coworker uses icebreakers in every meeting, is it wrong to fake enthusiasm in a job interview, and more

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

1. My coworker uses icebreakers in every meeting

One of my coworkers runs a lot of the meetings at my workplace. He’s good at his job and generally well-liked, but I’ve noticed that he almost always schedules an icebreaker for meetings — even small ones with only three or four people. They don’t usually have anything to do with the meeting topic, more along the lines of “Rank these breakfast foods.”

I do like to get to know my coworkers, but I don’t think icebreakers before meetings are particularly effective in that regard. I can see their value in situations where people don’t know each other or there might be tension, but when it comes to quick meetings with people I already work with regularly, they just feel like a waste of time. Is there a purpose they serve here that I’m not seeing?

Nope. The idea with icebreakers is supposed to be to give people some comfort and familiarity with people who they don’t know well or, in some cases, to switch them into a more relaxed mode than they might be in for most of the work they do together. It’s weird to do them for every meeting in your office, and especially weird to routinely do them for meetings or three or four people. I’d be annoyed by the waste of time too.

I suppose it’s possible that most people in your office enjoy them (do they?), in which case you might not really have standing to ask for them to stop in general, but certainly in meetings with just a few people it would be reasonable for you to say at the start, “I’m crunched for time today — can we skip the icebreaker and get straight into the budget figures?”

Read an update to this letter here.

2. Is it wrong to fake enthusiasm during an interview?

I’m considering leaving my current job and have been sending out job applications to get a feel for what is out there. I just had an interview and I think I did well and may get an offer. However, I’m not sure if I want to accept the job. It’s not because the job post misrepresented the actual job, it’s just that I’ve changed my mind on what I want in my next job. I came to to this realization before the interview, but went ahead with the interview just in case it changed my mind (it didn’t).

During the interview, I was asked twice if it sounded like the kind of role that I would be interested in, and both times I responded with an enthusiastic “yes.” I was generally quite warm and enthusiastic through the whole interview.

Was it okay to fake enthusiasm or should I have been more honest in the interview? Was there a better way of handling this? I’m still not ready to say that I absolutely wouldn’t accept a job offer, but I’m leaning heavily towards a no.

If it was a big company or through a recruiter, I may not feel as bad, but it’s a small company with the owner conducting the interviews, so everything feels a bit more personal here.

As an interviewer, I always want people to be honest with me about their enthusiasm level, because it helps me figure out if I want to hire them for the job or not.

But as someone who advises job candidates, I will tell you that if you don’t appear enthusiastic about a job, it’s likely to take you out of the running.

What you did was fine. While you’re still in the process of figuring out if you want the job or not, it’s fine to default to a generally enthusiastic stance. That’s just smart to do, so that you’re not taken out of the running.

That said, you don’t want to fake enthusiasm across the board. If you know for sure that you don’t want to do X or Y and that you wouldn’t take a job that focused heavily on those, you’d be shooting yourself in the foot if you faked enthusiasm about those; that’s a recipe for ending up in a job you’re not going to be happy in. But seeming generally interested in the job itself, while you’re still in the process of figuring out if you really want it? That’s just savvy interviewing.

3. How to set boundaries with clients for my days off

I work in a non-traditional service industry type job that involves going to my clients’ homes (think childcare, but if it were extremely lucrative). In my line of work, forming close emotional relationships with clients is very much the norm, and generally this is something I appreciate about my job. Because of this closeness, however, it can often be difficult to set boundaries about the hours I am and am not available to work.

Because my job is non-traditional, my schedule is too, but I do still take two days off in a row each week because I have to do laundry and go to the store and generally have a life. I frequently get requests to work on these days and I always reply simply that I’m not available, but often clients will press for details or pressure me to work anyway. It’s difficult for me to say no, especially in situations in which they are very reliant on me, but when I don’t take my normal “weekend,” my mental health really suffers. How can I be clear – but polite – about the time that I need to myself, and how much of an obligation do I have to explain how I’m planning to use that time?

For reference, I’m not a freelancer. I work for a company which assigns and manages clients, but I set my own schedule and I have a lot of flexibility. Unfortunately, though they are generally good employers, they aren’t very supportive in this area – employees at my level earn them LOTS of money, so they basically want us to work as much as we can, and they’d happily have me work from noon to midnight (which I do from time to time) every day of the week.

You don’t need to explain anything about how you’re planning to use that time. You should just be able to say, “I’m sorry, I’m not available on Sunday, but I can see you on Monday if you’d like.” And if someone pushes, you can say, “I’m fully booked then” or “don’t have any time open then.” You don’t need to specify “that’s my day off” if that seems to invite people to push you to make an exception for them; sticking with some version of “that time is booked up” is likely to be harder to argue with. (And it’s not a lie — that time is booked up; it’s just booked with your weekend, rather than another client. And you don’t need to explain that.)

4. Can I treat a job fair like a networking event?

This may end up being a little niche, because I’m in teaching–the hiring cycle is pretty specific. Private and charter schools February-early May, public schools late May-July, not very good schools August. I just graduated and was feeling pretty anxious about finding work, so I started sending out my resume early, and have been lucky enough to receive a few offers from charters, one of which I’m likely going to accept. However, long term, I want to be working in the public school system–I just can’t afford to turn down the definite job until my student loans are paid off.

I got an email from a recruiter about a public school job fair in three weeks. I will almost certainly have accepted a job by then, and I don’t want to waste people’s time, but I’d love to attend anyway and start getting a feel for the schools and principals in my area, what their timelines are, what they look for, etc., so that in a year or three, when I’m making the jump, I’ll be more prepared and maybe have established some relationships. Should I go and just explain that I’m not looking for the 2018-2019 school year? Should I print up a special version of my resume that explains this at the top? Do I just say nothing and wait to explain if I’m offered any interviews? I definitely don’t want to burn any bridges, because teaching in this area is a very who-you-know job!

I can’t speak to teaching in particular, but for job fairs in general, I wouldn’t do this. For one thing, most job fairs aren’t great for networking, as they tend to be staffed by HR or relatively junior people, who aren’t necessarily the people you’re hoping to network with — and they are probably not thinking about hiring that’s a few years off. But also, if your new school has a table there, there’s a risk that they’ll spot you there and be uneasy that you’re at a job fair when you’re already committed to working for them (and sure, you could explain it, but it’s potentially going to alarm them). I’d look for other ways to network instead of this, like other events that are likely to attract people in your field who you’d like to meet.

5. My boss said I could work from home on Fridays … but it seems to have disappeared

I’m a woman, so is my boss. She has several kids, I have one almost-toddler. Shortly after I returned from maternity leave, she told me: “It’s fine with me if you work from home every Friday. When I first had kids, I wanted to reduce hours but realized I’d just reduce my pay with the same work expectations, so I negotiated working from home on Fridays.”

So that’s pretty cool, right? Except … nothing was formalized, I felt uncomfortable taking her up on an informal offer so didn’t take full advantage, I’m basically a coward, and that offer seems to have disappeared. For example, my baby was sick (just a slight fever so had to stay home from daycare) on a Friday and I asked if I could work from home rather than take a personal day. She said no.

Can I negotiate that work-from-home deal back? Should I look for another job that is actually flexible or part-time? My salary is a fraction of my spouse’s and cutting back on my salary wouldn’t be a big deal for our overall household income.

It’s possible that the reason she said no to that particular request was that she doesn’t want you to work from home as a substitute for child care — because with very young kids, that generally means you won’t be getting much work done. With the original offer, she might have assumed your baby would be at day care while you were working from home.

But if you’re interested in getting that work-from-home-on-Fridays offer back, ask about it directly! For example: “When I returned from maternity leave, you told me it was fine for me to work from home on Fridays if I wanted to. At the time I wasn’t sure yet exactly what would end up making sense so I didn’t take you up on it, but I wonder if that’s still possible. If it is, I’d love to experiment with it.”

And then if she says yes, start doing it right away so that it gets normalized as a thing you do.

{ 313 comments… read them below }

  1. LouiseM*

    OP#5, I hope you end up working something out with your boss! I have to say, though, that for me and most people I know staying home with a sick baby =!= working from home. Like, at all. As in, if you had already been scheduled to work from home that Friday, I’d expect you to take sick or personal time. Even though working from home is a great perk, it is just that–a perk. Stuff still comes up that requires days off. There’s definitely a perception among some people I know that WFH for new parents is basically gaming the system, and while I don’t think that’s true, there are times where it can seem that way.

    1. LouiseM*

      Whoops, hit submit too soon. What I wanted to add was just that you need to be careful to manage the perception, if it does exist, by clarifying what your childcare plans are so people realize that the sick baby situation was a one-off and not your general M.O.

      1. Specialk9*

        Yeah, working from home and caring for a child are mutually exclusive. As they should be!

        So OP, you asked to be paid normally for a sick day, rather than asking to work from home, so don’t extrapolate that your boss was reneging on an unrelated offer (work from home).

        Personally, when working from home when the kiddo is present, I reference the arrangements so boss knows I’m not trying to juggle work and childcare (which at this stage is impossible). Eg during a blizzard (ie not planned), I told my boss that my husband and I were trading off childcare, and I’d be working on X. On a scheduled day when the kid was home, I’d mention that his grandparents or the sitter was watching him. On a sick day, I told my boss I was taking sick leave.

    2. Bagpuss*

      Yes, I think the issue may well be that you needed time off, to care for a sick child, so you weren’t really available to work from home.
      I think the benefit of working from home is that you save time on the commute, you can be more flexible (in many cases) in the hours you work, so if you want to (say) start early /later /take a different lunch break etc you can.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        And you can tackle laundry, and perhaps other waiting-intensive things–wait for the plumber, wait on hold for some nagging technical problem. But I’m with Louise that if you have an infant (or toddler or elementary age) child, then they should be cared for by someone else during this time or calling it “work” is pretty inaccurate.

      2. Czhorat*

        I’m not sure I agree with this.

        Yes, tending toa sick child takes some time and effort, but you could also (depending on your child) expect than to be quietly resting much of the day. It needn’t take your full attention.

        The request might work better if you articulate exactly what you expect to accomplish from home. “I have an emergency childcare issue. Can I work from home today? I can get the revisions on the glazing report finished and prepare the proposal for the new saucer designs”. That makes it clear that you really are working and that your boss knows what to expect.

        1. A Non E. Mouse*

          Really depends on the age of the child, plus their level of sick.

          An 8 year old that just needs to be brought chicken noodle soup, crackers and some Sprite every couple of hours while he watches TV and dozes? Ok.

          A 2 year old with any kind of ailment, even imagined boo-boos? Sick day. They can’t be un-watched for even a minute.

          1. Antilles*

            Yeah. It’s the “almost toddler” part that’s really an issue here. At that age, the child might sleep a lot of the day, but basically isn’t at all self-sufficient. It’s entirely reasonable for the boss to expect that your ‘work from home’ plans are going to end up falling to pieces when you might need to keep the corner of your eye on the kid and a portion of your mind monitoring your sick child at all times.

          2. blackcat*

            Right. From the age of 10 or so, I definitely remember being left alone while home sick from school. Not for the entire day, but most of it. “There’s chicken soup in the fridge and crackers on the counter. I’ll be home at 2. Sleep as much as you can. Bye.”

            Granted, I was a particularly responsible/chill 10 year old, but if my mom worked full time, she easily could have worked from home with me sick after I was about 7 or so.

            A toddler, though? No way. I could see asking about putting in a half-day of work (sick toddlers can sleep SOOOOO much), but not a full day.

            1. Specialk9*

              I did this too as a kid. I’m thinking that now you could get Child Protective Services called if you did this and someone found out.

              1. the gold digger*

                I was babysitting at 11. I wonder if that even happens now. (My mom was home, just down the block, and was friends with my employers, which I think was part of their comfort with the situation.)

                1. AKchic*

                  It really does depend on the laws in your area.

                  In my city, kids are allowed to be watched by older siblings who are 12 or older, however on the military installation, they cannot be left home by themselves if they are under 13, and they must have a sitter after 7pm and the sitter must be over 16 (or over 18 if the parents will be out past “curfew”).
                  However, for the city (and state), there is no real law as far as age of baby-sitting, it is parental discretion. Until something goes wrong, and even then they write it off as “well, live and learn”, unless there have been issues or the parent is a known issue. Gotta love Alaska. (no, not always. Our scenery is beautiful, but we are woefully lax and negligent with children and abuse)

                2. the gold digger*

                  Under those rules, I would have made no babysitting money as a teenager. I would, however, still have been able to get my job as a lifeguard on the marine base when I was 15.

