intern keeps pushing for a full-time role, can I invite people for virtual coffees, and more

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

1. My intern keeps pushing for a full-time role

I recently took on my first intern. I let them know from the get-go that I didn’t know if it could evolve into permanent work given the current work pipeline. They are ambitious, smart and eager to learn, and I have done my best to give them “real world” learning experiences so they make their resume look great and get themselves a job.

All of that is good, except in no less than a few weeks, I am getting constant questions from them about potential employment. I have told them, if all goes well and I have the means, I’d love to hire them but I don’t have the ability to answer that right now. I understand why someone interning for a company would want to know their chances for a job (especially in the current climate), but I have been totally transparent and the constant questions are starting to test my patience.

I feel as though, at this point, they really should be focusing on learning and making the most of the opportunity I’m giving them, rather than focusing on jumping to the next step right away. They are starting to apply for full-time roles, which is excellent and as they should do, but these roles are rather senior (and I don’t have to heart to say, are way above their experience level). It’s also confirming my suspicions that this person feels they’ve learnt the entire industry in a few weeks. They’re a great intern other than this, and I’m trying to help, but how do I get them to chill out and just focus while they’re on the job. I wonder if I’ve been too soft by constantly singing their praises when there is a lot to learn. I don’t want to be a jerk, but I am losing my patience.

Be direct: “I’m sorry if I haven’t been clear. I won’t be able to give you any answer on full-time employment until at least August (or whenever), so it’s a conversation we need to table until then.”

If you say that and it continues anyway: “I’m worried we have a disconnect somewhere. I’ve tried to be clear that this isn’t a conversation I’m in a position to have until at least August. Knowing that’s the case — and that we won’t be able to keep having this conversation over and over until then — are you still up for continuing in the internship?”

About the senior jobs they’re applying for, it would be a kindness to say, “Can I give you some thoughts about the job market and what roles you’re most likely to get interviews for? The roles you’re applying for are typically looking for experience like ____. At your level of experience, just starting out, I’d look at jobs like X and Y.” You could add, “I don’t want to discourage you, just want to give you some context that might help if you’re not getting interviews for those.”

2. How can I ask people for virtual coffees?

I’m in the lucky position of still being employed right now, but have been contemplating for more than a year looking for something new. I’m not desperate to leave and do not want to do anything that jeopardizes my job security right now. But I also can’t help but feel like this is an ideal time (from my perspective, as I do have a lot of time indoors to kill) to do some research on other companies, do some networking, maybe connect with a recruiting company.

I’m wondering what your take is on doing these sorts of activities right now. Do requests for virtual coffees read as incredibly out-of-touch or do you think people are more open to these sorts of activities given social distancing measures? Would you advise to limiting networking to people with whom I have some connection, but maybe it’s just been a while?

Ahhhh, this is such a good question. I think it will vary significantly by person. Some people are barely holding things together, with the demands of work, child care, and emotions that could be anywhere from moderate stress to deep anguish. Other people are itching for social interaction and might love to do a virtual networking coffee. But you won’t really know from the outside who’s in which category, especially with strangers.

I’d start with a small handful of people you do have a connection to and approach it in a way that makes it clear you know they might not have the bandwidth for it right now. You could even say, “I know many people’s plates are overflowing right now, and other people have a little extra time to spare. I’d love to talk with you if you’re more in the second group, but I totally understand if you’re in the first.” And then if you don’t get much interest from that, I wouldn’t expand to people you have less connection with. But if that does go well, you could send some similar feelers to a broader group and see how that goes. (Although — I have to say, I’m still somewhat uneasy about that. So many people are struggling right now, and so many companies are hanging on by a thread, that I think you’ll need to pick the contacts really carefully.)

What do others think?

3. I was laid off but a coworker keeps calling with work questions

I was laid off on April 1 from a company I had been at for 23 years. My feeling is the company decided I was not needed and someone else could do my job.

The person who’s supposed to be doing my job now keeps calling me for help. I feel it’s very insensitive of her to expect me to train her when I am not on payroll and don’t know if I’ll be asked to come back. I’ve refused to take her calls. The people she works for should be the ones answering her questions, not me. I feel I don’t owe her or the company any help. Am I wrong in not helping?

No, you’re not wrong. They’ve laid you off and are no longer paying you, and part of what comes with that is that they can no longer call on you for help — and they should know doing that is a crappy move. (Of course, it’s possible the person who replaced you is calling you for help without your company’s knowledge, who knows.)

If you’re hoping they’ll bring you back at some point, it’s smart to be willing to answer a small number of very quick questions (like “where is the X file?” not “can you walk me through the whole history of client X?”). But beyond that, you can say, “I’m sorry, I can’t help — when I applied for unemployment, they made it clear I’d need to report any work I did and it could affect my benefits.” Or you can be more direct: “I can’t help with this kind of question now that I’m off the payroll. I need to focus 100% on my job search.”

4. Is our mask policy discriminatory toward women?

I am an RN, and now with COVID there is an increased chance of needing to wear an N95 mask for patient care. My manager sent out an email letting us know that men with facial hair will be expected to shave and get fitted for a mask if the need arises (there aren’t enough masks for everyone to get their yearly fit test, so instead you get fitted if you are assigned a patient). In the past, they let men slide on this and airborne patients went to women or to men without facial hair.

Is this gender discrimination? By growing facial hair, which isn’t an option for most women, men have been allowed to avoid taking high-risk patients (those with TB, shingles, etc). It has always frustrated me, and once things go back to normal I was wondering if I had any standing to push back when we go back to letting men essentially opt out.

I’m not a lawyer, but it sure sounds like gender discrimination to me. If the end result of a policy is that only women end up with high-risk patients, that’s a problem.

(That said, I’m thinking about how this would affect Black men, who are significantly more likely to have an inflammatory condition that makes it painful to shave, or men who wear beards for religious reasons. You’d need to make medical and religious exceptions, and if I were your employer, I’d want a lawyer’s advice on navigating this legally and ethically.)

5. When can you offer your pronouns during a hiring process?

My sibling S just graduated college and is starting to apply to jobs in nursing. They also just came out as non-binary and use they/them pronouns. When applying for jobs, all online applications have asked for them to volunteer their gender if they want to, but the options are only male, female, or prefer not to say. There is never a space for giving your pronouns.

I would say S has a “traditionally feminine” first name and currently has no plans of changing their name to something more androgynous. They doesn’t want to make their gender identity A Thing, but they do want to share their pronouns so they aren’t misgendered throughout the hiring process with potential employers. However, because there are so many online applications for medical jobs, there’s not really a good spot to bring attention to it without it being A Thing. Is it worth addressing in the application phase? During an interview? After an offer? What are your thoughts?

One easy way to do it is to include their pronouns after their name on their resume and in their cover letter. Hiring managers are more likely to have those documents in front of them during an interview than fields from the online application anyway (and so they could skip that question in the application, or answer “prefer not to say”).

The caveat here is that some people are still super uncomfortable with offering your pronouns or with using they/them, and so S may be at a disadvantage with them. But I’d argue that’s just fine, since S presumably wants to screen out employers that aren’t welcoming to non-binary folks or who think talking about your pronouns is weird or off-putting, so S ends up in a job where they’re treated well. But it’s a thing to be aware of (and one I’m sure S is already aware of, but the answer doesn’t feel complete without that acknowledgement).

{ 315 comments… read them below }

  1. Lena Clare*

    2. I personally like the idea a lot, but Allison is right that you must pick your contacts carefully.

    5. Absolutely put your preferred pronouns after your name (Sam Dibs (they/them))! Since anyone who objects to that isn’t a place you’d want to work, it works out.

    1. Radiant Peach*

      They could also include their pronouns in their email signature. I’ve found that this is quite common in my field nowadays.

      1. Mama Bear*

        This is definitely becoming more common. I think the signature would be a good place for it and if they have a “prefer not to say/other” slot, they shouldn’t be surprised to see they/them in someone’s application.

      2. Stormy Weather*

        My office encourages adding pronouns to signatures or introducing ourselves at meetings, but doesn’t require it. A lot of people do so.

      3. Not Rebee*

        I saw this in an email the other day and then one of my coworkers asked me a question about the email “she” sent and I got so uncomfortable on the person’s behalf (third party – I work in contracts). The name was… I don’t know how to put this delicately, but it was not white sounding and so I actually don’t know what gender I’d have assumed anyway – coworker determined must be she because the name ended with an A. Please do this so that people can stand up for you, even if you’re never going to meet them face to face or send more than 4 emails.

  2. Mid*

    I feel for that poor intern. Not saying OP is doing anything wrong here, because they aren’t! But that poor intern. And anyone job hunting right now.

    1. pcake*

      I don’t feel sorry for the intern at all. They accepted – and first applied for – an internship, not a job. They have nagged to try and turn it into a job opportunity after being told clearly this was an internship. I was emotionally smarter than this when I was 12 – literally. Nagging people makes them uncomfortable, NOT the best way to get something you want from them, but a great way to show the other person’s priorities aren’t important to you.

      From the letter, I suspect that perhaps the intern took the internship in bad faith, having gotten bad advice that this would be the perfect way to sort of sneak into a job at that company through the side door of an internship when a job wasn’t available. Not only that, but they have such an unrealistic view of life that they’re applying for senior roles after a few weeks in the industry.

      I would have been very clear after the first time they tried to ask about a job that I wouldn’t be willing to discuss that until they were at least three quarters of the way through their internship. I would explain that this would give me the time to see what was happening financially, and to see how they were learning the work and fitting into the culture. The second time they’d have asked, I would have cut them off politely to remind them we already had that conversation and nothing had changed. The third time would have been to ask the if they wanted to continue with the internship.

        1. Happy Pineapple*

          @NoLongerStuckInRetailHell, “but gumption!!” was the first thing that came to my mind as well! If the intern is relatively new to the workforce I’d bet money that some well-meaning but misinformed parent or career advisor told the intern to do this. Some of the worst yet most common job seeking advice is to just keep asking until something is available because it shows persistence.

          1. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

            “The squeaky wheel gets the grease!” is probably what they heard

      1. AcademiaNut*

        I think I’d go with with sympathetic exasperation. It’s a mistake that comes from inexperience and enthusiasm, but it’s also a pain in the neck for the supervisor.

        I do think that the OP should sit them down and talk about what jobs they should be applying for, even if it’s an awkward conversation. Otherwise the intern is going to be putting a lot of effort into a job search that is guaranteed to fail. I wouldn’t counter on their being able to figure out what they’re doing wrong on their own, because even a job search for appropriate jobs might not go well right now.

        1. Colette*

          I think it would be nice if the OP talked with the intern about jobs she should be applying to, but I don’t think she needs to do so if that would be more effort than she’s willing to put in. It’s OK for the intern to fail at getting jobs she’s not qualified for – that’s one of the things that will help her calibrate what she should actually be targeting.

        2. MusicWithRocksIn*

          In ways it might prevent the intern from getting hired. I would become wary that the persistence would come out in other areas, when they want a big project or a different desk or a raise they would just never take “later” as an answer and would constantly irritate their manager.

          1. WantonSeedStitch*

            I love your handle, and feel the need to ask whether you’re on a mission from Glod.

            And yes, I agree–asking “what do I need to do to get X?” is fine, whether X is a full-time job, a promotion, an award, a raise or a big project. But if you keep pushing and pushing after being told “there isn’t anything more you can do right now, we need to wait and see if and when the situation will be possible,” you need to sit down and be patient, or look somewhere else for what you want. I would get INCREDIBLY frustrated with a report who kept pestering me like that. Drive and ambition are good; impatience and inability to accept the situation are not.

        3. I Love Llamas*

          Borrowing “sympathetic exasperation” it goes well with my “feral cats” description of colleagues running amuck.

        4. Falling Diphthong*

          I can kind of align with this. Lots of people out there had internships canceled, so it’s a bit frustrating to hear of someone who actually nabbed one and is failing to pick up clues.

          Second to have the awkward conversation. The intern is too inexperienced to know what they don’t know, which is understandable, but aiming them at the right level of starting job is one of those business norms that is expected in the mentor-intern relationship.

        5. Quill*

          Most people going into an internship are told by someone – college coach, older relatives, friend of a friend whose internship became an actual position – that it’s a good way to get their foot in the door.

          I’d hope OP being up front about how job searching works in their industry to this intern is a feasible option, sooner rather than later.

      2. Fikly*

        Repeatedly trying to turn your internship into a job just a few weeks into it, after you’ve been told no multiple times, is ridiculous and shows a clear lack of understanding of how real life works, and is a clear indication of why this person needs an internship, and is not ready for a regular job.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I match what is coming at me. The first time I answer the question with a good, solid explanation.
          The second time, I remind them of the first time and give an abbreviated version of the explanation.
          The third time, “We have already talked about this. In the past you and I have discussed workplace norms. So this comes under the heading of workplace norms. It’s really not appropriate to keep asking a question like this once it has been answered. To keep asking can sound off-putting and in some cases, but not all, might turn off an employer from hiring you on.”

          On a personal level, I have to say though that as a woman when I stopped asking I found that the people who KEPT asking were the ones who got the job. I tend to think that women get mixed signals on this one.
          Hindsight is 20/20, right? If I had to do it all over again, I probably would have kept asking in some situations because the ones who did were the ones who made out better. It’s kind of a pet peeve of mine- “Stop asking me so I can hire others who DO keep asking me.”
          My suggestion, OP, is to just say that your answer remains the same as the last time they asked. Or you could say that your company is one where a person asks once and then lets the conversation go.

          1. Artemesia*

            This. It is a delicate dance because bad managers often procrastinate. I can imagine a situation where a manager of an intern pushes them away early on and then later says ‘well, wish you had spoken up as the hiring is all done now.’ We all know of situations where the raise or promotion will be happening ‘soon’ but never happens without pretty aggressive behavior by the person seeking the promotion. So it is not obvious where being pushy is necessary and where it is disastrous for one’s ambitions.

          2. JSPA*

            Someone should write a corporate version of, “He’s just not that into you.”

            I tend to think it’s equally likely that they were going to make the same choices regardless of when you asked, how you asked, or how often you asked (for discriminatory, personal, or whatever other reasons).

            That you’re still second-guessing yourself about what you did wrong is part of the burden they were happy to leave with you; but that you can put down any old time, now, if you’re tired of toting it.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Perhaps I am misunderstanding what you have here, but no, I am not tired of advocating for women in the workplace.

              1. JSPA*

                I laud you for advocating, especially if you’re in a position where you can make that advocacy stick!

                I refer to, “when I stopped asking I found that the people who KEPT asking were the ones who got the job.”

                This implies that you believe that if you’d only asked at the right moment, you’d have gotten the job. Why? Because someone blew you off by saying that you’d asked too early, or asked too late? Because people who asked, after YOU had been encouraged to stop asking, were promoted / hired / given raises?

                Now, maybe the other people who kept asking, did so after they were told to stop. But you don’t say that. Maybe they kept asking because they were…encouraged to keep asking.

                Once people in power have decided to pick favorites, the scapegoat or even the non-golden child doesn’t cover themselves in newfound glory by asking again; they just drive their reference deeper into the dust. Because if one thing’s becoming ever more clear these days, it’s that we don’t exist on a level playing field, and that no part of society is a simple meritocracy, where people are promoted on some simple combination of “skill,” “merit,” and “speaking up at the right time.”

                I’m saying that “feeling responsible for not having spoken up at the magic moment” is the same sort of BS that people chew over, after someone has ghosted them after a date, or fed them a line of BS for why they never called back. Inviting the rejected person to do engage in soul searching and analysis for what was, in fact, a choice that the rejector is 100% responsible for is, sadly, all too common.

                If it feels empowering (though I don’t see why it would) then, hey, continue to claim agency in the matter. Maybe it’s so! Maybe, despite working with you, and seeing your work, and paying your paycheck, they…just forgot about you that time.

                But from where I stand, it makes more sense to stop second guessing yourself after all these years, and accept that they fed you a line to somehow make THEIR (predetermined) choice feel like YOUR failure.

                “My boss was too closed-minded to so much as pretend to consider me, and too much of a coward to tell me so”–try it on for size, see if it fits, and have a clarifying and ideally liberating moment of retroactive rage, if so.

                Then, keep on advocating, now that you’re in a position to do so.

              2. FIkly*

                It’s great that you have the energy for that fight. It’s equally valid for people not to have the energy, and not do so, whether they are taking a break or not doing it at all. You have to put on your own mask first.

        2. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

          “lack of understanding of how real life works, and is a clear indication of why this person needs an internship, and is not ready for a regular job.”


          1. Artemesia*

            In ‘real life’ people who are pushy are often the ones who ‘win’ though. Those who wait for the boss to follow through on an old promise often get overlooked or ignored. Assertive people tend to do better than those who only stand and wait. So judging the moment is not easy for a newbie.

            1. Dogana Lopreto*

              Artemesia is exactly right. Sure, the ambitious may offend someone along the way, but more often they’ll be the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. Better to lose two stellar opportunities but win one, than to lose all three because you weren’t on anyone’s radar screen.

        3. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs*

          Exactly. And I think the answer to OP’s question here: ” I wonder if I’ve been too soft by constantly singing their praises when there is a lot to learn” is YES. The most valuable learning experience for the intern will be to tone down the praise to a realistic level, show them what they still need to learn, and guide them towards realistic jobs for their experience level. It’s not a kindness to inflate the self-perception of someone who is already out ahead of themselves.

        4. BluntBunny*

          It depends on the cycle in the Europe a year placement or summer placement could start in August/September and positions for graduate roles open in September/October as well. So you would have to apply pretty soon after starting for entry roles the closing dates are usually before end of the year.

          When I had my internship there was an option to have your placement extended to the end of summer to be able to train the next intern. If there are options like this or tell the intern what departments typically hire entry roles or when they are due to open. If there is hiring freeze in the company I would let the intern know that.

