my mom is mad I didn’t negotiate more, inappropriate ring tones, and more

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

1. My mom is mad that I didn’t negotiate more

I recently received a job offer that I’m really excited about. There is growth opportunity, I get great vibes from my new manager (and her manager), the new workplace is both flexible on where I work and very close my house, and I would be doing work that I find interesting and meaningful. During the verbal offer, the manager put out a number ~$7,000 less than the low end of my range (and about $1,500 less than what I currently make). She has been a pretty straight shooter up until this point, and when I said it would be hard for me to move on for a pay decrease, she came up $2,000. She told me that’s all that was in the budget for this position and that if I refused this offer, they would need to kind of go back to the drawing board to see if it would even be possible. I didn’t want to jeopardize the offer, especially because this number is within reason for this position in this kind of industry. I verbally accepted.

The problem is my mom. She is absolutely furious with me for accepting right away. She works at my current workplace (on a different campus) doing a very similar job, though she makes almost $40,000 more than me because of her longevity at the institution. She is the one who found me my current position. She told me “you NEVER accept a job offer right away” and that I’m “not being rational.” Alison, I feel that moving to this job is maybe the most rational career move I’ve ever made. Yes, I will be stuck with this salary for a while, and I probably could have wrung a couple thousand more out of them, but I really, really want this position. The other complicating factor is that I’ve been “on the market” for a year now and this was my first interview. Did I make some kind of horrible mistake?


And your mom is being particularly weird here because you didn’t accept their first offer. You negotiated and got an additional $2,000.

You got a job you’re really excited about that you feel good about accepting, at a salary that you say is within the market range for the work, and you got them to tack on an extra $2,000. You did fine. Ignore your mom.

(And it actually might be time to pull back on how many of these sorts of details you share with her if she’s going to get furious about something like this.)

2. Inappropriate ring tones

When is a ring tone considered inappropriate?

I have a female coworker who has a man whistling (like the obnoxious whistle a man makes when a pretty woman walks by) as her text message alert. My company is 98% men so it makes me hate her ringtone even more. I’m curious to know if I am overreacting or not.

I tend to think that any alert tone that your coworkers can hear is already veering toward inappropriate, but one that mirrors catcalling noises is particularly so.

3. Company asked my reference for other references

I’m in the interviewing process for a new job, and the company seems very interested in bringing me on.

However, when they reached out to one of my references, the reference-checker asked her if she knew of any additional references for me. She was a little taken aback by this and said she’d get back to them if she thought of any.

She told me about this, and I’m a little unsure what to do since this seems out of the ordinary. I don’t think it would make sense for her to pass along a reference to someone she doesn’t know at all, but do I reach out to the interviewer instead? I’m confused that if they really wanted this info, I don’t know why wouldn’t they just directly contact me. Do I do nothing and just let it slide?

Yes. This is actually a technique that some reference-checking experts recommend; the idea is to broaden your base of people who know the candidate but are less likely to have promised the person a good reference and who therefore might speak more candidly.

It’s more common in background checks than in reference checks, but it is a thing that some reference checkers do. You don’t have to like it — and I can understand why you don’t — but enough people consider it a legitimate practice that it’s likely to come across strangely if you say something about it. (That said, you typically see it most with candidates for senior executive type positions. It’s much less common at less senior levels.)

Personally, I’m not a fan — although I see the value for CEO-type positions. Otherwise, though, I prefer to just ask the candidate to connect me to specific people I’d like to speak with who weren’t on the original reference list.

4. Applicants who don’t include cover letters

I’m not new to hiring or being a manager, but I am new to my current company and am hiring for the first time in this role.

I’ve been working with a recruiter and my team to get the word out about my need for applicants, and I have a few good resumes coming in. What’s strange is I’m getting almost no cover letters.

Would it be appropriate to ask them to add a cover letter after they’ve already submitted their resume? It would really help me to understand why they are applying and see a bit of their writing style.

You can do that! It’s fine to say something like, “We’re asking all applicants to include a cover letter. We’d be glad to consider your application if you can resubmit it with a cover letter included.”

One thing I can’t tell from your letter is whether the job is posted anywhere. You say you’re working with a recruiter and your team so I can’t tell if you’re doing this informally or not. If you are, I’d change that — formally post it, and in your application instructions, specifically ask for a cover letter. You’ll get a bigger pool and you won’t be relying as heavily on your team’s own networks (which is a good thing for lots of reasons, including that you’ll generally get more diverse candidates if you branch out beyond your existing networks). And you can also tell your recruiter to make sure people send cover letters when they apply.

5. Was it illegal for my manager to ask if I was pregnant?

Several months ago, I asked my manager for a morning off the following week because my husband and I were getting married at the courthouse. I supplied this information willingly. He looked distraught and asked if I was pregnant. I was caught off guard and answered no and explained the monetary reasons for getting married. It colored my view of him, as I am resentful of the inappropriateness and the implications but I moved on outwardly.

Fast forward several months and when I relayed the event to friends, they insisted it was an illegal question. I’m not sure it is though, since it wasn’t an interview. Wildly inappropriate certainly, but quite possibly legal. My internet searches have turned up conflicting information on the matter and the situation is made murkier by the fact that I’m a contractor with an agency, not an employee of my manager.

Do you know whether this was illegal or not? I’ve already turned down the job offer to be an employee for that reason and more but I’d like to know the answer for future opportunities elsewhere.

Nope, it wasn’t illegal. And it wouldn’t have been illegal in a job interview either.

It’s not illegal for managers or interviews to ask about pregnancy — or race or religion or national origin or any of the other protected characteristics (except for disability). What is illegal is using that information to make an employment decision — like deciding not to hire someone based on that info, or denying someone a promotion because of it, or so forth. Because of that, smart interviewers and smart managers don’t ask these questions — since once you do, it can be very hard to prove that you didn’t act on the answer in an illegal way. (And plus, so many people wrongly think the act of asking is illegal that it tends to make people super uncomfortable.)

This is possibly the thing people get wrong about workplace law most frequently; you’ll even see news articles from respected sources get it wrong. (Here’s one from Consumerist that got it right.)

{ 380 comments… read them below }

  1. Dan*


    If your mom isn’t in a hiring or management role, it’s quite possible that she is out of touch with market rates for someone with 20 years less experience than she has… I know I certainly am. I wouldn’t know what to tell an entry level hire in my field exactly how much to hold out for.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      It sounds like OP’s mom may have taken this personally as it’s her workplace that she feels has short-changed her. But that doesn’t make it okay.

      OP I would shut this down from now. Tell her calmly and firmly that you don’t need to discuss it and change the subject.

        1. Karen D*

          Oh, yeah, I missed that the first time around, I thought Mom worked at the new place.

          OP feels like it’s a fair rate at the new job. My only concern (if I were mom or anybody) is that the prospects for future raises look pretty dim at the new place, but that’s a call only the OP can make. It might be that there’s a defined step increase plan at the new employers that will mean the OP is not locked in at the bottom of the desired range long-term.

          1. Em*

            I believe mom does work at the new, current place, which is how she got OP the interview. OP says she has been looking for work for a year.

          2. Stranger than fiction*

            What concerned me is it sounds like the person she was negotiating with didn’t say it was impossible to go back for more, just said it would be more of a hassle thereby getting op to back down and accept…or did I misinterpret that?

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        That’s my read as well. At first my reaction was, “Uh, boundaries?” but after reflection, I think OP’s mom is taking it personally that OP is leaving a job that her mom helped her secure (and a job that her mom ostensibly likes enough to have stayed for some time).

        OP, you did nothing wrong, and your mom does not sound like she’s being entirely rational in her critique. I would pull back a bit on what you share with her until she stops browbeating you. Based on what you’ve shared, “furious” sounds like a disproportionate reaction to an event you see as good news.

        1. Myrin*

          I actually read it like Dan a couple of comments above yours, that the OP’s mum works at OP’s new job, not the old one she left/is about to leave. The timeline is a bit unclear though, so it could well be the way you read it.

          1. OP #1*

            OP here. She works at current job, not new job. I think you guys are probably all kind of right. She is friends with my cute manager (who doesn’t manage her) and I think maybe that adds another element of me having not a “good enough” reason to leave? OMG and yes, boundaries. That’s how I’ve been trying to treat this.

              1. Mallory Janis Ian*

                Ha. I thought, “What does the cuteness of the manager have to do with it? She thinks you’re moving away from some sort of romantic opportunity?” Lol

                1. AthenaC*

                  Before OP corrected herself, that was actually what I thought – I assumed her mother was one of those parents that are eager to lock their kids down into a “good” marriage. With a cute manager, in this case.

                  Glad to see I was wrong!

            1. Myrin*

              Ah, I misunderstood that then, thanks for clarifying!
              (Also, I realise you probably meant “current manager” but I had a hearty laugh at “my cute manager”.)

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Sorry, I misread Ramona Flowers’s comment! I read it the way OP#1 has described: Mom helped OP gain employment at Current/Old Employer, but does not work at Potential New Employer.

        2. Not Rebee*

          I agree with this read of the situation. I would assume that, since OP’s mom helped them get the job that Mom would want a sufficient reason to leave it behind. Perhaps Mom thinks OP only took CurrentJob as a means of appeasement and wasn’t sufficiently grateful for the original position (since OP is moving on for only $500 more)? In any event, I think it’s something like this that has Mom upset. If I did anything, I’d be sure to point out all of the non-salary benefits that make this an attractive offer and otherwise not discuss it. Maybe Mom will realize there is more to this than the money, and stop being insulted (or maybe she will continue to be insulted because this job is better than the one she found for you and she feels upstaged?). If not, you will not be talking about it anyway :)

    2. Junior Dev*

      I basically had to stop taking job search advice from most of my older relatives. I come from a family where many of the relatives have either had the same (government) job since they finished University, or own their own business, and it’s just a completely different world from anything I and my friends are facing.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        OMG, this! My parents had a truckload of graduate school and job advice for my brother, especially, and all of it was 30 years out of date, and completely failed to take into account that wages have lagged and that their university provided a lot of support that most don’t any more. Yes, Mom, I know you saved more than that when you were in grad school . . . on a 20% higher equivalent stipend and with your health insurance paid for you.

      2. Liet-Kynes*

        Yeah, the last time I was looking, I got a lot of “just show some gumption and/or moxie” advice from older relatives, and that all got shitcanned instantly. No, I will not go down to the office and shake a hand just to put a name with the face, Uncle Dave, that hasn’t worked since approximately 1954.

        1. Jessica*

          It drives me nuts how much people cling to this advice. This was obsolete back when I was chronically unemployed during the Dot-bomb era…in 2000. 17 years later, it’s ancient history.

    3. Lindsey*

      Part of OP’s mom’s argument was that you shouldn’t accept a job on the spot. I got the impression they accepted during the first phone call without saying they would get back to them in a few days – which seems really odd to me. This isn’t the norm, isn’t? I guess it doesn’t really matter if you’re positive you want the job, but I think it’s generally good practice to at least take a day or two to think about it. (Aside from retail jobs and other minimum wage positions)

      1. Audiophile*

        I’ve accepted jobs on the spot, even when they weren’t retail. Depends on the circumstances. I did ask for time to think it over with my most recent job, although I think they expected me to accept on the spot, but I didn’t really need time to think about it just to let it sink in a bit.

      2. Jessesgirl72*

        But why? If you have done your research and know the job and offer are good ones, why wait? If you are the type who is uncomfortable making decisions on the spot, then that’s your call, but to say everyone should do that just on principle? No, that’s playing games.

        1. Lily Rowan*

          Yeah, like this OP I both negotiated and accepted my current job on the spot. The offer came in at $X, I said I was hoping more like $Y, she said they could do $Z, and I took it. $Z was actually the number quoted to me by the recruiter up front, but I don’t blame the HR person who made the offer for trying to short me some.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Yeah, very much agreed on this. I’ve accepted jobs on the spot, including after a salary negotiation, and there are others where I asked for time to confer with my family (because I actually needed to do that).

          It’s really normal in a lot of fields and for a lot of people, and as Jessesgirl72 notes, why dally or play games if you know you’re planning to say yes?

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Nah, loads of people accept on the spot — maybe roughly half, in my experience? Sometimes you can do the salary negotiation on the spot (or already did it earlier or aren’t going to because they’ve offered the top of the range you asked for, or so forth) and you’ve already thought about it enough to be sure you want it.

        1. Stephanie the Great*

          I think if everyone is very clear in communication about salary expectations from the start — on both sides of the aisle — it makes sense that people accept immediately. I always have. The taboo around talking about salary is very odd to me.

          1. Hunger Games Summer*

            Agreed – in my current job I did the market research before the first interview and was able to provide a 5k acceptable range – so when they came back at 1k below my max I accepted as it seemed reasonable to me

        2. Stranger than fiction*

          Even if you have nothing in writing yet and know nothing of the benefits?

          1. Jessie the First (or second)*

            But you can know about benefits at that point – I always have. And I’m not sure why you need something in writing to know whether you have an offer you like (assuming US at-will employment, an offer letter does not make anything more firm than it is with a verbal only offer; but at any rate, if a written offer makes you feel more comfortable, you can always accept on the condition that a written offer is forthcoming to confirm the discussion).

            1. Stranger than fiction*

              Oh I’ve never asked for specifics on the benefits til I have an offer (like yes I know they have medical and dental, holidays or whatever but not how much the actual payroll deductions or options are) and I’d want it in writing because what if they verbally tell you there’s bonuses, for example, then reneg on the official offer

          2. Not Rebee*

            What you can do here is make it clear that you are accepting the verbal offer but that your actual acceptance will be dependent on what’s on the offer letter. While it’s dealing in bad faith to verbally offer X and actually offer M in writing, absolutely nothing binds you to acceptance until you’ve signed the offer letter. Find out about benefits beforehand, or ask them to include information with the offer letter.

