I don’t want to talk about my cool job, boss’s bachelorette weekend, and more

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

1. I don’t want to talk about my “cool” job

I have a regular, albeit senior level, role with a really “cool”/very well known company. Think head of IT for Manchester United, controller at Nickelodeon, or head of facilities at NASCAR.

I frequently encounter social situations where sharing details of ones job is expected. I hate talking about my job because it draws a lot of attention from people who would otherwise not be interested in me or my work (if not for my “cool” workplace).

Being vague has not worked. I’ll say, “I work in IT” and they’ll ask, “where do you work?” or “what do you do in IT?” Sometimes I’ll throw in the city, as in, “I work in IT in City.” That tends not to work either. It feels awkward to give more than one vague answer because once people pick up on the fact that you’re being vague, their interest is piqued even more. I’ve been in situations where someone will leave me alone and then come back to ask again. When people learn where I work, then they want to know specifically what I do (how senior I am), which again, I don’t really want to talk about.

Any tips on sidestepping discussions of work when people are expecting you to talk about it? Saying that I don’t want to talk about it only leads to more attention and speculation.

I should mention that my social circle, somewhat unwillingly, has changed, and I think that’s why I’m encountering this more often. I get the sense that there is some “sizing up” or competitiveness afoot (most of the people have great jobs and are happy to talk/brag about them). But, even when it isn’t that, I hate talking about work because I talk about it enough at work (and there is a lot I can’t talk about but everyone wants to ask about those things).

I’m surprised people are being so persistent! Even here in D.C. where “what do you do?” is pretty much the first question everyone asks, people generally accept something like “I work in IT” without mounting an inquisition about the details. (Side note: I thought D.C.’s fixation on this was normal until I moved to the Pacific Northwest for a while, where you can go months without knowing what a friend does.)

You could try “I have a job in IT that would make your eyes glaze over” followed by an immediate question about the other person. If you can keep the focus on them, a lot of people will be so pleased to talk about themselves that they won’t realize they’re learning nothing about you.

But it sounds like your circle is so focused on this that you might just need to explain what you do and follow it with, “But I am so talked out about about my job right now and am enjoying not having to think about it in my off hours! Tell me about X instead — that sounds really interesting.”

Read an update to this letter here.

2. A bachelorette weekend for the boss

My girlfriend has been invited to a bachelorette weekend for a coworker (different department) and recently told me she was thinking of not going since no one else from the office will be able to attend. Except for her, all other coworkers were invited from the same department as the bride to be. The complicating factor is that, in the time since invites to the bachelorette weekend have gone out and the save the dates for the wedding itself, Bride has gone from coworker to manager for the other people in the department thanks to an internal promotion to team lead. The invitees are now feeling like they cannot attend since Bride is now their manager, but it leaves everyone in a bit of a pickle. I was wondering what you’d suggest for handling this? It seems like a weird clash of various etiquette rules but I know no one wants the bachelorette weekend to be sparsely attended just because half the invitees are now reporting up to Bride.

It’s very reasonable that people reporting to the bride don’t want to attend her bachelorette weekend now that she’s their boss.

Is the weekend mainly coworkers? If so, someone needs to point out that the plan needs to change now that she’s managing nearly everyone who would be there — and maybe suggest a lunch at work or something much more low-key. If she’s invited out-of-work friends, though, then her employees can back out without ruining the event.

3. What should we do with employees’ email accounts after they leave?

I’m in HR, and our company usually leaves departing employees’ email accounts open when they leave the company. Sometimes there is an out-of-office message put on, and sometimes not. Generally the person’s manager or an assistant “manages” the in-box following departure.

Employees often ask me what will happen with their emails, who’s going to be monitoring their in-box, etc. I understand their concern. Clients and outside contacts who do not receive responses/prompt responses to their emails (which may happen depending on who is “managing” the in-box) may view that as a lack of professionalism on the part of the employee leaving, if they don’t know they’ve left.

Sometimes it’s not up to an employee whether or not they have time to transition out and notify their contacts, and so this is a concern (sales people, people who are fired, etc). Additionally, you may forget to notify some contacts.

HR managers in my department have become frustrated when I share employee concerns about this. They often state that it’s not the employee’s email account and so it’s not up to them/their business what happens to it after they leave. While I understand that all communications on company email are the company’s property, I can’t help but wonder if we are hurting departing employees’ reputations by not shutting off their email accounts or always ensuring there is an out-of-office message. What is your opinion on this? I can’t help but think that just shutting off the account so a sender gets a bounce back would be the best option.

You should turn off the accounts (with a bounce message) or set up an out-of-office reply explaining the person no longer works there. Which of those to do depends on the circumstances and type of job, but you should consistently do one or the other. Otherwise, as you note, people may not realize the person has left and will wonder why they’re not hearing back — which is bad for the employee’s reputation, but it’s also bad for your company’s reputation. Try pointing out the latter to your colleagues.

4. Sharing awful family news at work

I am a teacher at a moderately sized, extremely friendly independent school. I have been teaching there for a year and have made some friends, although my closest one left for another opportunity. I lost my mother very suddenly to illness in July, and I am still struggling with it. As we come back together for the opening school days, naturally people talk a great deal about their summers. What should I say? I can’t answer, “my mother died” to a casual question about what I did over the summer, but caring for her and my father is what I did over the summer.

I’m sorry about your mom! If you’re comfortable with it, it’s perfectly okay to say, “I had a tough summer — we lost my mom.” But if you don’t feel like getting into it every time, it’s also okay to just say something like, “Eh, not the best summer I’ve had — what about you?” or “Spent a lot of time with family. How about you?”

5. I accepted a job but didn’t send thank-you notes

Almost a month ago, I had a job interview. A few days after the interview I received an offer, which I accepted in short order. The problem: I didn’t send thank-you emails and it is bugging me more and more the closer I get to my start date (which is still a month away!).

I interviewed with several people at the company, some of whom I will work with directly. Are my future coworkers likely to remember and think poorly of me for not having emailed after the interview? I got the job, so presumably I should just let this go…?

Let it go. They’re not going to remember and think poorly of you. Post-interview thank-you notes are a good thing but they’re not a requirement (if they were, they’d lose all their power), and your new coworkers almost certainly don’t care. The only person who might care is the hiring manager, and she clearly decided to hire you anyway.

It would be weird to send the notes now. At most you could send notes saying you’re excited to be working with them (not thank-you notes) — but unless you do that really skillfully, it’s likely to be overkill.

You got the job. It’s fine. Move on!

{ 512 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    A reminder that I will remove off-topic comments without warning (and may move repeat offenders onto permanent moderation). Please stay on-topic!

    (There’s a discussion below about how people make small talk if they don’t ask what you do for a living, which I think is sufficiently related — but I ask that we don’t stray more off-topic than that!)

  2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#1, could you answer broadly with your job functions? That way you can field “but what do you doooooooo?” questions without having to mention your employer. Or could you respond to their questions with questions about the questioner? (I find folks like to talk about themselves, unless you redirect in a way that seems like you’re obviously avoiding answering their question.)

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I was thinking of something a little more specific than “I work in IT.” Like, “Oh, I work the troubleshooting desk” or “I manage IT [descriptive adjective).” Essentially, I’m suggesting giving folks just a little more specificity while still being oblique. That way it won’t sound like OP is hiding the ball, but it also allows OP to dodge questions about who OP’s employer is.

        1. Smithy*

          I have a friend who works in finance for a “cool” event company. I can guarantee you that a follow up question or description of what she actually does sufficiently squashes hopes of talking about cool thing X or Y.

          Another suggestion though would be to couple a perk with going into more details on auditing or procurement. Something like “Yeah, I now have more SpongeBob shirts than I would have thought possible, but my larger reality is xyz”.

          Often the cool company follow ups are about perks (do you get free tickets or swag, have you met celebrities) – and being more direct about that coupled with your job reality can be helpful. Something like “Occasionally it’s great to attend NASCAR races, but you’d be amazed how many are during audit season where I’m just happy to make it home before midnight”.

          1. AnnaBananna*

            Not always. I pinged when the OP said their social circle had changed. And I have found that the more you make, the more your acquaintances try to place you into the appropriate bracket (aka, the more you make, the more they want to know HOW you make your money…so dumb).

            OP will need to get good at ‘pivoting’. When mentioning the role fails to get them to back off, there’s the option of the drive by, saying ‘Manchester…oh hey, can I get you a refill?’ or ‘Nothing too exciting, I spend most of my day in planning meetings…oh hey, can I get you a refill?’. Whatever the social situation calls for, be charming but distant, hence why I always offer a new drink. ;)

            The other option is to go out on the town with some of your colleagues and see how they introduce themselves. They may have the perfect little idiom to spew when asked.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          A friend who worked for Disney used to say she worked “in the shadow of the mouse” and “it kind of ruined the magic for me to be honest” and the lack of enthusiasm would derail the conversation on its own.

          1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

            That’s perfect.

            I worked as a DoD contractor early in my career, and had to visit the Pentagon on a regular basis. I described it similarly. “99% of it is just a big, dingy office building. The Army has lots of people who process retirement paperwork or buy paperclips. I never get anywhere near the cool parts – I don’t even know where the cool parts are.”

        3. LQ*

          This would be my suggestion. Something like “I’m a manager in IT, so basically I go wherever my calendar tells me to go and read spreadsheets to fall asleep.” “I have the most polite fights with our IT department and then read law books to fall alseep.” “I mostly am in meetings all day, we have a conference room that was an old bank board room which is super fancy, but mostly I end up in the one that kind of smells by the bathroom.”

          Give more detail without giving any detail at all. I think you want to go for at least a good sentence worth of chatter here, ideally a long and slightly boring one. And then pivot to something you do want to talk about. “Do you know of a good gym?” The more you can actively engage them, the less they’ll want to talk about your thing.

        4. ellex42*

          I work for a very well-known company that has been the subject of some protests, and some people get upset about some aspects of the industry at large, so I don’t really like to say what company I work for. But saying “oh, I work in data entry, I sit in front of a computer and read boring legal documents and type in data all day long” (true in a fairly general sense), and when pressed for specifics, “It’s all names and dates and codes and numbers, I don’t even know what half of it means” (not entirely true, but not entirely false, LOL) is often enough to deflect all but the nosiest people. For those, I pick out something minor from my job that segues easily into a conversational derail: “I see some really interesting names, like Birdenia, and people named for various celebrities, and the woman who signed various documents with 3 different spellings of her first name.” I usually don’t even have to prompt the other person to start telling me about interesting names they’ve encountered.

          Like the OP, I’m not fond of small talk, but it’s a really good skill to learn.

          1. Effective Immediately*

            I know I’m late to the party but I came to say exactly this. I work in two really controversial areas of the nonprofit/healthcare world in a senior level management role, so I tend to just talk about the most mundane parts of the work to head off the people who want to ask me or (worse) argue with me about it.

            They tend to zone out when about when I get to the part of interpreting regulatory guidance.

            1. KT84*

              Fellow healthcare employee here and I can relate – I work for a Big Pharma company in an IT role and its amazing how many people like to argue or attack my company when I mention it (I fix phone and computers – i am not the one making the prices or fighting lawsuits lol). I always dread the “Where do you work” question and I have found myself applying “I know, they are evil” when I mention my company (they are not one of the more…ethically challenged pharma companies at least but in most people’s minds all pharma companies are evil).

              At least its not as bad as the time my uncle found out my friend was an auditor and “Boo’d” her to her face – at my grandfather’s funeral! That was awkward lol

            2. Glitsy Gus*

              Yeah, if I don’t really want to get too deep into what I do I just mention compliance up front. It just SOUNDS boring and most people lose interest pretty quickly after that. I ususally just get, “oh, hmm, do you enjoy it?” “Sure, well enough. Plus it pays the bills.” and they change the subject on their own after that.

        5. JSPA*

          Toss in some eye – glazing detail, too. The sort of thing that makes most people feel they’ve heard more than enough, unless they have any actual interest. IT in a place with 20 servers and an old Cray that’s still working. Grounds management, including keeping track of 13 different sorts of grass seeds and 32 different mulch and fertilizer blends. Unless you don’t want to talk shop with anyone, in which case, you pivot hard and fast to a non- work interest, and let them assume you’re underemployed, independently wealthy, or both.

      2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        Saying you work in IT does not specify job functions. It may satisfy some, but for others it’s not unusual to ask for more details. OP states that they’re in a new social circle, so people are going to want to get to know them. And one of the ways to get to know someone is to find something you have in common. I work in IT as well, so if you gave me that answer, it would lead to more questions.

        1. Minocho*

          As another person in IT, I would ask more under the assumption that the initial answer is kept vague to avoid boring new acquaintances with technical jargon, but as I might be able to engage in technical speech, we could have a deeper conversation. Talking about job functions might be another way to engage in talking about work without going into the coolness of the company.

          1. Koala dreams*

            I think you need another approach when people know your work (or think they do). Then you can either change topics more abruptly, or go right into work details that don’t refer to the name of the company (conference room layout, keyboard shortcuts, coffee wars). As well as asking as many questions about their work you can think of.

          2. fhqwhgads*

            I also use the technical-speak when I KNOW it will be boring. So someone asks what I do; I give generic vague answer and hope that’s enough; if they follow up for more anyway I say something like “it’ll probably bore you to tears but if you must know extremely technical statement. How about you?” And usually they’ll move on rather than try to make me explain what the extremely technical thing meant. Doesn’t really work if the question were “for which company?” so at that point you need to either be comfy lying and suggesting they’d not have heard of the place, or being truthful and then somehow deflecting as AAM suggested.

            1. TeapotNinja*

              A maybe useful white lie to the “which company?” question is explaining your company has a policy that prohibits you from publicly divulging it unless you’re authorized to speak in behalf of the company and since you’re not, you’re not comfortable mentioning it.

              Yes, those places do exist, and I’ve worked in one. It was kind of pointless, because you were still allowed to list the employer on LinkedIn, etc.

              Maybe it’ll add some mystique to your otherwise boring IT job :)

        2. Michaela Westen*

          I’m IT-adjacent and I would also be interested in more details. Not the company you work for, the actual work. :)

    1. Washi*

      Yeah, my husband has a semi-secret job and I worked with elderly people who often had no boundaries and pretty much the only thing that works in both cases is not to let them get a word in edgewise until you have given them something else to respond to besides your vague non-answer.

      It definitely takes some practice and for too long I was relying on people recognizing my discomfort, but the thing is that even for folks who notice that you don’t seem to want to talk about your job, they will often be confused about what to say next if you don’t throw them a subject change lifeline. So instead of “I work in IT…*awkward pause*” try “I work in IT. Oh that reminds me! Did you see that news story about the bear who stole an iphone?”

      The topics barely have to be related- phrases like “that reminds me” or “don’t know what made me think of this, but” and “oh I’ve been meaning to ask you” are your friends and we’ve never been called out on our subject changes!

      1. snowglobe*

        Very good point – a lot of times, follow-up questions aren’t so much extreme nosiness, just someone trying to keep the conversation going, or trying to appear interested.

      2. OP 1*

        This is a good pint. I’m awkward at small talk so i don’t think of great follow up questions. I’ll try to think of some to keep handy.

        1. no, the other Laura*

          Seconding the advice that subject change is key. Worked on some projects for certain companies that were fun, cutting-edge sort of things, and if you change the subject quickly to something else (in my case, the commuter train woes are an evergreen source of commentary/news/ire) that generally gets the discussion away from “Oh you work at FamousCorp!”

        2. gsa*

          My wife has job with a very well company. Anytime I tell someone that she works at XYZ as a project manager their eyes get really big and they ask lots of questions.

          In my case, it’s very easy to say XYZ is a very private company, so I don’t get a lot of derails.

          At least in my case, when I say she’s a project manager for a local firm that shuts most people down. I think change of subject is key anytime you’re being asked a question that you don’t really want to answer.

          1. 8DaysAWeek*

            Agree. I know someone that works at Apple and her response is that she is not allowed to talk about what she does. It is a true statement because she works with very proprietary development information.
            Even if it isn’t true, you can say something similar.

          2. KTB*

            My husband works in hardware for a tech company, and has a standard canned response for when people ask what he’s working on (that he can’t talk about): “X is a very large company with a lot of different projects…blah blah blah” I don’t know the rest because I always cut him off and make him tell me the truth. But I’m the exception!

        3. Thorobri*

          I have a friend who owns a distillery. Products that would be known globally. When people ask, she just says “oh, my family is in the liquor business and it’s much, much more boring than you’d think. I have a policy of not talking about my work in social situations, but I’d love to hear about your job.” Boring + impersonal policy of not talking shop usually shuts people down.

          Another friend works for a federal agency (e.g., FBI, ATF, CIA) and literally cannot tell most people what he does. He just says “government lawyer.” If people pry, he says “it’s not the fun courtroom stuff you see on t.v. Also, as a government employee, I have certain ethical requirements that prevent me from talking about it. I take them seriously.”

          In both cases, if people try to pry, my friends will say “sorry, but as I said, I really can’t talk about it.” Yes, some people find it curt and rude, but people who don’t take “I’m not going to tell you” for an answer are not always likely to respect whatever boundaries you set.

          Also, if you have either something in common with the conversation partner or a hobby you can talk about, those are good, easy topic switches you can make. “Oh, I see you also like Doctor Who. Who is your Doctor?” Or “I’ve recently taken up flower arranging, do you have a favorite flower?” Most people love to talk about themselves and their opinions. If you can deftly learn to pivot to something in common where they can hold court, it might work.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Yes, totally this. I used to tell folks I worked for “The Man” in a jokey and semi-exasperated-at-the-machine tone that hinted towards banal bureaucratic hurdles when I was a federal employee. That was often enough to dissuade people, but it also probably helped that I wasn’t working for the political branches.

          2. Michaela Westen*

            Do any of you find it offensive when someone keeps trying to get details after you’ve said you’re not allowed to talk about it? I’ve had this happen a couple of times and it made me not want to talk to the person at all, ever.

          3. Mel*

            My brother-in-law has similar “I can’t talk about it” rules for his job. After not seeing him since their wedding, I tried to make conversation by asking about his work, because I remembered that he was an aerospace engineer. He responded with “Sorry, I can’t talk about it,” which was all the information I needed to lay off.

          4. AKchic*

            There is also that. By saying that you’re not allowed to discuss anything more than what you already have, it both lends the air of mystery, but allows you to smile and politely decline to give more information.

        4. CG*

          Another bit of advice I heard is: after asking the person what they do, tell them that their job sounds really hard and then let them tell you more.

        5. theletter*

          There’s the old standby’s: What do you do when you’re not working? Do you have any trips planned? How about that local sports team? How about that local politician? How about these snacks we’re eating? How about the weather?

        6. AKchic*

          The trick is learning to talk without saying anything at all. Talking about innocuous things, random things, or even the minutiae of your life, but not the meat and potatoes.

          You say you work in IT. Great. It’s a well-known company. Okay. You know how they call MIT a school in Massachusetts? Fine. Take a step in that direction. “I’m in IT in the X field. Generally, I spend my day resetting passwords for new hires who lock themselves out, including my direct reports; and approve supply requests. We go through a lot of chargers.” Then, flip it around and ask them more about their job that kiiind of relates to what you just said. How many chargers do you think their company goes through in a month/year? If they look flummoxed, smile, and tell them you’re kidding and tell them you hate talking shop outside of work and then change the subject.

      3. Anonymoose*

        I had the same problem as OP1, for different reasons, and solved it by providing more bland details. The biggest problem is the silence after you give a short answer, because humans often feel uncomfortable with silence, and if your response is so short that they don’t have a way to connect their experience with yours then they ask more questions.

        In my situation, most people didn’t seem to know how to react when I explained that I was an engineering student. “Oh, that must be hard” or “You must be smart”. I would honestly respond “I’m more stubborn than smart” yet I decided that I needed to develop a better response because most people wouldn’t know what to say after this. After numerous interactions, I found that it was best if I explained that I was a student in applied science (which is apparently more approachable than eng), and then added “… which means that I spend a lot of time writing computer code” followed by something more personal such as “…and I love to go skiing as a way to relax”.

        I also have a job where I don’t want to share details of my employer, so I tell people that it involves a lot of paperwork, coding, and/or math. For some reason, all of those tend to cause a desire to change topic quickly. I occasionally have someone comment that I give so few details that I must be hiding something, and I’ve learned to respond by explaining that I’m just trying to save them from extreme boredom and then offer to explain the finer details of some code that I was really happy to sort out. Not all jobs allow for this (essentially it’s the comment above about explaining generic details of your workday, rather than giving a hint of the employer), but when I look excited and start with “I wrote this great function which accommodates a much broader range of data inputs” then I switch to asking a question about the other person and they always seem to be thankful for the change away. I am also prepared to go into detail about my code or math, because there are other nerds and they express interest, but that’s easy for me because it is the purpose of the code or the results of the math that shouldn’t be shared.

        People want to connect, even if it’s very superficial and quick, so being vague makes them work harder to find a connection and makes it worse for both of you. The key is to find a bit of detail that is easily relatable, to start a conversation rather than end it.

    2. Theme Park Technical Writer*

      This is the right way to do it. I have a job at a cool place and I’ve been there for a long time. People always want to know, and that’s understandable- it’s a cool place! I do get cool perks! I have a standard response about the everyday parts of it, which looks like:

      “I’m a technical writer at Theme Park.”
      “Wow, that sounds so cool! ”
      “It can be! People have a lot of feelings about [extremely boring element]. Did you know [very boring fact about that element that is not confidential]?”
      “Oh! [immediate change of subject].”

      Sometimes they’re legitimately interested and want to talk shop about boring stuff, in which case I’ll do it for a bit and then move on. It’s not the worst.

      (The worst, by the way, is when you meet someone and immediately ask them for their perks. Don’t do that. It’s very rude.)

      1. Goldfinch*

        Would love to hear more about this during the Friday open thread, but won’t derail here. Carry on.

      2. Thorobri*

        SIL was an exec at HausofMaus for a while. When people found out, they would want to talk all about their favorite movie, theme park ride, etc. She shut them down and said “my job is to analyze the data around WidgetX. I know all about [data analytic] of WidgetX. I don’t know any more about Frozen, the Jungle Cruise, or the Blue Bayou than you do. I’ll gladly talk about it if there’s something of interest to you, but I’m afraid you will know more than I do.”

        The key to this is to have a script you can use that is likely to make your job sound boring and your knowledge of the “cool stuff” no more than the person you are talking to.