      3. LifeBeforeCorona*

        There is also the possibility of the intern going above their manager’s head in search of a job. It’s not a good look for the manager if the intern is canvassing other people and/or departments in search of work instead of doing the job they were hired for.

        1. irene adler*

          We had a temp who did exactly this. She did not have the knowledge to do the job (first year chemistry). So I was helping her. Only, she wasn’t retaining any instruction I gave her. Like a blank slate every day. Useless.
          Meanwhile, she was going to the department head (two levels up), asking him when she’d be hired on. He told her he’d heard nothing negative about her performance. It was just a matter of time. She would relay this to the entire lab, telling us she would be hired on “soon”.

          She kept at him.

          Well, one day we had layoffs. She (and two other temps) were gone.

          I spoke to the department head about her. Was he actually going to hire her? Yes, if we’d needed another lab tech.
          I explained how I’d been the one coaching her along the entire time. And she wasn’t retaining the knowledge.
          Point taken.
          Now he asks about the performance of any temps we bring in. Are they doing the job or are we needing to constantly assist them?

      4. Temperance*

        My worst intern – I mean, he’s legendary for being awful and his name is synonymous with “shitty intern” – also had this weird level of confidence that we were going to hire him, when we absolutely didn’t have a job. He didn’t impress me, or anyone.

        1. AKchic*

          Sounds like a temp worker my last retail employer had hired for the holiday season. Her second week, she went around telling everyone that she was going to be staying on after the holidays (it was almost Halloween at this point, and we were still hiring temp staff, none of the regular staff had any plans of leaving). We all smiled and nodded.
          Thanksgiving rolls around. She’s still telling everyone who will listen that she is a permanent employee. She misses a shift every other week minimum, she doesn’t restock, she doesn’t do half of the front-line duties, she keeps going around the head cashier and the front-line managers when she doesn’t want to do something and tries to bring customers into her work disputes. But oh, they are going to keep her on full time after the holiday season. ‘They’ promised. Even the customers are looking dubious about it.
          Early December, she’s now refusing to do anything but stand as a greeter, ten-items-or-less register, or the liquor/cigarette register. No restocking. No cleaning. No bagging. She’s openly arguing with leads and assistant managers. But she assures us that the store manager (yep, this part has now changed) assured her that he is keeping her on after the holidays. She is now starting to ask to leave early every day, and is coming in late “due to road conditions” (it is Alaska in the winter, it could be a viable excuse except she works the day shift and she doesn’t live very far away and the roads are plowed very well in that area).
          She got fired before December 15th. I only remember because it was before payday and she made an open scene about it, hollering that we’d need her for the final rush before Christmas. We didn’t.

      5. sb51*

        Eh, given timing, they may well have applied and been accepted for the internship pre-pandemic, and the company might have, at that time, had a well-greased internship-to-job pipeline, where if an intern does well they’re not guaranteed, but they’re very likely to get an offer.

        Not understanding that things have changed, and the difference between junior and senior roles: big problems! But coming in expecting the internship to basically be a trial period for a full-time job might have been a fair assumption at some companies.

      6. juliebulie*

        In addition, I think it would be a good idea to remind the intern to focus on the actual internship for now, since that seems not to be where their head is at.

      7. MissDisplaced*

        I’ve run into a few interns like this. I’m not sure where they get their advice from, but man some are super PUSHY when it was clear it was just a temporary INTERNship.

        It’s fine to ask if internships ever turn into full time offers, and indicate they are interested if that is the case, but they really shouldn’t expect this as the norm.

    2. Mystery Bookworm*

      I’m sympathetic as well based on my own experience launching into the white collar world and working with other interns. I’m assuming here that this intern is relatively new to the work world, so I think it’s possible that a lot of what OP (and others) is reading as entitlement/pushiness might really be naivete or lack of good mentorship prior to this.

      I know several authority figures in my life (family, teachers) would have given me long speeches about how “you have to push so they remember you” and “don’t take no for an answer” etc. And it’s difficult, when you’re new to an environment, to sort out the good advice from the bad. (Not to mention the confusing experience of the cultural narrative that we should respect and listen to people with more experience running up against the reality that people with more experience don’t all agree with each other when they offer advice.)

      And without knowing more, I don’t think the job applications alone are a sign that the intern feels they’ve learned the whole industry. I think it’s far more likely that they’re not completly used to job postings/internal lingo and they’re not really able to accurately judge how these (often vague and buzz-wordy) descriptions match up with day to day tasks.

      Based only on this letter, I think it would be a real kindness for OP to be more frank with the intern. It doesn’t read to me like someone who’s too big for their britches, just someone inexperienced….which was all of us at some point and is all of us at some things.

      1. Fikly*

        How many times do you make the same request after being told no before it becomes pushiness?

        Someone telling you to push, and believing them, does not make it not pushiness. If that’s the case, it literally is pushiness, because that’s what they’ve been told to do. They’ve made a bad call to listen to, and they need to learn better judgement, but it’s definitely pushiness.

        If they’ve been surrounded their entire life by people who give in if they ask enough times, well, they’re going to have to learn that not everyone is like that. If not, why do they think it’s different in the workplace?

        Regarding the job applications, I rarely see any that don’t list a minimum years of experience requirement, so while other parts can be vague, I have a hard time imagining that kind of misunderstanding.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          In this case, I am willing to bet that the intern did not hear “no” in anything OP said. Hence, yeah, keep pushing.

          OP can directly say, “We will discuss this during x week of your internship, but we will not discuss it before then.” Then mark your calendar, OP, because you KNOW the intern has marked theirs.

          1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

            “In this case, I am willing to bet that the intern did not hear “no” in anything OP said.”

            Exactly. I was reading the OP’s letter and thinking “Be more explicit to the intern.”

            1. Remote HealthWorker*

              Yeah. The “I would love to hire you if something comes up” is not nearly Frank enough. Interns require directness. Try “I won’t know until August of we are posting a role and then you will have to apply like everyone else.” Level of Frankness.

            2. Annony*

              I think this is exactly what is happening. The OP isn’t saying no. They are saying maybe. The intern is interpreting that as “ask again later” with no clearly defined date for “later”. The OP is probably best served by telling the intern that they probably won’t be able to hire her because it doesn’t look like there will be a position available, but that the OP will let her know if that changes.

            3. A*

              Yup. Especially given that OP admittedly ‘didn’t have the heart’ to let the intern know they were applying to positions more senior than what she qualifies for. OP is supposed to be guiding intern, and intern clearly needs guiding… so please… guide!

              So many of us have someone along the lines that – thankfully, but painfully – help us realize the ‘gumption’ script is bs….. sorry OP, but apparently it’s your turn!

            4. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

              Yessss. I feel like they maybe also need to say something like “I need you to focus on the job you’re doing now, not a hypothetical job”

          2. Yorick*

            It’s possible that OP didn’t say anything that sounded like a hard no. Something like “I’d love to be able to hire you but I’m not sure yet if we’ll have a job opening” might kind of sound like “ask me later.” What OP wanted to say was more like “there are no job openings right now, and it’s unclear/unlikely that there will be one this fall, given the economy/whatever.”

            1. Lynn Whitehat*

              Yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like! I don’t know why anyone would say “I’d love to be able to hire you but I’m not sure yet if we’ll have a job opening” and *not* expect follow-up.

            2. A*

              Yes, especially when I was first starting out and getting my feet wet in the working world – I was ever the optimist, and without the experience to counter it, could easily have misconstrued purposefully vague responses as … “well, it’s not a no!”

          3. CheeryO*

            Bingo. I’m absolutely reading this as naivete combined with a kind of immature self-centeredness, and I can relate. The intern just needs to hear a hard no, maybe combined with an explicit, “I have been completely transparent with you, and I will tell you if anything changes.”

            When I was an intern with zero clue about workplace norms, I totally thought that management must have been keeping an eye on me and discussing my performance regularly, because why wouldn’t they? I was new and trying my best and everyone else was being nice to me. It was an eye-opener when I did a final presentation and my boss’s boss was just like, “Oh, nice job this summer. I didn’t know you were working on all that. Well, keep in touch!”

            1. Lynn Whitehat*

              Yeah, internships are a bridge between school, where everything is done for your development, and work, where tasks need doing and your development is secondary. I could totally see that happening. It’s always interesting to see that disconnect.

              I’ve had interns tell me in earnest that “well, I know how to test widgets now, so I’m ready to move on.” Well, this isn’t school. You don’t move on once you’ve mastered the material. We need widgets tested, and you doing it frees up a full-time employee for more complex tasks.

              I don’t mind, as long as they listen to feedback. Part of the point of internships is making this adjustment in a relatively low-stakes environment.

              1. Dogana Lopreto*

                I’ve had interns tell me in earnest that “well, I know how to test widgets now, so I’m ready to move on.” Well, this isn’t school. You don’t move on once you’ve mastered the material. We need widgets tested, and you doing it frees up a full-time employee for more complex tasks.

                This is not necessarily true if it’s an unpaid internship. The Department of Labor guidelines for those state that the training must be to the benefit of the intern.

              2. JSPA*

                Legally, if it’s unpaid, or paid less than minimum wage, it actually IS school. You’re not allowed to use them, past the point where they’ve learned the task, to free up other employees. And, if they are paid, they’re still there to learn “about the business” and about what working is like, beyond repeatedly doing the most menial job. Interns are not “the lowest level of temp.”

            2. Lentils*

              For sure. I think your phrasing- “naivete combined with immature self-centredness” captures it perfectly. And I think that’s the best way to approach the intern. They mean well, they’re eager, but untested and probably unaware of professional norms. There’s a way to demonstrate empathy while remaining clear that their brand of persistence is unwelcome and will do harm. One thing for the OP to note is the intern may sulk, or even quit if they hear that there are no immediate FT opportunities. Which is okay! It’s a valuable professional lesson.

              Story: we once had an intern who was doing good work. He’d recently moved to the area and was brought as a post-grad for the summer. A month into the internship, he asked when he’d be hired. I said we had no open positions and explained how our funding worked and that creating a position just for him wasn’t feasible. To try and keep it not so soul-crushing, I pointed him towards resources, showed him how hiring works in our field and specifically called out a few programs within our org that have high turnover (positions designed to remain entry-level so people without experience get 1-2 years under their belt before moving on). He… just stopped showing up. Did not respond to emails or phone calls. Annnd two months later, at what would have been the end of his program, my department had an opening that would have been a perfect fit.

              1. irene adler*

                Ouch! I wonder if he ever learned about that open position (and is kicking himself).

                1. Lentils*

                  I think he did, actually. One of his references saw the job opening posted and emailed us. When we informed her that the intern quit and wouldn’t be considered, she tried to argue in his favor.

          4. Karou*

            I suspect that too. This line of the letter jumped out at me: “I have told them, if all goes well and I have the means, I’d love to hire them but I don’t have the ability to answer that right now.” That sounds to me like the OP does intend to hire the intern at some but without a set time to decide. Does the internship have a set end date? Is it a paid internship? If the internship is indefinite, and especially if it’s unpaid, I could see the intern being anxious about whether they can count on a job with OP or not so they keep asking.

          5. Dust Bunny*

            That’s what I was thinking: This sounds more like a “nooooomaybe” than a “no”, especially if you’re inexperienced and hopeful. I think the OP needs to lean harder on the “no” side and drastically downplay the “we’ll have to see” part, which has the appearance of leaving the door more open than it probably is.

            I mean, we all get it, but we’re (relatively) old and not interns. I think I would have been overly optimistic about this answer when I was 21, too.

        2. Yorick*

          Yeah, the job description is sometimes vague and buzzwordy, but the minimum qualifications are usually super clear. And people who are just naive and don’t know much about the work world would usually think everything in that section is required.

        3. EPLawyer*

          This is kinda the point of an internship — to learn these norms like stop pushing. If someone doesn’t have that background, or got really bad advice from someone they respect, they might not realize how bad the pushing is making them. If they go home and say well I asked boss again about the job thing and she said no, the poor adviser could well be saying a no today could be a yes tomorrow. If you don’t keep asking you will never get what you want. Squeaky wheel gets the grease you know.

          There’s a LOT of bad advice out there. Look at all the letters Alison gets. Boss needs to be clear but also make this part of a longer converstion about how the working world well, works. That its not 1956 and gumption doesn’t get you a job anymore. You can’t just apply and they will see be impressed that you are willing to stretch yourself so they will hire you. that covers the intership AND the applications. Interships are an ongoing teaching moment.

          1. Littorally*

            Agreed. OP is doing the intern a bit of a disservice, I think, by expecting them to know already that they should not push like this and to know what kind of roles they should be applying for. Sure, some people already know that, but internships are the place to learn that if you don’t already know! So an explicit conversation about both things would be a good way to go.

        4. Academic Addie*

          On the flip side, how many times do you need to ask before you answer directly? If OP has gotten this far in their career by avoiding taking strong stances, they need to change that now. When you have interns, you’re responsible for developing their skills, but also your own leadership skills. That means learning to communicate directly.

      2. MK*

        It may not be arrogance, but it may also not be as simple as not knowing how to read postings. In every learning curve there is usually a phase where you know enough to think you know everything, but not enough to know that you don’t know everything. What I mean is, when a new worker becomes accustomed to their job duties, and especially if they take to them easily and excell at them, it’s a common pitfall to think that’s all there is to the job (when in reality they haven’t been exposed to the more challenging parts, because they are too new) and that they are ready for the next step upwards (which they may think they can do equally easily, since they don’t know all it entails).

        But whatever is the case, the best think the OP can do is be more direct with the intern, it’s up to them if they take the advice.

        1. Sled dog mama*

          This is so true about not knowing how to read postings. When I first started in my field I was so frustrated because I could not find anything that was straight out of school experience level (school includes a lot of practical experience so it’s not zero experience), everything wanted 3 years experience. Turns out that in my field 3 years experience is code for entry level/we expect to be teaching this person a lot of the practice of the job.
          5+ years is code for we’ll teach you our Documentation procedures but you better have your act together on how to do Z, Y and X and 10+ is code for we expect you have a definite opinion on how and why to do things and be able to design a program for Z, Y and X from scratch.

      3. Lynn*

        When I interned several years ago, I met interns from different universities and was SHOCKED by some of the terrible advice that other interns had received from their university career services. The job may be the first place where people can really sort out the good advice from the bad

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I don’t get this sentiment. It’s great to be ambitious, but thinking you’re going to get promoted after a few weeks is beyond realistic. At my last company, we hired first level help desk employees from a contracting company and it always amazed me how many of them were frustrated that they hadn’t been promoted after a few months. And being new to the professional world and not knowing a lot of things, it only screams of entitlement. Even if OP wasn’t clear and direct about their needs I wouldn’t feel sorry for the intern. It’s been WEEKS and they need to slow their roll.

      1. sssssssssssssssssssssssss*

        Had that once. What was odd about her stance was she came from a union, worked for us (and we are also a union) and it’s all done by seniority. Always by seniority (or you risk grievances). She had just arrived and seniority doesn’t even start ticking until six months in and she was in the wrong staff union. She left in a bit of a huff, from what I understand. It was really odd.

    4. Doe-Eyed*

      The OP isn’t doing anything wrong, but I also think it’s a little tone deaf to wonder why the intern is pushing when we have literal record setting unemployment and the means they were using to help support themselves (as internships are notoriously non- or low-paid) may no longer exist. This also means they may no longer have access to healthcare, and when their internship is up, presumably they don’t qualify for unemployment.

      The problem seems to be:
      “I might be homeless in a few months if I don’t get a real job” vs. “Answering this question more than once is annoying”

      1. Colette*

        The thing is, asking more than once is hurting the intern’s chance to get a job, not helping it. It’s OK to be annoyed by annoying things, even if the person doing them has understandable reasons for doing so.

        1. Doe-Eyed*

          Yes, but they’re an intern. They’re there to learn about these norms. The OP seems to be giving vague “We’ll look into this later” answers, rather than saying “No, this isn’t in the pipeline and let’s not discuss it until August (or whenever)”, and then discussing how the behavior may affect their chances.

      2. OP (Intern question)*

        Hey there, this is OP.

        Thanks for your response here and I think there is some great advice in this thread – I’m reading and learning too. I do want to clarify, that I do understand why the intern is pushing to find out about a job and did mention this in my post. My question to Ask A Manager was centrered around “How do I get my intern to re-focus on the job and learning experience at hand”. See below:

        “They’re a great intern other than this, and I’m trying to help, but how do I get them to chill out and just focus while they’re on the job. I wonder if I’ve been too soft by constantly singing their praises when there is a lot to learn. I don’t want to be a jerk, but I am losing my patience.”

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I’m sympathetic after having seen whole fields (thankfully, not mine) suddenly switch to offering unpaid or low-paid internships to people with college degrees, instead of FT entry-level jobs; with the “maybe someday fulltime job” carrot dangling at the end of the stick. An ex’s daughter did that for a year. Lived with grandparents, commuted to her unpaid job for two hours one way, and worked retail on weekends to have spending money. She’d graduated with honors from a decent-ranking private school. Admittedly, the OP’s letter does not say if the intern is a college senior trying to get a feel of the work world, or a college grad who took an offer of an internship because we are in a recession and they needed to eat and nothing else was available.

      1. WorkingGirl*

        Yeah. Unpaid internships used to be for college students with no experience. And then an unpaid internship lead to a fulltime job. Now you need experience for an unpaid internship, and oodles and oodles of unpaid internships to MAYBE get a fulltime job.

      2. Valegro*

        My industry loves that new grads with doctorates can be expected to work 80-100 hours a week for under $30k for their internship. It’s a vicious cycle of “I had to suffer a year of abuse and now so do you” mixed with some Stockholm Syndrome on the part of past interns who say they were suicidal from exhaustion, but LEARNED SO MUCH!!!! that it was all worth it.

