how to say “do you know anyone who will hire me,” I have tons of extra sick leave, and more

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

1. How do I say “do you know anyone who will hire me?”

I will be starting my senior year of college in the fall and will be on the hunt for jobs starting soon after graduation in May 2020. I have had several successful internships and am in touch with past managers/colleagues I worked with (including one who told me to start reading your blog!). I’m getting nervous about the job search and I wish I could just email my contacts and say “I’m looking for a job. Do you have any available? Do you know anyone who will hire me?” I recognize that this is too direct and comes off as needy. Do you have suggestions for more relaxed language that will still get the message across? While we’re at it, what else can I do this fall to prepare for the post-grad job search?

That can actually be the gist of your message; you just need to word it differently. I’d say it this way: “I’m graduating in May and starting to look for my first post-graduation job, and wondered if I could ask for your help. I’m especially interested in ____, but I’m open to anything that might be a good fit. I’m attaching my resume here and I’d be so grateful if you have any advice about where I might apply or people you’d recommend I’d speak with.” (Leave out the“open to anything” part if it’s not true.) People who are interested in hiring you themselves will recognize the opening here so you don’t need to say “will you hire me?” … although you could also say something like, “I’d of course love to return to Llama Inc. if you think there’s an opening that I’m well-matched with!”

Of course, wait until it’s closer to the time you’ll actually be available. Some fields will actually start hiring 2020 grads in the fall, but for most jobs that hire with shorter timelines, you’d want to send this around March of next year (or February if you’re more focused on the networking piece of it).

For a post-grad job search more generally, this may help and this is the full “new grads” section of my archives.

2. I have more sick leave than I need

What should you do if you have more sick leave than you need? I work at a large company with fairly generous leave policies: we get 12 paid sick days a year, in addition to vacation time and personal days. All of these types of leave are pooled separately, and there’s no negotiation room on that. I can’t convert some of my sick time to vacation or anything like that.

I currently have over five weeks of sick leave accrued. I don’t hesitate to take a sick day if I’m sick, or if I’m feeling especially stressed or exhausted and need a day to myself. But I’m rarely sick, and I’m judicious about taking mental health days (I also have no children or other family members who need care). My boss is supportive of us using leave and never gives us any grief when we take a day off. I also take work-life balance seriously and use my vacation time regularly.

I just feel a bit like I’m wasting this benefit. Should I be taking more mental health days? Just look forward to a decent payout when I eventually leave?

If it rolls over year to year, doesn’t have a cap on accrual, and gets paid out when you leave, then yes, just continuing to accrue it and knowing it’ll eventually turn into cash is one option.

I generally wouldn’t go out of your way to use up every single sick day because you want some there as a safety net in case you suddenly need them, but it sounds like you have a lot of room to use more than you have been! You might add in a few more mental health days/stress relief days a year … and if you’re not already using sick leave for medical appointments (including stuff like dental), that might use some of it up to (assuming that’s allowed, which it usually is).

3. My boss doesn’t understand that noise-canceling headphones cancel noise

I wear noise-canceling headphones almost all day (I’ve had them for eight-ish months now) for a few reasons: (1) I work in a semi-open office with six other people in my section; it’s a friendly group, especially the people behind me, who talk to each other about personal business for hours every morning. (2) Noises I can’t control (such as buzzing lights or the woman in a nearby section who sings to herself) stress me into the red zone. (3) Listening to music or podcasts while I work helps me concentrate. (4) Earbuds don’t block out the sound, so to hear what I’m listening to I have to crank the volume WAY up, which causes sound to bleed over and almost certainly damages my ears. (5) My boss and the other coworker in my department (Perpetua), whom I sit between, have increasingly loud conversations/arguments four or five times a day. (Perpetua is to my right and boss is behind a cubicle wall to my left, so they can’t really hear each other and neither will use the phone/get up to go to the other’s desk.)

My boss and Perpetua don’t seem to understand that if they talk to me while I’m wearing my headphones, I can’t hear them very well. Boss will walk by my desk to out of my peripheral vision and I’ll hear a faint murmur (she’s extremely soft-spoken), then look up from my work to see her looking at me expectantly. I’ll take the headphones off and say “Say again?” and she will repeat herself (sometimes while rolling her eyes). More than once, Perpetua has said that she told me something, “but you probably didn’t hear because you had your headphones on.”

All it takes is a wave or just saying my name (I try to listen for it) and waiting one second for me to remove my headphones. I’ve tried a couple of times saying “Hey, I can’t hear you when I wear these, so if you need my attention, just signal me and I’ll take them off,” but it doesn’t seem to have had an effect. Part of me wants to either make a little sign (“If you need me, let me get my headphones off first!”) or just ignore Boss and Perpetua completely, but I know those are terrible ideas. You’d think that eight months of repeating herself would get old. It doesn’t seem to be a power play, as it hasn’t come up in my past two evaluations. It’s baffling. I should note: Everyone else who comes to my desk and needs to talk to me gives me a signal. But the two people I deal with the most over the course of the day can’t make the leap. What’s my next move?

With your boss, address the pattern: “I might be misinterpreting, but I’ve gotten the sense that you’re frustrated to have to repeat yourself when I need to take my headphones off to hear you. I certainly don’t want to be annoying you! I wear the headphones because it helps me focus on work in our open set-up. Could you try waving to get my attention first? That way I get the headphones off and you won’t have to repeat yourself.” If you say this and she still doesn’t change her behavior … well, you tried. At that point I’d figure you’ve done all you can and it doesn’t seem to affecting how she assesses your work, and just let it go.

With Perpetual: You could say the same thing to her. Or you could wait until the next time she say “you probably didn’t hear because you had your headphones on” and say, “Yes! That’s correct. I don’t hear you when I have headphones on so I need you to wave or otherwise signal that you need me.”

4. I saw a resume I shouldn’t have — and it’s for my awful former boss

I’m in a rather low position within a small (less than 10), tightly knit group at a large company. The second highest up, Sansa, is leaving the company and our boss, Jon, is seeking someone to fill her role.

Before she left, Sansa asked me to grab a paper from her desk. I didn’t see the one she wanted, but saw another one at the top of the stack and thought “the one she wants must be in this stack.” It wasn’t—instead I saw a resume from Cercei looking to fill her position. I worked for Cercei years ago as an intern, and while I don’t remember much of that (hectic, uncaring) workplace, I remember that she was mean. Just an unpleasant, mean person. I don’t even have any specific memories, because honestly I’ve shoved that part of my life to the back of my brain, but my heart literally stopped beating for a second.

I don’t know if I should say something to Jon about this or not, or even if there is anything I could say. I could/should have spoken to Sansa before she left the company but I didn’t. Is there anything I can or should do now? I really like/need this job. I’ve been without a “I have health insurance and a salary” for way too long, had to upend my life to move back to my (crappy) hometown where one of the only good things *is* this job, and haven’t been working long enough here to quit without burning some really useful bridges.

You can say this: “This is awkward, but the other day when Sansa asked me to get something from her desk, I saw a resume from Cercei Lannister. I actually worked for her years ago, and if you’re considering bringing her on, I’d be grateful for a chance to provide you with some input about what she was like as a colleague.” You may hear she’s not in the running, in which case you can stop there. But if your boss asks to hear more, tell the truth.

But before you do this, do try to remember more specifics — which will be much more compelling and much easier for Jon to act on. It doesn’t have to be lots of specific stories but being able to say, for example, that she was considered hostile and argumentative and alienated most of your team will be more helpful than just that she was unpleasant. (But if you really can’t recall anything, you can suggest that he do a thorough reference check, including of people who worked for her.)

5. Can I bring written questions to a job interview?

Is it an interview faux pas to have your own questions written out and to read them? I always have great questions I would like to ask the employer at the end of the interview, but I seem to have performance anxiety as I cannot remember my questions when it comes time for me to ask them. Sometimes I will remember one or two questions, but these have often already been answered within the interview. I was wondering would it be a red flag if I had some of them written down and brought them out?

It’s totally fine to write down your questions ahead of time! It makes you look prepared. When the time comes for your own questions, you can take out your list and say, “I wrote down a few questions I wanted to make sure I asked.”

You don’t want to sound like you’re reading them word for word like a script; you want to keep things conversational. But it’s perfectly fine to consult your notes.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 344 comments… read them below }

  1. Brean*

    The student who is about to graduate should apply to jobs now even if it is out of their field just to get some work experience and to start contributing to social security. That way once they are able to interview for their dream job, they’ll have more on their resume than an internship. To be honest, employers don’t really care about internships unless you did more than office stuff. This is coming from someone who finished grad school in 2014. The job market is not fair.

    1. Annette*

      She’s not even a senior yet = too early to start applying. Definitely too early to look outside her field. Let her start applying and if she strikes out and just needs a job. Then she can look more widely.

      BTW – it’s not true that employees don’t care about internships. Many do. Better to have internships then a job you only got for the social security and left as soon as what you really wanted cane around in 6 months.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah I had an internship at The Motley Fool and it was far and away the thing on my resume people most wanted to talk about in every interview I had.

    2. BuildMeUp*

      I’m not sure if it’s clear from the letter that the OP hasn’t had jobs in the past. The internships were just in their chosen field, so their managers/colleagues there would be good people to reach out to.

      1. HJ*

        For #2, I had a buddy who worked for state government and could bank her sick leave. She ended up being able to retire a year early using her unused sick leave. I’d look into how long you can bank it.

    3. gsa*

      Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with LW#1 starting to look for jobs in her field now, however I would put a “first available date” in the cover letter/email. Most employers will ask you when you will be available during an interview.

      If LW#1 chooses to start looking now, she will most likely have to follow-up early next spring. At least I would follow up, because I wouldn’t expect someone to remember my availability six months later.

      1. Monican*

        This is very industry-dependent. In my industry, and most industries that I am aware of, it would be a complete waste of time to apply for jobs nearly a year before you’re available.

        1. SarahTheEntwife*

          Yeah, same here. Academia takes infamously long to complete the hiring process, but even here we wouldn’t look at an application from someone who wouldn’t be available for a year.

          If the LW is considering part-time jobs, especially if they’re in a field where evening/weekend/otherwise outside-of-class-time positions are a thing, that could be a good option, but standard full-time work is usually not compatible with full-time school.

        2. AnotherAlison*

          Jobs for spring 2020 graduates will be posted on my company’s website in September. I interviewed for and accepted my first job in October 1999, and I was a May 2000 graduate. It’s been that way in my industry for a very long time, and I think it’s fairly easy for a student to find out if that is how their industry works. If you waited until spring to apply in my field, you would severely limit your opportunities.

          1. Risha*

            Right. A lot of places looking for large batches of new grads hire in the fall for a spring/summer graduation. I received an offer (for a job I stayed at for 11 years) during my Thanksgiving break in 97 and graduated June of 98, and started with 25 other new grads that were hired at roughly the same time.

          2. BadWolf*

            That’s similar to what we do — we often have spring college graduates “locked in” by January — having done interviews in the late fall/early winter. So it definitely depends on the area you are looking in.

        3. Gymmie*

          Me too. If I need someone now, I need someone now – I’m not willing to wait, and if I don’t need someone now, I’m not interested in looking for people for the future, because my budget and needs are very dependent on what is happening at the time.

        4. Artemesia*

          Lots of larger organizations especially in some fields have a hiring season for new employees in the fall. If you are not part of the process then, you don’t get hired. My husband had his first professional job lined up in October before his August graduation. (most people graduated in June, but he was on an accelerated 3 year program — and the organization only hired in fall each year) This is something she should know through her research and something the college career office can help with. They are often terrible at work advice, but this is the kind of information i.e. hiring cycles for particular organizations that they know about.

          Employers expect new grads to be available following graduation usually in June or so and so you definitely want to be looking by early spring if the organization doens’t have a hiring season once a year.

          1. Rugby*

            That kind of hiring is the exception, not the rule and I would think that OP would know if she is in the kind of industry that hires this way.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              A lot of companies have two hiring tracks – one for recent graduates and one for current openings. For me, a current opening is something I’m hiring for to start as soon as possible and I can’t hold for a spring graduate; however, I also hire between 2 and 7 recent graduates every spring, and I start seeing candidates for those jobs in January with in-persons over spring break in March/April. I thought it was very odd when I was in college that people were applying for jobs in the fall semester, but a lot them were going to jobs (with larger companies but across industries – technology, legal, consulting, big accounting) that had recent graduate programs where they brought a “class” in together in the spring to minimize training costs/efforts.

              In short, I would not tell a senior in college to wait until spring semester to start looking/networking. I get resumes circulated via networking every spring for positions that I filled months before. They may not end up with one of those positions, but they may also miss out if organizations for which they’d like to work hire that way.

            2. HarvestKaleSlaw*

              I am in an industry that hires college grads while they are still in the early fall of their senior year, and I can think of at least two others that operate the same way. For finance, the hiring season is now spring of Junior year. Everyone is worried our industry will go the same way. Once a single prestigious large firm decides to move their hiring earlier, everyone else is forced to follow. Even experienced people in these fields sometimes don’t realize how early the hiring cycle has shifted unless they have been involved in recruiting recently.

        5. EG*

          In addition to industry, I think this is very organization-size dependent. Big corporations know they’ll have at least some level of turnover and so can plan to recruit and hire cohorts of new employees. (In fact, it’s probably more efficient for them to plan to bring people in as a group for interviewing, on-boarding, training, etc.). But small companies don’t know when they’ll have vacancies or how many or for which jobs. And even within a company this dynamic is true of different divisions / units. I work for a local government agency and we hire our major classifications in cohorts (so maybe… 1/2 of the positions?) but the other 1/2 we hire ad hoc, since we’re not going to be filling more than a few similar positions at a time. So, if you want to work for a smaller company or in a niche division, you are also probably going to find it hard t0 find a position in fall to start the following summer….

      2. Just Elle*

        Thats how I did it too. I put ‘anticipated graduation’ on my resume, and most online job apps had a ‘date available’ box.

    4. BRR*

      Obviously it’s field dependent on internships but my experience is not that employers don’t care. For those entry-level positions that want a lot of experience, internships can often fill that requirement.

      1. Ella Bee Bee*

        I would think that an internship in the same field would hold more weight on a job application than a job in an unrelated field. Like you said, it depends on the field, but when I first graduated college and was looking for jobs, no one cared about my work in unrelated fields. At interviews they only asked about my internships. Similarly, my younger sister just graduated and was hired in her field (a different field from mine) right away. She was told they chose her based off of her internships. I’m sure that a job in the field is better than an internship in the field, but I don’t think it’s true that employers don’t care about internships.

    5. Just Elle*

      This is definitely a know your industry thing.

      I’m an engineer and had my first post-grad job locked down by November (and did not graduate until the following May). I started interviewing in September, and its not like it was a freak thing – every single competitive company I was interested in interviewed on that timeline. I had a few friends who didn’t believe me, and were really upset come April when their top companies were all filled up.

