office parties with secret destinations, getting your nails done at lunch, and more

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

1. Office parties where the destination/activity is a secret

I know you’ve already written a lot about office parties, but keep running into a practice I haven’t read advice about yet. In the past few years, most of the office parties or outings I’ve been invited to have had secret programs. Basically they tell you the date and time it’s going to be, but nothing else. You don’t know what your going to do and sometimes not even where it is.

Right now I’ve been invited to the annual summer party. All I know is that buses will leave the office at 4 pm to a secret location with and will take us back at 11 pm. Parking is apparently very limited and there is no public transportation to the location, so we are all encouraged to take the bus. Other than that there is dinner, I have no idea what the program is.

Maybe it’s me, but this annoys me to no end. I like to know what I’m opting in to do, before I opt in. For this party, I have now opted out. Do people actually like these surprise parties? Or am I right in thinking this is a bad practice?

Some people do like them, yes! But I’m not thrilled about it as an office practice, because there are so many people who don’t — people whose anxiety will be set off by this, or who just don’t feel comfortable not knowing what they’ve signed up for, or who need more info in advance because of health/allergies/disability access, or who would just appreciate knowing what’s planned so they can decide if it’s something they’re interested in attending or not. And ultimately office parties shouldn’t be about something that some people will find really fun while a significant number of others hate it or find it stressful. Office parties are supposed to be about building camaraderie, and you don’t do that by annoying/stressing some of your attendees. (That’s not to say that you can ever find one type of party everyone will love — but you can at least give them advance info so they can decide if they want to attend and so they can manage the details in a way that might make it easier for them.)

Also, keeping people out from 4-11 pm with no way to return on their own is (a) a really long time, and (b) a lot later than some people would want, particularly if they have kids or an earlier sleeping schedule.

Read an update to this letter here.

2. How can I get candidates to submit good cover letters?

When I post a job, no matter whether it’s for a senior level or entry level role, the majority of cover letters I receive seem fairly clearly stock cover letters not customized at all; they just seem to have pasted in the organization name but it often says “I believe my excellent skills will be a great match for your position” without mentioning what skills or how they match the position. Likewise, the letter usually then goes on to summarize their resume, even though I also have their resume, without referring to how the items on the resume align with our needs.

The best candidates, and almost invariably the ones who actually get hired, instead follow your advice and send a cover letter which specifically talks about why they are a good match for our position.

I always put in the job posting that they should include a cover letter “explaining why this is a good position for you” or the like, in hopes this will actually get people to do a good cover letter. Is there any language people have used which is particularly effective at encouraging people to write good cover letters? Is there something I can say that will help them, or perhaps many people simply aren’t reading the posting that carefully (some of them certainly miss the other requirements like writing samples as well!)

Or, is this a useful differentiator, where it’s a signal about whether they might be good? My hesitation about that is that there might be people who just never got good advice and don’t know better, especially people with less traditional educational backgrounds, maybe from lower-income families with parents who weren’t in the professional workforce, etc. and so I don’t want to penalize people for not knowing what to do in this particular situation (or for not reading AAM, though they should!) — if they can be good at the actual job. Plus, it makes things a lot easier for me, as well as boosting their chances, if they actually write a good cover letter!

Yep, this is just how it goes with cover letters. 99% of them are generic and just summarize the resume that follows. It’s one of the reasons why I push so strongly for people to write good ones, because it’s such an easy way to make yourself stand out.

You’re right that loads of people have never gotten good advice on this and aren’t submitting crappy cover letters because they’re terrible candidates. So I look at great cover letters as a positive data point, but generic cover letters as a neutral (not bad) one. A great cover letter can lift a candidate up out of a sea of similarly qualified folks, but you wouldn’t automatically reject the people with generic/unhelpful letters.

There’s no job posting language I’ve ever found that will make applicants submit customized cover letters that might actually help themselves. I suppose you could include something like, “We pay a lot of attention to cover letters and hope you’ll write about why you’d be a good match with this role specifically. (If it’s the same letter you’re using for other jobs, that’s probably not what we’re hoping for!)” But a lot of people just aren’t ever going to do it — partly because they don’t even know what that would look like, and partly because they figure there’s a good chance they’ll never hear back from you so they don’t want to invest the time in crafting something. So that language would probably just make it more likely that people won’t bother applying at all (and I wouldn’t use it for that reason).

3. Can I get my nails done at lunch?

I’m a salaried employee at a startup, and I don’t really see my “lunch hour” as that important. I often eat lunch at my desk, using my “lunch break” to continue working, do “life admin,” go to the gym, or run an errand. Only a few times a month do I actually *go* to lunch. Can I use the hour to get my nails done? If people noticed, would that look bad? I work in a small office of all women, and many women notice others’ manicures.

As long as you’re leaving the office to have them done — not having a manicurist come to your office to do your nails there — don’t worry about this at all.

Hmmm. Okay, a caveat: As long as your work is good, this is fine. If you were generally seen as slacking off and people also noticed you were going out for manicures mid-day (possibly while you were missing deadlines or slowing down their work), that would look bad. But assuming your work is good, go for it.

4. Can I put overseeing my new house construction on my resume?

In the past four years, my family and I devoted much of our free time to building a house from scratch. This exciting and yet daunting process took much effort on our part. Although we hired an architect to design the building and oversee its construction, we managed numerous aspects of this project directly, including brainstorming and communicating ideas, hiring contractors, negotiating a mortgage, coordinating peoples’ work and dealing with competing demands from different stakeholders. In other words, building this house has been my second job for several years, which allowed me to develop a few new transferable skills.

Since I am currently between jobs and open to a career change, I am wondering whether I should include a private project such as house building in my resume for appropriate job listings. Would hiring managers be interested in reading about it? If so, do you have any suggestion on how to present a personal project in a resume as opposed to a work or volunteering one?

Nope, don’t include it. With resumes, the bar is very, very high for including work that you do for your home or family (high to the point of it almost never being appropriate). That’s partly because you’re not accountable in the same way you would be at work (if you did a terrible job on the project, caused endless delays, and went way over budget, the employer would have no way of knowing). But it’s also because lots of people do what’s involved here, like negotiating mortgages and hiring house contractors. You did it on a larger scale than many people, yes, but it doesn’t rise to the level of something most hiring managers will see as resume-worthy. (Other things in this category: planning a large family reunion, organizing your wedding, coordinating an international move.)

5. Mentioning an alumni connection when networking

My organization wants to connect with another local company, and I recently learned that the founder and owner is an alumnus of my college. I went to a very small college, so I have very little experience with networking with other alumni that I don’t already know from my own college years. I’m also not very comfortable with my own networking skills, although with your help, I’m getting better! Is it appropriate to bring up this more personal connection when trying to make a business connection, and if so, how?

Sure, you can do that! In your initial email, you could open with something like, “Hello from a fellow alumnus of Grinnell (class of 2009 here)!” Or you could do it at the end of your email instead: “By the way, I saw you attended Grinnell. I did too — class of 2009!”

Some people love connecting with alumni and will be friendlier/more likely to help if you mention it. Others won’t care, but it certainly won’t hurt to include it anyway. And being from a small college makes it more likely that the person will respond to the connection in some way, because it’s rarer.

{ 633 comments… read them below }

  1. Np*

    Maybe this is a European thing, but I am so surprised that someone would think twice about getting their nails done on their lunch break. It’s a lunch break! I work at a law firm (as a lawyer) and everyone– even the partners– use their lunch break for hair appointments, nail appointments, facials, etc. If you’re within your lunch hour, why does it matter if your work is good or not? (I mean, obviously you should care about whether your work is good for other reasons — but not in terms of whether you’re allowed to use your lunch break …it’s almost as if a lunch break is a privilege for good employees and not a right for all of them…)

    1. JamieS*

      It’s not that someone isn’t allowed to use their break, they are, but that it doesn’t look good if someone who’s viewed as lazy/incompetent does something “frivolous” in the middle of the day. Basically nobody thinks twice if Jane who’s awful at her job goes and gets a burger around noon but using that same time to get her nails done is an ISSUE because “optics”.

      I agree it’s ridiculous but I don’t see it changing anytime soon.

      1. Np*

        Thank you so much for that explanation! It does make sense, given the work culture. Hope you have a great day :)

        1. Crooked Bird*

          I’d say the ease of firing in the U.S. plays in–“optics” matter more when job security isn’t so much of a thing…

          1. tamarack and fireweed*


            Not that there aren’t many industries where in Europe, too, indirect firing (via the use of staffing agency temps) has undermined the protections those with white collar jobs enjoy.

      2. LeRainDrop*

        Interesting. See, it wouldn’t even bother me if awful Jane went and got her nails done during her lunch break. Who cares?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Especially if you’re exempt and exempt folks in your office often don’t take “real” lunch breaks, and Jane who’s awful at her job and not meeting deadlines chooses to go out and get her nails done during the day, it looks like a form of slacking off, like she doesn’t care enough to prioritize her work over a mid-day manicure.

          If she’s non-exempt and is supposed to be taking a break every day regardless, or if everyone/most people who are exempt take regular one-hour lunches most days, then it’s not the same thing.

          1. Liz*

            I totally agree with this. My one, now former boss did exactly things this. Consistently. My theory is she didn’t like to use “her” time to take care of personal stuff, so she’d take long lunches and do it then. And wasn’t always available if something came up that needed her review, approval, and so on. She’d also come in late and leave early for the same reasons. I personally had no respect for her as a boss because she was never here, never able to be found, etc.

            I mean we all are salaried and my company is very flexible so leaving early, coming in late, every now and again is perfectly fine. they get we all have lives. But she takes it to the extreme and as such, coupled with her very abrasive personality, gives the impression of not being a team player and a bit of a slacker

            1. Arjay*

              I agree that long lunches for these purposes contribute to those negative optics.
              It’s nearly impossible here to go out for a sit-down lunch and be back in an hour. Just getting from your desk to your car takes 6 or 7 minutes, plus driving there and back, and then actually eating. So going out to lunch, for exempt folks, can be an hour and 20 minutes some days. And when that happens occasionally, no one blinks an eye.
              By the same token, getting your nails or hair done would often take more than an hour, but that “frivolous” overrun is more likely to be noticed and possibly judged.

            2. DataQueen*

              This is so tough, because I feel like I’m that manager. But what people don’t see is that during the day, i actually get very little work done. I’m making sure ducks are in a row for the day, week, fiscal year… etc. So 2-4 when everyone’s just hanging out at their desks quietly working? I’ll definitely get my nails done, because after 5 when all y’all leave, i’ll be working til 8, working on the train, working over dinner, working in the shower… There’s so much that happens outside of work hours for managers, that during the day is sometimes LESS busy and therefore optimal for the errands.
              BUT, unlike the boss you describe, I’m here if you need me and super transparent with my staff.

          2. Newington*

            I’m baffled. How is it “slacking off” if she’s not supposed to be working at that time?

            1. Lance*

              It’s a (honestly not great) perception thing, ultimately. It’d be one thing if she was going out to lunch, or maybe the gym, or some such thing… but something like beauty care (that I imagine a lot of people don’t use their lunch breaks for, but I have nothing to back that; just a personal assumption at present) people could look at in a ‘why are you doing this instead of working?’ way.

              It’s not fair, and people should absolutely be able to use their lunch breaks any way they please… but people might not register that it is her break in such cases.

            2. Elsajeni*

              To me, it’s taking the break to do something else combined with eating lunch at your desk combined with not doing good work or not meeting deadlines. When I eat at my desk to save my lunch break for something else, I’m conscious that I need to really be getting work done during the time that I’m eating — otherwise I’m effectively taking two lunch breaks, or I look like I am. I think that’s the optics issue that you’d run up against here, especially if you were missing deadlines — “I bet you could have finished this in time if you weren’t taking double lunches.”

              1. Mazzy*

                Yeah this is my opinion, I know a few people who go to work out at lunch and then eat lunch at their desks, and with how much getting up and going back and forth going to the kitchen and looking at their phones, you can tell that they’re not really working while eating, they just want to appear to be working and be seen at their desks, but I think people caught that they’re really just doing long lunches

            3. EnfysNest*

              Because our culture expects women to look perfectly polished, but without letting it be known how much effort that goes into accomplishing that. Women in general are constantly joked about for “taking forever in the bathroom” or being upset that they broke a fingernail or being frivolous when they put a lot of effort into choosing their outfit. Women are expected to look perfect and polished at all times, but the effort that many women put into trying to achieve that (ridiculous) standard is then turned back on them by the same culture that requires it making fun of the effort. Caring for your appearance isn’t treated the same as other errands because our culture has trained us to believe that beauty should come easily and naturally with no extra effort that anyone else is aware of. So even though having your nails done in order to keep a polished appearance at work might be just as important to someone as getting the oil checked in their car to make sure they have a reliable ride, only the car issue is seen as valid, while the beauty element is “supposed to be” a secret thing / something done as a fun activity, not as an actual errand. And even if you’re not required to be working during a lunch break, it’s still not typically considered time to run out and do something “fun” during that time, either. It’s all nonsense, but it’s the system we’re working in currently, unfortunately.

              1. Newington*

                Thanks, and ugh – the gender part of all this hadn’t really occurred to me.

                (I mean… even if you regard it as a frivolous treat, it ought to be self-evident that you’re entitled to get frivolous treats in your own bleedin’ lunch break, but I’m repeating myself now)

              2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

                Which is really ridiculous when you compare the attitude to using lunches for grooming vs using lunches to go to the gym or exercise. I regularly take long lunches to run or work out and everyone is all full of compliments and admiration. $100 if I used the same time to get my hair or nails done people would consider it a waste of time of an indulgence

              3. TootsNYC*

                And even if you’re not required to be working during a lunch break, it’s still not typically considered time to run out and do something “fun” during that time, either.

                If your idea of “fun” was to go feed the ducks, people wouldn’t judge you as harshly as if you went to get a manicure.

                Manicures more than any other beauty routine are seen as self-indulgent and frivolous. (Meanwhile, they have a health element to them.)

              4. JSPA*

                Well, it’s equally that the expectations on women involve the sort of surface changes / amendments that are visible as an event having taken place.

                I suppose that some men also feel that they must go to the gym to maintain their physique for the sake of their image. But unless they spend the rest of the day in sweaty gym clothes, nobody’s aware that they went, worked out, showered, changed, came back. Ditto if they get electrolysis on their back hair, or some other male grooming thing. And the few things that would be visible get categorized as “baseline maintenance”–haircuts and the like–not “beauty.”

                That converges with the long history of the perception some sort of tradeoff between prioritizing beauty and prioritizing skill, on the presumption that “long nails = less ability to do one’s job efficiently and silently.”

                This used to be a huge fight (believe it or not) which luckily seems largely to have died down. It helps that keyboards now are mostly flat & pressed with the finger pad, not the fingertip; files are mostly electronic, not things you have to pull out of an overstuffed cabinet without breaking a nail; and nails are either artificial or hardened with nailpolish, so they don’t break so easily. Back in the day, you’d hear people loudly complaining if the lady working at the post office had 2 inch nails–even if she was doing her task faster than they could have done it, sitting in her chair. And yes, race and class were threaded through and through, as well.

                By now, many more people have gotten clear on the concept that how you wear your body parts is not some sort of “tell” for (in)competence.

                But if someone is still stuck in that mindset, even a little, nails are where it’s most likely to unexpectedly surface (as opposed to getting a haircut or buying a new shirt or getting your eyebrows threaded or whatever else you might do in an hour, mid-day). So I’d be prepared to recast it as, “yes, I realized they were getting a bit unprofessional, and decided I ought to freshen them up.”

              5. YogaCat*

                This was my first thought as well. I doubt a man getting a haircut would have the same optical issue. I used to get my nails done at lunch at my last job on the regular. I didn’t even consider the optics then again I was hourly….But still.

            4. Donna*

              @ Liz said she took ‘long lunches’, as in extending her time to tend to her personal matters, so that she wouldn’t have to use her personal time. Coupled with no being available sometimes when needed, due to the long lunches, it gave the impression that she was slacking…..which to me, by this definition, she was.

            5. AKchic*

              For me personally, it’s in combination with eating at the desk. If your work is subpar and you’re eating at your desk, I assume it’s because you’re rushing to make a deadline, or that you’re either overworked (and that’s why your product is shoddy, because you maybe don’t have enough support) or that maybe you are someone who procrastinates or otherwise has time management issues. So, when you toss in wanting to look good over eating without actually eating on deliverables, I personally start to question things (the style over substance debate). However, that’s an internal debate for me, and generally, I don’t care about what a person eats at their desk unless it actually causes problems (i.e., you drip sauces on the final product, or you spill drinks on something and delay my project. Crumbs can be brushed off, but anything remotely wet, gooey or sticky is a side-eye from me. I am very much pro-food whenever someone feels they may need/want it)

              And of course, as others have said, there is that very real issue of gender. Men aren’t judged for getting their hair cut (note the distinction – cut, not styled) on their lunch hour. Men aren’t regularly getting manicures, facials, waxes, or anything really “maintained” other than their vehicle. We’re all supposed to look effortlessly flawless, and nothing is supposed to break that illusion.

          3. CheeryO*

            If LW is already going to the gym or running errands at lunch, presumably people are taking real breaks, no?

          4. bonkerballs*

            If someone’s already awful at their job, getting their nails done at lunch isn’t really going to make in difference in anyone’s opinion of them.

            1. Eleanora (UK)*

              I may be especially unobservant, but I don’t think I’d notice a colleague came back with different nail polish after lunch. In terms of optics, how would anyone be able to tell the difference between someone stepping out for lunch or a nail appointment?

              Or is it uncommon to step out at all during lunch?

              1. Triumphant Fox*

                It really depends on the nails. If you left with natural nails and come back with bejeweled fuchsia acrylics, people will notice. Getting a bright polish, especially long nails will be noticeable. Filling in or replacing a nude manicure would be less so.

                It also depends on your colleagues. I’ve definitely been in environments where people obsess over others’ habits, especially if they are low performers. It would be talked about. You may not notice, but your neighbor may notice and then it’s a thing.

                1. wittyrepartee*

                  I honestly would just assume I hadn’t noticed it that morning. You’d literally have to come back admiring them and smelling of acetone for me to think there was something amiss.

              2. JSPA*

                I’d notice the residual smell for at least a couple of hours–and there’s something about a fresh coat that looks “wetter” for a while after application.

                I suspect it’s like a fresh coat of paint–the “coat to touch” time is very fast, but the hardening and drying down or polymerizing or whatever it is, continues for a while afterwards.

        2. JamieS*

          Let’s say you rely on your incompetent coworker Jane to do her part before you can do yours. She’s regularly late getting her part done so you often have to come in early, work through lunch, or stay late to meet the deadline. You then see Jane go out and get her nails done over lunch instead of grabbing a sandwich real quick and working through lunch to help make sure she’s able to do her part on a timely manner.

          You see how something like that can make co-workers think less of Jane.

          1. JSPA*

            I’d think less of my workplace or manager for setting up the bottleneck and/or not bringing in extra support. But, yeah, I might have a word with Jane, as well. Not about the nails, but because the nails made the “I take my full lunch no matter how behind I am” rankle. But I’d try to make sure that the words I had were about how I’d had to stay late and work through lunch, and how I’d like to streamline our process so that we could both take the proper lunch due to us.

            1. JamieS*

              For there to be no bottlenecks or potential bottlenecks literally every person’s job would have to be completely separate and not at all related to or connected to other jobs at the company. That isn’t reasonable nor possible in a lot of cases.

              It’s also not reasonable to expect a company to hire someone else or pull from other teams that may not have the manpower to spare because a coworker isn’t doing their job unless the reason for the delay is being short staffed. ‘Jane was supposed to do X by Thursday at noon and it’s Friday at 8 so we now need to hire someone else to do X’ doesn’t make sense.

              Replacing Jane or expecting for the company to otherwise deal with Jane is reasonable but even if a company is taking action, such as a PIP, Jane’s incompetence can still impact co-workers’ like I described because no employee exists in a vacuum.

        3. Clisby*

          I can’t even imagine noticing that Jane got her nails done during lunch hour unless she told me.

      3. Blossom*

        I still am not convinced on this “optics” argument. If you’re seen as a slacker, remedy that by showing evidence of hard work. Forgoing your lunch break has nothing to do with it. I mean, no, I’m not American so maybe this all sounds perfectly sensible to most readers. But personally, I fully expect everyone to use their lunch breaks and to do whatever they want in that time. If I’m going to be annoyed at someone slacking, I’m going to be annoyed when, for example, they don’t fulfil a request properly, miss a deadline, give thoughtless replies, don’t turn up to a meeting and so on. I feel sorry for anyone working in an environment where, in effect, taking your normal break is seen as a privilege and a topic for judgement.

        1. WellRed*

          It’s not forgoing lunch. It’s not getting your nails done at lunch which might be seen as frivolous. Not sure I agrre, FWIW.

          1. Blossom*

            Well, I said “forgoing your lunch *break*”, which I understand to mean the break you have at lunchtime to not only ingest your midday meal, but also to have a break from your work – whether that means lingering over your meal, going for a walk, running a personal errand or having your nails done.

        2. Smithy*

          For American salaried employees – while “taking lunch” is not forbidden, it’s also very common for lots of employees to eat at their desk. Sometimes this can be a more pronounced “break” (ie leaving the office to pick up food, eating while browsing personal email/social media or other non-work sites). Other times it is lunch brought from home eaten while actively working. But the optics of both can largely look the same.

          In the same space of optics, I actually think a lot of it would relate to the kind of nails the OP is getting. If someone is returning to the office with noticeably different nails (left with dark green nail polish, returns with hot pink nails) it opens to the OP up to “must be nice you can take that break” depending on the nature of the office. There are also some old stereotypes about women just having their nails done not being able to do much for fear of ruining recently done nails. For lots of available manicures today, that’s not the case – but the idea of a woman with here fingers splayed and nails drying may come into play.

          Sure – those are all indications office with a less healthy culture, but for the US not uncommon and worth being mindful of.

          1. Newington*

            Could it help to make a point of taking your whole lunch hour out of the office from day one, so that you don’t build up an expectation that you’ll work an extra hour for free?

          2. a1*

            Most the people I know who eat their desk are not doing it for “optics”, they do it so they can leave earlier, or do an errand later.

            1. TootsNYC*

              most people that I see who are eating at their desk aren’t actually leaving earlier; they work through because they’re too lazy, or because there aren’t good lunch options, or there’s some work that could be done so they do it (even if it’s not a deadline).

              1. Kat in VA*

                I work through my lunch every day except for the one day a month I go to the doctor’s office. Not because I’m lazy, or because of lack of food options (I have my lunch delivered), but because I need that extra hour in my day because I’m overworked as hell.

          3. Blossom*

            Yeah, I often eat lunch at my desk too, if it’s just a sandwich I’ve brought in. But I do at least go for a short walk just to refresh my brain a bit. I don’t rigidly take an hour a day come rain or shine, but I can’t imagine how uncomfortable it would be working in an office where people are observing and judging the colour of your manicure, and sulking about it. I get what you and Alison are saying, but I also think it’s a shame to give in to that kind of passive aggression, though I’m sure the ability to withstand it does unfortunately depend on workplace culture.

            1. Smithy*

              Where I work now – eating through lunch/no lunch break is very common. There’s also a very good overall culture where people aren’t policed for how they use their time.

              That being said, I’ve worked in places with far more toxic culture where being mindful of sensitive optics was important. And for better or worse, nails do have optics that are gendered.

              Where I am now, I’d tell someone it wouldn’t be an issue. Where I used to work, I’d advise to just make sure to be discrete about it.

              1. Mazzy*

                And my most “toxic” job enforced break rules and made you take a lunch, so there isn’t always a tie between not taking lunches and a food culture.

        3. Dust Bunny*

          I’m American and nobody would bat an eye at this at my job. I’m hourly so I *have* to not work over lunch, but it’s very normal for even the salaried people to run a couple of personal errands “over lunch”. The catch, I guess, is that they don’t take especially long lunches–they might be gone an extra 20 minutes but it’s not like they’re wandering back in at 3:00 with an armload of shopping bags. And they don’t do it all the time. But running out to grab a sandwich and go to the post office or pharmacy or whatever? No problem.

          1. Rachael*

            Yeah, I’m American and I’m exempt, but my salary is calculated 8 hours with one hour lunch. So, technically when I do eat at my desk or skip it I am working for “free” that hour. It’s not the same everywhere, but some companies factor it in when compensating the employee. I do whatever I want when I’m on my lunch and nobody bats an eye for me or anyone else because of this. (of course, company culture is critical)

          2. Kathleen_A*

            I’m an American too, and it would never so much as occur to me that there might be anything wrong with somebody getting her nails done – or a haircut – or buying a new blouse – on her lunch hour. If you took more than your allotted time, maybe, but even then only if you were a repeat offender or it inconvenienced others.

            1. Clisby*

              Wouldn’t occur to me either. The last time I worked in an office (as opposed to telecommuting, where I could pretty much have my nails done anytime I wanted) we were supposed to take a lunch break – anywhere from 30 minutes to 90 minutes. What we did on our lunch break was nobody’s business but ours.

          3. Rebecca in Dallas*

            It’s common in my office, too. I’ve never thought twice about a lunchtime manicure, as long as my polish is dry by the time I’m back in the office.

        4. Black Bellamy*

          In America you can be fired for nearly any reason at any time. So for example if Mary thinks you’re a slacker and she’s tight with the boss, she can drop some shade on you when they talk. Soon the boss thinks you’re a slacker and you’re out the door.

          This is why the entire question is framed in terms of optics. Appearances matter.

          1. anonnnnn*

            It’s a lot harder than that to fire people in most companies, though. Yes, you can be fired for nearly any reason at any time, but they don’t happen quite the way many people on this site claim they do.