    6. Lynn*

      This + 100

      This is speculative — but I wonder if the current job market is why the intern may be pushier than they might typically be, and why they may be applying to higher level jobs than they should (because there may not be many entry-level positions in their area right now)

    7. LeighTX*

      I’m going to fall on the side of compassion here. My daughter was lucky enough to land an internship (unpaid) this summer and she will graduate in August. She has a part-time retail job but is currently furloughed, and has to be out of her campus apartment on August 7. What will she do after that? We don’t know! It depends! The internship might hire her! They might not! The retail job might come back! It might not! She lives four hours away, so commuting from “home” isn’t an option. Should she sign a lease somewhere else? Should she move back here? The uncertainty is thick around here, and I can sympathize with an intern who just wants to KNOW something.

      But yeah, OP, be straight with them and make it clear you just don’t have answers.

  3. AnonyNurse*

    4: why aren’t people with facial hair given PAPRs to wear? There are lots of people who can’t be properly fitted for N95s. But there are other options. And there most assuredly were in the good ol’ pre-pandemic, ample PPE days. This sounds obnoxiously discriminatory in many ways. While some may not want to care for airborne precaution patients, it could also be career limiting, restricting what units you can work on or what promotions you can have (can’t have a mask-less person on the code team). Thus the policy may penalize both N95 wearers for having to care for the higher risk patients AND those who can’t, because of facial hair, size, head shape, disability, etc. Hard to see why anyone has put up with this. Perfect example of “but it’s always been this way.”

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      I do agree that it is boarder line discriminatory. However, perhaps those with facial hair don’t have because of religion/medical reasons like what Alison said.
      I did a quick search of the PAPR, as I’m not in the medical field and hadn’t heard of the term. I think the problem could be that they look less cost effective than the standard N95 masks.
      If the OP is comfortable enough talking with someone about this at work (a manager, HR) perhaps she could gently bring it up. I would caution not pointing out specific people. Like don’t say, why isn’t Jake Being made to shave, so that only us women sent the ones working with high risk patients. That would get into a lot of territory that the HR or manger can’t or shouldn’t answer (medical condition or religion).

      1. Eeeek*

        It seems to me that using the tools that allow you to see patients would be considered an “essential duty” but I’m way out of my depth here

      2. ..Kat..*

        I am a female nurse (work as a bedside ICU nurse) who is unable to get a proper seal with an N95 mask. And no, I don’t have a beard. That is what PAPR is for. I t isn’t just people with beards who have problems with fit.

        The problem is that your workplace is not providing PAPRs. They cost money, but are reusable. The only thing that needs to be changed out between users is the front face shield. But, an individual person can keep the face shield and reuse it many times. I have been using the same face shield for about a month (I do clean it off between different patients).

        People also need training on how to properly use PAPRs. Doesn’t take long.

        Seriously, this is a “your workplace is not providing staff with equipment needed to do the job safely” issue.

        1. WS*

          +1, the only reason for the “N95 only” is if that’s all that’s available right now where the OP works. And in most places, PPE supplies are now available. I have a really big head and have problems with N95 too (though one brand fits ok!)

        2. Paul Pearson*


          I saw an inspiration piece about Sikh medical professionals who were shaving their beards despite religious prohibition because they wanted to help and needed to be fitted for masks and thought at the time that, while I have the deepest respect for them for doing that, why have we put them in the position where they have to?

          1. Avasarala*

            That is very moving. What good, brave people.

            Since there is a solution that doesn’t require this question, easy to go with that.
            But if there wasn’t, I don’t see why it can’t be handled like every other necessary job duty that people don’t like, like being on call at night or having to carry heavy things up a flight of stairs or something. If you have a medical or similar reason why you can’t be on call at night, then maybe there’s an accommodation that can be found where you pitch in elsewhere. But if the job is Night Phone Operator, then maybe you can’t do this job.

            The solution is never “let people off who just don’t want to do it.” Especially when the people doing it are taking big risks and making sacrifices like this example.

          2. LifeBeforeCorona*

            Yes, I was coming here to mention that story. It was one of the first heartwarming incidents that I read about when this whole pandemic nightmare began.

          3. MissM*

            Yes, there’s a good article about how it sets up what is a false choice for other Sikhs and others with religious prohibitions on shaving, when it’s their employer who has failed them by not having alternative PPE available and causing conflict between two religious tenets of being of service to those in need and not shaving.

            1. Eukomos*

              There was (and to some extent still is) a drastic worldwide shortage of PPE, there simply weren’t enough machines to make it with. The scale of the COVID pandemic was well beyond anyone’s preparation, it’s pretty unfair to put the blame squarely on the shoulders of individual employers for not keeping what would have been multi-year stockpiles of PPE before this disaster hit.

        3. Eleaner*

          Hi! Safety person here, we have some rather petite people and people with slightly off from average face shapes that have had a similar issues with PPE. (Clearly post mask shortages) If your purchaser of masks hasn’t done this yet, they can get representatives from your supplier to come in to help find a model that fits you. I understand that doesn’t help in the short term, but in the long term I hope they get more sizes for you!

      3. Fikly*

        Them being less cost effective is not a good reason to not use them for the exception cases. It’s a good reason not to use them by default. It’s the employer’s responsibility to provide the needed equipment for employees to do their jobs safely. They don’t get to skip out on meeting OSHA requirements because of cost.

        I’m wondering if people can opt out of high-risk patients regardless of gender for whatever reason. If that’s the case, it’s less discriminatory toward women, but if you can’t opt out, then yes, problem.

        1. Hosta*

          On all the units I’ve worked, you can opt out of certain infectious patients if you’re pregnant, because of the risk of birth defects that come with those diseases. Otherwise…no. Because taking care of infectious patients is your job, and you could easily end up in a situation where everyone had opted out of taking care of a patient, and so there’s no one to actually do it.

          This also applies to jerk patients, racist patients, violent and sexually inappropriate patients, though at least a good unit will do their best to rotate who gets the bad one, and if a patient send to have a problem with a specific nurse, or has badly assaulted them, they’re usually not assigned to that nurse again. If possible.

          Nursing blows that way. If no one will take care of someone, even if they have really valid reasons, that someone might die.

          1. Fikly*

            That’s how it was in the ER I worked at as well, pregnancy exeption.

            I figured that was likely the case, but I try not to assume, so would want to verify that, because if nothing else, if there were more freedom to avoid high risk cases, it’d be harder to prove discrimmination.

        1. wendelenn*

          Wow, that is fascinating, had no idea there were so many names for different types of facial hair!

    2. Hosta*

      Not providing people with the proper safety gear to do their jobs sure sounds like discrimination to me. I know PAPRs are expensive but aren’t wheelchair ramps and accessible bathrooms?

    3. AnonoDoc*

      Because right now PAPRs are in even shorter supply than N95s. My hospital doesn’t have enough of either, but we really don’t have enough PAPRs for a pandemic. Right now they are reserved for situations like intubations, high-risk surgeries, etc. Even with COVID patients staff need to wear N95s.

      Also, battery life is an issue. A single PAPR battery charge doesn’t last through a whole shift, so you need more PAPRs than staff.

      1. WellRed*

        I’m really surprised by the comments slamming OPs work environment. They are handling this poorly, sure. There’s also a public health emergency going on with equipment in short supply.

        1. theothermadeline*

          From what I’m reading, I think that OP and the commenters above are mainly frustrated at the fact that this policy existed pre-pandemic and so the lack of offering alternative PPE like PAPRs was not creating a safe and equitable environment

        2. KimberlyR*

          Its clear that this was an issue pre-COVID-19. The OP is trying to find a solution before they get to post-COVID-19 life, where these same people will go back to their old ways of being able to duck away from infectious patients. I agree with other above that PAPRs are the way to go.

          1. OP4*

            OP here, yep, I am envisioning a post-pandemic world where the need for N95 starts becoming more prevalent and this becomes even more of an issue than it was pre-COVID19. I have never heard of a PAPR before (been at my hospital 8 years) and never seen one so if we have them it is for very select units. Before it has always been if the mask doesn’t fit you don’t get patients.

            I am okay with that if someone can’t help it but there has been a few times where I have had to give up my established patient so I could take a new admit because the guy who was suppose to get the patient couldn’t wear a N95 due to facial hair. I can’t say with 100% certainty but I am reasonably confident in every situation it was due to personal preference and not religious reason for why the nurse had the facial hair.

            Due to the fact that nursing is predominantly woman and the infrequency of airborne patients this is an irritant but not a major issue. But now I am concerned about the idea of COVID being a seasonal thing and needing N95s for them or new diseases arising.

            Now that I know there is an alternative I feel more confident bringing it up. If the hospital is okay with having to pay for more expensive gear so people can have the facial hair they want that is their decision. I am pretty involved with committees so I see the CNO of the hospital on the regular and I am sure I can find a good time to bring up the issue.

            1. AnonyNurse*

              Your occupational health team should be dealing with this. It’s an unfortunate setup that most hospitals put OH under HR and fiscal areas instead of patient care, where the focus and emphasis would be different. “Having the tools to do my job safely” should be a separate department from “return to work” and drug testing and stuff. They aren’t the same function but are usually in the same department, conflating priorities.

              I need XS gloves to be able to work. Smalls are too big. They just are. And XS gloves are available from the same companies. Same boxes. Same materials. Not a big deal, but some places don’t stock them routinely. And in my decade of nursing, I’ve learned that having to procure gloves myself/ beg/call around is always a red flag of a dysfunctional facility. If they can’t supply me with the basic, off-the-shelf PPE I need (again, pre-pandemic), they aren’t going to take care of me, other staff, or patients like they should.

        3. Observer*

          That’s just excuse making – the OP’s work place was allowing this to happen before the pandemic.

      2. Katertot*

        +1 to this- there was also a big section of PAPRs recalled that we had to discontinue use of and pull off the floors.

    4. KimberlyR*

      I deal with credentials for medical staff so I encounter people with facial hair not being able to pass fit tests quite often. Usually the answer is a PAPR. It might not be a feasible solution for everyone on the whole unit but you tend to have a much smaller percentage of folks with facial hair on any given day so you just need to have a decent supply of them. Also, unless OP works on an Infectious Diseases unit (which probably would’ve been pertinent enough to mention), how often do they really get these kinds of patients? Once a shift, once every month or so? Someone could put in the work to pull all the records of how many airborne precaution patients their unit (or hospital, if this is a hospital-wide issue) takes care of, on average, figure out the amount of PAPRs needed based on those numbers, and just ensure they have enough in stock. Post-COVID-19 is going to be a different world, of course, so this may not be a quick feasible solution. But I think it makes sense long-term.

    5. Signe*

      Physician here. My hospital had the official policy pre-COVID that you would be offered a PAPR if you needed an N95 and it didn’t fit for whatever reason; in reality they only had a few PAPRs and if an N95 didn’t fit you, the infectious patient went to someone whose N95 did fit. PAPRs are expensive and my hospital certainly wasn’t going to bear that cost. Now, you’re required to shave, if you refuse you’re put on the furlough list, and if your N95 doesn’t fit for reasons other than facial hair you suck it up and see COVID patients anyway. Most of us docs have managed to buy our own P100s but that’s not an option for everyone.

      1. Rural PT*

        Acute care physical therapist here – and one of the infection control team when we were rolling out our hospital’s pandemic policies. We had a huge number of clinical staff who, for years, essentially blew off annual “Fit Testing” for masks by saying, “nope, I’m a hood (PAPR)”. Some even openly acknowledged that they knew this would probably “get them out of” going into rooms with airborne and droplet precautions.
        Enter the pandemic, when they all suddenly figured out they were going to actually have to USE those PAPR/Hoods which are definitely more inconvenient to get on/off safely than N95s if you are doing it right infection control-wise. As a result, we had an incredibly wasteful run of re-testing people for mask fits. It was a cluster all around, but at least an equal opportunity cluster to prevent those potentially discriminatory opt-outs.

    6. Artemesia*

      I agree and frankly these should be worn by anyone doing high risk work in this epidemic. I have a niece who is an ER doc who also has young kids and she wears this type of protection every day in her high risk setting because those using less effective PPE are getting COVID and in some cases dying of it.

      It is outrageous that having a beard gets you out of dealing with contagious patients as a nurse and puts that risk and work on everyone else.

    7. JSPA*

      At the moment, presumably, supply chain.

      What I don’t understand is why nobody’s produced, with likely expedited approval, some sort of beard putty (like the stuff you use to stick posters on walls) that can be adhered to the beard and to the mask, yet remove cleanly at the end of the shift or the day. I’d be surprised if that didn’t create as close a seal as an N95 on skin. Or have masks edged with a layer of that thick, hydrogel (gel-like but cohesive substance) used with electrodes, and require a very short beard (the sort of trimming that does not inflame skin or cause ingrown hair) in the area where the mask seats.

      Probably not as reusable, and thus not ideal in this era of ongoing shortages, but eventually, it would create a safer and more comfortable / less chafe-y mask experience for nearly everyone. (Well, I get skin breakdown from the stuff, but most people don’t have aloe allergies.)

    8. Woodsy*

      Also, there’s the classic “fireman’s beard” which allows them to wear the Self Contained Breathing Apparatus — no facial hair on cheeks and under chin where it seals. Seems like, unless there’s an ADA or religious exemption, that you gotta cut the beard, at least to fit the N95. For the others, a reasonable accommodating should be offered such as other filter masks.
      Years ago, and as a one-time and very stupid post-9/11 edict, our LE unit had to train with HazMat suits which required those of us with beards (about 10 of us) to shave. We all trained and passed, but never saw those HazMat suits again.

  4. AnotherLibrarian*

    #5 Yes, I would put the pronouns on the resume. That way people know if it gets to the point of interviews. To be honest, I try to ignore people’s names until I am setting up interviews. It’s my way of trying to get around biases, but once I get a list of finalists together I have to note them somehow.

    1. Super Admin*

      I’m someone who sets up interviews for hiring managers in my office, and I purposefully do not include first names (just initials!) except for their CV info, and use they/them pronouns for everyone, so there’s minimal gender bias before an interview.

      I would also encourage S to add their pronouns to their email signature, so anyone they’re in contact with throughout the hiring process can see them. My company encourages everyone to put their pronouns in their signature, and I think a lot of more modern companies are good with that sort of thing.

      1. Fikly*

        We do a similar thing at my company – the resume and phone screens are limited to one person, and if the applicant passes both, they do a short case study exercise, which is reviewed by the wider team. The case studies are kept completely anonymous, with no demographic or identifying info, and how we evaluate those is used to decide who gets an in-person interview.

    2. ...*

      I would maybe sign my email with my pronouns after I started communicating with them. FWIW the non binary person at my work just let us know during training and said you can just let people know subtly thanks.

  5. D3*

    I saw a form recently that asked about gender in a great way. It has these options:
    I prefer to self describe (with a box to answer however you’d like)

    1. A Silver Spork*

      It’s weird, how much of a difference a couple of lines on a form can do for your mood, isn’t it? Now maybe in thirty more years the federal government will catch up to this… (I’m still crabby about having to select “opposite-sex spouse” on the census recently on the basis of me and my spouse having different gender markers on our birth certificates.)

      1. SaeniaKite*

        I recently filled in a survey where asexual was listed as one of the orientation choices and it most definitely left me in a good mood. Small steps is still forward movement

      2. Caroline Bowman*

        I always wonder WHY these various forms need to know certain things. For example ”Miss, Mrs or Ms”. What’s it to them? Are you married, single, divorced, widowed? WE MUST KNOW. But… why? Now, in certain situations there are very good reasons to disclose certain things and that is fine, but so often it’s just nosiness / market research dressed up as official requirement.

        1. snoopythedog*

          I love to use those options as a moment to self-select! I am married and go by Ms. Ain’t nobody’s business to know my marital status by a prefix, especially when there is no equivalent for men.

          As someone who sends surveys out for my job (not quite research, but similar), I push back on clients about adding demographic questions to surveys. Unless we are going to use the information in some way related to answering our questions, that’s info we don’t need to know.

        2. Alton*

          What annoys me is when selecting an honorific is required–and they don’t even offer Mx. as an option for those of us who don’t want to select a gendered one.

          1. A Silver Spork*

            A few years ago, I had to specify an honorific where the only options where Mr, Mrs, and Dr. Not even Ms!

            1. Curmudgeon in California*


              I find myself really hoping that the third person singular “they” and the honorific “Mx.” become standard forms of use, and that the gendered stuff gets phased out as both inconvenient and unnecessary data.

            2. Zelda*

              I had one of those LAST MONTH. Feh. I do not have an MD or PhD, but it was something like a charity donation or something where my gender and marital status were 100% irrelevant, but it was a flippin’ required field. So, y’know what, I LIED.

              (In fact, I’m sure the reason a charity wants to know a title is so they can come off as very very respectful and butter me up. But guess what, not even allowing me to *leave off* the title, but forcing me to select among options that are *all* wrong, really had the exact opposite effect. We’re in a crisis here, so I didn’t cancel my donation over it. But FEH.)

      1. Kate*

        Yeah, why not to do away with first three choices anyway? Just ask for gender and let them fill in whatever they want.

        1. Washi*

          I assume it’s because if you want to run stats on your gender ratios, it’s hard to do that if one person put “femal”, someone put “woman”, someone else put “she/her” etc. If you didn’t have a lot of applicants you could hand code the data pretty easily but otherwise the number of variations and mispellings could potentially be a problem.

          1. Washi*

            (I support having an open box for people who want to self identify their gender, like in the parent comment! Just explaining why it might be preferable to additionally have some radio buttons for the more common gender options.)

          2. programmer*

            From a data management perspective I would rather you list every possibility you can think of, or have check boxes or a drop down or whatever, because a completely free form makes it very difficult to standardize data, and opens you up to a lot of typos.

