update: the sloth pencil case, the qualified candidate with baggage, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are five updates from past letter-writers.

1. Will my taste in office supplies seem weird or unprofessional?

A few months ago, I sent you a question relating to my school supplies, and whether they were too childish. All of the replies it gathered were so sweet! Whenever I’m having a bad day, or feeling really insecure in my studies, I go through and read them again— the person who posted a picture of their zebra finches was definitely a favorite!

For my own personal supplies, I get so many kind remarks about my sloth! He just hangs out of one of the pockets on my backpack, and everyone, especially professors, thinks it’s the coolest thing in the world when I pull him out and grab a pen.

Also, most exciting of all, I just got my grades back, and I have almost entirely As!! For a little while, I was afraid that I had to pick between silly and competent, but it’s so nice to know that I can have both! Thank you so much!

2. I can’t keep helping my work BFF do her job

Tracy was let go unceremoniously in mid-November. We’re in the process of looking for a replacement, and in the meantime, I’ve been covering both her job and mine. The good news is, I’ve been reinforced regularly with appreciation for both my skill and my dedication, which is helping to beat back the imposter syndrome I’m consistently plagued with. I think I am finally over the fear that I’ll be let go as well (which, when Kathy called me in to tell me about Tracy, was my first thought).

I reached out to Tracy twice in the past month – once to tell her I was sorry and I was there for her as a friend if she needed me, and once to link her to a cute funny thing on the internet that made me think of her. I haven’t heard a peep. It’s pretty sad, but I guess life goes on, and I learned a few things about how to act with future colleagues.

Thank you to everyone in the AAM community for your advice.

3. Bringing alcohol to a gift exchange that kids take part in (#4 at the link)

I’m writing back to update everyone regarding my question about whether its appropriate to bring alcohol to a work party as a white elephant gift given the participation of my boss’ preschool children. Thank you Alison and the AAM community for your advice and insight!

I didn’t get a chance to ask my boss directly as we’re working on huge project we’d like to complete soon, but one of the reader comments about alcohol being gifted at the last party and the boss not discouraging it this year was helpful. Many of the other comments were great too and helped put my mind at ease about everything, as well as showed me other perspectives I hadn’t considered.

I happened to find a cute (and very affordable!) gift set including liquor and ended up going with that since my gift was so popular last year. Apparently everyone had a similar idea, as 50-60% of the gifts were alcohol or alcohol accessories (wineglass charms, mixers, etc). My boss’s child actually ended up opening a gift of alcohol but as many commenters predicted, it was quickly ‘stolen’ by someone of age. Most of the game consisted of several people stealing the alcohol back and forth to the point where it was a bit much. My boss made a weird joke/comment about it (that’s a question for another time, sometimes I cant tell if my boss’s weird jokes are actually jokes or veiled feedback) but I’m thinking I might choose something different next year to mix it up anyway.

Many commenters wanted to know why the kids were there in the first place, which I think is a valid thing to ask. The kids are really well behaved and the parents are pretty good at recognizing when they are getting too silly or cranky and removing them for some cool-down time. I also saw the parents taking opportunities to teach good hosting behavior such as bringing the kids to ask guests if they can get them anything and waiting to fill a plate until all the guests have gone first. I realize that kids at a work party may turn really awful depending on the parent or kid (there’s some parents/kids in my own family where this would never be ok haha) but for this specific situation I’m not personally bothered by it. A few really cool non-alcoholic gifts essentially became “off the market” because nobody was going to ‘steal’ from a kid, much less their boss’s kid, which for me was the only potential problem.

Thanks again everyone, you are a great community! Hope everyone’s winter is safe and joyous.

4. How do I handle being on a city council on my resume? (#4 at the link)

I ended up getting a job where my soft skills that came from being a city council member helped a lot. Technically, in my job I have a lot of authority to enforce rules even though I’m not management; however, it’s far more effective to persuade people of the importance of following the rules. We are in a regulated industry and it’s important that we live up to our quality standards as well as the applicable rules and regulations of the countries where we do business. Getting people on board voluntarily through reasonable explanations helps us a ton with this goal.