        The other thing that worked for her is to not tell people where she worked. Instead, when people asked she would say something to the effect that she’s so glad to be talking to the person she’s talking to b/c most people are rude and pry about her work but she just knows that this person is cooler/smarter/better than those types of people and will have more interesting things to talk about anyway. Flattering the person one is talking to sometimes works.

      3. Tech Writer in Gaming*

        I’m a technical writer at Cool Gaming Company and I get a lot of questions about the games, but I work in IT and I legitimately don’t play and don’t (can’t) share anything cool. I talk about how I streamline internal design docs and their eyes glaze over (*snicker*), and that usually moves the conversation along. I like your idea, though, and I might steal it. *secret tech writer handshake choreography*

        1. Theme Park Technical Writer*

          Ah, I see you read the Secret Tech Writer Handshake Choreography manual! My favorite part was the consistent design.

        2. TootsNYC*

          some day I should pick your brains about technical writing. I’m a copyeditor with experience on how-tos and recipes, and if copyediting goes belly-up for me, I’ve often thought about seeing whether those skills would translate.

      4. Technical Writer at Contractor*

        This is. . . . making me rethink my whole technical writing career in defense contracting.

      5. Holly*

        That seems to be the way to go… I’m not sure why it’s such an issue to just say the place! Most people will say wow that is cool and then you can steer the convo elsewhere.

      6. Super Duper Anon*

        Oh man, as a technical writer for more generic software and hardware companies, I have many questions! Won’t ask them though :)

    3. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Yeah, it could be the lack of specifics that causes people to pry. I’m kind of in IT, and I’m curious if the OP does desktop support, programming, web development, business analysis, QA…because I’ve done some of those things, and those I haven’t, I have worked closely with people for many years who do those others, so I’m more familiar with them than most. I’d be looking to see if we have any overlap, or if their job is one that I’ve managed/worked with before.

      Although if pressed and they want to give in rather than make it weird, they could make it sound less interesting by giving their job function along with the employer. “I’m a networking engineer at Walt Disney World, I maintain their wireless and wired networks, which mostly support their payment systems.”

      1. Librarianne*

        Same with me. “I’m a librarian” usually results in a lot of follow-up questions, so I’ve developed a few descriptions to throw out based on whether or not I actually want to talk about work.

    4. Colette*

      Agreed! And “where?” can be answered with a location, instead of a company. “Oh, I’m at a place near “

        1. Colette*

          It’s about conversation, though, right? So “It’s a company in the west end, near that new sports center. I was amazed at how fast that thing was built – I drive by it every day, and it didn’t take them long at all.”

          The OP is allowed to share the level of detail that she is comfortable sharing, and if someone wants more, that’s their problem, not hers.

        2. AKchic*

          Not everyone wants to allow strangers to know exactly who they work for or where they work.

          I know dancers that refused to tell people their line of work at Back-To-School nights and PTA meetings because of the stigma. “My husband’s a mechanic and I’m home during the day” was all that was said. It was the truth… of sorts. Or if anyone asked if she worked outside the house, it was “I work in entertainment” or “I work at a club/bar”.

        3. Ellie*

          I work for a Defence company that you all would have heard of and has been the focus of some recent protests, as well as being a desirable target for hackers. For security reasons, we’re discouraged from telling strangers where we work.

          When I get asked, I give sort-of white lies by saying I’m in IT, or I’m a software developer, and if people press then I generally say that I work for the government and give a couple of examples of desktop style applications, bug fixes, etc.. If people keep pressing after that, then I go technical but keep it vague, by talking about the languages, environment, and new technologies I’m using and/or exited about. Usually at that point people are either not interested and welcome a subject change, or they’re very interested and pipe up with their own projects… either way I can steer the conversation away from myself.

          I think a lot of people who persist with those kind of questions are looking for you to prove yourself in some way… once you do that and people get a general feel for what you do, they move on to other things.

      1. Allison*

        In Boston, if you do tell people what company you work for, people often follow it up by asking where they’re located – like, where in the city are they, or do you commute to the suburbs? Gosh, that must be rough, or that sounds like a great commute I’m jealous. Which sometimes is fine, I get that it’s a social impulse, but sometimes it’s like, I really don’t want to tell this man I just met where he might be able to “casually bump into” me around 5PM five days a week, y’know? But I know declining to answer the question will make me seem paranoid and rude. Can guys maybe, I don’t know, just not ask women that question as an ice breaker?

        1. LawBee*

          You can always lie. :D “Oh, I drive in from Stoughton, 24 is a BEAST in the morning” but in reality, you’re chilling on the Red Line out of Wally.

          1. Mel*

            Actually that’s a good lie. Any social mention of the Red Line immediately starts a big discussion around it. As a Red Line commuter, Wollaston’s been shut for nearly 2 years and sadly no one is chilling on the train ever since this summer’s derailment.

        2. Important Moi*

          I try to extend grace to the guys asking the question, because small talk (initial ice breaker conversations) can be difficult. It doesn’t occur to enough people, that this really isn’t the best approach – the question is intrusive. If I wanted you to know where I live, I would have offered it to you.

        3. Observer*

          I’m not familiar with Boston, so maybe I’m of base. But in NY if I said something like “downtown Manhattan” or “Dumbo” (which is smaller), the likelyhood of someone being able to “accidentally” bump in to you are small. Too much area and too many people.

      2. Holly*

        Maybe it’s from working in a large city, but that is so weird to me. If I asked someone what they did and they did not want to respond, or gave the location like “oh just around 14th street,” I would think that was odd as all heck.

        1. Colette*

          “Oh, it’s a company downtown. We’re near the train station, which makes it so easy to commute. Much better than my last job, which was 2 buses and a train.”

          1. Holly*

            Yes, that would still be strange if the question was “What do you do?” It would be better to state the company or field “finance for media company downtown” and then redirect with the commute topic.

    5. pleaset*

      On OP#1 ” Saying that I don’t want to talk about it only leads to more attention and speculation.”

      If someone responds that way, they suck and you should just avoid them in general. Really. Don’t put up with it.

      It’s natural for someone to say something like “Oh, that sounds cool, [follow-up question]” once.

      But if you say “It’s OK, but I really don’t want to talk about work” and they don’t abide by that, they’re not worth your time.

      I don’t think it’s worth figuring out how to make people less rude. Take the rudeness as information about the value of a relationship with them.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        I agree. Since I’m honestly interested in people’s work, I’ve been on the receiving end of that and I dropped it immediately and tried to think of something else to say. I also worried that I’d made them uncomfortable and tried to think of other things to say to keep in mind.

    6. Thorobri*

      The only time this won’t work is if the job function itself is genuinely cool. If you are a sommelier at a great wine house, a Master Distiller, a spy, the director or racing at Ascot, a personal secretary to the Queen, an assistant to a major celebrity, etc. I don’t think there’s anyway you can make the job sound that boring to outsiders. They don’t really care if it’s boring. It’s cool.

      I think there are some cases where you simply can’t disclose in a way that would work. In those cases, I do think the best approach is a mix of your strategies of asking questions and redirection mixed in with a bit of flattery and an irresistible topic.

      “Oh, you are too cool to talk about my boring job. I’d rather get your opinion on Placido Domingo instead. What do you think the LA Opera should do?” Redirection + Question + Flattery + Juicy topic of conversation

      “Sam tells me you are really knowledgeable about wine. I’d hate to waste time talking about my boring job. I’d rather hear your opinions on what hidden gems are on the market this year. What do you think?”

      1. TootsNYC*

        “Sam tells me you are really knowledgeable about wine. …”

        And may I just take the opportunity to say: if you are a host, or if you are introducing people, it is your responsibility to provide some info like this that gives people something to talk about at the start.

        I saw the power of this once at a party I threw; I introduced the first 6 arrivals to one another, and then the guests would stop everyone who walked through the door so that I could introduce them all one-by-one. Eventually the party got too big for me to introduce all the people already in the room, so they would make me introduce the new arrival, and then they would introduce one another or themselves, using the exact same wording I’d used “Joe is a runner from New Jersey,” or “Susan grew up on Long Island and teaches kindergarners” or “George knew Toots in high school and has great stories.”

    7. Genny*

      This would be my suggestion as well. Think of the aspects of your job you’re willing to talk about (or things you would be willing to talk about with a little simplification like NASCAR becoming “local automotive company”) and those you want to avoid. Freely share the former and avoid the latter.

      During small talk, most people are just trying to find something to connect with you over. Talking freely about what you’re comfortable with gives them a chance to find something to latch on to and helps steer the conversation. Being cryptic either makes people more curious or leaves them floundering on how to follow up the conversation thread, both of which inevitably lead to more questions about the thing you want to avoid talking about. Having additional follow-up questions of your own as others have recommended is also helpful for steering the conversation.

      1. Mike C.*

        The bit about “calling NASCAR a local automotive company” comes across as outright lying to me.

        1. Genny*

          I don’t know much about NASCAR, so it was just an example of taking something “cool” and translating into something similar, but less likely to lead LW down a conversational path they don’t want to be on.

    8. Alexander Graham Yell*

      My best friend works for CoolCompany you’ve *definitely* heard of and the way I’ve seen her handle it has been to let the person gush for a minute and say, “Yeah, there is a bit of a cult of celebrity around it – did you know X-random-fact-that-doesn’t-matter-at-all-and-is-publicly-available-if-not-super-well-known? But I don’t even get to interact with the cool stuff, I just work on most-boring-possible-phrasing-of-her-job-description.”

    9. Menley*

      Isn’t this literally Alison’s advice? “You could try “I have a job in IT that would make your eyes glaze over” followed by an immediate question about the other person. If you can keep the focus on them, a lot of people will be so pleased to talk about themselves that they won’t realize they’re learning nothing about you.”

      1. Eukomos*

        When people tell me something will be boring my reaction is “try me,” because I’m fascinated by a lot of things people find boring. Actually telling me a fact that bores me is much more persuasive.

    10. Seifer*

      Sometimes I answer the “but what do you do?” question with “that’s classified.” I know that kind of piques interest but at the same time, if pressed, I can say, “I literally can’t talk about it” and change the subject. But I usually just use that with really pushy people, otherwise I do this. “I take data from this spreadsheet and link it to that spreadsheet and then copy paste values onto that other spreadsheet and apply formulas that I’ve googled maybe twenty minutes ago in order to get an answer that my execs like. Hey are those donuts?”

      1. SB*

        This is what I do, working for a large gaming company that is known to have secret projects. “Sorry, I’m not allowed to say” with a wink.

        It’s not entirely untrue in that part of the reason I don’t like talking about my job in social situations is having to manage what’s confidential and what’s not in my head.

    11. smoke tree*

      It sounds to me like, for whatever reason, these new acquaintances are just very keen to have a subject to talk about. They probably latch on to the company name because it’s what they can understand best about your job. I find that the less people understand my job, the quicker they go quiet once I tell them. So you could either drive them off with tons of detail about your job, or work on switching to another topic.

    12. admin amber*

      You can always say your an IT consultant working on multiple projects. That tends to shut down the nosey folks who live in the jail cell of comparing themselves to others.

    13. desktop ladybug*

      I do a variation of this, because my job is not that interesting and no one is familiar with it. Most of the time when people ask what I do I say, “blah, blah, blah insurance claims and payments” and follow up with a question back to them. It’s generally pretty effective.

  3. yeine*

    OP1: I work in tech in the bay but I don’t like to disclose where I work becuase of some bad history there. When people ask me what I do I usually say, “Oh, I work for a tech company in the sf bay. like everyone.” roll my eyes, and laugh kind of derisively. Then I change the subject. I find this works a lot of the time.

    1. Nena*

      Again though it sounds like they’re already trying that kind of vagueness and people keep pressing. That’s the crux of their problem. I like the advice to answer if they’re pressed on it but admit they’re tired of talking about it and change the subject.

      1. candi*

        Again, though, as PCBH pointed out above, they’re being vague but then not moving the ball of the conversation forward at all, which is the actual crux of the problem. If they’re really just saying that they work in IT and give no other details at all, it makes people more curious. If they throw them something else – I work in the bay, I supervise Help Desk staff – that gives people at least something without the OP having to really go into the parts that they don’t want to, and doesn’t make it look like they’re being deliberately evasive, and then the OP can do a quick subject change back to the person they’re talking to, because most people like talking about themselves.

        1. Mary*

          yes, this reads to me a bit like one of those “I hate small talk” problems. This sounds less like people being “nosy”, and more simply trying to find a topic on which they can establish some common ground, and “Manchester United! I’ve heard of them!” is the first thing they encounter. I have 0 interest in Manchester United, but like, if I’m trying to make awkward small talk with someone, it’s the kind of thing you pick up on just to keep the conversation moving.

          If you want to push back on this, the way to do so is to take control of the conversation. Ask the other person about their work, hobbies, family, fandoms, journey to the venue, holiday plans etc! If you’ve got other stuff you’d rather talk about, the onus is on you to get it out there.

          On the other hand, if you actively want to avoid small talk, feel free to offer the World’s Most Boring Conversational Gambit instead, “I work in Leeds but commute from Harrogate, on the 58 bus. It’s just introduced WiFi, so that’s been really helpful for my productivity.”

          1. OP 1*

            I hate small talk and this comment and some other make me think that’s the problem. I’m going to try to do better at it since avoiding social situations isn’t an option.

            1. Venus*

              I don’t know if this is helpful, but if you are inclined to being analytical then you might try a number of different responses to see what works best. In my experience, different cultures respond to these situations in different ways, for example some people are asking about work in order to know more about your company, others your area of expertise (lawyer, manager, writer), or commute, or they are more interested in personal hobbies or family life (I experienced this last one when travelling on another continent, as everyone asked me if I had a spouse yet never asked about my work). If they seem to be competitive with each other about their workplace, then try to find a response which specifically addresses that context (and ideally makes you seem similar to them, so that they see you as an equal and move on to something else).

            2. Holly*

              Honestly, just saying where you work casually and then steering the conversation by asking the other person questions is the best way to go. Being cagey about where you work is going to come off as quite odd, when most people seem to just like Mary said, find a connection.

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            This is a really good point–“I work in IT” is too vague to launch off of, so “I work at a place you have heard of” is where the small-talk attempter will latch on.

            I also like PCBH’s advice to give one more level of detail to “I work in IT” so people can maybe latch onto that. And segues like “how about this rain” “how about local sports team” “how about the traffic lately” are tried and true standbys.

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          Yeah, while it won’t work in every case I think a little more vague redirection could be more successful than what they’ve tried. I would even add some physically brushing the subject away with a little “oh it’s nothing” handwave as you say something like “Oh, I work in IT it’s pretty boring.” then immediately turn it around with a “what about you?

        3. Half-Caf Latte*

          Yes to the small talk issue, and changing the subject/moving the conversation forward.

          I experienced it a lot in my younger years with the “where did you go to school” question. I attended an ivy, but not one of the “recongizable” ones. If just answered the question of where did you go to school with “I went to MyU” either got – wow, you must be really smart, or “where’s that, I’ve never heard of it? … Oh I didn’t know (other school) had a campus there!” Neither of those really moved the conversation forward, and it was super awkward, because then I felt obligated to respond to those comments.

          I had success in fixing it by saying literally anything else after “I went to MyU.” … and now I live in Rivaltown / and that’s where I developed my coffee habit / and oh my gosh those shoes are great how do you walk in them / is that an apple watch do you like it?

          People latch onto the second half 90% of the time, and keep the convo going.

            1. JSPA*

              Yep- pivot to “but my degree was in X / I did a lot of [specific sport/theater/specific art/hashing/debate/specific genre of reading] in my youth / I used to volunteer as X / I’ve been realizing it’s been ages since I played [my guitar / my record collection / ping pong] and I’ve recently been thinking of doing some of that again.” If it’s a match, great; if not, they can tell you what they used to do, before their job ate their life.

          1. sacados*

            This is SO. TRUE.
            Not so much lately since I’m over a decade out from college graduation, but I definitely used that kind of technique to navigate the “I went to FamousIvy” conversations. (Because responding with “Oh I went to school in [Northeastern State]” rarely suffices.)
            The awkward/impressed silences tended to make the conversations peter out pretty quick, so I learned to quickly rush in with “Yeah and it was really fun, my classmates were actually really chill, it’s not at all cutthroat competitive like you’d imagine…” etc etc.

            I’m just glad to be mostly past that now, at the point in my life where people rarely ask where someone went to school.

      2. Allison*

        I think this is where I’m going wrong as well, if I don’t want someone prying or asking about stuff I’m tired of discussing because it’s the same topic everyone brings up during a “catching up” or “getting to know you” conversation, it’s on me to redirect the conversation or ask them questions about their life. That has not occurred to me before, which probably means I’m a garbage person.

        1. TootsNYC*

          That has not occurred to me before, which probably means I’m a garbage person.

          No, just unaware.
          I don’t think our culture has done a very good job in the last many years of teaching people about their social responsibilities. And so much of the discourse I read online is all about “you shouldn’t be imposed upon” and not about “you have an obligation to make small talk, to invite people yourself if you’ve accepted their invitation,” etc.

          There’s a vibe of “other people are imposing on me when they invite me to their house,” and “other people are imposing on me when they call me on the phone” and “other people are imposing on me when they expect me to dress up.”

          I’m not saying it’s everyone, but it’s very visible to me.

          if you* leave your house and go to a social gathering, you do have an obligation to make small talk, so you should be prepared, and put some thought into it. You have a responsibility to your host to make conversation with new people at parties you’ve accepted an invitation to. (If you don’t want to do that, you should not accept the invitation, because that’s the point at which you sign the social contract.)

          But I don’t think that people get any education about that.
          So no, you (specific you here) aren’t a crap person–you just didn’t realize. And now you do! (Ain’t AAM great? I learn so much.)

          *generic “you”; “one”

          1. Batman*

            @TootsNYC – yes, I’m seeing this a lot and I’ve noticed that I’ve internalized it myself and I’m super frustrated by that.

        2. probably actually a hobbit*

          Not a garbage person; just not smooth — don’t beat yourself up! Personally, I’m taking notes on the small-talk segues; I’ll never be smooth, but I can still work on decreasing the awkward.

    2. Tiny Soprano*

      That subject change is key. My dad used to have an ‘exciting’ job that had to stay pretty secret, and he’s quite the expert at the sneaky subject change. His trick was always to ask a question back about the other person’s work and be super interested. Once you’re three subjects away you’re safe.

      1. MayLou*

        I was wondering about a subject emphasis shift, like “For my paying job I do X but what I’m most excited about right now is my new awesome hobby of training ponies to polka! Did you know horses can follow a 3/4 beat with sufficient percussion?”. That does hinge on the OP having a hobby they’re sufficiently excited about to sound sincere, but I’m in favour of exciting non-work interests generally.

        1. MayLou*

          Also I’m ashamed of myself. All god pony dance instructors would know that a polka is in 4/4. I was thinking of a waltz step. :( *Hangs head*

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            For the next installment of Fantasia : GOD ponies.
            (My phone’s been doing things like that to me too…I’ve developed a bad habit of punning on typos. Not only mine, sorry.)

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      What has been working for me is “I work in IT”, which is usually followed by “what exactly do you do in IT?” and I say “I’m a (job title) at a (what the company does) company”. I guess if OP’s employer has a very unique niche in the market, to the point where they are instantly recognizable, that won’t work? I don’t have that problem – my employer is boring – I tell people, their eyes glaze over, and they change the subject.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          Once upon a time, I described my job as “reading other people’s user manuals for them”.

      1. OP 1*

        I think the industry is sufficiently unique, and “cool”, that mentioning it would invite questions.

        I think I’ve decided, after reading through everyone’s advice, to try to pivot once, but expand more, for example, “I work in IT, primarily focusing on project managing infrastructure upgrades.” Then, I’ll immediately ask them a question, and show enthusiasm in their answer. If that doesn’t work, I’ll get it over with by saying my specific position and company, but follow it up quickly with some mundane detail about my work explaining I don’t work on the exciting side of the business.

        I think this will work.

    4. Jennifer Thneed*

      I’ve taken to saying “I work in Big Tech” and then I gripe about my long commute. I really don’t want to get into it with anyone.

  4. Kat*

    Slightly off topic but I am so happy to see Alison’s comment about the PNW! I moved up here from Silicon Valley (where people tell you what they do within 5 minutes of meeting you) and I realized recently that I have only the vaguest idea of what some of my friends here do for a living! It’s great because my husbands job is very much like LW1’s in that it is with a very visible organization that EVERYONE has a very big opinion about. But it surprisingly doesn’t come up that often!

    1. Kc89*

      Yeah after reading her comment about the PNW I thought about it and realized I do have several friends that I’ve known for a long time and I don’t really know what they do haha

    2. nnn*

      If you don’t mind my asking, what’s the default initial small talk question in this context?

      I ask because I’ve spent my entire adult life in a place where the default initial small-talk question is “What do you do?” and I never thought anything of it, but now that I think about it I realize I don’t know any other way to start small-talk!

      1. Kat*

        People are utterly obsessed with what you did/are planning to do over the weekend. It is deeply amusing when I say “nothing much” and people say “Oh?” Like they are interested and pause waiting for more details!

        1. Beth*

          I live in the pnw and I’m feeling so called out right now. Asking people about their weekends is my go-to small talk every day but Wednesday.

        2. Anonomoose*

          I like “bit of this, bit of that” if I’m feeling unhelpfully vauge. It works better in a south London accent

          1. TootsNYC*

            I have a friend who, when you asked her what she’d done that day, said “This and that.” And nothing else.

            it was like trying to get an egg to stick to Teflon.

        3. Manders*

          Hah, yes, I’m in Seattle and questions about the weekend are the easiest way of figuring out what people do for fun/looking for some kind of shared interest or hobby to talk about.

          A lot of people in the area have jobs that require a specific technical skillset or experience, and networking your way into those jobs isn’t as common as it might be in DC. I think there’s less pressure to treat social events like networking opportunities. To be honest, I find it weird when I’m trying to get to know someone and they keep redirecting the conversation back to what they do for work.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s been years since I lived there (for me it was Portland and Seattle), but I recall opening small talk being stuff like: “How do you know Jane?” (if you’re at Jane’s party) … “Have you been here before?” … “What do you think of the band?” … (Hmmm, it’s becoming clear I lived there in my 20s) … “They have amazing sake here” … “What do you do for fun?” … and so forth. A lot of talking about your immediate surroundings, much of the time.