            I typically go with something like “I’d like to see that in writing, but yes that sounds great to me” when I get an offer that I’d like to accept. It’s something they are able to get a read on, but it still allows you a little freedom. This is mostly because there are some things that might be discussed during the interview stage that I want to make sure end up on the offer letter or other documentation before I formally accept–I’ve said this to a company I knew I would accept an offer from after the first interview so it’s really not a reflection of certainty as much as it is waiting for the formal offer.

        3. Not Rebee*

          Alison, when people accept on the spot, should they still wait for the offer in writing (and to have sent acceptance back to their new employer in writing) before giving notice? I’ve always been taught that an offer isn’t a real offer until its in writing (and therefore it’s pointless to accept a verbal offer because it’s not a real offer, although you can definitely make it clear that you like what you’re hearing) and that you shouldn’t resign until you’ve got a formal offer in your hand (to ensure that you’ve got a safety net/job if you’re forced to walk from CurrentJob right away). And this is doubly true if you’re trying to leverage your CurrentJob into a counteroffer, because CurrentJob might just say “Okay well it was great working with you” instead of making you a counteroffer and then you’ve just quit for a job you weren’t actually offered..

            1. OP #1*

              Also, for the record, I actually did not formally resign until I got the offer letter from HR.

      4. LBK*

        I’ve never not accepted a job on the spot. I’ve always been sure by the time it reached that point that I wanted the job, and the offers have always been within the range I wanted, so there’s never been a reason for me to ask for time to think about it because I didn’t need to.

        1. Gen*

          I’d never dare to risk losing the job offer entirely by asking for more time for the sake of what? Unless it’s a knife edge calculation you should have do all that earlier so I can’t see the benefit of such a risk.

          1. zora*

            It’s not usually that much of a risk, though. I mean, I agree with everyone above who had explanations of why they did accept jobs on the spot. But most reasonable workplaces should be willing to give you a day or over the weekend to think about the offer, even if you’re not that much on the fence. If someone rescinds an offer just because you asked for a few days to think it over, that is a red flag.

        2. Sarah*

          Most of the job offers I’ve accepted have involved moving, so I wanted to discuss that with my husband before accepting. (I mean, obviously we had discussed moving previously since I was even applying, but hypothetical is different from an actual offer!) So I’ve always taken some time, but I also think it was very much expected for these positions since they involved relocating.

          1. Jessesgirl72*

            The interview process for relocation jobs are so much more involved, though, that every time the actual offer came, we’d been expecting it (sometimes for weeks…) and had discussed everything there was to discuss. The actual offer wasn’t at all different from the hypothetical. The last time, we’d even already covered the salary before the official offer letter came through.

            But again, if you’re the type who needs the time, for a legitimate reason, that’s usually fine. To expect that every person “should” take a day or two is what most people are objecting to.

    4. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Yeah, I was coming in to say the same thing. My mother was appalled when my first office job (in a call center, no college degree required) didn’t start me out at $35k or higher. Even now she’s utterly certain that that’s a normal entry-level payscale for work with no specific education, licensing, or skill requirements.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        HA HA HA Twelve years in a position like that and I still don’t make that much (total compensation, not just wages).

      2. Kiki*

        I don’t wanna go “all boomers” but sometimes the disconnect between career perceptions is staggering. My grandparents are still totally baffled that I am not making six figures because I have a BA from a top-ranking college and graduated with honors. They don’t understand that just because they could raise a family as a grocery store manager and SAHM doesn’t mean that’s possible now.

        FWIW I make about one standard deviation below the median for my field and experience level, but I have crazy good benefits that make up for the lower wage. As far as millennials are concerned I’m doing quite well.

        1. the gold digger*

          There was a story in the Washington Post this weekend about rich people trying to teach their kids about money. One rich father said, “But all three children have attended public schools, and all work at the company starting at 11 or 12. They also must work outside the company after college, so they “’learn what you have to do to make $100,000 a year.’”

          Right. Because it is so, so common for people to make $100K a year right out of college. Or even ten years out.

          1. EmilyAnn*

            I read that article and assumed meant “What kinds of jobs outside working for the family make 100K a year.” Like to see what their management or mid to upper level colleagues have to do to make 100K a year.

          2. AnotherAlison*

            I think it’s fairly easy to be delusional about salaries. I made $47,000 out of engineering school 17 years ago, which wasn’t like a “whoa, that’s a ton of money” salary then. My sister makes $55,000 now as an RN with 2 years experience. My dad thought she should be making more than that because RNs and engineers are the same thing obviously.

            Then you hear that one story about the programming boot camp grad who got $100k. Then you understand that that was in silicon valley and he can’t live on that. Someone who recruits for a boot camp sponsored by my alma mater said it’s more like $60k here for a boot camp grad, but I think people think that the $100k salary applies here.

            1. Jessesgirl72*

              You can live on $100k in Silicon Valley, as long as you don’t expect less than a 45 minute commute, and over a 3rd going to rent.

              My husband was offered $60k to work there in 2000, right before the Dot Bomb, and that was definitely not enough. That is often still the starting salary there for entry level professional jobs. People live with roommates. (He was making $108k 4 years ago. We were comfortable enough, but would never own a house or get much savings in the bank. That’s why we live in Milwaukee now)

          3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            Work at the company starting at 11 or 12? I assume we mean “working” as in dress nice and sit at a computer and do whatever, not child labor.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Interestingly, there are some exceptions to the child labor laws for kids employed in a family business, as long as the parents are the sole owners of the company. (That’s why you can see, for example, kids helping out at a family restaurant or so forth.)

                1. textbookaquarian*

                  Yes, it is. My uncle was a farmer and my cousins were part of the work crew. One of them took over the farm a few years ago. :)

              1. krysb*

                Yup, had to work at my dad’s shop (mechanic) from about age 8 until 18. Of course, my dad being my dad, we were lucky to even get lunch when we worked. Needless to say, it suuuuucked.

              2. Kateshellybo19*

                Yeah there are exceptions for that; I don’t remember exactly what but when I was younger (say starting around 4 or 5) I would do odd jobs around my family’s business to get spending money. The HR lady (who also happened to be my Aunt) was always careful to make sure none of us kids spent more than a certain amount of time doing these things until we hit the 15 year old mark.

                Not sure which of these laws was federal and which state, and this was also 20 to 30 years ago but that was my experience.

              3. Jessica*

                Yep, worked for both my parents’ businesses as a kid. On the positive side, I developed a good work ethic, but on the negative side, it definitely normalizes the whole “Your duty is to do your job no matter how much it sucks for you personally, and the only reason I pay you is because I’m such a nice person” mentality that a lot of employers have.

          4. Dan*

            Well, I’m 9 years out of grad school and make that… but I also live in a county where that is below the median household income. Income is certain just one part of the equation as AnotherAlison and JessesGirl note.

          5. Jessica*

            But that’s why that would actually be a GOOD rule. Expecting Kid to work outside the company after college would be a huge reality check, because you’re going to be competing strenuously with equally/more qualified candidates, for entry-level jobs that usually have little to offer in the way of pay or benefits. And seeing that it takes several years of hard work and putting your name out there to even be considered for advancement that would result in a six-figure career path. I’d consider that to be a way, way better teaching experience than just hiring Kid into a Patrick Bateman VP/doorstop position, where they basically sit in an office and come up with business card designs and think that’s what everyone gets to do.

          6. nnn*

            all work at the company starting at 11 or 12.

            This ties in with something I’ve found frustrating – people saying “I’ve been working since I was 12!” as though that makes them virtuous, but they were only able to work since they were 12 because their parents could just give them a job.

            Most jobs don’t want to hire 12-year-olds! And even when you get older, a lot of jobs that are suitable for teens don’t want to hire people who haven’t had a job before. Depending on local variables, it can take literally years to land your first job if you don’t know someone.

            If these parents want to teach their kids about money, a good starting point would be to have them find their first job on their own, without any parental connections, so they can see what the job market is really like. Then the family business can hire them afterwards, if part of the mandate of the family business is to provide employment to the family.

        2. Liet-Kynes*

          I come from a family of incredibly entrepeneurial people who are totally baffled that I haven’t “hung out my own shingle” and started my own environmental consulting firm by now.

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            Ugh, I know some people like that. Running your own business isn’t for everyone!

        3. Stranger than fiction*

          Isn’t that infuriating? My mom doesn’t get how we kids don’t save HALF of what we bring home because that’s what my dad was able to do.

          1. Mananana*

            I’m puzzled with how many people discuss their income with their parents. My folks have zero idea how much I (or hubs) makes.

            1. Stranger than fiction*

              Oh they don’t know my income (well my dad used to when he did my taxes years ago) but they know we don’t have savings or at least very little savings.

            2. Not Rebee*

              My mom is a much more experienced professional than I am (what, with me being 26 and this being my second big girl job – aka not retail not service industry – and her being an executive) so I run all my stuff past her. Never really occured to me not to, but she also isn’t opinionated about it. She doesn’t comment on salary (nor does my dad) beyond congratulating me for the job offer, as long as I seem to be good with what I’ve got (and she helped me get my last job – and very quickly wanted me out of the industry and at a company that would pay me more because she felt I was underpaid. The 30% raise I got when switching jobs (compared to a biennial 8% raise in OldJob) suggests she was correct…
              Unlike other posters, though, my parents both think I’m in a really good place financially (although whether that’s in comparison to them as young people or to other young people my age or???) and I don’t get flack for it. But my mom and this site are my primary sources of job advice, since both my mom and Alison have been doing this for a while and know their stuff…

              1. Dankar*

                I’m in the same situation–my mom knew just about everything that went on in my job hunting/interviewing/negotiating process. I didn’t really know what I’m doing, and she was really an invaluable resource. Now that I have the job, she’s hands-off. All I get is a twice-yearly reminder to increase my percentage of salary going to savings.

                My father on the other hand… He nagged me until I made up some number, and then complained that it wasn’t high enough. Ugh.

      3. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

        As someone who did payroll for 8 years in a call center, this is HILARIOUS. Making every bonus available wouldn’t even get you to 30k. And even if you came in to one of the just-above-entry-level positions (i.e. a supervisor of those who take the calls), it would still only be $32 on the high side for base salary and most of our supervisors made less than that.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Oh my goodness that’s only anout 10k over minimum wage. I hope you live in a low cost of living area.

      4. Princess Carolyn*

        My mom was making $40k around the time I was born and went back to school because that wasn’t enough money to raise me on, and she couldn’t rise in the ranks any higher without a degree. She can’t get over the fact that my first job (at a newspaper) paid less than $30k. When, at a different job, I explained that I was exempt and didn’t get paid extra for all my weekend hours, she was livid that my employer was “taking advantage of me.” And, I mean… they kinda were, but in a 100% legal, commonly accepted way. (Err, I was probably misclassified, but that’s another story.)

        I do work in relatively low-paying positions (first news, then marketing) and primarily in low-COL markets, so that explains some of it, but she’s always appalled at how little I’m being paid.

        1. FlibbertyG*

          Yeah my parents are puzzled that they were a single income family who were able to buy a house, cars, comfortably raise two kids – which my sister struggles to do on two incomes. Part of that is just that she lives in a more expensive real estate market, but this is also just … shrug? … the way it seems to be now?

          1. Not So NewReader*

            You could do that in the 50s and 60s, even into the 70s, people were paid a living wage. Now forget it, both people work and they still run out of money before they run out of month. From what I saw the change happened in the late 70s on into the 80s.

      5. Pommette*

        Yup. I was raised in a family where money was a taboo topic (“Talking about money is materialistic and crass! We’re not rich but we don’t care.”), and the disconnect goes both ways… my parents have a completely unrealistic sense of what a “normal” or “basic” salary would look like. As for me, I grew up with a really skewed sense of how much it cost to live like we did (it turns out that my parents were able not to care about money because they were, in fact, pretty rich).

        My mother actually cried when I told her my annual income (my field requires post graduate education. Even if I could find full-time work, I wouldn’t make more than $35,000 a year – and the thing is, I would be okay with that!). It’s taken years, but she’s beginning to internalize the fact that norms have changed, and that her own experience wasn’t particularly typical.

        My father is still in complete denial. It’s as if he had some sort of intellectual blind spot to the fact that, while his own employees were all well-paid (good on him and good for them), and while his own experience was positive (good on his employer and good for him!), the vast majority of jobs out there today don’t pay as well or offer as much security. To him, the problem is that I, and others who are faced with the same situation, just need to think more positively and aim higher, gosh-darn-it! Demand to be treated the way you deserve!

        1. Liet-Kynes*

          “As for me, I grew up with a really skewed sense of how much it cost to live like we did (it turns out that my parents were able not to care about money because they were, in fact, pretty rich).”

          Same experience here. Once I started actually making my own way in the world, I realized that despite telling me we were “middle class” for my entire childhood, my parents were and are at the very upper end of upper middle class, or maybe just flat-out wealthy. I’m solidly middle class right now, and my lifestyle is vastly more constrained than theirs was. They might not have regarded themselves as rich, but even accounting for a better economy in the ’90s, we did a hell of a lot of international travel and they did a lot of remodeling and home improvement that doesn’t get done on my current household income.

          It’s kind of a disservice to a kid to keep them clueless like that.

          1. Kiki*

            This is something my husband is struggling with as well. He was told he was middle class and always thought the “average” American family lived like him. It wasn’t until we started dating that he learned the average family does not take month-long vacations, own a boat, and have multiple luxury cars to choose from depending on their mood and the weather.

            I grew up with a struggling single mom so our thoughts about money and what normal day-to-day living looks like is vastly different. Figuring that out continues to be an interesting challenge.

          2. Bryce*

            I used to call my family “upper middle class” because we lived well within our means (by virtue of living in the middle of nowhere with Dad working for a job that paid well but there was nothing to spend it on). I defined it as “we don’t buy everything we want, but if we need money for car trouble or injuries or something we don’t need to worry where it’s coming from”. Then I visited a friend in the Bay area and learned that there “upper middle class” means owning what they called a house and I would call a mansion, very conspicuous consumerism, and idly talking about investments and house-flipping as if money was how you kept score in life.

