my assistant is constantly gazing in the mirror, lying to employers about salary, and more

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

1. My assistant is constantly gazing at herself in the mirror

Six months ago, I got a great job at a great company. I share an office with my assistant, who is about 30 years younger than I am.

She is constantly opening her desk drawer and checking herself out in a hand mirror. By constantly, I mean about 20-30 times a day. She sometimes does this when other people come in the office. I think it is disrespectful to be looking at yourself when other people are in the office –even if they are there to see me. Usually she just checks herself out, but she will occasionally fix her makeup. By the way, our bathroom is only about 30 feet from the office.

She has become the joke of management because they see her as a lightweight, not only for this but also for other behaviors that make her appear totally self-involved.

Is this kind of behavior normal now for 20-somethings? She can’t understand why she doesn’t get promoted and her behavior is the biggest reason. If I would tell her, I think she’d just see me as an old-timer who doesn’t know what I’m talking about. Or should I just tell her that the constant gazing at herself is unprofessional and she needs to lose the mirror?

You’re her boss. It’s perfectly appropriate for you to ask her to stop doing that and to explain that it’s impacting the way she’s perceived. Because you’re her boss, you don’t need to worry about whether she’ll just think you’re old or that you don’t know what you’re talking about; you get to set the standards of behavior that you want to see from her. In fact, as her boss, you have an obligation to giving her some coaching on the things she’s doing that are making people see her as a lightweight. Her professional development is your responsibility — and if you ignore that stuff, over time it will start to reflect on you that you haven’t addressed it.

Say something like this: “Jane, I don’t know if you realize, but you pull out a mirror and look at yourself probably 20-30 times a day. Is everything okay?” Assuming you don’t hear an explanation that makes sense (I don’t know what that would be, but it’s always good to allow for the possibility), then say this: “I’m sure you don’t intend it this way, but when people see you doing that so much, it creates the impression that you’re more interested in how you look than in the work you’re doing, and rightly or wrongly that makes people take you less seriously. It’s also pretty distracting to me and others who are in the office. Going forward, can you use the bathroom mirror when you need to check your appearance, unless it’s an emergency of some sort?”

But please, please don’t fall into the trap of thinking that behavior you see from one person is representative of an entire age group. It rarely is, and that kind of thinking won’t serve you well (and it’s pretty insulting to the person’s peer group).

Read an update to this letter here.

2. Speaker advised lying to employers about salary

A friend of mine went to a Women’s Empowerment seminar on Women’s Day that I was unable to attend. She told me a speaker advised women to quote their previous salary at $10,000 more than what they were actually paid when negotiating a salary because future employers can’t prove you lied. Their thinking was that not only are you likely to get matched, but you’ll also likely get money on top of that. This seems … dubious. What are your thoughts?

Wow, nothing like empowering people by telling them to do something that could result in their job offers getting yanked.

Anyone who says that employers have no way of catching this lie is someone who should be barred from giving out job advice. Employers routinely ask for W2s, pay stubs, and other proof of salaryroutinely. This advice is like saying, “Oh, just make up an impressive work history, because employers can’t prove you lie” and not realizing that reference checks are a thing.

And when employers find out that you lied about salary (or whatever else), they will revoke the job offer. So this speaker is setting people up to have offers pulled. And to make it worse, the salary verification process often happens after the offer has been accepted — and after the person has given notice at her current job. So hurrah, let’s empower women by making them jobless.

The better advice would be about how to avoid giving out salary history at all, since it’s no one’s business.

Seriously, who was this speaker? I want to email them and the organization that sponsored them.

3. Interviewers who ask how you’ve supported yourself while unemployed

My daughter’s been unemployed since June 2015. She left her job of seven months as a receptionist in an accounting firm and went back to college to earn a paralegal certificate. She finished the program and earned her certificate it in January 2016.

She recently went on an interview, and the attorney asked her how she’s been managing to get by for so long as an unemployed person. She told the attorney that she leans on her family to help pay her bills and take care of any needs she has, and that her family isn’t going to abandon her because we’re a family that helps take care of each other when one of us needs the help.

While I applaud my daughter for being truthful with the interviewer, is it really the interviewer’s business to know how she (or anyone else for that matter) has been supporting themselves while she’s unemployed? I think this in an inappropriate question for an interviewer to ask a prospective candidate.

Yeah, it’s not the interviewer’s business and it’s an inappropriate question. It’s perfectly appropriate to ask a candidate how she’s been spending her time since leaving her last job, but the details of her finances aren’t an interviewer’s business.

For what it’s worth, your daughter’s answer was a bit more … detail-y than I would have advised. But it wasn’t his business in the first place.

4. Can I be reimbursed for a dead car battery that happened because of a long business trip?

My employer sent me away on a six-month business trip. Upon my return, my brand new and well maintained car was dead due to prolonged inactivity (this was something speculated on by the men who jumped my car for the second and third time within a 24-hour period). I took it to a dealership, where they finally confirmed that it was because of prolonged disuse: I needed to replace the battery.

Can I claim for the hours I spent at the dealership and for the battery replacement? It was confirmed that my inactivity caused the battery to fail and my employer had sent me away for six months without a choice.

Not at most workplaces. Stuff does get neglected when you’re away for six months for work — your lawn, your house maintenance, and so forth. You can’t typically expense, say, lawn care while you’re gone.

That said, some workplaces do have a culture of letting employees expense these indirect costs of work travel, and it’s possible that yours does. It’s not unreasonable to say to your manager, “I’m finding I have some expenses tied to being away from work for so long, like a dead car battery from lack of use. Does the company ever reimburse costs like that that are due to being away for work for long periods?”

If you have to take a long work trip in the future, you could also consider trying to negotiate some of these before you go. For example, you could say, “If I’m going to be away for six months, I’ll need to hire someone to drive my car every few weeks and check on my house weekly” or whatever your needs are. Some companies will be amenable to covering this stuff, especially if long travel wasn’t a known part of the deal when you took the job. (And again, some won’t. You just need to find out what’s true for your company.)

5. Should I expect a response to a thank-you note?

I had a phone interview with a company that I’m very much interested in working for. It’s only an internship position so they only do phone interview and, a few days later, a one-hour test. In my opinion, the interview went rather well. After the interview, I sent them a thank-you email and I didn’t hear back from them. My friends said that this is a bad sign since they usually respond to the interviewees they are impressed with only. Is it true?

Nope, it’s completely normal not to respond to thank-you notes. Ignore your friends.

{ 629 comments… read them below }

  1. Harper*

    #3 My daughter’s been unemployed since June 1015 Wow, whatever fountain of youth you’ve all found, let me in on it!! ;-)

    Yeah, I think the interviewer was probably wondering more “HOW” she’s spent her time while unemployed rather than how she made it work, but asked it incorrectly. If she faces this question again she should just point out, as her resume states, that she’s been in school and that was what she gave her focus to, but is eager to return to work now. if she did any internships or volunteering she can add that in as well. The how she got by isn’t their business.

    1. Miaw*

      Lol IKR. Her daughter could have mentioned that she spent the last 1000 years observing several historical developments: including the crusades, discovery of america, the industrial & french revolution, civil wars, world war I&II,…

    2. Freya UK*

      “Wow, whatever fountain of youth you’ve all found, let me in on it!! ;-)”

      Omg everyone knows The Fountain of Youth doesn’t exist, they’re vampires – duh!

    3. Merely*

      Come on, y’all, stay on topic. Alison has been working hard to curb derails.

      I agree that this question deserves either an evasive side-step, or as vague an answer as possible. How she spent her time may have enhanced her qualifications, but how she spent her (or anyone else’s) money is irrelevant.

    4. Mookie*

      I agree that it’s none of their business, but based on what the LW writes — “how she’s been managing to get by for so long as an unemployed person” — it sounds like she characterized the interviewer’s question accurately, “how” referring to finances rather than how the LW’s daughter busied herself. After a few stretches of long unemployment (so, 6+ months) I’ve been asked the same. It’s good for weeding out potentially terrible, possibly autocratic employers and managers, I’ve found.

      1. Liane*

        My thoughts exactly. It’s like asking a currently working candidate, “Your application shows you’ve only making Number per year. Tell me how you’ve managed to support yourself on that?”

        Still, I see nothing wrong with answering the question that should have been asked as Harper suggested.

        1. Mookie*

          Agreed. I’d carefully avoid answering the actual question and see if and how far they push back.

          The only people who are somewhat entitled to know that sort of thing are banks and credit unions I’m trying to secure loans and credit from and social services from whom I would like subsidized living, eating, and healthcare assistance.

          It’s a weird question because it answers itself. The interview is taking place because the applicant wants money and isn’t earning any. (What they do with their savings, if such savings exist, and/or what kind of help friends and family offer them is irrelevant. Sometimes I think this is a way of skating around the issue of a credit score. If the new hire’s going to be handling money in a certain way and lives in the right place, the employer is already entitled to investigate their credit history. Otherwise, no. It doesn’t matter.)

          The question of current salary / wages can make sense, I guess, if the employer senses that they can’t offer the applicant anywhere near what they’re already earning, but, again, the applicant is an adult and can handle this on their own.

          1. Zombii*

            Interesting point with the credit history/report. Do you think it’s possible some employers who pull a report (relevant or not) don’t want to waste the expense of doing so if the candidate is likely to not meet their requirements—if the candidate says they spent the last year living on credit cards, mentions being behind on payments for something, or whatever?

            1. Annonymouse*

              It’s still the wrong way to find out though, not to mention none of their damn business.

              It would be different if it was phrased to ask about experience:

              So what have you done since leaving previous job?
              Studying X.
              Did you have any internships or part time jobs during that period?

              Clearly looking at experience.

              But it seemed more like the interviewer was asking a question out of personal curiosity – how do you survive without a job?

      2. RVA Cat*

        It’s also a dumb question, as it’s obvious from her resume she was a student and it’s pretty normal for her to be sharing household expenses with someone else who is working. Whether or not that’s a relative or a roommate is immaterial.

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        Yeah, I admit my mind went to “he’s seeing if she’s married/husband supporting her and then will lowball her on salary” but it’s more likely he just asked it in a lousy way.

        1. Pomona Sprout*

          I wouldn’t rule out the husband theory, though. Because unfortunately, some employers ARE that skeevy.

          Cynical? Who, me?

      4. Cactus*

        Interesting. I had an interview last week where Potential Boss asked if my husband works. (My husband is chronically ill and is on disability. I’m the breadwinner.) The discomfort I felt at needing to discuss those details of my life in that setting was what sealed the deal that that job was not for me. (Also, even if my husband had the Greatest Job Ever, it still wouldn’t really be their business…)

    5. HannahS*

      Yeah, it seems like maybe the interviewer didn’t phrase the question in a totally clear way. I think it’s fine sometimes to answer the question you should have been asked, so giving information about focusing on school is right.

      If the interviewer really did say something like, “But how did you manage financially?” I think a surprised, “Oh, it was fine! Why do you ask?” is acceptable.

      1. Emi.*

        Ooh, I like this, especially because it makes it kinda awkward for the interviewer to keep prying–as it should be.

      2. plain_jane*

        Would it be ok in this case to answer the question you assume the interviewer must have meant? I.e. talk about how you spent your time? I know it is super annoying when politicians do it, but maybe it would make sense here?

        1. Kindling*

          Yes. I think Allison has also given advice in the past to do this in similar situations.

      3. Chrisine*

        I like your response. I’ll never forget going for an interview for a part-time cashier at a large chain drugstore after being laid off at the bank. I used my father’s computer and nice paper. The guy interviewing me was more interested in asking about the quality of paper I used and what my Dad did for a living. I had moved in with Mom and Dad while job searching. Sometimes I feel like they are looking for someone in dire straights so that they can lowball them on the salary.

        I went home & told my father about that. I ended up using regular zero paper on all future resumes after that one.

        1. HannahS*

          That’s so weird. Why should the quality of paper matter? Yeah, I feel like sometimes they want to hear that “unemployed” people are working crazy hours in retail and food service to “be independent” and “not need handouts” and “pull themselves up by the bootstraps” etc. But those kinds of jobs are not actually that easy to get and they don’t want employees that are looking to jump ship ASAP.

          I don’t have a job in my field. I work multiple part time jobs. Yes, I could afford to be a third or fourth roommate in a crap building in the rough part of the city…or my parents invited me to stay home and save money. I’m super lucky to be able to–why shouldn’t I take advantage of the opportunity? Being supported by my parents doesn’t change how good I’ll be at a given job.

    6. Elizabeth H.*

      I think it’s an awkwardly raised question but unless it was a typo, the LW’s daughter finished her certificate in January *2016* so it seems reasonable to ask about what she has been doing in the interim if there isn’t anything on her resume since then. However phrasing it as “how have you managed to get by as an unemployed person” (or equivalent meaning) is rude and weird.

      1. Not Rebee*

        But given the timeline, LW’s daughter left her job in mid 2015 – only a few months! That’s actually pretty fast to gain a paralegal certificate (speaking with experience – I am a paralegal myself), as most schools offer them on a similar schedule to any other degree, though since it’s usually equated to an Associates degree, it has less rigorous credit requirements. You would expect the daughter to take a full-time course load of 3-4 courses a semester, and probably need a total of 30 credits to graduate. Given this, and not counting the fact that some prerequisites might make scheduling more difficult, you would ordinarily expect to be done in a year, unless in a compressed/accelerated program.

        When you stop to think that the person doing the interview was an attorney, and it’s clear that LW’s daughter did an accelerated course (likely so that she would be out of the job force for less time, and didn’t have to split her focus between part time school and full time work in a job she probably wasn’t feeling super into), I would think the interviewer could focus more on what that shows of the daughter’s character rather than fixating on finances that are none of his business. Perhaps it’s reading into it, but I would also think that taking the accelerated course shows that she was mindful of the time she would be spending out of work and also cognizant of the burden this temporarily placed on her family.

        An artful dodge would have been a better answer, but she could have also redirected her answer to point out those above things if the interviewer hadn’t already touched on those – accelerated programs can be difficult because the material is pretty much just thrown at you without a ton of time to sit and get familiar. Luckily, surviving that should prove that you’re in good shape for a fast-paced law office where attorneys don’t have the time/inclination to hand hold.

        1. Elsajeni*

          But Elizabeth H. is talking about the time since she completed the certificate — if she completed it in January 2016, it’s been a little over a year since then, so what has she been doing during that time?

          1. Suburban Gal*

            I’ve been looking for work that, quite frankly, doesn’t exist where being an entry-level legal assistant or paralegal is concerned.

  2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#4, is this your first time being away for so long while your car was left behind? I ask because I’ve always assumed that most people with cars know that disuse can cause the battery to die, but based on your question, I’m realizing this may not be common knowledge.

    This matters because if one of my reports came to me and asked me to cover the cost of a new battery, I would be sympathetic but disinclined to cover that cost. I’d assume it’s in the same bucket as subleasing your apartment or putting a hold on your mail/utilities. But if my assumption is wrong, then I could be persuaded to cover a portion of the costs (but probably not the whole bill). So I don’t suggest doing some unscientific research to figure out what other fin your work/friend circle do when they’re traveling.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Omg autocorrect. I apologize. The last line is: “So I suggest doing some unscientific research to figure out what other folks in your car-owning work/friend circles do when they’re traveling [for long periods of time].”

      1. Marcela*

        What my husband does is simply plug the battery to a charger. I cannot explain more than this because I’m pretty ignorant about cars, and my husband is not in town right now, but I guess a basic google search will reveal what the charger is. He told jokingly that his car was jealous of my EV, so that’s why he got a charger.

        1. Construction Safety*

          Yeah, it doesn’t cost a lot for a charger with a “trickle” feature that will keep the battery charged but not over charge it. Alternatively, they could disconnect the positive battery terminal, the battery would eventually go dead, but it takes a lot longer & they’d have a better chance of resurrection.

          1. Stone Satellite*

            They are called battery tenders, any automotive store should have them (and possibly even your local Wal-mart/Target/etc.). They are very commonly used for motorcycles that are garaged all winter, but I can’t think of any reason they wouldn’t work for a car battery just as well.

            1. TheOperaGhost*

              They work perfectly well for cars as well. My parents have a convertible that they store away during the winter and my dad removes the battery and keeps it charged in the basement. They also work for jet skis.

              1. AnonAnalyst*

                Yup, my parents have one because they just don’t drive very much or very far. They don’t even remove their batteries – they just pop the hood, hook up the battery tender, and plug it in in their garage. So depending on where the OP parks, she might not even have to deal with removing the battery.

    2. MK*

      I think there is a difference between avoidable and non-avoidable expenses. There are things about my flat that I must continue to pay, even when I am not there, or even because I am not there, like extra security. But there are also expenses that I can avoid fairly easily, e.g. by cutting off the water and electricity supply. As far as I know, a dead battery could be have been avoided by getting a friend to take the car for a short drive every few weeks and a mechanic could probably suggest more scientific methods). So the employer might well see the dead battery as a result of the OP’s negligence, not the trip.

      1. blackcat*

        Depending on the car, you can just disconnect the battery. If you have a security system (and most do, by default), it’ll be disabled, but the battery won’t run down.

        This doesn’t work for hybrids. Those HAVE to be driven (at least a few miles, and reaching at least 45mph) every 2-3 weeks. Replacing a hybrid’s main battery is several thousand dollar repair, so it’s well worth the cost of hiring someone to drive it.

        1. The IT Manager*

          I was in the military’s (which does not reimburse for dead batteries after deployment BTW). I’ve found disconnecting the battery worked for me. People also have spouses, friends, or coworkers drive their car for a bit while they’re gone. I’ve never heard of anyone paying someone to drive the car. (Lawn care, yes, sometimes that’s an added expense, but not driving your car.)

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            My brother is currently overseas and our dad is driving his car on occasion.

          2. FDCA In Canada*

            Yup, my husband is deployed right now and I have to swap around driving both cars. The guys he’s with who leave their cars outside in the -30 weather can’t drive them when they get back. But I wouldn’t be surprised if you could make slightly-more-formal arrangements with a friend for a fairly minimal amount of money that involved a weekly lawn mow, mail collection, and included driving the car around for a half hour or whatever. It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing a workplace would reimburse for, but I could see it.

            1. Drama Llama's Mama*

              Right, when my (then boyfriend, now) husband was at basic training and MOS school, I drove his car to work once a week for this reason. I haven’t heard of paying someone to do that, but I’m sure it’s a thing that occurs for people who don’t have family/friends nearby to take care of it for them. Alternately, I’ve seen friends who go overseas for work (military or civilian) who simply sell their cars here when they go and buy a new one when they get back (though usually, that happens for trips that are longer than six months).

              1. Elizabeth West*

                My ex got to take his car with him when he went to FLETC (Federal Law Enforcement Training Center). His hometown was about a seven-hour drive north, so he drove it there and when the six-month training was over, he drove back. Then he got assigned to an office all the way across the country and drove his car out there (they paid for movers).

          3. BananaPants*

            When my brother deployed overseas for a year, he left his truck at a storage facility near our parents’ home. Dad was added to his insurance as an authorized driver and every 3-4 weeks he took it out and drove it for a day or two.

            1. Artemesia*

              When my husband deployed as a young man he left his newly purchased car with his father to occasionally drive it to keep the battery up. His dad sold his own car and drove my husband’s car till the tired were bald and let his 4 younger brothers drive it and they of course abused it so that when he returned there were 4 bald tires, a bad clutch and when we eloped a year later, the car literally broke down on our way to the JP and we had to sell it for parts and hitch a ride home. The same man gave each of his other sons a car but trashed my husband’s car that he had worked to buy.

          4. Anna*

            When we lived overseas, my aunt would start our car for a bit and drive it around. Then she started letting it go longer and longer in between and then it was dead. :) But we were overseas for a year and a half before we visited the states again, so…it’s a lot of responsibility to ask someone to do that on a consistent basis.

          5. Risa*

            I actually work for a company that has Vehicle Storage locations, especially for deployed service members, and part of our service is regular maintenance on the vehicle while stored – Turning it on to run, swapping out the fluids, rotating the tires so they don’t go flat, etc.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yeah—when I lived/worked on the east coast, I left my hybrid with my sister. She drove it for short trips every 1-2 weeks so the battery wouldn’t die.

      2. Not Karen*

        there are also expenses that I can avoid fairly easily, e.g. by cutting off the water and electricity supply

        My lease specifically says you aren’t allowed to cut off the utilities even if you are not currently living in the apartment…

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          That’s unusual, but still not an expense your company should have to cover, imo.

          1. AnonAnalyst*

            I’m not sure it’s that unusual. My last three leases, all in different states, had a similar stipulation so I would recommend that other renters double-check before having everything shut off. But I totally agree that it’s not the company’s responsibility (and frankly, if no one is there, the electricity cost should be minimal anyway).

          2. Rainy, PI*

            That’s not unusual. I think that my last five leases (two of which were in another country) all had that. One of them actually specified the minimum temperature the (single-unit) furnace could be set to in the winter.

          3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I’m sorry! I forgot about cold weather. I know that oversight is a little ridiculous on my part.

        2. Artemesia*

          My nephew had a share house in Nashville and one of the guys shut off the heat when they went home for winter break. The pipes froze then broke and there was 10,000 dollars worth of damage to the house and pipes; an expensive lesson for them all.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I’m sorry—I forgot about cold weather and frozen pipes. So banning discontinuation of utilities doesn’t surprise me, but it also seems like the bills should be pretty low (and ostensibly you’d pay your bills, not your company, no?).

            1. Bea*

              Yeah, the minimum charges are usually reasonable. You still have to pay things like rent and utilities when you’re away on a business trip, the thought that a company would reimburse you and pay for the lodging in the secondary location blows my mind. But I’m in accounting.

              I wouldnt pay for the replacement battery either.

        3. BF50*

          Frequently that’s done in cold weather states where turning heat off completely in the winter will result in frozen pipes that then burst and flood causing massive damage.

          You can still make sure to turn your AC completely off, and turn the thermostat temp down to 40 degrees. This will be low enough that very little energy will be used, but high enough that the pipes don’t freeze.

        4. A*

          You may not be allowed to “cut” them off (since it is likely your building management company’s name on the utility bill, not yours) but you can turn the water off at the valves and flip the circuit breakers. That should take care of most potential leak damage and whatnot.