            1. Quill*

              Yeah. I once had to rerun a huge dataset because somebody put two spaces between a two word descriptor… for every entry that they did.

    2. RoseDark*

      All my application and hire paperwork for my current job had checkboxes for more than binary gender options, and/or a fill-in-the-blank style answer. Even in the “required for federal paperwork” section where it only had a binary because that’s all the government recognizes, there was a checkbox saying essentially “I refuse to answer this question with the understanding that the manager will have to submit an answer based on whatever information they have available” meaning basically I looked female so I was reported as female.

      It basically made my year to be able to self-identity and stick to it, all through the paperwork. There’s even a built-in “preferred name” on the computer system that anything not requiring a legal name will pull from, so I don’t need to constantly correct my own name. It’s beautiful.

      1. Fikly*

        I am still excited when filling out forms for a doctor’s office and see “sex assigned at birth,” and “gender” as two separate things.

        1. allathian*

          About time! I’m a heterosexual ciswoman, but I cheer internally whenever there’s some recognition for the fact that neither sexuality nor gender are binary things.

        2. Curmudgeon in California*

          Ooooh, cool! One is genetics and plumbing, the other is how you live.

          It still is problematic for intersexed folks, because they often have the medical problems of the one not assigned at birth as well.

  6. A Silver Spork*

    LW5: best of luck to your sibling. There’s really no good answer here, because there are some really crappy, bigoted people out there. For in-person interviews, I’d recommend a pronoun pin (a fairly visible one if they want to be really sure), although I suspect your sibling already knows about those. If they want to make it clear from the beginning that they use they/them, pronouns on top of the resume, right after their name, are probably their best bet.

    I can personally confirm that plenty of people won’t hire you if you’re obviously trans. On the other hand, if you get hired and wait until day 1, you could end up in a crappy job with a crappy, bigoted boss… who fires you three months later with no explanation anyway. Been there, done that. Your sibling will have to do the cost benefit analysis of “how much do I need money” vs “how much do I need an accepting work environment” on their own.

    Oh, and I’ve seen this mentality often enough with closeted genderqueer/trans people that I thought I’d say it: it’s perfectly okay to not tell your employer about your gender during the hiring process! It’s perfectly okay to stay 100% closeted at work for however long you want to. There’s nothing morally wrong with not letting your boss and coworkers know about this part of you, because your gender should have absolutely no bearing on how you do your job.

    1. cryptid*

      Yeah, I lean toward early announcement of pronouns because I’ve worked for plenty of transphobes and if I can avoid it I will. On the other hand, disclosure often means you’re “not a cultural fit” so you don’t get an offer. It’s lose-lose.

      1. Fikly*

        If you have enough options, screening out a company full of hate is something I’d consider a win.

  7. HA2*

    #2 – I think as long as you’re respectful, it’s ok to ask; just don’t push further if you get a “no,” even a vague one, or no response. Lots of people are overwhelmed right now, but others aren’t; and I think nobody is surprised that there’s a lot of people jobhunting right now, for various reasons. So it’s not going to come off as insensitive if you need to job-hunt and network right now.

    It could come off as out-of-touch if you are looking for a way in to an industry that’s being hammered by the pandemic (“come on, can’t you see nobody here is going to be hiring, we’re all barely keeping our own jobs”), but there’s certainly plenty of jobs and industries that are impacted indirectly and where it wouldn’t seem out of place to be looking around now. Use your judgment.

    (Just speaking for myself, I’ve done two of those sorts of informational interviews lately – one for an acquaintance I know from non-work activities, one for a random alumnus of my alma mater that found me on LinkedIn. Sure, I’m feeling pretty stressed now, but the stress isn’t really because I don’t have enough time; it’s because of the nationwide wave of police brutality and because my government’s response to COVID has been such a failure. I didn’t think doing a half-hour video chat with someone to talk about my industry was much of an imposition at all. I fully realize that’s gonna vary a lot by person, but there’s some of us out there in that situation.)

    1. Jimming*

      Yeah I agree. It’s ok to ask! There are people who really miss chatting and would jump at the opportunity to connect. Alison’s language is great – it acknowledges that they might not have the time but leave that up to them to decide. (Unless you know them well enough to know how busy they already are.)

    2. KayDay*

      Totally agree–it is both very much worth reaching out but at the same time, do not push at all beyond reaching out. People tend to be at the extremes right now–either overwhelmed or very bored and lonely.

      For example, as someone who is most definitely an introvert, I am rather desperate for social interaction right now, partially because I don’t really have any I’m-lonely-and-want-to-see-people mechanisms like my more extroverted friends already have. Until now, it took very little effort on my part to fill my social interaction cup. I also feel like because everything is weird for everyone right now, things that might normally feel awkward for me (e.g. informational interviews with strangers) feel relatively less awkward at the moment, making it a good time for that sort of thing.

    3. Allonge*

      Exactly. Use the language from Alison, be completely honest with yourself about how no answer = leave me alone and no does not require a justification. Neither of these will be about you, your qualifications or anything like that.

      But you may well find people willing to have a coffee with you! Good luck!

    4. Cascadia*

      Definitely agree it’s totally OK to ask. I’m in an industry where I have less work to do right now than before, and I have already done two informational interviews in the past two weeks. I am always super happy to do them as I believe in paying it forward, but I’m especially happy to do them now because it’s a welcome change of pace, and I’ve got the time. Obviously not everyone will feel that way, but there are people who are going to be more happy to talk to you. Normally this is my busiest time of year and I would have responded, “sure, call me in October”, but now I can say, “sure, call me tomorrow!”

  8. Gaia*

    #5 is why I love the practice at my company. We all provide our pronouns whenever introducing ourselves for the first time to someone. We also include everyone’s pronouns in email signatures. And for applicants, we don’t have a standard application form (we just have resumes emailed) but we specifically invite them to provide their pronouns. This makes our stance on gender identity and expression a little clearer to the outside and helps avoid unintentionally misgendering someone. (Intentionally doing so is a Big Deal here and is absolutely a cause for being fired).

    1. A Silver Spork*

      To be totally trans(heh)parent, I have a little bit of bad experience + a lot of paranoia, and I’m still wary of “please let us know your pronouns/preferred name” on applications and likely wouldn’t volunteer that info immediately. Which isn’t to say you or the company are doing anything wrong! But the calculation of “they claim to be trans-friendly, but are they really” is a Thing for me and most of my trans social circle, so I hope the company is keeping that in mind and treats “sending a resume in with pronouns” and “coming out only after being given the tour and badge on day 1” as equally okay.

      1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

        Yeah, I do hiring at my company, and we avoid asking about pronouns/etc before hire because we were advised that knowing that info could lead to a candidate assuming they weren’t hired BECAUSE they were trans/non-binary, when really it was really because they weren’t qualified for the position. We hire a pretty diverse group of folks, and I’m always happy to know things that will make candidates more comfortable (using their preferred name, etc), but I also don’t want to open my company up to accusations of discrimination.

        We do have a place once hired for employees to list their pronouns and other data in our internal database. (We just got a new database and had to argue with our developers that that box should be a type-in box, not a drop down with only he/him, she/her, and they/them options when there are folks who use other pronouns).

      2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        Also, some people are still figuring out what pronouns they would prefer to use or aren’t comfortable being out at work right now for whatever reason, even if the employer is doing their best to be a “safe” place to be out! It’s possible that some such people would be most comfortable with a “decline to state” box or some other way to skip the question entirely, because it isn’t a simple, straightforward question for that particular person right now.

        1. Tau*

          Yeah, mandatory pronoun policies are unfortunate for questioning and confused people, and have the nasty side-effect of forcing many trans people to either out themselves or lie and misgender themselves. This is especially a problem if the environment is not super trans-friendly… and it might not be. People have this tendency to implement these policies as a box to tick off or in some weird hope it will get rid of existing transphobia. Personally, I’m not a fan.

          1. Littorally*

            Amen. It came up a lot in the trans support open thread, and I agree with the general consensus there: offer the option, don’t make it a requirement.

        2. Ray Gillette*

          This can also be a concern for people who are gender non-conforming and don’t necessarily identify as transgender, but have a different gender experience from the average person.

        3. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

          I live in a country where self selected pronouns are largely unheard of, so apologies if this sounds ignorant or facetious.

          I’m assuming the purpose of allowing people to indicate their preferred pronouns is so that their colleagues will be able to see this information on a system somewhere and know how they would like to be addressed or referred to.

          How then is it useful to give people a “decline to state” option? Won’t that force their colleagues to guess which pronouns to use, which seems like a *very* uncomfortable situation?

          Or is there an alternative that I’m not seeing? Perhaps only refer to the person by their preferred name and not use pronouns at all?

          Thanks for explaining – in advance :)

          1. A Silver Spork*

            There’s some discussion in this about a page further down if you’d like to read more, but the TL;DR: for a lot of trans/nonbinary folk, “explicitly introducing yourself with the wrong pronouns” feels MUCH worse than “people assuming those same wrong pronouns”. So yes, we fully expect that when we don’t state our pronouns we’ll get misgendered, but stating the wrong pronouns is misgendering *ourselves* and that’s worse. (This is, of course, assuming the all-too-common situation where a person can’t be out, or maybe doesn’t really know what to come out as because they’re questioning, etc.)

            I’m sure it’s uncomfortable for coworkers to realize, months or years later, that they’ve been misgendering a trans colleague by accident, but my safety as a trans person > my coworkers not feeling that discomfort.

            Not using pronouns, or using they/them and other neutral options (which not every language has, I know), is one possibility. Depending on language and culture it may not always work, though.

      3. Pronouns and paranoia*

        This is actually a topic I’ve been wanting to bring up on the next open work thread.

        We’ve been talking at my company about wanting to have a way to let applicants find out about how safe/not safe it is for them at our company re gender, sexuality, race, etc, but are unsure about how to facilitate this in a way that would make them feel both safe and like they could trust what they are hearing.

        From my perspective, it’s a safe place, although of course I cannot speak for everyone’s experience. But I 100% would never trust that it would be, especially during a hiring process.

        1. Miraculous Ladybug*

          My partner’s had to deal with this on a smaller scale recently. My partner (partner is nb) was heading up an employee support group, and are still figuring out their own pronouns. They’ve had bad experiences / feelings with mandatory pronoun-sharing in the past. They wanted to make it clear that people COULD share their pronouns but also that they could abstain, and ended up wording their intro like “If you would like to include your pronouns, put them after your name. I’m Chat Noir and I prefer people to use my name instead of any pronouns.”

          It wasn’t a perfect solution–and maybe not scalable–but what I took away from it was 1) it’s helpful to give the option but not make it mandatory, and 2) it’s helpful to have the initiative headed by someone queer who feels safe giving their pronouns, because then it’s clear that at least someone has felt safe doing so. Somehow, I think the second is more important than the first, although I know that’s harder to achieve in a workplace if y’all don’t have out queer folks already.

        2. Littorally*

          Here’s what worked for me:

          When I was interviewing with my current employer, part of the interview was a tour of the building. Quite a few desks I passed had little rainbow flags or other pride items on display. That made more of an impression than anything that came out of my interviewer’s mouth, because it gave me a taste of attitudes on the ground. That, plus my research outside of the interview on things like company initiatives and whatnot, told me it was a pretty safe place to be a queer person.

          1. Pronouns and paranoia*

            That’s a really good idea, thanks! And we do definitely have things like that around our office, and we actually work in actively supporting access to good things (sorry, trying to be vague) for LGBT+ populations, and you would know that by googling us. We also work with cis and straight populations, so we’re not like, a dedicated company in that space, though, if you know what I mean. We’re inclusive, is all.

            If I can pick your brain further, any ideas on how to translate an office tour kind of experience into the current virtual interviewing we’re doing, as we are all remote right now? Our head of HR, who is male, is married to a man and they have a kid together, and he is super open about that, but applicants aren’t always in direct contact with him.

            1. Littorally*

              It won’t be quite the same, but my thought would be something like photos of the workspace, taken by someone who’s going into the office for other reasons (ie, if you’ve got a skeleton crew or someone who gets the mail or whatever) showing people’s desks that include personal items. Something along the lines of “once we bring everyone back to the office, this is what our workspace looks like” and make sure that those personal touches are visible. It would probably feel more staged than the walkthrough while people are working, but it would be at least similar.

              And yeah, I fully get you on the inclusive but not specialized thing; my work is the same. I’ve been pretty impressed with my job’s atmosphere, all told — certainly it doesn’t cover every individual, but overall, respect and inclusion are pretty highly emphasized.

              1. Pronouns and paranoia*

                Oh, that could work! We do have people going in occasionally because there are some things that have to be shipped out every once in a while that are stored in the office.

                Thanks so much!

      4. drinking Mello Yello*

        Yeah, my company’s pretty alright overall, but the overall culture amongst management my coworkers is soooooooooo straight and cis that I wouldn’t immediately trust any “Oh hey, let’s be inclusive of all genders!” thing unless they made some real visible changes to policy and/or any of the higher ups who implement the policies come out as trans. As far as I know, I could be the only nonbinary person in the company; I don’t even know if I have any binary trans coworkers or any coworkers that aren’t straight.

        Last Halloween did include gender identity as a thing not to mock with your Halloween costume (And I was thinking, “Hm, okay, so that’s a thing. Alright.”), but hell, I don’t even know if gender identity is included in the official harassment policy or not; if it is, I haven’t found it.

        I’m also not out as nonbinary to Everybody and I live in an area that isn’t the most enlightened on trans matters and in a state where firing somebody based on gender identity isn’t illegal. Weeding out jackwagon potential employers by supplying your pronouns can be a good strategy! But in some places it might weed out Every employer and sometimes you just need money. It’s one of those things that really depends on your individual situation, you know?

        1. queer in the workplace*

          I’m queer, but not trans, and was struggling with wanting to say something about this, but not sure if I had any business jumping in. Thanks for what you wrote- Yes, sometimes there are no other options, and you just need money for food and rent. Sometimes, the official policy is acceptance, but life on the ground is hell. Sometimes it’s stay in the closet because you don’t want the hatred you hear on a daily basis directed at you as though your right to exist is open for discussion.

          1. Pronouns and paranoia*

            It’s always ok to not disclose or whatever if you need to not to stay safe, keep a roof over your head, or just because you don’t have the energy to deal with the emotional labor at that time.

            Your needs > the needs of the group you’re in.

      5. Alton*

        My experience has been that while having a culture of people sharing pronouns is a sign that a workplace is better than average at trans inclusivity, that isn’t always saying a whole lot. I have my pronouns in my signature and am open about going by they/them pronouns at work, and I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been misgendered–including, occasionally, in contexts specifically related to LGBTQ inclusion. It can be a pretty empty gesture if people don’t actually make an effort to follow through on it.

    2. I'm just here for the cats*

      My company does this too! It was odd when the director Introduced herself during the interview, as I had never been in the situation where someone did it I that way. So it’s like hi my name is Just Cats, Title and work in department. I use she/her pronouns.
      In our company profiles we also have a section that we can turn on and put our preferred pronouns too. That shows on the directory page but in our email signature.

    3. GD375*

      We all provide our pronouns whenever introducing ourselves for the first time to someone. We also include everyone’s pronouns in email signatures.

      Is this required, recommended or optional? I’m just curious how companies are handling this. I’d love to see more employers facilitate a more accepting culture in their workplace, but I also worry that some people can feel uncomfortable if they are unsure of their own pronouns or don’t want to reveal their pronouns too soon.

      1. Lady Heather*

        How do you see that happening – should coworkers speak ‘Lady Heather isn’t in today because Lady Heather is sick and thus GD375 will have to take on Lady Heather’s project until Lady Heather has recovered?’ That’s not going to happen, realistically – people will just assume or assign one instead.

        I think that there is a difference between ‘what pronouns would you like us to use when referencing you’ and ‘what pronouns do you identify as’. ‘What pronouns do you identify as’ (this sounds butchered, but I hope you understand what I’m trying to say) – that’s a personal question. ‘What pronouns would you like to be used on you in the workplace’ – that’s not asking about identity, or to out yourself, or to be sure. Just which ones you prefer to be referenced by at this time and in this place, for any reason at all. Maybe you aren’t sure and just stick to the one you’ve been raised with, maybe you aren’t sure of your employer and stick to the one they know you by, maybe you don’t want the hassle of bigoted customers and you stick to the one you are most often considered to present as, maybe you want a raise or a promotion and thus go by him/her (that one is a joke).
        And then once/if you want to be out, or you are sure, you change your pronouns. (And the culture needs to be open to that happening, which it might not be.)

        1. GD375*

          I don’t have an answer. That’s why I’m asking. Every employer should be considering this issue, but it’s too new for there to be a standard yet, so I’m curious how employers who are doing this are handling it.

        2. Tau*

          In a really super highly queer-friendly space – yes, I’d expect people to avoid pronouns if they haven’t been given. You’re right that it’s not going to happen in most regular spaces, that people are just going to assume and assign one. But that is something that trans people are aware of, and trans people who are choosing not to out themselves consider an acceptable trade-off. It’s a lot different from “tell me your pronouns!” when you have no idea how safe the space is.

          And I think you’re underestimating the effect that it can have to have to say “the correct pronouns for me are ‘she'” on a regular basis when that’s not true, or to say “the correct pronouns for me are ‘X'” when you’re questioning. For one, misgendering *yourself* can feel a lot worse than having someone else do it. For another, in practice, as a closeted nonbinary/questioning type of person you actually often don’t hear yourself mispronouned that much? Like, people don’t usually refer to me in the third person while I’m present. I can go a wonderfully long time without seeing a pronoun attached to my name. Unless, of course, you force me to put it into my e-mail signature, then I’m going to have it front and center all the time.

          1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

            This analogy isn’t true for everyone, but for some people the difference between other people making an incorrect assumption about your pronouns when you’re not sure or comfortable sharing them, and you having to stick pronouns you’re not comfortable with on yourself is kind of like the difference between putting up with other people mispronouncing your name and being expected to mispronounce your own name.