                3. chomps84*

                  Yeah, it’s kind of weird to me how strict the laws have gotten. I started babysitting when I was 12, but started being left alone for short periods of time at 9, longer periods of time at 10, and alone with my 3-years-younger brother at 11.

                  I know that kids/teens have different personalities and maturity levels, but some of these restrictions are overly punitive to kids who are going to destroy property or do something dangerous when they’re alone.

                4. Tara R.*

                  I’m 21, and I was babysitting at 11! In Canada though, not sure how our laws differ– or if it was legal.

          3. Seriously?*

            It also depends on the job. Some jobs can easily work around getting that 8 year old some soup whenever they are hungry while others might not (such as if they need to be talking to clients or participating in conference calls).

        2. MLB*

          Until your child can mostly take care of themselves, it’s not fair to ask to “work from home” when your child is sick. The age of said child will depend, but a baby or toddler is not going to leave you alone most of the day and you will not be productive.

        3. straws*

          Yeah, this really depends on the child, the age, the illness, a bunch of different things. The assumption shouldn’t be that you’ll be able to work a full day from home, because that’s unlikely. But, it doesn’t mean that you won’t have a ton of downtime either. With my son, I typically see how the day goes. I let people know they can contact me at any time, but that I’ll be intermittently working. If he’s napping all day, I’ll get at least a few hours in. If he’s uncomfortable and clingy, then it’s a full day off. We have a lot of flexibility though, so that probably wouldn’t work for everyone.

          1. Nita*

            Yeah. One of my kids actually let me work from home a ton when he was 4-18 months. He was laid-back enough that I could let him play while I spent 15-20 minutes at a time checking emails, taking calls, and doing anything urgent. And then there were the naps. I’d rack up about 3-4 hours’ work during the day this way, and then my husband would come home and take him for a long walk. Stuff that didn’t have to happen during business hours (like report writing) was done after bedtime. I had very little child care – it was a couple of people that could come by very rarely for a few hours if I needed to attend a meeting, so this was really stressful, but I never missed a deadline or left a client hanging.

            The other kid though… I’m glad I never even tried to work from home when she was born. She would. not. play. alone for five minutes, napped well, but slept in 2-hour blocks all night. Just eating and sleeping while caring for her were a challenge – working would have been impossible.

            Funny, but they’re still like that. One of them will play a chess match against himself if he’s bored, the other one needs my constant attention even if she’s watching a cartoon (“Mommy, what’s that guy doing? Mommy, he has no shoes on!!! Mommy, look at that duck!”)

        4. Someone else*

          At every company I’ve worked for with WFH it’s explicitly stated that you must have childcare for any child under 13. I’ve had a few colleagues who took a half day when their kid was sick, because they knew functionally they weren’t going to get a whole day’s work done when also dealing with sick kiddo, even though yes, for a large portion of the day that kid was pretty much sleeping and not requiring direct attention. I mean, I get where you’re coming from, but I also get where (I suspect) the boss is coming from in holding firm that WFH is not intended to be a replacement for lack of childcare. Unless there’s some other adult who’ll be home part of the day, the vast majority of people would be nowhere near as productive from home when dealing with a sick kid as they would at work. So to treat it as a full normal workday, just from a different location, in that context is disingenuous. And totally unrelated to the original offer.

          1. remote worker chiming in!*

            Yeah — as a remote person I actually get mildly annoyed when my co-workers try to use WFH as ‘spend time doing other things because working from home means I don’t have to give work my full attention’. We have a pretty generous WFH policy in that it is at the managers discretion, and most managers are fairly open to it.

            In general, to me things like ‘the cable/repair person is coming so I need to be here to let them in’ == ok, that’s fine. You can definitely do your full job while taking a few minutes here and there to deal with that. And, as others have said, things like laundry can be done without harming your productivity.

            On the other hand things like ‘I’m sick/my kid is sick so instead of taking a sick day I’m just gonna say I’m working from home but really this just means I’ll respond to emails if needed and otherwise do nothing productive’ is not the way to do it. Aside from the fact that it plays into the culture of work over health it makes me personally nervous that these people will ruin it for others (including full time remote workers) and further perpetuates the idea that WFH means not really working at all. We have another remote person on another team who has a child who is not of school age, thankfully he’s super responsible about it and not only has child care for her but will take PTO when the kid needs to be home for some reason.

        5. myswtghst*

          Agreed on clearly laying out what can get done while WFH (I do this now with no kids when I’m asking to WFH), but I also think it would be different if OP#5 had already been working from home occasionally, and had demonstrated their productivity/availability/etc… In this instance, it’s throwing together two unknowns – sick child plus WFH – so I can see how the boss would be uncomfortable.

          1. tangerineRose*

            Especially a child this age. An older kid might be happy relaxing on the couch and watching TV and need almost no help from the parent. A 2 year old… not so much.

        6. Dust Bunny*

          A sick “almost-toddler” is not a resting-quietly child, I can just about guarantee you. That is an uncomfortable, very fussy, baby.

    3. Anon to me*

      Our policy is that you must have childcare if you WFH. And while it’s not required, it’s highly encouraged that the childcare be in a different location.

      A sick child? Unfortunately, where I work that uses PTO. We do have a few parents who WFH on days when their kids have a bunch of activities, as they don’t need to worry about their commute and they flex their houses to some degree.

      1. Oxford Coma*

        Does that depend on age, like daycare does? I know my coworker was put out that her son aged out of his daycare at 12, and she felt that he was not even close to mature enough to stay home alone at that age.

      2. Just Another Techie*

        I’m just recently back at work after maternity leave, with one regular WFH day per week, and my baby is in daycare, but my MIL is visiting to “help” for a few weeks. She keeps insisting on getting the baby from daycare at 2 or 3 pm (I work 9-5) and then when she can’t manage to keep him calm and quiet, she thrusts him at me. “I think he’s hungry.” “I think he needs his mommy.” I don’t want to go to the office 5 days/week because I want to set a precedent that wfh is my new normal, but after the second time that happened, I learned that I need to leave for the local library when MIL leaves to get the baby from daycare.

    4. Mom MD*

      Most companies that allow work from home expect you to have child care arrangements in place. You can’t reliably work if tending to a sick child and manager knew that.

    5. Snark*

      The boss made the offer for WFH Fridays when OP was expecting, so my feeling is that there’s an understanding implicit in the offer that when OP is working from home, she’d be using that flexibility for childcare or child-adjacent stuff.

    6. Where's the Le-Toose?*

      In the work from home policy at my agency, you have to have some form of child care while you’re working from home for the length of your shift. It can be private day care, your spouse, friend, mother-in-law, kind neighbor, etc., but it has to be someone other than you.

      The OP in #5 would be violating our agency’s policy, and without more facts, I’d say that this is probably the reason for the manager’s reaction.

  2. OOF*

    OP 3, as a counterpoint, I like it when people with non-traditional schedules just tell me what days they take off (massage therapist, housecleaner, etc). That way I don’t keep asking about different times thinking it’s a time-of-day issue, or I can know to just not request appointments on Tuesdays, etc. If you tell me “I don’t work on these days,” then it’s case-closed for me.

    1. Kuododi*

      Second!!! I adore my hair stylist. She’s been in the business for ages and is an absolute magician with natural curly hair. I also know her days off are Monday and Thursday. Scheduling is no sweat! I just plan around those days off and everything is cool. Plus, I know she’s always been terrific about squeezing me in if I am getting ready for a special occasion and need a little “buff up.”.

    2. Suburb*

      That might work for some people, but it’s established in the question that these clients are pressuring the OP to work even after OP says they’re busy.

      It sounds like this is a very wealthy clientele based on the letter’s multiple references to the amount of money involved. In my experience, people of means like that are used to being able to throw money at anything and get what they want. This isn’t the kind of crowd who will happily miss out on their Tuesday teapot concierge/personal chef/dog masseuse just because the “help” wants a day off. They’ve demonstrated they lack boundaries here already by pressuring the OP for more details – they’re doing this to test if the alternate plans are really more important than them. Leaving it at “I’m booked then” and not offering further details is the only way to win that game.

      1. Not Australian*

        Until you get into “I’ll pay you twice what she’s paying you” territory, and then it might almost be worth the hassle!

        1. Anonymoose*

          My spidey senses are tingling about this particular job title, and I think this is VERY likely to be said by her clients, especially since the ‘relationship’ already promotes a pseudo-emotional entanglement/dependency. That’s gotta be tough when the choices are between doing laundry and making $2k in a night instaed of $1k. I would burn myself out so quickly (but be filthy rich – muahahaha – ….choices, choices).

          Alison: I would really love a full blog post on this reader’s employment lifestyle, if you’re ever interested in doing your ‘reader job’ segments again soon. I always love reading them! :)

      2. Morag*

        Flat “I’m booked.” But over the years, as my relationships with clients grew, I was able to train them with the differences between “No way, I’m booked and it’s written in stone” to I’m booked, but may be able to shuffle things around as my other client may be willing to be flexible” to “sure, no problem”, to “my other client has requested this time, would YOU be willing to be flexible with your time”. And even the high-maintenance ones gradually realized that being flexible when they could eventually paid off in their favor, and also respected my time off as they knew I gave 110% during my time on.

      3. OP#3*

        OP 3 here – that is exactly it, I’m afraid. I don’t make tons and tons of money (I get about 1/3 of what my company charges to work with me), but I do *cost* thousands of dollars a week for some of my clients, so there is definitely an expectation that I’ll drop everything for them. I told one client that I wasn’t available (on a day when I’m not available anyway) for a religious holiday and her response was “Really? All day? Can’t you just come early?” It can be pretty audacious! I think I’m just going to have to get better about standing my ground and maybe just lying (e.g. I have other clients) when I need to.

        1. Parenthetically*

          I don’t think you need to lie! I think using Alison’s “I’m fully booked” script is going to cover you without risking being caught in a falsehood.

          1. OP#3*

            Well the only reason I’d lie is when they directly demand “Why? What are you doing? Can’t you reschedule?” I could say “that’s none of your business,” but that might offend them; I could say “I’m not comfortable discussing it,” but then they might wonder what exactly I’m doing! I try not to lie, but sometimes just saying “clients! Sorry!” is the path of least resistance.

              1. Falling Diphthong*

                THIS is a really good line.

                It’s the inverse of “this is supposed to be confidential, but I felt like venting” which is very, very discouraging to people who know you have some confidential information on them.

            1. Suzy Q*

              I’m super curious as to what you do (even though some of your clients sound kinda pushy). I like jobs with autonomy and flexibility.

              1. NaoNao*

                I would bet something like either bodywork of some kind (trainer, yogini, masseur), therapist on call, decorator, or MUA or hair stylist…to the stars! :)

                1. A tester, not a developer*

                  My money is on some type of elder care – it’s similar to child care in a lot of ways, but much more expensive. And I’ve know people who can afford that type of service that basically treat it like they’ve purchased a friend for Grandma – so of course you should be available to hang out whenever, just like a ‘real friend’ would.

                2. MattKnifeNinja*

                  My friend is a teacher that does nanny/tutor/music instructor combo for wealthy clients.

                  She has her degree in education and could teach any grade K-8 on the open market. Also plays piano.

                  So..people schedule Frieda like M,W,Th (it gives the in home nanny a break). She will work 3 pm until whenever. Doesn’t cook/clean but does all the kid stuff: homework/tutoring/music and French lessons.

                  Instead of the live in nanny schlepping the kids to the tutor or music lessons, my friend does that all at her clients home.

                  People pay $$$$ for that kind of convenience.

              2. Kj*

                If you like working with kids with disabilities, ABA therapy would have a similar profile to this- well paid and flexible.

            2. Narise*

              Could you put a voicemail message on your phone stating that you are currently unavailable and will be available again Monday at 8 or whatever time works? Then stop answering the phone on your days off. You could let your clients know in advance that they will not be able to reach you on the weekends. Also can your work have someone else work the two days you are off so the clients have support at all times and you have the day off.