        2. Rana*

          The thing is, even if one was truly in the middle of the middle class when I was a kid (we were), the economic context has shifted a lot since then. Wages are relatively lower, costs are relatively higher, so the sort of careers and housing and family choices my family made simply aren’t on the table for me… and that’s true for a lot of people my age. At this point I’ve made my peace with the fact that I’ll never live as well as my parents have (especially since my husband and I are better off than we could be), but it’s hard to shake off some of the habits regarding money and spending that came from growing up in a more forgiving economic environment.

          1. FlibbertyG*

            Yeah, I thought we were middle class growing up … and I think we really were, at the time. It’s just that now the middle class is contracted and our standard of “average” (comfortably able to buy a house, cars, occasional vacation, pay for medical care, pay for kids college) is suddenly seeming extraordinary.

          2. ReadItWithSpanishAccent*

            Surprinsingly, I come from the other way around. My parents prided themselves to the outside world about being “rich”, but we were actually pretty poor. As an adult, I thought I was middle class because I could afford a room in a rented apartment, food, necessities and a bit of money to have a beer.
            It turned out I was poor. The Big Great Shock came when I moved to Scandinavia with my partner. He found me incredibly stingy. I would scold him for buying meat twice a week, switching on the heating (mind you: this is Scandinavia), leaving a light switched on or not buying the cheapest food he could find. It took me a while to get used to this Scandinavian decadence!

          3. Pommette*

            Very true, and an important point.

            It didn’t come across in my comment, but those larger social shifts are definitely at the core of my story (as of so many other people’s). My parents were fortunate in their individual career paths, but also in having been born in a time and place characterized by pretty much unprecedented plenty.

            Having absorbed so many of their attitudes and expectations, I find myself emotionally and intellectually ill-equipped to deal with the reality of the situation I came of age in. I have to change many of the ways I spend and plan; annoyingly, while trying to do so, I find myself feeling guilty/ashamed (who thinks about money like that? Misers, that’s who! Money doesn’t matter!).

            It’s been interesting to see my peers and I, and our respective parents, either struggle to adjust those attitudes and expectations to changing realities, or do everything possible to ignore evidence of those realities. At this point, it feels like so much of the adjustments are being made piece-meal, and at an individual, rather than a societal, level.

        3. kitryan*

          I also had parents who understated things a bit, however I think the perception gets skewed based on the folks around you. While in (expensive private) high school my family seemed more middle class- schoolmate’s families could be both a bit worse off and sometimes much better off (one student went on to make a documentary about himself and his friends titled something like ‘growing up rich’)
          Then, I went to college and started meeting people from all kinds of different backgrounds and started getting a better idea of things. Turns out my parents were doing really well. Luckily my dad has always been realistic and has always either given me good advice or known when he didn’t have the tools to advise me. I think he does have a blind spot for gender discrimination in salary negotiations though.

    5. Rachel in NYC*

      I find that with older members of my family- they have a hard time understanding the current job market. Especially those members who haven’t recently been in a hiring role. When they say something like that, I’ll ask them their basis and talk about the market.

  2. Dan*


    I gotta be honest, candidates may realize that if they have nothing to say other than regurgitating their resume, they may as well save the effort. I can write really compelling cover letters for some jobs, but for others, my cover letter is of marginally more value than my resume itself.

    For many people, the reason they are applying is because you have a job opening and they need a job. What makes them excited about your job? The prospect of a paycheck. If they are weak anyway, the cover letter won’t do anything for them.

    That said, have you noticed a correlation between strong cover letters and the quality of applicant?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I mean, that’s fine if they’re not excited about the work, but the reality is that in many fields, hiring managers aren’t going to be interested in hiring them if that’s the case. So if they want the job, they need to talk about why they’d be good at it. It’s like saying you don’t feel your resume will do anything for you, so you just won’t send one. It’s part of the application process (for many jobs) and opting out means you’re taking yourself out of the running.

      There are some fields that are exceptions to this, but it doesn’t sound like the OP is in one.

      1. Big10Professor*

        I wonder how much detail the recruiter is giving the candidates. I got at least two previous jobs through recruiters who didn’t give me a lot of info upfront until the company had seen my resume. If they’d asked me to write a cover letter without telling me the name of the company or the title, I’d have been at a bit of a loss.

        1. Ramona Flowers*

          That’s such a great point. Even if there’s an advert, some recruiters won’t name the employer as I guess they don’t want people to apply directly and cut them out – which is supremely irritating as it often makes it almost impossible to tailor your resume, let alone write a covering letter. For example, I’ve seen adverts for editorial staff that don’t say what kind of subject matter the publication covers and adverts for non-profit staff that don’t say what the non-profit does. I can’t tailor application materials if I don’t know whether to emphasise my llama cuddling experience or focus more on rice sculptures.

          1. Mike C.*

            To be honest, I find this to be incredibly dishonest of recruiters. I’m not looking to cut anyone out of money they rightfully deserve, and they should have the same respect for my time and ability to find a position with a company I’m comfortable working for.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              That’s cool that you’re not, but loads of people ask how to do exactly that — because they think it’ll make them cheaper for the company and thus more likely to be hired, or just because they think they’ll have a better shot if there’s no middleman.

              1. Temperance*

                FWIW, Booth avoids recruiters for the opposite reason. He had one negative experience where the recruiter wanted her bonus enough that she tried to convince him there was no possible salary negotiation and tried to shame him for even bringing it up. He went behind her back and negotiated anyway, and got what he wanted (which wasn’t unreasonable).

                1. Amy Cakes*

                  That’s how things went down for me, as well. My recruiter was incredibly shady, and told me vastly different information than did the company’s HR. It was a difficult lesson in both negotiating and in trusting people.

        2. KR*

          This! My job was advertised as a temp office position. I mean sure, I am in an office and I assist other people, but it’s so much more detailed than that. It’s really luck that I applied and found out after that I was so qualified for it. If the recruiter had asked me to supply a cover letter, I probably wouldn’t have made such a good impression with my manager because I really knew almost nothing about the role going in.

          OP, I would definitely check with the recruiter about how much detail she’s giving your applicants and if she’s even asking them to provide a cover letter. I didn’t supply a cover letter to my manager – I think when I sent in my application to the recruiter I wrote a quick mini-cover letter in the application itself or the email I sent my resume in but the recruiter didn’t ask me to send a cover letter. I’m guessing she covered my experience and qualities when she forwarded my resume to my manager.

          1. msmorlowe*

            Yes! I’ve heard a lot of casual “drop in a CV” type job postings–I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that many people take that literally and only drop in a CV.

          2. Amber T*

            This – I got my job at my company through a recruiter and wasn’t told the name, only the very basic field (finance, non bank). My recruiter helped me “tailor” my resume (you’ll want to focus on this more, less of that). She submitted it on my behalf, and when I was invited for an interview (based solely on my resume, no cover letter), then I was told the name of the company.

            As an aside, is it normal for the recruiter to set up all of your interviews with a company? I understand them setting up the first one, but my recruiter handled all three interviews, which was a bit bizarre and frustrating (especially when my employer had two last minute changes).

        3. Lucie*

          In my industry (I’ve used recruiters for my last two jobs) – I don’t even known what the company specifically does / until the interview is set up. They give me a general location of which suburb it’s in, and a general idea of what large part of my industry they are in but no specifics. And never anything for a cover letter. Hell, I’ve asked the recruiters to pass on a thank you and they thought it was weird.

          (I however work in a weird Niche of a gigantic Midwestern Industry. In which I am working with foreign companies specifically for my bilingualism so there are some cultural aspects at play, and the recruiters I use source bilingual jobs in one specific language)

      2. Dan*

        In my field, I probably won’t read your cover letter if your resume is weak. Your resume has to grab my attention, and for the cover letter to be useful, it needs to add stuff that isn’t in your resume – that’s something you’ve been saying for years. I’m just acknowledging that some people don’t have much to add beyond the resume – and are consequently weak candidates, unless their resume itself is outstanding.

        The older I get, the more I believe that cover letters are really optional. That is, they should be used when there is a story to tell beyond the base resume. But there isn’t always a story to tell beyond the resume, and that does mean the candidate is probably pretty weak. I know for me, I only care why you are interested in the job if you’re at least a decent candidate in the first place. If you don’t have much to offer me, I could care less why you’re interested. And if you’re really strong? I’m calling you in for an interview, even if you have no cover letter. If you’re strong *and* have a good cover letter? You’re on the short list if you don’t screw up the interview. Admittedly, my field is technical, which means the resume carries a ton of weight.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The most important part of a cover letter isn’t generally to explain why you’re interested; it’s to explain why you’d excel at the job. Interest can definitely be a part of it, but it shouldn’t be the biggest focus.

          1. Dan*

            As I mentioned, in my technical field, I can tell from your resume if you’d be good or perhaps even excel at the job. Cover letters are most useful if there is something in your background that isn’t captured in your resume – that is, relevant non technical things.

            That said, my cover letter gets me interviews because it adds stuff beyond the resume (I’ve gotten compliments on it), as I’ve got some domain background that isn’t terribly common. I know if I were to switch domains, if my technical skills don’t sell you, my cover letter won’t save me.

            All I’m saying is that in my field, they aren’t mandatory. They can increase the strength of some candidates, but they can’t increase the strength of every candidate. And, some don’t need them, because they’re either really terrible or really great. So, I feel they’re best left as optional. If you’ve got something to say that will help your candidacy, then by all means, say it. If you don’t, I’m happy to spare us both the agony.

            1. BananaPants*

              As the current employees doing panel interviews, we never see cover letters – HR doesn’t let us. I believe the hiring managers don’t even see them unless they ask. When HR is handing them a stack of resumes 30-deep, no one has TIME for cover letters.

            2. Mookie*

              This is interesting. So, for your purposes, it’s skills and aptitude, education, experience, and a smattering of relevant accomplishments that determines which applicants you’ll interview? Is the process by which they reach certain accomplishments or their writing skills, by way of two examples, not interesting or relevant, or are those factors you suss out later in the screening? It sounds like you’ve got a pretty good success rate using this approach; how often do applicants with impressive resumés end up looking weaker and more deficient during interviews?

              1. Dan*

                Yup. You’re actually painting a rather holistic view of an applicant — if you’re an “80%” candidate, we can fill in the 20% on the job, but if you’re only a 20% applicant, I probably can’t or don’t want to fill in the 80%. Put it this way — if they know nothing about my domain, and have no programming or data analytics skills, they likely will not get interviewed.

                People with good resumes look weak if you start asking questions about stuff on the resume and they start hemming and hawing. It’s also easy to say you know something, like a programming language. The interview is for sussing out how much more than “hello world” you can do.

            3. AndersonDarling*

              As a technical applicant, I feel the same way about writing cover letters. My resume is packed with rockstar accomplishments, so if a recruiter is looking for my skills, then there isn’t anything to add in a cover letter.
              But there are times when the job description is a bit vague or my resume isn’t an exact match and then I will compose a cover letter to fill in the holes. I know that will only work if the applicant pool is similarly wishy-washy and my cover letter will help me float to the top.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                Same. I often don’t bother for a receptionist position; you can see from my resume that I hvae more than enough experience. I do get called anyway sometimes. If the job has some duties that are new to me, then I write one and try to compare that to something I’ve already done or show transferable skills. And since I’m applying to entry-level jobs in a different field, I always have a cover letter (which I need to work on, bleah).

            4. JB (not in Houston)*

              “in my technical field, I can tell from your resume if you’d be good or perhaps even excel at the job”

              Sure, if the only thing that, in your mind, makes someone good at their job is doing the tasks you assign them without errors. But that’s like saying there’s no point in interviewing them, either, since your resume tells you if they’ll be good at your job. A cover letter can tell you information about the applicant that a resume can’t, in the same way that an interview does. I’m not saying you have to use them or you’re screwing up your hiring. But in a functional workplace, being good at your job involves more than just accomplishing the tasks assigned to you, and things that make someone a nightmare coworker or employee aren’t always something you can pick up on from a resume.

              1. LBK*

                Totally agreed, no matter how technical a job is there’s things you want and need to know about a person besides their prowess, and a cover letter can provide that. Frankly, particularly with highly technical jobs I’m concerned about personality, because I find some people can skate by on skill but are a nightmare to actually work with, and that’s something I’d want to take into consideration when hiring.

              2. JamieS*

                An interview and cover letter are in no way equivalent. In an interview an interviewer can ask questions to gauge an applicant’s aptitude. A cover letter can’t do that. The only thing I’ve ever seen a cover letter do is glorify run of the mill qualifications.

                1. LBK*

                  I don’t think JB was saying they’re equivalent, but rather that the idea that a cover letter is useless because you can already read their qualifications from their resume misses the point of a cover letter; a good one isn’t just the applicant blowing smoke up their own ass, it tells a story about who they are as a person beyond their technical knowledge and accomplishments. It’s to give you a sense of personality, which you can’t get from a resume.

                2. JamieS*

                  Yes I know what JB was saying. Dan said he doesn’t need a cover letter because the resume provides what he needs to know and a cover letter adds no value. JB responded that if all an employer needs to know are a candidate’s qualifications then an interview wouldn’t need to interview either. The point of my response is you can’t draw a parallel between an interview and a cover letter within the context of “are they necessary?” because a company can assess a candidate in an interview. They can’t do that in a cover letter.

              3. Dan*

                Hm? Technical people make errors all of the time.

                People need to be interviewed for a few reasons: 1) They lie on their resume, and that needs to be sussed out, and 2) Gauge interpersonal skills. If I ask you a question, are you going to ramble, or are you going to actually answer the question I ask you? BTW, in my field, people who avoid direct answers are usually hiding something. In technical fields, it’s pretty easy to claim you know something, when you really don’t. The interview is to see if the applicant can put their money where their mouth is.

            5. Princess Carolyn*

              I’ve gotten most of my professional jobs without a cover letter. For every hiring manager who’s miffed that an applicant didn’t include a cover letter, there’s another hiring manager who won’t even read the cover letter. The safest thing to do is to include one — it’s never going to hurt your chances. But… I’m not personally convinced that they’re useful in situations where your qualifications are pretty straightforward.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                If you have no trouble getting jobs with cover letters, then cool. Do what’s working for you.