            Ideally, neither of those things would happen, since people should make an effort to call people by their actual names, but I regularly tolerate people I’m not close to butchering my name but would lose my shit if I were expected to introduce myself that way to everyone all day long.

          2. A Silver Spork*

            [points at this in agreement]

            I knew perfectly well, from decades of experience, that most people would look at me and default to “she” without a second thought. I didn’t like this, but at the time, I didn’t like the idea of becoming homeless thanks to my bigoted parents throwing me out even more, so I sucked it up and continued make escape plans. But being in a position where I had to actively participate in my own misgendering was so much worse.

            I’d hope this wouldn’t be a concern in the workplace, but let me tell you, if someone had asked me for pronouns (while I was obviously feminine presenting) in front of my father… hoooo boy. If I’d hesitated for even a moment, at that point, my father would have gone on an epic-level rant about how awful [t words] are, and THAT would ruin my week pretty thoroughly.

            Also, once I learned of people who don’t want to be referred to with third person singular pronouns at all, I made the effort to practice referring to people by name only. It turned out to be less difficult and clunky that I expected it to, but even if it had been just as bad and worse… people’s comfort and safety is worth the effort on my part, you know?

          3. Lady Heather*

            Thanks for your responses, Tau, Seven Hobbits, Silver Spork – I hadn’t looked at it from that angle.

            Tau, you say it’s possible – and you’re right, it is/could be/should be. As a disabled person, I find it alienating when people assume that people they don’t know to be disabled are not disabled, and I want (and expect) them to stop doing that, and I think it’s a prerequisite that that doesn’t happen in order to be a disability-friendly person or workspace. Trans people should be able to expect the same thing.

            Seven Hobbits and Silver Spork, the same goes for what you say – if someone were to ask me ‘would you like to be known as disabled’, I’d be uncomfortable – am I disabled for the context that they’re asking it for? Will it be used against me? Do I share private information or do I lie? Why do I even need to answer this question, any potential relevancy can be mitigated easily by booking accessible venues as a matter of course.

            Thanks for your responses – I learned something today, and I’ll remember it.

            *I’m not comparing trans and disabled people because I think being trans is a mental illness (I don’t think that) – I’m comparing trans and disabled people because they’re both a marginalized groups, and disability is the one I’ve got personal experience with.

        3. JSPA*

          “Lady Heather is out due to illness, and will need coverage from GD375 for the Sunset project until recovered.”

          “Lady Heather is out sick; GD375, can you cover?”

          I mean, it’ll sometimes sound a bit, “whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.” Avoidance of pronouns can sound awkwardly cute or like babytalk (legitimately, because the shift to using pronouns is a developmental stage in language use). But we all did it when we were learning to speak, and we presumably can still manage, if needed.

    4. Curmudgeon in California*

      In general, when I don’t know a person’s preferred pronouns, I try to use “they/them/their”. Yes, I realize it doesn’t well cover “em” and “zie” type pronouns well, but it also doesn’t assume the default is “him”. I would love to see this become more standard.

  9. Wintermute*

    4– you need to talk to a lawyer about this one because there IS some room in law for “bona fide occupational requirements” like the ability to wear a mask. Your employer COULD legally use that as a basis to require men to be clean-shaven (and in many situations those requirements, because they are essential safety requirements, may not always have religious or medical exemptions available) but nothing would create an automatic requirement that they do so. In short, a rule put in place to protect you from something deadly has complex exemptions to things that normally would be discriminatory, but that still doesn’t necessarily excuse the gendered results of the policy.

    I, personally, can’t find any case law that says they HAVE to declare that wearing a mask is an “essential job duty” if they don’t want to. They get to decide what essential is. Workers can challenge that “you say it’s essential but it’s really not”, and they government would make a determination based on how much of your job that task occupies, but I don’t see a mechanism for a “reverse challenge” where an employee wants to force a company to make something an essential job task when the company doesn’t want it to be. Presumably this is because such a mechanism would often be used to try to enforce discrimination if an employer is being more flexible than the law strictly requires. That said if the end result is a gendered work distribution that is a real problem, and disparate impact (that a seemingly neutral policy actually has deeply discriminatory effects) is prohibited in law as well.

    The sticky part there is the “deeply discriminatory” part. Disparate impact is something you would absolutely need a lawyer to figure out, it’s a really complex area of law and it’s not always applied intuitively. In general the supreme court has set the threshold very high, but there is no standard test or set percentages. It’s still in the realm of “we know it when we see it” and that means it depends on what administrative law judge or jury you find yourself arguing to. Because disparate impact is all about percentages, it really may well hinge on how many men are using the exception and how many still take patients that require a mask, as well how many of those men that don’t have a medical or religious reason. Were I arguing for the employer I would no doubt bring up the fact we’re trying not to force men who have a medical or religious reason to disclose that, because required disclosure can lead to discrimination claims down the road if any man felt that his disclosure of a protected category lead to consequences. Disparate impact is so fuzzy that there’s often no way to know until a judge is deciding an actual case with real numbers in front of them.

    This is well into the realm of “need a real lawyer” time to even draw a conclusion about whether this is likely to be found legal or not, because of the complex interplay of exceptions to EEOC protections, forced disclosure of protected categories, bona fide occupational requirements, disparate impact (which is thorny at the best of times), employers’ rights to define jobs with a great deal of freedom, employee safety issues, and everything else involved. It is likely to be complex, fact-dependent (on such things as the exact percentages), and may well hinge entirely on the political climate where you are.

    My gut says that this is a serious problem for them, and they should do the right thing. You may get more leverage attacking it by going the moral, ethical and practical route than the legal one, and pushing back as a group. People in groups have power, and the fact this should be an ethical no-brainer that you can’t just give men a free pass not to have high-risk work (though they may choose to allow medical and religious exceptions if they wish, nothing says they can’t even if they might legally be able to fight it). You can raise some strong ethical arguments and, if your bosses have a sense of basic fair play and equality, those arguments should be persuasive. The law is a blunt instrument, and works slowly, presumably you want a more immediate resolution. There’s a chance that raising the specter of legal action could scare the legal department into talking sense into management, but in the culture of other companies that would just make them double down. Likewise, HR, who tend to be more concerned with principles than exact legalities, may step in on the basis that it’s a really bad look even if they might be able to get away with it in court.

    Personally I would consider a consultation with a lawyer just so you know where you stand, and in case action becomes necessary later, but I would battle this with a group of my co-workers from the ethics angle before I considered a legal option.

    1. ..Kat..*

      If you are going to go the lawyer route, this is probably similar to the restrictions on facial hair for firefighters who need to be able to wear SCBA apparatus.

      But, no need to go to a lawyer. See my comment above about the use of PAPR.

      1. Jeff Byard*

        They are going by an OSHA rule; you must be clean shaven if wearing a mask for work related reason. When we added a new requirement to wear a amsk I had to shave. Pissed me off but thats the rule. I don’t remember if there were exceptions such as the problem balck men, or men with curly hair.

  10. Willis*

    #2 – Depending on how close you are to these contacts, and definitely for the cold ones, I’d suggest just asking for a phone call or at least giving that as an option. Between work and social video calls, Im pretty drained by the constant video. I may be inclined to talk for a bit by phone but would be a lot less interested in video, which would probably be a longer time commitment and require more prep. Like, I guess I’m willing to suspend my disbelief that zoom is as good as in-person meetups for the sake of keeping in touch with family and friends, but for someone I don’t really know, I’d rather skip the pretending and chat more quickly by phone.

    1. Avasarala*

      Good point–many people have forgotten that the phone exists, and there is a medium space between texting and video chat!

    2. Koala dreams*

      Yes, I also feel it’s easier to talk on the phone, especially as a first chat.

  11. Audrey Puffins*

    #4: there was a whole thing in the UK news recently about Sikh medical practitioners who chose to shave their beard so they could more efficiently and safely battle COVID-19. Though, of course, these are exceptional times.

    1. ..Kat..*

      I am curious. Did it talk about the headwrap that male Sikhs wear? Are they able to make it more ‘low profile ‘ so that it fits under more extreme medical isolation garb? Or is that not allowed by their religion? For example, it would not fit under a PAPR.

      Alison. I apologize if this is too far afield from the original question. Please delete if it is. But, I would love it if you could have a guest speaker to talk about this kind of thing. When religion (facial hair; religious clothing – such as the Sikh headwrap for men, burka for women; etc) clashes with job requirements for safety (or allegedly for safety) or other important reasons.

      1. Jemima Bond*

        I didn’t see the reporting but I believe the Sikh turban (never heard it called a “headwrap” but I’m not Sikh and it’s not for me to say) has the main function of keeping hair (which should not be cut) tidy and covered. It may well be that a small cap or just a surgical cap is adequate when a full turban is not practical. I don’t know what a PAPR is. Of course there are other things that might have to be compromised on or exemptions used, for a Sikh working in hospital eg carrying round the kirpan (a small dagger which is an article of faith) or the iron bracelet which goes against nothing below the elbow for infection control.
        There was recently a news item about the first Sikh soldier to join a guards regiment (the fancy ones with red coats and biiiig furry hats) – he had a religious exemption to wear a black turban instead and was also allowed a full moustache and beard which soldiers in the British army are usually not by default.
        Which in a roundabout way brings me to my actual point – the reason the army (here at least) enforce clean shaving as a default is so respirators (gas masks) will fit properly – not for some outdated idea of smartness. There are religious exemptions and i assume medical ones. Granted there is also leniency for senior officers who are less likely to be in an operational deployment but genuinely, up to a certain rank you have to get permission to grow a moustache. A soldier with a beard is either special forces or cruisin’ for a bruisin’ !
        So on the one hand if the army can enforce it i suppose a medical profession can too, if it’s an essential job function. On the other hand, it feel different when it’s something you sign up to from day one (as in the army) as opposed to something that is introduced later. Plus if the men can opt out without specific reason it becomes sexist. I think if they need to do this they have to enforce it across the board except in the case of a reasoned exemption being granted on specified grounds.

        1. Jemima Bond*

          PS i meant also to say; the military is not necessarily a great example of how to keep your employees happy as the level of discipline etc is entirely different. But i think the similarities (enforcing of shaving the face, and why) are enough to be relevant.

        2. Mimi Me*

          I never considered that the reason for clean shaven faces might be due to gas masks and such. Interesting.
          I do think that the Sikh turbans can go smaller. I saw a informative video article in the US in recent months about construction workers and hard hats and how they adapt for head sizes. One of the men on the construction site was a Sikh man who had a slightly smaller turban than he normally wore so that the hard hat could sit comfortably and, more importantly, safely on his head.

        3. UKDancer*

          It’s definitely called a turban or dastar not a headwrap.

          In my last company I had a Sikh colleague who wore a turban but when we did an outdoor type awayday he replaced it with a tight fitting cap he called a patka and as we were on good terms I asked him about it. He said that in his view the obligation was to keep your hair uncut and the turban was a way of keeping it clean and tidy so it was acceptable in his opinion to substitute the patka when practical for doing an obstacle course. He said opinions on this varied dramatically between Sikhs and it was an individual decision how much to insist on a dastar at all times.

          He said the type, colour and style of your turban were all significant among Sikhs of where you come from and what you’re trying to say about yourself. I remember vaguely he said orange turbans were for high days and holidays and blue for battle but can’t remember the rest.

          I don’t know how representative that is of Sikhism as a whole but it was interesting to hear his views.

        4. Chinook*

          The military also has medical exceptions for being clean shaven. A friend of ours could grow a 5 o’clock shadow by 11 am and a special medical chit to show anyone who took issue with it. He also had an extra electric shaver with his gas mask to ensure safe fit.

          Civilian welders, on the other hand, were required to be fit with N95 masks for health and safety and it is a job requirement. It is one of the few perks of being a female welder – not having to worry about facial hair.

      2. Lady Heather*

        I know that in the UK, Sikh people with turbans are specifically exempted from having to wear a hardhat in the workplace unless they’re military/firefighter/riot control. If they receive an injury because they weren’t wearing the hardhat, the employer isn’t liable for the damages.

        The legislation specifically names turban-wearing Sikh, without specifying gender.

        I’m not a colander-wearing Pastafarian, but I do subscribe to the philosophy of ‘all beliefs are equally valid’ and it bothers me a little to have one religion be afforded special protections/exemptions where others aren’t. If something goes for one religion/deeply held belief, why not for other religions/deeply held beliefs.
        But that’s my thing.

        1. Student*

          The UK does not subscribe to equality for all religions. There’s a state-run religion, of which the monarch of the UK is the most important mortal leader, so religious equality is not in any way an aim of that government.

          That’s different from religious freedom, to which the UK does subscribe.

          If you want religious equality, the USA is about as close as anyone gets. Implementation is far from perfect, but it it a founding principle of the government and embedded in the US Constitution.

          Religious equality is not a very common government aspiration. Most governments have a specific, or small handful, of religions that they favor over all others in legal and practical impact.

        2. CmdrShepard4ever*

          Sikh people are given special protection.exemption but it is at no ones expense but themselves. Wearing a hard hat is a personal safety issue. They are only risking their own lives/health by not wearing one. The issue with allowing anyone and everyone to refuse to wear a hard hat and assume liability for any injuries is that when you allow a broad group of people employers can use that to “force” people to waive the liability. Company XYZ only hires people who agree not to wear hardhats etc… That is different than say a Sikh person refusing to do an essential part of the job due to a religious objection.

        3. JSPA*

          There’s a fair bit of cushioning (and diffusion of force) from a well-wrapped turban with a lot of hair inside. This has also come up with helmet rules for competitive amateur cyclists.

          from which,

          “He does, however, make adjustments for cycling. During long rides, he says he ties “an under-turban of three meters first which adds extra padding on top of my head, followed by a five meter turban”. He then secures everything in place with a bandana that he wraps around his lower face.”


          “Visual evidence from the 1700s to the early 1800s shows Sikh soldiers wearing steel helmets, turbans over helmets, helmets over turbans, even a steel helmet crafted to resemble the pleated fabric of a turban.”

  12. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    OP3 (laid off then being called with questions) – what an awkward position to be in, but agree that you don’t really have any obligation to take these calls.

    I feel for your (former) co-worker as I bet she is calling you without the knowledge/sanction of the company and perhaps feeling unprepared to do this work (since you used the words “train her” so it sounds like she actually doesn’t have all the knowledge needed to do the job atm). Not that you should feel guilty about that of course!

    1. Elise Elman*

      The week I was laid off, I sent her supervisors typed instructions on how to do 2 of the many jobs I was responsible for. I never heard back from anyone. Then she called for “help”. I helped then, but no more.

    2. A person*

      I think it would be fine to take or return one call just to inform her that since you are no longer on payroll you will not be able to help with anything and she needs to go to the company with questions. I wouldn’t even answer small questions – that will just lead to more calls.

      You should Not feel guilty, the company put her in this position where she is doing a job she doesn’t know how to do, not you!

    3. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

      I would find it quite galling, actually. Presumably this colleague knows that the OP lost their job and no longer works there, yet they are asking for free labour. I’m sure the colleague has some kind of notion that the OP now has lots of free time or the call won’t take that long, but it’s still really irksome. I would not do it either.

    4. Rebecca*

      I totally agree with this – in my company, people got furloughed right away. 1/3 of my department is gone. The work didn’t go away, while the number of teapots ordered and shipping has gone down, the number of actual orders remains pretty much the same, and it takes time to deal with it. 100 teapots or 10,000 teapots – same amount of paperwork, system stuff, etc. We were told we can’t contact people on furlough for help. Fast forward to “Rebecca, you’ll be handling ACME Anvils for Sansa and Fergus while they’re on furlough”. Ummm…never handled that client before, what can you tell me? Nothing. And you can’t ask Sansa or Fergus, just do your best, it’s really sort of like your iron bird pellets vendor, maybe with some differences. Yep. Fun times. Nothing like a pandemic to shine the light on even more bad management.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Ugh, I’ve had this.

        “I need an urgent answer about your new two-handled teapot.”

        “Ask Fergus.”

        “He’s on furlough.”

        “Ask him anyway. He’s the only person that knows about this superimportant project.”


    5. Not trying to be rude, just good at it*

      This type of situation has always made me smile. Years ago the new principal immediately dismantled the business education department and I was forced transferred to a new school. I had experience with the situation and the boss before so it was no surprise (she didn’t like business teachers and had done this previously). At the end of the school year I cleaned out the memory of the computer lab and changed all the passwords.

      Fast forward to next school year and I’m getting emails calls asking for the passwords. I reply, “youmustbekiddingme”. Finally my new principal calls me down to the office and asks for the passwords; he doesn’t want anymore calls from my old school. I showed him my email responses and after a good laugh he made the phone call.

      1. Saberise*

        lol took me a reread to realize what you did there. I was like why won’t you give them the password the first time through.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      OP, you can’t pass 23 years of experience on to someone inside of 2 days or 2 weeks. None of this is YOUR fault. Eh, how often in life do we have to work on something that is not our fault? Way too often if you ask me. Push the problem back where it belongs and that is on the managers still working at your place.

      I really wouldn’t put too much more thought into this one. It’s a use your words thing, as avoiding the phone does not get your point across. The problem with statements that start out with, “Well, they SHOULD know…..” is that these statements don’t bring resolution. In her case, she does NOT know and you can softly shut this down inside of one call. “I am sorry. I can’t help you. [Insert Alison’s idea about unemployment benefits.] Please don’t call here. I can’t answer your calls.”

      1. Elise Elman*

        Thank you every one for your responses. Good to be validated that I’m not wrong for not wanting to help someone do my job that I was laid off from.