        2. SkitterLizard*

          I used to work in a similar type of situation (pet-related services for the very, very wealthy, basically), and yeah, with that pricepoint people get this idea that they aren’t paying for your services, they’re paying for you. Like I, as a regular plebian, figure that I’m hiring my massage therapist or hairstylist for one session of X length for Y dollars; that’s the deal, and I have no claim to them beyond that (though if I am a good regular customer, they may choose to stretch their normal hours for me—at their discretion). But when someone is paying $Y,000 instead of $Y, they feel as if their extra fee entitles them to basically have you on tap, and it can damage the relationship if you make it too clear that that’s not the case.

          Little white lies along the lines you mention were my mainstay. Also, a lot of “Oh, I really wish I could, but I just can’t.” I hate that that’s part of the deal, but the ego-stroking of “I wish I could be your 24-7 on-call rice sculptor, but I just can’t, I hope you understand” smoothed over the edges.

          It’s a strange corner of business, to be sure.

          1. Nanani*

            Isn’t that where retainer fees come in? If you want someone on call at all times, you pay A LOT MORE but also explicitly spell out that they will be available to take you as a priority customer.
            Paying a lot doesn’t automatically make every service into a retainer arrangement though.

      4. And So it Goes*

        I concur. Simply state I am booked full that day, period. Unfortunately with this population (wealthy and demanding) they really don’t care about your time, only theirs. Just stating that you are booked full THAT DAY and if they ask about the other day you are taking off. Then offer some other day if that is your prerogative. As far as they are concerned and your boss you owe no one any explanation of your time.

        I was working with a small web development firm, who used to work late in the evening, unlike me. I asked to schedule a 9:00 AM phone meeting, she just laughed and said it was not going to happen! On one hand I did not like that on another I fully understood her dynamic. Your time is your time. Go for it!

        Good luck moving forward.

        1. Jun Aruwba*

          Honestly, one of my favorite things about my last job was that, especially in my department, there was a sort of unspoken norm that meetings aren’t set before noon. Part of it was logistics (we had staff on the west coast, so noon was a kindness to them) and part of it was based on leadership workstyles, aka morning is designated writing/creative time for many of them, so meetings only happened in the afternoons. It was glorious for someone like me who is simply not a morning person; you can make me show up at 9:00, but you can’t make me functional then.

          1. Jadelyn*

            On behalf of the west coast team of a bicoastal organization, bless you for thinking of us. We have occasionally had to push back on our colleagues setting meetings for 10am their time without considering what that translates to for us. My day starts at 8:30. Some of my colleagues don’t start til 9 or 9:30. Nobody is coming in to the office at 7am. I don’t care how important the meeting is.

      5. Natalie*

        Eh, I don’t think you’re ever going to come up with some kind of magic phrase that short circuits pushy people. No matter how air tight you construct your refusal, they will argue, because that’s how they are.

        What you *can* do is practice not giving into the pushiness or being drawn into an argument about the validity of your unavailability.

          1. smoke tree*

            I think a lot of this approach comes down to the tone. Pleasant and breezy but totally firm is most effective, in my experience–doesn’t seem rude, but doesn’t leave room for argument. If you sound too apologetic, pushy types will latch on to that, but if you treat it like a non-issue and assume that of course they will be understanding, most people will take their cues from that. (And for the extreme cases who will keep pushing no matter what, you can keep pleasantly stonewalling them anyway.)

            1. Ophelia*

              A friend of mine coined “RCIP” for this tone – relentlessly cheerful, icily polite. It works in SO many situations.

          2. Natalie*

            Two practicing suggestions:

            A) come up with 3 or so universal (meaning little enough detail that you can use them for most situations) versions of “no, I can’t”. There are a bunch of examples in this thread, just pick a handful that feel natural and polite to you. Practice saying them in a relaxed tone until they are ingrained in your head. Maybe even write them down on some cards so you can shuffle to pick.

            B) If you have any friends that are pushy or can turn assertiveness up to pushy, try playacting with them. It might feel stupid in the moment, but it really can help!

            Remember, just because someone is ignoring a boundary you set, doesn’t mean you’ve necessarily communicated it poorly. You might need to just reinforce it until they learn or give up.

            1. OP#3*

              This is really good. I do have a few go-to responses, but I’ve never organized them as my three optional replies, which I think would help a lot and also make me seem more consistent.

              Fortunately (?) I’m feeling so *over* my job right now that holding my ground hasn’t been too much of a challenge – it just creates terribly anxiety about losing clients.

      6. Anna*

        I think it can help to lay it out right up front, though. “Remember I mentioned when I started that I’m not available Sundays and Mondays. I’ll see you on Tuesday!”

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      Yes, I was wondering if OP could make Thursday-Friday her weekend, rather than figuring out two back-to-back days that change each week. That’s easier for clients to figure out when attempting to mesh schedules.

  3. Sami*

    OP#4– If you want to eventually work in public schools, try to start now rather than in a charter school. I can’t speak about the schools where you live obviously, but where I live (and I suspect this is more common than not) once you’re teaching in a charter school, it’s difficult to get hired in a public school. Fair or not, there is a slight stigma regarding charter schools.
    If you aren’t hired by a public school this year, to really get the best read on local schools, their staff, and principals, be a substitute teacher. It will also give you experience and a taste for what grades you prefer.
    Again, I can’t speak for your area, but I was hired in August and it turned out great.

    1. Sami*

      And as for networking, go to local conferences, ed camps, workshops, etc. Whatever you can afford – GO!
      It’ll help you to meet other local educators, learn new ideas and skills, and may even earn you CEUs.

    2. zyx*

      I’m a teacher, and in my area there is certainly no stigma against teachers who have worked at charter schools. Even within the same charter organization, different schools have different reputations (just like individual schools in public districts do). It can be harder to move from charter to public when districts lose funding and lay off teachers at some schools. If jobs are available at other schools, the district may have to hire teachers already employed by the district before they can hire new people.

      Here are some of the places I have met teachers who don’t work at my school:
      • Conferences held by my state affiliate of the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics
      • Hanging out with friends from my credential program (and their friends and coworkers)
      • Math and social justice conferences
      • Education-related talks and panels at local universities
      • Setting up visits at schools with interesting programs (like a newcomer school or arts magnet)
      • Math teacher twitter. We use #mtbos and #iteachmath, and the community is amazing. I hope there’s something similar for other subjects. #educolor is also a great community for teachers of color.

      You’ll learn a ton about local schools just by working in the area. Good luck!

    3. Jen*

      Same stigma here and we have very few charter schools. As another suggested be a sub

    4. A Teacher*

      No stigma against hiring charter teachers here but most of the charter teachers we’ve hired at the school I’m currently at do not stay in a public high school setting long. Public schools are much different than charter settings–some good, some not. The adjustments for some of my colleagues have proven to be difficult on multiple occasions.

    5. Jax*

      I would also strongly advise getting into the public school system sooner rather than later so that you’re eligible for full retirement benefits as early as possible. Your years of service in charter schools will not transfer over to public school, so if you spent 5 years in a charter school, and then move to public school, you’ll be starting over again from square one, year one in their eyes. This means you’ll have to put in at least 35 total years of service (charter +public) before you can retire under the public service retirement system.

      As for job fairs – I am in Maryland and all of our school systems hire on a county level. County job fairs are often staffed by administrators, but sometimes just by high level teacher leaders. Either way, they are great for finding out about open positions. Unless you work in a highly specialized area where there’s unlikely to be any openings/few openings, I would probably wait and see if I could land a public school job instead of accepting the charter job. If you somehow end up getting nothing (which I highly doubt will happen), you can substitute teach. If you aren’t picky about sub jobs, you can work basically every day and get paid pretty well. Plus, you can often turn a long term sub job into a permanent job. Maybe having a solid paycheck is really all you’re worried about right now, but charter schools often have no employment protections for teachers and contracts are often on a year-to-year basis with not-great benefits, so you might be right back where you are now next year. Just make sure you know what you’re getting into before you make the jump.

      1. Catwoman*

        I fully agree with this point about starting in the public system so you can start on your years of service, particularly as LW indicates that they want to teach in public schools.

        Also, just because you have an offer from a charter school doesn’t mean that you can’t still see what the public job fair has to offer. Think of the charter school as your insurance policy. If you get a better offer from a public school, then you can still decline the charter school. As the job fair is specifically for public schools, I don’t think you’d run the risk of someone from that school seeing you there.

        I say to go to the fair and keep your options open!

        1. Onyx*

          “Also, just because you have an offer from a charter school doesn’t mean that you can’t still see what the public job fair has to offer.”

          If she only has an *offer*, that’s true, but if she has already accepted the offer and has a *job*, not so much (she could, but it would look very sketchy). From the letter, I think the problem is that most charter schools finish their hiring process before most public schools even start, so the OP already has offers in-hand now and needs to make a decision, while the public school hiring process hasn’t even started (the job fair was said to be 3 weeks away). The charter school isn’t likely to wait 3+ weeks for an answer so that the OP can try to land an offer from a public school–they would probably (correctly) conclude that the OP wasn’t really interested in working for them and move on to another candidate.

      2. Oxford Coma*

        Yes, this. In my state (not sure if everywhere), substitutes can buy back their subbing time towards full retirement. You can pay in a lump sum or have it removed gradually from your paychecks. A relative of mine bought back 11 years of subbing, and was able to retire on time despite not getting hired FT until after age 40.

      3. Jax*

        I should also mention that public school often pays better than charter school, after you look at the benefits package along with the compensation. If a paycheck is what you’re after, you might be cutting yourself out of a lot of salary if you take a charter school job just to have a job now. If you can afford to be patient, I would do it.

        1. librarian13*

          Just a note: salary is also regional! My husband taught at a charter school for 3 years and his salary was the same as the public schools, because they used the same pay scale. Charter schools are part of the public school system here. He got bonuses for his service from the charter school as well, so it was essentially taking a pay cut this year to work at a public school. However, he is able to work fewer hours (even the school day is shorter in the public vs. charter schools here) so it has been sooo worth it!

    6. Mel*

      I’m concerned that the OP has missed one other issue in applying for teaching jobs. There is a trickle-down effect that means that some “good” or even “medium” schools have job postings that come open in August.

      The simple fact is that there is a lot of internal rearrangement that happens in districts and lots of movement by teachers from one district to another. The deadline for retirement announcements for the next year in my area is June 30th. Let’s say a “good” district has a math teacher retire on June 30th and posts the position by July 3rd. A teacher in “medium” district has always wanted to work in the “good” district and applies along with other good candidates and gets the job. Assuming a tight turn-around after a 14 day posting window, the teacher received an offer around July 20th. “Medium” district wasn’t expecting that vacancy so they need until July 27th to announce an internal vacancy as stipulated by the contract. A teacher at the alternative-education program in that district applies for and gets the math position in the “medium” district – which means there is now a new posting to be advertised internally followed by an external posting

      Personally, I worked at a “not so great” school district for 8 years and loved it. It’s not for everyone – but those districts have some amazing teachers and students just like the “good” schools have some underwhelming teachers and troubled students.

    7. blackcat*

      This is very, very regional. In some places, charters are highly regarded and in others it’s much less true. The one universal thing is staying away from schools run by for profit companies. And some of the big networks (get KIPP) are risky because people have strong opinions about the philosophy of those schools.

      And, yeah, when I was looking for teaching work, I didn’t really get interviews with public schools until at least June. I was hired in July in an area where teachers start mid-August. It was fine!

    8. Stitch*

      I’d go to the job fair for the experience rather than networking. I went to one recently thinking it’d just be good to get a feel for the market. I chatted with some other pre-service teachers, got advice from principals, and visited the tables they had for unions and benefits (Alison suggests that your accepted-offer-school might be at the job fair, but if it’s like mine, it’s for the county public schools ONLY, so no worries of that.)

      I can’t speak to the charter school vibe, but I do agree with the above posters that if you KNOW you want to work for the public school district, don’t bother with the charters (unless there are particular concerns that worry you, like being in a subject/market that is oversaturated). Especially if you’re lukewarm even after interviewing with them, the chance of a late-summer hire or a long-term-sub-to-hire position are pretty high in most areas. It’s a risk worth taking, if you know you’d prefer it there.

    9. Louise*

      So charter schools actually are public schools! They often operate outside of traditional regionally-based school districts, but are gov’t funded (even the for-profit charters are technically public schools). Doesn’t change any of the controversy around them, but just wanted to clear up the (very common) misconception that charters are not part of the public school system at all.

      1. Jax*

        Technically, yes- but teaching in a charter school does not make you a member of the public school system for the purpose of years of service, benefits, or retirement. So there’s a distinct difference when it comes to employment.

