free food at work, weird phone call from a recruiter, and more

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

1. Free food at work

My question is about the recent trend in offices that offer generous perks like free lunches, a fully stocked kitchen with drinks and snacks, etc. What are the general rules around utilizing these perks? I’m sure it depends on the company culture, but do you have any general guidelines?

It’s usually fine to help yourself to free food to whatever extent you want, as long as you’re (a) only using it to feed yourself at work — no stashing free food away to take home with you unless you’re explicitly encouraged to do that, and (b) not taking so much that you’re the cause of other people not getting any (and related to that, if you’re always first in line when free food is announced, hang back sometimes so that other people get to be first at times). If you’re unsure, though, you can always watch what your coworkers do and calibrate yourself accordingly.

2. I don’t get my own parking pass because I’m married to a coworker

I recently started working at the same company as my husband. We are in different departments, have different schedules, and are in buildings three blocks apart. Both buildings are in the downtown area of our city where parking is prohibitively expensive. The company offers reimbursement for a parking space in local parking garages that brings the cost down to about $40 a quarter from $300 a quarter.

I never planned on commuting with my husband. I have not been bashful about saying this to anyone who asks. He runs late and we have different work schedules. I also don’t want the responsibility and stress of waking him up and keeping him on task. He is getting better at doing this on his own, but the progress has been hard fought due to mental illness. I’m afraid if I’m around pushing and pulling, he will lose that progress.

My company (specifically the HR department) is now saying that as we are a married couple we can only have reimbursement for one parking pass. I reemphasized that I wanted my own pass and pointed out that we have schedules that sometimes vary by multiple hours. They talked to my manager and she said that I can move my schedule to match his when it is only an hour or two separate. HR also said I could use the bus when our schedule varies too much.

Is this something I can/should push back on? I want to be viewed as an individual employee not the wife of so-and-so. I kind of feel like a brat being stuck on this but it is one of a couple surprises in the first week that mean I am taking a larger pay cut than I initially thought.

Yes, push back on it. They’re making presumptuous assumptions about what will work for your marriage, and it’s odd. I could maybe see them asking if you’d need a pass or not, but their insistence on this once you said you did is bizarre.

You shouldn’t receive fewer benefits simply because you’re married to another employee. I’d say it this way: “It’s not possible for me to share a parking pass with my husband because we’ll be driving to work separately, due to often having different commitments in the evenings. My understanding is that this is part of the benefits package offered to all employees, and I don’t want to miss out on something I understood to be part of the compensation package simply because of my marital status. Since I won’t be driving to work with Bob, I do need my own pass, just like any other employee would.”

Present “we won’t be driving to work together” as an unalterable fact — regardless of any schedule changes they offer — and see where that gets you.

Read an update to this letter here.

3. Should I tell my boss I was a finalist for a better-paying job?

My annual review is coming up very soon and I am conflicted on whether I should tell my boss that I applied for a position at another college and was one of the top three candidates in a nationwide search. The position has not been filled as of today. The position would have been a huge increase in salary as well as title, but the job duties are the same as I am doing in my current position with the exception of having a small team to supervise. I have asked for a raise year after year, but my boss is not the type of person to stand up for her employees. Further, others in the office have told me that they have been reprimanded in their reviews for trying to apply to other positions within the college, which is by all means legal. On one hand, I feel like telling my boss may give me a little leverage, but on the other hand, I feel like it may cause resentment. What are your thoughts?

You can’t really use a job you didn’t get as leverage. If you’d gotten the offer, sometimes there’s a way to use that to prop up your standing with your boss/encourage them to give you a raise, although even then you have to proceed delicately and it doesn’t always make sense to do. (More on that here.) But this isn’t a job you were offered, so there’s not anything here to raise. Saying “I was one of three finalists” is going to invite your boss to observe that you didn’t actually get the offer, so it’s not something you can really use.

4. Weird phone call from a recruiter

I just had a very bizarre phone interview with a recruiter and was wondering if it is common for recruiters to do stuff like this. I received a call out of the blue and the guy asked if I had time for a phone interview right then. I was a bit flustered but said yes. It was for the government, but he wouldn’t tell me what department it was for until after then interview because he didn’t want me to “tailor my answers to the job.” I thought it was a bit strange but went with it. He then immediately asked me for my current salary, which I refused to disclose, especially since I still didn’t know what department the job was for He pressed me on this point for a while, then gave up. He then started to ask some bland, generic questions like “what are you strengths?” He followed up that question with “what are you good at?” I asked him to clarify if he meant what I was good at technically, professionally, personally, etc. and he wouldn’t elaborate. I was silent for 10 seconds and said that it was very similar to the question before it (the “what are your strengths” question) and that I was sorry but I didn’t know exactly what he meant by it. We moved on without me answering the question.

During my answer to another question, I had offhandedly said I enjoyed woodworking (it made sense in context), which was really not the main point of my answer but an example I gave, and he started to press me about that point. He asked what I was working on now, then he asked what kind of tools I used, then he asked what brand tools I used. It wasn’t in a conversational way, but almost as if he was testing me to catch me out in a lie.

At the end of the interview, he said they had had 130 applicants, which had been shortlisted to 15 applicants. He said that 10 people he had already called hadn’t answered their phone or called him back, which meant they were out of the running completely. The phone interview was not scheduled, and he was calling in the middle of the work day from a blocked number, so I’m not sure how he expected them to call him back. He said that he thought I had a higher than average intelligence because I recognized that “what are your strengths” and “what are you good at” were the same thing. He was testing me with a trick question to see if I would pick it up! I have never dealt with a recruiter before. Is this normal behavior? I was almost tempted to stop the interview halfway through because it was so strange.

No, this is not normal behavior! This is a bad recruiter who doesn’t know how to effectively do his job.

There’s so much here to take issue with, but I think my favorite part is “I’ve just rejected two-thirds of our short list for not picking up when I called them without warning” — aka, “I am drunk on a very small amount of power.”

5. Asking to shadow networking contacts

I am a recent college graduate and don’t really know what I want to do professionally, though I have a few ideas. My parents are suggesting that I reach out to some contacts in the industries I’m interested in and ask to meet with them to discuss their jobs, and and see if I can shadow them to see what they do. My problem is that I have no workplace experience, and my parents’ knowledge of workplace norms is probably dated. So, would this be a normal, acceptable thing to do?

I wouldn’t ask to shadow them — that’s a big time commitment on their side, and shadowing in a lot of jobs wouldn’t be very useful (since in many cases you’d be watching someone type at a computer most of the day). But you can definitely ask for an informational interview; in fact, that’s exactly what these are designed for (as opposed to the way people often try to use them, as a way to circumvent applying for a job). I have suggestions here on how to do that and the sort of questions to ask.

{ 647 comments… read them below }

  1. Mike C.*

    I’m not exactly sure how, but the recruiter in #3 feels like a scam artist. I could be wrong, but it goes way beyond the conventional cluelessness of the recruiting stories I normally hear.

    1. MotherofRaccoons*

      I agree- the pushing for the salary information and refusal to give any information about the job seemed pretty suspicious to me. I don’t know how this would be a scam, but it seems…scammy.

        1. Say what, now?*

          This was my thought as well! You said it was out of the blue, did you even apply for a position with a government agency? If not this is definitely a scam. Pressing you on hobbies sounds like he’s trying to get answers to security questions.

        2. Vegan Atheist Weirdo*

          My immediate thought as well. He either thought he could gather enough information to impersonate you to others, or to ingratiate himself with you enough to put you at ease and eventually get you to disclose something he could use against the company. Good job in not being intimidated by his bogus story.

      1. Mookie*

        Really inexpert scamming, as well. Where instead of flattering your intelligence they just wink at you and say “gee, you’re smart, huh?” and your brain is supposed to melt away with all their clever non-reverse, bottom-shelf psychology.

      2. wow*

        The intense desire to know what types and brands of woodworking tools the OP smacks of casing the scene for a robbery. This caller doesn’t have your address, do they, OP?

        1. Bacon pancakes*

          Yes!!! Exactly what i was thinking!! “Do you wood work in the shop or at home? Is the shop locked… oops, I mean, what are your strengths?”

          1. Ted Mosby*

            Ok I agree that it sound scammy but you think this was a call that started by asking for salary when the main goal was to… steal wood working tools? Or that tool brand would help with the theft? I’ve overall confused.

            1. Wintermute*

              I could see a few things: first of all it’s habituation, the more personal, private stuff they’re sharing the more likely you are to share more. It’s the “yes technique” but for compromising personal information.

              Or, they’re planning a targeted robbery and want to value-add to the personal information they’re stealing. Getting a bit of info out of you makes using that credit card application found in your junk mail, the backup credit card found in your safe, etc. much more useful.

              That said, that would be an awfully sophisticated crime unless they have a REASON to target you specifically. Chances are it’s a run of the mill scam or information gathering operation.

      3. Lindsay J*

        Yeah, I would say that if she currently works for the government that this is something I would report to someone in security as a questionable encounter. It definitely could be some sort of social engineering type scam where they try to get information to try and break passwords, use the information they gain to mislead coworkers, etc.

        1. That’s suspect...*

          I work for the federal government. This is extremely fishy in multiple ways.

          In general, most government jobs (as in, career employees — I’m not talking about elected officials or anyone directly appointed by them) are filled through applications through, the central job board, not through external recruiting. There is an entirely distinct set of application guidelines when applying for a federal job; for example, your resume and your application are the same document, and should ideally be around 4-5 pages for entry-level and possibly longer for senior roles. This is in stark contrast to the private sector, where everything longer than a page goes in the circular file. In addition, most agencies have competency tests or questionnaires that you need to fill out on the site and pass before your application is even forwarded to the hiring manager. I had to go to a testing center for my tests just like the SATs, then wait for the results to see if I warranted a phone call which came about a month later. This is all well before there is even the *possibility* of a human being from that agency contacting you.

          Not trying to blow my own horn or anything, but the federal government is the largest employer in the country (next to Walmart) and they receive God knows how many applications every day. Every agency is different, but generally speaking, it is extraordinarily unlikely that a recruiter would contact you without seeing your federal resume on the site first.

          It’s true that many recruiters won’t tell you who their client is until they’re interested in an in-person interview (otherwise, you could just bypass them and contact the company yourself.) However, with the government, it’s not likely that’s the case.

          Also, a seasoned recruiter would have handled the salary question with more grace than that. I only give my broad range when talking to recruiters that cold called me, and only recruiters with whom I have an established relationship get to know my exact figure. That said, my salary is public information and any taxpayer can find it out in 3 seconds with a Google search, so if a recruiter doesn’t have the gumption for that, I might question what value they’re really adding to my search.

      4. valc2323*

        Also, in my experience, government agencies don’t use recruiters, except maybe for the very highest level executives. Not to say they never do, but another thing to think about.

      1. Marthooh*

        Nooooooo! He’s recruiting for a government job! A secret government job! It’s gotta be totes legit!


        1. Triumphant Fox*

          This makes me think of Shawn Eckhardt in I, Tonya. He’s definitively a secret operative.

        2. No Mas Pantalones*

          To be fair, there are quite a few open positions in the US government right now. ;-)
          (Unfortunately, not the one that really should be, but….)

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Seriously. Not only does this sound like a scam, but it also doesn’t sound anything like what happens when you’re interviewed (or headhunted) for a government job.

      1. Lynca*

        Agreed. I didn’t even get a phone interview and I’m pretty sure we still don’t do phone interviews. It was a call (clearly stated that it was for X job I had applied for) asking if I was still interested in the job and if so when during Y dates could I interview.

        And headhunting doesn’t happen here unless we have a top paygrade position we can’t fill internally or locally. Which is rare and no one would be cagey about what is going on because we would have been through at least two hiring rounds at that point with no success.

      2. Snark*

        It’s so very, very not. It’s not even what would happen if you were interviewed by a contractor. The government doesn’t do phone interviews, and the application process includes a 5-7 page monster resume. It was absolutely not an actual government interviewer.

        1. hello my name is*

          The government absolutely does phone interviews. It’s just that they happen after the application and are scheduled in advance. ;)

            1. artgirl*

              Honestly I think that it differs by agency. I’ve definitely heard of pre-screening via phone for government hiring in my corner of the US. Just like ‘hello my name is’ said, it’s always after an application has been received from the jobseeker (and other screening steps in the various HR levels of the agency, of course).

              1. Loopy*

                Yep. My husband got his government engineering job with the DOD based on only a phone interview. 6 questions, got the job 2 months later. Recognizable agency. It absolutely happens.

                Not saying it’s great hiring or that the OP’s recruiter was legit (my husband absolutely applied and the phone interview was scheduled), just that it’s not unheard of to hire on phone interviews only in the government.

    3. JamieS*

      He could’ve been recording OP and trying to get OP to say certain words. Like how scammers try to get people to say “yes”.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        PSA, from last thread on this: No scammer is going to fly to the US to go to small claims court and play a spliced-together tape in which you say “Fergus Lannister” and later “yes.”

        (For this guy, I am going with “drunk on tiny amount of power” followed by “the salary push was to get your banking or other financial info, such as SS.”)

        1. JamieS*

          There are scammers in the US too and I meant to use during the course of a scam not to defend himself after getting caught.

          1. Say what, now?*

            I’m with JamieS, they’re getting your voice saying “yes” to use with the automated banking line.

            1. Natalie*

              Really unlikely – IVR can’t “voiceprint” anyone, so they don’t need your voice specifically. The only thing those recordings would be useful for is playing back to the mark to try and scare them into paying for something you’ve invoiced them for. And that’s not even that common, because it’s a more involved scam (for one thing, it requires multiple contacts with a mark, which is risky).

            2. LBK*

              What difference does that make? The bank isn’t verifying your identity via voice recognition…

            3. Antilles*

              I don’t think that’s the case here, since if they did, they wouldn’t have needed to drag it out so long. After all, if his primary purpose was getting the word “yes”, he got that right at the start – no need to go into all that discussion about OP’s salary, strengths/weaknesses, woodworking, etc.
              Especially since he’d have an easy out to end the call when OP refused to reveal her salary – “I’m sorry, but my client requires salary information as part of the process; if you refuse to provide it, that’s your choice, but that unfortunately means there’s no point in talking further, goodbye. (click)”

            4. Penny Lane*

              The automated banking lines don’t use voice recognition that is sophisticated enough to recognize your specific voice versus the voice of anyone else, nor did they first record you when you signed up so that they had an original of your “yes”. This is a modern-day old wives’ tale.

    4. Chriama*

      I was thinking the same thing! The weird flattery at the end screams MLM — I remember some life insurance sales rep at a school career fair was complimentary in an aggressive sort of way, like “I can tell you’re a very intelligent person, this position would be great for you. I can interview you on x date.” I would be surprised if this guy really works for the government. At the very least, he’s recruiting for a terrible role, or pushing some sort of “network marketing” (read, MLM) job or commission-only job with a terrible commission structure.

      1. Marthooh*

        Ha! That sounded to me like a pickup artist schtick: preposterous demand followed by gratuitous insult followed by condescending compliment.

    5. Casuan*

      +1 with anyone who thinks this wasn’t a recruiter &or it was for MLM &or a scam.

      OP3: Are you certain this was a recruiter? Had you put in your application for anything?

    6. Quoth the Raven*

      This reminded me of the kind of calls some criminal organizations make in my corner of the world, trying to get you to give information about yourself which they will then use to either try and extort you, or contact a family member and say you’ve been kidnapped/arrested (using this information when questioned as proof you are with them). The more information you unknowingly give them; the more effective the whole thing is.

      While I know this is probably not that case, it’s one of the reasons why a call like that would sound extremely fishy to me.

      1. Agenda*

        We must be from the same corner of the world, Quoth the Raven, because that was my first impression as well.

      2. Fake old Converse shoes (not in the US)*

        Thirded. That’s why I don’t answer calls from withheld or unknown phone numbers. All job hunting communication goes through my personal email address, and I don’t want to deal with someone who doesn’t understand why I protect it.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I don’t either–and I got a Google Voice number specifically for job hunting that rings through to my cell phone. It’s on my resume too. If it’s not a local number, or I don’t recognize the area code as being one from a place I applied, then I just ignore it.

          I’m not worried about missing it. Scammers don’t often leave voicemail; employers do. And I’ve never had a legit recruiter call or email without identifying what company they’re with.

    7. Observer*

      I was thinking much the same thing. It just seems SOOO weird. Also way to cagey about the information he was sharing and a lot probing for lying.

    8. Cat*

      That was my first thought, too. Particularly the desire to know about salary and the calling from a blocked number. Not sure without more details how it would actually turn into a scam but perhaps there would be a follow-up with those who seemed particularly gullible to get identity information.

      1. Triple Anon*

        He might have been looking for people’s salary info. It’s also possible that it was just someone who wanted to mess with people. Not really a scam, just harassment.

        1. Antilles*

          Really? Then how do they get people to actually pick up the phone? Do they pre-schedule all calls via email?
          Because unless I’m expecting the call, I can’t even imagine picking up the phone to a “Blocked Number”. Heck, many (most?) people no longer answer the phone to a number they don’t recognize even if the number is listed, thanks to robo-calls.

          1. Natalie*

            In my experience they’re used to being screened so they leave voicemails. As you say, lots of people don’t answer their cell phones to unknown numbers, plus they may well be calling people while they’re at work.

          2. Oxford Coma*

            Anecdotally, I pick up all private number calls, or else I would never speak to my paranoid parents. (That doesn’t answer your question, I know.)

          3. kc higgs*

            They often don’t. get people to pick up and then wonder why they can’t get their clients’ employers. A lot of the skills shortage and unemployment is becuase people don’t know how to hire. (Scheduling in advance via email is in the top 10% of recruiters but they are still pretty poor.

        2. soon 2be former fed*

          I NEVER answer calls from blocked numbers, and if they call repeatedly, I block them! No legit organization has a need to be this secretive.

          1. Natalie*

            I’m not sure we’re talking about the same thing? You can’t tell if an unknown number is calling you repeatedly or block it, since it’s, you know, unknown.

    9. Triple Anon*

      I agree! The blocked number and wanting personal info right away. It’s like the rest of the “interview” was just filler, – an attempt to distract OP and make it sound like a legit call.

      1. Artemesia*

        No way I am jumping through hoops with a ‘recruiter’ I don’t know and a ‘job’ that is not specified. I have been called by a fair number of recruiters and in each case they actually told me what the specific job was and in most cases what the specific organization was. The idea that you don’t get to know because then you would ‘tailor your answers’ — well duh. It is entirely appropriate to tailor your answers to the job. I was getting MLM vibes from this or some bogus commission only ‘job.’

    10. TWanon*

      Agreed. It’s also really weird that he said their were applicants for the job, since it sounds like the LW didn’t apply for anything. if you have 130 applicants and a reasonable short list of strong contenders, why waste time cold calling someone who may not even be looking for work?

      LW, did they ask for any identification numbers?

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Yes, this stood out to me. He has 130… random Linked-in profiles that he found?

      2. Genny*

        If you have your resume open for recruiters to search on sites like Monster, recruiters will cold call you. It’s possible he did have applicants and was also cold calling (because his techniques suck and he’s blacklisting people for not calling back).

    11. Obelia*

      I thought scam too. *Pressing* OP on their woodwork activities and wanting to know about the brand of woodworking tools they were using? While refusing to give details of this alleged “job” they were recruiting for…?

      1. Obelia*

        Eek, I just read Jay’s comment below about callers seeking out information on money and valuables (though this one does seem particularly incompetent). Take care OP4, Jay’s advice seems very wise.

    12. Nita*

      Yes. He doesn’t sound like a recruiter at all. Maybe a phishing phone call. If scammers can pose as utility people, bank representatives and IRS agents, why not recruiters? I’m curious whether this person’s number came up on LW’s caller ID, whether they said what agency they’re with, and whether there’s actually anyone of that name at that agency.

      I’ve dealt with recruiters a lot and they often don’t reveal the name of the company they’re hiring for until they see your resume and you agree to be interviewed… maybe because they don’t want you to bypass them? Still, everything about LW’s conversation sounds off somehow. The massive amount of secrecy – not normal, even if recruiters don’t give specifics, they will tell you what the job is right away! The interview on the spot – not done, as far as I know. Asking for salary history before figuring out if qualifications fit – also a bit odd. The woodworking tools conversation – just bizarre!

      Also, all the recruiters I have met have hired for private companies. As far as I know, government agencies use recruiters much less often, don’t they?

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I haven’t been called by many, but they always told me what company it was for and what job it was. After that, it was just a regular phone screen. No personal questions.

    13. Bossy Magoo*

      Agree…my red flags were up and waving furiously. A blocked number, wouldn’t say what the job is…I don’t believe this was a recruiter at all.

    14. sb*

      Yesss, came here to say just that. I got a call like this once after submitting my resume to various recruiting databases, and it turned out to be a pyramid-scheme sales thing that I had no interest in.

    15. Paula*

      The other thing that sprang to my mind is this is a stalker-type person – perhaps a competitor at work wanting to know the letter-writer’s salary.

    16. Goosela*

      That’s how I feel too.

      I remember when I had recently graduated from college and started submitting my resumes places, I got a call from a blocked number. They grilled me quite similarly. They never told me what the position was for, or even the company. All the person kept saying is “We are a Fortune 100 company”. Being the naive, and broke, 22 year old I was, I set up an interview. They gave me an address. What was really weird is that they kept telling me what to wear. “This is a fortune 100 company so you must dress the part. Do not come in here looking like you’re going to the gym. Please dress business professional, etc.”For whatever reason it was this that struck a chord with me, not any of the other sketchy stuff. I can’t describe why.

      I no-showed the interview. A person called me the next day informing me that I had been blacklisted…though they still never mentioned the company name…

      I googled the address they gave me and, it’s been a while now, I can’t remember if it was a residential area or a warehouse…but whatever it was, it certainly did not look like it was connected with any sort of fortune 100 business…

      Still skeeves me out.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        That’s creepy.

        I responded to a listing once and they set up an interview for an office job. I can’t remember what they said the name was; it was a legit company, supposedly opening a new office. But the address they gave me turned out to be an abandoned storefront.

        Nobody was around and I got a very weird vibe so I got out of there fast. They never called me back.

    17. Sas*

      It reminds me of when Kramer was stuck on 1st Street and 1st Ave. A guy pulls up, “Do you know where you are?” “Would you like a ride?” “Do you need a job?” The job is as a prostitute (read: house cleaner).

    18. Susana*

      My partner recruits for government jobs. And he’s a government employee. They do not use outside recruiters. And this is not how it works. This person was trying to get some kind of info – I think the pressure to release salary was a real red flag. Government jobs pay according to a classification scale.

      1. Genny*

        It’s possible it was a contracting company, which do use recruiters. I’ve had cases where the recruiter couldn’t tell me the specific office because they didn’t technically have the contract yet. However, in those cases, they were always upfront about that and they always told me which agency.

    19. PersephoneUnderground*

      LW#3, you should warn any elderly relatives (or young but gullible relatives) that you received a weird scam call, and that if anyone calls saying they’re you and need money for some reason that they should be skeptical and call you on your main number independently to verify whether it’s you or not if they’re not 100% sure. I’ve had an elderly relative get a scam call that got her to wire money to someone claiming to be her granddaughter in trouble (stories include: need bail so “only get one phone call”, need money for car repairs and lost their phone, etc.). If they have a few details (like you gave them about woodworking) they can sound convincingly enough like they’re you, and combine that with scare tactics and time pressure to scam people, particularly targeting the elderly in nursing homes etc. and figuring out their family using social media and other data mining. There are other things this could be, but it smells fishy and can’t hurt to warn your family of a possible scam that could effect them even if this time it’s something else.

    20. Rhoda*

      Could be a scam leading up to booking you on to and extortionate online course.
      I had a phone call like that once. Asked a few questions then said; “You seem to know something about learning styles. But if you took our course you would know even more. Pay £300 pounds for our online teaching assistant course. This will really help you get interviews.”

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Oh this reminds me of a place I went to in college in the 1980s. It billed itself as an employment agency. I went in, filled out an application, and then the woman told me that in order to continue, I would have to pay them $1,000. I said no f*cking way, and I refused to leave until she gave me back the paperwork I’d filled out. No way in hell was I gonna leave them with my personal information.

        This isn’t new!

    21. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Corporate staffing here. There’s great demand for recruiters right now – both corporate and agency – and fewer candidates than you would think. So I’ll play devil’s advocate and wonder if this recruiter was recently hired because of extreme hiring needs. He could just be a warm body that is woefully unqualified and/or untrained for the role. He could be trying to recruit without knowing what it really means and doesn’t know better.

      Maybe the recruiter is a scam artist, maybe he’s a jerk, and maybe he’s just in over his head. Regardless, the OP would have been justified in cutting the call short. No good would come of that particular ‘interview.’

    22. LavaLamp*

      This!!! I’ve recently been getting calls from someone posing as an insurance agent (they always mention every other insurer before mine and get quite put out when i tell them TriCare is only for military families). These creepers keep asking if I have any scars on my body. Well if you were from my insurance company you’d know my medical history or have access to it and that is a weirdly personal question to ask anyone if you’re not a doctor.

      These people call me and won’t listen to me and call back when I hang up. My male supervisor told them to take a hike because he could see that I was really uncomfortable.

      Scammers suck and this sounds more scam than interview.

    23. CC*

      Agree! Less than halfway through I sensed this was a bogus call; more weird things than normal. Be happy it ended. Hope OP doesn’t answer another call from him.

    24. OP #4*

      I should have mentioned that I am in Australia so recruiting is probably different from the US. It was legit, he told me what department it was for at the end of the interview. It wasn’t a secret department so I’m not sure why he omitted it in the first place. There are quite a few jobs I have seen for government and private in this area that retract the name of the company. It’s all very strange. He said he did it because he wanted to “find out what sort of person I really was”. I think if I end up getting the job I will mention this to them, they probably wouldn’t want someone like this recruiting on behalf of them.