      My internship/co-op experience was also incredibly valuable. It was the main thing my interviewers wanted to talk about, and also is what allowed me to negotiate a higher starting salary.
      You know what no one wanted to talk about? My out-of-field jobs that I took to make ends meet (retail work, gym front desk person, ice cream scooper).

      1. A Day at the Zoo*

        I agree with you — it is industry dependent. In my field, it would be fairly normal to get hired in the fall for a role for the following summer.

        One of my good friends who is a a mid-level person at a very large company recommends that anyone looking for a job at his company review the open positions, apply and then ask for help. This helps him figure out who best to reach out to and the type of roles the person applying is looking for.

      2. Le Sigh*

        This is how one of my siblings did it (engineering). Not the same for my industry though, even while in college. The intern recruiters usually showed up earlier, but anyone looking to hire usually didn’t show up on campus until spring. Outside of the recruiters, if you were applying online to job openings, they’d want you to be ready pretty soon — they might be willing to wait a month or so while you graduated and moved, but not much longer.

    6. pleaset*

      “To be honest, employers don’t really care about internships unless you did more than office stuff. ”

      Some do. Internships doing basic office stuff help remove uncertainty that the intern hasn’t even learned basic office norms.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        ANNNND BOY HOWDY do I ever recommend checking recommendations from the internships.
        We had some for whom I would jump through hoops to get them to come back… and one or two who were so unproductive that I would jump those hoops backwards to get them to stay away.

        1. Gymmie*

          Certainly with interns you can evaluate work ethic, ability to learn, interest level, soft skills, etc. While they may not be doing the actual job of the people at the company, how they did their internship can give someone a whole heck of a lot of information they wouldn’t know with just an interview.

      2. Quinalla*

        Agreed, maybe it is field dependent, but in engineering we care A LOT about internships/co-ops for recent grads. Any job experience is helpful, but internships/co-ops where you at least were exposed to engineering work to some degree are the best. I’m always surprised when I see new grads with no internship or co-op experience on their resumes, not sure if they are getting bad advice or just wanted to relax during the summer, but I really recommend them to everyone in college. It helps you figure out what you might want to do or what you don’t want to do too.

        1. Samwise*

          Or can’t afford to take a non-paying or low-paying internship. I certainly could not have done that — I’m from back in the era where internships were unusual, most everybody who worked in the summer worked typical teenager p-t jobs. I worked retail and waitressed (two p-t jobs, one during the day/weekends, one at nite/weekends) every summer because I needed money to pay tuition, room, board, textbooks. And I had scholarships and federal loans, too — didn’t cover everything. If I didn’t max out earning $ in the summer I was not going to college.

          The need for internships to get that first job really hurts kids from families w/o means, or kids who’ve been kicked out of the house, kids w abusive families that don’t want to live with over the summer… I understand why internships can be important, but if they don’t pay a living wage there’s a real equity problem.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            FWIW, in my experience internships in engineering–Quinalla’s example–and the hard sciences are always paid.

          2. Just Elle*

            Agreed. My engineering internships paid $18/hr and above. Way more than I could make anywhere else. I do realize this is incredibly industry specific though.

          3. Pennalynn Lott*

            My internship in internal audit paid $25/hour last summer, and it was lower than what my friends were making at other companies.

          4. NotAnotherManager!*

            Not all internships are unpaid. My school had a great co-op program that placed students in paid internships, particularly for engineering, architecture, accounting, business, and computer-science type fields. Doing co-op could push out your graduation date, but nearly everyone I know who did it graduated with an job offer from either their internship sponsor or someone they met through the internship. These positions were also not as much about who you know (other than your professors, who’d write recommendations) as the non-school-affiliated ones.

            I hire a lot of recent graduates, and whether or not internships are paid (or come with a stipend or grant for living expenses) is all over the map. There is definitely a bias towards the well-off and well-connected for internships in DC.

            1. Anonymous Career Advisor*

              Corporate internships tend to be paid (regardless of whether the work itself is in STEM or another field), but internships with smaller companies, arts and cultural organizations, non-profits, education or human services, government, and media frequently are not. Students who want experience in those fields but do not have financial security/life stability are de facto excluded, and the sectors are also at a disadvantage because they cannot attract talented, creative, experienced grads whose goals align with theirs. The disparity of paid/unpaid internships is a huge discussion among universities and employers at all levels – from career advisors who work directly with students to university admin who are concerned about job accountability and placement statistics. Some public-sector organizations with which I’ve tried to place students won’t even consider taking on interns – no matter how much they need the help and/or want to help students explore the field – because they feel so strongly that unpaid interships are not appropriate. It’s hard. It’s really, really hard, and very discouraging.

              (The utility of internships both as hiring credentials and in teaching desired skills is also under debate – recent research suggests internships are most valuable as hiring credentials to students who do not have cultural/social capital to gain entry to their chosen fields via personal connections, but those are often the students who cannot afford to work without pay so may not be able to take an internship. It’s a vicious circle.)

          5. anon for this*

            An unpaid internship grad requirement has caused a friend of mine to have to go part-time. She has a family to support. This may not end well.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          That last line is what I keep emphasizing for my younger child. Older sib had a few internships where she established that she liked some aspects but didn’t like others, and then had one that clicked and suggested the post-grad steps to take if she wanted to build a career in this field.

        3. Entry Level Marcus*

          My brother recently graduated with an engineering degree with zero internships, and he was fine on the job hunt. According to him, internships were really competitive and hard to get despite us living in a city with a large tech industry. Most of his engineering friends did not do internships, though his program did require them all to do an extensive capstone project for a local company or research lab in their final year.

    7. OP1-- 2020 grad*

      Fortunately, most internships in my field are paid and the industry certainly considers them valuable experiences. It’s also not a field that hires months and months out so it’s wise to focus on networking now rather than applying. I’ve also had a few paid work experiences to add to my resume.

      1. ket*

        It’s great that you know this!

        Right now, then, is a great time for the informational interviews. Make a spreadsheet with companies and job titles (two different things) and set a goal of number of coffee/information dates, meetups (if appropriate in your field), etc per month until you start applying. If you happen to, say, know the hiring manager for data science at CrunchyCookiesDotCom through your local R user group meetup, or you’ve already had a tour of the design department at CrumblyCookiesForTheWin, and they remember you…. having that warm lead can only help your job search. And it’ll help you figure out where to focus your energy, too.

    8. Spreadsheets and Books*

      In finance, this is deeply not true. The internships you have make a world of difference, particularly if you’re shooting for high finance roles like investment banking. If you don’t have prestigious banking-related internships, you’re probably not landing an IB job. Even corporate finance likes to see internships that prove you know what a P&L is and are familiar with basic accounting.

      I also finished grad school in 2014 and the internships I had during my master’s made a world of difference in getting a good job after graduation.

    9. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      “should apply to jobs now even if it is out of their field just to get some work experience”

      NO. This is how I ended up pigeonholed after graduation into the field I had my part-time job during school. Because I only had “experience outside my field,” I was not considered for positions in my field. And because I wasn’t considered for positions in my field, I stayed outside my intended field longer, which basically meant I was trapped in that second field forever.

      I would NEVER advise a young person to take a non-career-track job during school unless they literally cannot afford to do otherwise.

    10. NotAnotherManager!*

      I hire new graduates, and I care about prior work experience, whether it’s a internship, a retail/food service job, or even a volunteer or work/study job at college. Having some amount of work experience is helpful and cuts down on the time I have spend training on basic professional expectations (like showing up on time, customer service skills, calling to let us know if you overslept and are running late, and being courteous to your coworkers) and can focus on training on skills specific to our industry and workplace.

    11. journo anon*

      In my field, internships are an expectation. If you don’t have probably at least three, you shouldn’t even bother applying. Competition is too fierce.

  2. Engineer Girl*

    #4 – “Mean” is far too unspecific. It is an overused word that is many times used inappropriately.

    Someone can be called “mean” for purposely scheduling a subordinate to work on the day they graduate from university.

    Someone can also be called “mean” for giving appropriate consequences when a subordinate is underperforming. I’ve been called “mean” for holding some of my underperforming reports to company standards and giving them less than stellar performance reviews.
    (Some of them improved, a few were let go).

    The specifics matter!

    You need to have facts Vs an emotional response if you want someone to take action.

    1. Someone commenting*

      I don’t know about that. In a close knit team at a small company, “I know this person and have negative feelings about working with them” would be well enough for me to bin the resume posthaste. If you’re that small, you have so much interaction with every employee that not getting along well is pure poison. I’d definitely want to know this if I was OP’s manager.

      1. Willis*

        I agree with this and would definitely want the LW to speak up if I was about to hire someone to manage her that she knows she wouldn’t want to work with. Also, LW’s current, very small company should know her work and personality enough to know that she’s not just saying Old Boss was mean because she faced consequences for underperforming. Yeah, more specific framing would be helpful but I think either way there’s value in telling Jon what LW remembers.

      2. CupcakeCounter*

        I agree with both points – having some clearer wording will be a better when the OP talks to their boss but on a team that small a current employee’s previous interactions with the applicant is extremely relevant. Assuming OP has a good manager.

      3. NothingIsLittle*

        It would certainly help to have details, but I’m in a similar position. We’ve been hiring and if I said anything to my manager or Big Boss to the effect of, “I had a really hard time working with Cersei in the past and I suspect she wouldn’t do well here,” that would be enough to put even a strong candidate out of the running. But that’s only possible because I’m a high performer and they trust my judgment. It sounds like OP isn’t certain that Jon knows her well enough to rely only on her judgment (though I could be misunderstanding), and if that’s the case she should include as specific details as possible without making anything up.

    2. Penny Change*

      Yes, that was my thought: the LW remembers Cersei was ‘mean’, but it might just have been that as an intern she wasn’t used to normal office expectations, and Cersei was perhaps demanding, but not unreasonably so.

      Depending on how long the OP has been with her group and her general work, it may even backfire – a co-worker who is a bit slapdash saying that a boss from some time ago was mean, but might be interpretated as signally that Cersei is just the kind of person to get a slightly under-performing team back on track.

      1. Lia*

        Wow, I’m uncomfortable that you’ve read the question this way. Also, if you think a “mean” manager is the “just the kind of person to get a slightly under-performing team back on track”, that’s not necessarily a great perspective.

        I was once an intern unused to normal office expectations. At the time I called my supervisor all sorts of things (in private, among friends), but with time I’ve come to see her as a stern but excellent supervisor whom I was lucky to know. The thing is: if the LW is, years later, still getting shudders of horror at the memory… that’s a pretty good sign that they’re either (a) a completely unhinged employee or (b) telling the truth. I know I generally assume the latter. Aggressively assuming the former on the basis of a question is something you should maybe examine in yourself.

        1. doreen*

          Nobody is assuming that the OP is unhinged. But telling Jon that “Cersei” is mean, without any details is unlikely to do the OP any good. It’s a conclusory statement, and if I’m Jon, I need to know what you’re basing your conclusion on.
          “Mean” is just one of those words that covers a whole lot and can mean something different to every person, much like “rude”. And before I refuse to hire someone because a current employee says they are “rude”, I need to know if it’s “cursing at customers” rude or “doesn’t spend ten minutes searching everyone out to say hello” rude.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Specifics always help. A former co-worker had a family member leave a job within the first 2 weeks. And it made sense — the company owner yelled at a staff member when production samples didn’t match some undocumented specs, and then thrown some of those samples across the room when the employee pointed that out. Owner was three levels up but still trying to (micro)manage all individual projects and frequently forgot to include specs that turned out later to be critical to her.
            (“What do you MEAN the horse teapot has a loose mane? I wanted it to have a braided mane!”)

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              I agree with this. Presenting prior experience specifically and factually is the way to go in this. I would take someone saying, “When I worked with Cersei at Llamas Unlimited, she often delivered criticism publicly and ways that made me uncomfortable, like calling people “stupid” or “lazy” rather than explaining how the work product needed to be improved.” is a lot better than just saying she was mean and OP didn’t like working with her.

            2. Elizabeth West*

              If I were a manager and an employee told me they worked with someone who threw things when they got mad, that would be an automatic nope even if they didn’t work very closely with the applicant.

              Also, I now want a horse teapot with a free-flowing mane.

        2. Sara without an H*

          Just saying someone is “mean” makes it sound like a personal difference. If LW can say, “Cersei called people ‘stupid’ in public meetings, in response to trivial errors,” it sounds more like professional criticism.

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            Right. “Mean” is an emotional word, and some people might take it as a personality conflict rather than a work issue. I absolutely think OP should bring it up, but I agree with the recommendation to be more specific. Did she belittle her employees? Was she overly demanding? What behaviors of hers would make her a bad employee for the current company?

            1. Artemesia*

              Sort of a childish word too — but it may cover a lot of pretty awful behavior so the OP needs to be specific. A mean person might belittle people in public, throw staplers, force people to work when they try to arrange to be out for important personal events etc etc. Discussing in terms of ‘very difficult to work with’ and providing specific information about why will get her further than a more general word. And of course gauging whether you will be heard before getting in too deep. Ideally even if her word along doesn’t torpedo the application, it will encourage the hiring manager to probe on reference calls.

              1. Heffalump*

                “Mean” may be an emotional/childish word, but sometimes a paranoid has real enemies.

        3. Archaeopteryx*

          They’re saying that “mean” could mean anything from “mean because she had high standards and wouldn’t let me wear jeans” to “mean because she was insulting, had no boundaries, and enjoyed lording her power over people”- so it’s the details that will make the difference.

        4. LunaLena*

          I had a co-worker who was eventually let go because she kept spending time on her phone at work even after told numerous times not to, often came in late and left early, didn’t do tasks that were asked of her (i.e. standard stuff that everyone did or took turns doing), went on a month-long out-of-state vacation during our busiest time of year with a day’s notice, quit while she was gone, demanded that Big Boss overnight mail her last paycheck to her, and then demanded her job back after she returned (!). When she quit, she cried and said it was because Big Boss was mean and a bully, even though the rest of us (all of whom had been there far longer) had zero problems with Big Boss’s management style or saw anything that singled Employee out.

          So I agree with Penny Change, I think OP’s words will have a lot more weight if she had some specific examples of why Cercei came across as “mean.”

      2. Gymmie*

        I feel like even in my most green years in the professional world – it is obvious when people are POS, honestly. I found I was actually shocked at how unprofessional many people seemed to me. I absolutely would not assume because she was an intern that it was her fault. AND, if she was doing things incorrectly, especially as an intern, it should have been dealt with in a direct, but not “mean” manner. You can’t be a terrible human just because you are a manager. I have a great team and they know I have high expectations, but people like working for me because frankly, I’m not a dick.

        1. epi*

          Yes, definitely. Being inexperienced and having to go through a learning curve are inevitable in interns and brand new employees. Managing that in a constructive way is part of the job when you work with interns. I can’t imagine many performance problems at work that justify being mean to someone, and I have an even harder time imagining it in an intern who hasn’t even been there very long. It’s just not acceptable to behave that way at work, especially to people you are supposed to be training and mentoring.