      3. I'd Rather not Say*

        They may want to see if they can adjust their auto coverage for the time they’re going to be gone if the car will not be driven.

    3. Oryx*

      I only know because my grandma drove so infrequently she’d have someone drive her car around on a regular basis to maintain it in working order for when she did need it.

      1. Gen*

        We hadn’t no idea until my mother bought a brand new car then needed surgery with a long recovery time. Since no one was insured to drive it the car wasn’t moved and we just assumed the battery would be flat rather than cease to function entirely. It all turned out to be very expensive :/

    4. Kristine*

      I didn’t know that prolonged disuse would cause a car’s battery to die. But I bought my first car only 2 years ago, in my late 20’s. Growing up we didn’t always have a car either. I’m woefully behind on car knowledge.

      1. ABC123*

        Although I do have a license, I hardly ever drive, and am not particularly interested in cars. But having listened to Car Talk on NPR for years, I know what to do to a car that will be left unused for a long time (disconnect battery before, change oil after).

        My real reason for listening to Car Talk is that it’s both soothing and funny, and thereby an excellent choice of noise to fall asleep to! :-)

        1. Robin B*

          I keep a “battery tender” on my convertible because I don’t drive it all winter. I wouldn’t leave it on without someone to check on it, though, for as long as 6 months.

          1. Stone Satellite*

            I’m curious, do you also do other winter prep on a convertible, like fuel stabilizer in a full gas tank? Many a motorcycle gas tank has rusted out from spending all winter with humid air trapped in the tank, but I don’t know if cars have that problem.
            OP #4, you might want to look up other recommendations for long-term car storage because the battery might not be the only thing that needs checking.

        2. Marillenbaum*

          Just a quick shout-out to Car Talk! When I lived in a place where I had a car, listening to that show while I drove around was my favorite thing to do on a Saturday morning.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I liked that show. I only listened to it when I was with Ex-bf, because he was an NPR addict and I don’t generally like talk radio. But I also liked reading Click and Clack in the newspaper.

      2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        It’s mildly obscure and rarely (but not never!) affects most people who drive their cars daily, but it really should be reasonably common knowledge – at least, as a little fact tucked away in one’s memory just in case. I’ve had battery trouble after just a few weeks parked, considerably less than six months sitting.

        As someone who knows a little about cars, it often astounds me how little people know about their $25,000 depreciating asset. Not just little facts like the above, but serious stuff, like “oil changes are a thing” and “rotate your tires every few months” and “it’s not actually normal for your breaks to squeak when you stop, get them replaced” and so on.

      3. Artemesia*

        If no one has told you, check the oil every time you put gas in the car. The single best way to total a car is to run out of oil and drive the car; you can destroy the engine very quickly that way.

      4. A*

        Well don’t be like today’s LW and take it to the dealership over a problem like this. 2 or 3 jump starts in 24 hours means the battery’s gone; there’s no diagnosis to be done, no need for the dealership to look into it like it’s a mystery why the car won’t start. You can take it to any ordinary commercial car shop (like, say, Merchant’s) and have them replace the battery. If you want to try to wring some more life out of your battery some auto parts stores (Autozone comes to mind) do free battery testing and charging.

        Also, if your car is having any sort of problem, hit the internet first! Google your car’s make, model, and year and the problem. Chances are there are at least some hints on a car discussion forum that can point you in the right direction to solve your problem, and also the ballpark cost to fix. Even if you take it to the dealership for specialized work, it’s best to prepare so when they discuss their findings you’ll have a basic idea of what they’re talking about.

        I am no car expert and have no business working on my car myself, but doing this has meant the difference between coaxing my car to a shop a quarter mile away and asking for X to be done to it, versus having it towed to the dealership 20 miles away and waiting for them to find ten things to replace.

    5. Antilles*

      I ask because I’ve always assumed that most people with cars know that disuse can cause the battery to die, but based on your question, I’m realizing this may not be common knowledge.
      It isn’t common knowledge.
      That said, it still doesn’t really make it reasonable to expect the employer to pay for it. It’s kind of in the same vein as having someone forward your mail or turn on your heat when summer turns to fall so pipes don’t burst or etc. I would be pretty sympathetic , I’d gladly give you a day off to deal with the fallout…but I wouldn’t be pulling out the department checkbook.

          1. Emi.*

            Oh, just that batteries will die all the way from disuse. I knew they can drain down, but I thought the idea that they’d be permanently ruined was just fear-mongering.

            1. Bea*

              I can tell you from experience not starting a ca does kill the battery. I’ve seen 2 die that way! Old beaters that were parked and forgotten about, my cousin is currently taking the last dumb thing away when he has the time to fix it up.

            2. A*

              Well, if you leave ordinary alkaline batteries in something (like a flashlight) too long they’ll drain and corrode. If you leave rechargeable batteries in something they’ll drain.

              The only way the car battery thing isn’t common knowledge is a failure to actually think about it. It’s something you don’t have to be taught or told, so much as infer from experience.

              1. Jessie the First (or second)*

                “The only way the car battery thing isn’t common knowledge is a failure to actually think about it.”

                Sure. But… what? I have not spent any time until now pondering the realities of my car battery. It’s true. I have had no reason to think about it until this thread. Never been away from home for more than 2 weeks at a time, and otherwise drive nearly every day. I’m not a particularly unique special snowflake in that regard, and I’m going to hazard a guess that Emi and I are not the only ones. Regardless, does that matter? OP didn’t know, now she does. Sometimes, mistakes are how you learn, and saying “you should have known, it’s so obvious!” is maybe the least helpful response you could possibly give.

              2. Aglaia761*

                What a condescending comment.

                I’ve been driving for almost 20 years now and never knew that at all. I’ve never left my car for long enough periods where the battery could drain down. So I never needed to know or think about that information.

              3. Zombii*

                It appears that this is something you have to be taught or told, if this comment thread is any indication. It’s not always a failure of analysis if people haven’t noticed something, especially if their experience with the crucial necessary elements is lacking, or nonexistent.

                I have a flashlight with batteries in it that hasn’t been used for nearly 2 years (I keep it in the laundry room in case of power outages). Just checked it, and the batteries seem to be fine. I can’t remember any time I’ve experienced batteries going dead from lack of use—except when it happened to my Grandma’s car, so I know about car batteries dying… but only because of a dead car battery. :)

              4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                A, you’re being rude. I’ve set your comments to moderation from now on. Please read and follow the commenting guidelines. Thank you.

            3. The OG Anonsie*

              Nope, they die permanently if they run down for long enough. That includes if you do something like the lights on with the car off for a long time or leave it totally unused for extended periods.

            4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Ohhhh. Yeah, definitely not a myth, along with tire rotations, fluid top-ups, and oil changes. :)

    6. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Yeah, maybe it’s from growing up in NYC, where some people will keep a car the way most people would keep a camper — just for vacations and such — but I always knew this intellectually. Still, I probably never would have made it a practice if we didn’t arrive at the airport at the end of a two-week vacation to find that the car was dead. At 1 in the morning. Luckily the airport parking lots are always staffed, and have a tow/jump/minor repair person who didn’t even charge us (pun intended). And after a 30-40 minute drive on the highway, the vehicle was fine.

      But after that, when our household had one more vehicle than we did drivers, we made sure to drive the “spare” once every week or two.

      1. Kathleen Adams*

        A car battery shouldn’t be dead after just two weeks, unless it was really cold out.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          Yeah, I think the battery was just old anyway. IIRC we had to replace it within a year.

        2. Marcela*

          Oh, you are right, that is another important thing: temperature! My car battery died a couple of months ago. We do not use most of the time, but we do drive it regularly every couple of weeks to keep it alive (in case my EV is not charged, something that happened at least twice because of our mistakes). One week was particularly cold in the Tri Valley, around the lower 30s, and the battery died faster because of that. It wasn’t dead dead, so it was a matter of starting it with our other car (not the EV, which we discovered is useless for this), and we haven’t had any problems after.

          1. Your Weird Uncle*

            Ugh, I still grumble about a former coworker/former friend who didn’t believe me when I told her that my car battery would die if I didn’t drive it regularly during the winter. She grew up in Canada and never knew that was a thing….but because she grew up in Canada and it never happened to her, she just assumed I was an idiot who had no idea what I was talking about.

            She was….kind of a jerk. :)

    7. Jessesgirl72*

      I thought this was basic car ownership knowledge too. My grandparents would go on summer-long vacations, and my dad would go over and start the car once a week.

    8. MissGirl*

      The OP could frame this to herself by considering all the money she save by not driving: gas, oil changes, mileage on car.

    9. Annie Moose*

      I’ve been driving for… nine years now, I think, and had absolutely no idea this was a thing.

      I was aware that batteries charge while a car is running–I just never thought of it working the same way in reverse. It makes sense, it just never occurred to me to think of this before.

      1. Nan*

        Me neither. I’ve had a license for 22 years now and my own car for 20 of those years. Never would have occurred to me. I drive daily to work, and the longest it might sit is if we go on vacation for a week. If it’s REALLY cold out and I have no where to go, I’ll go out and start the car for a bit, but it would never occur to me that it would die over an extended period of time.

        And then there’s the issue that NO ONE except me drives my car. Not even my husband. It’s mine. I make the payments. If you aren’t paying for it, you don’t drive it. I don’t drive his, either. No, it’s not a fancy-pants car, it’s a Hyundai.

    10. Koko*

      I don’t think I knew this. I’ve never had a car that I left sitting for a long time so I’d never had reason to find out. I was aware that batteries could discharge over time, even when not in use, but not that it would result in being unable to jump-start/permanently killing the battery.

      1. Agnes*

        I had always heard it was a myth that the car needed to be started up regularly (people would do this in the cold where I came from). So I’m not sure it’s common knowledge.

        1. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

          If it’s cold, it needs to be done more frequently. Totally not a myth. Depending on the age of the battery and just how cold it is, even a day or two will kill a battery IME. Not so dead that it can’t be jumped and brought back, like the OP experienced, but I’ve had to be jump started on a cold morning more than once.

          1. Jadelyn*

            It also depends on how old the car is, as well as the battery. A new car in temperate weather can go several weeks, IME, before lack of use causes battery damage. A new car in cold weather, a week, maybe two. An old car in any weather shouldn’t go more than a week at most without being turned on and at least driven around the block a couple times.

            1. INFJ*

              Yup. Seconded from experience. I live in a cold climate and just moved to a city and don’t need my car to commute. I recently went from using my car twice a week to once a week and had to get jump started the last 2 times (at 1x/week). Looks like I need to go back to twice a week.

          2. Detective Amy Santiago*

            In the northern parts of Canada, they actually plug their cars in overnight to avoid this.

            1. Miles*

              And in really cold parts of Canada we have to run out on our lunch breaks to idle the car for a few minutes if our work doesn’t have plug ins.

            2. FelineFine*

              When you plug in your car, it’s not the battery you’re plugging in, it’s the block heater. The point is to keep the engine block warm enough that it will start in the morning!

            3. Talvi*

              We do this is southern parts of Canada, too! It gets cold enough in the Prairies that all cars have block heaters.

    11. textbookaquarian*

      The OP is lucky that the only thing they had to deal with is a dead battery. Gas left in the tank can spoil, tires can become flat-spotted, rubber parts can dry out and rodents might move in if a car is unused for too long. The recommendation is it should be prepped for storage if its going to sit for longer than 30 days (provided no one is periodically driving it).

      I understand this may not be common knowledge. However the information is readily available online, same as what to do with your house while away. So I’m afraid that I wouldn’t be inclined to cover the replacement battery if I was the manager.

    12. Jerry Vandesic*

      It can depend on your employer. I was in a very similar situation, and my employer paid for a new battery. The difference for me was that they put all my belongings, including my car, into storage while I was on an overseas assignment. When I came back my car wouldn’t start (the storage company didn’t start it as they should have). I was told to expense the cost of the battery; it was a very small portion of the costs incurred for the trip.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        This makes more sense to me because they’d basically agreed to “tend” to your car and then were deficient in doing so. But I’m really having a hard time justifying paying for someone’s battery because they didn’t make arrangements or prep in advance of their trip.

    13. Browser*

      I’ve been driving for over 20 years and have never heard of this before. But I’ve never had the luxury of going on a trip or doing anything that means my car won’t be driven for an extended period of time – I think the longest it’s gone undriven is 2 days, and even that is rare.

    14. Chrisine*

      When I was in the military we had a good friend that would start your car once or twice a month, maybe drive it around the block. But it has be someone you trust. Than again, some insurance agencies will give you a discount if you put your car up on blocks for six months, and certify that is will be driven during that time frame. I had a friend do that when he was at Iraq, but he did it at a friend’s. His friend’s truck died, so he took his buddy’s car off the blocks (high end sports car) and drove it for a few weeks. They had a fight over it. He was getting free storage, I think he should of paid the extra insurance for a few weeks and shut up about it.

      1. Bea*

        But if he had it on blocks and the insurance was being held on it specifically because it’s not on the road, he could have been in deep doodoo if something happened! Just because he was getting free storage, you don’t get to drive a buddy’s rig because suddenly your truck dies and its a convenient idea. You wait until you get permission.

        Then if your buddy is like “you can’t drive it” and you’re upset about it because you’re doing them a favor, you just never ever do a favor for them again. You really cannot just drive cars without the owners go ahead.

        Depending on the state, some fines hit the tags and their owners. Not just whomever is at the wheel during the time of the incident. Big legal issues and disrespect.

    15. Cheshire Cat*

      I was surprised to find that my cousin didn’t know this. My aunt (in her 80s) moved across the country after her husband passed away. One of her duaghters volunteered to bring Aunt Suzy’s car to her new home. Because Aunt Suzy doesn’t drive much anymore and there are loads of cousins in the new town who were all willing to take her places, the cousin put off going to get the car. She finally went in May; I told her before she left to plan on needing to replace the battery since the car had been sitting for so long. Cousin’s response was that her husband had been back to change the oil & drive the car around, so she was sure it would be fine. His visit had been the previous summer; Cousin’s trip was in May. Yeah, she needed to replace the battery.

    16. FelineFine*

      My inlaws (who spend 6 months of the year in Mexico) simply detach the battery when they’re away. When they get back, they hook it up and the car starts no problem!

      As a manager, I would not pay for this expense. There are likely thousands of resources available to guide you through what you should do when away for extended periods of time.

    17. DataQueen*

      For my particular line of business, you would come out ahead financially after that long of a trip. The emotional hardship would be taxing, of course, and nothing can pay back for that, but you would have zero incidental expenses for 6 months and making money on per diem every day, so I’d probably not feel too bad about them having to pay for a car battery. I’d let them maybe go to the dealership during work, to be nice, but that’s not my fault.

      And side note – I knew you had to start a car every so often “because my dad said so,” but until this thread I had no idea why, and I can’t guarantee that while abroad for 6 months I would even think of that between my mortgage and health insurance and cell phone and kids tuition – it would probably occur to me 5 months in and then I’d realize my keys were sitting next to me in Mongolia :/

  3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#1, I’d caution against assuming your assistant is vain/self-absorbed or a lightweight until after you’ve spoken with her.

    I have a friend who had a tiny melanoma (skin cancer) on her cheek, and she would obsessively check out her face to see if it was noticeable. It looked neurotic to people who didn’t know the back story, but she was trying to be discreet (clearly unsuccessfully, but when you’re worried it skews your perception of reality). It’s possible that your assistant thinks she’s being more professional by not leaving her desk for the bathroom, or she may have something else going on that’s leading her to the frequent mirror checks. Opening up the discussion without sounding judgmental or annoyed is going to be important, even if it turns out that she is a little self-involved.

    Also, I think you know this isn’t normal behavior for 20-somethings, otherwise you’d notice everyone in that demographic constantly checking themselves out in any reflective surface they could find. The only thing that matters about your assistant’s age is that this may be one of her first jobs, and so she may not have the same frame of reference for workplace norms.

    1. Fiennes*


      I once had a coworker who–we thought–was obsessed with her hair. Always combing, always fluffing. Most of us rolled our eyes/giggled about it. (I should mention none of this was mean-spirited; she was a good admin, soft-spoken and friendly, much liked. We just thought it was silly.)

      Several years in, after the holiday party & several glasses of wine, the admin opened up about her childhood battle with cancer. None of us had had any idea. She had spent many years of her childhood bald from chemo, and she said, “every time I see my hair now, it reminds me I survived.” What we had thought was vanity was her reaffirming life.

      Moral of the story: DO NOT ASSUME.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        Okay, but how many people obsessively check mirrors because they had childhood cancer, and how many obsessively check mirrors….well, obsessively? A reasonable assumption is reasonable.

        1. Parenthetically*

          I just don’t find it helpful to mentally play Ockham’s Razor with people’s actual life situations. Sure, these are statistically unlikely scenarios, but building a little creativity in his/her sociological imagination can increase empathy and keep OP#1 from starting off on the wrong foot with his/her employee when having this conversation.

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            No disagreement; any discussion about an employee’s habits or quirks needs to be addressed with compassion and sensitivity. But it seems a little like people want the OP to be walking on eggshells around the issue, and I think it’s a pretty straightforward conversation to have. Whatever the reason, someone gazing into a mirror and fixing their hair or makeup with excessive frequency gives the impression of distraction, lack of professionalism, and focus on matters other than work, and most professionals would want to manage that perception. The reasons why hardly matter, do they?

            1. Parenthetically*

              I hear you! But I think the reasons matter. The ongoing coaching and general followup are going to need to differ depending on the employee’s response, and her response is likely going to depend on the reasons behind her actions. I absolutely agree that this needs to be tackled head-on, but I also think a little empathy goes a long way when OP sits down and has this conversation. I don’t see folks encouraging eggshell-walking, just a deeper humanity than, “Quit it, Colleen, you’re being vain and it’s putting people off,” with a subtext of, “20-somethings are all alike.” I’d like to see an attitude of curiosity and helpfulness from OP, rather than judgment. The end result might be the same, but how you get there matters, IMO.

              1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

                I agree….mostly. I really don’t think “curiosity” is really helpful, and in the case of many of the more obscure reasons put forth for frequent mirror-checking, might be too invasive and nosy. It really doesn’t matter why.

                I’d approach it as, ” When you check your mirror this often, it can undermine others’ sense of your sense of professionalism and focus on your work, and since I know better, I wanted to let you know that was happening so you can manage those perceptions as you see fit.” And then drop it.

                1. Parenthetically*

                  I guess by “curiosity” I mean “openness to hear the reasons and a general sense of understanding that people are complex.” I think your script is fine, I just want it to be buttressed by the empathy that is so shockingly absent from the OP’s description of what’s going on.

                2. JessaB*

                  But the OP doesn’t want the worker to manage those perceptions. The OP wants the mirror checking to mostly STOP as it’s happening in front of people the worker cannot manage impressions with. IE visitors and short term people.

                  If I were visiting a company with an eye towards my company working with them, I’d be a little weirded that someone who is supposed to be working, is not paying a bit of attention to the fact that I am there. It’d give me a bad impression of the company either they have too many employees (one can sit around doing nothing,) or they’re not managing well (they need this employee but the employee isn’t being productive.)

            2. Jadelyn*

              Except they do matter, simply because the types of reasons most people don’t think of if they haven’t experienced it – like childhood cancer, melanoma, etc. – can be deeply emotional or painful if thoughtlessly prodded at, so I think it’s kind and compassionate to, not walk on eggshells, but leave the door open to alternate explanations going into the conversation, rather than assuming that it’s just vanity driving the behavior.

              1. Parenthetically*

                Yep, we’ve had this conversation recently about asking if someone’s pregnant. Sure, it’s statistically more likely that a woman is vomiting several times a day at work, weepy, and exhausted because she’s pregnant, but treatments for infertility can do the same thing. It’s nosy to ask Woman 1 if she’s pregnant; it could be deeply painful to Woman 2 to be asked the same question.

            3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I don’t want eggshells—I want compassion. I was really disturbed by the idea that OP and other managers are getting together to make fun of this woman and are passing her up for promotion because her “behavior” marks her as a lightweight. (It’s totally possible she has other behavioral tics that need to be addressed, but making fun of her behind her back for that is really unkind and kind of gross to me.)

              I think it’s unwise for a manager to enter a conversation with an assumption around the employee’s intent (i.e., she’s vain/superficial) as opposed to addressing the problematic conduct (excessively checking herself out at her desk). That was my reason for bringing up that there are non-vanity-based reasons for an employee to be behaving anomalously.

              1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

                Absolutely, and I don’t disagree at all – speculating that she’s a lightweight or making fun of her is beyond the pale. I just think the focus on the reasons why is really neither here nor there, not relevant to OP. I’d approach it without judgment, with kindness, and strictly as a matter of professional conduct in the office.

                As I posted above: “When you check your mirror this often, it can undermine others’ sense of your sense of professionalism and focus on your work, and since I know better, I wanted to let you know that was happening so you can manage those perceptions as you see fit.”

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Totally agreed.

                  I think I’m reacting to the fact that OP’s letter read (to me) as laden with stereotypes and imputed reasons for why the admin is constantly mirror-gazing. The behavior’s a problem, full stop, and that’s what requires correction. But given the tone of OP’s letter (mild disdain with a side of age prejudice), I was worried that that tone would spill over into the management conversation. If my boss ever gave me feedback with a “oh you daffy, superficial thing” tone, I would get real angry and real defensive real fast.

            4. Whats In A Name*

              I agree with this sentiment 100%. I did tear up at the story above but I realize that it’s a rare exception and while the OP doesn’t need to go in like a bull in a china shop it does need to be discussed directly but without assumptions – either way…that she has a serious disorder OR that she is vain. Find out the reason and proceed from there.

        2. Fiennes*

          When dealing with real humans, with real feelings, it’s often better to brgin with the most generous assumption rather than the most common one. If no one is actively at risk due to the behavior, you will very rarely be sorry you started from the kindest interpretation of events. Unkind assumptions, on the other hand, can lead to other people’s pain, and/or your profound embarrassment at your own behavior.

    2. Kj*

      Yes, I co-sign about the OP knowing this isn’t normal behavior for 20 somethings. Just like I know not all 50 somethings are tech illiterate like some of my coworkers…. Really, if I said that kind of assumption aloud about all older workers, people would jump down my throat for age discrimination, but somehow it becomes normal and common, even in the media, to make that assumptions about younger workers.