      1. Lurker*

        I would have laughed at him on the salary question. You expect me to disclose that 5 minutes into a cold call from a stranger?

        Recruiter behavior depends a lot on the local market and culture. In my field and area, the pool of both employers and candidates is quite small, so you tend to see the same ones over and over. For various reasons most employers use recruiters almost exclusively, and they will often shop a vacancy out to multiple agencies. So the recruiters are in a constant battle with each other to be the one to put you forward for the position and collect the commission if you get the job. As a result it’s very common for them to be coy about the name of the business until very late in the process. They are afraid you will apply through another recruiter if they tell you, or even directly to the employer.

        On the other hand they should absolutely be able to provide you with a job description, generally quite a detailed one, even if the employer’s name is redacted. If he asked me for an interview, as in your example, I would have said that I didn’t think it made sense to have one unless I decided to apply for the job. Then it becomes a conversation about whether you want to apply, and you are in a position to ask for whatever information you feel you need. This is a perfectly reasonable position for you to take – your time is valuable, there are millions of jobs out there, and if you interviewed for every one without screening for those that match your skills and interests, there would never be an end to it.

        Glad to hear there was an actual job behind it all, and I would definitely mention it to the employer if you end up getting the job.

    25. Valerie*

      That was my first thought as well! Someone trying to get enough information in order to rip off the unsuspecting — whether that be identity or money or whatever . . .

  2. Undine*

    #4 is like the world’s crappiest supervillain. “Oh ho, Mr. Holmes. So you were clever enough to break my code and deduce that “what are your strengths” and “what are you good at” are the same! Now, let’s see you escape from being suspended over an open pit of coughing coworkers, while someone eats crackers nearby!”

    1. Wandering Anon*

      I am imagining a supervillain twirling a mustache (a glorious fake mustache, because it’s all part of a clever disguise and a convoluted 10-part plan) and confiding in a small cat or long-suffering butler – “I am drunk on a very small amount of power.”


    2. RabbitRabbit*

      I kind of wondered if it was a trick when I was interviewed for a job and she was going down a pre-printed list of about 20 questions (with fill-in boxes where she was taking notes); fully a half-dozen were subtle variations on my leisure activities – what do you do for fun, what do you to to relax, what do you do as a hobby, etc. Not kidding. After a while I started fumbling for answers and couldn’t figure out what in the world would cause that set of questions to be their priority. I didn’t even get a rejection e-mail after a phone interview and then that in-person interview – maybe I failed their test?

      1. Susan K*

        Maybe they were screening out people who have a life outside of work, so the correct answer was, “I don’t do anything for fun or have any hobbies. I live to work, and when I’m not working, all I do is think about work.”

        1. RabbitRabbit*

          Could be. I thought I’d done pretty well by indicating flat-out that I treated work travel (it would have been about 10-20% travel) as a job and Not For Fun and I was efficient as possible when doing that – no extra days, etc. I’m happier where I am now, so I’m not disappointed I didn’t get it.

      2. Lara*

        Good chance that when they ask that many questions about leisure activities, they’re looking for anything that might point to substance abuse issues.

    3. Umbreon*

      Even if #4 isn’t a scam, it’s certainly not a job you’d want to work for if they open their first interaction with you with that level of crazy! They’re unprofessional, prying, and clearly uninterested in what LW wants to know about the “job”.

      1. OP #4*

        I know… it is an outsourced company though, so if I have an actual interview and they are sane I will bring it up to them.

  3. stephanie anniece*

    +1 to Alison’s advice for LW #5. As a senior in college, informational interviews have been so helpful for me in narrowing down what field I want to go into when I graduate as well as helping me learn what different companies cultures are.

    1. Curious Cat*

      Agreed! I’m a recent graduate, but I did a couple networking information interviews in my last semester. One of my contacts actually ended up emailing me the job application link for the job I currently have (and love!). So definitely network as much as you can, it’s so important and helpful.

  4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#2, your HR department is being insanely obnoxious. And depending on your state, it may not be lawful for them to try to pull this crap. I think it’s worth pushing back—do they pitch these “solutions” to unmarried couples, or employees whose partners don’t work for your company?

    It’s one thing if they had some kind of eco-policy that incentivizes transit use or limits the value of a benefit per household (not a great idea, but more understandable). It’s another to penalize you for having a spouse that works for them, too.

    1. Jess*

      Another way to push back: Do they match up employees who live near each other and force them to carpool? Is there a company-organized carpool system for people to find matches? As you point out, there are SO many ways to incentivize alternates to one-car-per-person.

      The person in charge of carpool passes at my office building (not my office manager) didn’t want to give my carpool partner a carpool pass because I didn’t have a car. BUT WE’RE CARPOOLING! It was stupid to the max. Much like this policy, only my carpool partner was still able to park in the lot.

    2. Casuan*

      Also, it was out of line for HR to be cavalier about this.
      Really, often I wonder how people would feel if someone suggested the same thing to them.
      Push back on this, OP3. It might help to talk with your manager first to tell her that you won’t be able to commute with your husband, regardless of your hours [cue Alison’s script]. Normally telling your manager on this probably wouldn’t be warranted, although for you I think it might be because HR already involved her in this & you shouldn’t risk your manager negotiating with HR on your behalf.

      Wtf? Suggesting that you take the bus…? & Talking with your manager about your schedule, because parking…? And your manager offering your schedule based on… parking?
      Good luck with this & congrats on your new job!

      1. SaltTooth*

        I think it’s telling that their solution is for HER to change her schedule, not for him. Interesting that he gets to keep his employee benefits, but she doesn’t get hers. Hmmm.

        1. sap*

          Yeah. Even if LW’s state doesn’t prohibit marital status discrimination, asking *her specifically* to give up the parking pass (which is often tied to license plate) and change the schedule rather than him is… Potentially a legal issue no matter what state they’re in, and not something a competent HR department would reach for.

          1. eplawyer*

            In using Alison’s script I would definitely emphasize the “fewer benefits based on my marital status part.” That might get through HR’s thick heads that this is not a good idea.

            Take the bus — like it’s so easy to just grab a bus and get to work. Have they done it? I doubt it. Let them take the bus from their home to work one day then see how often they suggest it.

            1. The Cosmic Avenger*

              Actually, I would suggest “fewer benefits just because I’m the wife of another employee”, which includes both marital status and gender, since as others have pointed out, they’re not suggesting that her husband give up HIS parking pass.

            2. MCMonkeyBean*

              I would consider my commute very heavily when deciding whether to take a job, so to tell me after I’ve started with the reasonable expectation that I would get the same parking perks as everyone else “oh, you can just take the bus,” which can easily turn a 15 minute commute into an hour or whatever… that’s so beyond unacceptable!

              1. OP #3*

                Exactly!!! I considered commute and costs very carefully when I was looking at this job. I’m so happy to be here but kind of feel a bit taken as they pulled this benefit.

                1. JessaB*

                  Also isn’t transportation a benefit that’s classed like having a child or elder care account? Isn’t it federally regulated because of tax implications (I thought it was one of the things you can have a pre tax account for,) it can’t be legal to not give it to everyone who needs it.

                  And this time I really do mean not legal because it’s marital status and gender and things that are protected classes.

              2. Lara*

                Yep. If I have to take public transport it’s unreliable, can take up to 2 hours and costs a fortune, compared to a 40 min drive. Plus it affects what you can bring, how you can dress, you’re subject to weather, you can’t nip out at lunch…

        2. Erin*

          It sounded like the LW was new to the role. I’d assumed husband had been working there all along. So in that context, denying her (vs him) the benefit makes sense in that he presumably already had a pass.

          You know what they say about assuming though…and also- the whole thing is stupid. Of course they need two passes.

          1. Myrin*

            Yeah, that was about the only thing in the whole situation that did make sense to me – it’s easier to not give the new person a pass in the first place compared to revoking or changing an already existing one.

          2. OP #3*

            So I’m being asked to change my hours as husband works in an area that has incoming calls and is directly customer facing. They have to cover phones and incoming instant message & email questions 5.5 days a week for 10+ hours a day. This means that sometimes he doesn’t start till noon or later and then works a half day on Saturday to keep him under 40.
            My department has time sensitive items but no Saturday hours or phone coverage.

            1. Myrin*

              Hi OP, I just wanted to give you a heads-up that you’re #2, just to avoid confusion on both sides!

              1. Casuan*

                Oops, I mistyped in my earlier comment.
                OP2 OP2 OP2

                OP2, I can understand that you were asked to share the pass, however once you said you needed your own parking they should have immediately backed down.

            2. Rusty Shackelford*

              And your manager is okay with HR demanding you change your hours so you can carpool?

            3. MLB*

              That really shouldn’t matter though. Emphasize what Alison said about not receiving the same benefits of other employees. That’s a big difference in the cost of parking and is essentially part of your compensation. Would they do the same if 2 friends lived together?

              1. Casuan*

                Throwback to this past weekend free-for-all!
                It’s too bad the parking fees don’t have the structure of 2 for $500 or $300 each.
                This might be the only time I could support such a scheme, although only if it was the company who needed to pay & not an individual/

            4. boo*

              And is your job also closer to a 9-5? So you’d have to possibly add an extra day to your week in order to get stuff done?

              So all other employees have parking passes, and they can come and go as dictated by the needs of their jobs, but you would have to fit your work in around the needs of your *husband’s job*? Gee whiz, when I say it like that it sounds pretty bad!

              (Sorry for the vehemence of my tone, I’m a bit outraged on your behalf and it’s not at all directed at you!)

                1. OP #3...actually no...OP #2*

                  Yep- I’m at 8 hrs a day 5, days a week. They offered that I could take the bus, which they will cover, on days where our schedules differ too greatly.

                2. Myrin*

                  @OP, what an absolute hassle, and all for saving the cost of one (1!) parking pass. I’m really angry on your behalf, don’t these people have other things to do?

                3. oviraptor*

                  My first reaction to being told to take the bus was to tell HR you were going to be adding commute time to your daily hours. (Or the part of the bus commute that would be longer than your car commute. No, wtf, the whole commute. Might as well go for it all).

                  But like I said, it’s just my first reaction. I am sure there are lots of drawbacks that I haven’t got to yet because I am still stunned they wouldn’t give you a parking pass. And in all honesty, if I found myself in this situation I probably would have told them I was adding the bus commute to my time. Because sometimes (okay, more often than I would like to admit) I will just say what comes to mind. And then immediately think oops. But it usually works out pretty good. Not saying I always get what I want, but it opens the door to getting the other party to see other points of view also and coming up with a compromise that works better for everyone.

                4. swingbattabatta*

                  If you are located in a certain PNW city where the traffic is horrendous and the buses aren’t exactly reliable, this is a ridiculous alternative to suggest. Honestly, its ridiculous either way, and like everyone else has said, you are well within your rights to push back.

                5. Jadelyn*

                  Somehow I get the feeling none of the people at your company who are blithely suggesting the bus as an alternative have ever actually used the bus as a commute method (assuming you’re in the US, where public transit tends to be abysmal). Do they know how much of a hassle that can be, compared to a personal car commute? A 20-minute car commute can suddenly become an hour and a half or more when you have to rely on the bus. Plus you have to arrange your schedule around bus times, then.

              1. Lara*

                This is so illogical. Buses take longer, are unreliable, only work at scheduled times and can work out as more expensive than mileage. This is ridiculous. Additionally, are any male spouses at the company expected to reconfigure their entire work schedules so the company can save a few bucks? Because I feel like this really encroaches on protected class territory.

            5. CM*

              That makes it even more confusing how they can expect you to carpool. If he works 6 days a week and you work 5 but you both work 40 hours then you are never working the same hours.

            6. Triumphant Fox*

              The fact that they’re asking you to add Saturdays is makes this worse. You need to be with your team…not with your husband.

              Also, it’s reasonable of you to have made some decisions based on the fact that you and your husband will not have exactly the same working hours. It would be a downside for me if I had a job with the same hours as my husband. He’s home during the day and manages a lot of contractors, maintenance people, etc. in our home and does errands when it’s not crazy busy. He’s the one with dinner ready, etc. It would definitely be a factor in deciding on a new job if we were expected to always be together.

            7. Natalie*

              Oh man, by changing your schedule they want to move you to 6 days a week? That’s extra strength bananapants.

              My company has Saturday workdays for a brief period every year, and just that sucks big time. Don’t do it, LW! It’s surprisingly exhausting.

              1. Mildred*

                “extra strength bananapants”! I’m learning all sorts of new and hilarious phrases today!

            8. nonymous*

              I think your new boss is your advocate in this situation. Go ahead with the script that Alison provided, but in parallel have a discussion with your own supervisor regarding how HR seems to expect that your department staffing be subject to the variances of husband’s departmental needs. This may blow over as a non-issue once your supervisor requests the pass (and it really may be as simple as supervisor saying “Can you issue a parking pass for NewStaff? Thanks!”).

              I mean, does your supervisor really want to delay on time-sensitive tasks because your husband has noon start (but only sometimes!) ? I’m assuming you don’t have kids, but this would definitely not fly if the reason for separate schedules is to minimize daycare costs.

        3. Hey Nonnie*

          Yeah… my very first thought reading this was that I am pretty sure family / marital status is a protected class, at least as far as discrimination based on such tends to fall on women and is therefore a subset of discrimination based on sex.

          Bring THAT up to HR and watch them dance….

          1. E*

            I’m just trying to figure out how they can’t see that refusing to give an employee a benefit that all other employees receive is discriminatory. If they were wanting other employees to carpool and share parking passes, maybe not so much. But singling out the one person just because they live in the same household as another employee, nope.

    3. Engineer Girl*

      It appears that they are giving her less benefits based on her marital status. That would be pretty illegal.

      1. LBK*

        Marital status isn’t explicitly protected under the EEOC unless you’re a government employee. You’d have to argue it under sex discrimination protections and that’s less of a given.

        1. neverjaunty*

          The EEOC is the agency, not the law. That said, many states prohibit discrimination based on marital status.

        2. Jadelyn*

          Depends on where you are. California explicitly prohibits discrimination based on marital or family status.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Unfortunately it depends on the state. She could certainly argue differential treatment on the basis of gender (e.g., all the “solutions” burden her and not DH), but discrimination on the basis of marital status is a state-by-state claim.

        1. OP #3...actually no...OP #2*

          I’m curious to see if this is prohibited in my state (IA) but will have to wait till later to check. Manager brand new to managing so I can see her just going along with what HR said. She also takes the bus most days. Our city is really hit or miss on how well the busses run.

    4. Int dev girl*

      Why would that not be a great idea? I was saddened that nobody in this scenario was considering the environment. Where I live, it would be frowned on from an environmental perspective to drive two separate cars, each with one person in it, from the same house to the same workplace daily. I get that there are other issues at play here but still sad that it’s not seemingly a factor in anyone’s thinking here…

      1. Engineer Girl*

        The other issues seem to overwhelm the environmental ones. It’s not that they weren’t considered, but that the other factors were so much bigger.

        1. Oilpress*

          Buildings three blocks apart and separate schedules being the key issues. That and the fact that it can be a real pain in the ass coordinating a carpool in a non-shift work environment.

          This company is just being cheap here. The environment will be alright, but if they are really concerned about it, the OP can tell them how good she is at recycling.

          1. OP #3...actually no...OP #2*

            Yeah….. Unfortunately marital and family status are not covered classes in my state. So it appears that what they are doing is shitty but legal. I fully intended to go talk to my manager about the issue this afternoon but she was in a meeting with her manager that just returned from 2 weeks off. Tomorrow it is!

            1. Lara*

              I still think you could potentially argue gender. They are offering you reduced benefits because you the wife of a fellow employee. have any husbands had to put up with this? Or is it just females?

        2. Triumphant Fox*

          Also, having a parking pass doesn’t mean that they never share a car. We use one car as much as possible, but not having the option of separate cars – especially with different schedules – is onerous. Even if she had exactly the same schedule, if they had different evening plans, that could add significant drive time in total.

        3. Hey Nonnie*

          This and the fact that she is, in essence, being paid less than they agreed on when she took the job. More than $1000 less, by my count.

        4. BeautifulVoid*

          This reminds me of a survey my political party just sent out. Most of it was about ranking issues based on how important they are to me, or selecting three or four issues from a set, etc. A lot of it was difficult for me, because hey! I care about all these things! But I had to choose. Long story short, while I do care about the environment, I care more about not being treated like a second-class citizen just because I’m a woman. And I don’t think that makes me a terrible person, nor would it make the OP a terrible person if that’s part of her reasoning, too. Aside from the usual recommendations about not being in the same department or reporting chain, and so on, her husband’s employment at the same company should not have any effect on her employment, especially when it comes to benefits.

      2. Rw*

        Yeah I’m amazed that no one seems bothered about the environmental aspect – id be embarrassed to be driving 2 separate cars from the same house to the same work at similar times everyday, it’s inexcusable

        1. TL -*

          They’re not going at similar times, though – there’s quite a bit of difference.
          And if husband is always running late, I’m not sure what the wife is supposed to do – sacrifice her career for the benefit of the environment?

          Ideally, yes, they’d carpool but sometimes it isn’t possible. My mom and dad own their own business but they mostly drive in separately – Dad needs his truck for business during the day and he works later than Mom does. Mom needed to leave on time to pick up the kids and she does the majority of household errands right after she’s done with work; now she can’t work more than a 40 hr workweek due to health problems, while my dad often pushes 60 (and used to push 70.)
          It’s not ideal, but it’s logistically the only thing that works.

        2. Trout 'Waver*

          The letter writer explicitly says they need the pass because they’re not commuting at similar times.

        3. Mike C.*

          How do you know they aren’t doing other things to save the environment? Why must it be this specific thing?

        4. RVA Cat*

          They’re driving at different times though, and I would imagine often to different places. (Plus it could really be a hardship for a married couple with children.)

        5. artgirl*

          Inexcusable, even if they both have hybrid or electric cars? Smart cars? Among any number of other explanations other commenters have mentioned…Please leave out the hairtrigger moralizing.

          1. Hera Syndulla*

            Thank you! I was going to say that as well.

            (And I am all for protecting the environment and limiting the use of a car – truly, you can ask my familymember – but this is one of the times that I agree that OP has the same right to have a parking pass for her work, even if it was the case that her hours are only 1day of the week different than her husband’s)

        6. Alton*

          I’m a big fan of limiting car use, but I don’t think it’s “inexcusable.” It’s a personal decision that people should be free to weigh out for themselves, and in this case it sounds like it would be a hardship for the OP to carpool with her spouse. And we don’t know what the OP’s carbon footprint is like overall.

          I’m not a fan of putting the onus on individuals instead of workplaces and larger communities. If this workplace cares about the environment, there are probably more effective things they could do than try to police employees’ commuting choices (like offering a voluntary carpool program or letting some people telecommute). But I kind of doubt the environment is their main concern, here.

          1. myswtghst*

            Agreed on all counts. It’s one thing to incentivize behaviors you want to see (carpooling, telecommuting, etc…), but it really shouldn’t be an option to punish an employee by withholding benefits because they choose the option that works best for them.

          2. Starbuck*

            Yes, my heart is with the people who are frustrated at the environmental impacts of the double car commuting… but individual actions are not what’s going to make a difference for the climate. We need to prioritize collective action- most pollution comes from industry. Fostering an environmental ethic among the general public is an important step, but it’s self-defeating to go after each other when there are bigger targets.

        7. Mockingjay*

          It’s excusable. Although we worked in the same location, my husband and I drove separately for years due to child care and the nature of our jobs. There is little mass transit where we are – driving is pretty much the only option.

          And we ARE passionate environmentalists; we reuse, recycle, compost, don’t use pesticides in the garden, save water, etc., as well as driving small, fuel-efficient cars.

        8. OxfordComma*

          If it’s about the environment, then why are they singling out the OP? Why not take away parking passes from everyone? Is HR going through all the employee records and saying to employee #1 “Hey, we found out you live within a mile of employee #2 and therefore we’re taking away your parking pass and you can commute with employee #2.”

          It’s a benefit that the OP is being denied.

        9. AKchic*

          Sure. You start at 8am. Your husband starts at noon. You get off at 5pm, but your husband’s shift ends at 9pm. It is a 40 minute commute to work.
          The only way this works is if you take the one vehicle issued the parking pass and drive it to work, take a LONG lunch every day and go pick up the husband, drive him *back* to work (hope you don’t have any meetings scheduled and hope your boss is forgiving every single day your husband needs to be working!), then work late. Drive home the 40 minutes when your shift ends. Do stuff at home until its time to pick the hubster up, go pick him up then drive him back home. You’re actually doing 3 round-trip drives a day to and from home instead of 2 round-trip drives if HR had issued two parking passes. How is *that* helping the environment? Plus you’re wasting time and adding stress, putting extra burden on staff during the lunch-hour to cover your extra time away while you play taxi getting your husband to work (and hoping weather and traffic plays fair and doesn’t cause delays). All so HR can save $300/mo on one parking pass.

          They wouldn’t be doing this if OP2 weren’t married to another employee within the company, so why do it simply because she is?

        10. OP #3...actually no...OP #2*

          Inexcusable is a really strong way to describe the situation. It isn’t great but it is better than the alternative, for us. As it is now, and someone else already wrote about this possibility, we are sometimes still driving to our work 4 times because of the varied work starts. Same gas usage and emissions but less personal time (during which we recycle, garden, play with our rescue dog, repair clothes and household items instead of replacing…. etc)

      3. Legalchef*

        It’s also not quite the same workplace – the LW said hers is 3 blocks from his, which doesn’t sound like a lot but we don’t know how long the blocks are.

        Plus carpooling doesn’t make sense if the people’s schedules are different. I’m pretty sure there have been letters here asking what to do when their carpool partner is always running late. Just because they are coming from the same house rather than down the street doesn’t make this any different.

        And, even if they planned on driving together 99% of the time, if she wanted the parking pass just in case she should get it. Because it’s an employee benefit, and she is an employee and a separate person from her husband.

        1. LadyProg*

          “Because it’s an employee benefit, and she is an employee and a separate person from her husband.”

          Nailed it.

          1. JessaB*

            And likely negotiated her pay packet based on having this benefit. If she was going to have to pay for parking at retail she’d have negotiated a salary that included parking at retail. People do take into account benefits when stating salary desires.

        2. Bacon pancakes*

          YES! My reaction to this letter was “IS SHE CHATTLE?!” No one should have their benefits dictated by their partner-status. Ever.
          This reads like “well since THE MAN of the house is getting these benefits, you won’t need them little lady” *pats head condescendingly*

        3. myswtghst*

          “Because it’s an employee benefit, and she is an employee and a separate person from her husband.”

          Yes, this is what it really boils down to. It doesn’t matter whether they carpool 0% of the time, 99% of the time, or somewhere in between – OP is an employee and deserves the same benefits other employees get, especially since this wasn’t brought up until after she accepted the job.

      4. Shop Girl*

        I believe they said that even the adjusted schedule could be a difference of 2 hours. That’s a lot of your personal time to give up.

      5. Sam.*

        It’d be different if they were denying the second pass based on some company-wide green policy, but OP doesn’t indicate that such a thing is being cited as the reason for denial. I got the impression that it’s more financial, which is not a good reason to deny a benefit.

        1. CM*

          I can’t think of a way that it makes sense though. How do they decide who gets the passes? What if your next door neighbor is hired? Are you going to be forced to carpool as well? I can see incentivizing it (for example providing a cash incentive to not take the pass), but forcing it is going too far.

        2. Tuxedo Cat*

          Even then, it should be strongly encouraged rather than a mandate. I don’t have a car for environmental reasons, but some people in the same household need two cars. Before or after work, the OP might have errands to run all the way across town, appointments, etc.

        3. Blah*

          If the company wants to have a green policy, they shouldn’t provide parking passes at all (in their shoes, I wouldn’t). If they are going to offer it, though, it needs to be across the board.

          1. jess*

            Nooooo kidding. If they’re honestly making an eco-friendliness argument, they shouldn’t be subsidizing single-occupancy vehicles in any way.

      6. Myrin*

        It would not be a great idea because it would be an overreach on the company’s part. And where does it end? They realise two employees live around the corner from one another – are they told to carpool, too? Is five houses apart close enough but ten is too much? And so forth. (All that refers to the company actively butting into this matter as it’s doing here, of course. I’d feel differently about them simply encouraging people to carpool or incentivising it by having certain perks come with it; that’s not what’s happening here, though.)

        I also agree with Engineer Girl above me that what you identify as “other issues” here really are major issues that tower over every kind of counter-argument:

        – OP and her husband “are in different departments” and “in buildings three blocks apart”
        – they “have different schedules”
        – OP “never planned on commuting with [her] husband”

        The last point I think is the core issue here; OP sounds very, very strict about this (which I commend her for, btw) since husband “runs late” (“always” being implied here, which is stressful enough on its own), needs to be woken up and actively kept on task – which is something that is so labourious and annoying and exhausting that it’s bound to weigh heavier on her than environmental concerns (and again: they don’t even work together; three blocks apart could easily be different companies altogether).

        (And, since people always ask for some kind of “cred”: Next month marks the ten year anniversary of my family’s not owning a car. I’ve last driven a car in early 2010. I’m very environmentally conscious and take public transit or bike everywhere. I can still totally understand all of OP’s reasoning.)

        1. ainomiaka*

          I don’t particularly commend her for not carpooling-it strikes me as very much an example of the performative non-emotion I was talking about yesterday. But I am not going to condemn her either. It’s her choice.

          1. Myrin*

            I couldn’t find your comment from yesterday since I’m not sure which thread it was on, but I meant it in the sense that most people I know would either not stand firm on this at all and would let themselves be browbeaten (for lack of a better word; way too strong but I can’t think of something better at the moment) to holding their spouse’s hand through all the motions or that they would stand firm outwardly but still feel terribly guilty about it on the inside. I think it’s admirable that OP prioritises her own wellbeing so clearly.

