 90’s, but otherwise it was still leaning towards flat all-over color as at-home boxed dyes became more popular as well.

    10. Manders*

      I think the ombre sounds gorgeous. I’m really surprised that anyone (much less someone who’s not your boss!) would tell you otherwise.

      But then again, I accidentally turn my hair purple a few months ago, so take my professional hair advice with a grain of salt.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Ha, I’ve done that too. It was a dark auburn dye and I’m blondish. I was in college and it was October, though, so people thought I’d just done it on purpose for Halloween, which worked out OK.

        1. Manders*

          The auburn dye is what got me too! It did eventually fade to a pretty color, but I was rocking the purple for at least a week.

          I’m starting to get that itch to do something drastic with my hair again–I work in a conservative law office, but my field is marketing, so every time I go to a conference I see women with gorgeous purple and blue undercuts.

          1. my two cents*

            I’m an engineer, but I like to color my own hair because combining math and science with colors is fun for me. I lighten my hair very slightly to a level 5-ish brown, and I like to do Pravana (Manic Panic style) purple over my otherwise-brown hair. Indoors it looks like a cool-toned dark shiny brown, but in sunlight it glows BRIGHT purple…kinda like “oil-slick” highlights, but in a solid color.

            1. Manders*

              That sounds GORGEOUS. I miss my Manic Panic days.

              I’m getting married in December and I think I’m going to dye my hair blue for it, then dump some black over it before I get back to the office.

              1. my two cents*

                Sally’s Beauty Supply sells an “Age Beautiful” line you should check out – they have a blue-brown (3B) that’s really great, and would avoid the hard-to-remove black.

              1. my two cents*

                I started with the Pravana Vivids Violet, but have since switched to Rusk’s Deepshine and mix 50/50 of their blue and purple colors to avoid the red-wine plums. I’ve also since discovered Framesi ‘Pure’ blue and purple permanent colors, and now use a 50/50 mix with 20 vol developer for root re-touches so I’m not stripping the semi’s back out with each full process.

                Pravana…it tends to stain whatever skin it touches. The first time I rinsed it out, I hadn’t taken much care and my ultra-pale legs were absolutely purple. lol

      2. Anon13*

        Thanks! I love the way it looks.

        My mother accidentally turned her hair purple by leaving a toner in too long; I typically went to the salon to get my toners when I had platinum hair, but the few times I did it myself, I always worried about ending up with purple or blue hair.

    11. Observer*

      I do think that it’s quite possible that this woman really is out of touch – and she may not have meant to be obnoxious about the “young people” comment.

      The question is who is going to be at this show? People like her who are going to see this as your color being “all over the place” or people who either won’t notice or will get it? I would absolutely not ask the guys in your office. But do reach out to people who know the industry and industry norms. It’s quite possible that while this does look at bit sloppy (untouched roots rather than a deliberate choice), the way you dress and do your hair would offset that enough to make it not a problem. And, it could be that it’s just not an issue and it’s really just her “thing”.

    12. Zoe*

      If you’re confident it looks good/natural, I would ignore her unless she brings it up again or makes a snotty comment. At that point, I would go to your manager and say, “Hi Bob, I realize this is a bit of an awkward question, but Sally told me that my hair color is unprofessional and I should change it for the trade show. She’s mentioned this a few times now. I was really surprised by this, but I do want to make sure I am representing the firm well. Do you also think my hair color is unprofessional?”

      He is probably going to give you a sputtering, awkward “No, wth” answer, in which case you can stop worrying and shut the rude lady down next time. On the off chance he’s like “Yeahhh I didn’t want to say anything but now that you mention it…” then at least you know, and you can ask your colorist for something less trendy.

      1. irritable vowel*

        I think this is a good suggestion. I wouldn’t even wait for her to bring it up again! If you’re fairly confident your boss will have your back, just mention it to him or her, get the signoff on it, and then bring that back to this consultant. And, like Zoe says, if on the off chance he or she does say something about it, then it’s good to have that information and it didn’t need to come up in an awkward way for either of you.

    13. Merida May*

      I’m from the Northeast and in a less conservative field (but with a similar hair progression of previously platinum and now rocking a much easier maintanence schedule of dark blonde/rose gold ombre) so you can take my opinion with a grain of salt, but I wouldn’t color your hair at this point. Right now you have the single, emotionally charged (so odd) opinion of a woman who does not directly work for your company. I’d let it go for the time being. Of course, if it becomes something that other people, specifically in your supervisory chain, are commenting on you can re-evaluate.

    14. DragoCucina*

      Unless you were in a situation (courtroom) where it might be an issue I wouldn’t worry about it. I have extremely short hair and used to wear it spiked up. I sometimes still do. My former board chair hated it and dropped major hints that he would like me to grow my hair to a “normal” length. Sorry, not going to happen. I’m in my late 50s and this is how I wear my hair.

      All that is to say, she doesn’t get it and is letting her personal preferences color (haha) her perception of professional. It’s frustrating and maddening when people do this. Unless your hair is actually impacting the work performance, is neat and clean try not to let it bother you. We are not cookies stamped out with a cookie cutter. (And if you want to get a look at a wide variety of wild hair and tattoos go to a library convention.)

    15. Anon13*


      I’m not going to reply individually since I’ll wind up saying the same thing over and over, but thank you for the advice/comments! My boss travels a ton and is currently in Europe, but I’m going to casually bring it up to him when he gets back to make sure he doesn’t have any problem with it. Assuming that he doesn’t, I’m going to go with a simple chignon or similar look for the upcoming trade shows/conventions. I’m also going to mention it to a few women from a networking group I’m a part of to gauge their opinions.

      FWIW, neither of the trade shows we’re attending are particularly formal. The one coming up in a couple of weeks is a local show/convention for small business owners. I’ve attended before and people dress from polished casual (nice jeans, a blouse and blazer) to business casual (a dress and blazer for women, dress pants and a polo or shirt with no tie for men). I don’t think I saw any attendees in business professional dress when I attended, though a few speakers were. The other coming up at the beginning of November is for a casual industry and many attendees and exhibitors wear jeans. There are more at the beginning of next year, but the two coming up in the coming months are the ones we’re focusing on now.

      1. Formica Dinette*

        Please reconsider asking your boss about it. I’m concerned it might open the door for him or others at the firm to think it’s OK to weigh in on your appearance.

        1. Anon13*

          That’s something I hadn’t thought about. While he’s never said anything to me about appearance in the past, he does frequently comment on other women’s appearances (in a general way, so-and-so is so good looking, all of the women at (office he frequently works out of in another country) are so thin and attractive, etc.) So this may be a door I want to keep shut. I’ll have to weight the pros and cons. Thanks for the alternate perspective!

      2. JMegan*

        It sounds to me like you have a good idea of the norms in your industry – certainly you’ve been very observant about what people wear to different kinds of trade shows. Which suggests to me that you’re also correct in your assessment that the salon did a good job, and that this style is not inappropriate in your office environment. (And it sounds lovely, by the way!)

        I think it’s not a bad idea to do a quick check-in with your boss, just in case. But other than that, I would deliberately choose to edit the consultant’s advice to read as follows: she said…I can keep it this way. and ignore the rest.

        1. Stardust*

          I like your “she said… I can keep it this way” and ignoring what sounds like outdated advice.

    16. Maria*

      Agree with others who say that “diffferently colored roots = unprofessional” to some people, especially older people.

      A friend of mine was given a similar speech when she stopped dyeing to cover her gray. She was tired of the upkeep and was ready to go gray, but that growing-out phase was greatly frowned upon.

      1. Blurgle*

        Or “any colour but a plain, unbalayaged colour between blonde and black”. I was once informed that my natural hair colour was unprofessional. WTF

      2. Anna*

        That is sexism coming and going. It’s encouraged that women dye their hair to cover the offensive gray and then when they refuse to do it any longer, they get dinged for it looking “unprofessional” to have the grow out.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Yeah, I caught that, too. OP, this might boil down to if it makes sense to you and you carry it well then ignore her.

          Another thing that strikes me, isn’t funny/odd how one person with a comment will stand out beyond 100 people with NO comment.

          You said there are not a lot of women at your job. So she has very few people to compare you to and you can’t say “Jane colors her hair like this also!” I think I would go with, “Gee, you are the only person who has mentioned it to me…. why is that?” Hopefully, you can say it without sounding sarcastic.

    17. Nan*

      I think it sounds pretty. I just asked my boss and HR last week if I’m allowed to have rainbow hair. Rainbow underneath, but still brown on the top layers. A hidden bit of magic! I talk to clients on the phone, but am rarely face to face with them. Our policy is to keep it professional if it has to be client facing, but since I could conceivably not show the rainbows to the client, it’s a-ok.

      1. Cat steals keyboard*

        That sounds so cool!

        I work for a charity and fun hair is fine. One of my interview panel had bright pink hair…

      2. Liz W.*

        I did this and the way the highlights are put in I can style it so everything is covered by my natural dark brown. I keep the cut and style very classic so the color is a surprise for most folks. Works great for 20th century work and 19th Century living history!

    18. NW Mossy*

      I wouldn’t think so at all, but then again, I live in the NW where this sort of style is quite common. In fact, I sat behind a woman on the bus recently who had an absolutely gorgeous dye treatment – it was alternating blond and rose pink pieces, creating this really lovely fresh-pulled-taffy sort of look. Basically, if Strawberry Shortcake was fabulously wealthy and a fashionista, this would have been her hair.

    19. Lady Blerd*

      It is hard to tell without pictures. So I suggest you ask some of your colleagues, preferably those who’s opinion you trust and, as others have said, ask your supervisor, their opinion is what really matters.

      I have a friend who dyed her hair red and who was told it wasn’t a natural colour until somoene else pointed out that his kids had the same colour naturally. Everyone has opinions. But based on your descripton, it sounds fine to me.

    20. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Could you post a link to a picture of someone with similar hair to you?

      I’m asking because her reaction seems so off-base that it’s hard to understand — unless your hair is (much) more dramatic than I’m imagining.

        1. Christopher Tracy*

          If your hair looks like that, it looks fine. If you’re self-conscious now about about the ends and contrasting colors, you can do a low chignon to tuck them in.

    21. CMT*

      I’m guessing this person just doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Since she doesn’t have any authority over you, I’d ignore it.

    22. Kristin D*

      I’m an attorney. Your hair sounds fine to me. When I am in front of a judge, or giving a presentation, my dress and grooming is much more conservative. (I have very long hair, and I put it up, and I get rid of my glitter nail polish. ) So, I would follow the other suggestions and probably do a conservative updo for those occasions. But, for a trade show or regular office time, your hair sounds lovely.

    23. Rusty Shackelford*

      I’m older than you (but younger than her) and honestly, ombre is always going to look like dark roots to me. I don’t find it unprofessional, though. It’s just a trend I’m not into.

    24. Karanda Baywood*

      OMG, no, it’s not unprofessional.

      I think this is less about the age of the consultant than about her weirdly conservative thinking and general busybody-ness.

      It’s not about age.

    25. Marisol*

      without seeing the hair, I can’t opine, although I’m inclined to say it sounds appropriate.

      I have my own issues with organization-coach-type consultants. We had one here and she was nothing but a boundary-less, annoying buttinsky who went around hugging people and offering unsolicited advice. She had recently retired from teaching at a big university and seemed to be transferring the dynamic she had with her students (she had all the power in her classroom; her students were young and naive) to the office. I am an exec assistant in my 40’s and she would come by my desk and say “hey girlfriend!” and start talking about makeup as if I were a teenager. She took me aside and gave me the advice to keep a good relationship with the CEO’s assistant, as if the idea would never have occurred to me (and I had not asked her opinion in the first place). She would hug me and I gave increasingly strong messages that I didn’t want to be hugged, such as stiffening my body, stepping away, but she would not take the hint. The only reason I wasn’t more direct about it was we had a terrible HR person at the time and was afraid there might be repercussions. After the new, awesome HR director was hired, lots of people complained about this woman and her services were discontinued.

      So while I clearly have a bias, I have to wonder if this woman wasn’t just trying to justify her existence by pestering you. A conversation about a haircolor should take 5 minutes at most. Fifteen minutes sounds like abuse, and also sounds like she has nothing more really meaningful to do. So I give her the side-eye.

      I would run the criticism past my boss, however, to make sure the coach wasn’t asked to speak to you about it. And if it is true that your hair is fine, objectively speaking, then HER judgement should be questioned and you can mention THAT to your manager.

      1. Cat steals keyboard*

        If you’re hugging people at work like that you are in no position to be dispensing professional advice. Yeech.

        1. Marisol*

          She gave us the myers-briggs test (the one thing about her that was actually useful) and because she taught a myers-briggs course in college and the test deals with different personality types and how they get along, she billed herself as a “relationship expert.” She struck me as incredibly lonely and needy, which was both the cause and result of her bad boundaries, and couldn’t or wouldn’t pick up on social cues to save her life, yet she was the relationship expert. God I hated that woman.

          1. Honeybee*

            I am more skeptical of her then, especially as a professor at a college. Lots of people like Myers-Briggs but it is not a scientifically constructed or validated personality test. I can’t imagine why anyone would teach an entire college course on MBTI, or how the psychology department would even let that fly.

    26. FiveWheels*

      I work in a very conservative field, but in that field any remotely unnatural hair color would read as unprofessional.

      Dyed blonde probably gets more leeway than other colours because it’s so ubiquitous, but even then, visible roots would read as very unpolished.

    27. Somniloquist*

      I used to work in a conservative company in a rather conservative industry in the NE where professional dress was required and if you were caught with sneakers, you were called in by your manager (even if you were a manager yourself). Ombrés were fine as long as they were a natural color (aka not pink or blue). In fact, there were a variety of hairstyles there that ran the gamut, and I never heard of anyone complaining or getting called into an office. It sounds like your hair is fine, and pretty!

    28. Tax Accountant*

      I think some of these org/career coaches hired by conservative industries have a very specific “look” they want people to fall under. When I worked in public accounting in a mid sized regional firm, our office had this career coach come in and meet with some of the staff (only the women though, because I guess men are naturally professional… eyeroll) and actually told one of my coworkers that her hoop earrings (small, like 1″) were “too se&ual” and that she needed to dress only in clothes from Talbots. She also told one of the senior managers that she was too fat to make partner. It was absurd. They tried to put everyone in this cookie cutter mold of polished, upper middle class, country club look. Which is stupid, for many reasons, alienating to talented staff who dont fit the mold, and doesnt even make sense considering the wide range of clients we had, some of whom would have probably responded better to someone who didnt look extremely buttoned up and stuffy. It made me so angry. Anyway, you’re probably fine.

    29. Red*

      I work in the medical field and have a bright red curly bob. Patients, coworkers, corporate folks, everyone loves it. I think the key here is to think of what your clients would be uneasy with, and not necessarily what this random lady is bothered by. I personally would not be bothered at all by ombre, and I think it’s a very polished way to do unconventional hair.

    30. Honeybee*

      No, subtle ombre is not unprofessional in general. I think this is an issue of culture – not just the culture of your workplace, but also the specific cues and desires the company has about someone who is representing them publicly. IMO, this sounds like someone who’s either a bit out of touch with hair styling or has really conservative views about how women should wear their hair in professional settings (or both). I would also be curious to hear what her suggestions are about what, exactly, you are supposed to do with it.

      I guess the question is, how much say does this organizational coach have in who goes to trade shows and gets other work assignments? Is this a person who is going to be writing a report for suggestions to make to the company, and how seriously is any suggestion that your very normal hair is unpolished going to be taken by decision makers?

      (I have the tips of my hair dyed green, and I represent my company publicly a lot. Buuuuut I work in a workplace where fantasy colors are very common. In fact, my hair is probably in the middle of the spectrum as far as colored hairstyles go.)

    1. Lily in NYC*

      Oh my god. What the hell is wrong with people! I can’t stand the attitude so many people have about allergies.

      1. overcaffeinatedqueer*

        That’s awful. That said, I don’t understand the campus wide peanut bans on some public schools. Some even say don’t feed the kid that before school for breakfast!

        I mean, peanut butter is on WIC, cheap, shelf-stable, calorie dense, and common in food pantries. I think total bans can put an undue burden on poor families. Sure, lunch may be free, but kids often make fun of those that get it free and so it might be “cheap PB sandwich or get humiliated” or “peanut butter on toast or just bread for breakfast.”

        1. J*

          Some allergy-sufferers have extreme allergies. Simply avoiding a peanut product may not be enough to prevent an attack. It’s sad, and I don’t know why it seems more prevalent now than when I was growing up, but as someone with friends who have kids with severe reactions, I applaud schools for being proactive about this.

          1. overcaffeinatedqueer*

            I understand allergies can be severe, anti like separate tables and areas and handwashing as precautions; just not bans. Given that half of all school kids are in poverty on average, I just don’t think you can ban such a common and vital food and risk several kids losing out on learning due to hunger, for onekid’s allergy.

            If there was free, non-stigmatized breakfast and lunch at school that kids wouldn’t be made fun of for getting, I would feel different.

            1. Blurgle*

              If you are peanut butter two tables away from me, I might need an ambulance. My life is infinitely more valuable than anyone’s supposed right to eat one food out of 100,000.

              1. Anna*

                It’s not about rights, but about who ultimately is burdened by a school-wide ban. See Observer’s comment below.

                1. Blurgle*

                  My life is infinitely more valuable than anyone else’s ‘burden’. I’m not dying so someone can save five cents a week.

                2. Jadelyn*

                  Blurgle, I think you underestimate the place that foods like peanut butter have in poverty households. We’re not talking “save five cents a week”, we’re talking “subsist on plain bread or get at least a little protein in a kid’s diet at all”.

                3. Mags*

                  Burdened how? If you can’t afford to offer your kid anything other than peanut butter sandwiches than you surely qualify for free/reduced lunch program which is going to give your kid protein, whole grains, vegetables or fruit and milk.

                  Something people seem to be completely missing as well. Allergies are not just for middle-class families. And forcing kids out of a school which refuses to institute/enforce a ban is something that absolutely places an undue burden on families. Not everyone can afford to move to ensure their kids can attend a school where they don’t have to worry about dying. Or pay for a private school, or home school…

                4. Natalie*

                  @ Mags, part of the issue is forbidding peanut consumption outside of school though. That’s a huge overreach, especially to poor families, and not going to be solved by a free school lunch.

                5. Mags*

                  As I stated in a reply below, that is ludicrous and would obviously be impossible to enforce. If someone’s allergies are so bad they cannot be around anyone who has eaten a peanut within the last 24 hours they are probably not able to be in public at all. And in a search I could not find a single example to back up that was a rule at any school. So that is really not part of the issue at all.

                6. Honeybee*

                  Seriously, nobody is ‘burdened’ by not being able to eat peanut butter at lunch. But people are burdened by not being able to breathe.

              2. Pwyll*

                +1000. I have to practically OD on antihistamines to fly in a plane, because they will almost undoubtedly give someone a bag of peanuts no matter how much I ask them not to, and I can feel my throat close from the back of the plane pretty close to the moment the bag is opened at the front. We’re talking microscopic particles of of peanut far, far away from me. If there’s a student at the school with that level of sensitivity, too bad so sad at your PBJ inconvenience. And while I get the poverty aspect of things (truly, as I was raised in a similar environment), as Blurgle says, my ability to breathe outweighs your choice in food.

                1. Emerson*

                  If you are SO allergic that someone eating something 60 metres away will cause you an allergic reaction, that’s not really something you can expect other people to have to tip-toe around. That’s an extreme case and not really their problem.

                  You can not stop other people eating what they want at that distance. What is next, banning everyone in the country from eating nutella or peanut butter?

                2. Honeybee*

                  @Emerson – I genuinely don’t understand this reaction. If you were told that someone on the plane would die if you had a bag of peanuts, why would you want the bag of peanuts? I would rather wait to eat my peanuts at home or wherever so that another person could live to see another day.

                3. Emerson*

                  Because I bring my own food onto planes so I don’t have to eat the disgusting nasty stuff dished up on planes and the moment you can’t have this food, that food this food and that food too, what on earth is left for people to eat?

                4. GH in SOCal*

                  I haven’t seen a bag of peanuts on an airplane in about 5 years. They’ve all switched to pretzels and other snack mixes for exactly this reason.

                  OTOH since they don’t serve meals anymore I suppose your fellow passengers may well be packing PB&J in their bags. (I bring chicken legs, myself.)

                5. Observer*

                  @emerson is correct. If you are that allergic, either don’t fly or stuff up on antibiotics. It doesn’t make a difference whether the airlines give people packs of peanuts or not. Are you really expecting them to confiscate every bit of food whose ingredients they don’t know?

                  On top of this, you need to remember that peanuts are not the only food that can cause this kind of reaction. The only way to really protect all people from ever being exposed to airborne particles of foods that are highly allergenic (to them) foods is to ban eating in public or at least in public areas like planes.

              3. Retail HR Guy*

                You wouldn’t have an allergic reaction to peanut butter from twenty feet away. A psychosomatic mental health issue, maybe, but not an actual allergic reaction (especially not one strong enough to induce anaphylaxis).

                Relevant quote from : “While some people report symptoms such as skin rashes or chest tightness when they are around or smell peanut butter, a placebo-controlled trial of children exposed to open peanut butter containers documented no systemic reactions.”

                (And also, no, no one’s life is infinitely valuable. Not even yours.)

                1. YaH*

                  When I was diagnosed with my tree nut allergy, my allergist told me that there have been no scientifically proven reports of allergic reactions from airborne exposure to nuts. You have to physically interact with the proteins in order to have a histamine reaction.

                2. Bex*

                  Actually, ACAAI actually cites quite a few studies that say that inhallation reactions CAN occur:

                  In particular, this one: Though not widely recognized, food hypersensitivity by inhalation can cause major morbidity in affected individuals. The exposure is usually more obvious and often substantial in occupational environments but frequently occurs in non-occupational settings, such as homes, schools, restaurants, grocery stores, and commercial flights. The exposure can be trivial, as in mere smelling or being in the vicinity of the food. The clinical manifestations can vary from a benign respiratory or cutaneous reaction to a systemic one that can be life-threatening.

                3. Honeybee*

                  First of all, you only copied the first half of that paragraph. The second half says “Still, food particles containing peanut proteins can become airborne during the grinding or pulverization of peanuts, and inhaling peanut protein in this type of situation could cause an allergic reaction. In addition, odors may cause conditioned physical responses, such as a skin rash or a change in blood pressure.” The context of this entire page that you linked to is how dangerous peanut allergies are and how seriously they should be taken.

                  I found the study ACAAI referenced (it’s not the study they linked to; it’s not even in the references of the study they linked to). The study was a study of 30 children with peanut allergies, and they did both skin testing and inhalation testing. It’s true that they found no systemic reactions in their study; but what the researchers actually concluded was “at least 90% of highly sensitive children with peanut allergy would not experience a systemic-respiratory reaction from casual exposure to peanut butter.”

                  In other words, extreme inhalation-based allergic reactions to peanut butter, specifically, are rare – but that doesn’t mean anything about inhalation exposure to peanuts; in fact, 11 children in the study had documented previous inhalation reactions to peanuts. Nor does it mean that an inhalation reaction to peanut butter is nonexistent. It certainly does not mean that the reaction someone has is a “psychosomatic mental health issue” (you don’t provide any evidence supporting that statement; where on earth did you get that from?)

          2. Observer*

            Actually, there is a fair amount of evidence that the over-avoidance may be a problem.

            In any case, campus wide bans simply don’t work. When you consider what overcaffeinated says about the burden on the poor, you begin to realize that it’s time to step back and rethink this.

            One of my relatives is a school principal, and she told me that they won’t go peanut-free on a school wide basis. She said that these kinds of policies actually put kids at risk, because it gives parents a false sens of safety. The reality is that it simply is not possible to truly enforce a real campus-wide ban. If you start expecting people to not feed their kids PB at home either, then you’ve reached a point where you can be certain that on any given day at least on kid in each class has broken the rule.

            As it happens, these rules are used as an excuse to not have epi-pens in schools, to enforce “zero tolerance” drugs rules in schools that forbid even medication (including the child’s own epi-pen etc.) and to enforce other stupid rules that endanger lots of kids. “Well, we can do this because we’re a peanut free zone, so no one is in danger.” Yeah, no one. Except for the kids who are allergic to fish, milk, wheat, eggs, nuts or any of the less common allergens.

          3. Alton*

            I think it’s really hard to protect everyone, though. You can ban peanuts from school buildings, but dictating what people eat at home takes it to another level. And frankly, most people who don’t deal with allergies are unlikely to be as vigilant about ingredients, meaning that any kid who eats a granola bar at home before going to school is a potential risk.

            I’m all for making accommodations, but if someone’s allergy is literally so severe that the slightest residue could cause a life-threatening reaction, I think that’s a point where reasonable accommodations are no longer really possible, and maybe the person’s safety can’t be guaranteed in public.