                But my mail is full of people who report that their interview invitations increased dramatically after they started writing the kinds of cover letters that I recommend here, so clearly it’s hugely important in lots of cases.

                1. Dan*

                  One of the strengths of your blog is that you’re happy to acknowledge that many things are a “know your field”. I think this is one of them. All I tried to say earlier is that in the technical realm, cover letters can be an asset under certain circumstances, but they’re not always an asset for every person every time.

                  Other fields may be different — they may be defacto required — and one of the things that makes your blog interesting is getting a different perspective on how different fields operate.

                  I also think it’s ok to acknowledge that note very candidate can be a strong contender for every position, and in those cases, it’s going to be challenging to write a good cover letter. In my field, I don’t have to apply for hundreds of jobs to get a handful of interviews — I can get multiple offers off of 20 applications, if that. For the people who find themselves applying to hundreds of jobs with no success, the advice I would actually give is “If you *can’t* write a strong cover letter, you’re probably not a strong contender for the job. Narrow down your focus and focus your efforts in areas where you can make the strongest pitch for yourself.”

                2. Elizabeth West*

                  I would definitely say that helped me get Exjob; it was a higher level job than I’d had before. But it isn’t helping me with the jobs around here now–in fact, I suspect they think I’m overqualified with or without a cover letter.

                3. Connie-Lynne*

                  I’ve been a hiring manager of system engineers and developers, which is certainly a technical field, for close to 20 years and I always want to see cover letters.

                  Good ones will tell me which of the job skills the applicants are looking forward to using, or why they want to work in the role or at my company. Sure, I can get that in the interview for a candidate with a particularly good resume, but I’d rather start with that knowledge.

                4. Late 2 The Party*

                  Yeah for me it depends… For external applications I’ve had much better luck with cover letters, but for internal applications it doesn’t seem to matter.

          2. FiveWheels*

            Where cover letters are used, is it also common to have an application form? I’m my field/geographical area, cover letters are an absolute no no and job postings are very often form only.

      3. Stephanie the Great*

        A question on the topic of cover letters, Alison. Should you ALWAYS supply a cover letter, even if it is not requested? I typically don’t furnish one unless it’s required as part of the job application, because as a former recruiter myself, if a position didn’t ask for a cover letter, I rarely read them.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I would. It’s true that some recruiters and hiring managers don’t read them, but loads of them do and put weight on them, and you can’t know from the outside if you’re dealing with someone who does or doesn’t.

          1. ThatGirl*

            I am awaiting word on a job I’ve had a couple rounds of interviews for, and at the last one, they specifically mentioned something I’d put in my cover letter. Now, I’m pretty sure a networking contact got my resume in front of the right person but I took that comment to mean that my cover letter helped sell me further.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              I have a friend who wrote a great cover letter when applying for her current job. The interviewer (her now boss) told her straight out that after he read her cover letter, he had to interview her. Her resume is good, but her cover letter allowed him to get a glimpse of her writing style (the job involves a lot of writing) and, importantly, her personality. From her cover letter, she seemed good at writing and like she’d be funny and enjoyable to work with, which she is. It’s not like the cover letter alone got her the job, but going into the interview, the interviewer was already looking forward to meeting her. That’s a good situation to be in as an applicant.

    2. Ruby*

      The blue collar job I have is more interested in candidates passing the medical (and thus the drug test) than resumes or cover letters for applicants outside the industry and word of month for those within the industry. But the main goal is to have staff in an industry with a very high staff turnover. Any staff. Which explains a lot about the place really…

    3. Mazzy*

      For me, so much is said in a cover letter even if the cover letter itself isn’t saying much. First, it shows that you read the instructions. Second, it confirms you’re not spraying out applications but intended to apply to this specific position (which helps distinguish from all of the hundreds of “applicants” Indeed and Linkedin send your way), three, the way you word sentences shows me a bit of your personality, which almost always is a positive thing – and please note here I am not always looking for beautiful prose, but just a sense that there is a person on the other end of the application, be it an entry level person who is unsure how to word things, or someone looking to make a career change. It definitely helps distinguish from the other hundred applicants that did something very similar at other companies I may never had heard of.

      1. Mazzy*

        The rarer case where a CL hurts an application is when they write great but about something that has nothing to do with the role, for example, they are excited about Marketing when we don’t do any Marketing. I usually don’t feel bad rejecting these applicants though, most have good enough resumes that their materials will get them interviews elsewhere. But that’s the biggest CL faux pas in my experience. I’m not going to sit there analyzing every sentence to death, because IME a perfectly worded resume doesn’t directly equate to perfect worker.

        1. AndersonDarling*

          Ugh, I cringe when I think about some of the poor cover letters I wrote back in the day. I would guess what the company thinks is important, or I would give examples of how their industry works when I didn’t really know. Looking back, there was only a tiny chance that I would guess correctly and a great chance that I would alienate the recruiter.

        2. Schmoozie*

          We had an applicant who had included a cover letter in his resume file, it was pasted above the resume. However, it specifically mentioned another company and a position that isn’t anything close to what we do. I knew that the other company didn’t offer a place to upload a separate cover letter, so I figured he’d added it for a job there, forgot and used the same resume for other places. After the third time he applied, I finally reached out and told him we were unable to consider him due to the cover letter. He responded and was completely mortified. I don’t think we’ve had an opening since, but hopefully he’s at least being considered elsewhere now.

    4. Salyan*

      I’m not a hiring manager, but as EA I’ve been part of the hiring team for new admins in our office. Our process is that the HR Manager sifts out resumes based on her criteria and then passes them to me to review and select for interviews. Any resumes that reach my desk are already candidates capable of doing the entry-level office work we’re hiring for, and I’m sifting out the ones that meet my (rather high, apparently) standards of grammar and spelling excellence. Cover letters are golden for this. Resumes tend to be bullet-pointed and contain incomplete sentences as a matter of course; it’s the cover letters that tell me if the person really understands verb tense and appropriate capitalization.

    5. Late 2 The Party*

      Lol. I love the bluntness of this comment and I agree completely. I wrote one cover letter for a recent application and it was inspired, because I really do want to work for that company. Ironically, I also wrote some cover letters for internal positions at the company I already work for and…I couldn’t really figure out why I wanted to work for my company! I mean, I guess I’m already here so I might as well? Oh and a raise? Yeah. That’s basically the reason, the money.

  3. Ramona Flowers*

    #4 I always send a covering letter if the advert asks for one, but haven’t done so with recruiters as they’re passing on my resume and will talk me up so I feel like the recruiter is basically doing the job of a covering letter. (I should say I’m 12 years into my post-college working life and YMMV and etc.) It really wouldn’t occur to me to send one unless the recruiter asked for it or it was in the advert if one existed.

    1. Cover letter norms*

      My take is similar here. I don’t know the norms of OP’s industry, but in my experience as a job candidate working with external recruiters, I provide a resume and the recruiter introduces the idea of me to the company the same way a cover letter would.

      OP can do it differently if that works better for her, I just want to (1) encourage her to ask for cover letters, as it may not quite be de rigeur for recruiter-sourced applicants and (2) add a data point that for recruiter-sourced applicants who have already submitted, a lack of cover letter may be a function of the channel via which they arrived rather than their enthusiasm (or lack thereof).

    2. sarakg*

      Especially when applying via a recruiter/networking contact, I wouldn’t apply with a cover letter unless specifically asked. In fact, for my current job, I was told specifically to not bother with a cover letter*. So it might be more to do with the recruiter than the job applicants, especially if none of them have provided cover letters.

      * Although, it wasn’t through a typical recruiting agency, but through the placement co-ordinator at the tech school I went to.

    3. Mookie*

      Like most people, I find cover letters for anonymized listings excruciating to write. My diction instantly suffers — I err on the side of formality when addressing strangers — and the tone is just weirdly insincere and hesitant, plus it’s difficult to tailor the content with any degree of precision unless you’ve got the recruiter’s ear for a while. It’s such a relief when they opt to sell you rather than ask you to pop out something verging on cookie-cutter.

    4. Spondee*

      Yes, exactly. My company relies heavily on outside recruiters, and we rarely get cover letters for candidates who come through them. In fact, in many cases they send us all their candidates’ resumes as a single PDF. The good ones will write their own cover letter for the candidate, but very few have the candidate write a cover letter themselves.

    5. Natalie*

      Agreed, I’ve never been asked for a cover letter when going through a recruiter. I assume they have some kind of conversation with the hiring company about the various candidates that covers what a cover letter would normally.

    6. Mabel*

      I used to feel this way, too, but I can’t always count on recruiters to represent me and my skills in that way I want, so I always include a cover letter. Even though they’re not easy to write, and I’d love a good reason not to have to write one, I think it’s always worthwhile.

  4. Ramona Flowers*

    #3 I try to keep these sorts of comments to a minimum as I know it gets tedious but, as a Brit, I’m amazed by the linked post on not getting to choose your references. Until I read AAM I guess I just assumed that process was the same in every country. Over here you only contact named references (usually two) and you do it in writing, after a job offer has been made. Phoning for them just isn’t a thing. Your reference checks sound more like background checks.

    Obviously this doesn’t help the OP, however. It sounds like your references have your back – good luck with the rest of the process.

    1. TheLazyB*

      Also in the uk and most places I’ve ever interviewed have got references before interviews. Bloody public sector *grumpy face*

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        Really? Yikes. Non public sector here and have only ever had them checked after getting an offer.

      2. Akcipitrokulo*

        Private UK here too – I’m same as Ramona. References are taken up after “conditional on references” offer is made usually for ones I’ve had.

      3. Ange*

        I’m also public sector and there’s always an option on our application form to say you don’t want your references contacted before the interview.

          1. Katelyn*

            I generally don’t include anyone from my current employer on my list of references for just that reason! When asked if I would I had to think long and hard about my relationship with my manager, and eventually had a conversation with my new company that was along the lines of “you know that people don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad managers…”

            1. Kyle*

              I’m also from the UK and in my experience most jobs will specifically ask for your current employers details for a reference, or most recent employer if you are currently unemployed. That’s why a lot of job companies will only check them after making an offer subject to referencing, and will include the option to not contact your current employer until after making the offer.

      4. Bagpuss*

        I’m in the private sector in the UK. My experience is that an offer is normally made subject to references and that the referees are contacted after the interview. It varies whether it is in writing or not – it’s not uncommon for there to be a brief formal written reference (often just confirming the dates of employment and the role / job title) but possibly also a telephone conversation which would be less formal or official.

        I would not be happy a a potential employer contacting other people and I would not be pleased to be contacted out of the blue in relation to someone I had not previously agreed to act as a referee for.

        I hope that companies that do this make clear to the people they contact that they have not been given the ‘referee’s’ name by the candidate, otherwise they could be damaging the applications reputation with that person, as itis very rude to give out someone’s name as a referee without asking them first.

        1. FiveWheels*

          Same here, and it isn’t standard in my industry to even ask my referee on advance.

    2. nonymous*

      My supervisor always looks for mutual acquaintances that are not on the applicant’s reference list. If he can find contact info for the current boss or a co-worker, he will reach out even if he doesn’t know them. I wonder how many surreptitious job searches he has outed with this practice, since the last two rounds of openings did not find anyone that met his vision.

  5. neverjaunty*

    OP #5, sadly, being a jackass is often quite legal. At least you won’t have to deal with this guy again.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      So much of this. It sounds like he may have completely left his “be a professional and decent human being” filter at home, but even if his reaction was bumbling, I would feel the same way OP did. Unfortunately, absent other conduct, being an asshole is not illegal.

    2. Jessesgirl72*

      Thankfully, since most of us have our moments of it.

      As Alison points out, in this case it was stupid, because of the issues around it, as well. But again, that is a good thing- the law gives you enough rope to hang yourself!

    3. DrPeteLoomis*

      Yeah, it’s not an illegal question, just a really shitty way to respond when someone tells you they’re getting married.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Right! There are so many layers to the crappiness of this.

        1) When someone tells you they are getting married, your response should be: “Congratulations!”

        2) If you suspect that your employee may be pregnant, you should a) not say anything about it until they raise it with you and b) not immediately jump to how this is a terrible thing for you and your business. Sheesh.

  6. Panda Bandit*

    #2 – It would bother me too. Stupid fact of the day: that kind of whistle is known as a wolf whistle.

    1. Jeanne*

      It’s tasteless. But I’d probably start with asking them to turn it to vibrate because hearing texts come in is distracting.

      1. K.*

        I had a coworker whose ringtone was a song she liked so she’d just let it play for a while when her phone rang. It was really annoying. It wasn’t offensive, but it was loud and obnoxious.

        1. Decima Dewey*

          You want loud and obnoxious? A coworker’s ring tone for when her daughter calls is “INCOMING CALL. YOUR DAUGHTER IS CALLING. REPEAT, YOUR DAUGHTER IS CALLING”.

          1. Judy (since 2010)*

            I had a former co-worker who had a ringtone that would announce the name if the caller was in the contacts list. This co-worker flexed his hours early to leave at 3 to pick up the kids at school. Many times at about 3:15 we would hear his phone announce “Incoming call from Wife’sWork. Incoming call from Wife’sWork” when he was out in the lab with his phone still on his desk.

            I joked that if I ever found his phone unlocked I would change the contacts list from “Wife’sWork” to “Pick up your kids”.

          2. Faith*

            My ex-boss had a custom ring tone for his wife. It was the sound of a dog barking. Classy.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              BullyBoss had “Roxanne” by Sting as his–every time it played we would all snicker and then go around obnoxiously singing “RaawwwwwWWWWWWWWwwwxanne!”

        2. Statler von Waldorf*

          My ring tone is the squeal of a old-school modem establishing a connection. It’s kind of obnoxious, but even in a loud environment it is such a unique sound that it’s easy to distinguish. I don’t get a lot of calls, and I generally don’t want to miss them.

          My text alert is a clip from Guardians of the Galaxy saying “I am Groot.” I setup a special one for the kids, which says “We are Groot.” I have so far resisted the urge to setup something mean for the ex-wife, though I will cop to giggling at the dog barking one.