  4. LouiseM*

    OP#3, you sound like my ex who was a personal chef to some extraordinarily wealthy people. He ended up finding that the lifestyle was just not for him (not saying this is the case for you, it sounds like you have work-life balance down pat). One thing he did was make it a fun thing to teach some of his clients how to cook their favorite dishes*. It wasn’t designed to replace him, but instead to help them tide themselves over when we went on vacation and they just *needed* his cherry-pine goulash. Is there something similar you could do with your clients?

    *word to the wise, this techniques also work very well with grifters who want celebrity connections. No, I can’t introduce you to [tech mogul I cook for], but want to learn how to make his favorite preparation of cod?

    1. Fiennes*

      I’m so curious about what OP3 does. Or what other jobs are like this! I like my own line of work, but I’m fascinated. What is there, besides “personal chef”?

          1. Anon-e-moose*

            Actually bookings can come in for any time of day in that line of work. I used to only work during the day because I preferred the clientele at those times.

            1. Drop Bear*

              It wasn’t that I thought it unusual that an escort would work -or prefer to work – during the day, it was more that the OP’s *employers* have a very specific ‘preferred’ start and finish time.

        1. Thlayli*

          The way she was so obtuse about it in the letter also makes me think it’s something risqué. Why the secrecy otherwise?

          1. The Winter Rose*

            I don’t think she was being obtuse at all! As for the secrecy, it could be because it’s a very niche job and specifying would be too identifying. People here often obscure their actual field (hence the rice sculpting and llama herding themes) to ensure they are not easilty identifiable.

            1. PB*

              Yeah, especially since OP has private clients she’d presumably like to retain. If you’re writing into a popular website for advice about your job, you want to ensure your clients/employer doesn’t recognize you. Honestly, all the people guessing she’s a sex worker strikes me as pretty silly. I mean, maybe? But there’s no evidence. Lots of jobs are done from people’s homes, and the employee can strike up a close relationship with clients.

            2. Specialk9*

              I don’t think obtuse (ie stupid) is what you mean. Obscure? Discreet? Obfuscating?

              1. Turkletina*

                “Obtuse” can also mean indirect or circuitous. Merriam-Webster says “not clear or precise in thought or expression”.

          2. OP#3*

            I’m hoping you mean something other than “obtuse” and aren’t just being rude. My work is very niche – and completely legal – and I work often for people who have general name recognition, so I wouldn’t want to identify myself, especially complaining about my clients.

            1. notanon*

              “Obtuse” doesn’t always have a negative connotation. The way it was used above it just means “vague” or “broad” and isn’t an insult.

              1. OP#3*

                I actually think s/he must have meant obscure, because obtuse is either negative or referring to an angle.

                1. Turkletina*

                  I’ve seen “obtuse” used to mean “indirect” or “obfuscating” quite often. Merriam-Webster gives a definition of “not clear or precise in thought or expression” in addition to “insensitive, stupid”. From context, I really believe Thlayli meant the former.

                2. notanon*

                  As others have pointed out, obtuse has a more nuanced definition and use than this. Just because you were not aware of this doesn’t mean Thlayli was wrong or intending insult.

                3. Thlayli*

                  Turkletina is right. I meant “indirect”. I’ve only ever hears obtuse to mean avoiding the point and deliberately being indirect. I did not even know there was another definition of “stupid until today. I’m gonna assume this is a US/UK English thing – but I’m surprised the word as completely different meanings. So sorry OP if you thought I was calling you stupid – that was certainly not my intention!

                  Anyway, I get that it’s a confidential site – but the whole “think childcare but a lot more lucrative” and “developing emotional relationships with clients” and all that sort of thing makes it sound pretty risqué.

                  Being an escort is completely legal in most of the world anyway as far as I know. It’s mostly former English-speaking colonies that outlaw it. It’s even legal in England (being a pimp is illegal but being a prostitute is not). And I have absolutely no problem with people being sex workers so long as they are not being abused or coerced or coercing others.

              2. Cmars*

                Yes, what OP3 said below – that’s not a correct way to use the word obtuse, regardless of whether they meant it negatively or not.

              3. LBK*

                Huh, I too always took “obtuse” to basically mean “evasive,” but apparently that is not the actual definition when used in this way.

          3. Falling Diphthong*

            Anonymity, since there aren’t that many people doing this niche subfield. Does she really have to say she paints their teapots?

            Particular types of therapy, like massage therapy. But with a business that skews very wealthy, rather than at home health aid levels.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              And tutoring–at one point I think the highest hourly wage in my extended family was earned by a college student, who parlayed their perfect SAT score and NYC location into high paid tutoring. (Not something you can do 40 hrs/wk, usually. But very high hourly rate.)

            2. SkitterLizard*

              There are a lot of things in the category of service-jobs-for-the-very-wealthy that most people haven’t even *heard* of, and that are rare enough to potentially out the LW. I mean, like, things that you might even think are a joke, like tea concierge or flower therapist. (Er, using flowers for therapy, not giving therapy to your flowers. Though that may be a thing too.) And they largely all do involve intense personal connections, because people who are wealthy and looking for a tea concierge don’t want their personal tea blends selected by a stranger, after all. They’re paying for the personal touch, because anyone can pick up some Tazo or get a bunch of roses.

              It’s a whole strange subculture-industry, but it’s real, and it almost always involves personal connections by its very nature.

          4. Seriously?*

            A lot of people do not give specifics about their jobs here so that they remain anonymous. She actually gave us more information than usual rather than “personal teapot maker” or something like that.

          5. Former Employee*

            The first definition of “obtuse”: annoyingly insensitive or slow to understand.

            Perhaps you meant “opaque”: not transparent.

            Thank you, online dictionary.

          6. OP#3*

            Reading your most recent comment, I wonder if this is a U.S. vs Europe thing (like American “quite” vs British “quite”). In the United States, where I am, “obtuse” generally means stupid, slow, or difficult/slow to understand. I’ve never heard it mean anything but that. I even googled other definitions and couldn’t find any!

            As to escorting, I also have no problem with it whatsoever but it is definitely not legal in my state.

        2. Rat in the Sugar*

          Yeah, at first I was thinking elder care, but when OP said it was very lucrative my next idea was dominatrix. I thought most people in that profession were self employed, though. Also, would the clients really be this demanding on your days off?

          I’m betting that those guessing therapist or tutor are closer than me, but I hope OP is able to update us if they can do so without identifying themselves!

          1. A tester, not a developer*

            Where I live, elder care is very pricey, even if the elder is reasonably healthy (mentally and physically). Throw in a health issue or cognitive decline, and people pay a mint. Especially once they find a worker the client meshes with.

            1. Jun Aruwba*

              Yeah, although I think elder care generally is like childcare generally; the fact that you might pay an arm and a leg for it at the service level generally doesn’t translate to the actual caretakers taking home big paychecks. Yay capitalism.

        3. Trout 'Waver*

          I don’t think it’s really appropriate to speculate about the nature of OP3’s work, especially when they are actively participating in the thread.

          1. Fiennes*

            I’m not trying to shake out OP3’s personal info, and hope it doesn’t come across this way. Just wondering what professions fall into this very interesting niche!

          2. Ray Gillette*

            I don’t think they are – the original post couldn’t think of anything that would meet the job description besides personal chef and people are just listing off other jobs that involve going from house to house while still working for a company.

            1. LouiseM*

              I really wasn’t trying to think of something that could meet this job description at all, and am alarmed that my post (which was supposed to be helpful to the OP) turned into a speculation free-for-all. All I was saying that my ex’s work had a similar boundaries issue attached, and the way he solved it could also work for the OP. Luckily, it seems that the OP didn’t mind everyone’s comments.

        4. Specialk9*

          Lots of options!
          *Speech pathologist
          *Pet groomer
          *Occupational therapist
          *Lactation consultant (ooh yeah, hence the urgency!), *Mobile vet
          *Hair stylist (my MIL books with one who comes to her)
          *Massage therapist

          But I’m sure the OP doesn’t want to feel “outed” publicly, or they’d have mentioned what they do.

          1. zora*

            Personal Trainer. My friend is a highly specialized personal trainer and her clients pay a very high hourly rate.

      1. Mr. Rogers*

        My boring guess is personal trainer but my much more fun guess is rich person dog masseuse.

          1. Mr. Rogers*

            My thought process based entirely on never working out was that there would be a big “after work” crowd? Or a personal yoga instructor might work later. But even then, midnight would probably be stretching it a bit…

        1. Specialk9*

          Apparently there are dog personal trainers. They do water therapy and all kinds of specialized exercise for dogs. At least I’ve seen it on tv.

      2. Lily*

        Other jobs but not guessing what the OP is.

        — housecleaner, my parents do this
        — behavior management assistant, this is what I do. I work with individuals with autism using ABA therapy

        1. Lilianne*

          Music teacher or any other sort of tutor, masseuse/acupuncture specialist, lots of different possibilities, if you think about it :)

        2. Kuododi*

          I have no idea what OP does but just to add to the list, I have provided home based mental health counseling at times in my work history. I enjoyed the process…all I was doing was the mental health/family counseling for which clients normally come to an office and providing the service in their homes. Best wishes!!!

      3. Kir Royale*

        Elder assistance? My neighbour did this for a while, clients were genuinely needy due to reduced mobility and loneliness. It doesn’t pay well and didn’t cover her petrol expenses, but wealthy elders might pay more for more comprehensive services

      4. Aunt Betty*

        I’m a social worker and I visit my clients and their families in their homes at any time I can schedule it. My clients frequently ask me to visit on Saturday or Sunday and when I tell them no I get pushback. Too bad, though because I don’t work weekends unless it’s an emergency.

      5. Mrs. Fenris*

        I’m undoubtedly a weirdo, but my first thought was a veterinarian who provides in-home euthanasia services, until she mentioned that it costs her clients thousands of dollars. There are several veterinarians who do this either full time or as a side hustle, and even a company that contracts these services out. People who want this service want it done NOW and have very emotional connections with the vet. It’s not an overly expensive service for the client, though.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Also if you have an animal who always dreaded the vet, having their last hour be loaded into the cat carrier and taken to the vet seems really wrong. (In the end, the only pet we have had euthanized was a dog with brain cancer, and he absolutely loved the vet because everyone petted him and fed him snacks and he is obviously a good boy.)

          1. CMFDF*

            my greatest regret when my cat died was that we didn’t know his trip to the vet was going to be the last thing he did. He HATED the vet, and we felt so bad taking him, and I know he would have been so much happier if he’d been able to be at home on his favorite blanket.

            1. Teach*

              We have pre-planned this with our vet for our 19 year old cat when his time comes. So much better to leave him in peace in his orthopedic bed in the sun…

        2. Serin*

          My mother (who’s far from wealthy) has somehow found herself a vet who makes house calls. This seems like an up-and-coming niche for someone who wants to start their own business.

        3. JanetM*

          You’re not a weirdo — I have a friend who is a house-call hospice veterinarian — her services include things like pain relief and palliative care to extend the pet’s comfortable lifespan, and euthanasia when that’s the right option. I hadn’t considered that here, though, because I got the impression that OP3’s profession is longer-term with the clients than that.

        4. Jennifer Thneed*

          We had that for the last guy we had to say goodbye to. The vet was fully qualified and she did hospice assessments as well as euthanasia, and it was just so much better to do it all at home. It was her full-time practice and in her interactions with me, she “felt” like religious people whose vocation is hospice work — very present, very respectful. It didn’t cost much more than taking our guy to the vet would have and was so much less awful. I know that we’ll be working with her again in the future.

      6. OP#3*

        Truly, in most of the homes I work in, there are 4-7 employees who could be writing this letter. Babysitters, housekeepers, personal chefs, masseuses, dog trainers, dog walkers, facialists, personal assistants (sometimes multiple), personal trainers/yoga teachers, personal stylists – and even more if there are school-aged kids. It’s not an exaggeration to say that there can be 10 non-residents at any given house at any given time that I’m there.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          OP#3, does it matter to the client when you come, or does it usually not matter if it’s pushed by a day or two? If I’m picturing a housekeeper or dog trainer, then coming Wednesday vs. Thursday doesn’t really matter. But a personal chef the day of a dinner party or a hair and makeup stylist if the person has a red carpet event to attend on a specific evening is a different story.