      OP, please carefully consider when you find yourself making those kinds of assumptions about younger folks and ask yourself if you would make an equivalent assumption about your own age group.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        But I’d raise an eyebrow at anybody, of any age, checking the mirror so often that people started to notice and question.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Sure, but that doesn’t negate what Kj and I are saying about age-based stereotypes.

    3. MadGrad*

      +1 I had a major surgery not long ago that has left me with nerve damage in my face and I can’t feel/phantom feel wetness on my lip and chin. It’s terribly unpleasant to touch so wiping “just in case” sucks. I’m also a little predisposed to drool right now, so you can see the paranoia fuel. Less dramatic things could also make her a bit paranoid: if she stress-picks at pimples she might be worried about having visible scabs, or maybe she has a skin condition that concerns her somehow. It might be none of those things, but it could easily be more than vanity.

      That’s not to say you shouldn’t point out how noticeable it is, but just maybe spare a little more mental charity.

      1. MadGrad*

        Also to keep in mind: you say that this is one of several issues with her performance. Is this really the one you want to bother with for now? If it’s keeping her from advancing, I have to imagine there are bigger problems to address first. Why not let the relatively harmless one go and focus on those?

          1. Emi.*

            And if it’s affecting her reputation, it’s not harmless. It *might* be less harmful than the others, but we don’t know that.

            1. Jadelyn*

              Yes – the unfortunate truth is reputation matters, and I hate to say this, but especially for a younger, female, administrative worker, at the beginning of her career, something like this could be pretty damaging.

              If she gets typecast by her coworkers as “the shallow, vain girl” she’ll struggle to ever be taken seriously no matter whether she is able to get promoted or hired into new roles at the organization. The only way to ditch that reputation is to leave, at that point, and even then if people give references that mention that perception (and she hasn’t learned to curb the core behaviors that caused the perception initially), it sets her up to start that cycle all over again at her new workplace.

              Frustrating as it can be, the fact remains that she’s already got the deck stacked against her in a few ways – age, gender, inexperience, and the potential for getting caught in the administrative black hole – so anything that exacerbates that should be cause for concern.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yep. All the possibilities people have raised here are reasons not to make assumptions and to approach the conversation in a spirit of inquiry and openness and empathy, but they aren’t reasons not to raise it at all.

      2. Robin B*

        Yes. And those like me with allergies blow their nose all the time and perhaps want to check to make sure the area is neat and clean?

        1. SJ*

          This is a huge one for me. I don’t check myself out as much as OP’s assistant does, but I have sinus problems and my nose is constantly running, so I pull out a hand mirror and do nose checks throughout the day to make sure I don’t have a bat in the cave. I guess I could walk to the bathroom to do it, but it seems unnecessary when I can be discreet about it at my desk.

          1. textbookaquarian*

            Another sinus/allergy sufferer here. My passages will dry out and bleed occasionally. So on those days I’m always checking that there are no signs of that problem either. :)

            1. Stone Satellite*

              I find the cheap office tissues sometimes leave bits of themselves behind after I blow my nose, so I always have to check for that.

      3. Blue Anne*

        Holy crap, I have the exact same issue. Nerve damage in my chin following surgery and I’m constantly wiping my chin just in case.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Was it wisdom tooth removal? I know someone who had that happen. I chose not to have mine removed because I was at a higher risk of this.

          1. Blue Anne*

            Also – even after so many surgeries on my face and teeth (they whipped my tonsils out during one, “as long as we were in there anyway”) I still have my wisdom teeth! I had to have one removed while I was in the UK but getting them out isn’t necessarily standard practice outside the US. :)

              1. Artemesia*

                The mind boggles. Tonsil removal is associated with increased incidence of an assortment of ailments; they perform a function and should only be removed if they are seriously enough infected that leaving them in is worse than removing them. They are not superfluous.

                1. Blue Anne*

                  Yeah, I thought it was pretty nuts too, when I realized I didn’t have them! Asked my mom and that was what she told me. To be fair my issue and the corrective surgeries have been extreme enough that I have had breathing difficulties, all kinds of infections, everything swollen up, so I don’t know, there probably was a reason for it at some point.

              2. Lissa*

                That happened to me with my wisdom teeth during jaw surgery! I only found out they were gone several years later. (I was a teenager at the time.) I wasn’t bothered, it was just kind of weird to suddenly find that out.

    4. Anon for this*

      Yeah, I just recently came off of a medication (I was on for almost a year) that caused me serious dry skin to the point where my face and lips peeled constantly if I didn’t keep on top of moisturizing like hourly and sometimes sooner. I actually didn’t even bother trying to wear makeup this entire time because it was so difficult to deal with. So I am one more person here saying that you just don’t know if this person doesn’t have a valid reason for checking themselves out in a mirror a little more frequently than usual.

      1. Gen*

        A male coworker of mine got comments about being ‘vain’ (that sometimes veered into homophobia and got some people written up) because he applied a gel to his skin every day at his desk. It was actually testosterone HRT after testicular cancer. He was more than happy to talk about it and was active in raising awareness, but people really shouldn’t have been making assumptions in the first place :/

        1. Anon for this*

          That’s really mind blowing. I’m actually pretty impressed that he had the confidence and strength of character to be open to talk about it and talk to people to shut the gossips down. I honestly would have been more than happy to talk about what was going on with me if anyone had bothered to ask. But I am one of those people who doesn’t like to talk about themselves unless prompted or when given an opening to do so (like providing my story as evidence that constantly looking in a mirror isn’t always vanity). But my issue never seemed to cause any major blips on my coworkers’ radar other than recommendations for fancier chapsticks and lotions/sunblock.

    5. Dizzy Steinway*

      “The only thing that matters about your assistant’s age is that this may be one of her first jobs, and so she may not have the same frame of reference for workplace norms.”

      There’s been some talk on the open threads about this recently – not sure if Alison has seen it (do you read all the comments?) but people were talking about the idea of an ask readers post about work norms that may not be so obvious, like what are good and bad ways to take initiative and what does it mean for a manager to support you.

    6. Alexa D.*

      Adding to this that what popped into my mind reading the letter is that she may have a compulsion/compulsive disorder. For me it’s not mirror checking but phone checking/checking the time, and it’s something people likely notice and think I’m obsessed with my phone (and of course I’m a Millennial, sigh). If my manager were to talk to me about it and framed it as my being shallow, I’d react pretty strongly (defensive, insulted, ashamed). So just I would approach as sensitively as possible.

      1. Dizzy Steinway*

        That’s also a really good general point about not putting people on the defensive.

      2. April Dancer*

        There’s also eating disorders to consider. Mirror checking isn’t the first sympom people think of when they think of EDs like anorexia or bulimia, but it’s often part of it. And you can have an eating disorder at any age, any gender, any body size or shape, and while eating any amount of food.

        And then there was a friend of mine who used specialist heavy-duty makeup to cover up a large facial birthmark, because otherwise people would stare. So, please don’t even cosider asking your coworker to wash the makeup off or wear a ‘lighter’ style; they may not be able to.

      3. One of the Annes*

        What Alexa said. I have “mild” OCD, and at one point in adolescence, this is how it manifested itself.

      4. Future Homesteader*

        Also my first thought. 20-30 times a day sounds like something along the lines of OCD (coming from someone who has OCD).

      5. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        Definitely approach sensitively, but I don’t think this rules out the approach.

      6. AP in Tennessee*

        +1 My OCD has manifested as near constant mirror checking as well. It never even crossed my mind someone in a professional setting would notice.

      7. IANAL (I Argue Nightly About Llamas)*

        This was my initial reaction, too. Especially if coupled with some kind of skin issue (acne, excema, etc.). If that’s the case, OP isn’t the person to handle the issue (although zie could support the assistant emotionally).

    7. TheLazyB*

      Yeah i used to work with someone who did this and i was fascinated/horrified.

      In the end i discovered that she was massively paranoid that she had food trapped in her teeth, all the time. She was really insecure but you’d never have known unless she told you.

      1. anonderella*

        I have a crown with a troublesome gap, since part of the neighboring tooth had to be shaved away too. I can’t eat ANYTHING without it getting in my teeth. And it is incredibly painful when a piece of pepper or the like wedges its way between them.

        I’ve been caught flossing a few times, but the most that has come of it is that everybody now knows I have floss if they need it.

        1. the gold digger*

          I have had five gum grafts in the past few years, but they do not solve the problem of food being stuck in my teeth. I am paranoid about it. There are foods I just won’t eat at work because they are so prone to getting stuck. (But I check my teeth only after I eat, which is not usually all day long.)

      2. Bea*

        I thought of this or afraid of something on her face, since she’s dealing with people walking in and out.

        As a kid I had a few traumatic experiences with my pants slipping, so I’m unconsciously yanking my pants up, sometimes when it’s not needed. I can see someone being teased for having something in their teeth and being anxious about it. Most people are kind and don’t care more than “you got a little something there. ” others are downright cruel.

        1. the gold digger*

          And of course there is the traditional Homemade Orange Double-Knit Polyester Pants Splitting While the 7th Grader Who is Wearing Them is Doing Math Problems on the Board that we all know so well.

          Did I mention the waist-high flowered underwear that Elaine B, who was already in the 70s equivalent to Victoria’s Secret laughed at in the locker room?

    8. Mookie*

      Another enthusiastic +1

      Thank you for highlighting “lightweight,” by the way. It stood out to me, not in a language-police-y way, but as indicative of the wider misapprehension(s) you addressed regarding aesthetics and professionalism. Vanity, in that context (anxiety about what one looks like at work) and as you indicate, is often a red herring introduced for lack of a more generous, imaginative, kinder explanation. Looking at onesself is a grown-up activity and doesn’t make somebody a birdbrain.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Yes, and this is a place where I doubt folks would have the same reaction to a man exhibiting the same behavior. I think many of us would react with more… confusion? Or concern? Or something along those lines. And I can’t imagine the use of the word “lightweight” being applied to a man in this situation.

        1. Emi.*

          Personally, I’d react more negatively to a man constantly checking himself out in the mirror, and be more likely to think it was mere vanity (in part because he has less excuse/reason to think he’s going to be seriously judged on his appearance).

            1. Julia*

              I agree with both of you. It’s not great to judge behaviour more harshly in one gender, but I also feel like women ARE judged on their appearance more than men, and since women usually wear make-up and men usually don’t, women have a higher chance for malfunctions that would need a mirror. And then they’re called vain…

              1. Emi.*

                And to clarify, I don’t think it would affect how I would handle this if I were a manager. Because honestly, I don’t have the time and energy to care whether my employees are vain. They can be as vain as they like, as long as they behave professionally at work.

        2. Lissa*

          Eh, I agree that lightweight wouldn’t be applied, but considering the number of jokes about vain men who spend too much time on their hair, care about their appearance etc., I don’t think this would go over well with a guy doing it either, honestly.

      2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        Looking at oneself 30 times a day, however, does indicate a lack of focus and attention to what one actually needs to be doing, which is work – no? That works out to several times an hour.

        1. BPT*

          I mean if she’s spending five minutes each time looking at herself that’s one thing, but generally checking to see if I have something in my teeth or on my face in a mirror takes at most 10 seconds, including pulling it out of my purse. That’s a total of five minutes a day if she does it 30x per day, or the equivalency of one bathroom break. There could definitely be reasons that it’s excessive or unprofessional, but I doubt that the time spent doing it is the thing that needs to be fixed.

            1. BPT*

              The optics of course could be bad, but I was noting that it’s probably not really that much time spent away from work. I mean that’s at most 4x an hour (assuming she’s actually doing it thirty times a day). I know I look away from my computer and/or get distracted for 10 seconds a few times an hour. Looking at my phone, going to fill up my water bottle, going to the bathroom, resting my eyes, etc. For health reasons doctors actually suggest getting away from your screen and walk around for 10 minutes an hour.

              Yes, maybe she’s distracted. But honestly I see this as the weakest argument and the fact that you look away from your work a few times an hour is really not a big deal to me. I’m perfectly capable of getting my work done if I’m not looking straight at my computer screen for an entire hour at a time.

        2. Lissa*

          Yeah… I think all these possibilities are interesting, but don’t really change the answer. I mean…what if she does tell the manager that she had childhood cancer/a compulsion etc.? It will hopefully make the OP more compassionate to her and not make assumptions, but unless she tells every single person that, the optics are the same, as is the appearance of (and possibly actual) lack of focus, right? And if she did tell every person that it would come off pretty strangely, I think, especially if some of those people are going to be folk she doesn’t know well.

          I’m curious as to what posters think the result should be and how it should change if she does have a reason — the manager can say “Ok, I won’t tell you to stop” if it really isn’t negatively impacting her work, but can’t make it so other people will see her differently enough that she will start getting promotions etc.

          1. Jessie the First (or second)*

            No, it is simply about making sure the OP is kind rather than judgmental when she speaks to the assistant. Do you want to have OP begin the conversation with kindness and a neutral demeanor, or blazing with judgment? The letter was tilted towards judgment, so I think commenters are trying to steer towards kindness.

            Either way, the behavior needs to change. But it’s the difference between approaching it as professional development (assuming she simply needs coaching on this) and scolding (assuming she is a twit).

    9. Dankar*

      Another agreement from me. I had a tendency to look into every reflective surface I passed, much to the amusement of my family members. As it turned out, the muscles in my eyelids were failing and I ended up needing corrective surgery.

      Once that issue was fixed, the obsessive mirror-gazing stopped. I’m still not sure what the correlation was, but now I know it wasn’t motivated by vanity.

    10. Anonymouse for this*

      +1. I had very bad eczema in my teens and was bullied during high school because of it – especially bad on my face – looked like I had sunburn and peeling skin half the time. My skin got much better after college but when I started a job in my early twenties at a consulting firm where everyone looked immaculate my old insecurities returned. I checked my face regularly at my desk to make sure I looked ok. I didn’t realize how often I did it until one of my coworkers mentioned it. It was a habit I had to learn to break.

    11. Parenthetically*

      This is so great, all of it. People’s inner lives are much more complicated than “she’s incredibly self-obsessed” or “ugh, millennials, amirite?”

    12. Stranger than fiction*

      I totally hear your message, but had to giggle a little at the thought of a new skin cancer suddenly appearing within 20 minutes since the last time Ops assistant checked herself in the mirror.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Cold sores!

        I had a run of frequent cold sores for a while, and now I know I’m obsessive about checking for them. “Hmm, I have an itch. Is it a cold sore? (checks) Nope. OK, back to work. Itch, itch. Is it a cold sore now?”

    13. Michele*

      I question the idea that she is even looking in the mirror that often. She probably checks her image once an hour, but because this is something that irritates him (and a stereotype that is used to disparage a young woman), he blows it up in him mind as being much more common than it is.
      Of course, even if she does check her appearance every 10 minutes, I am not sure why that is a problem as long as she gets her work done and doesn’t interrupt conversations to do so.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I ask that we take letter writers here at their word, since there’s no useful way to discuss the letters otherwise (and can make for a really unpleasant experience for letter writers).

  4. Torrance*

    The OP in LW1 totally needs to have that conversation with their assistant but I think she also needs to have a talk with her fellow managers that their juvenile behaviour is unacceptable as well. Calling her a joke when nobody has the intestinal fortitude to actually correct her behaviour? Totally A+ management there.

    I almost wonder if that feeds into the assistant’s conduct. If management is mocking her behind her back, she may feel self-conscious, thereby perpetuating a vicious cycle.

    1. Kerr*

      This. That line in the letter made me cringe. Management considers her behavior a joke, she can’t get promoted, and no one will talk to her about it?

      OP, this doesn’t necessarily sound like garden-variety vanity (although it could be). I know that checking in mirrors can be a symptom of Body Dysmorphic Disorder. I’m curious as to what the other “self-involved” behaviors are. Are they in a similar vein, of “checking” that she looks OK? I don’t want to armchair diagnose, but just please be aware that there could be more going on and sympathy might be called for.

      1. Former Invoice Girl*

        That was the first thing I was thinking. I used to have problems related to that, and I kept checking myself out whenever I got the chance (i.e. there was a mirror available), regardless of whether or not it was appropriate.

        Maybe we are reading too much into it, but it’s a possibility.

    2. Dizzy Steinway*

      +1. To the LW: it’s really important to support your employee – giving feedback when needed is part of that. Right now it feels a bit like you’re not in her corner.

      1. Mookie*

        Yes. To paraphrase another old-timer, perhaps you should just try managing her, dear [boy]? Which, of course, is easier said than done, obviously, and the LW has my sympathies if they’ve inherited a terrible employee they can’t get rid of who also is the butt of every joke amongst the LW’s peers.

        However, it’s better to address those substantive deficiencies head-on. If she’s irritating clients with mirror-gazing, that’s a legitimate criticism that can be addressed in a neutral way without writing her off wholesale as a flibbertigibbet. In the 6 months you’ve been there, LW, has she managed to improve her performance when you’ve provided feedback/guidance? What sort of promotion is she looking for?

        1. Lance*

          The ‘six months’ part is a very key point here. A big part of a manager’s duties is providing feedback on issues, or perceived issues, and I have to wonder how much of that has actually been done if she’s become such a ‘joke’ of the office.

        2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          Absolutely. If a behavior has been an issue for months, and to the extent that people make fun of it, and you haven’t mentioned it, perhaps consider managing.

      2. Marillenbaum*

        That’s a fair point. I’m wary of a lot of the possible diagnosing going on in the comments (though it seems clearly well-intentioned), but there’s an important point here–this employee, whom you have not only standing but an obligation to correct, has not received important feedback about her performance and professional reputation that is already holding her back. I get that you might not like this person (combined with other performance issues, I can see why she might be frustrating to work with), but a frank and fair conversation about the mirror-checking and things as part of ongoing coaching would be reasonable and appropriate.

        1. Parenthetically*

          I think a lot of what is coming across as diagnosis is just an attempt to help OP#1 see that there is a wide, wide range of options besides this woman being a stereotypical vain instagram millennial.

          1. Sam*

            Agreed. I hadn’t considered just how many legitimate reasons there could be for something like this and think that it would be valuable perspective for OP.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Very much agreed.

          And fwiw, I read the comments the same way as Parenthetically—not that people are trying to diagnose OP’s admin, but rather, are complicating the idea that one mirror-gazes solely because of vanity.

    3. Allison*

      Yeah, it’s really crappy that no one will talk to her about this when it’s obviously an issue. I don’t know if OP just doesn’t know how to approach the issue, or they feel the assistant should “just know” it’s a problem and therefore doesn’t deserve coaching, but someone should have said something to her months ago.

      1. Sadsack*

        Especially since OP mentions that there are other things besides the mirror that are a problem. Why is OP not telling her about these things as they come up? OP, please act on this now and as things come to your attention in the future. Don’t save a list of issues for your employee’s annual review.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Agreed—part of being a manager requires teaching your reports, if needed, about professional norms. And I think this is totally an issue that (1) requires a conversation, and (2) falls squarely within the scope of OP’s managerial duties. I think Alison’s script is great because it’s not loaded. You just ask, “Hey, I’ve noticed [this problem behavior]. What’s up with that?” and go from there.

        But it also sounds like OP is overdue in giving feedback on other performance issues, as well. I think it would have been appropriate to have this conversation 3 months ago, but OP should certainly have it now—all of these issues have been festering for too long.

      3. AnonAnalyst*

        Totally. I suspect the assistant thinks she’s doing this covertly and that no one is noticing. If that’s the case, just letting her know that it’s not as subtle as she thinks and that it’s giving some people the wrong impression will probably be enough to make her stop.

        Assuming people will just figure out that they are doing something wrong is a terrible management strategy. Especially when it has gotten to the extent that other people on the management team (!) are making fun of it.

    4. Darrow*

      I completely agree. The fact that this has been going on for more than 6 months without being addressed (and has even reached the level of impacting the employee’s career!) says more about management and lack of feedback than it does about the employee who may not realize what she is doing or know any better.

    5. neverjaunty*

      It’s the OP’s job to manage her and give her direction, no? It would be a bit awkward for the OP to say “you all should be managing my direct report better.”

      1. Observer*

        The point is that the OP should be talking to this young woman and telling her colleagues to knock of the silly jokes, rather than engage with them on that while failing to say anything to the employee herself because the employee might react by dismissing her as an out of touch old fogey. It’s worth noting, I think, that the OP is making an assumption here that is not based in anything that she has told us, but DOES play to the OP’s stereotypes. And that she’s essentially accusing her employee of behaving in much the same way she is behaving.

    6. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      Yes, agreed. I know there’s always a balancing act between living to help make things they way they should be and living knowing the realities of the way things are, but TBH someone looking at themselves in a mirror for any reason seems like something that should not impact their professional lives. It seems very much like something people should just get over. And the idea that managers are _making fun of her_ just makes the whole thing shittier. Especially if OP as manager has let this continue impacting their opinion of the admin for 6 months without anyone saying anything.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I actually think it’s imperative to address the mirror-gazing. Yes, the coworkers/managers are behaving abominably by gossiping and making fun of her, and it doesn’t look great that OP has done nothing.

        But clients have noticed the behavior and it’s a factor that’s holding the admin back from advancement. Flagging the issue for her is going to be important for her professional development, particularly since she has so many other characteristics stacked against her (age, gender, position in the company). I don’t think checking yourself out a few times is weird, but 20-30x/day seems unusually frequent, and it supports the idea that it’s distracting and drawing negative attention to her. But making fun of her and failing to give her feedback or coach her seems cruel.

        1. Not A Morning Person*

          Agreed, and now I’m going to “beat a dead horse”. Both OP and the assistant are engaging in unprofessional behavior.
          The assistant is engaging in behavior that is creating a negative impression, regardless of the reason. The OP and other managers are discussing this behavior among themselves and the OP is not addressing the behavior that is the cause of the impressions and the gossip.
          Both are problems and both need to be addressed.
          The OP just might have needed reminding that the most important role of a manager is to coach and develop employees. With Alison’s encouragement and a script, and with the other various comments that offer ideas for how to go about it directly and compassionately, now the OP can address the situation. I’d love to hear how it turns out!