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            Fun story, when I was in high school and customizable ringtones were just starting to become a thing (and they were all midis at that point!) I set my jackass bio-father’s as Night on Bald Mountain. I meant it to compare him to Czernobog, but he evidently decided I was making fun of his thinning hair! (I mean. If I’d thought of it that way I totally would have been, but.)

          2. Robbenmel*

            My ringtone for my ex is The Blues Brothers’ “Shotgun Blues”…because he once threatened me with my daddy’s shotgun. And even though we are on reasonably friendly terms now, I don’t ever, ever want to forget that.

          3. Elizabeth West*

            OMG Groot! I love it! I would want Baby Groot. :)

            My current ringtone is a wind-chime sound that’s the closest I could imagine to todashchimes–I made a Dark Tower theme on my phone (book, not film). Notification is Samsung’s Temple Bell sound, which I had to download, since it’s not available on the S7. It reminds me of “The Little Sisters of Eluria.” Both sounds are fairly low-key.

            I like to make themes for my phone. After the last London trip, I had a pic I took and downloaded an authentic Big Ben chime so my phone would go *BONG* *BONG* *BONG*. I turned the volume way down for that one, haha.

            1. kitryan*

              I like your ideas! (are you excited for the movie?)
              My dad’s is either Eye of the Tiger or Danger Zone (they’re two of his favorites)

              My alarm tones are clips from ‘Still Alive’, so when I’m supposed to wake up I hear either
              “Look at me still talking when there’s science to do.
              When I look out there it makes me GLaD I’m not you.
              I’ve experiments to run there is research to be done
              On the people who are still alive”
              “But there’s no sense crying over every mistake.
              You just keep on trying till you run out of cake.
              And the science gets done and you make a neat gun.
              For the people who are still alive.”

              It’s motivating! Gotta get going – for the people who are still alive!

          4. Turtle Candle*

            I utterly love the idea of that as a ringtone. My phone is muted 99% of the time, but I am now tempted to do “oldskool modem connection” for the 1% of the time it isn’t.

            (I relatively recently found myself in the position of recreating the noise for the education/amusement of much younger coworker, who found my ‘beepbeepboopbeepboop-ooo-eeee-oooooooo-eeeeeEEEEE…. BA-da-BA-da-BUP-booooo-kssssshhhhhhh-hhhrhhhrkkkrhhhhrhhkkkkhrrrrrr’ hilarious. And then I had to find it on YouTube to prove I wasn’t making it up….)

      2. LBK*

        Agreed, phones shouldn’t be on ring in the office anyway unless you’re in some unique situation where you can’t keep your phone on you at all times and need to be able to hear it from a distance.

        1. FlibbertyG*

          Ha I am such a jerk about this to my coworkers. We have a crappy open office and woe betide those who walk away leaving non-silenced cell phones at their desk. To me, hearing your buzzy little jangle ring and ring is like nails on a chalkboard. I have gone over and muted other people’s phones after the fifth call in an hour (the coworker was in a conference room on another floor – I did tell them as soon as they got back. Surprise, it was her husband wanting to chat).

        2. Statler von Waldorf*

          Really? Huh .. I have never seen this as a policy, or even something that anyone did, anywhere I’ve ever worked. Even when I worked in an open-plan office, no one silenced their phones.

          1. Ramona Flowers*

            And I’ve had the oppositd experience – I don’t know anyone who’d leave their ringer on.

          2. LBK*

            Not as a policy, just as part of being a decent human who doesn’t annoying your coworkers.

            1. Statler von Waldorf*

              Nice to know that I’m not a decent human being for not following a practice that I have never witnessed in my entire working career. Phones ring in the workplace, and unless you work in a library or a theater I don’t see a problem with that.

        3. Koko*

          There’s a really great If-This-Then-That app I use called Llama. It can execute various commands on your phone in response to changes your phone can detect, one of which is where you are. The location feature works by learning what cell towers your phone pings in a given area and then it knows going forward that every time the phone pings those towers, you’re at work or home or whatever without GPS even having to be enabled!

          I have mine set to automatically silence my phone when I get in my work area and automatically turn the sound back on when I leave the work area. It also automatically silences itself overnight, makes sure WiFi is always turned on so when I’m at home so I don’t waste data in case I turned it off somewhere and forgot to turn it back on, and normalizes the media volume to a standard level whenever connected to my car’s bluetooth so that whatever adjustments I’ve made to the volume since I was last in my car don’t mean my car’s stereo is suddenly too loud or too quiet when I try to play music. It’s a really brilliant app, makes things so much easier.

        4. many bells down*

          I am not supposed to have my phone on me at the museum (I can, if there’s a good reason to, but it’s general policy that you don’t have it on you.) I check my bag at the ticketing counter and I don’t want the staff there to have to listen to it, so I mute it.

    2. KRM*

      I feel like it’s probably the standard ‘whistle’ ringtone that comes on a phone, which is NOT a wolf whistle, more like a whistle noise you would make to get a dog to pay attention to you. My officemate had it on her phone, and sometimes she’d accidentally forget to set it on vibrate. I’m not saying it’s not an annoying noise, but it’s a standard ringtone, at least on the iPhone (I’m sure you can find it on your own phone to see what I mean).

      1. OP #2*

        It’s definitely not the standard whistle sound. I would never use this whistle to call a dog. lol I checked and my iPhone doesn’t have it.

      2. TheTallestOneEver*

        The iPhone ringtone is called Tweet, and I definitely wouldn’t consider it a wolf whistle.
        Little noises like this are very easy for me to block, but once I had a coworker who had Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me” as a ringtone. His phone rang nonstop. It took a lot of effort not to rip the phone out of his hands and destroy it. I still get annoyed any time I hear that song. LOL!

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Cube neighbor at Exjob had “Kung Fu Fighting” as a ringtone. She had several; I guess she assigned them to different contacts. She also had a dog bark one and a crazy laugh and would routinely leave the volume way up. I liked her a lot, but her phone drove me nuts.

      3. Hedgehog*

        I have no doubt that one can download a wolf whistle for a ringtone and that some people would find it amusing. Actually to be honest, I would find it giggle-worthy the first time I heard it, since apparently I am a twelve year old boy living in the body of a 30-something woman, but I would know that it would not be work-appropriate!

    3. Adlib*

      Ugh, yes. The fact that other people can hear it is just obnoxious too. It’s bad all around. I keep my phone on vibrate at work because it sits right on my desk so I can hear/see it if it vibrates with an incoming call. I have a friend who turns her ring/text notifications up to 11, and it grates. I need to tell her to turn it down/off.

    4. Sara*

      I have a coworker who never turns off her phone when she’s in the office and the text message is the sort of honk associated with circus clowns. And she gets a LOT of text messages. She’s always very sweet and apologetic when I ask her to turn it off but she never remembers on her own. Thankfully she usually works offsite.

    5. SKA*

      There’s a person in our office with a ringtone that is some sort of gargling sound.

      That, amongst other sounds coming from their cubicle, was reason enough for me to request (and receive) a change of cubicle.

      1. Nolan*

        Is it a murloc?! I have that for one of my email addresses, but always have my phone on vibrate in shared work spaces

        1. SKA*

          Had to Google that, but it is not (at least not the specific Murloc sound that popped up in the first few search results). It’s not that dissimilar, though!

    6. Chinook*

      “Stupid fact of the day: that kind of whistle is known as a wolf whistle.”

      I have no idea why – wolves don’t whistle. Because, if they could, I am sure ours would have tried that as a quieter way to get our attention than howling.

      1. Chinook*

        I have found a subtle ringtone for my texts – it is someone knowing on wood. I hadn’t realized it wasn’t subtle enough, though, until someone saw me check my phone one lunch after I got a text and laughed – he thought he was hearing things because he couldn’t tell who was knocking at the door.

        1. Rana*

          Heh. I use that tone for texts because it is the only one that I’m guaranteed to hear regardless of other ambient sounds.

      2. NaoNao*

        Because the type of young men who use that whistle, a high, sharp tone followed by an octave drop sustained tone (whee-wooooooooo) were called “wolves”. They used that particular whistle to signal that they were bad boys “on the make” :) That and the greased “D.A.” hairdo, the rolled up sleeve w/ Lucky Strike pack, and cuffed jeans over motorcycle or engineer boots.
        /you’re welcome :)

        Also I will say that the whistle tone does sound a little like a wolf whistle. It’s two tones, and the same hi-low range. But the wolf whistle has something distinctly….lascivious in it. I think it’s the drawn out second note and the low, masculine voice.

    7. Rocketship*

      It’s kind of encouraging to know I’m not alone in this. I have a coworker whose ringtone is set to ring like an old-school phone – the kind that plugged into the wall (google it, kids) and it is ALWAYS cranked up to full volume. Loud, jangly, nerve-scrambling, train-of-thought-losing, pants-pooping volume. I-can-hear-this-over-headphones-at-uncomfortably-high-levels volume.

      He and his phone are universally loathed. He has been asked several times, informally and formally, to turn it the F down. He thinks it’s hilarious that it irritates us and distracts us so much. It started going off today while he was away from his desk and his response was to casually stroll over and remark “Oh, that’s me.”

      Because he is a Grade-A Certified a**hole.

      1. Arjay*

        I use that ringtone, but my phone is pretty much always on silent. The only time I hear it ring is when I have the headphones in, and then it startles me too. :)

  7. The Wall of Creativity*

    OK, OK, I get the point. I’ll change my ringtone. From now on it will be Quack Quack. Is that OK with everybody?

      1. The Wall of Creativity*

        I already have a fart noise for the doorbell at home.
        Mrs Wall gets up 5-10 times most night to answer the door. Comes back each time saying nobody’s there and it must be kids messing about. simple pleasures.

      1. youremindmeofthebabe*

        On a total side note…we have a new restaurant nearby called “Brown Chicken, Brown Cow”.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      I’m now picturing that office with the sex club and wondering how many people there have that for a ringtone…

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        That could add an element of randomness to the assignations: people pair up not only by intentionally quacking at one another, but if they all have their ringtones set to quacking, the person whose phone rings has to get it on with another member of the club who is nearby.

        Obviously I’ve put way too much thought into this duck club thing . . .

    2. MCMonkeyBean*

      My boss’ ringtone honestly is quacking! It drives me crazy. Thankfully it doesn’t go off very often. Maybe he just forgets to set his phone to silent or vibrate on occasion.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Oh, I forgot that there actually is a quacking ring tone. One of my previous bosses used to have that back in ’08 / ’09 or so.

      2. CMart*

        My OB’s ringtone was quacking, so the soundtrack of my daughter’s birth was a lot of random “quack quack quack!”-ing and my doctor apologizing for the ducks.

    3. LizB*

      When I was younger my dad had his alarm tone set to a duck quacking. When we were on family vacations, he would let me and my siblings know what time we needed to get up the next morning by telling us, “The duck quacks at [time]” in an ominous tone of voice.

    4. Partly Cloudy*

      I was once in the waiting room at the dentist’s office with another patient whose ringtone was a *very* realistic cat meowing sound. This was when non-standard ringtones were very new, so I looked around for a second, convinced there was an office cat. Then the other patient picked up her phone and started talking and I figured it out.

      I also used to share an office with a friend who had “Shake Your Moneymaker” as her ringtone. That got old fast.

  8. PollyQ*

    Re: #5 — I thought pregnancy fell under the disability category, so it wouldn’t be permissible to ask?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Pregnancy alone isn’t considered a disability under the ADA. Medical complications resulting from pregnancy may move it into the category, but pregnancy itself is not.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          You may be thinking of the fact that you can get short term disability insurance that, in theory, covers pregnancy.

  9. Jeanne*

    #5, This takes some practice but here’s the thing: Legal or not, you don’t have to answer rude questions. You were under no obligation to explain your financial reasons or anything else. You can stick with a frigid look and “Why would you ask that?” You can be a little more rude in return and say “No, just fat, but thanks.” Even if you are pregnant, you don’t have to admit it right then. If it’s hard to think on your feet, just let your face express the horror you feel at such a rude question.

    1. Zip Silver*

      From what it sounds like. The boss was asking because OP was coming to him the week before too get time off for a shotgun wedding at the courthouse, not because she is fat.

      Often when couples who get married on short notice like that by the JP are doing it because of a pregnancy.

      1. strawberries and raspberries*

        I think Jeanne realizes that- the point is, ask a rude question, get a rude answer. (I myself used, “No, just fat” recently in response to the same question by a near complete stranger at work.) Plus, in 2017, the notion that going to the courthouse = pregnancy/shotgun wedding is kind of outdated, and to act horrified when someone says they’re doing that makes you look like some creepy Puritan.

          1. Mike C.*

            This isn’t a logical fallacy. It’s reasonable to expect that social standards change over time.

            1. Zip Silver*

              Then make an argument on it’s own merit. Saying something is or isn’t because of what year you’re living in isn’t an argument. It’s along the lines of an appeal to authority.

              An, fwiw, last minute courthouse weddings are still considered shotgun weddings. Not knocking it, we eloped (and let parents know so they could make the trip).

              1. Jessie the First (or second)*

                They “are still considered shotgun weddings”? By whom? Because that is not universal. This column right here is the only time in the last, oh, 10 or 15 years I have heard the phrased used, and I have known people who got married at the courthouse on short notice.

                “Shotgun wedding” was a phrase that existed because there used to be very negative connotations about pregnancy/childbirth out of wedlock, but those negative connotations have significantly faded in significant parts of the country. So no, it’s really still a “thing” everywhere.

                1. Jessie the First (or second)*

                  In fact, I have a relative who married last minute at the courthouse *30* years ago, and never did I hear it referred to as a “shotgun wedding” even then.

              2. Princess Carolyn*

                That… doesn’t match the definition of “shotgun wedding” I was taught. The idea is that the bride is pregnant out of wedlock, so the bride’s father is forcing — with a shotgun — the groom to marry her. So, you can see how that notion would be outdated and offensive, right? These days, unmarried couples who get pregnant typically a) get married after the baby is born, or b) don’t get married at all.