          I can think of things I did at work very early in my career that were not great, and that I wouldn’t handle that way now. It’s definitely caused me to go back and reevaluate some of my old managers. But it doesn’t always let them totally off the hook! If a mid-career adult is in chronic conflict with a student who is making mistakes but acting in good faith, that adult carries a much larger share of the blame.

        2. Sarah N.*

          I think it can go both ways, however. I wouldn’t assume things either way, because the intern could have had a great read on the situation, but also it could totally be a scenario like the group of interns who wrote a petition to change the dress code. I’m a professor, and I have absolutely had students decide I am mean and unreasonable for, for example, turning them into student conduct for cheating on an assignment or assigning more than 5 pages of reading in a week (a literal complaint I once got). There is not enough detail to know which it is, and that’s kind of the point — without specifics that go beyond “mean,” there’s no way for us OR THE OP’S BOSS to know which category the complaints fall into.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            Same. Some people take feedback or the enforcement of company policy very well; some people are so uncomfortable at being corrected (in private!) or told “no” that they immediately assume it’s a personal affront. (My favorite – I got called “mean” for addressing the situation created by a group of employees that had created their own middle school clique and were refusing to collaborate with the other half of their team. Interestingly, once the Regina George of the group left – flaming me in her exit interview – the dynamic completely changed for the better.)

            No way to tell which this is from the letter, which is why OP would be best-served by sticking to specifics and facts.

            1. JSPA*

              Right–we’re not saying OP is unrealistic in their assessment, we’re saying they need to use language that’s not easy to conflate with complaints from people who are, themselves, a problem. (OP can’t count on, “they know me, they know I’m fine” because they have not known OP all that long, they don’t know what OP was like as an intern, and the place is decent, presumably meaning there isn’t overt conflict, so as a consequence, they don’t actually know how OP responds to bad situations and conflict–whether by diffusing them, avoiding them, escalating them, freaking out, or what.) It’s worth a trip down the memory hole, painful as it may be, to dredge up something more specific.

          2. epi*

            While what you say is true in general, I think you’re missing the fact that the OP’s boss has a great indication of which category the OP’s complaints would fall into: they know the OP. The OP doesn’t say how long they’ve worked at this company, just that it is too soon to be in their best interests to quit. And while it’s not ideal that the OP can’t give specifics, it’s not outrageous if they worked with Cersei a long time ago. It’s nothing that would make most people reevaluate someone’s judgment, if they otherwise know them and have a good opinion of them. The OP can also demonstrate their professionalism in the way they bring this up.

            Since this is a very small office, the OP has another point in their favor. It doesn’t really matter who was at fault in OP’s long-ago dispute with Cersei, if the OP is a valued employee now and still cannot work with her. In many cases, it wouldn’t make any sense to risk losing the OP just to hire Cersei, whom they only know through the application process and this one terrible reference from someone they do know.

            1. Sarah N.*

              I guess the question is whether OP is truly confident in their boss’s assessment of them. It sounds like they’re a relatively new, lower level employee. Maybe they have totally impressed their boss in their time on the job so far, and maybe not — it is impossible to say, and the OP doesn’t indicate anything like “I’ve gotten three exceelent performance reviews in a row and I know from discussions with my boss that I’m a highly valued employee.” If I had a new, lower level employee who had yet to really prove themselves coming to me and giving unspecified/vague complaints about a potential job applicant that they shouldn’t even have known about, I’m honestly not sure how I’d take that. It would depend a lot on the reputation the person had built up so far, and we don’t really have an info on that here.

      3. Observer*

        but might be interpretated as signally that Cersei is just the kind of person to get a slightly under-performing team back on track.

        That’s a signal of poor management. Sure, it’s possible that someone is describes as mean when they really are not, and a good manager is cognizant of that possibility of the person saying that has performance or personality issues. But if that’s not the case, and the likelihood is that the person is actually mean, that is NOT a good trait to get a team performing at peak. If that’s what a manager is looking for, they are not a good manager.

      4. tamarack and fireweed*

        I agree that the *word* “mean” is maybe not the best way to formulate this to higher-ups, but think the LW should get across the *idea*. This can be more unspecific (“they were at the center of a lot of conflicts”) or more specific — but that’s to be handled with more care and needs disclaimers (like “I really can’t go into too much private detail here, but there was an incident where X raised her voice in a way that was very jarring to everyone after a team member had made a minor and fixable mistake”). There also can be a summary that refers to possible impacts on the current team dynamics (“It seems to me that one of the strengths of our unit is how seamlessly we work together, and I have concerns how X would impact this, knowing their style.)

        It is true that stepping forward like this may require, and be worth spending a *small* amount of social capital on, and given the LW is junior in their group, they may not have very much. I’d be thinking about how I am regarded by my immediate supervisors first. Even a junior employee can be respected for their contributions, attitude, and (possibly) development potential, in which case they should be listening. If, and only if, the LW, however, thinks they may have a reputation of underperforming or struggling, whether that’s justified or not (!), the cost may not worth it.

    3. LQ*

      Specifics absolutely matter here. But you don’t have to remember every single detail. It doesn’t need to be “On Tuesday the 23rd of July there were 3 bluebirds outside the window and…”

      “She frequently used racist language when referring to customers.”
      “She would scream at staff in staff meetings.”
      “She mocked both staff and customers in front of other staff and customers.”

      And when you are thinking about the specifics think about the specifics in how they relate to what your current company cares about. If I had a former evil boss of doom applying I’d focus on his “lax” attitude toward privacy, security, and data regulations. Because that I know would get him stopped instantly. That doesn’t mean that he wasn’t also a sexist asshole, it’s just I want to use the pointiest arrow in my quiver for this job.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Although I sure wouldn’t mind if you said “lax on privacy, security, and data regulations” and added “All of which are enough that you don’t need to hear about the complaints from female members of his team.”

        1. LQ*

          Absolutely. You just don’t want to start with something your company doesn’t care about.

          If you lead with “Never showed up on time” and your company is very flexible about work schedules you’re going to have a hard time saving yourself with your next thing, even if it is something that your company cares about. And yes, sure you want a company to care about all the things that matter and not about the things that don’t. But this is definitely a moment to be realistic and consider what will matter the most.

          I’ve been at workplaces where if the lead arrow was sexism the next arrows would be ignored. (And yes, you can get indignant, but if you want to be practical about fixing this situation now, I’m trying to focus on that.) So you start with the thing that the company/the person you’re talking to cares the most about and work your way down. Don’t start with the thing that angered or hurt you most. It will be much more effective if you think about the person you are communicating to instead of yourself.

          1. Quinalla*

            This is really good advice to lead with what your company would care about, not necessarily what you care about. And also tailor the way you present it as things they care about for sure!

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            “Practical about fixing the situation now” is one of the reasons I value Alison’s blog, and the comments.

          3. no, the other Laura*

            YES. THIS. Previous horrorshow boss:
            1. Lied to the FDA and got the company in big trouble – as he also did at his previous job, which was why they got rid of him
            2. Resisted changes to process required by CAPAs and set back QA corrective actions by years with his nitpicking and inability to form coalitions among stakeholders
            3. Couldn’t prioritize a large workload to save his life or anyone else’s, had no sense of how to assign urgency or resources appropriately
            4. Over-designed projects to the point that they were unusable and worthless to end users and had to be significantly reworked, adding time and cost
            5. Displayed absolutely no understanding of, or interest in, automation of the facility even to meet minimal compliance requirements
            6. No contractors would work with him, we had several contractors simply walk off the job within a week and hiring was nearly impossible with him in the department
            7. and
            8. and
            9. and
            13578941308. Also he was a sexist pig who had serious problems with women and thought it was cute to make his staff actually cry on a weekly basis

            It sucks, but if the end goal is maintaining a No A-hole Rule, you do what will get the message across. Someone can be easy to get along with and suck at forming coalitions or prioritizing a workload but they will be at least out of everyone’s hair and the go-getters can still do their jobs around a manager who is just useless. Being a terrible A-hole *should* be more significant, because it will impact everyone around them, but sadly “personality conflict” is often written off as “not a big deal, people just need to be adults and grow a thicker skin”. Mysteriously, A-holes never need to grow up and develop a Professional Face…

            1. Elizabeth West*

              It’s worse when they’re a terrible A-hole but still really good at their job. That terrifies me, because the company might hire them anyway. I thought about that a lot with Coworker from Hell; I worried that if she moved companies and I ended up working with her again, or if she applied to a company where I worked, it wouldn’t be enough to keep her away from me.

              With her, it would have been something like, “Her sales numbers were very good, and she handled customers well. But once they left, she was incredibly rude and unpleasant to her coworkers. I was told that before I got there, she bullied another sales rep into quitting after three days. I then witnessed that behavior with another rep during my tenure; he quit after a few weeks for the exact same reason.”

      2. Artemesia*

        Oh I like the way you think. It is SO important to be strategic here. WHAT precise thing will signify to the hiring manager and not just a word dump.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I like this, and it’s a really valuable skill for folks to develop. Focus on what will be a red flag for your employer, even if it’s different from what was most harmful to you when you worked with Cersei.

    4. Aquawoman*

      She said Cersei was “unpleasant” as well as “mean,” which suggests a pervasive pattern of behavior, a day-to-day issue and not one specific incident. I suspect the reason she can’t remember specifics is that nothing jumped out–there was no “she threatened to fire me for taking off to go to my grandmother’s funeral” type of thing, more along the lines of consistent snapping, snarky comments, etc. I think if that is the case, remembering a specific illustrative incident is unlikely, and it may make more sense to try and convey the generality–she rarely greeted anyone, she made critical comments about people behind their backs, she was very sarcastic, etc.

      1. LQ*

        Specifics can be the specifics of the behavior of “mean” or “unpleasant” rather than the specifics of a single incident. If someone rarely greeted anyone? Ok… That’s not going to throw a lot of flags.

        But “She frequently made sarcastic and critical attacks on people to others.” Ok now that’s something a lot of people aren’t going to want to hire.

        It doesn’t have to be an incident. But it needs to be clear that this isn’t just someone who isn’t a morning person and doesn’t say “Good morning” to everyone when they come in. You need to make it clear what kind of behavior she was engaging in that you’re calling “mean”.

        1. boo bot*

          Yes – “more specific” doesn’t mean you need a specific incident. OP, see if you can think of one or two broader categories that describe her behavior. If you can, link the generalization about her behavior to the impact it had on people’s work.

          I think you could say something like, “She had a tendency to deliver criticism by insulting or personally attacking people, and she made demeaning, gossipy comments behind employees’ backs. It created a very negative environment, and people avoided putting forward ideas or trying new things, because they didn’t want to be the one to come under fire.”

          Or, “She was very intense, and she frankly had trouble controlling her temper. She yelled a lot, and it set a people on edge; a lot of time and energy went to tracking her moods, instead of the work we were doing, and we ended up wasting a lot of time getting yelled at for trivial issues.”

          Or, “She focused a lot on the social aspects of the office – she had a few people she spent a lot of time with, and she was routinely snide or dismissive with everyone else. She tended to take work miscommunications or minor issues personally, and she would be rude and hostile in response, or even give people the silent treatment. As you can imagine, that slowed down the work-flow, but it also created a really demoralizing environment.”

          Or, “She wasn’t always clear about what her expectations were, and she tended to get angry when people asked questions. It meant that people sometimes didn’t ask questions they needed to ask, which led to issues with the work that could have been avoided.”

          If nothing above is quite right, try to think of a similar way to generally describe it. All of these behaviors have serious impacts on the whole workplace, especially in such a small group, and if you can frame it in terms of the impact, it will feel less like you’re complaining about something that happened to you, and more like you’re speaking up for your whole team – because you are.

      2. Observer*

        You can still come up with specifics though. eg “She frequently mocked people for asking questions”, “She was regularly sarcastic around clients” etc. The current employer doesn’t need specific incidents. They need information about specific problems. Rude to clients, sarcastic with people, discourages asking questions, used her access to personal information to target people, etc. are all quite specific enough to give a decent manager the information they need to make a decision.

      3. Genny*

        Unfortunately, in addition to the other points people have raised, “unpleasant” and “mean” can both be very gendered critiques. Without anything more, boss won’t know whether you had a problem with Cersei because she didn’t behave in traditionally feminine ways (think the bossy/leader issue) or whether there was something specific to Cersei’s management style that was problematic.

        1. Sarah N.*

          Thank you for pointing this out. Cersei may indeed have been a terrible boss who treated her employees very poorly. But also, a lot of people have issues with women in authority positions and push back a LOT more for behaviors that would never be an issue with a male supervisor. Was this a case of actively bullying employees or simply not sugarcoating negative feedback? No way to know which is happening here without more information.

      4. Massmatt*

        But both terms are subjective and vague. Is there something wrong with Cersei, or did the OP just not like her when she interned? OP says she is a low-level employee, if I were hiring and someone mentioned these things to me I might be more on the alert during an interview but more likely I would think “what am I supposed to do with this? Tell me something USEFUL”.

        Not to mention, the OP only saw the resume because she was retrieving something else from the boss’s desk. Some bosses would consider that snooping and resent it. OP needs to come up with something more specific and clear to say.

    5. Beatrice*

      Yeah, someone complained to me recently that one of my employees was mean and “treating her like crap”, and when I dug into it, all she’d done is politely decline to fix a problem the complainer and a third party had created, and gently directed them to correct it themselves – which they were capable of doing, they were just pressed for time and it was an inconvenience…my employee is very busy also and fixing the issue for them was not part of her normal duties.

    6. Junior Assistant Peon*

      If OP is vague, the boss is going to hear “there was some kind of drama between OP and Cersei.” You need concrete examples here.

    7. JSPA*

      I’d caution that

      a) the question may be posed, “bad enough to quit over?” And you’ll want to have an answer.

      b) horrible places bring out the worst in people. And people change. If it’s been a while, you should offer those as caveats. Because if they do hire her, and she’s relatively OK, the complaints reflect badly on you (and you may get nudged out by people other than Cersei, when it turns out you could actually have worked with her, after all.)

      For all those reasons: specifics, and framing (how long it’s been, that the overall environment was…wearing…and that you hope she’s changed for the better, but even the possibility that she hasn’t is stressful.)

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        There are people that I worked for more than 20 years ago who would still cause me to quit if they suddenly appeared as my boss. Some things time doesn’t heal, and gaslighting, attempted brainwashing plus general emotional and professional abuse count as some of them.

        Then there’s a guy I worked for 7 years ago that would get the same response. He was a sort of “equal opportunity a*hole”, but he kept his worst for blacks, women, and non-Indians. The guy would insult people on his team in front of other teams, and derail cross-group meetings to pile abuse on someone who didn’t even work for him.

        Some leopards don’t change their spots, just cover them over with camo paint (ie BS.)

  3. Sleve McDichael*

    LW #5, I find that if I have the full text of the question written out in front of me I struggle not to read out questions like a robot, but dot points work great. They’re faster to skim, and as a visual person sometimes I can remember a point without even seeing my notes; I couldn’t do that with a whole question.

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      Agreed that bullet points are a good idea. It’s easy to see the point you want to ask/make and be able to do it in such a way that the conversation flows naturally instead of sounding scripted.

