boss won’t give me deadlines, resumes that focus on goals instead of achievements, and more

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

1. My bosses won’t give me deadlines

I work in a small department and mostly for two people. Jill is my supervisor and Jack is her equal. Both of them hate giving deadlines, but both of them will send me follow-up emails or ask “Where are you on this?” until a project is completed. When I’ve asked for deadlines in the past, Jack has said, “I personally hate them but I can tell that you’re someone who needs them,” yet on his latest project when his assistant and I asked for a deadline, he said, “I don’t have one for you, just hurry but get your other work done.” Jill told me that giving me deadlines is “making [her] keep up with one more thing, because now I have to remember that I assigned you the thing and that there’s a deadline for it.”

No one else in the office seems to have this aversion, but I’m wondering if asking for deadlines is too much in the realm of asking them to “manage my feelings,” which is a phrase you brought up in a recent post. The solution I’ve come up with is to send Jack and Jill a project list of what I’m working on for them every week, yet sometimes I still get the feeling that they wish I would have done something sooner (and to be honest I don’t think they read the list).

Asking for deadlines isn’t asking people to manage your feelings; it’s asking for all the info you need to complete the work successfully. It’s true that not everything has a hard deadline, but managers still need to communicate something about what timelines they’re envisioning, especially if there’s a point where they’d be disappointed not to have it. At a minimum, Jack and Jill should be saying things like, “As you have time, but no later than X” or “It’s not the highest priority but I’d want to get it back within a few weeks” or “I can’t do X until you give me Y, so prioritize it, but don’t let it delay Z.” (And even these can carry different levels of urgency depending on who’s saying them, so they require getting to know your boss a bit.)

If you haven’t yet pointed out that you don’t need hard deadlines, just a rough sense of the desirable timeline, try that. But otherwise, I’d start proposing timelines when you first get an assignment — like, “Okay, I should be able to have this back to you by Friday — or do you need it sooner?” or “Is it okay if I shoot for mid-August with this, since I’ve got to finish X and Y first?”

Read an update to this letter here.

2. Should my resume focus on what I hope to do, rather than what I’ve done?

Along with scads of others, I’ve been displaced for a few months and am massaging all of my resume and interview resources. My hope is to begin a master’s in HR this fall, and the advice I’ve received is to develop a resume that focuses on what I want to do, rather than what I have already accomplished. Listing passions on a resume feels strange to me, though certainly I want to communicate my personal brand. What are your thoughts on this? Perhaps it’s just simpler than I’m making it. And could you point to any suggestions/resources that would be valuable to reference on creating a resume that lives goals, rather than experience? My resume is currently a good reflection of the balance of my experience along with some quirky (but not, I hope, distracting) infographics that emphasize my interest in creativity and individuality.

Nooooo, don’t do this. This isn’t what a resume is for. When hiring managers look at your resume, they want to see what you’ve done, not what you hope to do. (You can talk a little about the latter in your cover letter — although not too much even there.)  Your resume needs to provide evidence from your past achievements that shows why you’d excel at the role you’re applying for. If your focus is on what you hope to do rather than what you have done, you’re not going to be competitive with other candidates. (Also, who gave you this advice?! You probably need to discard anything else they’ve told you too, unfortunately.)

Get rid of the infographics too. At best they’re a neutral, but often they’re a negative. They take up space, rarely present info an employer wants, and typically come across as gimmicky. Plain old resumes in the traditional format are still your strongest option.

3. How can I ask interviewers about their support for risk-taking?

I’m looking to start applying for jobs again soon and have decided something that’s important to me is the willingness for an organization to take risks. I’m a public librarian and want to be able to try new things that have the potential to crash and to work for folks who don’t have an attitude of “if there’s even a small chance it will fail, don’t try it.” I want to know that the organization will both support taking on risk and support employees when ideas don’t work out, whether it’s a new program or a social media post (all within reason, of course).

I’m struggling to come up with a question for the interviewer/panel that will get an honest answer. Anything I’ve come up with so far doesn’t communicate that I don’t mean risking employee well-being (which I imagine is on everyone’s minds right now, so it would be easy to interpret a question about risk in general that way) but also feels too direct in a way that makes it easy for the employer to just tell me what they think I want to hear rather than the truth. Any suggestions on how to suss out that kind of information?

Some options (don’t use all of them or you will seem strangely fixated):

“Can you tell me about how new ideas get implemented? I’d especially love to hear about an idea that got tested out but ultimately didn’t work well and how that was handled.”

“How much room is there for the person in this role to test out new programs and approaches?”

“What are some new initiatives that the last person in this role tried out, and how did they go?”

“Whenever you try out new ideas, some of them won’t work out. How much room is there for employees to take risks on projects that might not succeed, and how have you responded to that kind of failure?”