            While some peanut allergies are very severe, most people do need some sort of close contact to peanuts/peanut residue to have a reaction, so I’m not convinced that asking parents not to feed their kids peanut butter *at home* is a reasonable for of prevention.

            1. Jadelyn*

              I agree – if your allergies are so severe that you need to dictate what people eat in their own home, that’s gone past reasonable accommodation and maybe it’s time for home-schooling or some other solution.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                Yes, and I feel bad for someone with that severe an allergy. I can’t even imagine how limiting that must be. But you can’t control the entire world.

                However, if kids have serious allergies, the school needs to let them have the damn Epi-Pen!!

                1. Observer*


                  I’ve never been able to wrap my head around the logic of forbidding medication in school.

              2. Emerson*

                Yes. This. Absolutely.

                I am so sick of people thinking I am an asshole because I think that is extreme. If YOUR allergy is so severe you want to dictate to me what I eat in my OWN HOME, you need to look at what you can do to improve your situation.

                I understand it is limiting, but how is it meant to go in the ‘real world’. Do they honestly think they’ll ask everyone before they get on the bus or the tube ‘did you eat a nutella crepe for Breakfast? If you did, I can’t let you on’ or ban everyone on a University campus of 50,000 people from eating Nutella or chocolate on campus or before they come in for the day.

        2. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

          My daughter’s school hired a teacher this year with a very severe peanut allergy. Anyone who has eaten peanut products must wash hands and rinse out their mouth before going to her room. No one in her room can bring their lunch into the room if it has peanuts. My understanding is that lunches are already stored in the cafeteria, so this should be a non-issue. Also, the teacher can’t enter the cafeteria at all due to the risk of someone having a lunch with peanuts. I was really surprised there wasn’t a ban of peanut products at the school. I feel for the teacher and I’d be so worried that a student was going to forget. She works with 2nd graders, so I’m sure there wouldn’t be any malicious attempts to get her to have a reaction, but how awful if one of the kids just forgot the extra precautions and came in contact with her!

          1. Slate*

            Yeah, I can’t imagine having a peanut butter allergy this severe and going into working with kids. What if one of the kids has peanut butter for breakfast and then forgets to brush his teeth before leaving the house? You can’t always trust a kid to remember these sorts of things.

        3. Matilda*

          A former coworker had two children with severe peanut allergies and she would not eat anything with peanuts in them (cookies, peanut butter, etc.) because having a peanut butter cookie and breathing on her sons when she got home could cause problems for them. It’s not just eating products with peanuts in them that can cause kids with allergies to have severe issues.

        4. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

          A friend has a son with severe allergies and she hates school wide bans. It just upsets everyone and makes solutions harder.

          Her preference is no food in the classroom at all, and a designated allergen-free and well-cleaned area of the cafeteria. It has worked well for her and her son. And the other parents and kids don’t resent her son because they can’t have yogurt and a peanut butter sandwich

        5. Mags*

          So the outside chance that someone could be made fun for getting a free lunch is worse than children dying from peanut exposure? I can’t even comprehend this argument.

          1. overcaffeinatedqueer*

            No, from a disability standpoint it’s about undue burden and what’s a reasonable accommodation. Asking someone to not eat a staple food, even for breakfast at home, that may be all they can afford, or be looked down on by others (and being hungry or bullied has an awful negative impact on learning), is not reasonable. Also consider that the poverty and affordability issues affect several people, whereas an allergy affects one. I have allergies myself. I know how they work. And any other precautions are great. Other precautions are statistically shown to be equally as good as bans, or at least close to it, without making others miserable.

            1. Mags*

              Asking parents to not pack ONE food at lunch is not an undue burden. And not being able to eat a peanut butter sandwich for lunch 5 days a week is making people “miserable”? I have never seen a ban on eating peanuts before school (that would obviously be impossible to enforce) and googling turned up nothing either, so I’m not sure why you’re bringing that up.

              The negative impact of being bullied is not comparable to the negative impact of dying. And stating definitively that either kids are going to pack peanut butter sandwiches or be bullied by getting free lunch is a HUGE stretch. You are assuming they are always going to be able to afford to pack lunch (unlikely if you qualify for free/reduced lunch programs and WIC). That other students are going to be aware of who is paying for their lunch and who got theirs free, that there are students in this school who would bully someone for this. And that the school is going to allow this bullying, as zero-tolerance policies are even more common than peanut bans.

              Furthermore, other precautions like making peanut-allergic kids eat in a separate room or segregated table just ostracizes them and obviously opens them up to bullying.

              1. Anna*

                I’ve worked in a school for many years and I can tell you it’s very hard to get some parents to cooperate, even with very basic and obvious rules like “Put a coat on your child if it’s snowing outside” and “Don’t drop off your child in the middle of the road.” The rules apply to other people, never to them. A school-wide ban would just lead to a false sense of security.

                At our school, we had a nut-free table. What did one of our peanut allergy sufferer’s mother pack her for lunch? A Nutella sandwich. Another allergic student’s father would join him for lunch occasionally. The student had a school lunch, and the dad brought his own lunch from Subway–including a cookie with nuts in it (placed right next to the nut-free table sign). A mother of a child with a peanut allergy was doing some work on a library computer. Despite there being several “No Peanuts” signs posted throughout the library and even on the front door, she was eating a package of peanut butter crackers and touching the mouse and keyboard that students use.

                I don’t mean to pick on the parents of allergy-sufferers here, I just am pointing out that even the people who are inclined to be more diligent make mistakes.

                1. Not So NewReader*

                  And here is the actual problem. It strikes me that people on both sides of the allergy predicament are making good points. My question is why aren’t scientists coming up with something to help people with severe allergies. Why do allergic reactions seem more common and more severe than when I was growing up?

                  It’s just not possible to avoid nuts for the rest of your life. I went to a dinner meeting for work. The restaurant was so dimly lit I could not identify the food on my plate. When my salad suddenly got very crunchy, I realized it had chopped nuts. I don’t digest nuts very well. Fortunately, I never eat them at home so a little bit was not going to make me keel over in pain. I have no clue how other people, who are far worse off than me, can deal with a situation like this. I was at a work function and I could not see my food because the lighting was so very dim.

                  I think that instead of arguing among ourselves, we should be demanding that the medical community come up with real solutions. People can’t go live in a bubble for the rest of their lives, that’s not realistic. And yet there are many people out there who either cannot comprehend what is involved in a nut allergy or simply have a momentary lapse in judgement. And all it takes is one minute of not thinking clearly.

                2. Honeybee*

                  @NotSoNewReader – Scientists are working on solutions to help people with severe nut allergies; you can see it in the scientific literature. Several things have been tried. But it’s difficult and takes a long time, especially since allergies can be complex and different for each sufferer. Scientists first have to understand the cause and etiology of an allergy before they can devise appropriate solutions. It also takes a lot of money, and federal dollars for science and medicine are actually being slashed in many areas. The funding rate for National Institutes of Health grants is less than 20% these days – as in, fewer than 1 out of 5 of the grants that gets submitted to the NIH gets funded. Peanut allergies is not a ‘sexy’ area of research that will get you lots of scientific recognition and tenure, so there may be fewer scientists working in that area and more scientists who choose to study more du jour things like HIV, autism and cancer (all also important areas!)

                  There’s also a little bit of research on why allergies seem more common and severe – part of that is simple knowledge (it was harder to identify the reasons why people were reacting and dying years ago; now we have more sophisticated tests to prove it’s peanuts et al.) and part of that is

                3. mags*

                  @Not So New Reader
                  I think it’s pretty naive to just demand the medical community find a cure for allergies instead of doing what we can to prevent deaths with the medical information we have now. Viruses were discovered in the late 18900s, cancer and asthma from sometime BC. And in all those years we still don’t have curses.

                  But, yes, it absolutely is possible to avoid nuts for your entire life, and it does not involve living in a bubble. If you have severe food allergies you don’t just eat something when you don’t know the ingredients. You ask the restaurant and you make sure they have good segregation practices or you don’t eat it. You don’t have a momentary lapse in judgement, because, depending on the severity of your allergy, that might very well mean death.

              2. Emerson*

                > Furthermore, other precautions like making peanut-allergic kids eat in a separate room or segregated table just ostracizes them and obviously opens them up to bullying.

                That’s kinda just life though when you have a special need. When they are older and in the workplace, they are the ones who will have to go eat somewhere other than the lunch room if other people have brought a PBJ.

                1. mags*

                  That was a counterpoint to overcaffinatedqueer’s argument that children getting free lunches are teased so therefore peanut bans are unfair.

                  And, no. The vast majority of peanut allergy sufferers absolutely do no need to get up and leave a lunch room if someone is eating peanuts.

                2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Or you can have an office that bars the use of all nut products or the introduction of nut products into the work site (I worked at one). There are non-stigmatizing ways to accommodate people who suffer life-threatening food allergies.

                3. Emerson*

                  I know most people don’t have to leave the room if someone else is eating PBJ, but if you are so allergic that you can’t be in the room, I’m sorry, but the onus is on you to eat somewhere else, not to dictate to everyone else what they can and can’t eat. And I especially reject the idea that people should be enforced to not eat it before coming to work. Telling me what I can and can not eat IN MY OWN HOME because of a special snowflakes allergy is taking things too far. I will eat all the Nutella and Peanut Butter Cups I want in my own home.

                  Of course, I believe smearing peanut butter on the desk of an allergic person is a horrible thing to do, but I don’t believe simply wanting to eat a sandwich in the lunch room makes you bad person.

                  There comes a point where you need to realise your allergy is really your problem, and it is not fair to impose your allergy and its conditions on other people.

                  I would push back on any work place that tried to police what I can and can not eat.

              3. a different Vicki*

                There are several reasons why allergic reactions seem more common than when we were growing up. One of those is that when I was a child, some of those peanut allergies weren’t reported as “so-and-so’s kid has a bad allergy, don’t give them peanut butter cookies,” but as “the neighbor’s three-year-old choked to death on a cookie,” and they might not even mention that it was a peanut butter cookie.

                Second, there’s some evidence (I don’t know how strong) that more sterile early-childhood environments increase the chance of allergies. “Go out and play” is useful advice even if the child is going to go sit on the lawn and read a book or play with a computer game, instead of doing the same thing in the living room.

                Third, epipens and other treatments mean people survive what would once have been fatal anaphylactic shock, and then a new bunch of people find out that they know someone with a serious allergy. The vaguely known coworker or neighbor who died of anaphylactic shock when you weren’t around is easier to forget than the coworker or neighbor who mentions having an epipen, and triple-checks whether there’s any shrimp in the fish stew.

              4. Observer*

                Actually, it’s NOT just “one” food. It’s a whole host of foods.If food is commercially fried, there is a good chance it was done in peanut oil. Peanuts, peanut better and peanut flour show up in a whole host of prepared foods, some of which no one would ever think of.

                This means that the burden is higher than generally realized. It also means that even well meaning parents who are willing to avoid peanuts are likely to make mistakes, because they don’t have the kind of “radar” that people with allergies develop.

        6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          When I was a high schooler, I had a teammate with a severe peanut allergy that triggered asthma and anaphylactic shock. She was sitting at the front of our full-sized school bus (we were traveling from a game) when a teammate sitting at least 10-15′ away at the back opened an energy bar made partially with peanuts (she didn’t know this at the time—if she did she wouldn’t have brought it). Within 45 seconds of opening that bar, we were pulled over on the side of the freeway waiting for an ambulance while the coach scrambled to find an epi pen.

          Peanut allergies can be extreme, and had I not witnessed someone turn blue, I would have been skeptical about a total peanut product ban. The underlying policy issue is not that low-income families require PB; it’s that we have not adequately addressed poverty (and by extension, it’s relationship to food insecurity).

          1. Observer*

            Actually your experience helps to explain why many doctors are leery of peanut bans. The team mate wasn’t being malicious or even especially careless. That energy bar would have been on the bus, ban or not. The real problem in your case is that both your teammate *and the coach* should have know exactly where the epi-pen was.

            But, you do have a point about poverty and food insecurity.

      1. Golden Lioness*

        Haha… and some days I am more allergic to certain people than others. Thanks for the smile! TGIF!!!

    2. Amber T*

      Whaaaat the f is wrong with some people?!?!?

      I love peanut butter. I enjoy a snack involving pb now and again, sometimes at work. If anyone said “hey, I’m allergic, could you eat that in the break room/not at your desk/not at work?” my immediate reaction would be “of course!” and then not have peanut butter at work. But noooo, there are some dumbasses out there who think “hmm, you’re imposing on my right to eat peanut butter at my desk, I’m going to smear it on yours because clearly this is an excellent idea.”

      Also, that boss sucks. Did peanut butter magically appear smeared under her desk? Clearly someone did it, and it’s probably the asshat who complained about about being asked to not eat peanut butter.

      1. Liane*

        A couple years ago we had a post–I don’t recall what–a commenter mentioned that she had a severe food allergy & had to deal several time with A–H–s threatening to slip her the allergen food. At least one of them only backed off because a cop overheard and explained it would result in serious criminal charges if Commenter wanted to press them.

        And the OP’s Boss is another big A–H–s

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I remember that–I saved that comment because it gave me an idea. She also said the one of the assholes was super-religious and tried to “save” a Buddhist student in the class (they were teachers).

    3. LiteralGirl*

      This is ridiculous, and I think the advice given kind of sucks. I’m sure Alison’s advice would be better. “Find another job” shouldn’t be the go-to answer.

    4. Mom*

      I just read this. One of the commenters was sure this was made up by the author. My immediate thought was you should read this blog and you would realize there are no ends to the actions of others.

    5. EP*

      I saw this this morning and my first thought was I wonder what Alison would say (though I do think that the person who answered gave good advice).

      1. Sunshine Brite*

        Where’s the dog friendly office advice? Allison did have a similar case but less of the throat closing up variety.

    6. Observer*

      The boss is a total idiot. The issue is not even whether or not other staff should eat peanuts in the office. The issue is that someone deliberately smeared peanut butter in a way that she would have no way to avoid it. I wonder if that could be considered assault. Even if it’s not legally assault, it is definitely an intentional attack on someone.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Given the nature of peanut allergies as potentially life-threatening, I absolutely would think this gets into legally being considered at least endangerment, if maybe not assault.

        1. Anonymous for this*

          I don’t see how it couldn’t. At the least you are attempting to do great bodily harm to someone, at the most you are trying kill them. I would have called the police if I were in the LW’s position.

      2. Mags*

        Assault or not, I’m am pretty positive that this is not legal. There have been children (seriously) arrested for similar acts in schools.

        1. Observer*

          Kids get arrested for things in school that no one would look at twice elsewhere, so that doesn’t really tell us much.

          1. Anonymous for this*

            It tells us that that this is obviously an illegal act. Schools don’t operate under different laws than the rest of the country.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          It can be illegal/assault in the non-school context, but of course, this varies widely by state and is governed by state law.

    7. Hlyssande*

      That poor reader! I don’t understand the kind of person who thinks ‘this person has reported an allergy that’s possibly life-threatening – let’s expose them to the thing they’re allergic to!’

      It reminds me of when my former roommate had a coworker shove a bouquet of lilacs in her face after being told said roommate was allergic. Yes, she had an instant allergy/asthma attack and had to leave the office for the day.

      Deliberately exposing people to allergens when you’ve been informed of the allergy should be classified as assault, imho.

      1. Myrin*

        Inquiring mind needs to know: How did Horrible Coworker react when your former roommate had an impromptu attack?

        1. Alison for this*

          That it was All In Her Mind, I suspect. Based on the experience of my family members with severe allergies.

          1. RKB*

            Oh man. I have Crohn’s disease and after a bowel resection I can’t eat any fruits and vegetables anymore. The amount of relatives who have told me that’s all in my head… sure, aunt, I’ll eat the carrots, if you drive me to the emergency room for an obstruction!

    8. Seal*

      It would be one thing if the letter writer found peanut butter smeared on a table in the break room or even on top of her desk after telling a coworker about her peanut allergy. That’s far more easily explained as an honest mistake, like someone was eating their lunch and got peanut butter on the table. But for the letter writer to find it UNDER HER DESK? To me, that’s clearly a hostile act, regardless of whether or not someone explains it away as a prank.

    9. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ugh, that advice columnist. I read her first few pieces when the Post hired her and was so incensed that I refuse to read anything else by her (terrible advice, even wrong about legal stuff, etc.). She was hired through a contest the Post did, and if I’m remembering correctly, she has no management experience; I think they just thought she was a good writer. I find the fact that they gave her that platform infuriating. (I have no comment on the article itself because I refuse to read it.)

      1. zora.dee*

        Oh yeah, I remember that contest, ugh, I was so annoyed about it in general, most of the candidates had little to no management experience at all.

        1. animaniactoo*

          Heh heh heh. I tossed my hat in the ring and I definitely had no management experience. I didn’t make it into the round of 10. lol.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I looked at the rules because I was wondering if I should enter it, and they banned entries from anyone who had previously been published on workplace issues. I thought that was interesting — seems like you would want people who had some sort of track record of expertise on the topic already, but they did not. I think they were specifically going for a “contest of your neighbors” kind of feel.

          1. animaniactoo*

            I’m pretty sure they were trying to replicate Carolyn Hax’ success as a “I’m going to give it to you straight, the way one of your friends would” start.

    10. Lizabeth*

      What research is out there about peanut allergies? And how did they get this extreme? Curious minds want to know…

      1. TL -*

        Allergies in general are more common than they were (perhaps because of understimulated immune systems, though this is not conclusive.). Furthermore, it was thought in the 80s/90s that avoiding common allergens when young would prevent allergies from developing so people followed that advice but more recent research suggests that early exposure is more likely to help prevent allergies and delayed exposure more likely to raise risk of allergies.

      2. Blurgle*

        There are two other issues.
        One is that back in the old days people died young all the time and nobody much paid attention to it. Most families in the early 20th century lost at least one child; go back a century before that and most families lost more children than they kept. (It was not at all unusual for a family in 17th century England to keep two children out of 16.) Because of this allergy deaths got lost in the midst – and of course they didn’t know what allergy was. They didn’t know what heart attacks were either, and they still existed.
        The other is that nowadays everything has 382 ingredients. A hundred years ago they didn’t aggressively shove cheap peanuts and soy and corn into everything.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Yep, I really think it’s both these things–people with deadly allergies died without anyone knowing why, and people in Ye Olde Days rarely ate things that didn’t come from their immediate surroundings, because there was no way to get it there. So people would be acclimated, over generations, to whatever food grew near them. Now, anybody can eat anything from anywhere, which is a major plus in a lot of ways (I would be so bored if I had to eat corn all day every day), but it does mean that people are trying foods that their ancestors never ate and didn’t acclimate to.

        1. TL -*

          Well, not quite. There’s been a raise in allergies in just the last 20-30 years that’s been unexplained and I don’t think they’ve conclusively proved that it can be attributed to everything.
          And under current knowledge, more exposure, especially from a young age, is more likely to make you less allergic.

      3. Paranoid Conspiracy Theorist*

        I know this sounds like one of those paranoid conspiracy theories, but some research seems to point to a correlation between food allergies and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It is kind of a strange coincidence that many of the most common food allergens are also some of the most common GMOs.

        1. TL -*

          There hasn’t been any connection shown between GMOs and increase in food allergies and most of the research done suggests that would be extremely unlikely. And peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, shrimp, milk, fish, eggs, and shellfish – 7 of 8 allergens that make up 90% of American food allergies – aren’t commercially available GMOs (or GMOs at all.) GMO corn isn’t sold for human consumption; GMO soy is but soy allergies are usually outgrown by the age of 5.

          (Also, I just realized this but most of the big 8 allergens have been pretty available to a wide range of cultures for a long period of time.)

    11. Lemon Zinger*

      Absolutely horrifying. When I started my current job, I asked the supervisors if anyone in the office had declared a nut allergy before I felt okay bringing anything containing nuts to work. You simply cannot mess around with nut allergies! My brother watched a friend swell up and turn blue in elementary school because someone thought his peanut allergy “wasn’t that bad.”

      1. Natalie*

        As with any allergy, it would depend on the severity. It’s the level of reaction the person has that can potentially trigger ADA, not the specific allergen.

    12. Sarah*

      Auugh. I have a serious tree nut allergy – fortunately it’s only really triggered if I eat a nut, but this is horrible. One of this woman’s coworkers basically just attempted to murder her! Or to give him the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t understand the full severity of her allergy, at least attempted to seriously harm her.

      Also, the “I don’t think you should be able to dictate what others eat” from the boss is nonsense. The problem isn’t even that the coworker was eating it anymore. It’s that he either actively went out of his way to go messily eat his lunch at HER desk, or, even worse and more likely, brought in a full jar of peanut butter, took some out, and intentionally smeared it on her desk. The fact that it was on the underside of her desk makes me really lean towards the second option.

    13. Cat steals keyboard*

      Oh my actual. I have a friend with such a severe nut allergy that this would be like attempted murder.

      1. Chaordic One*

        A couple of weeks ago there was a PBS mystery where a man (played by David Tenet) whose wife had been murdered discovered that the murderer had a seafood allergy. I don’t remember the exact details but I think he somehow tricked the murderer into eating something with seafood in it. Then when the murderer went into anaphylactic shock, he injected the murderer with an epipen (full of seafood juice or something like that) making the reaction much worse and the murderer died. A smart police woman figured it out, but let it go.

  2. Sunflower*

    We had an assistant(Mandy) start on our team about 4 months ago- prior to her, it was just my boss and me. Mandy interned in our dept but was on a different team. The position was created for her and our team has taken on much more work since we have an additional person. We sit next to each other while my boss is in a different city.

    Mandy drives me(and other people) nuts. She just doesn’t seem to care about the job. It’s clear to me she would much rather be on her old team and she took this job because she needed one- which in no way is a problem(I’m the last person to say you have to care about what you do) but you do have to care about doing a good job and making your team successful!
    She complains about pretty much everything and will push back on minor issues- she thinks she is above assignments and/or knows better than higher-ups. I’ve seen her continue to press on issues after a higher-up has said no. She doesn’t take much seriously. We both made the same mistake and while I scrambled to fix it and explain what happened, she laughed it off. She’s unprofessional in the way she speaks to clients, venues, other managers/people, etc. Other managers have complained about her to me- I am unsure if they have complained to my boss.

    I’m usually a MYOB/if this is a big enough issue, it will surface on it’s own but since my boss is not in our office, I wonder how much of this she is aware of. Mandy also came on during our slow time so she hasn’t really been thrown into the trenches of events yet. I have an in person check in with my boss and I know she is going to ask how things are going.

    Do I bring these things up or are these things that she probably already knows? To make matters more complicated, Mandy’s old boss is a director AKA my boss’s boss and seems to put Mandy on a pedestal. If I do bring them up, how do I do so without sounding like a bitter tattle tale?

    1. Leatherwings*

      Definitely bring it up with your boss. You could try something like “I don’t know if you know this already, but I wanted to give you a heads up that I’ve been having some problems working with Mandy because she has a habit of doing X. For example, Y and Z”

      That will make it clear you’re not whining about her, just flagging the issue.

    2. AshK434*

      I would definitely bring this up especially since other people are complaining to you about her. I would probably mention that these complaints are the impetus for you bringing this up at all, and then just state all of the issues you’ve noticed.

      1. designbot*

        Agreed–I’d say that I’ve been getting some negative feedback about Mandy and weren’t sure if your boss was hearing the same things or if the people coming to you were counting on you to be the conduit for that. Then offer up explanation for why she might be rubbing people the wrong way. This way it’s not you complaining about her, it’s you reporting an issue that’s acknowledged pretty widely.

    3. zora.dee*

      I agree you should bring it up. To avoid sounding bitter, try to frame things as how they are impacting you doing your job, not just “Mandy is rude” but “X department doens’t want to work with Mandy now, so everyone is coming to me, and I’m having trouble getting back to everyone in time.” And sit down and write out these examples ahead of time, so that you aren’t trying to do it on the fly. If I think about it ahead of time, I can be much less emotional than if I say it in the moment.

      But this is definitely something you should reinforce to your boss. But then leave it up to her to decide what to do, unfortunately, the politics might mean she can’t do anything. :o( Good luck!

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Wait, have you brought it up with her? I know that can be an uncomfortable conversation, but it seems strange to escalate your complaint without talking to Mandy about what she’s doing that’s annoying you.

  3. Audiophile*

    Happy Friday!!!!!

    Anyone familiar with that company that recruits for high paying jobs? I got a call about a position directly with them. I’m not sure whether it’s worth beginning the process.

    No news on the government jobs. So I guess no news is good news.

    1. Heather*

      Is it The Ladders? I haven’t heard good things about them, although I can’t recall the exact details. (Not super helpful, I know!)

      1. Random Lurker*

        I don’t know anything about working for the ladders, but have used it both to hire and to job search. It was not a good experience in either case – jobs aren’t vetted, candidates aren’t vetted. It’s a total waste of time for all parties involved. I question how much longer their business model can last.