            1. ainomiaka*

              It was on the thread about the coworker making a big deal about buying lunch. I was basically saying that being performative isn’t that person’s problem, since we’re all performing something at work most of the time, even if it’s performing non-emotion. I don’t think it’s wrong for the OP to do this at all (and I agree that HR shouldn’t be browbeating anyone to it at all-you’re not wrong there).

        2. many bells down*

          From experience, the emotional strain and labor of getting a chronically tardy spouse to cooperate with your schedule is a recipe for disaster. It is a hugely stressful burden that caused me massive anxiety. We only had one car at the time, so it was a necessity that we carpool or coordinate schedules. Which meant I was always ALWAYS late because he was never on time.

          If we’d had a second car I’d have taken it in a heartbeat.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Oh my god this. It’s the kind of thing that can cause resentment to build very quickly between people and can cause serious problems with the relationship over time. And I’m really not okay with demanding a couple invite unnecessary and potentially relationship-destroying tension into their life just to make things cheaper for the company or better for the environment, especially considering that as with most things, industrial pollution is by far the bigger problem and individual-level solutions are of relatively limited use if the goal is to stop destroying the planet. Browbeating one couple into carpooling to work in a way that could harm their marriage is not going to save the planet.

          2. Oxford Coma*

            THIS THIS THIS THIS.

            I’m at the point now where I say to friends and family, “I’m sorry we’re late. I’ll be punctual when I’m a widow.” Because there is just no lighting a fire under his ass.

          3. OP #3...actually no...OP #2*

            YES! THIS. I already have GAD. One of the things that sets it off is being late or thinking I’m going to be late.

        3. BeautifulVoid*

          “Hello, New Hire, welcome to your first day of work! Your parking pass? Oh, I see you live on Smith Street. Jane in Teapot Design lives on Smith Street and already got a parking pass, so you’ll either have to pay full price, carpool with Jane regardless of your hours, or take the bus.”

      7. Snark*

        You know, I’m an ecologist, so it’s not like I’m hostile to your argument, but this is not helpful. OP made it pretty clear that her schedule and ability to get out the door was markedly different from her husband’s, and a schedule difference of several hours cannot simply be hand-waved away as “I get that there are other issues at play here.”

      8. OP #3*

        The environmental factor does bother me as well, but not enough to put weigh a lot of other factors in my situation.

      9. Koala dreams*

        Well, if the company were considering the environment, they could take away the parking passes and instead offer all employees bus passes (and reserve parking passes for disabled employees for example). Or they could offer parking passes only to employees who were car sharing, whether or not those employees were married.

        1. Just Jess*

          If HR decides to keep pushing the LW this year or a future year for parking pass regulations V2.0, then they should definitely be explicit that they are across the board only offering discounted parking passes to employees who are car sharing (+ accommodations). Making it about her marital status or the fact that she is the wife and her husband will get the pass is all kinds of discriminatory.

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          I think a good policy would be something like incentivizing carpooling by covering the entire cost of parking for employees that drive together. But that’s something you would offer, not something you would demand. It is not reasonable to try to force her to either carpool with her husband who is on a different schedule, or take the bus, when everyone else gets a subsidized parking pass.

          1. nonymous*

            yeah, my transit authority allows for reserved parking for carpool. Since the lots fill up before 8A, that’s a huge incentive. Husband’s company offers increasing subsidy for green commuting: public transit gets the pass comped, carpoolers get a discount on a zipcar membership (which makes being a 1-car household a viable option for many families) and bike/walkers get an extra few hundred dollars/year.

            1. Jadelyn*

              This is a great example of incentivizing, rather than punishing, in order to get the results you want.

        3. soon 2be former fed*

          My Federal agency only offers subsidies for public transit, not parking. It is located in the downtown area of a major metropolitan area, so there’s that.

          1. OP #3...actually no...OP #2*

            Unfortunately offering subsidies only on public transit but not parking that wouldn’t be great in our area. If you go 15-30 minutes in most directions you are in a rural area, possibly gravel road rural.

      10. Katniss*

        Someone should not be expected to be hours late to work or stay hours late in order to carpool to save the environment. That is not realistic.

        1. fposte*

          And if they are, that expectation should apply to *all* the employees, not just the married female ones.

      11. Mike C.*

        Did you miss the part where the schedules are very different? And why are you being so dismissive of the sex discrimination?

        1. oviraptor*

          I am commenting on your comment only because you pointed out that their schedules are different.

          My question/point to bring up is why is it assumed that it will only be the newly hired spouse that will have to change all his/her hours to match schedules. I understand not being able to get the husband to work earlier. But since he works half days on Saturdays (and the spouses department isn’t open Saturdays) it seems to me like OP would now be working (4) 10 hour days. Which would require the husband to wait around until OPs shift is done.

          There might be some useful points to help make your case for a parking pass coming from this angle. Like will (4) 10 hour days work in your department (because you shouldn’t have to work 6 days, or lose hours due to Saturday). Will your husband be okay waiting around for your shift to end. Maybe you both can work (4) 10 hour days! I don’t know if anything here is really useful.

          I am truly looking forward to you writing in with an update (oh, like later this week! Because I am patient enough to give it 3 days max and then it needs to be solved – lol) to let us know everything turned out great.

      12. CheeryO*

        I work for an environmental agency with several married couples, and they don’t always carpool. It’s a fantastic thing to do when it’s at least semi-convenient, but that isn’t the case at all here. You wouldn’t expect someone to carpool with their neighbor if their schedules varied by a couple hours, would you?

      13. boo*

        If the company wanted to do something good for the environment, they could offer incentives for carpooling, for transit passes-there’s plenty to do in that vein. The thing not to do is weirdly insist that two employees who work in different places, and have drastically different schedules, carpool together whether they like it or not, which is what is happening, and that’s just the car and logistics piece of it.

        I get what you’re saying-I live somewhere ruled by public transit, which is awesome. The two-car household seems like a lot to me too, but in vast swaths of the US, having only one car in a household would be like having only one MetroCard per household (which doesn’t mean people don’t do it! But it’s hard). It’s a systemic problem, and it can’t be solved with individual gumption alone.

        The thing that’s actually getting outrage here is the fact that the OP is being denied a benefit everyone else seems to get based on her marital status, which is illegal, and as a consequence her life will be either much more difficult or much more expensive.

        1. myswtghst*

          Yes, all of this. As a company, rewarding the behaviors you want to see is the way to go – not punishing individual employees based on your interpretation of their situation. Either the discounted parking pass is a benefit all employees get, or it isn’t; it shouldn’t be something the company decides to withhold based on gender or marital status.

      14. Nanani*

        I agree with you on that, but singling this one employee who HAPPENS to be a woman married to another, male, employee is unjustifiable.

        If it was environmentally focused, why not change HIS hours? Or work out a compromise?
        There’s no evidence that they are doign that, so it’s bullshit sexist assumptions that really ought to be stomped on.

      15. neverjaunty*

        Probably because the OP has been explicit about some really good reasons she does not want to carpool with her husband. Guilting her about how she’s making Mother Earth cry doesn’t seem appropriate.

      16. NaoNao*

        It may very well be a factor, but it’s not as much of a factor as “I can’t carpool with my husband for very good reasons.”

      17. Risha*

        No no no no no.

        If you lived in the same apartment complex as a coworker, but the coworker worked an entirely different building blocks away from you, and on an entirely different schedule than you (not “an hour”, but “several hours and an entire different day” different than you), would you be okay with being _forced_ to carpool with them? And if not, what makes this situation any different?

        (The answer: nothing. There’s absolutely nothing different between the OP’s scenario and the one I just laid out. And that’s entirely aside from the issue of you shouldn’t be _forced_ to carpool!)

      18. Jadelyn*

        Alternatively, you could let people make their own decisions based on their needs and trust that they’re doing what’s best for them, without assuming you know every single factor that’s going into the calculation behind the scenes since you’re not living in their heads or privy to the conversations that may have preceded things getting to this point.

    5. MW*

      This one got me so mad! What is HR trying to pull? I’d be so tempted to tell them you’re getting a divorce. I think it’s barely your company’s business that you’re married in the first place and so long as you’re not managing each other or working closely together, they should just ignore the fact and treat you as individuals. I’d also kick up a stink if they didn’t make any mention in the hiring process that you were going to be discriminated against in terms of benefits because of your marriage.

      Phewff. Sorry, I’m just fuming!

      1. OP #3*

        Y’all are giving me the power, knowledge and confidence to kick up a stink. I was really unsure of how unreasonable this was when it first happened. It was never mentioned in hiring process that I’d not be eligible for a parking pass. Even on first day the HR representative wasn’t sure if it would be a problem or not. They have only had a couple married employees and not all locations have high cost parking.

        1. SpaceNovice*

          I agree with everyone telling you to mention that they’re doing this based on marital status, which could be illegal depending on your state. This is creating scheduling nightmares that not only affect your personal life but your work life as well, adding unnecessary stress on your marriage. Your schedules are incompatible. Someone is just obsessed with saving a couple hundred dollars and isn’t thinking clearly; get them to empathize and they should stop being an idiot.

        2. Genny*

          This would only make sense if it were based on seniority or tenure or something. The fact that’s based on marital status is total BS, especially since your schedules are so wildly different.

        3. Bacon pancakes*

          I think what really gets my goat is that if you weren’t married it would be a non-issue. So did they decide to give you the job based on the premise that they would save SO MUCH by you not needing a parking pass!? No!! Of course not!!!! So how is it an issue now that you have been hired??!! AAAAUUUGH!!

    6. Arya Snark*

      At my old job, parking was tight as well. We had a garage but there was a waiting list and spots were very coveted. They incentivized carpooling by offering free (when I first started working there) or discounted parking to those willing to carpool, married or not. We had several married/partnered couples and a few roommates working there – some carpooled, some didn’t but they weren’t penalized for not doing so.

    7. Half-Caf Latte*

      Upfront and for the record: I think OP should get her own pass and HR is wrong here.

      However: there is precedent for requiring married couples to share benefits: FMLA. (One of the reasons spouse does not apply for a job at my institution). Perhaps this informed the thinking in HR?

      1. voyager1*

        Are you and your husband the only married couple working there? If not see what other couples think about this arrangement. I have been lucky that everywhere I have worked has had free parking.

        1. OP #3...actually no...OP #2*

          Nope, not only married couple, supposedly they did look back to see what was done in the past.

    8. Garrett*

      I think ultimately, a lot of these things don’t matter. Even if they both worked the same hours in cubes right across from each other, they should get the individual employee benefit because they are individuals. Period.

    9. LKW*

      I was thinking about the household angle but if you were just roommates – they likely wouldn’t pull this stuff. And what happens if the married couple divorces? Does that entitle each of them to their own parking pass because they aren’t married even if neither has moved out of the home?

      When you start extending the logic it doesn’t make sense.

  5. Topcat*

    2. reminds me of Dubai, where a woman’s salary was cut when she got married, because “her husband is rich, she does not need the money”

    4. is more than weird, it sounds like a stalker.

    5. the real problem here is that someone has invested in an tertiary degree without having the first clue about what they want to do. Work experience should start in (high) school, and if you haven’t pretty much figured out your path or at least narrowed down what you want to do by the end of a university degree, frankly you’re not someone I’d be interested in hiring. I mean what has the letter writer done/studied for the past three or four years?

    What a waste of the cost of a degree.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Whoa, that is way harsh on #5. It’s extraordinarily common (and often beneficial) not to know what you want to do going into your university degree. In the process of obtaining your education, you often learn a lot about yourself, including what kind of tasks/jobs you might enjoy, how you structure your day, what motivates you, etc. I definitely didn’t think I’d end up in the job I have, today, when I graduated from college, and I had plenty of work experience.

      Perhaps the OP spent the past three to four years learning how to be a critical thinker and pursuing a comprehensive liberal arts education. Or maybe they learned that it’s ok to try multiple jobs/industries until you find the right fit.

      1. Casuan*

        Very much agree with PCBH!!

        Topcat, that was harsh & much too judgmental based on what OP5 wrote.
        And frankly, I’d be just as wary of someone who seems so inflexible they couldn’t entertain the theory that not everyone has certain experiences by a certain age [which can also vary by culture]. My wariness wouldn’t cause me to not hire someone because of it although it would cause me to question if being so judgmental would be a good fit for my company’s culture.

        1. JamieS*

          Topcat’s statement could’ve been said with a lot more sugar but I don’t think it’s untrue that when deciding who to invite to an interview a hiring manager is going to give preference to applicants who have some sort of work track record over one with nothing to show on their resume or (and this might depend on the job) someone with a specific degree (ie degree in Accounting) as opposed to a general liberal arts degree. That’s why I’d very strongly advocate for OP’s main focus to be on getting some sort of work experience. Ideally relevant experience but at this point I’d argue any work experience would be better than none at all.

          1. Just Employed Here*

            …but what is *relevant* work experience would depend on what the OP wants to do later. So the informational interviews are still a good idea, although work experience is also useful.

            1. JamieS*

              Relevant can be extremely broad especially at the start of a career and I don’t think someone, especially someone under the added strain of no work experience at all, has to know exactly what they want to do (or even have it closely narrowed down) before applying for jobs that are most likely going to be at least somewhat relevant. Especially since OP has already narrowed down fields of interest to pursue making it easier.

              I’m not saying don’t do the interviews, I know they can be a great resource, but the letter comes across (at least to me) as though OP’s primary focus is on choosing a specific career when, especially given the circumstances, the main focus should be on getting some experience. I’m also a very strong advocate for actually getting some hands on experience prior to committing to deciding on a specific career.

          2. Topcat*

            Exactly. I cannot see the point of getting yourself into huge debt without doing anything to enhance your career/employment/financial prospects.

            If you don’t know what you want to do, self-study while you work or travel, and then go to university. There’s any amount of online courses free or practically free for every subject under the sun.

              1. disconnect*

                Of course! When you’re the master of your bootstraps, the world is your oyster! Little-known fact, actually paying for food and lodging is something only dumb people do. Be a not dumb person!

                Also gumption.

              2. Grapey*

                Let’s not pretend tons of people don’t “take a year off” to travel. Plenty of young adults like to use this time in their life to see the world.

                1. Natalie*

                  I don’t think anyone’s saying they don’t? The point of discussion is a commenter declaring that “the real problem here is that someone has invested in an tertiary degree without having the first clue about what they want to do” and then subsequently suggesting they should have traveled instead.

                2. Lara*

                  Tons of *wealthy* people take a year off to travel. Young adults with responsibilities and rent to pay get jobs.

            1. Chocolate lover*

              OP didn’t say anything about debt, that’s an assumption. I mention it because it seems like an extra, unfair judgment against the OP for their decision making. I went to a liberal arts college with no clue what I wanted to do. And didnt have a specific plan when I graduated either. I was also first generation college and had to figure out a lot as I went, with help from assorted advice outside my family.

              I’m an internship advisor to college students so I completely understand the importance of work experience in college. But I also think questioning the OPs past
              judgment isn’t very helpful to the question she actually asked.

              1. Flinty*

                Agreed! And even if you do have a plan, you may end up realizing that that plan you made when you were 17 won’t actually work for you in the real world. I went to college wanting to go into political science and work at a think tank, then discovered through internships/work experience that I don’t actually love pure research that much. That’s not a discovery I could have made in high school – it’s not like my babysitting and waitressing would have clued me about my capacity to work on long term research projects.

                I’m now super happy in a kind of job I didn’t know existed when I was in college, in part through networking and informational interviews, AND I wouldn’t have been considered qualified for it without my BA, even though the major is fairly irrelevant.

                1. Lindsay J*

                  This. I was sure that I wanted to be a music teacher when I was in high school, and that’s what I majored in in college. It was only when I got to the student teaching bit late in my degree that I realized that that wasn’t something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

                2. myswtghst*

                  Same! I knew exactly what I wanted to do until I was almost done with my very specific degree and I realized I didn’t want to do that anymore. That same college degree got me in the door for a completely-unrelated entry level position at a large company where I had the opportunity to do informational interviews and job shadows so I could find a career path I was interested in.

              2. PB*

                Yes. On the flip side, I went to a liberal arts college with a five year plan knowing exactly what I wanted to do. Halfway through Junior year, I realized I’d made a horrible mistake, and set myself on a trajectory that would lead to a lifetime of misery. So, I changed tracks, and I’m much happier for it.

                It’s so hard to know what you want to do when you’re 17 and applying for college. You know more about yourself when you’re 21 or 22 and preparing to graduate, but most of us don’t have life figured out at that stage, either.

                I also agree with Chocolate lover that we shouldn’t make assumptions about debt. Lots of college students have massive amounts of debt, but not all of them. OP didn’t say anything about loans one way or another.

            2. Lady Jay*

              This assumes that 1) the whole point of university is to get a degree, which is a very narrow way of looking at university education, and 2) that everyone who goes to university winds up with crushing debt.

              I earned my degree in English literature, simply because I loved it, and while I sometimes wish I had the financial security of (say) an accounting degree, my life would be impoverished in other ways without my coursework (and no, reading on your own is not the same thing as rigorous coursework under a good instructor; the community part of a university education is also important).

              Also, there are ways to keep debt manageable. Maybe she went to a community college or in-state land grant institution. Maybe she comes from a relatively privileged family. Maybe she had a couple really good scholarships. Be careful making assumptions about other people’s financial situation.

              1. Lady Jay*

                Edit: It assumes that 1) the whole point of university is to get a JOB. Obviously the point of university is to get a degree. Clearly I haven’t had my coffee yet. :P

                1. Marthooh*

                  COFFEE comes before COMMENT, Lady Jay! That’s the kind of lesson you can only learn at the School of Hard Knocks…

                2. boo*

                  Marthooh, I learned that at college! But then, my school had an extremely prestigious Hard Knocks program.

                  …sorry, I think I had too much coffee…

            3. Betsy*

              Free online courses aren’t considered a legitimate form of education. They’re great for your personal development, but no employer’s going to go ‘Wow, Jane took a MOOC!’

              There are also so many generalist degrees- arts, science, business, social sciences, and law are all known as generalist degrees (although law does lead to a profession, the vast majority of people with law degrees I know don’t work as lawyers). If someone knows they want to be a nurse or a teacher, then that’s great and they can take a more specific professional degree. But plenty of jobs in all kinds of sectors require a degree, but not a specific degree.

              1. JustaTech*

                Exactly! I went to college and got a degree in Biology. That’s a *huge* field, and my summer internships covered “hunt lizards in the desert for ecology studies” to “cell biology deep in the lab”.
                It’s not that I had no idea what to do when I graduated; I just discovered that there are a lot more jobs out there than academic research. Informational interviews would have been super helpful back then.

                1. Pennalynn Lott*

                  I went back to school a few years ago to finally finish up my Bachelor’s. I’m an accounting major and I thought that meant I’d work in a small public accounting firm doing business taxes for local mom-and-pops.

                  It wasn’t until my final year that I realized even in the narrow category of “accounting” there are dozens and dozens of jobs I never knew existed. Which is great, because I realized I hate tax accounting. :-) And I was super thrilled to find out there’s a job called “internal auditor” that, so far, has turned out to be nothing but fun for me.

                  Heaven help me if I’d been as dogmatic in my thinking as Topcat says everyone should be, I would be resigned to a career I hate.

                  Also, friends of mine have been hired into the internship/entry-level program at one of the largest local employers (a brand-name electronics company) and for their first two years they are rotated through every single business department just so they can find something they enjoy. (And so they have a broad understanding of the business). Using Topcat’s way of thinking, this type of program would never have been implemented because management would be like, “We can only hire you into the function that matches your degree.” Feh. That’s just nutty.

                2. Starbuck*

                  Yes, I went to school for a biology BS assuming I’d do the field research -> grad school -> academia track, being a research biologist. Nope! I had no clue how unlikely/impractical the idea of getting a tenure track job was when I started, but I realized halfway through that the career path I’d imagined was not what I actually wanted, I just thought it was the only/best option for doing what I wanted to do. I’m glad that I didn’t let myself get pushed into going to grad school and I’m happy to have a full-time job with benefits applying my degree instead.

            4. ainomiaka*

              Do tell me how many people you hire, particularly for white collar jobs without a college degree. I always hate this “don’t go to college” argument because for most people a 4 year degree is just a necessity to get in the door. It honestly doesn’t matter what you studied.

              1. KR*

                This is what I was thinking. I was fortunate to get an internship at 16 and work there for 6 years doing part time IT/admin work. And guess what – I decided I didn’t want to do that full time! Community college for me was a chance to figure out what I liked and didn’t like in a career. It was expensive but I realized I have a love for accounting and business.

              2. Elemeno P.*

                Yes, this. My fiance didn’t finish college for financial reasons, and he currently makes a fair amount at a job he gained skills for while working. He’s exactly the kind of person who people hold up when they say you don’t need college, and he hates that.

                He’s currently working on finishing his BA because despite his 10+ years of experience in his field, some places toss his resume for not having that degree. When his last job moved cities without him, he panicked and got VERY lucky that he had a connection that could pass his resume on and ignore the lack of degree. He really wishes he’d been able to focus on school full-time when he was younger, even though he might have had a different career path.

              3. Alton*

                Yeah, I think a lot of people underestimate how common bachelor degrees have become as a minimum level of experience in a lot of jobs. People get frustrated because they’re sold the idea that betting a BA or BS will net them a *good* job, and then become bitter when that doesn’t happen. But it doesn’t make the degree worthless.

                My mom only has a high school degree, and she worked as an admin and paralegal in the 70s and 80s with no problem. These days, most jobs like that want you to have a bachelor degree, and in some companies, opportunities for advancement are limited without one even if you have experience.

                I think not going to college can be a good choice if you know you want to do something that doesn’t require it, but if you aren’t sure, there are ways to get a degree without acquiring massive debt (I have some debt, but it’s less than 10k and very manageable for me).

              4. Casuan*

                Formal education & intellect are unrelated.
                A college degree does not equal critical thinking, logic, good grammar, huge debt, or whatever else. For that matter, nor does any diploma…

                Besides the first three items in the above list, qualities I value include curiosity & the desire to learn, the ability to admit ignorance & the willingness to ask questions, & other traits that aren’t often taught in any formal setting. Of course, there are always nuances for various jobs that can make some of these irrelevant, although when I screen for these traits I’ve rarely regretted it.
                Now that I think of it, these are traits I look for & value in personal relationships as well.

            5. neverjaunty*

              Okay, but this isn’t about your personal pet peeve about how other people ought to manage their educational progress.

            6. Mike C.*

              Self-study doesn’t mean a thing in numerous industries. Are you going to get surgery from someone who self-studied?

            7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I vehemently disagree— this entire line of argumentation degrades the purpose and value of higher education and tries to transform it into an expensive trade school. It’s also inaccurate and a bit privileged to suggest that travel or online coursework—or delaying obtaining a degree because you haven’t figured out your career path—somehow substitute for a college education.

            8. myswtghst*

              Going to college doesn’t have to equal getting yourself into huge debt, though, and for many people it’s what you’re told from a young age is the thing you do after high school.

              When I was young, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I volunteered and worked in my “dream field” in high school, got scholarships to a university with programs tailored to what I wanted to do and a top notch grad school for the advanced degree I was going to get, and continued working relevant jobs all through college while I was an honors student and got my degree as planned. I did everything the way I was “supposed” to do it, and I still ended up realizing my senior year of college that what I’d been working towards for 8+ years was not what I wanted to do anymore.

              Now, I work in a completely unrelated field, and by standard measures, I’m quite successful 10+ years into my career. I did it by taking an entry level call center job out of college, and arranging informational interviews / job shadows / etc… to figure out what I wanted to do, then working towards that goal (with my completely unrelated college degree and work history). So I guess I’m saying that I agree with JamieS about getting some work experience while investigating, but I don’t think it’s helpful to be this harsh while making assumptions about what OP#5 did or did not do in college.

          3. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

            When I graduated from college I thought I was going to be an entomologist. I am not and have never been an entomologist, despite studying the subject and really liking bugs.

            Sometimes what you study ends up being entirely different than your career

      2. Mad Baggins*

        Preach PCBH!

        High school seniors don’t usually get a lot of info on jobs like “HR information system analyst” and “Accounts Payable Associate” and “Physical Asset Coordinator” (which is apparently the inventory and tracking of purchased items for a movie. Cool!). I think it’s more common to go, “Well, I need a Bachelor’s to be employable, and I like biology/history/math, let’s try that for now.” Then you find out that you don’t want to become a biologist/historian/mathematician so you’ve got to try something different, and whoops you picked up critical thinking skills and a dedicated work ethic along the way.

        Plus as Tuxedo Cat said, most of the work experience college grads have is in retail, babysitting, and maybe internships, so I don’t get how more of that (instead of a bachelors degree, as you are suggesting) would better inform OP.

        OP, I really enjoyed the Kent University career explorer quiz because it had so many options for actual job possibilities depending on your interests, preferred work style, what kinds of things you like to do, etc. Will post a link below!

          1. Curious Cat*

            Took this out of curiosity. So interesting! Didn’t suggest the field I’m currently in, but it has so many options and lots of info!

        1. JamieS*

          Serious question, is it common for people to graduate high school not knowing how to critically think? I often see that as a reason to pursue a liberal arts degree and it baffles me because I learned those skills in elementary and middle school and fine tuned them in high school. Seems like a failure of primary school education to not have critical thinking skills prior to entering college.

          1. TL -*

            They’re often more specialized and taught in more depth. Critical thinking skills for an English major are different than those taught to a biology major (and those are different than those taught to a chemistry student….), which are different or at least much more in depth than those you would have learned in primary and secondary school.

            After I graduated high school, I could evaluate an argument. I couldn’t read a molecular biology paper and decide if the conclusions were valid. (I could barely do this after undergraduate; I had the skills but it took a few years to learn how to apply them properly.)

            1. JamieS*

              I think you’re conflating ability understand specific evidence, which is something that may need to be taught in college, and being able to apply the evidence which is critical thinking.

              Taking your example I don’t currently know enough about biology to understand a molecular biology paper (I’m assuming – never actually read one) which would be understanding the evidence on the paper. However I have very strong critical thinking skills so if I were to go back to school to study biology and gain that understanding of biology I’d then be able to use my currently existing critical thinking abilities to apply that understanding to an analysis of the biology paper. So, again using your example, college would teach me biology not how to critically think.