  5. Jeanne*

    Encouraging women to lie on job applications is an interesting way of empowering women. Of course they can confirm your salary. Sometimes your old employer will confirm your salary. Some companies run credit checks. Some ask for proof. Instead, teach women to research what the salary should be and how to negotiate. Teach them how to sell their skills and talents so that someone wants to hire them at a fair salary. Don’t turn to dishonesty.

    1. Lance*

      Thank you. If you’re looking for fair salary, then research, suggest numbers during negotiation, push with the skills you have; don’t lie. There’s no good that will come of it, you will be found out, and it will be a severe detriment for your future; those are reasonable assumptions to make.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        They have the income information that you’ve told banks and credit card companies. They don’t have it from your employer, but you’d have to tell the same made-up number to everyone. Which I also don’t suggest, because lying to a bank to get more credit is fraud and will land you in jail.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          The salary you report to banks for accounts and credit cards is not passed along to credit bureaus and does not show up on your credit report. Where do you see that it is?

        2. Jesmlet*

          I run and review credit checks on people all the time and have never seen salary information on there. Maybe it’s just due to the external company we use to do these but I do find it highly unlikely that salary information would show up on a credit report.

          1. Kate*

            I have run both “hard” and “soft” checks as a banker, and I can confirm that salary is not part of the credit record. You can request your own complete credit record from all of the credit bureaus (in US and Canada at least) for free and you will see that information is not included.

      1. eplawyer*

        This is how you empower anyone. Your skills have value. Do not accept less.

        I have to wonder if that is what was going on with #3 also. Wondering if they can get the person for less because they have other sources of income.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          That crossed my mind. I’d never let a potential employer know about other sources of income if it wasn’t a legal requirement (like for a security or SEC clearance)

      2. Koko*

        And if an employer tries to say, but OldJob paid you just $Crappy, so why should we give you $Fair, you can remind them that you’re leaving OldJob and earning $Crappy when you know what $Fair is, is a big part of why.

    2. Future Analyst*

      Related to this: is is considered dishonest to list your total compensation when asked for your salary? (Provided you indicate it as such, if there’s a space to do so) Because the salary portion of my compensation is significantly less than my overall compensation, and I would want to indicate that somehow, without misrepresenting anything. If there’s just one box in which to provide a salary (assuming they won’t let you leave it blank), is it okay to provide the overall number instead of strictly the salary?

      1. Natalie*

        By “overall compensation”, do you mean bonuses, commission, or some other kind of cash equivalent? Or are you referring to salary plus benefits? If it was the latter, I would definitely say just list your actual salary. No one expects benefits to be included so you’ll be low-balling yourself.

      2. namelesscommentater*

        I’ve also wondered this. Particularly because I’ve worked jobs with a deceptively low base salary (AmeriCorps post with housing served over nine months but treated as annual salary and a decent paying base salary that came with $6000 a year in additional stipends).

        And asking for base salary history/minimum salary requirements has correlated to a company coming of as cheap/disorganized/poorly presented at other stages in the process for me. It’s become a pretty major turn-off.

        1. Emi.*

          For Americorps specifically, it would be insane to peg a salary offer for a regular job to a volunteer stipend, so it seems like less of an issue to me.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I think it’s dishonest if you’re listing your benefits package with your salary. I think it’s fine to list your bonuses or compensation that defrayed your costs (e.g., housing in the Americorps example) because that’s part of your direct compensation package. But I also think you have to disclose that you’re reporting “total compensation” and explain that it includes more than your salary.

        E.g., “Total compensation: $150,000 (includes employer-provided housing).” or
        “Total compensation: $150,000 (includes annual bonuses).”

      4. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I don’t believe in providing salary history, but if you’re going to share it, it shouldn’t include benefits. When you’re asked for compensation, they’re asking about your salary. You shouldn’t add in benefits unless you’re clear with them that you’re doing that (and even then, it’ll be a little weird and they’ll likely ask you not to).

        1. the gold digger*

          Like the job I was told by my hiring manager that would pay $85K but the written offer was for $75K and he said, “Well, I meant TOTAL compensation when I said ’85K,'” to which I replied, “Bullsh!t.”

    3. Tuxedo Cat*

      I work for a state university so anyone can find out my salary if they use the right channels.

      Some state universities have websites where you can look someone’s salary history quite easily.

        1. CheeryO*

          You can look up individual people (at least for New York State… the website is SeeThroughNY).

        2. always in email jail*

          I work for a state government (not a university, though) and you can search ours individually, because a newspaper FOIAs it every year and turns it into a database. This does include university folks in my state. However, it only includes people who make $50,000 or over, and I’m not sure why.

          1. Jessie the First (or second)*

            Our state has a section on the state government’s website where you can look up the earnings of anyone at all in government, by name, and see exactly what they made the prior year and exactly what their salary is this year (and even how much they have been paid year-to-date). Every employee of every agency within the government. Searchable by name, or you can list every single employee alphabetically, or you can list all the people in a particular department.

            1. vpc*

              Federal is the same, you can look up base salaries, locality adjustments, and also individuals-by-name.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Same in our State (except it includes everyone on the payroll)—you can look everyone up by name or by department/division within a section of each branch of government. And of course it includes all divisions of the state, including universities, med centers, prisons, etc.

    4. INTP*

      Plus, when I used to check references, one of the questions I was to ask managers was the person’s salary upon leaving the company. Many managers would be clear that they didn’t know for certain so a $10k lie would have slipped by me, but sometimes the managers did know and I would have caught a lie. People tend to assume that the company won’t go to a lot of trouble to confirm salary, and most of them won’t, but that was one basic question that took 3 seconds to ask – no extra trouble at all.

      I do get where the suggestion to lie comes from. I worked for a recruiting firm and most of the clients demanded an answer to “what was your latest salary?” and based their offer on it. We even let candidates walk away over refusing to tell us their salary (that wasn’t my choice, just to be clear). And when women are low-balled and not taught negotiating skills at a young age or are penalized for negotiating, if their first salary follows them for the rest of their lives, there’s no opportunity to make up that gap. It would be great if a basic lie really did work. Unfortunately, it’s likely to result in the offer being revoked which helps no one.

        1. INTP*

          I asked because I was told to ask by the HR manager. I assume it was to confirm what candidates told us about their salary history.

  6. Edith*

    #1: Usually she just checks herself out, but she will occasionally fix her makeup. By the way, our bathroom is only about 30 feet from the office.

    There’s a restroom 30 feet from my office, but it’s so dimly lit it would be silly to go there to fix my makeup. There’s a mirror in my office and my office is where I keep my purse. Why shouldn’t I fix my makeup there? The frequency and timing of her mirror checks are the issue, not the location.

    1. MK*

      Because the office is not the place for personal grooming? This can vary by workplace, but I admit that, if I was a client visiting an office, I would find it unprofessional for a worker to take out a mirror and apply make up or twirl their moustache or whatever.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        I used to sit by a guy who unfurled a paper clip and used it to scratch inside his ears all day long. Ackkkk

        1. Bonky*

          In a previous job, I used to sit opposite a guy who picked bits of dead skin off bits of himself that were *under his clothes*, and ate them.

          Dwell on that for a moment.

          He had a number of other personal hygiene problems. Working there was bad enough as it was, and sitting by him was just appalling; but later on I got a really good freelance writing gig that meant I could leave that job, based on a piece I submitted about working with people who smell awful and have revolting workplace habits.

          I am still only semi-grateful to him.

          1. Engineer Woman*

            Not that I really want to know, but how can “dead bits of skin” be visible to the naked eye such that it can be eaten?

            While I usually find most stories in AAM quite interesting however strange, this one is just really really awfully disturbing.

            1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

              Neither do I, but I’m afraid I now can’t get it out of my head.

          2. CEMgr*

            Umm…wasn’t it nice that he was discreet by only picking UNDER his clothes? And then courteously consuming the resulting debris to avoid possible inconvenience for others? You should be GRATEFUL!h

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I had this exact same reaction. Katie the Fed’s story, paired with Bonky’s, really brought me to the edge of a dry heave.

        2. Koko*

          I used to use this tactic to keep people from stealing my favorite pens. If someone asked to borrow it I’d say, “Sure, but uh, that’s the one I use to scratch inside my ear…” Never had any of my good pens going missing. (I also used to get a good laugh out of imagining one of them going missing and announcing to the whole office, “Has anyone seen my ear pen? You know, the one I use to clean out my ear?” But alas, I’m not a character on The Office.)

        3. TK*

          My dad keeps paper clips in the medicine cabinet solely for the purpose of cleaning his ears with them. I’m a little grossed out every time I stay with my parents and have to get a comb or something out of the cabinet…

      2. MashaKasha*

        I remember a long and tension-filled thread on here sometime last year where I learned that it’s rude and insensitive to apply/fix your makeup in the bathroom. It distracts your coworkers who are there to relieve themselves. Where are we supposed to fix our makeup, if both our desk and the bathroom are a no-no?

        1. Allison*

          Wait, huh? I’d have n0 issue with a coworker fixing her makeup in the bathroom? I mean, I’d feel a little uncomfortable if I’m having diarrhea and she’s out there, making herself all pretty and smelling/hearing what I’m cooking up in there, but she’s not being rude.

          It becomes rude if you block people’s access to the sinks, or if you go in to groom yourself and go “Oh my gaaawd, it smells soooo bad in heere! Eeeeeew!” like the young ladies at my first job did.

          1. INFJ*

            I think most reasonable people would agree with that, and the comments in the referred-to thread had plenty of your perspective, as well.

          2. INFJ*

            Also, I believe the issue in the original letter had to do with a one-occupancy bathroom, so the clothes-changing coworker (the original thread wasn’t even about make-up, if memory serves correct) was preventing other people from using the closest bathroom.

            1. Allison*

              Oh yeah, I think I remember that now! That was obnoxious.

              I go to a dance studio once a week where they ask people not to use the single-occupancy bathrooms to change clothes, for the same reason.

        2. Emi.*

          I think that was an issue with someone spending ~20-30 minutes applying a full face of makeup, with her tools and products spread out all over the counter. Popping into the bathroom to touch up your lipstick is different.

        3. MK*

          That was a case where the OP took over the only bathroom in the office for 20-30 minutes every morning to change clothes from the gym and apply her makeup, forcing everyone else to use a bathroom in another place. Not the same thing.

        4. INTP*

          I feel like I remember a similar thread, but I don’t remember anyone saying it’s rude, just that it can be annoying and awkward for the person in the stall. (I’m not saying you’re wrong, just wondering if I’m remembering a different thread or missed something.) I will admit that if I need to do something in the restroom that I don’t particularly want my coworkers to hear, I find it super annoying when someone lingers in the bathroom to chat or apply makeup. I get that it’s a perfectly acceptable thing for them to do and don’t expect them to stop on my account or hold it against them, it’s just a crappy (no pun intended) situation that feels very annoying for the person stuck with a choice between farting explosively for an audience and hanging out in the bathroom for 15 minutes. (FWIW, before I discovered my gluten intolerance, this was a multiple-times-daily thing for me, so being trapped in the bathroom while people lingered for other reasons happened to me pretty frequently.)

          I do remember a discussion about people doing their entire getting-ready routines in the bathroom that got pretty impassioned, but that was less about makeup touchups and more about people spraying perfume, hairspray, and other airborne smelly things that give people allergies.

        5. Marcela*

          [Sarcasm] Don’t you know we are supposed to be naturally pretty, because nobody likes a make-up clown? [/sarcasm] I’ve been told I do not need makeup, for the very same people that later, when see my sunspots, helpfully tell me that I have dirt on my face. Gah!

          1. Allison*

            Have you seen the Amy Schumer sketch where there’s a boy band singing “girl, you don’t need makeup” to her, so she takes off her makeup, and then they’re like “woah, actually you need some makeup”? Say what you want about her comedy in general, but that video is hilarious because so. Many. Women. Have dealt with that.

            1. Stranger than fiction*

              Yep, my bf says I don’t need makeup and then when I have none on, he’s like “ack, did you sleep?'”

        6. Stranger than fiction*

          I think that was someone showering and doing their entire routine in there.

      3. Edith*

        if I was a client visiting an office

        But that was my whole point, MK. OP’s assistant do it less frequently and only at times when no coworkers or public are there. And she’s “fixing” her makeup, not plucking mole hairs or picking her teeth. Fixing makeup to me means lipstick and a little extra powder. We’re not talking eyelash curlers and cuticle scissors.

        1. MK*

          But you can’ always predict when someone will walk in; and we don’t actually know it’s only a quick lipstick fix. In any case, there is really no reason to do it in your office instead of the bathroom and “less often” should once, maybe twice, a d.

          Look, it may be prejudice. But the reality is that the image of a person sitting in their desk and doing grooming, no matter how minor, reads “slacker” not “focused on the job”. And people don’t time you to figure out how long you spend doing this, they only come away with this impression of you putting on lipstick.

          1. Edith*

            I would argue that the kind of person who catches a coworker off-guard, finds her touching up her lipstick, and decides based on that that she is a slacker and not focused on the job is the kind of person who would also think that if he showed up and she wasn’t there or was coming out of the restroom with a tube of lipstick in her hand. Or if she was mid-yawn or eating a banana or glancing at her phone to check the time.

            1. Edith*

              And I don’t even wear makeup, so this isn’t about me taking the original letter personally. I just have little patience for people, even the hypothetical to people we’re discussing, who don’t allow their coworkers to be human beings.

          2. Tiny Soprano*

            It’s such a pattern! It’s amazing how frequently the desk will be dead quiet for 45 minutes and I think, right, now’s my chance to run to the bathroom, and two minutes later on my return there will be three couriers and a client waiting at the desk and five missed calls. Or a client will hop out of the lift right as I’m in the middle of the afternoon’s only massive stretch and yawn. Hell only this week I touched up my lippy *once* at the desk at the exact moment an exec walked out of a meeting. It’s infuriating.

            It’s a bit different if the OP sits very close to their assistant and can see that it’s frequency instead of simple bad timing, but if nobody’s said anything for six months and the assistant feels she’s being discreet about it, how is she meant to know that everyone has noticed? Especially if she’s very new and isn’t totally across how these things work yet. All it warrants is a gentle conversation to let her know that a) yes it’s noticeable, and b) it’s impacting how she’s perceived.

    2. Blueismyfavorite*

      People should never fix their makeup in public, though. That’s an etiquette breach in any circumstances but it’s especially out of place at work.

      1. Rebeck*

        I find this amusing because at my former workplace we had a mirror in the office specifically for the checking of hair, makeup etc – because we were a public library with no staff bathroom and so the options were fix your lipstick in the office, or in the publicly-accessible bathrooms. I think fixing hair/makeup in the office was the right choice.

      2. Bonky*

        Meh – standard procedure in our office (another place with dingy bathrooms, but good natural light at our desks). At least among those of us who wear makeup; not everybody does. As long as people are doing their jobs, why do you care?

        If I’m in a restaurant, I’ll cheerfully powder my nose and fix my lipstick at the table. Doesn’t diminish me or my intellect, and saves me missing out on conversation to take an unnecessary trip to the toilet. Somehow I’ve managed to reach the C suite despite these awful habits.

        1. eplawyer*

          These behaviors are considered “girly” rather than the act of a woman. This is one of the no-nos in Nice Girls Don’t Get the COrner Office. You’re signaling about looks, not ability.

          It’s great you got to the C-Suite doing it. But others may not be able to.

          1. Observer*

            Because only “girls” put on make up and are expected to make sure their appearance is polished, but “women” don’t?

          1. Allison*

            I think it’s one of those borderline rude behaviors I only engage in around people I’m comfortable with. I’ll reapply my lipstick around friends, family, and probably a long-term boyfriend. Not so much on a first date. I’ll also happily fix my appearance at the table of a casual bar and grill type place, but probably not a super fancy establishment.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I don’t think that’s a widespread norm, Robin.

            I work with people with really lax etiquette, and it’s universally seen as inappropriate to reapply makeup at the table—including lipstick. But applying it at your desk in an office where no one can see you doing it, or applying a lip balm (not a lipstick) as you’re walking outside or whatnot, seems more accepted/acceptable, now.

        2. only acting normal*

          My grandmother used to fix her lipstick and blot her powder at the table after eating: she’d be nearly 100 now and was quite politely mannered. So it’s hardly a new (low?) standard to do a little make up touch-up in public.

          1. Kelly L.*

            I believe I once read, in a fairly stuffy old source, that retouching lipstick at the table was fine but other makeup was not.

        3. EmKay*

          The Queen of England fixes her lipstick at the dinner table, and legend has it she once told Jackie O that it was okay. I’m gonna go with them.

          1. Marisol*

            Emily Post said lipstick touchups were fine in a casual setting (not a formal dinner or business meeting for example.) I’ve always assumed that lipstick was ok; everything else was verboten.

        4. Kate*

          I agree with you Bonky. As someone who wears lipstick daily, the idea that women shouldn’t fix their lipstick at the table after eating is really frustrating.

          Women, especially at fancy restaurants, are supposed to dress up and look nice, which usually means wearing lipstick. But if you eat certain items, your lipstick wears off more quickly than with other items. Sometimes it feathers, lipstick on teeth, etc, there are lots of things that can go a little wonky.

          But we aren’t supposed to fix it at the table, something that isn’t a super involved or long process and that doesn’t involve bodily fluids. We are supposed to wear makeup and keep it constantly perfect without, heaven forbid, ever fixing it in public.

          1. Kate*

            Meant to say “Women, especially at fancy restaurants are expected by our society and culture to dress up” and so on.

          2. MK*

            I don’t think society expects women to maintain perfectly applied lipstick during a whole meal. Or that lipstick is part of any restaurant dress code. Lipstick is the one thing that never stays perfect through a whole outing, even those that don’t involve food. Some women go to the restroom to freshen up, others foot at the table, many just let it go.

            But the office is not a restaurant where you are the paying customer.

      3. Allison*

        I don’t think that’s a universal rule anymore, but I do think people should try to be discrete when fixing their appearance.

      4. SarahTheEntwife*

        I see people fixing their makeup on the bus all the time. Why is it such a breach of etiquette? I didn’t start wearing makeup at all until fairly recently, so I’ve clearly missed some of the standard Girl Manual.

        1. Emi.*

          At stoplights? Or does your city have weirdly smooth-driving buses? I mostly find this to be an impressive display of skill.

          1. fposte*

            I used to watch women do it on the train, and I found that impressive enough–a bus would be seriously impressive. I would look like a drunken clown with one weepy stabbed eye.

            (BTW, it’s not the Girl Manual, it’s the Everybody Manual.)

            1. Tiny Soprano*

              I can knock out a damn good winged liquid eyeliner on the train to work. Seems like a breeze after putting on stage makeup in a moving tour van for a year.

              Either way, I value an extra half-hour of sleep far more than the opinion of strangers who think it’s unladylike to do my makeup in public.

          2. namelesscommentater*

            I was merging between two major SoCal highways. Woman in the car next to me was applying mascara like it was nbd. Never been as simultaneously disgusted/horrified/impressed as I was in that moment.

            1. JustaTech*

              When I was a kid I would regularly see a man driving down the highway shaving with an electric razor into the collar of his trench coat. I can’t imagine how itchy that was.

          3. Parenthetically*

            This brought back some memories! I used to put on a full face of makeup on school trips, on an ancient school bus with (I swear) no shock absorbers at all, in the semi-darkness, using only the mirror in my powder compact. It was my party trick.

          4. INTP*

            I wouldn’t apply eyeliner, very pigmented lipstick, or mascara on a moving bus, but less precise types of makeup are pretty easy for me. I apply my tinted moisturizer, concealer, and cream/stick blush with my fingers, and it’s pretty easy to wipe away a smudge.

            I see nothing wrong with people doing this on a bus or train as long as they aren’t using sprays or loose powders that could trigger people’s allergies or make a mess, and the seats have plenty of room for them to do this without elbowing anyone. If someone is going to be trapped on transport for awhile every day anyways, it seems silly to expect them to wake up earlier and apply makeup at home just to follow an etiquette rule that doesn’t have a rational basis.

          5. Elizabeth H.*

            I put on makeup while I’m driving to work a lot. I know, this is awful. I usually throw the car in park when I know I’m at a long light so that nothing bad happens while I’m looking in the visor mirror.

        2. Biff*

          I think this must be etiquette in some places, but not others. I’ve never heard about this, and wouldn’t care if I saw someone doing their makeup or fixing their nails in public.

      5. SJ*

        I don’t think someone should put on a full face of makeup at her desk at work, but if I’m just taking 20 seconds to reapply some lipstick after lunch or quickly powder my nose, I’m not going to schlep my makeup bag or purse all the way to the bathroom to do it.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Same. I used to do this at the end of the day if I were going somewhere after work. Just a pat of powder (and a tiny dab of concealer, if I had a zit) and a quick refresh of lipstick. Of course, I was in a cube so nobody could really see me unless they actually came in.

      6. Mike C.*

        Wait, really? I mean yes, I’m a man and don’t wear makeup (not judging any men who do, by the way!) but I know lots of folks in lots of different contexts who would do that “in public” and it’s never been a big deal at all. I was a little surprised to find out that some folks thought otherwise.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          No personal grooming in public has long been an established rule of etiquette (consult Emily Post, etc.) but that doesn’t mean it’s not frequently violated, like every other etiquette rule.

          1. Joan Callamezzo*

            Miss Manners has long held that it’s okay to do a discreet lipstick touch-up after dinner as long as you’re not using your knife for mirror.

      7. Dankar*

        I think that’s a holdover belief from a time when women were supposed to hide the fact that they didn’t all roll out of bed with a freshly powdered face and lipstick applied. That is to say, I think men are onto us now and we can let that “rule” go.

        Reminds me of an article I read a few years ago about a woman who was told by the man across from her to stop applying mascara on the train because it “ruined the illusion” for him. Yuck.

        1. Allison*

          Yeesh, talk about literally performing gender. It’s like this man actually saw women as actors putting on a show for the likes of him.

        2. Koko*

          Ha! I saw this tweet a while ago:

          “when women wear makeup they’re basically lying to us” i dont see why i’m being blamed for a man stupid enough to think i have gold eyelids.