          1. Minocho*

            But do you pronounce it “sah-key” or “sah-kay”?

            My brother lives near Seattle, and sake recommendations for my next visit might lead to some great Japanese restaurants!

            1. Media Circus*

              I would be so, so happy to have a sake discussion in the next weekend free-for-all. Let’s put a pin in it until then!

              (It’s sah-kay — should NOT rhyme with “hockey”.)

          2. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

            Hannayatou and Sake Nomi are the best places in Seattle for sake right now.

            (Current local)

            That being said, Alison is totally spot on. 99% of my conversations with random people here are initiated about something in the immediate area, usually about establishing context for if the person is new or experienced in the thing.

      3. RUKiddingMe*

        The weekend.

        Also whether it is/has/will be raining, how much rain, and whether this summer/winter is better/worse than last year and “oh yeah remember that dummer a few years ago when it was soooo freaking hot but this year is much more normal…”

        Also the Seahawks, Huskies, and Mariners.

          1. Le Sigh*

            I’m tired and first read this as “that drummer a few years ago when he was sooooo freaking hot” and was amused that this was one of your go-to topics.

        1. Kat*

          Yeah the weather is another big one. Everyone has a theory about if it will be a cold winter or not! And basketball in March of course.

      4. GS*

        My go-to question is “What part of town do you live in?” Where I live, this tells a lot about you – do you live in one the cool city neighborhoods? Out in the burbs? Then you can talk about whatever neat thing is in that part of town (oh, love the farmers market there! Oh, the architecture is so dreamy there! Oh, I lived there for a bit, what street were you on?). Though if it’s too far out into the burbs, I am at a loss!

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          In the NYC metropolitan area, that last would lead to commute commiseration. ;)

          1. Lily Rowan*

            I was going to say — in New York, you can spend the whole first part of small talk just talking about how you got there, what trains aren’t running this weekend, etc., and move right past job stuff!

        2. goducks*

          Yep. Where do you live (what part of the city) is a common leading question as well as where are you from/how long have you lived here.
          What you do for work is only asked if someone brings up their work.

        3. Zephy*

          Someone upthread pointed out that this can sometimes come across kind of skeevy. I don’t know you so I don’t know if you, specifically, are coming across kind of skeevy when you ask, but consider it phrased another way: “Hello, person who doesn’t know anything about me and what my motives might be for talking to you. If I wanted to find you after this interaction without asking you to meet me somewhere, exactly where in the city are you likely to be in the evenings and on weekends?”

      5. londonedit*

        This is why British people talk about the weather so much! I’m not sure if it’s the same all over the UK, but – unless it was a work event, obviously – I would definitely find it weird if someone I’d just met asked me what I did for a job as their opening gambit. You’d be much more likely to say ‘So, how do you know [party host]?’. ‘Do you live locally?’ or ‘Travelled far to get here?’ are also safe bets, as British people love talking about how long it takes them to get places and which routes they take. Bill Bryson has a brilliant bit in Notes from a Small Island about how you can set a group of British men off in a pub talking about the best route from one place to another, and they’ll be there all day debating it.

        1. Mary*

          When I first met my partner’s parents, we got through a two hour lunch discussing motorways, despite the fact that they moved away from the UK in the early 1970s.

        2. Anonymoose*

          Canadians are also very fond of weather conversations. It is so prevalent that recent booklets written for refugees and immigrants specifically noted that they should expect many discussions about the weather. It is such a great generic topic because everyone experiences it, and there are a lot of fluctuations.

      6. BethDH*

        I grew up in the PNW and return regularly. The weekend is a big topic, as is “have you tried/been to x?” Or “have you been here before?” Also, in Portland at least, “did you grow up here?/have you lived here long?” All of those actually work pretty well on the east coast too, at least where I’ve lived (I can’t vouch for DC or other major cities). If you start the conversation in that direction before they even get to the work question, you can sometimes avoid it entirely.

      7. LCL*

        ‘Where are you from?’ is a common one. Though it can be an alienating question, and is best only asked if both parties appear to have similar backgrounds.

        ‘Did you get caught in that traffic mess?’ is another one.

        Food and beer are very common. ‘Favorite pho restaurant?’ or ‘favorite brewery?’ always work.

        Ski, snowboard, or none of the above? will always start a conversation. Even if the person has never done snowsports, the close areas are on major highways and everyone will have a story about some experience traveling.

        1. SweetTooth*

          Instead of “where are you from?” which, agreed, can have some negative connotations/imply that someone is foreign in a bad way, I tend to go for “Did you grow up in the [city we are currently in] area?” This might work well for me because usually people have lived in this city longer than I have since I moved here as an adult, but it does seem to be a less charged way to phrase it and keep the small talk going, and leads to discussions of current apartment locations and neighborhoods and transit and such.

      8. Batman*

        When I lived there I made fun of how no one could handle heat/humidity in the summer (in this case it was only like 80 F and everyone thought it was SO HOT) and talking about how different it was from where I grew up, which I assume in retrospect was super annoying.

        1. LCL*

          I love to talk to people from different areas! I wouldn’t be annoyed, but I would ask a million questions. How many houses have AC, how do you get your exercise, how do people with dogs cope with it, can you grow tomatoes from seed, etc.

      9. Nonny*

        Personally, I ask about if people have pets. Even if they don’t, they usually had a childhood pet or some animal-related experience they are happy to talk about. Bonus: I get to see lots of pictures of people’s pets!

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Being born here, only now do I realize that yeah, we don’t talk much about our careers. It’s usually because we’re a bunch of unicycling riding,brewery hopping, indie band listening hipsters.

      More interesting topics also include our last trip to REI and favorite hiking areas!

      We never really even talked about sports in Oregon unless it’s college based or soccer in the last decade or so.

      1. Aquawoman*

        But that actually sounds interesting, unlike DC where we’re all lawyers for the Department of Something.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          We prefer “weird” vs interesting ;)

          But yeah it’s because everyone is a starving artist who would rather be in the woods a lot of the times. It can come off as pretentious to outsiders.

    4. Rosamond*

      Yes, so funny to see this pointed out here. This was one of the big cultural differences I noticed when I moved to the PNW from Chicago. Hardly anyone ever asks, and if you tell them anyway, they are not impressed. I’m fully acclimated now, and if someone I just met opened with “So what do you do?” I’d probably gasp at the unabashed tackiness.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        I think my response would probably be something like “do? about what?” Just because I’d be confused by the question.

      2. FD*

        It’s such an interesting difference! I’ve heard of it in other countries but I hadn’t realized it was different in parts of the US. Here (midwest) it’s such a normal small talk question that it’s usually asked within two minutes of meeting someone.

        1. That Would be a Good Band Name*

          Do you find that people ask “Are you still working”? I’m in the midwest and didn’t realize it until someone pointed it out to me, but people ask that here all the time. I’d guess it has something to do with being in a big blue collar area where factory layoffs are common, but I really haven’t given it much thought.

          1. FD*

            Not here, no. I live in a big medical town, with a major workforce shortage, so that question wouldn’t make as much sense here.

    5. CoffeeforLife*

      My cultural and ethnic heritage views this question as so rude; it’s the equivalent of asking, “how much money do you make?” I inwardly cringe when it’s asked. I’m waaayyyy more interested in learning about what gives you happiness in your life (hobbies, family, etc.) than what is probably your soul sticking bill payer.

      My go to small talk questions are food related. What’s your favorite restaurant? Best dish you make? Go-to recipe to impress? Worst place to eat/ where to avoid.

      To repeat everyone else, people like talking about themselves, but they LOVE giving their opinions- just look at how lengthy comment sections are!

      1. Liza*

        I noticed a class/socioeconomic difference with this as well. When I was unemployed, I found it really quite soul sucking to go back to my middle class hometown and be asked “so what do you do?” like it was the first and foremost thing people wanted to know about me as a person. I think there’s also an aspect of it coming from a place where people see someone’s occupation as more of a choice/path that might give away some aspect of their character. In comparison, other people who had been dramatically affected by the recession, or those on long term welfare etc. might ask “are you working at the moment?” after a longer period of getting to know a person, knowing it had the potential to be a personal subject, particularly in the years following the recession.

        My only similar experience, by contrast, to LW1 was people shooting job seeking advice at me. I favoured a direct approach of simply starting that I really didn’t want to talk about it, but it took me a while to learn that I could in fact say that.

      2. Jennifer*

        Agreed. Plus sometimes people aren’t doing what they really want to do. They might be pursuing that during their off time. Finding out what they do for a paycheck tells you nothing about them.

        1. Filosofickle*

          I realized recently why the question always felt normal to me — nearly all of my friends do “passion” work of some sort, so what we do actually tells someone so much about us! It’s a fantastic conversation starter in my circles. I understand to some it’s perceived as fishing for income / status, and I also know what it’s like to be un/underemployed and loathe this question, so I get its downsides. But all small-talk questions have trap doors for some people.

          Frankly, I don’t love being asked about what I do for fun or my weekend plans because I’m a pretty boring person and don’t have hobbies that people see as “fun” — I read, do crosswords, watch tv, sit around in a quiet house. (Def not a workaholic. I just need lots of restorative downtime and am a homebody.) I recently took up hiking with my BF so that gives me something now, so now I’m THAT kind of person who proselytizes the great outdoors, lol.

          1. Jennifer*

            I don’t think your downtime hobbies are boring at all. I would be interested in talking to you about what books you’ve read recently or your favorite tv shows. I have a difficult time finding people who like to read as much as I do. I think those things can tell you a lot about a person.

            But of course if you’re passionate about your work, I’d enjoy hearing that too.

    6. Sharkie*

      I grew up in DC and worked for a local company that everyone wanted to know the inside scoop on. That “what do you do?” question drove me mad especially when I was dating because some people made it very obvious that they only wanted to be friends with me / date me because of the job and the perks I got. I ended up trying to be more vague with new people and somewhat hating my job.

      I ended up moving to the Midwest working in the same industry and no one has asked the question or tried to take advantage of it. It’s so funny how culturally different some regions are with this stuff!

    7. Virginia Girl*

      Coming from near DC, it’s SHOCKING to hear that “What do you do?” is not a common question in some areas.

      1. Washi*

        I know, right? I’ve only been here for 5 years but it’s become very normal to me. Some people have written about it being a sizing-you-up thing, but in my experience, it’s more often just that there’s a certain demographic in DC of young, no-kids-yet folks who have moved to the city for their career and it’s the focus of their life right now, so that’s what they start by asking about and assume others want to talk about.

        I wonder if the same is true for OP, that if the job is seen as cool or competitive, that people assume she will want to talk about it and any hesitation is just modesty. As I said above, I think the key is an enthusiastic subject change to give the other person something that you DO want to talk about.

        1. Sharkie*

          This! Especially in sales/ contract work roles. I don’t think it is just younger people because my parents have run into this to at all different types of settings for years.

      2. Ubergaladababa*

        Same! I’ve spent my entire adult/professional life in DC so I guess it’s how I’ve been trained, but it feels completely natural to me. Your work takes up a majority of your waking hours (for many/most people), it seems weird not to talk about it, at least superficially. Maybe those of us in DC are more likely to identify with our work, but it’s such a huge chunk of life I can’t imagine going months without knowing what a friend does, as some others have mentioned here.

        1. Filosofickle*

          Right.I completely identify with my work and so do most of my friends/colleagues. What we do (or, who we do it for) is who we are to a large extent. I realize this isn’t universal but it feels natural to me.

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I’m not in DC (Northeast of Midwest) and I get this question all the time. It is good to know that this is not a common question in a lot of places. Wouldn’t want to sound intrusive! Although tbh I don’t recall myself asking it of people all that often. My goto is “where in (our metro area) do you live?” Though this can also be a landmine, because some areas are wealthier than the others. I dodged this question myself once when in a group of coworkers, everyone else said they lived in Richie-RichVille or Upper-Middle-Class Township, and I live in Lower-Middle-Class Heights – I changed the subject before it was my turn to say where I live.

      4. Holly*

        Same re: NYC… I’ve never thought of it as invasive, we spend at least 8 hours a day doing SOMETHING, it’s a big part of all of our lives.

      5. smoke tree*

        I live in the PNW, and in my experience, it’s not a terribly unusual question, but it’s usually something you reserve until you’ve had a bit of rapport with someone. It’s not the first thing you say when you meet someone. I thought that was just in movies!

    8. MsChanandlerBong*

      I moved to the Southwest from the Northeast, and it’s SO different with respect to jobs. First of all, except for when I’ve attended fancy functions like a symphony performance or a fundraising gala, I think I’ve seen like three people wearing suits–and I’ve been here for four years. It’s just so much more laid-back, people work to live and not the other way around, and there isn’t as much of a focus on career as there is on stuff like gardening, art, concerts, and other fun stuff.

    9. Jennifer*

      Yes! I realized I’d been friends with a couple for several months before I knew what they did for a living. We talked about movies, shows, music, our childhoods, their children, current events, etc. I think you learn a lot more about people asking about things like that instead of just “what do you do” because for a lot of people work doesn’t define them. If you dismiss someone as boring because their job doesn’t sound interesting, you could be missing out on a potentially great friend.

      1. Kat*

        I have a friend who I’d known for about a year and realized I didn’t know what kind of work she did. So I asked my daughter (best friends with her daughter) who told me she was a construction worker. I thought that sounded interesting and meant to ask her about it but it just never came up – for like another year! Eventually figured out that shes an engineer (and has a hardhat in her car for occasional site visits). I still have no idea what her husband does even though we all are well acquainted. Such a contrast from my bay area friends! I know all about the ups and downs of the solar panel industry over the last decade from a friend’s husband who I barely know!

  5. namelesscommentator*

    #1, you’re probably better of saying something like “I’m just like any other [boring role here].” rather than trying to avoid the question. Asking where people work is pretty typical, and it seems odd to not want to give a very baseline “I work in finance at HBO.” “No, I don’t get GOT spoilers. What do you do again?”

    I get to tour pretty cool offices frequently with big groups, and people burn through the novelty as soon as you answer in job duty related terms, and give a polite “I don’t work in the fun side” when people ask about whatever popular thing is happening. Saying you don’t want to talk about it may be what’s driving the questions. If you say straight up that you work at the NBA I’m gonna think that’s cool. If you don’t want to talk about where you work I’m going to assume it’s the CIA.

    (do I have to clarify the CIA bit is sarcasm? probably).

    1. Flavia de Luce*

      Yeah, that’s what I was going to suggest. People have these big built up ideas about these famous companies that then get passed on to you. I think you can shut them down by saying stuff like “I’m head of product procurement for Pixar, it sounds cool but selecting pen types isn’t particularly glamorous, no matter where you work”. I think a combination of burying the lede and immediately explaining that “hey, it’s not what you think” should get most (polite!) people off your back.

    2. Willis*

      This was going to be my suggestion too. I think it may just be easier to put it out there and then deflect than to keep being cagey about it. Plus if these are people you are going to see again, I’d probably be inclined to just get it out of the way and have them know me as Willis, who does boring IT stuff for ESPN than have to keep fielding and deflecting the same questions as they try to figure it out.

    3. pentamom*


      “I’m in facilities management for NASCAR.”

      “Ooooh, NASCAR, how cool! Do you get to meet famous drivers?”

      “Nah, it’s really not that special, just like running any other facility. It’s a big company. I’m not on the racing side at all.”

      1. BigLo*

        I agree. I think maybe even acting like you yourself are a little disappointed that it’s not as “cool” as it sounds could be helpful – “Nah…I’m not on the racing side at all but I keep hoping I might get to drive a car some day!” You can acknowledge your role is boring while also acknowledging still that it’s a cool company.

    4. Bagpuss*

      Another option may be to preemptively deal with the most common queries – e.g. “I work in IT, for Manchester United, which is much less exciting than it sounds, I don’t get to met the players or get free tickets for matches”
      then ask aquestion / change the subject.

    5. NYWeasel*

      Yeah, I agree with this comment. It’s better to get it out there and get past it than spend a lot of energy trying to sidestep the issue. And frankly, people who are asking so they mentally can compete with you bring any jealousy they feel on themselves. The main thing is if your company is known for some sort of desirable product/experience. My friends who’ve worked for a certain well-known mouse constantly have random acquaintances asking for park passes. The big thing to practice is having your “out” ready like “Oh I only get a set number each month, and they are all spoken for already” or “Yeah, we get a great discount but we have a pretty strict yearly limit, and I usually hit it just with my family”.

      1. OP 1*

        I think that this is also part of my discomfort. People ask for things and I get anxious thinking about how to respond. I probably need to think of canned responses to those requests.

        1. Colette*

          Most people who ask for stuff right after they meet you will not really expect to get it. If you come up with a standard “no” and practice it so you’re ready, they’ll most likely move on right away.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            It can be an ask-culture thing: They assume that everyone feels comfortable saying “Ha! No” and if they don’t ASK if this person who just admitted to fixing computers at the NBA can hook them up with free courtside seats, how will new acquaintance know they’d be interested in those?

        2. Samwise*

          People who ask for stuff right away (or ever, really) are rude. Even working at a university (which you’d think was pretty boring) new acquaintances will sometimes say, Ooo, do you get free basketball tickets? [No, we have to pay for them and they ain’t cheap] or, worse, My kid wants to attend but his grades are blah blah blah basement level blah, can you talk to the head of admissions blah blah blah…

          I would treat it as a joke, something like, give a little laugh or a snort, then say, Wish I could, I’m just a paper pushing drone, we don’t get many freebies! (But that’s me, I’m snarky — go with something that feels comfortable to you and practice it.)

        3. Namelesscommentator*

          “Unfortunately we can’t do that.” works well.

          You can also think of it as a joke. Chuckle and then say “I’ll let you know when they start THAT employee assistance program!” Which gives them an opportunity to save face if you want.

          You’ve just got to be clear about the boundaries. People who don’t accept that are jerks and you move forward knowing that and use harsher language as necessary. At that point they’re the ones making it awkward and uncomfortable.

        4. Sharkie*

          OP I feel your pain. I’m slightly going to dox myself here but I work in professional sports. If I had a Nickle every time people that ask me for tickets to huge event at my stadium I would be able to buy the team I work for. I simply tell people that ask me for stuff right off the bat that I don’t get tickets for that or a client is using them and if you want a benefit like that we can talk about the right fan package for you! That seems to deter them!

          1. Willis*

            Haha – oooooh how much I believe that people who ask for free stuff are turned off by the “let’s talk about the right fan package for you!” line. Way to turn the tables :)

            1. Sharkie*

              Funny enough I was actually able to sell a few packages that way! I think they were shellshocked honestly

        5. Doktor Musik*

          I also work for an organization with lots of ticketed events, where people tend to think I can just have endless tickets for free. When they ask me, I usually just say, “I wish! They actually keep a pretty close eye on employee tickets, unfortunately.” Basically a kind-of apology to suggest I could get in trouble.

        6. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

          It seems so bizarre to me that people would ask you for freebies just because you work at a big well-known cool place. I mean, my husband works in IT for a housing company. Nobody asks him if they can get a discount on a house!

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            I know, right? Who would say “Hey, you work at a bank? Can you transfer some money into my account?”

          2. Hope*

            I think it’s because every so often, the people who ask for freebies actually do get them, so over time, they feel like it’s worth it. My sibling is one of those “it doesn’t hurt to ask” people, and it works for him more than it ought to–and a couple of times, it’s been a really amazing freebie.

            I just can’t bring myself to ask people I’ve just met for favors like that, though. It feels too gauche.

        7. BelleMorte*

          I echo the “no”, or even “ha ha, no, I can barely get tickets myself” if you feel the need to defend it further, you can state that benefits are limited to the immediate family and people have been fired for abusing that privilege (regardless of whether this is true or not). This, of course, does mean that you cannot be caught giving out benefits to favoured people later on, it needs to be all or nothing.

          If they push you further, then you know they don’t really care about the risk to you. You can even call them out with “So you want me to get fired so you can get free tickets? not cool, Bro”.

        8. Yellow*

          I work for a very cool adult beverage company, so I get a lot of the “Cool job” questions, and “Wow so do you get free xxx?!”
          My actual job involves being buried in boring paperwork, so I usually say something to that effect, and then say something like, “yeah the perks are pretty good!”. I was a genuine fan of my industry before I got this job, so I don’t really mind making small talk about it. Also, I have literally never had a friend ask me for free stuff. In fact, I basically force free stuff on them, because I generally have 2-4 cases of free product at my desk or in my house at all times, so maybe they don’t need to ask!

        9. Widget*

          Since you’ve said you’re back of house, could you just brush it off with a “those perks are more for the front of house staff”? If you’re from the kind of town where everyone knows what the real answer is (I grew up near one of these), ask your coworkers how they deflect. Maybe even practice with a friend.

          Maybe try coupling that with a more robust initial answer that emphasizes the boring stuff? “I do facilities management up near UNC-Charlotte. So keeping the lights on and the toilets running and making sure the building doesn’t fall down. Lots of inventory management and spreadsheets/my office is basically the boiler room/I’m basically in charge of cleaning and maintenance services.”

          Sure, I had Charlotte Motor Speedway in mind when I wrote that, but I could just as easily have been writing about a half dozen other places.

          And remember if you do just answer with “ha ha, I wish,” and then “No, I don’t have those kind of freebies to give away” (even if you do! because you don’t have them for rude people!) and someone keeps pressing the issue, you’re allowed to look at them like they’ve lost their minds, go “I’ve already said no. Why would you keep bringing this up?” and return that awkward to sender.

        10. Batman*

          I feel like this will probably feel too rude to you, but if people ask me for something or ask me something ridiculous (e.g. “oh, I hate [thing your company does], can you change that?”) I’ll just say “no” or “I have nothing to do with that.” Sometimes I’ll add an explanation after “no,” but that depends on the context and the rapport we’ve already built.

        11. Eukomos*

          It doesn’t have to be too complex, either. A regretful “no, I’m afraid I can’t” followed by a change of subject will shrug off any non-rude people, and a generic reason like “corporate won’t allow it” can work for the people who insist on a reason. Anyone who persists after that is pretty darn rude and you can feel free to let them know that they’re being too pushy and it makes you uncomfortable.

    6. hbc*

      I agree, and maybe even playing off that is a way to change the subject. “I know it sounds exciting, but it’s not like I get to drive the race cars myself or hang with the drivers. I pretty much do the same things that the head of facilities at [similarly sized boring company] does, except people know up front not to ask that person any questions unless they’re trying to fall asleep.”