              1. Science!*

                But if you go back to study biology, part of what your college biology professors will teach you are the critical thinking skills to read a peer-reviewed journal article. They are not just teaching you biology facts, they are teaching your how to critically evaluate data, analyze results and make conclusions and inferences based on what you know and have learned. They teach you how to ask questions and then what techniques and skills you can use to answer those questions. College biology professors _absolutely_ teach critical thinking skills.

                1. Mike C.*

                  This is exactly what I’m thinking. Of course, for most of us this is only useful for mocking local tv news hosts and anti-vaxxers, but you do what you can. :p

              2. TL -*

                I’m not conflating the two at all – Science! is right.

                Knowing science and understanding science are two very different skills. That’s why there’s so much bad science reporting in the world – people think that because they understand the vocabulary, they understand the science. In reality, you need a lot of pretty field-specific critical thinking skills to evaluate a molecular biology paper in any meaningful way. I know well-respected people who have been in the field for 20 years and they say they’re still learning how to read a paper, where “read” means “critically analyze.”

                Yes, on some level, the ability to follow a paper and point out logistical flaws is the same across all fields, but to really evaluate a paper, you need an entirely different set of critical thinking skills. You would never read an English paper and ask if the experiment was appropriate to the question, just like you would never read a biology paper and think about authorial intent and metaphor. But “is the experiment appropriate to the question” isn’t “my professor taught me X experiment generates Y results” – it’s “this is the problem, this is the question, here’s what’s already known, I have Z% confidence in the results of X experiment; how do those align with each other?”

          2. Professor Yaffle*

            You think “critical thinking” is a yes/no checkbox ? And you can tick it off at seventeen.

            That shows a lack of critical thinking.

            1. TL -*

              Hey, please be kind! It’s a fair question to ask – if the primary benefit of an undergrad is critical thinking, but that’s also a primary goal of high school, what context are you missing to justify the extra education?

              1. Agnes*

                On the flip side, people say, “You should work during high school and college to get crucial skills!” What skills? “Showing up on time! Following directions!” Personally, it never occurred to me not to show up on time or follow directions, so I’m not sure what how working the dishwasher in the cafeteria was supposed to have helped me. The skills I learned in college classes were a lot more advanced.

                1. JamieS*

                  Well working can also teach you about paying your own way, forces you to have responsibilities you wouldn’t without a job, and helps you develop a strong work ethic. However moreso than the literal skills you learn working provides evidence you’re able to do things like show up on time, follow directions, work with others, etc. that wouldn’t be evident to an outsider without those experiences on your resume.

                2. LawBee*

                  Soft skills, which are important. Our new-hire’s previous jobs were nannying and waitstaff. We hired her as an admin assistant – I know, from checking her references, that those jobs taught her responsibility for things outside her own sphere, money management skills, working with difficult people, how to work on a team under pressure… all kinds of things that you get through working. It wasn’t about her amazing skills as a waiter, it was about HOW she approached the job.

            2. JamieS*

              Thanks to your post my concern over primary education not equipping students with critical thinking skills has been replaced by the much more alarming concern primary education isn’t equipping students with the ability to comprehend the written word.

              1. Detective Amy Santiago*

                I would think the current state of the US would have made both of those things rather obvious.

          3. Topcat*

            I think it’s a US thing, to be honest. In the UK most young people are starting to specialise from 16 with A-levels.

            To have no idea whatsover what you want to do after a three-year university degree would be fairly absurd. You would at least know whether you were headed for science, education, accounting, etc.

            1. TL -*

              Plenty of people with English, sociology, anthropology and even STEM degrees graduate knowing only what they don’t want to do, not what they want to do. Lots of jobs don’t require a specific degree or background knowledge, just a skill set.

              1. Grits McGee*

                Absolutely- my brother graduated with a BA in psychology, certain only in the fact that he didn’t want to do anything in the psychology field. He works in insurance now, but that was mostly because it was a major employer in the city he was living in after college rather than any particular interest or expertise on his part.

                1. Parenthetically*

                  Isn’t it some huge number — 70 or 80% or something — of employed adults with degrees who are doing something unrelated to their degree program?

                2. Grits McGee*

                  I don’t know the numbers, but I’ve also heard that the average white collar worker will change careers at least 2-3 times over their working life, so it would make sense that people would end up with jobs that don’t align with undergraduate degrees.

                3. Seal*

                  Same here. My BA is in psychology, sociology, and English, largely because I didn’t really have a plan as an undergraduate and it took me 7 years to get it. While I was taking the scenic route to my BA, I worked in one of the campus libraries, which lead to a full-time paraprofessional position there. After almost 20 years, I finally went to library school and got my MLIS, mostly because there are far more opportunities for even the most mediocre of librarians than there are for the best paraprofessionals. Despite taking on a fair amount of debt to do so and having to move halfway across the country for my first professional job, getting my MLIS was the best thing I could have done for myself professionally. In my decade or so as a professional, I’ve been afforded opportunities to excel I never would have had previously, and I’ve worked very hard to make the most of them. But I emphasize that for the 20 years prior, I floundered off and on, despite having a BA and what many people considered to be a stable, secure job. There were a lot of things I knew I did not want to do for a living, including what I was doing at the time; it just took me awhile to finally settle into an actual career versus a job. Given the useful life experience I gained while getting here, perhaps that really wasn’t a bad way to go.

              2. Lou*

                Yep, that was me! I’m now in an industry I’d never properly considered until my last year of my degree and it’s definitely the right one. In the end, I was lucky enough to be able to do an English degree based on my strengths and passions, not on the job I’d get at the end of it.

              3. Teapot Tester*

                My husband graduated with a fine arts degree. He ended up in IT for 10 years, got laid off and became a financial adviser, then after 10 years switched to teaching. He is now an art teacher so he’s come full circle… for now. Who knows what will happen in another 10 years.

            2. Mookie*

              I think it’s a US thing, to be honest

              Well, yes. Our public education system does not do those things JamiesS mentions very well, no. We live amongst and amid pretty gaping and now widening stratifications that limit a lot of people’s access to quality primary and secondary education befitting a “first world” nation but employers (many of whom belong to a generation that could land a solid job with a high school diploma, possibly of greater value then than now, though that depends on where they lived) still expect everyone of almost any class to go to and finish university in order to make $12 an hour.

              Then again and in spite of this, yes, there are plenty of very bright and well-informed American teenagers and young adults. I’ve recently spotted a bunch in Baltimore, Ferguson, Standing Rock, Charlottesville, and Parkland. When they get a few years older, they’ll be groused at and labeled agitators and snowflakes for their troubles.

            3. Daisy*

              I don’t agree. People from my (quite specialized, arts) degree course are now accountants, lawyers, civil servants, teachers, journalists, publishers, working in higher education both academic and non-academic, and more, and almost none of them seemed to know what they wanted to do at graduation. Accounting doesn’t require a particular degree, neither does education. I know people who did law at undergrad who aren’t lawyers, and lawyers who didn’t study law at undergrad. Obviously if you didn’t study science you can’t suddenly become an engineer or doctor, but there’s a lot of flexibility.

              1. TL -*

                You can actually go to med school without an science degree – you need the pre-requisite classes but they don’t have degree requirements. There’s more flexibility to a lot of career paths than most people realize. :)

                1. Abby*

                  And there are one-year post-bac pre-med programs that basically consist of that set of courses, to bring people from non-bio-related backgrounds to having the prerequisites for medical school.

                2. Falling Diphthong*

                  One of my relatives got a DVM after graduating undergrad with a degree in Fine Arts.

                3. KarenK*

                  Yep. One of my previous bosses, who is considered a pioneer in his field and is a highly respected researcher and physician, got his BA in English.

                4. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

                  One of my friends was a philosophy major before med school and the other did comparative religion. They just did all the pre-reqs as electives

                5. Marillenbaum*

                  I was friends with a student in undergrad who was a Studio Art major and premed; she went to medical school because she knew she wanted to be a doctor, but she majored in art because she knew she wanted to get the chance to work on her art before her life was all about the lab.

            4. Myrin*

              I do think there’s a fairly big cultural divide on this (having to do with cultural practice, mostly; the educational system in my country is very different compared to the US, so people from here are going to view things differently from Americans because it’s what they’re used to seeing), but I also think the certainty that young people have with regards to their jobs in other countries tends to get somewhat overrated on the internet.

            5. Amey*

              Completely true but this can be a definite con of the system. I have a lot of experience of both systems (I grew up in the US and finished high school there, then moved to the UK for university and still live and work there.) I knew loads of British students who specialised at 16 because they had to, not because they actually knew what they wanted to do with their lives. Most of my friends did degrees which are not directly relevant to the careers that they ended up going into and they have a lot of specialist knowledge in an area they don’t use at work but don’t have the generalist knowledge that a US college student (and, to be honest, high school student) is required to get. That’s not a major problem for them but is the reality.

              The specialised system suited me perfectly – I knew what I wanted to study and I wanted to focus on that from the beginning. But I don’t honestly think that’s the norm for 18 year olds nor do I think it should be.

            6. Parenthetically*

              Topcat, I hear what you’re saying, but I think you’re directing your irritation at the wrong demographic. I just had this conversation with my mother, a now-retired veteran public school teacher, that it’s crazy to continue to dumb down K-12 education, paint university as this magic “learn critical thinking skills/discover yourself/become more employable” wonderland and then design an entire work world around degrees that are increasingly not affordable without loads of debt (meaning they’re not affordable, full stop). If it doesn’t matter to an employer WHAT kind of degree you have, just THAT you have it, I think it behooves employers to say, “Are we really demanding that someone potentially acquire $80k+ in debt just to tick a box on a job application?” Hell, I think we need to bring back apprenticeships for a lot of white-collar work, like teaching.

              But to pour scorn on some 17-year-old kid for not having his future more or less laid out is… misplaced.

              1. GG Two shoes*

                +1. Maybe the system is broken, but don’t blame the young person who had no input on it whatsoever.

              2. Annie Moose*

                Precisely. Of course many 17-year-olds aren’t going to know exactly what they’re going to do for the next fifty years; while college can certainly narrow that down, it isn’t absurd for someone who’s 20 or 21 to still not be quite sure what they want to do (especially if they felt pressured into getting a degree in a field they don’t actually want to work in).

                1. many bells down*

                  My best friend has a Master’s degree in Theatrical Design and Production. She really enjoyed studying that. Then she graduated, worked in a theater for 3 years … and realized she found the actual work tedious and boring. She joined the Air Force instead and spent 15 years there.

                  Sometimes, you don’t even realize something actually isn’t for you until you’re actually doing the thing.

              3. Turquoisecow*

                “But to pour scorn on some 17-year-old kid for not having his future more or less laid out is… misplaced.”


                I have a degree in English. While I use the skills I gained in college, my job by no means requires the degree. An old boss of mine in the same industry had a degree in music, another in sports management. My husband’s tech company is run by a pair of brothers with music degrees (one in the double bass, the other in oboe).

                None of us are horrible people for pursuing degrees unrelated to or eventual careers. But life takes us in different directions. And we were told that we should go to college, so we did. Blame the system for not preparing kids for work. Don’t blame the kids for trusting the system and then being failed by it.

              4. myswtghst*

                Oh yes, all of this. Many people are doing the best they can in a system which is increasingly broken, and it just isn’t helpful to blame individuals who have been told for years and years that they’ll need a college degree to get *any* job (other than maybe in retail or fast food).

            7. neverjaunty*

              So now we’re going from scolding people who don’t follow an educational path as you think they ought to “Hey, you Americans are wack”?

              I’m beginning to wonder if a bingo card is in order.

              1. serenity*

                Agree entirely. This whole thread seems like a venue for this person to vent their personal grievances. It’s just a massive derail.

            8. Alton*

              Most of the debt I incurred in college was from the two years I spent studying engineering because it was a “practical” degree and hey, I really liked math.

              I nearly dropped out, and all that money would have been wasted if I hadn’t switched to English. I don’t have a clear vision of what I want to do with my entire career, but you know what? I’m mostly fine with that because I’ve realized that I’m not someone who has huge career ambitions to begin with. My main life ambitions are non-career-related. And after the disaster of studying engineering, I’m glad I didn’t commit myself to a career that would have been a poor fit. I was also very seriously considering law school, but I had to grow up a bit to realize that the debt probably wouldn’t have been worth it and that I don’t have the right temperament to be a lawyer.

              I made the absolute best choices about my education that I could have.

          4. Chocolate lover*

            Speaking only for my high school, no, I don’t feel like they taught how to think critically. Mostly it seemed like regurgitating information. I did well and still got into a good college, but I felt seriously unprepared for some of the analysis that was expected of me at college, and was overwhelmed at first.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              This varies a lot. I love my kids’ public high school, which is very like a small college, but that is not universal in the US.

              (I did always loathe “well college is to teach you how to think” because I could think when I got there. It seems like such an incredibly low bar, and not something you start off at 18 or 19.)

          5. Myrin*

            I think this is a very vaild question, and one that I generally find quite confusing, I must confess, to the degree that I don’t actively think about it because it makes my head hurt.

            For me personally, critical thinking is something that a) I’ve always been naturally good at and b) what I didn’t intuit, I learned through situations life threw at me; it had basically nothing to do with any kind of schooling I had. But then that makes me wonder if maybe I mean something different by “critical thinking skills” than others?

            On the other hand, I majored in German (I am German, so it wasn’t a foreign language thing for me but like English to you guys) and I did technically learn how to dismantle an argument but honestly, I don’t think I actually do that much differently now than I did it nine years ago before university. It also didn’t change my thinking or ability to think. Then again, I’ve been told numerous times by academics in my field that I have an “outstanding aptitude for analysis” so maybe I’m analysis Georg who is an outlier should not be counted and my own experience is different from basically everyone else’s? So complicated.

            1. Betsy*

              You definitely sound like an outlier. Most people are not told by academics that they have ‘an outstanding aptitude for analysis’. You’re probably in the top 1-5% of students.

            2. a1*

              I agree. Life teaches you critical thinking, not some class. It’s something gained through experience, and like many things some people have an aptitude for it and some don’t. However, even if you don’t, “practice makes perfect” (or at least improves) and just living life and experiencing things is the “practice” part of that equation. It’s not like schooling of any kind (high school, university) is a magic bullet for getting this skill. Of course, apparently I’m an outlier, too, since I’ve always been able to see the big picture, to see how everything is connected, to come up with solutions on the fly, and so on.

              1. nonymous*

                I think this varies quite a bit depending on family privilege. I had a classmate with a parent who answered childhood questions like “what makes the toast pop up?” by taking apart the toaster. There are plenty of parents who address natural childhood curiosity with vast quantities of screen time. Mine were of the opinion that a silent child was the best kind.

                While there may be a natural aptitude for critical thinking, I think part of that practice – especially as one reaches adulthood – is having the framework for feedback. Most people have a good grasp of newtonian physics at a general level, but refining that understanding in an applied (i.e. sports) or academic capacity requires some fairly specific experiences. And the ability to respond critically in the moment can be affected by other environmental factors (like anxiety or fear).

            3. JamieS*

              Your point about people having different ideas of what critical thinking is may explain some of the difference between my experience and others. Getting down to the absolute nuts and bolts my definition of critical thinking is being able to apply current evidence and prior knowledge to a variety of situations. Basically the ability to think for yourself instead of having to be told everything.

              For example, I know heat coming into contact with my hand will burn me and cause pain. If I’m presented with a hot item, such as a stove burner that’s on, I can look at the evidence (stove is on which means it’s hot) and my pre-existing knowledge (hot = pain) to arrive at the conclusion I shouldn’t put my hand on the stove burner. I wouldn’t need someone to tell me not to put my hand on the stove. I’d also be able to apply the same concept of hot = ouch to any hot thing I ever encounter such as a pan just removed from the oven. By contrast, someone who has literally no critical thinking skills would have to be explicitly told by someone else not to touch the item every single time they encounter anything that’s hot.

              Small disclaimer: I know the critical thinking skills people, including myself, are referring to are much more complex than “don’t touch a hot stove”. The above was just an illustrative example using a very basic concept I felt pretty confident 100% (or close to it) of people reading AAM would understand.

          6. Lady Jay*

            I teach college students. No, they don’t know how to think critically when they graduate high school. This isn’t to say they’re dumb or anything; many are actually quite smart and catch on fast! but they have difficulty with more sophisticated rhetorical structures and documents (e.g. making inferences from incomplete evidence, recognizing satire, etc).

            1. Ambpersand*

              The US public school system is more about memorization of information and an emphasis on high test scores, not about independent and analytic thinking. It isn’t until college/university that they are encouraged to start looking at things with a critical eye. I don’t remember any of my grade or high school classes encouraging me to think critically, but it was a common theme of almost every college class I took from day 1.

              1. Lindsay J*

                On the other hand, I feel like all of my public schooling from elementary on up had critical thinking as a focus.

                Sometimes to a bit of a detriment, honestly.

                Sure, I learned how to analyze documents in every class and make inferences and a bunch of other stuff like that, but I already knew how to do those things intuitively. On the other hand, my history classes skipped over massive swaths of history (both US and world), I was taught basically no geography, etc.

                There was definitely the idea going on, though, when I was in school 20 years ago, that with the internet we were going to be able to look up pretty much anything we could ever want to know, and so it was important for us to be able to look at the information and the sources we were given and analyze it intelligently to see if we were getting good information or “fake news”.

          7. Betsy*

            Honestly, yes I think that’s true. High-level thinking skills are very difficult to teach and I’d imagine few primary school students would have any, and most high school graduates would have limited critical thinking skills. Trust me, I just graded a bunch of university admissions exams.

            But, it really depends how you define critical thinking. In primary school, we had to watch a show that analysed the news content every week, but that was on a very, very basic level, and I’d be worried if most adults would analyse the news in the same way a twelve year old would. We also did debating, but again, I remember our arguments being pretty simplistic.

            I actually don’t even think most of my seniors have excellent critical thinking abilities. I spend a lot of time explaining how to critically analyse things. This is at the best school in this country, and these students are very intelligent.

            1. Gloucesterina*

              Yeah, my experience teaching college classes at a flagship state university in the U.S. lines up very much with Betsy’s; also agree Betsy that it’s tough to have this conversation without each commenter sharing what they mean by “critical thinking skills” and where more specific processes that students will typically practice in the course of the “traditional” four-year U.S. college education like writing and analysis and research relate to “critical thinking.”

            2. Andrea*

              You’re not Australian by any chance are you? The debating and news-watching (BTN?) sound similar to what we had to to in primary school as well. It was good for laying the ground work, but saying that’s equivalent to critical thinking learnt at university is like saying children who are handed paper and a crayon have the same training as a graduate of a visual arts degree.

          8. phyllisb*

            It may be a failure in primary education not to think critical thinking, but unless education has changed a lot, (and I know it has. The earth was still cooling when I was in school!!) :-) In elementary and high school we were basically taught that was the instructor says is gospel and a good student doesn’t argue back. Debate class excepted, of course. It was quite a revelation when I went to college, and not only was it allowed to disagree with your professor, it was ENCOURAGED!!! I had a number of instructors who would deliberately say something provocative just to stir up a lively discussion. That’s how you learn critical thinking.

          9. Lora*

            In the US, yes. Quality of public education here is highly variable. It can be anywhere from “can critically think, has already held internships relevant to intended college major, has participated in numerous high-level extracurricular activities like Model UN, Mathletes, Westinghouse or Google-sponsored science fairs, etc. to “can barely construct a complete sentence, is functionally illiterate and innumerate”.

            It’s a long and complicated story why our public schools range from awesome to atrocious though.

          10. Jadelyn*

            First of all, honestly, yes. Especially in the era of teaching to the test, teachers are often forced to waste time on memorization of rote material rather than helping students learn to reach independent conclusions via their own critical thinking process. So I can very much understand how someone could graduate high school with only moderate critical thinking skills.

            Second, even if you got the kind of high school education that did emphasize critical thinking, there are levels to it, and you’re going to get higher-level training in critical thinking at the college level than you did in high school. It’s not the kind of thing you either have or don’t have.

      3. Zip Silver*

        “Perhaps the OP spent the past three to four years learning how to be a critical thinker and pursuing a comprehensive liberal arts education”

        Ha! It’s entirely possible to do that and work at the same time. Most people I knew in college at least worked part time, and I managed to work a full 40 hours for 3 and a half years and graduate cum laude with a double major/2 BAs (because I worked at a hotel front desk. Those slow evening and overnight shifts were great for study and homework). I was also one of the few liberal arts people I knew from school to have a job at up by graduation making more than 50k, specifically because the recruiter was impressed by the double BA and simultaneous years of full time work experience.

        1. Agnes*

          Well, you are unusual – most studies show that working more than about 15 hrs a week during college is more likely to lead to dropping out than getting a good job.

        2. August*

          The OP didn’t say that she didn’t work, just that she wasn’t certain of her professional career path. There’s a huge difference between say, working a front desk for some money and study time during college, and wanting to work in the hospitality business as a career path. Not everyone has the luxury of getting a part-time job during college that’s directly relevant to their degree. It’s not absurd or irresponsible that she isn’t certain.

          1. JamieS*

            Well not to take away from your larger point but OP did say they had no workplace experience which I think is being interpreted by many (most?) as never having had a job at all.

        3. Elemeno P.*

          A path that worked for you does not work for everyone. It is important to be empathetic to the lives of others when comparing your achievements against theirs.

        4. neverjaunty*

          I went to school with people who carried that kind of full load – not because they wanted to fill out a resume, but because they had to pay the bills. None of them thought it was a fantastic career opportunity.

        5. Alton*

          Just because this worked for you doesn’t mean it can work for everyone.

          Also, there are legitimate challenges to holding down a full-time job and earning a bachelor degree, in particular. Some colleges are good at offering classes online and in the evenings, but many don’t, at least not in all programs. I work at a university, and it’s not uncommon to get calls from people asking about getting a degree online because they work or have kids, but unfortunately, not all programs have the resources or faculty or offer that. When I went to college, I encountered people who couldn’t get the classes they needed to complete their degrees because those classes were only offered on weekday afternoons. Even now, I’ve considered taking some classes because my job will cover the tuition up to a certain number of credits, but my job doesn’t lend itself well to taking time off in the middle of the day to go to class. And I work in campus and could walk to class in five minutes!

          I had a part-time job in school that was mainly on weekends, but even I felt like my options were limited at times. There were opportunities I couldn’t take (both professional and academic) because of scheduling conflicts.

        6. Jadelyn*

          We’re all very happy for you I’m sure, but you are aware that you are not The Universal Human, right? That “I could do it!” doesn’t necessarily equal “Everyone can do it!”? What about students with disabilities? Students with children? Students who want some damn downtime in their lives rather than being happy to spend every waking second either working, studying, or both? Students deserve work-life balance as much as the rest of us, and it’s deeply unfair to place an expectation on them that they should sacrifice that purely to satisfy some sanctimonious stranger on the internet.

        7. OP #5*

          I didn’t explain this originally because I was trying to keep my letter as simple as possible, but I have worked part-time for the past 3 years while also double-majoring. However, the places I have worked have either been a very non-traditional workplace or, as with my current (but temporary) job, overseas. So really my question was just trying to get a sense of typical U.S. work norms when I return. Also, I agree with many of the commenters here that you don’t necessarily have to work throughout high school and college, and there are many factors that go into that decision.
          Finally, thank you to everyone who has commented with your support for me! It’s very encouraging as I begin this search.

          1. Mad Baggins*

            Your experience sounds very typical to me, and I have many former classmates in your boat. I think you’ll do just fine! Best of luck!

      4. Falling Diphthong*

        My oldest’s college doesn’t let you declare a major when you enter–you have to stretch out some and explore and not keep your eyes locked on whatever seemed a good path when you were 16. And that’s pretty normal. She picked a school with strong programs in general fields of interest for her. Will graduate in 4 years and then go to graduate school (hard sciences); figured out that was what she wanted to do from last summer’s work–but before that job she wasn’t sure what she wanted, and was considering a lot of ways to explore different fields. If you don’t luck into the right between-junior-and-senior-year summer work, it’s okay to look for other ways to learn about different jobs.

        My youngest is leaning toward applied math, which sets up multiple career paths. You can learn about 2-3 of those by having summer jobs, and a wider array by talking to people in those fields.

        1. Marillenbaum*

          My undergrad institution was the same way! It was good for me, because I went in thinking I wanted to be a Theatre major, and then got involved in the department and realized…I love theatre, but not in a way that made majoring a good fit. I stayed involved in acting and costume design all four years, but I ultimately ended up doing what I thought I would do at 17 (Political Science) and I even have the job I thought I would have at 17 (diplomatic service), but I would NEVER have ended up back there if I hadn’t taken two years to focus on something completely different.

    2. sacados*

      Re: #5
      I think that’s a bit harsh.
      I agree that it’s a good idea to start work experience in high school, but even when that’s the case it doesn’t mean you know what you want to do with the rest of your life. And the OP does state she’s narrowed down a few industries that she’s interested in.
      While it’s true the lack of experience/planning puts the OP at a bit of a disadvantage in the job market, I think it’s going a bit too far to say her degree is “wasted” because of that.

      1. Tuxedo Cat*

        For many high school students, the work experience they get is going to be at grocery store, retail, food service, childcare, or similar lines of work. They won’t be exposed to many careers that college would open for them.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          In high school my daughter tutored, waited tables, and shoveled horse poop. Of these experiences, only horse poop was on the table as a possible career.

          My son shovels snow, and I’m pretty sure does not look to become a landscaper.

        2. CM*

          I don’t think high school work experience is necessary. I did not work in high school. There were not many opportunities for me to do so and I was focusing on school. I did work in college and the opportunities I got there were far more relevant to my current job than anything I could have done in high school.

          1. Tuxedo Cat*

            I agree with this. My point was more that high school students, more often than not, have limited job prospects and the ones they have don’t really expose them to the careers they might want.