On a side note, I ended up running for mayor of the small city (part-time job) and winning, while still keeping the full time job I got. I feel like I could probably fill up a couple columns with questions stemming from the challenges of being a part-time Mayor and managing full time staff, especially staff who I oversee but legally can’t fire.

5. Must I hire a qualified candidate with a ton of baggage?

Thanks so much again for publishing my letter. The feedback I received was tremendously helpful!

HR requires that we interview anyone who meets the minimum requirements. I interviewed her and another candidate. The wife struggled in her interview, taking a long time to answer fairly straightforward questions, failing to draw on experience that was listed on her resume, and so on. Thankfully, the other candidate was so out-of-the-park amazing that I had lots of material to justify not selecting the wife. As it turned out, though, no one questioned my hiring decision. The wife actually accepted a very low-level admin position in the company. She and her husband both avoid me in the hallways (ignore my greetings, etc). Though that’s somewhat annoying, it reassures me every time that I dodged a bullet by not hiring that lady. Thanks to you and the AAMverse for talking me through it!

{ 60 comments… read them below }

  1. RG*

    OP as someone that was let go once, I can tell you that Tracy may be avoiding you out of shame. You already end up in a weird headspace after getting fired, and I can only imagine how much worse it would have felt had I been close friends with a co-worker. You probably just need to let this go. If she reaches back out one day, great, but if not, well, it’s nothing you did.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yeah, it can be hard to accept even well-meaning sympathy from friends when your ego has been bruised :( It all feels like pity. I would probably shame-hide too, and it’s nothing that OP did or didn’t do.

      1. T. Boone Pickens*

        Totally w/ RG here (also been let go as well), it takes a lot of work to maintain a relationship when one of the vital cogs that sparked the relationship (work in this case) gets severed. It might take some time for Tracy to reach back out (perhaps sooner if she lands a job quickly) as what would you really talk about if the two of you got together? Talking about work would seem cruel. From my personal experience I needed a couple months before I felt comfortable reaching back out to former coworkers that I worked with for 5+ years as I didn’t want to come across bitter and negative when I met with them and I needed to get that out of my system. I genuinely liked quite a few of my former coworkers and it wasn’t their fault/decision for me to get let go. Give Tracy a wide berth and hopefully time will work its magic.

  2. Daniel*

    OP#4, I really hope you consider writing in again (either for next year’s updates or otherwise). I’m really curious about how your role as mayor works out.

    Also, congratulations on being elected!

    1. OrangeYouGlad*

      I’d love one of the “interview people with interesting jobs” posts about being a Mayor with staff you can’t fire!

      1. Radio Girl*

        Agree! As a former reporter, I’ve covered several mayors and councils and am always interested in their challenges!

  3. Jennifer*

    OP#5 Why did the wife accept the low-level position? I thought she already had a job. It sounds like this would have been a step-down if it wasn’t the job she really wanted. Maybe she and her husband just really wanted to work together for some reason.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Maybe she did but it was something that sounded even less impressive than a low-level admin job. Or maybe she was on thin ice there and was looking for an out. Or maybe her resume was fabricated more even than the OP suspected and her relevant experience wasn’t so much. Or maybe she didn’t really and just said that to not look unemployed.

      1. Jennifer*

        Maybe. Or maybe that company has really great benefits and she’s planning on getting pregnant soon. I’ve seen that before.

    2. Memyselfandi*

      I think she didn’t really have the skills that she put on her resume. Otherwise, why was she so underwhelming in the interview?

      1. Yvette*

        I agree with you about the skills on the resume. From the original letter:
        “I did eventually post the position, the wife applied, and it turns out she is actually an intriguing candidate on paper and has perhaps the most relevant experience of all the applicants. ”

        Am I the only one thinking the resume was written specifically to match the posted position?

    3. OP Hiring Manager*

      I have no earthly idea why Mrs. “I already have a job but go on, convince me why I should consider your position” deigned to take the job she took, or for that matter, why she even applied for it given all her illustrious qualifications. I was genuinely surprised when I learned that she was in that job.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        I knew her resume was a load of crap!Shows how much respect her husband has for you, he didn’t even prep her so she could sound qualified, just wasted your time. And hers, but that’s a conversation for their therapist.