    7. Aquawoman*

      Fun fact: I had a friend who worked for the CIA and she was not allowed to lie about where she worked. I believe this applied to everyone who was not undercover.

    8. Nerfmobile*

      I used to work for a very well-known university. We did a lot of hiring at one point, and a lot of candidates, when asked what interested them about the job, would reply with stars in their eyes, “why, it’s at Prestigious Teapot University!” My manage would, very kindly, point out that nevertheless it was just like any other job, with challenges and deadlines and sometimes-annoying co-workers and all that, and it generally made those things more tolerable if you were actually interested in the work. So, she would prompt again, why did they want THIS job at PTU? Anyone who couldn’t come with a better answer after that was usually not a good candidate, in the end, so it served as a useful screener.

      Hence, for OP1, I do suggest doubling down on discussing the boring parts of the work on the way to introducing different topics.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        I also work for a very well-known university, and it can be awkward when people are Impressed with me, but really turning it around to talk about the other person almost never fails.

    9. Spreadsheets and Books*

      I work for a cool company that’s down the lines of HBO and I definitely don’t work on the fun side. My actual job title is a real snooze, so that works to my advantage. I just tell people that I’m “way back office” and nothing fun makes it to me, which is largely true.

    10. Michelle*

      I work at nationally known museum. When people hear where I work they say “Oh that’s cool! I love that place! Isn’t it fun to work in a museum?” I respond “It’s a nice place to work but I work in the office”. It kind of deflates their enthusiasm. Even the curatorial department doesn’t spend everyday working on new exhibits or handling priceless objects. We all just do a lot of regular, sometimes boring work.

    11. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Actually, in the DC area, anyone who is cagey about where they work probably does NOT work in intelligence, because those who do already have cover stories! In my experience, it’s usually “the State department”, as that covers diplomatic international travel.

      1. hermit crab*

        Yep, or just “Defense.” The DOD is the world’s largest employer (at least, the last time I checked) so it covers a huge range of job duties. My husband does actually work on classified projects, but even in Arlington County nothing makes people’s eyes glaze over faster than “oh, I crunch numbers for the DOD.”

        1. Genny*

          And honestly, you can’t throw a rock in DC without hitting someone who currently as a clearance or who used to have a clearance, so it’s really not that cool of a thing here. I’ve found that people generally don’t pry into the specifics if you give them a generic answer. They’ll ask follow-up questions to be polite or out of interest, but they won’t start digging into your work history.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*


            I used to have a top secret clearance, and I do not do anything remotely exciting. The only reason clearances tend to be of interest is that, if you have a job opening that requires one, hiring someone who already has a clearance saves your organization the time and expense of procuring it.

          2. A*

            It threw me off when I left DC that people would continue to ask questions and dig into answers like “Defense” or “the State Department” when talking about family/friends; I felt like they were being shockingly rude and just had no idea how to respond or give perspective on how dull most of the jobs actually are. It was one of the weirdest culture shocks, and the hardest to explain to anyone outside of DC.

            (Nowadays I just say “works for the federal government” if it comes up, and that seems to do the eyes-glazing-over trick.)

  6. Eric*

    #3 for an example of how this can go wrong, recently came up with the Virginia elections. The staff person who got sent forms changed and someone didn’t get the message. There was no bounce back. A candidates was almost excluded from the ballot because of it.

    1. blackcatlady*

      I understand the work e-mail is company property but someone(s) in HR and IT are dropping the ball! It ought to be SOP when you check out that a bounce back ‘no longer with company’ response is set up. Think of all the frustrated customers that can’t reach Jane anymore and have decided to do business with company #2 instead. It can’t be that damn hard to set up.

      1. Jadelyn*

        It’s really not that hard. At my org, we (HR) send IT a notice when someone leaves. IT sets up the account for a bounceback and forwarding of messages to the departing person’s manager. After 90 days, the bounceback and forwarding stop and the account is closed.

  7. nnn*

    #1: Can you describe your job in pure jargon? “I leverage core competencies to holistically administrate exceptional synergy. You?” Might be effective, might be entertaining, will probably distract from who your employer is.

    1. Birch*

      That totally depends on your audience. I’m someone who is extremely interested in what other people’s jobs are like, all the boring day-to-day stuff. I like to think I’m pretty good at telling when a conversation partner is uncomfortable with a topic and moving away from it, but if you said something like that and then didn’t try to steer the conversation away, I would 100% ask you what you find are the surprising challenges and things you found interesting in your job. But YMMV, you might scare people away with the jargon, too.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      *sigh* I made a joking comment about “disruptors” to my niece’s boyfriend, and it turned out he’d had that on his business card at his last job.

    3. Phony Genius*

      You can also do something similar if somebody asks where. For example, if it were NASCAR, you could say “an auto services company.”

    4. Classic Rando*

      My dad used to do to that before he retired. Instead of giving a job title he’d half-mumble a confusing job description, trailing off mid-sentence when he ran out of duties to list. I found it baffling and used to joke that he was really a spy. In his case I don’t think it was an intentional derail, it was probably a combination of social awkwardness, getting into computer work in the early 80’s, and undiagnosed ADD. Either way, I *still* can’t tell you what he actually did for a living.

    5. Jadelyn*

      Check the resumespeak tumblr for examples of this – it’s hilarious. For example:

      How to put “chose the right container for my leftovers” on your résumé:
      Maximized efficiency of in-situ thermally de-energized storage capacity by leveraging a visually oriented volume assessment algorithm to accurately right-size an excess portion of prepared consumables inventory to an appropriately proportioned short-term containment asset.

  8. The bad guy*

    Oh boy #1 is a toughie. On one hand we spend half our waking hours at work, it’s also natural conversation to have outside of work. I almost always start off asking lots of questions about their jobs and answering questions about what I do as a “get to know you.” It’s such a ready made conversation to have with any person which generally leaves both parties feeling good and allows people to get a read on each other. By forgoing this formality you’re really going to be swimming upstream to make conversation and you’re going to have to plan on doing a lot of question asking and listening about what other people do. I think you need to establish enough rapport by starting the conversation on another topic then saying “I don’t really like talking about my job outside of work” then pivoting to a new topic.

  9. Sleve McDichael*

    OP #4 I’m sorry for your loss.

    If you like you could say something along the lines of ‘There was a death in my family, so it was a pretty quiet summer. But I *did* manage to (cook a favourite dish/read a book/work on an art project/see an old friend/etc) so that was nice. Did you get to (do related activity)?’

    If you want to avoid the heavier conversations this is one way to be honest and then redirect. Adapt for your work culture of course. Can anyone else suggest some different options/phrasing?

    1. DiscoCat*

      Alison had previous advice for similar tough situations where you inform 1-2 trusted and kind colleagues who then quietly relay the news or answer people’s questions. Maybe that’s something you’d like to try?

      Also very sorry for your loss.

      1. roisin54*

        That’s essentially what I did, I told a co-worker I’m friends with and in short order everyone that needed to know did.

        I’m going through the same thing right now (in my case it was my dad), so you have my sympathy OP #4. It sucks. People who you don’t really want to go deep on the subject with will ask you how you’re doing, and it’ll be annoying after a while. I’ve been trying to keep in mind that they all mean well.

        1. roisin54*

          Of course I think of something else after I click submit.

          My mom is fortunate enough to be friendly with her boss, and he sent around an email before she got back to work explaining what had happened and to please not question her about it. It has worked remarkably well. Is there any way someone could do something like that for you?

    2. SuperAdmin*

      I went through this a lot when we lost my brother and I had to return to teaching after the funeral (he was 21, I was 24, and it SUCKS to be in a situation where you want to be honest and open about what you’re going through, but also not drag the mood down – it happens to this day when people talk about siblings).

      Honestly, OP, say what feels right to you at the time. Something like Sleve suggests is good if you feel like you should mention it, but don’t want to go into detail (I actually think this is a great way of phrasing it – gives the information, but makes it clear you don’t want to dwell on it), or even just ‘It was a quiet summer, just spent time with family. What about you?’

      However, if you’re talking to someone you want to open up to, but are concerned about their reaction/it getting too heavy, you could say ‘My mother passed away over the summer, so it’s been a rough few months. I’m doing ok, and am really keen to get back into the swing of things and focus on the kids, but if I’m a bit quiet at times I wanted you to know why.’

      OP, I’m really sorry for your loss, and hope you’re coping as well as you can in the circumstances.

    3. Ama*

      My grandfather passed very unexpectedly a few years ago on the second day of my two week vacation — my first real vacation that (wasn’t supposed to) involve family obligations in almost three years. Because of some complicated logistical and emotional reasons — including the need to take a small prop plane from our vacation location, the fact that I’d have to travel alone because my significant other would have to deal with our car and luggage (since we had driven we brought several things that couldn’t have been taken on a plane easily), and the fact that I was almost at a nervous breakdown *before* his passing I ended up opting not to travel to his funeral.

      When I returned to work I really didn’t want to get into the whole situation — my coworkers are really pretty respectful of boundaries but I had a lot of guilt around not going to the funeral for a while afterwards (despite it ultimately being the best thing for my own mental health), so when people asked how my vacation was, I would say something along the lines of “well, it could have been better, some unexpected family stuff happened that I had to handle, but I did get some time to myself so that was nice.”

  10. mark132*

    That’s surprising a bit about the dc area. I grew up there and so many of my friends didn’t know what their dad/mom did because they had classified jobs.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s THE question that gets asked first here. People who have classified jobs can often still say “I work for DoD” or whatever. People who can’t even say that (which is fairly uncommon) are given answers they can use instead. But most people can say something. (I know someone at the CIA and even she’s allowed to say she works there. Although when asked what she does there, she’s “an analyst,” which is pretty vague.)

      1. Asta*

        Wow really?

        With MI6 you can only tell your partner or a close family member you even applied, and you can’t tell people you work there.

        1. KQ*

          Depends on the role and the area of intelligence, I think. I know a guy who works for GCHQ – again, “analyst” is all I know, but it’s in no way a secret that he works there.

          1. TechWorker*

            They now publish who the head of MI5 and MI6 are, so clearly *some* people it’s allowed to be public knowledge they work there ;)

            1. TechWorker*

              Okay sorry I read a bit more and the head of MI6 is the *only* public one. I also know people who work for GCHQ but that’s part of MI5

              1. pleaset*

                It’s because in MI6 people are largely working in covert operations or directly supporting them. The CIA is broader, with both covert and public roles.

        2. Thatoneoverthere*

          Hope this isn’t too off topic. Sorry if it is? What does one do if they want to apply for a new job? How do you list a classified job on your resume?

          1. Helena*

            Usually the employer will have a full set of guidelines for casual conversation, resumes, LinkedIn, bios for speaking engagements, etc.. The bigger problem from a job seeker perspective is that job ads for secret squirrel type jobs are very vague, which makes it tough to know before you go in if it would be even close to the right fit, and forget about writing a useful cover letter. Often you’re just tossing your resume into an employer’s bin and they’ll call you if something seems to fit.

          2. Risha*

            I knew a sister-of-a-friend who was a translator in the Air Force (middle eastern languages), and when she left she had to get her resume approved to make sure she wasn’t revealing anything classified. The process was apparently frustrating enough that she ended up just starting from scratch and going to mortuary school instead.

            1. Audiophile*

              This is kind of hilarious. That’s such an extreme career change that there had to be more to it.

              “Is this approved for job applications?”
              “Well, I give up. I’m going to be a mortician. This way no will ever ask me questions about my last job.”

              1. Risha*

                LOL. Honestly I had the same exact reaction, which is why she always springs to mind when this topic comes up.

              2. Risha*

                To be fair, though, she was out of the Air Force for like four to six months at that point, and they still hadn’t approved it.

        3. Shad*

          It might have changed in the past 20 years, but when I was little my dad worked for the NSA. Even in preschool, I knew all I was allowed to say was that he “worked for the government”. But close family were allowed to know what part of the government, just not his projects.

          1. Alexander Graham Yell*

            My friend’s dad had the kind of job where even his daughter just knew he worked for the government and that was it. It actually made for really interesting conversations at their house because it could never default to work chat, so instead they played games and joked around and talked about things they’d read.

        4. Samwise*

          Unless of course you are Bond, James Bond, in which case you announce your name suavely and frequently and everyone KNOWS where you “work”.

        5. Jilly*

          If you aren’t working on the covert side, you have to acknowledge that you work for the Company if asked. In order to work at the onsite Starbucks, you have to undergo a thorough background check.

          1. Junior Assistant Peon*

            I remember reading an article about the Starbucks at CIA HQ. Apparently, the people who work there got the job by answering a vague ad. I guess anyone intentionally seeking a job there is under suspicion.

        6. smoke tree*

          My school had a posting for an internship with the Canadian equivalent (CSIS), and the application instructions said that you can’t tell anyone if you apply, interview or get a job with them. On the other hand, apparently they have a merch store with CSIS-branded clothing, which seems very Canadian to me.

          1. Typhon Worker Bee*

            A friend of ours once got a call from CSIS because another friend had listed him as a character reference. She hadn’t been allowed to tell him she’d applied, so at first he thought it was a prank call and then when he realised it was real he got pretty nervous that CSIS really were calling him! We all thought it was super weird that she wasn’t allowed to tell her character references that she’d applied, but they called everyone saying “hello, this is CSIS”.

      2. Dan*

        I’ve heard the reason the question gets asked so much is because people are trying to figure out how close to “power” you are and what kind of connections you have. Although I live and work far enough out in the suburbs that one is unlikely to actually be close to anybody important enough to be useful.

        The amusing thing to me with “the question” is that my company is just large enough where a good chunk of people are quite familiar with it, yet many have never heard of it. So I get a mix of “duh” and “what’s that”. I find it funny. Even better is that my section of the company is relatively small and this part of the industry at large is relatively close nit, so professionally my circles are quite small. So most people whom I’ve never met but know the company are familiar with other parts of the company that *I* don’t know anything about. If someone says to me, “Oh you guys built this really cool thing that…” I’m just like “yeah I don’t know anything about cool things, I work in a different department.”

        1. LQ*

          I don’t think it’s nearly that cynical. It’s just small talk. I think it’s easy and it’s a lot of your life and it’s something most people have and it’s not the weather. You either accept that small talk exists and find a way to inhabit it that works for you, or you don’t. Either way you deal with the consequences of your decision.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            DC is a relationship town, and the “what do you do?” question is two-fold. It is, for most people, small talk and an attempt to connect and see if you know the same people, but there are also people who are trying to identify and leverage relationships, not just for politics but for sales/government contracts.

            I actually do a little Cocktail Party 101 with new hires to go over what they can and cannot share about their job. Our clients sometimes appear on the front page of the paper, and it’s important they know where the lines are.

            1. Junior Assistant Peon*

              That’s pretty much what I’ve heard from friends in DC. Anyone they meet socially is sizing them up to see if they have connections to anyone important.

              1. saf*

                That’s pretty specific to certain things – hill folk especially. The actual DC folks not so much.

          2. Holly*

            Ditto – plus especially in government it’s like “oh you work for Senator So and So? I worked with her Chief of Staff back on the X campaign!” It’s about making connections and conversation. Also, it’s something people spend most of their day doing, I feel like it’s strange to not know that about someone.

        2. Consultant Catie*

          In my experience here in DC, the motive behind the question depends on the circle you’re in. For instance, when talking about work with Hill staffers I definitely get the impression of the question being about how close to power you are, how someone can leverage their acquaintance with you, etc. The Hill crowd is a pretty insular group though — I’ve lived and worked here in DC for 13 years and know maybe 5 people who are or have been Hill staffers.

          For the rest of us, especially the younger ones without kids, families in the area, houses to take care of, etc., “what do you do?” has always felt more like a conversation about “how do you occupy your time?” Plus, so many people move to and/or have remained in the DC area solely due to their jobs that it feels like a natural topic to talk about.

          1. Washi*

            Yep, agree with all of this. There are some DC circles where your job is your life and your hobby is networking and everything is about getting ahead, but mostly it’s just that so many people come to DC for work and it’s considered a pretty safe conversational gambit.

            And people here have so many different jobs! It’s so cool! I grew up in a rural area with one major employer, so “what do you do” wasn’t super interesting since 90% of people worked in the same place.

        3. Batman*

          This definitely is the case with some people, but not with everyone. I think it’s more that the people who have white-collar jobs spend a ton of their time and energy on work, so it’s the thing that they think to talk about.

      3. mark132*

        I should ask my dad who he really worked for, he said it was the department of interior, but maybe it was the cia. :-)

    2. periwinkle*

      I grew up in the DC area. I still don’t know what my dad did except in vague terms, and he’s still not allowed to tell me even though he retired a couple decades ago.

      Now I’m in the PNW, and the question about weekend plans is definitely a thing. Also, because of where I live, any mention of my employer elicits a “hey, my close relative/friend/next-door neighbor works there too” response. Every. Single. Time.

      1. Kat*

        Some with the everyone knows someone who works with me! I suspect it is more due to the size of the city I live in now rather than something intrinsic to the northwest but it is jarring after coming from a big metro area!

    3. Ella*

      I think it’s pretty different dichotomy between contemporaries versus children and parents. I lived in DC in my early 20s, and because so many young professionals in DC are there to start careers where political and professional connections are super important (or at least *feel* super important), asking “what do you do” was a way of categorizing/sizing people up based on their professional associations. That kind of thing matters way less if you’re a kid and it’s just your parents boring and distant job you’re talking about.

    4. AGirlHasNoScreenName*

      Same, and growing up you’d always hear “works with computers,” which was essentially code for “employee/contractor with intelligence agency.” Sometimes you could figure out which one depending on if they let slip about specific commute issues (a common complaint in the DMV). Eg. “32 was a mess today” almost certainly meant NSA.

      Non-intelligence government employees were usually pretty upfront, but then you’d have to be adept at interpreting the alphabet soup that is government acronyms. (“I work for the DCP under the NCI at the NIH.”)

    5. Me*

      It’s a thing, but also in my experience at least, no one actually cares. It’s just a conversation starter.

      Which kind of makes me wonder if OP can just lie. I wouldn’t do it professionally but to strangers and acquaintances, I’d entertain the thought of either a white lie or something utterly ridiculous like I work in tech but my real passion is squirrel training. Sense of humor and knowing your audience dependent of coures.

    6. Alli525*

      It’s super common in NYC too, to the point where I have privately started making it a game to see how long I (and others) can go without asking that question. Once in a while I can last for an entire event… although last night I was at dinner with two old friends and one new person, and one of my friends said “oh hey that’s funny, I just realized that you both work in [industry]!” and it turns out that we work at two companies that people flow back and forth between, sometimes for their whole careers, and New Person is the manager of someone I used to work with on a project. It’s a small world after all.

    7. Yikes*

      I lived in DC for awhile, and this was always the number 1 question. As mentioned up-thread, you always know who works in intelligence because their answer is “the government.” I moved from DC to New Orleans, and I think I was there 3 months before anyone asked me what I did. This question, and honking excessively in traffic, are probably the two things I most identify with my time in DC.

  11. AstralDebris*

    #3: I used to work for a company that never deactivated email accounts when people left, but when employees put in their notice they were given a checklist of things to take care of before they left (return company equipment to IT storage in building X, recycle all internal and vendor handouts, etc.). One of the items on the list was for the departing employee to set an out of office message saying that as of [date] you were no longer with the company and telling people who to contact in your stead. The manager could always check and edit the OOO if necessary, but this way they made sure people weren’t just sending emails into the void. If your departing employees have concerns and you can’t convince the company to deactivate defunct accounts, it might be useful to advise them to do something similar.

    1. Quinalla*

      I agree that this is a way to address it with departing employees when possible.

      However, the bigger issue is there seems to be no standard policy for dealing with email account of employees that leave. Approach it from your company’s best interest, don’t bring it to your superiors as a employees leaving around worried about X problem, bring it to them as a here is what could go wrong if we don’t implement a policy (or here is what has gone wrong as it is likely there are examples already).

      And I agree with Alison’s advice, we have similar polices where for management/client relationship-type employees clients are informed and then someone takes over monitoring their email for a few months to catch anyone that wasn’t informed or missed the update and then they are put on an auto-reply. For non-client facing/management, their email is put on an auto-reply. After 6 months or so, they are deactivated completely and you get the IT auto-reply. It just makes business sense to do this so you minimize any frustrations for your clients!

    2. gsa*

      This makes perfect sense.

      I don’t remember the exact policy at my old job, but I do remember calling the IT guy and having him forward the phone calls from my old workmates phone to me.

      BTW, That company never announced that people had left.

      The job I recently left, was just as good or bad as the previous. Since I was using my own phone, I had to field a bunch of calls for about a week or so until people figured out that I was no longer with them. I also sent a bunch of text to my previous manager that said by the way Mr. Smith does not know I am no longer with the company.

  12. nnn*

    An option for #4 to consider if you haven’t already is mentioning it on social media. Obviously that depends greatly on whether your colleagues follow you on social media, and whether having them know in advance will attend to your emotional needs better than breaking the news on your first day back at work. But if you do think not having to break the news at work would help, you could release it into the gossip network now.

    If you don’t have colleagues on social media, you could also reach out to one or two specific colleagues (perhaps those closest to you, perhaps those located at the nexus of the gossip network). If being direct works for you, you could ask them to help you spread the news or help you manage first day back interactions. If being direct doesn’t work for you, you could mention the situation in passing, or ask their advice on how to handle the situation. (Regardless of the advice they give, you have released the information into the gossip network.)

    I’m very sorry about your mom.

    1. BethRA*

      I was also going to suggest having a colleague or your boss share the news in advance. A former CEO did that with our small team when going through a tough divorce and it was how I navigated sharing some bad news of my own recently. For me, it just saved me having to share the news over and over again, especially when I wasn’t in a place where that level of emotion felt…safe? Appropriate? For the CEO, it allowed her to avoid discussing a painful subject at all and helped avoid potential gossip (it’s a small world and word might have gotten around).

      So sorry, OP, you have my condolences.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I’ve used this technique too. A manager or a work BFF passing the news around means that everybody knows about my difficult news, but I don’t have to tell everybody one at a time and the number of awkward questions that the asker didn’t know would be awkward was minimal.