            1. AKchic*

              Not necessarily. In Right To Work states, all they have to do is say that you aren’t “fitting in with the company culture” or “it just isn’t working out as [we’d] hoped” and that’s that. Most people don’t know their rights, or even if they do, they don’t have the money to fight the dismissals, and even if they did, they don’t want to work in a job where they were just fired for a ridiculous reason. They’d rather refocus their energy back into trying to find another job.

              Shady employers are gonna be shady.

                1. JSPA*

                  This becomes a political discussion in that bills named “right to work” have, for at least a couple of decades, been modeled on templates that create or reinforce “at will” provisions. I would not want to blame individuals for conflating the concepts when the one’s been used so consistently as a stalking horse for the other.

                  I know people get passionate about the two things being separate, and that may, formally, be correct. But if they’re so separate and separable, they ought not to leave together, come in together, and answer each others’ phones in the middle of the night.

          2. MissDisplaced*

            There is a very weird and unfair “optic” when you’re exempt and you’re expected to eat at your desk, thus making a 9 hour workday.
            It’s true at some places leaving for that hour is considered slacking… because how dare you only work 8 hours!

      4. Really Meh*

        I don’t agree at all. Jane is still entitled to do whatever she wants on HER lunch break. Not getting them done isn’t going to change anyone’s view of her as lazy, incompetent, whatever.

    2. MommyMD*

      I agree. Your lunch break is your personal time, whether you are a lazy or stellar employee.

      1. sunshyne84*

        Agreed. Seems like people are turning it into a bitch eating crackers moment where if they already don’t like someone then it annoys them more, but oh well that’s still their time.

        1. Aurion*

          I agree, but I think the point is that it’s BEC! If Jane were a crappy employee, I can see coworkers making snide comments (in their heads or aloud) about “well, you can’t keep a work deadline to save your life, but you sure have no problems with making that appointment with your personal trainer/manicurist/insert other non-work time-sensitive thing!”

          Obviously the correct thing to do is to manage a poorly performing employee and not make snippy comments about Jane’s lunch hour activities, but managing an employee is usually up to the boss(es) whereas optics and perception is about people’s opinions. And everyone has those.

      2. The Other Dawn*

        I agree. I admit I can be judgmental about really minor things sometimes, but I don’t see anything wrong with someone using their lunch break to get their nails done, no matter what kind of employee they are. If they’re given an hour for lunch (regardless of exempt status), then they get to go whatever they want with that hour. As long as they are meeting deadlines and not stretching that hour into two hours, then who cares? I’m a manager and even if my worst employee used their lunch break to get their nails done, I wouldn’t care. It’s their own time. And really, if they’re my worst employee, I’d be in the process of managing them out anyway.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      The thing *I* would worry about is whether or not OP3 would have an issue with the nails not yet being fully “set” by the time she goes back to work. Someone needs the TPS file and you don’t want to dig into the cabinet and risk ruining the finish on your not-quite-dry nails? Now THAT would be a job-related reason to avoid it.

      1. Smithy*

        There are a number of polish types where setting wouldn’t be an issue – however conceptions and stereotypes of nails drying/setting is one to be mindful of in considering your office’s overall culture. Maybe the OP isn’t bothered by a short dry time or gets a gel manicure – but again with optics, it’s something to consider.

      2. M*

        I had that thought as well. SNS or gel? Go for it. Regular polish? I’d end up ruining at least a few nails by the end of the day. No one really needs to know that you went to the nail salon instead of a restaurant on your lunch break, as long as un-set nails aren’t limiting your production when you’re back “on the clock.”

      3. Meh*

        That was my thought as well – I wouldn’t do it for that reason. Of course, OP knows what kind of manicures she gets, though, and what the risk of that is.

    4. EventPlannerGal*

      Agreed, especially since the LW is apparently already using her lunch break to go to the gym.

      1. Massmatt*

        In my experience people who use lunch breaks for gym time are seen as very busy, energetic, go-getters. Someone getting their nails done probably not so much, assuming anyone notices and/or cares.

        IMO it’s your time and do whatever you want with it but given there are lots of work places where taking a lunch hour is frowned upon, it’s not unreasonable to be concerned how something might look.

    5. Need a mani (op)*

      OP here! I think that in America, people don’t take their lunch breaks as an actual “break” hour like we should :/

      1. Newbie*

        I am firmly on team Go Get a Mani During Lunch! I’m an exempt employee and I will use my lunch break to get my nails done about once a month. I could only see it being an issue if you were regularly going over your allotted break time, but that doesn’t sound like the case. And honestly, I would be surprised if anyone even noticed. I feel like we imagine that people pay way more attention to us than they actually do- people are too busy thinking about themselves and what they’ve got going on in their lives. I have been getting my nails done during lunch once a month for about a year now and I have NEVER had someone comment on my polish change. And if they did a simple “thank you, I got them done recently”. You don’t have to go into the details of getting it done while on lunch.

        1. Need a mani (op)*

          Phew! It’s helpful to see that you and probably many others do the same. You’re right that I’m probably overestimating how much people would really notice.

          1. Rachael*

            I’m also surprised at all the people who would look differently at people who get manis or pedis. Nobody I know would give it a second thought.

      2. ...*

        I think it depends on the work culture! This is a funny question because I work in aan almost all girl office in a building with a nail salon that gives us a discount so using lunch for manis is highly Normal here haha!

    6. Need a mani (op)*

      LW here! I just want to say that I agree, however, I work in tech and even though we’re an all women team, there are certain measures we individually (and of course collectively) must take to be taken seriously. Getting nails done? I think it’s *completely* reasonable, but others may not.

      1. Need a mani (op)*

        So yes, my question is about optics over legality/what might be allowed. I know it’s allowed and I’m really glad to see so many people here are encouraging of it! Makes me feel more confident that should I ever have to (all the salons in my neighborhood close at 7, I’m usually still at the gym or commuting!) I can get my nails done with hopefully very few people, if any, side-eyeing me. :)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          OP, I want to be sure my response was clear that’s it’s absolutely fine for you to do … unless you’re in the small number of people who are widely perceived as bad at their jobs, in which case I wouldn’t. I have no reason to think you’re in that group, so you’re probably fine.

          1. TGOTAL*

            I’m not quite sure what’s sticking in my craw more here – the undercurrent that “the beatings will continue until morale improves,” and employees may only take actual lunch breaks if they are deemed worthy of the privilege; or the notion that it’s okay to use your lunch to run other errands, but not for “girly” stuff.

      2. PersephoneUnderground*

        As another woman in tech, I’d be careful not to overdo the “don’t do girly things” to be taken seriously thing. I totally get it (and do it myself) but I also think we shouldn’t do that too much. I think we should also make an effort to act like we would in any other office. Minor stuff like getting your nails done or going ahead and wearing a pretty sundress, even if you do it less often than you might in another industry, is worth doing to normalize the presence of women in tech and not implicitly apologize for being different. If you show up to work looking “girly” once in a while but regularly kick rear at your job, guess what, you just weakened a nasty stereotype and made your office that much more comfortable for women.

    7. Ellen N.*

      The letter writer eats lunch at her desk during time that’s not her lunch break. I used to have an assistant who used her lunch break to do personal errands, then ate lunch at her desk when her lunch break was over. She didn’t do any work while she was eating lunch at her desk. I found it irritating.

      1. Cherries on top*

        Yes. And even if work is done, you’re often not as productive. Where I am I would think eating at your desk and then taking a lunch break to run errands/go to the gym would be more frowned upon than getting a manicure during your break.

    8. TootsNYC*

      Yeah, there’s something about a manicure that signals “lazy” or “self-indulgent.”

      Getting a haircut at lunchtime wouldn’t be; getting a blowout -might- be.

    9. Beth Anne*

      Normally I wouldn’t think it’s weird but we did have that post a few months ago or maybe last year about the admin that was taking lunch breaks and chopping her hair off, getting it colored weird, and buying new clothes.

      1. JSPA*

        But she was doing all three things at once, and so dramatically (at the level of a secret agent adopting an entire new identity), and specifically at the midpoint of leading training sessions or meetings with important outsiders. The result being that people failed to recognize her upon her return, such that confusion, stress and misdirected mental energy ensued. That’s really very different from “got my nails done.”

    10. Stepinwhite*

      I agree with you. It’s a lunch break. Do what you want. As long as you come back to the office on time, a manicure is a very effective way of using one’s lunch break (I’ve done it myself — only about three times in the 7 years I’ve been here, but I never thought twice about it and I don’t think anyone else did, either). I’ve used my lunch hour to run errands, take a walk, shop at the clothing store a block away, and, yes, even eat :) A mid-day “brain rest” is a great way to remain productive for the rest of the work day. So doing something frivolous is just fine.

  2. Dancing Otter*

    Re letter #1, I don’t know where your office is located, but when I worked downtown I would absolutely not have attended something that didn’t bring us back to the office until 11:00.

    After 10:20, the next outbound train on my line wasn’t until 12:50, and the train station was NOT a safe place that late at night. Some of my colleagues depended on trains that stopped entirely at 9:00 or so.

    Not knowing where we were going or what we were going to do? Double nope. I once arrived at an office party location to discover that I couldn’t get into the venue: there was no handicapped entrance, and the room the company rented was upstairs, besides. Can you imagine being stuck like that for six hours?!

    1. Tyche*

      I don’t have disabilities, allergies or anxiety, but I would never go to a “surprise” event, especially if there isn’t a way to go home early.

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        Yeah, secret destination AND no way to leave on your own? No thank you – I’ve seen that movie and people die. But seriously, I got shit to do after work – I’m not staying till 11 (so home by midnight maybe) in some random Mystery Location. Nope.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I’ve seen that movie and people die.
          Seriously, in a story this would NEVER be good news.

          1. Clorinda*

            It’s a game of hide and seek in the corn maze! Let’s all split up, and never mind the creepy scarecrows.

          2. Anonny*

            Make sure your department’s finances are good. They might have decided selling your kidneys was more cost-effective than mass layoffs. :P

            1. Camellia*

              I found this much funnier than I probably should have. But then, I’m having a stabby kind of day.

            2. AKchic*

              Company loyalty and “giving your all for the team” really have new meanings now that Alaska is plunging back into a recession. And we do have all that wilderness…

              If I go missing after a “surprise, adventurous, unknown company event” please let it be known that I was *not* a team player in the end.

            3. Traffic_Spiral*

              Or it’s the Bogota Experiment and they’ve put chips in your heads and are gonna make you kill each other. Regardless, No thank You.

          3. Crooked Bird*

            And there’s a reason for that! Which I’ve personally experienced! Nobody got hurt, and the location wasn’t even technically secret, but I am never going on another so-called spiritual retreat where the organizers own the only transportation. Should’ve seen that one coming.

            1. JSPA*

              Was there fire walking, or trust falls? Did you have to ask permission to go to the bathroom?

          4. Le Sigh*

            Yeah, I’ve read this book and seen this movie. It’s called Battle Royale and spoiler, it doesn’t go well!

        2. mcr-red*

          I’ve seen that movie and people die.

          Ha ha! You’ve made me think of “Escape Room!”

        3. tallteapot*

          I worked at a company that did this–but I was young and single at the time, so I didn’t think twice. Now, in my 40’s with a family and actual responsibilities outside of work–hell no.

          1. CMart*

            Yes, this is the kind of event planned by the Company Young Professionals group I’m in. While I am a young professional I am also a young professional with kids who lives in the suburbs so the “meet at Place at 8pm to then proceed to Surprise Venue until midnight” networking events are not ones I can go to.

            And even if I were inclined to attend one and get a babysitter, I would still need to be guaranteed to be able to drop everything and race home in case of emergency. I would never attend something that relied on a shuttle or carpooling if my spouse wasn’t the one at home with the kids.

        4. kittymommy*

          This so much. I’m one of those paranoid people who have to sit facing the door, no where the exits are, etc. so yeah, I’m not getting on a bus for a 6 hr event and not know where the hell I’m going. Not going to happen Coupled with the fact that I AM NOT an outdoors person “I do not nature well” and this whole thing will be a very hard pass for me.

          (And what if something happened to one of my cats and I had to get back?? Is the bus going to do an early trip just for me??!! These are need to know items!)

      2. YogaCat*

        Yep. Food allergies here. I would need to know where we were going and if I needed to bring my own food, etc. I’d decline too. Also with no way to get home, what is that?!

    2. Shiny Swampert*

      I would expect a company to pay for my taxi home in that case. And I work for a government org, and they would still do that (I’m 99% sure).

      1. Marion Ravenwood*

        Yep. When I worked for a charity, if we were finishing that late at a work event, they always covered our taxis home (shared with colleagues who lived nearby to save money, but still). It’s the least I’d expect to be honest.

    3. Avasarala*

      This was my thought too. Where I live trains stop around midnight and it would be incredibly rude to schedule such a late return, when some people commute 1-1.5 hours. Even driving, I hate driving late at night, and would hate it even more after a tiring 8hrs of work+7 hours of socializing with my coworkers. That’s a lot to ask of people and doesn’t have safety-first in mind.

    4. CatMintCat*

      I went to one once. We ended up in the pub in a village about 20km from the town where I worked. Good venue, nice night. Right across the road from my house. With my car left in town because I didn’t know where I’d be. I ended up leaving the car and crossing the road to go home – we collected the car next morning. And a discussion was had with the social club about the ridiculousness of the thing (they knew where I lived).

      1. CMart*

        That would have annoyed me so much.

        I recently went on an optional work day trip with colleagues, where the plan was to gather at the office and take a shuttle there. Several people politely asked if the shuttle was required and were told it was part of the trip, as there would be presentations while we drove. Many of them pushed back hard because they lived within 30 minutes of the venue. This meant they would do their hour+ commute to the office, take the shuttle that goes past their home, do the event, take the shuttle past their home again back to the office, and then have their hour+ commute back.

        Luckily the planning committee saw reason and let people drive themselves.

    5. Asenath*

      I don’t have the accessibility issue, but I don’t have a car, and don’t like either hoping that some kind soul will take me home (ideally, when I want to go) or dealing with public transportation late at night. I am also an early bird- 11 PM is well after my normal bedtime. Maybe I should phone the organizers at home when I wake up at 5 or 5:30 AM! And I don’t like doing work stuff on my own time. I do it sometimes, but that many hours? On a Friday night? For “fun” or “bonding with workmates”? Nope.

      But I think there’s a real difference between people who like surprises and people who don’t. I don’t. But there are a lot of people who love them, and they’d find that kind of setup great. You can’t please everyone, and if that were my workplace, I’d hope the event was optional, and if it weren’t, I’d find some unbreakable commitment that meant I was forced to cancel.

      1. LW1*

        Actually, the party on a thursday. Not all, but plenty of people have to work the next day. Our hours are flexible, but still. I’m glad it isn’t mandatory.

        1. Antilles*

          The party being on Thursday is yet another point against it. There’s a sizable number of people who rarely stay up much past 11 pm on a work night even in their own house. The idea of being out till 11, then driving home, then the ‘unwind’ process before bed…then waking up 6 hours later for work? Nope.

        2. Sara without an H*

          That’s ridiculous. Do your employers expect everyone to show up as usual Friday morning? And how much work would people get done on 5-6 hours sleep?

        3. Traffic_Spiral*

          Oh hale no! I’m not up past midnight on a work night unless I’m at home in my underwear wasting time online.

    6. Vicky Austin*

      I think a “surprise” outing would be fun, but I’d also like the option to leave early if I wanted.
      Actually, on second thought, I don’t think I’d like a surprise outing for work. Something like that would be more appropriate for say, a senior class outing the week before graduation. Or a group of senior citizens. I remember that my grandma used to go on “surprise” outings with her senior citizen group, and they were always home by 8pm.
      But that time in the middle of your life, when you have all kinds of responsibilities that people who are at the beginning of their adult lives or at the end of their lives don’t have, it’s not a great idea.

      1. Shad*

        I kind of feel like the best way to do a “surprise” work outing would be to have the starting point be surprise, but make it known that if that aspect doesn’t work for you, you can ask and will get meaningful information.
        Plus that’s a useful data point for next time about how few people like surprises and how many good reasons there are to just tell people from the start.

      2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        It wouldn’t be doable for a school outing, though, because schools have a ton of laws they need to follow re: special needs students, medical needs students, students with food allergies, and students with religious dietary restrictions. In the US at least, they’re legally required to make accommodations for all of these students, which could not be done on a “surprise” trip.

        1. Glenn*

          I don’t know what the legal issues are, but my high school absolutely did a surprise trip for seniors. I thought it was a stupid idea then, but went along with it. (As an adult I never would. I hate surprises.)

          Cellphones were banned from the trip, but I — a Good Student who would never break a rule — smuggled one in, because my safety comes first. (I correctly assumed their search for contraband would barely even qualify as perfunctory.)

          I get the reasons behind all this — it would be traditional for kids to want to get drunk and party wildly when graduating high school, and they wanted to preempt that by giving us a party we couldn’t smuggle alcohol into, or call our friends and have them bring it. But still.

          1. Former Employee*

            I was pretty much a rule follower, but by senior year I changed. Feeling that I was on my way out the door anyway, gave me the freedom to ignore a lot of rules that just seemed stupid to me. If cell phones existed at that time, I would have brought mine along regardless of what I was told.

    7. Mockingbird 2*

      One of my workplaces had a “surprise” retreat. Given that it was outside I knew I’d likely have some accessibility issues with anything requiring athletic ability or being outside too long in the heat. So I just went to my boss and was like look, I know this is supposed to be a surprise but I am unable to do X and Y so if those things come up I will not be participating/will need to go back to my room to cool down/etc. We knew where it was and drove ourselves but I’d that wasn’t an option I would’ve said I need to have my own transportation in case I need to leave early for a medical reason (not untrue). Anyway they actually used that info to make the retreat activities more accessible to me. Would I have preferred having the schedule in advance? Yes because I don’t like surprises. But this was the best I could expect I think. (I honestly think they just didn’t have the schedule done until the last minute and the surprise factor was to cover that lol.)

    8. Just Elle*

      Yep. I won’t even go to KNOWN location work events via carpool because the idea of being stuck somewhere with my coworkers unable to leave at the exact minute I decide I’m done… has my shoulders all the way up to my ears.
      And 11PM? PM? As in, at night? No no no no no. I don’t even stay out with my best friends until 11PM, lol. My eyes close of their own accord at 9pm.

      1. boo bot*

        Yeah, I’m not crazy about “surprise activity” because it would raise issues for so many other people, but for me the sticking point is not being able to leave when I want to leave, it makes me feel trapped.

        I don’t know exactly why it’s such a sticking point, or if it’s reasonable. I live in a city that largely relies on public transit, and I don’t drive, so I’m used to waiting until the next train or bus shows up, but for some reason, waiting at the bus stop is completely different from waiting for other people to decide when they’re ready to take me home. I think waiting for the bus or train feels like I have agency over the process, even if I don’t control the actual train, while waiting for someone to drive me feels like I’m a kid begging for a ride.

        1. Just Elle*

          I’ve always been a bit of a control freak, lol, so not being “in charge of myself” is a big Thing for me. I think its kind of like what you said – it makes me feel like a kid begging for a ride. A big bonus of being an adult is getting to decide when to nope out of things and leave. Waiting at a bus stop is your decision, while waiting for other people to drive you is not.

          1. boo bot*

            ” A big bonus of being an adult is getting to decide when to nope out of things and leave.”

            Possibly the biggest!

        2. PollyQ*

          A bus has a regular schedule, and you know that a train will come every so often, so your wait for them has a clear limit. When you’re asking for a ride, there’s no predictability to it at all. You actually could be waiting for hours.

          1. boo bot*

            Yeah, that’s true – even if the bus schedule says 30 minutes and the person offering a ride says the same thing, I put a lot more trust in the bus schedule!

            (BTW, I live in NYC and public transit is capable of meeting almost all of my needs*, in case anyone thinks I’m constantly asking people for rides and resenting them for saying yes!)

            *I started to specify “transportation needs” but I’m pretty sure I could find love on the subway.

      2. LW1*

        Yeah, I’ve skipped a couple of work outings that made people carpool as well. Once I run out of energy I want to be able to leave. With carpool I just don’t know for sure that I can.

      3. Gail Davidson-Durst*

        Yuuup! I broke out into a cold sweat reading this letter!

        I have a couple minor disabilities, I’m a bit of a picky eater, and I have an anxiety disorder. There is no flipping way I’d agree to go to something where I don’t know what I’d be expected to do or eat, and I couldn’t escape!

        I keep thinking how my boss just cannot grok that I can’t participate in rock climbing – she keeps mentioning it as a fun team building exercise no matter how often I state categorically that I can’t do it. With my luck a thing like this would be rock climbing and camping with nothing I can tolerate eating. Fun!

    9. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      This. Location and distance from home is a dealbraker for me. For example, the last train leaves the terminal at 11.30 and they let you get in for free since 21.00, because it’s desolated once the rush hour finishes. Any activity that ends after 22.00 forces me to take a significantly expensive and unsafe route home.

    10. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      There are so many reasons this is badly thought out. I’m pumping right now, and before I could agree to go I would have to know if there was a private place for me to do that? Also, could I keep my cold storage bag with me, or would we be moving around?

      Heck, even if I wasn’t pumping I like to know if it’s a sitting around thing I can bring my normal purse to, or a moving around thing I should switch to my smaller purse with the long handle which is better for moving around. There are so many reasons people need to know what an upcoming activity is.

    11. No one you know*

      There’s no way I would go to an unknown place without my car. I don’t even like riding with friends to social outings. I want the ability to leave on my own terms.

    12. Kathleen_A*

      My company used to routinely keep the location of the annual Christmas party secret (sometimes it still does – it depends on the makeup of the organizing committee), but (1) it always began and ended during the work day; (2) we were usually told the location a couple of days beforehand; and (3) if any carpooling was needed, some thought was given to the convenience of travelers, e.g., if the party was on the southside, Southsiders were allowed to drive there in their own cars so they could go straight home afterwards rather than coming back to the office – stuff like that.

      The last time I was on the committee, we voted unanimously to dispense with the whole secrecy thing, and some of the subsequent committees have done the same. But only some of them. :-)

    13. Michael Valentine*

      Being trapped would drive me insane. I’d at least ask if Uber/Taxis service is available at the location where the party is so I could escape early. And then I would expense the taxi fare!

      1. JSPA*

        How do they handle escape rooms if someone has a legit emergency? I presume there’s a way to spirit someone out, but really, I don’t know.

        There should at least be broad hints. “There will be an outdoors component and a trail, but it’s not mandatory.” “There will be considerable time in a room solving puzzles.” “There will be alcohol / the smell of alcohol.” “We will be out of cell phone range for two to three of those hours, but will distribute a number that someone can use to page you in case of a real emergency.” “There will be exposure to heights, but nothing athletic.” Sure, some people may guess that you’re taking the cable car to the escape room, and that there’s an option to tour the garden by moonlight first. Those who prefer not to know, don’t have to know. Those who need or want to Nope out, can.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          The one time I went to an escape room, there’s a live person monitoring the group via camera and mike. When we got totally stalled, she gave us a hint. If there had been a medical emergency, she’d have popped the doors.

          I don’t recall if there was a panic button inside the room for participants, in case the staff person was distracted for longer than a few seconds.

    14. Nana*

      And I worked for a man who had to be talked out of having ‘An Afternoon at The Park’ where employees were to bring food and drink…and there were NO public bathrooms. [Instead, we went on a 2-hour boat ride, with no refreshments…dunno if there was a toilet…friend and I reclined on the front deck, ignoring each other and the rest (12-person office; 1 handicapped)

    15. Epiphyta*

      Substitute “ferry” for “train” and this is me: depending on how long it takes to get back to the office and from there to the ferry terminal, I might well miss the last boat home at 12.15, with service not resuming until 5.30 Friday morning. I live on an island; is the company going to put me up if I literally can’t get home?

  3. spockgrrl*

    With all due respect to Allison, I think your lunch hour is yours to do *whatever* you want (barring getting intoxicated or illegal activity), regardless of what type of employee you are . . . it’s common among salaried employees in my company to get haircuts, etc during the day – the benefit of being salaried is that your schedule has some flexibility – but your lunch hour, especially, belongs to you!

    1. Sylvan*

      +1. I’m one of a lot of people who eat while working and use a lunch break for other things. It might be different in some offices, but it’s been normal in every workplace I’ve had, barring working in a kitchen and cleaning.

    2. Artemesia*

      Getting your nails done is a classic of office short hand for lazy and frivolous; it is the office equivalent of the housewife lying around eating bon bons. So yeah if someone is perceived as a weak employee, this will help build that reputation.

      1. Avasarala*

        Agreed, it’s like chewing gum while you talk on the phone with a friend, or putting your feet on the desk. It’s shorthand for “lazy.” Why use it unless you really have to? You could be a hard worker and it’s just “a thing Avasarala does sometimes”, or you could be a new/not so great worker and it’s “there goes Avasarala, slacking off again.”

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Seconding. In this venue (startup) she and most other salaried employees eat at their desk while working rather than stop. There’s a difference between the optics of using your break to do unfun things that have to get crossed off somehow (stand in line at the post office, get a pap smear) and to do fun things (why are you making time for fun things when the teapots are melting on the shelves?).

        I’ll tie it to Miss Manners 1.0’s rule about cancelling events to do something else–it’s fine if the substitute activity is clearly less fun, like going to a funeral or waiting for the plumber to fix the waterfall in the dining room. Not fine if the substitute activity is more fun.

        This is an optics thing–how it looks if you’re seen as solidly on top of your work is different from how it looks if you are seen as dropping balls, no matter how much theoretically that hour is yours to do with as you wish.