          I wonder if you can offer alternatives when you say no, depending on the circumstances. If you can’t make it at the time they want, what’s their next best option? “I’m sorry, I’m booked on Wednesday but I have availability on Tuesday evening or Thursday morning,” or “I’m not available on Friday but I can let [agency] know you need someone for that event, and I’ll be sure to pass along the recipe I use for that mushroom tart you requested.”

          1. OP#3*

            It depends upon the client; some are fine with changing days (they also tend to be respectful of my schedule), but I work with others multiple days per week, and they’re the ones that tend to always want more. The most demanding ones I see every day that I’m available, which of course is the genesis of the problem. I really turn myself into a pretzel for them, which I have to stop doing!

            1. Clorinda*

              If they want someone fulltime on-call 24/7 they can hire for that (they’d probably have to hire one fulltime person and have a back-up on call). Otherwise, own your time. You deserve your days off. Also, being not always available actually boosts your value.

              1. Mr. Rogers*

                I agree on it actually boosting your value! I’m sure clients value a bit of feeling like there’s some exclusivity to your services to add to the “worth it” factor of your rates. And in fact, if you’re finding yourself overbooked regularly it might be time to raise those rates! You might lose a couple of clients but if you’re making more per hour then that’s a worthy trade off.

              2. Friday*

                “Also, being not always available actually boosts your value.”

                Job security for the win!

            2. Kuododi*

              I have had similar situation crop up when I was in home based counseling. I typically would offer blocks of time to choose from ie available Tuesday from 1-6pm and Thursday 8-1pm. That would give the client a fair amount of wiggle room to plan an appointment. Usually that’s all I needed to do to get an appointment settled. Sometimes that trick just didn’t work for a plethora of reasons. Then we woul talk about other options. If I was working with a client in a difficult situation, I have never had problems staying late or coming in early and my families were for the most part good about not abusing my time. Occasionally, I would get a client or parent who simply refused to work with me to arrange a time for a session. That, I found boiled down to clients trying to avoid meeting for therapy or some kind of squirrelly power play. “I’m going to do this my way or I’m not going to do this at all!!!”

      7. NaoNao*

        I would bet personal trainer, housesitter, any kind of consultant (like security, decor, family with special needs, etc), on call concierge doctor/nurse, some kind of mental health or self help consultation like a medium/card reader, body worker (like masseur, acupuncturist) or something to do with the pets like maybe a pet therapist?

      8. HappySnoopy*

        I was thinking stylist (like hair or clothing)…but it may be leftover royal wedding overload where the bride’s stylist’s 3 kids were attendants

    2. Jemima Bond*

      “Cherry-pine goulash”? I assume this was a made-up recipe just to illustrate but…pine? Like the tree? If it’s just a joke recipe sorry for being dim but I did wonder if it was just something American we don’t do here and I hadn’t heard of it. Like jello salad or biscuits and gravy meaning something entirely different.

      1. Jemima Bond*

        Sorry if that sounds critical; I didn’t mean to be – after all I come from a place that serves toad in the hole…one would be forgiven for thinking, crikey what is even IN that?!

        1. Kir Royale*

          Spotted Dick. You’d get some funny looks if you serve this in US. Never heard of cherry-pine goulash.

        2. zaracat*

          Used in combination with another like this, pine is usually just an abbreviation for pineapple.

          1. Yorick*

            I’ve never heard pine as an abbreviation for pineapple. I thought pine nuts too.

        3. Bacon Pancakes*

          I think the original commenter in that case was being tounge-in-cheek, but roasted/toasted pine nuts are very much A Thing in cooking, especially in high-end, foo-foo cooking.

      2. RabbitRabbit*

        It’s not common in the US but wouldn’t entirely surprise me – juniper is used in various beverages here, and there is a Nordic chef (René Redzepi, out of Denmark, now that I check his name) who uses various pine species as garnish and other meal elements. If it’s not a fake recipe I am extremely interested!

      3. LouiseM*

        Yes, it was just an example off the top of my head! Although I wouldn’t be surprised if he really had made something like that.

    3. OP#3*

      This is a great strategy. I’d have to think about how I could adapt that to my particular situation, but it’s a good suggestion, thank you.

      I am also beginning to think that this line of work isn’t for me! But I’m an artist, and it’s my day job, and I live in an expensive city, so quitting isn’t the best option.

      And OH MY GOD the grifters. They come out of the woodwork! I don’t generally talk about the individual people I work for, but if there’s a cool one I’ve at times mentioned it to a trusted friend. Huge mistake, sadly.

      1. Tardigrade*

        Sorry OP. It must be a letdown to do so much work and not be able to talk to trusted friends about the cool-factor parts of your job.

      2. Specialk9*

        If you’re an artist, you might enjoy dyslexia therapy. Look into Orton-Gillingham training. Its base is super organized and chunked into discrete units, which then allows for great creativity and fun. It’s the one job I still wake up thinking, oh hey, I could do THIS silly fun thing to teach this skill!

        1. OP#3*

          That’s a good suggestion! I’m working on transitioning to making money from my art (downsized my apartment/reducing my expenses to work fewer hours at this job), but this sounds like it might be a little more life-affirming in the interim.

      3. smoke tree*

        I’ve never worked with celebrities anyone cares about so I always find it so weird and fascinating to hear how shameless people can be about wanting a connection to a celebrity by any means necessary. Like, do they not realize that a famous person’s personal trainer or whatnot is probably not going to be in a position to make sure you become best friends with that person? And would probably lose their job if they tried? And maybe I’m the weird one, but I really don’t have any interest in hanging out with celebrities anyway. I can’t imagine they’re really any more interesting than the next guy.

  5. NotSoYoungEdProfessional*

    Re: #4 networking for teachers – you will learn a lot about the area schools and staffs simply by working in a school, be it charter, public, or private. Depending on where you are, there may be professional associations such as Young Education Professionals that will also give you insight and networking opportunities. I second Alison’s advice on not jumping the gun here. It feels like LW might be in DC (?) and if so, it is very much a who-you-know situation but also not very hard to jump around schools. Get your foot in the door and feel things out for a year; you’ll get a much better idea of where you might want to end up than you’d get from a job fair.

  6. mark132*

    OP#3, just remember “No.” is a complete sentence. It’s ok to tell them no and not explain yourself. “Unfortunately I’m not available to work on your project until “. Rinse and Repeat as needed. Of course you only need to do this for clients who are a pain. If they are understanding about your time, then I would be more forthcoming if you like.

    1. OP#3*

      I do sometimes need a reminder of this, so thank you. I get very paranoid about money since I’m paid hourly, and that can lead me to feel like I have to say yes.

        1. OP#3*

          All too real. I’d quit tomorrow if I could, honestly – but for a variety of reasons that wouldn’t be a great idea. This is a day job and I just know I’m going to be unhappy doing something that isn’t my ultimate goal, so I’m trying to tough it out as best I can. It comes in waves, fortunately, and I get more time off than a lot of people.

  7. A Teacher*

    #4, teacher here, I would be very careful about the attitude that not very good schools higher in August. I have found that to not always be the truth. Sometimes excellent schools are hiring in March and sometimes in August. There are a plethora of things that can occur over the summer to make hiring needs change. Among them, staff members can move on or retire, enrollment needs change, or additional funding is found to hire more teachers. Those are just some of the many reasons why staffing needs change.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      Yes! I teach at a private school that I think is a really good place to work, and while we try to have hiring wrapped up by April or May, there have been multiple times where a teacher announced in June or later that they wouldn’t be returning the next year because their spouse got a job offer out of state or something like that.

    2. OP#3*

      Yes! My mom taught at a private school for ages and we had a family crisis that forced her to quit suddenly – on August 24. Things happen!

    3. Parenthetically*

      Yep, a good friend got hired at one of the most elite public schools in my city in mid August. The teacher she replaced had found out during the summer that she was expecting twins, was very ill, and after a long process of talking with administrators etc., she decided not to come back. My friend had a connection with an administrator at that school and was hired about a week before the start of the year.

    4. TheLiz*

      The school I was at when I was eight ended up needing to hire a full-time permanent teacher in November once – the staff member had a relapse of her brain cancer and that was when it was clear that she’d never return to work. Obviously that’s both tragic and rare, but it can happen!

      1. JanetM*

        I have vague memories of getting a new second or third grade teacher in mid-spring because our teacher had been hurt on the job and wasn’t able to return to work.

    5. A Teacher*

      I was hired mid year into the district I currently work in. I actually started out at an alternate school which based on how the OP classifies schools it would be a “less than desirable school.” What I will tell you is that the teachers in my district that tend to be better teachers and connect a different level with the kids have been either a substitute teacher or worked in one of those less than desirable schools. Working in an alternative setting with expelled students taught me how to stand up for myself; know what battles to pick; and made me understand when to sit back and observe and when to stand up and speak out. I was also a substitute teacher for four years during grad school and when working for an athletic training company. It is not a glamorous job but it again teaches you skills you need to make it in education.

      Teaching is hard–no matter where you teach. Not to get really political but the current political element and the fact that we have to actually entertain ideas of school violence on a daily basis, never did I think I’d have to talk to my students about how we can defend a classroom. Going into education at a “less than desirable school” aka an intercity alternative school actually made me have to think outside the box.

    6. Middle School Teacher*

      Thank you, I was coming down to see if someone had mentioned this. I was hired at my current school Aug 24; I have been there for 12 years. We are in the top 20 for schools where I am located, out of more than 200. Staffing needs can and do change over the summer, despite admin trying their best to plan.

    7. Anon the Teacher*

      I’ll agree with this – you never know when someone’s going to quit a job! I also worked at two not-very-good schools for years and I was hired in June before school let out. So you really never know.

    8. Teapot Tester*

      Yes, yes yes. My husband is a teacher (on his third career, so only teaching for about 4 years). He was hired for one position in August because the teacher he replaced moved with her husband and it was far from “not very good.” That attitude struck (and bothered) me and I hope the OP rethinks her position on that.

    9. Yorick*

      It’s a good point, but it doesn’t change the fact that OP should take a job earlier in the year if she gets a good offer. It wouldn’t be smart to wait for August hoping that something great pops up.

      1. Breda*

        Yes, exactly this. They shouldn’t turn down a decent job now in the hope that a better job MIGHT open up in 4 months, because if it doesn’t, they’re screwed for a whole year. This is a reassuring thing to keep in mind in case they didn’t have an offer yet, but they do.

      2. A Teacher*

        I’m not suggesting she hold out–when they rift my position, I took a new position in June. However, the attitude that some schools are “less thans” or some people that get hired later on are “less thans” is not the best attitude and how I read her letter. A lot of teachers, myself included, did not start out our professional lives as educators, we switched professions. If you find a job early, beautiful but if someone waits until August or a school hires in August that doesn’t mean either is less desirable.

        1. Parenthetically*

          Yep, that’s also what I was pushing back against. It’s neither a fair nor a helpful attitude.

    10. Kyrielle*

      This. Our local school district is *amazing* and the school my kids attend is *amazing* and…sometimes people get notices that they’re in a class with a teacher that isn’t being named because the hiring isn’t finalized yet.

      Usually it’s because they’ve had teachers move around the district internally in a big ol’ game of dominoes, or move to the also-amazing district near ours, or the like. As a parent rather than a teacher, sometimes you can see the chain happening if you know the school personnel well, and frankly it’s kind of amusing. (One person either retired or took a job out of district once, and it resulted in about four or five position shifts in our school as people moved around? And I have no idea where they got the new person who was added very late in August – that name I didn’t recognize. If they weren’t stepping-up from subbing somewhere, it probably gave that district a real headache.)

    11. Oxford Coma*

      Locally, an August hire tends to happen when teachers drag their feet about their retirement decisions until the last possible moment, since 60 days minimum notice is required. Add that to the monthly board meeting cycle, and you can end up down to the wire.

  8. Canadian Teapots*

    As an interviewer, I always want people to be honest with me about their enthusiasm level, because it helps me figure out if I want to hire them for the job or not.

    But as someone who advises job candidates, I will tell you that if you don’t appear enthusiastic about a job, it’s likely to take you out of the running.

    These are mutually exclusive propositions. How are interviewers supposed to expect honest enthusiasm from job candidates when the employer holds many more of the cards than the prospective employee (especially when the employee is going to be understandably anxious about *getting* the job in the first place)?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s my point — they’re contradictory positions, and an interviewer can’t reasonably hold it against a candidate for being less than forthcoming about their true enthusiasm level.