            There are exceptions but they are exceptions. And even in those cases (thinking of those in the arts), they might be unsure whether to pursue option A, B, or C. All options are jobs that their degree prepared them for.

        3. Another person*

          Yeah, almost all my work as a high schooler was babysitting. Which I also wouldn’t have said was work because it wasn’t an official W-2 job but was just casual/paid-in-cash work (although now that I’m older, I would classify me watching 4 kids under the age of 8 as just as much work as my sister’s job as a cashier).

      2. Ambpersand*

        Agreed. I don’t see how my high school job experience of a hair salon secretary or a part time cashier is going to help me out 5-10 years later in a job field that has nothing to do with those skills. And also- it’s going to be rare to find a 16-18 year old student who knows what they want to do in college and as their career! I know there are some, but it’s not the norm. I worked at a college for 5 years and there is a staggering amount of students who realize that what they thought they wanted and what they actually wanted once they got into it were two very different things.

        Time spent in college or at a university isn’t just about getting that piece of paper and moving on- it’s about figuring out your strengths, your likes/dislikes, and what your long-term goals are. And what a lot of students don’t realize is that it’s okay for those things to change! You don’t have to stick to the plan you set out with when you were 18 if it’s not the right path.

        1. Turkletina*

          I worked as a basketball scorekeeper/timekeeper in high school. I gained an ability to count down from 10 seconds really accurately (not all the games had a scoreboard, so I had to shout the remaining time). That’s an ability that has come in handy at times, but isn’t exactly a professional skill applicable to my post-college job.

          I thought I was going to be a math major. Looking back, this idea is hilarious to me (I ended up getting a humanities degree.), but it took some trial-and-error to figure out what I actually wanted.

    3. DecorativeCacti*

      It’s probably not a great idea to graduate without a goal (or job experience?), but I can’t really blame #5 for getting a degree when people are told it’s The Only Way. High schoolers are inundated with messages telling them they’ll make less money and have a terrible life if they don’t go to college. There’s no nuance.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        I disagree. I can’t imaging going thousands of dollars into debt without a clear goal. Even more, going into debt without a clear payoff for the debt (a career).
        If you don’t have any idea of what you want then spend a year or two working instead of university. Or talke General Ed classes that will count toward most degrees and from there decide what you do or don’t enjoy.
        But you don’t spend all that money to get a degree. You spend all that money to get a degree that will get you a job.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            I had to work 32 hours a week to put myself through school. It took 5-1/2 years to get a bachelors because I couldn’t carry a full load doing engineering school.
            You betchca I was looking for payoff. Having to support yourself does that.

            1. Abelard*

              It took me 11 years to get a bachelors degree and that was because I would stop for a few semesters here and there to work full time in order to pay for school. I did support myself just like you. I still have student loan debt as well, and even I find your view a rather harsh one.

          2. Topcat*

            Education in the era of paid degrees has to be seen as an investment. To pay for three/four years of general studies with no career focus is just folly unless you are from a very wealthy background.

            If you have a passion for poetry or archaeology or whatever, or some field with very limited job prospects, then self-study those things on the side.

            If you have zero idea what you want to do, travel, volunteer, take a gap year. Get some real world experience and start pinning down what you actually might want to do.

            Learning should be lifelong, not just college/university. A degree should be a career focused qualification that delivers some kind of ROI.

            1. TL -*

              Travelling or volunteering for a year isn’t that much, if any, kinder to the wallet than a year of university. I would see that as much more fiscally irresponsible than taking a year to do your core requirements, either at your university or a community college. (assuming you knew that you wanted something along a traditional life anyways; if you can’t bear the thought of working in an office or studying, then my advice would be different.)

              It’s a little different in the USA, though – our degrees require general education. You’re not wasting a year in that sense; many of my friends didn’t declare majors until their second year anyways.

              1. Mookie*

                +1 to that first para.

                Also, it’s pretty painful to hear about what a privilege it is to pay for college (yes, it should be subsidized) when such a broad array of Americans, for the first time ever, finally have an opportunity to attend university. It’s not wrong to say that for many people it’s a financial risk, that the social mobility a degree promises often falls short of the hype, but we don’t have much of a social safety net, either. We’ll never lack for people who have poor and working class people’s best interests in mind when they interrogate those people’s every last financial decision. The old “smart phone or healthcare” false dilemma of Personal Choice.

            2. Hiring Mgr*

              Good thing I came from a wealthy family whose parents indulged my every whim..I didn’t have to worry about things like this. I could just coast through school and party, yet still end up with a great job and career

            3. Falling Diphthong*

              I agree with viewing a paid degree as an investment, and taking time off if you don’t know what you want to do.

              I disagree with having to settle on a Specific Career around age 16, and never deviating from that. I think most people in their 40s in the US are not doing the job they had in mind at 16, and there’s nothing tragic about their lives because of it–at 16 they didn’t know that much about both careers and their own strengths and interests.

            4. Mulher na selva*

              As a professor, it’s always curious to me when people who have no experience with actually doing college as a career have ideas about what it does and should do, and one that tends to be an incredibly impoverished view of that – and of what constitutes ROI. Distilling a college degree down to this kind of narrow neoliberal paper-seeking really ignores so much of what happens in college. People are more than their earning capacity. And as someone who has had multiple careers and been under-employed, I will just say that I could not do what I do now as a social scientist with so much depth without all those twists and turns. The linear model implicit in your comment just doesn’t match reality for a lot of people, and nor should it.

                1. scorpysuit coryphefuss arterius*

                  “Neoliberal” refers to a form of capitalism – the current form- more or less. Neoliberalism is focused on privitization, deregulation, getting rid of social benefits, etc.

                  The word “neoliberalism” sounds like it might be a new form of political liberalism (like ‘the new left’), but the ‘liberalism’ here is economic liberalism, as in economic relations free of ‘government intervention[.’ As in ‘free market.’

                  The idea that an education is solely about job training is very in line with neoliberal thinking.

            5. Hiring Mgr*

              I’ve been out of college for over 20+ years and I’m still not sure what I want to do..

            6. LBK*

              If you have zero idea what you want to do, travel, volunteer, take a gap year. Get some real world experience and start pinning down what you actually might want to do.

              This is bonkers – in the same breath that you’re suggesting you shouldn’t spend money on a degree that might not get you a job, you suggesting pouring money down the drain traveling, which will 100% guaranteed not get you a job? Many entry-level jobs won’t even look at your resume if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree – but conversely, they don’t necessarily care what field it’s in. It seems wildly irresponsible and contradictory to your hard-line stance on paying for a degree to suggest people instead dedicate time to activities with a much lower chance of returning your investment.

              1. serenity*

                Agree. Topcat, you have no idea what you are talking about and you’re really derailing the conversation here to talk about your pet peeves which does no help to OP#5.

            7. scorpysuit coryphefuss arterius*

              “A degree should be a career focused qualification that delivers some kind of ROI.”
              This might be your opinion, but it is in no way a position that is shared by all, historically or currently. This is a very instrumentalized view of the purpose of education, and there are forms of ‘ROI’ that aren’t directly related to specific career goals.

            8. Abelard*

              “If you have zero idea what you want to do, travel, volunteer, take a gap year. Get some real world experience and start pinning down what you actually might want to do”

              That’s a luxury most people don’t have the opportunity to do. It all takes money.

            9. Lora*

              That’s more accurately described as a *polytechnic*. In Europe there’s a distinction between a Polytechnic, which is more trade-focused (engineering, business etc) vs. a University whose job is to deliver the Victorian ideal of a Liberal Arts Education (i.e. broadly educated with an emphasis more on thinking and philosophy and aesthetics).

              This distinction has been mostly lost in the past 40 years, but it existed once for good reason.

              Have you not read about the history of universities in general and how they came to be, and why they are structured as they are? Because there’s some very relevant information there about why they cost what they do *where they cost anything at all*, and why they are essentially structured like a guild system.

            10. myswtghst*

              “A degree should be a career focused qualification that delivers some kind of ROI.”

              In an ideal world, sure. But in the U.S., at least as it currently stands, a 4-yr degree (any 4-yr degree) is often considered the bar for entry. In my 10+ years in corporate America, almost none of my bosses, peers, or subordinates have had degrees that were directly related to their jobs. Many of us went to college because it was the expected next step when we graduated from high school, and we used our degrees (in history, zoology, and more…) to get in the door in an entry level position, then found our careers from there.

              1. Starbuck*

                In my ideal world, I could get degrees for fun without having to worry at all about how much money they might make me. I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon though…

          3. Slartibartfast*

            FORMAL education should be done with a goal in mind, unless one has the luxury of unlimited financial resources. INFORMAL education, on the other hand, should be about what you enjoy, and could include taking classes simply because you enjoy the subject. But even then, I have to budget my resources, both time and financial. Saying a utilitarian view of education is horrible and sad is a pretty privileged statement IMO. Life makes a person well rounded, a degree makes one employable.

          4. Falling Diphthong*

            Are you somewhere that university education is free?

            Because where it costs in the hefty five figures a year, I think it makes sense to only put out that kind of money/rack up that kind of debt when you have a clear idea where you want to go. I shake my head at racking up degrees based on not knowing what you want, so going and getting another one. (I know someone in midlife, with debt, who just started work on a BA…. because their existing 2 AA degrees don’t really impress employers…. and it’s all about following that vague “education is good; if you get some education then high paying job” or “buy a house, regardless of your income; real estate only goes up.”)

            1. Natalie*

              On the other hand, though, in a the US a high school diploma doesn’t get you terribly far. Yes, there are a handful of exceptions, but not many, and certainly not enough to counter the overall reality that any college degree substantially out-earns a high school diploma. There are lots of things that could work differently about the system, but its obviously not on individual teenagers to forgo college hoping there will be some kind of cultural change that puts less emphasis on a bachelors. A student with no resources or direction would probably be better served picking the cheapest state school available to them – even if its 100% debt financed on balance they end up ahead.

              Neither my brother nor my husband finished college and its been really difficult for both of them. People talk about the trades as though they aren’t grueling – by his early 30s my husband had no choice but to find another career path because physical labor was literally disabling him. My brother was in small businesses for a decade, making a smidge above minimum wage with no vacation time, no benefits, nothing.

              1. Ambpersand*

                My husband came from a very blue collar, anti-college family. We live in a semi-rural area, and they drilled into him throughout high school that one he graduated, all he would need to do is get a job and the factory, work said job for 40 years, and then retire. Guess what? That didn’t work for him (he burns out with the repetitive work that comes with manufacturing), the number of those jobs are shrinking, and now at 35 after spending years doing menial labor he’s going to school for robotics. It took him almost 20 years to figure out what he wanted to do since he didn’t get the chance to try his hand at college when he was younger, and he’s been less qualified for jobs because of it. He wishes he’d had a support network to teach him those things when he was younger, because even if he had gone to school with no idea of what he wanted to do or any experience in the field- he’d be better off now than he currently is.

                1. OklahomaSpeaks*

                  My husband is 31 and in the same boat working blue collar. His father, uncle and grandparents do not have degrees and did not understand the new economy until Hubby’s father AND uncle hit the wall in their careers and had to start over at $12 an hour before age 60. No sympathy from the grandparents—despite the fact that one grandpa retired at age 55 (!) from being a firefighter. If you wanna be a firefighter these days you better volunteer for 5 years and hope you get picked out the 10,000 person list

            2. Whipped Cream*

              On the other hand, lots of people go to college focused on a particular thing, then get out, get a job in that field, and realized they are terribly unsuited for the actuality of WORKING in that field rather than just studying it. I have a shiny journalism degree from a prestigious journalism school and I lasted one year actually working in that field. I’m glad I went to college though because I picked up a lot of other stuff in general education classes that have served me well in my current career.

              1. Ambpersand*

                I have a friend who went to school for Environmental Science because those were the things she was interested in during high school…. By the end of her degree program she hated it, she’s never used it because she realized that she couldn’t make a career of it, and now works as an office manager. She ended up taking additional business courses at the local CC to supplement herself and those have been more useful than anything. Now she’s got tons of debt for something that she hates and wont ever use… But this is why the “you pick what you want in high school and then do that forever” model is a bad one to live by.

                1. Fergus, Stealer of Pens and Microwaver of Fish*

                  I think the people that encourage picking what you want and sticking with it would also say “tough titty” if it turns out that you hate it. Because god knows, being miserable is no excuse to waste that investment!

              2. Lord Gouldian Finch*

                Hah! Yes. I got a law degree even though I realized halfway through law school I was already burning out from the stress, and could never be a professional lawyer. I went back and got a MLIS and focused on records; the law degree is useful in a lot of ways but I really don’t use it professionally.

                It really had never occurred to me until halfway through law school that librarian was a real career option. And then I ended up an archivist!

            3. Abelard*

              Of the top ten schools in my state, only ONE has in-state tuition and fees that are greater than $10,000 per semester. Yes education in the US can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be as exorbitant as you seem to expect. If you don’t know what you want to do–go to a cheaper school while you explore. Yes, I graduated with student loan debt, but it totalled less than $20,000.

              1. Mad Baggins*

                1) What about other states? Also out of state costs more, which you might need to do if your state doesn’t have a ton of colleges/good colleges/your major
                2) You’ve lumped tuition and fees together, actually those should be about $10,000 per semester EACH.
                3) What about room/board, textbooks, meal plan/food, and other incidentals like needing a computer or a good backpack?

            4. Jadelyn*

              So you’re really going to look down on a CHILD – because let’s face it, 16- and 17-year-olds are still children, it’s not fair to expect the same kind of calculated ROI projection from them that you might expect an adult making a major life decision to do – for having been told all their life that they have to have a degree in order to get a job, going to college being presented as The Thing You Do When You Graduate High School, and trusting the adults around them and going with it even though they aren’t sure what they want to do afterward?

              Sure, an adult meandering through multiple degrees is perhaps not being efficient with their funding – but we’re talking more about students in the traditional early-adulthood path who, quite reasonably, don’t fully know what they want for a career because they don’t have the kind of life experience it takes to figure that sort of thing out, but they’re doing college before knowing what they want to do with it because they’ve been told over and over that that’s how you do this thing. And I really think a number of people are being unnecessarily and even bizarrely harsh on kids who are still trying to figure themselves and their lives out, because they’re doing what they’ve been told they’re supposed to do.

              1. Falling Diphthong*

                “I shake my head” really shouldn’t translate to “I look down on a CHILD” without yoga-like contortions. It means if I’m in a position they would ask my opinion, then I would push for not signing onto $200,000 in debt (which is a tad low for 4 years at a private college) based on nothing but the feeling that this is what they are supposed to do next.

                One of my relatives finished her undergrad, looked around, and realized she had no idea what she wanted to do–she had spend the past 16 years being extremely focused on taking tests. So she found herself a nanny position in Europe, later came back to the US and got a job that used her degree. (She had a major and minor that would apply in many possible directions, in areas of study she enjoyed, not a degree she got solely because her parents told her it was a guarantee to lifelong stable employment.) I know that you can keep a goat in your apartment in Ireland because another relative, not sure what she wanted to do after undergrad, was looking at interesting post-college options. Again, getting a degree in something she enjoyed, but not sure what direction she wanted to go and not (thank FSM) planning to head to graduate school in that general area and just hope something eventually clicked. (Probably worth noting that both of these were graduating undergrad without debt, expected to be self-supporting after that.)

                I’m distinguishing between the young person going to school and majoring in something they care about that could lead to various careers; the young person going to school and majoring in something they dislike that people have assured them is 100% guaranteed to lead to a secure job (it’s not); the young person going to school with no idea what they want but they’re heard you should do that now. The first group is probably fine; the second and third I might advise a different course, or at least some thought about this course rather than passive drifting. If they are taking on any debt to finance this, I would advise second thoughts especially hard.

        1. Jolie*

          Where exactly in OP5’s letter did you get the idea that she or her family pays for university education? She could live in a country where it is state – subsidised for everyone, or have a scholarship.

        2. Mad Baggins*

          You can disagree with the advice but that doesn’t change the fact that this happens, and OP is already in this situation.

          The point of higher education is not just to train you for a job. It’s to train you how to think. A well-rounded, well-educated and empathetic populace is necessary for a functioning democracy. If we all only specialized in our one skill, how would plumbers know how to vote on a tax referendum? How would an ophthalmologist know how to write a persuasive petition on conserving the local park? What would those two talk about at a party with no art or sports or music to inspire them?

          1. Engineer Girl*

            Well, the plumber didn’t go to university. And the plumbers I know read the papers like everyone else.
            The ophthalmologist may or may not have had classes in persuasion.
            And art, music, and sports are available outside the university environment.
            Not all education is within the university environment.

            1. Mad Baggins*

              Sorry, I was speaking more generally about the value of study across lines. As NaoNao beautifully put it below, I think as an engineer you have a very input-output idea of the purpose of education, whereas I see more wiggle room for diversity. I think there is great value in cross-training not just for those who change careers later in life, but because it informs all the work and life activities they choose to do, as in the examples I gave.

          2. Topcat*

            “The point of higher education is not just to train you for a job. It’s to train you how to think. ”

            If by “higher education” you mean high school – sure.

            If you mean “further education” – tertiary education – try telling this to engineering, medical, comp sci, teaching, nursing, accountancy, architecture students to name but a few.

            1. birdy*

              If my doctor’s capacity for critical thinking and analysis has not developed since they were a senior in high school, I want a new doctor. I get your point, but it’s not so black and white. My parents grew up on farms and both worked to put my dad through engineering school. For them, college was about training you for a job. They didn’t care what job, but my dad was very explicit that he’d only help support a degree that had specific career training attached. And you know what? My second major, the liberal artsy one that enhanced how I think, not specific work skills? Has been infinitely more valuable in my career. I’d argue that college is about job training, but the training that’s valuable varies depending on the career path.

            2. J.B.*

              I think that you may be used to a different educational system than the US has? There isn’t a well formed vocational track here, so high school includes kids who will go into a trade while also being very focused on college (university) prep. Then an undergraduate degree is general education. Many students stop here, but for something more specific (law, medicine, research) you need to go on for a graduate degree.

              Overall as a parent I want to guide my kids towards a practical degree path but encourage them to take classes outside of that track as well.

          3. Falling Diphthong*

            It’s to train you how to think.

            I have always loathed this argument. 18 is late in life to learn how to think. People without college degrees, like your plumber, can think. And have been the majority of that democratic society for most of fricking history.

            1. NaoNao*

              I think there’s two types of higher education: “Liberal Arts” which focuses on a very academic kind of thought (critical thinking, comp lit, research, arguments, etc) and gives you:
              Public Speaking and Presentation skills
              Research, writing, and editing skills
              Teamwork and group work
              Critical thinking (to a point)
              Time Management
              “Choosing your battles”, tact, diplomacy, how to ask the right questions

              And then there’s practical, vocational, and/or STEM degrees, which prepare you for a job more directly with hands-on, specialized skills and knowledge.

              I believe what people mean when they say how to think is not “literally how to process information in your mind”. They mean how to carefully consider the nuances of complex situations and problems, how to assess sources, how to formulate arguments and recognize weak arguments, how to appeal to different personality types when persuading, how to “agree to disagree”, how to use critical thinking skills in everyday life, how to assert your point of view without being a braying a$$ and so on.

              College *polishes* one. It gives a particular professional polish (including things like “pushing back” as a group, how to listen and take turns in class, how to politely disagree, share the spotlight, assert your POV and so on) that many jobs look for *in addition* to the literal education and skills.

          4. AnotherAlison*

            “The point of higher education is not just to train you for a job. It’s to train you how to think.”

            This is a nice idea, and as another person with an engineering degree, I also think it is to train you for a job. (Even though engineering degrees are more directly related to career training, you also learn how to think like an engineer.)

            However. As a mom of a 20-year-old college student, I have to laugh at the idea that a bunch of 18-22 year olds are in college to learn how to think. They are there passing time to the next unknown phase of their lives, or they are very focused on career goals. The ones who are focused at all seem to know what they want next. No one seems to be excited about learning for learning’s sake. I think it’s a rare kid who loves college for learning and thinking. Even the ones who do like that (like me, learner is my top strengthfinder trait), find it difficult in that stage of life to sit there for 4 years taking classes,
            while paying out money, and not making money. They want money to travel, to party, to get a house, a truck, whatever.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              You are generalizing a lot from your information about your one college student you know. I certainly knew college students like you describe, but I was certainly excited about learning, and so were most of my (admittedly liberal arts) friends, and for me that was the best part of college. I was not focused on “how is this going to make me money.” But besides that, when people say college teaches people to think, it’s not so much that college students sign up for admission thinking “Oh boy, I’m gonna learn how to think!” It’s that that’s what many college programs are designed, at least in part, to do.

          5. LBK*

            For me, college was about learning to be self-motivated. There was no longer a parent around to make sure I was doing homework or studying for tests and the professors weren’t nearly as invested in me passing as my teachers had been growing up. If I was lazy, no one was going to save me from myself – I would just fail the test or the class and I’d have the accept the consequences. And if I had a huge assignment due the same week for all of my classes, I was the one who had to figure out how to prioritize it all to make sure everything got done.

            That was the most important thing I transferred to the working world: if I’m given something to do, it’s on me to figure out how to get it done. I wasn’t ready to do that in a professional setting when I left high school. I needed college to get me there.

            1. Mookie*

              You’re envisioning her, without much evidence, as your complete opposite in order to validate your own decisions and your closely-held convictions?

              Plus invoking the cliché that there’s always some 1-to-1 relationship between concentration / area of study / major and a profession. Not everyone with a foundation or vocational degree will end up pursuing that vocation, either. The humanities, certain arts, and social sciences are usually accused of being a waste of degree as you very carefully define it above, but that’s more special pleading. Plenty of degrees can readily prepare someone for entry-level work in a wide array of fields; the proof of this is reality, because it happens all the time. You acknowledge as much when you explain how an accountant might come to develop and strengthen their communication skills, skills that are useful for living but also really come in handy (surprise!) when they’re working. And pace this notion that an undergraduate’s general education curriculum is sufficient for teaching one to write and think logically, it’s often the upper division courses–applied and academic, both–that cement these life-long skills. Quite useful, too, when for reasons of austerity the job market’s an unstable, unreliable mess. It’s good to have options.

              1. Engineer Girl*

                I’m envisioning her as my complete opposite in order to validate my own decisions and convictions? Really? You can read my mind and motives can you? Ad hominem fallacy.
                No, I wasn’t thinking that. I was thinking that spending thousands of dollars with no goal is scary. Most US families can’t afford to pay that kind of money without a ROI.
                As to the rest, are you quoting someone else?

                1. Mookie*

                  I’m reading what you’re writing.

                  You’ve now been asked this more than once: who spent thousands of dollars with no goal?

        3. TL -*

          To each their own! Some people view college as a path to a career, some view it as an education.

          I agree that the higher the education, the more of a plan you should have for a degree, but I don’t think an undergrad is high enough that you absolutely need A Plan for what you’ll do with it. Most degrees are useful, flexible, and can pay for themselves assuming you are okay with a more traditional career projection.
          If you’re stifled by the thought of being in an office or being in a classroom or you’re taking on debt you haven’t any clue how to pay off (the average college debt 5 years ago was $25k, which is about the cost of a mid-line new car. Reasonable.) than your calculations, of course, are different.

            1. Natalie*

              It’s worth noting that the average is fairly skewed in this case – the lowest amount of debt is always zero but the highest amount could be hundreds of thousands of dollars (especially for something like law school). When you look at the median instead of the mean, the number drops significantly, almost 50%.

              1. GG Two shoes*

                That’s really interesting, did you read that in a study or something? I would love to learn more about that!

                1. Natalie*

                  I’m not sure which part you’re asking about? The general point about average vs median is something I’ve picked up over time, particularly where prices and costs are concerned since just a few outliers can really skew the numbers.

                  For college specifically, if you look at various statistics you can see that the median borrowings and median payment are all generally quite a bit lower than the average. More current data than the Brookings article I posted showed $350 average monthly payment but only $200 median payment (for borrowers age 20-30), which suggests that things haven’t changed much since 2010 as far as a small portion of borrowers being responsible for most of the debt.

        4. August*

          I agree with you, but I don’t think chiding OP on this is helpful. From my experience working with high school and college students, a good portion of families aren’t aware of this. The prevailing philosophy with many parents and first-generation college students is that college immediately after high school is a necessity, the only way for the kid to have any upward mobility.

          What the degree is in doesn’t matter. Political Science? They can be a Senator. Biology? They can be a doctor. Sociology? They can be a professor. Work experience doesn’t even factor into it for them, they think the degree itself will automatically open doors (which may have been true in the past, but is no longer a thing) that would’ve been closed with “just” a high school education.

          1. Agnes*

            When businesses start hiring high school graduates and ponying up for training, then it will make sense to avoid college. Since business has decided to push off all costs onto the employee, and states have decided to push off all costs on the student, this is what we get.

          2. Risha*

            95% of the time this is true, though. A college degree, any degree in any field but hopefully the equivalent of at least a Bachelor’s, is a minimum requirement for pretty much every white collar or “professional” job everywhere in the US these days. Saying that this shouldn’t be the case for a lot of those jobs is probably a valid argument (such as Mike Rowe of Dirty Job’s fame’s advocacy work) , but that doesn’t somehow make it not a requirement for most businesses hiring right this second.

        5. neverjaunty*

          1) that you HOPE will get you a job.

          2) college has changed since you and I were sophomores. It used to be that a high school degree was a sufficient “floor” for much of the workforce and college was for higher-intensity professional jobs. Now a college degree is a sorting credential.

      2. Parenthetically*

        Yep. See: two of my dearest friends whose parents pounded it into their heads their entire lives that getting a college degree was absolutely non-negotiable, and who even told them that college debt was “good debt” and that private university degrees were more prestigious and thus made them more employable… so now, a decade later, they’re both still paying hundreds of dollars a month trying to work down a six-figure debt. Most of that time he’s been in construction and she’s been a stay-at-home mom. Every time they make that payment they swear they will never pressure their kids to go to college.