    2. It happens*

      I do not pay for a subscription to the ladders, but somehow I get a daily email with positions that might be of interest to me. Given that most of their postings are just scraped from other sites a quick google search of the job title and city tends to lead to the actual source listing…

      1. Audiophile*

        I’ve never paid for a subscription and I don’t think I’ve ever applied for a job they’ve listed on behalf of a client.

        Since this would just be time spent on the phone, I may just do it.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The Ladders is terrible! Their whole business model is deceiving to job seekers (they claim to post only $100k+ jobs but then it came out that they don’t even screen jobs for salary; they’re just guessing, and often wrong). And they have a resume-writing services that’s absolutely terrible. Don’t work for them!

      1. Paranoid Conspiracy Theorist*

        I’m glad you posted this. I thought it was just me. Sometimes I worry that the whole world is out to get me.

        And sometimes there are people who really are out to get me.

  4. Good_Intentions*

    Working with college students

    Background: I’m an independent contractor with in a key election swing state working with public colleges and universities to ensure students have the resources they need to register and vote. To this end, I have hired students at some higher education institutions to assist with on-campus outreach.

    Issue: Undergraduate college students who lack the professional experience to follow through in a timely manner and don’t pay attention. This leads to me sending the same information to them three or four times. It’s not a great use of my time as the lone full-time staffer in the state. Keep in mind that they work in teams but don’t communicate among their team members.

    Question: How do I encourage college students to pay attention and follow through?

    Question: With such a short-term interaction with them, what are my options for dealing with their lack of professionalism?

    Question: Is there a tactful way to explain what I need from them (attention, follow-through, etc) without hurting their feelings or causing them to complain about me to my bosses?

    Please help me, AAM commenters! I am quickly losing patience with sending the same information to the same people up to four times.

    Thanks for any help you care to provide!

    1. Leatherwings*

      I’ve worked with college students in a similar manner before, and it’s tough.
      question 1) I found the most success explaining context to them – what happens if they don’t follow through, how does it impact you, the issue, the election, their peers, etc. You can also try giving them a carrot, like offering a recommendation if they do a great job or putting them in contact with your network.

      question 2) This might be something you need to discuss with whatever group you’re doing this work through. You can try just terminating the relationship. Some of them will shrug it off, but others will understand they were basically let go because they didn’t follow through. The best way to combat this is making sure they understand the commitment and the importance of following through on this ahead of time.

      question 3) I’ve found this is mostly about tone. If you’re angry or frustrated, that’s not a great way to handle delegating. It’s really about relationship building, and you’re effectively their boss for a volunteer position right? If you go into it with that knowledge and establish those roles it will go smoother.

      1. Good_Intentions*


        Thanks for the very thorough answer.

        I did want to clarify one point: The students actually responded to an ad for a paid fellowship for fall semester. The ad was posted late, drew little interest, so I phone screened and hired everyone who applied. This is a job of sorts (compensation is provided), but I am in no position to fire anyone. I really need warm bodies on these campuses.

        Your advice is really appreciated and on-point. Thanks so much!

      1. Good_Intentions*


        Yes, the students are paid fellow for fall semester.

        They responded to a job posting, participated in a phone screening and went through an hour-long training that explained their obligations.

      2. AVP*

        ah, I see your explanation above. Hmm.

        I know you said this isn’t the best used of limited time, but having worked in similar (but not political) circumstances with college students, I think you need to follow up, follow up, follow up. I did a project with students last year (at a really high-achieving, top-reputation, all-of-these-kids-are-geniuses type school) and found that if my email came in while they were looking at their email, they would respond right away and it would go great. If they happened to be in class when my email came in and they didn’t respond right away, they would lose it and just never find it again. I also got all of their cell #’s and texted, which I would ordinarily not do for work but I needed them to respond and that was what worked.

        I’m curious about your worry that they will complain to your boss if you give them constructive feedback – taking constructive criticism professionally and calmly is an important life skill that they’ll need to develop. Sure, sometimes younger people are still learning how to do that, but I think if they end up trying to circumvent your reasonable expectations, your boss should see through it, no? If you think she won’t or that she’s likely to be unhappy about it, then make sure you follow up on any conversations like that with a professional email to the student going over bullet points of what was discussed, to CYA.

        Regarding expectations – you may need to lay out your expectations and objectives for them in the beginning of the project more thoroughly than you would with more seasoned workers – ie., give them specific metrics and goals where otherwise you might let workers work them out on their own.

        1. Good_Intentions*


          Thanks for commiserating with me about your experiences working with college students. I appreciate knowing my experience is not isolated.

          With regard to my concern about their complaints, this stems from their monthly reflections sent to my boss and their end-of-service write-up that I won’t have the opportunity to see. These documents are their opportunity to express any frustration with how I’ve treated them or their displeasure with what they perceive as unfair or unnecessarily demanding instructions.

          I am just trying to go along to get along until the positions end in November. The next few weeks are going to be very busy with debate watches, voter registration events, special guest speakers and efforts to accommodate early voting.

          Again, I appreciate your insight. Thanks for taking time to share!

          1. AVP*

            Oh, geez, that sounds like a recipe for stress and I’m sorry you have to deal with it! Good luck. And text them incessantly :)

    2. College Career Counselor*

      “Issue: Undergraduate college students who lack the professional experience to follow through in a timely manner and don’t pay attention. This leads to me sending the same information to them three or four times. It’s not a great use of my time as the lone full-time staffer in the state. Keep in mind that they work in teams but don’t communicate among their team members.”

      Tell them that you don’t have the bandwidth to keep reminding them to do their jobs and what you need from them going forward. You’ll wind up with fewer people, but they might be more dedicated/committed.

      “Question: How do I encourage college students to pay attention and follow through?”
      In my experience, you can encourage all you want, but they’re going to do what they’re going to do. The students I work with think of themselves primarily as students and everything else is second (or third or whatever). You have no real recourse because you’re not grading them and this is a very short-term gig, nor are you recommending them for anything (you might tell them that the students who do their work well and in a timely fashion get glowing recommendations from you if they’re interested in continuing in the field).

      “Question: With such a short-term interaction with them, what are my options for dealing with their lack of professionalism?”
      Limited. See above. If these are indeed paying positions, then you need to set the expectations that they do their work in a timely fashion, otherwise they don’t get paid or get let go. Do you have time to hire other people?

      “Question: Is there a tactful way to explain what I need from them (attention, follow-through, etc) without hurting their feelings or causing them to complain about me to my bosses?”

      I think as long as you say, “these are the expectations in a very quick timeframe, and I need you to be able to do XYZ. If not, please let me know immediately, so that I may re-assign the work appropriately and thank you for your efforts so far.” I’d clear that with your bosses (do student complaints have any bearing on your continued employment?)

      “Please help me, AAM commenters! I am quickly losing patience with sending the same information to the same people up to four times.”

      They’re demonstrating that this work is not a priority for them at this time. I would look to re-assign to those students who are getting it done and cut the others loose from your payroll (you’re not getting any utility out of them anyway, and it’s costing you too much time to try to get them to comply).

      1. Good_Intentions*

        College Career Counselor:

        Wow, what a detailed answer to all of the questions I posted. Thank you!

        With regard to a couple of your comments, I need to plainly state that I cannot cut anyone loose. I need every warm body I can get. As it stands, I filled less than half of the available positions because of the late start date and competition from similar election-oriented organizations.

        I am scheduled to meet face-to-face with my most problematic teams next week, so I hope to clear the air and clearly establish guidelines for professional behavior at that time.

        Again, I appreciate the time and energy you put into sharing such detailed responses.

        Have a great Friday!

        1. FO*

          When I have done this work, standard practice was to e-mail the student in question every 1-2 hours. It takes more time then actually doing the work it’s self, but that is the only way make sure that expectations are clear.

    3. overeducated*

      Honestly, since this is such a short term commitment, I think you are just going to have to expect that you will have to resend stuff. And tell them EXACTLY what you need from them in very specific and measurable terms: “This job requires responses to my emails in 24 hours,” “I need you to schedule one weekly in-person meeting with your team members via email/Google Calendar/Doodle poll and send me a confirmation email by Wednesday with your meeting time,” etc. “I need you to pay more attention, get things the first time, not ask me to resend things” is not going to cut it – professors do that too, it’s part of people having schedules that don’t keep them in an office 9-5, things slip through. Specific action items and deadlines are better. But build in time in the expectation you’re going to have to hold their hands a lot.

      1. Good_Intentions*


        Yes, I fully expect that I will have to continue sending out the same email four times with a very specific subject line, relative information in bold red font, and a set deadline also in red.

        To date, I have only encountered one completely egregious act of unprofessional behavior. It is as follows:

        The student fellows were asked to attend a webinar training to fully address their responsibilities, including all Google forms, weekly phone check-ins, writings, on-campus obligations. All but one student were able to attend. Among the attendees is a student who failed to listen during our initial phone conversation, failed to pay attention during the webinar, and sent me six (yes, really!) emails in five hours with questions she should have already known the answers to. I responded and referenced earlier situations when the answers were originally given, then asked if she had further inquiries. She wanted a follow-up phone call the next morning, so I called her and heard “No, we don’t need to talk. You answered all my questions yesterday.”

        Needless to write, my patience with this young woman–third year political science student–is wearing very thin. I’m meeting with her and her two teammates Wednesday evening. I need to create a strategy for engaging her and explaining expectations without being short.

        Wish me luck!

        1. Cat steals keyboard*

          Any way you can do in-person training instead? I think being so hands-off (e.g. a webinar rather than training directly with you) might not be working here.

          1. Good_Intentions*

            Cat steals keyboard:

            I have stopped by the largest campus on four occasions, including to conduct an abbreviated training.

            With the other campuses, I am attempting to schedule a convenient time for face-to-face interaction and for a regular phone check-in. The students are very obstructionist about confirming a time for such meetings. It’s to the point where I’ve called and left very direct messages.

            The headquarters of the organization are in D.C. and I’m based in the capital of the state. I can travel to the campuses for special occasions, but four hours of driving for a 30-minute check-in meeting cannot be justified.

        2. Jessica*

          As a professor, I would’ve responded to e-mails like that with “it’s in the syllabus” and not taught my students that they could skip looking at the syllabus by just giving them the answer. (To be less aggressive about it, I usually said, “please review page 3 of the syllabus where I discussed this topic and then let me know if you have any specific questions.”) Of course, the professor-student relationship is a little different than boss-worker, but I think identifying where the answers can be found, rather than answering the question, could still work.

          1. Honeybee*

            Yes, this was going to be my response as well. Send them one detailed e-mail with all of the information, and in the future if they ask again simply respond “It’s in the first email I sent you on [date]. Did you read that?” If they said they did but forgot, or didn’t read it at all, tell them to go find it.

            I’ve worked with college students as well and in my experience the way they learn is by setting firm boundaries and expectations and then holding to those closely. Of course, you also typically need the authority to cut them loose or ding their grade if they don’t follow them to make this work, so I’m not sure how useful it’ll be in your case until the day you can advertise this fellowship earlier and have a choice of students.

    4. irritable vowel*

      Do you have one or two higher-performing student workers that you can deputize to do some of this coordination work? Sometimes the higher-performing students are incentivized enough by being put in a position of greater responsibility that they can really take that and run with it. Ideally it would be great if you could pay them a little more to do this work (you mentioned you weren’t able to fill all the positions you needed so perhaps there’s some leftover money?).

      Students also sometimes respond better to their peers, and they also have their own preferred channels of communication that you might not be reaching them on. They just DO NOT look at e-mail, for example. So if that’s the only way you’re sending them the info, that’s why they’re not getting it/absorbing it. E-mail is for old people! A fellow student would text them, message them on Twitter/Instagram/whatever, and it would probably reach them better.

      1. Good_Intentions*

        irritable vowel:

        Good point about possibly texting, instead of using email.

        I am trying to have my communication with them be as unobtrusive as possible because all of the student fellows are full-time students taking up to five classes and involved in an average of three outside projects (leadership cohorts, an unpaid internship for a class, an on-campus job, etc.). The idea is to send communications with clear subject lines and bulleted info to the entire team and let them decide how to handle who takes the lead. For example, I sent out an email from my bosses asking for volunteers at an upcoming event, so I sent the entire team the information and let them decide who had the time to attend and represent the organization.

        When I meet with the teams next week, I will ask them specifically if they need assigned leaders and how they would like me to communicate with them. Text seems too casual for detailed work emails, but it may be the only way to consistently have timely responses from them.

        Thanks for your perspective. Have a great Friday and a restful weekend!

        1. Honeybee*

          Yeah, with a group of what sounds like semi-unmotivated college students, you may have to get more obtrusive and hands on with them. Text messages are preferred by younger folks because you receive them in the moment BUT you can choose to ignore them, too, until you can address them. Most kids don’t have email pings on their phone so they don’t know when they get a new email, but they sure know when they get a new text message (or message on Facebook messenger, or Snapchat, or tweet in some cases). You can install a program on your computer that will allow you to send text messages to phones directly from the computer, so they feel like e-mailing to you but show up as a text on their phone. (Skype will do this, as will Mighty Text and Pushbullet if you have an Android phone.)

          I also wouldn’t ask them if they need assigned leaders; I would give them assigned leaders and then see how that works out for them.

    5. MC*

      I would also recommend that you establish acknowledgement and follow up protocols. For example, I had a job in which people would make a request to me directly and I would put a team together to satisfy the request. There was no ticketing system or acknowledgement other than me emailing “Got your request, will process and let you know of any questions”. Have these guys acknowledge receipt of request/activity, confirm they have no questions then respond with updates. You could even send out a daily tracker that includes the deadline so that it’s simply part of your process. If you know it’s going to be a problem, be more proactive on your end. To get ahead of complaints you can say “Because some have had difficulty keeping track of their activities … blah blah blah” to call out that they’re behavior resulted in this “micromanagement”. And I don’t consider this approach micromanagement, more like aggressive tactical management.

    6. Marisol*

      What about *asking them* what they need for them to get the job done? For example, have an all-hands meeting where you lay out the problems you are facing, ask why they are occurring, and brainstorm solutions with them? It sounds like they don’t know what they are doing is causing a problem, and I get the impression that they might not have the skills or maturity to correct their behaviors on their own. So if you were to just say, “make sure you respond to me within 24 hours” they might not have the ability to think through why they aren’t able to do that without some constructive prodding. But a brainstorming session might reveal they they all have morning classes and are best able to respond to your emails in the afternoon, to give a random example. Regarding sending the same info over and over, they probably don’t have any sort of email filing system, but might not be able to articulate that, or come to a solution for creating one without help from you or from the group.

      I wouldn’t worry about tact; as long as you’re not yelling at them or being otherwise abusive, there shouldn’t be a problem with being direct, including being direct about how frustrated or discouraged you feel: “guys, I’m going to be frank with you. I really need your help, and it is incredibly discouraging to have to waste time repeating myself. We only have a few months to accomplish our mission and I want to make every moment count. So I need your input; I need to find out from you what is preventing you from keeping track of the info I send you, and how we can overcome this problem.”

      Since you don’t have much leverage–can’t fire them or motivate them in ways traditionally used in the workplace–I think the only source of motivation, and really the best source in any work context, is give them some “creative control” of their process and show them the impact of their actions. Show how they fit into the big scheme of things, show how what they do fits into the overall workflow, so they know they are making a meaningful difference rather than just…processing widgets. That will give them a sense that they have skin in the game. I think if you open the dialogue up, you should get lots of creative solutions as well as greater engagement.

      Lastly, read the book, How To Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will talk. It’s a classic on parenting, a good read, and will probably give you some insight.

      Hope that helps.

      1. Good_Intentions*


        Your suggested wording with addressing the teams strikes just the perfect tone. Thanks for providing a wonderful framework for me to adapt during next week’s face-to-face and telephone meetings.

        Most of the students with whom I’m working are juniors or seniors who have had internships and jobs in the past, so I took for granted they would have the critical thinking and planning skills to manage their responsibilities. Both the job ad and the phone screening process directly explain that the position requires self-starters who can manage their time and execute clear communication with me, their teammates, faculty and staff on campus, and the students they’re trying to reach through their respective events/activities.

        In hindsight, I can see how they may have overestimated their skills or underestimated the difficulties in balancing school, social life, other time commitments with this particular job.

        Thanks so much for taking time to share your ideas! They have been very helpful.

        1. Marisol*

          Happy to help! Another possibility that occur to me, since you mention their qualifications, is that they *do* have the skill sets, but are being little shits and choosing to underperform. (Is it possible that you are a soft touch, and squeamish about making your expectations clear?) In this case I would frame it in my mind as holding them accountable, but either way, making your expectations explicit and asking how *they* want to solve the problem would be a good start for addressing it.

    7. zora.dee*

      I’m gonna be honest, and I feel a little bad about this because you have said very sweet things to me on here in the past, but I hope it will help a little.

      You have kind of been set up to fail here.

      I have spent many years working in campaigns/advocacy, and everything you wrote is extremely common with part-time student employees. Which is why good, functional organizations would not depend on them as much as yours is.

      You are being expected to cover way too much geography with not anywhere near enough resources. In successful campaigns, one full-time paid staffer would have campuses within a reasonable driving distances, and that person would be physically on-site for any activity or event to supervise and make it happen. There’s only so much you can expect part-time students to do when they have school work to do, and really they should be compensated even for 10 minutes of responding to emails during the day, etc. Getting them to be self-directed like this is something only a tiny fraction of students could do.

      I realize this sounds super defeatist, and you have this job right now, so you need to make it work, and me telling you that it sucks isn’t super helpful. But what I’m hoping it will do is help you realize that NONE of this is a failure of you and your skills. This is an extremely difficult, almost impossible bind you are in. So, my advice about what you can do: 1 is to manage your expectations a little more about what you are going to be able to accomplish by Nov 8. And do what you can do, craft clear, short emails, get students on the phone as often as you can rather than relying on email, set the parameters for a shift of signature gathering and be very direct that this is important to their job and you need them to follow through. And then let it go. Because what happens will happen, and a lot of the time people are going to flake, and you might not get the numbers your boss wants. And you are going to have to let the disappointment roll off your back and start over the next day.

      I would get used to the idea now, that the organization might not be very happy with their numbers on Nov 7, but they are honestly not giving you the support or resources necessary to make this happen, and they are the ones responsible for the delays in getting everything set up in the first place that put you behind schedule, so that is their own fault. And you should be proud that you continued to work as hard as you could to make it happen, but also, when it’s time to go to bed at night, you need to take some deep breaths, and leave it at work so you can sleep. Be careful not to get completely burned out, because then you will be useless, and be careful not to take any of this personally. I am not impressed with this organization and I think they are taking advantage of your work ethic and dedication to the cause.

      Anyway, that is insanely long, and if any of it doesn’t seem right to you, you can feel free to ignore it, this is just my impression based on what you’ve been telling us before. But I’ve seen lots of poorly run organizations burn out amazing activists over the years, and I don’t want to see it happen to you. Good luck, and thank you for working so hard to make the world a better place!!

  5. Folklorist*

    Hi everyone! I need help. I have a very good friend who has issues with chronic health problems (chronic migraines, chronic fatigue, previous bouts with cancer) and mental heath issues (depression and anxiety). She is smart, funny, and personable; she learns quickly and is capable of working at a much higher level than the jobs she’s able to get.

    Because of her issues, she’s never been able to really hold down a job, so then she gets down, and then she can only get work at flaky start-ups or toxic environments that seem great at first and then let her go because they’re disorganized, and her health gets worse because of the horrible situations and lack of insurance/money to survive, and the cycle goes on. She really needs a semi-flexible teleworking situation with good insurance and someone to give her a chance. She just got let go again and is really in despair.

    I was in a similar situation (spiral of depression and joblessness) before I found my company, which has been wonderful to me and helped me flourish (I just got my first-ever promotion and raise!). A job opening came up here that she would be qualified for–we have wonderful health insurance and a generous telework policy (in fact, they’re downgrading the office space, so they encourage mostly telework).

    Do I recommend her for this? I don’t know what to do–if it turns out that her previous firings weren’t all because of a string of crappy companies and it turns out that she’s a terrible employee, I’m afraid that it will come back to me. Additionally, I worry about mixing friends and the workplace. I’ve also referred a couple of friends here in the past and they weren’t qualified–I’m afraid that HR just rolls my eyes whenever I suggest someone now.

    It all just seems like a terrible situation. If I were in my friend’s shoes, I would be desperate for them to refer me, but I don’t know if both our reputations will suffer and I’ll destroy the friendship if it doesn’t end up working out.

    Thank you so much for any insight you may provide!

    1. fposte*

      If you don’t know her actual work well enough to know if her work problems aren’t just health, I wouldn’t give her a recommendation. I know that wouldn’t feel great, but I just wouldn’t feel like I could give a strong recommendation based on solely a friendship with the possibility of adverse work information there.

    2. Stellaaaaa*

      I wouldn’t recommend her, unfortunately. Either she’s flaking out of her jobs for other reasons or her health really is that bad… And I don’t think you should waste your remaining HR goodwill on a situation where you know the job history isn’t great. I might feel differently if you hadn’t been burned by recs before.

    3. Manders*

      Oof, this is a tough question. I did once refer a friend with a similar history to a position at my workplace–and then I found out after she was hired that she hasn’t been fully honest about her previous experiences, and her repeated firings and overall spotty job history kinda were her fault. It ended up reflecting pretty badly on me.

      If you won’t have to work closely with the person in this position, then maybe it would be a good idea to encourage her to apply, but hold off on offering to refer her. Don’t stake your reputation on this, especially if you think HR already doubts your judgement about your friends’ qualifications.

    4. Amber T*

      So your two questions – what if your friend ends up not being a good employee, and how will working with a friend turn out.

      1 – You can refer your friend without necessarily vouching for them. You can talk to the hiring manager and say “I know someone who is look for a new opportunity and has x, y, and z skills.” Here’s an opening, here’s a person who, on paper, might have the qualifications to fill it, and that’s all you need! I wouldn’t mention any health issues to the hiring manager – that’s up to her.

      2 – As for working with your friend… there’s no definitive answer for that. How closely would your roles work together? How close would you sit? Would you report to the same person? If she starts complaining about your manager or Joe in purchasing, can you keep it professional? The answer may be yes and that’s great! But it may be no and that’s okay too.

      You also say you’ve recommended friends before that didn’t work out. When you say they weren’t qualified, do you mean that their skills didn’t match up with the job posting? Or did they make it to the interviews and there just happened to be others who were a better fit?

      If your friends skills don’t match 80% with the job posting, or if you think you’ve recommended too many people who haven’t been a good match (not if there were just other people who may have fit better), I wouldn’t recommend your friend. You sound like a really caring friend and it’s great that you want to help her, but mixing your personal and professional lives together may not be for the best.

      1. Folklorist*

        Good questions! Regarding the two friends I referred, the first one actually ended up being a great fit. She got to the offer stage and then suddenly pulled out and decided to move out-of-state. The second had a lot of great transferable skills and my coworker (the hiring manager) was desperate to hire quickly, so she said to send her along–but my friend didn’t get chosen for an interview.

        I guess the biggest question for this friend is that, last time she was looking for a job, this position opened and she applied, and asked me to vouch for her to the hiring manager. It’s open again and she’s jobless again, so I don’t know if I should tell her about the opening or vouch for her if she finds it on her own. (Or just say, “I can’t vouch for your work, but will certainly pass your materials along!”)

        1. Amber T*

          Mehhh…. as her friend you can’t really vouch for her work abilities (unless you have worked with her in the past, but even then you can still be seen as biased). What happened the last time she applied? If she was interviewed and may have been a good fit, then maybe pass along her credentials, but if she didn’t make it to the interview stage I wouldn’t.

      2. Rat Racer*

        Yes – second this: you can be the best help to your friend (assuming you cannot advocate for her work) by helping her cut through the red tape of the hiring process and making sure her resume is seen by the right people. That way, you are helping her without risking your reputation.

        1. Rat Racer*

          Oh – I did not read your comment closely enough. It looks like you have already taken those first initial steps and that to get your friend’s foot in the door, you would have to do something more like advocacy. Sorry for skimming to quickly./

          1. Folklorist*

            Oh, no–it’s OK. The last time she applied, she did it right after they had already hired someone for the position, but it hadn’t been taken off the site yet. And then she immediately got a job with the toxic place that just let her go, so it was a moot point all around. I didn’t get involved at all.

    5. Lluviata*

      I agree with Manders. Tell her about the position and encourage her to apply, but don’t offer to be a reference for her. If the hiring manager asks, tell them that she’s your friend but you haven’t worked with her so you can’t give any feedback on her work. If your friend asks, tell her that since you haven’t worked with her you wouldn’t be a good reference.

    6. Happy Lurker*

      Sorry to jump on the bandwagon of don’t do it but…don’t. Just continue to be her friend. Good luck.

    7. designbot*

      Vouch for her personal qualities–smart, funny, whatever is accurate for her. The thing I tend to say is “She’s someone you want to have a drink with after work, but I’ll let you assess the work itself and see if there’s a fit.”