        1. Shad*

          I got the impression that most people are working through their lunch breaks so that they have that time available for other non-work things. If that’s so, then lunch is the thing getting cancelled, and the discrepancy is much smaller. In that case, it’s really only the perceived frivolity of a manicure vs other breaks that has the potential to cause problems.
          And frankly, some things are more time limited than others. I can organize files and summarize meds any time I’m awake (major components of my job), but I can only go shopping or get my hair done when the stores or salon are open. Not using lunch isn’t the only way to look super devoted to your job, and using it doesn’t mean you’re trading out that time.

        2. CheeryO*

          Nowhere in the letter does it indicate that people aren’t taking a lunch break. LW already runs errands or goes to the gym at “lunch.” I’m positive that the fact that she’s writing in to ask about the manicure optics means that she’s self-aware enough to know whether the break itself is a problem.

      3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        Please, that’s ridiculous. I’m lazy and frivolous because I want my nails to look nice? If people are judging me because I took my lunch break – MY lunch break – to get my nails done, that’s on them.

        1. Lgrace*

          I worked in a technical lab setting for years, so food in the work area was a big no for safety reasons, so breaks and lunches were in break rooms or common areas,or out to lunch or even a walk outside. We had the option of hour lunch or 30 min with flex time schedule , with supervisor approval work coverage. While it was common that on super busy days you might skip a break time or take a lunch late or early, the only rules about lunch was that you couldn’t skip it and just leave early they mandated it should consistently be between 11 and 2. They certainly didn’t care what happened during the lunch break. We were all salaried and exempt, worked for state government. There was a beauty school nearby, plenty of people took advantage of discount hair and beauty during the lunch hour, and no one cared. Poor performance and personal time activity are separate things

        2. MOAS*

          Didn’t you know? — anything that women do related to their appearance is considered lazy and frivolous but if they don’t do it they’re frumpy.

          Sorry, I’ll stop. Suddenly I’m in such a sour mood.

          1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

            Oh I know how some people think. I just choose not to give a crap.

      4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        So a stereotype?

        If someone is going to stereotype people, that’s going to always happen, they’ll find any reason to trash you to themselves and their cronies. It’s an even better reason to just do it.

        Your reputation is important and you should always protect it. However you should never compromise yourself because of optics on that kind of level.

        This is up there with telling curly haired people curly hair is “perceived as messy” and you should always straighten it. If you’re running with a crowd that is that shallow, you are doing yourself no favors unless you’re raking in piles of money and you enjoy wiping away your tears of “grief” with crumpled up cash.

    3. BeeBoo*

      The optics really can depend on the office and office culture. At my last job, I got my nails done during my lunch every every other week and it was completely normal, many of my colleagues did the same. No one batted an eye. At my current job— it was looked at differently— other coworkers saw it as “senior management leaving in middle of the day to do their nails while we’re working to the grind”, especially from hourly staff with rigid work hours. Now, my boss doesn’t care and I could easily continue getting my nails done during lunch, but it’s better for my working relationships if I do it after hours. So you may want to look at what your coworkers use their lunch breaks for as well to see how this might be perceived.

      1. MOAS*

        ugh. that reminds me of someone on my team who screamed at her manager on the open floor plan b/c he told her she couldn’t take 2 hour long breaks without clocking out (she was hourly and got paid overtime, and it wasn’t the first time she had left for so long, so it was essentially time clock padding). She screamed that it was unfair b/c I was taking 2 hours getting my hair done (1. I absolutely NEVER DID THAT and 2. I was her supervisor, I was working 70-75 hours a week easily and rarely ever took a full 1 hour break).

        In my office, it’s common for people to do literally whatever during their one hour break–I get pedicures or back massages every few weeks, some go shopping, some hang out at the bar, and some nap. No one gets in trouble for doing that, the only ones who DO get in trouble are the low performers.

        I’m honestly getting so tired of “optics matter, perception matters.” I believe in it but I need more than 1 60 second interaction or online chat to make a fully formed opinion about them. You can be on point 99% of the time but if someone already has preconceived notions about you or–God forbid you have a RBF–people lambast you for being “unapproachable.”

      2. ABK*

        Yeah, I think the culture in a lot of exempt workplaces is that you are fairly available for work during the day. Going off site for an hour and not at all available for a panicked client call would be weird in the places I’ve worked. People take casual lunch time to eat, maybe eat at their desks, maybe run a quick errand, maybe go for a walk, but it’s not a regular thing to go offsite for a full hour. It’s been more common at my workplaces for people to leave early for the day for personal things.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      In theory, yes. But this is someone who’s exempt and it sounds in her office for common for exempt folks in her office to work through lunch. If that’s the case and she already had a reputation for not doing good work, this will look bad. That may or may not be logical but it’s the reality of how the perception will work.

    5. AnotherAlison*

      “your lunch hour, especially, belongs to you”

      That is not the culture at my company. Salaried people who guard their time are not considered top performers. I can still take that time for myself to do daytime errands, but I just end up working really long days. It’s not uncommon for people to schedule lunch meetings. We run out of open meeting times. It would just seem off base here to not be accommodating of work needs during lunchtime. (Not that I like it that way. . .)

      1. Alexander Graham Yell*

        Yeah – my old roommate’s company was 9-5(+) and people did not take lunch breaks ever. It was to the point that on days both of us were working from home, she’d be confused when I’d just turn my computer off in the middle of the day and do other things for an hour. There are definitely places where taking a lunch, or a slightly longer lunch, will negatively impact the perception of you as a worker.

        1. T2*

          A few years ago I started a company like that. There was one of my new coworkers who spent a 1/2 hour crying at her desk because the boss wouldn’t let her go get her sick kid at school. I walked in to the bosses office and told him that this was ridiculous. To which he said “who is going to do her job while she is gone?” “I will I replied. And mine at the same time. After all, I have been doing it for the last hour while she has been upset!”

          So she got to go handle her situation. The day ended and the earth didn’t catch fire.

          I ended up greatly admiring the boss for being willing to admit he was being pedantic and making changes.

      2. T2*

        I am a top performer. To the point that if i am not there, my company might not be able to function. And I am exempt. But I jealously guard my personal time. If I am not hungry, I will go drive to a different place and take a nap.

        Most people need that time to recharge and refocus. Doing this means that I remain a top performer.

        Then again, if there is a critical thing and it is really urgent, I have been known to work around the clock nonstop to get it done.

        Do the exempt deal means that I will get the job done, and they don’t hound me about hours in 5 minute increments.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Oh, I don’t mean to imply that you or anyone who takes a lunch or can manage their time to 40 hrs a week can’t be a top performer, but I think your point that you will work around the clock when a job needs to be done is in line with what I’m saying. I’ve worked with some people who will not ever do anything more than their 40 hrs. That’s just not the job I have.

    6. Elemeno P.*

      I am always so jealous of people doing these things on their lunch hour. I work in a city with terrible traffic and it takes 10 minutes to walk from the parking lot to my office (if I get a good spot), so a 30 minute hair appointment a mile away would take up my whole hour (and then some).

    7. LQ*

      It is yours to do *whatever* you want. But there may be consequences to that *whatever* and it’s important to make people aware so they can make educated decisions.

    8. Moray*

      I had a job where I was given a 30 minute break, but if I was the only manager working (which was very frequent) I wasn’t allowed to leave the building, and the organization was completely within their rights to do that. (I checked my state’s laws, b/c it did kinda suck). Not all lunch breaks are created equal.

    9. Observer*

      Did you actually read what Alison wrote? Have you been reading her site for any length of time?

      Seriously- Alison didn’t say that the OP “can’t” do this. But, Alison’s advice is generally about getting the results you want, and the OP wants to be seen in a certain light. What Alison is saying that in order for the OP to be seen in a certain way, they should consider the existing optics and how they would interact with the optics of getting your mails done.

      If you don’t care about how you are seen, this is not relevant. But, the OP *does* care, so this is a useful way of framing it.

    10. Allison*

      I agree in theory, as I think AAM does as well, this isn’t about what Alison Green thinks is okay, it’s the reality of the workplace. If people are frustrated with you because you generally take a lot longer than you should to get your work done, and it’s never satisfactory when it is “finished” so you need to fix things, and you’re often unresponsive to emails, effectively making you the Team Bottleneck, and to top it all off you take an extra long lunch and stroll into the office with a fresh manicure, or a shopping bag from a fancy department store, or a new haircut or color, OR if people spot you drinking a glass of wine with your lunch, people may take that to mean you really just don’t care about the job, the team, or the company. It’s a bad look.

      BUT if you’ve established yourself as a competent person who does good work, has good turnaround times, and is altogether a reliable worker, it’s unlikely that anyone will care if you occasionally use your lunch breaks to do something fun and frivolous.

      I mean, if I’m working on an important project with a hard deadline approaching, that IS the time when I’m gonna eat at my desk or grab a quick lunch and come right back. I wouldn’t consider a lunchtime manicure unless it’s a slow week or I just finished a project and I’ve “earned” the right to decompress a little.

      But I will admit, it’s a little sexist that women doing feminine things on their lunch breaks still carries a bit of a stigma.

  4. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

    OP #1: Having to take buses to an office party where you’ll have to stay from 4-11pm sounds like an absolute nightmare. I enjoy hanging out with my co-workers, but that is ridiculous. People should be able to arrive and leave as they see fit. I don’t see how the people who plan these things think it’s a good idea. Anytime I have been in an office party situation where buses were involved like this, there came a point much earlier than when we were scheduled to leave where most people were sitting around whispering “how much longer until we can leave?”

    OP #3: I think it’s perfectly fine to get your nails done on your lunch break. I’ve done that a few times! As long as it doesn’t cause you to take a longer break than you’re supposed to take, or disrupt your work in any way, there is nothing wrong with that.

    1. Massmatt*

      Yeah I suppose there’s always Uber but being bussed to an unknown location with no way out for hours sounds less like an outing and more like a hostage situation.

      1. Artemesia*

        This really made my skin crawl. I remember the river cruise where we were trapped in a boring scene for 5 hours and how horrible it felt not to be able to gracefully leave. 4 to 11 — sounds like a nightmare. And for people who have any physical issues, child care issues etc this is going to hurt. And ‘secret’ — I want to dress for the thing, take stuff along I might need for the setting I will be in. All awful.

        1. londonedit*

          Yeah, I once went on one of those party cruises down the Thames. Sounded fun – booze and dancing and whatnot, with lovely London scenery going by – but once we got on there the reality sunk in that we were literally trapped in the same place for four hours whether we liked it or not. It wasn’t awful, but if I want booze and lovely London scenery I’d rather go to a few pubs along the river, at least then I can leave of my own free will!

          1. SezU*

            I did the cruise for New Year’s a long time ago. It isn’t something I’d repeat but it definitely was cool to be passing by when Big Ben struck midnight. Also, in my experience, London is THE place to be for New Year’s! The whole city was a big party!!

            1. londonedit*

              Ha ha, I never stay in London for New Year’s Eve because it’s rammed with tourists and a nightmare to get home, plus everywhere charges ridiculous prices :D

              I do sometimes think it would be cool to do the whole central London fireworks thing once, but I don’t know anyone who actually goes!

              1. Alli525*

                I live in NYC and feel the exact same thing about our New Years Eve. It is literally just for tourists who want to pee in their diapers and be freezing cold all night. Nooooo thank you, I’ll watch the ball drop on TV like everyone else.

                1. Liz*

                  Hahaha. I live in NJ and feel exactly the same way. esp the diaper part. Nope, no thank you. And as i get older, i sometimes don’t even make it to midnight.

                2. Massmatt*

                  LOL I see the NYE crowd in Times Square on TV and usually think ugh I’m glad I’m not out there. The weather is almost always freezing, you have to get there hours early, and you are crammed into these pens with loud mostly drunk strangers. And the security after 9/11 is unbelievable.

                3. Artemesia*

                  It always look unappealing to me too and I know Paris is not a great NYE destination unless you bring your party with you. But then we have a view of the Chicago fireworks from our living room and so NYE will be a private dinner party where people can return home on public transport and not have to worry about driving.

                4. londonedit*

                  Yeah, everyone wants to be on the South Bank so that’s now ticketed, and you have to get there ridiculously early if you want to be anywhere near the actual river. Standing around for hours in a crowd of people isn’t my ideal way of spending NYE. Basically anywhere with a decent view of the fireworks will be rammed, and pubs and restaurants will also be packed and extra expensive (a lot of them do advance-ticket-only parties). In my family we stay at home, cook the last big blow-out dinner of the Christmas holidays, and have champagne and dancing at midnight while watching the London fireworks on TV.

        2. mcr-red*

          I agree about wanting to dress for the thing, depending on what we’re doing, I may wear clothes for the weather, special shoes, etc.

        3. Tigger*

          My High School prom was on a boat for this exact reason. They didn’t want people to sneak out to the cars and drink. People still found a way

          1. Artemesia*

            My HS graduation in the 60s also culminated in an all night party on a boat and then BBQ on an island — funded by parents who wanted us doing something besides drunk driving that night. We were a smallish class — 150 or so, so that was feasible.

            1. Tigger*

              Yeah, my class was 325 ish and about half of us had dates from the junior class. It was so insane but really smart since it was a 5-hour cruise and then a lock-in (they literally bolted the doors and we had to give up car keys if we had them) at a local community center country club thing and wee weren’t allowed to leave until 6 am. It was a blast, but it was weird

            2. Vicky Austin*

              We had the same thing when I graduated in the 1990’s, only at the school. We had a DJ, dancing, a clown making balloon animals, karaoke, etc.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          “Oh thank heavens it’s not an mlm presentation, just fleeing zombies across a mud course.”

          1. boo bot*

            You trip over a rock and fall, your hands sinking into the mud; your feet slip as you try to scramble to your feet. Something brushes your ankle, and you know before you turn to look: a zombie crouches behind you, staring at you with cloudy eyes; its lips have rotted into an eerie grin. It moves like lightning, and grabs your wrist with fingers that are mostly bone. As you struggle to get away, it moves in closer and whispers, “Would you like to make more money, set your own hours, and help people achieve their best selves?”

        2. Anonny*

          I’m gay and in those circles mlm stands for “men loving men”… although I doubt a presentation on that would be appropriate for a work party either.

      2. Pica*

        Uber won’t pick you up from many rural locations. You could be in an area overflowing w Uber and taxis and not be able to find an alternative way home.

        Huge swaths of the USA have no public transport and no form of hire car.

        My mother lives 3 hours from the nearest taxi or Uber,

      3. NerdyLibraryClerk*

        I’m sure it sounds great to a few people, but I’d imagine most people are filling in the most recent horror or action movie they saw. And the update that it’s on a Thursday, with people expected to be at work the next day? Do they want the staff nopetopusing away from the event?

      4. sheworkshardforthemoney*

        I worked at a remote site and it was standard procedure to bus people to the site. However, the last event we hosted was on a Friday before a long weekend. People were outside, milling around waiting for the shuttle bus an hour before it was due because it was a long weekend and they just wanted to go home.

    2. ZK*

      Yeah, the stuck for 7 hours with no way out is a no for me. That’s a workday on top of a workday. Nope.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        An office Christmas party was once held at the local casino, a 25 minute drive from work. We did know the location, and there was a bus to take us there, but after dinner, and a go on the slot machines (the casino offered a package with dinner, demonstration of how to play roulette, and a bag of tokens each) I was ready to leave as I had to catch an early flight the following day.

        Thankfully the casino was on a bus route, but I was told, no, I couldn’t leave early, I had to wait for the bus and go back with everyone else.

        1. Sparkly Librarian*

          Uh, no. That’s bordering on unlawful restraint. Also, were they paying you for the time? If you weren’t even on the clock, your employer has little excuse for keeping you there. Makes me mad even thinking about it.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            It’s silly, but they can tell you you’re required to stay without paying you if you’re exempt. If you’re non-exempt and it’s mandatory, they’d have to pay you.

            It’s not unlawful restraint though! They’re not actually physically barring her from leaving, just saying it’s a condition of her employment to remain.

            1. Sparkly Librarian*

              Okay, that was hyperbolic of me. I had a knee-jerk reaction to restriction of movement. Saying “you can’t leave” is pretty awful. And whether they were applying physical restraint or not, holding employment over one’s head for such a trivial thing is awful, too.

              1. Just Elle*

                Yeah, honestly, this is a hill I would die on. I would kind of look forward to leaving a Glassdoor review about how I got fired for NOT hanging around a casino drinking into the wee hours of the night…

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            It’s actually 35/1 on one number, 17/1 on a split, etc…roulette’s my game. I’m actually pretty good at it. Pro tip: always bet the line between 0|00.

        2. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

          The funny thing is, we’re all adults and should be able to decide when it’s reasonable to leave an event. Did the person who said you had to leave with everyone else think you all were in kindergarten?

        1. Chocolate Teapot*

          The resoning was “Well the bus is paid for, and there have to be people travelling on it, otherwise it’s a waste of money.”

  5. Elizabeth West*

    Have the people in #1 who plan these things never seen Get Out or Midsommar?

    Way to set off my travel anxiety, Karen. :P #ImNotGoing

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        People going for a nice healthy tramp in the countryside are routinely trampled by cows. For realsies.

    1. pcake*

      As I read once in a review of Midsummer Murders in a UK paper – “Midsummer County – the deadliest county in England” *LOL*

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Midsommar* is set in Sweden; forgot to mention The Wicker Man, (1973), which is set in The Hebrides islands. Just stay away from rural festivals. ;)

      The Get Out film scared me because I have a thing about when I don’t know where we’re going or if I can escape. I would hate this stupid office party idea and it would be a hill to die on for me.

      *I freaking LOVED this movie, btw.

  6. Clementine*

    Many people I’ve worked with would never do such a party in an unknown remote location as they would hate the thought of not being able to have ready access to their children in an emergency. Holiday party boat cruises are shunned by many for the same reason. To some extent this is psychological, because these same parents probably do occasionally make trips without their children, which means they are at least a few hours away, but in those cases, they have probably set up a more stable care situation (like relying on their parents) than a neighborhood babysitter in for the night.

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      Psychological sure but not knowing where you’ll be, no easy way to leave, and basically being a hostage for 7+ hours…yeah that is a reasonable “psychological” thing.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        *raises hand* I have only feathered and furred dependents, but I would absolutely detest this. Tell me where I’m going, and what we’re doing, and there is no way in hell that I would be okay with hanging out for 7 (!!!!) hours with no way to get myself home. At the end of a day, no less. Nopety nope nope.

    2. Just Elle*

      I get that kids gives you a bit more ‘concrete’ reason to find this completely unacceptable… but I also think its a disservice to phrase it as if you only have a right to loathe it if you have kids.
      I don’t know anyone, child having or otherwise, who would enjoy being held hostage at an undisclosed location for 7 hours. Its simply not how you should treat grown ups.

      1. Observer*

        This is total projection on your part.

        There are a lot of good reasons to think that this is a terrible idea. Having young children, or any dependents for that matter, is one of those really good reasons. Stating that hardly lays claim to being the “only” good reason.

    3. Observer*

      Actually, also a practical thing. I haven;t been out of cell phone range in YEARS. At this point, it’s not kids, it’s parents. But I know that if an emergency happened, I could be reached and could coordinate with whoever is handling the emergency. If I’m going to a “surprise” location, I might be out of service. Not going to fly.

    4. pcake*

      As a single parent, I never took any trips without my son and never went to work without a way to get home quickly. His father and I weren’t together, but more importantly, his father was unreliable and often unreachable. I wouldn’t trust my ex-mother in law to make good decisions in emergencies because she didn’t, and the first thing a good babysitter does in an emergency IMO is call me. Which mine did. So as a parent, I would never go anywhere on transportation I couldn’t control.

      Btw, over his childhood, my son DID have several emergencies that required me to get home ASAP. I would never go on this magical mystery tour where I had no way to get home.

  7. Clementine*

    Re cover letters, I know many employers like them, and I always looked at them carefully when I was a hiring manager. But I know a lot of HR and manager types who simply discard the cover letter. So, if you want a good cover letter, that has to be clearly stated in the application information. If you are using an online site to gather applications, make this cover letter a separate, obvious step.

    1. TerraTenshi*

      Yeah, this is actually the policy at my current company (supposedly to help decrease bias) and our job applicant system is an “out-of-the-box” software that offers a field specifically for cover letters… that will never be read.

      I think the best you can do is to request cover letters in the job description but accept that a lot of people aren’t going to include them for a variety of reasons.

      1. OP2*

        Thanks so much. It’s helpful to know that some companies just throw out the cover letters – makes things worse for those of us who don’t! :)

        To the other questions below, our job descriptions are very customized. All of them include a list of job responsibilities and also qualifications, and while we use other job postings as a template for those if it’s a new role, they’re always customized to the job.

        We’re a small nonprofit and so it’s much less factory systematized, and I personally manage all of the job postings and read all of the cover letters. But it’s good to know this varies a lot among kinds of employers.

      2. PersephoneUnderground*

        That’s awful! (1) that logic is dumb, of course, might even increase discrimination in hiring if someone with non standard qualifications doesn’t get the chance to explain why they are relevant (like people from lower income groups who don’t have a BS but are self-taught programmers with great portfolios for example) and (2) there are much better ways to guard against bias, like removing names from application materials (to guard against unconscious, well-researched bias towards white-sounding names) until you at least get to the interview stage.
        /Enraged aside of recent job hunter

        Cover letters take me *a long time* to write. I’d be pissed if a company specifically asking for a letter never intended to read it. You can remove that field or add an “actually don’t fill this out” note sooo easily. Just ask a resident techie if there’s a way to do it.

    2. Massmatt*

      Alison hit on one major reason people send generic letters—applicants are applying to lots of jobs and not taking the time to personalize. But the other is that many people are under the impression that cover letters make no difference.

      I know I got at least one job because of a good cover letter (they told me it got me the interview, they got something like 50 applications, and this was in the days of paper). But other jobs I notice interviewers have a copy of my resume bu5 not my cover letter, so it definitely varies.

      I think the chance of it making a difference makes it worth making the cover letter at least somewhat customized. Though it can be hard when a job listing says little about the position other than the title.

      OP, are your job listings individualized or generic? Generic listings may beget generic letters.

    3. Alienor*

      I’m involved in hiring and I never even see cover letters – both the HR recruiters for my own company and the agencies I use for contractors will send me candidates’ resumes and any samples/links to online portfolios, but if there are cover letters they aren’t making it to me.

      1. Anonadog*

        Ditto. I was hiring for a content role and put in the job ad that they must submit a writing sample (including a cover letter) with their resume. After a week of Recruiting sending me only resumes and being frustrated at the candidate pool (“Does no one read instructions?!”), I asked them what they thought was happening. They said “Oh, we never bother with those extra things. Do you want them?” And then they began forwarding me those writing samples and cover letters.

        Writing a good CL can be a good differentiator, but I see why many candidates don’t – they often never get read.

        LinkedIn also now makes it easy to apply to jobs on their site in one click – they package your LinkedIn profile as a pdf. I have never received a cover letter with one of those applications.

    4. Avasarala*

      I spend a lot of time on cover letters but often I can’t write a good one because I don’t have enough information about the job/company from the posting. “We’re looking for a go-getter with a passion for success and a collaborative attitude. Our company [redacted] values people from all backgrounds and has a commitment to excellence. Duties include assisting team members with various projects in [broad field name like “HR” or “accounting”]. Competitive salary.”

      What am I supposed to tailor my cover letter to?? All I can do is try to cover my bases and pick up key words I guess… So OP, make sure your postings have substance that could interest candidates. Hard to fake enthusiasm over boring bait.

      1. L.S. Cooper*

        It’s especially hard when the listing is made by a contracting firm or a recruiting company and I can’t even tell what company I’m actually applying for!

      2. Elitist Semicolon*

        This is a constant problem – my students ask me this fairly often (and I had the same issues myself when I was looking, even for academic positions!). Usually I tell them to focus on keywords and give specific examples that address them, but also to check out the company webpage to get a sense of its overall goals and mission. Even demonstrating that you know the company manufactures widgets and not whatsits is a start. If it’s a job with a relatively common title, it might be possible to search for other jobs with that title and extrapolate and generalize from the responsibilites listed there.

        All that said, I realize it does take time to do that kind of research, and folks who are applying for a lot of jobs or who need to find employment quickly may not be able to sacrifice the time it would take to submit two more applications so they can root out information for one job that really should have been in the announcement in the first place. There’s some decision calculus here that depends a lot on one’s personal situation, but in general, doing a little digging does confer an advantage.

        1. Elitist Semicolon*

          (Added: I am not suggesting that Avasarala or anyone else is not doing these things – I am merely offering strategies that I know have been effective for folks facing similar issues.)

        2. Avasarala*

          I would love to have the company name so I can do that kind of research. But so often the postings are on a third-party website or otherwise redacted (as I tried to show in my example) so I can’t even place it in that context.

      3. Jennifer Thneed*

        I’m often replying to ads from recruiters, and yes, they’re vague. I use my CL to discuss specific projects and accomplishments that highlight the skills I most enjoy using, without having to tie them to any particular position. My resume also has this stuff so I don’t repeat specifics, but hey, I’m a writer, so including the CL lets me give you TWO writing samples right off the bat. And besides, in the CL, I can show a little more of my personality, and I can use the word “I”. I I I. I like that word, yes I do.

    5. Doctor Schmoctor*

      Maybe it’s just the industry in which I work, or the country where I live, but very few companies advertise jobs directly. In 99.9% of cases, a recruitment agency advertises the job on some jobs website, where you can submit a resume. Then you just have to wait and see if they call back. No cover letter is required, because there is nobody to send it to.

    6. E*

      My current job specifically requested only a resume be submitted. No cover letter. So I think you are right about some hiring managers just tossing them. (My current job also forbade any contact with the hiring manager unless they contacted you.)