        3. fposte*

          I disagree both that it’s time to let that rule go and with the characterization. It’s not just a female thing–note above about the man digging in his ear–and it comes from before makeup was even an accepted convention for women. Personal grooming across the board isn’t generally approved in public, and in general bodily fiddling at all is discouraged, not just stuff that’s supposed to make you look or smell better.

          1. Stone Satellite*

            I submit that there are two types of grooming and they should be regarded differently:
            1) Grooming that results in removal of something from the body, which is not suitable to perform in public (e.g. retrieving ear wax, picking your nose, picking at scabs, clipping your nails, shaving). It’s gross to do this in view of others because no one wants to know or even think about what you do with the things you remove. Out of sight, out of mind, so do it in private.
            2) Grooming that does not result in the removal of anything from the body, which is okay to do in public (e.g. fixing makeup, smoothing hair, lotioning hands). It doesn’t matter if you do this in public because no objectionable materials will be left behind to gross out the people who see you do it.

            1. fposte*

              I applaud your negotiating spirit! However, I still like the old rule that really discourages messing with your body in front of people–you can see vestiges of it in the “don’t scratch your ass” and “don’t touch your feet” taboos, which aren’t about what you leave behind (hopefully).

              (And if you can brush your hair without leaving anything behind, you are a tonsorial miracle.)

            2. Parenthetically*

              I basically agree with this — there’s obviously room for disagreement and negotiation about which behaviors fit into which category, but I think there’s a fairly large, obvious difference between touching up my mascara after I go to the gym and, say, picking my nose. Or, I’m thinking of the girl who sat behind me in church one Sunday when I was a child and completely redid her manicure — took off the old polish, clipped and filed her nails down, and put on new polish — during the sermon.

            3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Ooo, I like Stone Satellite’s formulation and am going to steal it and pretend it’s an agreed-upon rule of etiquette.

              (Particularly lotioning hands—isn’t this normal to do in public, if needed? Folks do it with hand sanitizer all the time.)

              1. Allison*

                I put lotion on my hands in public, but I feel weird putting sunblock on my body in front of people. Even at the beach. It’s why I often opt for spray-on sunscreen. But it has less to do with making people uncomfortable, and more to do with worrying that some creepy dude will sexualize me rubbing my body.

          2. Clever Name*

            “general bodily fiddling”

            Maybe that’s how I’ll explain to my 10-year-old son why I always get on his case to stop grabbing his wanker absentmindedly……

            1. fposte*

              Works for me. If it keeps his hands off his bum, feet, and pits and out of his mouth, nose, and ears along with it, you will be in the top echelon of parents.

      8. Jesmlet*

        I’ve never heard this before. If I want to fix my makeup in public or while sitting behind my desk at work where no one can see me, the etiquette police can bite me… Seems like another one of those silly rules meant to put constraints on women and that have no affect on men.

        1. Lucy*

          Yeah, this is one of those things that I feel like most people don’t actually give a damn about. Etiquette books are fun to read for entertainment (a blast from the past) but that’s all they are good for.

          Though Americans do seem to be weirdly hung up on etiquette, so maybe this is just one of those cultural differences. No one I’ve ever known gave a damn if someone applied lipstick at the dinner table. Actually, I’ve never heard that was an issue anywhere except on this site!

            1. Lucy*

              Apparently so! It’s super-weird to me, because it is an entirely foreign concept to me (and, based on the highly unscientific poll I just took of my workplace, to all 32 coorkers in the office today) and yet people assert it as absolute fact.

              1. Anne*

                I think there’s a huge class and culture component when it comes to this – the Emily Post etc reflects the upper-middle class and Western European perspective in a way that doesn’t necessarily translate to groups of some people in the USA and Canada

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Yeah, I was going to say the same thing, and add that she has a distinctly New England/Mid-Atlantic WASP lens.

                  That said, even in regions with lax etiquette rules (I think California falls in that category), there are certain professions, social classes, age demographics, etc., that are more/less stodgy about which etiquette rules they follow.

      9. Helena*

        I disagree that it’s an etiquette breach in all cases. When Laura Bush was criticized for applying lipstick in public, she said the queen of England told her it was fine. The queen confirmed Ms. Bush’s story in her authorized biography.

        1. Parenthetically*

          I love when women do their lipstick in public. I am a makeup dunce, so I always find myself watching admiringly.

      10. Artemesia*

        I see people putting on lipstick in public all the time and don’t see anything wrong with it — more complex operations and foundation and eye make up etc — yeah, not cool.

    3. SophieChotek*

      It is possible, the assistant may think she is being less distracting by getting up 20-30 times to go to bathroom, even if its not far, than quickly checking at her desk. (Whether its truly a self-image check or something else, as mentioned above.)

    4. Marillenbaum*

      That’s an excellent point. I’d be far less annoyed by someone taking a moment to touch up some lipstick if they weren’t pulling out a mirror 20-30 times a day.

  7. Uyulala*

    #1 – If she does have some kind of need to keep checking herself in the mirror, you might suggest she get a small one that would sit on the desk. That way, the person can just glance in the glass instead of needing to draw more attention by opening drawers and/or mirror clasps.

    1. Susan*

      I don’t know if that would be a good idea… It might look more discreet to clients or visitors who didn’t know the mirror was there, but it probably wouldn’t be too long before one of the managers found out about it. If these are people who already make fun of the assistant for taking out her pocket mirror all the time, I suspect they would ridicule her even more once they learned that she got a mirror to put on her desk so she could look at herself nonstop.

      1. strawberries and raspberries*

        I actually have a small compact mirror sitting open on my desk. I use it to make eye contact so I won’t have resting bitch face while I’m talking to people on the phone. No one has ever reprimanded or ridiculed me for it- in fact, I doubt anyone has even noticed it.

        1. PizzaDog*

          that’s actually something that was recommended to me in one of my first customer service jobs. my trainer bought little locker mirrors for everyone in the department, so that our customers could “hear our smile.”

        2. Joan Callamezzo*

          Years ago as part of some required training, folks in our customer-facing departments were given small desktop mirrors with the reminder “What you see is what they hear” etched on the glass. It was meant to remind people to put on their “customer face” even when speaking on the phone.

      2. AnotherAlison*

        I’ve known several people who had a mirror on their monitor to act as a rear-view mirror to see people walking up behind them. That seems like a plausible explanation for having a mirror on your desk, and a way to give yourself quick checks as needed.

        (I don’t check myself very often, but as a stuffy-nose allergy person with a skin cancer surgery scar on my forehead who eats spinach at lunch, I can think of a lot of reasons I might check myself throughout the day.)

        1. Gen*

          We had these on all the monitors at the bank (to stop people peering over your shoulder at your work) they’re pretty discreet since they’re already on your eyeline, but being convex they might worsen a psychological issue if that’s the root cause of the behaviour

        2. MegaMoose, Esq*

          Yes to the rear-view mirror! I startle really easily, so after several embarrassing shrieking incidents, I put a mirror by my monitor so the motion would alert me to someone approaching.

      3. Mike C.*

        I think the issue here is that those managers need to start acting in a more professional manner.

  8. Dizzy Steinway*

    #1 It can be helpful to focus on what you know and can observe, not your beliefs about why it may be happening or how the person might react. I think there’s a danger of making an assumption about someone e.g. they’re self involved and then seeing any behaviours through that lens. It’s easily done but important to be aware of.

    1. April Dancer*

      Yes, absolutely.

      And on that note, it’s worth remembering that this may have been the proper workplace behaviour in this employee’s previous workplaces: fashion, beauty, retail, hospitality, wait staff, any customer facing role, and especially receptionists – they all tend to have high standards for female grooming. Some places wil penalise you for not constantly checking and maintaining your appearance.

      1. IrishEm*

        +1 This.

        I got into a MASSIVE ROW with a Commercial Manager because I was doing a wearer trial (wearing the clothes to promote them) and I had my hair tied back and the *gasp* Wrong Shoes on, and no make-up. I had just come back from my tea break three storeys below Ladieswear, no way was I wearing my heels down that far, and no way was I going to risk getting food in my (fine, flyaway, just-been-to-the-hairdressers’) hair. And make-up gives me acne, so no. Never going to happen. But she told me I didn’t look “aspirational” enough for a wearer trial. On my way back from my break. I flipping hate retail.

        The fact that I stood up for myself and set boundaries with her and let her know that her treatment of me was unacceptable was probably why it was such a Massive Row, but I was not prepared to roll over and take this kind of abuse. I had done for seven years, and I just felt sick of it by that stage. And honestly, I can see myself acting like this girl in a future job if make-up/appearance are made a fuss of. If she’s an admin, then she’s probably some form of client-facing, even if the clients are only the other staff in the office and not external customers.

        If the girl knows that management is laughing at her behind her back it is probably fuelling her need to make sure she looks put together. I feel sorry for her.

  9. Freya UK*

    Re; LW3. I took a few months out between jobs last year, because I wanted to and I always ensure I’m able to, financially, if I so wish. After discussing my break during the interview for my current job, the manager (interviewing me) asked what my partner did and commented that he must make a decent salary (as in, assuming I lived off him, rather than assuming that I’m financially responsible). And yes, he has turned out to be a real tw*t.

    1. Dizzy Steinway*

      I had an interview for postgraduate funding for a spot partly based on financial hardship and a female interviewer asked me: “Why can’t your husband get a better paying job?”

      I made a very serious complaint (along the lines of: don’t advertise a scheme for people with low household incomes and then ask them judgemental, shaming and stupid questions). It would have been okay if they’d asked what else I had done to try to improve my situation. But this was not okay!

      It’s hard to tell if LW3’s daughter was asked about finances or just how they spent their time.

      1. Freya UK*

        I have no words…

        “It’s hard to tell if LW3’s daughter was asked about finances or just how they spent their time.”

        True – I would’ve taken it as finances though, phrased like that it definitely would be here.

    2. blackcat*

      As I’m getting on towards the end of my PhD, people seem to make two baffling statements (always together!)
      1) I should take a not-well-paid post-doc because my husband must make plenty of money and he can support me, and
      2) My husband should be willing to move anywhere for my career, otherwise, he’s sexist!

      If I take that lowly paid job in the middle of no where, he doesn’t get to keep his (okay-paying) job. If he thinks that would suck for both of us (and it would!), he is just being a reasonable human being.

      And my fellow grad student, who is single, gets a dose of “Well, if your salary isn’t enough, your parents could just support you.” She was a first gen college student. Together, her parents make less than her grad student stipend (which isn’t much). That isn’t anyone’s business, but she does get people pressing her when she says, “That’s just not possible.” (“Why?! Are your parents not supportive of your career?!”)

      People say the weirdest stuff when it comes to assumed financial support from parents or spouses. And, yes, some of the time, it’s because they’re real tw*ts.

      1. HurryHurry*

        My husband and I once asked our accountant about ways of reducing our taxes, and he asked why we didn’t own property. We said we couldn’t afford it (we live in NYC). He then said, “Oh, but you could get a decent apartment for a $30,000 down payment. Surely you have that.” And when we said no, he said, “Well, can’t your parents give it to you?”

        My husband said his father was more likely to ask him for money than the other way around. I told him if my parents even had that kind of money, the only way I was getting it is if they died and it was an inheritance. He was shocked to hear that there are parents out there who aren’t just willing to hand huge sums to money over to their children.

        1. Not so Nervous Accountant*

          SMH-ing so hard. What a crappy thing to say–I and my coworkers would never say that to our clients.

          1. HurryHurry*

            I would LOVE to ditch this guy, but he finds ways to save us SO much money. So now I just don’t go to his office and my husband deals with him exclusively.

            1. Midge*

              It is boggling my mind that a person whose job it is to help other people handle their money doesn’t understand that not everyone has the same financial circumstances as him.

        2. Annie Moose*

          Ahhhh, some people really don’t get it…

          I’m in my early twenties and I make more money than both of my parents combined. (which is horrifying to me, to be honest, but that’s what’s happened and I have to come to terms with it) I literally have loaned them money! Those kinds of assumptions are just… so mindbogglingly naive.

          1. starsaphire*

            Pretty much from the point I started earning, this was true for me as well. For a very, very long time, we came up to visit two or three holiday weekends a year, to replace things and fix things and pay for repairs to things, etc., etc. I never had money in savings because there was always an emergency back home.

            And I used to get a LOT of that nonsense from classmates and co-workers too. “Why not let your parents buy you a new car instead of driving that POS?” “If you’re so sick of renting, just ask your folks for a down payment.” In that voice that implies, “You’re just not TRYING hard enough.”

          2. A*

            All my life the message I got from my middle-class parents was “well you just have to work harder” and “live within your means” and “save, save, save!”

            Come to find out they’ve never had a budget, can’t stop raiding their savings account to save their lives, and are taking money from my mother’s elderly mother. When she’s gone they’ll likely spend themselves into oblivion and expect me to send money.

            Gawd, I am not looking forward to this.

        3. AnotherAlison*

          My parents have plenty of money. They don’t want to share any of it with me. At this point, my husband and I earn more than them (but with kids at home have higher expenses), but it was always irritating to see my cousins get gifted money from their parents. On my mom’s side, they all got gifted down payments for their houses or the equivalents.

        4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          This sounds a lot like Mitt Romney’s comment that people should pull themselves up by their bootstraps by borrowing money from their parents.

          Cricket. Cricket.

          It’s pretty amazing how deeply entrenched class norms can be in certain contexts/fields (nevermind the added problematics of assuming everyone comes from a non-abusive, nuclear family).

      2. IrishEm*

        One girl in my first MA class had to fight the local authority to get a grant she was entitled to, because she was estranged from her parents, but the grant was means tested – on her parents’ finances to which she had no access. It took her a good six months before the council accepted her situation was real and gave her the grant. *sigh*

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I had to do this in law school—it was exasperating. The Financial Aid office had decided to impute people’s parental incomes if they were under 28, no matter how many years they’d been financially independent or if they were estranged from their families. It creates all sorts of social equity problems, and it’s all rooted in the fact that tuition/fees are the primary money-making engine for schools.

          1. blackcat*

            When I was a teacher, my school would pay for me to take college classes at the in-state tuition rate at the nearby public university. That was great! It was less great when the university initially declared I was an out of state student and wanted to charge 5x the tuition. I was a few months under 26, and they considered anyone under 26 to have same permanent address as their parents (and my parents lived in another state). I successfully appealed a letter from my employer, attesting that I had resided in the state for 4 years and was taking the classes at the behest of my (local) employer.

            My experience of appealing was actually pretty easy, though. They seemed to understand my position clearly and the person I called basically said, “Yeah, that’s crazy, you’re an in-state adult. Have your boss send a letter to X person in admissions. It should be sorted out within a day or two of receiving the letter.” And it was! Hooray for logical systems and for people who are competent at their jobs!

            Boo on people who make unreasonable assumptions about parents involvement (or lack thereof) in young adults’ financial lives.

          2. the gold digger*

            What? I had been out of college and finished an MBA by the time I was 28 and had paid for all of it myself! I had been officially financially independent since I finished college at 21, but even during college, my parents had no money to give me.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I was in the same boat, gold digger—I had been working since 15 and have been financially independent since my first year of college… which I also paid for on my own, and the same for law school. My law school only relaxed the under-28 rule in four contexts: if you could demonstrate you were financially independent with enough money to pay your fees yourself (i.e., with no financial aid); if you were a veteran; if you were designated as an emancipated minor before or at the age of 16; or if you’d married.

              But the part of this policy that was especially ugly was when it was applied to people under 28 who were estranged from their families. Most often, these were folks who were foster children or who had suffered child abuse, including financial abuse. Oftentimes their parents claimed them as dependents even though they were not, which the school used as “proof” that that person wasn’t really financially independent.

      3. LabTech*

        Right? They could just pay a living wage instead of paying so low it forces their employees to be financially dependent.

  10. Not Australian*

    If you know you’re not going to be using your car for several months, the simplest thing to do is take the battery out; then you charge it and put it back in before you try to start the car. You’d charge your cell phone regularly, wouldn’t you? The car needs the same amount of attention, and it’s very nearly as simple to deal with. (Find a ‘how-to’ on YouTube if you’re not sure.)

    1. INTP*

      Yep. In fact, you can probably get several more months if not a year out of a battery that people who sell batteries will “test” and tell you is completely dead. You can buy a battery recharger for about $50, it’s better than jumping off the battery anyways. I learned this when I lived in WI where a battery goes completely dead very quickly in winter (and then freezes solid, fun times). It’s pretty common for people to leave their battery on a charger if they won’t be using the car even for a few days when it’s super cold.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I think it’s still useful. OP sounds like they travel often, so it will likely be a recurring problem.

          1. Anna*

            I think people are using the idea of giving advice as a screen to talk about how silly and stupid the OP is, so I don’t see the myriad suggestions on what to do that helpful.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I agree that some of the responses have more snark than others, but most of them read as well-intentioned to me. I don’t think the majority of commenters think OP is silly or stupid.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Yeah, only like two people were rude about it. It’s endlessly frustrating to me that one or two people can define how the entire comment section gets categorized.

                1. Anne*

                  For what it’s worth I would characterize the comments overall as trying to mitigate those 1-2 disproportionate responses, I’m not enough of an outsider to know for sure but it’s pretty consistent that Alison and others push back against the negative – maybe it’s more apparent to a regular reader like myself but I’m constantly reassured by the steady boundary against unessacary negativity

  11. TheLazyB*

    At my last job there was a fund for anything that had been broken/damaged in the course of your duties. I’m fairly sure that for #4, they would have covered maybe half of the battery. Worth asking around to find out if something like that exists.

  12. Susan*

    #3 – Your daughter’s response seems unnecessarily defensive. She probably could have just said, “My family supported me while I was earning my certificate.” That’s a pretty normal situation, and probably didn’t require any further details or justification.

    That said, it’s a pretty odd (and kind of rude) question to ask in an interview. Was it a part of the actual interview, or was the interviewer just trying to make conversation? I’m not sure why they would ask something like that in an interview. An innocent explanation would be that the interviewer was trying to find out if your daughter had any short-term jobs that she didn’t include on her resume, but asked in an awkward way. A more sinister reason would be that they’re not paying much and they want to know if she has financial support from a spouse or parents so they can get away with a low salary.

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      I think a more likely reason they asked is because it’s a law office. A cynical criminal attorney is going to think that maybe the person supported themselves through criminal endeavors. And they would ask that question to get rid of that suspicion, no matter how unlikely it may be. I know several criminal attorneys and a portion of them think that way.

      I agree, though, that it is a bad question to ask.

      1. Bonky*

        That’s the availability heuristic: a particularly horrible cognitive bias, whereby if something comes to mind readily, we believe it to be much more likely. It’s why we believe our children are at terrible risk of abduction: it’s vanishingly rare, but it’s in the papers a lot, so we are more aware of it than we might be and call it to mind more readily than we might otherwise. If you’re a criminal attorney and are therefore exposed to a lot of criminals, you’re far more likely to ascribe criminal motives to perfectly innocent behaviours.

        1. Delta Delta*

          I’m going to disagree. As a criminal defense attorney, I find I am more likely to ascribe innocent motives to criminal behaviors. That doesn’t mean I’m not wary of everything, it just means I’m not quick to assume guilt where it may not be.

      2. SarahTheEntwife*

        Wouldn’t anyone who *had* been supporting themselves through some kind of illegal activity just say “oh, I had supportive friends” or “I had a rainy-day fund built up before I lost my job” or something? The question seems to assume honest criminals.

        1. Stone Satellite*

          That’s what I thought. Who, when asked how they’re supporting themselves during a job interview, admits to committing a crime? Like the background check question that asks if you’re a fugitive. You’re willing to commit a crime bad enough that you’re being pursued by the law, but lying on a form is a bridge too far?

      3. Mike C.*

        I’ve heard a lot of obnoxious millennial stereotypes, but being a racketeer is certainly one of the nicer ones! :p

      4. Delta Delta*

        Yeah, no. This criminal attorney doesn’t think that way at all.

        If it’s an attorney asking the question – regardless of his or her field – it’s probably more because he or she was more curious than a good business person, and asked a boneheaded question.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          Y’know, that’s why I put the word cynical in there. Not because all criminal attorneys are cynical, but because criminal attorneys that happen to be cynical tend to think like that.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Whether they think like that and whether they ask a question to elicit that information is two different things. But we also have no idea what kind of attorney this is. I think this is a “zebra!” response to a “horses, not zebras” question.

      5. FiveWheels*

        I’m pretty sure that criminal lawyers know that if you all criminals whether or not they commit crimes, the answer is unlikely to be truthful.

        1. Delta Delta*

          I’m a criminal defense lawyer and have represented thousands of clients. Several of them have lied directly to me. Most did not. I take everything at face value.

          1. Trout 'Waver*

            That is exact opposite of what every single defense attorney I know (and I know many) has said to me about their clients.

      6. Triangle Pose*

        What? Where in the letter did it say a criminal attorney was involved? It just says an attorney interviewed her for an accountant job.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          Nowhere. I was just offering an explanation for why the question might have been asked *if* it had been a criminal attorney. The OP didn’t say what kind of attorney.

      7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I don’t mean to be argumentative, but I seriously doubt that the question was asked to encourage OP’s daughter to identify her prior criminal activity or participation in the underground economy. I don’t know a single criminal defense attorney who would (1) ask something like that in an interview, or (2) phrase a question the way OP describes to solicit that information even if they did want to know about prior criminal activity. I imagine there are some out there who would ask about prior criminal activity, but I think that’s the exception, not the rule.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          It’s less about “I bet I can trick her into admitting she’s a criminal,” and more about, “I’m sure she has a reasonable explanation for how she supported herself, but I better ask to make sure.”

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Oh, that completely reframes it for me. Thank you! (I’m not being sarcastic; it really did help me shift how I interpreted your responses.)

    2. INTP*

      I agree. I think it was a thoughtless question – insensitive to the fact that someone’s answer might be uncomfortable for them to share – but probably not asked with malice, so not worth getting defensive over in an interview and saying something that works against you. They were probably curious whether you had potentially been working a job that wasn’t on your resume, freelancing, or something like that, and in their minds were giving her an opportunity to say something that would help her. (Of course, your explanation that they’re hoping for someone with external support, or the idea mentioned above that they might suspect illegal activity, are also possible.)