        1. Triplestep*

          Well, the two of them did their homework enough to come up with a resume they knew would make her look good on paper and probably guarantee her an interview.

          This could also be a case of Dunning Kruger mixed with entitlement. Sitting in front of a hiring manager asking “what does your department do” to figure out “if the job would be a good fit” not the other way around? There are plenty of people who just have really undeserved high self-esteem and think they’d be an asset to anyone, and they set their sights on a company with good benefits.

          OP, I give you a lot of credit for wanting to be fair in this situation and considering her, and even more credit for not letter this couple manipulate you. They sound like they are good at it, or at least well-practiced. One of my reasons for leaving a former job was having to deal with the aftermath of a re-org which forced me to work with (and tutor constantly) a group that did not have the same experience I did. They eventually hired an impostor they were not experienced enough to see through, which turned out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back as far as I was concerned.

  4. Oranges*

    OP #5–
    Thanks for the vindication that wife was lying about her experience.

    Also, could you imagine the amount of mess she’d make? Anytime you’d need to correct her it would be come a THING with her and her husband. And if you try to fire her I’d bet you large amounts of cash the husband would retaliate. This type of situation is only interesting one remove. Like the ebola virus is fascinating but I don’t actually want to catch it.

    1. irene adler*

      Same sentiments here.
      Hiring her would have resulted in one heck of a holy mess. The kind that never ends.

  5. neeko*

    Maybe encourage putting a limit on how many swaps per round in the White Elephant. Those can become endless.

      1. Beaded Librarian*

        Our family has a you can only steal if you haven’t picked a gift yet otherwise you pick from the unopened pile.

  6. LawBee*

    I desperately want OP4 to write a blog about being a part time mayor in a small town. I know it really isn’t Stars Hollow but but but what if it were

  7. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I agree that Tracy is probably not responding out of shame or perhaps the depression that can hit someone after being let go. I would just stay back and perhaps she’ll reach out when she’s in a better headspace.

    I’m glad that they let her go, it’s unfair to let someone struggle like it sounded like she was doing. Spinning your wheels and is maddening and can lead to far worse issues than the sting and humiliation that a termination can cause in the long term. She will be okay, in the case of someone not being able to do the job, she should still be eligible for benefits and hopefully finds a job she truly excels in or at least does well enough in to eliminate the stress of struggling.

  8. Observer*

    #5 – Yeah. LOTS of vindication of your decision. I mean, no one would expect them to be effusive with you, but getting downright rude is just weird.

  9. Radio Girl*

    OP#1, as a lover of critters and cute stuff, I salute you! Thanks for the happy update. Congrats on the grades!

    1. Sara without an H*

      Yes, I’ve just added a sloth pencil case to my Wishlist folder in Amazon.

      Congratulations on a successful semester!

  10. Ella Vader*

    Congratulations on the election and the job to #4.

    I’d love to hear more about how it works to be an elected official in a small municipality – how much do you need to be a manager, what are the funny parts, and what are the tricky parts. Maybe in an open thread?

    1. Mrs. Fenris*

      My dad was a county commissioner in my small hometown. He loved it. Local government is where it’s at!

      1. I work on a Hellmouth*

        Dude, I just discovered that my town’s city council livestreams all of their meetings and I had NO IDEA that local government was so endlessly fascinating!

        1. Beaded Librarian*

          Ours has some seriously shady stuff that’s gone on in the past the new members of the city council are trying to fix. It’s crazy

  11. TheWonderGinger*


    This was the update I didn’t know I needed, mostly because it made me giggle (again) as I re-read all the comments and reaffirm my acceptance with being quirky in a corporate world.

  12. Sara without an H*

    OP#3, it sounds like a great party, with extraordinarily civilized people. Glad to hear it all worked out well.

  13. Not Gary, Gareth*

    OP #5 – This bit really makes me laugh: “The wife struggled in her interview, taking a long time to answer fairly straightforward questions, failing to draw on experience that was listed on her resume, and so on.”

    I seem to recall someone in the original thread theorizing that her resume looked impressive because of course it would, her husband probably told her exactly what to put on it and could we really be sure that resume was accurate or even truthful? This… well, this does nothing to dispel that theory for me.