    7. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      One large university near me has an applicant tracking system that only allows one resume and one cover letter to be on file at a time. So if you’re in the middle of a job search, you have to write a resume/cover letter that are as broad as possible.

  8. It's Me*

    “But a lot of people just aren’t ever going to do it — partly because they figure there’s a good chance they’ll never hear back from you so they don’t want to invest the time in crafting something. ”

    This is how I feel. I’ve applied to about 200 jobs in the last six months, and been ignored on most. I only create special cover letters if I’m super excited about the position and think I have a decent shot at getting an interview. Of course it doesn’t help when the labor office is giving you a quota to fill each week.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You may have already tried this, but often people find that applying for fewer jobs but crafting a more personal letter for each actually gets them a higher number of interviews.

      1. Eliza*

        It sounds like applying for fewer jobs isn’t an option in their particular case, since they mentioned having a required weekly quota of applications (presumably in order to be eligible to continue collecting unemployment).

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It still might be an option for them. This varies by state, but often unemployment requires you to apply for a relatively low number of jobs per week, like three. If that’s the case for them, they have room to do fewer than they have been, and to focus more on quality over quantity.

          1. Shiny Swampert*

            In the UK if you’re on jobseekers’ allowance you are expected to spend 35 hours a week applying for jobs.


            1. Daisy*

              It’s not as if they check (or could check) though. They ask if you’ve been looking, you say yes, no luck though, they say ‘how about this job at Argos?’, you say ‘sure, I’ll do that’, they tick their box.

              1. Blossom*

                I remember having to fill in a log. Obviously I doubt they could actually verify what I’d written, though.

            2. Polly C*

              I don’t get it. Why does that make you shudder? If you’re unemployed and living off government assistance, it makes sense that they would expect you to put in full time effort into finding a new job.

              1. Harper the Other One*

                Because it’s a shotgun approach to employment that doesn’t address anything long -term; it just “looks good” to people who are skeptics of social supports.

                If you were, say, a middle management accountant, there very likely won’t be enough equivalent open positions to occupy 35 hours a week of applications. Are you supposed to apply to entry-level positions which you will be considered overqualified for? Even if you get one, it takes a position away from someone entering the field, and you’re obviously going to leave it as soon as you find something that fits your career path. You’d be better off using your time in volunteering and making network connections, but these policies generally require you show a list of jobs you applied to.

                Heck, at 35 hours a week of applications, in my area I would literally run out of EVERYTHING, because all the retail and service jobs, which have resume banks that keep your application for a year.

                It’s a policy that is purely for optics.

                1. EPLawyer*

                  It’s a policy based on the old way of applying for jobs. When you had to read the classified ads in the paper, sorting through hundred of jobs to find the one you qualified for. Then you had to type up your cover letter, on a typewriter with no spell check, along with typing up a customized resume. Then mail it in. You could easily spend that amount of time simply because it TOOK that long.

                  Now with online applications and your resume already on your computer, everything goes so much faster. You can search jobs by keywords, and have a list in a seconds. But the requirements for unemployment or the courts for voluntary impoverishment for child support/alimony purposes haven’t changed.

                  If I am up against someone who is trying to get out of alimony/child support by being “unemployed” I ask them not how long they spend looking for a job, I ask how many jobs they have applied for since they were unemployed then divide by the weeks. If they are averaging less than 5 jobs a weeks, I hammer that home. If someone comes to me because they are out of work and need help on child support/alimony, I tell them they better walk into court with a BOOK of applications. Print off the online ones.

                2. Batgirl*

                  When I was doing a jobseekers log, they said I could put networking coffees and keeping abreast of my field with reading time down on the log.
                  But…yeah it’s not great.

                3. Jerk Store*

                  Ntm, they typically have the requirement that you can’t turn down work, so it doesn’t make sense to apply for jobs that you don’t want and/or won’t pay the bills.

                4. Jennifer Thneed*

                  I figure that all the research I do on the company (etc) is part of my “applying for jobs” time. Also all the time I spend adjusting my CL for a specific job. Also all the time I spend making tiiiiny tweaks to my resume, and then changing it back, and then changing it back again. If it’s “looking for work”-related, it’s part of the time I put in. (Now then, I am not measured on hours per week, but if I were, that would be my mindset.) (That said, I agree with you that it’s a stupid policy.)

                5. Clorinda*

                  Then…writing and revising your cover letter for each specific job might well take several logged hours, as would researching the company and comparing positions.

              2. Bree*

                For most people, 35 hours a week is an unreasonable amount of time to put into job searching, and would mean you were over-obsessing over each application or applying for way too many things. There just aren’t that many appropriate positions or networking opportunities in most fields, and a lot of the upfront work of updating a resume, etc. is done in the first week or two.

                Plus, job searching is fundamentally different than a normal job in terms of the mental energy it requires, and taking it as seriously as employment itself could easily lead to anxiety or demoralization due to the inevitable rejection. The reality is that job searching requires work – but also just a heck of a lot of luck and patience, depending on one’s field. I was on unemployment (Employment Insurance, in Canada) for a few months after a layoff early in my career, and keeping logs and reporting my job searching activity added needless pressure to an already stressful time in my life.

                All that to say, it’s just not the same as a job. Plus, it pays far less, and technically I’m entitled to it since I contribute to it every pay check.

                1. triplehiccup*

                  “Entitled” is exactly right. In my experience, my fellow Americans tend to forget that most benefit recipients have previously, and will again in the future, pay into the pot. The bureaucratic government is providing a paid service, not handing out favors – we pay for unemployment insurance, food stamps, cash welfare, and disability, and we’re entitled to use them when needed.

              3. Trout 'Waver*

                Because it takes 5 hours per week to apply to everything you’re a reasonably good fit for. The other 30 hours is just churn to waste the time of hiring managers.

              4. ceiswyn*

                I boot up my computer, check the results of the automated job searches that have been sent to me, tailor my CV and covering letter for the one relevant new job that’s appeared since yesterday, send the application. What am I meant to do for the other six hours?

                1. Rugby*

                  You can take an online course to gain a new skill, do some volunteer work related to your industry, read industry newsletters and other resources, get in touch with your alumni network, reach out to former coworkers, etc. I realize that you may not be able to fill a full 35 hour week every week, but there is a lot more that you can do a lot more than just checking automatic job search results. If the government is paying you to job search, you really should be putting as much effort as you can into.

                2. Observer*

                  @Rugby, but that is not considered “job search” by most of the places that have these requirements.

                3. ceiswyn*

                  In my particular area and circumstances, almost none of those things would be helpful. And they certainly wouldn’t fill the 35 hours per week required.

                  Not to mention that in the UK, you’re actually required to continue spending that 35 hours per week job searching even when you’ve got a job offer, a signed contract, and a start date.

                4. Risha*

                  @Rugby – So in other words, you believe they should spend the remaining six hours doing useful activities instead of pointless busywork to fulfill a generic government ‘job search’ logging requirement. Good, we’re in agreement.

                5. Annie*

                  Rugby none of that stuff would fulfil the government’s criteria for 35 hours applying for jobs.

                  God what is it with Americans lecturing foreigners on how things work in their own countries??

                  And don’t forget the UK is a socialist country. You cannot project American values onto us.

                6. Cherries on top*

                  @Annie UK is not a socialist country, it’s just a little less inhumane than it’s bigger cousin. Of course, now you’ve got Boris…

              5. Angus McDonald, Boy Detective*

                In addition to the other comments below, our job seeker’s allowance is not the same as living off of government assistance. I’ve just quickly checked the government website, and the maximum a single person over the age of 25 can get is £73.10 per week. Would you want to spend 35 hours on something for less than $100 per week?

                1. ceiswyn*

                  And that is why I basically told the job centre to stuff it last time I was unemployed. They wanted me to spend 35 hours job searching in the week before I started my new job, in order to get £73.10 in six weeks’ time.

              6. coffee cup*

                There’s a lot of nonsense going on about that at the moment. Apart from anything else, there are rarely going to be enough jobs to spend that long applying for. Besides, how soul-destroying would that be?! It’s not exactly easy to ‘live off government assistance’ when you’re just scraping by on a benefit.

              7. Annie*

                There are cases of people being Sanctioned for not looking for work on Christmas Day. Christmas Day in Britain is very different from Christmas Day in America – the entire country closes down. No public transport runs, no shops or movie cinemas are open, only emergency services and some ethnic restaurants are open. There’s just no way you could do job hunting that day and certainly sending an email on Christmas Day would be heavily frowned upon.

        2. Jimming*

          In my state you only need to maintain contact with 5 employers each week. So that’s 5 applications, or 4 apps and 1 interview etc. That’s pretty reasonable and gives someone time to craft tailored cover letters and resumes – basically one a day. I’m not sure what the rules are in other states. But 200 jobs in 6 months is a lot. Alison’s advice is spot-on.

          1. WellRed*

            Depends on your area, what level you’re at and what kind of work you do. It’s not i inherently unreasonable on the surface, but it can be harder than it looks.

            1. Jimming*

              I’ve been there myself. It is hard. But it’s a lot easier to target specific jobs/positions than apply to everything out there. And by taking the time to tailor a resume and cover letter you’ll have a better chance of making it to the interview.

          2. S-Mart*

            200 jobs in 6 months is only 7-8 jobs/week. I don’t actually think it’s that crazy, depending on region and position.

      2. Fortitude Jones*

        That worked for me, and my job search went quicker too (only four months this time as opposed to the 8 months before that and a year-and-a-half before that).

      3. It's Me*

        Here’s my deal… I’m not unemployed. I’m on partial benefits until my employer figures out where the (government) contract is going to end up and stops cutting hours. For two and a half months I didn’t come to work at all because they had no work available and were in a holding pattern. My approach has been to do a mix of things: customize cover letters on jobs where I feel I match strongly and to send a more generic one when I feel I’m missing some qualifications and unlikely to get a response (I’m trying anyway, in other words). So far I’ve had about 10 interviews, but they always fall through. Things at work are picking back up and hopefully I can forget the labor office soon, but I really want to be out of this unstable environment altogether.

        1. It's Me*

          Mostly I just wanted to agree with the point that sometimes it does feel like a waste of time, and I wanted to express how frustrating it is.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            It’s sounds like you are in a frustrating situation for sure. But I don’t think your situation is an example that shows why tailoring a cover letter is a waste of time. If you think you are unlikely to get a response because you are missing qualifications, maybe applying itself is a waste of time. But tailoring your cover letter to show why you’d still be a good candidate anyway might have helped you with some of those jobs. So unless you were required to apply to a certain number of jobs to be entitled to a benefit, applying to jobs you weren’t completely qualified for *without* tailoring your cover letter for the job is more likely where you wasted your time.

            But it sounds like you’re in a really frustrating situation, and it can feel like a challenge to get motivated to do things like tinker with cover letters when you’re in that situation. I’m sorry, I hope it gets better soon.

  9. Alaska*

    The State of Alaska uses cover letters to determine eligibility for positions, as HR screens all applicants before they go to the hiring manager, and there is no bypassing it. As such, you have to explicitly state how job meet the desired skills/knowledge. It’s explained like this in job posts:

    “A cover letter is required for this recruitment. In your cover letter which you will attach to this application, you must support your knowledge, skills, abilities and experience (KSAEs) as they pertain to the KSAEs listed in the job description above.

    If you do not address the knowledge, skills, abilities and experience listed above in your cover letter, you WILL NOT advance to the next step in the selection process, and your application will be processed as INCOMPLETE.”

    Pro forma letters will be rejected every time. I like it because they don’t ask you to regurgitate your resume. They are asking about specific desired skill sets, knowledge, etc.

    1. Everdene*

      Our job positings say something similar (UK, Third Sector). We have a detailed, and individualised, persom spec for each listing that people are encouraged to answer point by point.
      When shortlisting HR say we must use the cover letter to rate how well each applicant meets each requirement and interview the top x many. Applicants who don’t sunmit cover letters or who write ‘I am an excellent person to do this job and can meet all the requirements’ will not pass the screening.

      (An excellent member of my team applied for the same role twice, the first time he didn’t get an interview, the second he was far and away the best candidate. The difference? He rewrote his cover letter to emphasise relevent experience and answer the person spec.)

      1. Blossom*

        Came to say this. I mean, it does make the process feel a bit more like jumping through hoops – it takes a good writer to follow the formula while still making the letter read naturally and sound appealing – but at least you know exactly what the employer wants you to address. In my experience, smaller organisations tend not to ask specifically for this, but as they normally still provide a person spec, it’s pretty easy to write a cover letter that hits the spot. (As it would be with just the job description to go on, assuming it is detailed enough to give you a good sense of what they’re looking for).

      2. Weegie*

        I’m also in a sector that uses personal statements where the candidate is asked to detail how their skills and experience match each of the essential and desirable criteria for the job. There’s often quite a lot of space allowed for these (up to 1,200 words sometimes) and in some applications they replace a cover letter altogether. Where a cover letter is also requested (why? why?!) I use it to state why I’m interested in the post and give a 1-line elevator pitch-type statement of why I’d be good in the role.

        I should say that all of these employers use some kind of online portal, but even if an organisation is asking candidates to email a letter plus CV/resume, they could simply add a personal statement to the mix, or ask for it instead of a cover letter.

        1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

          Mine does this too, and there’s usually no word limit. I often end up either making a table that has the criteria on one side and a blurb about how I meet it on the other, or using the criteria as headings — word for word, sometimes with a few tweaks to shorten it or combine it with similar ones.

          It might be overkill for the OP but maybe being more explicit about what you want would help. Not just “please write a cover letter” but “please include a cover letter that addresses how you meet the qualifications for this role”.

      3. londonedit*

        It’s normal in my industry (also UK) for job adverts to have a detailed job description and a list of required/desired skills and experience, and you’re absolutely expected to use those as the basis for your cover letter, and even to reference them directly – if the ad says the role involves polishing teapots, you’d write ‘I have five years’ experience in teapot polishing, having risen through the ranks from assistant teapot wiper to senior teapot polisher. In 2018 my team won the Association of Teapot Makers’ Award for Best Polishing’ and not just ‘I really enjoy working with teapots and I think I would be an excellent candidate for this role’.

  10. Richard*

    Did you go to Grinnell or have a connection there, Alison? I’m class of ’06, so I could potentially know the hypothetical ’09 alum, if that’s based on a real person.

      1. jojobeans*

        Love the mention of Grinnell – my hometown! I didn’t go to the college (I really needed to go farther for college than a few blocks over) but my older sister did, class of ’99, I think?

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Which reminds me — if you’re a professional connection, it’s probably best to use the formal Latin-based alumnus/alumna. Many (most?) Americans accept the slang abbreviation “alum” — but for some it’s fingernails-on-a-chalkboard. Easy enough to avoid annoying the ones who do care about formal/proper grammar of Latin-derived words by not truncating the endings.
      (I do the same thing with “since” in its newer meaning of “because” — writing on a comment board, I use whichever comes naturally. Writing materials to lure a potential customer? I always use “because” — it won’t annoy the people who use “since”, but vice-versa I might annoy the one person I’m addressing.)

        1. Lucette Kensack*

          Yep. I (and my organization) intentionally use “alum” to avoid the needless gendering of alumnus/alumna.

          1. oliphaunt*

            Yes, as someone whose work involves this area, I prefer “alum” because it is non-gendered (although I know some folks still don’t like it).

            Just please don’t use “alumni” as singular.

        2. KayEss*

          I don’t know about out in the real world, but I have legitimately seen people lose their entire minds over an improper use of alumnus/alumna (and alumni/alumnae) in higher ed. And it wasn’t just academics being academically pedantic—it was inevitably random alumni who pitched fits about it.

      1. infopubs*

        I would find working for someone this pedantic annoying. “Alum” is a common usage and will likely remain so given the movement away from gendered words in English. So if you didn’t hire me to work for you based on that, I think you’d be doing me a favor.

      2. Pippa*

        I see you’re being called overly pedantic, so I’m just here to say I agree with you and am exactly as pedantic as you are :)

        1. Sally*

          I used “pedantic” to describe myself, and a coworker asked me what it meant. I realized I might not actually know what it means because it’s one of those words I learned from reading/hearing it in context, so I looked it up. One source said, “overly concerned with minute details or formalisms, especially in teaching,” and another gave these synonyms: “overscrupulous, scrupulous, precise, exact, over-exacting, perfectionist, precisionist, punctilious, meticulous, fussy, fastidious, finical, finicky.” I thought, “oh crap! This is an accurate description of me.” But at least I have a sense of humor about it, and I try not to judge other people out loud. :-)

      3. Eukomos*

        I’m a Latin teacher and I’m ok with people saying “alum” in most settings. It’s an abbreviation, we use them all the time. Unless the document you’re writing is so formal that you’ve removed every other abbreviation in it then there’s no reason to worry about it.

    2. Jaydee*

      Yeah, I have friends who went to Grinnell, and their alumni network is robust. My experience has been that any Grinnellian is somewhere between pleased and downright thrilled to meet a fellow Grinnellian. I don’t know if other small colleges are similar, but if LW #4 did go to Grinnell, the networking barrier is super low.

  11. Richard*

    #2 I got one job where the posting requested a very specific job-related piece of information to be included in the cover letter. I found out later that that was an intentional tool to weed out applicants who sent generic cover letters. Depending on your flexibility with posting, you could implement something like that.

    1. college employer*

      This is exactly what I do. I hire students and my university’s student employment program is also centered around teaching students to enter the professional workforce, so I require a letter and literally list the questions I want them to answer with their cover letter (how do their skills fit the job, what to they hope to learn in the job, etc.) and I link to our university’s career services page on cover letters. I do it to weed out people who didn’t even read the job description (and also seeing who can follow some pretty basic instructions out the gate, because I don’t always work directly with my students and I need them to be able to follow instructions). It’s shocking how many don’t… I know it’s a college job but I’d still want to know what I’d be DOING at the job! I still get loads of generic cover letters. But it helps me narrow my applicant pools down easily. And I include in rejections letting them know if it’s because they didn’t follow instructions, which I hope helps them learn that lesson early on.
      I might try Alison’s language in my next hiring round to see if that improves the number of good cover letters I get.

    2. P peace*

      Agreed, but also to college recruiters comment, sometimes positions ask for too much. People get emotionally tired. Putting together a crafted resume, filling in an often hours long form with the same info as on the resume, a carefully crafted cover letter, essay questions, a crafted on line profile. It’s way too much for the average position.

  12. Anita*

    #4 house construction: I think it is worth noting that projects like this can absolutely be counted on applications for the PMP and other professional exams, even if they are not necessarily resume appropriate.

    1. Triplestep*

      Only if one actually PM’d the work.

      I’ve worked in the building trades long enough to know that most people who say they “built a house” simply worked with a developer who gave them a stock selection of customizations from which to choose. And most people who have had major work done to their homes will be so overwhelmed by all the decisions their architect and contractors need them to make, they will characterize these selections as “Design” or “Project Management.” They are not, which is another reason not to put them on your resume in addition to what Alison said. I guess your resume might be reviewed by someone with an equally inaccurate idea of what constitutes design and construction project management, and what it is to be the customer of professionals who are getting your sign off on the work. But to those who truly know the difference, you’ll just look out of touch.

      1. German Girl*

        And on top of that, four years sound like a really long time to build a house – assuming it’s a somewhat normal family home. The ones built in our extended family all took less than a year, except for the one where the architect quit for health reasons halfway through and my relative had to complete the project without them and still got it done within 18 month.
        So I would think if it took you four years, you’re either not as good as you think at organizing or had spectacularly bad luck with the availability of craftspeople in your area.

        And negotiating a mortgage is something almost every homeowner has done at least once. It’s not a marketable skill.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Negotiating the mortgage stuck out to me, as something that approaches having a driver’s license and raising kids in terms of frequent life experiences of 40 year olds. Problematic both for its commonality and because how is the employer going to judge your mortgage negotiation skills and realize they are exceptional?

          1. Antilles*

            It also stuck out to me because “skill at negotiating a mortgage” is incredibly situation-specific – how’s your credit history? any previous default/bankruptcies? how big was your downpayment? what’s your annual income compared to the cost of the house?
            Telling me the amount of your mortgage or the APR doesn’t really tell me much about your negotiation skills unless you’re wildly outside the normal range.

        2. WellRed*

          I wondered about the 4 years. Sounds. Like missed deadlines or general inefficiency or poor hiring ( if you insist on putting it in a work context).

        3. AnotherAlison*

          Came here to say the same thing. Was it a mansion? We GC’d the gut remodel of our house. The only thing that stayed was the outside framing. Including getting the plans drawn up and the gutting, this took 8 months from start to move-in. If you told me your home took 4 years, I would absolutely question that. The only way that makes sense is if you stick built it 100% yourself while also working full-time.

          Also: I managing design engineering for industrial construction projects, and I don’t see much that is transferable. You aren’t accountable to yourself in the same way. The OP mentions managing needs of different stakeholders. Who are these stakeholders? You and a spouse and the contractors? The HOA? This is far different from the stakeholder management required in professional project management.

        4. P peace*

          + and adding to that, when someone’s negotiating with their money, it is personal. So, Op might have really underpaid contractors. The contractors might not ever work with op again. Op might not care at all. In business, that’s a loser

        5. P peace*

          And that was supposed to say loss not loser. in business you are a problem in that situation.

      2. pentamom*

        It sounds in this case like the LW might actually have acted as his own general contractor. But even in that case, a savvy hiring manager might look at that resume and say, “Yeah, I’ll bet.” There would be a skepticism hurdle to get over. And as Alison says, the lack of accountability in a personal project devalues any applicable experience it might have generated. Also, the mention of “negotiating a mortgage” and a bunch of soft skills that any competent parent of multiple kids could list, does make it sound like he’s reaching for every possible transferable skill.

        1. Triplestep*

          No, the LW mentioned that the architect is overseeing construction. That is a specific kind of contract for an architect and it takes the responsibility off the homeowner (although they should still be signing off on things.)

        2. JSPA*

          OP #4 could look into getting a general contractor license. Time, cost, and level of familiarity with details of the various trades varies by state, but if they really feel they’ve become more-than-conversant with the overall process, a bit of extra classroom or online learning time and the cost of an exam would give them a credential that could go on a resume, and also a marketable fall-back / alternative / secondary career. In contrast, “I know a lot of bits, and am very proud of that, but I possibly don’t know what-all I don’t know” is not going to engender confidence. It’s also the sort of time-consuming, demanding, non-hobby hobby that might give a potential employer pause (speaking from experience).

      3. Just J.*

        +1 to Triplestep and German Girl

        As a senior project manager in Architecture / Engineering / Construction, their comments sum it up well.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      I have a PMP, and I’m not sure that is true. Your experience has to be signed off. I was audited. Who signs off on this?

      1. Anita*

        I was told by a very experienced PMP instructor that this was legitimate and that others have qualified using experiences like this. He specifically mentioned home remodeling.

        The experience only has to be signed off if you are audited and I have had friends get the certification with projects like their dissertations and other self-directed projects. Not sure who would sign off in this instance, maybe you can write your own affidavit or something.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Writing a dissertation is project management experience? So everyone with a PhD could sign themselves up?

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            I can actually see it, from what I’ve heard about trying to work with dissertation committees.

          2. Make a Comment*

            This is why PMP certifications are useless in practice. Nearly anyone can study and pass the test, even with the “experience” they claim. Audits are rare; I met many project coordinators with PMPs.

            Don’t get me started on IIBA and ISTQB.

            I’ll take someone with real experience over certs any day.

            1. Anita*

              The certificate is valued at my company. And, wedding planning was introduced as another example of project management. And no, the dissertation writing is not part of the project: the planning, scheduling etc. is the PM.

          3. Close Bracket*

            In physics, depending on the student’s level of planning vs. the advisor’s level of planning, sure, it could be. A lot of stuff goes into a dissertation-worthy project. Even some Master’s students could do it, depending again on their level of planning and on the scope of the project.

        2. AnotherAlison*

          Well, I guess that’s why the certification doesn’t have a huge amount of value. There is Project Management and there is managing a project. Anything with a start and stop can be a project, but remodeling your own bathroom or writing a dissertation is a lot different than being hired to remodel a bathroom or to implement an enterprise IT project or build a process facility. You can get the certificate, but you would need to take baby steps to use that experience to get an actual job as a project manager if you had zero industry experience.

        3. KarenT*

          But I think in this case the architect acted as the project manager. He oversaw the construction, and I imagine that is what would translate to PMP hours.

      2. Figgie*

        My spouse once got a job because he listed in his resume that he replaced all of the wiring in our home and did all of the plumbing in our bathroom and kitchen. The job he was applying for was an office job in a company that sold equipment to electricians and plumbers, so the fact that he had a lot of practical experience (self taught) in those areas definitely made him stand out from the other applicants. They told him after they hired him that it was almost entirely because of his ability to do that kind of stuff that he got the job. :)

        He still does plumbing and wiring (just put in our new gas water heater a few weeks ago) and he is so good that the inspectors always tell him that he is a lot more meticulous and careful than the professionals are…he’s never once had to redo anything to meet the inspectors standards. :)

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          My husband and his siblings have a lot of hands on home repair experience (electricity, plumbing) from growing up in a 150 year old house. (Still in the family, now lived in by a sibling.) Shortly after we married I bought a small pair of leather work gloves for myself because we always had to dig a hole when we visited.

          I actually see the hands-on experience doing electrical work your husband can cite as probably more relevant in most cases than showing an ability to hire people to do that work for you. Like if the job will involve an understanding of gardening, better you point to extensive home experience than to experience hiring landscape contractors.

        2. M. Albertine*

          That’s the kind of thing I would put in a cover letter to explain why you are a good fit for the job. The same way I put my part-time bank teller job during school and my college internship in financial services in one cover letter – at that point in my career, high school and college part-time jobs didn’t rise to the level of putting it on my resume, but it was definitely relevant experience for that position and was a differentiator to get me an interview.