                1. Michelle*

                  This. My son was 5 months old when his father and I got married. And even though we did decide to get married because of the baby, it was, “Maybe this isn’t quite how I would have chosen to do things, but I’m really happy about this family we’re starting together, and that makes me realize that I DO want to be with you for the rest of my life!” Not, “Oh crap, we better get married quick before people realize we had sex!”

                  The implication that someone is getting married quickly to “cover up” a premarital pregnancy is insulting and gross.

        1. Zathras*

          My first thought would be something to do with health insurance, taxes, or an impending military deployment. I know plenty of people who did babies first and then marriage, for whatever reason.

          Also, why is this even a think people ask? I was taught at a young age that you NEVER assume a woman is pregnant, and the only time you may ask is if you are a medical professional treating her. The End. Zero exceptions. Even if she is clearly about to give birth at any moment, you just carry on as if the baby bump is invisible until she says something about it.

          1. LW5*

            Yeah you nailed it. Taxes, health insurance and house titles. Turns out renaming a deed is a big deal with a significant price tag on it so we wanted the marraige and name items completed prior to closing.

            And yeah, it’s just rude to speculate on unannounced pregnancy. It was especially grating because for a couple months prior he wouldn’t shut up about how I was thirty already and why hadn’t my boyfriend proposed yet. I’m surprised I still have a forehead with the amount of face palms that ensued.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              I don’t want to derail, so this is not an invitation for more feedback to make you discuss your particular situation, this is just an FYI–getting new names on a deed is not a big deal and does not carry a significant price tag in the US state where I live, so LW5’s statement should not be taken as universal.

              (You weren’t implying it’s universal, this is just for anyone who might read it that way)

      2. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

        Why would it be short notice? The boss got informed late because why would they need to know before time off was needed. The LW and her partner could have been planning for a year to do a courthouse wedding (or any other kind of wedding) and only revealed it at work when they needed leave.

        1. Zip Silver*

          Right, but typically if you were planning a wedding for a year, you would make sure that your boss won’t say “No, I need you to work next Tuesday because of X, it’s too late to change this around”.

          1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

            Depends on the job. If someone has a good handle on their workload and are doing a basic wedding, asking for leave a week out would be more than enough time. I rarely ask for single day leave more than 2-3 days in advance because I know what is going on enough to know when is a good time to schedule something on a work day. My friend did a courthouse wedding and just asked to come in 2 hours late the day before. If she didn’t get it, she was just going to reschedule the country clerk appointment

            It is a pretty big leap from employee asked for time off a week in advance to get married to must be pregnant

            1. Devils advocate*

              But here is the thing, OP opened the can of worms. If conversation had been:
              OP:”Can I have next Tuesday off?”
              OP:”I have some personal issues that I cannot take care of on the weekend”

              There would not have been a follow up question. But OP told PHB the information WILLINGLY. We have OP’s view that there was a look of horror, and maybe there was; we were not there. Was the choice of wording of the PHB’s question poor? Yes. But maybe OP misread what was really going on. Maybe PHB didn’t understand. Maybe PHB trying to play through in his mind “Why would anyone choose to get married in the courthouse” and blurted out the first thing that came to his mind. The company offered her a job, I do not think that he gave it a second thought about hos wording.

              The first one of us who have never said some dumb comment may now throw stones at me.

              1. neverjaunty*

                1) the OP didn’t “open the door” to shitty comments by her boss. Most people understand that the polite response to someone announcing a milestone is congratulations.

                2) Most of us who have made dumb comments understand that it’s appropriate for other people to recognize they are dumb comments, and to admit they were dumb, rather than trying to make excuses and blame the people to whom we made the dumb comment.

                3) Playing devil’s advocate is no way to go through life.

                1. SometimesALurker*

                  I was going to reply, but neverjaunty covered all I needed to say. *hi5*, neverjaunty.

                2. Devils advocate*

                  I just think holding a several month grudge over a dumb comment is a pretty crappy way to go through life.

                  Maybe I am in the minority. Obviously you are WAY more invested in looking to fight than me. So have a great day.

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  It’s not a several month grudge over a dumb comment. It’s a concern that her manager may have broken the law and that there could have been discriminatory intent. Surely you see that those are different things.

                4. LW5*

                  It’s less of a grudge and more of a concern about the strength of that data point in determining whether I wanted to move from contractor to employee.

                  The discrimination point was important because there were already a lot of signs that I would not grow at the company if I stayed there long term.

                  It’s helpful to know this is personality mis match, not illegal. Some personality issues I roll with and this would have been one of them if not even further issues. As a result, I needed to know it’s value if I come across it in future opportunities.

                5. Late 2 The Party*

                  WRT 1, my coworker got reprimanded for NOT making a public announcement that she was getting married.

                  You can’t win with these turds.

              2. Susan G*

                I think you have misunderstood the concept of devil’s advocate, with unfortunate results.

              3. JB (not in Houston)*

                In addition to what neverjaunty said, we take letter writers at their word here. So if the OP says a her boss looked distraught, you should assume in your comments that’s what happened.

              4. Late 2 The Party*

                But you just threw stones. So you’ve never made a dumb comment? Hard to believe…

      3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        1) A short-notice wedding is not the same as a shotgun wedding. Shotgun means that one or more of the participants is being forced to the altar.
        2) Even if that was the boss’s assumption, asking that question was still pretty shatteringly tactless.
        3) Pregnancy might have been a reason for hasty marriages once upon a time, but I highly doubt they’re that big of a driver anymore. At least among my peer group, they’re more likely to be for financial purposes, especially health insurance.

        1. Rebecca in Dallas*

          Haha, I had a colleague go to the courthouse and get married on his lunch hour! He and his SO had been together a long time, I can’t remember the impetus for them deciding to make it official (I’m almost positive it wasn’t pregnancy). But one day he just nonchalantly was like, “I need to be downtown at noon, I’m getting married.” And then he came back to work afterwards! The only question people asked was, “Why did you come back to work today?!”

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            Friends of mine just recently did that! They got engaged with a big public proposal, and they’re still planning a solemnization ceremony at some point, but one of them just lost her job and they decided to just go get it done so that a) saving up for a big wedding wouldn’t be a factor in their actual marriage timeframe, and b) she could get on his health insurance ASAP.

            They didn’t even tell anyone till after the fact. Just “oh btw we got married today” and pictures of them with their parents at the courthouse.

        2. Us, Too*

          Yes to all these. I was 5 months pregnant at my wedding and it was definitely NOT a forced/shotgun wedding because of the baby. In point of fact, we are older and decided to start trying to conceive after we got engaged since it can take a while for old fogeys to make a baby and sometimes it requires medical help and/or adoption can take a while, etc. I got pregnant right away, so even though we started wedding proceedings before I was pregnant, I was pretty visibly pregnant during the ceremony. I’m sure a few folks had some ideas, but they had the presence of mind to shut the hell up and keep them to themselves. (Note: incredibly, we got married by the Catholic Church which I guess goes to show that it is fairly open minded in some ways. Also, I nearly LOL’ed at the part in the ceremony in which we had to commit to being open to having kids. Um, yeah, obviously.)

          1. AvonLady Barksdale*

            Just wanted to say here that most of my friends and acquaintances who got married in the last two years have been pregnant at their weddings for that very reason. This would be about… 6 or 7 couples. One of my best friends told her new fiance, “I’m old, you’re old, this might take a while, let’s get started” and got pregnant right away. Not one of these brides is under 30, most are over 35. This is becoming our new normal!

        3. Late 2 The Party*

          Yes. I wish we would call shotgun weddings what they are. They are forced marriages, or at least coerced marriages.

    2. Gazebo Slayer*

      This! Also, it’s fine to lie in answer to an intrusive question the asker has no right to ask, especially if not answering would suggest an answer that would cause trouble. They don’t have a right to know things that aren’t their business just because they’re rude enough to ask.

      1. FiveWheels*

        Absent other information on his behaviour, I don’t read it as intrusive – and certainly not to the point of offensiveness. It seemed to me like a normal reaction, and him looking distraught suggested OP is pretty vital to the department and he was panicking about cover.

        That said where I work there are reasonably strong protections for pregnancy – mandatory paid leave, for example – and in my industry few people ever seem worried that maternity or paternity leave will negatively affect them.

        1. Tomato Frog*

          It’s definitely intrusive to ask people if they’re pregnant, and it’s definitely rude to ask people if they’re pregnant just because they told you they’re getting married.

          I agree that this guy might have just been unguarded and anxious, but considering that people are very careful about when they disclose pregnancy, yes, it’s innately intrusive.

        2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          You don’t ask someone if they’re pregnant unless you are in the process of providing medical treatment to them. You just don’t. It’s incredibly rude.

        3. blackcat*

          I have several friends in the US across a range of industries who have been significantly punished professionally for getting pregnant. No one has sued for fear of getting blackballed. So, yeah, asking about pregnancy is a big no-no.

          And, in my experience, people who are likely to ask rude questions about pregnancy are also more likely to use that information in appropriately.

        4. Late 2 The Party*

          It was definitely intrusive. It sounds like he just blurted it out though. Perhaps no malicious intent but that doesn’t make it any less intrusive.

  10. Lentils*

    Re: #2: once someone’s phone went off behind me while I was walking down the hallway in my office and it was the Kill Bill whistle and I had to restrain myself from freaking out, lol.

    But yeah, that ringtone sounds obnoxious and upsetting. :/ I have mine set to the Wonder Woman theme but nobody at work would know because my phone is always on silent there.

    1. JustaTech*

      I have a co worker who had the Kill Bill whistle. The third time it went off (on 2-3 months) I asked him to change it because it was freaking me out. He laughed, but he did change it.
      Another coworker’s text notification was birds chirping, which was almost nice, the idea of nature.

      1. Bryce*

        My brother set his phone to a recording he made of some frogs at night. He loved it but later learned that even at max volume, if the phone was in his pocket the ring just turned into easily-missed white noise.

    2. Mints*

      My ring tone used to be the Crank ringtone, which just sounds like a distorted default ring. I thought it was funny and as far as I know nobody picked up on it without prompting.
      (My phone is almost always on silent though)

  11. ThatAspie*

    Regarding ringtones…
    I’m currently out of work again (but working on getting a job – I have an interview scheduled for next week, and I went ahead and re-read the stuff you people told me last time), but, if and when I do get a job, on the off chance I forget to turn off my phone at work, would a ringtone from a cartoon make me look too childish? I mean, I’ve met enough adult fans of Phineas & Ferb that I know that there are quite a few besides just me, but I’ve also met people who look down on any cartoon-watching adult (unless it’s something like – ew – South Park).
    Not that I’m too worried (I mean, it’s better than a wolf whistle, right?), more that I’m cautiously curious.

    1. NJ Anon*

      My husband has the music from “Halloween” as his ringtone. I think you are fine but try to remember to turn it off before you go in.

      1. Apostrophina*

        Ha! I heard the Halloween ringtone in the middle of a restaurant once and it made my day. Had it been outside a restaurant, in the dark, though… :)

        My own office ringtone problem was pretty benign: a former coworker had a kitten’s mew as a ringtone. Someone in my office had recently rehabbed an orphan squirrel, so I actually did go looking for the kitten once or twice, to no avail. (Her other ringtone was a horse, and we were on the second floor, so I eventually figured things out!)

        1. Jamie*

          About five years ago my brother and I recorded my mother’s deaf and elderly cat meowing VERY loudly and insistently and set it as her ringtone. More than once when it would go off, people would look around and go “is there a CAT in here???”

          1. textbookaquarian*

            I’m an Edgar Allan Poe fan. So I have a raven’s caw notification tone as part of my EAP theme. Needless to say my boss didn’t care for it. I ended up putting the phone on vibrate while at my desk. LOL

        2. Hlyssande*

          My former manager had a notification sound that he’d recorded of his dog barking. Which is sweet, but he was a manager and was ALWAYS getting emails and other notifications. He had it set up on his phone AND computer as an email notification sound.

      2. GigglyPuff*

        This is absolutely my favorite ringtone! I had it for years, then the Psych theme song. (I also rotated in “I Kissed a Girl” when I would visit my a-hole prejudice extended relatives who would clam up when I started talking about my women’s college. Worth it.) I was always able to transfer them to new phones until I couldn’t a couple of times and then I couldn’t convince myself to pay more money for them. Sadly now I just leave my phone on vibrate unless I’m expecting an important phone call.

    2. Lora*

      I had mine set to a death metal type ringtone for a while. If I forgot to turn it off, as a middle-aged lady wearing a nice blouse, skirt, pearls and pumps to work, I could look plausibly innocent.

    3. FiveWheels*

      Like Alison I think phones in the office should be on silent or vibrate, but I also think any non standard ringtone is inappropriate. When a colleague’s ringtone plays a TV theme tune, to me that’s like the colleague calling out “I love this show and everyone must know it!” which is just, err, weird.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Huh. And I use a non-standard ring tone because I want to know instantly by hearing it that it’s *my* phone ringing….

        I also don’t let it ring more than once, and often don’t let it finish the full first ringtone, when it’s not on vibrate.

        (It sounds like a very lovely choral piece in a foreign language. It is…it’s the Helsinki Complaints Choir, right where they’re singing ‘and all ringtones are equally annoying’. It seemed appropriate.)

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Same here. I do fangirl a bit–I had Sherlock, then Doctor Who, and also The Walking Dead for a while. With a rotating zombie homescreen. :) Nobody else had that one, so I always knew it was my phone.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        When a colleague’s ringtone plays a TV theme tune, to me that’s like the colleague calling out “I love this show and everyone must know it!” which is just, err, weird.

        How odd. Do you feel it’s important for people to keep *all* of their favorite things private?

        1. FiveWheels*

          Not at all, and I don’t think it’s remotely strange to chat about TV shows. But having a TV show ringtone is, to me, more like wearing a t-shirt proclaiming love for a show, except much more intrusive.