    8. E*

      I agree with the other commentors. Don’t recommend her, but tell her about the opening and that you can’t recommend her because you haven’t worked with her before but that it sounds like a good fit for her needs.

    9. Kore*

      Oof, this is a tough one. I’m wondering about this with one of my friends, too – she’s smart, a great person, and is really loyal and dedicated, but her health issues are severe. She usually ends up having 2-3 surgeries per year for one thing or another (cancer, chronic issues, etc) and as such holding down a job is really hard for her, but she’s going to have to look soon because her place of work that gave her a lot of freedom (seasonal position, flexible leave) is closing.

    10. harryv*

      I would recommend her. Just per yourself in her shoes. Someone gave you a chance and you have flourished. Now you are in position where you can help her. It’s not up to you to hire. Leave that to the recruiting process. But to block her from the get go and be judgemental is wrong imo.

    11. Marisol*

      Even if her previous firings were because of a string of crappy companies, there is a judgement issue here–why did she take employment at a string of crappy companies? Bad things happen to good people, but this is more than just coincidence. Personally, I would not stick my neck out. I would feel bad for my friend’s situation, but not bad that I wasn’t willing to sabotage my own well-being by recommending her to my company. You could mention the opening to your friend if it is a public job posting, and let her handle applying, but not vouch for her to HR. But I probably wouldn’t do that. Your friend is a little lost and another firing is surely inevitable.

      It sounds to me like she might have ADHD. My psychiatrist Jory Goodman wrote a book about the cluster of symptoms including migraines, depression, and anxiety that accompany adhd. I can’t remember the name of the book…I think it’s called “It IS All In Your Head.” There is also a book by John Ratey that has an excellent diagnostic list. And people with adhd are usually bright and creative, yet chronic underachievers. At any rate, she needs professional help for her physical and mental issues–maybe you could help her find some free clinics to address that, which would hopefully lead to more stability in her work life.

    12. Mephyle*

      I would tell what you know, and also make it clear that you aren’t vouching for what you don’t know.
      Tell them that in your opinion she is intelligent, learns quickly and is personable.
      Tell them also that you can’t speak to her ability to do the job because you have never worked with her.

    13. Not So NewReader*

      After being burned a few times, I very seldom recommend people.

      What I would do here is tell her there is an opening, but you feel you are not in a position to grease the path for her, as far as putting in a recommendation. However tell her that you would be happy to answer questions where you can and you would be happy to give her some pointers if she gets an interview.

      For the most part people are amazing, they will understand that we can’t do x for them and be happy with the y and z that we actually do. The important part is to tell her upfront what you are offering help with, that way she has no surprises.

    14. Honeybee*

      I know you really want to help your friend find a job, but I think you can lend your support to her in other ways. You can even encourage her to apply to the job, but don’t refer her.

      Ideally, when you refer someone to a job, it’s because you think they would be a great fit for the actual job that’s posted – not because you want them to enjoy all the benefits that your workplace offers. You want to be able to say to the hiring manager, “I think Ayesha would be a great fit for this job for X reasons.” And as you’ve noticed, referring people who aren’t a good fit can diminish your credibility and hamper your ability to recommend actual good fits later on, and help people.

      If you really can’t be sure whether your friend is a good employee, then don’t refer her. But you can keep sending her ads, help her polish her resume, be a sounding board, etc.

  6. Robbie*

    Summary: I need to get my super super busy boss to discussing ADA accommodations with me.

    I have a condition that’s covered by the ADA and I’ve been granted accommodations at my old jobs. I’ve been with this business for about six months and have gotten good performance reviews over that time. Despite that it’s become obvious to me that I’ll need some sort of accommodation to keep doing my best.

    I had a meeting with my boss to tell him about my condition and suggest an accommodation. At first he seemed sympathetic, but when I brought up possibly working from home so i could get to my medical appointments more easily, he told me that wasn’t possible because he was afraid that I would start misusing it and my productivity would go down.

    I know my company allows people to work remotely, and there aren’t any restrictions on who can or who can’t in any of our policy handbooks. Even if he absolutely won’t allow that, I’m fine with requesting a different accommodation. I have tried to get him to talk to me about it again but he’s always said that he’s busy and that I should go home if I don’t feel well.

    I don’t think he’s malicious, I think he’s genuinely extremely busy and doesn’t realize what the law says (he’s new to the USA).

    My condition is flaring up and I’m sure someone will note that my performance has declined recently. So it’s very important that I get my boss to sit down and talk to me about accommodations.

    I’ve heard some horror stories about this company’s HR department, so I’m a little worried about going to them. But it seems like my options are HR or sending out the type of email that makes it very clear that I’m going to get a lawyer (“per our discussion on this date, I requested accommodations for my condition which you rejected. My condition is covered under the ADA, blah blah…”)

    1. Leatherwings*

      Oooh don’t send that email unless it’s an absolute last resort. That will escalate the situation immediately.

      Go back to your boss and say something like “I’m under the impression that the ADA requires employers by law to provide reasonable accommodations like X and X. If working from home truly isn’t possible, I think we’ll need to work out some other accommodations. I could speak to HR and see what they could suggest” and see what he says.

      Definitely go to HR – they’ll know the law on this, and it sounds like your boss doesn’t. Assume they’ll be reasonable and competent unless they demonstrate otherwise.

      1. Robbie*

        I would absolutely NEVER send an email like that unless I was certain I was about to be fired and was desperate for evidence for an unemployment case, to negotiate severance or a reference or something like that. I am just not very good at managing the middle ground between jerk and doormat.

        I am also very anxious (I have been in treatment for severe anxiety and panic disorders for a few years now) that my requesting accommodation will be held against me. That leads to some analysis paralysis/indecision here. I work at a tech company with a startup feel and I’m very worried that I will be seen as incompetent.

    2. Retail HR Guy*

      Threatening your employer at this point is overkill and is not going to go over well with anyone. At least try to be more firm about setting a meeting with your boss to go over this, and go to HR (nicely) if that doesn’t work. Maybe HR is horrible, but you won’t know until you try, and going to Defcon 2 before even attempting to speak with HR or upper management about it (especially when you reason to suspect your supervisor is unaware of ADA regs) wouldn’t be acting in good faith.

      1. Robbie*

        I’m sorry… the letter was meant to be an example of what I WOULDN’T do! To come clean, I have had some bad experiences with disclosing my disability in the past but I’m very aware of the need to be polite and flexible with these conversations.

    3. Amber T*

      Ditto to not contacting the lawyer yet – you’re not at that place. Besides, the lawyer will probably tell you you need to attempt more conversation with your boss and HR before being able to take any legal action.

      I like what Leatherwings suggested, but I’d do it in an email (written proof). I’d end the email asking for a time in the next few days to sit down and discuss the accommodations, and even provide times and dates (can we sit down Tuesday at 3 or Wednesday morning?). If it’s ignored, or if he says he’s too busy, then go to HR.

      If your boss remains “too busy,” (and remember, part of his job is managing you, including helping you with your needs) and HR ends up being unhelpful, then it would time to contact a lawyer (and probably start looking for new work).

    4. Golden Lioness*

      If your boss is truly not malicious you’re better off to continue your communications with therm.

      I suggest you pick an open time on their calendar and send them a meeting request. Keep it to 30 min so it’s not intrusive and get bullet points with the main issues and the accommodations you would need.

      Additionally, you mentioned working from home, I understand he said know to a fully remote position, but how about working gradually towards it? just ask for 1 day a week you can do that, and once you’ve proven yourself, ask him to give you another one till you have reached a comfortable compromise. Who knows, maybe having just 2 remote days could work, especially if that’s enough to combine whatever medical appointments you need.

      1. Robbie*

        I don’t have any reason to think my boss doesn’t like me. But at my last job I “coincidentally” got put on a PIP and had a lot of responsibilities taken away from me right after I disclosed. So I adopt a once bitten, twice shy approach.

        I’m going to set up a meeting with him and make a bunch of suggestions. I think I may need to escalate this to HR if he seems unwilling to do any form of accommodation but I’m very scared to do that. And I don’t even know how likely that is (he did seem a little brusque in dismissing it before — and I wasn’t proposing I work completely or even frequently remotely, and we do have people in 100% remote positions).

        1. Golden Lioness*

          People that don’t need accommodations may be short sighted sometimes. You mentioned your boss is super busy, so this may be a case of him hoping this just goes away. Once he realizes this is a serious problem for you, hopefully he will work with you.

          And I hear you on the once bitten feeling. After my boss from hell my PTSD was so bad that every time my new boss called me into his office I would automatically shake and think “Oh, God, what is wrong now!” It took a while for me to react normally again. Good luck!

    5. Chriama*

      I think you need to tell your boss this needs to be resolved, not ask him. “Hey boss, I’m actually covered by the law here. We need to find time to discuss accommodations for my condition/ When are you available?”

    6. BRR*

      Sort of echoing others. I’d just say you need to sit down to discuss accommodations. I’d have several suggestions ready but give him a second to start. You might have to rope in HR. This is what they do and even a bad HR department should be concerned about ADA and retaliation.

    7. Robbie*

      Update for the handful of people who may check up in the weekend open thread on Monday: I had another conversation with the boss where I suggested a couple of things like moving my desk (open floor plan so I know I can’t request an office) or altered hours/remote work when I need to put in overtime but have a doctor’s appointment (we work with overseas teams so we do need to have some flexibility already) and they’ve been turned down becaus he wants to avoid the appearance of favoritism. I wanted to say that it’s part of his job as a manager to handle that and tell my colleagues that there’s a good reason that I get XYZ treatment but I left it at “let’s talk with HR and see what they advise, this is more in their speciality than ours.” He was cool with that and said hrd prefer that because he isn’t an expert on these things so I am hopeful we can figure something out.

      I work at a big established company but the company is trying to rebrand itself as a young hip tech startup type of place. They switched to an open office plan in my office and management has started talking a lot about how employees need to “lean in” and “show hustle” and I am a little worried that this may factor in how I’m treated. I hope not though.

  7. 42*

    This morning I saw an excellent question posted on a website I follow:

    “What is the most honest thing you said in an interview which resulted in you not getting the job?”

    (*This is assuming that THAT was the actual reason you weren’t hired of course.)

    Does anyone here have an answer to that?

    1. Zana*

      Good question!

      My answer would probably have to be being a little too honest about admitting that I don’t see my future in the industry. But it comes with the territory of being a masters student applying for things such as retail and coffee shops as part time work to support my studies.

      (But at the same time, I feel like those sort of jobs have to expect turn over with part time/casual employees?).

    2. Applesauced*

      Q – “Are you afraid of heights?”
      A – “Uh… only if the fall would kill me”
      I was a new grad and thought this was a weird joke… It was at an architecture firm who does facade restoration – requiring staff to go out on scaffolding and look at the building. I don’t know if that answer cost me the job, but I did not get an offer.

    3. Way over there*

      An interview asked me if I was comfortable working with aggressive people. My honest *BLEEP* NO may have costed me the job, but definitely saved me the tears

      1. Golden Lioness*

        Ugh! Yes, I learned to pay attention to those questions… they tell you a lot about the people you’ll be working with. Every single time the reason why the question was asked became apparent quite quickly!

    4. kylo ren*

      During a job interview at Old Navy, the manager asked about how I felt about selling credit cards. Naive teenager me replied that I thought that was awkward and kind of crappy to do to people. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get the job.
      I still think it’s a crappy thing to do, but I digress.

      1. Alice Ulf*

        I agree with you 100%. Also I just got to imagine Kylo Ren suffering through a job at Old Navy, which brightened my entire day. :D

    5. Slate*

      I don’t know for sure that this wasn’t the reason I didn’t get hired, but:

      When I was in college, I had an interview for an internship with the AP. I was a Magazine Journalism major. At that time, I had a part-time job designing newspaper pages back at my hometown newspaper on the weekends. And the internship would have been related to newspaper reporting.

      The interviewer looked at my resume, actually sneered at me, and said, “You’re studying magazine journalism, you’re designing newspaper pages and you want to intern in newspaper reporting. You’re all over the place. What are you even doing?” And my response was, “Well, I don’t think gaining experience in different aspects of the industry is a bad thing.”

      It went downhill from there. He was in a foul mood, and he just was not happy with me. I guess he felt like you should only do ONE THING FOREVER, I dunno. At the end, he gave me an AP-branded lanyard and tin of mints, which I guess they were handing out to every one who interviewed, and I looked at him and said, in a very deadpan voice, “Wow, it’s just like Christmas.”

      That may have been why I didn’t get it, on second thought. :D

      1. ThatGirl*

        As a former newspaper journalist who dabbled in reporting, photography/photo editor and magazine internships before settling on copy editor/page designer, that is super rude and obnoxious. College and internships are all about trying out different things.

      2. literateliz*

        Because life as a journalism student is just chock-full of options and opportunities that allow you to narrow your career interests to a laser focus!*

        Anyway, you are my hero for that kiss-off. OMG. Love it.

        *sarcasm may not apply depending on when and where you graduated… I finished my own magazine journalism degree in 2009 (I know, poor life decisions), so I’m rolling my eyes HARD at this dude.

        1. Slate*

          I graduated with that degree in 2003, worked as a newspaper reporter for one year and promptly burnt out so hard that I fled, never to return to journalism!

          This is what happens when your goal in life is to write fluff pieces about celebrities (honestly what I wanted to do with my life) and then your first writing gig is as a general assignment reporter covering teenagers dying in car crashes and a rash of animal abuse cases.

      3. Amadeo*

        Reminds me a bit of a veterinarian I interviewed with when I was a tech. First mistake was asking for a wage I could live on (“Oh, you’ll not get that amount in this area.”) the second was going “Look, if the cat is fractious enough that I have to use two towels and a pair of gauntlets just to get it out of the cage I’m certainly not going to try to pill the damn thing with no one in the clinic around to help me.” after he asked me what I’d do if I had to pill an angry cat during an evening in the clinic by myself.

        Yeah, I think we were both glad to leave that interview and see the back of each other.

        1. Amadeo*

          Well, asked me what I’d do, and kept asking me what I’d do if that didn’t work. This was a chain of questioning. “And if that doesn’t work? And if that doesn’t work? And if that doesn’t work?”

      4. Not So NewReader*

        “Well if the ghosts are bothering you so much, then you need to ask them to leave.”

        “But we like our ghosts.”

        They asked ME to leave.

        Yes, this actually happened.

    6. Kat*

      I mentioned having a young baby once in an interview for what would have been an amazing job. In retrospect I know I should not have done so, but nor should the hiring manager have asked. It was in the bag until I mentioned my son. I’m still bitter about it especially knowing that him asking me that question (and then using the answer against me) was illegal.

      1. Rat Racer*

        Oh, I did that once too! I asked about whether the job in question would be the type where I could leave at 5:30 but then logon later at night to finish remaining work because I had two small children and blah blah blah. Baaaad move. When the hiring manager called me to tell me that I didn’t get the job (it was an internal position) she said that although she thought I was highly qualified, she thought that the stresses of the job might keep me from my family. Shot myself in the foot there.

    7. AndersonDarling*

      “We deal with confidential information and we need someone who does not talk about our clients. Does that sound like you?”
      “I understand confidentiality because of my work with X, Y, and Z. But I’m always open to office gossip.”

      I’m not even the gossipy type! I still don’t know why I said it!

      1. Audiophile*

        I love it!

        “You can count on me to spread the office gossip. I promise this won’t be like the telephone game when we were kids.”

      2. Hee Haw Honey*

        Oh, we’re not ones to go ’round spreadin’ rumors.
        No, really, we’re just not the gossipy kind.
        You’ll never hear one of us repeating gossip,
        so you’d better be sure and listen close the first time.

    8. PK*

      It wasn’t my gaffe but an interview I was sitting in on for an entry level user support position. I don’t remember the exact question but the interviewee’s answer was “I hate customer service and customers. They are stupid and I don’t want to deal with them.”

      Needless to say for a position that was based around giving support to users, we didn’t feel comfortable with moving forward. He seemed one bad call from snapping already.

      1. Hellanon*

        Similarly, I was interviewing someone for a teaching job (vocational-type school) and knew the owners of the business where she was currently working. I asked her why she was leaving and she said a) the owners were very supportive of her decision to leave and b) she was leaving because she felt that she got no respect in retail.

        Oh honey, you’re going to love teaching, I thought, and recommended we not hire her…

    9. Mustache Cat*

      Someone asked me what the most stressful situation I had ever faced in a workplace was. I answered honestly that one of my visitors when I worked as a tour guide tried to put me in a headlock as a “joke”; I escaped the headlock, stood him up against the wall and ripped him a verbal new one in front of his entire family.

      So….I did not get that offer.

    10. Random Lurker*

      Mine is cringe worthy, but everything happens for a reason. I was working for the most toxic of toxic bosses and wanted out. I made the mistake of running away instead of running to an opportunity. They asked me my honest assessment of my boss, and if I were to give him one piece of advice, what would it be? Classic trap question, but battered and beaten me took the bait and let loose a stream of verbal vomit. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job.

      It was a blessing in disguise because the job was not a good fit. Plus, it was EXTREMELY cathartic. I never have felt the need to air dirty laundry since. But I still cringe when I think about it at all.

      1. Golden Lioness*

        I’m so sorry! I had to bite my tongue hard when I was job searching after “the boss from hell”

        This reminds me of the scene in Liar Liar when the female partners take Jim Carey to the board room and ask sweet as honey, “tell us, what do you think of Big Boss?”. That scene always makes me laugh.

    11. Mints*

      I was interviewing for a Sales job during my senior semester at college, and the guy asked about Sales experience. I said something that my previous roles hadn’t been Sales focused. He (super nice and understanding) asked like “What about times you were persuading someone, or in a class setting?” And I was pretty much like “I’m not usually drawn to that. I give people information and let them decide.”
      Yikes. I still cringe. I also don’t know why I went to that interview. Practice, I guess?

    12. Fabulous*

      I was asked in a recent interview to “Tell me about a time where you didn’t get along with another co-worker.”

      Now, I’ve gotten along with everyone I’ve worked with, so I really didn’t have an example for him. EXCEPT… there was one time in one of my first jobs in Chicago where a co-worker verbally attacked me. Background: I was the only white person in a predominately black/hispanic workplace. This shouldn’t matter, but it’s relevant in this situation because of the nature of the business. I worked for a check cashing and payday loan store headquarters – not the best characters generally use the business, and not the best characters work for the business. And I was in the Collections department, so even more-so. Basically, my office was, at times, a semi-professional version of the ghetto. Like I said – first real job in the big city. Anyways I started telling this story how this girl got in my face and started yelling at me for something stupidly petty, and I quickly realized the dynamic in the office where I was interviewing was very similar ethnicity-wise as this job I was talking about. I realized I couldn’t give any background to the story without sounding super racist, so I tried to backtrack significantly to avoid words identifying race or “ghetto-ness” (not sure how else to put that delicately…) MOST AWKWARD INTERVIEW QUESTION EVER. Oh, and their follow-up question, “How did you resolve that situation?” Um… I didn’t. I was cornered in my cubicle and could only wait until she stopped screaming in my face because I didn’t want to start a full-out fight. Managers didn’t intervene either, which only helped the situation (NOT!) Yeah, interview ended shortly after that story.

      1. Fabulous*

        Btw, the argument was about spoiled milk. Because I said I usually smell the milk before using it if there’s any question about its freshness. She forgot to smell her milk before eating a bowl of cereal and smelled it afterward. The milk had gone bad. And I wasn’t even talking to her.

        1. Rookie Biz Chick*

          There’s so not a need to set the ‘background’ with the racial make-up of your coworkers or clients. Your statements are filled with inherent biases, which sound absolutely racist. I’m thinking you were with a white interviewer and perhaps of the assumption that the white folks could commiserate and have sympathy for your role in this story as you told it, like an us -versus-them-can-you-believe-it kind of thing. It’s thoroughly gross.

          I’m so hoping the interview ended because the interviewer saw the racist commentary for what it was and wanted no part of it in their company.

          1. Oxford Comma*

            Agreed–I cringed through this. The behavior she described could definitely be described as unprofessional without taking about the racial makeup of her cohort. It seemed as though she was conflating unprofessional with black, brown, and those in lower sock-economic strata which is, full stop, racist and classist.

      2. Trig*

        Guh that is my worst question. I get along with people really well! In my interview for my internship I floated something about the guy I played rec sports with almost getting in a fight every other game, and how we just tried to calm him down and express our distaste with his behaviour. I didn’t really do anything that had any outcomes (except the time I told him that calling another player a whore was entirely unacceptable, the outcome of which was that he told me I can’t tell him what to say and he can say whatever he wants), so it’s not a great example.

        Next time I’m job searching I’ll probably have to invent a plausible low-key “I disagreed about the way a colleague was doing a thing, I explained my side, they explained theirs, so we compromised and got the job done” story. I don’t like making stuff up, but I genuinely don’t have any workplace conflict! My workplace is a great place and pretty much friction-free!

      3. AnitaJ*

        “I tried to backtrack significantly to avoid words identifying race or “ghetto-ness” (not sure how else to put that delicately…)”

        You don’t. There’s no possible way to use the word ‘ghetto’ in a delicate way. I’m floored by this entire statement. I mean, are you kidding me?

      4. N.J.*

        Your story is funny, especially since she should have known better and smelled the spoiled milk. I’m curious why the race of your coworkers would need to come into the discussion at all though? I’ve worked in unprofessional workplaces and the bad behavior comes from a combination of reasons, if you had to bite your tongue to avoid mentioning race or “ghetto” behavior then it was a racist story…because that means you were judging the work environment not just based on the unprofessionslism of your work peers but attributing that to the fact that your coworkers were predominantly from minority’s ethnic groups, at least that’s what it sounds like. You also mentioned that race is relevant because of the nature of the business…payday loan places prey on low-income individuals oftentimes, they have nothing to do with particular ethnic groups. Now if you want to get into a discussion of how minorities are overly corralled into low-income environments due to the systemic and institutional racism inherent in our class structure hear in the U.S., especially when looking at the historical evolution of the limited economic opportunities available to for example, African Americans from the end of slavery onward, or the barriers to and restrictions on the economic success of other minority groups tied to cultural xenophobia, immigration and the power dynamics between different ethnic groups and the group in power, then your answer might make sense or have some context in defining the typical types of customers or staff you would find at a payday loan service. Otherwise yes your answer would have sounded racist, and your mention here that any of The details related to race were relevant and that the behavior was “ghetto” sound like casual racism. Yes, “ghetto” is a shorthand that I even find myself using to describe a certain type of behavior, and as a POC that makes me either a jerk, if I am applying it to minoroties, or a classist if I am applying it to people from different socio-ecomnomic backgrounds then middle class America. I met be totally off base as to your intention, since you seem aware that this interpretation of the story is problematic, but something about the casual way you approached this rubbed me the wrong way, I’m sorry.

        1. RKB*

          Yeah, ghetto is a microaggression. Like “ratchet” or “thug” or saying that the use of slang (that’s really AAVE) is “uneducated” or that natural hair is “unprofessional.”

          Eye rolled my way through that whole story. If it was about spoilt milk, make it about spoilt milk, and not your underlying problems with people of colour.

          1. AnitaJ*

            Right? I’m still really irked by this.

            Nothing about that story required identifying the participants racially. You used to work in a place where a co-worker was mean to you. But when you tried to tell that story, you couldn’t without needlessly adding in information about that person’s race. And you realized too late when recounting the story that you were actually talking to other black or hispanic people and they might not appreciate your racist slant. Identifying your coworkers’ ethnicity was relevant because of ‘the nature of the business;? That’s complete and utter BS.

          2. Mags*

            Yeah, I wouldn’t even call that casual racism. That was racist. I read that comment four times now, and am absolutely baffled as to why she felt the need to specify she was the only white person as relevant background. And then the recounted the story had nothing to do with race.

          3. Oxford Comma*

            Is ratchet racialized? I am asking in 100% sincerity with the hope of being educated. I really didn’t realize that it had anything to do with being “black” and more just being off-the-leash and a little grimy (but in a good way?). I fear I’m using it wrong, and I’m a total white chick. Not a great look:)

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Yes. It’s derived from “wretched,” and it’s primarily deployed by non-POC to denigrate Black women.

        2. Rookie Biz Chick*

          NJ – brilliantly put. All I could think of as a response to Fabulous is … WTF? These kinds of casually placed descriptives and the perceived need for ‘background’ are inherently racist biases in need of some of some deep self-reflection.

      5. AnonAcademic*

        ” I realized I couldn’t give any background to the story without sounding super racist, so I tried to backtrack significantly to avoid words identifying race or “ghetto-ness” (not sure how else to put that delicately…) MOST AWKWARD INTERVIEW QUESTION EVER.”