          1. Ro*

            I agree. And in a situation like the one Falling Diphthong mentioned, the experience he had actually was somewhat relevant so worth mentioning. I think the key is, how much weight you give it and making sure that relevant *work* experience where someone hired and paid you to do the work and evaluated you is emphasized more strongly.

            I will also disagree just slightly with Alison on leaving off “planned your own wedding”. I work in event planning and if I was hiring for an entry-level job, it could help your candidacy if you mentioned this. But I would not expect to see it on a resume (except maybe at the end under other related experience) and I’d want to see details that quantity it so I know just how big of a project you took on- sole planner/didn’t hire a planner?, huge event with hundreds of guests? negotiated all of the vendor contracts yourself? multiple venues? tons of vendors? tracked and managed every single cost in a budget spreadsheet all by yourself? etc. Assuming people read (or even receive) your cover letter, this could help make you a stronger candidate for me. Although again, this would be viewed as less important than any work experience. Instead, think of it as a cherry on the sundae.

            1. Triplestep*

              This LW hired an architect who is overseeing the construction, and wants to put on her resume that she took a leadership role in her home construction project. IMO, that is like hiring a wedding planner and saying you planned your own wedding. Both of these things feel like a lot of work to the consumer, and both have a learning curve for them, but signing off on the work of the professional you hire is not the same as doing their jobs.

        3. Kat in VA*

          Hmm, I wonder if I can parlay some of my experience at home remodeling into executive assistant cover letters to demonstrate my drive and ability to pick up new skills?

          I learned to (start to finish) tile floors and walls, framing (yay a nailgun!), installing wood and laminate floors, basic plumbing like sinks and toilets, drywall from wood studs to paint, basic electrical, the list goes on and on.

          It would probably show gumption but it’s tempting…

          I should also note that now that I know how to do all of those things, I pay other people to do them.

    3. Darkitect*

      If they were the officially designated “Owner-Contractor” there may be some value in discussing selection of subcontractors, reviewing and negotiating bids, scheduling the sequences of construction, and resolving construction-related issues. These are no different than the tasks a licensed residential GC would perform, and probably identify on a resume. However, it’s unclear what the owner’s role was if the architect was also involved during construction.

      1. Triplestep*

        With an architect overseeing the work, I think it’s likely one of those situations where the owner is so steeped in stuff that is new to them they erroneously believe their role to be more than it is. For example, Owner thinks “I selected the GC!” But it’s not like she wrote specs, issued RFPs , dealing with RFIs, leveling bids, etc. And probably doesn’t even know those things are part of selecting the GC.

  13. annab53*

    I’m not sure I understand the logic behind your answer to #3. If you’ve been given an hour for lunch, why should anyone care what you do with that hour? Go to a doctor’s appointment, run an errand, get the oil changed in your car…why the caution about getting what I assume is a gel manicure? Twenty or thirty minutes at the most. It’s not affecting your work schedule or productivity. I may be missing the point, but…?

    1. annab53*

      And did the LW mention that she’s looked upon as not being productive or she’s viewed as being a slacker? If so, that part didn’t make it into the letter as printed.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        Yeah, I was confused by that too, but on re-reading, I think Alison was saying that if OP has a reputation for being a slacker at work (and not saying she is or does), then the optics of going to get her nails done during lunch won’t look great. But if OP is in otherwise good standing at work, and she’s salaried, then it’s probably not a problem.

        And just a note to OP – when I worked in an office, I’d use my lunch break to go get my eyebrows done. I was salaried exempt and known for being highly efficient and always ahead of schedule on my projects, so no one minded (and I even had a couple coworkers start going to my brow place on their lunch breaks as well since it was just around the corner from our office).

        1. annab53*

          Yes, but even if she does have a reputation for being a slacker, it’s her lunch break. Her unproductive work issues should be dealt with by her manager – but that’s separate from how she spends her lunch hour. And remember, this is just IF the LW actually has slacker issues. Nothing in her letter alluded to that and it’s taking her question way off course from her original straight-forward request for advice.

          1. Yvonne*

            I agree, I think it’s weird advice. Your lunch break is not part of your performance review (and if it was I for one would start looking elsewhere).

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              But in a startup where most salaried people eat at their desk through their lunch break–as LW says she usually does–then stopping and going off for anything ‘fun’ could be seen as outside the norm. Not dedicated to the job, obeying the letter of the office rules but not the spirit (so if the Penguin project is flailing, you can take time to go get your stitches out but not for a manicure).

              And the optics for someone seen as on top of their work are different than those for someone seen as always looking for a reason to do something other than the penguin report.

              (And as noted upthread, this is an office culture thing–some place it’s unremarkable; some it’s a sign that management gets to lounge around getting manicures while everyone else slaves.)

            2. Angus McDonald, Boy Detective*

              Of course what you do on your lunch shouldn’t be part of your performance review. However I believe Alison is trying to say if you generally have a reputation for slacking, this won’t help. Same as those who say they shouldn’t be expected to be friendly with colleagues and they are only there to work. It’s true, but a little social lubricant never hurt anyone.

        2. doreen*

          It might be nobody’s business – but it depends on what exactly OP means by “I often eat lunch at my desk” . If she means she has a quick sandwich while continuing to work, that’s one thing. But I’ve known too many non-exempt people who use their lunch break to run errands, get pedicures etc. They pick up lunch while they are out, and then expect to eat their lunch undisturbed by work – and it’s the “undisturbed by work” part that causes the problems. They either go eat in the break room or eat at their desk while not answering the phone. It doesn’t matter if they have a reputation as a slacker or not- the part that causes the bad optics is the double lunch break .

    2. londonedit*

      It’s slightly baffling to me too, because in the UK an hour’s unpaid lunch break is standard and I’ve only ever worked in places where no one would mind what you did with your own lunch break. It’s your time. People go shopping, meet friends (sometimes at the pub! For a drink!) and probably have their hair/nails/eyebrows done.

      Having re-read Alison’s response and the comments I can see, though, that if you work in an office where the culture is that everyone’s busy busy busy all the time, and people tend to work straight through lunch and not even take a break to eat anything, swanning off for an hour and coming back with your nails done or your hair freshly coiffed might seem a bit out of step with the cultural norms of that workplace.

      1. anon*

        I think this might be a USA/UK disconnect as well. I was surprised that a lunch hour activity would be policed. I don’t really understand this exempt/non-exempt stuff.

        Even so, I can’t imagine judging someone for what they chose to do in their lunch hour, unless they went fox hunting or something! I love AskAManager because of these “whaaaa? that’s what they do over there?” moments.

        1. Rugby*

          Removed. The comment this was replying to was fine (and this ended up leading to a long derailing debate).

          1. Rugby*

            Disagree. “whaaaa? that’s what they do over there?” is patronizing and judgmental. I don’t see how it forwards conversation and understanding.

            1. anon*

              So horrified that comment came across that way. Many apologies. There are so many things I read on here that seem so much better with working in the US compared to UK too and thatS why I love the site too.
              Apologies again for being patronizing.

              1. CheeryO*

                I didn’t find your comment patronizing, FWIW. Alison has pushed back on long comment threads about how horrible American work culture/benefits/etc. are, but your comment was pretty clearly tongue-in-cheek.

              2. Marthooh*

                Your comment didn’t come across that way to me! I agree the differences between US & UK work norms are fascinating. (Not to mention US/EU, US/SoKorea, etc.)

          2. Batgirl*

            I think Rugby is talking about a bunch of different comments and some of them in the past have definitely said something akin to ‘silly Americans!’ Personally whenever I come across a US cultural difference I’m usually impressed by how well something works that we just would never consider doing simply because…habit.

          3. Rugby*

            Alison has stated that the intended audience of this blog is American. It’s not just legal issues that are America-specific. A lot of the advice regarding resumes, thank you notes, and how you use your lunch break are America-specific. Others are obviously welcome, but I think its pretty clearly an American space and I think others should respect that.

          4. londonedit*

            As a UK reader, part of what makes this site so interesting are the different opinions from the USA and from different parts of the world. It’s really made me think about some of my ingrained opinions and realise that there can be wildly different views on the same subject depending on the culture you’re in. And I’d like to think that for the most part, us foreigners don’t spend our time simply saying bloody hell, America is awful, look at them all being horrific people, and that it might sometimes be interesting for the US readership (and people in other countries) to get a different perspective on an issue from a different part of the world.

            1. Rugby*

              I agree that different opinions are great, but when those opinions are about how *baffling* you find some of our norms, it comes off as condescending.

              1. Pomona Sprout*

                I believe people in the UK find some of our norms baffling because some of them (like “at will” employmtent laws that allow people to be fired at the drop of a hat for any (or no) reason) ARE to anyone who’s not used to that kind of thing). That’s perfectly reasonsble, afaic, and the “teachable moments” that result are useful for all concerned. Alison* has not seen fit to make a rule against comments that point up differences between practices and norms in different localities, and I’m glad because imo that would serve no one.

                (*And since none of us are Alison, we don’t get to make or try to enforce rules that she has not made.)

        2. Oh So Anon*

          Honestly, I don’t even know if it’s entirely a US/UK disconnect issue. I live in Canada, I’ve had either a half-hour or hour unpaid lunch at my jobs (both hourly and salaried) and the fact that lunch was unpaid didn’t change the fact that some offices paid more attention than others to how people used their lunch time.

      2. Batgirl*

        Im in the UK and it’s very rare I’ve had a whole hour for lunch! When I was a reporter properly going out for lunch instead of grabbing a sandwich was really frowned on because what if breaking news happened? The same deal would apply to manicures. Now I work in a school I still can’t imagine going out for a dedicated activity either even though my half hour is usually sacrosanct, in some workplaces you have to be ready for any emergency.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Agreed. My only hesitation of getting your nails done on your lunch break is that unless you’re getting gel or dipping powder (where your nails will be 100% dry and dent proof when you leave the salon), it will affect your ability to do your job if you’re worried about messing them up. I usually get mine done on my lunch break, but only when I’m working from home and I have a slow day.

  14. Elle*

    Re: LW#2

    I’m (young?) and jaded enough that unless a job listing specifically says something about the cover letter being important, it’s hard to justify focused time custom-tailoring cover letters for every job application where the overwhelming of resumes will be auto-screened before the cover letter is even looked at and the applicant will never be notified except in the rare case their resume moves onto the next level (interview stage).

    Of course this seems to differ in this organization and that’s wonderful! But the job market as a whole being so overrun by algorithms and entry level pay for non-entry level experience…… we’re all so very tired.

    (So agreeing with Allison– make it a point please in your listing to make special note of the cover letter importance!)

    1. German Girl*

      Hm, especially when the applications are automatically sorted or even when they are sorted by an HR person with not a lot of domain knowledge, matching your skills to the job add in your cover letter can really help.

      And don’t be too creative with it either, just get those keywords in there. If the job add says we need someone who codes in Java and can write SQL, you better not write that you’ve got experience in object oriented programming and databases – the hiring manager will know that you have the skills, but they’ll never get to see your application or it’s last in the pile, because you haven’t ticked the boxes for Java and SQL from the perspective of the algorithm or the HR person. Seriously, I’ve seen it happen.

      Even writing something like “I’ve rarely used Java and SQL, but I’ve got experience with this OOP-language and this database-framework so I’m confident that I’ll get up to speed quickly.” is better than not matching the search terms at all.

    2. Victoria*

      Same here. I’m not even that young/jaded anymore (early 30s and looking for work after graduating my Masters) but I just can’t justify writing custom tailored cover letters for every application any more. What is the point? You spend half an hour on something that usually doesn’t even get read just to get a canned generic rejection email from them a couple of weeks later. Spending half my day writing cover letters for nothing is depressing and soul crushing.

      1. Ewpp*

        Agreed, when you weigh everything that is asked of any job seeker applying to positions there is a big imbalance. Aam’s advice still applies, that it can add to a person standing out. Ive also seen many situations where the cover letter didn’t make it through to the person it needed to. But since many will read that statement and suggest ways to ‘improve that process’ instead of asking for less, the comment is useless.

        1. Kat in VA*

          True. I could apply to a job that requires purchasing, but if I input SAP HANA but don’t spell out SAP S/4HANA, some arcane ATS could kick back my app for not knowing SAP HANA at all…

    3. Aspie AF*

      To add to this, job seekers don’t tend to get any response whatsoever, let alone a generic email. I get the whole volume of candidates thing, but it’s still an unbalanced relationship. Is LW2 making any effort to provide personalized responses?


        I’d also say that the job openings are ‘competing’ with each other, in a sense. OP’s opening that requires 30 minutes of effort may be up against 20 other click-to-apply openings from similar roles and employers. To the job seeker, once this application goes through, it’s usually a black hole of non-responsiveness. Would I rather spend those 30 minutes searching and applying for 10 click to apply jobs, or 1 application where I tailor a cover letter and hope that

        – It makes it through an applicant tracking system to a real human
        – The HR representative sends it to the hiring manager
        – The hiring manager reads it

      2. Victoria*

        Yes! I know it is an employer’s market right now, but expecting a tailored cover letter that is specifically for your opening when you’re sending back a generic rejection email is really shitty, IMO.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s not the same thing. A generic rejection email conveys what needs to be conveyed: we’re not moving you forward for this role. A generic cover letter doesn’t convey the things that letter could address that will most help your candidacy; it’s leaving something out, and it’s hurting you, not the employer.

        2. Jennifer Thneed*

          This is not true where I live (SF Bay Area). Here, it’s an job-seeker’s market. Is my area so out of step with the rest of the country? I know it can happen because of our specific dominant industries, but I didn’t know it was happening now.

    4. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

      This seems odd to me, but I guess jobs in my field are very much not the click and apply type. Even the customer service call centre type places ask for a statement of how you meet the job criteria, though, in my experience. I wouldn’t even bother applying for a job that I wasn’t willing to write a tailored cover letter for — at least in the sense of specifically mentioning that I have the skills they are looking for. What is the point of submitting an application that will get rejected as too generic? I think I am missing something here.

  15. Bowserkitty*

    Just curious why Grinnell came up for #5….is this a fandom reference I don’t know? Because it’s the name of a town nearby where I grew up! And in that case, everybody knows everyone so having Grinnell as your ice breaker would be a great in. XD

      1. Rich*

        As a Grinnell alum (’94, since it seems we’re doing that), I can also say that Grinnellians are intensely active in networking and mutual support. The small-college aspect of it definitely drives the connection among alums.

        One of the biggest avenues for that interaction is a deliberately unofficial set of closed social networking communities open only to alums. Other colleges may have communities that do something similar, but by nature of being closed they may not advertise. It could be valuable to reach out to some classmates to see if there’s anything cooking online.

        1. Dan*

          So I take it the fact that my uncle went to Grinnell way back in the day is totally not relevant?

      2. Bowserkitty*

        AHA. As an Iowan I would like to thank you for this shout-out. :) Sorry for the OT-ness I caused!!

  16. Dan*


    The older I get, the more I really believe it’s next to impossible to write a good cover letter as an entry level employee. First, you have to have something that sets you apart, and for most entry level employees, that’s not going to happen. Second, you generally have to have some sort of track record of success. Again, for many entry level employees, that’s few and far between.

    If your senior level applicants don’t know how to write a decent cover letter, it’s ok to skip them. They should know better, and they should have something to actually talk about. If they don’t, that’s telling in and of itself.

    I know for me, in my field, I’ve got a niche skill set and TBH an excellent track record of success. I can and do write bang up cover letters when appropriate. But if I ever got tired of what I do and want a career change? I better have some transferable skills to highlight, or I’m just going to mix in with the rest of the pack. Perhaps that’s the way it should be.

    1. Washi*

      I feel like you could just as easily use this logic the other way though – for a good number of truly entry level jobs (except those like engineer or software developer that require specific hard skills) the employer is often not looking for a particular set of experiences, but for the type of person who can learn quickly, pitch in, etc. Resumes with previous experience can only be so helpful then, if most candidates will likely be early career or new to the field. In a sea of similarly qualified early career people, a really good cover letter could definitely make a difference, both in helping you stand out and giving the hiring manager a feel for what you’re like as a person.

      1. Shad*

        At entry level, the cover letter is also a good way to show that you understand what skills from any non-career experience you have are transferable and how so.
        For example, I worked retail/retail adjacent front end jobs for awhile, which also included certain behind the scenes duties that were necessary to the customer experience. Transferable skills? Dealing with customers/clients and balancing competing needs in the moment, among others. I still didn’t go super specific, but it shows that 1) I know these are skills I will continue to need through my career, 2) I can (at least recognize the need to) translate those skills from a context where competing needs are along the lines of stocking products and serving customers to one where it’s deadlines and subtasks for legal cases, and 3) that I can identify some of those necessary skills that tend to sit in the background and get assumed until something breaks down—having someone who notices that they’re a thing before that point is pretty helpful.

    2. no, the other Laura*

      Eh, I’ve seen some good ones even entry level. Often they have internships or summer jobs to point to, and I’d rather they talk at least a little bit about what they learned from that and why they’re interested in this particular job, what they like about it, what they hope to learn.

      The absolute worst ones I see are from people with absolutely NO work experience whatsoever, not even babysitting the neighbor kids or bagging groceries for a summer at Stop N Shop. Learning the basics of How To Work and Adult Responsibility 101 is a steep learning curve for them, and very often they discover that working sucks and they’d rather go to grad school or do something else. Like, yes? This is sort of why we pay you, if it was fun, you’d do it for free…?

  17. Dennis Feinstein*

    Re #1 I don’t think anybody else has mentioned this but, if you don’t know where/what sort of party it is, how do you know what to wear? The LW mentioned it was summer but not if it specified casual/formal attire, etc. So the employees are presumably expected to a) wear their work clothes or b) bring a suitcase with a range of outfits!
    (I once went to a work Christmas party at a place with cobblestones. If you’ve ever stood on cobblestones for several hours wearing heels you’ll know how very. not. fun. it is.)

    1. Ico*

      Every time I’ve had a party at a secret location or with a secret activity, the invitation said what kind of clothes to wear or things to bring. Certainly no one was bringing a suit case!

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        *movie trailer voiceover* Their clothing didn’t matter, because no one would be coming back.

        Just saw a movie where the quirky sidekick popped her car’s trunk to choose between several dry cleaner bags with appropriate outfits (lunch, cocktail party) and matching shoes, which she carried just in case something came up. I like to think of her boarding the work party bus with a rolling steamer trunk.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          I have 100% traveled with a woman who brought no less than 4 suitcases for a hostel-hopping month long trip in Europe. Because what if she needed [insert oddly specific outfit here]?

          It was in the itinerary/syllabus (this was a course-based trip) that they strongly suggested packing a week’s worth of clothing and good walking shoes, as we’d be walking everywhere and/or taking public transportation.

          I also had the pleasure of dragging her back out of an unmarked taxi with a very creepy person, as she had no idea that unmarked taxis are a bad idea.

          But, back on topic – probably 75% of my anxiety with a total surprise event like LW’s would be what I was supposed to wear/bring. Will I be too cold and miserable? Too hot and miserable? Wrong shoes? Too nicely dressed? Not nicely dressed enough? Uncomfortable the entire time (highly likely, it feels)? Should I bring my phone’s mini charger? Do I need a hat? Sunscreen? Bug spray? Should I bring my purse or a backpack or just my wallet? Should I bring snacks, so I don’t get hangry? Water bottle okay? Extra allergy meds?

          1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

            I am that person who goes to fancy parties with a normal sized bag, because there are just too many variables. At a minimum I pretty much always have lip gloss, emergency phone charger, packable flat shoes, some sort of rain protection, sunglasses, gum, and ibuprofen. I cannot fit all that into a clutch.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Long ago I went to an office party that rented out a tourist cruise boat for the evening. It’s immediately what I pictured for the surprise because one employee didn’t know that she would get seasick. Not a stellar evening for her.
      Happily the invite had said to bring a warm jacket or sweater “because it gets cold on the water when the sun goes down”. I was new to the area and it was my first experience with classic San Francisco fog. Brrr.

    3. EventPlannerGal*

      It sounds like the LWs event is particularly secretive, but every similar event I’ve ever worked on has given guests some (admittedly vague) information about the outline of the event, such as a dress code. I have never heard of a company giving no information whatsoever.

    4. LW1*

      We’ve not been given a dress code. I hadn’t even thought about that. The office is fairly casual, so I guess it doesn’t matter. Not sure though.

      All I know is the hours and there will be singing. We were told to train out voices. Another no for me.

        1. infopubs*

          That would be kara-nope. I love to sing and will happily do karaoke. But listen to my co-workers sing? So that next time I hear them on the phone I know how bad their Whitney Houston imitation is? Ugh.

        2. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Or worse… LW and her colleagues are going to be expected to write & perform songs/skits.

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        Any secret work party would be a hard no for me. A secret party among close friends is one thing, because your friends know you well enough (hopefully) to make sure you’re prepared in every way and plan something you’d enjoy. But for work? Nope. Too many variables.

      2. Hope*

        I *like* singing, and that still makes go OH HELL NO. I don’t need to hear coworkers’ horrible renditions of whatever it is we’re going to be made to sing.

        You absolutely made the right call in sitting this one out.

        1. Massive Dynamic*

          Yes, agree. Take good notes as we need details.

          (Kidding. And my condolences in advance of the unfortunate illness you shall most likely have on Party Day.)

    5. Guacamole Bob*

      My first thought was “but how do you know what shoes to wear?” Will I have to walk long distances? Look professional in pictures or when meeting new people? Stand around and network? On a moving boat? Walk on a trail through the woods?

      Do I need an extra layer in case I get cold in air conditioning? Will I be out in the sun and wish I had a hat? Will there be someplace to stash my bag, or should I bring as little as possible? Will I wish I had a water bottle with me? A notebook? Will I be able to get back into the office to pick up or drop off stuff when we get back at 11 p.m.? Will there be alcohol served and what does that mean for how I plan to get home from the office late at night? Will there be vegetarian options easily available for dinner or should I bring protein bars for backup?

      (I commute via public transportation and usually wear sneakers to the office and change to office shoes when I get to work. I also carry a backpack that’s not especially heavy but which I might not want to have to lug around for some possible “surprise” activities. I’d definitely pack my bag and choose different shoes for geocaching than for karaoke or a harbor cruise, which are all possibilities mentioned in the thread.)

      None of this stuff is hard to manage if I know what the event is ahead of time. All of it would cause me anxiety if I was just told to show up for a surprise. And just thinking about dealing with something like this when I was pregnant or nursing makes me shudder.

      I have a colleague who has severe and unusual food allergies. Not being able to call ahead to whoever is providing the food would be a nonstarter for her.

      Surprise outings are a terrible idea. If you have to be “fun” about it, add one surprise element to an event where at least the broad outlines are explained in advance.

    6. Phony Genius*

      We’re all assuming that this secret location is one where clothing is mandatory. With the stories we’ve seen on this site, I would never assume anything.

    7. Dr. Pepper*

      That was my first thought too! The thought of not wearing the right/most comfortable clothing and shoes for the proposed activity fills me with anxiety and dread. That season of Survivor where they had the contestants dress in their normal work clothes and then dumped them onto the island like that made me actually nauseous. I like being prepared, and thus dislike surprises intensely.

    8. Kat in VA*

      And if you’re in an org where “business casual” is widely interpreted, things could get interesting.

      People at my company wear everything from jeans, tees, and sneakers (engineers) to full on suits (execs and reps who are visiting a customer that day) to nice pants and ankle boots / full suits and heels (the other EA and then me, who likes to “dress up” for work).

      A hiking trail in 3″ heels, a pencil skirt, blouse and blazer would be…ridiculous. And refused.

  18. Foreign Octopus*

    Is anyone else thinking of John Mulaney’s secondary location skit for #1?

    Never go to a secondary location!

  19. Dan*


    Straight talk for a sec: Most people will generally lead out with their strongest points first. Here’s yours: “we managed numerous aspects of this project directly, including brainstorming and communicating ideas, hiring contractors, negotiating a mortgage,”

    If those are your strong points, they aren’t going to get you anywhere. At least the way you’ve presented them, it’s too generic to set you apart from any other crowd.

    1. Triplestep*

      Also as I said above, most people are not accustomed to thinking about the kinds of decisions their architects and/or contractors are asking them to make, and this gives many homeowners the false sense that THEY are in fact designing and/or PMing. Most people should not be characterizing their involvement on their home projects this way – especially on a resume, but really ever in a professional setting.

      1. Kaitlyn*

        Yeah, the type of thing that miiiiight set you apart is, maybe, the type of work my family has done: back in 2012, we converted a barn on our property to a wedding venue over the course of a summer (we did the cleaning, repairs, wiring, etc); my parents also had a house fire in 2017 that necessitated the total overhaul of the house; my mom, who is an trained interiour designer, worked with the contractors every day; my dad, who is a PM, handled logistics. Those were huge projects that required daily work, and unless I was applying for, like, a contracting apprenticeship, I wouldn’t bring them to the table.

    2. Sylvan*

      Yes. That sounds difficult, but that also sounds like an experience as a customer – possibly a customer of a construction company with a PM.

    3. lz*

      #4: While I agree this definitely shouldn’t be on a resume, I’d think about what specifically you learned during this process and in what ways those skills would be useful in the job for which you are applying. I think mentioning this once during an interview (certainly not focusing the entire interview on it) would be a totally fine way of bringing it up. For example, if you hired for a particularly specialized role like diamond-encrusted floor installer and hiring for specialized jobs would be part of the role you’re applying for, that would be fine to mention. I just would be very careful to only do that once, so it’s clear you are mostly relying on your actual job experience.