    7. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Sorry but if the company laid me off, it’s up to the COMPANY to train others on how to do my job. They’ve made the decision that I’m expendable, and it’s not up to me to assist them. And I don’t feel for the former co-worker – they’re out of line contacting OP. I realize (especially now) that lay offs are not always done with malice, but it’s still not OP’s responsibility to help anyone when they were let go. Next time the person contacts OP, it’s perfectly acceptable to say “I’m no longer an employee of the company and I can’t help you.”

    8. tamarack and fireweed*

      I’d certainly be polite, never rude, to the former co-worker, who’s in the unenviable position of being responsible for work she can’t do without training she isn’t being provided.

      But in all politeness, can the OP be even more direct than Alison suggests? “Given I was laid off, I do not think it would be right to keep doing work for [company].” “Helping you out with this is work that [company] isn’t paying me for.” She could soften it with “I certainly don’t blame you for asking, but this is a bit of a matter of principle – I don’t condone working for a company after they stopped paying me. I’m not refusing you a personal favor. It’s them who put you in this situation.” And even “If they want to bring me on as a consultant to help with the transition, tell [boss] to call me and I can discuss my rates.” Plus, I’d certainly keep providing a small number of one-sentence answers. Like, three. “Fergus would know how [client’s] contract was negotiated.” “The red and blue folders are to distinguish active from archived clients.” “You’ll have to go to the identity management team directly for that – IT won’t be able to do what you want.”

      1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

        I don’t think I’d make too much of a speech. Just “sorry, Jane, as you know I was laid off two months ago and I no longer work for [company]. You’ll have to ask your boss for training.” I’m not sure if I would even give short answers anymore — it’s just reinforcing that they can keep calling OP despite the fact that she hasn’t worked there for months.

      2. Reader*

        I agree with being kind to the former co-worker who is probably now doing 2 jobs in the same workweek and with no transition. But staying firm with the former *employer* is also important: “If they want to bring me on as a consultant to help with the transition, tell [boss] to call me and I can discuss my rates.”

  13. LGC*

    Quick quibble with #4: the policy itself is fine, since it requires them to shave as needed. The problem is really the way it’s enforced – or rather, that it’s not.

    I’m actually prone to razor bumps myself (and I’m black), although I don’t work in healthcare. I can’t speak for other men (or people with beards), but I’d be willing to shave if I were assigned an airborne patient, and definitely to get fitted for an N95. And I think your hospital should have been asking this more.

  14. PB*

    For #1, in addition to Alison’s script regarding timeline, it might also be good to emphasize that hiring her full time is very uncertain. I worry that if you just say “I can’t give you an answer until August,” the intern may interpret that as “I can offer you a full time roe in August.” I might tweak the script slightly: “I’m sorry if I haven’t been clear. I won’t be able to give you any answer on full-time employment until at least August. I also want to be clear that our finances are very uncertain right now, so it’s possible that, even in August, we won’t be able to offer you a permanent position.”

    This may not be a problem, since the intern is continuing to apply for jobs, but since she’s had trouble absorbing the message so far, it can’t hurt to be crystal clear.

    1. WellRed*

      Agreed. I had the same thought. Selective hearing and all that. At this point, though, I kinda wouldn’t want to hire the intern at all.

    2. Annony*

      I would change “it’s possible that even in August we won’t be able to offer you a permanent position” to “it’s likely that even in August we won’t be able to offer you a permanent position.” I think it is better to keep expectations in check.

    3. juliebulie*

      All of those words, plus “and until then, I need you to be focusing on the internship that you’re here for now.”

  15. PB*

    #2, have you checked for any opportunities for remote networking within professional associations? My own association is offering this kind of virtual coffee opportunity, but coordinated by the association. Experienced people volunteer to talk to newer members and then the association pairs them us, which removes a lot of the awkwardness.

    Otherwise, I think as long as you make it clear that “no” is fine and are respectful of their time, asking is fine. for my own part, if I received this kind of networking request, I would absolutely agree. The world is so terrible right now, I’d love to “pay forward” some of my own knowledge and experience.

  16. LuckyPurpleSocks*

    Thank you for sharing the link about black men and shaving. I (white woman) had no idea/had never thought about it, but I’m very glad to know now, especially as a manager!

    1. Amy Sly*

      I knew about it from experience looking up ways to minimize shaving bumps in areas fashionable women are supposed to keep shaved — it’s a lot of the same advice.

      But it just occurred to me that while I’ve seen plenty of black men with neatly trimmed facial hair, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one with the Santa Clause/Mountain Man long beard that some white men wear.

      1. Jenn*

        Google for pictures of Lovie Smith, the University of Illinois football coach. He recently shaved, but for several years was rocking the “Santa Claus.”

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

    OP3, does this employee know you don’t work there anymore? Even if there isn’t a chance to get your job back, replying with a short “I’m afraid I can’t help you since I don’t work there anymore, please contact my/your boss if you need any assistance” is better than nothing. Also, if you ever had access to sensitive/confidential/NDA protected content, adding that your access has been revoked may help too.

    1. I'm just here for the cats*

      I was wondering that too. She could be totally oblivious. Or maybe the company is being weird and didn’t say that she was furloughed. I remember a letter awhile ago (I think it was ask a manager) that they were furloughed but forbidden to say anything or that other people in the office weren’t allowed to say. The reasoning was something like the company didn’t want other employees worrying about being laid off.
      Or may I’m getting letters mashed together.

      1. Elise Elman*

        Her boss is one of the executive committee members who decided to lay me off. She knew/knows I’m laid off. She is in no way oblivious.

        1. blaise zamboni*

          Gross. You have no obligation to help her.

          I assume she’s in a different role covering your closed position? If so, you could kindly deflect and point her to your former boss. “I’m sorry, I’m not able to help any longer, please contact Griselda directly in the future.” If Griselda doesn’t have a clue what you did or how, well, that sucks for them. Not your problem.

          If she moved into your position, that implies you weren’t actually “laid off” because they did have a business need for your role. If you feel like you were wrongfully terminated, you might gather any documentation you have and look at pursuing a case against them. I’m not saying that’s the case, but IME stupid companies sometimes “lay off” employees in lieu of firing them and that just screams mismanagement and/or fear of lawsuits to me.

          Either way, you owe this employee and your former employer absolutely nothing. I hope this letter is old and that they aren’t still contacting you *two months* after you have been laid off. Direct this person to your former boss and offer no more unpaid, unappreciated help to them.

          Best of luck in your next role! You’re clearly valuable to your ex-employer even if they won’t say so. I hope that experience helps you land something great soon.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            To clarify, she can still have been legitimately laid off but now someone else is doing that job. They may have needed to cut numbers, and now her work is spread over 3 people rather than being its own job, or so so forth.

          2. Molly McGee*

            Thank you for your advice. Yes, she contacted me last week, 2 months after being laid off. I didn’t take her call.

  18. James*

    #4: A few things spring to mind.

    First, unless your fit tests are vastly different from mine “We don’t have enough masks” isn’t an excuse to skip fit tests. Fit tests are done with the mask type and size you will be using under OSHA, but the same mask can in many cases safely be re-used if they are disinfected thoroughly. I’m not familiar with the CDC’s guidelines, I work under OSHA, so that may not be the case. It’s not uncommon for fit tests to be delayed until they are needed, but that’s an issue of staffing, not supplies, in my experience. You need someone qualified to do fit tests, and those folks aren’t always available.

    Maybe they’re right, maybe there’s something I’m missing. But this line of reasoning does not sit well with me. I would do some digging.

    Second, more a humorous recollection than anything else: I used to do work on a PVC plant which required us to be able to wear full-face rescue respirators. There was a group that worked there that had religious objections to shaving. They were allowed to have beards–but if anything went wrong they were immediately to upgrade to Level A PPE–space suit and supplied air. This was in Mississippi. I’ve had a beard since college, and I opted to shave! Not that it would do any good anyway; the most likely thing to go wrong would be the vinyl chloride catching fire, at which point there’s neither time nor point to putting on a respirator; you’re going to be blown into tiny bits regardless (they took this threat VERY seriously and had VERY strict procedures to prevent it).

  19. NerdyKris*

    Isn’t the portion of the application that asks for your gender confidential? I thought that section is separate from the part given to hiring managers and is only kept for government reporting.

    1. Anononon*

      I’m not sure if you’re not in the US, but here, no, there is no uniform policy about gender on applications. Many organizations keep that confidential to avoid bias during the hiring process, but there is zero requirement to do so.

  20. Jim Bob*

    4: So only men of certain races or creeds, with “acceptable” reasons to have facial hair should be allowed to keep it? I would absolutely look for another job before complying with that policy.

    Obviously if they’re growing it specifically to avoid infectious patients, that’s something for a manager to deal with on a case by case basis, but a good manager will be able to tell the difference.

    1. GD375*

      You’d be totally within your rights to look for another job, but this isn’t an unreasonable policy and I’m not sure why you think it is. Medical and religious accommodations seem pretty reasonable to me.

    2. Anononon*

      There’s a decent amount of discrimination law surrounding the issues of facial hair and either religious requirements or the difficulties some black men have with shaving. You may not agree with it, but yes, under discrimination laws, there are protected reasons for having facial hair that don’t apply to everyone. It’s not just a “policy”.

    3. Signe*

      I mean, if you have facial hair you can’t do a key portion of your job, so… yes? Limiting the exceptions to medical or religious reasons is in fact reasonable. And if you were to look for another job you would need to find one where there is no possibility of seeing an infectious patient. Which is relatively limited in healthcare.

    4. Shirley Keeldar*

      You really don’t see a difference between a beard worn to adhere to a religious code and a beard worn for fashion? Between a hijab or a yarmulke and my hat that I just kind of like? A break for prayer and a break to check Facebook? Well, I guess it’s okay if you don’t see a difference, since the law does.

      Also, way to make this about you and your hypothetical facial hair, rather than about the actual discrimination taking place–that women are being asked to undertake potentially risky jobs more frequently than men.

      1. Jim Bob*

        There are plenty of valid reasons to wear facial hair besides race or religion.

        For example, if I don’t keep (well-kempt, fits under a mask just fine, doesn’t interfere with the job) facial hair, I look about 14 and no one at the office takes me seriously. If an employer instituted a blanket policy of no facial hair at all except for certain religious or racial exceptions, I would absolutely find another job, and would seriously consider my own lawsuit.

        1. Jim Bob*

          Limiting style or length to fit with a mask is a bona-fide requirement. A blanket ban is not.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          There’s no lawsuit there — it’s legal for employers to have policies banning facial hair as long as they make medical and religious exceptions. “Looking 14 without facial hair” is not a legally protected class.

          So it’s not a question of valid, it’s a question of what the law protects.

          Doesn’t mean you can’t take a stand over it, but if you were in a field where you treated patients, you might end up needing to change fields if you weren’t willing to comply.

      2. James*

        “Also, way to make this about you and your hypothetical facial hair, rather than about the actual discrimination taking place–that women are being asked to undertake potentially risky jobs more frequently than men.”


        The law is clear: religious and medical exemptions are allowed. So “I don’t see why they’re allowed” is a non-starter. If you don’t like it, complain to the regulators; the manager and employer have zero leeway here. If I tell my staff “I will no longer allow religious exemptions” I will get fired, my company will get sued, and we’ll likely lose the ability to bid on work with various government entities, meaning a few THOUSAND people will be out of a job.

        I get where Jim Bob is coming from. I have facial hair. I like having facial hair. I look about 12 without it, and my wife hates it. But since my religion says nothing about facial hair I get to carefully shave so that a full-face respirator can make a good seal once every year for my fit test. It’s annoying, but when compared to other aspects of the job it’s minor. (Plus I found my wife likes a goatee better than a full beard, so there are positives to it.) The alternative is loss of employment or death (there’s a reason we wear respirators, after all).

        The real issue is, as you say Shirley, the company is using this to discriminate against women, who have no option to grow facial hair. That trumps anyone saying “I don’t like to shave”.

  21. Dagny*

    LW1: There are a lot of people out there who get terrible advice. It’s not just the advice to “continue pushing;” there are people who genuinely believe that all internships lead to permanent roles within the company. Hell, I had people asking my why I didn’t get job offers, at companies on hiring freezes no less, after informational interviews.

    It’s time to sit down with the intern and explain how the professional world works. While some companies hire interns with the idea of hiring them on permanently, many do not. Pushing the issue does not make money in the budget, and appropriate work to support a new hire, appear.

    1. Lynn Whitehat*

      I guess I am one of those people. Every place I have worked, a lot of the point of having interns was basically a try-out for full-time employment upon graduation. So to me it seems natural that an intern would be asking about the next steps toward that. In my world, getting bent out of shape about it would be like having auditions for a play, and then wondering why you keep getting questions about whether they got the role, or at least when it will be announced.

      If the answer they’re getting is something like “well, I just don’t know yet”, that does sound a lot like “keep asking”. Just be clear with them that you won’t know anything until August at least. Share any other information you have that might clarify what the situation is too.

      1. Student*

        Agree – the whole point of internships for the interns is to secure future employment.

        If you have an intern and you think they’re good enough to hire, you should make some effort to get them a job somewhere. That may be pointing them toward other company or industry contacts rather than hiring them to be directly on your team. You don’t have to get them a job, or exactly the job they want – but you do have an obligation to try to help them along to gainful employment in some way.

        If they don’t meet the criteria for a job right now, then the help you’re obligated to provide is teaching them to meet the bar for some future job.

        If you have interns and don’t have the means to help them towards employment in any way, you should ask yourself (1) why do I have interns? (2) is there someone above me that could help connect this intern to job opportunities? If the answer to (1) is “to help me do my job, but at lower pay / free” then you are abusing the intern system.

        1. Dagny*

          That’s not how things work. If the workload and funding aren’t there – which is likely the case when they take people on for 10 weeks a year – then the students’ choices are 1) an internship without a full-time job after graduation, or 2) no internship and no job after graduation.

          You can’t stick the camel’s nose under the tent and argue that since they took you on at $15/hour for 10 weeks, they should hire you on permanently for an indefinite amount of time, or they are “abusing” the system.

          You’re also making a big assumption that their interns are not learning anything. I learned a LOT at my internships, even when it was very clear they were not leading to permanent post-graduation employment.

  22. Employment Lawyer*

    3. I was laid off but a coworker keeps calling with work questions
    They’re still calling you two months after the layoff? That’s extreme.

    If you want to be kind you can give one last “this is the last time I will help you; schedule a day and time in advance, stack up your questions; you have 15 minutes” email. But you don’t have to do that: two months later, your obligations are over.

    4. Is our mask policy discriminatory toward women?
    Yes. Gender > mask; mask > high risk, therefore gender > high risk. Can’t do that, generally speaking. Note, however, that some beards are religious/health reasons, although employers can still override those at times.

    You want to talk to a local lawyer, the trick is to get this changed without being identified and tagged as a troublemaker. If you’re unionized, the union may also help (though again, I always recommend a private lawyer conversation first; unions can have complex agendas and government and do not always take “your” side.)

    5. When can you offer your pronouns during a hiring process?
    After you’re hired, for most folks.

    The only reason to disclose it early would be if you were one of those folks who cannot abide an environment which is not 100% uber-supportive: Disclosing early will make that more likely, but will also make it more likely that you’ll lose a job which is “perfectly fine, if not 100% ideal.”

    People’s thoughts about different genders and pronouns gets described as “tolerant/intolerant” but of course it’s on a sliding scale like everything else. And “what people ideally want” is a much smaller pool than “what people will suck up if they have to, at work.”

    For most folks, their ability to adapt exceeds their desire to adapt; adaptation takes work. To use a deliberately-non-personal analogy: Maybe you would prefer not to work with someone who believes that all government officials are actually, literally, space aliens in disguise. If you had the chance to block that hire then maybe you would. But if they were hired without your knowledge of those beliefs, you would suck it up and work with them rather than quitting or trying to get them fired.

    The same goes for some folks’ approach to pronouns. If you disclose during hiring, you may get screened out early by someone who doesn’t feel like using non-standard pronouns, even if the overall experience of work there would be pretty much fine and even if they would force themselves to adapt once you were hired.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Someone’s gender identity isn’t a preference or comparable to having to work with an annoying coworker, and someone’s overall experience at work wouldn’t be “fine” if they were routinely referred to by the incorrect pronouns (mine sure wouldn’t). I’m not going to host debate on that here, period.

      1. Employment Lawyer*

        Huh? That isn’t what I said. Or what I meant.

        At work, people need to suck it up and use the right pronouns; that’s a basic work obligation like learning to pronounce a name. This is just a fact of life: Work requires adaptation.

        But lots of people are capable of adhering to a rule at work–even if they don’t like the rule. They may grumble about the rule with friends; they may not adhere to the rule outside of work; they may even try to get the rule changed. But they can follow it well enough, mostly w/ compliance.

        Some folks are OK with a workplace where people *only follow* the rule. If your issue is merely “get called your chosen pronoun” then you’re covered (and you have a wider choice of potential workplaces.) For folks in that category, the job market is wider if they don’t disclose up front, since that hypothetical coworker (who would otherwise suck it up) may be on the hiring committee. This is what I meant when I discussed “even if the overall experience of work there would be pretty much fine.”

        But lots of people (for obvious reasons) only want to be somewhere where people *embrace* their preferred ruleset. That is a more limited subset of people and a more limited job market. If you’re in that category then you do want to disclose up front.

        1. Alton*

          I don’t really get what you’re arguing. If having people use the correct pronouns for you is the bare minimum you should be able to expect, isn’t it contradictory to say that a workplace that wouldn’t hire you based on your gender identity and the pronouns you use might still be “pretty much fine”?

          While implicit bias is certainly a concern, in my experience, people who would knowingly eliminate a non-binary job candidate based on their gender are not going to be good about gendering them correctly when they actually work together. Even a lot of the people I work with who are *trying* to be decent allies still misgender me a lot. People who actively dislike using the correct pronouns for trans/non-binary people are not going to bother unless they’re required to, as a rule.