Some of this, too, will come from doing your due diligence on the culture, especially by mining your network for people who can give you the insider scoop.

4. LinkedIn marketing after layoffs

I work for a branch of a very large company in a very small city, so when the company recently closed its local office and transferred all its employees to a new location, it made local headlines for several days.

I got an “add me to your LinkedIn network” invite from a name I didn’t recognize. It said, “I am a financial advisor and I am reaching out to [company] employees that may be impacted by recent layoffs. I am available to help with financial questions that arise or to help with 401k rollovers and retirement plans.”

(They weren’t actually layoffs, but the local press coverage made it sound like they were — “hundreds of jobs lost.” So I understand where he got that.)

This would have annoyed me regardless, because I hate it when people say “please connect with me” when they mean “please volunteer to let me spam you.” But this seems particularly insensitive. “I read in the newspaper that you might have lost your job, and so I didn’t want to waste any time before I tried to market to you.” Can you give me a reality check? Is this inappropriate, or is it just me?

It’s not just you. “Hello, you don’t know me but I’d like to make money off of your hardship” is not an appealing message.

5. How do I resign when we’re remote?

I’m hopefully going to be getting a new job offer in the next couple weeks and I’m going to be leaving my current job. Yay! But since my current office is operating 100% remotely for probably at least the next few months, I need to figure out how to resign. Normally, I’d just poke my head into my boss’ office with a “Hey, do you have a minute?” query, but it seems less casual to send them an email asking for a video call. Do I just resign in an email? Or what?

Don’t do it in an email! This is a still a conversation, not a note. You’ll do it the same way you’d do it if you’d always been remote: The specifics depend on how you and your boss usually communicate, but the easiest way is to just call her. Or if she doesn’t do unscheduled calls, send her a message saying you need to talk with her today and can she call you when she has a few minutes, or can you call her at 2 pm, or so forth. (But it doesn’t need to be video until you want it to be.)

{ 410 comments… read them below }

  1. Heidi*

    LW2 mentioned applying for a masters program. Is it possible that this aspirational resume was requested as part of the application to a masters program, like a personal statement? Or perhaps this resume is supposed to be a thought exercise to help focus their job search (like how some interviews ask where you picture yourself in 5 years)? Either way, it’s hard to imagine a resume that doesn’t include accomplishments or skills being very helpful to the employer. If you have goals that are related to a specific job, maybe it would be appropriate to mention it in your cover letter.

    1. Gruntilda*

      Yes: is this “what I want to accomplish by getting my masters” or “here is a list of my achievements and work history”? Those are two different things!

      I encourage OP, as someone who wants to pursue a career in HR, to pretend they are on the other side of the table and are looking to hire someone/accept people to a masters program (whichever it is). Imagine you pick up resume/application #152, and it lists the applicant’s passions and goals rather than their accomplishments. It also has some quirky infographics.

      What are you looking for in an applicant to fill this role? How important are fundamentals like experience and aptitude compared to their creativity, individuality, and personal branding? Does this resume demonstrate those qualities, and do so objectively (especially the infographics)? After looking at this resume, how confident are you this applicant has the skills to the job?

      I think this perspective will help you as you tinker with your resume as a job-seeker but also as you look into HR in the future.

      1. OP#2 HERE*

        Gruntilda – thank you for your thoughts! I agree, all fluffy feelings and no meat isn’t useful. I wasn’t clear in my original question that regardless of the advice I wouldn’t leave my 15+ years of work history and metrics out of my resume. More trying to interpret the meaning of this concept and source resources, along with gauging its accuracy. Good points here, and ones I’ll keep in mind moving forward.

        1. lost academic*

          I think what people may mean is the statement you often see at the top of a resume that basically says what you’re looking to do – that’s something tailored to position you’re applying for generally. Not everyone has or uses them but sometimes they are nice/helpful. (I personally do not care if they are on resumes when I am hiring, but they can give me a little insight into exactly what it is you’d like to be doing that adds to whatever I read in the cover letter).

          The resume itself as many and Alison have said needs to be about your experience.

          1. Nesprin*

            I have one of those because my work history is varied and the thread linking things isn’t entirely clear to an outside observer.
            Think: Experienced groomer with expertise ranging from llamas to mammoths to beagles and a deep understanding of animal nail care and mange.

            1. DarnTheMan*

              Same; I’ve worked in communications pretty steadily but that includes government offices, cultural institutions, private PR firms and non-profits (not all of which is apparent from the workplace titles) so I use my statement to highlight my diverse communications experiences.

        2. Anonym*

          I’ve seen the advice applied in the sense of highlighting your experience that’s most relevant to the role/career path you hope for (as opposed to proportionately representing the full scope of your past work), and sometimes removing things you don’t want to do in the future. Not sure if that helps!