        I wouldn’t say the question was awkward, I would say your response to it probably indicated your discomfort having caught yourself about to say something racially charged if not actually racist. I am also confused why a story about a coworker argument at a check cashing place requires laying out the racial landscape to understand? Why not just “I once worked in a volatile environment and was verbally assaulted by a coworker at loud volume, and I stayed calm and tried not to engage” or whatever.

        1. Oxford Comma*

          Right, I think the check cashing commentary was meant to imply that, not only were customers and colleagues black and brown, but also poor. Oh, the indignity!

          Colleague behaved poorly, the end.

      6. Honeybee*

        After reading this…I’m still confused about why the racial makeup of your workplace, or your own race, or the setting of Chicago was relevant to the story. People of all races, genders, and backgrounds yell about petty things sometimes.

        Also, what does “ghetto-ness” mean?

    13. the gold digger*

      I said, “I don’t know” to a question in a McKinsey interview. The recruiter laughed at the end, put his arm over my shoulders, said something like, “GD, I love you to death, but I don’t think you have the right kind of problem-solving skills for us.”

      Which, if they wanted someone who could BS in front of a client, is absolutely true. I am not good at that kind of thing and don’t like being put on the spot if I don’t know the answer. I am not a smooth salesperson. I was the boring salesperson who created spreadsheets and talked to the finance people and showed all the advantages and the disadvantages and explained how we would handle the disadvantages (because there are always going to be problems – customers want to know you will fix them when they happen). The HR people wanted the touchy feel salesperson, but finance liked my logical, quantitative approach.

      But – now that I know what they are looking for (if only AAM had existed when I was in grad school), I could have knocked the question out of the park.

    14. the gold digger*

      And! I applied to Northwestern’s business school and had to have an interview. I asked the recruiter, “What makes Northwestern ten times better than the University of Texas that they charge ten times as much?”

      Nope. I was not admitted to Northwestern. However, my in-state MBA from a top 20 school cost me $5,000 in tuition, which I paid for out of savings, so I am OK with it.

    15. Lizabeth*

      In my younger days…interviewing at an ad agency, mention a really horrid commercial that was playing on the radio at the time (not during the interview!) and how bad it was. The interviewer got really defensive (the ad agency created it) and said that it accomplished what they intended since I remembered it. My reply: no, it didn’t because I remembering it for the wrong reason and wouldn’t check out the property (real estate ad for condos) based on the ad.

    16. NarrowDoorways*

      I went in for an interview once for a position that, on paper, had sounded to be almost exactly what I was currently doing. I was okay with a potential lateral move because I was chronically under-paid and over worked, both issues were addressed perfectly in the new company–high base base and not salary.

      Well, whoever made the job post had nothing to do with the actual role and I find out, upon arrival, that job role has nothing to do with X, it’s exclusively Y.

      So when the interviewer said, “What would stop us from hiring you?” I said, “I have no experience with Y and don’t think I want to gain any.” In any case, they thanked me for my honesty and I left irritated that I’d put my actual job at risk to interview in a very niche community where my job hunting it might get around for a position I had no interest in.

    17. Lady Blerd*

      I once applied to work at a theme park as a concession stand operator. I was asked if I was willing call out to passersby to bring them over, I said no. I knew that lost me the job at the time but solicitation of any sort has always made me uncomfortable. Today I could do it, I have learned how to speak in public and it wouldn’t faze me but at the time, the idea of crying out to people who would likely ignore me was too much for me to handle.

    18. Lizabeth*

      In another interview at an auction house, they had me do a sample catalog cover. When I finally talked with the interviewer, whom kept me waiting a half hour after finishing it and ate her lunch in front of me, grilled me about why it wasn’t in the auction houses’ current style. My reply: I’m not being hired to blindly copy a “style” but doing design that will help generate more interest in the upcoming auction. If she was looking for someone to blindly do a style – hire a monkey. I was really pissed at the behavior of that woman.

    19. overeducated*

      Hmm. At some level, I think presentations of my research hurt me in academic job interviews because it didn’t have a specific component that people in my field often look for, I took a less common and not universally accepted approach. But that’s more “not being the right candidate” than “being too honest.”

      The honesty that probably did hurt me was in a one-on-one interview with a hiring manager about how I’d teach a scientific subject that people from certain marginalized ethnic groups disagree with. It turned into an actual argument, he wanted someone who would just say “well, the science is correct.” I would say “this is what the science says, and these are the traditions of such-and-such ethnic groups,” and if questioned about my specific view, say I respect the tradition and their beliefs, but my background and role are in teaching the science. Personally, I am convinced by the science, but also aware that the scientific evidence comes in part from mistreating and silencing people from those groups over the last century or two, and hearing that their traditions are invalid tends to alienate people from those groups who are VERY well of that history, so there’s no need to be a jerk about it.

      Anyway, I got rejected for that job.

    20. Rat Racer*

      OK – this is a terrible story – once upon a time, in a moment of desperation in my early twenties, I accepted an interview with a very conservative policy/advocacy firm whose top line issue was drug policy. Their platform had something to do with harsher sentences for repeat offenders, opposing any legislation on decriminalization, tightening border security, etc. I don’t even remember the question that was asked, but I very quickly talked myself off a cliff, relaying the very personal story of my two best friends from highschool who became addicted to heroin, and what I learned about the disease of addiction from accompanying them to NA meetings and… hoo boy – ever been in that situation where you hear yourself talking and are begging yourself to shut up but it’s too late because you’re already in too deep?

    21. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

      When asked “How are your math skills?” I answered with “Well, I’m really good with a calculator.” I actually have pretty strong math skills (I’m talking business level, not engineering level), so I have no idea why that came out of my mouth… Funny thing is, they did offer me the job, but after their three top choices declined. The fact they told me that outright was the exact reason I also declined.

      1. overeducated*

        Amazingly enough I answered a question like that and also got an offer! They kept saying that they wanted someone who was good with statistics, so I felt the need to emphasize the limitations of my actual statistics skills by naming specifically what I can do, and several types of analysis that I do not know anything about, in the interests of not being deceptive. If I’d been applying for any kind of data analysis or qual/quant research job at a large company, I would’ve been laughed out of there. But this was at a small org where apparently nobody knew much at all about statistics, so I guess my being able to even use the terms impressed them?

        Now I look back and wonder how my career would have gone differently if I had taken the offer, switched to a different field, and used the opportunity to build on my statistics skills and move to better paid jobs in the future with that. Sigh. Oh well.

    22. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I was interviewing for positions in my new field after I finished grad school. I had an interview for something I never thought of doing in that field, but it was with a big, well-known company, and I liked the VP and Director I was talking to. At one point the Director said, “This position isn’t based in NYC– it’s in our other headquarters in [middle of nowhere that’s kind of gray and cold]. How do you think you would handle that?” “Well, I’d probably run off to visit my parents in Florida every chance I got.”

      I didn’t get that job. It was down to me and one guy, and the guy got it, presumably because he didn’t mind the move. However, the Director was super nice to me and the VP later helped me get a job at another company. Nine years later (!), the Director was a client of the company I was working for, and we had a lovely email exchange that started with him saying, “I don’t know if you remember me…” So it wasn’t all bad.

    23. Ann Furthermore*

      My senior year in college, I interviewed with a local CPA firm. It was back in the dark ages when you would have an “Interests” section on your resume, and I had listed travel.

      The interviewer asked me where I traveled, and I told him that I’d lived in Saudi Arabia with my parents when I was a kid, so I’d had the opportunity to travel to many places around the world. He said that he’d taken his family to Israel the previous year.

      I immediately launched into a story about how my parents went to Israel, and found it very disappointing, because they found it very over commercialized. The examples they had were tour guides asking if you were Catholic or Protestant, and based on that telling you where some significant historical event had happened, and people lined up to get baptized in the Dead Sea like it was a ride at an amusement park. (And I mean no offense to anyone who has done that, it was just not their thing at all. Both my parents were/are pretty traditional.)

      Anyway, I was rambling on about this, and noticed the interviewer was giving me sort of a raised eyebrow look. Then I realized that he had a pretty traditional Jewish last name. Then I realized that for many Jewish people, a trip to Israel is a lifelong dream, and something very meaningful and significant for them. And there I was, crapping all over it and telling him that it was a cheesy, tacky, tourist trap, all without ever having been there myself. OMG. So mortifying. I kept trying to dig myself out, but only got in deeper and deeper.

      There was no second interview.

    24. Cat steals keyboard*

      That I would have preferred the role I originally applied for! They invited me to interview for a more senior job that I didn’t want as much. I shot myself in the foot on purpose so I wouldn’t have to agonise over whether to take it…

    25. ButFirstCoffee*

      I said one of my weaknesses was knowing how to deal with angry clients, because I tend to be a people pleasing type. Turns out there were a lot of angry people in that field? So maybe I dodged a bullet. *shrug*

    26. Marisol*

      Well now how in the hell would you know the answer to that? If they don’t hire you, they don’t necessarily tell you why, at least in my experience. It’s more like they say, “yeah, thanks, we went another way…” I’m guessing they are trying to get the candidate to disclose the worst thing about themselves. I would treat is as a “what’s your biggest weakness” question, but I’d have second thoughts about any interviewer who asked that. I know you say it’s an excellent question but to my mind it’s a bad one.

      I’d say something like, “I am an honest person, and that includes interviews. I don’t think I’ve ever been penalized for my honesty, and fortunately, I don’t have anything that I would want to keep secret from prospective employers” something like that, but with more elegant wording.

      1. Marisol*

        Oh, I feel silly for misunderstanding the post. I thought this was an interview question, rather than just a “let’s share stories” question. Duh, glad it’s Friday.

    27. Dr. Doll*

      Probably that I wanted the sabbatical I’d been approved for before starting. Also that the commute was, um, daunting (90 minutes heavy traffic one way, each way).

    28. NW Mossy*

      I have a flip-side version of this, wherein the most honest answer I’ve ever gotten to a question I asked as an interviewee was part of why I didn’t take the job when offered. I asked (as is often recommended) why the position was open, only to learn that the previous employee had died suddenly at a tragically early age. The owner who was interviewing me was clearly pretty upset about it still, and when I declined the offer in favor of a better-paid one closer to home, he was clearly very hurt. I can still remember his plaintive “Why?! I’ll do whatever I can to convince you to work here!”, which was deeply reminiscent of dumping a boyfriend. It was just sad times all around.

    29. AD*

      In college I applied for an assistant position in the business services department (or something like that), not realizing that it was actually for their IT department. The posting made no note of this and said only basic computer skills were necessary.

      During the interview they asked a ton of tech-heavy questions. One of the last questions was how I would help someone who said their printer wasn’t working.

      My answer was: “I would tell them to turn it off and turn it back on again.”

    30. Rob Lowe can't read*

      I was once asked what I think could be termed a “pain question” – “What is the biggest problem facing this employer?” – in an interview. This is a large non-profit employer, but not huge; not the type that makes headlines over its problems, in any case. I responded that while I didn’t know what the biggest problem faced by this employer was specifically, some problems faced by many institutions in this field were X and Y, and one solution that’s being explored in the field at large is A, which in my opinion is promising because blah blah. The interviewer was visibly displeased with my response.

      During an interview for a teaching position, I was asked what I would do as a school leader to effectively structure departments to achieve something or other. It was early enough in the interview that I actually said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m here about the Xth grade job position, not for school leadership,” thinking that maybe they had the wrong notes or resume. Nope. They actually meant to ask me that question. So I said something like, well IDK because I’ve never been in a school leadership position and it’s not a career path that interests me, but…etc.

      I don’t know if either of those actually caused me to not get the job, but I have zero regrets about not getting either of them!

    31. T3k*

      Wasn’t an interview, but more like a email conversation to see if I was still interested in this one job. However, the catch was they expected at least 15 hours a week and they couldn’t really afford to pay, so instead they were offering a percentage of royalties based on how much work you did for them. I said while I was still interested, I was actively looking for a part time job to help pay the bills. Never heard back, so I assume that didn’t sit well with them. Makes me curious how they expect to fill a spot if they can’t pay well but don’t want them having another job either.

    32. NicoleK*

      Interviewer asked me what qualities I didn’t like in a supervisor. I tried to stay neutral and general. Interviewer kept pushing me and I finally said micromanaging. Turns out that the interviewer was a micro manager. I definitely dodged a bullet.

    33. Drew*

      Two stories, in both of which I think I dodged a bullet:

      First: I was looking for a new editorial job that was going to allow me to move to the UK (exciting!) to help build a relatively new company. As part of the interview, they asked how I would improve the company. I told them they had abysmal copyediting and pointed to a recent publication that had six distinct errors *on the title page*, including a copyright notice that misstated the name of the book.

      Turns out what they really wanted was more of an acquisitions/development editor, and that they’d decided copyediting was something they could shirk on in their market (sadly, they were probably correct about that, but it offended my editorial sensibilities). I did not get to travel to the UK for an in-person interview, and I think I’m fine with that. I wouldn’t have been happy seeing my name on products that shoddy.

      Second: I was looking to move from a small, formerly family-owned company that had been bought by a multinational shortly before I was hired (the website didn’t disclose this when I applied and the interviewers were part of the old staff and didn’t stress that the culture was changing rapidly). So I applied to the local division of a larger, more traditional company in my field. During the interview, I was asked why I wanted to leave my current job, and I blurted out, “It’s becoming too corporate.” No, I did not get a second interview.

      Turns out to have been lucky; the larger company had several waves of layoffs over the next few years, and my smaller company got closed down by our corporate overlords a year after that interview, but I earned a lot of points with my bosses (and a very generous severance) for staying with them until the end.

  8. AvonLady Barksdale*

    Last week, I wrote in and asked about work samples. I sent those in to the company I’ve been talking to, and I got a note yesterday saying that the hiring managers were “intrigued” by my samples and wanted to go over them with me. We’re working on setting that up now. In the meantime, I’m getting so caught up in that “intrigued”! If they’d said “interested”, I wouldn’t have noticed. But “intrigued”? I can’t imagine what they want to talk about. Of course, my completely disordered job-searching thinking is jumping straight to, “They think this stuff sucks and want to have a conversation about why I’m wasting their time,” but that just seems bizarre. What does “intrigued” mean to you?

    1. ThatGirl*

      I wouldn’t read too much into it — I think it means interested and also possibly excited – that your samples were maybe a little different than they’re used to, but in a good way.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      In this case, it just means “interested” — like “I’m intrigued by this candidate and want to learn more.”

      You are doing the job seeker thing of reading too much into it, while the employer is doing the employer thing of not putting nearly as much thought into their words :)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        And fwiw, I think everyone else responding is also reading way too much into it! It doesn’t necessarily mean surprised, or excited, or that they’re different. It just means interested.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          Thanks! I’m way too close to all of this. I definitely want them to be interested, and honestly, I don’t really want them to be OMG BLOWN AWAY. That sounds odd, but I think it’s because I just want to be seen as capable and intelligent, not like some kind of superhero rockstar, which I am decidedly not.

      2. fposte*

        Yeah, it means somebody used that language writing to candidates two years ago and that’s how they’ve sounded ever since.

        I’m also reminded of a recruiter turning down a friend of mine thirty years ago with “We’re not intrigued.”

    3. Jules the First*

      Intrigued = interested and surprised (in a good way)

      It means they got your work samples and thought you showed an angle they weren’t expecting. This is a good thing!

      (Or they have thesaurus-itis)

    4. Jillociraptor*

      The absolute opposite as you’re reading it: “We are so jazzed about this but we’re trying to play it cool.”

      The only time a person ever said they were “intrigued” about me related to a job interview, I was by far the top candidate and they REALLY wanted me. I think this is a good thing! Good luck!!

    5. Way over there*

      I think it sounds promising! I actually think “interesting” is a bit over used in (I assume your field is) design. In my old school we called it the adjective Teachers used when they can’t find anything to say about a design. Intrigued is a good start, I think it means they want to start a conversation, which is good :D

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        That’s so funny– I am not at a designer by any stretch of the imagination! My background is in media research and insights. :) I’m used to being told my work is interesting and sometimes clever and occasionally overblown.

    6. Me2*

      Intrigued, to me, means even more interested than just regular interested. I would have read it as a positive thing.

    7. Cat steals keyboard*

      ” Of course, my completely disordered job-searching thinking is jumping straight to, “They think this stuff sucks and want to have a conversation about why I’m wasting their time”

      Why would they waste their own time telling you this? This, my friend, is doublethink.

    8. Sherm*

      If I had a million dollars, I would bet it all that they’re not going to tell you the samples suck and that you’re wasting their time, or even that they have mild criticism for you. I was involved in hiring for a position recently, and we received a disappointing sample. Just the idea of calling the guy up and telling him what was wrong didn’t even occur to me. I’m busy, it’s not my role to be a teacher, and I doubt I would have accomplished much besides rubbing salt in the wound. I’m sure they are interested in you in a good way and have my fingers crossed!

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Thanks! I work so hard at being level-headed and un-crazy, but job-searching uncertainty is getting the better of me. We’re talking again on Tuesday afternoon, at which point my head will (hopefully) be clear after a couple of days of Rosh Hashanah reflection.

  9. Anon Fishy*

    After a few months of little to no interviews, I’m working on improving my cover letters. One piece of advice I keep reading is that cover letter need to be specific to why you want to work at that particular place. I’m having a lot of difficulties using this advice.

    I’m looking for administrative work and I’m casting a very wide net. Colleges, non-profits, for-profits, government, medical, everything. So my reasons for wanting to work at these places are really non-existent. Some places, like non-profits, I can talk about what I like about their work, but for most places, the reason I want to work there is because it’s not my current employment and there’s an opening that I’m qualified.

    Anyone have any thoughts as to how I could specify my cover letters better, even though the real reasoning is faily generic?

    1. MacGirl*

      For both non-profit organizations and for-profit businesses, you can describe how your skills/experience will allow you to contribute to the organization’s mission/business goals. Cite specific examples of work/accomplishments in previous jobs and relate how you can use those to excel in the position that you are applying for.

    2. Not a Real Giraffe*

      I hate this advice for the exact reason you mention — sometimes you don’t care WHERE you do the work, but you care about the work itself. In these cases, I have always just focused my cover letters on why that role in particular excited me, and why I felt I was exceptionally qualified to do the job.

    3. Terra*

      You can always skim their website, google them, or check them on Glassdoor for something positive like if they get praised for their company culture or win best place to work awards and then work that it. A lot of the “why you want to work there” part of a cover letter is about proving you did some kind of research before hitting submit, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a ton of research at this stage.

    4. hbc*

      Fake it. Don’t blow smoke, but there is probably something about that environment/company/field that could be interesting. And since no one is comparing cover letters, it doesn’t matter if they’re contradictory. You can like one job because you’d be supporting a particular group and be able to learn their particular needs, and another job because you’d be in a general admin pool and that will give you a lot of variety.

    5. Anyonecandothis*

      Preach. I’m in that situation, too. Like you said, I want to work here because it’s not my current employer. And I can file…

    6. irritable vowel*

      As someone who sits on a lot of hiring committees, I can tell you that a generic cover letter is a huge turnoff. You can describe your skills and background very accurately, but if I feel like this is a letter that you’ve sent to 30 other companies, it’s going to go to the bottom of the pile. Look at the company’s website, find some piece of information you can tie into the job you’re applying for, and mention both specifically in your letter: “As one of the two top suppliers in our region, Acme Teapot Supply needs someone in the position of administrative coordinator who can succeed in a fast-paced office environment and provide excellent support for high customer volume. My experience suits me well for this position because [blah blah blah].”

  10. ManagersHateMe*

    Apologies for length, but I have this…..problem and I just don’t know how to fix it or who to ask for help, so I’m hoping you guys can help me:

    I’m currently a student taking a double masters in International Relations/Diplomacy and Interpreting (I’ve mentioned my foreign language background later) and work part time in retail while studying.

    I’ve had about 5 retail jobs in the past 7 years (I worked for a year between school/uni & was an undergrad until the start of last year) and in EVERY SINGLE JOB bar one, the managers have HATED me. And it’s not just something in my head, they are obvious about it to the point you know it’s not just a gut feeling (such as yelling at you for being back from break a minute late one day while letting others come back 10 minute late 3 times a week) and are often treating me differently to the point that my co-workers have picked up on it and made comments like ‘wow, she really doesn’t like you’. I always feel like I’m always told I don’t do things ‘well’ even though I know I actually am capable of doing my job fine and know for a fact I have co-workers who perform much worse than I do, but are always praised.

    I don’t know what on earth I do wrong. I know in life, not everyone will like you, but it just seems to be a trend where I am hated by my hierarchal superiors and it’s one that is worrying me because I want to have a successful career one day.

    I’m generally well liked by my colleagues who are ‘on my level’. There will always be that person or two that doesn’t like you because you rub them the wrong way or whatever, but I’d say a solid 90% of the time, my co-workers like me or at the very least would say something like ‘she’s fine, I mean, I’ve got no problem with her’. I’m generally easy to get along with and have a really pleasant personality without being excessively over the top.

    But my managers NEVER like me.

    I don’t know what I do wrong and it’s starting to make me feel like there is something wrong with me or like I am just going to be one of those people who can never succeed.

    The only explanation people have come up with is that my intelligence might make me ‘threatening’ to people with authority than me in what is essentially ‘low skilled’ work.

    I’m worried this will sound arrogant, but I’m wondering if maybe…..that could be it? Does this sound likely? I don’t know if this is how people work. I don’t want to sound up myself, but I am a very intelligent person. I have a high IQ, speak very articulately and people always comment that I just ‘sound’ or ‘come off’ smart from speaking to me even just briefly.

    I have an undergraduate honours degree in art/law (which can be studied at undergrad in my country), speak 4 languages perfectly (my maternal grandparents were born in Albania and Croatia, so I am fluent in Serbo-Croatian, Albanian and Italian as well as English) and am conversationally very proficient in French and German as I majored in them for the arts part of my degree. I don’t really throw this around or brag about it though, but if asked about my study background as a conversation topic, I’ll tell the truth without dumbing down. The languages have come up before as well as I’ve often assisted customers in one of my other languages. My city has a very large Italian diaspora and a reasonably big Balkan diaspora and you very have older immigrants who struggle with English, which is why I’ll often switch languages. If asked what I’d like to do when I graduate, I tell the truth: i’d like to work as a translator/interpreter in the diplomacy field. Most people think it’s pretty cool/interesting when I tell them stuff like that or they hear me speaking another language.

    I also will note that I have done a couple of good internships…..I’ve interned at 2 well respected law firms, a government department in my country and most recently, Croatia’s embassy in my country. I’ve had absolutely no problem with any of my superiors in any of these places. They were patient and kind during the learning process and never made me feel disliked or like I was useless. I’ve even had a well respected lawyer and embassy official both offer to be professional references for me as I start my career. So that suggests I don’t have a problem with my work ethic or capabilities.

    I just seem to be always hated by these retail bosses and don’t know what I am doing wrong, or whether the problem is me or them or whether this is a bad sign for my future career.

    Help? I’m generally good at keeping my anxiety under control but now it’s clear that within less than two months, another retail boss hates me, I’m feeling a bit anxious about it and even starting to question my ability to be successful in the workforce despite having done well as an intern.

    Ugh, what’s wrong with me?

    1. chumpwithadegree*

      There is nothing wrong with you. It takes experience to hide your intelligence and knowledge. It’s not easy when you have a job that requires talking. I think the problem might be that you have a shining, golden future-since in language nothing is fancier than a diplomatic interpreter. Your bosses in retail, on the other hand, will always just be bosses in retail. Your brains probably alienate them.

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        I kind of agree with this answer and I kind of don’t. “Just be bosses in retail” is a little dismissive of some very hardworking people. However, I do think that coming off as “too intelligent” might make some bosses dislike you. I worked retail before going to grad school, and I did have that problem with some people – generally ones who seemed to think I wanted their job (I didn’t) and saw me as a threat (I wasn’t). And it does take practice to communicate in the way that you might be expected to. Maybe your code-switching needs a bit of a polish.

        Another idea – maybe it’s the type of retail jobs that you’re working. If you tried to work in more high-end or specialty retail, your bosses might like that you come off sounding knowledgeable. Customers prefer to spend large amounts of money when they trust the salesperson knows what s/he’s talking about. (I’ve done high-end and low-end, and there is a difference in expectations.)

        On the other hand, I once got feedback from my manager (at a health insurance company) that the director didn’t like how large my vocabulary was, because it made her feel unintelligent. (This may or may not have been true, because this manager was a pathological liar who often maneuvered other people into saying negative things.) Apparently, I was supposed to guess which “big” words she did or didn’t know, and tailor my speech accordingly. (For the record, I wasn’t using grad-school speak, just speaking like a normally well-educated person would.) Neither the manager nor the director is still at the company…

        1. OP*

          Yes! I’ve tried to make it clear that I really, really don’t want their job, but it doesn’t stop them viewing me as a threat sometimes.