  20. Bilateralrope*

    How many legal or pr problems could this secret party activity cause for the company ?

    I’m imagining someone turning up and being unable to take part because of a medical issue or religious belief. One that they have kept private so far. One that would have kept them at home had they known what was planned. But now the employee must explain why they are sitting the event out.
    Or worse, the company does know about the medical/religious issue, but went ahead with this event anyway.

    I’d be tempted to go to HR, tell them I have medical issues that I haven’t disclosed to the company because they aren’t relevant, and then ask for more details on the event so I can decide if those undisclosed issues are going to be relevant. While refusing to disclose my medical issue to them.

    Does HR want to have the discussion about reasonable accomodation now or at the event ?
    “Dont turn up” might be a reasonable accomodation. But it’s not an option after I’m bussed to the event.

    In my case, the undisclosed issue is that going up a lot of stairs makes my knee hurt. Probably due to early onset arthritis caused by a medical issue that they do know about.

    1. pleaset*

      “I’d be tempted to go to HR, tell them I have medical issues that I haven’t disclosed to the company because they aren’t relevant, and then ask for more details on the event so I can decide if those undisclosed issues are going to be relevant. While refusing to disclose my medical issue to them.

      Does HR want to have the discussion about reasonable accomodation now or at the event ?”

      That’s a lot of effort. A simpler approach is to just don’t go. Decline.

      1. Bilateralrope*

        With a surprise event, my options are:
        – skip something I might be able to attend without issue.
        – attend and risk it being a problem
        – push for more information so that I can make an informed decision.

        If it’s something I cant attend because of a medical issue I haven’t disclosed, I’m fine with making the choice to stay home. But I want to make that choice myself. Have to gamble on it coming up is unacceptable to me

        So I’d use the risk of the second option happening to try and get more information.

        If I’m told to just stay home, then I’m going to complain about them discriminating against people who want to keep medical information private until it becomes relevant.

    2. fposte*

      They’re not going to have a conversation about reasonable accommodations without being told what they need to reasonably accommodate, though. And from a legal standpoint, a sometimes sore knee isn’t likely to rise to the level of ADA protection.

      If you have an ADA-level condition that requires reasonable accommodation and you’re okay with raising it in the workplace, by all means ask about it with regards to an unknown activity. But “reasonable accommodation” doesn’t really work as a get-out-of-stuff-free card.

      1. Bilateralrope*

        The only accomodation I’m asking for here is enough information about the event to know if any of my medical problems will make me want to decide to stay home. While preserving my privacy. Which only requires removing the surprise part of the event.

        What part of that is unreasonable to you ?

        1. fposte*

          What you’re asking for is perfectly reasonable, and I’m with you in wanting it. That’s not the same thing as saying it’s a reasonable accommodation under the law. You seem to be trying to claim a legal right to know this information based on the ADA, but that’s not how the ADA works and it doesn’t sound like it would apply to you.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But I’d assume that if you told them that and explained the context, they’d be willing to get you the info you needed. You’d need to tell them you needed it though.

    3. WellRed*

      A company can’t be held legally responsible for not accommodating a secret condition. Don’t borrow trouble.

  21. LW1*

    LW1 here. I’m happy to read it’s not just me who finds this really annoying. I’ve already told them I won’t be attending and am lucky enough to work somewhere these kind of events really are optional.

    I’m on the autism spectrum (not out at work), so these kind of things really trigger my anxiety. I like to know what we’re going to do, so I can mentally prepare for it. And I really want to be able to leave when I’m running out of energy. Since I’ve seeing these kind of ‘secret/surprise’ events more and more, I was really wondering if it was just me who is bothered by it. Last year the summer party was on a boat, definitely said no to that.

    The only secret destination event I can cope with, is the annual outing for my volunteer job. They do disclose the location a week in advance, it is always easily accessible, so you can come later of leave early. There are usually some games, but you can choose to sit them out. There’s always some who do, so no pressure. That I can deal with. Not being able to leave early and not knowing what we’re going to do, not so much.

    1. Wakeens Teapots LTD*

      FWIW, I’m not on the spectrum and my oldest son is and I’d have a hella harder time dealing with this than even he would. My issues dealing with it are everything you said.

      So, solidarity! And I am glad you don’t have to go. I was getting clammy and anxious for you just reading about it.

      1. Colette*

        Agreed! For me, being stuck there until 11 (and then having to get home after that) rules it out altogether. I’d be exhausted for a week – and if I’m going to do that, it’ll be for something I choose.

    2. WS*

      I’m so pleased you don’t have to go! I have chronic vertigo (which also gives me serious motion sickness) and a place I used to work had a “mystery” outing like this – up a winding road to what was probably a very nice restaurant but I was too busy throwing up to enjoy it. If I’d been able to drive myself, I would probably have been okay!

    3. Just Say No*

      Totally With you LW – that would send my anxiety totally off of the charts and no escape until they deem it – Hell to the NO on that one!

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Allow me to reassure you that many of us dislike this idea, even if we’re not on the spectrum.
      Not being able to leave early is a bad idea for migraine headaches anyway, but I can allow for that by knowing how to plan. For example, I can keep myself quiet in a corner until meds kick in — I’ll bring a small knitting project, and I’m no longer surprised how many people join me for a quiet chat at a boisterous event. But there are some places that don’t really HAVE a quiet corner…

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        And what if it’s somewhere with security and they take my Chiagoos? I’d be pretty pissed.

        (Hello, fellow knitter! I bring small projects everywhere as an anxiety-soothing thing. Even if I just have a hand on the yarn, it does help. I don’t do large, packed crowds well.)

      2. Arielle*

        I got a migraine once at a very loud work event that I couldn’t leave (an evening at a brewery in the middle of nowhere Vermont on a company retreat) and it was BRUTAL. I ended up going outside to the tour bus that had brought us and asking the driver if I could sit in the back and take a nap.

    5. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I’m so glad you don’t have to go, but PLEASE write in and update us with what the activity was!

    6. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      You being on the spectrum is just ONE example of why a secret work event is a really BAD idea. For me personally, I like to say I’m selectively social. I’m not big into parties, I’m more comfortable with close friends in smaller groups. Being trapped in an unknown location with a bunch of people and no way to leave until the designated time is a no go for me. Plus after working all day, I wouldn’t want to spend another 7 hours out without knowing where I was going. Bottom line though is that there are WAY too many variables to have secret events in the workplace.

      1. Observer*

        Yeah, there is a whole list of things I could think of.

        People who have kids / parents / pets / others who depend on them
        People who have anxiety / OCD / high need for planing or control for any reason
        People with disabilities of medical conditions that may not have been accounted for in the planning

        These are just the additional ones I came up in 10 seconds. As I started typing this part, I thought of a few more scenarios, I’m sure there will be plenty people who can think of other ones as well.

    7. no, the other Laura*

      You are definitely not the only one, and I would be seven kinds of mad if I was told I had to go on a surprise outing.

      I have to sometimes go on minimal-notice travel and occasionally CurrentJob has been known to do this as a surprise if they’re trying to protect the secrecy of a potential acquisition but also get the SMEs to help with due diligence. We had one last year where we were told there would be a 6-hour flight to Mystery Location and just show up with your passport at the airport terminal, climate is temperate so bring a jacket, you’ll be gone a few days. It’s REALLY not fun but at least I get enough information to plan for it and it’s why I get paid the big bucks.

      The REALLY not fun part? Yeah, that’s why I wouldn’t do an outing/team building thing on those terms. Because I’m not having fun, I’m gritting my teeth and getting through it and focusing on the work at hand.

    8. Third or Nothing!*

      You are definitely not the only one! I’d have major issues with the secret work outing, namely 1) I can’t plan for it and 2) I can’t leave when I want. I mean, come on, getting back at 11 PM?! Even if I could get home quickly, I wouldn’t be going to bed until midnight at the earliest. Then my happy self would wake up at 6:30 when the toddler starts screaming for breakfast. Nope nope nope!

    9. NerdyLibraryClerk*

      Definitely not just you. The idea seems pretty off the wall, especially for a work event. And like a recipe for eventual disaster for some workplace somewhere – I’m pretty sure no workplace wants to make the news for their secret surprise event ending in a medical emergency (because the diabetic coworker with food allergies had nothing to eat) or the coworker in a wheelchair left out in the parking lot for five hours because there was no way to get them in the building or other disaster easily avoided if the event hadn’t been ultra top secret for funsies.

      I’m glad it’s something you can decline, though.

    10. Lilysparrow*

      Listen, I’m not shy and don’t have serious anxiety about social situations (though they tire me out). Surprise lunch? Awesome. Surprise all-staff meeting with a special 45-minute program? Sure, I’m game. Surprise happy hour? Why not? But I would absolutely nope a million miles out of a surprise work outing like this.

      1) I have never been to a work outing of any kind that wasn’t lame and annoying, at best. The secrecy factor just makes me more certain that it’s going to be extra-super lame and annoying.

      2) The insistence on secrecy makes me think that the organizer has more enthusiasm than experience in planning events. I have zero confidence in the ability of an inexperienced event organizer to pull off something with this many moving parts.

      *Zero* confidence. People who have the knowledge and capability to handle complex events properly know better than to set something like this up. Exactly because of the issues everyone is pointing out – disability, allergies/health issues/dietary restrictions. Parenting/caregiving. Fatigue. Colleague burnout. Appropriate clothing and shoes. It’s a bad idea, and I expect it would be done badly.

      Most large-scale events I’ve been to, including personal events like weddings and professional events like theater or catered banquets, have at least one significant screw-up somewhere in the planning or execution. Just because life is unpredictable and things never go exactly as planned. Never. If you’re lucky and/or have provided multiple backup options, it will just stress the organizer and the attendees won’t notice. If it’s major and/or you have no backup?

      You get the Fyre Festival.

      If there is no access by public transit, and nobody has their own car, and you are operating after-hours, you have no backup options. That bus blows a head gasket? You are screwed. And the bus company is not going to be monitoring the phones to send out a replacement at 9 or 10 pm. Assuming the breakdown happens in an area with cellphone coverage.

      No transit access and no parking indicates that it’s pretty self-contained and remote. The venue gets a septic backup? You’re leaving early. The kitchen has an equipment breakdown, or a delivery didn’t happen, or somebody decides to quit in a huff? You are eating cold tuna out of a can.

      The only way I’d get on that bus is if I was prepared to spend the night unfed at the undisclosed location, and pee in the woods. And I am not. So I wouldn’t.

      1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        I spent four hours sitting on the driveway to my middle school to go on a class field trip, because one of the buses broke down, and the school required all 200 students and 30-some teachers travel as a caravan. It’s funny when you’re a teenager. I would not want to do that at work.

    11. Close Bracket*

      Oh yeah, I’m also on the spectrum. Even if I know the location, if I don’t know how things work, I just won’t go. It’s not always worth the spoons to have to figure out how I am supposed to be acting.

    12. Ra94*

      LW1, I’m not on the spectrum, love surprise events, and stay out late on work nights regularly. And this is still WAY too far and poorly planned for me, never mind utterly inappropriate for a work outing.

      There’s a secret immersive dining event I’ve attended which is totally based around surprise and whimsy, and cloaked in secrecy- you aren’t allowed to take photos, etc. It’s explicitly geared towards people who want a surprise. And yet, they still: ask people about mobility requirements, collect any and all food allergy info, provide a dress code, explicitly state whether any crawling/bending/sliding will be involved, and give the exact location and timings. Because those aren’t ‘surprise’ elements, they are basic considerations when planning any event for any group of people!

    13. Observer*

      If it helps, I’m going to agree with all the people who said that this doesn’t even have to be a spectrum (or Anxiety) thing. As you can see, there are a LOT of good reasons to not like this and that a LOT of neurotypical people who have pretty much the same issues with this as you do.

    14. Massive Dynamic*

      Glad you’re not going! I had to deal with this once at OldJob, being bussed to a (known) location but then we were going to have *~*~*activities*~*~* and HR would absolutely NOT tell me ahead of time what they were. So I said I’d go and eat the food but not do the activities, since I was seeing a chiro for major back issues at the time. Thankfully I had a coworker in the same boat and he and I got to relax in the shade, watching everyone else carry water in buckets with holes, throw eggs at each other, etc.

    15. Kat in VA*

      I’m setting up an offsite that includes a strat meeting, escape rooms, and a dinner. One of the attendees is very claustrophobic. No doubt the escape room would have been an unpleasant surprise. Fortunately, we let people know what we’re doing beforehand so he was able to gracefully bow out of that portion of the offsite.

  22. Purrsnikitty*

    LW#1: Argh, I was in a similar situation about a month ago and almost wrote in as it made me distressed.

    TLDR: Typical 2 hours department meeting turned into full-day outing a few weeks prior. No details except city name and hours. Hints of something unusual because of “dress code”. I had to insist to get the truth and still had to keep everything hush hush as not to ruin the “surprise”. Turned out to be a full day of treasure hunting on the worst day of the first Europe heatwave. I did not go. Perceived resentment from organizer for not playing along.

    Our usual 2 hours on-premise department meeting had suddenly turned into a full-day out-of-office meeting in the Outlook calendar (well, I was back from vacation, it was sudden for me). That’s *after* most of us had accepted the meeting in Outlook, thinking it would be the usual.

    Then we got a couple cryptic e-mails that explained it would take place in [name of city], gave start and end hours, and said further details would be communicated later, such as exact location, dress code and so on. The hours would basically be typical office hours minus half an hour of either end. We were told that we should give a heads up if we could not attend, otherwise we would be opting in by default. Carpooling was encouraged but overall we were left to our own devices to get to this place, more than an hour away from where I live, doubling my usual commute.

    Then I started hearing rumors. People were (justifiedly) wondering *why* we weren’t doing the usual on-premise meeting, and why it would take a full day instead of 2 hours. People guessed there was going to be “activities”, possibly the monkeying-in-trees kind, as it was a classic of team building.

    That scared me, so I sent an e-mail to one of the organizers saying I had to opt out considering how little information we had and the kind of rumors that were flying around. I was told “the meeting is for the department meeting and no activities have been mentioned. At least not yet.” …….. Huh?! So… it’s the usual, except wait-for-it maybe not? I was also asked for what might be problematic for me, instead of being given, you know, actual details (dare I say, “truth”?). Oh also, that I shouldn’t worry.

    I was *not* reassured by this but replied that I was mostly worried about physical activities and the mention of a specific dress code. I was expecting either very sportsy outfits or swimwear. I even overshared explaining I tend to feel anxiety when I don’t know what’s planned as I can’t prepare for it. I asked for *any* information.

    This led to me being called up to the organizer’s office where she *very secretly hush hush* explained where it was going to take place (a place that hosts business meetings, weddings, birthday parties and such), that there would be a BBQ lunch and that the planned activity was geo-caching, some sort of treasure hunt thing. The official reveal was planned for next Monday, only three days before the actual outing.
    I was a bit reassured that it was not going to be exhausting physical stuff, but I still underlined the odd secrecy about this and how it could be an issue to some people. I was told it was “more fun that way” (for whom, do you think?) and that I should absolutely not reveal any of this to anyone so it can remain a surprise. I lost a lot of faith in that person that day.

    Later that day, I also realized that the timing of the outing was rather bad. Europe was going through its first heatwave and the forecast was planning the worst of it for… the very day of the outing. Suddenly, the idea of having to walk around under the sun for most of the day for a silly team-building activity (yes, it had been labeled as such) just seemed very stupid. And since I had to give an answer for that very day, I did all the research I could on the web about the location and, after agonizing for way longer than should be normal for a “simple outing”, ultimately decided against it.

    When I said so to the organizer, I was told I would have to let the department head know of my absence to the meeting. Which seemed somewhat passive aggressive as there’s never been any need to announce our presence that way before (of note: I did not warn the department head and it had zero effect). In the next weeks, I couldn’t help but feel like the organizer was sulking. She would barely say hello, or would look at me with disdain. Joy.
    Oh, also, the official reveal did not happen as planned, ended up being the *day before* the outing. After everyone had blindly opted in, and every logistical aspect was locked in. Slow clap?

    All that said, I’m glad I didn’t go. It *was* the worst day of the heatwave so I would have been miserable. Yet, I didn’t hear complaints from my colleagues (I asked), so I guess it’s a culture thing…

    1. Miso*

      Oh my god, did they actually go through with it?! That is absolutely insane. Last Thursday was NOT a day where anyone should go outside if they didn’t have to…

      1. Purrsnikitty*

        Important timing note: this was end of June. But it was a very hot day. The news issued the usual warnings not to do physical activities, stay at home, freshen up regularly, etc…

        But yeah, they absolutely did go through with it. From what I heard, it wasn’t so bad because the location was at a higher altitude and most of the hunt took place within a forest. I can see how that would help, but I’m not sure it would have been comfortable enough for me.

    2. Bilateralrope*

      I’m on a medication that tells me avoid too much sunlight. A warning on the outside of the box.

      If they think it’s more fun as a surprise, then they can have the fun surprise of me suddenly not being able to attend. Especially if I’ve volunteered to transport anyone, as that’s also not happening.

      1. Purrsnikitty*

        I had such medication for a while, so I see what you mean. They really didn’t seem to think this through much since they would rather ask for me to reveal what my issues were so *they* would judge whether it would be incompatible with the outing. Much privacy be had.

        1. Bilateralrope*

          My medical issue is a skin condition. One a lot of people recognize on sight. One that can be treated by UV light.

          Which leads people to think that keeping me out in the sunlight is good for me. Even after I’ve shown people about the warning to avoid sunlight. Even when skin cancer from sunlight is a big worry down here in New Zealand.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      Whether surprise big outings are fun or stressful seems to be one of those hard-wired divides between people, where it’s very hard for each side to get into the other side’s mindset–the surprise is obviously most of the fun or the surprise is obviously stressful since you can’t plan.

      On one of the “can I ask my SO’s boss to arrange secret surprise time off for them, for the special surprise secret vacation I want to spring on them” someone had a good example of a layered surprise: Two months out ask spouse to arrange time off to come on a reward trip for top performers at the secret trip planner’s company; a week out reveal that it’s actually a special milestone birthday trip to somewhere she always wanted to go (so she could pack, and figure out if she needed to buy a new swimsuit or sandals, etc), and at the airport reveal that all the grown kids are coming too. I thought that was a good balance.

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        I agree that most are on one side or the other, but for a work event there are too many variables to plan secret events. You have a diverse group of people with likes and dislikes, and it’s generally difficult enough to get a group of people to agree on where to have lunch. But outside of a general like or dislike of a certain event, you can have people with medical conditions and physical limitations, allergies, etc. that makes this a very bad idea.

        1. Bilateralrope*

          The biggest variable I’d worry about are health issues that are undisclosed because they dont matter during the normal work day, but are a problem for your planned activity.

          Or worse, health issues disclosed to HR, but not to the event planner.

          1. Observer*

            Exactly. One example upthread of someone who is not allowed to be in the sun too much. Why should they have to disclose that? If this is normally an office job, there is no reason for this.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          Oh, I can totally see this growing out of “If we tell people what it is, some of them opt not to come. So we won’t make that mistake any more.”

          1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

            If that’s the reason behind a secret event, then that should tell them that it’s a bad idea to begin with…I would decline for the simple fact that they’re not providing details, regardless of what had been planned.

          2. Marthooh*

            “How can we get more people to attend optional team-building events?”

            Ponder… ponder… ponder… !!!

            “We’ll tell ’em it’s a surprise!”

        3. smoke tree*

          For a work event, if you really want to include a surprise element, you can announce it as a surprise but let people know they can find out the details or opt out if they ask. Maybe this could compromise the integrity of the surprise, but I think it’s better to err on that side.

      2. Observer*

        That’s fine. But even for people who enjoy surprises surprise events at work are not ok. The problem here is not just that some people HATE being surprise. The problems is that it’s almost impossible to plan for every factor that can affect people – and just how much they enjoy it, but their ability to take part and their basic safety. The only way to PARTIALLY mitigate that problem is to force people to explicitly discuss every thing they can think of the might affect their ability to take part AND disclose a lot of sensitive and otherwise irrelevant information.

    4. pleaset*

      “When I said so to the organizer, I was told I would have to let the department head know of my absence to the meeting. ”

      I’d relish this opportunity. After the event, other people would wish they were you. It’d improve your reputation as someone who doesn’t put up with crap and/or is wise. Take that as an opportunity.

      “In the next weeks, I couldn’t help but feel like the organizer was sulking. She would barely say hello, or would look at me with disdain.

      F#ck them. The sulking is great.

      1. Purrsnikitty*

        Thing is, the few colleagues I asked seemed officially pleased by the outing. Apparently they enjoyed the geo-caching and they said the heat wasn’t so bad since it took place within a forest. I didn’t catch any comments on the topic beyond that. That said, considering the amount of gossiping and worrying about the nature of “the activities” before the outing, it’s possible people were *relatively* happy that it wasn’t as bad as they thought.

        As to improving my reputation, based on the above and other occurences in my workplace, I get the feeling I’m seen more as a party pooper than the wiseman who dares speak up. It’s becoming clear to me that there’s a huge disconnect between this place’s culture and my own.

    5. GoryDetails*

      Erk! I mean, I *love* geocaching myself, but not as a strongly-urged/compulsory surprise group activity during a heat wave! (For the curious, it involves using GPS devices to find hidden containers or interesting locations, which can be in urban areas, parks, or remote wilderness.) I actually did do some geocaching during a recent New Hampshire heat wave (high 90s and humid), and after 20 minutes I was dripping and exhausted; can’t imagine having to do hours of that in the presence of all my office-mates…

    6. Observer*

      An outdoor event on one of the hottest days on record? Are your planners insane?

      I hope they at least had LOTS and LOTS of *cold* water AND other drinks as well – water is not enough when you are dealing with that much heat. You need electrolytes.

      1. Purrsnikitty*

        Planners might be insane. I’m definitely going to exercise extra caution whenever they’re behind an event from now on.

        As for water, I frankly don’t know, but I *am* curious now. I may have to ask a colleague just to see how crazy this possibly was. Or I could check the “reveal” e-mail, see if it was mentioned.

        Ha! I forgot about that. For the lunch, they were *still* not revealing its nature! “Let’s keep some suspense going. We’re not going to reveal everything right away!”. They asked people to pick the type of drink they wanted, in general terms (beer, wine or soft drink), and they pre-emptively set everyone for wine.
        Then they asked people with food restrictions to *reveal* them so arrangements could be made. How wrong is this?

        Oh dear… they *still* hadn’t revealed the activity either! “To answer your many questions on the topic, we can confirm that it won’t be treetop trekking but an activity accessible by everyone”.

        They suggested a list of things to bring: casual outfit, small backpack, sunglasses, hat, sunblock, t-shirts and shorts authorized (magnanimous!), comfortable/walking shoes. They would also provide small water bottles because “it’s going to be ‘a little’ hot”. *facepalm*

        So yeah, people truly discovered the nature of the activity and what they were going to eat on premise, when it’s way too late to escape or ask for accomodations.

  23. Mannheim Steamroller*

    I can easily see companies using secret location parties to judge “employee loyalty” and then targeting the opt-outs for disciplinary action and/or layoffs. (I’m not advocating for this, just envisioning it.)

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I envision someone reading this thread and scribbling notes for the next Get Out.

    2. Blep*

      In my experience, opt-outs may be targeted regardless of whether the party is secret or known. Sad. Opt out of any corporate social activity and you may be perceived as lacking corporate culture enthusiasm. Varies with the employer of course.

  24. SezU*

    I don’t know that I would notice someone got their nails done over lunch unless they pointed it out…

    1. Michelle*

      Me neither. Do people at LW’s office really check out each other’s nail situation that closely?

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        This legitimately varies between people. Like some of your coworkers notice you had hair this morning and still have hair this afternoon, or wore clothes before and after lunch, while some notice that you lost 8 inches of hair or have gone from a fuschia pantsuit to a black sheath dress.

      2. Need a mani (op)*

        Nope! But I work with my boss f2f regularly throughout the day, so it’s not unlikely she would notice.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      IDK, I have had a lot of people comment on my nails and I work with all dudes. It’s never in a bad way, they’re being nice and I think they’re conditioned by their SO’s to give compliments and “notice”. So I get a lot of “Oh, you changed your nails!” comments.

      However, I don’t interact with them constantly throughout the day, so if I did it mid-day, many of them would not see me or be in that close of proximity to notice either. If we had multiple meetings, it may spark some “oh did you get them redone, I swear they were a different color!”

      Unless the person has a consistent style of manicure of curse. I change mine up each time, different colors mostly. But if you constantly had tips and were just going to get a fill or something, that’s really not not noticeable unless someone is super focused on your hands for some odd reason.

  25. Lynn Marie*

    An office where co-workers feel free to make comments about the state of my fingernails and at the same time may judge me for getting a manicure on my lunch break so that I may ensure the comments are positive is just one more example of office hell and makes me profoundly grateful to be able to work from home.

    1. London Calling*

      Same. I wonder if the same comments about it looking bad if the worker is perceived as a slacker would be made about a male colleague getting a haircut in his lunch hour. My lunch hour is my lunch hour, it’s unpaid and what I do shouldn’t be taken into account when people are assessing my work. It’s a break from routine and should be treated as such.

  26. Dame Judi Brunch*

    OP1, I’m so glad the outings are not mandatory!
    The entire scenario that you described sounds like a nightmare.

  27. SigneL*

    Regarding #1 – I suffer from severe motion sickness – a cruise would absolutely do me in. I hate being thought of as “high-maintenance,” but I can’t control my stupid stomach. (My doctor said he sees this a lot in redheads. Really?)

    I don’t understand the need for secrecy. Can someone explain this to me? If the thought is, people will choose not to go if they know where it is, it seems like some people will choose not to go because they DON’T know where it is. Or is this a way to build “excitement!”?