  13. mark132*

    Op4, feel free to share just the good stuff for now (or forever) if you want. Sometime it’s just too raw to share stuff with your friends/coworkers. I have a child with severe mental illness, and she often does very unwise things. It simply is too painful to share stuff like that all the time. I don’t want to think and or talk about it, so I don’t.

    1. Felix*

      It doesn’t sound like OP4 doesn’t want co-workers to know, just that she doesn’t know how to tell them, especially when everyone will be in a back-to-school good mood. I fully understand that they want to respond to an enthusiastic “How was your summer?!” with either a lie, or by throwing ice on the conversation with the truth.

      If I’m interpreting that correctly… What about having the principal (or other appropriate supervisor) send out a memo letting staff know your mother has passed away. It know sounds kind of cold, and not really their job, but I’ve worked in many places where it is normal to send something like that out. It allows co-workers to know that you are going through a tough time, so they can treat you appropriately or offer their condolences, without the awkwardness of you having to tell people yourself.

      Most people would actually want to know that this has happened to you. No one wants to be the jerk going around with a bubbly attitude while you’re grieving.

  14. Dan*


    I sort of don’t get OP’s reasoning for not wanting to talk about his job. The nature of the beast is that those with “cool” jobs have a more interesting conversation starter than those that don’t. I mean, fry guy at McDonalds isn’t very interesting and won’t invite follow up conversation. Job at cool company? Yeah, that will. It’s (American) human nature, and I don’t think there’s any way around that.

    But there is such a thing as wanting to leave work at work. I used to have a job where I met all kinds of famous people (sports celebrities, movie stars and the like) and really, when that’s what you do *every freakin day* you just want to leave work at work. And while I “met” them, I hardly spoke to them and the interactions were usually fleetingly brief. So saying “I saw so-and-so” just gets old and is a boring ice breaker. Although I admit, I like telling people about the time I met Shaq (really big basketball player who has since retired) shot the breeze with him, and the kicker is, I didn’t even know it was him until later. How did I handle it when I had an interesting job? I’d usually just leave out the celebrity part, talk in general-but-specific terms about what I did, and people stopped asking. The same is true with my current work — I like it, I do interesting things that most people can relate to, but after one or two sentences the topic changes to something else.

    That aside… where I live now, “can’t talk about it” is a legitimate excuse for enough people such that if I wanted to adopt it for my current work, people wouldn’t probe further. OP can try that if it will work in their area.

    Beyond that, while people may want to be vague because they don’t want to talk about work, people are also vague because it’s a social norm to not give long answers to questions and let the asker probe for more. I mean, if someone says to me “I work in IT”, I may very well say, “oh where/what industry”? It would generally be unnatural to stop and change the subject *unless the person of whom the question being asked pivots the conversation.* Pivoting the conversation is “take a hint, don’t want to/can’t talk about it”. Not pivoting is just inviting more follow up questions.

    1. WS*

      Though depending where you work, you might not like the follow up! I work in healthcare (I’m not a doctor) and when you divulge that people want to tell you about their medical conditions.

      1. NoLongerYoung*

        Or… at nephew’s soccer game, I was asked by his friend’s grandfather. I mentioned (name of very large place)…and got the response: “I hate them, their prices are…” Mind you, there’s over 20,000 employees and I have no control over their pricing. I do understand those prices… but I’m not wanting to live through a near-diatribe on the (not so) evil employer, and I do not think that I can explain the cost equations /market forces, etc. to this guy. Nod, move away. The only person I remotely knew there, but effectively killed the conversation. It’s an employer some folks love or hate.

        1. WS*

          Yeah, there’s the Big Pharma rants as well, but they don’t come up as much as long descriptions of gallbladder surgery!

        2. Elemeno P.*

          There’s always the super rude people who will do that no matter what. My fiance used to work for an ISP and people would immediately start ranting about poor service or the prices or something along those lines. It was worse when he was a customer service rep and had to hear people ranting during work, too.

    2. Birch*

      Yeah, I kind of agree. I think people need to decide whether not talking about their job at all is the real goal and whether it’s feasible. If you keep having so much trouble, come up with one or two stories that are interesting enough to sate the need for info but bland enough that they don’t inspire follow-ups. When you get asked, tell the story and then shift the convo to the other person. I think this also works for people who are usually OK talking about their jobs but sometimes don’t feel like it.

      Example: when I tell people what I do, they are VERY INTERESTED. I get a lot of “oh I could never do that, how amazing.” If I don’t feel like having that convo, I can say something like “oh you’d be surprised at the mundane things I have to do! The other day I had to buy a couple of wig stands. Have you ever had to do something really unexpected for your job?” or “yeah it tends to be a lot of sitting at a computer yelling curses, but sometimes I get to work with kids and that’s really rewarding. Have you ever worked with kids?”

      1. OP 1*

        This is a great example for how to handle this. I’ll think about developing a few go-to, somewhat boring stories.

    3. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

      Well, it can be its own kind of boring to have to respond to the same sets of questions over and over, and depending on your field it can keep your unhappy feelings about the reality of your job in the forefront of your mind. For instance, I’m an archaeologist. Almost every time I meet a new person I get some variation on the same topics (I always wanted to do that, do you find gold/treasure/dinosaurs, do you get to keep what you find, and let me tell you all about my relative who loves dinosaurs. The dinosaur thing is my biggest pet peeve!!). It’s a bit hard to avoid in my case but I imagine that if you just do an ordinary job in a place that happens to be well-known, you’ll get tired of being asked if you get to meet famous people or get particular perks.

      For me part of my explanation of why it isn’t really as cool as people think to be an archaeologist is that it’s incredibly poor pay and really unstable. So every time I have this conversation I feel a little bit worse because I’m reminded of that. Also people are rarely interested in anything I have to say about the actual job because it doesn’t include that much of the glamorous or spectacular things they think it does, so it can be a really boring and short-lived conversation.

      1. Nom de plume*

        It’s this. I have a fairly interesting job to people because most people don’t know it exists and it involves a lot of international travel. I get why people are intrigued and I love talking about my job because I love it! Or… at least I used to. It’s become tiresome to answer the same questions over and over. Also, what I love about my job is not necessarily what’s interesting to people. So I end up explaining what my job is over and over and over sometimes multiple times at the same party. It’s not fun!

    4. MOAS*

      I can kind of identify with OP in that I don’t like talking about where I work. However, I work for a tax firm, and whenever I mention I’m a tax accountant it’s “oh what company?” I don’t want to give the name. It’s a smallish company, it’s not the Big 4, there’s no weird backstory or anything. I just don’t want to give hte name of my company. It doesn’t happen very often b/c I don’t socialize at all, but it is something that comes up once in a while so.

    5. cmcinnyc*

      I agree that being prepared for “what do you do?” is a must, because it’s inescapable. (Well, that or move to the PNW! It’s inescapable in NY, I’ll tell you that.) But as someone who can get a lot of Opinions, or worse, Advice when I talk about what I do, I understand the OP’s frustration. What jumps out at me is the OP’s sense that there’s some sizing up/competition going on as it’s a new social circle. You can’t just blank the topic (OP has been trying and it doesn’t work) so decide on downplaying or mystery and then play that. So it’s either, “Oh I work for a Very Cool Company in a Very Senior Role, but it sounds a lot more interesting than it is!” And turn the convo to the other person. OR: “Yes, I work at Very Cool as a Very Senior, but unfortunately, it’s also Very Confidential so tell me all about you!”

  15. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    #3 It makes the company look really terrible if things just go into a void.

    We set up auto responses with the replacement contract so there’s no guess work involved.

    I’ve written companies off because of no response before only to finally find out Joe Smith left the company months ago. It’s simply rude not to do something so simple in redirecting a possible client to the right person!

    1. nnn*

      My realtor didn’t answer any of my emails just as I was preparing to move into my new condo, which was highly stressful.

      I later found out he had stopped working at that company. (I bought pre-construction, so years elapsed between making the purchase and moving in). But there was no indication of that from the responses to the emails and he hadn’t updated his online presence, so it looked exactly like he was ignoring me right at the moment of the biggest financial decision and biggest life change of my life.

      Because of this, I would never consider doing business with that company again. But a simple out-of-office reply telling me whom to email would have left me happy with the company.

    2. Becky*

      I don’t know how they do it in other departments, its probably different for each, but in my department when an employee leaves their email gets permanently forwarded to the client service inbox.

    3. Massmatt*

      #3 is there an actual policy to not turn off email accounts, or is it a lack of policy so each manager just makes it up as they go along? I can see this being overlooked but it’s really weird that when you mentioned it, HR got defensive and played the “it’s OUR email, not the former employee’s “. Exactly! This is why it reflects poorly on our company!

      This sends a message that they either don’t know what they are doing, or have so many people leaving they can’t even keep up with turning off email boxes, neither of which is a good look. Definitely frame it this way vs: as worrying about the reputations of the former employees, unfortunately the company has demonstrated they don’t care about that.

      1. Antilles*

        Many companies have an actual policy not to fully disable email accounts for a set amount of time – it makes it a bit easier to search the old emails if necessary and also can avoid weird quirkiness with outside emails going to a dead account.
        Failing to disable email boxes itself isn’t what’s sending the bad message, it’s that the company doesn’t have an auto-reply or an auto-forward, so people don’t realize it happened and important mails are getting missed or delayed.

        1. Massmatt*

          Yeah, I guess that is actually what I mean, setting an auto response of some kind and then closing.

          I worked for a large finance company and while there were many bad policies there they definitely had this down pat. IT and HR had a policy of getting all this taken care of, along with collecting/deactivating ID badges and systems access, etc.

      2. LW3 | OP3*

        Massmatt – there is no policy, so it’s always on a case-by-case basis. Also, when managers forget to submit Termination Requests (which is how email continuity instructions are sent to the HelpDesk), HR becomes involved by submitting the Termination Request on the manager’s behalf and becomes the middleman for figuring out where people want emails going. This happens especially with senior managers.

        I think my department got defensive because a lot of the department recently came over from doing HR at a very large, customer service/call center company where employees didn’t have as many personal connections with clients. They came over to a high-touch professional services firm and haven’t seem to catch on that things are done differently here.

    4. The Other Dawn*

      Yes, this has happened to me, too, and I hate it. Sometimes I need to email a contact at a vendor or another financial company, and when I get no response I assume they forgot to reply or missed the email and email again. Still no response so then I call and leave a voicemail. Still nothing. Then I have to try and find another contact and email them. Finally I’ll be told that Jane is no longer with the company and to contact Jim. It’s incredibly annoying. Honestly, I’m never upset with the former employee. I’m upset with the manager/company, because no one bothered to tell me the contact changed, either by setting up an OOO reply or just outright telling me. It makes the business look bad, not the former employee.

    5. Lora*

      Yes. Worked for a company that did this routinely and didn’t understand the many many pissed off clients who never gave them repeat business. You’d think this would be pretty basic, wouldn’t you?

      Just have the email forwarded to a supervisor or to a generic inbox that gets checked once in a while. It’s not that hard. And for clients in general, why *wouldn’t* you want to send them an update email: Dear Valued Client, we wanted to let you know that your Account Manager Joe Schmoe is no longer with ABC Corporation. We wish him all the best in his new adventure teaching aardvarks to sing in three-part harmony in Turkmenistan! Your new Account Manager will be Mary Smith. Mary has 028945670294586y7 years of experience in the llama grooming industry, starting in 214 BCE when she was initiated as an alpaca toe-trimmer in the Chavin kingdom of Mosna Valley. Mary looks forward to meeting you and will be in contact with you next week. Regards, ABC Corporation.”

      1. Accounting can be fun*

        Left a company rather abruptly, and they just deactivated my email account with no OOF message. Problem was that quite a few clients were emailing their personal tax information, and had no clue I had left. Plus, my replacement had no access to the large of information I had previously received via email. Serves them right.

        1. MOAS*

          Oh yes, this was something we came across. “IT” would have to access that persons’ email to obtain info from the client.

          Eventually we developed a portal where clients can upload everything so whenever anyone leaves someone can pick up where it was left off without pissing off th client (err…in theory)

    6. MOAS*

      I’ll be honest, I have no idea how it’s done in my company now but when we were a 20 person office, whenever someone left, the emails were rerouted to someone else, so if a client emailed in, it would go to the other person. The other person would either answer hte message or reroute it to the new contact. At that time I guess it was the only workaround b/c it wasn’t a lot of people in the company, but even at that time, I thought it was pretty unfair to put the burden on other workers. “This client is angry! Who is getting Joe’s emails? MOAS? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU MOAS WHY DIDN”T YOU FORWARD IT”.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Unless the person being routed to is the new contract, I agree it’s unfair. It’s also simply poor practice since the first thing an over worked employee does is drop the ball on forwarding emails around.

        I’ve actually had people snap back after a couple emails saying “I’m not the right contact, stop asking.” Despite them being the ones given to us but who knows who prior.

        And other people who I know are still there but only respond if it matters to their overall needs. So I trust nobody to just happily forward or respond as necessary!

  16. RUKiddingMe*

    “ the Pacific Northwest for a while, where you can go months without knowing what a friend does.)”

    And we like it that way… :-)

    1. TiffanyAching*

      I hadn’t thought about it before but I live in the PNW and this is really true. Hell, my sister got a new job and for the first year I only knew the acronym for her company, not the actual name, let alone her title or what exactly she does.

  17. Flash Bristow*

    OP1 I can so relate to this! I get interrogated too – because I’m visibly disabled. So I get “what’s wrong with you?” (Ugh) and brush it away with “oh there’s nothing wrong!” Or “oh, it’s a permanent thing” and try to change topic and distract.

    In your case I’d have similar answers up your sleeve. For example:
    “So what do you do?”
    “Oh I’m in IT”
    “Sure but, where do you work?”
    “Oh, just here in City. Could you pass the nibbles?”
    “Yep but y’know, where do you work for?”
    “Oh it’s just near X station, do you know the area? So anyway tell me what you’re up to nowadays!”

    Or for “yep but who do you work for?” you can try “oh, they create [product], anyway, what are YOU up to lately?”

    Just make yourself be super boring, deflect where possible – and act like you didn’t *quite* parse the question correctly, if it helps you avoid giving info away that you’d rather retain.

    G’luck! It’s bad enough when people genuinely miss a hint, but when they’re deliberately cadging for info it can get so tiresome can’t it?!

    1. legalchef*

      These are different circumstances though. It’s obviously incredibly rude for someone to ask questions about your disability in most contexts, but it’s not really that rude to ask where someone works in casual conversation. I get that the LW doesn’t want to talk about it for their own reasons, but that doesn’t inherently make the (very common) question inappropriate. At a certain point they need to either deflect entirely or just say “at [company], but it’s actually pretty boring.”

  18. Media Circus*

    Ooh, yeah, traffic / commute times are reliably good. “Hey, remember the other year when I-5 was shut down through downtown Seattle over lunchtime, and there was that food truck caught in the traffic jam so they just opened right there on the highway?” And you’re off!

      1. Forrest Rhodes*

        Don’t know if it’s a true story in Seattle, but it’s happened at least once here in SoCal.

  19. Bowserkitty*

    #3 I absolutely agree with Alison, it makes the company look bad. It becomes incredibly frustrating to send these emails knowing you’re likely trying to reach somebody no longer there and in my previous position doing event work for a hospital, it made me less likely to want to even work with the company themselves.

    Speaking of that, it may also be a good idea to double-check any external areas referring to the person as well. For example, my email at the hospital was the same with my former academic one which I forwarded to my professional gmail account upon graduation. My information remains on the (admittedly poorly-looked at) websites for the events I used to run so even now I get emails regarding events I haven’t worked on for two years. HR and the departments both should just keep things up to date!

  20. greenthumb*

    #4, condolences on the loss of your mom. Would you perhaps feel comfortable sharing the news about her passing with a trusted colleague or someone in admin? It sounds like your staff is on the smaller side, and if you want people to know — but aren’t up for talking about it — they could let folks know for you. (This is based on guessing that your school year has not yet begun.)

    1. Sherm*

      That’s what a coworker of mine did. She also went through something similar last month, as her mom died while she visited her and other family during a vacation. She let her boss know, who was able to tell a lot of us, thus cutting down on potentially awkward “How was your trip?” conversations. Not everyone at the office found out, so she still got asked sometimes, but she just said matter-of-fact what happened. People expressed their surprise and sympathy, and the day went on. I think the OP will be fine saying whatever feels right. Unless OP works for some lousy people, it will be fine.

      1. Susan*

        This is something I expect I will have to deal with sometime soon. My father is dying, and when he does I will definitely be taking time off. I am absolutely someone who will share details about my time off in normal circumstances, so I can expect some unknowing questions. I think a straightforward answer about why I was off will be okay.

        1. Legal Beagle*

          You can also share the news through a staff email (either sent yourself or by your boss), so everyone knows before you return from leave. I think that’s often a good route, because most people want to be sensitive, and this gives them the info they need to not ask unintentionally intrusive/painful questions.

    2. londonedit*

      Yes, a colleague did the same a couple of years ago. It was slightly different – she was out of the office because of a traumatic event that had occurred over the weekend. Her manager emailed the team to let us know the basic details of what had happened, and said that Colleague would be out of the office for the rest of the week and wouldn’t be up to talking about it when she came back, so politely requested that we didn’t mention it. Of course we all respected that, and Colleague did end up talking to us about it when she felt she was able to.

    3. Sunflower*

      I’m a really big fan of asking a close work friend to share news like this. Especially since they can also relay the level of communication about it that you’re comfortable with. Often times when stuff like this happens, we end up finding out through the grapevine and people are put in a spot of wanting to be supportive but also not wanting to overstep and upset someone. It puts everyone in a tricky situation and I’ve found what works best for everyone is having someone share ‘Jane’s mom passed away. She’s happy for you to share condolences but she doesn’t want to discuss any further'(or whatever). It really eases the already tough situation

    4. OP#4*

      OP here, thank you for your support and kind advice . I know exactly who to tell, so that seems like a good way of handling things.

  21. All Outrage, All The Time*

    My answer to what do you do for work questions is “I’m a Federal contractor. What about you?” It’s rare that anyone asks for extra info. If they push, I lie. “Finance admin.” I actually work with an international organisation that combats various types of crimes against vulnerable individuals online such as child sex trafficking, but I’d traumatise people if I told them about it. So I lie. My close friends know what I do, and acquaintances that work in related fields. There is something about me that makes people not push my boundaries though, so there’s that.

    1. Anonymous for this*

      A part of my company does this sort of work, and even internally, it’s actually rather hush hush. I had some initial discussions with some folks about doing that work, but they didn’t go anywhere. Probably for the better, because psychologically, my current stuff is easy to leave at the office. This stuff? Not so much.

    2. Anonymous today*

      Thanks for what you do. So needed.
      A small part of my clerical job is processing mental-health for probationers. Some are convicted of possession of child porn. Reading one indictment that came with the referral paperwork cured me of that curiosity. :-(
      I don’t need to know their convictions to put together their charts and schedule their appointments. For my mental health, it’s better to let God be the ultimate judge.

      1. All Outrage, All The Time*

        Wow yes that’s tough. Right at the beginning of my career, a million years ago, I had to transcribe police interviews with paedophiles, as well as interviews with the children they assaulted. It never leaves you. In my current job I can avoid a lot of the detail and just look at the big picture stuff, which is a blessing.

  22. Bilateralrope*

    I worked as a security guard for a movie studio for a while. When someone wanted to know anything more than that, I just told them that I couldn’t say anything more because of the NDA I was under. Later, when I moved to doing security from someone who didn’t require an NDA, I switched to saying that my employer wouldn’t like me sharing client information.

    So maybe you could go with telling people where you work, then refusing to answer any further questions by saying something about how your employer wouldn’t like you to share anything that happens with the public. Most people will understand that you’re not going to jeopardize your job by telling them anything.

    1. Theme Park Technical Writer*

      I’m surprised the NDA line worked for you! I always get, “Well, I would never tell! Just give me a hint!”

      I’ve found that giving an answer that is obviously fake in a humorous way will make people laugh and change the subject. “Oh, the new ride? It’s The Black Cauldron’s Crazy Cauldron-Cleaning, where you scrub out old cauldrons with a toothbrush.” People will then talk about that franchise or other silly ideas and then you’re safe from further follow-up.

      1. Bilateralrope*

        My mum kept trying to get me to say something. So I had to keep refusing to answer for a month until she gave up. Everyone else understood that I was not going to risk my job just to indulge their curiosity.

      2. pleaset*

        ” I always get, “Well, I would never tell! Just give me a hint!””

        These people are not smart.

  23. Zipzap*

    #1 – In addition to the good suggestions above, honestly, if people keep pressing and asking questions after you’ve deflected and asked about their jobs, I would just be direct and say, “I really like to leave work at work and I’d rather not talk about it when I’m not there.” If they’re so rude or dense that they keep on after that, say “Excuse me” and walk away.

    1. tamarack and fireweed*

      I like this script. Delivered with a genuine smile and a relaxed demeanor. Also, followed up by an Alison-style return question.

      IMHO ideally you decide from the outset whether you’re going to say who your employer is if asked directly, or not reveal it. What’s uncomfortable, mostly, is the dance where you try to avoid it until you’re pinned down and reveal it. (It also creates bad incentive for the rude asker, rather like letting a dog get away with something if he just tries or whines long enough.) The script above is great for the “I won’t say” case. And if you WILL reveal, you can have a plan B, for example:

      – So what do you do?
      – I’m a finance director.
      – Where?
      – A retailer. They have an office over in [town/neighborhood].
      – Right, but WHO? A brand I’d recognize?
      – Probably. It’s IKEA.
      – [beginnings of supper plate sized eyes]
      – [jump right back in] Nah, it’s really not particularly special. Just like doing finance for any big retailer. So how do you know Jane?

      That is, you can reveal the information, but then put a hard stop to any fannish adulation or celebrity corporation worship.

      1. Mary*

        I feel like you could shorten this a lot by just answering, “I’m a finance director. So how do you know Jane?”

        1. tamarack and fireweed*

          Yes. My point was that the deflecting is still possible/useful in case you couldn’t get out of it before revealing.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I agree in a sense, but I think OP needs to realize that being part of a new social circle, they’re going to get these questions, and if they’re being super vague with the answers, it’s really not that rude for the others to keep asking. If I meet someone new, I want to relate to them, so I’m going to ask questions. And if they’re unwilling to answer some basic questions, I’m going to think they have something to hide. I think OP needs to come up with less vague responses, and if they’re uncomfortable answering certain things, be willing to say “I’d rather not discuss it” and move on.