    Good work trusting your gut, and I’m so glad to hear you got a rockstar new hire!

  14. cheluzal*

    2: I’m 41 with a half-finished PhD, in my career for 18 years, and I rock a Hello Kitty anything like no one’s business!

    3: I would actually be annoyed with this party. I don’t drink so 60%? Yikes. And then you can’t take something because the kids need it? I don’t like that. Stealing is the best part of that game!

    1. Bigintodogs*

      Yeah not being able to “steal” from the kids bothering me. I also don’t drink much. Though I wouldn’t mind getting alcohol as a gift, it seems like the options I/other non-drinkers would prefer would be taken away because the kids want them. It’s cool that the parents know how to parent, but I’d still be rankled at them being at the party at all.

  15. Woo*

    #1 – You deserve to realize silly (I feel like that word is overused with women and women’s interests- but anyway) is fine – YOU are fine! You can be literally anything along with smart other than stupid (and even that occurs in some ways). There is NOTHING unintelligent about being feminine. Full stop!

    But I would say – I think in school, nearly anything is fine. If you’re interning or working with someone, it might be worth holding off on tons of stuff like that a little bit until you establish that your work is good and get a feel for the office. No one SHOULD be judged for these things, but the reality is despite the awesomeness of the comment section, people do judge for these sorts of things (and I say a lot would), so keep that in mind.

  16. I work on a Hellmouth*

    OP #1: Never change. You can absolutely be really silly and really awesomely competent at the same time.

    At my current job I’m actually not allowed to really personalize my desk space, but I still have an iridescent unicorn notebook (it houses allllll of the important SOPs for getting stuff done, so it is left alone by all), a rebellious neon floral mini stapler (it hides in my drawer, so no one can make me get rid of it), a fantastic metallic teal glitter pen (thank you, ban.do), and an X-Men coffee cup that they can pry out of my cold, dead hands (I claim environmental concerns whenever anyone makes noises about it and tries to steer me towards the disposable cups). They all make me smile, and actually help me feel a little better when I’m having a hard day. And! Most of the jobs I’ve had have actually been way cooler about that sort of stuff—at my last job, every work space was awash with funko pop, My Little Ponies, cute pop culture shrines, and awesome art prints.

      1. I work on a Hellmouth*

        This makes me really happy and also makes me want to start quoting Firefly. Which also makes me happy.

  17. Lionheart*

    OP1 I actually thought about you a couple of weeks ago when I was in a fantastic workshop about interactions with coworkers. There are ways we humans are wired to perceive authority, authenticity, and approachability. We learned some strategies for using our tone and gestures to project all three.
    None of the strategies I learned had anything to do with what you wear or what pencil case you bring.
    It was such a relief for me to know that I could improve how much people believe or trust me, without having to change what I wear and how I act. İn fact, we’re perceived as more authoritative when we can be our authentic selves.
    Like I said, I thought of you when the presenter told us all of this, so I’m glad you figured it out and continue to rock your pencil case!

  18. Stephanie*

    #1 – I’m glad the pencil case is a good thing!

    I recently changed jobs, and the call to interview was 2 days after I coloured part of my hair blue. I was concerned that my unsual taste in hair colour would be a detriment, and mentioned it in the interview. It was brushed aside as “I don’t care what you look like as long as you can be profession in doing your job.” It was a relief, like you said, to not have to pick silly or competent.

    1. Beaded Librarian*

      I dyed my hair blush purple after having been in my job a little over a year. I work in a library and apparently a patron complained to the director. Her response was their is nothing against it in either the library or city personnel codes. AND she prefers that her staff can feel like themselves as it makes most patrons more comfortable approaching them. That was two years ago, two weeks ago a little girl thought it was amazing I’m still rocking spiky purple hair.

  19. Liz*

    OP1 – I read your story and it picked me up today. I read your original letter and update to my mom (who is a college professor). Mom’s comment was “that person is a really good writer, that’s why she’s getting A’s”. Congrats on all your hard work!

    1. The Babiest Babyface*

      :D!!! This is so kind of you!! I’m so insecure about my writing, so this message means a lot to me!

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