    2. Quinalla*

      Agree on this too, have a summary or the highlights of the question as a bullet point or maybe the first few words, see what works for you best LW to jog your memory. And if you are worried, you can always have a page behind it with the full question if you have a blank-brain moment.

      Biggest thing is that it is fine to have notes so you make sure you ask all the questions you want to. I usually have a list of practical things (insurance – med, dental, life, etc., PTO/sick time, schedule, dress code, etc.) in case they forget to cover some of them and then the more job related questions (What separates a good employee from a great employee? What does a typical day look like? etc.)

      1. #5 letter writer*

        Letter writer #5 here. Thanks for all the suggestions. I’m going into my 3rd interview with this company (a university) and I really want the job.
        However, the job description just changes a bit as they are combining 2 part time positions together. They have been upfront about the changes after my 2nd interview.

        I was thinking of just having bullet points anyways. This is what I always did in my coaching meetings with previous employers.

        This came at the best time since the interview is this afternoon!

        1. tamarack and fireweed*

          Good luck!

          My addition to the advice: Make sure that the paper you’ve noted your questions on is right to hand and neat. You don’t want to rummage through your stuff — not that a good hiring manager would dismiss you for taking a moment to find a particular sheet of paper, but an easy opportunity to come across as smooth and collected is too good to waste.

          1. Lilysparrow*

            I like to treat interviews like any other business meeting. So when we come in and sit down, I get out my file or portfolio with extra copies of my resume, my notes of questions to ask, and a fresh page to take notes during our talk.

            I figure, it’s going to help me get what I need to make a decision if I get an offer. And it gives them a look at the way I function.

            I can’t recall ever being in a job interview where they expected me to “wing it”. It certainly wouldn’t be a good fit if they did!

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          I hope your interview goes well! (FWIW, if you interviewed with me and had prepared, on-topic questions, I’d take that as a plus!)

        3. riotgirrl*

          I came in to my last set of interviews with several companies with a page of my written questions and items regarding my skill-sets that I did not want to forget to discuss. Both of the companies that offered me their respective positions stated that it was one of the things they really liked about my interview-it showed that I was organized and focused. It also helped me to not be as nervous and showed that I had done my research on the position.

  4. Maria Lopez*

    LW#2- If there is a co-worker who is ill you might consider donating some of your sick time to her.

    1. valentine*

      You might want to keep saving, though, because the policy could change at any time and include a freeze or forfeit.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Agreed. Also if OP can cash them out when she leaves, that will be a nice little bonus to go with whatever severance she recieves.

    2. SamSoo*

      We can do this with my gov employer. Or we can accrue them and add up to one extra year onto our retirement calculation.

      1. nonymous*

        My agency only allows AL (vacation time) to be donated. Sick leave gets added to service period for annuity calculations (so someone with 1 year banked sick leave could separate at 57yo + 9 years of service and still be eligible for full pension).

    3. Emily K*

      May or may not be possible in a company that gives that much sick leave. My company also gives a similarly generous sick leave that rolls over indefinitely with no cap or expiration, but the only way they’re able to be that generous is because it doesn’t pay out when you quit, and our catastrophic leave-sharing program only allows employees to donate unused vacation time (which does have a cap of rolling over no more than 2x your annual vacation days at each Jan 1), not sick time, to colleagues who have run out of leave.

      If they had to pay out the value of all that sick leave it would be more than they could afford to have sitting as a liability on the balance sheet, and if everyone with a few years tenure who has accrued hundreds of hours of unused sick leave could donate it to others, they’d effectively be on the hook for providing way, way more time off. They essentially give a super generous amount to cover the possibility of extreme needs for some employees, but don’t expect most employees to use an extreme amount – if everyone tried to use all their sick leave because they felt they were wasting it by not using it, the company would probably have to revise the policy to give less.

      1. Artemesia*

        This is why sick leave should IMHO be separate from personal leave, vacation etc. The theory is that some people some times need huge amounts and we can afford to give John 3 mos paid leave for his heart attack and Susan the time she needs for her surgery and chemo because most people don’t have catastrophic situations which require a long time out of work. The time out is not an ‘entitlement’ in the sense that you take every bit of it or get paid for it, but an insurance policy in case you are one of the people who has a personal disaster that requires longer time. They can’t afford for everyone to take 3 mos of paid time off, but they can make it possible for some people when they really need it.

        1. Massmatt*

          IMO a catastrophic case like that is better handled through disability insurance than infinitely bankable sick leave. Everyone can have short and long term disability, even new employees, whereas only a very long term employee would have enough sick leave built up for a serious issue. Anyone can get hit by a bus.

          Having sick leave separate leads to temptation to use it all if it can’t roll over to keep from “wasting” it. Having it bankable rewards people financially for being healthy. Many government jobs are like this, at retirement people get a lump sum that can amount to months of pay for not using sick leave. Were they coming to work sick, or just lucky enough not to get cancer?

      2. Sarah N.*

        I was going to say this. I think very generous sick leave policies like this are NOT intended for everyone to be using the maximum benefit. The idea is that most years, you probably wouldn’t use all of your sick leave, but if you have a catastrophic event in one year, you will be covered. Before he retired, my father-in-law worked in a government job with very generous sick leave — when he had to have knee surgery, he was able to take three months off at full pay because of everything he had accumulated. Similarly, I work at a job where PTO isn’t tracked at all — you’re expected to get your job done, or take FLMA/disability leave for a longer-term problem where you have to be out for weeks at a time, but other than that you’re trusted to manage sick and vacation leave as you want to. But obviously this doesn’t mean “You have 365 days per year of sick leave, feel free to never work!” All of these sorts of generous policies depend on people not taking advantage.

      1. petpet*

        Same here. Like OP, I’m sitting on a ton of accrued sick time, and I dearly wish I could donate it to others in need, but my employer only allows us to donate vacation. It really frustrates me.

    4. Quiltrrrr*

      If I could have gotten all the sick days at my former job paid out…

      Rolled over sick days for over 10 years, accrued at 12 per year and only used half. When I left, I had 55 sick days that I couldn’t get paid out.

    1. Maria Lopez*

      Apparently contradicting someone causes your comment to be removed. In any event, LW should probably not say anything the the current boss since it has been “years” since they worked under Cercei, and the meanness perceived could have been Cercei making demands that the LW thought were unreasonable at the time that really weren’t. LW’s inability to remember further than the boss being mean will probably come off as being petty and vindictive to the current boss.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        No, it’s fine to disagree with people here. I removed your comment because it violated the “be kind” rule with unfounded and unflattering speculation toward the letter writer.

  5. Pamela Adams*

    My state workplace allows accumulation of sick leave and vacation time. It also allows donation of that time. A recent 4 month medical leave for me was covered for half of it by donated hours.

    1. LQ*

      Most of the time I’ve seen donation hours it is vacation not sick. I’m wondering if there are places folks can actually donate sick leave for someone else’s medical leave. (Also state, I donate a full week every year, it’s not great because it means I’m not taking my own leave. But I am glad I can do something of value with it.)

      1. an infinite number of monkeys*

        We can donate sick leave where I work (state government agency). I did it when a colleague depleted her sick leave after back surgery.

        You can donate it to a specific person at any time. Whenever you separate, whatever sick leave you have left goes into a pool which employees can apply to use. (Vacation is paid out.)

        It goes a lot faster than you expect if you do end up needing it.

        1. LQ*

          Very useful. It does go so much faster than people expect. I have a coworker who is going to have to wait to retire for another 2 years because she burned through all of her sick leave when she had cancer. She could have used the sick to cover health insurance and retired early but now she has to wait.

          Having a lot of banked sick leave, especially if it will pay out when you leave, is a really useful insurance policy to have.

    2. Booksalot*

      Places I’ve worked that had a sick-day donation program all required pay-to-play. If you didn’t donate, you couldn’t take from the pool. Depending on LW’s long-term plans, it may be useful to hedge her bets in that way.

    3. Moth*

      My office is the same; we can donate sick leave to a pool that individuals who need extra time can apply to receive extra time from. Interestingly, it sounds from the comments here that vacation time is more common for those types of pools than sick time. To me, a sick leave pool makes more sense, but maybe I’m looking at it wrong!

  6. valentine*

    My boss and [Perpetua] whom I sit between, have increasingly loud conversations/arguments four or five times a day.
    Modern-day Job. Can you switch with Perpetua so you’re at least not caught in the crossfire and the noise is all to the left, to the left?

    1. EinJungerLudendorff*

      That could help mitigate it, although the headphones seem to work pretty well, so i’m not sure how much it would help.

      But at least OP would’nt be stuck in the middle with clowns on the left and jokers to the right.

      1. fposte*

        That is spooky–I hadn’t thought of that song in ages and was just thinking of it this morning.

  7. Banked sick leave can be a life-saver*

    #2, it’s a good thing to have sick time banked. A medical issue can sneak up on you out of nowhere.

    Not that I’d wish any of these situations to happen of course, but you could be in a car accident, or develop appendicitis, etc. I once had complications from what was supposed to be a minor surgery, and my plan for a couple weeks off ended up being seven months. You’re fortunate to be able to save up this time in case you need it.

    1. My Dear Wormwood*

      Yes! My dad was never ill and had weeks and weeks of sick time banked…till he shattered his ankle. He STILL had time left by the time he was able to get back to work, but it was good to not have to stress about getting back ASAP.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        Husband broke his leg in February. He has only just been cleared to get back to doing anything physical, which would mean his day job. ::looks at calendar:: We’re talking six months here and the doctors say that because of the particular bones (tibia and fibula), location of the break, etc., etc., etc. it will be about a year for full recovery.

        If we hadn’t had six months’ money put aside (ok, he had it put aside…I couldn’t save money…or pick a watermelon, with a gun to my head) we’d be screwed. I mean sure we make decent money and we aren’t extravagant, but “oooo big deal c-suite title” aside, it’s my business and I don’t pay myself a *lot* of money, so we do have to be careful.

        There are no guarantees.

        1. Emily K*

          You’re far from alone there if you’re in the US. There’s a stat different groups update on every so often that consistently finds 30-40% of Americans don’t have enough savings to cover a single missed paycheck.

      2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        Same with my father. He accumulated 20 years of sick time, then developed a severe illness and had three surgeries in one year. He needed most of his 20 years of accumulated sick days.

        OP2, treat your sick days as insurance. You are healthy now, but one day, you may need them desperately.

    2. Anonymouse*

      Came here to say exactly this. I work for a company with generous sick leave (pooled separately, rolls over every year), which means that right now I have about 2.5 months of sick leave saved up. I have colleagues who have 6+ months of sick leave banked.

      And when one of my coworkers broke her leg, she was able to take a few months off to recover and not worry about returning right away. I truly hope I never need to use up my banked sick leave.

      1. TechWorker*

        Out of interest does this policy put people off moving jobs? If you have 2.5 months sick leave but will go back down to 5 days or 10 days when you move that seems stressful.

        (‘Generous sick leave’ means something different in the U.K. ;))

        1. Anonymouse*

          Mm, not really? I have to admit that the retirement benefits (a generous pension) is greater a deterrent to ever leave. People tend to stick around for decades, accruing tons of sick leave, in order to retire with a nice, fat pension.

        2. MK*

          I am guessing that’s partly the point, the company offers generous sick leave as a retention strategy. It’s up to the worker to weigh whether moving jobs will be to their overall benefit.

        3. doreen*

          In my experience, it’s not so much that this policy itself keeps people from switching jobs. It’s that employers that allow sick leave to roll over accumulate to a high balance ( I have over 6 months worth of sick leave* ) tend to also offer other benefits (pension, a lot of vacation/personal time ).

          *And while I won’t get paid for that 6 months of sick leave when I retire, it will be converted to extra pension credit- and a dollar amount to be credited toward my health insurance

        4. SarahTheEntwife*

          In some circumstances yes, but usually not really. After I accepted my current job, I found out I had to have surgery and so had to have an awkward and stressful conversation with HR about whether I could go into negative sick time (some workplaces let you borrow against future sick time) and they were really nice and accommodating about it but there’s definitely an alternate universe where I would have had to stay in my old job because I couldn’t afford to take unpaid leave or the new job wouldn’t *let* me take unpaid leave so soon after starting.

          But that was particularly crappy timing. Usually it’s more a matter of “ok, this new job is awesome but I’ll need to wait a month or two to take vacation or non-urgent medical appointments” and given how many jobs here don’t offer much or any paid time off at all, sometimes you’re going from no sick time to the expectation of future sick time.

        5. Emily K*

          Yes, to some extent, but I would say it’s just one aspect of the general inertia that can set in when you’ve been in any job where tenure is rewarded for very long. I don’t know if I’ve ever specifically thought about losing my sick bank, but I’ve thought about losing flexibility to come and go and work from where I please because my work is trusted, or maybe not getting as much vacation time or retirement match. At my company after 5 years tenure you get the same PTO and 401k match as upper management regardless of job level, so it’s definitely something that gives me pause enemies I’m comparing packages. I have a number in my mind for what it would take to lure me away from my job, and because I get flexibility and benefits that are not super common at my job grade and I’d likely lose some of them if I left, essentially I feel that I’d need a 20% raise for it to be worth it to leave. And I’m not interested in moving up any higher, so it’d have to be 20% more for the same work. Yeah, I might well be a lifer here.

          1. Liz*

            This is me as well. While my job is not particularly exciting, and there is no room for advancement, the benefits are so good and I’m under 15 years to retirement, i hesitate to even look for anything else. Am I complacent? Absolutely. Could i make more money elsewhere? probably.

            but i won’t get almost all of my health ins. premiums paid for, the 5 weeks of non-accrued vacation i will get next year, plus an almost 25% of my salary into my 401K and a very very generous annual bonus anywhere else. Add to that the flexibility to work from home as needed, and come in later, leave early, etc. so i’m not going anywhere.

            I was at a social gathering yesterday and we were talking about benefits and I was almost embarassed and felt like i was bragging when we were talking about benefits.

        6. Federal Middle Manager*

          Depends upon the type of employee. Many US workers get no maternity leave, so if you’re a woman looking to start a family, it would be hard to let go of accrued sick leave in favor of starting back at 5-10 days.

          1. nonymous*

            I see a lot of parents who job hunt heavily during their paternity leave. OldCompany pays sick leave during the bonding period and NewJob starts a couple weeks after they get back from parental leave, or they just don’t come back from parental leave.

    3. MistOrMister*

      Yep, this happened to me. We accrue about 10 days of sick leave a year and for 2.5 years I rarely used any of mine. Then I started thinking, hmmm I should take a day off here and there when I do doctor’s appointments so I can get some use out of this. Fast forward to the past 12 months when I started having a recurring issue which led to multiple doctor visits including specialists for testing. Came to find out I needed surgery for a condition I didn’t even know I had but must have had for years and years until it became bad enough to kake itself known. It made me very glad I had been mostly sitting on my sick leave for 4 years!!! I was fortunate that I was able to get a less invasive surgery and only be out for 2 weeks. If I’d needed the full 6-8 weeks recovery for a bigger cut I probably would have had to deplete all of both my sick and vacation time. That was stressful for me….worrying about if I was going to have to use up every single leave day and potentially have to go on LWOP. Having time in the bank really makes goong through stuff like that easier.