        1. Agnes*

          There are about four colleges in the US that have an average negative R0I, even financially, and they are art schools. Your friends are very much the outliers.

          1. JennyAnn*

            They’re nowhere near alone, though. I’ve got another 12 years before I pay off my student loans, and over half my monthly income goes to those payments. But I was told by my community growing up that college was the next step after high school, full stop, even though I absolutely should have spent some time in the workforce before I went to school. My friends with advanced degrees are seeing the same kind of problems as well.

            1. Parenthetically*

              Yeah, it took me about ten years to pay off my student debt and I didn’t even have that much compared to a great many of my peers.

              I don’t think it’s kind OR wise for us as a society to continually say, “Well look at the numbers!” as if nothing bad could happen in the future economically, as though college costs aren’t on the rise and subsidies way down, to pressure kids into taking on the equivalent of a mortgage at age 18. Statistics aren’t a crystal ball and we need to quit pretending they are.

              1. Natalie*

                No, but it’s also not helpful to tell someone “never do X, it’s a disaster!” when it typically isn’t. Extreme outliers aren’t a crystal ball either, and they tell us less about what is likely to happen than broad data sets do.

                [Also, student loan terms are 10 years, so it sounds like you paid them off on the normal schedule.]

                1. Parenthetically*

                  Eh, I didn’t say “never do X.” I think “College isn’t the only or best option for everyone; be more circumspect, think more broadly, be damn sure before you dive into tens of thousands of dollars in debt, and/or advise the young people in your life accordingly” about sums up my view.

            2. K.*

              The recession was unkind to lawyers. I know a lot of lawyers with six figure student loan debt from good schools who struggle to pay it because lawyer jobs dried up during the recession.

    4. Jenny*

      What an incredibly rude comment to OP#5.

      It’s very common for students to come out of college unsure about their career path. Not only that, most of your comment doesn’t even apply to OP! They specifically said they have ideas about what they want to do and there are industries they’re interested in! Saying “without having the first clue about what they want to do” and “at least narrowed down what you want to do” make it sound like you didn’t even read the letter.

      1. Betsy*

        I agree. It’s rude. And I can’t stand how smug people get about this topic. It’s never out of concern, either. It’s generally about saying ‘Look at me! I did everything right, so everyone should do things exactly the way I did it.’ Aren’t I great? ‘

        There are plenty of generalist degrees, including in highly-regarded areas such as science and business.

        I think professional, career-focused degrees are great too, but there are plenty of pathways for generalists.

        1. Mad Baggins*

          I agree. I wonder how much judgment they would throw around if they knew the degrees of their coworkers who are 10+ years out of school and high performers.

    5. Kate*

      Lots of teenagers head to college without knowing what they want to do for the rest of their lives, and many many majors are broad enough that they don’t necessarily have a clear path forward (English, math, psychology, etc.). In my opinion, that’s a good thing because it doesn’t box students into one career path that may or may not be a good job market upon graduation. Possibly her lack of workplace experience is made up by volunteer experience or non-office settings (I wasn’t sure if OP was defining workplace as something specific or just work in general). We don’t know her circumstances, so it seems both unkind and unhelpful to the OP to suggest she wasted the cost of a degree when she’s asking for help going forward.

      1. Gen*

        Yeah the job I wanted to pursue from the age of 14 didn’t even exist in my part of the country by the time I was 21.

        1. Just Employed Here*

          And often it goes the other way around too! There are new fields and new jobs in them coming up all the time — there’s no way of knowing what exactly you’ll be doing in 10 years’ time.

          And how many people don’t we read about who don’t reach their “dream career”, even if it does exist? What are they supposed to do? Just give up, since the thing they were gearing up for since high school didn’t work out? Nope, they take the skills and experience they have and use them for other jobs!

      2. Sam.*

        I’ve worked with college students at several institutions in the US, both public universities and elite liberal arts colleges, and I can’t tell you how many of those students went to college simply because it’s what you’re supposed to do. There is a prevailing attitude coming out of high school that college gives you the time to figure out what it is you want to do – it’s time to both determine a plan and lay out the necessary foundation for said plan. And for most people, it does just that.

        So, no, I don’t judge someone for going to college without a plan. I do think it’s unwise to go four years without professional experience, and I also think it’s unwise to end up picking a major based on optics, not the career path/skills you want to develop, but I recognize there can be complicating factors. (And I am, however, absolutely critical of people choosing to go to graduate school right after college simply because they don’t know what else to do. Such a waste of money to get a specialized degree if you don’t know for sure how and why it will be useful for you.)

        I like working with undergrads as they figure themselves out, but I have to say that non-traditional students (e.g. those returning to school instead of going straight through) are refreshing because they know exactly what they want to do and why, and are extremely motivated to do it. But they really stand out because of these traits. Even the traditional undergrads who come in completely set on a particular specialization with specific goals often change their mind, and that’s fine – they’re learning about themselves. College (in the US, anyway) allows for and even encourages that.

        1. Kate*

          I agree 100%. I think there is a lot of value to college outside of getting the degree, such as hopefully getting out of your home town and broadening your world view. And there can be a lot of family pressure to head to college even if your unsure. I also know that undergrads can get *a lot* of bad advice. My friend, who is a college professor, was telling me about a conversation she had with a student recently who was advised to switch majors from IT to Liberal Arts because he was struggling in the IT program, and his adviser said, “Do you want to work in IT or just get a degree?” Now he’s a senior applying to IT jobs because apparently he does want to do that, but since he doesn’t have that degree he’s also thinking about getting a master’s just because… Clearly he could have used some better guidance along the way. So, anyhow, it seems like the OP does have some ideas about her future in mind and was just asking for guidance about how to flesh them out a little bit, so kudos to her for having the guts to ask! Hell, my life plan at 21 was a lot different than my life plan at 36, so I don’t think she’s off track.

        2. Tuxedo Cat*

          I’ll co-sign your grad school advice. OP5, do not go to graduate school (even if it’s 100%) covered if your heart isn’t in it and you don’t have a clue what you’ll do with the grad degree especially if it’s a PhD. You may accidentally cut yourself off from job paths.

          In financially lean times, I’ve considered jobs where I’d be an admin. assistant. I have experience in that, I’m good at that work (heck, even use those skills as a researcher). The few interviews I received were met with skepticism that I’d want the job or that I would stay a decent amount of time. I didn’t want to be a forever admin assistant but there were no jobs (recession time). If I did want to be an admin assistant for the rest of my career, I don’t know if I would’ve been hired.

    6. Fiennes*

      I didn’t find my career until my mid-30s, and NO, my degree was not a waste. If you never learned to appreciate education in its own right, I’m very sorry. And if you never met anybody before now who hadn’t settled on their career by senior year…I got nothing.

      1. Snark*

        If you didn’t know anybody who hadn’t settled on a career by senior year, you didn’t go to college.

      2. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Same here: I didn’t get into my industry until my late 20s, I knew nothing about my current skill set until my early 30s, and now I’m the one everyone comes to with questions and asks to give presentations. And while I think my education informs what I do, it’s actually pretty tangential, I just think behavioral science applies to everything involving people. And I’m not really using my Master’s at all.

        In fact, I’ve been advising college kids to study whatever fascinates them, no matter how odd, unrelated or inconsequential, because I’m seeing more and more intersection due to specialization. So someone who liked computers but was also really interested in economics, I told her to study both as much as she is able rather than pick one, because while IT jobs are plentiful, so are IT professionals. But someone who knows economics *and* IT? How many people could not only program economic models, but understand both? It isn’t always necessary, but understanding the subject matter for which you’re programming can give you a unique insight in some fields.

        tl;dr version: “career paths” are so 20th century.

        1. Elizabeth H.*

          Yes!! “More and more intersection due to specialization” is such a good way to put it, I love your comment. Especially with the example of “how many people could not only program economic models, but understand both” – this is more or less what I am trying to carve out career path in right now (not exactly those subjects, but analogous to). Important points.

      3. Jules the 3rd*


        I went to undergrad in the 90s, state school, parents paid (THANK YOU MOM AND DAD). Went in planning on a chemistry major, came out with political science / economics, spent a couple of years as retail mgr, then went into web development. This was my privilege as the child of college professors. My husband worked his way through on the 10 year plan. It made a difference – I could try different things and see what I liked. He was lucky enough to enjoy and be good at computer programming, but he needed to focus on an area with sellable skills – supporting himself while trying to finish the degree.

        My undergrad came in useful in grad school – turns out that Supply Chain is the career I like – but I didn’t even know that existed in undergrad. I’m on career #3, with choices coming up about what I want for career #4.

        There are a ton of country, class and age factors that go into this discussion. No one size fits all, and there is no shame to a 22yo in not knowing what they want to do. They are not to blame for being privileged with choices. And they’ve got a few years before I’d even start judging them on which choices they make.

        Be kind – it’s a big complex world out there, with a lot of good choices, even if they’re not your choices.

    7. Espeon*

      Hey OP5! Pro-tip – you don’t want to work for someone like this ^ Don’t forget to ask questions in your interview to weed them out and disqualify them as a potential benefactor of your skills and expertise :-)

      1. Lioness*

        OP5, I am in a super similar situation. I have very little work experience since not everyone has the opportunity to work during high school be it for whatever reason. As well as my parents recommending contacts.

        Ignore topcat’s comments. We all don’t have the same path.

        I am still finding my way around in what to do and how to do it.

        1. Lou*

          I grew up in a rural town, and although I had a waitressing job, there’s no way I was getting the relevant work experience I wanted for my career when I was 16! I had to do that around university and BOTH turned out to be helpful in getting my job.

          There’s nothing wrong with doing a degree that doesn’t directly lead to a career path, or being unsure when you leave. I think this LW is being very sensible checking out the options.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          Not to mention that any advice that an OP time travel back and do things differently isn’t helpful. Regardless of question.

      2. Mookie*

        This is truly good advice! I wish I’d known this coming out of university–and, yeah, I’d also been working full-time for about six years at that point in, you guessed it, a profession I hated and with few clues about what else I could (and wanted to) do. Happy trails on your future career, LW5!

    8. MK*

      I read the letter as the OP not being sure about their exact career path, not that they have zero clue about what they want to be when they grow up. I went to law school because I loved the law and many of the professional paths that required a law degree seemed interesting, but without knowing exactly where I would end up.

      1. hermit crab*

        That’s how I read it too – there’s a huge middle ground between “I have no idea what to do” and “I’d like to learn more about some specific jobs.”

        For example, I graduated with a degree in a hard science and knew I wanted to work in that field. But that could mean a lot of things! Working in the lab, in the field, in a classroom, in an office, for a big company, for a nonprofit, in government, in research, in policy, etc. It’s smart to explore those options and it’s not a crime to continue that exploration even though you have a degree!

      2. Naptime Enthusiast*

        Yes. I sat in on a career development workshop my senior year of college, geared towards graduating seniors. In a room of about 100 people who had signed up to spend their Saturday in workshops, I was 1 of 2 people that knew exactly what I wanted to do in 5-10 years, but that still didn’t mean I knew exactly what industry I wanted to be in, and how I would eventually get to that point.

    9. M*

      I had work experience starting in high school, but the jobs I was able to get as a student sure as hell weren’t jobs that would lead me anywhere I wanted to go, career-wise. I worked at fast food restaurants, dining commons, odd jobs around town, and in an admin position at the university. They were valuable experiences in terms of building a work ethic and getting used to interacting with bosses, coworkers, and clients, but they didn’t lead me to knowing exactly what I want to do with the rest of my life. It’s very possible to work throughout university without having it all figured out at the end.

      Many kids are pushed into attending by parents or school counselors without a firm idea of even what subject they want to major in, much less what career they want. Ideally, would they be able to take some time and think about what would be practical first? Yes, but it’s not something to berate them over.

      And most subjects don’t lead to one specific career, but are still valuable to have studied. Economics, psychology, linguistics, communications, pure math.

    10. Wakeen Teaptots, LTD*

      I could not disagree more on your response to #5!

      My son pretty much knew he wanted to be an engineer from middle school on. Starting college was about deciding which branch of engineering, and continuing college through his masters program has been about narrowing his specialty in electric engineering down. Well bully for him, his passion fits a lucrative mold.

      My son’s girlfriend, on the other hand, is brilliant young woman who has always excelled in school. Her passions are in the arts, but she decided that she didn’t want a degree or a career in the arts. That put her (pretty much 4.0 thank you very much) college trajectory as exploratory – education, social work, psychology, etc. By her third year she has settled into computer programming (mostly at my son’s encouragement) and idk about this. I bite my tongue. She’s not happy, even as she works her ass off.

      IMO, exactly what she needs to do is get her degree and then figure out what she really wants to do. Exactly what she needs. If that is what she decides to do, I’ll be there with all the encouragement I can bring.

        1. Wakeen Teaptots, LTD*

          I’m good in the “give your kids space figure themselves out” vein. Son’s GF grew up in difficult circumstances — she didn’t get to be a kid so cheese and crackers, give her some space. :)

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            On the plus side – there are lucrative careers in the space where arts / programming collide. Just advise her to stay away from traditional console / PC games – the companies are sexist, don’t pay well, and require long hours.

            OTOH, one Flappy Bird app game and she’s set.

      1. LBK*

        I think this comes to the crux of the issue, which is that there’s a limit to how much you can force yourself to do lucrative but unenjoyable work, especially work that requires a lot of specialized education to get into. If you hate the work itself that much, it’s unlikely you’re going to be successful at it anyway. If you don’t like engineering, long-term you probably won’t be able to make a career out of it, so I think it’s even more of a waste of time to suffer through getting a degree in a field you’ll probably end up leaving a few years in anyway (and might end up putting yourself back through even more school to refocus your career).

        1. Alton*

          That was my reasoning when I quit engineering. I didn’t like my classes or have any interest in the career paths. Every time I learned something new or one of my professors brought in a speaker or organized a trip for us to visit a factory or something, my reaction would be “Well, I’m certainly not doing *that.*” And while I was doing okay in my classes for the most part, I definitely wasn’t a genius. So I figured I wouldn’t be able to beat my classmates who were both better students and actually seemed interested in the subject matter, and that I was wasting my time and money when, increasingly, all I could think about was doing anything *but* engineering.

          And yeah, those 2.5 years I spent on engineering hurt me a little. I had less time and money to explore other options.

        2. Wakeen Teapots, LTD*

          Amen. I nudge ever so gently in this direction, but it’s her decision so mostly I just listen. She is working virtually full time to put herself through school full time with as little debt as possible so mad respect. It will be sorted eventually.

    11. Harper*

      I also disagree about OP #5. You can’t always get a good sense of careers in a field until during and even after graduation in some cases. I went into music which is a good case in point: you just don’t have exposure to what it’s like in a semi-professional ensemble, or what high-level music theory and history work looks like, until you’re at the university level.

      Also, I’m no longer in music, but that doesn’t mean my degree was a waste of funds. From an original plan of being a performer, which a I discovered didn’t suit me, I went into music retail, which showed me I’m interested in business and taught me great communication skills; segued from that into cash processing work at another retailer, which taught me that my attention to detail is an asset in accounting; and currently while me kids are young I’m working part time from home for a children’s literature organization, based on discovering a love for kidlit during one of my elective courses way back in my second year of undergrad (mumblety) years ago.

      All of this is to say that career paths are less and less linear, even when you “know” what you want to do, and that the skills you learn in any degree are rarely wasted. The financial impact should, of course, be a factor in your decision, but I think it’s unrealistic to expect someone to come out of graduation confident of every move they will make in their working life.

      1. Harper*

        Forgot to add – work experience in high school isn’t always the correct path either, especially when there are other ways to show good work ethic. My university father correctly pointed out to me that adding demands on my time from a regular job would probably result in a drop in my grades that would cost me more in scholarship funds than I’d make in a minimum wage high school gig.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Mmm, I’m not sure about this. My oldest was passionate about an expensive hobby, and so in high school worked part-time jobs to pay for it. This led to all the benefits Alison lists for basic jobs–you have to show up on time, be reliable, etc–plus just a diversity of experience. (I always thought it weird that she hated the office job and couldn’t wait to find something waitressing.) And that diversity of experience–something she also got from doing a lot of school activities–helped her figure out what she did and didn’t like.

          My younger child is passionate about a hobby, but it’s an inexpensive one and he doesn’t need to attempt and mange a bunch of things to fund it. There are underlying personality differences here, but I think the older tried to cram in too much and the younger tried to cram in too little. There is a benefit to going out and doing things that might be a bit out of your comfort zone.

          Also one of my oldest’s friends got accidentally screwed because her parents thought quitting all outside hobbies was how to show colleges she was serious academically. But it turned out they wanted people with strong academics who were also passionate about some outside activities.

    12. Naomi*

      Given that a lot of places won’t hire you at all without a degree, it’s not a waste for OP to get one even if she doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do yet. She probably has a degree that can apply to a broad range of jobs, like English, and is still working out what job opportunities are out there. It’s unkind to blame someone who is still young and starting out for not having all the answers, especially when they’re asking for advice on how to find those things out.

    13. late intern*

      This actually is pretty classist and you may be eliminating young people based on their economic status. I couldn’t afford to intern during college because I needed to work a paid job. I didn’t start interning until after I graduated to figure out what I wanted to do (and that was only possible because my family’s economic status changed- many others in my boat just cannot afford unpaid internships).

    14. Katniss*

      I was suffering through PTSD after leaving college, so I understandably wasn’t focusing on figuring out exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I guess in your world I’d never get a job.

      Glad we don’t live in your world. It sounds cruel and utterly devoid of nuance.

    15. WeevilWobble*

      I started working at 14. It didn’t magically give me the ability to know 100% what I wanted to do as a profession as an adult.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          My husband dug ditches in high school. It convinced him he didn’t want to do this all his life, but didn’t really narrow down his professional options beyond that.

          He learned in graduate school that he likes working on problems, but he doesn’t have to be the person coming up with the problem. He just likes solving things. In an undergrad research job, our daughter learned that she likes exploring more fundamental problems rather than applications, which is where this job was focused. Both of these were useful broad insights for them, but not in the sense of laying out a narrow career path. (Not to mention that neither of them knew these things about themselves at 16.)

        2. hermit crab*

          Yep! For me, my (very reasonable work environment, above minimum wage, all around cushy) high school/early college summer job in high school was mostly standing around telling museum visitors where the bathrooms were. After that I graduated to getting up at o’dark thirty to pull weeds/edge beds and, after the gates opened, tell botanical garden visitors where the bathrooms were. I made good money and got valuable work experience but mostly learned that I didn’t want to interrupted by tourists every five minutes. :)

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            If you’re ever pregnant, you will be glad for that training in assessing where the public restrooms are.

            1. hermit crab*

              Ha! I never considered whether I use this training in my personal life… but I totally do.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        +1 If you count my part time jobs as career #1, I guess I’d be on career #4 now.

      2. LizB*

        +1. I happened to end up in the same very broad field that I worked in as a teen, so it did end up giving me some relevant experience and background knowledge, but it took plenty of exploration during college and a few missteps afterwards to narrow down what part of the field I really wanted to focus on.

      3. Abelard*

        Yup started working at 16. Helped me know I didn’t want to spend my life working custodial jobs or at WalMart.

    16. Temperance*

      Okay, but for kids whose parents aren’t white collar professionals, and who might have honestly no exposure to a non-blue collar work environment,what do you suggest? I do think that her parents gave her legit terrible advice, and that LW should have done an internship of some sort, but this seems mean.

    17. a different Vicki*

      You’re basically advising OP5 to use a time machine here and redo the last several years of her life. If she could do that, she wouldn’t be writing to us: she’d be using that time machine to make money on the stock market and/or sports bets by looking at future newspapers, or doing secret government work of some sort.

        1. neverjaunty*

          “You should have done that differently” isn’t really meant as advice. It’s meant to boost the person saying it.

    18. Marthooh*

      What #5 actually said was “I am a recent college graduate and don’t really know what I want to do professionally, though I have a few ideas.”

      So not “having the first clue about what they want to do” is definitely not “the real problem here”.

    19. Detective Amy Santiago*

      So let me tell you a story.

      I graduated from college in May 1999 with a BA in Communication. I fully intended to pursue a career in journalism. I spent my college years writing for the school paper and working for both the radio and television station. I had a great portfolio of published articles, not to mention a pretty comprehensive body of experience doing production work.

      On April 20th, 1999, mere weeks before my graduation, I was sitting in the student union with some friends, eating lunch, when all the televisions suddenly started broadcasting the same thing. Breaking news about a shooting in a Colorado high school where 13 kids, not that much younger than me, were killed. We watched the coverage, horrified, for hours. This was in the days before the 24/7 news cycle that we have now thanks to the internet. Before there were 800 cable channels available with multiple 24/7 news networks.

      And it was awful.

      I decided that day that I could never work in journalism. And, because of where I lived, my television production skills were largely unmarketable in any other capacity unless I wanted to move to NYC or LA. So my career went in a completely different direction.

      So please, tell me more about how a 20something should know what they want to do with the rest of their life before they graduate.

      1. Wakeen Teaptots, LTD*

        My trajectory is a lot like yours except I didn’t have the terrible tragedy as a reason for being disuaded AND instead of completing my degree, I stopped at 2.5 years since I didn’t know what I wanted to do any more (i just knew I didn’t want to move to LA or NYC, or do the small city moves to make my way up in tv journalism).

        This. Was. So. Dumb. Making my way to a real career without a college degree? ANY college degree? Insanely hard. I don’t know anyone I went to school with who actually pursued their degree subject as a career (example: english major went into development, etc. ), but the people who HAD a degree and then figured out what they wanted to do were light years ahead of me.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          A few of my classmates are working in the field now. Though I will also say that those of us who graduated in the late 90s/early 00s ended up learning skills that very quickly became obsolete as well. I learned reel to reel editing. We had *one* computer with digital editing software and only a handful of people were trained how to use it. MP3s were barely a thing. The entire world changed in multiple ways.

    20. Mike C.*

      You can’t always plan for things and I think you’ll find that most people here are in careers that are significant deviations from what they were planning to do years prior.

      No one can predict the future.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Just as it’s not a tragedy that most 40 year olds are not firefighters–despite the ambitions of their 4 year olds selves–it’s not a tragedy that most 40 year olds are working at jobs different than they envisioned at 16. Jobs they didn’t know existed at 16. Jobs that maybe didn’t exist when they were 16.

    21. Lora*

      Uh, I’m in STEM and we would never let a high schooler shadow us or touch anything in the lab or watch us design things, because we never let anyone under 18 do that (liability – most of the things we do are fairly hazardous and require considerable training even to be in the room safely) and because of intellectual property concerns (can’t let anyone see our notebooks or experiments without a lot of NDAs). It’s in fact kinda difficult for people to get a very clear idea of what I do in my regular daily job, and shadowing someone or trying to get them to explain it to you is not feasible for anyone without a lot of very specific education to understand.

      Even as an engineer, I went into undergrad thinking I wanted to be a surgeon. I had to do an internship to find out that I really don’t like sick people. They’re whiny, they fuss for opiates and they barf on you. Fortunately, the biology curriculum includes a lot of chemistry and physics as a rule, which was important because the job market and technology changed significantly in that particular decade and in the time between my undergrad and finishing grad school, entirely new degree programs had to be created to teach what I do now; I cobbled together a few different graduate programs to get the background I needed, because there wasn’t such a thing as Bioengineering when I was in undergrad or even grad school.

      Honestly, technology changes quickly enough that if you try to learn specific things (specific programming languages, specific biochemistry techniques etc) it’ll be outdated before you graduate. Better to learn how to think clearly in the context of a given field than to learn a very specific technique. The people I know who are very very good at specific techniques are now finding that their jobs are done by robots, even things that nobody thought could ever be done by robots. Yeah, learn some basics, but it doesn’t do you any favors to have a lot of very specific ideas about what you want to do. It’ll be different within five years of graduation.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        OP5 is college graduate – but the NDA part still applies.

        And yeah, automation is a game changer that is starting to reach white collar jobs. The only question is how long will it take to do your job, and how much will it cost to develop it. I know places that decided a person was cheaper, but that won’t hold forever.

      2. Grapey*

        I feel like I could have written this, especially “I had to do an internship to find out that I really don’t like sick people. They’re whiny, they fuss for opiates and they barf on you. ”

        Biology/premed really solidified that I hate taking care of other people, kids included. I thank college for helping me figure that out before I got stuck in a life I hated! The professors at school a decade ago really hammered AI and automation into my head (despite not being in a CS field at the time).

    22. Helena*

      Ridiculous comment. My husband’s job didn’t even exist when he left school in the 1990s (user experience consultant) – by your logic he shouldn’t have gone to university until that job was invented five years later?

      He did a non-career path BA Philosophy, and took a job with a small digital agency as a junior content editor then moved sideways into information architecture (as it then was) back when it emerged as a field in 2001. His degree trained him to analyse problems methodically and to communicate ideas clearly.

      A degree in Computer Science would have been useless (totally different field), and HCI courses didn’t really exist back then either (and it would have been complete overkill – people with MScs and above applying for junior agency IA jobs would have been written off as too mired in academia and not commercially-minded. Obviously there’s a bit more competition for jobs now so that has changed).

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I am always thrilled to read about people who got Philosophy degrees and then jobs not teaching philosophy, because I think it is so important to study something you really enjoy. Amassing knowledge and skills you can apply in a lot of ways, if you are open to looking at more than one possible job. Forcing oneself to get a mechanical engineering degree in the belief that that is a guarantee of lifelong employment isn’t a sure bet.

        (This also comes up re “college grads on average earn more.” Yes, they do, but that is not a guarantee that you, financially struggling individual, will earn buckets of money that more than offset the cost if you sign this loan. Just like you advise your kid not to do any number of things that they are, on average, likely to survive.)

    23. Yorick*

      High school work experience is usually service or retail, which isn’t many people’s long-term career goals. So I don’t understand that point.