      FWIW, I can understand being defensive, as a millennial who lived with my parents for 1.5 years in my late 20s to refill my savings after grad school and dealt with a lot of rudeness about it. (Not in job interviews, just random people visiting my parents would essentially ask me, under a veneer of small talk, to explain why I was living there – it felt like I was having to justify constantly that I’m not a drain on society!) So I’m not criticizing her for feeling that way – I just think it’s best for her interests if she learns to anticipate this so she can answer in a more measured way.

  13. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

    #2 I agree, lying about your salary is very bad advice. If I bumped my salary up by $10,000 it would be an immediate red flag because it puts me well above the average for my skill set in my region. Most positions advertise with salary expectations and I’d be out of the running before my resume was submitted.

    1. Zip Silver*

      Lying is a bad idea in general, but you’re right, instead of 10k, it would make more sense to say 10 or 20% more. Then you’re just above market, rather than a barista that makes 30k a year.

  14. Channel Z*

    Salary story: My first job after grad school in 1999. Both me (female) and another colleague (male) were hired at the same time, we were the same age, with a Master’s degree in the same area, and it was our first job. I was curious if there was indeed a gender difference in our starting salary, since everything else that I could think of was equivalent. It turns out he started out $2,500 less in salary than I did. Why? Because we both got exactly what we said our salary expectations would be in the interview, and I bid higher. It wasn’t a gender issue, but I can see why if a woman (or anyone) had been paid less due to bias, they wouldn’t want to quote that figure. (Note: we had this conversation a few years in and after we both had promotions, so starting salary wasn’t contentious, but it still wasn’t fair.)

    1. SophieChotek*

      Not sure, but you say “quoted” your salary – isn’t that saying what you “wanted” to make? Versus what this OP seems to be saying, where this woman speaker is telling the attendees to say “I made this Salary X + $10,000 at Last Job”?

      (I can definitely see your quoted salary story, though. Happened to me at coffee shop; I later found out my manager would have paid me 50 cents more an hour if I’d asked for it at the interview, but I didn’t, but then she would not adjust it later. I was peeved.)

      1. Channel Z*

        Our main comment was “We should have asked for more!” They phrased the question as “What is your expected salary?” and it was on a written form, not just a question the interviewer asked us (we had the same interviewer too).

        Yes, lying about what you made is a very bad idea, because you’ll get caught. And my husband has lost out on a job by giving a salary expectation that was too high. Bad advice.

        1. Lily Rowan*

          Wow, I’ve never had an offer pulled because I asked for too much — I might not have gotten it, but the negotiation was always possible. On the flip side, when hiring, I guess I have passed by people who said their expected salary was twice what we were prepared to pay.

          One time I was recruited for a new job, and I’m pretty sure the recruiter asked what I was making at my current job. I know enough not to answer that question, so I said “I wouldn’t be able to leave here for less than X.” X was a good chunk more than what I was making at the time, but I really wasn’t actively looking, so it seemed like a good shot. They ended up offering me just under X, which I took, and I swear my boss thought I took a pay cut to work there!

          1. Huddled over tea*

            Sometimes we bypass candidates who have unrealistic salary expectations at the first step though. Our ATS asks for salary expectation, and while I’m usually happy to still consider people who might be looking for a band higher than what we’d offer (around $5-8k) , sometimes I get candidates, especially entry-level, asking for 2 or 3x what we (or anyone else) would offer.

            When you’ve got 500-1000 applications, it’s an easy way of wiping out a few dozen who haven’t done any research on what you can expect for the industry.

          2. Heidi*

            In October, I had a job offer tabled by an upper HR person because I was asked, after the offer was tendered, what my current salary was, and I told them — it was (and still is) $22K below what they were offering me, so the HR rep refused to honor their offer/deemed me unworthy of such a bump and put everything on hold.

            My current salary was never requested/discussed in 6 weeks of interviews. It only came up after the offer.

            I have to ask, in all seriousness, if there’s a possibility they’re going to ask for copies of your W-2s anyway (Alison’s point above), why would you NOT just go ahead and answer the current salary Q? Or do you refuse to provide them?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              They’re asking for W2s to confirm what you told them. If you haven’t told them anything, there’s nothing to confirm (and you’d continue to decline to share that info if they do ask).

              1. Heidi*

                What if they are asking for a W-2 to verify employment for an employer who cannot be reached? That’s not a situation where you can decline to provide, correct?

    2. Koko*

      And what’s unfortunate is those starting salaries can end up having a big impact on lifetime earnings, retirement savings…and you’re least likely at that point in your career to know what your skills are really worth. It took me probably 5 years in my field before I really intuitively understood the value of what I did or the cost of a missed opportunity. If asked to name a number I really struggled because the truth was my number was, “I can’t take a pay cut but please give me the most money you can give me because I am struggling as is.”

      I’m now 8 years into my field and not only am I better able to estimate what I think a salary should be based on a job description and what I know about the employer, I’m also earning enough that I’m not desperate for every dollar and terrified of low-balling myself or pricing myself out of the running. I know that my estimate will be reasonable, and it’s OK that it might not be the very top dollar I could get because it will still be plenty for me.

      There’s a really strong argument to be make for having standard, objectively-calculated starting salaries for entry-level roles and being very transparent about how they’re calculated, taking negotiating out of the equation. It can begin to expose people new to the workforce to what sort of skills and experiences are worth how much to an employer, and helps take discrimination out of the equation. And at entry level it’s not like you need the freedom to woo someone beyond what the rubric would allow or you would need to consider too many factors to make a concrete rubric, as you might in higher-level positions.

  15. Laura*

    Re: Letter 1 – I see others have made suggestions similar to this about why the assistant might be looking in the mirror a lot. But to add my personal experience – I used to look at my face in the mirror A LOT and was judged by management in that office to be vain and unfocused. Actually I was in the early stages of an (at that time, undiagnosed) anxiety disorder. I constantly felt that there was something undefinable wrong with my face and couldn’t help checking it. It may be that, like me, this assistant has anxiety issues and doesn’t know it yet. Of course she could just be vain! But I would suggest being careful when talking about it with her, and think about all the options. I was very defensive when confronted, I guess because I didn’t really understand why I was doing what I was doing. So, something to bear in mind.

    1. fposte*

      That’s what I was thinking–even if there’s one of the physical issues mentioned upthread, checking 30 times a day is an anxiety response, not melanoma surveillance.

      Was it work that talked about it with you, and do you think there’s a good way to do it?

      1. Laura*

        It was management who brought it up – not in a formal way, they just kept making comments about how I seemed more interested in looking in the mirror than at my work. And I don’t really know if there’s a good way to do it…. it wasn’t up to them to figure out I had anxiety issues – especially as I hadn’t even figured it out myself. So I can see how from their perspective it looked bad. I guess managers should always just bear in mind that there may be some underlying cause when they challenge someone’s odd behaviour.

        1. fposte*

          Yes, I think that’s a good thing for the OP to consider and therefore to make her point kindly. (I still think it’s worth managing, and it sounds like you don’t necessarily disagree–just that it’s something that can have pretty complicated motivations.)

  16. Fresh Faced*

    Op#1 From your letter you seem intent on stereotyping your assistant which I would advise against for obvious reasons. That combined with how other management won’t tell your assistant why she isn’t up for promotion, but have instead decided to treat her as a joke and a” lightweight” behind her back? There needs to be a change in that work environment. I think it’d be good to be in your assistants corner and shut down that kind of talk when it comes up again, especially after you’ve followed Alison’s advice. It would suck if she improved her performance or you find out the mirror checking is related to something medical and management decides that they don’t want to let the “joke” go. A management team making fun of a young 20 something woman for perceived vanity and attributing that as the main reason she doesn’t excel at her job, is not the best look.

  17. Ashley*

    Regarding question 3. I think that interview question was inappropriate but it’s interesting that you, as her Mom is writing in a question to AAM. I understand you were seeking advice, but it’s your daughter’s job to sharpen her professional skills. The employeer may have been sensing a failure to launch – and her answer confirmed it.

    1. Bonky*

      I’d love to know what proportion of letters to AAM come from family members or friends rather than the people directly affected. Some of the letters from parents, especially, come across as concerningly out of touch or over-protective (not that this was a read I got from #3).

    2. Gandalf the Nude*

      People often turn to their friends and family for advice when life gets weird, and we don’t always have the experience or knowledge to help them. It’s not so weird that we would then turn to someone else who does have that experience and can give us that advice to pass along. As long as it’s not framed in a “How do I fix this for this other person?” way, I don’t see that there’s any reason to judge an LW as over-involved or the subject of her letter as inept.

    3. Mookie*

      it’s your daughter’s job to sharpen her professional skills. The employeer may have been sensing a failure to launch – and her answer confirmed it.

      The daughter wasn’t the one behaving unprofessionally, though. She didn’t prompt the question nor offer up the information unsolicited, it was asked of her. “Tricking” an applicant by asking an inappropriate question to gauge whether or not they’ll cooperate in a stressful situation where they’re being scrutinized is not an ethical gambit, if that’s what you’re suggesting this interviewer did.

      1. Hellanon*

        I don’t think it’s “tricking someone” to ask a question because you are more interested in how they answer it than what the answer is. Taking a year off at the start of your career is certainly something to inquire about, and while the wording might have been off, I would want to know what they did for that year. Go to they gym? Polish your social media profile? Start a business or help out with a family business? Where did that year go? It all gets to internal motivation, which is not evident in the OP’s daughter’s resume.

        1. neverjaunty*

          But that wasn’t the question. “What were you doing during this gap” is very different than asking how she supported herself without a paid salary.

          1. Alton*

            Right. Asking someone how they support themselves, specifically, is pretty personal and might have nothing to do with their professional drive or goals. (And what if someone’s answer is that they were on disability and are returning to the workforce after a healthcare-related absence? That’s not something interviewers should push about.)

            Asking someone about things they did while unemployed, like volunteer work or professional training, is much more relevant.

        2. LoiraSafada*

          That wasn’t the question, though. How someone makes ends meet is frankly none of the interviewer’s business.

      2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        Arguably, a long defensive answer about how her family takes care of its own is pretty unprofessional.

        1. Anna*

          But I’m not surprised by it. Who on earth prepares for rude invasive questions when they’re prepping for an interview? Being defensive is frequently the response of being caught by surprise. The interviewer created the situation; the daughter didn’t.

        2. Mookie*

          Sure, it’s arguable, given that evaluating such an answer is entirely relative and subjective. I don’t consider what the LW paraphrased to be overly long or defensive, and an unprofessional, boundary-violating question is, by definition, designed to provoke someone emotionally rather than yield useful data. Someone seeking work is in a vulnerable position, and a younger person might not immediately recognize and have the will to push back or work around an inappropriate question when they hear it. That’s not about professionalism, it’s about experience and judgment. Again, I return to the concept of an interviewer “testing” applicants with time-wasting games. You can’t prep for that, particularly if you’re desperate for work, so much as you can learn to recognize it more readily and then decide whether or not to humor it.

    4. Mike C.*

      I really don’t see a problem with a parent trying to better understand how the professional world works so that they can then pass updated knowledge on to their parents.

      1. JustaTech*

        Yup! Don’t we get enough letters about parents that are totally out of touch and giving bad advice? I think it’s nice to get one asking if this specific standard is new or off base. Would that more parents (of working age offspring) read AAM!

    5. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Eh, I’ve written in with questions about my husband. I’m a reader here, he’s not, I’m interested in Alison’s (and commenters) take on the issue. It doesn’t signal anything.

    6. Alton*

      I wouldn’t assume this. Sometimes people are just surprised or curious when they hear about stuff like this from loved ones. The OP might be asking for their own purposes/knowledge as much as to get advice for their daughter. And even if they wanted advice to pass along, I don’t see something like this as crossing a line.

    7. Natalie*

      People write in to advice columnists on behalf of their loved ones’ literally all the time; I don’t see why this is any different. And for that matter, Alison’s never hesitated to call out a letter writer who is actually too invested in their loved one’s work situation.

  18. Random thought*

    Re #3 – my husband had this question as part of his background check for a federal job (needed a security clearance). I, as the spouse, actually had to sit down with the investigator and explain that, yep, I can pay all of our bills by myself to explain support while my husband was substitute teaching (not even unemployed!). The purpose was to ensure he was not financially desperate and subject to bribery or embezzlement, etc. I know this circumstance is probably pretty different but maybe if financial responsibility was an aspect of the job it wouldn’t seem so weird?

    1. JustaTech*

      I could totally see this as part of getting security clearance. Being in mountains of debt to the mob is probably a deal breaker as far as security clearances go.

  19. ilikeaskamanager*

    #4 there are some things that people who travel for an extended period just have to do to prepare to be away. Arranging for mail, paying your bills, and yes, taking care of your car. I don’t see that as a cost your employer should bear.

  20. Collie*

    OP #4, I had a friend in college, Dana, who took temporary ownership of someone’s car for a couple of semesters while the car owners were abroad. Dana covered the car expenses while the owners were away (insurance, gas, maintenance, etc.) and had the benefit of having a car in a fairly rural/suburban area with limited public transit while the owners saved some money and didn’t have to worry about battery issues. Of course, they took on the risk of damage to the car (it was parked at a university most of the time with few security cameras and, naturally, someone who wasn’t them was driving it regularly so they couldn’t guarantee Dana wouldn’t wreck it), but Dana took good care of it and it worked out well for everyone. Some universities have internal virtual bulletin boards, so if there’s a school near you, there might be a student looking to help you out in the future. Good luck!

    1. NewBoss2016*

      That is not a bad idea if it is a close friend or family member taking over the car. If it wasn’t a trusted friend, I would be afraid it could turn into some sort of “squatters rights” situation on the vehicle. I know there is a process where you can apply for a bonded title on abandoned vehicles in my state. They have to try and contact the filed title holder for a period of time before re-issuing a title, but if the owner was out of the county that notification could be lost in translation. I would just be super careful about who I trusted with my vehicle.

  21. HannahS*

    This is unrelated to the questions, but Alison, I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your advice and website. I read an absolutely appalling response from an newspaper advice columnist this morning, and it reminded me that I’m so lucky to have access to your advice and the community you’ve built. I know it’s been tough to maintain lately, but wow, this site is fantastic. Thanks for having made it.

    1. MuseumChick*

      I want to second HannahS. The amount of time, energy, and thought you put into this is really inspiring. It’s been extra work lately I know. I really don’t know where I would be in my career without this site.

    2. SJ*

      Yes! Just this weekend, my brother was talking to me about how he doesn’t want to drink alcohol at work events but doesn’t know how to address the issue with his colleagues, and it was so easy to pull up 5 or 6 AAM links regarding alcohol + work and shoot them his way. This site has been invaluable for me and I recommend it to everyone!

    3. Anna Pigeon*

      Yup – I went to a training recently that was good overall, but I got so annoyed with the instructor hating on Millennials. It’s nice to have somewhere to go where folks see beyond stereotypes.

  22. Ripley*

    re: #2

    I like to say, “It wouldn’t make sense for me to make a job move for less than $x.”

    This way, I can indirectly give my salary a bump without lying and without admitting my actual salary.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      I like this framing — because, frankly, it’s more honest. What good is it to them if your salary is $X, if you’re not going to accept an offer for $X+1%?

      1. BF50*

        Exactly. It asks the question they intended to ask, instead of the one they did ask. Many interviewers might not even notice that you carefully dodge the question.

    2. Allison*

      I live in MA where, in less than a year, it will be illegal to ask job candidates what they’re currently making. A lot of recruiters are whining about how this will make their job sooooo haaaard, and people are already under the impression it’s illegal even though the law hasn’t gone into effect yet, so recruiters are being advised to stop asking it now (honestly, they should be getting into the habit anyway). But really, it would be so much better for both parties to ask “what are you looking to make?”

      1. Ripley*

        Curious, will that law apply to workers in MA who work for a company headquartered in another state? And how about for out of state employees who work for MA companies?

        1. Zombii*

          The laws of the state where you work apply, regardless of where the company is headquartered.

          Lawyers, are there any subtleties to this that I’m missing?

  23. Mina*

    #2 – Definitely don’t lie. Instead, follow Alison’s advice about avoiding providing salary history at all. This has worked for me in the past. The only times I have provided salary was when I knew I had been paid well in my previous jobs and wanted to make sure I made at least that much in my new job. #3 – I also agree with Alison on this one. How one supported oneself while unemployed is none of a potential employer’s business. I would just provide a vague answer (maybe something along the lines of “I had some savings” and leave it at that) and then quickly go into how I spent my time and what I accomplished while unemployed.

  24. Nonanon*

    Regarding #1, I worked for years as a professional makeup artist. Looking your best was a literal part of the job and checking yourself out in the mirror was necessary. After all, how can someone be expected to take your advice on makeup if yours is smeared across your face? When I moved into a professional office setting, the characteristic of almost obsessively checking myself out in the mirror and fixing (non-existant) makeup issues has followed. It’s not vanity so much as I’m afraid that I will have errant mascara that no one would bother to tell me about and I’ll look a fool, especially because I have a highly visible position. I still do check myself out many many times a day and have a mirror hanging next to my monitor in my office (it’s hard to see, but it’s there). I’m working on it and certainly not excusing a habit that I’m sure seems bizarre to others, but I wanted to give some potential insight from the other side.

    1. Mookie*

      Also, the LW makes it pretty clear that their office does have precisely the kind of morale that encourages management to mock people under them, so the assistant’s behavior, whether intentionally or not, reflects that dynamic. She’s being judged, being poorly managed, and it shows.

  25. Allison*

    #1, I have a super oily complexion, and there have been times where I’ve used powder to fix it. So one day, I was at my desk, feeling oily, took out my compact to put some powder on, and right then the CEO walked by my desk and said “looking pretty . . .” which was just passive aggressive enough to make me feel guilty and weird about it. Now, I get that she was the CEO and she can say whatever she wants, but it would have been so much better to have my team lead say “hey, don’t put on makeup at your desk, it looks unprofessional.”

    It didn’t help that we were in a completely open office, with nothing between desks for privacy.

    I do think it’s old fashioned to say that makeup should only ever be applied in the privacy of the ladies’ room, but it’s fair to say that people should be discrete about public grooming. It’s one thing to fix your makeup inside your private office, at your cubicle, or maybe even at a desk with dividers in an open office; it’s another to do it when you’re sitting at a reception desk, or even in an open office with no dividers between desks. It makes sense, in your case, to ask your assistant to keep the mirror put away and only fix her makeup in the ladies’ room. And you really should say something soon, because it’s not fair to know about a behavior that’s hurting someone professionally and say nothing, knowing they have no idea what they’re doing wrong.

    Keep in mind, as others have said, there’s a multitude of reasons why she may be self-conscious about her appearance.

    1. a big fish in a very small pond*

      “And you really should say something soon, because it’s not fair to know about a behavior that’s hurting someone professionally and say nothing, knowing they have no idea what they’re doing wrong.”

      omg, YES!! +1,000!

      1. JustaTech*

        This! I think that this is really the biggest issue: if you don’t know something is wrong you can’t correct it. The assistant needs to know about the mirror checking and that it is having an impact on her professional reputation.
        You would be amazed the things people do without being consciously aware of them. I had a friend discover one day that he had drunk 6 cans of soda when he would have sworn he’d only had 2. And that’s a far more multi-step process than checking a mirror.

        1. Allison*

          Or people know what they’re doing could maybe be a problem, but figure that since no one is saying anything, no one cares, or no one has even noticed.

      1. Allison*

        I would never speak to the CEO like that, are you kidding me? I was a new hire fresh out of college! Maybe I was clueless about some workplace norms, but for the most part I knew my place in the hierarchy.

    2. Mike C.*

      I think it was pretty unprofessional for the CEO to comment on your looks like that. A title doesn’t mean you can belittle others for the heck of it.

      1. Allison*

        It wasn’t a good work environment . . . but she wasn’t commenting on my looks, she was commenting on me grooming myself at my desk, which she felt was unprofessional.

  26. Dust Bunny*

    #4: What, even? You’re an adult who didn’t realize that car batteries go dead? Even if you don’t have somebody trustworthy who could have taken it on short drives to keep it charged, three seconds of googling just got me a list of things you should do for your car if you plan to leave it for more than a month.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        It was too harsh, I agree.

        But it’s not necessarily unhelpful to say that if you didn’t know this really basic fact, you might want to google car ownership basics or tips for leaving car for a month, etc before you end up with another expense because of your lack of knowledge.

        Erase the vitriol from Dust Bunny’s post, and that’s what you’re left with.

        1. fposte*

          That one would have raised my eyebrows too, tbh. Would you tell a friend to her face when she’d made a mistake that this was a really basic fact and that next time she should Google?

          1. A*

            Yes. And not apologized. And considered distancing myself from a fully-functioning adult who can drive a car but apparently cannot extrapolate what happens to a battery when it sits for a long time, and then whines that it isn’t “common knowledge” when it is in fact common knowledge but was simply knowledge he/she had not bothered to find out.

            1. fposte*

              Okay. Then commenting policy here is going to ask you to treat people more nicely than you treat your friends.

        2. Blue Anne*

          I don’t agree. When people don’t know this stuff, how are we supposed to *know* that we don’t know it?

          Getting my first car has been an emotional nightmare of all kinds of unexpected things I didn’t know I had to do. Stickers and fees and registrations and oh no, I apparently have the plates on the wrong ends because they have directions, and my car doesn’t even have a front plate bracket because it’s from a state where they’re not required and and…

          As an aside, although this particular thing is attributable to never having lived somewhere I needed a car before, a lot of “I just don’t know anything about that life skill” things I’ve dealt with (and seen others deal with) are related to a dysfunctional upbringing. It’s pretty cruddy to have people treat you like you’re dumb when you don’t know how to do a basic adult skill because your parents never taught you anything.

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            “When people don’t know this stuff, how are we supposed to *know* that we don’t know it?”

            I have never fixed, thought about, or pondered toilets before this weekend. Then my toilet started leaking. I figured out where it was leaking from – the seam between the tank and the bowl – and it looked like there was some kind of rubber gasket or seal in there, which I figured had probably cracked. So then I went to Home Depot, found a crusty old guy in the plumbing aisle, and jabbered at him until he realized what I was on about and told me I had to replace the tank gasket. Then I had him walk me through the replacement, and asked a couple of open-ended questions like “Okay, so if I’m going to mess this up, where is that going to happen?” and “Okay, so what’s my parts list,” and so on. Went home, fixed me a toilet, saved $100 in plumbers’ fees.