    But does it count against me if there are some things I can’t do because of motion sickness? I assume it’s worse to try and then get sick.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      For some people the surprise IS a huge part of the fun. Like, we laugh in delight when we’re surprised by something good, and so they want to build that delight into the celebration.

      I think it’s similar to the introvert/extrovert divide, where it’s hard to understand that the thing that makes something fun/stressful for you is exactly what makes it stressful/fun for someone wired differently.

        1. Bortus*

          ^ this is me.

          My freinds and family KNOW do NOT surprise me with things. I HATE surprises (even good ones)

      1. OtterB*

        Our office has a tradition of a holiday lunch in December. It’s always at an upscale restaurant and we aren’t told until the day of, or perhaps the day before, where we’re going, just what time we’ll be leaving and if we’ll be walking or taking cabs. The surprise is part of the fun. BUT – the activity is known, dress code is known, we’re a small enough office that whoever is arranging the lunch for the year can check the menu for food issues (since some of our work involves running meetings or workshops with catered meals, and we usually have lunch brought in for a monthly staff meeting, we all know which coworkers are vegetarian/low-carb/gluten-free/keep-those-mushrooms-away-from-me, without diet being an oppressive topic of discussion most of the time). Very different situation from the activity being unknown.

        1. WellRed*

          Is it really that fun, though? For adults? I’d be irritated to be wearing heals and then learn I was schlepping by foot to a restaurant. Also, it’s entirely possible to say, be a vegetarian, and still get served food you won’t eat (stuffed mushrooms and tomatoes on a toothpick, ugh).

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Otter specifically says that they are told in advance whether they are walking or taking cabs. And that the office is small enough to know and accommodate food restrictions. So yes, sounds like fun.

            1. WellRed*

              Otter actually says “we aren’t told until the day of or perhaps the day before”
              A small office is no guarantee that one is knowledgeable enough about other people’s food restrictions (but I will assume in Otter’s case this works for their office).

              1. WellRed*

                I think my objection is that our resident party planner likes to “surprise” us with the menu and therefore I rarely get to eat (and this is after she asks about accommodations). Office of 10 people who have worked together for years in some cases.

                1. OtterB*

                  Being surprised by a menu you can’t eat is understandably annoying. If we’re not ordering off the regular menu somewhere, we’ve always had several options for each course. As far as I know, nobody has had a problem, but it could have happened. I might bring that up at a staff meeting before this year’s location gets nailed down.

                  The walking vs. cabs, if we are walking we know the day before. Plus a cab is still an option even if most of the staff is walking; I’ve done that a couple of times.

      2. Paige*

        Yeah, it’s really hard to get people to see the opposite side, regardless of which side you’re on. My stepfather recently planned a surprise trip for my mother’s birthday. To be fair, it was the kind of trip she’d always wanted to go on but would never take the time to go on herself, and he planned it for the holidays, when she wouldn’t be worried about going to/from work.

        BUT. They were also going somewhere cold. And they were going to get back two days before Christmas. My stepfather had not taken into account the fact that my mom does almost all of her Christmas shopping/prep (which is basically all of their shopping except what he buys for her) during the time he’d planned the trip for. Also, my mom HATES surprises. My sibling and I had to beg, multiple times, for him to tell her sooner than the NIGHT BEFORE THEY FLEW OUT. When it was two weeks out and it looked like he wasn’t going to tell her, but she knew *something* was up, she asked me. And I told her everything except the actual city they were going to, so she could do the appropriate planning she needed to do for herself, because I knew if I didn’t, she’d be angry with him for surprising her and that would ruin an otherwise good trip.

        No matter how my sibling and I tried to explain it (I of the surprise-hating, my sibling of the surprise-loving), he just didn’t get it. He finally gave in and told her three days before they left–which, she told me later, would definitely not have been enough time for her to deal with work and packing and Christmas stuff if I hadn’t already told her. My stepdad just could NOT fathom why she wouldn’t want to be surprised, because it was the sort of thing he would love.

        1. Spool of Lies*

          That sounds so stressful (I am with you on the surprise-hating), but it’s a very cute story that would be great to pack away for an anniversary party or later birthday for your Mom.

  28. Queen Anne*

    Regarding the secret office party after hours until 11pm. No way. No way. No way. My anxiety went up just reading that. I need to know that I can reach my kids in the event of something urgent and can leave if I need to.
    Regarding getting your nails done during the lunch hour; I didn’t see this in the comments but I have a different view. Getting your nails done is routine maintenance. Having nice looking, manicured nails (regardless of whether or not you use polish) is more professional in my opinion. Just like you would get your hair cut, take a shower, wear make up, wash or dry clean your clothes, etc. It is not frivolous. I feel guilty and “unkempt” when I do not have my nails done and it’s been a couple of months now! Paying attention to one’s appearance should be viewed as a good thing. Sure, there is excess and all kinds of opinions on where that line is between routine maintenance, upkeep and extravagance or vanity but just getting your nails done? Nope. And there is polish now that dries almost immediately. There should not be any bad optics on this.

    1. EventPlannerGal*

      I very, very strongly disagree that getting a manicure is or should be regarded as “routine maintenance”. I think the LW should absolutely feel free to get one on her lunch break, but I object very strongly to the idea that it is the equivalent of bathing or washing your clothes.

      1. Emi.*

        Extremely same. Bathing and doing laundry are hygiene; manicures and makeup are beauty. They are not the same, and it does serious harm to women to claim that they are.

        1. Marmaduke*


          If I neglect hygiene, the resulting odor and microbial infestation are a real problem for the health and wellbeing of me and those around me. If I go without makeup or a manicure, the only risk is of someone seeing a woman in a slightly more natural state than they’re used to. It’s not going to hurt ‘em.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        And it’s not like people wouldn’t look askance at you for using your lunch break to bathe or wash your clothes. You’ve expected to take care of that before or after work.

    2. Colette*

      Generally people don’t shower or apply makeup during their lunch break (except as a side effect of doing something like going to the gym), so even if I agreed that it was necessary grooming, it wouldn’t follow that it was something that should be done at lunch.

    3. Anonya*

      Whoa, I really disagree that a manicure is equivalent to showering or even getting a haircut. As long as the nails are clean, that is good enough.

    4. Pippa*

      To be sure, people have different preferences, but I’m fascinated that not having your nails manicured makes you feel guilt! We must have very different takes on our duty with regard to beauty-related tasks. (I haven’t had a manicure in 20 years. I have, however, had a shower and a haircut in that time.)

      1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

        Maybe not guilt but I can definitely understand feeling unkempt if you normally have a nice manicure and it is starting to look shabby. I rarely get one myself but it makes me feel super self-conscious if my nail polish is starting to peel off or has chips in it. If having a nice manicure is part of someone’s look, then it is totally normal maintenance to get them regularly.

        However, that doesn’t change the issue that if someone is perceived as slacking off in some way then going out on lunch break to get one will compound that perception, no matter how unfair it may be.

  29. CloseEnoughForGovernmentWork-NOT!*

    If you want candidates to submit a cover letter that performs a specific function for you, then include that language as part of the job posting. The comment above about the state of Alaska is an example. In our job postings in the required qualifications for a public facing position with some teaching/training we include the following: “Excellent written and oral communication skills, as evaluated in part by your cover letter and supporting material”. The supporting material requires a statement about experience supporting clients from diverse/under-represented backgrounds. This allows us to legally use cover letters to exclude people, not just treat them neutrally as Alison does.
    I work for a state government and the rules surrounding our hiring are ridiculous. This language allows us to evaluate whether people can follow directions, present themselves favorably, but also provides an objective way based on rules of standard English to reject candidates. (We have to justify rejecting each and every candidate, so being able to say “cover letter contained multiple errors including…” is straightforward for HR’s forms.) There is other language that can achieve the same goal. In the past, we have included language like “cover letter must provide details of how your experience matches the required job qualifications” which was more specific in allowing us to weed out candidates who couldn’t follow directions.

  30. Bigglesworth*

    Letter #2 – This may not be an issue for more senior employees, but my career services staff told me that my customized cover letter for OCI (my Law school’s on-campus interviews) were complete garbage because they didn’t follow the correct formula for legal jobs. All of the examples they gave me were for students fresh out of undergrad, which I’m not one. I worked before law school in higher education, used to be a manager of a small team, and am now in charge of several extra-curricular organizations.

    I sent them two links to cover letters on AAM that Alison previously posted. Their response was that those might work in the non-legal profession, but that you have to follow their formula for the legal profession.

    1. Katefish*

      Law does have some quirks (i.e. it’s weird if you DON’T list hobbies on resumes), but I worked before and during law school, and, while my career services was great, I noticed a general attitude of disconnect from the regular work world. I’m sure Alison’s advice is generally applicable. I’d also recommend Guerilla Tactics for Getting the Legal Job of your Dreams, which addresses your prior career scenario. Not sure that this helps with OCI since it’s through your career services, but it might be useful in the future. Good luck regardless!

      1. Bigglesworth*

        Wow! Thank you! At this point in time, I’ve passed on participating in OCI anyway. My GPA was not the best (I had several family emergencies that occurred during 1L fall and spring finals) and although it’s continually gone up from a 3.04 to 3.21, I think a lot of employers d automatically discount me. I’ll definitely check out the Guerilla Tactics though. Thanks for the recommendation!

    2. Coverage Associate*

      I think career services offices also have an incentive to make all candidates from the school more or less the same. Mine certainly weren’t interested in helping with anything other than an eastern big firm job.

      When I applied for my current job, they were asking for cover letters, but I had a connection to the partner and he said to skip it. We hired someone who interviewed coolly but his cover letter showed humor. He worked out. Now that I have a voice in hiring I don’t see cover letters. If we use a recruiter, I am not sure we get them.

  31. AvonLady Barksdale*

    I ONLY get my nails done during lunch! I used to go after work or on weekends, but then I found a place close to work that I loved. I now work from home and kept up the practice; where I live, the best nail place requires an appointment and it’s just easier to go at, say, 11am on a Thursday.

    Did anyone in the office notice? Maybe. But I went rarely enough (every five weeks or so), I usually ate lunch at my desk otherwise, and I just stopped caring. The only time I was concerned was when an executive meeting ran 30 minutes over and I left for my nail appointment. Still, no one noticed.

    I also never said that I was leaving to get my nails done. I always had “an appointment.” So maybe I’m a tad more self-conscious than I think, but it helps me feel better about it. Only two of my coworkers know what these appointments really are.

    So… just go and try not to sweat it. If someone compliments your manicure, just thank them.

    1. Silence Will Fall*

      Several people on my team, men and women, use lunch time to get their hair cut. They hop on Slack and let everyone know they’re stepping out for a lunch and come back freshly coiffed. No one bats an eyelash.

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        Love your username!

        As for random errands done during a lunch break, yesterday two of my coworkers went grocery shopping during the lunch hour. I ran two miles on mine. It’s pretty normal here.

  32. Newington*

    Add me to the “why is #3 even a question” pile. Can you do a thing on your own time? Yes.

  33. pentamom*

    #1 was literally the plot of an episode of The Office. It amazes me how often things that I thought were simply contrived to show how out of touch Michael Scott is, actually happen in real life.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      And then there’s _Good Omens_, where the outing changes in mid-stream (Thanks, Crowley)

  34. Trout 'Waver*

    OP#2, 99% of job applications these days end in a generic auto-rejection by the applicant tracking software when the job posting expires. There is no evidence to the applicants that anyone even read their resume, let alone their cover letter. It is soul-crushing.

    If you are dinging candidates for not crafting custom cover letters, but sending out generic rejection letters to the ones that do, you are being a hypocrite.

    1. Me*

      Maybe we’re weird here in my government land, but we give no cares about a cover letter. Might skim them, but it’s your application, resume and interview that we care about.

      I’m going to ask why you are interested in the job in the interview, I don’t care about reading about it first.

      1. Arctic*

        Yeah cover letters are considered completely irrelevant at my workplace too. Our application system doesn’t even allow you to upload one, which is intentional. I was shocked to come here and see some people actually gave af about them.
        We have to interview everyone who meets certain standards. And hire based on experience and background and interview scores. Not who can market themselves the fanciest way in a letter.

    2. mcr-red*

      “If you are dinging candidates for not crafting custom cover letters, but sending out generic rejection letters to the ones that do, you are being a hypocrite.”

      I was kinda thinking that too.

    3. Sunflower*

      And really- I don’t see what is so wrong with a generic cover letter?! If you’re trying to get an idea of an applicants writing skills, how does a generic cover letter not accomplish that? I totally get that employer’s want a customized cover letter- the same way I want employer’s to list the salary on their job postings. It sounds like the tide is starting to turn in favor of the job seeker’s on cover letters- thankfully!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I don’t think the tide is starting to turn. In the fields where they’ve mattered traditionally, they still matter. There have always been some hiring managers who don’t care about them, and plenty who do.

        1. Work to live*

          I would be interested to hear from more people on this topic. In my view, the first generation who had the majority of their custom cover letters ignored by HR and hiring managers are starting to come into hiring manager roles themselves. In my experience, that demo is largely anti cover letter across the board. I’ve heard people in many fields beyond my own say that they don’t get passed on to hiring managers at all anymore (if they’re even allowed on the application). The two places where I have heard they still matter are the two fields I generally think of as *slowtocatchup* which are sales and HR.

    4. Turanga Leela*

      It’s not “dinging,” exactly. If you’re hiring, you want to know who’s going to be good at the job. A lot of applicants’ resumes are fine but not super-impressive, and a cover letter could help explain why they’d be unusually diligent, passionate, empathetic, or whatever skill you’re looking for. Applicants don’t have an obligation to write good cover letters any more than employers have an obligation to send personalized rejections. But it’s frustrating to do hiring and wonder what candidates aren’t telling you that could really help their applications.

      1. RG2*

        Yup! Your cover letter is an opportunity to explain why you’d be good at the job. A lot of people’s resumes don’t do that, especially if they’re from a tangential field and their resumes are jargon heavy. If I get 100 applications for a job and 25 have resumes that could be a good fit, but I only have time to do phone interviews with the top 10, you be I’m looking at cover letters to help me make that decision! They’re also important when I’m hiring people for strong writing skills because they’re an example of those writing skills. It may be unfair or hypocritical to expect that people do the work to write good cover letters that speak to the job, but when people ARE doing that, those people stand out from the ones who don’t and they’re going to get priority.

      2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

        I can’t imagine not writing some kind of customized cover letter for almost any job, especially not if it is a specific requirement for the application! Maybe I have a more unusual background than I think I do, but I do not have the kind of experience that is easily summarized as “ten years of llama grooming” or “recent graduate in llama grooming studies” where I have learned a set of skills that can be ticked off as present/absent. And every job I’ve applied for has a slightly different set of requirements, an emphasis on this over that, or wants something that I know how to do but isn’t immediately obvious just from looking at my qualifications. This is probably even more true for entry-level or stopgap type jobs. I don’t even know what a generic cover letter would look like.

  35. 8DaysAWeek*

    #1 I have horror stories about these kinds of trips :)
    I worked in a group for 10 years and for a few years we would have a big department off-site meeting for 3-5 days. One of the nights would be a surprise event. 2-3 charter buses would pick us up and drive to an unknown location. The problem was the buses would take different routes to get there to try to throw you off. However this proved to be horrible as well. Giant charter buses taking windy back-roads. And they would also drive in circles sometimes to make the trip longer to think you were going somewhere far away. Srsly?! Lets just say many people ended up car sick by the time we reached the final destination.
    One year, the trip was to a rooftop restaurant similar in size to the Empire State building. One of my co-workers had a debilitating fear of heights. She was paralyzed and could not go in. Someone had to come pick her up. She could have just stayed back at the hotel and had a quiet evening to herself had she known.
    I know you can’t please everyone, but there are some cases where accommodations need to be made for medical or physical limitations.
    Surveys did come out after each of these events and complaints were made. I don’t know how much good it did because we suffered for a few years.

    1. Bilateralrope*

      Now I’m imagining someone tracking the route they took on their phone. When they get back to the office, they put something in a visible location:
      This is how we go from point a to b:
      *route one bus took*
      This us how somebody sane does it:
      *recommended route on Google maps*

      Maybe it’s an email that does the rounds. Maybe a joke on a cubicle wall.

      1. 8DaysAWeek*

        Yeah…we were texting people from other buses to see where they were and trying to figure out where we were going.
        What sucked….the place was maybe 35 minutes away. The bus drove around for 2 HOURS to try to throw us off track.

        1. Purrsnikitty*

          The “throwing people off” part is just bonkers. Why go through such lengths just for a surprise effect? Quadruple the duration of the trip *just* for that? Urgh. I’m surprised they didn’t simply abduct people from their home, wrapped their heads in bags and drugged them during the trip JUST IN CASE they might guess where they’re going! We can’t have that, no sir!

          And then you would wake up in your bed, unclear about what happened last night. Was it all a dream?

          “Yes! Our office outing is a success!”

  36. V*

    Another one chiming in to agree with the horror around secret location office parties. I ended up at one last year that would have been career-limiting to opt out of. I voiced my concerns in advance and was brushed off as “hey, don’t sweat it, it’s just a bit of fun”.

    It turned out that a) part of the time was outside in fields / wooded areas meaning I was stuck without antihistamines that I needed to control my hayfever, b) part of the time was on a boat with no toilet facilities where a WHOLE BUNCH of people ended up in literal physical pain due to having to hold it for hours, (I don’t think there was anyone present with seasickness but that would have put the icing on the cake) and c) part of the time was in a brewery where there was nothing whatsoever to do / nothing to drink other than water for people who don’t drink alcohol. One of my coworkers actually resigned as a result of how poorly it was handled and cited the handling of this event in his exit interview. Let’s just say it won’t be happening again.

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      oh wow…
      And those three things are SO VERY FAR APART on the wardrobe spectrum too! What is comfortable in a field/woods won’t work on a boat and by the time you get to the brewery (I hate beer) you probably feel disgusting from the dust and pee.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      What the H*ll.

      I’m going to assume that this was planned by a committee of people who could not agree and all refused to cede their pet activity, because there is no other way to explain it.

      1. V*

        I think actually it was one person dictating that his three favourite activities must be enjoyed by everyone else *eyeroll*

    3. WellRed*

      This was all one event?! Good lord! Kudos to your coworker for making it the hill to die on.

    4. Observer*

      Wow! Either the planners were a bunch of incompetent idiots, everyone had too much ego to give in on their pet thing, or someone was trying to drive people away.

      I mean this is THREE activities that have a really, really high chance of multiple people having an issue. And all of them have totally different wardrobe requirements as well.

  37. short_stuff*

    I’ve found that the ‘element of surprise’ is often someone’s go-to technique when they want to make an event feel interesting. There are much better ways of doing that, and also things that work better as surprises than others, particularly in a work context. I’ve had most luck with suggesting/directing (depending on my role) that surprise is best used for ‘bonus extras’ rather than for the main event or practical considerations. Some people that enjoy surprises seem to have a very hard time truly understanding that some others find that a surprise element makes anything worse.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I think part of the thing with planning by people who love surprises is not grasping that it’s a lot easier to craft a pleasing surprise for one person than for 50. So even if you could plan a surprise outing your sister would LOVE, it might not work to transfer that to dozens of people whom you only know at a work level of intimacy. And so not whether they are allergic to shellfish, get motion sick, etc.

      My spouse doesn’t so much love surprises as hate planning social things, so if I tell him “You should be home by 6 on your birthday” he’s thrilled–it’s only one thing to keep track of. But I actually know what he likes and am planning specific to that–he doesn’t want a golf outing, or to see a horror movie, or to check out a fun bar, or to go to a nice familiar restaurant or movie/show we’ve seen before.

      1. Traffic_Spiral*

        Yeah. Planning a surprise for a group always struck me as deeply arrogant, because you definitely don’t know everyone well enough to know what they’ll like.

  38. Bulbasaur*

    I can’t believe employers still ask for cover letters. Especially in the creative field. I’ve spent hours on my resume and online portfolio and you still need a high school essay on why I’m great.

    Which you won’t read anyway.


    1. fposte*

      I read every cover letter, and they’re explicitly noted as a basis for interview. However, if you’re in a field that doesn’t require written communication I can see finding it frustrating.

      1. Justin*

        Definitely with fposte on this. In some fields where writing is not needed, sure.

        They’re only high school essays if they’re done poorly!

      2. Fortitude Jones*

        However, if you’re in a field that doesn’t require written communication I can see finding it frustrating.

        Agreed. I hated writing cover letters for non-writing specific jobs (I sucked it up and did it anyway), but my cover letters helped me land my current position and the one before it, both of which are writing-intensive. In fact, my grandboss told me that irrespective of how everyone else felt about me, he wanted to hire me as soon as he read the opening paragraph of my letter and he told the HR rep who was helping us to fill a second role that if applicants didn’t send in cover letters, toss their applications – he said my letter set the standard, which I thought was great.

    2. Anonya*

      I don’t know about that; I’m in a creative field, and we look closely at cover letters. It’s the first entry point to identifying whether you’re a good or poor communicator. I’ve had my cover letters specifically cited in every interview I’ve had.

  39. Me*

    To the concern about the optics of getting your nails done at lunch, I have to say I would legitimately not notice if someone came back from “lunch” with a fresh manicure. A new hairstyle, probably, but nails? Especially if the person already gets manicures and keeps them up, I’m not going to notice a polish change or touch up.

  40. Betty*

    OP#3 I see no problem getting your nails done at lunch. I get my eyebrows threaded during my lunch. It is the only time I have to do something like that. No worries :)

  41. Justme, The OG*

    Letter #1 seems like my worst nightmare. After spending 8 hours at work, I’m supposed to spend another 7 hours with them, at a destination unknown to me, that I cannot leave from when I want to. Not to mention it ends hours after I go to bed.

    1. London Calling*

      Your last sentence is the reason why I don’t go to the Christmas party. ‘Sorry, all, 11pm is a late night for me.’ Plus I don’t drink much anymore and watching people getting hammered on the company dime has zero appeal as entertainment.

      1. irene adler*

        Unless I’m guaranteed a good story to tell … on AAM!
        I hate having my regular sleep/wake schedule greatly messed with just for a work event.

  42. CupcakeCounter*

    I get my nails done on my lunch hour fairly often and have seen one of the Senior VP’s of my company there at the same time (my nail place only about 2 miles from work). I also see a lot of other people there squeezing in their manicures at lunch and my boss and grand-boss both workout at lunch then eat in the cafeteria for 15-20 minutes an hour or so later so things like that are the “norm” at my company.
    Going Friday as a matter of fact – now I just need to figure out what color to get this time!

  43. Marmaduke*

    Some of these perception questions like L3 remind me of the way that women, due to objectification, are expected to not just be great at what they do but make sure they look good doing it. Be a stellar performer, be affable, be confident, but also never forget the optics!

    It’s my personal belief that we’d all get a lot more done if people weren’t so terribly worried about being judged by potential onlookers.

    1. DAMitsDevon*

      Yep, and given that the letter writer is worried about being perceived negatively for getting a manicure during lunch, not just, “make sure you look good,” but also, “make sure you look good, but do what you need to do to look good discreetly. We’ll judge if you don’t your look your best, but if we easily figure out what you’re doing to look good, we’ll judge you for being superficial and frivolous.”

  44. Justin*

    Oh boy, number 1. It makes tons of sense to be anxious and you should communicate your anxiety as mentioned. Good luck.

    So, this is a different context, but when I taught in S. Korea, this happened all the time. All the time. Except without forewarning.

    One July day, I walked out of the school in the afternoon to see a giant bus sitting there and was told, “IT’S A TEACHER PARTY.” Now, look, I was 22, I was very pro-party, but I knew it would end up being a problem. However, pressure was high, so I went.

    We got to the top of a nearby mountain (idk man) and, as a pescetarian, there was nothing for me to eat (it was an historic duck restaurant…), and it was one of the most alienating experiences in my two years there. They meant well, but hadn’t thought of how to accomodate.

    Yet I was one singular non-Korean person. So it’s way worse when this happens where they really should know better about how they need to be prepared for all sorts of needs.

  45. Amethystmoon*

    #1: So many people have either health or religious restrictions for food and what they can or can’t do. I would not do this in this day and age. Also, some people do have physical limitations. I personally would be having anxiety before the event.

    Also is the company aware that if they do inadvertently leave someone out, they could possibly get sued?

  46. Dust Bunny*

    LW1 I’m not a super timid person but this is a blazing inferno of inconvenience and I would be RSVP’ing “no” before the email announcement had fully loaded. A late night mystery activity with unannounced food and no way to go home under your own power? I will be at home rewatching the British Baking Show, thank you very much.

  47. Alexander Graham Yell*

    OP #5 I’ve actually had this brought up in an interview! I also went to a fairly small school that is unknown outside of the state it’s in, so meeting a fellow alumna out of state was fun for both of us. It’s not going to get you the interview, but if you do get one it can be a nice, quick conversation starter to help calm your nerves at the start of the interview.

  48. Silence Will Fall*

    OP #1 – You’re definitely going on a lake cruise on Lake Wallenpaupack in January.

  49. Diana*

    I feel like a good medium for #1 is having buses going back and forth every hour depending on how far away the location is. I’m not sure how realistic it is because it means extra cost.

    1. Observer*

      No, there is no “good” medium here. Especially since it really is possible that someone could find that they CANNOT do even one hour. Like the person who mentioned that they literally could not get into the venue. Or the people who mentioned the allergies that the venue triggered. etc.

  50. incompetemp's colleague*

    For #5 I honestly think it’s a pretty tacky thing to do and I’d leave it off. Though I suppose that might be a cultural thing? The whole alumni / fraternity and sorority culture isn’t a big thing here in Canada.