          A colleague has the a TV show ringtone – it’s one of my favourites as well. When I get a call and my phone isn’t on silent /vibrate (which is unusual), the ringing says “Five has a call.” When my colleague’s phone rings, it says “Colleague has a call and she loves Law and Order!”

          To me that ringtone is every bit as strange, when in work, if she literally told everyone she loves Law and Order every time she got a call.

          1. kitryan*

            Maybe it just makes her smile when it rings, and she’s not spending much time on what others think of that?
            I know that’s why my rings are what they are. I do agree that ringing (personal) phones, custom tones and otherwise should be minimized in the workplace.

    4. Red Reader*

      Ah, Phineas (which my autocorrect just changed to “phones,” how recursive) and Ferb. My fiancé is currently on his like… sixth watch-through of the entire series. :)

      If you’re worried about forgetting, and you have a smartphone, you might be able to use IFTTT to geofence and turn your sounds off when you arrive/on when you leave your work location. (Very handy when you don’t always need the sounds on/off at a specific time.) Alternately, once you’re employed — I have a smartwatch and haven’t turned the ringer on my phone to audible in three years.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        Do Not Disturb comes standard now on smart phones, and I have paid for the premium version (Silence Premium) for a couple years, before that. It has day and night modes and follows my Google calendars- so I can’t forget to turn it off in church, for instance. (three different phones went off last Sunday) My husband uses some app that uses GPS, so that it’s both time and location based- so if we don’t go to church, the phone will ring, unless we’re in the 1000 feet around the church or whatever it is. Or if he has the day off, his phone doesn’t go silent during work hours, even if he forgets to turn off the Day Mode. I don’t think he’s using an IFTTT one, though.

        1. Red Reader*

          Lots of options! Between silent-for-three-years and the fact that I work at home anyway, I haven’t looked into many of them recently, thanks for elaborating :)

        2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          My personal favorite is Llama (Android). It runs on a combination of factors to switch between profiles, including cell towers in range. I’ve not had to manually silence my phone at the office for years!

        3. Polar Bear Don't Care*

          I love Silence Premium for my Android. Once I put an appointment in the calendar the phone is automatically silenced – so convenient!

        4. Chinook*

          Thanks for the tip on the app to download. I have been missing the ability to silence my phone based on my schedule ever since I stopped using a Blackberry.

    5. NGL*

      If you’re forgetful (like I often am!) look into automating silencing your phone. I use an IFTTT applet to turn my phone to vibrate when I get to work (though you could also select mute if your phone needs to be silent), and then another applet to turn the volume back up when I get home.

    6. kavm*

      It won’t matter at all. Obviously it’s best to keep it on silent but if you forget I would bet that not many people would recognize the ringtone as being from a cartoon. Unless they are also fans of the cartoon, in which case you might make a friend (hmm I guess they would know if their kid watches the show but… whatever)

      The notion that any nonstandard ringtone is inappropriate is very odd to me.

      1. kavm*

        I will say the exception is if you frequently forget to set it to silent. And in that case, it’s not the specific ringtone that’s an issue, just that it’s constantly blasting into the quiet work space. I have a coworker who at least twice a week forgets to turn her phone to silent, and she gets a lot of phone calls during the day, so it’s really distracting when that happens.

    7. Kiki*

      I don’t think so. One of my colleagues has a sound from Mario Brothers as her text tone and other than getting a few giggles the first time we heard it, nobody cares.

    8. Roscoe*

      I’d say no. Mainly because unless its a very common theme that most people know (such as Looney Toons) then the only people who would realize its a cartoon are people who also watch that cartoon.

    9. FlibbertyG*

      In quiet offices, I strongly believe all cell phones need to be either silenced or on vibrate. Any ring tone is appropriate as long as your coworkers won’t hear it!

      1. FiveWheels*

        Agreed. To elaborate on my someone anti theme tune stance above, I think any audible ringtone is inappropriate and non standard ones are just More inappropriate.

    10. Beancounter Eric*

      Cartoon ringtone….if it works for you, why not?

      My personal preference is space shuttle master alarm and SAC EAM alerting tones.

      My big thing would be have it off in meetings, and turned down at one’s desk, although the level of message/call traffic you receive may necessitate going to silent.

    11. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

      On my old phone, if I was going to be in a place with lots of ambient noise, I put my ringtone on “Super Freak” as it was the loudest thing I had. This was all fine until I forgot to switch the phone back to vibrate before going in to work and when I got a call, I regaled the whole office with “Super Freak.”

      Now that I work at home I don’t have to worry about annoying anyone when m son calls and the ringtone is the Nyancat.

    12. Beachlover*

      my text alert is the theme from the Jetsons. quite a few of my co-workers are not old enough to recognize it. But I keep my phone turned down at work.

  12. Miso*

    God, people who don’t turn their phone to silent are the worst. The whistle only makes it even more obnoxious.

    My coworker never turns his phone silent either. And he gets a lot of whatsapp messages during the day (also voice messages – somehow his girlfriend doesn’t seem to understand that’s not really that smart during the workday…).
    His reasoning why he doesn’t turn it off is in case his girlfriend (they have two small children) needs to reach him in an emergency. To which I say: Then just change your settings so if your girlfriend calls, you hear that, and everything else is muted? Or you know, just let her call our landline?

    1. Rebecca*

      I work with people who put their phones right in front of them at their keyboards. All day long, it’s texting, scrolling through Facebook, and the worst part is they don’t set them to silent or even vibrate. All day long it’s some sort of texting sound, then verbally talking back to the phone “oh Sally Jo, what do you want now”, followed by texting, another ring tone when the reply comes, and back and forth until whatever urgent issue is resolved.

      The best part? “Oh, I forgot to turn off the ringtone, hahahahaha”…

      My phone is set to vibrate, and is put off to the side of my desk, and if my Mom calls (she’s alone now) I can grab it quickly and leave the office.

      Personally, I think the policy of phones being put away except during break and lunch times is a good one.

      1. Miso*

        Well, I must admit, mine is kinda close to my keyboard, too, usually, or in my pocket.
        Oh, but I forgot the best part actually: Half of the day, we work in public. With customers. In a public library!
        We’re not too strict on the whole noise thing in general, since we also have a lot of children, but I still find it kinda paradox that it’s an employee’s phone ringing the whole time…

        1. Hlyssande*

          Mine’s next to my keyboard, face up, so I can see who is calling if someone calls me. If someone is calling my cell phone, it’s either an emergency or a scammer, and I don’t answer if I don’t know the number.

          I got the worst kind of call last week when my grandmother passed away, and I’m glad I had my phone where it was instead of in my bag so I was able to find out by talking to my parents rather than via voicemail or text or facebook, you know?

          1. DecorativeCacti*

            I keep mine under my keyboard for the same reason. My grandma has had serious health issues in the last two years (and my mom is getting there). I can feel it vibrate, slide it out to check, and then slide it back under if it’s nothing urgent.

        1. Late 2 The Party*

          That’s the same reason I have mine out. Although now I am job searching so hyper-alert for calls lol. But in that case I get it and take it into the hallway.

    2. Mookie*

      My brother’s ringtone is a loop of himself saying Hello? Hellllloooooo??? HELLLLLL-OOOOOOHHHHH?? in an increasingly obnoxious, Jerry Lewis-like, nasally tone. He leaves it on at work and I kind of want him to get fired just because I can’t go anywhere in public with him anymore. He loves looking around with everyone else as they try to figure out where the invisible whining person is and what’s troubling them.

      1. Mookie*

        Oh, god, I just realized he’s actually imitating Andy Griffith in No Time For Sergeants, and if you look up a clip from it (“title of film + hello” in your search engine), you’ll see that this was not even an original idea. He cribbed his ringtone from Youtube comments, and then made a cover of it. What a world.

    3. Oryx*

      I work in a cube farm and sound carries so it would be horrible if everyone forgot to turn their phone to silent. As it is, we have one co-worker who never seems to remember and it was always set to the loudest setting, despite the fact she always has her phone on her so she could just set it to vibrate and feel it …. although now that I think about it, I haven’t heard it in awhile so maybe someone spoke to her about it.

      I came back to my desk once to a missed call on my cell and one of my co-workers in my row looked at me and said “Westworld theme, huh?”


    4. TotesMaGoats*

      We were in a leadership retreat yesterday and one of my department chairs had set her alarm to remember to take medicine. It went off and the tone was the song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. The split second look on my dean’s face was hysterical. We all needed the chuckle at that point though.

    5. Mimmy*

      Ugh a woman at my job gets alerts on her phone all. the. time. We have daily morning meetings to handle coverage if staff are out, and her phone going off is very distracting for me. The nature of her job could be why she doesn’t put her phone on silent, but at least turn the sound down!

  13. Mookie*

    LW5, as Alison mentions, the question isn’t the thing, but the potential actions of your manager as a consequence of your answer*. To protect yourself, document in a time-stamped format future questionable behavior from him and anyone else you report to, including follow-up conversations either you or they initiate. It’s much easier to establish the presence of malice, bias, or retaliation if you’ve got contemporaneous notes to compare to a timeline of demotions, discipline, performance feedback, etc. It’s nothing to be paranoid about, per se, but it’ll make you feel better and more in control, it takes very little time, and there’s a small chance doing so will save you trouble in the long run.

    *implicit or otherwise; as others have noted, you never have to answer these questions honestly, but I’d document the conversation all the same, including what your interlocutor’s reaction is

    1. WellRed*

      For LW 5, has the boss done other rude or inappropriate things? If not, this happened several months ago. Stop ruminating and move on.

      1. LW5*

        He has said many, many rude things. And I’ve been caught flat footed by it for months. Things about my husband waiting too long to propose because at 30 years old, I’m getting too far on in the years to be single… how I’ll change my mind about not having kids…

        Those are just a couple of examples. The fact that he was confused that I said I wasn’t a good culture fit when he offered a permanent position suggests he really doesn’t understand that he’s been rude. I might have been able to deal with it if he was also good at his job but…

        Anyway, it became really clear that I would not go far in that environment.

        1. Kate*

          Agree with motherofdragons that you dodged a bullet! But I also wanted to thank you for asking this question. I also thought it was illegal to ask these types of intrusive questions in interviews, so I learned something new today!

        2. FiveWheels*

          Eek, this context makes it clear that he’s someone to walk away from very quickly.

          1. LW5*

            No problem. I just didn’t include it in my letter because I didn’t think it was relevant. I knew it bugged me but I needed to know it was a just a personal dislike or a very big deal. Knowing it’s a personal dislike helps me calibrate.

  14. EvilQueenRegina*

    Reminds me a bit of the time this one guy in my office left his desk and while he was away his phone started ringing with the Strictly Come Dancing theme tune. All his team were laughing at him for having that. A few hours later his phone rang when he wasn’t at his desk again and he had changed it to ring ring to avoid being laughed at!

  15. Naruto*

    #4, is this an external recruiter? It’s possible the recruiter is telling their candidates NOT to submit a cover letter. That has been my experience working with multiple external legal recruiters who are working with law firms — they say, essentially, “I will pitch you in a conversation with the person handling the search internally, so there’s no need to submit a cover letter.”

    1. lawyer*

      Oh man, as a partner who does a lot of hiring, I get SO frustrated when I don’t get cover letters. I don’t typically talk directly to the recruiter – our hiring manager does – and so all I get is a resume. With no explanation of why the person wants to join our (niche, but in Biglaw) practice. We also get a lot of folks who are not in my city, and without the cover letter, there’s often no explanation of why they want to take a job here. It makes a huge difference to me why someone is interested in leaving their current position – especially if they would be relocating!

      I’d say send the recruiter a cover letter anyway, so at least they have it when someone like me inevitably asks for it.

  16. Antilles*

    #3: I didn’t realize this was a thing. So I’m wondering: Let’s say you are the reference who gets called and the checker asks you about other references, how do/should you respond? I feel like I’d be pretty thrown off and not really sure what to say (“do you have any other references for OP?” “uh…what…did she not give you a list?”).
    >Should you give other names and run the risk of providing a bad reference?
    >Should you try to dodge the question either with a “hm, not really sure” or playing for time with a “let me think about it a little and get back to you”?
    >Should you try to push it back on them with a polite version of “I’m not comfortable, you should ask OP”?

    1. Susan*

      I despise this practice of asking references for references (or “developed references” as it’s sometimes called), but unfortunately, it is a thing, and it’s sometimes a requirement for background checks. Anyway, I think the best thing to help the candidate is to go ahead and name other references. Obviously, try not to name the candidate’s mortal enemy, but other than that, it’s better to name someone than to say you’re not comfortable (even though it’s completely reasonable to be uncomfortable with that). Some background checkers have to get a minimum number of developed references in order for the candidate to pass the background check.

    2. Michele*

      That would make me very uncomfortable. I would probably try to stall and ask if I could call them back. Then I would contact the candidate and ask if they would suggest anyone of if there was anyone they should avoid.

    3. Brett*

      I would ask whether it is for a background check for a conditional offer.
      If it is, then not providing additional references could be damaging to the candidate.
      To stall to give yourself time to contact the candidate, you can tell the checker that you do not have current contact information for the additional references and then check in with the candidate on who they would like as additional references.
      If you are a professional reference, they just need 1-2 additional people who worked at the same workplace with you and the candidate (they can be co-workers instead of supervisors).
      If you are a personal reference, then the checker will be looking for 3+ personal acquaintances of the candidate beyond the listed references. Personal reference searches are much more thorough. Realistically, they are going to find people one way or another and you are better off providing references with some input from the candidate than not providing references and letting the checker potentially discover some very unfavorable references.

  17. Anon14*

    #4 I’ve seen my fair share of job board websites that don’t always provide a space to attach a cover letter. Is your recruiter using one of those? Also on some site like linkedin the easy apply option doesn’t have a place for cover letters.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      I’ve handled that by creating a document that is both cover letter and resume. Separate pages, all one Word doc.

    1. OP#1*

      Thank you! This comments section might just be the nicest, most reasonable place on the internet.