      1. Mad Baggins*

        That’s why, even though you advise against it, I’ve felt more in-control and empowered by faking enthusiasm even for things I’d hate (“Sure, I’d love to handwrite tricky forms all day! Why, I’d love to work late on weekends and holidays!”) so that if they do offer me the job, I can mull it over, truly weighing the pros and cons and the money, and then /I/ get to decide what happens next.

        1. Wakeen Teaptots, LTD*

          Ok, but many of our hire fails over the years (people we have had to terminate or people who have left quickly) can be tracked back to this kind of disconnect. We are pretty good at honestly describing job duties and why some people might hate or not be good at certain elements. I don’t blame people for faking enthusiasm for anything during an interview, but please don’t take the job and then tell me that you don’t want to handwrite tricky forms all day because really, we weren’t kidding about that. Complaining about or trying to change a job duty that was CLEARLY explained and that you agreed to in the interview process will get you fired faster than anything else at Wakeen’s,

          (Could you have picked a better example of a horrific job duty, btw? Serious points for that. :) )

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            I think this also depends on what kind of position you’re in when you’re job hunting. If you’re unemployed or in a seriously toxic situation, you might think you can handle that job duty and be willing to give it a shot. If you’re comfortably employed and looking for something new, you have a lot more leeway to 1. not fake enthusiasm and 2. be honest about what you do and don’t like.

            Having been in both positions, I don’t blame people for thinking they can tolerate something in the name of putting food on the table and a roof over their head.

            1. CM*

              Yes, this is a huge factor. I agree that faking enthusiasm means you’re more likely to end up in a job that doesn’t suit you, but sometimes you just need any job. At the same time, I think you shouldn’t fake your way into a job that you will fail at versus just not being that happy. That can be hard to tell when you’re interviewing (although sometimes it’s obvious — if you’re terrible at math and they ask if you want to work with spreadsheet calculations all day, don’t fake it!).

            2. myswtghst*

              Yes, all of this. In an ideal world, you’re currently employed and everyone on both sides can be completely honest when interviewing about all parts of the job so you can find a great fit, but most of the time, people are not job-hunting under ideal circumstances. It’s worth it to try to be moderately honest about things which would be dealbreakers, but most people are going to fake it at least a little bit in interviews.

              1. Jennifer Thneed*

                I’ve actually got a story about *getting* a job because I was honest about something that I assumed would be a dealbreaker. (It was about writing styles, since I’m a writer.) Turns out, the thing I’m best at is exactly what the hiring manager wanted, and the thing I assumed he’d want, and that I’m not good at, he didn’t want at all. That was an eye-opening experience for me.

          2. WS*

            I think the problem is that most jobs are really not clear about their duties – you are, and that’s great, but it can’t necessarily be extrapolated across the board! In particular, I remember one job which was described as involving a lot of work compiling data, which is great, but in actual fact it involved cold-calling businesses for information, which was never mentioned in the interview. I suspect the set of people who like both compiling lots of data and talking on the phone with strangers is very limited. I lasted four weeks.

          3. Lora*

            I usually ask them to describe some part of their current or a past job that they dislike and would happily delegate to a robot if they could. That way I can get an idea of what their body language and tone is like when they genuinely dislike something but are trying not to totally badmouth it – then I can sorta tell if they’re doing a similar expression when I tell them about the job duties.

          4. Ron McDon*


            A colleague of mine is leaving on Friday for another job; when we hired her she popped in for a chat before the interview, where I was very clear about the less enjoyable aspects of the job. She said they were ok, part of the job, what she was doing in her current job, no problem. The less enjoyable parts were again highlighted during the interview, as we wanted to make sure we were clear about the job, so that whomever we hired knew exactly what it entailed. Again, she said no problem, happy with it all.

            We hired her, she seemed happy for the first month (until we had signed off her probationary period), then began complaining; she didn’t like this and that aspect of the job, if she had known she wouldn’t have accepted it etc etc.

            So frustrating! We wish she had been honest from the start about not wanting to do these aspects of the job, could have saved everyone two years of misery… yes, I am glad she’s leaving!

        2. Kyubey*

          I’ve often felt like I need to fake enthusiasm in interviews, mainly because I’m not a very expressive person in general, even if I really want a job. People tell me I appear very neutral in most situations and I don’t want to seem uninterested in a role simply because I’m not always smiling and energetic.

    2. Penny Lane*

      Because that’s life. The other person holds the cards, so you need to project enthusiasm for what they’re offering. This isn’t that hard.

    3. LBK*

      I think the key variable is whether you have options or not. If you don’t need the job at that moment, you should probably be more forthcoming about self-selecting out if you’re not genuinely into it (leave it for someone who might be a better match and/or might need it more). But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking a job you don’t love when you just need a job and saying what you need to say in order to get it.

      1. Safetykats*

        I think that if you can’t at least fake enthusiasm, you should simply not interview. Hiring managers are busy people; interviewing (and reviewing resumes for the interview, and writing up interview notes and feedback for HR) is a chunk out of their day. I interviewed a candidate a few years ago who, when asked “Why are you interested in this specific job?” (as it was a career change for him) answered “I’m really not, I just want to move back to the area.” Needless to say, he did not get an offer. As a bonus, for wasting my time, I had HR put a note in his file to indicate he was likely just interviewing for the relo, in case he applied for anything else. Because someone here might be desperate enough to hire him on the off chance he would stay after the payback period, but I doubt it.

        Which is honestly the best reason to simply not interview for any job you know you would never take, or try to be reasonably enthusiastic about any job you interview for. Because you might think there’s no downside to being a bad candidate for a job you don’t want, but you might be remembered at a later date when you apply for a job with the same organization that you really do want. Or vice versa, if you interview well and seem like an enthusiastic and pleasant person, even if you end up not getting or taking the job they may remember you favorably if you’re in line for a future position.

      2. Interview faker*

        Letter writer #2 here
        I’m lucky enough to be in a job which is fine, but it’s time to renew my contract and I’m having a look at what else is out there before I sign – and I did say this to the interviewer.
        Since initially applying, I’m considering that I might want to make a bigger jump career-wise than what this small-ish company can offer. On the flip side, they do partner with a lot of big name companies so that may fulfill my “big jump” ambitions so I’m still not convinced I’d say no (after plenty of follow up questions).

        A lot of people discussed the difference between job searching when you’re comfortable vs when you need a job and if I was unemployed, this would have been a “pop the champagne, this job is perfect” situation.

  9. Sam the Man (ager)*

    #5, the way it sounds to me is that your boss offered you to work from home on a consistent basis. Not as a one off thing when your baby is sick.
    I know that as a manager, I am always extra careful when I have employees working from home because I know it’s easier to get distracted (source: worked at home myself)

    1. Mark132*

      That can go both ways, I think on average the distractions are worse at home, but they can be pretty bad at work as well.

      1. Marion Ravenwood*

        I think they’re different, but I personally find my at-home distractions to be more productive. At work, the distraction is usually social media (or AAM), whereas at home it’s more like putting on an extra load of laundry. I much prefer the latter – though I try not to do too much of it when I work from home – because it feels like a better use of time, but then it does contribute to the blurring of the lines between ‘work’ and ‘home’ so it may not necessarily be that much of a good thing.

        1. Mark132*

          Stating a load of laundry doesn’t seem like a big deal. Little quick stuff like that only done occasionally seem fine to me.

        2. Mom MD*

          I think if an employee is on social media very much at work it’s timecard fraud. Wasting the employer’s time. I’m also intrigued that there are jobs out there where there is so much down time there is time for social media. If it’s ok with employer it’s fine. If people are sneaking, it’s not.

          1. Baby Fishmouth*

            It really depends on the job – I work at a university supporting faculty members. May-August is a serious downtime for us – there are very few classes running, most of the people I support are on vacation/working from home/working out of the country, and I can try to be as productive as I can but when there’s no work, there’s no work. I don’t try to hide that I’m on social media, etc. It’s just a very seasonal job, but I need to be here and available just in case somebody does need something. I’ve had other part-time jobs that had a lot of downtime as well.

            1. rldk*

              Not always true – you may be salaried but still receive overtime, so you still keep track of a timecard. This is the case at my previous and current employer. So if I were to rack up overtime hours from social media, that would still be fraud even though I’m salaried

      2. MLB*

        I think it depends on what type of office you work in – my last job I was in an office with about 1000 employees in the building and my department had around 100 in it. I was in IT support, and constantly had people coming to my desk and interrupting me, lots of social conversations going on when people weren’t busy, etc. I would get so much more work done at home because nobody else was there. Now I sit in an office with 3 others, so my productivity level is the same both at the office and at home.

        But if you have a sick child that is young enough to need a lot of your help/attention, it’s not really fair to expect to be able to work from home. I’ve stayed home with my stepson, but at the time he was 9 or 10, and aside from the occasional taking of his temperature or heating up some food for him to eat, he was fine by himself in his room.

        1. Mark132*

          I totally agree, that sometimes I would get more done at home. Some times a lot more.

    2. soon 2 be former fed*

      I have way fewer distractions working at home. Every situation is different.

    3. Czhorat*

      Some studies indicate that remote employees are more engaged and productive than their in-office counterparts, especially if given the right tools. There are distractions at home, yes. There are also plenty of distractions in the office.

      1. Specialk9*

        Unless there is a baby there. A sick baby is even worse! :D

        But yeah, working from home can also really improve productivity for those with fatigue or chronic illness. Being able to relax while working, or in between bouts of work, can make it a lot easier to focus and get more done.

    4. myswtghst*

      Agreed. If I was the boss, my offer to WFH one day a week would be contingent on OP#5 having appropriate childcare for that day, and would be more about giving the OP some extra time/flexibility by eliminating the commute, so I would probably be a bit put off by OP#5 asking to WFH for the first time as a substitute for childcare. Plus, if OP doesn’t currently WFH at least occasionally, I don’t know if their baseline WFH productivity is good enough to also accommodate the probable distraction of a sick toddler.

      Different people handle WFH differently, depending on their personality, their environment at home, the type of work they do, and more. And different workplaces will have different expectations about what WFH means – anything from 100% normal productivity, to a salaried employee being responsive to email. For an employee to successfully WFH, it’s important to make sure both employee and boss are on the same page.

      OP#5 should absolutely approach their boss about the potential to WFH once a week going forward, and should be prepared to have a clear conversation about the expectations associated with that set up, including childcare. My guess is the boss will still be open to the idea, so long as OP#5 isn’t using WFH as a substitute for childcare, and makes it clear they want to get on the same page about expectations.

  10. Lily*

    Is it possible to reiterate when the next time you’ll see them?

    I also work in client’s homes as well, and I always end “so I will see you next …”. My schedule and my parents(different job, but also work in homes) are more consistent in that we see them at the same time weekly or biweekly.

    If they ask for an earlier day, we say we aren’t available then but have then on so and so date. (If they want to change the day, we usually give them a date later than the one they have as we need time to change the schedule).

  11. Massmatt*

    #5 I agree with point made above, working from home is not about taking care of a child or whatever. I worked from home in a company where some people were closely monitored (think call center) and others (support staff) were not, it was very obvious when the latter were out of the office when it took them hours to respond to an email or if they answered their phone you could hear traffic as they drove their kids around etc. Working from home means WORKING, not splitting your time between work and doctors appointments or whatever. The perk is that you don’t need to dress up or commute, not that you work less.

    #2 —if you fake enthusiasm, what do you gain? A job offer you’re not sure you want (which really probably means you dont want it). What do you do then? Unless you need the work/income, wouldn’t it be better to narrow down the search to jobs you actually want?
    Now if you need the work, then fake away, most everyone has gritted their teeth and faked enthusiasm for a job they needed vs: what they wanted.

    1. Specialk9*

      “Working from home means WORKING, not splitting your time between work and doctors appointments or whatever”

      It sounds like you’re making indignant assumptions about how co-workers are charging their time, but may not be privy to the actual facts? If their kid needs to go to the doctor, they’re going to do that, and it’s nobody’s business other than their manager how they manage their time.

      And if they are able to do work while driving, why would you care? It’s not like having a butt in a seat is extra virtuous. And you don’t know if they are working shifted hours, and that call is interrupting their personal time rather than the other way round.

      It just feels like you’re being super judgmental of people juggling family and work, when you can’t know what they’ve negotiated with their boss.

      1. Newman*

        I thought that most jobs have a clause of working at home that you can not be the sole caregiver of your child while working from home. At least where I live they are and are written in the employee handbooks. They explicitly state you can not watch after your kids while working from home. You are to work your normal 9-5 day and are expected to be available (not driving around taking calls kind of available). If I were the manager I would recant on the Fridays work from home offer once I realized the employee intended to have their child home with them on Fridays.