    2. AcademiaNut*

      It’s pretty common for research based graduate programs to involve an essay about why you want to do the program. Unlike a job, where you’re exchanging labour for pay, you’re applying for a multi-year intensive dive into academic research, and motivation and the depth of interest matters when it comes to making it through the program.

      Mind you, even the most passionate enthusiasm and life-long dedication won’t help if the practical parts of the application aren’t up to snuff.

    3. OP#2 HERE*

      Heidi – this advice isn’t specific to grad school but I can see where it fits that idea. I actually paid for career counselling because my work experience is so varied and I felt a bit lost about how to find work that fit my interests and preferred work culture/environment (no weird expectations, just learning to be a better judge of how I best fit into a company – or not). The advice to refocus my resume on what I ‘want to do’ rather than what I’ve done came from this course. Feel a bit silly to have paid for it now. Thank you for your thoughts!

      1. ThatGirl*

        So, one quick thought – I do think there’s value in *tailoring* your resume to fit the kind of jobs you want to do. That’s just smart – play up the projects, accomplishments and roles that fit the positions you’re interested in. But focusing on the parts of your work history that make you qualified to be a director of marketing is different than writing a whole resume around somehow pretending you’re already the director of marketing.

        1. Thankful for AAM*

          What that girl said.
          The advice to tailor a resume to the job you are applying for is good. You dont have 1 resume for all jobs.

        2. Annony*

          I agree. I think that they were probably trying to say that you should highlight the parts of your past roles that tie into your goals, even if they weren’t the main part of the job. So if you were a file clerk but had one or two projects involving social media you would want to include those projects in your description of what you did if you were applying for a PR role while you would probably leave them off if applying for another file clerk job.

      2. Beehoppy*

        Maybe the intent is- show how what you have done will be relevant/valuable in the positions that you are applying for (and thus presumably want to do). So, leave out things that take up a lot of space and have no relevance or are not the type of work you want to continue doing. I would still list the job, but for instance don’t mention analyzing spreadsheets if that’s not a part of the work you want to continue. Prioritize (move higher on list, flesh out more) responsibilities and accomplishments that are things you most enjoy or that could develop into the work you want to do.

        Or maybe, purely as a thinking exercise, not as an actual redo of your official resume, rewrite it in a way that emphasizes the things you enjoyed most about your previous work and then it might shed some light on what you would enjoy going forward.

        1. OP#2 HERE*

          ThatGirl, Thankful, Beehoppy – thank you for your comments, very helpful and great ideas to apply. Appreciate it!

        2. Janey-Jane*

          This! I tell students all the time, with weird mix of jobs, or irrelevant jobs to do this. I suppose it could be interpreted as “what you hope to be doing”, but it’s really emphasizing the accomplishments, tasks and things that are most relevant to what you want to do.

      3. Kira*

        That definitely makes me interpret the advice a bit more generously! When I switched fields about 4 years ago, I modified my resume. Instead of listing all the fundraising/revenue generating things I’d achieved in my previous line of work, I limited (and therefore highlighted) the accomplishments that I thought made me a good fit for the analytical-focused jobs for.

        But I didn’t go really wordy in the resume and say “I’d love to switch to doing analytics someday, please give me a chance!” I just listed the things I’d accomplished that were my evidence for why I thought that was a good move for me.

      4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yeah, what they meant was think about what you want to do and shape how you present former jobs to show that you learnt stuff that will be transferable or that prepared you for this. Not to write an essay on what you hope to do, but show how your career to date is leading towards that.
        For example I’m a translator, and before that I was a teacher and a software content writer. To get my job as a translator, I explained that having to teach English to French people was an excellent way to learn more about my own language (never having learned about English grammar in school) and to see where the pitfalls are. Then writing software content sharpened my ability to put a point across in a pithy manner. And I got a bit of practice in translation because I had to write and translate the software instructions manual. Then translating just came naturally to me.
        (That’s what I said, but in actual fact I just drifted into each job as it came without any sense of direction)

  2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

    LW1, it’s your managers’ job to provide deadlines (or at least timelines). It’s not about them managing your feelings; it’s about them not managing your work.

    Are there other examples where they are failing to provide guidance?

    1. Ping*

      Deadlines help you to prioritize the work.

      OPs managers are ridiculous and aren’t doing their job. OP can’t say that of course. Hence Alison’s wording.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        I think if their work truly has no actual deadline then OP should ask in a slightly different way, emphasizing the prioritization piece. If they have a lot they are currently working on and they are getting a reasonable amount of work done every day, then I think ultimately the prioritization is the key even if there are not any specific dates given.