        2. Smol Queer Teacher*

          I’m going to ask you to please read what other gender variant folks have written on this post and others because, intentionally or not, your comments read kind of transphobic and very out of touch with the reality of trans peoples lives. While “please don’t actively be a bigot” may seem like a low bar (and it is), it is a bar that a huge number of people, most people, don’t clear. In most states, it is not even a bar they are required to clear. I would appreciate if my coworkers are actively allies, but I would happily settle for getting my pronouns right more than 75% of the time, which isn’t true even at my very liberal workplace. In my state, I couldn’t have an employment offer rescinded for being trans, but I am extremely lucky. Most people aren’t so lucky. Personally, I would rather not get the interview than be subjected to a transphobic work environment unless absolutely necessary.

  23. Bob*

    LW1: Start with Alison’s suggestions. If they don’t work then you have to go to the next level. If you keep asking about a full time position your doing the opposite of ingratiating yourself. Part of being a star employee is knowing when not to push your superiors too far. Also applying for positions your not qualified for makes you look amateurish, the opposite of your intended goal. Aim high but be realistic, you should aim for a step above where you are now, but many steps will actually make the reviewer sour on your application.

    LW2: I agree with Alison for the most part. Part of working your network is learning to read people quickly.

  24. time for lunch*

    Hmm. Re question #2, whether the person you ask for a coffee is a bit bored and eager to connect, or overloaded, worn out, and tired of video calls has nothing to do with how close your relationship is. You can’t pick people carefully, because you just can’t know! So I think the first part of the advice, wherein Allison writes that you allow for people not to be available right now and tread lightly, and offers language to help do that, is right. But the second part, that if you get a poor response you should think twice about asking more people, makes no sense. What does the availability of people you do know have to do with the availability of people to whom you are more distantly connected?

    Be polite to all, easy-going, and allow for everyone to not be able or interested right now. Without more information than what’s provided here, you can’t know until you ask.

    1. Lilyp*

      I think the reasoning is to start with people you already have a pre-existing positive relationship with — that way if they perceive it as tone-deaf/awkward/uncomfortable they’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and it won’t completely ruin the contact, and they might even care enough to tell you that straight-out. If within that “safer” sample size you get only negative responses that’s an indication that a lot of people would find it off-putting and it’d be risky to ask strangers.

      My other suggestion would be to find an online interest group in your industry (like on LinkedIn or something) and look for or make a post there. I figure people going to look at those spaces are opting in to extra professional communication right now so you’re more likely to get a positive response.

    2. Pommette!*

      Very much in agreement!
      Many people’s professional, social and familial lives have been upturned. Unless you know someone well enough to have kept in touch and to know how they are doing, you don’t know how those changes have affected them. Your close colleagues might all be struggling to keep up with families and work, but that doesn’t mean that your remote colleagues are all in the same boat. Some might be struggling to deal with isolation.
      Just be polite and clear about the fact that you expect nothing, and let the people who need the same thing that you do write back.

    3. Annie*

      Yeah – I actually was on the receiving end of this request recently and ended up just talking on the phone to the person rather than video-chatting. Video-chatting with someone you don’t know well is pretty awkward and means the person has to get all set up, but a phone call meant I talked to them while I took my dog for a walk – less intrusive on my time for sure.

      I will say – as always – be cognizant of people’s time. If you have something specific you want to know and can only really learn through discussing with someone in the industry, that’s different from people in the “I should probably make contacts in field x” camp. I am absolutely willing to give my time to people trying to break into my field and answer specific questions, but I am frustrated with people who just vaguely think maybe I can get them a job one day (I can’t! Or at the very least the most I can do is comment to our HR that you seemed basically normal when we talked for fifteen minutes!) or have questions that Google can answer better than me.

  25. Julie*

    I have been very frustrated by the “virtual coffee” requests. I’ve had about 10, all requested as virtual coffees and not chats or catch-ups. I think I’m more annoyed they are being branded as virtual coffees than just asking me to speak to get my perspective on the industry right now. Feels performative, like a social media thing, and makes me wonder if someone is really expecting me to brew coffee and sit there with it when the call is scheduled. I barely have time as it is. I also prefer calls to video chats, so the request adds an extra layer of UGH. Just be direct, “I’d love to catch-up if you have some time in the coming weeks.”

    1. Generic Name*

      We’ve been doing “virtual happy hours” and “virtual coffees” with our clients, and from what I’m hearing, it’s been generally well-received. I think using the term “virtual coffee” is shorthand for a briefer midday and meet-up in a more casual setting. It does not have to mean literally sitting with a cup of coffee and staring at each other over zoom. We’ve been phrasing our requests as a chance to catch up with clients and then offer to have a virtual happy hour (denoting that the meeting will be near or after the end of the work day more than anything else) or coffee (Meaning mid-day ish). One client said a phone call was easier, so we did that.

      Everybody is different, and it’s easy to get wrapped around the axle thinking about people’s potential differing strong preferences or needs. I think a good way to handle things is to be open and flexible and make it clear your goal is to talk about X topic and offer different acceptable to you Ways to accomplish that goal.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes, I think virtual coffee is the current buzzword to call them. My company has them a lot. They’re normally shorter, catch ups mostly over Teams or Skype and fairly informal chats. The coffee is not mandatory although in my company most of us have a cup of tea present on most of our video calls.

        I’d agree that the best thing is to be flexible about the means you’ll use for them and be clear what you want to accomplish. People may or may not be open to this so I think it’s important not to press them if they’re not able to do it and to be receptive if they’d rather have a phone call or nothing at all.

    2. nnn*

      Yes, all of this!

      Added to that, some people who want to “virtual coffee” etc. want to socialize, some want to network, some are checking in to see if I need emotional support, some are lonely and need emotional support themselves, some have taken up MLM as a hobby and are trying to sell me something, some are looking for work and want to list me as a reference and really that could have been an email.

      So yes, be direct, and also be *specific*. What exactly is this about? Why me? Why now? Why this medium?

      Example: “I’m looking for work and was hoping to chat a bit about what it’s like to work for your employer.”

  26. State Moose*

    #4: Hi, registered nurse here, formerly with a beard and currently with a mustache so it can fit under an N95 mask. It should be noted that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an alternative for a N95 mask for staff that either had facial hair, or could not pass a fit test due to the shape of their face and available sizes of masks (the N95 needs a good seal against the face to be protective). This device is the PAPR (powered air purifying respirator), basically a helmet with and integrated face shield connected to a HEPA filter. The design is more protective than just a N95 alone, and they were typically used for higher risk procedures where a patient with a nasty respiratory bug is likely to cough or aerosolize into the room, or if someone couldn’t wear an N95. Most hospitals don’t have many on hand (my 300 bed hospital has about 30), and once COVID-19 hit, they became nearly impossible to purchase, and are now exclusively used for aerosolizing procedures, and N95 masks are required for the care of patients with suspected or actual COVID-19. My hospital hasn’t needed to mandate shaving, but asked voluntarily, and many of us with facial hair did so out of solidarity. The regular face masks required in all areas of the hospital aren’t affected by facial hair.

    Stay safe out there!

  27. Product Person*

    OP#1: I’d also explicitly say to the intern what you said here:

    “I feel as though, at this point, they really should be focusing on learning and making the most of the opportunity I’m giving them, rather than focusing on jumping to the next step right away.”

    They may benefit from understanding that, no matter how anxious they are about getting a permanent job, if all their energy is spent on that, they will be missing a huge opportunity to develop new skills, network, make great contributions that people will remember later.

    Who knows, by the time this internship is over, there might not be a job available at this company, but someone who noticed the skills and dedication of the intern may have switched jobs and have the perfect opening.

    It’s fine to be looking now for a permanent opportunity, but if this is your primary ficus during the hours you should be learning and adding value to your employer, then don’t complain when no one is willing to offer a permanent position–it will go to someone who has shown the value they can provide.

    1. juliebulie*

      Yes. Intern’s focus should be on the current opportunity, not the opportunity they want to have. If they give the impression that the job they already have is not their first priority, there’s no reason to believe they won’t continue acting the same way when they’re hired into a permanent position (they will always be nagging for a promotion).

  28. Radiant Peach*

    LR1: please please take Allison’s advice on giving your intern realistic expectations. I had a graduate internship last fall where the work I did led to a director-level role being created. The job description resembled mine at the time and I thought it looked like I had the right amount of experience but I was not even invited for a second interview. The first was probably just a courtesy. I wish my supervisor had suggested I apply for one of the other, more realistic full-time roles open at the time because then I probably would be employed in my hyper-competitive field instead of having a Master’s degree I haven’t used yet.

  29. curious*

    I think the intern might be a little naive regarding the situation. As many people pointed out the intern should understand that they accepted a position knowing that this may or may not become a full time job. However I feel like with everything going on right now the intern is probably in panic mode with everyone job hunting. Alison’s wording is direct, hopefull and realistic. Regardless of what is going on in the world, job hunting after (I’m assuming) college is challenging; perhaps the intern going to school is trying to navigate the next chapter in life’s adventure. OP you are doing everything correctly, follow Alison’s advice and give the intern as much experience as you can.

  30. What the What*

    In my industry, an internship implies that a permanent job position is available. Multiple interns may compete for the same job slot, or if a single intern fails to meet expectations, they won’t be offered a job. But generally, a job opening exists at the end of an internship. If not, the employer should be calling it a short-term contract position or temp work. At the college I attended, the career services department would not allow the employer to list something as an internship if there was no permanent position available.

    Of course, what happens is that the best candidates will not apply for temp positions, because they want real internships with a job prospect, so employers don’t like to advertise their position as a temp job. They tell the college that there’s a permanent job prospect, and they mislead the job candidates about it. Then they string them along, giving vague, wishy-washy answers about the permanent position, because they don’t want the temp to seek other employment and leave until the employer doesn’t need them anymore.

    As you can imagine, this puts the temp/intern at a huge disadvantage. They may have had other options that they declined because they wanted to work at a specific organization… without realizing that organization never had an intention to hire anyone.

    While I realize this isn’t every industry, most colleges hope that they are attracting employers who do want to offer full time permanent positions, and are communicating to their students in a way that implies most internships are basically “job interviews.”

    As more experienced workers, we may think this student should be more savvy, but why? They are at the very beginning of their careers, they’re hearing from their college career services and from friends that they should expect a job offer if they acquit themselves well during an internship, and they’re not bitter and jaded yet about employers who won’t give them a straight answer.

    This isn’t an attack on the OP. This is the first time the OP has had an intern, too. So they’re not familiar with the internship culture yet. So far, the OP has communicated that they “don’t know yet” “maybe there will be a position” – that’s the wrong thing to say. It’s clear to me that this organization is unlikely to offer this intern a job. So tell them that. “We do not have an open permanent position, but hope you’ll complete your internship.”

    1. GD375*

      This is the first time I’ve ever heard someone say that an internship implies that a permanent job position is available, so this is almost certainly something specific to your industry (and maybe a few others), but not generalizable.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      Not my industry either. We had a paid internship/co-op program through a local university and they lasted 6 months and were on a somewhat revolving basis with interns exiting and new ones coming in.

      There was never any expectation of a permanent job, but rather to gain some experience working for a few different companies throughout their undergrad terms. And the hourly pay was pretty good for this type of thing! Never a shortage of applicants.

  31. hmmm*

    Wow. I can’t believe your former company. Given all that’s going on, it’s stinks but it was nice of you to answer some questions….. the first few phone calls. However you are 2 months into being laid off. Whoever made the decisions who was to be laid off should have know what skills would be needed to make the company continue to run. They chose to lay you off, you are done with this company. I would do as suggested and draw a line. Say that you need to be concentrating on your new job search and are available for one last 15-30 minute appointment, after that your consulting fee is $x. I’m not saying this to be a malicious compliance or rude but life goes on. The company needs to learn to resume operations without you there.

  32. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    #3 – been in that position myself – I was laid off of a technical job. Long story (won’t get into it – it raised a firestorm in here when I detailed it, AAM might recall) — my designated replacement couldn’t do the job at all. Someone else, more technically qualified – picked up the role – but needed “over the phone” training.

    Since I was still eligible to be recalled – I went along as much as I could. He got upset when I took a week off, to go job hunting, in a different part of the country and didn’t check in. What the hell did they expect?

    Finally – it got to the point where I stopped – when I started working for others, I said “I can’t afford to lose this gig. I can do it after hours, but we will have to arrange something contracturally.”

    I did get a couple of crazy calls – one suggesting I sign a waiver on my right to recall – I said “sure, how much will they pay me?” (there were reasons behind my layoff and also behind them wanting to hire someone else but I promised I wouldn’t bring that up again in here – rest assured the company’s hands were tied as well) …. and then , later in the year when I had landed a full time job, they asked if I’d accept a recall – I said “we can talk about it but there would have to be a no-layoff provision”…. again, end of conversation.

    It DOES happen – especially in the technical world. What I see most in AAM are instances of people fired, or laid off, and because they didn’t know how to set up adequate security procedures, sent a software product/web page/social media person out the door and the management was too stupid to follow normal security setup and find themselves having to ask the fired person to come back and help them out. IF YOU KNOW WHAT YOUR’RE DOING YOU SHOULD NEVER HAVE TO ASK A FIRED EMPLOYEE FOR PASSWORDS.

    1. Anon Anon*

      The password thing next made sense to me. Every single time I’ve had a direct report resign it’s taken all of about 3 minutes for our IT group to reset that person’s password and for them to forward it to me so that I can access their files and email.

      But, I’ve also never ever emailed or called a former employee asking them for assistance or where files are. They no no longer work for the organization. If they leave on good terms, we try and make sure that get a temporary transition underway during their notice period. If they leave on poor terms, I don’t want to talk to them, and I’ll figure it out.

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        I’d be leery of doing that – because the departed employee still has an ID on the system – and the departed employee might hold you responsible for anything that goes weird.

        What I was referring to were the dizzying questions “Betty left and had the password to our social media site”….. you always set up TWO admins for critical systems. When Betty leaves, you revoke her admin authority, and the remaining admin creates another one.

      2. MissDisplaced*

        Oh God. I’ve given notice at companies, changed to new passwords away from my company email to a generic email, and created a documentation book of all logins and software being used, and they STILL were calling me after I left! D’Oh! Sorry, can’t help you if you won’t bother to read what I documented and take action. One place even admitted they’d lost the book I’d created.

        I recently got a call from a former employer (who said the company didn’t need these skills) 3 years after I left because they’d let something expire on the website and it wasn’t working. Like really? Obviously the company did need those skills as no one bothered to look at the website for 3 years. Gah!

    2. hmmm*

      I am wondering, have you heard how the company is doing since your layoff? Do you keep in touch with someone that might have an inside look as to how things went when you were no longer available?

      1. Elise Elman*

        The company has not sent out any updates to laid off employees, whether we’ll be called back or not. It would be nice to hear something…

      2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        hmmm if you are asking me (no way to tell) – I was working for a division of a very large corporation, and was supporting the IS/IT work of the division. Two years after I was laid off (and, I was NEVER replaced) the division transferred its IS/IT work to a computing site at another corporate location and the entire group ceased to exist.

        This was 30 years ago. But it is relevant today. Managers should know – if they’re going to lay people off , have a plan. In my instance, management’s hands were tied AND because of the oddball way my layoff went down, I didn’t have a chance to train my replacement — originally SHE was gonna get laid off and I was going to stay – very long story… but HR ordered an 11th hour switcheroo, or so I was told.

  33. DataGirl*

    LW5: For what it’s worth, I work for a large hospital system and we, at least, are very open-minded at the organizational level. We have LGBTQ+ groups and participate in Pride parades and other activities. I don’t know what the application looks like, but our database was modified last year to include non-binary as a gender option, and in an interview my colleagues at least wouldn’t blink to have someone give their preferred pronouns. Of course that would vary based on the hospital, the state/region, and the individual manager- but I personally feel good about the advances being made in our industry.

  34. Anon Anon*

    OP1: I would highly encourage you to follow Alison’s advice. I also think it might be worthwhile (if you can carve out the time) to sit down with that intern and provide some examples of jobs that you’d expect someone with no experience to be hired for, and perhaps even discuss what might be some “reach” jobs. I think applying for jobs that a person isn’t qualified for is very common with new graduates. And it’s probably compounded with all the advice out there that says that you should apply for jobs even if you don’t have all the qualifications. That advice makes sense to a candidate with enough experience that they have a good understanding of what each skill or qualification usually involves. I remember a million years ago as a new grad that I thought that my internship experience and school projects were the equivalent to actual full-time professional work experience. They were clearly not. So I think sitting down with your intern and going over that information with them would be valuable. Assuming the intern will listen.

  35. Chronic Overthinker*

    The interns nagging reminds me of when I worked for a temp agency. I worked a contract for a now defunct company. The first contract was in an HR office support role (which I loved!) I was the first point of contact for employees of the company when requesting LOAs. Then after that contract ended, I worked in a different department for the same company, all data entry (it was awful!). My rate of pay was reduced, but I was told by my recruiter that it wouldn’t be. I kept pushing and got the raise but after three short months my contract was abruptly ended. I didn’t realize how badly I burned that bridge until afterwards. I would recommend a brief one-on-one with the intern and let them know that if they are looking for a full-time opportunity now, they need to look elsewhere and explain why.

  36. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Yes, just approach people honestly and openly as Alison says.

    I personally would love to do a virtual coffee with some of my old colleagues from previous jobs – we’d typically get lunch every few months, but that hasn’t happened since January now.

  37. Space Cadet*

    #2: I know the LW’s initial intent is to find herself a role elsewhere, but the best networking is mutually beneficial. I wouldn’t be too quick to discount connections whose companies might not be in the best place right now: as a long-term contact they could help one another navigate a rough economy.