    24. Canto Bight*

      What kind of high schooler can get work experience beyond retail or food-service? Why would either of those help define a professional career path?

      A professor I had in law school once told us that even if we didn’t want to practice law, our time in law school was still a worthwhile investment. What we invested in school, we were investing in ourselves and our own growth, and that was always a worthwhile pursuit.

      This speech was, admittedly, blind to the often accompanying crushing student debt, but I agree with the idea generally. If you can reasonably afford a tertiary degree (including whatever financial assistance you can get), it’s not a ‘waste’ to get an education, even if you come out of it without a solid career path.

      OP 5, you’ll figure it out, you didn’t waste anything just because you don’t have a career yet.

    25. theletter*

      This is cruel to OP5. When I started college in the late ’90’s, the philosophy was that one should learn what they want to learn, and the opportunities would arrive once the degree was achieved, because the degree was everything. Things were a little different when I graduated in ’05, but there was no time machine. But despite the tough years that followed, the degree was worth it. Even though I’m in the tech industry now, I don’t think I’d want to go back in time and get a ‘Llama Quality’ degree – my arts degree is still more valuable to me.

      Good companies often want to hire recent grads with good grades and good thinking skills. The degree itself isn’t as important as having achieved it. Plus, there’s a lot of degrees that can be used in many different ways and present multiple opportunities in a diverse set of workplaces.

    26. Elizabeth West*

      I started with one degree and switched halfway through. I’d taken enough courses to finish the first degree as an associate, so now I have two. They are in no way related. No one has ever questioned it, not once. If a hiring manager is going to be this judgy about my degrees, frankly, I wouldn’t want to work for them either. :P

    27. displeased*

      WOW on #5. That’s really presumptuous of you. There are many who get a degree in what they are interested in (let’s say biology, as a popular one) but they are unsure precisely what they’d like to do with it. They may have to do additional training to specialize, such as a master’s degree, college certifications, or a professional designation. Some fields may need you to have work experience that is related before you can crack into them, so you may have to spend some time proving that you’re not just another fresh-faced grad. It’s not like every degree leads directly to a job that you can take and the OP is just frittering away their time, sitting on their hands. Don’t project your experiences and assumptions onto everyone else writes in — try having some empathy!

  6. Magenta Sky*

    OP2: Isn’t discrimination based on martial status illegal in the US?

    OP4: ” It was for the government, but he wouldn’t tell me what department it was for . . .”

    “Well, if you feel you have something to hide, then I’m not interested. Don’t call me again.” .

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      For #2, the answer is no at the federal level, and “sometimes, it depends” at the individual state level.

    2. finderskeepers*

      If the parking spaces were in short supply, they should just attach a monetary value to them and sell them at monthly rates.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        These are city garages doing exactly that. The company subsidizes the cost for employees.

        I knew someone who in grad school in Chicago lived in a shared house, in a room other people had to walk through. He paid less for housing than his brother did for a NYC parking spot.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      Re #4: I like picturing this as how they recruit secret agents. “Aha, you realized that ‘strengths’ and ‘things you’re good at’ are the same thing–a cagy thinker. And you answered the phone when I called–here at Mission Impossible that’s an important trait in our field agents. Woodworking skills are a plus when you can make your own katana…”

      1. OP #4*

        haha yeah, the whole thing was such a joke. I couldn’t afford to piss him off though because there is really only two recruiting companies in my area and a lot of the jobs go through them apparently.

  7. Nobody Here By That Name*

    OP #1: We have perks like this at my office. I’d say a good rule of thumb is don’t assume it’s an all you can eat buffet. The problems we’ve had are with the people who help themselves to, say, four sandwiches from the free lunch when not everybody’s been through the line yet. Or who take an armful of chip bags for their personal stash before anybody else could grab something from that day’s flavors.

    We definitely have moments when there are far too many leftovers and it’s HOPED that people will take food home. We actually have saran wrap and stuff in the office kitchen to help with that. But for the first go-round take *A* portion, then give it time to see about taking a second that lunch/day/etc.

    Oh – and make sure you’re taking the right free stuff. We had one person who helped themselves to a lunch, assuming it was part of the free food perks, when in fact it’d been catering specially ordered for an executive meeting, which was now missing one meal. Whoops!

    1. David*

      I had the same thought. The best approach probably depends on how the supply compares to the demand. If the food and snacks are in short supply, be conservative in how much you use, but if there are plenty of leftovers at free lunches and the kitchen is consistently well-stocked with no danger of supplies running low, it’s more likely fine to take as much as you want, within reason.

      My company caters lunch a few times a week and we have a tendency to bring in way too much food, so our fridges are frequently stocked with leftovers and people wind up begging each other to take them home. Unfortunately, sometimes we don’t use it all and some of the food winds up going bad. I’ve got to imagine any reasonable workplace would rather have you take leftovers home than let them spoil, so OP#1, if there’s food left over at the end of the day, I’d say it should usually be fine to take some home unless you’re proactively told otherwise. (Or am I being too optimistic to think that most workplaces are reasonable?)

      One of my coworkers does a lot of gardening, and anything that’s been in the work fridge for two days he takes home to use as compost. It’s a nice system if you ask me.

    2. JamieS*

      Agreed. My rule of thumb on free stuff, particularly food, is DBAA – Don’t Be An Ass. Following that, everything else just seems to fall into place when navigating the buffet line.

        1. Parenthetically*

          I think most of the time stuff like this would be pretty easily solved with some communication from management. Are there 3 dozen extra cookies from this morning’s coffee break spread? Quick message to staff at 4:30: “Hey folks, please grab an extra cookie or two before you head out if you like; they’ll be thrown out over the weekend.” Is the sandwich tray juuuuuust big enough for everyone to have two sandwiches? Message at 11: “Barbara Lee’s Awesome Sandwiches will be set out for lunch at 11:45 — please take only one or two so everyone gets to have some of the awesome!”

          Helpful for folks who are hesitant; eliminates plausible deniability for the jackasses who’d otherwise plan their weekend menus around Friday’s lunch.

          1. Higher Ed Database Dork*

            It helps to designate someone to send out those messages if you can. My former dept catered a lot of lunch meetings, and one of the admin assistants always sent round the message that we could help ourselves to leftovers or take them home. If there is no admin assistant in the department, usually whoever was in charge of the food took that responsibility.

    3. Triple Anon*

      Right. It’s like being at a party at someone’s house where they have a buffet set out. Eat what you want, but also be respectful of everyone else.

    4. Oilpress*

      I enjoy how people in my office show up to meetings anywhere from 3-5 minutes late on a regular basis, but any time there is free food on offer, half the office is standing in line before the food hits the table.

      1. anon for this*

        I’m impressed by this 3-5 minutes. In my office, it’s an accomplishment when the meeting starts in the same hour it was scheduled for.

    5. Annie Moose*

      These are good rules. I personally abide by the rules of “let everyone go through the line once before I come back for seconds/extras” and “only take leftovers home it’s left at the end of the day and it can’t reasonably be eaten tomorrow and it’s an appropriate amount for one or two people”. (e.g. we currently have some cupcakes in the breakroom left over from yesterday, but they’re fine the next day so it’d be weird if someone just nabbed the whole box for themselves–but if they took one or two cupcakes home, that wouldn’t be too strange)

      I would also add a couple basic etiquette things: don’t complain about the food and don’t seem too eager. Depending on your office, it might be OK to make suggestions (e.g. “we always have tons of tea and coffee, would it be possible to add some hot chocolate packets to our order?”) or mention food requirements (“pizza on Fridays is great, but could we get a veggie option? I’m a vegetarian so I can only eat the cheese pizza”). And what I mean by “too eager” is, don’t always be dashing to be the first person in line, or bugging other people about if they’re bringing in food and what they’re bringing in, or complaining when the fruit delivery is a day late.

      Just… be a reasonable human being!

      1. Annie Moose*

        Ahhh, dropped a sentence. After the “Depending on your office…” sentence, I meant to add “But complaining about the free (free!) food you’re being given or expecting the company to change what/how they bring in food for your personal preferences is generally too much.” Unless, of course, there’s other issues going on (e.g. if your company was demanding you ONLY eat their free lunch and wouldn’t let you bring in your own lunch, that’s a perfectly reasonable thing to complain about! But if you want to forbid other people from bringing in donuts and expect your company to supply only kumquats instead, you need to back off).

        1. essEss*

          Agreed… don’t complain about the free food. I worked for years in toxic offices without windows or any treats for over 10 years, and then ended up at a new job. The new job had a fancy coffee maker with free coffee, and the owner bought all of us lunch once a week. My new coworkers were all fresh-from-college in their first job and every day I listened to them complain loudly that there were ONLY 6 flavors of coffee to choose from and how the owner should ask THEM every week to be able to pick their own individual meals because they decided the food he was buying wasn’t good enough for them (it was actually really good food!). I left there pretty quickly because the negative self-centeredness of the coworkers make it pretty unbearable to listen to every day.

          1. zora*

            Oof!! Yeah, that’s a good rule, too. Don’t complain. Feel free to ask if you can submit requests, I am the one who buys snacks for our office and I’m always happy for ideas to mix it up and get new things. But phrase it as a request, not as a demand or complaining. That is just rude.

      2. Nobody Here by That Name*

        Seriously. It’s one thing if you have dietary restrictions, but it amazes me the number of people who react to the free lunch with “Pizza/sandwiches/whatever AGAIN?” Like if the only problem with the food is that you’re bored, feel free to ask for your money back. OH WAIT.

    6. Bea*

      My rule is to take ONE snack/lunch/soda whatever at a time. Then if a couple hours later you wrap back around and there is still a lot left, that’s okay to take an extra cookie.

      It’s also about knowing your company. We get enough meeting treats so everyone can have one. You see two boxes of cookies out, you should know damn well that’s enough for one each! As opposed to a kitchen stocked with a full fridge or cupboard.

      I’m just lucky that we don’t have anyone at our company who struggles with following social cues and is extremely self centered.

      I recall my dad always coming home 27th his allotment of pizza on days they were bought lunch. He always took his lunch no matter what and knew changing his routine made him sluggish. So he would pop his 3 slices into his box and bring them home to enjoy as dinner (he worked swing shift so it was often perfect for dinner before crashing into bed or share depending on his mood). They made it very clear what the divide was to be, no guessing.

      1. Birch*

        Yes, this. Everyone gets ONE thing. I have zero tolerance for people taking tons of free food. Why would you want to appear greedy at work anyway? Never assume you will get more than one thing. Sometimes things will run out before you get there. I even think people should take slightly less than they otherwise would. There’s just a difference between *business lunch* and *all you can eat buffet with family.* It’s free food. Don’t complain. Be grateful it’s being offered. Nobody is forcing you to eat it, and it’s not your personal kitchen. If you want cupcakes, you’re an adult, you can go buy them for yourself. There are few situations where I realize you may be trapped somewhere without the time or food places around to get something else you can eat, but in general, if you have food issues, bring your own so you know you have something to eat. You won’t die because you didn’t get a bag of chips and a cookie. In reality, sometimes people have to skip lunch, or eat earlier or later than usual, or eat something that’s not their favorite. For most people, that’s not a huge deal. IMO it’s not really the employer’s responsibility to make sure you eat, it’s yours.

    7. Squeeble*

      Agreed, and there’s also a difference between, say, the stocked beverages and snacks that are for general consumption and the leftovers from an office meal. The first, I’ll only take what I want in the moment. The second, I might take extras if it would make good leftovers and we’re encouraged to take it all away. But I won’t be, like, sneaking extra seltzers home in my purse every night.

    8. Tuxedo Cat*

      Also, make sure you don’t take someone’s labeled lunch. There have been issues where the lunch is labeled for Jane who has dietary restrictions and then someone else takes the lunch, leaving Jane lunchless.

    9. zora*

      We provide snacks, but not full meals. So for stocked snacks/drinks, I would say a (very) general rule to start would be one serving per item per day. Like, if you’re taking a full size bag of pretzels to your desk every day, that’s too much. But throughout the day I take one drink, one small bowl of popcorn, one bowl of nuts, one granola bar, etc.

      It’s so general, but if I was really unsure or in a brand new office, that would be where I would start, and then watch everyone else to see what is common. (And be careful not to copy that one outlier guy who takes 4 sandwiches, make sure I’m looking at lots of people and doing something that seems average.)

    10. Ghostess*

      I also pay attention to hierarchy when it comes to food in the office. As someone in a mid-level role, I generally give our more junior workers the first pass at a department lunch or free cookies from a senior level meeting. I guess is sort of the office version of “officers eat last”.

    11. Froglegs*

      My office had an issue with the young interns using the free office food supply like their personal kitchen, using the food for every meal: breakfast, lunch and even dinner, as if it was their only source of sustenance. A lot of people took notice, and it started receiving negative commentary. There are probably a dozen+ restaurants within a five minute walk of the office, covering all budgets, so there is no lack of food sources close by. The free food was subsequently pared down to something more like snacks and less like a fully stocked kitchen.

  8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#3, another reason I don’t think you can use this as leverage is that it signals that you’re planning to leave. It’s ok that you’re doing that, but it would be difficult to bargain for a raise when (1) you don’t have a competing offer in hand, (2) your boss has a practice of not advocating for her reports, and (3) others are penalized simply for applying to opportunities within the same organization. Unfortunately, saying you’re a finalist does not really give you much to go with unless you get an offer. It’s kind of like placing fourth at the Olympics—there’s no medal opportunity.

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      Yup. This boss seems like she won’t advocate for a raise for you unless you are actively presenting her with a “raise or I’m out the door in two weeks” scenario.

      And even when you do get a better offer, if she matches it, I would still leave if I were you. That raise will be your last.

  9. Kate*

    Um, is the recruiter in #4 even a recruiter? Did the OP apply somewhere and was expecting a call, but just didn’t know when? Or did he call out the blue and tell her he was a recruiter? This just all seems super shady to me.

    1. pcake*

      That was my first thought. This could have been a scam of some kind or even a way to figure out when the OP would be home or not so that the caller or associates could rob her home.

    2. Green Goose*

      Yeah it seems so weird. I had a sort of similar thing happen to me: One of my former interns was looking for FT work and asked me to be a reference and I said yes, and then I got a call from one of the companies he had applied to. The first five or so minutes were normal, they asked about his abilities and how it was working with him but then they started asking a lot of questions about my department and the org (also normal) and then the person said, “we’re a staffing company and we could really help your org out.” and then he started aggressively trying to get me to agree to a time he could stop by my office.
      I was so mad!

    3. OP #4*

      It ended up being real, which is almost worse…. I had applied for a job like that, and he told me what department it was for in the end.

  10. Eric*

    #3, what you can use is that there exists another job with a much higher salary and similar job responsibilities. This is independent of the fact that you applied, but can help make the case you are currently underpaid.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      You do have to be careful with this though – the other job does involve management responsibilities, which often goes with a bump in pay. And salaries can vary widely with area, to the extend that a significantly higher salary can end up being a lower standard of living due to different cost of living. Market salary is usually based on both the job and the location.

      1. hbc*

        Yeah, sometimes people assume “I could make more money doing this other job” naturally means “My current job should be paying me more,” and it just doesn’t in a lot of cases. If you’re the person doing the grunt work of setting up new computers, doing basic software installations day after day, it doesn’t really matter if you could be writing the code or negotiating with vendors or running the whole company. Right now, you’re setting up computers, and you’re paid for how well you do that.

        1. Miffed*

          I have researched the salaries of other positions similar to mine at other institutions across the state and compared the cost of living and our institution does not pay the staff well- barely a living wage (based on MIT research). The top administration is paid well and faculty are union, so they get annual raises, but staff has had one raise in 10 years.

  11. Espeon*

    #4: He says ‘recruiter’, I say jumped-up little arsehole.

    I hope lots of recruiters disqualify me because I don’t answer my phone, I like it when douchebags opt themselves out of my world.

    1. cataloger*

      I recall that Judge Harry Stone from Night Court was appointed to the bench because he was on a very long list of names (near the bottom) that they were calling, but it was Sunday, and he was the only one home. That’s a comedy show though, not the way that’s supposed to go.

      1. NotMyRealName*

        But as he said, he had been previously vetted and was on the list of qualified people.

  12. okie dokie*

    #4 my paranoid brain goes straight to someone trying to find out info to rob you or something. Did they at any point ask your hours you work or anything like that? Asking about the tool brands is a big red flag. The fact they wouldn’t tell you what company or job they were calling about seems like a fishing expedition.

    1. Lynn Whitehat*

      Yeah. He’s from “the government”? Fed, state, county, city? He won’t narrow it down enough to know whether he’s with the NSA or the city planning and zoning commission? It just sounds made-up.

    2. Lea*

      The asking about the brands logically makes sense in an asshole way. Like OP said, it sounds like he was testing her. I guess it is possible that candidates exaggerate certain hobbies to appear more interesting in interviews and asking specific questions would confirm that, but again this is the asshole way imo.

  13. AcademiaNut*

    I would generally associated job shadowing with high school students, and would be taken aback if a university graduate wanted to follow me around for the day to see what I do. It would also not be much use, given that my daily routine mostly involves staring at a computer screen with intense concentration, with periodic meetings to discuss technical topics.

    Informational interviews are much more reasonable for someone in the LW’s situation, but I think they do need to focus a bit when approaching people – do a bit of research on the field, and what sort of jobs are available so that you’re coming across as someone who is interested in that particular field and can ask good questions, rather than someone who is searching around semi-randomly for a career path.

    1. Boy oh boy*

      Shadowibg must be for non-high schoolers too in my experience. Here it’s not rare for professionals at all levels. My professional body recently asked for applications for its 2018 shadowing scheme, and that is for adults at all stages of their careers.

      I 10o% agree that some jobs are better suited to this than others. I would need a lot of preparation to make my shadowing interesting.

    2. Chocolate lover*

      My alma mater actually had a program for setting up students to shadow alumni for a day or half day. Doesn’t strike me as that unusual.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        I think Boy oh boy and Chocolate lover are onto something: in an informational interview, you can ask people if they know about any shadowing opportunities or programs in your field. It’s common enough for universities and professional bodies to set up this kind of thing that it’s not a weird question.

        In my office it wouldn’t be that weird to have someone shadowing if you could introduce them in meetings as “This is Fergus, he’s with us today through the Teapots career exploration program.” Just some random person with no “official” status, on the other hand, might raise a few eyebrows, even if it shouldn’t.

        And definitely agree that some jobs (or days or weeks in specific jobs) make for more useful shadowing than others.

  14. Jay*

    Hello all, this is my first post with this forum. I’ve been an avid reader for a couple of years now, but never felt my personal experience would be that useful compared to the collected knowledge of the regular posters. However, this time I feel I need to speak up. I believe that I recognise the situation that O.P. #4 finds themselves in. This was a technique used in an old, pre-internet, form of Phishing. The questions seemed to center around how much money they had on hand and what easily sellable valuables (the woodworking tools in particular, as a large collection of high quality tools can be worth many thousands of dollars) were on hand. Your caller seemed new to this and fairly inept, so you may not have much to worry about, but a call to your local police non-emergency number is definitely warranted, both to make a report and to find out if there have been similar calls associated with residential break ins.
    Good luck and hope this helps.

    1. Uyulala*

      This was where my thoughts went too. I’ve had a phone interview with the CIA before and they were no where near that cagey about things!

    2. A paralegal*

      That’s what I was thinking too. Also note that supposedly, put of 130 applicants she was in the shortlist of 15, but since 10 didn’t pick up the phone she’s down to one of five. I think this is a “Look how special and amazing you are!” trick that phishers use.

      The whole not saying what department is fishy too. If they’re down to the final five, why would they want to speak to someone who might never want to work for the IRS, FBI, etc.

      LW, did this guy leave any contact information?

    3. Triplestep*

      This was my first thought once the OP got to the part about the caller’s interest in his tools. Prior to that, I thought it was someone trying to gather salary data.

    4. Naptime Enthusiast*

      +1 about calling the non-emergency police line. My city’s PD has a fairly active online presence and has been warning citizens about local scams via Facebook and the nightly news. They’re especially prevalent now since it around tax return time and more individuals tend to get sucked dry out of fear of the IRS coming after them.

    5. OP #4*

      Thanks for the warning! It ended up being real, which is almost worse… I have no idea what the guy was thinking, apparently he is the “managing director” of the recruiting company. He did have my resume with him, which I submitted through the recruiting website. I mean it could be a very elaborate scam where they have set up a website and online portal and many job ads ect. but I doubt it. I think he just had a terrible idea of what constituted normal interview technique.

  15. Lumen*

    I am henceforth using “I am drunk on a very small amount of power” to describe so many people…

    1. Mookie*

      I love it so much I kind of want it as an epitaph. (Plus, it’d sound like I’m still alive, so it’d be spooky.)

  16. Safetykats*

    For OP5 – I would try to reach out to your university placement office and see if they can help you with internships, or contacts with alumni who work in the industries in which you’re interested. A lot of colleges maintain close ties with alumni, who do this kind of mentoring, and with companies where they place significant numbers of graduated. I think that’s your best chance of getting the kind of informational interviews you’re looking for, although that probably depends on your industry. In certain types of jobs you’re not going to be able to shadow someone, because you won’t be granted access to office facilities or the information handled in them without being an employee – anything that would be considered priveleged information, company confidential, or access controlled is just not going to be accessible as a walk-in. Without knowing what kind of job you’re interested in, it’s hrd to give specific advice – but a lot of companies hire post-graduate interns, so if you have some level of interest applying for that kind of position is a good way to get started. Also reach out to the other people in your graduate class, to see what they’ve done and how they are liking it; just like networking with alumni, that’s a good way to get ideas and maybe even a recommendation.

  17. Engineer Girl*

    #1 – Free food is designed for one thing only. It is there to keep you working at work. It’s right up there with the work gym, dry cleaning drop off, etc. They don’t want you to leave.
    So that means the free food is there for your next meal. Don’t take more, don’t hoard, don’t give it to your non-work friends, don’t take all the good stuff (or you’ll alienate your coworkers).

    1. LilyP*

      This was my thought! Also in tech it’s become such a common perk that I think some offices feel like they have to offer food to attract talented engineers

    2. Heart of Cholula*

      Yep, most places that offer things like free food are doing it because they want to keep you at work.

    3. Bostonian*

      I mean… it could be part of a larger pattern with other indicators that they want you to work late hours, but… in the 8 hours I’m at work, I have to eat at some point.

  18. Relly*

    “Drunk on a very small amount of power” reminds me of one of my favorite Kids in the Hall sketches, where a promoted employee goes mad with (a very moderate amount of) power. YouTube link in username.

  19. Andy*

    OP4: A secret government job he can’t elaborate on? Bizarre questions? You should definitely take it! You’re going to either get awesome super powers, or it’s supernatural crime fighting and treasure hunting!

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I figure this is how they find Mission Impossible agents. “The first thing we need in this job is someone who answers the damn phone rather than letting it go to voicemail…”

    2. GG Two shoes*

      My husband likes to joke (I think…) that he googles “secret government super soldier program” in hopes that the NSA will see it and recruit him.

  20. Tuesday Next*

    OP1 at a long ago job we were all allowed to order lunch from the local sandwich shop and the company paid. It seemed awesome until we realised that it was intended to keep people at their desks and working during the lunch break :-/ I got quite a lot of flack for taking my {employee benefit} lunch and eating it outside.

  21. WonderingHowIGotHere*

    No.2 really puzzled me. Does the company not offer incentives for car sharing? My hubby works for the same company, but we only have my car pass, and this morning we are also giving a co-worker a ride to the office. There are extremely limited spaces available, and my car pass is free, whereas pushing for a pass for my husband (and non-driving coworker) would cost. We have at least five other car sharers that I know of, all with free passes – which means we are using six car spaces for about 20(?) staff, and it’s not costing the staff anything.

    P.S. No. 4 is a scam (just my tuppenorth)

  22. MommyMD*

    Probably not even a recruiter. Next call will be give me your credit card number to run you through a preemployment check and you will surely get the job. This screams scam.

  23. Boy oh boy*

    OP1, to add to Alison’s good advice: if there is specific food there for people on restricted diets – eg, gluten-free, vegan, kosher, etc – if you don’t have a restricted diet, PLEASE don’t scoff it all and leave none for the people who need it!

    By all means try a little or go back for seconds once everyone’s had something, but I’ve sometimes seen everyone gobble up the delicious-looking coconut vegetable curry without thinking that Wakeen can’t eat the prawn pad thai that’s left.

      1. JaneB*

        And mine – meat eaters always eat the vegetarian food!! Even when there’s clearly very little left…

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          This is my frustration with the food-ordering side too–if you have 17 omnivores and 3 vegetarians, that doesn’t mean you need exactly 3 people worth of vegetarian food and no one else will touch the yucky vegetables. (Or pasta with cheese sauce.)

        2. nnn*

          Yes! The omnivores always go “Mmmm, salad!” and don’t leave enough for the vegetarians. But if you raise the idea of an all-vegetarian spread, they complain.

          (Although I’ve been toying with the idea of ordering all-vegetarian and simply not explicitly mentioning that it’s all-vegetarian.)

    1. Traveling Teacher*

      And also, I love it when places have a special, different colored serving utensil/buffet location just for those dishes–nothing worse than taking the time and care to get them only to have Fergus use the meatball serving spoon to help himself to the vegan curry!

    2. Naptime Enthusiast*

      Yes! For our annual picnic outing we order catering, and I make sure there are veggie, vegan, and gluten/allergen-free options depending on who is attending. I also loudly announce that those with dietary restrictions serve themselves first, and everyone else after them. Some will always grumble, but others genuinely don’t realize that not everyone can eat everything laid out.

      1. Mildred*

        Not to mention: there’s less chance of contamination if the people with allergies/sensitivities serve themselves first.

        1. Naptime Enthusiast*

          That is the other goal but yes! Once serving utensils start moving between dishes, all bets are off.