          I have had one manager say it looks like I am ‘showing off’ if I assist a customer in Albanian or Serbo-Croatian or Italian. I tried to explain that I just wanted to help them as best as I can (I don’t love retail, but I’m always happy to help someone if I can) and was able to better assist that customer in a language they are more comfortable dealing in. Apparently my ‘excuse’ was too well thought out….when I thought it was just common sense. But see, I thought it was just that one particular manager who was crazy. Now I am wondering if it is something a large number might…..feel?

          1. Mustache Cat*

            I’ve tried to make it clear that I really, really don’t want their job

            Oh boy. In what way did you do this? Is there any way that you were being insulting towards their chosen profession?

            1. OP*

              Oh no, I try and be much more subtle! I mean more in the sense when they ask what my goals are career wise, I always say that my dream is to be an interpreter and I’m working very hard towards it and when at one point a regional manager asked if I wanted a 3IC position (which comes with a certificate in vocational training in retail), I said that I’m a masters student and can’t really study both and that I’d be taking an opportunity away from someone who’d appreciate it more and sees their future working in the industry.

              1. the.kat*

                That could be your problem. I know that in your head it doesn’t sound like you’re looking down on them, you’ve basically set it up as an “me vs. them” scenario. This doesn’t upset your coworkers because some of them feel the same way, but for a manager who chose to do this, you sound like you think you’re too good for their field and their job.

          2. Anna*

            That manager sounds like an idiot–why wouldn’t an employee assist customers in their native languages?

            The only instance I can think of where that might possibly be a bad thing is if another employee was helping the customer and you stepped in and took over without clearing it with the other employee first.

        2. Skippy*

          I agree with polishing up the code-switching. When I worked retail, I learned the right things to say and do around certain managers. With this one, you don’t chit-chat, you ask how sales are looking for the day, you make doubly sure to buckle down whenever they’re on duty for the day. With this one, you come up with a few silly jokes or lines from movies to throw at him the minute you see him, and then you’re on his good side for the day and you can relax a little. With this one, you can completely be yourself and as long as you’re doing what you should be doing, everything’s cool. With this one, there’s nothing to be done. Try to bring as little attention to yourself as possible, and watch everything you say. It ended up being a really great system, and got me through five years of retail in one store with multiple managers (and management turnover) and only two managers ever actively disliked me.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        This is the equivalent of saying “that girl in your class bullies you because she’s jealous of you.”

      3. Rocky*

        Ya know, I worked retail on and off right up until I finished my second master’s degree. All of my bosses at least put up with me, and most of them even liked me. Well, except one, and she didn’t like anyone. One of them was one of the best bosses and hardest workers I’ve ever seen, and I still think about her fondly. It’s also very common for people to take retail gigs when they’re in school, between careers, or need to supplement their income. Being over-educated for a retail position is not very unique. I sold lots of shoes with lots of people with graduate degrees. So what I’m saying is, don’t assume it’s them. I am a serious introvert and I would typically get burnt out on my retail gigs because I couldn’t keep up with the emotional demands, but that’s not about how anyone else feels.

      4. RevengeoftheBirds*

        What? I think it’s pretty challenging and a great accomplishment to a Store Manager of a big box store like Walmart.

    2. Em*

      I have a feeling this might be a controversial comment, but I would not be at all surprised if a lot of it comes down to jealousy on the part of your managers.

      From what you say, you sound like a multi-talented and intelligent person. Not a lot of people can speak SIX languages. It sounds like you have goals you’re working towards and some great career prospects waiting for you when you finish graduate school in prestigious and well respected fields and will do something you’re interested in.

      However, I hope I don’t sound disparaging, but I feel like retail is something very few people dream of as a career. It is something you generally end up in. I wonder if they don’t like you because they see your potential and intelligence and are jealous you have a real shot at breaking out of retail and never looking back after graduation?

      Jealousy can bring out the nasty.

    3. aebhel*

      I suspect that they do feel threatened by your education. Assuming you’re not doing something obnoxious like being insubordinate or talking down to them… I think that’s probably it. People with a little bit of power can sometimes get really insecure about it and may feel the need to take someone they perceive as acting ‘superior’ down a peg or two. If you’re doing well in your internships, I wouldn’t worry about it being a long-term thing.

      Be pleasant, be polite, don’t show off, do your job–if you’re doing all that, and your managers still have an issue with you, they’re the ones with the problem.

    4. Mustache Cat*

      I hesitate to say this, but here goes: for someone who states that they don’t brag often, this entire comment is a very long (humble?)brag. I understand that you wanted to provide context for us, but a lot of the extraneous detail wasn’t necessary, and only really only provides more detail about how smart and accomplished you are. I’m sorry if this is hard to hear, but maybe this could be contributing. I don’t think you need to act artificially modest or dumb, but if you are really worried about it, maybe you can re-examine how you talk about yourself to see if you really do come off as condescending.

      It sounds like it hasn’t been holding you back in your chosen career path, however, only in retail, so you also have the option of simply not worrying about it. I think that’s a perfectly legitimate choice.

      1. Mustache Cat*

        oh lol, the rest of the comments on this thread have been alarmingly classist. OP, please don’t absorb these attitudes about retail managers.

        1. Charlotte Collins*

          Hey! My comments apply to all managers, everywhere. :) Some people *are* threatened by others who they perceive as wanting their jobs or being somehow more competent.

          And I loved working retail. If I could afford the low pay, I would totally go back, but I don’t live in an area where most people can afford to make a real living off it, unless they’re a store owner, and that’s too much risk for me right now. (Although the FLSA changes might make retail management a more attractive option in the coming year.)

        2. aebhel*

          In my experience, when someone gets bizarrely defensive about working with someone who uses ‘long words’ or speaks another language, feeling threatened by their education has a lot to do with this. It’s not everyone in blue collar/service industry (I come from a blue collar background and I’m pretty sure my family doesn’t hate me because I went to college), but people who are insecure tend not to want to be reminded that there are things they don’t know how to do.

          “Speaking a language other than English is showing off” is insecure jerk behavior, and I don’t think it’s classist to point that out.

      2. OP*

        I was more trying to combat the potential ‘people who say they are smart generally aren’t’ comments that often pop up online if someone says they are.

        I am smart, that’s a fact and it is what it is. I am proud of what I have accomplished and believe I have the right to be, but don’t like, introduce myself as ‘HI, I’m X and I have a law degree and am multilingual and am so smart’

        1. AshK434*

          I 100% agree with MustacheCat. It’s fine to admit that you’re smart but your post did read as a long humble brag and was off-putting. There’s just an air of superiority that I’m getting from reading your comments so I’m wondering how you come across in person. I hope this doesn’t come across as mean but this might be why your managers aren’t like you.

          BTW no one is denying that you’re smart so I’m not sure why you felt the need to clarify that.

        2. Cheese*

          Yeah, I get what you’re saying, but as someone who does not know you, your post comes across a bit braggy, and if you act this way around your managers, it may be part of the problem. I want to echo other people here and say I am not saying this to be mean, but because you asked for reasons as to why your managers might not like you–if you come across to them as you did in your post, then that might be why.

        3. Jane*

          Unfortunately, I have to agree here. Your accomplishments are certainly something to be proud of but there’s a time and a place for pointing them out, and on the retail floor is probably not that place. I’m wondering if you’ve having difficulty reading the room and not realising you may sound rather immodest or derisive of their competencies.

        4. Silver*

          I’m one of those people that finds learning new things easy but one thing that I found very early on is that in some situations you have to downplay your talents to get along with people.

          For example for the 3IC offer I would have suggest I can’t fit it in with my current schooling schedule instead of seeming to denigrate your superiors chosen career. What I would do is keep it vague, keep it polite and don’t make people feel bad about their life choices/opportunities.

      3. burnout*

        This. Yes.

        If this were your experience with just one or two jobs, maybe its them. But ALL your jobs? It’s you.

      4. Anonyhippo*

        Yes. I’m sure the managers are picking up on this.

        Think about it this way: They hired you to do a job and to do what you are told. They didn’t hire you to brag about your super future and be obvious about how this work is beneath you and only temporary. If you are behaving anything like your post comes across, you are going to be an annoyance. Keep your brags to yourself, do your work, stop questioning authority Iif your are), and don’t let your attitude show.

        …You can do that after work to friends and family who are not paying you your salary to be condescended to.

    5. Data Lady*

      I’m not totally convinced that this is entirely about jealousy, per se. Back when I worked in retail, I worked with lots of students and recent grads who were open about their career ambitions yet were treated just fine by our managers. In university towns/cities, retail managers expect to have run a staff full of students who may not consider their retail work to be a career path. It can create an iffy dynamic at times, but more often than not they just roll with it. I suspect that there are a few things going on here:

      -I think you might be *unintentionally* giving off the vibe that you think you’re above the work that you’re doing. Again sometimes anxiety-triggered behaviours can be read as superior.
      -Your anxiety gets interpreted as something else more negative, like defensiveness or an inability to take feedback well.
      -If there are some job skills you are markedly weaker at, these deficiencies alongside a vibe of knowing that you’re underemployed might suggest to some people that you feel that you deserve special treatment, or that you expect to coast on your hard skills or something similar. This isn’t your intention, of course, but it is how this sort of situation can be read.

      These issues sometimes play out a bit differently in retail environments than they do in pre-professional work, which is probably why you had better relationships with your superiors in your pre-professional jobs.

      1. OP*

        The only thing I can really think of now you mention it, is that I am by nature a bit more reserved and introverted than bubbly and super extroverted and retail workers in my in my country tend to be a bit more out there.

        I don’t think it is snobbiness, I’m just a bit quieter and not someone who wears her ‘heart on her sleeve’ when it comes to her emotions or puts on grand displays of enthusiasm like a lot of coworkers will. I’m not going to LITERALLY jump up and down and start seal clapping because the team made budget or they got all their boxes unpacked or things like that. My response is ‘Oh that’s good to hear’. Because it is. But it’s not like Albania just qualified to Euro 2016 or my sister just go engaged or something truly worth that sort of happy display? I’m not going to laugh if a bosses lame joke isn’t funny and stuff like that. I don’t force that stuff. (But on the flip side, when I *do* laugh or show happiness, you know it is very genuine. That’s just me.) Maybe it comes across to them that I think I’m above them? When it’s just my personality.

        I feel like I can take feedback OK, I did fine at my internships. I think in this instance, a lot of it is just my pure gut instinct that these managers don’t like me and little things like the way they are much harder on me or ALWAYS makes me do the shittiest tasks rather than sharing them around that sort of make me think I’m right that it’s at least somewhat personal.

        1. Leka*

          I have a very similar personality type and I’ve found that it doesn’t always lend itself to customer service jobs where I find a lot of the “workplace culture” is built on this sort of forced OMG I’M HAPPY TO BE HERE I LOVE CUSTOMERS I LOVE LIFE HAPPY HAPPY morale. When I was a student and did those kind of jobs, I struggled with being seen as a snob too, and for the exact same reasons.

          You sound like you flourish when you are not expected to be this super outgoing and perky thing and can do work you find stimulating and challenging without having to pretend you are SO HAPPY WE UNPACKED ALL THE BOXES GO TEAM GO! HIGH 5! GROUP HUG!

          Customer service can be difficult for introverts and not just because of talking to customers. Talking to customers never bothered me. Having to put on what was basically a fake personality did.

        2. hbc*

          I’m no cheerleader myself, but there’s such a thing as a courtesy laugh/snort/smile, and if you leave someone feeling like they totally bombed, they’re not going to have great feelings about you. They shouldn’t be taking it out on you so overtly, but if you’re already the person who’s moving on to bigger and better things, you really have to be careful about the signals you send out. “Your joke has failed to amuse me” and “Your sales targets aren’t important in my life” are all going in the wrong direction.

          1. OP*

            I think that’s what makes it so difficult, because I’m not in any way saying ‘Oh, I don’t give a fuck’, I’m just not jumping up and down like it is the best thing that has happened in my life and they take that as not giving a fuck. But I’m just too reserved to convincingly pull off acting that (and I’d also feel like the world’s biggest twat). I do give the courtesy smile/laugh but my problem is, it takes me a couple of seconds to be all ‘oh they were trying to be funny’, and my smile/laugh just looks insincere (and ngl, when your manager does it like, 20 times an hour, it gets tired). I’m academically intelligent, I’m not shy…..but I am introverted and I’m not a good actress. It often feels like introvert ‘policing’ the way we are expected to act like extroverts when it is not natural. I wish there was more of an understanding that you can care without loudly advertising that you care? If that makes sense.

            I care a little…..but I don’t care as much as they expect. Which is carrying on like you just won the lottery.

            1. Skippy*

              You gotta get out of retail then. As a retail veteran, faking enthusiasm for this stuff is the only way to get through it. If your response to “we got everything from today’s shipment out!” is “Oh, good,” or you don’t respond to a dumb joke, you’re not endearing yourself to anyone, especially managers. Retail involves a lot of ass-kissing and faking. There’s a fantastic comic strip called “Retail” that I love, and the creator wrote a book called “Pretending You Care: The Retail Employee’s Handbook” and I think it should be required reading for everyone in retail.

              1. aebhel*

                This was my other thought. When I was in younger, I had a couple of disastrous retail jobs (I am also quiet and reserved and don’t see the need to JUMP FOR JOY because we made our sales goals or whatever), and then I started doing housekeeping. It didn’t pay any more, but I didn’t have to deal with people nearly as much, and in general housekeepers go for that line of work partly because they haaaate talking to people (also, in my area at least, a lot of housekeepers aren’t native English speakers, so being multilingual is actually really helpful). It was just a much better environment for me.

                1. OP*

                  I feel very trapped with retail as my ‘part time while I study’ job because it is all I have experience in other than my internships.

                2. aebhel*

                  FWIW, housekeeping in a hotel is something you can pretty much do with no experience. The trade-off is that it’s physically strenuous, and you really don’t get any downtime (and it can be pretty gross–definitely not for the squeamish). You might also want to try some kind of part-time clerical or receptionist work? Those are often somewhat more low-key environments.

              2. Christopher Tracy*

                Retail involves a lot of ass-kissing and faking.

                Not just retail either – there are lots of office jobs across many industries that have large customer service components that also expect employees to “play the game” if you will to a certain extent to succeed. If you don’t, you absolutely won’t endear yourself to the people for whom it matters or move up, though the latter clearly isn’t a concern with OP since retail isn’t the end goal anyway, but still. Just something to think about because interpreting requires strong customer service skills and the ability to form decent working relationships too, and if OP doesn’t learn how to excel at the latter, she may have problems in her chosen field as she tries to advance her career later.

            2. AnonAnalyst*

              Agreeing with Skippy. I totally get why you are reacting the way you are to these things, but my guess is that it might be coming across as conceited or arrogant to the managers who are expecting more of a reaction. I also hesitate to say it because you provided some additional explanation above, but your original question read as a bit humbebrag-gy to me as well, which I imagine would only exacerbate the conceited/arrogant perception if any of that is coming through while you are at work.

              You also say that your courtesy smile/laugh looks insincere, and that it takes a a little longer for you to realize that something was supposed to be funny, for example. I wonder if the delay and obvious insincerity is reading as condescension when combined with some of the stuff mentioned above.

              I don’t think any of this stuff is even anything you need to work to change because I think in most environments, it’s fine (and frankly, pretty normal). But as others have mentioned, retail tends to have more expectations around excitement and enthusiasm, and I think it just may be a bad fit for you when your natural responses are much more reserved. I hope you are able to find a better fit once you finish school!

              1. OP*

                Having read a comment below, I think some of it might be cultural misunderstanding. I have grown up in Australia, but in Balkan family and by nature, Albanians and Croatians are polite, but a lot less overly super positive and emotional. We are more reserved and we don’t sort of……lay on the overly friendly ‘everyone is my best mate, everything is so exciting’ stuff the way that a lot of Australians. I think perhaps some of the cultural aspects of it may not be clear. Yes, they know I can speak Albanian and Serbo-Croatian, but they may not get the nuances of cultural differences. To them, being SUPER OMG POSITIVE about the smallest things is seen as a good thing. In the culture I was raised in, it makes you look like a foolish twit.

            3. Jaguar*

              It’s hard to gauge how you’re reacting in these situations since you’re pushing back on the idea of faking enthusiasm for something you’re not interested while simultaneously saying you are faking enthusiasm for those things, so maybe this advice doesn’t address your problem. That said, the idea of “faking enthusiasm” misses the point of talking to people. When people talk about their day, or something they did, or a TV show they watched, or whatever, they’re sharing something they themselves have an interest in and the audience is invested in it because they’re interested in the person sharing. The audience doesn’t have to be (and often isn’t) interested in the specific thing being talked about – they’re interested in conversing with a person about what’s going on with them. So if someone shares that they met a sales goal or whatever, you don’t have to care about meeting that sales goal yourself, and people that are enthusiastic about it aren’t either interested in the sales goal or being fake. In most cases, they’re happy because it made someone they like talking to happy.

              Again, this sounds really condescending and basic, so I’m sorry if I’m misreading what you’re saying and you understand this, but it seems to be a disconnect you’re not grasping. If I can wildly speculate a little, it kinda sounds to me that you don’t care about your managers as colleagues and are reframing it as a principled stand on being genuine about your level of interest in things. People are going to pick up on that.

              1. OP*

                I think it is that I am faking enthusiasm but not on the level they seem to think is normal. Having read some replies here, I’m starting to think it’s a combination of having a more naturally introverted personality and some cultural difference/misunderstanding. See, Australians tend to be a lot more ‘outgoing’ than Croats and Albanians. Croats and Albanians are not rude, we’re polite and friendly but treating someone like your best mate is reserved for, well, your actual best mates, not work acquaintances. No Albanian or Croat would tell me ‘you could try and actually look happy about it ‘ if my response to making budget was ‘oh thats good’ and a small smile the way Australian retail managers will. Walking around with a perma cheshire cat grin is weird to someone from the Balkans, but endearing to Anglo-Australians. My reactions are perfectly acceptable and not rude in the culture in which I spend most of my time and I seem to get away with it more in fields with less expectation to be SUPER!! HAPPY!! ALL!! THE!!! TIME!! And I guess because of that, I find it completely impossible to act like the person celebrating like Albania or Croatia just won the World Cup because some boxes got unpacked. To me, it’s making a complete *ass* of myself, because that is exactly how that would be perceived in Balkan culture.

                1. Skippy*

                  I think you’ve identified the problem then. Your managers expect X (in this case, a more pronounced reaction). You’re not giving them X. Now you have to decide if you want to work on giving them X or if you are unwilling to do so and should look for another job.

                2. Jaguar*

                  Yeah. I’m not Australian and don’t have any retail experience, so I’m out of my depth on any of that. Maybe it is just culture shock, but as you mention, you get along fine with others and not with management, so that doesn’t seem like a satisfying explanation.

                  I’m not trying to be accusatory, but when people talk about “faking enthusiasm,” it’s usually a red flag for a lack of maturity. People don’t generally fake enthusiasm in social situations. Doing so is kinda sociopathic. They act enthusiastic because the transition from children to adults involves, among many other things, the pre-occupation with selfish concerns to the pre-occupation with other’s concerns. People are genuinely interested in other people and are happy to see them happy and troubled to see them troubled. And again, this sounds really condescending and insulting to me to write, but there’s a lot of conflicting stuff that you’ve written and I find hard to reconcile, so I’m just working from some clues that pop out instead. I might be wildly off.

                3. aebhel*

                  I’m not trying to be accusatory, but when people talk about “faking enthusiasm,” it’s usually a red flag for a lack of maturity. People don’t generally fake enthusiasm in social situations. Doing so is kinda sociopathic. They act enthusiastic because the transition from children to adults involves, among many other things, the pre-occupation with selfish concerns to the pre-occupation with other’s concerns. People are genuinely interested in other people and are happy to see them happy and troubled to see them troubled.

                  NGL, I hate this attitude. Some people are more reserved by nature (or culture), and being endlessly fascinated and enthusiastic about everything other people do is exhausting. Learning to make small talk is a necessary social skill, but plenty of mature and well-adjusted people never learn to enjoy it. That seems to split pretty cleanly along introvert/extrovert lines, and telling someone that they will either be genuinely enthusiastic about everything or they’re essentially a sociopath is pretty aggravating.

                  High-energy, hyper-social behavior may be necessary in a retail environment, but it’s not the only way to be a functional adult.

                4. Jaguar*

                  I wasn’t making that dichotomy. I was saying “faking enthusiasm” strikes me as sociopathic behaviour. I agree people shouldn’t do it!

                5. aebhel*

                  Sure, but that becomes a problem when you’re expected to express enthusiasm for something you don’t really care about, or to express yourself in a more heightened emotional register than is comfortable or natural. Then your options basically are either ‘fake it’ (which is sociopathic, apparently) or piss people off by being less enthusiastic than they want. That’s exactly the problem the OP is facing here.

                  As far as I can tell, your solution is ‘genuinely mature people don’t fake enthusiasm because they’re genuinely enthusiastic about things that other people care about’, and that strikes me as unrealistic.

                6. TL -*

                  I think he’s saying that genuinely mature people find it easy to be happy and excited about someone else’s happiness.

                  My best friend just had a baby. I don’t really care about his food or sleep habits or day to day minutiae. I just care that he’s healthy and happy. But my best friend cares, a lot, so when she shares good news, like baby sleeping through the night, I am happy because she’s happy.

                  I still don’t have an interest in baby sleep patterns, but I can be happy that she’s happy.

                7. NotAPsycho!*

                  I am not a bad person, I like others to be happy, but there are things where I simply still don’t really care about or am interested in no matter how much I like the person. There are some things I just don’t care about. And I really reject the notion that not finding it easy to care about things you are not into makes you immature or poorly adjusted or an a$$hole.

                  I love my partner, but I don’t really care about Arsenal. I HATE football. But when he wants to be excited about their win, I will feign interest for a minute. I am one of those people who really hates cats and don’t think they’re at all cute, but when a co-worker is really excited about her new kitten and shows a picture, I’ll pretend to be care. It’s not about being a ‘psycho’ but simply being a nice person.

                  And sometimes, feigning interest is just what you HAVE to do. I worked retail 15 years ago while a student and I can’t tell you how many times I couldn’t have been less interested in the small talk topic a customer wanted to talk about but faked interest in it about it because that was what I had to do for my job.

                  To me, the ability to recognise when you just need to slap on some fake interest to be a polite person, to be kind to another person or to do your job effectively and do it is actually a sign of maturity.

          2. irritable vowel*

            +1 million. And while retail is generally a more extroverted field (in that the people who do well in it tend to be very outgoing and personable), it’s going to serve you well in whatever your chosen field is to be able to fake genuine interest in something that you don’t care about or laugh at a joke you don’t find funny (assuming it’s not actually offensive). You may see doing this as being fake, and not something you can bring yourself to do, but so what. Just do it. There is an expression in English, “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” You’ll be pleasantly surprised how much more positively people respond to you if you make them feel good about themselves. If it helps, look at it as something you’re doing for yourself rather than for them.

        3. Data Lady*

          Something I’ve learned is that people will often read really ugly things (such as arrogance) into someone’s introversion. Doubly so if you’re a woman working in an field where introversion doesn’t represent the ideal. That said, you can be expressive and supportive of your colleague’s positive moments without being super perky. Acting as though it’s a matter of needing to be happy happy joy joy all the time kind of misses the point, and might not leave you feeling open towards finding new ways to engage with your colleagues.

          As well, you might feel that you can take feedback OK, but it might not be what others are seeing. Having been on both sides of this sort of situation, when you have a subordinate to whom you feel weird about delivering feedback, you’ll eventually go into Bitch Eating Crackers mode with them. That’s possibly a part of what’s happening with your bosses.

        4. Elizabeth West*

          I’m more extroverted and I don’t do that stuff either. One place I worked (not retail) had a cheer. A CHEER. We did it at all-team (company) meetings. I felt like an idiot–I did it once and the rest of the time I faked it. Because eww.

          But networking and building relationships at work are about interaction, not cheers and fake laughing. If someone tells a joke and it’s mildly funny, a smile or a “Heh” is fine. Personally, if it’s a groaner, I WILL groan. They’re expecting something, and what that something is depends on that workplace’s culture.

          Obviously this particular thing isn’t a good fit–if you’re expected to jump up and down like a kangaroo on crack whenever something happens and you don’t want to, that’s just extra stress. I think I’d feel really uncomfortable in a situation like that. (I reserve my jumping up and down for really cool stuff, haha.)

    6. Hotel GM Guy*

      I doubt that it’s because you’re smarter than they are, and it’s more likely that you have an air of arrogance.

    7. Nony2016*

      I wonder why you work in retail considering your pretty impressive qualifications and academic background? I get you’re probably in retail because the schedule may work better while you’re in school, but I’m sure your school may have positions open for students, which tend to be pretty flexible. If I were you, I’d look for other jobs. Perhaps admin or research support roles would be better suited to you.