      I really do not advocate for using sick leave just because it’s there. I say take it when you need it and bank the rest because you never know what might come up. I have to say, I don’t really understand the motive behind mental health days. I rarely feel comfortable calling out last minute , even when I’m legitimately sick….I can’t bring myself to do it when I’m well but just want to stay home. I’d never go to work! :)

      1. TechWorker*

        I know the phrase gets used differently sometimes but if a mental health day is for, you know, mental health then I think it’s totally sensible and valid. Much better for employee *and* employer to have one day off than have a breakdown or other mental health crisis.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        “Mental health day” to me means more than playing hooky and going to the beach.
        When someone has been stressed to the point of having trouble not snapping at co-workers it’s time to do something for ourselves for a day. In many of our lives, weekends are not an escape because of family responsibilities.

        1. pentamom*

          Or even if you don’t start losing it at work, if you realize those recurring headaches and lack of energy (physical conditions you can work through, but affect your performance) would be helped by a bit of destressing, you’re actually increasing your work productivity with a day off.

        2. Emily K*

          Yes, when I’ve taken a mental health day it’s not been just because I had the blahs. Or was more like, “a 3 year relationship ended last night and I’m currently in the stage of a breakup where I’m only not crying when I’m sleeping so I think I’ll just sleep all day because I’m already exhausted from all of last night’s crying and upsetting dreams.” Or, “I had to put my beloved pet of 15 years down this morning.”

          It’s times when I would have been very ineffective if I’d gone into work because of how acutely distraught I was.

        3. Liz*

          Agreed. I’ve taken MHD to simply catch up on stuff around the house which has gone undone and is stressing me out!

      3. Me Too*

        I agree. You never know when you could be in a automobile accident or whatever and need that sick time.

      4. JSPA*

        Gall bladder stuff is famously like this. They’re going to be worming their way through to damaged, inflamed, possibly adhered tissue with a hard inclusion, so perforations can happen. They warn you going in that if the laproscopic process (for whatever reason) doesn’t work, there’s a (some percentage) chance that you’ll come out of anesthesia having had the full, open cut and a much longer recovery time. So even if it’s not emergency surgery, you don’t know what you might be getting until you wake up after. And that’s without any post-surgical complications. Don’t fritter away sick leave–and if you can make a gift of it, do it in full knowledge that you may need to be on the receiving end in the future.

    4. Harper the Other One*

      This is exactly what I was coming to say. My husband has had two situations where he had to take significant medical leave unexpectedly. Once was for six months! Fortunately for us, his workplace has an excellent medical leave policy, or we would have been in a very bad position.

      OP, keep using sick time as you have been, since you don’t sound parsimonious about it, and then just rest easy knowing that if something happens unexpectedly, you won’t be worrying about budget as well as your health.

    5. Lexi Kate*

      Yes, this is a great perk from your company. 6 months of sick time is ideal to have for unexpected surgeries and pregnancies. Our first child had some health issues and I was on bed rest and the companies maternity leave/short term disability only covered 15 weeks at 75%, and then 37 weeks at 50%. With the unexpected expenses we were incurring we would have been in much worse shape if I was only being paid part of my income. My advice is to accrue your sick time, leave it alone unless you really need it, because when you need it you will really need it.

      1. blackcat*

        This, too.
        A friend had her water break at just 21 weeks… she then spent 9 weeks on bedrest in the hospital, and then had a premie born at 30 weeks. Unfortunately, she was fired for too much time off :/

    6. blackcat*

      Yep, at my old job, a colleague had a HUGE amount of sick time banked–like 4 months worth. He often commented on how it was ridiculous…. then he got sideswiped by a car when he was on his bike, and he used every one of those sick days for his recovery (there were multiple surgeries during that time).

    7. Aquawoman*

      I was thinking the LW must be young and healthy! I’m middle-aged and I’ve seen enough people have to have extended leave to treat cancer or kidney stones or whatever that I view my banked sick leave as similar to disability insurance.

    8. MicroManagered*

      And I’d add that generally, that’s what a generous sick time policy like that is intended for. It’s not intended that you take 2+ weeks off a year for sick leave, the same way vacation is meant to be.

    9. Massmatt*

      Catastrophic illnesses and injuries are better handled through disability insurance. Everyone can get the insurance starting either at day 1 or within a few months of starting work. Banking enough sick leave for recovering from cancer or getting in a car accident would take many years .

      1. Harper the Other One*

        Ideally, you have both – many policies for disability insurance don’t kick in until you’ve used up sick leave. So then you could have, say, four months of sick leave, before you even start using your disability insurance. For a major health event, that would be incredible.

      2. Lynn*

        Except disability insurance typically doesn’t pay out your full salary. I have been at my job for many years and have accrued enough time to see myself through a severe health crisis, should one pop up. I’m happy to have that cushion.

  8. Annette*

    LW 3 – your boss does understand that noise canceling headphones cancel noise. She just wants you to stop wearing them. “You probably didn’t hear because you have your headphones on” = classic passive aggression. I hate people who communicate like this. Better to say “stop wearing those headphones” directly. But it’s clear what she means.

    1. Emma*

      I think it sounds more like “I wasn’t specifically talking to you, but I said it out loud so the people around me would hear” – which I get, I do that too, but then expecting everyone to have heard you is silly.

      1. Grace*

        I don’t wear headphones often, but I tend to tune out surrounding conversation when focusing. If someone doesn’t get my attention first, I might not hear/process something they said “so everyone around them would hear”.

    2. Engineer Girl*

      I agree that there’s some passive aggressive moves going on here. That’s why I like AAMs direct conversations addressing the issue.

      Once the conversation has taken place both people have an action plan. The important part is to NOT modify the behavior based on passive aggressive “hints”. If boss and Perpetua are going to be noisy then the headphones stay on.

      1. A Day at the Zoo*

        I read this a bit differently. Could the OP be miss-reading the company culture? Does anyone else wear these headphones? The perception by the other team members of the OP may be slightly negative as a result. It sounds like they are frustrated, but they may be looking for the OP to change her behavior rather than change theirs. I agree that if this is the case, it should be stated, but as we know, that often does not happen.

        1. Rugby*

          Right. It sounds like noise canceling headphones are not acceptable in this office and OP is ignoring the subtle messages that she shouldn’t be using them.

          1. AvonLady Barksdale*

            That’s my impression as well. Save the headphones for specific projects; it sounds like having them on all day is out of step with this office.

          2. Tigger*

            That was my impression too, but if OP is misreading the culture their boss needs to let them know that they can’t wear them. The passive-aggressiveness isn’t helping

        2. Aquawoman*

          I felt that the LW was pretty clear about her need for the headphones to the point that it sounds like her performance would suffer if she was unable to wear them. I think people need to more carefully consider whether office culture promotes inclusion and diversity. While this applies in the legal sense (this could actually be an ADA issue if the LW has a neurological condition such as SID), I also think it is beneficial for employers to consider ordinary human diversity. E.g., having an office that is unfriendly to introverts can cause you to lose good employees who happen to be introverts.

          1. Morning Flowers*

            Amen. I have auditory processing issues that were never specifically treated as a child when I got occupational therapy for sensory integration, and now I’m back in occupational therapy as an adult post-autism-diagnosis and improving a lot. But even with the treatment, I’d *need* noise-cancelling headphones in a situation like the LW’s. Agreeing also that if the LW has (or can get!) a diagnosis of sensory integration dysfunction (which is often associated with autism but can be a separate thing IIRC), they can also get an ADA accomodation for it.

            (Anyone out there with similar hearing problems — don’t go to an audiologist for this; sensory integration isn’t actually an issue with your senses, but with how your brain processes them. An audiologist was once delighted at how well my sister’s hearing tested, and pooh-poohed the idea it was even possible for her hearing to be *too* sensitive — you need to find an occupational therapist who treats sensory integration or autism in adults.)

            1. Aquawoman*

              Morning Flowers, I had heard that occupational therapy didn’t work (or work well) for adults. It’s interesting to hear you say it’s working for you. I don’t have a formal diagnosis but it could not be more clear that I have sensory integration and/or auditory processing disorder. My son got OT but I never considered it. Thanks!

          2. Aspie AF*

            100% this. I joined a company, for which I was well-qualified, and left within a year because they struggled with my (reasonable) accommodations. Headphones was one of them, although I was eventually able to wear them – management was convinced that they’d hurt collaboration (my being bombarded with neighbours’ self-dialogue hurt it more). Has anyone else noticed that the biggest proponents of open offices have a private space?

            They also struggled with meetings – they acted like I was getting special treatment for asking for meetings to be scheduled, with agendas and a note-taker. This shouldn’t be an accommodation! Worst of all, I was told that I wouldn’t be allowed to take (further) sick leave for mental health issues – fully illegal. Is it any wonder that all of my colleagues had anxiety issues?

            Not everyone has the luxury of leaving a shitty employer, and legal rights for protected classes should never be excused under “company culture”.

            P.S. Occupational therapy was great for anxiety for me – given that a healthy sensory diet can be a big help for sensory issues I would give it a shot. I have repeatedly heard autistic adults say that CBT doesn’t help them, however, and I can corroborate that.

    3. Avasarala*

      I agree that it’s either passive aggression that the boss is still too good to put in a performance evaluation, or some other form of delusion that I don’t logically understand. If addressing it up-front as Alison recommended doesn’t solve it, and it’s not affecting OP’s work in any other way (evaluations, relationships, etc.) then I would just respond to the words and ignore the subtext. Perpetua may roll her eyes and repeat herself, but OP just responds to the words and ignores the body language. That’s the only way I can think of to disengage emotionally from people trying to annoy you. Especially if OP doesn’t want to budge on not wearing headphones.

      1. JSPA*

        Boss may be rolling her eyes at her own absent-mindedness–a “duh, why don’t I ever learn” moment, with the frustration pointed inwards. We tend to assume that emotions point in the same direction as people’s faces do, but that’s not true.

    4. Mongrel*

      Might also be worth lending them to your Boss and demonstrating how good they are, I didn’t until I got a pair…

      “This is normal headphone sound blocking and this is noise cancelling turned on. I wear them because *reasons* and they help me concentrate & therefore do a better job. I know it’s frustrating when you have to repeat yourself but you can hear for yourself how effective they are. Would it help if I put a little notice up asking you to get my attention first?”

      1. LQ*

        I also wasn’t aware of how incredible they can be at actually blocking noise until I got a good pair. I think it’s possible the boss doesn’t actually know that they really are working and blocking out the sound, that they think that OP is just intentionally ignoring them. (Unfortunately I have the thing where the noise cancelling makes me feel slightly sick so they are a no go for me.)

        1. Shabang*

          Perhaps allow Boss to try on your headphones to demonstrate the level of noise cancelling they do? Don’t know if noise cancelling headphones are personal (like underwear) and it would be icky to have someone else wear them, even just to try them out.

          FWIW – I would definitely express that they help you focus on your job better than without, and do your best to figure out how to minimize the issue. I can see that if it becomes a thing for others (Boss included) that the quickest and easiest cure is to tell you not to wear them. Be proactive and head that off if you want to keep wearing them.

          My experience is that Bosses usually don’t adjust to you – they have you adjust to them.

    5. Old Millenial*

      That could be true, but I also think a few small changes in OPs behavior can help a lot.

      Instead of pulling off the headphones with a “what’s that?” which would be considered pretty dismmisive/passive aggressive in my office, a simple “sorry these are noise cancelling – do you need me?” would be better.

      Also the fact that op was considering ignoring their boss makes me think they are not getting along well.

      The headphones at just a surface issue I suspect.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I stress that I’m playing white noise so I can concentrate. I don’t want them to think I’m entertaining myself with music or podcasts when I’m simply trying to distract myself from their distractions.

      2. nonymous*

        A little mirror can help too – OP would be able to see if someone is walking up to her desk and start removing the headphones a smidge earlier.

        1. KC*

          i use noise cancelling headphones all the time. i got a mirror a few months ago and it works pretty well, although there are still blind spots since i sit away from the entrance to my desk.

      3. JSPA*

        I’d say, “sound-canceling.” Same idea, and it doesn’t lump “the important thing you just tried to tell me” in with “noise.”

  9. Atlantis*

    As a new grad myself who was looking for jobs not too long ago, Alison’s advice is great for LW1. I would just add that your professors may also be able to help give advice on when you should start applying. In my field, hiring processes take a lot of time in some places (state/federal gov.), and so I applied for my first jobs at the end December when I was expecting a May graduation. I didn’t get my first interview until early April, and just last week heard from one I applied to at the beginning of March. I ended up going into a doctoral program, so it turned out to be a non-issue for getting a job, but it would have been more concerning if I wasn’t already told by a bunch of professors in my department that these jobs take a long time to hire. So in this case, knowing your field is also important.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I agree with this – if the hiring cycle is annual, you need to know when it is.

      Although February/March sounds early for jobs starting in the summer, and evidently early for Atlantis’s field, it would be too late for first contact in my field where the graduate recruitment process can begin almost a year in advance, i.e. you apply at the beginning of your last year in college/grad school.

      For what it’s worth, LW1, I think contacting former intern-supervisors is a completely appropriate level of gumption, and if you use Alison’s excellent wording it certainly won’t come across as desperate (“pleeeease gimme a job!”).

  10. Rexish*

    #2 I wouldn’t consider sick time as a benefit. More of a thing that is there. I wouldn’t be calculating unusd sick days as “missed days off” (unless the company rules state otherwise). If I’m lucky enough not to need it, that is great. If I’m unlucky to need it, then great that there is this back up. If you need few more mental health days, then take them.

    1. Richard*

      Sick time is definitely a benefit. Take it from one of the millions of us who don’t have it, for whom it is not “a thing that is there.”

      1. Rexish*

        I was more like reframing this specific situation in op’s mind.

        Yes, unfortunately it is a benefit for many people. It shouldn’t be since it should be an obvious thing required by law.

        1. Avasarala*

          Agreed, perhaps “benefit” makes it seem like “a privilege I have to take advantage of” like coffee in the break room or a gym in the basement, rather than (what is, or should be) a default right in the workplace, like electricity and working toilets. OP, you wouldn’t think about “taking advantage of all that electricity at work” would you? I don’t see the need to try to use up that many sick days if you don’t need them.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          Yes, I think it’s closer to the company providing subsidized bus passes and free parking and a spot for bikes, and the fact that you only take advantage of zero-to-one of those doesn’t mean you are leaving money on the table by not using your benefit–you are using only the benefit you need. That need could change down the line.

        3. TootsNYC*

          maybe it’s more that it’s not “compensation” the way salary and vacation are.

          It’s a benefit like health insurance.