    3. OP 1*

      I think getting better at small talk will help, but for people who really want to talk about it, I’ll work on politely telling them that I’d rather leave work at work.

      1. Constance Lloyd*

        I tell people I work in the THRILLING world of health insurance and spin the conversation away. An eye roll while smiling seems to help. You could try something like that and hope it sticks? But some people truly are that dense or pushy. Wishing you the best!

  24. Grand Mouse*

    #5- are you thinking of thank you notes like a thank you for a present? I did too and it’s reading AAM that has (mostly) dispelled that notion. I promise you did not commit an etiquette faux pas! Even if thank you notes were expected it would be a really weird thing for people to get hung up over. It’s not like you emailed the entire company before you started and told them they can’t handle your greatness.

    One of my tricks for letting things go is to assume that people basically think like I do. Would you notice or care if you were in their position? Would you hold it against them?

    Good luck with your new job!

    1. Willis*

      Yeah, don’t worry about them! I wouldn’t bother emailing everyone ahead of time to say you’re excited to work there either. I’d just let this lie, and assume that if I’m friendly and polite to people once I’m there, that’s what they’ll base their opinions about my manners on.

    2. Sarah Simpson*

      I have often thought interview thank you notes are over-rated, and mostly by senders. It never occurs to me to think about whether or not I got a thank you note from someone, and I’ve gotten my last three (management) jobs without sending a thank you note. Interviews are mutual exchanges for you and the company to learn about each other, not a gift from the company to you. I suppose there are places where it might matter, but it obviously didn’t here – they gave you the job! My guess is that if you did ask (and don’t!), none of them would remember whether or not they got a thank you note from you. And once the job decision was made, I’m certain none of them gave it any thought at all.

    3. Sally*

      I think my situation was similar to yours. Before I could write the follow-up emails after my interviews, I was offered the job. I wondered about what to do, but I figured there really wasn’t anything for me to do about it at that point. I’m fairly certain nobody thought about it or cared much if they did.

  25. Beth*

    #4: If you want people to know without you having to say it over and over again, this might be a good time to exploit the gossip network. I assume your school has at least one person that seems to know (and pass on) just about everything, because most workplaces seem to have this person somewhere or another. If you mention your loss to this person, odds are good that everyone else will magically end up knowing without you having to say a thing to them, and will hopefully decide not to ask about your summer.

    1. Asenath*

      This is an excellent idea, and one I’ve used. Mention the painful topic you don’t want to discuss again and again to one person (maybe adding “If you could let people know, I’d appreciate it – I really don’t feel up to telling everyone individually”), and before you know it, word is out there, and if your co-workers are normally decent people, they won’t descend on you with questions. It’s using what I sometimes think of as the gossip network in a positive way.

    2. The Other Dawn*

      Yes, this is what I did when my mom died. Although everyone in my small company knew, I told the office manager–I was close to her–before I came in that I didn’t want to talk about it when I got back from bereavement leave, but to thank everyone for the condolences. It worked great. I came in that Monday, had some tears in my office in anticipation of people asking me or expressing their condolences, but then the day went on as usual. No one approached me other than for business reasons and maybe the usual small talk. It really helped me get through that first day to not have people approaching me.

  26. Mop*

    I feel stupid to admit this, but sometimes I wish more people *would* ask me what I do for a living.
    I’m in an area where it’s generally presumed that all women stay home, volunteer at school and church, and do yoga. So no one ever asks and it’s weird to bring it up apropos of nothing.

    I don’t do any of those local mom things, and (I’m embarrassed to say), I don’t have any hobbies or interests or honestly anything particularly interesting about myself aside from having a kind of great job. It would be a little nice to get to talk about it at least a teensy bit.

    1. SS Express*

      Could you reverse the advice given here – instead of changing the subject to move the conversation away from your job, move the conversation toward it? “I haven’t tried yoga, I usually do kickboxing because my workplace offers lunchtime classes – I work at Awesome Inc and they’re great about things like that”. “That school event was great but I can’t take credit, I was at work putting the finishing touches on our latest Awesome-mobile. It launches next week!”

    2. Patty Mayonnaise*

      Solidarity on this. I have a creative job that I love, but since I work from home and do all the school drop offs and pick-ups, I read as a stay at home mom to my neighborhood (though not my city on the whole – lots of creatives with flexible-ish schedules around). I’d like to talk about my job more, just to have other topics to talk about outside of my kid! But I do have to wait for the right time to work it into the conversation.

    3. Morning reader*

      Years ago when I first moved to northern Illinois for a job, quite often people I met would ask me what my husband does or presume his job was why we moved. They usually had the grace to seem embarrassed when I said there is no husband and we moved for my job. (It read as blatant sexism to me, but later I discovered that corporate transfers and stay-at-home-mothers were very common, in that area in the 90s. Still sexist but more understandable as that was so frequent there. McMansions and SAHMs with nannies… made me wonder what I had gotten myself into.)

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I got that question all the time from older women in church when I belonged to a church. “So, honey, what does your husband do?” and I’d be thinking, why do you want to know, you never even met my husband? What about what I do? Took a while for it to dawn on me that they could not imagine a woman having a job and a career.

        1. Seifer*

          Ughhhhhhhh I hate that one. I get it with some of my mom’s friends. They ask what my husband does and then when I say, “my boyfriend’s an engineer, but a different kind than I am” it causes a frickin’ RUCKUS. It’s like, they don’t even know where to begin with that sentence so they just. Boyfriend? Not husband? ENGINEER? YOU? That’s a MAN’S job! What if you make more money than him, won’t he LEAVE YOU????

          Then my mother wonders why I moved out.

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Back when I was telecommuting regularly with a flex schedule (ah those were the days) I could run errands during the daytime. One day I had car problems on the way to work and I got incredibly quick service at the dealership.
      I was wearing my company badge.
      I now wear it any time I have to do errands during the daytime — even on some vacation days. It also gives me a very quick out when someone comes door-to-door : “Oh, you’re not FedEx. Sorry, I’m on a conference call for work. Another time.”

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      The discussion of #1 reminded me of when I dated a college professor for a couple of years. He’d bring me to parties, and people would walk over and try to make small talk. Within two minutes of saying hi, they’d ask “So, what do *you* teach?” and I’d tell them “I actually don’t, I’m here with Fergus, I work in IT myself” and their eyes would instantly glaze over and they would say “Oh, that’s interesting” and leave the conversation! Every.single.person I met at those parties. Made me so self-conscious about what I do for a living. Towards the end of our relationship, a friend he introduced me to responded with “Wow this is so cool, I *wish* I could do that, tell me more!” and I was ready to hug the guy and cry on his chest, it was so rare to get that kind of reaction. (The man worked in medical research in DC, by the way. He literally worked on curing cancer. Of all people in my ex’s circle, he should’ve been the one to look down on me for what I do, and yet he didn’t. Six years later, I am still impressed.)

      1. Pippa K*

        Sounds like Fergus just had friends with weirdly limited interests. In my particular circle of academics, we love talking to the nonacademic partners at parties – it’s interesting to hear about other jobs, and they’re guaranteed not to want to talk about the dean’s latest policy.

        I know ‘what do you do?’ has a stigma in some places as social-climby or competitive or intrusive, but I’m genuinely curious about what other people do. (And I have no problem recognising and respecting a brush-off if they don’t want to talk about it; I’m not running the Inquisition.)

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I think I would enjoy your circle of academics! And it is refreshing to know that not every academic circle is like Fergus’s!

        2. tamarack and fireweed*

          Yes, this! I really want/need a varied selection of kinds of people around me. Where I live, few people stick it out here who don’t really love the extremes of the climate. And some earn money as construction contractors or wilderness guides or in commercial fishing in the summer to be able to do something creative or cool they really want to do in the winter.

          Also, it’s just basic politeness and intellectual openness to assume that people choose their occupations because they’re interested in them, and that whether it’s IT or childcare or market garden farming or accounting you should afford them some minimal level of attention and curiosity.

      2. smoke tree*

        I get that kind of response a lot, and the field I work in (publishing) is fairly well-known and relatively interesting (at least I think so). I think it’s just that, if pressed, most people couldn’t really explain exactly what a publisher does. They have the sense it has something to do with books or magazines–maybe printing? If not printing, what? Occasionally someone asks these questions, but usually I just get a very non-committal response. Except from people who have a manuscript that they want published.

    6. Blossom*

      I live in a major city and still spend way more time telling people about my husband’s job rather than my own. To be fair, his does sound a lot more glamorous (on the surface) – I find my job pretty interesting and wouldn’t trade with him for a second, but my job title definitely has a “boring” ring to it. I can understand this a lot more when it comes to friends and acquaintances, but even my own family ask almost exclusively about his job! I might occasionally get “so, how’s work?” to fill an awkward silence, but it’s clear my own relatives don’t care. We earm roughly equal amounts and have a roughly equal professional status – it’s not as if he’s the breadwinner or I work in some part-time dead-end job.

  27. Mainely Professional*

    Yep, I also have a “cool” job. It’s not making movies, but it is a hard to break into sector that’s quite similar.

    I usually try to leave it at “I design teapots,” but it doesn’t always work. For those of you who don’t get why this can be annoying…a lot of people do assume you have connections or can give them the secret of breaking into the business or want to know how their nephew can do this too.

    Changing the subject, assuring them it’s boring, or indeed saying “I’m off the clock, but you can email me about [your thing you want me to somehow help your nephew] it when I’m at work.” People take the hint.

    1. Newington*

      I’m in a cool industry too (might be the same one). A few lines about how I write guides to the mathematics of fluid dynamics in spout design and they’re usually aching to change the subject themselves, because they thought it was all “have a cool idea for a teapot”.

      1. Mainely Professional*

        Hmm, perhaps we are…I also often deflect by saying that working at an indie teapot company rather than a triple A teapot megacorp producing teapots for is very different, and that the big teapot makers abuse their designers to the point that there’s a huge effort to unionize the industry, which has never been done. Peoples’ eye also glaze over if you talk about labor laws.

        1. Newington*

          Yeah, that sounds like it. I work for a nice small company that sells spouts to the big companies so we get bits of both worlds, seemingly the good bits. We’re in the early stages of unionising, but it’s not as demonised over here (although the management at Big Teapot are still going to flip out when it goes public.) Good luck!

      2. Nerfmobile*

        And I know what you mean because the company I work for has one division that makes THE software that lets you visualize those fluid dynamics in a compelling way. But I work on a very mundane part of the general experience of purchasing software. Nothing even to do with fluid dynamics.

    2. OP 1*

      This is really the bothersome part. I don’t mind a few friendly comments on what’s currently going on with the company. I do mind getting asked for perks, insider information and access to connections.

      1. boo bot*

        I think it might be helpful to have some blanket statements that you can practice in advance and repeat as needed:
        “I really can’t talk about anything that’s not public information.”
        “I’m not able to give out teapot samples, that’s handled by another department.”
        “I’m not in a position to connect you to Important Person.”

        I’m not in the industry I’m guessing Newington and Mainely Professional are in (though I support the drive to unionize!) but in similar circumstances, I’ve also found it helpful to be a little more candid with people I know a little better:

        “It’s actually part of my job NOT to try to put anyone in touch with Important Person, and if I try, it will make me look unprofessional and like I don’t understand the politics of my own office.”

        “If I talked about insider information, not only would I lose my job, but it would damage my credibility throughout the industry. It’s not that I don’t trust you, it’s that I can’t talk about this with anyone.”

        “There are a lot of arcane, unwritten rules about who gets access to samples, and my even asking to have one for you will reflect badly on me – it doesn’t necessarily make sense, but it’s an industry norm.”

        1. Half-Caf Latte*

          What about making an obvious farce of it? Wouldn’t work in all situations but could be really funny:

          Where do you work?
          Oh, for Nascar, in the “procuring free tickets for strangers division.”
          Wait, what? Really?!
          No, sorry, that’s not a thing. I’m just the IT lady.

          1. tamarack and fireweed*

            Might work for some personalities, but you’d have to have a thick skin. If I was the asker, “free tickets” would be the last thing I’d be thinking about when I hear Nascar, so the presumption that I’d even want them, let alone ask about them, would be mildly irritating to me. Though I hope I’d have the grace to respond with “Huh, you get this sort of annoying crap a lot?” …. even though it would invite the Nascar employee to whinge.

            1. boo bot*

              Yeah, I think making a joke about it once the person’s already asked for something can be a good deflection, but if you start there when someone’s just asking you what you do, you’re kind of preemptively insulting them.

  28. MK*

    #2, maybe I am cold-hearted, but I don’t think the bachelorette party being sparsely populated should be a consideration here.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I don’t think you’re cold hearted at all…OP’s GF should not feel obligated to go just because nobody else from work is attending. I wouldn’t be comfortable going away for the weekend when the only person I knew was the bride, unless she was my best friend (and based on the letter I’m guessing that’s not the case). I might consider it if it was just a night out, but a weekend away with strangers is not my idea of fun.

      1. OP2*

        All very good points. I definitely think the weekend with strangers is what is making GF want to not go anymore, but Bride is a close work friend and GF has been very excited about the weekend and the shower and the wedding. I think the guilt comes the same way you would when you plan something with friends and the whole thing falls apart. Also, with weekends typically the way you book things is to split the cost of lodgings among the group so the more that go the cheaper it is for everyone and the better accommodations you can get.

        I am sure that Bride understands her new reports backing out, and will understand GF backing out too, but I can still see how it would be reasonable for a little sadness/disappointment to show up all around for all involved.

    2. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      I’m thinking it’s really the bride’s responsibility to rethink her events considering her promotion. Re-drawing boundaries is one of the first tasks of being promoted into a larger position in the same team.

      And I’m of the position that brides don’t get hijack other people’s lives and comfort levels just because they’re brides, so whatever LW’s GF wants to do should be just fine.

      1. Aphrodite*

        I agree that the newly promoted bride needs to step and re-sent her boundaries. If can’t or won’t do that, then it may not bode well for work in the future (at least until she educates herself about the new relationship boundaries).

        And, ACL, I totally agree with your second paragraph. ALL brides (and grooms) needs to have this in front of their face until they get it . I mean really get it.

  29. I am Manbat!*

    #1 I can sort of relate. I don’t have a “cool” job, but people seem to think it’s impressive. My advice would be to just make it sound really dull, and then change the subject. So instead of saying “I work in IT”, say “I’m the guy who tells people to try switching their computers off and on again. It pays the bills. So, how about that latest news event?”

    I’m not too crazy about nosy people.

    1. Joielle*

      Yeah, I used to have a job like that and I’d usually just say “ha, it’s not as exciting as it sounds! The work life balance sucks.” And then they’d commiserate about that, and then we’re off the topic of what I do for a living. I think you just have to be a bit of a downer about the job and most people will get the hint that you don’t want to talk about it.

  30. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    Ugh. In OldJob, the IT policy was to put the email addresses of staff who had left into a pool which was then expunged from the server at 6pm every Friday, with NO autoreply or anything – the sender would just get a ‘mail could not be delivered’ email back with no indication of whether there was a mailbox error, an IT snafu or whatever. We got lots of phone calls as a result of it.

    In the organisation I currently work for, leavers’ mailboxes are left open for a period of time (usually a month, but sometimes longer) with a message that says something like ‘Thank you for your mail; I no longer work at [place] so please contact [person@place.com]. Works perfectly!

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      That’s so civilized. My office shuts the entire account down at midnight after your last day — just a “no such address” bounce. And if someone writes the paperwork wrong (or if IT reads it wrong), sometimes emails get shut down *BEFORE* someone’s last day. And the online archive is wiped. So people forward their projects two days early and then waste time their last day. Kind of ridiculous.

  31. KayDay*

    #3 – My preferred way for people to deal with this is to leave an OOO for some time (2 weeks – some months) that clearly says that the person has left and instead to please contact ___ instead. After that period of time, closing the account (so that people get a bounce back).

    In my current job, it’s common for people to choose to leave their email accounts to be left open for their successor (e.g. I can access my predecessor’s inbox, but I cannot send from it nor retrieve any archived emails). This works well, and I’ve been grateful to have access to some older correspondence, but you only do this if you explicitly ask/tell the employee about it (as my company does). Even if your company has a standard policy that company email isn’t private, most people don’t expect someone to casually sift through their emails and they may very reasonably want to delete some of the “work-personal” emails (e.g. performance and HR, vacation plans, silly emails to colleagues).

    1. Thomas*

      What you describe strikes me as the best method–the OOO reply ensures that in the short term, things the departed employee was working on will get to the person taking over that work, and in the long term, closing the account means you don’t have undead inboxes still receiving mail.

      I’ve worked with a variety of companies in my industry and they were all pretty consistent about doing the OOO reply, with email accounts scheduled for deletion at a later time. This was even the case where it was clear from context that someone had been fired or been told to leave on giving notice. One day they were there, the next day, “As of [today’s date] I am no longer with Teapot Communications. Please contact my manager Fergus Plufferton for assistance.”

      Letter Writer’s organization seems weirdly childish about this. It’s harming the former employees’ reputation, but it also makes them look disorganized. If I find out that the reason someone isn’t getting back to me is that they were fired/left and there’s no OOO reply, I look askance at the company too–because they should have procedures for this!

      1. LW3 | OP3*

        A lot of the HR staff in the department recently came over from a company that provided customer service outsourcing. There was a lot of transaction-only customer service roles there (call center reps, processors, etc.).
        I think that customers would generally only interact with an individual representative once (due to the sheer number of reps), and rarely through email (and if so, probably through a general inbox). It seems to be a big change for them to move over to a different type of company. Further, our company is an extremely high-touch professional services firm, so the juxtaposition is especially striking.

  32. otterbaby*

    I work in a client facing role. Your company may not permit you to do this, but I have always sent an email to my clients, letting them know that I was leaving on x date and if they have any questions to contact x going forward. You don’t have to share where you’re going, but it avoids leaving people in the lurch and ensures that requests are going to the correct person, rather than filling up an empty inbox.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      THIS. I received one from a vendor that said “A new account manager has been designated for your company. Please address future correspondence to Ms. Pepper Potts (ppotts@stark.com) instead of me.”
      It was seamless.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      That works if you’re leaving by choice. But if you’re fired or laid off, you’re generally escorted out of the building immediately.

  33. londonedit*

    OP1 – I’m afraid that if you did work in IT for Manchester United, I would not be able to contain my excitement and would probably ask you eighteen million questions.

    Sadly I do not work for Manchester United, but I have a job that people think is quite ‘cool’, and also one that people don’t really understand. I usually try to leave it as ‘I work in publishing’, and sometimes people are satisfied with that, but often I get ‘Oh, you write books?’ or ‘So you spend all day correcting people’s spelling?’ Most of the time I just try to make it sound super boring – ‘No, it’s really just project management when it comes down to it, it’s not as glam as people think’ and that usually works. Unless they’re one of the classic ‘You work in publishing? Well, as it happens, I’m writing a book…’ people, at which point I lose the will to live.

    1. MayLou*

      Would you be excited about the IT part or the Man U part, though? Because I’d presume the IT part is fairly standard for any large organisation, and the Man U part is probably less exciting or relevant than you think.

      1. londonedit*

        Oh, totally the United part. Logically I would know that an IT job is an IT job, but as a lifelong United fan I probably wouldn’t be able to stop with the ‘OMG do you actually work at Old Trafford? Do you get to see the players? What’s it like working there? Do you get any cool perks?’ stuff. Which I know would be annoying!

        1. Former Hotel Worker*

          As someone who used to work at Old Trafford, I literally had this happen on a few occasions. I had somebody ask me how he could try out for the team (I had no idea – I worked hospitality) and wouldn’t take “i don’t know” for an answer (“but you work at Old Trafford!”). Also people asking me where the players liked to go on nights out (no idea, not my scene) and hanging around the training grounds on days we were closed to visitors while players were training so they could try and catch a glimpse. I would have trouble believing how persistent LW1’s questioners are, but having experienced it, I can confirm that this absolutely happens. It’s easier to be firm with more focused questions and say “no, I know absolutely nothing about x, not my department”. Vaguer prodding is harder to handle, and I would usually keep my replies boring and repetitive until they gave up.

          The funny thing is, in my experience, places like this prefer to hire people with little to know interest in the thing the workplace does so as to avoid distractions. When I was there, a lot of the workers were City fans or didn’t follow football at all, so our job rarely seemed as cool to us as it did to other people, even without accounting for the fact that the duties were usually fairly removed from any of the supposedly glamorous elements.

          1. Angus McDonald, Boy Detective*

            It could also be the fact that people from Manchester (like myself) tend to be City fans, and it’s people from elsewhere that are usually United fans! So if you’re hiring from Manchester, it’s more likely they’re a City fan?

            1. Former Hotel Worker*

              That’s a good point. There were a couple of United fans in my department, both born and raised there, but they both agreed that it was crap working at the grounds (at least in hospitality) because they rarely got a day off to go to a game. A lot of the regular fans we used to see were from Ireland or London.

    2. FabJob Tag*

      I know what it’s like! I am a film producer now after a long career as a book publisher. I used to make the mistake of sharing my occupation with anyone who asked. I stopped saying I was a book publisher after an anniversary dinner at a high-end restaurant. After briefly chatting with our waiter, we had the owner come over and ask if I would publish her cookbook, then had our waiter ask if I would publish his memoirs. Since then, when people asked what I do I said I was a writer (which I had been in the past) which made most people’s eyes glaze over. But they stopped asking me to publish their book or wanting to meet so they could “pick my brains”, ugh!

    3. Goldfinch*

      I used to work in publishing as well, and the key to a “they think they can get an ‘in’ from me” type of job is to drown them in boring minutiae. I can talk about the hyphenation rules of the Big 5 for at least ten minutes.

    4. MOAS*

      Right? If someone tells me they work in the music industry, the first thing I’ll ask is “have you met [my favorite singer]?” I wouldn’t even care if they met a million other celebrities, just that 1. LOL.

      From another perspective though if someone tells me they do something, I try to find something interesting about it and talk to them about it. However, I would try my best to read their cues and stop that line of questioning though if it seems they’re uncomfortable wiht it.

    5. AngryOwl*

      Solidarity. I recently told someone [a stranger] that I *used* to work in publishing and still got the “I’m a writer!” thing.

  34. Shiny Swampert*

    #1: you’ve had some good advice, but honestly, I’d start claiming to be an expert in chocolate teapots. Or rice sculpting.