  38. Remote HealthWorker*

    I struggle with they/them more then I do with Zi/Ze.

    I have a little trouble with Zi/Ze because is they are new and no one in my social circle uses them. Grammer is not my strong suit so I stumble over them more then the average person.

    They/them really throws me off because it’s for a crowd. My brain hears it with the same cognitive dissonance as those smug folks that use the Royal We. I would feel pretty darn silly pointing to a single person and saying them over there.

    I think with more practice I’ll get over the hangups/awkwardness and it’s something I want to do to be more supportive of gender identity.

    Anyway just an example of how an employer could struggle with the pronouns for reason other than – not supportive of gender identity.

    1. Traveling Nerd*

      If you have trouble with messing up they/them – try imagining that the person has a little tiny mouse that lives in their pocket. Then your brain will adapt more quickly to they/them, plus it’s such a cute thought you’re unlikely to forget that person!

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Or even the fact that everyone has an id, ego and superego, and it’s all part of them. ;)

    2. Ray Gillette*

      I suspect you’re overthinking it. Most people with this reaction understand the use of singular “they” implicitly when talking about an unspecified person. If I say “Someone left their cell phone in the break room,” that’s not confusing, right?

      1. GD375*

        Yeah, I don’t understand why some people have so much trouble with singular they for non-binary people when its very standard to use it when for a person whose gender is unknown.

        1. Your Friendly Neighborhood Enby*

          It’s the standard and has been since at least Shakespeare’s time! It takes some getting used to when you know the person you’re talking about, but is eminently doable.

          One thing to do: when alone, practice talking about the person whose pronouns are giving you a hard time. There’s a great song about this exact thing by Sunday Comes Afterwards (it includes examples for a bunch of different pronouns, here’s the they/them stanza and chorus):

          So you have a friend named S.
          And their pronoun is “they”
          And maybe you’re not used to
          Speaking of them in that way
          And you want to get it right
          In the flesh and on the phone
          So you practice their new pronouns
          Loud and clear, when you’re alone

          Chorus 2:
          This is my friend, their name is S.
          They themself are a friend of mine.
          I’m so glad to be a friend of theirs
          Both they and I are fine.

      2. mimmy*

        Yeah, we use singular they all the time. “Someone just knocked on the door.” “Oh, what did they want?” It may take practice (private internal practice that we do not make the nb person’s problem) to get the hang of applying it to someone we know, but it’s not an outlandish usage.

    3. Tinker*

      Something I would suggest here — it’s not actually a fully supportive environment, when people are visibly struggling over those things. It may well be an acceptably supportive environment under the circumstances or one that is making progress toward being supportive, but what trans people deserve as people isn’t just not being treated badly, it’s being treated normally — as the person who’s interviewing for a job, as the person who needs a new roof, as the person who broke their finger in a hilarious intimate mishap. Not the person who brings up all these feelings about sixth grade English teachers with ruthless red pens such that the discussion of that entirely overshadows what they came here after.

      A useful ruler here: how often is the matter of someone’s name, pronouns, gender identity, et cetera, worthy of specific comment when that person is cis? Sometimes, sure, but it’s more of a “personal discussion about life philosophy” or “fairly deep linguistics geekery” level than “third time I’ve ever spoken to one of the many folks who come to the Tuesday full-contact aerobic knitting class”. That’s more like how it ought to be for trans people as well.

      Sure, you don’t get there overnight — but that’s the standard to be targeting.

  39. Traveling Nerd*

    LW2 – I would be really cautious about reaching out to anyone you don’t know. It’s very difficult to know from the outside if companies are doing well or not, and there are currently so many people job searching, I know that I am inundated with linkedin requests every day that are honestly just getting annoying.
    I work for a company who is publicly “still hiring” but in reality we just have the job openings still up on the website so that it looks like we’re doing business as normal and we don’t scare investors and take a hit to the stock price.

  40. Anon4this*

    For #4, isn’t it the same as “maternity leave” being longer than paternity leave, if paternity leave even exists at that company?
    I thought it was like some employment rules can’t be applied evenly to men and women bc of gender differences (women being required to wear heels/stockings, men wearing ties as a rule, etc.).
    Some men can’t grow facial hair either, so it only seems to benefit “hairy” men, which could have racial and religious implications (eg black men shaving difficulties or Orthodox Jews not cutting their hair).
    I guess I don’t see how it’s gender discrimination persay. Bc if women could grow beards and then opt out, that would make this okay?

  41. Madame X*

    1 – I’m curious to know if the OP has explicitly told the intern that they will not be hiring them at the end of their internship? Because if what you have told them is

    “I have told them, if all goes well and I have the means, I’d love to hire them but I don’t have the ability to answer that right now.”

    then that may be where the disconnect is, you’ve given the intern a “maybe” and not a clear “no”. I think that Alison’s scripts are a good example of how you can clearly communicate to the intern that there is no chance of a permanent position and that they should primarily focus on getting as much as they can from this internship. Also, I’m not sure that I would interpret an intern applying for jobs that are too senior for their level of skill and experience as thinking that they have mastered all there is to know about the industry (unless they are applying for C-suite level roles?). It’s a pretty common mistake among people who are new to the workforce. Maybe one thing that you could include as part of their internship is informing them what type of positions they should be looking for as part of their job search.

  42. former internship program manager*

    So, I used to run the internship program at my old company for many years, and the best thing you can do is set clear expectations from the start, even during the hiring process, about what the likelihood of an offer is after an internship is completed. In our case, we almost never hired interns on for regular jobs after their internship due to being a small business, and I would tell folks upfront that it was very rare that would happen, and only in the situation where our entry level assistant left the company and that job became open, and even then they’d be up against hundreds of resumes. This will feel harsh but it is actually a kindness – if they know there’s no chance of a job after the summer, they can worry less about an offer coming or not and instead think about what other things they will get out of it. In the case of prior job, our interns got a highly coveted internship which did mean quite a bit on their resume for the future, but they also, if they were good, got access to me, someone who could open up my network to them so that even though I wasn’t able to hire them, I could and often did find someone else in our industry who would. I was lucky that our program was very competitive and I almost never brought on someone who was a dud – as a result I was usually excited to help them at the end of their time with us, which was one of my favorite parts of the job. Side note that I stayed in touch with many of my former interns, several of whom are now good friends, and also find them a valuable part of my own professional network.

  43. Cringing 24/7*

    In an attempt to normalize presenting people’s pronouns, I – as a cis male – have my pronouns on my LinkedIn, but hadn’t considered putting them on my resume or cover letter. I also know that some non-binary or GNC folk use Mx. instead of Mr/Ms. Does anyone know if that would be appropriate to put somewhere in an application, or is it better to just put pronouns after the name?

    1. juliebulie*

      With Mx I still wouldn’t be sure which pronouns to use. I would guess they/them but there are other options.

      Mx is probably only useful in situations where Mrs/Mr/Ms/etc. is required, and that’s not a universal thing. Especially on your own resume.

  44. Pommette!*

    Letter 2 /Coffee calls: Yes, some people are genuinely struggling to keep up with overwhelming responsibilities that eat up all of their time. It’s important to respect that, and to write your invitation in a way that allows people to simply not write back, without guilt.

    But honestly, a lot of people are genuinely struggling with profound isolation. It’s a painful state, and ultimately a harmful one.

    I say: write! For every colleague who experiences your invitation as a burden and an imposition, there might be someone who finds a lifeline in it.

  45. MissDisplaced*

    3. Coworker keeps calling with work questions
    It’s fine to answer basic questions at first, which is professional. Things like, what’s the password, where is this file, etc. But it sounds like like this has passed the prime and yes, the person needs to figure this out on their own as you no longer work there. You are right not to answer those calls any longer.
    If they persist you could reach out to your former manager and see if they wish to PAY you freelance for your time to train the person, given they’ve been calling you with a lot of questions, but that’s only if feel like it.

    4. Is our mask policy discriminatory toward women?
    Boy, this is tricky one. I have always assumed those men who choose medical fields would have to shave facial hair in such circumstances, given the nature of the job. Which, is also kind of troublesome as women don’t grow facial hair.

  46. yourskrewely*

    #4 as s data point, my husband works at a refinery and is required to be fitted each year for a respirator. He and all of the other men who work there are not allowed to grow facial hair other than a mustache. It is a condition of employment and pretty uncontroversial. I doubt the requiring men to shave for respirators to fit appropriately when wearing one is necessary to perform work is discriminatory.

  47. CF*

    5 – From the trenches of gender ambiguity, I think passively notifying people of your pronouns via pins, signatures, etc. just doesn’t work very well. You will usually need to draw people’s attention to it directly. Phrasings that avoid the word “pronoun” such as “please use they and them for me, rather than she and her” often work best – sometimes saying “pronoun” derails the listener into thinking about whether they know what a pronoun is. A deliberately warm and upbeat delivery tone goes a long way.

    I think pins and signatures are helpful for the use cases of reminding people who already know (especially in the situation where they’re interacting with multiple trans people at once) and for normalizing explicit pronoun identification. I’ve found that people who themselves have their pronouns in their email signature do no better than baseline at respecting mine – that’s depressing, but the converse – that some people who’ve not really engaged with the concept will catch on easily, is less so.

    At the interview/recruitment level, phrasings like, “… because of Company’s excellent record on LGBT support” that basically assumes they’re LGBT supportive and flatter them for it, are a helpful trick – many will rise to the occasion if handed that expectation.

  48. Snickerdoodle*

    #3: If a clear, direct, “I am no longer working there; it is inappropriate to keep contacting me; please stop” doesn’t work, that’s when you pull out the “Fine, I’ll do this for a consulting fee of $400 an hour.” I did that once. Contact stopped immediately.

    1. James*

      My dad did this after retiring (only the number was significantly higher). His former boss said “Can you be here Monday? We’ll have a contract for you to review Friday morning.” Made a lot of money off the company. Sometimes you really DO need that skill set. You just also need to pay for that skill set.

  49. Dr. Safety*

    On 4., best plan is to provide alternative PPE such as a PAPR and hood for respiratory protection. Those don’t require a fit test and will work for everyone. Cost is more, but they provide superior protection.

  50. Koala dreams*

    #1 In addition to having a clear conversation about full time employment not being available now, it will be useful to sit down and talk about what usually happens to interns. How many are typically hired each year, how many go on to work at other places, how many go back to school, what’s the most common role to go into, and how much worse are things right now because of the crisis. An internship is not just about learning the work, it’s even more about learning work place norms and get some insight about how the industry works. It would be a kindness of you to point the intern on that direction.

  51. Hannah*

    In regards to the mask question, no. N95s have to seal securely around the nose and mouth in order to do what they need to do. Facial hair has the possibility of interfering with that and rendering the mask ineffective.

  52. TootsNYC*

    I feel as though, at this point, they really should be focusing on learning and making the most of the opportunity I’m giving them, rather than focusing on jumping to the next step right away.

    I have said something like this very directly. To people I’m supervising, or to people I’m mentoring.
    “Your focus on this makes me worry that it’s getting in the way of the learning you need to do. I understand–believe me–the anxiety about getting an actual job. But many, many interns do not get a job at the place they interned [in my field that percentage is about .0005%], and this is such a specific time to absorb as much as possible, I hate to see you squander it. When you’re thinking of questions about getting a job, you’re not thinking of questions about why things happen and how the business/field/process functions.”

    I’ve also said to someone, “It’s not making you look good, to have so much focus on whether you can get a job. The purpose of this internship / interaction is to provide you with information, and it can raise doubts about your ability to focus on the true purpose, and on your ability to absorb information.”

    Also, I think it’s a kindness to say to someone, even more directly that Alison suggests: “You don’t have the qualifications for that job. You’ve learned a lot, and you’re really sharp. But there is efficiency and knowledge that comes with years in the field, and you simply don’t have them. In fact, you don’t have enough experience to know what it is that you don’t know. I’m not sure it helps your impression inside this company when you apply for jobs that far out of your experience level. You should feel free to reach up, but that particular one is going to be too high.”

    I don’t know–maybe I’m too direct. I’ve been kind but firm in my tone, and I don’t turn it into a long lecture, nor do I revisit the topic later. But I think that walking around things isn’t very helpful. Plus I feel like I end up having to have this convo later, so I just go there now.

  53. non-binary transfemme commenter!*

    Current job seeker here.I put they/she on my resume. If an employer isn’t going to respect my identity or pronouns, I really don’t want to work there. I don’t have time for that negative energy or bullshit when I’m out here trying to thrive in my next workplace.

  54. No bees on Typhon*

    OP#2, I’m currently in an entrepreneurship bootcamp programme that involves interviewing potential customers, key opinion leaders, and other people from our target industry. I felt so awkward asking people – mostly second and third degree connections who I’ve never met – to give up their time for free for these informational interviews right now, especially because our target industry is heavily impacted by COVID, but a lot of people have been amazingly generous with their time. In fact, I’m talking to someone later today who I was sure would say no because he’s been so busy dealing directly with COVID, but he said he was actually really excited to have a chance to talk about a different aspect of his work for a change!

    So, it doesn’t hurt to ask, and I thought Alison’s script was great. I might borrow the “I’d love to talk with you if you’re more in the second group, but I totally understand if you’re in the first” wording, in fact – it’s the perfect way to give someone an easy out if they don’t have the time or energy to talk to a stranger right now.

    Good luck!

    1. TootsNYC*

      I just gave a speech about my subspecialty to interns in my field (through an internship program that I also attended).

      I also volunteered to have “drinks after work” with them because their remote internship program is going to be really low on contact w/ staff at their publications.

      I love this kind of stuff–it makes me feel like an expert.
      I also love it because I get to talk about the “why” and the underlying principles of my field, our purpose, our ethics. It absolutely energizes me.

  55. OP (Intern question)*

    Hey all,

    OP on the intern question here. Thank you to Ask A Manager for the great response and actionable advice!

    Thank you to all the commenters for the additional advice and insights, it’s been really helpful for me and I appreciate all your perspectives. Most people have suggested to be more direct and concise with my intern, so that is what I am going to do. I understand their stress and anxiety about the job market (I think we are all feeling it), and I think that has translated over to me being more unsure than usual about approaching expectation management – because, really, none of know what’s going to happen in a few months. I of course, want to be helpful, but I think as you’ve all agreed, being truly helpful right now, is to be straight forward, not ambiguous.

    I am also going to take Ask a Manager’s advice in regards to addressing their applications for Senior roles.

    Thank you all and I hope everyone is doing ok and safe during these times.

    1. TootsNYC*

      also, even though none of us know what will happen in the short term, it is still VERY valid to coach them about the norms and industry etiquette, because we WILL go back to something like what we had. And I have found that almost ALL etiquette is founded on a base that exists in every situation.

      You should be proactively coaching this intern about industry etiquette

  56. Curmudgeon in California*

    RE OP3:

    *ring* *ring* “Hello?”
    “Is Curmudgeon there?”
    “This is $FormerCoworker. Can you tell me how to finagle the framistat so that it doesn’t alert?”
    “I’m sorry, I no longer work there. However, my consulting rate is $150/hour, minimum 4 hours. I am willing to be on-call for questions after signing and NDA and a contract for a fixed minumum number of hours.”
    “Uh, I can’t do that.”
    “Then I suggest you get the answer from someone who works there.”
    “They told me to call you.”
    “I documented as much as I was able while I was there. I do not provide the benefits of my knowledge to a company without compensation. It’s not personal against you, it’s a matter of principal. I suggest you ask $FormerBoss is they can pay me to act as a resource.”

    Yes, I’ve been in the position where someone who no longer worked for my org was the only source of information. They were pretty gracious about it, but if it was more than a question or two, we managed to compensate them.

  57. sara*

    LW5: I’m queer and also a hiring manager for a role that involves an online application, so we never receive a candidate’s resume or cover letter. The most common strategies I’ve seen:
    1. Introducing yourself with pronouns, particularly if the first interview question is something like “tell us about yourself”. The key to not making this a Thing is to do it nonchalantly — i.e. “Thanks so much for inviting me into today’s interview. My name is S and I use they/them pronouns. I recently graduated…blah blah blah”. This is also an effective strategy for introducing yourself during day-to-day interactions!
    2. Including pronouns on leave-behind material (a resume, business card, etc.)
    3. Including pronouns in an email signature

    In my experience, the 1st option is the most effective and ensures that everyone knows a candidate’s pronouns. Many LGBTQ-friendly workplaces will not think twice about a candidate sharing their pronouns in that way, and it’s a red flag if sharing pronouns gives an employer pause.

    Some workplaces are starting to create space for candidates to share their pronouns during the application process (i.e. the interviewers might introduce themselves with their own pronouns first), but I think this is still dependent on region/culture/hiring manager.

  58. your friendly neighborhood trans*

    LW5: Like sara suggested above, I came out while job searching primarily through email signatures. Putting pronouns in your resume is definitely a good option for many (and cis folks should consider doing this to normalize it!). When I was job searching, I wanted to let the people involved in the hiring process know my correct pronouns before the interview process, which would really be the first time they would gender me that I would hear. But I didn’t want it to be the first thing they knew about me either to reduce the potential for bias in the first phase of hiring. If they were biased against trans people, it would be harder (though still very possible) for that bias to rear its head after they had met me and heard more about my qualifications for the role. So if your sibling is not comfortable with including their pronouns on their resume, I would suggest putting it in their email signature when they respond to emails to schedule, and reiterating it when they introduce themselves in interview after “so tell me about yourself” in case people didn’t catch it in the signature or forget.

  59. Quickbeam*

    For #4…I sympathize as an RN myself. For those not familiar with this profession, men often shoot to the top of the ladder very quickly ….so the avoidance of challenging patients is just another legitimate gripe.

    I did fit testing for years and observant Jewish men would grease their beards to provide an acceptable seal. We did recommend shaving but I was working in an area with a lot of faith based objections to shaving.

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