      As for why your managers hate you, it could be a number of reasons. But what’s clear from your post is that you think pretty highly of yourself. While you shouldn’t be faulted for that, that kind of vibe is something people notice. And insecure people may not appreciate it. You’ll find people like this in every industry. But all you can do is live up to your potential. When you’re not aligned with your purpose or in an environment that is supportive, it can tear you down. The universe has a way of making sure you’re on the proper path for you. IMO, I think it’s time for you to seek opportunities outside of retail.

    8. LCL*

      Maybe you are running into a little bit of prejudice on the part of your managers? I don’t know where you are, you say there is a large group of Italians and Balkans at your location. Every place I have seen in the US, where there are a lot of first gen immigrants there is always some friction between different groups. And language is one of those hot button issues. The animal part of our brain is made just a touch uneasy when others around us switch languages. I’m not defending this reaction.

      Unfortunately I have no solution. But please finish your education and continue to help others in their native language if you can. The world needs more people like you.

    9. MC*

      Yeah – the humblebrag was my thought too. If you’re regularly talking grad school talk – you need to learn to code switch. Yeah, it’s often used in more ethnic or cultural situations, but there’s no reason why you have to say “In the early dawn, when I open my eyes, I consider the light an assault on that moment between sleep and wakefulness” when you’re just trying to say “God, getting up early Suuuuucks.” Use fewer words. Smile more. Ask for help. Don’t offer ideas on how to improve things. Just keep your head down. I don’t know if this reflects your situation, but it just sounds like you believe you’re smarter than everyone you work with and that is shining through. You very well may be, but you also may be working with people who are highly intelligent but didn’t have the same opportunities.

    10. Somniloquist*

      I like what everyone else said and it could be all that too, but another question I have is… would you characterize yourself as acting a little more Eastern European than what’s traditionally understood as “American”?

      I lived in the former USSR and also now in an area with lots of Eastern European immigrants and I’ve noticed that there is a distinctive difference in interaction culturally between the two groups. For Americans this comes across as “snobbish” or “mean” even though to me it’s clear that the person is being perfectly polite. And in retail, I think there’s this need to have all the super-positive/friendly aspects of American culture amped up in a way that’s not relevant in other industries.

      I guess my point is that it could be that people in a more international setting might be a better fit for you.

      1. OP*

        If asked, I would say I am Australian but half Albanian, half Croatian (the Italian comes from the fact that because it is widely understood in Albania because of historical reasons and a lot of pop culture in Albania comes from Italy).

        I would definitely say my personality is much more Balkan than Australian. I only have the one parent (my father peaced out before I was born) and was largely raised by my grandparents while she worked. So while I grew up here, personality wise, I am much more Balkan than Australian. People from the Balkans are not necessarily rude, but we are not as ‘suffocatingly’ super positive and friendly as Australians and I do question whether what seems perfectly polite to me, is seen as rudeness by others. But it doesn’t explain why my co-workers generally have no issue with me while managers do.

        1. Skippy*

          I got along with 100% of my coworkers when I worked retail. We were all on the same rung of the ladder, and that tends to result in better relationships (though not always, as this website can attest to!) There were two managers I didn’t get along with, and it was because they had a certain level of deference they wanted and I just couldn’t give it to them. I could fake it with other managers who were slightly less insufferable, but with these two, they were just so obnoxious and overbearing that I couldn’t do it. And I paid the price. On days when they were working, I got shitty assignments because I just could not give them the level of ass-kissing and fakery they required. Other people could, and they got better assignments. I got better at dealing with one of them (luckily the other left) as time went on, and I was better able to figure out what I needed to do to pretend I cared enough for her.

          Did it feel somewhat degrading to essentially change everything about myself while I was at work, dealing with management and the public? Certainly. I’m also an introvert who dislikes talking to strangers, hates upselling and hates having to “perform”. But I needed a job and it was the only place I could get one, so I did it.

          Retail is a crazy, involved game. It’s way more than just assisting customers or making a sale. There are people who are absolutely made for retail, there are people who 100% can’t do it and there are people who can fake it enough to muddle through. Ain’t no shame in not wanting to play the game. I played it for too long and hated nearly every minute of it.

          1. OP*

            The problem is……I’m trapped in it because for years, it was the only part time casual work I could get. Now I don’t have the experience to change into something else.

            1. Skippy*

              I’m certain you can parlay it into something else. I did retail for five years after graduating college and I was able to use the experiences I gained there to do something completely different. It’s all about spin.

            2. irritable vowel*

              You could absolutely get other work, especially on your university campus. For example, the library will have jobs available that would be great for people with customer service experience — staffing the circulation desk and so on. They will look very highly on someone with retail experience who knows how to speak professionally and calmly to users from a wide variety of backgrounds. But it is a scholarly atmosphere, not retail-oriented. These are hourly, casual positions for students. (This is my field so I know what I’m talking about!)

          2. OP*

            And it’s frustrating that the problem is essentially not with my actual work. I can talk to customers fine when I don’t have to be set to ‘cheerleader’ status and can talk normally. I don’t love it, but I can do it.

            The problem is that the majority of retail managers seem to be petty egomaniacs who can’t handle the fact that ‘the Albanian girl with the name no one can spell’ doesn’t kiss their ass enough and make them feel like they are as important as Obama.

            1. Skippy*

              I mean, you’re going to run into these kinds of people in all sectors of work, they’re not just lurking in retail. There are going to be times where you’re going to have to either genuinely be enthusiastic about things people outside your line of work find inane or boring, or you’re going to have to fake it to appease the higher-ups. You have a better shot of actually being enthusiastic if you work somewhere where you care about the minutiae.

            2. Skippy*

              Also, I would say it’s not so much making the manager feel like King Shit as it is making them believe you truly care about what they care about (the shipment all made it out to the floor, so we don’t have to have to spend the payroll paying the stockroom manager overtime/we exceeded the sales goal so next year corporate will give us some extra payroll hours this time of the year/etc). There are some people who do genuinely care about that stuff that aren’t in management, bless them. It seems that in your store, at least, not giving management these big shows of emotion leads them to believe that you don’t care how the store does or you’re just there for your paycheck, which, you know, nothing wrong with that, but it isn’t going to endear you to anyone or get you the plum assignments. So, I repeat what I said above. Management wants X. You’re not giving them X. Do you want to give them X, do you want to look for a different line or work or do you want to complain and definitely have nothing change? Those are pretty much the options, at least from what I am seeing.

              1. Anonyhippo*

                Yes. Skippy is pointing out your options correctly. You are going to have to adapt or look elsewhere.

            3. Not So NewReader*

              Wow, OP.

              It sounds to me like you really hate your retail managers. You know if you are able to say things like you are saying in your last paragraph here, you have a recipe for failure. Your own anger is getting in the way here.

              What steps are you willing to take THIS WEEK to get yourself into a different job setting? Trapped people are angry people, OP. And I can hear, “I am trapped!”, in your writing.

              You CAN make the jump, OP. You can find a basic office job somewhere, entry level, it will not be any worse than what you are doing now and it will put you more on a path that you will feel some small amount of progress. Just make the jump. That job is hard to find, but that is NOT the same as saying it’s impossible to find. Look for that job on a regular basis until you find it. Someone WILL hire you.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                Yes, and I guarantee this attitude is not just internal. People are seeing it to some degree and maybe this is what’s causing the animosity.

                Retail does have a lot of transferable skills, OP. This is really good advice. And good luck.

    11. Marisol*

      1) this is something you will have to ask friends who know you personally because there are too many variables to account for in this thread to get a good read on how you come across. Although, I have a dim sense that your emotional reserve is the problem, and that you know this already. If you want to be more like your Balkan side, that’s perfectly fine, but not everyone will be able to relate to you on your terms.

      2) why do you give a shit if a retail manager hates you? Are you losing your job over it? If not, then let them hate you. This work isn’t your life’s goal.

      3) why are you bothering with retail jobs in the first place? find a more suitable part-time job.

      4) if you insist on working retail AND knowing why some manager hates you…then ask the manager. Take him/her aside and say this, “I think I am doing something to annoy you, and it’s not my intention. What can I do differently so that you are not mad at me?” Keep the question simple and only deviate from this script a tiny bit, if at all.

      5) do the “spring cleaning” exercise as taught by Regina Thomashauer:

    12. TheCupcakeCounter*

      Here is my take…it is probably a combination of several factors.
      #1 Jealousy is probably part of it but another part is that it sounds like you make it pretty clear that you don’t really care about that job (I get why and understand that you are committed to doing good work there but will leave in a heartbeat if something better comes along). A lot of times managers can get dinged when their turnover is high – it isn’t common in retail but can happen – and they know you will be leaving and it takes time and money to train someone.
      #2 Maybe just knowing how smart you are makes them feel dumb. That can eat at a person when just having a simple conversation with someone can make them feel inferior. And it might not even be something you are saying but just the ease at which you talk about certain things. The manager who thought switching to a customer’s language was showing off is probably an example of this. You were able to help this person and you might be the reason that customer continues to return to the store. They can’t take credit for that and know that its possible that they would not have been able to help the customer as you did.
      3# Based on your initial post (but not your follow-ups) it is possible you are coming across, however unintentional, as a bit above everyone else. Its pretty obvious that you don’t really feel like that but your speech patterns might give off that vibe.

      I really like one of the other posters suggestions to look into higher-end retail or service jobs. My initial thought was check out the front desk or shops in whatever the fanciest hotel was in your area. Your language skills would be of a huge benefit to a place that catered to high end customers especially those from all around the globe.

      1. Skippy*

        A hotel sounds like a good one! I was thinking of the centralized Guest Services booths at some of the higher end shopping malls in my home state – the place where you go for a map of the mall, general information, or to pick up coupon books or perks for out-of-state or out-of-country visitors. A tourism office or chamber of commerce might also be a place to check out, as language skills could be very beneficial there as well.

    13. Is it Friday Yet?*

      It’s hard to give you advice without seeing your interaction with customers and your managers, but this is what came to mind for me. Take this with a grain of salt, but I find it particularly frustrating when people cut me off or interrupt me because they have an idea. You mention that you speak several languages and you enjoy helping customers when they need it because you speak their language, but your manager seems annoyed. Well, did they ask for your help?

      Maybe they were getting along just fine. It gets VERY annoying when you never have an opportunity to problem solve because someone else keeps solving the problem without giving you the opportunity to try.

      If you find yourself relating to this, I am not saying you need to pretend to be less intelligent than you are. Just give others an opportunity to ask for your advice or help.

      1. OP*

        On every occasion I have used another language with a customer, I was either initially serving them myself and sense the struggle and that they were Albanian/Italian/Croatian/Macedonian/Serbian etc and let them know I speak that language and they all were happy to use that language. OR a co-worker (ie, someone on my level) has come to me and said ‘Hey OP, I have a customer who needs help but she doesn’t much English but she’s Albanian/Italian/etc, can you help her’ and I have gone and done it. I don’t go and interrupt and start doing it, never! When the manager was annoyed, it was because she heard me speaking my languages and made a comment about how ‘If Wogs (derogatory term for Mediterranean immigrants) want to come here, they need to learn English. Let them sink or swim, I’m sick of foreigners coming here and not assimilating’. So I do suspect some racism is at play.

        I DO find it annoying when I see a co-worker or a manager is completely struggling with a customer I could assist but is too proud to come and ask for my help though. I don’t interrupt but it upsets me for the customer because they are the one having to struggle though because of their pride. But I still don’t go interrupt.

        1. Skippy*

          This is a very different statement than what you said above. Earlier you said the manager was upset with you using another language because they felt you were “showing off”, i.e. thinking you were better than them because you spoke another language. If they’re upset that you’re using another language because they’re racist toward Mediterraneans, that’s a different story and one you should take up with HR or corporate, if those options are available to you.

    14. TL -*

      So I also thought that read as a humble-brag and if I had to guess, I imagine that you’re talking to your managers like you would talk to your professors or white collar bosses. (And, if you’re at all frustrated, it’s coming off in a manner that says: I know I’m smarter than you; I know you’re struggling to keep up.)
      If that’s the case – that’s really rude and you need to learn how to talk to people in a way commiserate with your immediate environment. It’s not “dumbing down,” it’s deliberately and kindly choosing a common parlance, exactly like offering to switch languages for a customer.

      Your language should reflect that of the people around you – not match but be reasonably similar in formality and depth of vocabulary. Your point in speaking (especially at work) is to be easily understood and they shouldn’t have to closely parse your language for, at best, a minimal gain in clarity.

      Now, if a high-falutin’ turn of phrase or big word is the clearest way to say something, that’s what you say. But 90% of the time, it ain’t, and you can say it quicker and easier with simpler words.

      1. aebhel*

        I’ve always wondered how this is supposed to work, because… I’ve had people get pissed at me for using words they couldn’t understand, and I’ve been told to ‘stop talking like you think you’re smarter than everybody’, but I don’t really get what that’s supposed to mean? I don’t use a heightened register to sound smart, it’s just how I speak. I don’t deliberately use words that people don’t understand, because that’s asshole behavior, but it’s not always clear to me where the line is between obfuscating and being condescendingly simplistic.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I wrestled with similar stuff for years. I was an only child and interacted mostly with adults so I had their vocabulary.

          Enter my wise friend. My wise friend said to look at the person in front of you, consider their level of understanding about a topic, do not go more than half a level above their level of understanding.

          This is very clear when you are a rocket scientist talking to a 10 year old. You can quickly get a handle on how much they know about space exploration and explain some interesting things to the child.

          With adults it is not so easy.

          First you have to figure out if they are even interested.
          Then you have to figure out how much background they do have.

          Until you can figure these things out, you copy them. You match their level of interaction. If you find out they are interested and you find out their background AND you realize that your background is greater that is when the half level rule kicks in. You talk half a level above them.

          aebhel, I hope you chuckle. My father was one of the smartest people I have ever met. He spoke very simply and he absolutely blew people away with his insights and his thoughts on matters. He had many US patents to his credit. He spoke simply because he could not hear nuances in the pronunciation of larger words. Compounding his problems, when he went to school kids learned to read by memorizing the spelling of words. Kids were not taught to sound words out. This meant the man had to memorize the dictionary in order to read and write. Kind of mind-bending, I think. The irony was not lost on me here was this very, very smart person who rarely used words that had more than three syllables.

          However, I saw with him that having an extensive vocab is worthless if no one knows what you just said. People understood him, all kinds of people with all kinds of backgrounds.

          Watch for the deer-in-the-headlights look, if you see it then back track and restate what you just said in different words.
          Watch the pacing of your conversations. There is a rhythm to conversation. If the person you are talking with misses a beat, the might be a clue that they may have not understood something you just said. Likewise if a person starts a sentence slowly such as “uhh… well… I think……”

          Be open to questions and ask questions yourself. One of the best ways to get people to calm down is by asking Qs and answering Qs. If the person is still puzzled, use examples if you can. People like a story or an example from real life.

          Once in a great while you might meet someone who is just going to be snotty no matter how hard you try to be amicable. I remember a boss that flipped out on me because I used the word “gibberish”. Yep. She was screaming that I was talking over her head. It puzzled me because it’s very important to me to answer people’s questions where I can. If she had just asked me what the word “gibberish” meant I would have answered that question, no prob. This is how we all learn. That boss and I did not have a good relationship to begin with and the vocab thing was the last straw for her. Sometimes we can’t repair the situation. Hopefully, you don’t meet too many of these people.

        2. TL -*

          Not So NewReader has a good point. No more than half a level above the person you’re

          Ask yourself two questions: 1) am I choosing the right word or am I choosing the “better” word, where the better word is larger/more obscure or esoteric?
          2) is my vocabulary consistent with the language choices of the people I’m talking to? If you’re having to define more than 1 word/every 2-3 conversations, take it down a level.

          Think about language as a means of communicating clearly, rather than about a precision tool or an art form.

          1. aebhel*

            That’s kind of the thing: I don’t choose the ‘better’ word–I don’t deliberately pick words because they’re longer or more esoteric, but it’s not always clear to me that particular words are esoteric. I’ve had people tell me to stop using words that most people don’t know, but… how am I supposed to know whether or not someone knows a particular word? They’re all just words.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        “So I also thought that read as a humble-brag and if I had to guess, I imagine that you’re talking to your managers like you would talk to your professors or white collar bosses. (And, if you’re at all frustrated, it’s coming off in a manner that says: I know I’m smarter than you; I know you’re struggling to keep up.)”

        OP, there are all different kinds of intelligence. People smarts is something you are going to need to survive in most workplaces. I hate retail myself and I can’t find too much positive to say. I survived in that environment by asking myself what does the boss need from me today? That is not kissing butt, OP. Almost any job will require that the employee meet the boss’ work performance needs. And by extension, if we are doing what the boss wants we get to keep our jobs and we might even get good evals. If you look at any job as kissing butt, you can almost expect a rocky road in your near future.

        Jobs can be a tug of war OR a give and take. We have to pick one. We can only have one.

        My first boss gave me a pearl of wisdom I have kept. “With any job part of what you are being paid for is your willingness to get along with others. Most employers will NOT tell you this, but they will check you on this point regularly.”

        Honestly, as mentioned above, I think the person you are really angry with is yourself. For some reason you believe you have become trapped in the retail environment and you don’t want be there. OP, when we let ourselves down that is a bigger let down than any boss or cohort could ever give us. I think that your need to prove to the bosses that you are smart is actually a need to prove it to yourself. Stop using their eyes as your mirror and take a serious look at what it will take to change your setting.

        You know, on the good news side of things, there is a massive amount of brilliant minds reading this blog. Go ahead, start to take some steps and ask the hive mind here for tips as you go along.

        1. OP*

          Your second point is the first thing I was thinking as I was reading.

          The economy crashed in August 2008. I graduated from my law degree in February 2009 as I had to finish off a summer class because I a problem with a transfer credit from my exchange year. The only law graduates in Australia getting jobs in 2009 and 2010, were those who made a deal with the devil or those who had connections who’d get them a job (parents/parents friends/etc etc). I couldn’t even get a retail job.

          So I went back to Uni in March 2011 and did a masters. A lot of young graduates in Australia did the same…..tried to ‘hide it out’ by doing more school because it beat being unemployed. After that, it still took me a while to pick up legal work. I graduated November 2012, only got work in the legal field in August 2014. Worked retail. HATED it. Felt pressured to agree to train as a manager to ‘keep’ my job and show interest. Hated it. I quit my retail job literally 5 minutes after getting the call about the law job and was so rash I even left them in the lurch by saying I wouldn’t do all my notice (a month since I was assistant manager) to go to the Soccer World Cup in Brazil while it was on as a reward to myself and I WAS FREEEEEE. I feel a little bad about it in retrospect.

          Now. My point.

          Please don’t take this as classist, but I hated myself for ‘having to’ take that retail job. It was actually a real blow to my self esteem and and it felt like a slap in the face. I did everything right. I studied my ass off in high school to get accepted into law as an undergraduate. While my friends went on holidays and going to music festivals and going out every weekend, I was doing internships or essays or studying. It was all for nothing. My masters degree cost me $50,000. it was for nothing too because all it got me was a retail job I could have gotten without even graduating high school. I had to take the law degree I’d worked so hard for off my resume and it felt like a slap in the face to my hard work. I was doing a job that they’ll let 15 year olds do on the school holidays (before the management) and could have ‘saved myself’ the $100,000 HECS repayments and UGH WHY AM I EVEN ALIVEEEEE!!

          I probably did a lot of humblebragging too back then about my law degree and the fact I did a summer program at Oxford and lived in Paris for a year (study abroad) and yes I do speak French, wanna hear? What do you want me to say? Oh and my mother is from Poland, so I can speak that too! *says something.

          90% of it was not to show off to my retail colleagues, but me trying to convince myself that I wasn’t stupid. I was still smart. The things I worked so hard for MATTERED and my crime was not being stupid, or not working hard, it was being born into generation ‘screwed’ where there was no good opportunities for graduates anymore. I needed to constantly reassure myself I was still smart. I’m really not proud to admit this, but i felt like i ‘deserved better’. I held up my end of the deal that the adults gave me: good grades, hard work, internships, a year abroad……and you’ll get me a job. And then when I was like ‘ok, I held up my end of the bargain, where’s that job you promised me’ and they went LOL JK, YOU COULD TRY TARGET?

          I see a lot of OP in myself with her comment. To a lot of people, she was probably bragging. To her, she’s likely subconsciously like ‘Ok. I’m still studying, I’m still smart even though I am doing this job a trained money could do, I’m not stupid, I’m smart, I’m worthy, I won’t be doing this forever, It will be OK’ because she’s felt like she’s gotten stuck in retail as her ‘side’ job to support her studies and hates it and feels like working there makes her feel stupid.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Ahh, back to my wise friend. He said we are SUPPOSED to question what we are doing with our lives and our work. And yes, this can involve kicking ourselves in the butt, it can get pretty nasty. But this is supposed to happen.

            We have to have things in life that propel us forward. Sometimes motivation comes from that annoying little voice or thought that says, “I can do better than this.” In a healthy person, this is NORMAL. See, healthy people don’t want to just survive they want to THRIVE.

            If someone turns that into elitism, that is not the intended purpose for the internal nagging. So that would be a misuse of our internal guiding system. We are not supposed to turn our internal pep talks/nagging into abusing others.

            It could be just my opinion, I think that getting a degree requires a VERY different skill set than the skill set required to launch our careers. It’s like going through a warp of sorts and the mind has to totally shift gears and look at job hunting for a different perspective than the perspective used for acquiring a degree.

            Okay, this can get exhausting. Now add to that bad economy and bunches of other stuff and people can feel broken on the inside. Totally devastated.

            So where am I going here:

            It’s perfectly normal to want to thrive.
            It’s perfectly normal to realize we are not where we “should” be.
            Our own anger can and will sink us.
            It’s fine to be angry, most certainly, you and OP and others have stories that show life has been wildly unfair.
            It’s what we do with that anger that makes us or breaks us.
            Self care is super important.

            When the chips are down invest in yourself. Whatever that means to you. Honestly, this has gone into tangents for me where I had to invest in learning about my own personal experiences in life and resolving some of them. Yes, I had to do that to deal with some anger about our crappy economy and my so-called valuable degree. We can only carry so much anger. It’s good to set down as many suitcases of anger as we can and walk away from them.
            It’s also good to learn about grief. Oh. A symptom of grief is, you guessed, anger. Grieve the fact that life has not been fair with you. Sit down and cry.

            It’s one thing if the economy defeats us or other people defeat us. It’s a whole different problem if we defeat ourselves by failing to invest in ourselves. Look around, what can you do today that would help you to feel a little stronger in the long run? And tomorrow ask yourself the same question. Keep investing in yourself daily until your setting changes. Education is only one way of investing in ourselves. There are hundreds of other ways.

        2. (Not) OP*

          Ugh, sorry about the OP in the username!

          I was replying as the OP of another comment I made and forgot to change it. *fail*.

    15. Rebeck*

      You’re coming up against that great Australian tradition, tall poppy syndrome. It’s a much bigger thing here than in the US, and it is REAL.

    16. LENEL*

      Hi OP,

      I am also in Australia, have a similar educational background to you (Law/Criminology & Criminal Justice), I don’t have your incredible language skills though. I am now working professionally in a tangental field and spent 10 years working in a family run service store where I was assistant/Manager and trainer.

      It sounds like something you’re doing unintentionally – probably a combination of factors – is putting your Managers backs up rightly or wrongly. Without seeing you in action as others have said, it’s hard to provide direct advice to you but here are a few things I have learned working in retail and then transitioning to State and now Local Government jobs:

      – Things like the difference between responding “well” and “good” to people who ask you how you are today in retail matter. I used to get side eye from customers replying ‘well’, it’s still ingrained to say ‘good’ now and I’m trying hard to switch back. Adjusting generally to your environment can be really valuable – even now people get their backs up if they perceive that I’m holding myself above them in professional settings. Others have made some really good comments on this.

      – Your managers may be career retail people who have special skill sets and in many cases may be invested in retail as a long term career – their goals are really important to them and may be the difference between a bonus/promotion for them or stalled career progression. They need to be able to get excited about important milestones for the business, and it is important for their staff to get excited too as part of the team. They know it’s not a long term job for part timers and uni students are a large proportion of retail workers, but while you’re at work I know they would hope you treat the business like its goals are your own. (I’m picking up on a comment later in the thread – I’m not saying you’re not hard working or doing this, but the perception that you’re not there fully, or appreciative of the work, or focused on the same goals is what’s important here).

      – There *could* be an element of jealousy, tall poppy syndrome, or a perception you think you’re ‘too good’ to work there present. It’s not an easy dynamic to decode. But you know what? It doesn’t matter what it is. No matter where you go, there will be people who rub you up the wrong way. As much as possible, identify it but don’t get too caught up in the anxiety trap, often you might never be able to identify why people don’t like you or what’s causing friction without directly asking and even then you may not get an answer. And that’s okay. What’s more important is to keep acting professionally, courteously and to make sure you are aware of your tone and as far as possible how your behaviour can be perceived.