    1. OrigCassandra*

      This was actually my father’s gambit of choice, in a way. He’s an anthropologist, and got really tired of the Indiana Jones nonsense (which resembles what anthropologists actually do in exactly no way at all), so he would answer “Ruin robbing and junk picking” and let them figure it out.

      OP1, if this doesn’t sound up your alley, could you find an inoffensive description for the industry your workplace is in that would satisfy the questioner without revealing too much? So, like, “a local sports outfit” for Manchester United, or “a video production company” for Nickelodeon.

  35. Alex di Marco*

    I have a good friend who works for the police and who was quite senior before he retired. Whichever way he put it, on every social occasion, there would be someone who would decide it was a moment to discuss all the gripes they had with the police, the system, and describe every bad experience they ever had, even if it was an unpleasant encounter with a traffic warden! So at some point my friend decided that he would say that he was a helicopter mechanic. There were no follow-up questions ever.

    1. Asenath*

      If I did that, the next person I spoke to would be fascinated with helicopters! Still, the problem of unwanted responses is common – teachers get critiques of education and complaints about the staff of some completely unrelated school, doctors and nurses get complaints about the medical system AND sometimes requests for diagnoses, and so on. I think a quick deflection – “helicopter mechanic” or “IT” or something banal – with a heavy emphasis on turning the conversation to the OP’s interest helps. I usually say “Oh, I work in an office”, but sometimes that alone just sparks more questions, and really, I don’t want to be boring on about some trivial office issues I’m putting out of my mind because I’m not working right now.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Yes. “I work in medical finance and I have no control over the American health care system so please let’s just not.”

      2. MOAS*

        If I heard helicopter mechanic, I’d probably think “Wow that’s so cool!” and ask them what led them to it.

        Before I started working, if someone said “office” I would ask them how? Is it anything like the TV show? etc.

        I guess whats boring to one person would be interesting to someone else. :(

        1. Asenath*

          “Oh, I spend all day in front of a computer, mostly working out schedules.” Scheduling sounds very boring, unlike some of my other duties, and so is a good reason to change the subject. One of these days, I’ll go into a lengthy description of just how my most complicated schedule is structured, and the effects on schedules of unexpected changes in other departments. No one will ask me the specifics of my job again! (Actually, sometimes working out a complicated schedule is satisfying, like doing a puzzle, but no need to let anyone know that.)

  36. Newington*

    Re #1. I’d heard that the etiquette in DC was that if you ask someone what they do and they answer “I work for the government”, you don’t ask any more.

    Presumably if it’s such a big cool company, you’re NDA’d to heck about it anyway? Can you use that? Possibly with an I-could-tell-you-but-I’d-have-to-kill-you joke if the context allows it.

    1. Boobookitty*

      “I-could-tell-you-but-I’d-have-to-kill-you” isn’t even slightly amusing. But it would be effective at stopping conversation. I would never again willingly communicate with someone who said that to me.

      1. Lynn Whitehat*

        I used to hold a Top Secret clearance. I never knew anything “cool”, but people pried endlessly. I got SO TIRED of the “ I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you” joke.

        1. DivineMissL*

          My brother was pretty high up in his clearance; when he was asked questions, he would just say “I can neither confirm nor deny that”, everyone would laugh, and that was the end of it.

          1. Newington*

            That’s better – the kind of thing I meant, but couldn’t think of. (I’m sure it still gets tiresome for people with actually secret jobs, though.)

      2. Karo*

        That’s a bit harsh. It’s clearly not an actual threat, but a way to import the seriousness of not talking about it. It’s also a pretty common turn of phrase, and this is the first time I’ve heard push back against it.* You’re obviously free to choose who you do and don’t associate with, but I think most people would just laugh and move on.

        *Not saying that common turns of phrase are all okay – someone has to start push back against things we shouldn’t say – but I think this is a phrase where you’d want to explain why you don’t like it, rather than suddenly giving someone the cold shoulder.

        1. Joielle*

          Yeah. I mean, it’s a boring and overdone joke, but come on, it’s… obviously a joke. About security clearances, not murder. I’m usually the first person to jump on a problematic joke, but this is not one.

    2. Consultant Catie*

      My husband has a high-clearance job for the government here in DC, and to be honest, we usually plan ahead for how we’re going to address his job before we meet a new group of people. For instance, close friends and family know what he does and where he works (as far as what he’s allowed to share under his clearance), acquaintances know he works for the government (or if pressed, the Department he works for), and then when we’re traveling internationally we come up with something else to tell strangers. OP#1, maybe you could use a mental system like this to prevent the situation where strangers try to ask you for perks right away?

  37. jDC*

    I was in the same boat as LW 1, as well as being a woman in a male dominated field (think NASCAR but not quite). I just would answer a few questions then change the subject.

  38. BRR*

    #5 the same thing happened to me and they won’t remember unless they’re an unreasonable people (hopefully you aren’t working at business insider!). I was actually in the middle of writing my thank you notes when I got the offer. If you got the offer soon after your interview like I did, you could always sneak in something about writing thank you notes when you got the offer.

  39. SuperAdmin*

    OP2, if your girlfriend was already considering not going and isn’t close to the coworker-turned-boss then I’d say she’s ok to make a polite excuse and not attend.

    The coworkers who are on now-boss’s team though? I find it a bit sad that they were happy to celebrate with a coworker when they were on the same level, but now she’s been promoted they’re not. Assuming it’s not going to be full of embarrassing bachelorette shenanigans or other potentially inappropriate behavior I can’t see the problem. Socialising with one’s boss is not in-and-of-itself a faux pas in the workplace. Your prior working relationship does not immediately get erased once someone is promoted above you.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Aren’t shenanigans and inappropriate behavior EXACTLY the point of a bachelorette party?

    2. EPLawyer*

      But it does change the dynamic. Do you want to see your now boss drunk? Will that affect your opinion of her judgment going forward? Or will you be extra careful and therefore NOT have fun because you don’t want to have HER judgment of you affected going forward?

      It’s just not a good situation given the new power dynamics. The new boss should make it clear that because of the change, there is now a change in the party. It’s on her to acknowledge the new situation and not act like it’s all the same. LW even commented people now feel they HAVE to go to make the boss happy. So it has changed already. Again, up to the boss to fix that.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      No, your prior relationship doesn’t get erased but it does change. When someone is your boss there’s a different dynamic. I wouldn’t want to have to filter myself during a fun weekend because I’m now going away with my manager. And making an assumption that there will be no “bachelorette shenanigans or other potentially inappropriate behavior” is being unrealistic. Mine was tame compared to others I’ve heard about, and I still wouldn’t have been comfortable having my boss there.

      That being said, I’m friends with my current manager (real friends, not just friendly) and would have no issues going away for the weekend with her and being my true self, but that type of boss/employee relationship is rare.

    4. Librarian of SHIELD*

      One of the facts of being a manager is that you can’t be friends with your direct reports in the same way that you can with your peers. Crazy bachelorette vacation with your buddies over a long weekend? Cool. Crazy bachelorette vacation with the people whose evaluations you write and raises you sign off on? Less cool.

      That doesn’t mean they can’t ever socialize, but I’ve seen enough weekend vacations with friends that ended in bickering and drama to know that I don’t ever want to be in that situation with my boss.

    5. OP2*

      Firstly, the weekend is in Vegas so shenanigans will abound. As is often the point of bachelorette weekends.

      As for GF, she was very excited to go, as were all the other coworkers prior to the promotion. Now, the only reason GF doesn’t want to go is that no one else from work would be going (all understandable, since Bride would be the only other person she knows). The coworkers have all backed out because Bride is now their boss, but previously it seemed like everyone was on board and excited. I’m not sure why you think they are no longer happy to celebrate with Bride – they, of course, would love to, but feel like there is now a boundary that prevents them from celebrating with Bride in quite this way.

      @EPLawyer, not sure where you’re getting that people feel like they have to go because Bride is now the boss. There is absolutely no pressure on them from Bride, other than the ordinary social pressure that happens when someone plans something and everyone says they’re excited to do it and then plans fall through completely. And the also ordinary social pressure that happens when you invite work friends and non-work friends to an event and one group totally bails on you. And possibly some small ordinary social guilt that comes from how the trip was to be paid for. It’s common for bachelorette weekends for one person to book accommodations for the group based on how many people are attending and then all attendees to split the cost. With fewer people going, but the room(s) possibly having been booked, people may now need to pay more than they originally expected in order to cover it, they may have more room than they need, or they may have to downgrade their plans because without the additional people it’s now too expensive to book.

    1. Newington*

      Hell no. They’re lovely people and we have enjoyable social evenings sometimes, but it never feels like it’s quite your own time. I’d resent giving up a whole weekend.

      1. Gabriel Conroy*

        Me three. I even try to avoid the social outings in the evening, although they can be enjoyable.

        Once in a blue moon we’ll have workday social outings, like if it’s a colleague’s last day, we might take an extra long lunch and take them out to eat. And while in a sense it’s part of the job or workday, in another sense, it’s voluntary and also has some of the awkwardness of a social outing. I realize I’m very fortunate to work somewhere that let’s us simply take an extra long lunch. I’m certainly not complaining. But it does feel like work.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Depends on the people. General colleagues, no. Friends that I happen to share office space with, yes.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I had former colleagues that have turned onto good friends. We would have enjoyed a weekend together, all similar backgrounds and interests.

      But in general, no. I enjoy company parties but a couple hours is just fine. We run out of small talk really fast.

    4. cheddaronrye*

      Several of my coworkers and I have to go once a year to a Really Cool Place. My assistant paid her own way one year to go with us because she was tired of us having fun without her in Really Cool Place. (Now we pay for her to go, too, so it worked in her favor.) So…some people would even choose to spend two weeks of their own vacation with coworkers and their BOSS!

    5. Holly*

      This conversation comes up every now and again – every office is different and has different colleagues. I personally love happy hours/social off-work hangouts with my colleagues who I consider friends as well. Not every workplace or group of coworkers are like that.

  40. Stitch*

    I work in the legal field so there are ethical considerations when trying to reach someone and you can have to contact someone again after months.

    What I typically get is an auto response “Jane Doe is no longer with Firm. Please contact Mary Smith for any teapot issues or John Jones for spout issues.” This is not hard to do and is much better than your current set up.

  41. Gabriel Conroy*

    #5 [thank you notes]

    True story: I once interviewed for a job and mailed a thank you note right after. They hired me, but because however they manage their incoming mail, the hiring managers didn’t get the thank you note until I had been there a couple weeks.

  42. dance dance dance*

    #3: Even if you do set OOO, get rid of the accounts after a while, too. Why? Because OOO only send out the FIRST time someone e-mails after it’s been set up, so if someone follows up a month later, they don’t get sent the OOO again. A friend tells the story of that time she left for another job, didn’t like it, and came back to a different position at $org a year or so later. The org had never gotten rid of her e-mail address. She came back to hundreds of angry messages from people asking her why she wasn’t doing X, Y, and Z, or what had happened to A, and just a million different things and it looked like she dropped the ball on all of them. She had to reach out to people to explain that she hadn’t been employed there at the time.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Actually, I think it can be set so a message goes out every time, but good point, in order to optimize the OOO message for people who have left, IT would need to make sure that 1) the OOO message is clear and concise, and 2) that it goes out every time, not just once.

      Bouncing the account is certainly simpler, but you can customize the OOO message for each person, to give a contact who is in the same department/division. But the OOO message should only be used for a set time, maybe 1-6 months, depending on the business and function.

      1. dance dance dance*

        Oooh, you can? Nice. I’d love to be able to set my OOO to go out every day if I’m out for a week or so. I keep all OOO e-mails that I receive so I can check dates, but I know that most people in my org just delete them as soon as they get them. So it’d be great if every day or so, if they keep e-mailing me, they can keep getting the reminder that I’M NOT THERE.

    2. LW3 | OP3*

      dance dance dance: The first time only OOO send is a really great point!

      The Cosmic Avenger: That is a great suggestion, I will look into this capability with Outlook!

  43. EitherIther*

    I used to always ask, “What do you do?” not necessarily referring to jobs, but well… whatever you do that you feel like talking about! So you could always just answer with other things you do – Like “Oh I like to go hiking!”

    I’ve been meaning to refine that question, but other than a drunken stranger getting mad at me (“What do you do?” “What do you mean?” “Eh, just generally. Work, hobbies, etc. What sort of things are you into?” cue random angry drunk person), it tends to go over well enough.

    1. HannahS*

      Yeah, I realized I didn’t really want to ask people about their jobs, so I switched to asking, “So, how do you spend your time?” I meet a lot of retired people, people who do whatever to pay the bills but spend the rest of their time on their art, people on parental leave…sometimes I get “Whuh?” in response and explain that I mean to ask them how they spend their days, if they work or have hobbies, or whatever. Then if people want to tell me about their jobs, they do, and if not I get to hear about their gardening or art or grandchildren or former job or whatever.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Yeah, I think “How do you spend your time” is my mother’s go-to — she knows more retired people, etc. — but it definitely works for anyone. I’ve seen “What’s your passion” suggested as a replacement for “where do you work,” but please don’t do that! I have had decades where that would just send me into a tailspin.

        1. boo bot*

          Ooh, “what’s your passion?” is so cringe-inducing to me, it feels way too intimate for someone you’re just meeting! Plus, what does “passion” mean in this context? I feel like it comes across of critical of anyone who doesn’t either love their job or have a rooftop greenhouse full of orchids or something.

  44. MicroManagered*

    OP1 I had a friend who worked for a very well-known company and she actually wasn’t supposed to disclose the company name for confidentiality reasons. She’d simply say “I’m a boring-job-title for a large retailer you’ve definitely heard of, but I can’t say more than that.” and that pretty much shut down any further inquiry. I never saw it happen, but I would imagine any further curiosity could be shut down with “No really, I can’t talk about it.” with zero intriguing-smile.

    1. Reality.Bites*

      Were you allowed to know where she worked? What level of confidentiality was required of her – close friends and family only, spouse only, or are we at Mr and Mrs Smith levels? Was it on the level of “please just don’t do it” or closer to “Why yes, you’re expected to last a minimum 2 hours professional interrogation before you crack?”

      Not being flip – just fascinated by the possibilities.

      1. MicroManagered*

        I am sure like, her husband and her mom knew–it wasn’t something you needed Top Secret military clearance to know. But for a get-together of mixed friends and casual acquaintances, the answer was “a retailer you’ve heard of/can’t name.” (And I fell more in the acquaintance category than super-close friend.)

        1. Reality.Bites*

          Thanks – I’m not at all curious about which retailer it is, but I couldn’t have lived without the info you provided. :)

  45. Koala dreams*

    #1 I find answering in a general, vague way is more successful than the long and specific answer. Unless they have worked in a similar job, they probably don’t understand and don’t care what you really do. However, one short sentence is typically too short. There should be a back and forth. Often it goes something like this (with questions or comments from the other person between the sentences):
    I work as an accountant.
    In an office near X, on bus line Y.
    I help customers with their accounting. Mostly I sit at the computer and work with numbers.
    I like it, it’s fun to work with numbers. The company have many different companies as customers.

    Then you ask them the same things back, and then you change the subject. If you don’t want to get into all that, you can deflect and change the subject.
    Oh, I’m thinking too much about work as it is, right now I just want to enjoy the music. This song is great! What kind of music do you like?

      1. Joielle*

        A lot of people are! I think the key is to say something vague and immediately ask the other person a question. “What do you do?” “Oh, I work in IT, just network stuff, it’s boring. How about you?” If you just answer the question, the other person will jump in to fill the silence with more questions. But if you ask them a question in return, they’ll talk about themselves.

      2. Koala dreams*

        Or that the people you are having a conversation with are bad at small talk. They only think of questions about work and can’t come up with more topics. It’s quite easy to improve your small talk from a beginner level to intermediate, the hard thing is the step to advanced level. You can do it! ;)

  46. Reality.Bites*

    In the late 80s I worked for Canada’s largest cable company. This was before satellite and streaming of course, and the company had about an 80% penetration rate, since you needed cable to pick up the US broadcast networks. As with any utility when something goes wrong for a customer that results in them not having service, or paying more than they expected, they are not going to be happy, putting aside all considerations of who was right, who was at fault, if it was avoidable or a system-wide problem.

    I don’t know if it was part of the policy, or an offhand comment, but I know of new trainees in customer service being advised it’s best to avoid mentioning where you work in social settings.

    I remember once reading the advice that a good way to avoid questions about what you do is to say you work for the IRS.

  47. Saraphina*

    I’m new to DC and the first thing I noticed was how often people ask “what do you do?”

    Drives me nuts….

  48. Another Lawyer*

    #1, I have a “cool” job and end up having a ton of similar conversations. I’ve gotten to the point where when people comment about how cool it is, etc. I just say “yup, it’s really cool!” and then change the subject. I find that once people comment on it, if I acknowledge and redirect, they move on too.

  49. agnes*

    I also work for an employer that everyone has an opinion about. I usually say, I work for X and when the next question or comment comes up, I say something like yeah, I spend enough time thinking about work when I’m at work, so I’d rather hear more about you!

  50. DCer*

    Letter Writer #1 – I too have a job that attracts TONS of attention when you tell people what you do. (I’m a journalist who covers presidential campaigns, so you can imagine.) In DC, as Allison said, people are pretty good about recognizing that you don’t want to talk about it. The problem is when I leave DC – and then I’m open to a wide range of responses – everything from strangers shouting Fake News at me to interrogations about the campaigns. Sometimes I’m happy to make chit chat about work, but some days I’m burned out and need a break.

    When I can’t handle it, I have a few techniques that I find work. Jokes are often a good way to handle in social settings. “Donald Trump isn’t here so lets not talk about him.” or “I’m trying to minimize how frequently I hear Bernie Sanders in my dreams, so lets change the subject.”

    I also find becoming really inquisitive about their jobs will sometimes make people back down. One word answers about mine followed by lots of questions about theirs.

    Finally, I sometimes deflect that I simply don’t know. That’s a really unsatisfying answer for people who expect me to tell them who is going to win. (I have my guesses, but I’m not in the mood to share them.) So when you start saying, “I don’t really know” people tend to back off.

    Good luck!

  51. Going Anon*

    As an East Coaster, I also thought asking “what do you do” was normal until I learned from West Coasters that it was considered weird to them! I think it has to do with the a lot of professional elite “old money” presence here, plus I also grew up in an academic achievement fixated Asian family, where the first thing I was asked by relatives were school-related questions, where I was going to college, etc. It only seemed natural that those questions would morph into job questions in adulthood.

    1. Teapot project manager*

      Uh. I grew up and have lived in Oregon or Washington my entire life and I don’t think it’s weird at all to ask someone what they do/where they work.

      And my daughter and her friends who just graduated high school definitely gets asked where she’s going to college or what is next for them.

  52. Phony Genius*

    On #3, in addition to the automatic bounce message, I would consider an automatic forward of messages for a short time, just to make sure important messages from clients to that employee are read by somebody. This can take some of the burden off of the client.

    1. LW3 | OP3*

      This might be a good alternative than trying to get a manager to check an additional inbox. That way, it’s in their inbox and they see that they have something they need to deal with.

  53. GlassShark*

    #5: A lot of people say to send the thank-you notes within a week of the interview. Just think to yourself “I got the offer only a few days after the interview, so they really didn’t give me any TIME to write a thank-you note, so they probably weren’t expecting one anyway” and enjoy your new job!

  54. Another Lawyer*

    #4, do you have a close coworker that could do a little notifying ahead of time for you? When faced with fresh grief, I’ve found it helpful if someone else can do the notifying so that people can process on their own and I’m not just walking around feeling like I have to tell everyone that I am Not Good. Then, use Allison’s script when people do ask.

  55. Sleepless*

    There are some really great suggestions here for deflecting conversations about your job! I’d love some suggestions from the commentariat.

    I’m a veterinarian. There is no vague description for that. Even if I say “I work in medicine” or “I work in an animal hospital,” people aren’t likely to leave it at that. I can occasionally get away with “I work on X street and wow is the traffic terrible!” And, see…I love what I do. But I really don’t want to talk about it with people outside my field when I’m not at work, and as soon as the cat’s out of the bag it’s all over. I really, really REALLY don’t want to hear another cute pet story, or the story of their pet’s last illness, or how expensive vets are, or how their kid wants to be a vet. I absolutely don’t want the person to find me on social media later and ask me for medical advice about their pet. I really just want to hang out with them and be all “hello, fellow human!”

    1. Not A Manager*

      My late husband used to have a similar problem regarding his profession. For people who wanted to share anecdotes/complaints about their own experiences, he would go politely Grey Rock and then change the subject. “Hm, interesting.” “Heh, that’s cute.” “Ah, sorry that happened.” Period. No follow up or comment *on that topic,* but an immediate change of subject to something that might be of mutual interest.

    2. Holly*

      Unfortunately I think you just have to get better at steering the conversation back to the other person/asking questions/etc. Like if they talk about their kid wanting to be a vet say, “that’s great! how old is she?” Follow up with a question that gets off of work but still continues the same conversation. People just want to connect with you and have a conversation. It’s strange to try and evade your job when there’s no confidentiality reason.

  56. StressedButOkay*

    OP3, it’s not just a reflection on your former employee, it’s a reflection on your organization. If I send email after email and I don’t get a response, only to find out by reaching out to someone else that that person has left, I’m frustrated and irritated, especially if there was a deadline I needed something by. I’m less likely at that point to be irritated at the person and far more likely to be frustrated with your organization since there are things you can do once someone has left that they have no control over.

    There’s a lot of turnover in my industry and having an instant response saying that person is no longer there is a huge help.

    Since you’re in HR, you can advocate for a company policy to put in place what everyone in the organization needs to do when someone leaves. At my organization, we do leave the inbox open for a certain amount of time – with an out of office set up – with someone monitoring the email. And then we close it down.

  57. Heidi*

    If it helps at all, I think that OP1’s problem is eventually going to sort itself out. Once everyone in the new social circle knows what you do, the number of times you have to answer this question will decrease dramatically.

  58. voyager1*

    I haven’t read all the comments. I get the feeling though you work at a cool government agency or company, but maybe work in a support role? You shouldn’t be embarrassed. The CIA or NASA or Facebook all have a support staff to ensure mission critical or business critical objectives are completed.