    But yeah, if I got an email out of the blue and someone was like “Hey, I went to your college! [INSERT BUSINESS STUFF HERE.]” I’d be weirded out. Y’know how kids always start their letters with “I’m [X] and I’m [Y] years old.” The age really isn’t relevant and I feel like your college really doesn’t matter. Might be a good thing to bring up in casual conversation like “Oh I went to [SCHOOL] too, did you have [MRS. WHISKERS] as your lit teacher?” but in a business email..? Nah.

    1. OP #5*

      Letter Writer #5 here—
      The business connection would absolutely come first. That’s why I’m emailing in the first place! But as other commenters have noted, finding connections to this particular small college outside of its region is pretty unusual. I’m looking for ways to reference the connection without seeming overtly personal, so your reminder to keep business at the forefront is helpful!

      1. incompetemp's colleague*

        Hopefully you two can bond over having Mrs. Whiskers as your lit teacher. :)
        She may be a cat, but she’s a darn good English teacher.

  51. Jesse*

    #2 – I teach cover letters as part of an employment program for professionals seeking work.

    The reality is that most people just aren’t skilled enough writers to do what you’re asking. There’s been a lot of bad advice in the past that recommends people write “why I am so great” as opposed to “here is why I am the solution to your problem”. It’s a huge difference to the reader, although a difference often unnoticeable by people who have never hired. Generic garbage cover letters are still taught at the high school/college level (if at all) and recommended by career services everywhere.

    I do think people are being set up for failure because if you bring in a cover letter that says “I am seeking a position in X organization that will enhance my X skills. I am the best candidate for the job. I have good organizational skills…”, many job agencies will say “AWESOME!!!”.

    This isn’t even touching on the reality that most people cannot write well and it’s a very, very difficult skill that takes decades to polish, a reality often underestimated by good writers.

    My advice? Unless fantastic writing is a requirement for the job (and sometimes it is), be mindful of how important a cover letter is when it comes to a job posting. If the job requires it, by all means, make it an initial screening tool. If you’ve got a basic, entry-level job that doesn’t require exceptional writing skills or requires brief, succinct memos? Maybe adjust your expectations. Perhaps using a job-related writing task (such as email composition) during the interview is a strategy that better reflects a job candidate’s actual skills to do the job.

    1. fposte*

      I’m also not sure that the OP’s problem needs to be solved (the applicants’ problem is another matter): she apparently does get some great cover letters and hires people from them, so the differentiation on cover letters is serving as a useful measure for her hiring.

      1. Jesse*

        Exactly! There’s really no blanket statement to solve “how do I get better cover letters?” unless you’re planning on overhauling the education system right from the start. Unfortunately, you’re asking for a combination of a number of skills such as overall reading comprehension, writing conventions, genre knowledge, and hiring POV. If this is a useful metric for the position, then by all means, leave it be. Lord knows I agonized over my own cover letter for this job (can you imagine the pressure of writing a cover letter… to teach cover letters?).

        If it’s not necessarily the right metric for the job, look at other writing tasks that are. For example, let’s say you’re hiring a receptionist. Writing is important, but a cover letter is a specific genre that may not necessarily translate directly. If you’re unsure of a candidate with a weak (or no) cover letter but the person has strong resume qualifications, consider a job-related writing task as part of the job. For example, an email, a handwritten document, and so on. You’re the hiring manager, you know what you need in the actual position, take a real task and try it*.

        *Briefly, as part of the interview, please do not assign homework LOL.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I think it’s certainly an issue with the applicants writing abilities but I also think it’s a huge dose of the anxiety these letters cause so many people! I know people who are professional writers who break down into tears over just the idea of cover letters =( It’s hard stuff because people aren’t conditioned to wax poetic about themselves and it feels so ugly and wrong to so many people, even the high performers among us!

      That’s why we’re just stoked when we get a cover letter that isn’t just absolutely awful. Since we’re not looking for a writing sample, we’re just trying to get more insight into the person behind the resume.

  52. ThatGirl*

    It’s possible someone else has mentioned this, I haven’t read all the comments yet, but my last job was at a large Fortune 500 company that had all sorts of random perks/services available, and one of them was basically a traveling nail salon; a company came twice a month to provide express in-office manicures. (They were done in a conference room away from working areas, so the smell wouldn’t have been an issue.)

    (We also had on-site oil changes available which I never took advantage of, but appreciated knowing it was an option.)

    1. fposte*

      I have never heard of such a thing–that’s amazing. That’s very different than my state job with BYO coffee!

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I went to a workshop at a state office while back and they had a total snack area in their open kitchen area that I had to walk by to the conference area. So I was super surprised but then realized it’s all crowdsourced and they all probably have a rotation to buy Costco sized bundles of goodies. So I’m glad I know that it’s a crowdsourced thing but yeah, I can def see how others who aren’t so tapped into things [thanks internet!] would bug out and think that our tax dollars are paying for that treat tower [even though tbh, use my tax money for feeding the government workers and not for bombs or walls, maaaaaaaaaaan!]

      2. ThatGirl*

        There are a lot of things I don’t miss about that job, but it definitely had some nice perks. I might miss the on-site cafeteria most of all, actually. We have a test kitchen that pumps out dozens of cupcakes every week, but no on-site fresh food.

        It was called Manicube, then got bought by Red Door (Elizabeth Arden) and is now called Red Door at Work, looks like they’re still around in Chicago at least.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I love hearing these kinds of perks that companies have come up with.

      We’re moving into a huge space in awhile and we have these big locker room areas that we won’t need, so I keep telling the boss we need nap pods like Google. Then again we were also joking about having a built in suite for our international folks who visit a couple of times a year but then I remembered the story about the person who was expected to stay at the CEO’s office on a cot while visiting the headquarters and cried a little inside [everyone here knows darn well it’s a joke and nobody is staying overnight].

  53. nnn*

    For #2, one thing you could do is very clear and specifically state exactly what you want from the cover letter.

    For example, to me, “a cover letter explaining why this is a good position for you” doesn’t mean much. It’s almost synonymous with “write a cover letter” and, if anything, might nudge me in the direction of explaining why it’s a good position for me (it’s close to home, pays better than my previous job, has good work-life balance) rather than why I’m a good fit for the employer.

    It might be more helpful to say something like “In your cover letter, specifically state how you meet every single requirement in the job posting, even if this information is duplicated in your resume.”

    It might also be helpful to explicitly state how your cover letter expectations differ from other employers’, or from what applicants seem to believe other employers’ expectations are. Something like “don’t worry about your cover letter being too long – too long is better than too short” (written in a way that fits in the tone of your job posting).

    It might also be useful to look at strong applications whose cover letters worked against them (whether or not you ended up hiring the applicant) and see what those bad cover letters from strong applicants had in common. Then use this to inform what specifically you ask for in the application.

  54. voyager1*

    Cover letters are great if the company I am applying for accepts resumes via fax or or postal mail.

    I got a job that way in 2008 by faxing a cover letter and resume.

    I haven’t faxed a resume since so hence not written a cover letter.

    Today in this technological age and in my field a cover letter is just a waste of time. YMMV

    1. Justin*

      What does the medium and your own personal experience (as opposed to those who have said it’s important to their hiring process excluding specific roles and industries) have to do with the practice?

      1. Justin* fact, writing a cover letter without having to go through the trouble of faxing is less trouble.

      2. Lilysparrow*

        I think this is a joke about the practice being outdated. Which kind of underscores the point about why cover letters are relevant.

        If you can’t express yourself well in writing, it really interferes with communication in an increasingly text-based world.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Gurl, you faxed in 2008? I haven’t faxed a resume and cover letter since 2003, seriously. Ever since they stopped posting all job ads in the classified section =X

      I feel like we can blame Craigslist taking off for murdering the fax.

  55. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Any “party” that requires me to take a bus can take a leap. Heck no, get outta here! That’s enough knowledge for me to know I’m not going to like it.

    When we go places, we take Ubers [on the company account]. *wrinkles nose*

    My boss has a happy medium for “surprises”. He sets everything up instead of having me do it [since I’m the only other logical answer tbh being the office manager type person], then he makes us wait until a couple weeks before and then drops the knowledge on us. But we all know before we are put into cars and driven there, nobody here would ever, ever, ever go otherwise. And we like group activities and each other!

  56. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Cover letters. I’ll take a generic one any day of the week because tbh, even our management positions we’ve filled never get a cover letter. Despite requesting one. We could be hardasses about it and just bypass those without them…but that would do us more harm than good =( They’re kind of dying out in a lot of aspects and I hate seeing them go.

    At the same time, like Alison says a strong one then puts you over the other similar folks. Which works out spectacularly for me, since I’m a masochist who actually enjoys writing them.

  57. Another worker bee*

    re: #4
    Am I the only one who think cover letters would just die? Granted, I’m not in a field where I do a ton of writing (and the writing that I do – scientific papers – has little to no overlap with the type of writing you would do for a cover letter), but I don’t know a single person who enjoys writing cover letters. Many of my colleagues, along with myself, will not apply to a job if we find that a cover letter is required. Particularly in the hard-to-hire, highly technical fields, I wonder how many top applicants are being scared off by this needless requirement that tells you next to nothing about the ability of the candidate to do the job.

    1. Lilysparrow*

      I can understand that in some highly specialized fields, the ability to communicate clearly and effectively might not matter.

      But in most jobs, it does. The job itself might not be sales, or presentation, or writing. But if you can’t give a coherent report on your work internally? Or explain information and show logical connections between a need and a result?

      That’s going to be very relevant to your ability to do the majority of jobs. Unless your deliverables consist entirely of data with no analysis, you do need to see if a candidate can choose relevant information and communicate it to other humans in an intelligible way.

      1. Another worker bee*

        It does in my job (artificial intelligence research scientist), I’m just making the point that a cover letter does not measure those skills. Beyond basic grammar and spelling, it’s just measuring my ability to sell myself – it’s a very specific type of writing that most introverts do not excel at.

        And more importantly, I’m not going to apply for jobs that require this unless I’m really desperate. If you want to see my ability to communicate, visit one of the websites I have put up to demo project work or read some of my publications. It’s an unnecessary hurdle that myself and many of my colleagues will refuse to jump through, because the smarter half of the hiring managers know this. And then those employers bemoan that they can’t find qualified candidates…

      2. Risha*

        I think there is a real, substantive difference between clearly communicating factual information and composing a persuasive essay, and there are vast swaths of the population who can do one well but not the other. Writing an email to your boss about an important issue that explains what happened, why, and proposes a solution or solutions in a way that is easy for the boss to absorb and respond to is the former, and almost all good cover letters are the latter. To be frank, in the majority of non-sales, non-writing, maybe non-lawyering(?) jobs the former is all you need, and will certainly serve you better than the ability to write paragraphs of entertaining prose.

        (I mean, how often has this site discussed how often people will only read the first line or two of an email? And are for some reason proud of that? Bosses – if I bother to write two paragraphs in a business email, it’s all information you actually need in order to make a good decision, dammit. Read the damn email.)

  58. L.S. Cooper*

    LW1: BIG NOPE ON THAT PARTY. Absolutely not. A surprise? With no way to escape? I would be miserable. I have ADHD, which is fine at work, because I know what’s coming and how much energy and focus I have to allocate. Frankly, an event that goes from 4pm-11pm is far too long for something unknown, much less something unknown that comes AFTER a work day? I would go into full-blown sensory overload mode sooo fast.
    Nope nope nope. This is a terrible idea.

  59. pcake*

    #1 sounds pretty awful to me. In addition to physical limitations (including ankle and knee issues), dietary restrictions including a bad food allergy and getting motion sickness – usually worse on buses because of their motion – my experience is that the average person’s idea of fun and mine aren’t even close. Not only do I get heat stroke very easily, I also don’t drink, so bars, breweries, etc, is no fun for me unless there’s something to do there besides drink.

    In 2010 and 2011 when my mother had some physical issues and dementia, I needed to be able to get to her as fast as possible any time of the day or night. And of course, the same applies to people with children or SOs who have conditions that may need care or a wide variety of other things.

    At least some of what I just said is true for many people, so while the person organizing the event may think the surprise would be lots of fun, they’re only thinking of what’s fun FOR THEM. Many of the people they’re supposedly organizing the event FOR aren’t going to find it fun at all, but that doesn’t matter to them. This magical mystery tour is – IMO – a stupid and very self-absorbed thing to set up. I can’t imagine a situation where I would attend such an event.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      That also crossed my mind reading it! I was like “Wait…you’re supposed to just be whisked away and what if your kid gets sick or your spouse or your mom or your dog or your cat or your earthworm collection dries out? WHAT IS THIS WHISKED AWAY NONSENSE?”

      And I don’t have any of these things except for a partner and a cat, neither are precarious health thankfully but I don’t want to take a GD bus somewhere and then have my partner’s car break down or something even mostly benign come up. Being “Trapped” is the worst feeling in the world. I live in a world of Ubers at least but they aren’t available everywhere [I learned this the sad way when I got to Vancouver and was told I had to use public transit, it was awful.]

  60. Lilysparrow*

    I’ve only been working remotely for about 5 years, but I have to say I’m a bit shocked at the idea that getting an ordinary manicure done during a lunch break would ever create bad optics or be seen as evidence that someone was slacking. It takes half an hour. It improves your professional presentation. It’s just so…well, *ordinary.*

    (A very long lunch break that isn’t PTO for any reason, of course could be problematic. But a regular manicure just doesn’t take that long.)

    Has the in-office environment become so claustrophobic that being out of the building for thirty freaking minutes is seen as “slacking?” And more importantly, would men getting a hair trim or their shoes shined be seen as evidence of slacking or “frivolousness” that needs to be justified or counterbalanced by extraordinary performance? I doubt it.

    It sounds like women’s empowerment in the workplace is going backwards, fast.

    1. London Calling*

      *Has the in-office environment become so claustrophobic that being out of the building for thirty freaking minutes is seen as “slacking?”*

      I really hope not because I’ve now started taking my lunch hour away from my desk and the internet. The way my office is heading I’m sure that will surface in my appraisal as ‘you don’t spend time with your colleagues.’

    2. New Jack Karyn*

      It’s not that it would be seen as slacking. The advice was that it’s almost certainly fine. The exception would be if the worker was *already* seen as a slacker, in which case this runs the risk of adding to the perception. But unless LW is not in the lowest, say, quintile in her office, she’s on solid ground.

  61. Hiring Mgr*

    It seems like cover letters vary by industry or location.. in my field (technology sales), I’ve rarely sent or received them, other than a “this role looks interesting given my background and I’d love to learn more” type of thing..

    Certainly can’t hurt to send one, but how much better can a custom/tailored one really be over something generic, when at such an early stage the candidate doesn’t know much about the role other than a JD

  62. London Calling*

    *so while the person organizing the event may think the surprise would be lots of fun, they’re only thinking of what’s fun FOR THEM*

    100%. A colleague organised a ‘team building event’ in an escape room. Great, want to bond over a severely claustrophobic colleague going into meltdown? oh no, he didn’t realise, he just went ahead and booked before consulting anyone because HE would enjoy it

  63. SenatorMeathooks*

    Secret Office Party OP: This needs to be brought up to management: what if there is some kind of accident on the trip, or someone has a serious medical event in which treatment is impacted by the remoteness/anonymity of the location, or someone’s kid or spouse needs them? Who is in charge of coordinating the logistics of these possibilities? Is the secretive element so important to keep that they are willing to take on some liability?

  64. hayling*

    I have a chronic neck injury, and I had a horrible experience with a “surprise” teambuilding exercise. My boss wouldn’t tell us where we were going, only to dress warmly (December in San Francisco, so brisk but not freezing). We started walking towards the waterfront from our office and she handed out gloves to everyone. As we got closer I realized that we were going to the holiday ice rink. I had to fight back tears. I love ice skating, and it’s one of the many things I’ve had to give up because of my injury. I stood on the side and played photographer for about 10 minutes to be polite and then went back to the office. I was full-on crying on the way back. They wanted me to come back out to get lunch together, but I just couldn’t muster a smile. After that, I have refused to go to anything that’s a “secret,” and fortunately I’ve had pretty good luck getting event organizers to give me the details if I pinky-swear I won’t tell anyone else.

    1. Super Duper Anon*

      And for me, I would be turning and running too because I just can’t skate. I have horrible ankles and have never been able to balance well on skates, no matter how many times I have tried. I would have been equally annoyed to have to stand around in the cold to be polite.

      1. nnn*

        In my case, the skate rental place isn’t going to have skates that my feet can physically get into!

        Meanwhile, my old skates that I haven’t used since adolescence are still somewhere in my parents’ house, and I could retrieve them if given a couple of weeks’ warning. (Either enough time for me to go visit my parents and find the skates, or enough time for my parents to be able to find a moment to look for them and send them to me.)

  65. Cyrus*

    “I push so strongly for people to write good ones, because it’s such an easy way to make yourself stand out.”

    I haven’t been on the job market for a while, but I remember a few things, and my wife has been job hunting more recently… I’d say that a cover letter is mechanically easy, if you’re OK at written communication to begin with (but loads of people aren’t), but psychologically difficult. Being out of work is bad for most people’s self-esteem. Rejection is rejection, and uncertainty about money is stressful. It’s hard to come up with words to describe how I’d be great at a job comparable to my last one or even better when I can barely get out of bed and dressed.

    1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

      I understand this 100%. I have spent the last few weeks in alternating despair and frustration over my chronic inability to stay employed. I constantly beat myself up and have crying spells where I just can’t deal with how much of a failure I am.

      But. Every job I am even remotely interested in asks for a cover letter of some sort. If I can’t muster up the energy to write *something* that at least marginally addresses how my skills could fit the job, then I should not even bother to apply because it will be an automatic rejection. I know it is a huge psychological hurdle because I stare at that hurdle all day every day myself. But it makes me feel even worse if I don’t make at least a token effort.

  66. Sunflower*

    OP #2- if you’re looking for ways to get better cover letters, I’d say make the job look more desirable to those who would be a good fit and weed out those who won’t. List the salary range, benefits and any other information you think would make a candidate want the job that much more(or let them know right off the bat that it’s not gonna work). Job candidates don’t customize cover letter because it’s unclear if it will ever be read OR their application may get thrown out for not meeting some requirement(like salary requirements not being aligned). But if i read a job description and see they have good benefits, it’s in my salary range and have a note that only people with X skill that I have should apply, I would definitely be inclined to spend some more time on the application and cover letter

  67. Marmaduke*

    What about not calling it a “cover letter”? The first time I wrote a letter focused on the specific reasons that I was a good fit for a specific role in a specific company, I was terrified because I thought I was doing it wrong! My high school Life Skills class really pushed the idea that cover letters are to be a generic restatement of your resume, and as much as I hated sending something so generic, I really thought that was the only right way to do it.

    For applicants who’ve received the same terrible advice I have, a request like “Please include a letter briefly explaining what you can bring to this role that others cannot” might help get them out of the generic cover letter rut.

  68. Echo*

    In light of letter #2 about cover letters, I’m wondering if letter #4’s story about project-managing home construction could actually fit into a cover letter. I think the primary focus of the letter would still need to be work, but if it’s used as an aside to talk about their project management instincts it might work. For example, after listing work-specific experiences, “And I don’t stop project managing when I’m off the clock; I made Gantt charts and color-coded binders when we were redesigning our kitchen and the project came in three months ahead of schedule”. What do others think?

    1. AnotherAlison*

      The only place I see this experience worth mentioning is if she was applying for something like a project coordinator or office manager for a home builder. Otherwise, I would put it into the same category as things like running a marathon — you accomplished a big personal goal. It might be an interesting thing to talk about in an interview in the “getting to know you” part. I would worry that she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know, and it would come of as naive to compare a personal project to work experience.

    2. fposte*

      That’s definitely more likely to be a place where it would fit, and your example is a great model of how to quantify and specify something that could otherwise be a really vague claim. As you say, it wouldn’t substitute for work, and I think it’s most useful if your resume doesn’t show much PM-type experience so you need some additional framing.

      It’s also an example of how voice matters. Your example reminds me of the cover letter Alison posted a few years back by a woman who mentioned wrangling her children in the letter. In both those cases, the reason I’d pay attention wasn’t merely because of the achievement but because in this example and that one it’s got great conversational flow that makes the mention more natural and casual rather than offering it up as an achievement in its own right. So yeah, definitely a cross of #2 and #4 there.

  69. I See Real People*

    One of the locations of my company wanted to do a secret venue teambuilding activity, until the manager told grandboss that it was going to be an escape room venue. I’m not on that team, but just hearing that raised my anxiety.
    I’m a little claustrophobic. The manager had to then make the venue a non-secret. Some people participated, but most opted out.

  70. Coverage Associate*

    Nails. I got yelled at once for going to the doctor over lunch. (I usually stay in.) Corporette has had long conversations about the optics of scheduling doctor appointments over lunch versus after 5 versus during regular business hours. There are certain jobs (big law and banking) where extended and constant availability is a thing.

    Because of the double standards, our secretary gets snarky when our boss gets hair or nails done during the work day.

  71. nnn*

    One thing that strikes me about #1 is if this event doesn’t have any food that meets an individual’s dietary restrictions (the likelihood of which increases when people aren’t allowed to know the plans in advance), they will have to go without eating from 4 pm to 11 pm!

  72. Comet*

    I don’t see how a secret event is in any way team building. So some people know what’s going on, where, etc and they withhold that information from you, which would be dividing a team, not building it. So, then you don’t trust them anymore because they’re essentially lying to you, possibly for a lengthy amount of time. Yeah, great plan…

    I hate surprises.

    The only decent surprises for me at work were: here’s a bonus/money/gift card/wine, where they basically hand me the gift and go away. And any team building events I’ve attended at holiday party/lunches have been, just get through this hour of “team building activity” so we can get out of here. Of course those people I had to work with during the event were completely abusive again as soon as we were back in the office. Yeah, great plan…or you know, waste of time. Dont bother.

  73. Work to live*

    The best way to not be disappointed by a cover letter is to not ask for one. I have never found them effective at conveying anything useful about a candidate (though I work in Tech). It seems to me like you bring the 5 best resumes in for interviews and that’s when you get to learn more about them as people. If the position requires a writing sample, ask for a writing sample, but to me, someone’s passion for a particular job posting likely has no bearing on whether or not they can do an exemplary job. Some of the best employees I’ve hired literally said in interviews that they needed a job and were no more or less excited about this one than the next. I’m sure I’m in the minority here, but I would be super happy if nobody was ever asked for a cover letter again.

  74. bonkerballs*

    Count me in as one of the people who 100% would not go on a surprise work party. How will I know how to dress appropriately? Or if I’m going to need to bring extra supplies/emergency food? Or any number of other little things. Nope, no way I’d be going.

  75. Don't Get Salty*

    [quote] All I know is that buses will leave the office at 4 pm to a secret location with and will take us back at 11 pm. [/quote]

    So the job wants to kidnap you for seven hours. Sounds like fun. What are the chances that it’s a dude/bro activity like kayaking or paintball?

    1. Nanani*

      I’d say high.
      The kind of person who thinks everyone can just roll with this kind of thing is highly unlikely to think about the basic safety issues women are drilled to do constantly, not to mention things like having appropriate footwear and clothing you can move around in.

  76. Emily*

    I thought the nail question was interesting! I used to work at a highly technical, engineering-focused business, and there were maybe 6 women (including the receptionists) in an office of 25. I got a manicure about once a month at lunch. None of the guys ever noticed, but my boss (a woman) did once when I got a unique design. Even then, she just said, “Did you get your nails done? They look good!” Never thought it would look unprofessional.

  77. Kateedoo*

    LW #3 – I also work a salaried office position and often eat at my desk/not use a full “hour break” for lunch. I use my lunch break maybe once a month to get my nails done at a local salon within walking distance. I think the key points for doing this are knowing your culture – do other people run errands on their breaks? If yes, you’re all good.
    I also make sure not be gone more than an hour – not because my work isn’t getting done, I just think the optics are bad if you’re unaccessible/not visible for too long in the middle of the day. I never do it during our busy periods. I don’t do anything too wild at the salon and frankly no one ever notices I had them done. I’m sure they just assume I’m out to lunch, taking a walk, or running an errand. Personally, it’s a great way to spend an hour taking my eyes of my computer, relaxing, or sometimes mulling a work issue over in my mind!

  78. Emily*

    Jumping off of #4 – my father died a year ago and I assumed responsibility for six residential condos leased out to tenants. Due to his illness, he had not been managing the condos very well, and it’s been an insane amount of work (especially as I live across the country – and yes, I hired a property manager). I have done an awesome job, if I do say so myself.

    I am toward the beginning of my career and this is the first time I’ve ever managed a complicated project. I work in commercial real estate, but a back office function. Is it appropriate for me to talk about this experience when applying to future jobs, or in applying to business school?

  79. Nanani*

    #1 “Secret location party” sounds too much like kidnapping
    I wouldn’t even go if my family or friends planned something like that, much less an office!

    No transportation other than the group is an immediate nope by itself.
    Not knowing what the event is also means I can’t know if I can even do the thing.
    “Surprise,we’re touring a distillery!” – I don’t drink alcohol AND the smells are a migraine trigger. Even just waiting outside for transport back would be hell!
    “Surprise, (insert physical activity here)” – I’m not going to be comfortable doing any sport, hiking, whatever in office appropriate clothes. Even in non-heel shoes, I doubt many women’s office clothing gives the freedom of movement needed to do anything sporty. So you’d have say up front “Bring athletic wear” but somehow I doubt the kind of people who want to surprise their colleagues have that kind of consideration.

    Not to mention all the safety risks involved with not knowing where you’re going and by extension, not being to tell your loved ones.

    TL;DR We don’t work in a sitcom, leave the hillarious hijinks and let people opt in.

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