            Point being, everybody doesn’t know stuff, and everybody has something about which they don’t even know what they don’t know. It doesn’t need to be a giant emotional ordeal, you just find a patient person who does know and ask them for help. People always seem so reticent about asking for help. It’s amazing how disarming it is for someone to come to you and say “I’m completely lost, and I would really appreciate your help and advice.”

            1. Blue Anne*

              Hm. Argh.

              Yes. Okay. Look, it doesn’t “need” to be an emotional ordeal. But sometimes it is, and quite often that’s because people react to “I didn’t know this/can you explain this” with “why didn’t you just google it/why didn’t you ask for help/here’s partial information because I assume you actually know most of what I know”. For so many people, it’s a total disconnect that the person asking really does not know something you consider basic.

              I moved back to the USA in April. I’m 28 and have never been an adult in the USA and my parents never really taught me life skills beyond “teaching” me by not doing normal parent things for me as a child. I am a highly competent adult in the UK. But here, people look at me and see a professional American adult, and treat me like I’m supposed to know how to drive, how to register a car, how to use a checkbook, how to pay taxes, that municipal taxes even exist, what renters’ insurance is, when post offices are open, what a “state ID” is, why I can’t use my passport as ID when buying a phone contract, that I may need to go to a state-run liquor store if I want scotch, where I can cash in a scratch-off lotto ticket, what my social security number is, that prescription medications cost different amounts at different pharmacies (WTF?!), that some cities require pets to be license, that I need my original birth certificate and not a photocopy… where did you learn these things? From parents? When? I’ve started saying “Please treat me as a 14 year old orphan” to service people when I don’t know what I’m doing, and that’s basically the only way I get all the information I need when I ask for help.

              I’m not dumb and I’m happy to ask for help. But doing it all at once is an exhausting reality for a ton of people. And eventually, when you’re asking a lot of “stupid” questions, people just treat you like you’re stupid. Even my boyfriend here has started saying “you really should have learned this from your family”. Great thanks, now what the hell is a 1099?

              1. A*

                There is not one question in your entire screed that could not be answered by a simple Google search. (Except maybe the pharmacy Rx cost thing, because I think that’s related to your insurance and that is a confusing debacle for *everyone* who runs into it.)

                It’s true that some people learn these things (or some of these things) from their parents. But many don’t. Most of us muddle along in one way or another and figure it out as we go. To be perfectly blunt, stop whining and *making it an emotional ordeal* and just muddle along. You’ll figure it out. There is nothing wrong with asking questions, but remember it’s also no one else’s job to make sure you don’t feel stupid for asking them.

                1. Natalie*

                  “There is nothing wrong with asking questions, but remember it’s also no one else’s job to make sure you don’t feel stupid for asking them.”

                  And yet if you’re going to be condescending and mean to everyone who asks a question you think is stupid, you probably shouldn’t be surprised no one’s beating down your door for advice.

              2. Ultraviolet*

                Right on. You just can’t, in practical terms, anticipate all the things you don’t know. Yes, you’ll Google (or whatever) for some things, but at some point you’ll end up thinking, “I’m going to stop by the grocery store and pick up some scotch on the way home,” instead of Googling “how to buy scotch in the US.” You seriously cannot anticipate everything. And it’s okay to find it frustrating when you run into a bunch of unanticipated problems! Not sure why that’s such a sticking point. (Also, it’s okay to be frustrated that you have to do all this research and second-guessing, even if you do successfully anticipate many or all problems!)

            2. Kyrielle*

              Right, but you have to know there is something to learn.

              If I leave a book on my shelf for a year ignoring it, unless there’s something egregiously wrong with the shelf I left it on, the book will be the same when I come back.

              This true for a large number of household items.

              And if I leave my car in the driveway for a couple weeks and then drive it, it’s fine.

              But if I leave it there for months on end, it probably won’t be.

              The thing is, how am I supposed to realize in that case that I have a knowledge gap?

              If my toilet is broken, I look at it, I try to figure out how to fix it, I realize I have no idea what’s going on. I either hire a professional or I google the answer. But *first I realize there is something I do not know*.

              Sadly, the way in which to learn there’s something you do not know about some things is by first committing the error and ending up dealing with the resulting problems.

              At which point, you *now know* you probably need to research and learn more…but it’s a little late, and also not directly pertinent to what the LW was asking, which was about whether they might be able to get some of that money back from their workplace.

              1. TL -*

                Well, I think the response to this kind of thing is to shrug and say, “learning experience, oh well.”
                Nobody’s going to know everything about adulting but I do think getting upset over not knowing common knowledge is a bit of a waste of energy.
                I didn’t know that the reason my tires were so cheap was because they were summer tires and could not handle snow. I figured that out after two terrifying short drives in the Boston winter. I was very lucky, I bought all-season tires, and I learned to google how expensive/safety things work in winter before I used them.
                I do think that’s how the OP should respond – if her office has a slush fund for this kind of thing, fine, but it’s not their fault or responsibility either way.

                1. Kyrielle*

                  Agreed! I just don’t think that telling the OP they should have proactively looked up something they didn’t know to look up is helpful. I do agree that this isn’t something the workplace has a duty to pay for. At most OP can ask, and see if they decide to help.

            3. kb*

              I feel like the analogy you gave doesn’t quite work here because you were alerted by the leak so you knew there was a problem and sought to fix it. The situation of the letter writer is that they didn’t even know there was a problem to fix. LW is now aware of the issue and asking questions about how to fix it, both to Ask A Manager and to car care professionals. Most things we learn in life we learn by making mistakes or hearing about other people’s mistakes.

        3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          That isn’t the advice the OP needs, though.

          The battery is already dead. The time for googling “what to do if I leave my car alone for 6 months” has passed. The OP is not helped by being told, now, “You should google car care tips!”

            1. fposte*

              Then just post the helpful links you found that outlines what she could check for. Most of us already know that we could Google :-). (Links in followup.)

              1. fposte*

                Oh, forgot Alison is on vacation. One’s at edmunds dot com and the other is at theaa dot com (that one’s British but still looked useful).

            2. Natalie*

              Possibly, but her question wasn’t “why did my car die?”, it was “can I ask for reimbursement for this and if so, how?”

          1. Stone Satellite*

            Actually, it might, because then OP will know what other damage the car might have suffered so she can look into having it inspected/repaired. And also, to know for next time.

      2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        Way too harsh. That said, I can’t disagree that people manifest a certain degree of cluelessness, and resistance to learning, about the ins and outs of what is usually one of the most expensive purchases anybody ever makes.

    1. Blue Anne*

      Wow, geez. I’m an adult and I didn’t realize car batteries go dead either, because I’ve always lived in places where I didn’t need to drive until about a year ago. It never would have occurred to me that I need to do anything for my car while I was away. Just because you know something doesn’t mean that other people are idiots for not knowing it.

      1. A*

        The “idiot” part doesn’t come from mistakenly letting the battery drain.

        It’s from the whiny attitude that “whaah, everyone else’s parents told them this, how was I supposed to know, it’s not my fault, someone should have told meeeee.”

        It’s just a mistake. You were told, or you weren’t. It occurred to you that a car has a battery, and batteries drain over time…or it didn’t. And confronted by the fact that it has happened, a normal person says, “OK, so…lesson learned, this happens, guess I need to find out what to do about it.” An idiot reacts by blaming the world for not having the foresight to alert him/her to this problem he/she has not yet encountered. Make sense?

        1. Blue Anne*

          I don’t think you’ll be surprised when I say I disagree with you and think your attitude needs work, but I’m not going to engage with this any further.

        2. Jessie the First (or second)*

          Who is blaming? Who is whining in that weird obnoxious way you imitated here? OP? OP just wants to know if she can expense it. OP wasn’t claiming anyone should have told her, just that x happened, which was caused by y, she didn’t have a choice about y so is it reasonable expense?

          1. TL -*

            But it’s not the fault of the company that the battery died. And it’s not the fault of the trip. I think that’s what people are reacting to – the OP had a pricey learning experience caused by herself and her lack of knowledge. We’ve all been there! But it’s not the company’s fault and they’re not obligated to pay. (That being said, if they will cover this, that’s very nice of them.)

            1. Jessie the First (or second)*

              I am responding to A, who is being very, very rude, and who is putting words in people’s mouths that they did not say. I’m not arguing whether the company should pay .

    2. Mike C.*

      Dude, I’m a bit of a car guy, and there is still plenty of crap I don’t know.

      There are tens of thousands of facts that reasonable people would consider “common sense” but most people don’t know them all.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        Which is why it always amazes me that people are so resistant to saying, “I’m clueless about Topic X and could really use a clue and/or some assistance, and you know about that, so pls halp.” Because when people say that to me, it’s both flattering and disarming, and I’m delighted to help them. I’ve never gotten a cross response on the flip side, either.

        Maybe it’s my science background, and being very used to trying to do stuff I’ve never done before – because nobody’s really done it before – and flailing around asking for help from anyone who’d ever done something vaguely like it before. But I find people let their egos get in the way of being effective because they’re too proud to ask a question or two.

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            I think people are afraid of looking dumb. But I’ve realized that a person asking good questions doesn’t look dumb, they look curious and engaged. It’s the person who screws up because they tried to go it alone who ends up looking dumb.

            1. So Very Anonymous*

              But not everyone finds it disarming to have someone say “I have no idea how to do X, can you help me?” and is willing to help. Which we are seeing right here in this very thread. I mean, A. is implying that they would distance themselves from a friend who asked this kind of question. Not everyone believes that it’s dumber NOT to ask.

              (This is why I’ve always hated the snarkiness of LMGTFY.)

        1. Anna*

          Right, but the OP didn’t even know they didn’t know. Literally they could not ask for help on a subject matter they didn’t know existed. And none of this is actually about the question: Can the OP expense a replacement battery? The answer: Probably not, but it doesn’t hurt to try. End of situation.

          I’m not entirely sure why everyone is so bent on schooling the OP on how they should have known better.

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            “Literally they could not ask for help on a subject matter they didn’t know existed.”

            Of course you can. Ask lots of open-ended questions, evaluate what you’re told critically, ask more questions for clarification.

            1. Natalie*

              Sure, but that’s not a magic spell that’s going to guarantee you get all of the information you didn’t know you didn’t know. The OP may very well have asked a lot of questions and for whatever reason just didn’t get this information. It’s over and done now.

            2. Emi.*

              But like Kyrielle said upthread, this is a pretty specific knowledge gap. To get to “How should I prep my car for long-term storage,” you’d have to start with “I’m going away for six months; what do I do” with someone who happens to know this fact about car batteries, and then ask a lot of follow-up questions (without exhausting people’s patience!). And it’s likely that enough of the answers to the general “What do I do” are things OP already knows that they think they have the travel thing covered–they don’t have a strong motivation to go around asking open-ended questions of all their friends.

          2. So Very Anonymous*

            Anna, you’ve kind of put your finger on what’s been bothering me about the comments here for awhile. An OP asks a question, Allison answers it, and for some reason the comments (or some of them) veer off into judging the OP for not already knowing something, or judging them for some thing that was mentioned or not mentioned. The information about “what you should know about leaving your car unused for a long chunk of time” is useful, yes. But snark along the lines of “how does a fully functioning adult not know XYZ?” does seem to come up, and it feels unproductive as well as kind of mean. I’m quite aware of not knowing everything, and while I’ve thought of this as a good place to learn things, seeing people get jumped on this way has made me pretty clear that I will never, ever submit a question here.

            1. So Very Anonymous*

              (Sorry, Alison, I just noticed I misspelled your name — I know about three Allisons so the extra “l” just popped in…)

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I totally get that, but like I just wrote elsewhere on the page, only a couple of people out of hundreds were rude about it. I don’t want to let one or two people define how the entire comment section gets categorized.

    3. Jessie the First (or second)*

      I am an adult and have a car. I didn’t know this about car batteries.

      And yet, I have owned a car for 25 years. Responsibly – as in, I keep them in good shape and get regular maintenance done, I pay my car loans, I pay the excise taxes, I renew registrations. I also have managed to hold down a good job, had children and am raising them, got some college degrees, volunteer at various causes, and generally have a productive life.

      And yet I did not know this specific thing about car batteries – can you imagine? I must be an idiot.

      Or not. It might just be that hey, sometimes people don’t know everything. Sometimes odd bits of information will just evade a person.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        And a poster to AAM who doesn’t realize you’re not supposed to attack other posters. It’s almost like you didn’t read the board rules or something. Three seconds of googling would have found them.

    4. Creag an Tuire*

      I mean, I drive every day in a cold city, and I didn’t know that either.

      Granted, I’ve also never had to not-drive a car for more than a 2-weeks vacation, but I question whether this is a Commonly Known Fact if the only people who know it are people who take months-long business trips, vacations, and/or can afford cars that they don’t use on a routine basis.

  27. animaniactoo*

    If I would tell her, I think she’d just see me as an old-timer who doesn’t know what I’m talking about.

    It really doesn’t matter if she would think you’re an old-timer. She can learn it the hard way if she needs to. In the meantime, it’s up to you to at least attempt to give her the info. What she does with it is her business. What you do with what she does with it is your business.

    That might have sounded a tad convoluted, but think about it – it’s the dynamics of each of your responsibilities. The part that you are responsible for, over your personal concern about how you will be viewed by her. In an area where the entire company is laughing at her for her actions.

    Even if you were right about the views being common to her entire age cohort – the young often have some views about things that are “how things are now” – which they are, right up until they can’t get promoted, etc. and start figuring they might need to try another way, the “oldtimer” way.

    P.S. Some of the people laughing at her – they’re in or nearer to her age cohort, aren’t they? That should give you all the data you need about whether it’s an age mindset or a her-in-particular quirk.

    1. fposte*

      Yup. Don’t let your age concerns nudge you away from managing. And ultimately it doesn’t matter if you’re an old-timer or not or if she sees you that way, so there’s no reason to throw that into the mix. (You’d manage her if she was reaching for her phone with that frequency, right?)

    2. Myrin*

      Yeah, I was a bit taken aback by that exact quote. It would be pretty problematic of an employee to react to their manager’s instructions with an attitude of “Wow, you’re just a big meany who clearly has no idea about anything!”, nevermind that the other person is their supervisor whose job it is to have an idea about this very thing. It reads as somewhat powerless – like “*shrug* What can I do? She’d just ignore me anyway.” which is why I think Alison’s response really strikes the right tone here. You are the boss, OP, so you can do a lot about it!

      (As an aside, while it was certainly interesting to read all the theories of why this assistant might behave this way upthread and might help the OP to overcome some of her biases which seem to shine through in her letter, I’m not quite sure it’s all that relevant? Fact of the matter is that it’s widely viewed as unprofessional in this office so if the assistant wants to be promoted or even just seen in a better light, she needs to stop it.)

      1. Natalie*

        I don’t think anyone’s trying to suggest that it’s totally okay and the LW shouldn’t say anything, just that there are possible reasons beyond “flighty & obsessed with her looks”. People sometimes get carried away in those discussions.

        1. Jessie the First (or second)*

          Right. I think the comments are simply an effort to help OP to consider that the assistant might not actually be a lightweight, and might really be competent, and that the assistant might be deserving of honest feedback on the issue.

          ** All employees are deserving of honest feedback, of course. But if OP dismisses her assistant as a joke because she thinks the assistant is too vain, then she is likely less motivated to make the effort in helping her develop professionally. But there may be more than meets the eye with the assistant. And even if it is just silly vanity, maybe it will turn out that she is very coach-able.

        2. Myrin*

          Oh yeah, totally. Re-reading the letter a couple of times actually has me thinking that people’s view of the assistant as “flighty and obsessed with her looks”, as it were, was the attitude that was there first and then her taking out her mirror all the time was viewed through that lens. Like, the looking in the mirror thing seems like a symptom of how she generally comes across; after all, she exhibits “other behaviors that make her appear totally self-involved”. I mean, 30 times a day comes down to every quarter hour which is still a lot but it’s not the same situation as someone typing two sentences – check mirror – type two sentences – check mirror etc. and might not even register with someone who was otherwise an excellent worker but just had this one tick.

      2. Allison*

        I can see someone like the assistant writing to AAM:

        “My manager has told me I can’t check or fix my makeup at my desk. This seems unfair, as I’m the receptionist and I’m supposed to look nice. My manager is also quite a bit older, and probably grew up in a time where women couldn’t fix their appearance in public, could her age have something to do with this? Is she being unreasonable? Can I push back on this?”

        Of course, the answer would be “Your manager said to stop, so you should probably stop unless you have a medical reason why you need to keep checking your face, in which case you need to tell your manager because she’s not a mind reader. But in general, if you work the front desk, you should refrain from grooming yourself where others can see you, even if there is an expectation to look nice.”

        That said, OP, if you do feel your assistant should look nice, you may want to allow her some checking throughout the day, even if it’s in moderation. Would you be horrified if she sat there all afternoon with lipstick smeared on her cheek? Or a booger hanging from her nose? Or her face really shiny and in need of powdering? If so, either allow her to check her appearance a couple times a day, whether that’s at the desk or in the bathroom (and if it’s the bathroom, make sure she’s able to go there, she may feel chained to the desk).

        1. fposte*

          Though to be fair, most of us manage to go through our days without checking for those either, save for a look in the mirror when we’re in the bathroom.

          1. MegaMoose, Esq*

            All this talk about smeared makeup makes me happy I don’t wear anything that needs checking-up on or refreshing. If I wear makeup at all, it’s just a little powder and eyebrow tint.

            1. The OG Anonsie*

              Man I wear makeup because it keeps everything in order. When I have my base makeup on I know I’m not going to be all oily or flaky looking and my wooly mountain man eyebrows are gelled so they aren’t all cattywampus or something.

              1. MegaMoose, Esq*

                I suppose I hadn’t thought about it that way, but that would make sense. I have been generally genetically fortunate in the skin and body hair department so maintenance/upkeep is not really necessary. I’m super curious about how eyebrows end up “cattywampus,” though. I’m imagining a Christopher Lee kind of situation.

                1. Zombii*

                  I plucked my eyebrows into oblivion in the 90’s (as you do), so I envy those who have enough brow to go all cattywampus. :(

                2. The OG Anonsie*

                  You are not far off with Christopher Lee ;) I have few eyebrow hairs but they’re all really thick and long. If I trim them short, I end up with gaps like I shaved lines in them and weird blunt ends that stick out. So I use a wax pencil or a gel to make sure they don’t get flipped out Christopher Lee style during the day by accident. I started doing this after several occasions where I glanced in my car mirror at the end of the day and discovered I had crazy hermit eyebrows from accidentally brushing them at some point or another.

                  And with the skin, yeah, for a lot of people makeup / tinted skin care products help prevent issues that would require more touchups later. Today I slapped on powder instead of using my usual makeup because I had a crazy morning and when I got to work I discovered dry patches that are now super obvious and flaky looking on my face. My usual makeup would have blended over those spots and made them a non-issue, now I have to keep checking to make sure I don’t have any obvious flakiness that’s gonna weird people out.

        2. animaniactoo*

          addendum for if the assistant has added how *often* she checks throughout the day.

          “Additionally – if your grooming can be significantly disturbed so that you would no longer look “nice” and “professional” while performing your normal work, you may need to look into changing your grooming efforts. There are many ways to look nice and create a pleasant appearance, so look for something that needs less upkeep; either smudge-proof, longer-lasting products or fewer of them. You may have to compromise between the two and focus on a look that you can feel reasonably comfortable won’t be messed up in between your regular breaks.

          It’s also worth noting that “looking nice” has to do with your demeanor as much as your physical appearance, so if you’re busy fixing your appearance, you don’t “look nice” in that moment.”

    3. Parenthetically*

      That language struck me as well. If she thinks OP’s “just an old-timer” for addressing this behavior, that does not change the fact that s/he needs to have this conversation with his assistant YESTERDAY.

  28. cobweb collector*

    Regarding #2, what they really want to know is what salary you’re looking for in this new position. When they ask “what was your last salary” it’s probably easier to just answer by telling them what you want to get. It’s what I’ve always done and it’s always worked.

    1. Murphy*

      If you’re asked verbally, then that’s possible, but a lot of automated applications ask for it and won’t let you enter in anything except a number.

      1. Heidi*

        What do most folks do when they encounter this? Abandon the application or press on and give the answer?

        I make the decision based on how much I’m interested in the job.

  29. Arielle*

    #1: As someone who woke up this morning with a pimple in the middle of my cheek so large and red that I’m sure it can be seen from space, I have a lot of sympathy with your assistant. Maybe she has bad acne and is checking to be sure her concealer hasn’t worn off? This seems like such a double-edged sword for women, who are expected to be perfectly groomed and beautiful at all times, but if we’re seen performing the maintenance to keep us that way, then we’re flighty and unprofessional.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      This seems like such a double-edged sword for women, who are expected to be perfectly groomed and beautiful at all times, but if we’re seen performing the maintenance to keep us that way, then we’re flighty and unprofessional.

      This! I’ve got one spot near the corner of my eye where my eyeliner always, always smudges, no matter what I do. I keep an eye on it (har, har) throughout the day so that when I see the smudging start up, I can neaten it up instead of leaving it that way. Smudged makeup or check myself in a mirror regularly? I’m gonna get judged either way, so I might as well look nice in the meantime.

      1. Arielle*

        I’m literally headed to the bathroom right now with my tiny bottle of concealer in my pocket to check on my pimple. This morning my fiance asked me, “Do you think anyone will really notice? Do you notice when other people have pimples?” I was like, um, yeah, I mean, I don’t judge them for it or think they’re a bad or unhygienic person, but if someone has a giant red spot on their face that wasn’t there the day before, I do tend to notice.

    2. fposte*

      30 times a day is a lot, though. Whether she’s checking for her concealer or checking out of anxiety (and the two are not mutually exclusive), that’s more than you want to be visibly dealing with a mirror every day.

        1. fposte*

          Yup, totally agree. It’s highly unlikely that she’s doing it just to catch refreshing glimpses of her own beauty.