      2. myswtghst*

        As someone who occasionally works from home, I’m torn on this. While I agree that in most cases, we aren’t privy to the agreement between boss and employee on what WFH means, and we should give some benefit of the doubt, I also think that there are a lot of people who think they are much more effective than they really are when it comes to multi-tasking remote work and personal commitments.

        When I WFH to accommodate appointments, I block the appointment time off on my calendar (with a cushion for travel/waiting room time) and change my IM status to “Away” so people know I’m unavailable. I also make a point to be as responsive as possible to emails and IMs, to minimize the impact of my remote work on my coworkers and business partners.

        “And if they are able to do work while driving, why would you care?”,/i>

        I mean, if they really can, more power to them. But I have known many people who believe they can take work calls while driving, and exactly zero people who actually can do so without being both distracted and distracting.

      3. Jennifer Thneed*

        > And if they are able to do work while driving, why would you care?

        Because people on the phone while driving are less safe drivers, regardless of if they’re using hands-free or not. If it’s a listen-only meeting, sure, but if you have to actively participate, you’ll be distracted from *something*.

  12. Canarian*

    LW 1 – Gosh, I’m trying to imagine having to start a standing weekly four person meeting with an ice breaker every time and it’s making me grit my teeth. Awful. I can only imagine this person heard or read somewhere once that ice breakers are a good way to start a meeting and has really taken that to heart. Like it was the only thing they took away from a professional development course so they have to cling to it.

    Like Alison suggested, I wonder how the other coworkers feel about it. Is everyone silently rolling their eyes and suffering through the endless pancakes vs waffles debates? This could be your chance to be the office hero if you speak up.

    1. Pollygrammer*

      I once had a really terrible boss who started every meeting with everyone going around saying what “weather” they were feeling. And if you were anything other than sunny, she would demand an explanation. But she would also object if everyone said sunny, because “you can’t all be sunny right now” and she took the weather report seriously. So we all rotated through the occasional “I’m a little cloudy, I just need another coffee” or “I’m a light rain right now, because I’m feeling peaceful.”

      Of course, I couldn’t say “I’m a tropical storm, because I hate these meetings and also you.”

      1. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

        How did you manage not to contemplate murder by office supplies?

        1. Pollygrammer*

          It wasn’t easy, believe me. The only thing worse than a boss who treats everyone horribly is a boss who ostentatiously, manipulatively fakes over-the-top empathy while also treating everyone horribly.

      2. BadWolf*

        I feel like a tornado that sucked up a bunch of frogs and now I’m looking for somewhere to drop them.

          1. Pollygrammer*

            Now I wish I had calmly reported that I was feeling Sharknado at every meeting. ^_^

      3. Specialk9*

        I wonder if really awful answers might get the practice discontinued.
        “I’m a tornado, because my menstrual cramps are so severe that it feels like a demon is chewing through my uterus.”
        “I’m clear skies, because I just pooped the biggest poop ever.”
        “I’m cloudy, I just can’t stop thinking about (horrific current event) and (details).”

        Sadly, this kind of manager would either get way up in your grill with follow-up sessions, or conclude you’re a bad seed.

      4. smoke tree*

        Ugh, just reading this is giving me kindergarten flashbacks. I’m honestly not sure I could have pretended to take this seriously.

    2. Keep Your Eyes On The Prize*

      An Old Boss started every meeting with a 5-10 minute “comedy”routine that only he and his toadies found funny. People started arriving late in order to miss it or they “forgot” about the meeting. It wasn’t a good workplace. Please say something.

    3. On Fire*

      I wondered if the icebreaker is actually for *his* benefit, to get him in meeting mode/get past stage fright.

      1. Lance*

        If that’s the case, though, then there still comes a time where it’s a crutch that he has to let go of.

        1. Emily Spinach*

          I teach and I have my students answer a quick “get to know you” type question whenever I take attendance (every time we meet!) partly so they get to know each other but more so I am refreshed on their names. We meet 2-3 times a week for only 8-10 weeks at my school, and I have several classes, so it often takes half the term for me to remember names, and sometimes a couple just never click. Plus, the quick question doesn’t take longer than regular attendance: it’ll be something like, “what’s your major” or “where are you from” or “what’s your favorite season” and they’ll go around the room and say, “Katie, and I’m from Denver” or whatever.

    4. LCL*

      Speaking as someone who can be a bit socially awkward, I love, love, love the idea of icebreakers at meetings and wish the meetings I attended actually did this. Of course, the questions have to be nonpersonal, like the breakfast cereal example. I also think that Falling Dipthong is right-these things are a chance to go over everyone’s name again.

  13. Jemima Bond*

    Re #4 – if OP accepts a job at a charter school (I don’t know what that is but assume from the letter it is a discrete category and =/= public school) and goes to a public school job fair, why would her offering school have a stand there? The advice about whether it is any good for networking is one thing but I don’t think she needs to worry about getting spotted.

    1. Drop Bear*

      I think they are a bit like the foundation schools in the UK (assumption made on your location because of your name so apologies if I’m wrong :) ), so they might be at the fair as they receive state funding.

    2. Thlayli*

      I agree with Jemima. It seems there is a specific hiring cycle for charter schools which will be over by the time of the fair and that they are distinct from public schools. So I wouldn’t expect them to have a table there.

      However she might meet colleagues there who could spill the beans – even someone on her hiring panel could be there.

    3. Doodle*

      I think it’s because the lines are more permeable than that. Charter schools ARE public schools (even if they hire a little differently), and there’s always a chance that a charter is there looking for one more hire, or building interest for future candidates, etc etc. Education is also a small field (or a tight field even when not numerically small), so I would never bet on not having someone notice this. “Hey [Principal], I met that new hire you were excited about…” is not as unlikely as it might be in other fields.

    4. Antilles*

      The odds might be low, but I think the right way to view this is as one single risk-reward calculus – the risk of being spotted (low odds, but with huge drawbacks) for an almost non-existent potential reward (‘networking’ but not really*). Even if the odds of being spotted are ever in your favor, the potential gains from doing this aren’t worth the potential downside.
      *Alison actually understated how useless it would be to ‘network’ at these events. She’s right that the people aren’t likely to have hiring power, but it goes much deeper than that. The people staffing the booth at most job fairs meet literally dozens of people per hour and typically chat with candidates for like 2 minutes tops. There’s a reason that common advice for manning the booth involves writing down stuff on the candidate’s resume, because booth staffers meet so many people that everybody blends together. Also, the booth staffers’ primary focus is typically on staffing needs, not on ‘just getting to know people’. It’s just not an environment that’s very conducive to networking with brand new people.

    5. Mel*

      The status of charter schools varies state-by-state here in the US. How public schools view candidates who worked in public schools varies from location to location.

      I’m from Michigan. We have both for-profit and not-for-profit charter schools (which receive public funding for enrolled students but can and do screen prospective students for behavioral history or special needs accomodation), private /parochial schools (which do not receive government funding) on top of the standard public schools that have to accept all students who live in the district.

      In my area, the for-profit charter schools are looked on less favorably by interviewers than the non-profits or private/parochial schools. The rationale is simple and brutal: the for-profit schools work on a burn-and-churn method of staffing. Teachers are expected to put in 12-16 hour days with little support for 2-4 years while the charter can pay them at a low salary. When the teacher either burn out or reach the point that they get a higher salary, the charter cuts the teacher loose and hires a new graduate. Schools don’t want to hire a teacher who is exhausted and has received minimal mentoring or professional development at the same rate they would pay a 4th year teacher from the next district over or the Catholic school on the corner.

      Our teaching job fairs are run by local colleges that have teacher education programs. Public schools will have booths there – but there will also be booths for the charter schools and private/parochial schools. Running into someone from at least one of the charter schools the OP has offers at would be likely in my neck of the woods.

  14. Legalchef*

    #5 – I started working from home once a week, not long after returning from maternity leave. I love it, because I get to avoid the commute, can do thinks like throw a load of laundry in the washer, and run errands on my “lunch” break. But the one thing I don’t do is take care of the baby. Days where I stay home with the baby because he is sick are taken as a sick day (or perhaps if he naps and I am able to get a few solid hours of work in, then a partial sick day), even if it happens to fall on my usual work from home day.

    If you bring up WFH again with your boss, I’d make it clear that there will be other child care arrangements for that day.

  15. WorldsWorstHRPerson*

    I worked for an employer that encouraged “icebreakers” at the start of meetings. They called it “Getting to Know You” and thought of it as a fun way to understand your coworkers background and/or way they thought through things.
    Even the fun ones became time sucks and I would not recommend it regularly.

    1. K.A.*

      I would HATE anything that required I reveal personal stuff about me or my background. As a woman, the last thing I need is some guy at work getting additional info on me because I have always — always — had to deal with one or more men with inappropriate boundaries.

      And don’t suggest I lie about personal stuff because if it came out that I did, my credibility would be shot.

  16. PM*

    OP#1 – have you asked your colleague why he does the icebreakers? He may have a reason that you’re not seeing. For example, the icebreaker has the effect of getting everyone to say something early in the meeting – perhaps that elicits more participation from shy/quiet people or keeps more outspoken people from dominating as much?

    1. Mike C.*

      There are so many better ways to deal with these issues without wasting so much time. Even then, not everyone has to speak an equal amount at a meeting for it to be successful.

      1. Important Moi*

        I’m curious. Mike C. What are they? (No snark, I’d like to know.) It could just be about getting everyone to say something.

        As I’ve looked at all the responses (thus far), I see a lot of that’s not how it should be done with no suggestions of how it should be done.

        1. dr_silverware*

          Keep an eye on quiet coworkers to see if they’ve got something they’re thinking about and not saying, and make a space in the conversation for them; start with a bit of smalltalk that’s less formalized than icebreakers; make sure you’re asking specific questions instead of “what do you think?” if you need input from quieter coworkers, which can make even the gregarious clam up; make sure you know what people’s roles are–are they in this meeting so they can be informed, so they can give their input, so they can give their work status, so they can be a SME, so the team can bond? depending on the role, they simply may not need to speak up.

          Actually moderating a meeting is where the difficulty lies, and the icebreakers in this case are trying to take on all that weight when they actually have a pretty limited role.

    2. Smiling*

      This is kind of what I was thinking. I have several people in the office who are great at personal conversation, but always clam up if I start the conversation with a business topic. Spending a minute or two asking about partners and kids, or their plans for the weekend seems to make the transition to a business conversation easier.

    3. Catwoman*

      I think this is a good idea. Does LW work in office where people are consistently late to meetings so this is some kind of ‘filler’ before real business is discussed? It is annoying (and unprofessional, imo) but I think it’s worth exploring whether or not there’s some kind of logic to it.

      1. Catwoman*

        To clarify, I mean that PM’s suggestion of asking why the meeting organizer is doing this in the first place is a good idea, not the icebreakers themselves.

    4. Snark*

      There are lots of ways to run a meeting that accomplish those objectives without wasting time. This is not an effective means of moderating a meeting.

    5. Ennigaldi*

      I can see the colleague thinking this will help the quieter people talk more and the louder people listen more, but in my experience icebreakers always reinforce those behaviors instead of changing them. I’m sure he means well but for an introverted person it’s like being called on in class.

    6. Thlayli*

      This is an interesting point. At most meetings I’ve attended in various countries in the EU there are a couple of minutes of informal chat before we get down to to business. That is sufficient icebreaker. But perhaps OP is in a culture that doesn’t do that, and the manager is trying to force it somehow?

  17. OldJules*

    #5 It depends on the trust level I think. I am good with making sure things get done even if I have to take longer than the standard 8-5 hours. If my child is sick though, I’d work from home but will use extra hours at night to catch up on uninterrupted work. If he/she is mostly sleeping, yeah, I could make an 8-5 work, but typically, caring for a sick child is already work in itself. Especially when they are 5 years old and younger. So by around 10 am, I can make a call to either work in between care and night or I’d take time off. If I was in the middle of some fairly intensive work thing, I’d trade off with my spouse. I know I WANT to be there. But reasonably, if my spouse doesn’t have urgent things going on at work, he would stay home.

  18. Oilpress*

    #1 – I like small talk before meetings. It’s a nice five minutes or so to remind ourselves that we are human, not robots. If all of my meetings began right on time, contained only work discussion, and never included any laughs then I think I would retire and become a hermit.