        4. Kiki*

          Yes, I would definitely make sure the LW is using their sick time for everything they need that could fall under the sick category (like Alison said, using sick time for medical appointments, therapy appointments, mental health days, etc), but I think unlike vacation time, not using all your sick time isn’t really leaving a benefit on the table. I think by giving people a lot of sick days, companies are trying to encourage people to take time off at the first sign of illness, make sure they’re not worried about using all their sick time up, etc. I think this situation is more like if your company had very generous parental leave– it’s not leaving a benefit on the table to not have children while working for that company.

      2. MK*

        I think it could be argued that sick leave is the true benefit, while vacation is part of your compensation given in different form. Whatever you want to call it, sick leave is a conditional benefit: you don’t get X days off no matter what, you get them on case you need them for health reasons. If your sick leave is generous, you can define “need” more broadly, but it’s not actually supposed to be used up every year.

      3. TechWorker*

        It is a benefit but it shouldn’t be – so I think the reframing is more about not feeling like you’re missing out or being cheated by not taking it. Not needing to take it is also a benefit ;)

      4. blackcat*

        I think of it more as insurance.
        I hope not to need it, but I’m grateful it’s there!

    2. hbc*

      Or it’s a benefit in the sense that bereavement leave, parental leave, or schooling reimbursement is a benefit. It’s there as a “if you need it” sort of option, not with the idea that every employee can and should take advantage of it as much as possible.

      This is a benefit that’s meant to be there if you need it under certain circumstances, and you’re not missing out on anything if you don’t happen to meet the criteria this year.

    3. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

      It is, or should be, more an accommodation than compensation, I think. Not for a disability but for just life. It’s there so people who need it can have it, not so everybody can use it up.

  11. Everdene*

    OP5, during a recent round of hiring one of the candidates had a cute notebook with her. She made a couple of notes as we were talking then when we asked if she had any questions she consulted her notebook. This made her look really prepared and thoughtful (they were also great questions) and I actually commented on it in my interview notes. Later I realised that holding this notebook and a pen/pencil give you something to do with your hands. For a fidget like me this would be useful so I’m going to try it next time I interview.

    1. V*

      Yep. When I’m interviewing, if someone has some questions that they have written down (either during the interview or in advance) it’s a positive sign for me.

    2. Dorothy Zbornak*

      #5 – I once had an all-day group interviews, at least 2-3 people per group, all representing vastly different areas of the organization. I researched everyone’s areas carefully and came up with a few specific questions for each group (as well as some more general ones I asked everybody). Because there were so many I naturally had to write them down. I never even considered it might be an issue until maybe the 2nd interview, where at the “do you have any questions” section I said something like, “I do! I jotted them down, give me just a sec,” and quickly flipped to the correct page in my notebook (which was already sitting on the table)… and one of the interviewers (who had been kind of a jerk anyway) very blatantly rolled his eyes while I was doing it. It took maybe 2 seconds to flip to the right page and he acted like it was a huge burden on his time. Was I supposed to memorize all the questions for the 15+ people I was meeting that day?? It didn’t bother anyone else the whole day, so I kept trucking along doing it that way, although it rattled me a bit, even though I knew he was just being a jerk. (I did not get the job.)

    3. alacrity*

      I was on a hiring committee and when we were discussing the candidates I noted that the interviewee hadn’t brought anything to take notes with (which not everyone does), but it was really noticeable because he fidgeted a LOT. This didn’t impact the final recommendation (the candidate was hired) but it was still something that definitely stood out in not a great way. I’m also a fidgeter, so I always make sure to have a notebook and pen with me to channel that energy into something productive. It’s a good trick!

    4. Dootdoot*

      I just finished interviewing and started my new job – I can’t imagine going to an interview without something to take notes! My brain isn’t good enough to remember details told to me hours later, and I didn’t want to forget any of the questions I wanted to ask. I didn’t even realize this was something people would look twice at.

  12. dealing with dragons*

    #5, I bring notebooks with pre written questions and use them to write down people’s names or things they recommend, etc. I’m usually doing programming interviews so they are good scratch paper.

    The best question I ask is “what is success in this role to you?”

    1. Alexander Graham Yell*

      Same! I always go in with a notebook or a pad of paper and a few blank pages for me to take down notes during the interview (“Do you mind if I take a few notes while we talk?” is usually sufficient to give people a heads up that if something interesting/important comes up, I’ll be writing it down – this really helps me go through after an interview and focus on what was said vs. just a general impression of how things went, which is great when I’m evaluating whether or not I want the job after the interview) and usually the 2nd or 3rd page has my questions for them written down with spaces between them so I can take notes. Nobody has ever had an issue with it, and most interviewers have seemed impressed that I’m organized and prepared.

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      Mine gives you extra health insurance benefits when you retire if you’ve hit a certain level of banked sick leave, but they don’t pay it out if you quit.

      1. valentine*

        Pretty sure most companies don’t pay out sick leave when you quit.
        Do you think they’ve misunderstood the policy?

    2. MommyMD*

      Mine does. Or when you retire. I have hundreds of hours. We get three weeks a year just on sick leave.

    3. Asenath*

      Mine doesn’t pay out sick leave when you leave, but that doesn’t appear to be a universal rule.

      In spite of having quite decent sick leave, I was always very cautious about using it unless it was really necessary because I’ve had family members who ended up unexpectedly needing to use a lot. I haven’t had to (knock on wood) but out of sheer habit I take few of them, even few mental health days, which can seem more optional than “spending hours in a clinic or hospital” days.

    4. Harper the Other One*

      It’s not common, but I don’t think it’s super rare. I’ve even worked for a retail store that paid out sick leave – they didn’t do it when you quit, but because their leave didn’t carry over, once a year you got paid a bonus equal to however many sick days you had left.

      It’s a good idea to check rather than assuming, but I suspect OP knows their company’s policies on sick leave payout.

    5. Seeking Second Childhood*

      If I recall correctly, my company only pays out vacation time if you quit — but they pay accrued vacation time and PTO if you’re laid off. A few years ago, they did a layoff and were shocked….and changed it so we can now accrue no PTO past the end of the year. Vacation one week beyond our yearly allotment.

    6. CheeryO*

      Why on earth would you assume that OP doesn’t know their own workplace’s policy? My state agency most certainly pays out sick time, in the form of early retirement or post-retirement health insurance benefits. It’s actually one of our cultural quirks that people will sass you for using even a few days per year, because you’re “supposed” to roll over as many as humanly possible.

      1. Cary*

        I work in the HR contact centre for my employer and you’d be surprised at the number of people who don’t know their employer’s policies. Such as no we don’t pay out sick time and if you quit and have taken too much vacation time you owe the employer money.

    7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      It’s not universal, though. I’ve worked several places where sick leave is paid out when you retire or factored into your retirement package. Other places truly do pay out accrued sick leave.

      I’m not sure it’s helpful to make a comment like this to OP, as it’s not in any way responsive to OP’s question.

    8. Kaddiddlehopper*

      My company pays if you retire, but they pay at a much lower rate than they’re worth if you take them as a sick day. Then they wonder why some people use them as they approach retirement.

    9. Massmatt*

      It’s becoming less and less common in the private sector but is still very much a thing for government jobs.

  13. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

    LW#2: Before my new job, when I was still in school, I had to schedule an elective surgery over Christmas break due to needing a week to recover. It would have been much harder had I done it later, since I don’t have nearly as many sick days as you do. I’d keep the days in reserve for if you need an extended recovery period.

  14. SleepyKitten*

    Honestly LW#2, people thinking of unused sick days as “missed time off” is part of the reason companies are scared to offer reasonable amounts of them. They’re a safety net, and for the safety net to work properly, most people need to have oodles of them unused. And as people have said, it’s entirely possible that you will need to take 5 weeks off in the future if you get injured or struck by a serious illness.

    I know that in the US sick and vacation time goes into 1 bucket, but that’s an absolutely terrible policy (and may I suggest that if you have it, you look into joining a union) and not standard in other countries. Sick leave and holidays are two vastly different things and should not impact each other.

    Finally, if anyone thinks that it’s unfair that people who are sick get extra days off – we’re not having fun on those days, and if we’re in the kind of job where work piles up while you’re off, we’re probably not doing much less work. Think about how annoyed you are when you get sick on vacation, and you’ll see that sick leave is not actually the same as vacation.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      I know that in the US sick and vacation time goes into 1 bucket

      This isn’t true. It is company dependent.

      1. TechWorker*

        Yes, but I was surprised to read back an old linked thread and see that lots of people seemed to be advocating for it as a good thing – it sounds terrible.

        1. ThatGirl*

          For me, this is the first place I’ve worked that had a separate sick time bucket – I have 5 days sick time and 15 days PTO. I’d actually prefer them combined because they don’t roll over anyway, I rarely get sick and that way I’d have more vacation. But it is definitely company dependent.

          1. DJ*

            Agreed, I think having a single bucket is good when you don’t get much time off. But for companies that actually have decent policies, separate buckets makes more sense. My company does 5 personal days and 10 vacation days, but at least in the past when I haven’t used all my personal (aka sick) days, I’ve never had a problem using them as extra time off at the end of the year. They don’t roll over so it’s a use ’em or lose ’em thing.

        2. wittyrepartee*

          I was talking to someone complaining about this yesterday. The issue is mostly that it gives people perverse incentives to come in while sick. It also means if you get very sick, you lose all your vacation time. So… yeah, I’m in public health and I’m not a fan, but I do understand why it frustrates people that it just keeps on accumulating.

        3. Dana B.S.*

          My company does provide just 1 bucket of PTO. One benefit is privacy for the employee – they can just call-in and not get into details about their own personal or their family’s medical issues. Or if they’re just having a day in which we don’t want them around. Or just need an emergency plumber to come out. No one has abused this so far and if someone does – they will be dealt with individually.

          Also, it’s not like we reduced the amount of time that we were providing. We just added together the sick and vacation leave amounts, so they still get the same amount of leave time. We also provide short-term and long-term disability if someone will be out for longer than 2 weeks.

          Not that every company in the US doesn’t try to rip off their employees, but I’m just providing an example of one that does try to advocate for them. It certainly can appear strange to someone who isn’t American, but it’s what we’re used to.

        4. Michaela Westen*

          It’s a relatively new thing IME – about 15 years?
          Everywhere I’ve worked, people called in sick when they weren’t sick and wanted a vacation day, and were fairly open about it. I got the impression management just decided to put it all in one bucket for everyone to use as they wished.

    2. PurpleMonster*

      That’s pretty much why my old work had an unlimited sick leave policy – it was there for when you needed it, you didn’t take days off to use them up, but you also didn’t bring germs to work to bank your days in case you got sicker down the line. There was a fair use policy – 3 days or more off needed a a doctor’s note IIRC, and they’d ask questions if you were always mysteriously under the weather on Monday or Friday – but it was great, and more companies should do it.

      1. Newington*

        I guess I’ve been lucky, but I’m surprised this isn’t the norm. 30 days’ sick leave? Cool, but what if I’m sick for 31 days? Do they think it’s a choice?

        If they suspect you’re abusing it, they can always ask for doctors’ notes or other evidence.

    3. Overeducated*

      Yup. I was coming to the comments to say that maybe it’s ok, even good, to “waste” this benefit. Someone with chronic issues or a lengthy absence might so it’s good to have you all treated more generously and have people jump through fewer hoops, that doesn’t mean the need is the same. And LW has separate sick and vacation, which is alsp good because that means people don’t have to decide between coming in sick and missing vacations as much.

      Example here – I work in the public sector and am not eligible for short term disability or paid parental leave; I’m going to be using up all of my banked sick leave for the physical weeks of childbirth recovery this fall, while my similarly aged male coworker has way more banked than he can use, and a lont tenured coworker with a long injury recovery has used banked leave to take off time regularly for appointments for a couple years now. It’s ok that we are different and great that we can all do it.

    4. hbc*

      I agree about the mindset of trying to maximize the use of sick days. In practice, my company is very, very generous with sick/personal leave, and will work out a way to keep paying you for long illnesses or other unusual personal circumstances. I would love to be able to put it on paper to show exactly how we handle it, but I have too many people who would see something like “up to 100 sick days a year” and would start calling in sick two days a week.

      So we keep it out of the employee manual and do our best to make sure we’re applying it fairly.

      1. Newington*

        Yeah, if you’re literally keeping your own employees’ rights secret from them, you’re probably not applying it fairly.

    5. Clisby*

      I’m in the US and have never worked where sick leave and vacation time go in the same bucket. (I never worked for a company that paid out unused sick leave, either). I know some companies do, but obviously not all.

      1. Lip Mask*

        My company and my husbands company both national fortune 300 companies (US Based), switched over Jan 2018 and Jan 2019 to one PTO system. We no longer get sick and vacation, its being recommend to companies by their financial advisers.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I find this fascinating from a European (UK) perspective, because it seems so obviously to discriminate against people with long-term health conditions. Interesting how perspectives differ!

          1. Perse's Mom*

            Part of the issue (possibly a large part) is that when the bucket is broken up, it usually means quite limited sick time – multiple people in just this one thread have said they get a whopping 5 sick days per year. If you are fortunate enough to *never* get sick and do not have anyone else who relies on you for care like OP, that’s probably not an issue, but I would wager that for a significant majority of people, that 5 days is incredibly limiting… and often enough, it doesn’t roll over at all or the rollover days are capped pretty low.

    6. AnotherAlison*

      Sorry, I strongly disagree with your opinion on the combined vacation/sick bucket. As others noted, it is company dependent, and I work for a company that moved to this about 10 years ago. I just rolled into my 15th year here and now get 6 weeks combined PTO, but even a new hire gets 3 weeks. I can bank up to 12 weeks, which would be paid to me if I leave. I rarely get sick, and I never spent my sick time when we had the separately policy, so I like this. It’s not as great for the people who do get sick a lot, sure, but there are other companies with different benefit structures if you need something else.

      I don’t think people get upset when people who are sick get extra days off, but people who interpret “sick” differently. Some people stay home when they have a headache (not necessarily a migraine-level headache) or a sore toe. (I’m not making this up, my former step-sister-in-law was on permanent disability for a sore toe). Plus, people have varying job duties. If I’m out for a half-day or two weeks, I still have to do all my work. I may miss some meetings and writing weekly reports, but most things have to be done anyway. Other types of jobs have to be covered by others you miss a day, and there is no work to make up. It’s easier to take sick time in those jobs and not really weigh “how sick am I?”

      1. SleepyKitten*

        “it’s not as great for people who are sick a lot” – I’d really rather err on the side of being good for people who are sick a lot, because being sick is grim in lots of other ways.

    7. (Former) HR Expat*

      Different buckets depend on your company and the state in which you work. Some states require companies to have separate buckets of sick time and PTO. I remember going through the exercise with my employees in California a few years ago.

    8. 2 Cents*

      I also don’t think you understand how unions work in the U.S. If I want to join a union,
      I’d have to go into an entirely different kind of work, as my industry isn’t one that has unions. Or is friendly to the idea of starting a union.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Same. There is not a union to be seen in my field. I’d have to go into an entirely different line of work.