        2. Teclatrans*

          Yes, exactly.

          Though I am also skeptical of vanity as a concept, as it is one more double-edged sword for women (“look good or you have no value, but don’t you dare show your investment in looking good/being valued, much less act like you think you do look good). But 20-30 times means she is worrying or obsessing, and that garners compassion from me even if there is no disorder, disease, condition, etc.

        3. Anna*

          Ya know, that “30 times a day” thing makes me wonder if the OP has actually counted or if that’s hyperbole. It’s an issue, but I think we’re relying on that number a bit too much. We can all agree that however many times the assistant is checking is noticeable and excessive without worrying too much about the exact number.

    3. LoiraSafada*

      Seriously. I mean, when studies have shown people perceive women that don’t wear makeup to be less competent, what do you really expect? I also suspect that the OP may be a weeeee bit prone to hyperbole if they’re willing to wave this behavior away as being some broad generational trend.

  30. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    #2 – probably old advice. Around 30+ years ago, in the IS/IT world, it was common to “fudge” that number. If you were making an unbelievably low salary – you had to fudge it – not necessarily to get a better offer – but to avoid the question “man, that’s low. What the hell is wrong with you, if that’s all they’re paying you?”

    At Toxic, Inc. – there was one guy who was grossly and obscenely underpaid for his job. He had to fudge it up to avoid suspicion that he was some type of problem child. He left – for a 100 percent increase, which brought him to the low end of market value at the time. ALTHOUGH – in those days they never asked to see pay stubs. Having been out of the interview cycle for 21 years, I do not know what they do today. 25 years ago I did do the negotiation with a new hire, but we gave her an offer (she accepted, great employee, too) based on what we felt was fair, we never once asked her what she was making – just what she was looking for and I think we gave her around $1000 within the asking price.

    #5 – it’s important to learn the basics as to how cars work. When I took driver ed in high school, we were taught about battery strength, how to jump a battery, how to change a tire, the importance of regular maintenance, and tire safety. Surprised they don’t do that anymore.

      1. Grits McGee*

        When I took drivers ed 10 years ago we learned traffic laws and not wave your gun around when you’re driving. If it’s not on the DMV test (like so many other academic subjects), there’s little incentive for teachers to cover it.

        1. Hlyssande*

          Same here – IL in the late 90s for me. The state took parallel parking off the test, so the teacher specifically excluded it from her teaching. I taught myself, and I suck at it.

          I had no idea about the battery thing until today. And at 16, I had no idea of what the actual differences between stick shift and automatic transmissions were aside from stick = shifter on floor and automatic = shifter on steering wheel because that was my only experience with them (my dad still mocks me about this twenty freaking years later and it is so. so. old).

          1. Kelly L.*

            We had driver’s safety, which was the rules of the road and how not to get hit by a train, and then driver’s training, where we did a lot of simulated driving with grainy brownish films from the 70s, and also sometimes drove the student driver cars around town, which mostly consisted of driving the teacher through Dairy Queen on the regular so he could get his ice cream fix. I don’t remember anything about the battery.

            1. Wheezy Weasel*

              We must have grown up in the same town…and the guy never asked if we wanted any ice cream ourselves!

      2. Rye-Ann*

        Yeah, my high school did not teach driver’s ed. Also even in the private driver’s ed class I took I don’t remember learning about maintenence. If we did it was just through reading/maybe one lecture. It might have actually stuck if they had, say, demonstrated how to check the oil.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Same with me – private driver’s ed, and it was _all_ about actually driving/being in the car.

          What I learned about maintenance, I learned from my parents. Which included a lot of useful things like the oil…but didn’t include batteries draining with extended non-use, although I *was* aware extended non-use wasn’t good for cars in a general sense, just not why or what the consequences might be.

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        When I took driver’s ed (lo these many long years ago) I am absolutely positive that the teacher told us many things and attempted to impart great stores of knowledge to us. I am also positive that I was more interested in doodling in my notepad than in listening to him, and so his efforts, towards me at any rate, were largely in vain.

        He was such. a. boring. speaker.

        (And probably as a direct result of my doodling-instead-of-listening, I was completely unaware that car batteries drain with extended periods of nonuse.)

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          The lack of practical “hey, you’re legally adults now, so here’s the deal with adulting” information passed on to kids is a scandal.

        2. LaurenB*

          When I took driver’s ed (lo these many long years ago) I am absolutely positive that the teacher told us many things and attempted to impart great stores of knowledge to us. I am also positive that I was more interested in doodling in my notepad than in listening to him, and so his efforts, towards me at any rate, were largely in vain.

          That is beautiful and what I so poorly try to get across every time the “I learned NOTHING AT ALL why don’t we teach kids better?!” trope comes up. Let’s face it, a lot of us tuned out or forgot about all the valuable adulting information we learned as teens because we had no call to use it for ten years after graduation. Do we seriously expect that we’d all remember the details of applying for a mortgage from the age of 16 when people who have taken calculus forget the basics of algebra within a few years?

          1. MegaMoose, Esq*

            I failed the algebra portion of my high school exit exit exam a couple of times because at that point it had been a couple of years since I’d taken a math class, and maybe five years since I’d taken algebra. And to toot my own horn a bit, I am not a slouch in the brains department. If you don’t use it, you lose it.

          2. Anxa*

            I see a lot of these comments on FB, and sometimes I think there are strong criticisms of the curriculum, but other times I think it makes more sense for math teacher to teach me math and science teachers to teach me science and English teachers to help me learn to write because my parents absolutely could not do that for me. But they have basic life skills so that is always an option. Plus, school taught me to read and I can read the instructions on forms. Once I read the instructions, the questions I have aren’t exactly ones I’d trust my high school teachers to answer (for things like mortgage, taxes, etc.)

            Also, I don’t really get what they are talking about sometimes with not understanding how interest works, because in algebra so many of the examples were about interest. So. Many. Also, I’m not in a math heavy field and I use algebra almost every day.

      2. Natalie*

        The main thing we learned was how to pass the test. Whether that knowledge let to being a good driver in a holistic sense, I couldn’t tell you. I learned most of that from my dad, who thankfully is a good driver.

      3. Emi.*

        Wait, I’m being unfair. We did learn an important lesson about economic policy, which is that when you’re legally required to buy a product, suppliers lose their incentive to make that product any good.

    1. LQ*

      My drivers ed didn’t have anything like that. But a forever ago when I still had a car I took a car basic maintenance class through the local community ed. It was taught at a tech high school that had a large garage and a lot of equipment. It was like 10% here’s what you need to know about your car and 90% ok bring in your cars and we’ll work on them. It was weirdly fun and incredibly helpful. I’d highly recommend it and it was what I think they should offer as high school drivers ed classes. It was marketed as like car basics for women but more than half the class were guys who didn’t want to take the advanced class.

      1. Hlyssande*

        That sounds really freaking awesome and I would absolutely love to take a class like that! Holy crap.

    2. JustaTech*

      Ha, my driver’s ed (around the turn of the millennium) was all about not drinking and driving and watching videos with stars of formerly popular TV shows. And how to adjust our mirrors.
      I asked if we were going to learn how to change a tire or jump a battery or check the oil or replace the windshield wiper fluid and the teacher said no, that’s not his job.
      It was a stupid, expensive class (but you couldn’t get a license under 18 without it) and I was frustrated by the lack of practical skills.

      1. the gold digger*

        how to change a tire or jump a battery or check the oil or replace the windshield wiper fluid

        My dad, who grew up repairing cars in his dad’s shop, made me learn all these things (and changing my own fan belts, flushing the radiator, and changing the battery) before he would let me get my drivers license.

  31. RVA Cat*

    #1 – Is her desk set up so she could discretely mount a locker-style mirror near her monitor, etc.? That’s pretty common in my office, though a lot of it is to not be startled by co-workers approving us from behind. It sounds like a lot of the issue is the act of taking out the hand mirror.

    1. FD*

      Oh, I love the idea of having ‘rear view’ mirrors. I had a desk at one point that faced the wall and I startle easily, this would have been helpful.

      1. RVA Cat*

        We have steel cabinets so people get the magnetic ones. Sadly we’re going to an open plan in a few months, grrr….

  32. Critter*

    Sometimes I wonder where people get this terrible job advice from. Did they do it once and it worked out for them so they figure it’s the way to go? Do they look at it like it’s a dog-eat-dog kind of thing where you need to be totally cutthroat?

    1. fposte*

      I disagree with the particular advice to lie about prior salary, but I kind of get it–it’s responding to an ongoing frustration that’s actually resulted in legislation in some places.

      But the answer to your first statement is really just “Everywhere.”

      1. Dankar*

        No kidding. I read an article today in Forbes–FORBES–that suggested job applicants “address the pains” of the company during the interview rather than their own experiences in the workplace.

        1. fposte*

          Forbes unfortunately does do some mass content, aka clickbait for pay; sounds like that might have been an example.

        2. nutella fitzgerald*

          I remember a previous post where the LW followed advice from Forbes to send candy with her application for a job :(

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        The author of that Forbes column is a hoot. She promotes ‘pain letters’ and other techniques that sound good to frustrated job seekers. I don’t disagree with many of her premises I’m in corporate staffing, and you’ll get no argument from me that employers need to do better by their candidates.
        But her tone is often confrontational, IMO, and her advice is sometimes just plain wrong.

        For example, with large, publicly traded companies, you are going to have to fill out an application at some point. Your handshake isn’t enough, and telling me ‘that’s YOUR process, not mine’ because you read that in Forbes isn’t going to fly, no matter how much the hiring manager wants you. I can decline candidates at any stage, another thing that columnist gets wrong. Refuse to work with the process and it doesn’t matter if you really do know our ‘pain’, I’m declining your candidacy.

        Surprise, this author is with a company that provides job search coaching and services. For a fee. I’m not saying she uses Forbes to promote her services, but sometimes it feels that way.

  33. Anon for this*

    #1: I take a look at myself in the mirror every so often (definitely at least once a day) to make sure my contacts are seated correctly. Some of these times, it’s because I am trying to hold back tears because I work in a toxic mess of a department.

  34. ilikeaskamanager*

    Interesting discussion about the car battery. It made me think about how I learned this stuff, and I gotta say, it was in school. We were all required to take a basic “life skills” class that included things like basic financial management – basic household management–such as paying bills and setting up utilities, basic home repairs–like how to repair a leaky faucet, basic car maintenance, how to do our income taxes, how to mend clothes , basic meal planning, just how to do a whole lot of basic life stuff. Everyone took it, boys and girls alike. We all whined and complained, but I have used what I learned in that class more than just about any other.

    1. RVA Cat*

      They should bring that back, with added focus on how credit works, and updates such as securing your WiFi.

      1. Natalie*

        “How passwords are actually stolen and why you shouldn’t use the same one on your bank and on a poorly secured forum”

        I’m having a slow-mo argument with my husband about that, who seems to think that account breaches happen when someone guesses the password. Sigh.

        1. animaniactoo*

          I’m not the most secure in the world – I don’t have different p/w for everything. But I have at least edited to categories that share p/w:

          Most necessary not to be compromised (2-3 financial access sites)
          2nd level necessary not to be compromised (utilities, similar services)
          E-mail (each one has its own)
          Annoying but dealable if it gets hacked (netflix and the like)
          Everything else under the sun

    2. Allison*

      We didn’t have life skills class like that :( We learned laundry, cooking, and sewing, but in middle school, so I was able to put my cooking and laundry skills to work right away (most, anyway) but totally forgot everything from the sewing unit. And we didn’t touch things like finances, home repairs, car maintenance, etc. Those would have been good to learn in high school.

      (but please don’t fault us “millennials” for not being taught those things in school, we weren’t in charge of what the schools taught us . . .)

      1. Kyrielle*

        I’m gen-X and still wasn’t taught any of that in school. (In fact, I didn’t even get the laundry/cooking/sewing.)

        A life-skills class in high school would be really, really useful. But it’s not on the test…sigh.

        1. RVA Cat*

          Also it should include basic labor laws i.e. not working off the clock and how to handle harassment.

      2. Kelly L.*

        Gen Xer here. We had to choose between cooking/sewing, construction, and I forget the third one, but I think it was more of a mechanically oriented class. Pick one, and it ruled out taking the others. Strong gender pressures too.

      3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        I was in the laaaaaast class in my middle school that got a cooking and sewing class, and I’m sad about that, because the cooking portion was incredibly useful. The one single day of class that was devoted to “here is how to not screw up horribly with hot oil” was probably the most useful day of my entire schooling.

        1. vpc*

          My middle school gave us a quarter of sewing and cooking, a quarter of shop, a quarter of art, and a quarter of keyboarding.

          Guess which one I use every day?

          All I remember from the cooking class is how to make rice krispie treats. And we made wind chimes in shop.

      4. A*

        Late Gen-Xer here. Was not taught a single life skill by my parents. They are narcissistic types who had a weirdly conflicting idea that I was both gifted and completely incompetent, so didn’t bother to teach me anything until I left for college. Then I got a 30-second instruction on how credit cards work (which saved me from making a lot of stupid mistakes…turns out you can learn a lot in 30 seconds).

        I learned every single life skill by essentially pressing buttons and seeing what happened. Or reading a recipe and deciding it didn’t have to be perfect the first time. Or erring on the safe side and not using bleach. You get the idea.

        It’s one thing to advocate for a life skills program in school, but you yourself are out of school now. Don’t continue to blame your education from years ago for not teaching you things that you can easily teach yourself now, or ask others about now, as an adult with a functioning mind, a job, and an internet connection.

        1. Allison*

          Okay, to clarify, I wasn’t blaming my lack of skills on the education system, I know how to learn how to do things if I need to learn them. Google is a thing, asking my parents is a thing. I know this. I do this. I’m not a moron. I can cook and do my laundry just fine. Why did you make the jump from “don’t be mad at us for not learning things in high school” to “I’m a helpless millennial crybaby who doesn’t know how to do anything and it’s other people’s fault”?

          However, most of these things are much easier and less awkward/embarrassing to learn when you’re young and still living with your parents. It would have been better for my dad to teach me how to change a tire in our private, suburban driveway before I moved out, than for me to try to do it myself, in the shared parking lot, with some eHow instructions while my neighbors watch. If I did attempt to learn an “adult skill” at age 27, someone might give me a hard time for not learning it earlier.

        2. Panda Bandit*

          Honey, you’ve turned into your parents. See all of your posts in this thread where you’re berating people over their “incompetence”. Do you really want to keep heading down this path?

    3. Blackout*

      We had to take a “life skills” class in high school (9th grade). It was a joke. We talked about vague concepts like problem solving and others that I can’t remember 20 years later, and we had to do presentations in front of the class. I don’t remember learning one useful thing in this class. Hopefully they’ve done away with this class since then (or at least changed the name).

  35. Liz2*

    As someone with moderate OCD OP1 just makes my senses tingle that maybe there’s a deeper chronic obsessive compulsion at work here. It’s fine to ask her to not do it when others are around or to fix make up at her desk, but make sure no one else ever uses make up their desk either. Inform her gently of the impression it gives and ask if there’s something else you can help with. Most OCD sufferers hate the idea that other people will figure out their habits and of course that adds to the underlying anxiety which causes the problem.

    Approach it as any normal potential opportunity for growth, not a way to dismiss and diminish and label.

    1. Observer*

      Approach it as any normal potential opportunity for growth, not a way to dismiss and diminish and label.

      This is true. Nevertheless, forbidding everyone from fixing their make up at their desk AT ALL, because you need to tell her to cut down is not appropriate. It’s not fair to everyone else, and it is likely to have negative effects for her as well, as she’s going to be blamed for a new, and annoying, restriction being placed on others.

  36. The OG Anonsie*

    I hope I’m not too late for anyone to see this, because I have SUPER USEFUL INFORMATION about your options if your battery dies in your car like that (Re: 4. Can I be reimbursed for a dead car battery that happened because of a long business trip?)

    If your battery dies, you know the first steps are to jump it and let it run for a while to try to get it to charge back up. If that doesn’t work and it keeps dying or even stalls, pop the battery out and look at it. It should have the brand name and at least one date on it.

    Most batteries actually have a warranty on them for a couple of years. It might have just the date of manufacture, but it also might have both that and the date through which the warranty applies. If it dies completely in that range, you can typically get a new one for free.

    To find out if it’s totally dead, you need to take it to an auto parts place to see if it’ll hold a charge. The smart way to do this is to look up the battery brand and see what auto parts place sells that brand. When this happened to me, googling the brand brought up Advanced Auto Parts, so I took it to them.

    (Now. I had recently bought this car used so I wasn’t aware of who bought the battery in the first place. It’s still possible to get a warranty battery under these circumstances because they usually follow the part and not the purchaser, but I had to call three Advanced Auto Parts before I found a manager who knew how to process this kind of warranty claim. The first two insisted that there wouldn’t be a warranty on the battery. I knew they were full of it so I kept trying until I found someone who could be actually bothered to make the swap. The battery was less than a year old so I was very sure it would have a warranty from the manufacturer on it.)

    Take it to the auto parts place and say it won’t hold a charge at all, they’ll put it on a trickle charger to see if it’s DEAD dead or just needs a more thorough charging to work. If it’s dead-dead, and you called ahead and checked about the warranty stuff, you should be able to walk out of there with a brand new battery at no cost. In my case they checked it, said “yep it’s dead” and literally just handed me a replacement. They took down my info for the warranty claim and away I went.

    1. The Bimmer Guy*

      This is true. My Volkswagen had a 12-month / 12,000-mile warranty on perishables like brake pads, windshield wipers, tires and batteries…because they typically should not fail or need replacement within that time period. While it’s technically not because of a defect that the battery failed, the automaker may still replace it as part of the warranty. It’s worth exploring that before you possibly have to spend political capital asking your job to expense the replacement battery.

      1. The OG Anonsie*

        The time referenced above, my car was used (and very old!) and I wasn’t even the one who bought the battery that had died, so it’s not even just the warranty involved when you buy a new car. The battery was less than a year old, so it was still covered by the maker of that part specifically. If you’re talking about a new car (as the LW is) then this is probably even easier.

        And I should have mentioned– yes, it’s covered if it dies for any reason, it doesn’t have to be a defect. I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone ask me if I’m the one who donked up my battery or not, if it’s totally dead and under warranty you can get it replaced.

        Because of this, I have even heard of people intentionally killing their batteries shortly before the warranty is up so they can get a new one and essentially have perpetually warrantied batteries forever (since the new battery replacement you get under warranty is also covered by its own warranty). I don’t think anyone I know personally has done this, though, because really? But apparently it’s a Thing.

        1. The OG Anonsie*

          Also, because this all makes me sound like a serial battery murderer, I would like to say in my defense that only once was I the idiot who drained my own battery down to death. The other times I was helping other people (in that way that having any knowledge of cars suddenly makes you the person everyone calls when they have car problems) or had an actual mystery failure.

  37. Noah*

    I don’t think OP#4’s battery expense is an “expense[] tied to being away from work for so long.” If she’d hired somebody to start her car every other week, that would have been an expense tied to being away for so long. The battery dying is a result of not undertaking that expense. And I say this as somebody who has done exactly what OP#3 did.

  38. The Bimmer Guy*

    A battery tender is probably less expensive than hiring someone to drive your car every few weeks, not to mention less likely to end in a destroyed car (I’m not a very trusting person). And it’s something your company might be more likely to let you expense.

  39. Anxa*


    This question does seem pretty inappropriate to ask, and to answer truthfully seems so awkward. But one thing that I think is worth mentioning that if someone is unemployed and they don’t seem to have been volunteering enough or taking enough classes or building enough skills to look ambitious or hard working, that a lot of their time and energy probably went into surviving unemployment.

    When you have more time than money, you tend to spend a lot more time doing things than you otherwise would. More food made from scratch. Maybe walking to laundromats. Bus fare instead of cabs (or those uber type services if you have a smartphone). Walking instead of bus far. An errand that might have taken 30 minutes by car takes 3 hours by bus or 5 hours by foot. Also, a lot of your brain space is spent on managing financial decisions (hemming and hawing at the grocery store, etc.). An errand that might have taken 30 minutes by car takes 3 hours by bus or 5 hours by foot.

    Of course you can be employed and still have financial worries, but a lot of time and energy just go into managing life when you’re broke.

    1. Anxa*

      I don’t mean that it’s worth mentioning in an interview!

      Just that being unemployed isn’t the same as having endless amounts of time to volunteer or take classes.

  40. Songbird*

    Removed – please don’t engage in sock puppetry here (multiple user names in one post).

    1. Natalie*

      Acknowledging that not knowing something doesn’t make a person foolish or lazy isn’t the same thing as saying “someone should have told me this”, which literally no one in this thread has said.

      1. Ultraviolet*

        Yeah, at most I see “I wish I’d learned this the easy way like many people do.” (That’s my summary, not a direct quote from another comment.)

  41. Heidi*

    #1 — I’d almost wonder if it was a type of anxiety disorder/OCD, so perhaps bear that in mind when you have the conversation.

  42. Kelly*

    #2 – When I reply to past employment verification I refuse to answer wage questions. I honestly don’t think it’s anyone’s business what the person made in their previous job and I want to give them the opportunity to make more — isn’t that what advancing one’s career all about after all? When a prospective employer asks about salary I feel like it’s only to be able to make a low-ball offer. I wonder if I’m off on my thinking in that since Alison is saying it’s a normal practice and I also wonder if I’m hurting or helping the person.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No, please keep doing that unless a former employee specifically asks you not to. You’re right that it’s no one’s business, and people would be better off if more employers refused like you’re doing.

    2. Observer*

      It’s a normal practice, but it’s a really bad practice. So the people who have some power to lessen it, such as former employers / managers should push back. But job applicants need to factor the fact of this practice into their thinking.

  43. Loves Parentheses*

    I’ve been unemployed since 2012 and am still young enough to be expected to have a job. Perfect strangers feel that they have permission to ask about my finances. I tell people that I was an engineer with a PhD (which is true) and to do the math (it adds up quickly). I’m on the verge of telling people I have a sugar daddy, but I might like the gun running suggestion above better.

    I am about to start job hunting. When the question of how I have been supporting myself inevitably comes up in an interview (probably several times since I typically interview with several people individually), what are some suggestions for deflecting it?

Comments are closed.