      2. Lynn Whitehat*

        The first job I had out of college, we regularly had barbecues, and the company would order veggie pizzas for people who couldn’t eat barbecue. We had to self-organize and physically stand in a circle around the pizzas to prevent people who “just didn’t feel like brisket” or whatever from scarfing them all up.

    3. Alton*

      Also, if the OP has dietary restrictions like these, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to mention it to the person who arranges the food, if relevant, so they can factor it into the order and make sure there’s enough.

    4. Artemesia*

      Offices really need to sequester special orders and make sure those who need them get them. I learned long ago that everyone who loves the meat eater’s special will suddenly at some point decide to ‘try’ the cheese only pizza, of which there is only one for the vegetarians and the veggies will be stuck with the meat extravaganza. Wakeen’s food needs to be kept separate till Wakeen gets served.

  24. Starfox*

    #1 definitely take a cue from your coworkers here. as the person who managed weekly lunches and snacks for employees in two startup-ish environments who really had a budget for this stuff IT WAS A FREE FOR ALL that can be hard to wrap your head around if you’re not used to it. it can spoil you. but its also nice if you rush out the door without time for breakfast and can have yogurt and granola at work, or if you’re too busy to get lunch and there’s catering. the expectation at both places was to treat people like adults who could handle themselves and help themselves to a reasonable amount of drinks and snacks.
    Also as the person who managed this perk it hurt my soul to throw catered food away and I always encouraged employees to take it home—workplaces that are down with this often offer some kind of bags or containers for this purpose— and always tried to find avenues for donating leftovers to people in need if there was enough. if it was a little but, I still tried, even if that meant handing out a couple sandwiches to random hungry folks on the street. I know every person responsible for this perk might not have felt that way but it bothered me and I tried to mitigate it as much as possible.

  25. Birch*

    #2 The problem isn’t really that you’re married, it’s the implicit sexism of the company to suggest that you work around your husband’s schedule. YOU get the pass. You are the one with the dependable timeline. If your husband is ready to leave with you, then he comes along. If not, he can take the bus. That way, there is a predictable schedule and the onus is on him to either match it or figure out a way to work around it. TBH I kind of understand the company’s perspective here. It’s so wasteful to be taking 2 cars to work 3 blocks apart when you live together, and I think the “one pass per household” policy is fine if they also ask it of people who live together as unmarried partners or roommates, provided their work hours and buildings are close enough together, and it’s not really fair to people who might need those parking spaces because they can’t take the bus or carpool. Having your own personal car to go wherever, whenever you want, is a luxury many people in the world don’t have–even in big developed cities people take the bus/train and cycle or walk, and it’s seen as a great thing for the environment and for personal health. It wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the US (I’m assuming you’re american) invested more in infrastructure, but here we are. At least consider this, and consider if you controlled the pass, would that mitigate your stress about it?

    Have you asked what is the rationale behind the rule? Have you asked if the company has the same rule for unmarried people living together? Is it a carpooling initiative, an environmental initiative, or because there aren’t enough parking spaces in the first place? I think it’s worth getting down to their reasoning and determining if that’s reasonable to you before pushing back. You might get better results that way.

    1. LBK*

      FWIW, OP said her husband has been at the company for years and she’s the newcomer, so it does make more sense in that context that the default would be him keeping the same system that’s always worked for him and her shifting hers around since she doesn’t necessarily have a set routine yet.

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, I said that above, too; it’s basically the only thing in this whole clusterfrick situation that didn’t raise my eyebrows. It’s easier to leave everything as it is and just not hand out a pass to the new person than to change the already existing pass or revoking it and handing out a new one or similar.

      2. Birch*

        I don’t think this necessarily makes more sense since OP says she has more of a schedule than her husband does–she says he’s often late and the schedule can vary by several hours. My main point was, regardless of how many passes the company allows per household, it’s not up to the company who controls the household pass. Within their marriage, the person with more of a routine/more responsibility should control the pass. So there’s really two separate questions there, and the extra pass isn’t really related to OP’s husband’s schedule.

        1. Birch*

          I should say, I’m assuming it’s some kind of easily removable card thing, not a sticker. If it’s a sticker then yeah, just focus on getting another one if it’s already on his car and you can’t drive his car for whatever reason.

          OP, get to the bottom of the reasoning.

    2. LBK*

      As for your last paragraph, my gut says this is purely penny pinching – they see a husband and wife employee pair as a way to save a few hundred bucks on a parking pass by only giving them one.

    3. the_scientist*

      I wonder if they are just really poor communicators and actually meant “we will only reimburse each household up to $X for parking” or “only 1 parking pass per household is available”, but their flippant response of “just take the bus” makes me think that’s probably not the case. In any case, it’s not actually costing the company *more* to pay for two parking passes, since if they’d hired not-OP’s husband they’d need to provide a pass? Maybe they are seeing some very short-sighted dollar signs and thinking they get two employees for the price of one pass? I think some pointed questioning will help get to the bottom of their thought process.

  26. Anonymous Poster*

    For number 3, remember, never has so little power been wielded so ruthlessly.

    It almost sounds like a very odd scam. Don’t be put off, decent recruiters may call out of the blue, but they’ll do it to chat with you about who you are and if you’re looking for anything. I’ve found more lately that they’ll try first with a linkedin message, and if I respond favorably, we’ll go on from there.

  27. Gaming Teapot*

    OP 1: As a general rule of thumb, only take one piece of whatever they offer when the food is first set out. Then, in the afternoon, if there is still any left, feel free to take as much as you want (the reason for this being that you want to give everyone a chance to get some, but don’t want leftover food to rot in the fridge).

    OP 2: Definitely push back using the advice Alison gave you. It is perfectly okay for them to encourage married/co-habitating co-workers to come to work together, but insisting on it is rude and unreasonable.

    OP 3: Unless you want your manager to have the impression that you’ll leave for another job if you don’t get the raise, I’d not mention it.

    OP 4: I don’t think this was a recruiter. It does sound like a scamming/phishing call, especially since they wanted to know your current salary (not “what salary would you want for this job” but “what are you making right NOW”) and the power tools (which are expensive items that can be sold well). As a general rule of thumb, don’t ever trust cold callers. Best case scenario, this was a really stupid and self-absorbed recruiter. Worst case scenario, someone was remote-scouting your financial situation to see if your place is worth a break-in. (It could also have been someone gathering data to cold-call you for marketing purposes later.)

    OP 5: As a general rule, I think shadowing should never be requested, only offered. Informational interviews are much better.

  28. Humble Schoolmarm*

    OP 4: That does seem extremely fishy, especially being so cagey about what the job actually was. The odd fixation on woodworking did remind me of a bad interview experience from my own life, though. I was interviewing for med school and my interviewer got oddly fixated on my part-time job at the public library and not in a “tell me about a time at the library when…” kind of way, but in a “tell me about your policies and the programs you offer that would interest my elderly mother”. It was so odd, because I wasn’t prepared to sell the library’s senior programming at all (and honestly, didn’t know much about it since my work was exclusively on the circulation side). The kicker? A few weeks later, she shows up at the check-out desk and snidely says “Oh, so you do work here?” What did she think, that I invented my glamorous 14 hour a week library job to bamboozle my way into med school?

  29. Ann Onimous*

    Re #3: This reminds me a bit about a few recent Linkedin messages which read something like

    Hi Ann,

    How much experience do you have with teapot design?
    What about using Miracle Teapot Designer TM?


    I mean geez! How about you start with the job you’re looking for? Posting some requirements, etc etc?
    Out of curiosity, I did once reply to such a message, only to be told that they had several jobs where my qualifications would be a great match, and asking to schedule an interview… UGH!

    1. Fake old Converse shoes (not in the US)*

      A couple of years ago I got an email that said

      We have gr8 jobz in ur area. Wanna know?
      Tpots HR Plus”

      No wonder why it was in the spam folder.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I just searched my email for this gem I got a few months ago. To my *work* email address.

        Dear candidate,

        It’s delightful to bring you the news that our personnel officer chose you to propose a new job opening of Logistic Maintenance Specialist in our prospering company.
        HR specialists suppose you can be a competitive candidate as your background and skills fully match our requests.
        We suggest a full employment work from home position, that has a lot of advantages, for example, you possess more free time to communicate with the family because you do not have to waste it to get to the workplace, along with that you will be documentally employed to perform your duties.

        Job Available: January 01, January 31.

        Key points of job process:
        – to accept boxes, examine them for being undamaged and make a photo report;
        – to stay in stable touch with your supervisor and other managers, which assist and support you with a new job;
        – to prepare supplied parcels for being resent and to spread them according to the instructions.

        The role of Logistic Maintenance Specialist is crucial in the logistics procedure starting from receiving to mailing off products, it should be fulfilled responsibly and precisely in accordance with instructions. In case you are ready to get the described position, do not hesitate to connect with us to start your career today!

        Main responsibilities:
        – Confirmation of compliance of requested products to received products through reviewing the invoices;
        – Accurate and fast accepting and reporting the updates;
        – Quick and effective communicating with the supervisor and all the team by email or mobile phone about the tasks throughout the day;
        – Willingness to learn the norms of mailing out, checking and reporting to do manual job;
        – Fine processing of accepted items by checking all the characteristics;
        – Physical strength to lift parcels of different size with a weight up to 20 pounds.

        Required skills and degree:
        – Time management skills;
        – Communication skills;
        – Computer skills (Internet, email, Word);
        – High school diploma or General Educational Development.

        $2,900.00 a month during the trial period of 2 months. The wage is paid on a monthly basis after the starting date (the day you accept your first package);
        $3,100.00 from the third month of employment, paid twice a month. Also, the system of bonuses is used according to your outcome of job once a month.

        Thank you in advance,
        Clarence Radman.

    2. OP #4*

      It is very strange, there are a bunch of job adverts from recruiters like that at the moment where I am.
      The title will be something like “office administrator” and the rest of the ad will just say ” are you an experienced office administrator with attention to detail and a professional attitude etc… we have multiple jobs on offer that could suit your skills”. I’m guessing it is a way of pooling resumes.

  30. Lea*

    Disregarding the sketchiness of #3, can we start a movement to ban on the spot phone interviews?! I was reading an old AAM post about this and someone in the comments said that they’re a recruiter that does this. She said it had never occurred to her that it might be an awful time for the candidate and that she’s actually putting them at a disadvantage (!)

    Like, I’m sorry, do you think all of your candidates are just sitting in their enclosed office space with their fingers crossed waiting on the possibility of an interview with you?! I feel like even when I’m job hunting and have my employment information at the forefront of my mind, I still need to get into “interview mode” which is a different mindset imo.

    1. Alton*

      Ugh, yes. One time when I was job hunting, I got a vague message from a place I’d applied to and wanted to call them back before the end of business hours. I was working retail at the time and didn’t have a car, so I had to go outside and find a relatively quiet spot on the edge of the parking lot. It was really unexpected and awkward when they wanted to do a spur of the moment phone interview.

  31. hello my name is*

    #4: If this was supposedly for the US federal government, this was a scam. I don’t know about other governments (state, other countries, etc) but … I’d also assume scam.

  32. Rusty Shackelford*

    I’m dying for an update on #2, because I’m just gobsmacked that this company thinks what they’re doing is okay.

  33. CM*

    Hi OP#5. Totally normal to ask for an informational interview. I would go with alumni of your school or people that you and your family know, so they have some connection to you and are more likely to want to help you out. Email and explain briefly who you are, how you know them, and what you’re asking. Don’t be offended if they don’t respond, or take a long time — this is pretty low down on their to-do list even if they’re happy to meet with you. Your email can be something like this:

    Hello Name,
    I’m a recent graduate of Bonzo College and found you through the alumni directory. I’m exploring different career paths and am interested in learning more about the software industry. Would you be willing to have coffee with me to talk about your career path and what the industry is like in general? I’m in Big City but would be happy to come to your office and am available any day but Wednesday.
    [Phone number]

    People who are willing to do this typically do it because they like the feeling that they’re helping a young person in their career, so it’s great if you follow up eventually and let them know how their advice had an impact on your life or career choices. Of course you should also send a thank-you email right after you meet with them.

    1. LBK*

      I think it might also be worth giving examples of a couple more specific questions you’d want answers to – a lot of times what someone seems to mean by “informational interview” is “I show up and sit there for an hour while you give a presentation on your career and industry”. You want to convince your audience that you’re prepared and that you’re not expecting them to do any legwork beforehand.

    2. CheeryO*

      Yes, this. There also might already be a platform for networking with alumni, depending on the size of your alma mater, so it’s worth poking around your university’s careers website, if you haven’t already.

  34. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    #1: Free food at work- I usually only take one piece/thing, especially now that I’m trying to lose weight. But food is a free for all, generally.

    And please don’t comment on other people’s food unless they are taking a ton more than a normal portion, or other rude behavior around free food. I eat whatever I want one day a week (usually Wednesday because that midweek slump, right?) and it’s not always very healthy, though I do continue to eat the same meals, just also snack. If anyone made a comment I think I would eat THEM! Every Wednesday last month there was an event thing near work with a free cereal bar. You can pry my weekly Lucky Charms out of my cold, dead hands (0kay, I really just like the marshmallows).

  35. Sarah*

    For 2: this is obnoxious but doesn’t surprise me at all. My employer has a bizarre rule that if your spouse is also employed there, only one of you can take parental leave (otherwise available on a gender neutral basis to all employees)! And of course that means the woman needs to take it, since she can’t exactly be right back at work the day after giving birth. Luckily my spouse works at a different company so he was able to be home for a few weeks after my C-section, but I have friends who’ve been burned by this where the husband gets zero leave simply because he happens to work at the same company. And this is a very large organization—there wouldn’t be some sort of hardship from two people being out at once or even staggering their leaves.

    I realize parental leave is a huge issue in the US and we are probably lucky to have any at all, but I still find thisnrule bizarre and unfair, since it’s not like other benefits are distributed based on where your spouse works.

    1. Judy (since 2010)*

      That’s written into the FMLA law. And it’s not just for parental leave. If you had cancer and used 12 weeks of FMLA for your treatment, your spouse at the same company couldn’t use FMLA to care for you. (The “qualifying event or illness” would only get 12 weeks whether it is taken by one spouse or both.)

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Does the law say employers can’t give FMLA to two people for the same event, or that they don’t have to?

        Also, Sarah, would your company let the spouse take vacation time and not claim it as FMLA?

        1. fposte*

          You’re always allowed to give more than FMLA requires–you just can’t give less. (I also can’t tell if Sarah’s parental leave is FMLA or she’s talking about some paid leave, but FMLA doesn’t say “only one of you can take it”–you can usually divvy it up between the two.)

          Most employers will require that absences during an FMLA-eligible event be taken as FMLA. If their leave isn’t paid, people are usually drawing on vacation time to get income during that period.

      2. Sky*

        That’s not true. Having to split the 12 Weeks only applies to FMLA bonding leave for birth or adoption. It’s really easy to get around by having the doctor certify the mother as needing 12 full weeks for medical recovery. Then dad also gets the full 12 weeks.

      3. fposte*

        It doesn’t apply to actual employees like that; it applies to children and to care for an ailing parent. Here’s the language:

        “Spouses who are eligible for FMLA leave and are employed by the same covered employer may be limited to a combined total of 12 weeks of leave during any 12-month period if the leave is taken to care for the employee’s parent with a serious health condition, for the birth of the employee’s son or daughter or to care for the child after the birth, or for placement of a son or daughter with the employee for adoption or foster care or to care for the child after placement.”

    2. Elemeno P.*

      My work has a modified version of that. If both parents work at the company, one gets full parental leave and one gets partial parental leave. The leave can be taken all at once or split up. It feels fair enough that way, especially since it applies to biological children and adopted children.

  36. pleaset*

    “I was a bit flustered but said yes.”

    As a general rule, don’t say yes to requests if you’re feeling flustered

    1. OP #4*

      I guess, but I’m not really in a position to say no at the moment because I just moved and don’t have a job.

  37. stitchinthyme*

    #1 – My company does a free meal once a week, alternating between breakfast and lunch, and there’s a pantry/closet with free snacks, drinks, and stuff like microwavable soups available. More than once, management has had to send out emails to everyone admonishing people to only consume the snacks at work — apparently whole cases of snacks have disappeared within hours of being restocked; since there are only about 40 people in the company, there’s no way that much is being eaten in the office that fast. There are security cameras around, but if they know who was doing it, management hasn’t said. Regardless, it kind of amazes me that people do this; this is a software-development company, and while I have no idea what others are paid, I know my salary is way more than adequate to buy my own food for home. And there are really no low-level employees here. So I guess they did it because they could?

    #4 – I’m with those who think the “recruiter” may have been a scam. It’s one reason why I won’t answer the phone unless I recognize the number; anyone who’s legit can leave a message and I’ll get back to them.

    1. Allison*

      There are definitely people who make a lot of money, but are still super frugal and will seize any opportunity to get free stuff and save money. And maybe some people work so many hours, they fancy themselves as “too busy” to go grocery shopping.

      1. stitchinthyme*

        This isn’t a startup company that requires crazy hours. I mean, there are crunches every now and then, but no one is working 50+ hours every week.

    2. Bea*

      Just think of it this way, owners and CEOs have been known to take all the freebies home when clients drop off a basket of holiday goodies. There are a lot of people who get and stay wealthy by pulling that BS!!!

  38. dear liza dear liza*

    #3: AAM is right that you can’t leverage being a finalist, but since you work at a college, I’ll say that having an actual offer is often the *only* way to get a raise. It’s a terrible system, but I’ve worked at numerous universities where, when staff or faculty ask for a raise, the response is “get another offer and we’ll see what we can do.” Sometimes they match the counteroffer, and often they lose their very best people who had no intention of looking, but then liked what they saw. And people who take the counteroffer are often bitter because the university has made them go through all the hoops of academic hiring for a couple thousand dollars. Meanwhile, search committees waste a lot of time interviewing candidates who were simply using them as a bargaining chip.

    I’ve never been able to figure out why universities think this is a good system, unless it’s simply to make it so difficult to ask for a raise, they hope no one does.

    1. stitchinthyme*

      I worked at one place that was similar — not a college; a private company owned by one guy. He never explicitly stated that you had to have another offer, but I only got one raise in nearly five years there, though the industry standard for my field is annual raises. The official company policy was basically that raises were given at the discretion of the owner. One of my coworkers asked for a raise, was refused, and found another job; THEN the owner offered him a raise, and he replied, “No, I shouldn’t have to threaten to leave in order to get a raise” and left anyway. Another coworker was given a promotion and more responsibilities, but no extra money to go with it, so he left as well. As for me, when I resigned, I told my boss that the lack of regular raises was one of my reasons, and he protested that he’d been about to give me one. But that was too little, too late for me, and I haven’t regretted leaving for a second. I like my current place much better.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      I’m honestly astonished anyone goes to all the effort of job-hunting on their own time, gets to the point of getting a job offer with more money etc… and then uses that to say “See? Someone else will pay me X. So now will you pay me X?”

      It reminds me of this bit where prairie doves (I think?) were uninterested in some dude birds until researchers put a bunch of stuffed prairie doves around the boring guy, and then the doves reconsidered their position–if these stuffed birds want him, he must have good qualities! The company is only convinced of your worth if you first surround yourself with dead birds, staring at you in adoration.

    3. CatCat*

      My former government employer did this! I said, “So you want me to look for another job?”

      I did look for another job and got a very attractive offer. So I left. Because that policy was ridiculous and I wasn’t having it.

    4. Miffed*

      Yes, it was a 3 hour interview, compensated for time and travel and the only reason I was not hired, according to the hiring manager (and the position has not been filled as of today) is because I do not have management experience. I am a one person department. Most other institutions have departments of 4-6 people doing the work I do as one person for very little pay. I manage all the day to day activities, but not actual human beings. Frustrating.

  39. CatCat*

    Oooooh #2 grinds my gears. HR is wrong and ridiculous for all the reasons that have been stated. I’d be tempted to start getting outlandish as well if they don’t relent. “So if we divorce, can I get a parking pass?”

    This also seems like it could create a morale problem. I’d be feeling prickly if it were another employee and found out about the situation.

  40. SleeplessKJ*

    Re #3 – totally a scam! Your first clue was the blocked number. From there it’s one red flag after another. I do freelance voiceover work and I get crap like this all the time (“we have listened to your demo and you are one of the finalists for game show host” or some such nonsense.) No legit recruiter is going to call from a blocked number. And if you THINK it might be legit but are on the fence, ask what company they represent and then tell them you want to call them right back from a place where you “can talk privately.” Dollars to donuts they will either try to insist that if you don’t talk to them RIGHT NOW you will lose the opportunity – or they’ll just hang up.

    1. Natalie*

      I think you’re overall right, but for what its worth I’ve worked with multiple legitimate recruiters whose office numbers are blocked. It seems to be a non-uncommon setting for the agency office phone.

      1. soon 2be former fed*

        This is not an absolute, I know someone (33) who makes nearly sixty grand in a white-collar job without a four year degree. She does have college credits though. Some employers were closed to her, but not all, and her jobs have been with larger, good companies with benefits. Slavishly pursuing a four year degree just to have one can be a sucker game if massive student loans must be taken out, there is no specific training obtained, and the job market goes south. There’s always Uber or Lyft though.

      2. soon 2be former fed*

        Why? I’ve not worked much with recruiters, but they must know that many folks block blocked numbers or simply do not answer. They would have to leave a message and I would need to call them back.

        1. Natalie*

          I have absolutely no idea why, but none of them seem to have a problem with leaving a voicemail and getting a call back.

  41. Cautious Callie*

    OP #4: This unfortunately sounds like a scam going around where a “recruiter” is just an identity thief.

  42. Lauren K Milligan*

    LW2 – I think one of your coworkers put this guy up to calling you – either trying to find out how much you earn, or just to rattle your cage. Is there anyone that doesn’t get along with you at work? You can’t do anything about the call that already happened, but keep an eye out in case anything else odd happens.

  43. Dianne*

    OP#1 – Let’s not forget that folks must be reminded to take whatever unwrapped food they touch. Don’t open all the sandwiches with your fingers to see what’s inside. Don’t put your hand into the bag of chips. Use tongs, a fork, even a napkin, just don’t touch the bare food.

  44. user7842*

    “5. Asking to shadow networking contacts”

    In none of my jobs I would be able to allow sb to shadow me. Because of confidentiality requirements. Companies want to assure what happens in the compan stays within the company.

  45. Clever Name*


    Yes, please do not ask to shadow someone. I had a recent graduate ask to shadow me for an entire day or a half day, which I declined and offered to get coffee with her instead to answer her questions. She has not responded to my email. And ditto to a person just sitting there watching me type. I do fieldwork from time to time, so maybe not as boring as watching someone type, but it would pose a real safety and liability issue to have a non-employee accompany us on site visits.

  46. Mimmy*

    Thanks Alison for linking to the post on informational interviewing in #5 – I see that I did read it then, but I wish I’d made note of the suggested questions from you and the commentariat. I have corrected that ;) I will be sure to tailor these to my specific questions and whoever I am contacting – that way, you show you’ve put some thought into your questions and not just going off of a set of questions you found on the internet (even if the source is as awesome as Alison haha).

  47. LawBee*

    “You shouldn’t receive fewer benefits simply because …”
    * you are married
    * you are single
    * you have kids
    * you don’t have kids
    * your city has public transportation
    * you live three blocks away

    I mean, there are obviously DIFFERENT benefits that people get, but one’s marital status shouldn’t mean FEWER benefits. Ugh.

  48. Peaches*

    The scammer call reminds me of one of my first interviews out of college. It’s was selling these gift cards but they tried to make it seem like a marketing job. After a super interview and having to watch the main scammer go to a few business peddling his gift cards I got a weird vibe. He proceeds to offer me the job and saying I would need to start immediately. I remember saying something about needing to check with my parents when he started to make fun of me, I ended up leaving feeling nasty and taken for a fool. It did help me spot those bogus “marketing jobs” from the paper…

    1. Joanne*

      I remember those! One of my first interviews out of college was with one of those door to door sales, but they kept saying it was for a Fortune 500 company. I did the research on the company, did the interviews and thought it was a good fit, but it wasn’t until I actually entered the building that they became clear what they were doing-selling Verizon to customers. The hours were from 11AM-8PM, because “they didn’t want us in traffic”, and more people are at home later in the afternoon/evening. We’d get back to the office around 7PM, and then have “staff meetings” where we discussed how much we sold, what our goals were, teambuilding exercises, etc. that would go on until way after it was time to leave. I left after a day because the travel expenses weren’t worth it, and it was commission based, no salary, and required us to work weekends. But similarly, it did help me spot those jobs on job boards as well.
      Now, I get a lot of calls and emails from recruiting firms that seem to be primarily staffed by Indians and give me “on the spot” interviews that I always feel unprepared for. I usually let them go to voicemail, or if I do pick up have them email my work email address to find out more.

  49. Safely Retired*

    On #2, the parking pass…
    It might be possible to make a case for sex discrimination since they are denying the pass to the wife but not the husband. Also, has the husband added his own voice to the issue? If the company insists you share the pass then he is being denied part of the benefit too.

  50. Safely Retired*

    On #4, the odd recruiter telephone interview…
    How can you be sure it was a recruiter? Detectives have all sorts of ways of digging up information, not always for the best of reasons. It could be anything from industrial espionage to a nasty ex behind it.

  51. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    OP #4: Don’t give strangers on the telephone any information about yourself. As others have already pointed out, this could be a scam. If you are genuinely interested in a mystery job, ask for the name of the staffing agency, the name and number of the caller, and which agency office location the recruiter is working out of. Then you can at least google the agency, call their listed office number and verify if the recruiter works there. Even after that minimal verification, I wouldn’t give out personal info to a recruiter who made a cold call to me and refuses to tell me anything about the job.

  52. p*

    In regards to job shadowing, for many graduate programs this can be a requirement. Currently, I am working on prerequisites to enter graduate school in an area of healthcare and a minimum of 40 shadowing hours is required (with two separate people in two different areas of specialty, nonetheless). Perhaps it is a bit old-fashioned, but it is still necessary in many fields of study.

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