  18. Roscoe*

    #2 Being annoyed by what someone chooses as their ringtone to me, is an overreaction. However, being annoyed that every time they receive a text there is an audible ringtone is totally fair. I’d focus on that, not the tone itself. You don’t want to start policing those things for people, but I think its very fair to say that its distracting to have constant ringtones going off. The problem becomes where you draw the line. This one you personally find annoying, but I’d argue a lot of people wouldn’t care. What if it was just the melody of a song with questionable lyrics? What if its a song that people find upsetting for other reasons? Who makes the decision on what is and isn’t “appropriate” vs what is just something a person doesn’t find tasteful? Just focus on the audible portion.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      Offices make decisions on what is or isn’t appropriate every day from everything from dress code to topics of conversation to the lyrics of the music you can play. To say that no one can say what is inappropriate is just wrong. Normally it comes down to what the particular HR rep or Manager finds distasteful.

      And if HR would have a talk with you if you made the sound yourself (and a wolf call is a sexist “remark”) then it’s pretty safe to say it’s inappropriate in an office and you can’t claim “How was I supposed to know?”

    2. Important Moi*

      “..the obnoxious whistle a man makes when a pretty woman walks by) as her text message alert. My company is 98% men so it makes me hate her ringtone even more”

      Is OP#2 right that it’s obnoxious? It just seems to me she want someone else to agree that “the obnoxious whistle a man makes when a pretty woman walks by) as her text message alert.” is obnoxious.

      “My company is 98% men so it makes me hate her ringtone even more.” OK, why don’t you approach her about it?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Not everyone approaches someone every time they find something obnoxious. Believe me – they don’t even do it much of the time when it’s a serious problem, well beyond obnoxious. Half my letters reflect some version of that.

        There’s nothing wrong with saying “hey, give me a reality check — is this as obnoxious as I think it is?” That’s a perfectly okay question to ask.

    3. OP #2*

      We have had some sexual harassment issues here so having a ringtone like hers doesn’t really make the situation any better.

      1. Important Moi*

        That’s unfortunate. Has management adequately addressed the sexual harassment issues? Is the environment such that you feel there’s no point to saying anything?

    4. Kyrielle*

      And I think she is right to believe it’s obnoxious.

      I don’t mind my colleagues getting a tone every time a text comes in, although if they got them incessantly I might change my mind. I don’t mind if it’s zen chimes or a little beep or a short burst of music.

      A wolf whistle? That’s…really uncomfortable. Actual swear words (not the tune of a song that contained them, but a phone that swore when it received a text) would also be out of line, IMO. If it’s a sound someone *can* make but *shouldn’t* make in the office, it also shouldn’t be a ringtone/text tone, IMO.

      1. fposte*

        That’s a really good way of looking at it, and it definitely would be the heart of my managerial response to it.

      2. Late 2 The Party*

        Lol that’s a good way to frame it. One of my coworkers had a bloodcurdling scream as her notification tone, probably from a movie, and it was alarming to a lot of us because it sounded realistic. That’s not really acceptable in an office.

  19. Elle*

    It’s normal in my workplace for people to leave their phone ringers turned on and usually it’s not a problem – the person is sitting nearby and can answer or silence it. If it goes on and one and they’re not nearby to answer they definitely hear about it from their neighbors when they do return.

    I make a point of trying to choose ring tones that start off on the quieter side then get progressively louder. If I hear it when it’s still quiet then it doesn’t disturb anyone but if I have headphones on I’ll eventually hear it. I do have a FitBit now and I like that it buzzes when my phone rings but it’s not quite as timely as I’d like – it seems like the phone rings twice before my FitBit starts buzzing.

    I do have to admit that I have what’s probably an obnoxious ringtone set for day care – the “mom. mama. mama. mom. mommy” skit from Family Guy. They rarely call me though (less than once a month now that we’re out of cold/flu season) so I have it obnoxious for a reason. I’ve also let my nearest neighbors know I have it set that way, so they know it’s not just some random caller and that if I’m not around they might need to hunt me down to let me know (and I’d do the same for them if the situation were reversed). If day care is calling there’s a 99% chance either my husband or I need to leave work ASAP.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      I do have to admit that I have what’s probably an obnoxious ringtone set for day care – the “mom. mama. mama. mom. mommy” skit from Family Guy.

      That’s awesome. My ringtone for my kid’s school is the standard iPhone alarm tone, for the same reason: It’s never good news.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Love it!

        Similar but different – at my last job, I sometimes received calls on my personal phone from the on-call phone overnight, when whoever was on call couldn’t resolve it and needed assistance. It was pretty much always going to be painful when that happened, because the people carrying the on-call phone were already highly competent, and if they were stymied, well….

        So I had the ringtone for that number set to an instrumental snippet from Pat Benatar’s “Anxiety: Get Nervous”.

  20. Michele*

    I have acted as references for a couple of people, and I would be really uncomfortable if someone asked me to recommend someone without clearing it with the candidate first. There could be bad blood between two people that I don’t know about, and it might not be the candidate’s fault.

  21. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    For OP#1: I think the earlier threads have got you covered with regards to your mother’s reaction. One thing I’d recommend that you reflect on, though, is why you had the low end of your range set $5,000 higher than the offer you ended up accepting — not because you shouldn’t have accepted it, but to better understand what went into your thinking before the next time you’re job searching/negotiating.

    Were you unrealistic about what your range should be (this seems possible because you said that the salary you accepted is within a normal range for your position)? Were there other things about this specific job that made you willing to accept a lower salary than you would have for most jobs? etc.

    1. OP#1*

      Yeah, it’s a little bit of both. My range was on the middle/low end for the industry version of my job and the higher end for the education version. I wasn’t sure where to set it because the position is in more of a business-y department of an educational institution. I accepted the lower number because it is just a crazy good fit and will virtually eliminate my commuting costs.

  22. LW5*

    Thanks for the reply Alison! I was pretty sure it was legal but the conflicting sources gave me pause. Thanks for clearing up that confusion – especially my misunderstanding about their legal standing in the interview.

  23. PinkCupcake*

    #3 I gotta admit, I find the entire practice of contacting people that the candidate did not list as references to be pretty bizarre. I can understand why some managers/companies may wish to do it, but to me it just seems pretty invasive and off-putting.
    If the candidate only lists references that are marginally connected to the candidate’s previous work, OK I can see wanting to dig deeper. But, if I’m providing a list of 5-6 people that are either former managers or higher-level colleagues, and that is deemed insufficient, it really causes me to question the judgment/intelligence/reasonableness of the hiring manager.
    I’ve also been on the receiving end of these calls where someone I do not know calls me completely out of the blue and wants me to talk about a former colleague’s performance. I decline these calls because I have no idea who the caller is, or who they represent.
    The whole approach just seems to be very fear-driven and invasive and probably attractive to managers/companies that have made hiring mistakes in the past and don’t have the guts or processes in place to deal with poor performers after they are hired.
    If a candidate gets stellar references from 3-5 well-positioned people, and then you take it upon yourself to seek out one manager who claims they were a total dirtbag, what then? Who do you believe?
    I’m sure tons of people will disagree with this, but just my .o2.

    1. LBK*

      I think the reasoning is pretty clear-cut: presumably the candidate will only give you names of people they believe will give them good references, so going off-book ensures you’re getting the full picture. I don’t think this is about fear or paranoia, it’s just due diligence.

      And it’s not about having guts to fire people – it’s that hiring someone you end up firing is a huge waste of time and money that could easily be circumvented by just being more thorough during hiring.Hiring casually because you don’t have a problem firing later if needed doesn’t make any sense; it’s like marrying someone you’ve known for a week because you don’t mind getting divorced if it turns out it’s not actually a good match.

      That all being said, being asked for 5-6 references is a lot – I think most people only ask for 2-3 and then maybe follow up with 2-3 that aren’t on the list, so you end up with a total of 4-6 but that’s not the starting point when you ask for them. And if there’s one manager who thinks they’re a total dirtbag, isn’t that useful information? Wouldn’t you want to know what had happened at that company that resulted in that perception?

      1. PinkCupcake*

        Well, it’s hard to disagree with most of what you’ve said here to a point. It is interesting to me though, that at my current employer (a very large Fortune 500 company), they don’t check references at all. They simply confirm employment with previous employers and confirm degrees with universities. From what I’ve seen over the last three years here, the company still manages to hire extremely well. Across the dozens and dozens of people I work with, across numerous departments, I really can’t think of anyone I would describe as a poor performer. So how can this company hire successfully without even calling the references you actually list?
        Certainly, there may be cases where this level of background research might be necessary. I’m not disputing that at all. I’m simply suggesting that for the vast majority of jobs, it is overkill and very invasive. It seems like another one of these HR fads that is really just a bandaid over a sucking chest wound of poor hiring and interviewing practices.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s not that you can never hire successfully without checking references. Of course you can. But it’s injecting a lot more risk into the process that doesn’t need to be there. Would you hire a nanny for your kids without checking references? Most people wouldn’t.

          1. PinkCupcake*

            Like I said, there may be cases where that level of background research is necessary. Hiring a nanny would be one of those cases.
            I didn’t suggest that companies shouldn’t check references. I am referring to the practice of going well outside the reference list provided by the candidate (assuming that the references listed are people that are in a position to speak comprehensively about the person’s performance).
            I’m simply calling out that this practice unnecessarily burdensome and invasive for the candidate (along with other practices like requiring 8-10 interviews). Of course, there will be positions where this level of research might be necessary, I’m simply suggesting that it is not necessary for most jobs. HR departments and hiring managers shouldn’t view this strategy as a way to compensate for poor interviewing practices.

            1. LBK*

              HR departments and hiring managers shouldn’t view this strategy as a way to compensate for poor interviewing practices.

              Hmmm, I can mostly understand what you’re saying except for this part. I don’t think it’s about compensating for poor interviewing practices, because the whole point is to get an outside perspective on the person. Even the most self-aware and honest candidate in the world can only give you their impression of themselves and what others think of them. What would you consider “good interviewing” that gets around the gaps of self-perception? I think there’s value in hearing straight from other people how they actually perceived that candidate, if only for them to say “Yup, Jane is completely right, she was amazing to work with.”

              1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                Yes! There have been letters to Alison in the past where someone who interviewed beautifully turned out to be an absolute nightmare after a little while on the job; that’s exactly the kind of thing that checking references manages.

        2. LBK*

          I think there’s two main factors that explain what you’ve said above:

          1) The average person is…well, average. So candidates that are good enough to write a serviceable resume and make it through even a crappy interview process with no major red flags typically end up being at least mediocre workers. There’s not that many situations where someone ends up being so clearly bad shortly after being hired that it causes the manager to rethink their hiring methods (or really merits doing so).

          2) Most managers don’t have extremely high bars for hiring. Very few managers are truly looking for the best of the best of the best, mostly because depending on what the job is, your hiring pool may just not be that deep, and it may not really be worth it to spend months and months hunting down the greatest Teapot Assembler in the world when someone adequate but not amazing would be just fine and get your business up to capacity faster.

          As a result, I think it’s not so much that you can’t hire well without checking references, it’s that for most hires a reference isn’t going to end up revealing something all that different from what you learn through the hiring process, because the standards aren’t that rigorous most people aren’t blatant liars. So basically, you luck out into hiring pretty well despite not checking references because the stakes aren’t that high.

          However, if you are hiring more rigorously (either across the board or for a particularly high/sensitive position), they’re certainly good for confirming your impression of someone even if they don’t give you any completely new info, and on the off chance that you do run into a candidate who’s a blatant liar, I think you’ll probably be pretty happy to have found out before rather than after. And I don’t think that’s an HR fad – if anything my impression is that reference checking used to be a lot more standard and it’s fallen out of favor in recent years for whatever reason.

  24. kb*

    LW 2:
    I can totally see how that specific text alert would be especially annoying given your workplace’s issues with sexual harassment, but I think it may be easier and just as effective to bring it up as a noise issue. Unless these texts are job-related, I would guess there’s not a reason she’d need to be alerted immediately to every single one. Most people I know set their personal phones to silent, with exceptions for phone calls from certain family members and/or repeat calls during the workday.

  25. Nervous Accountant*

    Back in 2005, when flip phones were still popular, my ringtone was of a cat meowing. I loved it. My friends hated it.

    Given my office, I’d still probably have that ring tone but keep it on a very low volume.

  26. Dzhymm, BfD*

    Re: #2

    Many years ago before there were smartphones and ringtones were fairly primitive, I worked with one guy whose ringtone was a really cheesy version of “Jingle Bells”. He used the phone a lot in his work, and he had a nasty habit of leaving his phone behind on his desk. We’d then be treated to a holiday serenade at least a dozen times a day. Some people were so urgent to reach him that they’d call several times in a row.

    Finally I had enough and sent him an email saying that if I were to hear “Jingle Bells For Unaccompanied Cellphone” one more time I’d remove the offending appliance to the gentleman’s convenience, and he would need Roto Rooter to get it back…

    1. OP #2*

      In a previous life when someone left their phone sound on and I was past my annoyance level I would put their phone on silent for them. lol
      It’s not really a problem now at my current workplace, most keep their phones on vibrate. It’s just this particular tone that bothers me since it’s perceived as sexual in nature. Don’t know many women who would want to be whistled at as they walked by a guy.

    2. Kiki*

      >“Jingle Bells For Unaccompanied Cellphone”

      I just sorted laughing. But I work at an arts nonprofit so music jokes are a big hit around here.

  27. Jonny T*

    Many see cover letters as being little more than “the ice cream on the brownie.” It’s something that kind of adds a little something to the application-resume, but take it away it doesn’t really make much of a difference. I sent a cover letter to about ten people and only one of them mentioned that they enjoyed reading it or brought it up at all. The person called me a word best used to describe a detestable person within ear shot as I was leaving it’s not even like they said it under their breath or away from where I could hear it, so I kind of doubt their sincerity. They also “really wanted to meet with me” but not badly enough that they didn’t keep kicking our meetings down the road and rescheduling them often for lame, unbelievable reasons or just because. I wrote some really well composed, well thought out cover letters only to be rejected without an interview a short time later and other times I was interviewed having not sent a cover letter at all because I didn’t want to be bothered writing one only to get rejected.

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