    I agree that icebreaker games are really odd, though.

    1. Penny Lane*

      Small talk with people that you sit next to and see every day, though? There’s plenty of time to do that at lunch or the proverbial water cooler. A bit of “how’s your weekend,” fine, but otherwise get on with it!

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        People are bringing some very specific assumptions about meetings to this conversation.

        The only times I’ve been in meetings where I also sit with the people all the time are team meetings, and for that matter I’ve worked places where I didn’t sit anywhere near my team-members. I’ve been in tons of cross-team meetings that are only 3-5 people and maybe we all recognize each other but aren’t sure of complete names or specific job functions.

    2. icebreaker*

      Under some circumstances, I’ve seen icebreakers at every routine meeting used to good effect — it depends on the circumstances.

      One excellent manager I knew had to mobilize a small team during a reorg and he made everybody play “name that tune” for almost half an hour before starting the weekly meeting. This went on for weeks! Everybody involved had known each other for years, but given the unstable dynamics in the organization, the effect of spending this silly time every week made the team more cohesive and newly comfortable, establishing more trusting relationships that supported the new mission.

      1. Ama*

        Maybe it worked for that team, but if someone was keeping me in a meeting for an extra half hour EVERY WEEK to play a game it would create the opposite of trust and comfort in my relationship with them.

    3. LBK*

      If I’m meeting with someone I don’t see that often, sure. If I’m meeting with the same people who sit next to me every day? No, thank you.

    4. Hibiscus*

      I work with our internal medicine residents, and they start every morning report with “daily affirmations”–everyone at the table takes a turn and says something good about what’s going on with them (personal, world-based, work-related–anything is game) to remind themselves they are not robots and to deal with the stress of medicine.

  19. Department Head in Public School*

    OP #4: Don’t go to that job fair unless you are really going to take a job. Many teacher job fairs give principals the power to offer a letter of intent on the spot if they find someone who would be a good fit for their campus. You would just be wasting everyone’s time and there isn’t much there for “networking.”
    One way you can network into a public school is to become a sub. This allows you to get a feel for different schools in the district and to meet teachers. If you are certified, you can work long term jobs (FMLA, vacancies, etc).
    I honestly try to avoid hiring people with ‘charter’ school experience because in my State, charter schools are exempt from state mandated testing and as a public school, we live and die by that. (Sadly)

    1. Middle School Teacher*

      Good point. We’re experiencing a hiring boom for teachers right now, to the point where big boards can’t even maintain a healthy sub list. If you don’t intend to sign on the spot, you’re just wasting everyone’s time (including your own, OP4).

    2. Teach*

      In my area, professional development and evaluation expectations are MUCH higher in public than private schools, so it can be hard to make the switch. Also make sure to compare pay scales and first year mentoring. A friend was hired for $20,000 a year less than public school rates and had literally no first year teacher mentoring or support…that’s a rough start.

  20. BadWolf*

    On OP5 — you say nothing formalized, but do you expect something formal at your job culture? At my job, if my boss mentioned that, I would just…start working at home on Fridays. So if I didn’t start working at home on Friday, my boss would probably just think, “Okay, she didn’t want to.” But we can work at home on and off as needed — so maybe you really need a more formal arrangement.

    Of course, now that some time has passed and she said no to the sick baby day — you will probably need to bring it up again as Alison suggests.

  21. AnonymousInfinity*

    OP #1 – When I managed a high volume store that I inherited with rock-bottom morale (it was so bad that the CEO visited the store and we regularly had Regional visits to figure out why the employees hated it so much), I used the same ice breaker at every store meeting for every shift (i.e., everyone had to stand in a circle for these meetings anyway, and so we went around and said one word about a random topic, e.g., “What’s your favorite movie?” The topic changed every meeting). The only rule was that you didn’t have to participate if you didn’t want to. It took two minutes, unless people who otherwise never interacted actually interacted with each other. People smiled, laughed, and learned about each other. Employees told me they enjoyed it and felt like someone actually cared about something other than “SALES $$$$$.” Employees also actually started coming to the meetings. For me, the purpose was about building relationships and rapport, and, yep, I did it even if three people came. Now, did I do this at every single meeting I ever ran ever? No. That would have been odd.

  22. Anon Today*

    OP #5 – First, as long as I had a note in writing from my boss I would have just gone ahead and started working from home. But, it sounds like your boss has forgotten the offer she made. Perhaps another conversation with her might be worthwhile?

    However, I would ask if you what your WFH expectations are? Are you considering this an extra day at home to be with your new baby? Are you just hoping to have one day to eliminate the commute? I think once you answer those questions you will be able to determine if you want to find a part-time job or if you can make your current job and/or a job with WFH benefits work.

  23. Amanda*

    Question for OP 4 or anyone in the field … I have never heard of career fairs for the public/private school systems. I always search jobs on SchoolSpring. I am interested in making a career change to the school system (I’ve been subbing for the school admin and working as the school committee recording secretary to get a feel for the environment and I love it. Are these career fairs for educators only or could administrators/support staff also attend? If so, how do I find out about them? I am north of Boston. Thank you and best of luck in your search!

    1. Department Head in Public School*

      Districts in my area have career fairs and also have recruiters that visit colleges. We do a teacher fair and a separate para/secretarial fair.
      To learn about education job fairs visit the school district’s website and/or twitter feeds.

    2. Middle School Teacher*

      In Canada it would be odd for School support staff (except EAs) to attend a career fair, unless they are currently in a B Ed program, or just graduated from one. Our fairs are run by universities and usually you have to show your student ID at the door to get in.

    3. A Teacher*

      My district has rolling hire dates and they do go to fairs–they had 40 openings all last year for teachers (large district) and openings for paraprofessionals and administrative staff as well. Sometimes they host a hiring fair to try and get people in the door.

    4. Julianne*

      Teacher in Boston here! Career fairs are not the norm in education in this area, and the few that are held are focused on hiring teaching and instructional support staff (paras, specialized service providers, etc.). If you’re looking for admin work, I’d advise you to continue looking on SchoolSpring, as all the districts in the area post jobs there.

  24. NW Mossy*

    One of my peer managers (who at one point managed the team I now manage) LOVES icebreakers and uses them at every meeting with her team. I can see why she likes them as a way to get a fuller picture of what makes her employees tick, and she does come up with some legitimately good ones. However, they don’t appear to be much missed by my team now that I’m here and don’t do them.

  25. John R*

    … If you know for sure that you don’t want to do X or Y and that you wouldn’t take a job that focused heavily on those, you’d be shooting yourself in the foot if you faked enthusiasm about those …

    I’ll share an interview question I was asked that I now use when interviewing others. It addresses this exact topic:

    “What is something you have to do in your current job that you never want to have to do again.”

    Sometimes, candidates will try to default to a non-answer such as “having too much downtime” but you can steer them back by saying “no, I mean a specific thing you did as part of your job that you’d prefer not to do ever again.”

  26. Glomarization, Esq.*

    OP#3, I’m not a high-end whatever-it-is you are, but I do charge professional-level money for my professional time. One tack I use (successfully) with pushy clients is, “I’m sorry, I’m booked for that day, and if I squeeze you in I won’t have enough time to give your matter the attention it needs. My next availabilities are [date] and [date]. Which would you prefer?”

  27. HelloHIED*

    LW #1- Do you by chance work in higher education? I feel like the field is filled with people that treat ice breakers like the holy grail of getting to know other people… my office does “roses and thorns” at the beginning of standing meetings. It’s a little annoying, but it’s more along the lines of small talk (someone mentioned up thread that they appreciate meetings that have a more relaxed beginning, and I somewhat agree) and less gimmick-y than most ice breakers are.

    1. LW #1*

      Ok so I’m super late but YES, I do work in higher education! I’m pretty new on the job (started in March). Interesting to know that.

  28. Kimberly*

    Teacher Job Fair – I would go to job fairs especially ones in other districts. Public school teaching is a very different situation than normal jobs. In May they are hiring teachers for August or September based on projections. This can be very hard if you work in a district or school with a very mobile population. I taught for 17 years – and every year someone was moved from one grade to another in the 48 hours before school started. Almost every 3 years someone was moved from our campus to another because kids moved. (To give you an illustration of how mobile our school was a Kinder teacher started and ended the year with a class of 18 – but only 2 of those kids were there from August to June. 10 kids left for a couple of grading periods, then came back. Some of those left again. she had 1 kid 3 different times. She actually had 34 names on her online grade book when you printed out the end of the year report. )

    1. Department Head in Public School*

      Adding to this:
      Being hired in August is not a “bad sign” as the OP #4 stated. Many districts have to adjust due to enrollment and also sudden illness/family situations that crop up.

      1. A Teacher*

        Agreed. I teach in a large district so we have openings that crop up all the time.

  29. Bookworm*

    #2: What you did is fine. You may find that your mind changes again, that there can be adjustments made so the job matches more closely to what you want, etc. As Alison said, you don’t want to fake enthusiasm over every single thing, but in the case that you end up not taking the job/it’s not offered, being enthusiastic can just leave a good general impression.

    I have the somewhat related problem where apparently I don’t show enough enthusiasm (I’m labeled as “quiet” or some other similar thing) and it grinds my gears. I get appearing enthusiastic but apparently that can vary from organization to interviewer, etc.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      Use your words! Say explicitely “I know my face might not show it, but I want you to know that I am very enthusiastic about this job and I’m already having ideas about how to apply my current skills to your business” or something like that.

  30. Oxford Coma*

    LW #5 While I agree that caring for a child =/= WFH as others have said, it’s also A Thing to make WFH caveated to the moon until it’s untenable. It sounds good to the new people, but veterans know it’s just a show.

    I.e.: you can only WFH during a week that doesn’t include a holiday, and never on Mondays or Fridays, and never on a day another person in your department is doing it, and never on a day with a team meeting, and, and, and…

  31. Uranus wars*

    You should just be able to say, “I’m sorry, I’m not available on Sunday, but I can see you on Monday if you’d like.” And if someone pushes, you can say, “I’m fully booked then” or “don’t have any time open then.” You don’t need to specify “that’s my day off”

    Learning this, no matter what the request, has been a game changer for my overall happiness. OP I encourage you, and anyone else reading, to use this in all areas when you feel over extended….I use it for work, volunteer requests, random bike rides with friends, events or family travel as necessary.

  32. Fuzzy*

    Chiming in on LW #4:
    I don’t really have any advice to offer on this front, and I’m not sure if it would change Alison’s response at all, but the reasons she listed to not go to this job fair actually don’t pan out if this is a large public school district we’re talking about.
    Typically, a large district will hold their own job fair for just the schools in their district, and each school is usually represented by at least one administrator (principal or assistant principal) at the fair. Private schools would not attend a public school district’s job fair, so there wouldn’t be any risk of being seen by the school the LW was hired by. I know we do things weird in the education world!

    1. Someone else*

      I thought OP said it was a charter school, not a private school. Around here charter schools are public schools. I don’t know whether there would be people from a charter school at the public school district’s job fair, but the charter schools are definitely considered part of said district.

      1. Someone else*

        Clarification: OP did mention both charters and private schools, but said she had offers from a couple charters.

  33. Sunshine's Eschatology*

    Re: Enthusiasm and LW #2. I’ve found that I have to “fake,” or at least theatrically dial up, my enthusiasm even for jobs I am interested in! I’ve had feedback that I don’t seem enthusiastic or excited for jobs that I really have been excited for, which is frustrating but helpful to know. I think my natural setting is very low-key, so what feels to me like dialed up enthusiasm for an interview doesn’t come across as anything more than mildly interested or polite. (This makes me sound like a very boring person, ha. I will venture no opinion on that…)

    Since then getting that feedback I punched up the enthusiasm even more, which makes me feel a bit manic from the inside, but back when I was interviewing it did seem to work! So I have a lot of empathy and gentle amusement for this question since all interview enthusiasm seems a little fake and overwrought–but completely necessary–to me.

  34. LeisureSuitLarry*

    #2: In 20+ years of work I think I’ve had 3 interviews where I was genuinely enthusiastic about the position I was interviewing for. All of the other ones I felt like I was faking enthusiasm. I got those 3 jobs, but I’ve had several others, so obviously my faked enthusiasm worked. I still felt like I was being disingenuous. But, yeah. Go ahead and fake your enthusiasm. Try to be a good actor though.

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