    1. OP 1*

      I don’t work in a support role. I do work in a “back of house” function though. I’m not embarrassed by my job function at all. I enjoy my work and am proud of it. I just don’t like talking about it or fielding a lot of questions about the company or perks and connections I can share with people.

    2. Antilles*

      I don’t read it as “embarrassment” as much as not wanting to have the same 20 minute discussion every single time it casually comes up that OP works for NASCAR or whatever.
      Like, if you say “I work IT” for a law office, people nod politely and then move onto another topic. If you say “I work IT for the Patriots”, then suddenly people start asking tons of questions about what it’s like to work in sports, how much you must love football, what Belichick is like in person, whether you’ve met Brady, do you get free tickets, blah blah blah blah blah…and it’s the exact same conversation every single time you meet someone new when all OP wants to do is not talk about work in their free time.

      1. Asenath*

        It sounds like my situation in which I either get questions assuming I have far different professional qualifications than I do, or enquiries on how one’s child/young relative/friend can get in. I get a bit tired of explaining that no, not everyone who works at MyPlace has X qualifications and well, it’s a big place and I have absolutely no connection with either hiring or admissions. I like my work, and like to think I”m useful to the organization, but it’s not what first comes to people’s minds when they hear where I work. And it’s not really a famous organization, although it’s well-known locally.

      2. smoke tree*

        Yeah, I think to some extent these repetitive conversations are inevitable, although it’s possible to cut them off politely if you work at it. I found the worst was when I worked in customer service at an “interesting” attraction and customers always wanted to talk about how I liked the job. It was actually a pretty crappy place to work, but I just had to make vaguely positive sounds since I was, you know, at work at the time.

  59. Hiring Mgr*

    For #1, you mention that this is a newer social circle so presumably they don’t know you that well yet. Maybe just talking about it once or twice will eliminate the ongoing questions. Other than that, it’s pretty normal to ask people about their jobs.

    For some reason though the “pivoting” strategy seems weird…like are these people so clueless that they just start babbling about themselves and immediately forget that they asked you the question in the first place. Or maybe they’re the ones pivoting and it just becomes and endless loop..

  60. Not A Manager*

    LW1 – Maybe this was said upthread, but I think in your case you might need to be explicit. It sounds like it’s hard to dodge the “but what do you REALLY do?” question, so I’d answer it honestly. “I work at The Coolest Company In The World as a senior llama wrangler.” – “WOW!! Tell me alllllll about it. Here are a billionty questions.” – “I’m sorry, I actually don’t like to talk about my job outside of work. How about that change of subject?”

    That might sound sharp or curt, but I think it has the advantage of not stretching out the process or making you seem coy as you try to dodge questions. Just be straightforward, keep a pleasant tone of voice and facial expression, and be prepared with a few key pivot questions/comments of your own to keep the conversation moving.

  61. Janet*

    I have found myself in the same boat, working in media at a prominent company. Often when I meet people socially they want to know if I knew certain quasi-celebrity people in my organization, or else they have a complaint about something that was published that I had no role with, etcetera. For years I’d try to be vague in social settings about what I did, but it never worked and I ended up facing follow-up questions and piquing peoples’ curiosity. So after trial and error, I have settled on stating bluntly upfront where I work and then offering a quite dull description of my own job there. The average person who isn’t deeply into business doesn’t really know much about what I do, and the conversation usually ends up with one polite follow-up comment from them, which I cheerfully reply to with even blander information, and then we move onto whatever they do, and that’s about it. My experience is that it isn’t a big deal if you don’t make it a big deal in your reply.

  62. Dust Bunny*

    #3 when my coworker retired, her emails were forwarded to me so I could handle anything important that might still be trickling in, and an automated reply was sent to the sender to notify them that she no longer worked for us. The account was disabled completely after . . . 6 months, maybe? I don’t remember. Long enough for her regular contacts to have been informed and redirected to either my email or our general department email.

  63. Nicki Name*

    #1, anything that sounds like deliberate vagueness is going to trigger an instinct in some people to dig even deeper than they normally would to find out what you’re covering up. One strategy that might work is to provide a highly specific but boring-sounding version of your job, e.g.:

    Designs rides for Disneyland => “I work with high-volume industrial control systems.”
    Controller for Nickelodeon => “I run accounting for a media company. I could tell you about this exciting new audit procedure we’re trying…”


  64. L.S. Cooper*

    OP4: I feel for you so very much– I’m in a very similar boat, having recently lost my mom (like, less than a week ago). Complicating matters is that I’m a year out of college and in my first ever proper office job, so everyone I work with is at least ten years older than me, so there’s some weird mentor-y instincts going on. (Nothing egregiously weird, obviously.)
    I’ve been deflecting questions about how I’m doing by saying “I’m doing pretty okay, and I’m really focusing on keeping myself busy with work at the moment.” Maybe you could adapt that to add to Alison’s script– something like “My summer wasn’t great, my mom passed away, but I’m really looking forward to distracting myself by focusing on work.”
    Personally, I’ve felt that it’s important for people to know my mom passed away, just so that nobody I work with winds up in the mortifying situation of asking something about my mom, and then realizing she’s passed. I figured it was easier to just let people know. (Although then there’s the sympathy/pity, which is very nice, but is the thing that will make me most likely to burst into tears, so that’s a whole nother kettle of beans…)

  65. Elenia*

    OP# 2 – I am feeling awkward about inviting my staff to my housewarming party. I only want to do it because they have heard so much about it. That is one afternoon in a fairly neutral setting. I can’t imagine inviting them for a bachelorette WEEKEND!

    1. OP2*

      Invites went out before they turned into her staff, but yes. I’m sure it would have seemed awkward had she thought about sending the invites to them after the promotion, but since this was all pre-promotion they’re all kind of stuck with the situation.

  66. Donkey Hotey*

    Another Pacific Northwester here.

    I’ve started answering “What do you do?” with “Well, I really enjoy road trips. I can spend weeks and months planning a good summer trip. My wife and I have been taking cooking classes together at the local culinary institute. She’s more a stove top person, I’m more of a baker. (blah, blah, blah until their eyes glaze over) Oh, and for pay, I’m a technical writer for a local industrial shop.”

    I believe asking what a person does for a living does two things: establishes social hierarchy and gives people a range of topics to make small talk around. By leading with my “for fun” activities, it offer them other things to talk about. And by putting “for pay” ahead of my job, it helps break the automatic equation of “you are what you do for money.”

  67. YoungTen*

    OP4: I’m so sorry about your mom. We had a coworker lose his mom this past July also. What seems to help my coworker is that he has a couple of people he’s close to at work who he talks to. Is it possible to maybe have one person who you can share things with? I don’t mean like a therapist, but someone who you can say ” today is really tough for me” and will empathize with you? Again, I am so sorry for your loss.

  68. Coder von Frankenstein*

    OP #1, since you work in IT, you could always take refuge in jargon.

    “Right now, I’m working on setting up the development environment for our new in-house financial services platform, which is also serving as a test bed for Vue – my office hasn’t historically done a lot with front-end technology, so my team and I are trying to get more people using Javascript. I built the development environment using Docker, but some of my coworkers are on Windows machines and Windows doesn’t play nice with Docker, so I ended up running Docker inside a Vagrant VM; kind of insane but it works.”

    Do this whenever somebody asks you about work, and pretty soon they’ll learn not to ask you about work any more. :)

  69. De Minimis*

    I agree with the advice to have a permanent bounce-back message. Only somewhat related, but I think the accounts should also be left open for a certain period with manager access to ensure everything is handed off and that any systems the departing employee has access to can be moved to someone else. My previous employer neglected to do this with my predecessor [who had sole access to a lot of things] and it took a very long time to get it fixed/changed over–literally well over a year for some of the systems with less user-friendly help/recovery functions.

    1. LW3 | OP3*

      Great point! Some vendors/systems require that a current user add the new user which requires access to the email if you don’t know the account password. If there ever is a workaround to current users providing additional administrator rights, it’s usually a tedious search for a phone number, being on hold for a while, bounced around to different areas, and then maybe pushed off because you don’t have some kind of company control code, etc. to provide them (which may also be in the Leaver’s email history!).

  70. De Minimis*

    I used to work for the Post Office, and the second most annoying thing I’d hear from people was “Can you get me free stamps?”

    The most annoying thing was the constant jokes about workplace violence….

  71. Jon*

    IT professional here, chiming in on OP#3. The company should absolutely NOT leave that email account active indefinitely. Every unused email account is a potential security vulnerability. Depending certain variables (the company’s business, the outgoing employee’s role, whether the outgoing employee had time to let people know/hand off her work, etc), they may choose to leave it up for a predetermined amount of time with an auto-reply about the employee’s status. (These messages should also be automatically forwarded either to the employee’s manager or to a person designated to handle that employee’s workload.) The important thing is, after a set amount of time, that account needs to be deactivated permanently. The company’s IT department should have a method of backing up the contents of the mailbox before deactivating it, and sending that backup file to the outgoing employee’s manager, just in case there’s some critical piece of information, found ONLY in the employee’s email, and that cannot be accessed any other way.

    Any company that, as a matter of standard operating procedure, leaves the accounts of former employees active indefinitely, is just asking to be compromised.

    1. LW3 | OP3*

      Great point! Perhaps our Info Security team company could help put some weight behind the push to create a new policy!

  72. sometimeswhy*

    LW1 – If/when they push–and, oh my giddy aunt, I am no longer stunned by how often people push–I sort of sigh and drop my shoulders in a “I’m letting my guard down” posture and say, “Honestly, I spend so much energy on work, I’d really rather not talk about it tonight. So how do you know Chester? Aren’t these little cheese things great? What kind of cheese do you think that is?”

    I’ve had journalists who cover my field respect that and my field is a thing that people either love or hate but EVERYONE has an opinion. Before I started using that, I was once cornered and yelled at during a social function by a very drunk lady who was accusing me personally of having done a thing to her that neither I nor my employer actually do. Hyperbole: it’s what’s for hors d’oeuvres.

  73. Alice*

    I work at a cool company which people 1) want to talk about and 2) have lots of opinions about. The consensus here is just to say you’re an IT Manager at a large firm or something along those lines.

  74. cheddaronrye*

    I work (and basically live) at a prestigious university and have a pretty fancy sounding title (and I love my job A LOT, so I actually do like to talk about what I do, it’s really fun and interesting). I have two tactics at parties when I’m either already feeling self-conscious or really tired or there’s been a recent scandal– one is the “get it over with” tactic, where sometimes it’s just easier to say where I work because I can tell this person will pry it out of me anyway and if I don’t say upfront it looks later like I’m being coy, so I say, “Oh, I work with undergrads at X, it’s super rewarding but at this point in the semester I’m a little burnt out and am happy to be off-campus, I’m sure you understand. Anyway, have you tried Y new restaurant” or the “deflect” tactic, which is just saying “oh, I work in finance in academia, kind of boring. Anyway, I went to this new restaurant the other day, have you heard of it?” Then I turn the discussion to restaurants/food, which is normally a safe bet. Or pets.

    (The worst for me is when I am upfront and the other person’s immediate response is either super defensive or “Oh, I got in there but I didn’t go because I couldn’t afford it.” Given that acceptance rate is about 5% (and financial aid is extremely generous), either I have been introduced to an astronomical amount of very smart people (in a very almost non-existent financial bracket) who choose to turn down acceptance to one of the most famous universities in the world, or they are lying. Having to nod and pretend that I believe them is so annoying, and it’s also just such an odd thing to lie about. That’s when I just excuse myself and go to the bathroom. I go to the bathroom a lot.)

  75. Secretary*

    OP #1; you’ll probably still need to share where you work, but for the people who want to ask a lot of questions or get competitive I suggest asking THEM questions about their job in a positive and encouraging way.

    It’s amazing how if you have genuine interest in someone’s job/industry, even if it’s not a “cool” job, how they will be ready to tell you all about it and get the pressure off of you. Also being encouraging makes people like you more.


    Janice: So OP, what do you do for work?
    OP: I work in IT.
    Janice: Cool! For what company?
    OP: Space Llama’s International. What about you? Where do you work?
    Janice: SPACE LLAMA’S INTERNATIONAL?? WOW THAT’S AMAZING. I do janitorial work. How did you end up at that company?
    OP: Oh you know I applied last year. Wow the janitorial industry is so interesting. You can work anywhere! Where do you work?
    Janice: Oh my whole job is just to scrape gum off the bottom of desks in a school district. Kind of boring.
    OP: Are you kidding me? I didn’t know so many people stuck their gum there, let alone even chew gum! Man if I was a kid at that school I’d be so grateful you were there. You must see a lot of crazy things, what’s the wildest classroom you’ve ever had to do?
    Janice: *Tells you a horror story about gum*

    See, the trick is to divert her from asking more about your job by having a genuine interest in hers. Most people like to talk about themselves and she’s probably getting ready to ask more about what you do because she has good people skills more than just being fascinated. Your job is probably a really easy one to come up with questions about, but in this case you’re doing that for her.

  76. goducks*

    nah. Both Seattle and Portland are very neighborhood focused. Each has a different feel, a different vibe. In some ways they’re almost tribes. Knowing what neighborhood one lives in is a sort of proxy for a bunch of cultural information. This mostly only holds true within the city limits, it’s less true in the suburbs. Culturally in the PNW, it’s a very, very common thing to ask when first meeting someone.

    1. Manders*

      Yes, this! I didn’t really notice this until I got priced out of my “cultural fit” neighborhood and had to move to one where I don’t fit in as well. Some people I meet do seem surprised about it because I don’t fit their image of the neighborhood I live in.

  77. AngryOwl*

    I was reading #1 and getting pretty confused, because I really don’t think asking about someone’s job is nosy—it’s just small talk coming from folks who often don’t know what else to say.

    But now I’m aghast at the fact that so many people apparently get that info and ask for perks and favors. I like the idea of canned responses for those, but the evil part of me wants OP1 to channel Miss Manners and look very surprised by saying something like “My, that is awfully presumptuous.” and moving on.

  78. Beth Anne*

    LW#2 – Honestly I think it’s kind of weird to invite work friends to a weekend bachelorette party. But I also think weekend bachelorette parties are kind of over the top. Oh the rants I could write about the wedding industry. But I don’t know maybe she invited work and non work people.

    LW#3 – I don’t get why they don’t just forward the email to their supervisor or the new person’s job. Like if Jane leaves and Bob takes her place forward all her email to Bob. I agree leaving it opened vendors are going to get mad b/c no one is going to respond. At the very least they need to shut it down so the person gets a bounce back and has to figure out who to contact but in this day and age I feel like forwarding is the best solution.

    1. LW3 | OP3*

      I think that it’s a combination of important senior leaders 1. realizing they don’t have a good inventory of clients that need to be communicated with and 2. wanting the ability to procrastinate with communicating to clients about a new point of contact and 3. HR not wanting to challenge these issues

    2. OP2*

      She’s in the hospitality industry, so lines do get blurred. I would never invite anyone from work to my bachelorette party (should GF and I ever get married), but the GF’s friends are all work friends and they think that’s normal. I do believe it’s a mix of work and non work friends. In Vegas. Honestly, none of that is my cup of tea although I have enjoyed the one Vegas weekend bachelorette party I have attended. So you have someone to rant to for sure… I just can’t imagine inviting a ton of friends to a large event and having half of them back out. And that it’s all work friends means it may look awkward to your non-work friends. They’ve already been discussing lodgings and what activities and such so it’s not like they don’t know how many people were originally on the list or wouldn’t notice if the list got 4-5 people lighter.

  79. Phil*

    I worked in “cool” businesses-music and TV- for decades and I can tell you that people are relentless in asking about all the “cool” and famous people I worked with. Nothing will stop them. Finally I just got very non committal about what I did.

  80. Lumen*

    OP#1 – I don’t like talking about my job (though it is not at a cool company or a cool role) so when people ask me what I do I usually respond with some version of the following:

    “I work in accounting documentation review at a teapot glaze manufacturing satellite office… and it’s exactly as fascinating as it sounds!”

    They usually chuckle (lots of people are self-aware that their jobs are not that exciting) and the conversation moves on to other topics. Also highly recommend following up with a question about them ASAP. People generally get easily distracted by an opportunity to talk about themselves.

  81. Close Bracket*

    OP1: I have a boring AF job, but I drive a cool car. Lots of people want to talk about my car. I can’t get gas without getting a comment on it. It bugged me at first bc I would like to just park/get gas/drive down the street/exist without having to engage with a bunch of strangers. Then, I changed my attitude about it and decided to be gracious. I answer their questions and laugh at their jokes and then end the conversation and go about my day. It honestly takes the same amount of time to answer two or three questions that it does to dodge two or three questions, and I am honing my “how to end an unwanted conversation” skills. It also helps me keep up my own enthusiasm about driving a cool car and reminds me how lucky I am to own it. Framing it everything.

  82. A Non E. Mouse*

    #3, a solution we use sometimes if the account is long-standing: after we remove the account itself, we make that address (“retireddude@company.com”) an alias on the replacement’s account.

    So any email is still routed to the replacement, but we don’t have to leave an account open and subject to the security risks that entails.

    Usually, though, we help the manager of the departing employee set an OOO that makes sense for their team, grant the manager temporary access to the account after 1) restricting it to only essential access and 2) changing the password so they can copy/move things they might want, then set an end date for permanent deletion.

    If it’s any comfort, this is an ongoing struggle between business needs, HR onboarding/offboarding processes, and IT (me!). There are competing needs and goals between those three, so it’s a balancing act.

  83. LW3 | OP3*

    Definitely! This was my response to Beth Anne that relates to your insight:
    I think our senior leaders realize that they do not have a good grasp of all the clients that they’ll need to communicate with. We have a CRM that is incredibly underutilized. As an aside, this underuse is due to sales folks wanting to hoard client information so other sales folks don’t somehow end up becoming point on the account, especially with clients that have accounts across different business lines. Sales incentive payouts are in theory linked to entering the sales info into the CRM, but there has been little enforcement of this new rule and many, many exceptions made.

    I also think that our senior leaders like the ability to procrastinate on client communications.

    Overall, HR and the business need to work together to create a healthier culture of cross-training, information sharing and rewards for sales folks, s well as really understand offboarding needs from the others perspective.

  84. Observer*

    #3 – Why is there not some sort of process in place to handle the email of departing employees?

    Your company technically has a point about it being their right to do whatever they want with the email of a departing employee, but I think it’s wise to point out that being un-necessarily jerky about leaving employees can affect the morale of EXISTING employees, so that’s a factor to think about.

    Regardless, though, it is a really bad thing for the company if no one responds in a timely fashion and there is no auto-response. The salesperson will look bad, and the company will look worse. It also leaves open the very real possibility that you miss some really important information.

    Ideally, what would happen after EVERY departure is that IT would set up an out-going autoresponse with information that the employee is no longer with the company and who to contact instead, and ALSO forward all of that person’s email to someone (who it is depends on the person departing.) In that ideal world, I would also make the auto-forward stop after some designated time, unless there is a possibility that that person would be expected to get important emails on very rare occasions (like subscription renewal emails for 2 year subscriptions or the like.

  85. MLHD*

    I know that I appreciate an out-of-office reply when I email a contact who no longer works for a company. “Joe Smith is no longer with Teapots R Us; your message has been forwarded to Jane Doe, our new Teapot Design Chair.”

  86. Anonymous Educator*

    #3: I asked my account be deactivated immediately when I left my last job. No issues there. In fact, I emailed another company about something else recently, and the message bounced because that person had left. Because I got the bounced message, I knew to reach out to someone else. Feel free to just deactivate that person’s account.

    #5: Am I the only one who doesn’t write interview thank-you notes? I have in the past for jobs I didn’t end up getting, but I don’t really do it any more, and no one has thought less of me (or let me know they have), and I’ve still managed to get jobs okay. I did write a bunch of thank-you notes to my former co-workers when I left my last job, because I had things to actually thank them for (for being wonderful co-workers for years, not for doing me the “favor” of interviewing me).

  87. Robin*

    OP #1
    I used to work at a cool company too…in the video game industry. So many people wanting to know if I could get their teenaged – still in high school – son a job as a tester, because, “you know, he loooves to play video games.” I too, got to where I did not want to tell people where I worked. (FWIW, testing is actually quite repetitive and not as much fun as it sounds – I was not a tester, but heard about it.)

  88. Red 5*

    Idle note that some other people may have pointed out already, but one of the reasons people here in D.C. drop the line of questioning if you’re vague about where you work is that we’re also mostly really super used to people who literally have already told you as much about their job as they’re legally allowed to.

    Between all the various clearance levels and the “need to know” and the personal identifying information and sensitive subjects…it’s just pretty common to not really be able to talk about it. Even some parts of my super boring freelance job are things I can’t really talk about because they’re for government contracts.

    But anywho, that’s part of the culture here to just drop it because there’s good odds that you’re talking to somebody who does IT for some really boring project about like scanning old papers from thirty years ago but it’s with the Pentagon and some of it’s still classified so…

    So I imagine in other cities they’re just not as likely to let it go because they can’t come up with any reason somebody wouldn’t want to talk about their work. I honestly don’t know a way around it besides going “it’s actually really dull and I’m here for Susie’s bridal shower and that’s way more interesting so anyway how do you know Susie?” And just continuously redirect. I fear it’s the only thing you can do with nosy people.

  89. Audiophile*

    This is kind of hilarious. That’s such an extreme career change that there had to be more to it.

    “Is this approved for job applications?”
    “Well, I give up. I’m going to be a mortician. This way no will ever ask me questions about my last job.”

  90. EBennet*

    First, my sympathies.
    It may be more “public” than you want, but something that has worked well in our school is an email from the principal stating that someone has suffered a loss. Several people added a request that people not ask about their loss so that they can focus on work (you can’t talk about a death in the family and then teach a class).
    Also, you might consider either telling your students or asking a co-worker to tell them. At some point something will remind you of your Mom and you will want to cry. Letting the students know that in advance might make that moment easier. I learned long ago (25 years of teaching high school) to let my students know when there was something that would make me emotional. Its hard to explain why you’re crying while you’re crying.

  91. Luna*

    “My summer was… quite a thing…! How was yours?” seems decent. Depending on tone, it can sound lighthearted enough, but with an undertone in it that implies, “Please do not ask for details”.

  92. SamSoo*

    I don’t tell people where I work. I made the mistake once and got the person’s political views for 30 minutes. I work in a very newsworthy (right now) gov’t agency. I just work there, man! I don’t make the policies! Or even enforce them.

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