      2. JSPA*

        The “industry” rarely is, until the workers in that industry realize that they can, though. And any number of unions work with a far greater range of workers, in a far greater range of workplaces, than many people expect. It may not appeal to you, and that’s fine–but the public line is always that it’s “impossible” (until it’s actually done).

      3. SleepyKitten*

        Oh! I didn’t realise you don’t have general unions. Very odd, we have like 4 big general unions here that take people from every industry (and 2 of them take unemployed people [they advocate for your benefits])

  15. Qistina*

    #5 – I actually prepare my questions in a note app on my phone, and when asked if I have any questions, I take my phone out of my bag as I explain, “I have them on my phone.” No one has ever batted an eyelid. I usually turn off my data ahead of time so I don’t get any calls/notifications during the interview. I also have a pen and notebook out at the start of the interview to take down any notes. (I ask them if it’s okay first.) Never been an issue.

    1. Antilles*

      This is a good idea. However, it’s worth noting that you *do* need that sentence of “I jotted down a couple questions on my phone” because if you don’t do that explanation, it looks like you’re just not paying attention.

      1. Qistina*

        It depends on what you do when you’re done asking your question. For me, once I’m done asking a question, I put my phone down on the table and make eye contact while they speak, and I don’t pick it up again until they’re done talking and I’m reading another question. So I’ve never felt this was necessary. Good point nevertheless.

  16. CatMintCat*

    No 2, thank your lucky stars for generous sick leave that accrues. I have a workmate who is currently facing a cancer diagnosis and treatment. While her prognosis is excellent there is a LOT of time off for appointments, scans, surgery and treatment. With her over 100 days of accrued sick leave, that is one less thing she has to worry about. As she said “I always hoped I’d never need it, but damn, it’s good to have it there now!”.

  17. MommyMD*

    Sick time isn’t there to use down to the last week. It’s there as a safety net. Five accrued weeks is not that much if an extended illness or injury comes up. Don’t take sick days just to take them to spend the time. If you can retire with them that’s a nice chunk of change. One injury can easily wipe out a few weeks accrual. Think of it as a nest egg of protection for you, not something hanging over you. This really is not a problem. It’s a good thing.

    1. Avasarala*

      Yes! It’s like insurance or fire escapes, it’s there for emergencies. It’s not an extra form of vacation time that you waste if you don’t use up.

      1. MommyMD*

        Right. And it shouldn’t be viewed as vacation or just take a break days for no good reason. Be appreciative of a generous employer. This truly is not a “problem” and no one knows what life holds.

    2. Brogrammer*

      Count yourself lucky. I get one week a year and any unused time expires on December 31. Everyone who was lucky enough to not get sick or injured during the year gets “sick” in November/December.

      We wouldn’t do this if the company didn’t incentivize it with their crappy policy.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        One week a year is nowhere near enough. That wouldn’t even cover my medical appointments for 2x/year checkups, allergist, chiropractor, gynecologist. Then when they want me to get tests (again), that’s even more time.
        Several times in the last few years I’ve been sick 2-3 times a year for a few days – a couple of times a whole week. Your employer must have some turnover from this sick time policy, because no one will try to live with that longer than they have to.

        1. Brogrammer*

          Yeah, it’s pretty bad and we’ve lost good people because of it before and will continue to do so. I’m pretty vocal about this not being okay, but leadership has largely written me off as a complainer because apparently that’s easier than making very simple changes.

      2. Healthy Anon*

        I have three days and they are “use it or lose it”. I lose at least one or two every year. Used to use them for long doctor appointments, but several years ago a new employee handbook came out that specifically banned that, and stated that sick days were now only to be used for unplanned illnesses. I had to have a planned surgery soon after the new policy came out. Had to take PTO for it. Best two-day vacation I ever had! NOT (eyeroll) And then at the end of that year I still had unused sick days that I lost! go figure.

        Our other benefits are good, which I assume is why people are not heading for the exits en masse. But I am really peeved about our sick time policy, especially when I am reading this thread and seeing how ridiculously restrictive it is compared to, oh, pretty much everyone else.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          I agree, it’s horrible. But do they give you like, a lot more PTO than most other places? Or is there a way for people who have long illnesses/injuries to get more sick time? If so, that would make up for it, at least for me.
          It sounds like the person in charge of sick time is a stingy, miserly jerk who sees it as money in the bank if no one uses it… that’s the only explanation for this.

          1. Healthy Anon*

            The amount of PTO is average, based on my experience. I.e., same as I had at other places. When I first started here, this employer used to offer an unusually low number of PTO days (two sick and two personal days for the first year, no PTO for the first six months, one week PTO for the next six months and two weeks per year afterwards). They increased that several years ago, explaining that it was done for marketability reasons – I’m guessing they’d had too many good job candidates go “no PTO for the first six months? Thanks, but no thanks”.

            It is very weird because, like I said, some of the other benefits are outstanding, but for some reason the PTO/sick day policy is lacking.

            There are short-term and long-term disability and FMLA. Thankfully, I haven’t yet had to test out how those work.

  18. Kimmybear*

    #2- I had a financial adviser once use my extensive banked sick time when calculating the waiting period for my private long term disability insurance. In that sense, I wasn’t paying for covering days where I could take sick leave.

    Also, I have a coworker currently dealing with a recurring medical issue and I know she wishes she had banked sick days. (My current employer combines sick and vacation time into one pool.)

  19. Monican*

    OP3, it sounds like your boss and coworker do understand how noise canceling headphones work. They just don’t like that you use them and are choosing to communicate that to you in a passive aggressive way rather than saying it directly. Noise canceling headphones are not a good idea in every office. It sounds like the work that you, you coworker, and boss do requires you to talk to each other through out the day and the noise canceling headphones are an obstacle to that. Maybe you can limit your use of the headphones to times when you are working on a task that requires your full concentration and let you coworker and boss know that.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Personally I believe the boss & the co-worker should simply pick up the phone and have a normal level conversation instead of yelling over the desk of someone who is not involved. Or one walk to the other’s desk. Or switch the desks so they’re adjacent.
      I’m prickly on this one — the person across from me in cubicle city frequently has his manager show up to discuss plans , and that manager has a naturally loud voice. He’s frequently asked to move meetings to his office 25 feet away and he says “Oh it’s not that important” and ENDS THE MEETING. But hey it was important enough to derail 4 people working on detail-oriented analytica tasks.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        By the way, this morning was one of those loud non-meetings lasting almost 15 minutes.
        Because of this forum’s discussion, I was prepared when QuietNeighbor came back to get something … and I asked him if next time there’s a impromptu meeting at his office with OperaticManager to suggest everyone go down to OperaticManager’s office and close the door.
        “Even when my other team member sat 3 cubicles down, it was distracting for her. His voice is just pitched right to carry everywhere.” QuietNeighbor said sure…. fingers crossed that his manager says sure as well.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        OMG YES! How can anyone survive long enough in the work world to get promoted to manager and still not know that yelling out to someone else across the cubicle farm and over the heads of other people who are trying to do the work THAT YOU ASSIGNED TO THEM is terrible workplace behavior? Honestly, everywhere I’ve worked, this type of BS would’ve gotten shut down very fast by everyone sitting in the area.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I’m not against wearing headphones to block out background noise when you need to concentrate at work, but needing to wear noise cancelling headphones tells me she needs to address the bigger issue of her colleagues being so loud that they are distracting her from her work. I think noise cancelling headphones are never okay at work, unless you have a specific kind of job that requires them. I would meet with boss and address it. Explain why OP needs to wear them and ask how boss would suggest she solve the problem.

        1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          My point was the difference between regular headphones vs noise cancelling headphones. If OP needs noise cancelling headphones to drown out the buzzing lights, they need to call maintenance.

      1. Perse's Mom*

        I have a coworker who chews ice cubes All. Day. Long. In the moments where he’s not doing that, he’s chewing something. Loudly. Or clearing his throat. Loudly. My alternative to noise-cancelling headphones is earbuds with the volume cranked way up.

        It’s not as black and white as you suggest with ‘never okay at work.’

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Yeah, I don’t understand the “never okay at work” stance. We are there to get work done and to help increase the company’s bottom line. When they pay me to listen to my coworker chewing ice cubes, I’ll happily listen to them chewing ice cubes for eight hours a day. Until then, it’s distracting me from doing the work I’m being paid to do, so noise-cancelling headphones it is.

        2. Michaela Westen*

          It sounds like he has dry throat or mouth, or some other medical issue that make his throat/mouth uncomfortable.
          Doesn’t help with the noise, but maybe thinking of it this way will make it less irritating.

  20. jDC*

    If allowed at your company don’t forget to use your sick days for doctors appointments. My husbands work allows this and it’s very helpful to not have to dip into vacation time. Especially since this small town we moved to have the most limited doctors hours I’ve ever seen so it’s inevitable that you have to go during work hours.

    1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      +1 If you can, use it for doctor appointments, dentist, optometrist…both for yourself and family members that you are responsible for…and use a full day rather than try to leave early or arrive late.

    2. nonymous*

      My immediate supervisor flagged my use of sick leave for Dr visits when I moved to an area with traffic (I work remotely). Where I am now it takes ~30-45min in each direction so a simple dental cleaning means I’m out 2 – 3 hrs, but where he lives it’s a 15min drive from worksite to anything of importance.

  21. Kate, short for Bob*

    OP3 – multiple loud conversations/arguments a day over your head and your boss doesn’t want you wearing headphones? What happens if you literally stick your fingers in your ears when they do that? Or maybe they’re not all that loud and you actually have misophonia, for which a diagnosis might let you keep your headphones as a reasonable adjustment for a health condition.

    But are you sure it’s a friendly office? Or is it the sort of place where they talk about being friendly and people-people but only if you’re the right _sort_ of people?

    1. Human Sloth*

      See, this is where I fell when reading the letter, too. Noisy arguments… I know Alison’s advice is to help communication and not rock the boat, but I (maybe because it’s Monday and I really want to still be in bed at home) am irritated by the boss and coworker. Why do they need to show annoyance when OP can’t hear them? They are acting out of pocket. If the headphones are a bad idea, boss needs to use her words, preferably when the head phones are off so OP can hear and understand.

  22. Shiraze*

    It absolutely works to let people know you are looking (#1 letter). My circumstances were different but once I put the word out through my network, I was offered interviews at 3 places, and received 2 job offers!

  23. Crystal*

    Save that sick leave! I felt the same way when I had 5 weeks built up and then I had a health emergency and was in the hospital and out of work for 2 months. Ended up using all of my vacation and sick time to keep the funds coming in. If you have short and long term disability, this is still valid since they only pay a portion of your salary while you’re out, so I recommend just appreciating it as the safety net it is. It can pay off!

  24. I need coffee before I can make coffee*

    LW-2 – As a federal employee, I saw many people burn their sick leave and then regret it later. I was fortunate to have a mentor explain to me that I should view my sick leave as an insurance policy that paid my full salary if I couldn’t work for a short time. He said that if I wanted to buy a policy like that, I probably couldn’t afford it, but all I had to do to get it was to show up for work.

  25. Mrs B*

    Where I work we have a similar sick time accrual, I get about 12 days work a year and it rolls over. After 20 years it has become a sizeable amount. Thankfully, I haven’t had much cause to use it. It may help to look at it not as a benefit you aren’t taking advantage of, and instead as a contingency plan if an illness or injury causes you to be unable to work for an extended time or as a long term goal if you plan on staying with your employer until retirement. Maybe in the current workplace, being at one job for your entire career is increasingly unlikely though? So I can see why it seems to be a waste, when you’d really rather have more vacation or personal leave.

  26. Jack be Nimble*

    LW2, is there a cap? If you’re in danger of hitting that cap, you can see if there’s a donation policy in place so those paid hours aren’t lost.

    My org recently implemented a donation policy! Employees accrue 10 hours of sick leave a month and are capped at about 5 weeks of sick leave. You can roll over 40 hours year to year, so a lot of people would reach the cap, stop accruing, and then lose 4+ weeks of leave at the rollover period (and sick leave isn’t paid out, but vacation time is). Now, people can donate some of that time to a bank that’s available to anyone in a crisis. The policy has generated a lot of good will AND it’s nudged people to really look at their accumulated time and use more of it.

    1. CheeryO*

      If LW can’t donate sick time and she’s ever in danger of hitting the cap, she should talk to her supervisor about how to handle it. At my workplace, people sometimes need to burn a few days of sick time at the end of each fiscal year, and generally that’s acceptable since no one wants to see someone lose a benefit.

  27. Lexi Kate*

    #3 I think your on your way to loosing headphones for all in the office. Your boss sounds like she is going to be horrible to work for, and she doesn’t appreciate you wearing your headphones, and that Perpetua (who the boss likes) is making it more noticeable that you are making things difficult with your headphones. In my experience people who don’t appreciate headphones make an overly big deal out of having to get someones attention to talk to them. If it was me I would take off the headphones during peak times that your boss is out and to make a conscience effort to be hyper aware of your surroundings while your headphones are on. Your goal right now should be to not have your boss have to repeat herself because of your headphones. It stinks but the alternative is most likely a future ban on headphones.

  28. Dust Bunny*

    2: Does your company allow you to donate sick time? Mine has a sick-leave pool–I’ve donated 400 hours over the past 15 years (I work for a medical-adjacent organization so they have good medical time) for other people to use when they’ve used up theirs. If not, is this something you could suggest that they implement?

  29. Long Time Fed*

    I have something like 8 months of sick leave banked. I’m fortunate to have good health, but that may not always be the case and I’m thankful that I won’t have to worry for a while if something happens.

  30. MommyMD*

    I think your boss understands about the head phones. I think he is likely irritated having to get your attention.

  31. MicroManagered*

    OP3 Since it’s your boss who doesn’t seem to like your noise-canceling headphones, I’d phrase a conversation with her as “Is it ok that I’m using them?” first.

  32. Another Sarah*

    Letter #4 reminds me of a letter from last year where the nightmare former boss had actually been hired on and someone had quit over it rather than work with the awful boss again. LW #4, hopefully you don’t end up working with Cersei again because she was so awful. Please say something to Jon about what you remember. Good luck!

    (BTW Alison, was there ever an update to the nightmare boss letter? If not, could you please put it on list of ones to ask for?)

  33. Kay*

    I recall a letter similar to the fourth letter being answered here before. In this case, hopefully the information from the OP and the reference checks speak for themselves and Cersei is not hired there. In the other letter the boss had already been hired.

    1. voyager1*

      I remember that letter, always wondered if the person was as bad as the person who quit made him/her out to be.

  34. I'm A Little Teapot*

    #2 – I know more than one person who never needed their sick leave, until suddenly they did. Just use what you need and stockpile the rest.

    #5 – I always write questions down to remind me. They’re not full sentences, but bullet points to remind me to ask about various things. Don’t sound like you’re reading, and don’t allow referring to your notes to distract from the conversation.