      – As a fellow anxiety-sufferer, I get it. I recently had an interpersonal problem with a coworker which never resolved and was exacerbated by a boss who was lovely but not a manager (and of course was also excellent friends with co-worker). And you know what? There wasn’t anything I could do to make her like me. I resorted to being professional, as courteous as possible (because there’s only so much you can do when people won’t respond to you when you say ‘good morning’) and thanked my lucky stars that she left. I am relatively sure that part of the reason you’ve been so detailed is that you’re thinking really hard about what the reasons could be that you’re being reacted to in the way you are and have analysed them in great detail and tried to come up with as many reasons as possible why this could be the case. Been there, done that. Introspection is good, but too much can drive you crazy. Try to let it go.

      – You might be able to be proactive here. Is there a previous manager you have gotten on best with who you can reach out to for some feedback? This might give you a way forward and some things to work on improving, if there are any. Look at co-workers who get along really well with the Managers. Why is that? Is it because they’re really outgoing? Is it because they constantly check in for feedback? Is it because they offer to take extra shifts, or are happy to stay for 15 minutes each shift changeover to hand over and make sure everything is running smoothely?

      – Have you checked with your Managers they want you providing assistance in other languages for reasons rather than xenophobic ones? It’s possible they are concerned about setting the businesses level of service too high. It sounds counter-intuitive, but are you setting up an expectation that translation services will be available when they will not be after you do leave? This could be somewhat of a side issue, but some managers don’t want to see this level of initiative before they have a chance to think something through and consider impacts on the business.

      – Retail might just not be your thing, and that’s okay! You might be able to pick up some part time work as a legal secretary or translator for a law firm where they have ESL clients and that might be better suited to your long term career goals and your undergrad background.

      I really, truly wish you all the best moving forward. I hope that you can build a better relationship with your manager or find something else to support yourself during your Masters and into your chosen career path!

      1. Lia*

        That’s an interesting point about languages, but as someone who is also first generation in her country and has 2 grandparents out here who struggle very much with English. People from immigrant backgrounds don’t expect translation services unless it is explicitly advertised (like government departments here provide translation services upon request). They are aware that if they go into a store or whatever and the person behind the counter can speak to them in their native language, it’s a lucky coincidence they are from a similar background and can speak Greek/Italian/Vietnamese/etc etc.

    17. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I had the same read as HotelGM and TL—I don’t think they’re jealous/intimidated. I think you may be coming off as arrogant/condescending.

      This isn’t just a code-switching issue. It sounds like you may be giving off the vibe that you’re too good for retail or too smart, too ambitious, etc. That kind of interaction inherently signals to your managers that you don’t value their career choices. Most folks in retail know that it’s a common “side job” for students, not their career, and they don’t penalize you for having a different career path in mind. But as a lot of the comments responding to your post highlight, white-collar professionals or individuals with a college education often erroneously assume retail employees are lower class, low-achieving (“lacks ambition”), or lack formal higher education credentials (i.e., a BA/BS)… And they let it show.

      Even if you think you’re being super kind and doing your job well, it’s very possible that you’re unintentionally telegraphing that you think you’re smarter than them more accomplished, or have made “better” life choices. Any of those things would be obnoxious, and even more so from a subordinate. So maybe think about your interactions with your managers. Do you challenge their authority? Suggest that they’re doing their jobs ineffectively? Question their choice of policy without giving it a try or trying to understand why they implemented it? Passive aggressively ask questions that suggest you think they’re not very smart? Or are you overly obsequious, in a way that could be interpreted as sarcastic or condescending/smarmy?

  11. Folklorist*

    ANIT-PROCRASTINATION POST!!! I can’t come up with something pithy this time because I’m in a crunch, so let’s just get to it! Do something you’ve been putting off and come back and tell us about it! Get that load off your chest!

    1. Isben Takes Tea*

      I just performed a QA check on two e-books that are not written well but hey I’m just doing my job. Thanks for the nudge!

    2. Tea*

      Just finished writing up the last of the procedures for a coworker to cover for me while I’m out for vacation next week!

    3. Elizabeth West*

      I wasn’t at work yesterday because appointments, but I did log on for a couple of hours to check in and deal with any lingering things from Thursday. *ugh* My boss had sent me 20 emails of a thing I do and it took me all day to get through them, while simultaneously trying to help someone deal with a problem that wasn’t really mine to handle. Bright side–the two hours meant I only had to enter 6 of PTO instead of 8. :)

  12. overcaffeinatedqueer*

    So I have an open thread question:

    While I was waiting to get licensed as a lawyer, I worked for a temp agency. They handled getting people into the jobs and all, and were generally good.

    However, for one assignment that would give some downtime during work, the emails and paperwork repeatedly said, “do not discuss religion/politics/sexual orientation issues at work.” Fine, you don’t want debates; I get it.

    But, I’m a married queer lady. So, normal small talk often means revealing I have a wife, but due to being told the above, I felt I couldn’t be out at all, and I felt uncomfortable not correcting people who thought I had a husband. And I really needed the money and didn’t want to be out to the temp agency either so I didn’t ask “do I get to exist then?”

    Has anyone come across a similar rule? What should I have done?

    1. ThatGirl*

      I would read that more as “don’t discuss whether same-sex marriage should (continue to be) legal, don’t discuss the North Carolina law,” that sort of thing – you have a wife, it’s a simple fact – I feel like sticking to that should be OK. And really, that rule would make it harder for people to get belligerent about that fact, no?

    2. Murphy*

      I would assume that they mean extended discussion on the issues. Not that a person couldn’t reveal that they had a same sex partner or that they attended a church BBQ over the weekend. That being said, I understand why you might feel uncomfortable.

      1. overcaffeinatedqueer*

        Or both! I’m a queer Christian. It’s a pet peeve that people assume I’m not religious or that religious people are ALL anti gay.

        1. Liane*

          High five! Am a (straight) Christian and I don’t know which annoys me more: Religious people who ARE anti-gay or people who wrongly assume I must be anti-gay because I am Christian.

    3. Isben Takes Tea*

      I can’t answer what you “should” have done, but I think most people would agree acknowledging a fact about yourself is different than “discussing” it…I think it would just be a matter of gauging how conservative the office is on a case-by-case basis. If anyone were to get (weirdly and unreasonably) angry at you for mentioning a (constitutionally legal!) non-heterosexual spouse, you are learning a very, very valuable thing about that company.

    4. Lily in NYC*

      Hmm, I think you might be taking that phrase too literally. It seems to me that they don’t want people fighting at work about these things, and they wrote “do not discuss XXX issues at work” – to me the word “issues”is important. They aren’t saying “don’t discuss your sexual orientation at work” – they are saying please don’t argue with coworkers about hot-button topics.

    5. Elle*

      I would read that as general discussion of the listed topics, vs. not being allowed to mention that you are married to a woman. To me, that’s not discussing “sexual orientation issues,” that’s mentioning an important part of your life. I guess if someone were to take the information about you and want to discuss it further, particularly in a negative way, that would fall under what they are concerned about.

    6. Jules the First*

      Well, I don’t read the ‘debates’ prohibition as forbidding you to talk about your wife – I’d have simply treated it as given that it was fine for me to talk about my wife (as it would have been fine to talk about my husband) knowing that I could use the ‘our employer has asked us not to indulge in LGBT issues debates at work’ if someone took unreasonable offence and tried to make it a big deal.

      But maybe I’ve worked in friendly spaces for too many years?

    7. Marzipan*

      I would read it as meaning ‘don’t bang on at length about your personal opinion about religion/politics/sexual orientation’, not as ‘you can never, ever mention these things, even at the expense of your own identity’. Like, let’s say someone was active in their church and spent their weekend organising the Sunday school picnic – I think if asked what they did that weekend, no-one is suggesting they can’t acknowledge it because it’s related to religion.

      I can understand your caution in the context you were dealing with, though!

    8. ZVA*

      Ugh. I can see why this made you uncomfortable; a rule like that—intentionally or not—politicizes your entire existence, and favors those who think that way by effectively forcing you back into the closet! I probably would have done exactly what you did.

    9. JMegan*

      I agree with everyone above, in that the rule was probably intended to prevent long debates about elections, bathroom laws, gay marriage, and so on. But the impact of that rule might be exactly what you thought – that it’s going to mean some people don’t feel safe participating in small talk about their weekends and so on.

      I’ve never been in that situation, but I like to think that if I had any other options I would explore those instead, and avoid any place where I felt like I had to hide my identity at work. If it came down to a choice of that job or no job…I would probably take the assignment, and get a feel for the office culture once I got there. Hopefully it would be better than that one data point would suggest.

    10. Agile Phalanges*

      I’m with the others, that they mean not to have discussions on the ISSUES surrounding those topics, not that you can’t BE gay or religious or whatever. So it’s okay to say “My wife and I went to the movies this weekend,” but NOT okay for your co-worker to reply “WHAT?!?! You have a WIFE? Isn’t there a law against that?” And it’s okay for Wakeen to say they went to church on Sunday or voted on Tuesday or even went to a Pride parade, but not okay for others to use it as a springboard to discuss those topics and their virtues and problems at length in the workplace. It still seems pretty restrictive if folks can be civilized, but if it’s customer-facing, I can see wanting to keep polarized views, no matter how politely they’re being discussed, out of the front office area.

    11. DragoCucina*

      In the same vein as other comments. It’s perfectly okay to mention your wife. What the directive from on high means is that the other employees have no standing to change you, save you, etc. They cannot have a loud around the water cooler that you are meant to over hear. So, rather than preventing you from talking about your life in a matter of fact way it is more of a protection. On the other hand it would prevent a lecture to someone eating Chick-Fil-A.

    12. Jessie*

      Perhaps the way to look at it is that the rule allows you to mention your family, just as someone married to an opposite-sex partner could. The rule should then prohibit anyone from arguing about your existence and your wife’s existence. I’m hoping the company means no one should be arguing over orientation and equal rights, as opposed to telling LGBTQ folks they have to be in the closet. After all, taking it any other way means they expect either no one to ever mention a spouse in a way that genders them, or that they demand any LGBTQ people must be in the closet. So assume it’s meant to stop arguments – not prevent small talk.

    13. Mreasy*

      I mean, straight is also a sexual orientation. So if they got letter of the law about it, anyone discussing any romantic relationships would be under the gun.

  13. Nony2016*

    Is anybody working in data science/analytics? I’m looking to get into the field (currently an outsider without much relevant experience). I’m planning on doing a master’s in the field starting in January but I’d like to at least find some entry level work. What do you do and what would be some of your advice for someone wanting to get into the field?

    1. PassingThrough*

      I’m also interested in this. I have a background in physics and completed a data science certificate, but I’m not having much luck finding work. It seems entry level data science positions are very rare (or they already expect you to have significant experience). I’ve also been trying for data analyst positions, but I’m wondering if I’m coming across as overqualified.

    2. JJJJShabado*

      Be sure you know how to code. R, Python are good free languages to know. S-Plus (R is similar to S-Plus, R is open sourced) and SAS are non-free languages of use. SQL is good to know as well.

      Coding itself is the skill. The knowledge of how to identify the issue and figure out how to solve it is important. I’m not directly in data science/analytics, but I provide coding support to analysis. We use SAS. I knew almost nothing about SAS (I looked to in it before applying). I took computer science courses (but was a math major) in college, so I knew some Java. My math and (limited) coding skills were able to translate. Learning syntax is easy, the mindset is more important.

      1. Newby*

        I have recently learned Python and am working on learning R. I would recommend starting with Python since it is one of the easier ones to start with if you do not have a computer background. There are also some very helpful “programming bootcamps” that you could sign up for. The most important thing is to work through some project to apply the concepts.

    3. Maya Elena*

      Look for jobs at insurance companies or marketing analytics jobs. They do a lot of “big data” and hire both entry-level and people from other fields.

    4. slick ric flair*

      I’m not technical myself, but I am in sales for a data company. The field is definitely growing quickly, and changes are happening fast. My advice would be to network while you’re in school – the school must have some association with companies active in your area.

    5. Meg*

      You can look at higher ed, too! (I’m a data analyst in higher ed.) Every place has its own quirks and preferences when it comes to coding languages/programs, but once you start learning one or two, it’s much easier to keep learning more. And even if you don’t use them as part of your current job, it’s helpful in interviews if you can say “I used Python to make this thing, just for fun” or “I use a complex Excel VBA system to keep track of my budgeting” or something like that to show that you actually know how to use them. Tableau is also really big right now in data science for analytics and visualization, so I’d look into that, as well!

    6. Analytics Manager*

      Even entry level analytics jobs are going to require some kind of relevant degree. Your masters will help a lot. We have hired people out of masters in analytics programs who didn’t have much other experience if they had a decent internship, could explain project work clearly and to a non-tecnical audience, and made thoughtful decisions in their analysis. I work in strategic analytics in the retail industry so we look for people with a good understanding of business. Engineering and science majors, while intelligent and having stats skills, are not going to get hired on my team unless they can demonstrate how to solve a business question (such as how much money should we invest in this business idea) using an analytical approach (such as design of experiments). It’s not only knowing how to build models and code, although you absolutely need those skills, but also knowing when to use which solution.

  14. Boom*

    Changes were announced recently and I’m finding out through the grapevine a few people I’m “work close” with won’t be here in the future.

    1. How do you talk to them? Do you let them tell you or is it more gracious to acknowledge you know?

    2. What do I say to those who ask me about it? My position is unique and I will likely get a lot of people asking about it or my opinion. I’m not going to share my opinion with most people but I might get asked by people senior to me not in my line of command (who will share their opinion which is probably the same as mine). Polite way to deflect?

    1. Leatherwings*

      1) As someone who just got laid off, please don’t make me tell you. It’s fine just to say “Hey, I’m sorry to hear you’ll be leaving us. It’s been nice working with you”

      2) Does “Hm, I’m not totally in the loop on that so I don’t really have any details.” work? Or will they know what you know? In that case maybe a breezy “I’m not sure I’m supposed to talk about that” will probably shut it down.

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        If they’re somebody who you feel comfortable doing so with, I think offering to be a reference for any future job searches is particularly gracious, too.

    2. Random Lurker*

      OMG, this sucks so much. I’m sorry for you.

      1. When I knew it was coming, I shifted a lot of conversation to the mutual hatred of her boss (who was letting her go). That wasn’t a topic I had to fake around. I was mad as hell at him.

      2. I always answer this question with: Sometimes business decisions are made that may not make sense to us, but is done for a very good reason. I’m excited about XYZ opportunity coming up, so I’m trying to focus my energy on that.

      Good luck. I feel your pain.

  15. bassclefchick*

    Well, it’s almost a month into the new job and it’s going OK, I think. I’ve only cried twice. Sigh. Not the image I wanted to project, but anxiety will do that. I think this job might be an overall better fit for me, even though I really liked the other one. Here’s hoping this one lasts longer than a month

    Thanks, everyone, for the support and encouragement! They’re strict on internet usage here, so I might not see replies til later. But I will check tonight.

    1. Golden Lioness*

      All the best!
      I don’t know what I’d do if I could not randomly go on the net to check stuff during the day.

  16. Not Today Satan*

    Does anyone else feel like your employers totally disregard your experience from prior to joining the company? Overall I feel like I’m respected for my contributions I’ve made here, but overall I get the sense people act like this is my first job out of college, when I had 8 years professional experience before coming here. For example my manager might say that our department needs someone with expertise in X, and I’ll say, I did exactly that in my last role and am happy to help, but I’m totally ignored. It’s hard to describe.

    It really bothers me. I don’t know if the fact that I look young is a part of it.

    1. Not Karen*

      Definitely! I don’t have as much prior experience as you, but 3 years is more than nothing! I also look young, so maybe that’s related…

    2. Applesauced*

      Yes! I have 4 years experience prior to my current job and at my performance review my current job was referred to “XXX Company is like the Yankees, you were in the minor league before.”
      First of all, I’m from Boston so EW. Second, just …. ugh, way to belittle my previous work and inflate your own worth. Three months later this still irks me.

    3. Eddie Turr*

      I have about 5 years of experience and often feel like I’m treated as entry level. My mentor (who is assigned to me — I don’t know if we assign mentors to more senior hires) is always trying to offer to “train” me, like this is my first time doing this job. It would actually be more helpful if she included me in different stages of projects so I could get a better field for how my company and the industry (which is new to me) function.

      Someone told me this is kind of a thing until you’ve got around 10 years of experience (and, perhaps not coincidentally, finally look too old to be just out of school).

      1. Trig*

        Sounds like your company doesn’t have a very robust mentor training program, so your mentor isn’t sure what to do. Maybe next time your mentor offers to train you on something you already know, bring up the things you’d actually like guidance on? Like, “Well, I’ve been editing Teapot reports for a few years now, so unless you have any specific feedback about my work, I think I’ve got it covered. That said, I’ve been interested in learning more about the report planning phase to see how I can get involved before the kinds of errors I encounter occur; next time you have that kind of work, maybe you could include me?”

        And/or bring it up with your manager in a “By the way, I’m interested in doing more X. Is there someone I could shadow or a way I could get involved?”

        1. Eddie Turr*

          I think you’re right that my mentor isn’t quite sure what to do… and the person who had my job before me was far more green, so she probably got the opportunity to have more “this is how it’s done” sessions with him. We have definitely talked about training me on specific clients (with extremely specific style guides and industry-specific, technical stuff going on) and getting me into meetings to learn how the rest of the agency operates. I need to be more persistent in making sure that actually happens.

          I hate how all my Ask a Manager problems boil down to “You should be more assertive and follow up with people” because it’s my least favorite thing to do.

    4. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Ooh, that happened to me at my last job. They hired me specifically because they were looking for people with experience– I had 8 years on the client side and over 10 of professional experience. I also had management experience, which no one else on my level had. And it was very, very difficult. I came in knowing I had a ton to learn but also that I had a background that would help. They would take advantage of some things about my experience but not others. If I disagreed with something based on my expertise, my opinion was often completely discounted. I felt like I wasn’t able to grow at all because what I had done before wasn’t respected, and honestly, it became really hard for me to operate at a “lower” level when I had spent so many years near the top. How to get through it? I think you have to decide if you’re ok with the way things are, because it’s unlikely that they’ll decide to listen to you one day.

      I know my own experience colors this, but it sucks and I’m sorry.

      1. Not Today Satan*

        Ugh :( Yeah tbh today I’m feeling extra irritable about my job. I haven’t been here long enough to start looking, but I think in a year or so I’ll have to.

    5. misspiggy*

      Another time it would be worth pitching your knowledge when that type of issue comes up. ‘I was lead on such and such for x years, and I found it really helps to (insert suitably impressive technical strategy here).’ Don’t ask for the work, wait for them to come and ask you, and accept like you’re graciously doing them a favour.

    6. Roza*

      This drives me crazy as well. It’s even more fun because I do specialized, technical things that only one or two other people at the company can actually do…but anyone who’s been there longer than five years or so will assume they know more about it than me because I am New and therefore an idiot. Also, even though there’s an entire academic subfield devoted to the sort of teapot analysis I do, this company is the only entity with any knowledge of it.

      I also wonder if part of it is that this is a small company in a niche field, and all of the senior people have been here forever, and for many of them it was their first or second job out of school. They just haven’t experienced anything else, so they don’t realize there is anything else out there…?

    7. Lemon Zinger*

      Absolutely. I am only a couple years out of college, but my work experience in college was highly relevant to my current job. When I was hired, everyone assumed that I knew nothing about the field. Irritating, but I got through it and now I’ve been here over eight months and am treated as a veteran in the office.

    8. zora.dee*

      Yeah, I’m having this problem at my current job, too. I know I took an admin job, but I am older than many of my coworkers, I have almost 20 years of work experience, and I have worked extensively in events for many years. But whenever I offer to help with event planning, or other more complex stuff, I just get ignored. And then when I’m asked to do some really simple admin task, I get a 20 minute step by step explanation over the phone. Yeah, I know how to use file sharing sites, I could have done that without needing a whole training on it.

      I worry it’s because I look young too? I don’t have advice, I wish I knew what to do.

    9. hbc*

      Oh, yes, all the time. The number of times someone has condescendingly explained something to me about R&D and I’m like “Yeah, I know, I was in R&D for 6 years, I know how it works.” I don’t expect them to have my resume memorized, but geez. Though it is delicious when I can innocently point out something technical they completely missed.

      The worst is when they have limited knowledge/capabilities and assume that everyone else must have less knowledge. You know when your great aunt figures out email and calls to explain in detail how you can attach pictures with The Google Mail? Story of my work life.

      1. zora.dee*

        Omg, your last example, exactly!! That happens here, too, “OMG EVERYONE, we figured out how to do a WebEx!! Let’s spend 30 minutes going over it in minute detail!” And no amount of telling everyone that I have used WebEx before and I could have showed them how it works gets through…

    10. Cat steals keyboard*

      My otherwise great employer makes everyone attend a quarterly training course about understanding teapots. Fine for all the people who aren’t teapot experts and need to understand them but for my team our entire job is to be teapot experts. Knowing about teapots is an essential requirement and I was hired partly for my teapot expertise. And here’s the killer bit: a couple of people in my team just checked all the documentation for the teapot awareness course. Without having attended it yet. But they still need to go on it…

    11. Yetanotherjennifer*

      I haven’t, but my husband has. He was hired in part based on the knowledge he gained in his masters program and now that he’s on the job he’s not considered knowledgeable enough in that same area. It’s the company culture; they have more respect for the skills of outsiders.

    12. Not So NewReader*

      Definitely yes.

      I doubt this is any consolation, but age has nothing to do with it. I was 47 when I took a new job. They made it abundantly clear that they did. not. want. to. hear. a single thing about any previous jobs I had.

      Even good employers can blow off some aspects of previous learning.

      A few handy rules of thumb I have used:

      1) Don’t say, “at my old job, we did it this way…” EVER. Just don’t use that phrase, they seem to shut right down. If you realize a situation can be handled more than one way just ask “how do you want me to handle this?”

      2)If you have good ideas from your old job WAIT before presenting them. Just watch what they are doing for a while and do things their way.

      3) When you finally decide to go for it, you decide to tell them Old Place had a great idea, present it as your own idea. “Hey you know, I was wondering, would it be okay if I combined step A and B together, I think I could save about an hour everyday if I combine the two.” Notice how I never claimed it was my original idea, I don’t like to claim things that aren’t mine. So I chose my wording accordingly.

      4) If you have an idea of how someone else could do their job differently, let it go. Not your circus, unless you are their boss.

  17. Jules the First*

    I’m happy dancing inside: there are no less than two awesome companies who are interested in me and want to do final stage interviews next week!

    I had an absolutely fantastic intervew this morning (the interviewer’s feedback used four ! and a smiley face) and they want to set up a second interview next week. She also complimented my resume saying it was the best one she’d seen in the last three years and that I did an awesome job of selling myself on paper. Thank you Alison!!

  18. Isben Takes Tea*

    What are your thoughts in working with felons?

    If you’re an employer/hiring manager will works with programs to help find felons (ex-felons?) a job, how do you approach it with the rest of your staff?

    If you’re an employee, how would you want it handled?

    If you have a felony, how would you want a prospective workplace to handle it?

    1. Lily in NYC*

      It really depends on what the felony was for. If it was for something non-violent, I don’t think it’s any of my business.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        Yep. And a felon is someone who did something crappy and went through the system. I’m sure I work with people who did equally crappy things and either bought their way out of the system or were never caught. It’s not my business.

        1. Jadelyn*

          For that matter, they might not have done anything all that crappy – it’s terrifyingly easy to get caught in splash damage if someone close to you did something, especially given the racial disparities in the system and how it disproportionately targets certain populations.

      2. Manders*

        Ditto. I don’t think I’d have any problems working with someone with a previous felony for drug possession, prostitution, theft, etc. if they were otherwise professional people. I’d feel weirder working with someone who had committed a violent crime or a hate crime, or someone whose work duties might allow them to repeat that crime (like an embezzler working as an accountant).

        1. Natalie*

          The amount of time that had passed and the age they were when they offended would matter a lot to me if it was something violent. 30 years ago and no violence since? Probably a changed person. Last year? Hmmm…..

          1. Manders*

            Yeah, I was having a hard time quantifying why some crimes wouldn’t bother me and some would. A guy who got into a bar brawl and hit someone too hard ten years ago: not fantastic, but I bet he’s changed since then. A guy who nearly beat his girlfriend to death last year: not someone I want to be stuck in the same room with for eight hours a day.

            The target of the violent crime would matter a lot to me, I think. Someone who hurt a smaller woman or a child, or targeted someone from a minority group on purpose, would make me much more uncomfortable than someone who got into a fight with a person their own size.

            But this is all based on gut feelings, not any data about who’s most likely to reoffend.

    2. Jax*

      Is it necessary to reveal to the staff that you’re hiring someone with a felony? Assuming that the felony wasn’t violent or doesn’t relate to the industry (say, tax fraud and an accounting firm, and then why would you consider this person?) then I don’t see why anyone should know. As an employee and also if I had a felony, I would hope that my future employer would use discretion with that information.