  35. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    #2 – most companies won’t pay you for sick time unused when you leave. But I would continue doing what you’re doing. My husband found out a few years back that he needed surgery on his foot at the end of the year and didn’t have enough vacation or sick time accrued to use. Thankfully he works for the government and those who have a ton of sick time are able to donate to those who need it. You never know when a medical thing will crop up, and you may need those days. And if your company allows you to donate it to others, I would consider that as well.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This is true as well.

      I was lucky to have rolled over sick pay to fall back on when I got stricken with a crippling flu that knocked me out for over a week even. I too have always been a “never sick” person until it caught up to me.

      Whereas chronically ill folks would still struggle with 12 days only :(

    2. BadWolf*

      And there are definitely other things you are offered and don’t always use. For example, 6 visits to a therapist are covered under our EAP plan. I don’t feel the need to use them every year. But one year I did and it was quite useful for me.

    3. Long Time Fed*

      Must not be the federal government. One of the dumbest policies we have is that you can’t donate sick leave, only annual leave. People hold on to their vacation time and would be much more willing to donate the extra sick hours they’ve accumulated.

  36. gawaine42*

    OP1 – Look at who’s in your college career fairs, assuming it has them. Or take a look at other colleges near you. See who’s hiring for jobs like the ones you’d want, and when. In the software field, things are aggressive and interviews often start early in the fall, but there are still people hiring late in the year. Other fields may hire at the last minute. Often it depends on how the positions are being funded.

    OP5 – In terms of written questions, like others have said, it’s a net plus. One huge caveat: Make sure you don’t ask questions that someone has already addressed just because they’re on your list. I’ve had a few do this – it made it seem like either they weren’t listening to what we said or they didn’t really care about the answers – they just wanted to get the questions out. So as people talk to you, if they answer a question you would have asked, note that and don’t ask it.

  37. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

    #4 This will depend upon your workplace but be warned you may be disciplined for admitting that you saw the resume. I was once docked on my annual review because I noticed and made a comment about my annual review which I happened to notice on by boss’s desk when I was in her office (she was sitting at her desk). Your place of work may not be like that (I hope it isn’t) however, this place and my current employer are like that.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That would be incredibly shitty, given the details in this case — you can’t help seeing a name in big bold letters in a stack of paper that you’re legitimately looking through for something else. Obviously all the advice here has the implied caveat to factor in what you know of your boss, but getting in trouble in this situation would be a real outlier reaction.

      1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

        I fully agree that it should and most likely is an outlier but as I mentioned, it happened to me. Yes, it is pretty shitty!

  38. LBAI*

    OP3–this is a tricky one. I’m a director, in an open floor plan office, and I HATE that I can’t shut out the noise (especially the white noise that they are constantly pumping onto the floor!). However, in this type of floor plan, it is not a good idea to wear headphones (even noise cancelling) ALL the time. The flow of communication is important, and if you’re not a part of it, it can be impacting your performance in other ways. You might be getting all your reports done, but missing those little golden opportunities to help a colleague or eavesdrop on some important information. I have an associate that uses headphones all day long, and his performance is definitely suffering, because he’s signaling to the rest of the team that he cannot be bothered for any reason. Which just isn’t always true. Your boss is trying to tell you something, so find out what. It may be that she’s OK with it, as long as its easy to get your attention when she needs it, which may warrant more than just waving. Or maybe it really isn’t acceptable to wear them all the time. I’d also recommend trying to find other ways to concentrate.

    1. Dahlia*

      So is your workplace just not friendly to deaf people then? If you need to “eavesdrop”, what happens when you can’t?

    2. zora*

      I think it really depends on the office and the role of the person in question. Some jobs you really don’t need to be part of the flow of conversation around you, because your day to day work is so different.

      It is really bizarre to say that in all open office environments no one can wear headphones all day. That is just not true as a blanket statement about all offices, all companies and all employees.

    3. Aspie AF*

      “You might be getting all your reports done, but missing those little golden opportunities to help a colleague or eavesdrop on some important information. I have an associate that uses headphones all day long, and his performance is definitely suffering, because he’s signaling to the rest of the team that he cannot be bothered for any reason.”

      As someone who NEEDS headphones to focus in an open floor office plan, I’m concerned that you’re letting unconscious biases guide your perceptions of your associate. I would always help people if they asked – it was just easier if people did it in writing. What keeps you from doing that? Why is it reasonable for you to expect that he adapts to what you want him to do, but not for you to adapt to what he needs?

  39. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Sick leave is a conditional benefit just like your health insurance. If you don’t get sick but just use your well-checks as needed, you could say you don’t use all you’re health insurance either. So you’re not losing anything in the end but have a safety net in place in the event it’s needed.

  40. BadWolf*

    On OP3 — is it possible to add a small mirror or shiny surface (back of an old CD) so that you can see when Boss or Coworker approach — then you can proactively pop off your earphones? I know it’s annoying, but I would avoid annoying Boss if you can fix/compromise yourself. I think they even have small mirrors intended for working in a cube.

    1. BadWolf*

      ETA: Ha ha “compromise yourself” isn’t really what I wanted to say — I mean a compromise between still wearing the headphones without annoying your coworkers.

  41. Camellia*

    I’ve read several comments about asking first if it’s okay to take notes in an interview. It never occurred to me to ask permission to do this. It just doesn’t seem to make sense. Why would they care if you took notes?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You don’t need to ask first. Unless you’re interviewing for a job with really unusual confidentiality restrictions, but most people aren’t.

        1. Alexander Graham Yell*

          I definitely phrase mine as a request, but it never really is – but thanks for saying this, it’s making me rethink how I approach it!

    2. Greg*

      I once had a career coach suggest asking permission to take notes in line with the old sales theory that you want to get the potential customer saying “yes” as much as possible (the coach herself had a sales background). I don’t really think it matters, but I suspect that’s the logic.

  42. iglwif*

    LW2 — don’t think of it as an unused benefit that you’re somehow wasting or leaving on the table; think of it as insurance against catastrophe. Usually, IME, employers that give you a lot of sick days and let them accrue are treating that as your short-term disability plan.

    My ex!job allowed something like 18 days of sick leave per year, and you could accrue up to 75 days (15 weeks), which, not coincidentally, was the point at which long-term disability became available. Most people don’t ever need 15 weeks of paid sick time, but when you need it–as a couple of my co-workers did, for reasons including a horrifying winter sports injury and two rounds of cancer–it is GREAT to have. And even if your unexpected medical catastrophe is something much tamer, like, say, getting flu and having to take a whole week off work because you are 1. contagious af and 2. too tired to even stand up, knowing you’ve got enough sick time to cover it is super helpful.

  43. Donkey Hotey*

    My wife recently told me about a candidate who had a list of 75 (!) questions that she must know about a company before she hires on. Some were answered in the job posting, some by some preliminary research and screening, and she brought in the partially completed list to her interview. She visibly checked off some that were addressed during the interview and asking the remaining questions when she had the opportunity to ask. I found it fascinating, but that was also a very order-of-operations, check every box sort of job, so it both answered her questions and showed how she operates in those circumstances. Good luck!

  44. Nonprofit Lady*

    Re: #2
    I’ve started using my sick time for therapy appointments (and also dental, vision, physicals, etc.). My workplace seems cool with taking the afternoon for a 2:00 appointment, for example, and it is really nice for my mental health to use sick time liberally in this way. I won’t get paid out for sick time when I leave, and it’s unlikely that I’ll ever need a large amount of it (although if I did, say, get pregnant, I’d have a good amount of sick time saved up).
    Anyway, if therapy is of interest to you and it never seemed like it would fit before, treat yo self!

  45. Sara, A Lurker*

    LW3, your mileage may vary, but there may be a middle ground between noise-canceling headphones and earbuds. I use stereo headphones–the kind with soft foam pads that sit on your ears but don’t enclose them like noise-cancellers do. They’re not very in vogue these days, but for me they are much more comfortable than earbuds. I have found that playing music over these headphones at a low volume is sufficient for blocking out office chatter–and there is a LOT of office chatter, as I work in a cubicle farm where meetings and video calls are regularly held at full volume just on the other side of my half-walls. I rarely need to use middle volume, but even when I do, I can still hear if someone says my name next to me.

    I think the lightweight foam headphones just look less imposing than the noise-cancellers. Some bosses just get aggravated when you look like you’re shut off from communication.

  46. Budgie Buddy*


    So the boss is both soft spoken and has loud arguments with Perpetua from behind a barrier 4-5 times per day? Huh? So much sympathy for OP because this sounds like a lot of terrible combinations of distractions. I agree that it seems like these two are passive-aggressively put out at OP for breaking an unwritten office rule, even if everyone else in the office is fine with the headphones. The idea of the mirror that someone else had might work. :\

    As a person with a soft voice, I do wonder about the boss… My experience is that I have to be careful to check that people are both facing me and paying attention before I start speaking, or they will not understand me or in some cases not even realize that I’m addressing them. So shouting from behind a barrier…wouldn’t work. On the other hand, maybe that’s why the arguments are so frequent. :P The boss keeps having to shout and repeat herself because Perpetua can’t make out what she’s saying!

  47. JM60*


    You never know when you might get a serious illness that requires you to take more than a month off of work. Many people have had major surgery sometime in their lives. Your current sick leave is a safety net for that (the FMLA law does provide you with a safety net in such situations, but it’s unpaid).

  48. Greg*

    #1: I may be reading this wrong, but I sense a reticence on your part to address the elephant in the room. You’re graduating from college! Everyone knows you will be looking for a job. I agree with you and Alison that you don’t want to come across as too pushy, but conversely, if you tap dance around it too much, you may annoy people by seeming too passive-aggressive.

    My other piece of advice is to reach out to people with specific questions. For one thing, it will impress them by showing that you’ve done your homework. But more importantly, it will help them. I always feel both sympathetic and frustrated when I get those emails from young people who are basically willing to do anything. I’m sympathetic because I know that it’s true, and that they don’t want to pin themselves down unnecessarily. At the same time, what makes it frustrating is that a general request like that makes it much harder for me to be helpful. I want to help, but unless I happen to know someone who’s hiring entry-level roles, I may not be able to do much. On the other hand, if you tell me you’re interested in Chocolate Teapot Design, I can introduce you to my friend who works at ChocoTea Inc.

    Point is, try to think of ways the people you’re reaching out to can be helpful, and make it as easy as possible for them to do so. I know it can be tricky, and there are no hard and fast rules, but the more awareness you can demonstrate regarding the situation, the more success you’ll have.

  49. JediSquirrel*

    #3: Perhaps they feel self-conscious about waving.

    If you’ve ever been in a deaf bar, people are always knocking on tables, the bar to get someone else’s attention. I do this with one of our engineers who has some hearing loss and doesn’t hear you walk in to the office. Maybe trying a different cue would work.

  50. Little Beans*

    LW #2. Haha. I currently have 1,131 hours of sick leave accrued. It’s about 7 months worth. My employer doesn’t have a cap (but they also don’t pay out sick time when you leave, only vacation).

  51. Hellary*

    LW #2 (if someone has already posted this, I simply didn’t have time to read though 301 comments) Look into donating leave to others. My workplace allows this for very ill people with things like cancer/chemotherapy, fibromyalgia, heart surgery, etc. It’s been a godsend when my brother donated 80 hours to me when I was having a major health crisis. My employer has a little newsletter with names of those that would like leave, too, if you don’t happen to have a brother that works for the same (very large) employer as you!

  52. Noah*

    re #1, where Alison wrote, “wait until it’s closer to the time you’ll actually be available.”

    What??!!!!! No!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Contact the people from your internship AS SOON AS YOU GET BACK TO SCHOOL. Two huge reasons, writ large: (1) they remember you now; and (2) for jobs that hire out of internships, most do it in the fall (or before the fall).

    Good lord.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      She can contact them now to keep the relationship going, of course. But she’s asking about when to contact them about her job search, and doing that in August when she’s not available for work until May is not the right timing for many fields. It’s not true that most hire out of internships in the fall; some do, most don’t. Like I wrote in the post, she needs to know her own field for that.

      And it’s not the case that people won’t remember their interns less than a year later (!).

  53. Noah*

    #3 – A good start would be to stop saying, “say again,” to your boss and instead, every time, explain why you need her to repeat herself. If you’re really unwilling to explain it till she gets it, at least stop responding with, “say again,” because that is needlessly curt. There’s no need for this to bother you so much. (One wonders if your boss does this because she knows it bothers you.)

    Less the exclamation mark, I think the sign is a good idea, and far better than the status quo.

  54. wardepartment*

    I also sit in an open-plan office where there is a lot of talking. I wear noise-cancelling headphones and I use this:
    Luxafor is a little flag-shaped light that sticks to the side of your monitor. When I’m in a meeting/on a call or I’m busy and I don’t want to be disturbed, I set the light to red. That way my coworkers can just look over and see if I’m busy before they come over or start talking to me. If someone walks up to me and tries to interrupt me, I just smile and point at the red light, and they always apologize mutely and shuffle away. As soon as I’m done with whatever I’m doing, I turn the light to green.

  55. Dax*

    The OP’s description of noises bothers them (ie the red zone) remind me so much of myself. I have misophonia and if I worked in an open office it’d be misery and I’d probably need to invest in more intense noise-canceling headphones that I have. (I share an office room with 2 coworkers, which is fine, especially with these headphones).
    Anyways, misophonia or not it is perfectly reasonable to want to wear noise-canceling headphones in an open office space and it is not that hard for coworkers to just…step in front of you and wave their hand.

  56. JM in England*


    I always write down my list of questions when preparing for an interview. Thus, when that part comes up, I can produce my list with a flourish and look , as Alison says, prepared. Have even paraphrased a popular UK children’s TV show by saying (for humour purposes) “Here’s some I prepared earlier!” :-)

  57. Duvie*

    OP 2: It’s a good idea to keep a pretty good cushion of sick leave if you’re fortunate enough to have it. My husband hadn’t taken a single sick day in more than seven years and was healthy as a horse – until he came off the ice after hockey practice, sat down next to our son-in-law, and collapsed with a massive heart attack. He was out of work for eight weeks, and we were more than grateful for his paid sick leave.

  58. Letter Writer #2*

    Letter Writer #2 here: thanks for the thoughts everyone, and thank you for your advice, Allison! To answer a few questions:
    – My company doesn’t allow us to donate leave, though I happily would if I could.
    – We get a percentage payout of sick leave when we leave. It’s not a huge percent, but it’s a nice bonus.
    – We can accrue up to six months of sick leave, so I’m nowhere near the cap.
    – I definitely plan just to let my sick leave continue to accrue, and I’m beyond grateful for my good health and for my company’s generous leave policies. Mostly I was just wanting to cover all my bases and make sure that there wasn’t a use for my sick leave that I hadn’t thought of (and actually, I usually schedule my medical appointments for days I already have off, so I might start using sick leave for that more often). While I certainly hope I won’t need to pull a ton of leave from my bank anytime soon, good health is a temporary state, and I’m grateful to have the kind of safety net that is denied to so many Americans.

  59. Retired Teacher*

    Sick leave: It’s probably already been stated, but you never know when you might need an emergency surgery with a long recovery time. Save the sick leave.

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