        OP, if you haven’t already tried this I recommend the next time you send out one of your emails with your list of projects saying something like “This is what I’m currently working on and I am hoping to do X first and then wrap up Y and Z in a couple of weeks. Please let me know if you think I need to re-prioritize any of these items or if you need any of them sooner.” Then any time something is added to your plate, ask how it fits in with what you are already working on and if you should put it at the top of your list or hold off until you finish with project Z.

        1. OP1*

          Yes, I’m definitely getting this sense from the other replies. And I think that what I don’t need are deadlines as much as I need someone to look over my task list and to let me know if my priorities and/or estimated completion dates are out of whack with their expectations or any other internal/external deadlines I don’t know about.

          I am going to add a priority column along with a Notes/Estimated Completion Date column. That second one will include things like “External Deadline of X, internal review deadline of Y, OP1 to send to Jill by Z date for review.”

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            That sounds like a good idea. If you make it very clear how you are looking at the timeline, then it’s really on them if they don’t speak up to say they want something different.

          2. Sparrow*

            I suspect that’s still more involvement than they want to have on this. Setting internal deadlines for yourself is of course a good idea, but I wouldn’t show them a detailed list or spreadsheet and ask them to approve it. My boss is much more reasonable-sounding than yours and she would consider that a waste of her time (and it would be). Instead, I’d keep things more big picture and do most of the mental work for them. If they send you something new, I’d ask, “Do you have a sense of when you need this back? Right now, I expect to be able to work on it [toward the end of next week, etc], but let me know if you need it sooner and should prioritize it over X or Y.” They don’t need to calculate a timeline for you, they can just say yes, that’s fine, or no; they don’t have to think about what other projects you’re balancing since you’ve just given some general context; and it reinforces your intended timeline on those other projects.

            If they still ask where you’re at on something, you can just reiterate, “I’m still planning to have it done by [the end of next week, etc]. If things have changed and you need it sooner, let me know if it should be prioritized over X.” Part of their job is to give you some direction on this – otherwise you can’t do YOUR job – but I’d aim to make it as easy for them as possible. I don’t think you’re asking them to manage your feelings, but I suspect they feel like you want them to make managing your to-do list a major item on their own list. If would try to avoid that, if you can.

          3. Jennifer Thneed*

            An additional thing to try: a note every Friday that lists what you did this week and what you plan to do next week. Then next week, you build off that to show what got finished (of what you planned), what didn’t get finished, and what you intend to do next week.

            That way, if they want, they can see what you are working on and when. It’s also good for you to have this for looking back at how you used your time.

        2. Sam.*

          I wonder if that’s still more decision-making than Jill, at least, wants to be involved in. It sounds like she doesn’t want to spend mental energy on OP’s task list, or even feel like she’s being asked to do that (that’s clear not what’s happening, but it’s apparently what she perceives). I would probably just say, “Given the other things on my to do list, I should be able to get this to you by the end of the next week. Let me know if you need it sooner!” I think I’d only get into specifics of if they have questions (or if they need something asap and it requires you to de-prioritize something else). This works well with my boss, at least.

    2. LGC*

      Yeah, that kind of leaps out to me. Unless nothing about the job is time sensitive at all…it’s on Jack and Jill to at least provide some guidelines.

      In fact, it almost feels like they’re trying to manage LW1’s feelings already by not imposing any urgency or priorities whatsoever.

      1. Ranon*

        Even if it’s not time sensitive at all they should have some sense of which work they want done this quarter/ year/ five years/ decade- if it truly never matters when LW 1 gets work done, well, does the work need done at all?

        1. LGC*

          That’s what I mean! Maybe it’s a miscommunication (or maybe Jack and Jill work with Tom, Dick, and Harry from yesterday and LW1 isn’t framing the question exactly the way they want it), but it seems like there’s no priority at all to what gets done.

          And that’s the failure here – Jack and Jill aren’t giving LW1 an idea of what her priorities should be, or that she’s in charge of setting them.

    3. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Jill’s point of “one more thing for me to remember” is a sign that these are not good managers. Assignments and deadlines aren’t arbitrary, they reflect the actual needs of the organization. OP, do you get a sense that your assignments actually contribute to the business?

      1. Lance*

        That stuck out to me a lot. Is she saying she… doesn’t remember what she assigned OP normally? Because if so, that’s pretty bad on its own, and points to some definite disorganization.

        1. tom*

          She is following up progress with regular emails, so it is pretty clear she remembers what she assigned and wants it to be done. She does not have strict date at which it needs to be done.

        2. OP1*

          She’s saying that if she assigns me a deadline for something that is otherwise arbitrary or generally can be done “whenever,” then she has to (on top of remembering what she assigned) remember that she assigned me a deadline and follow up with me on/after that date if I don’t give her the project, and then think of some sort of consequence. She’s saying that it’s not fair for me to ask her to do that extra work of enforcing a deadline *on top* of what she already has to do, which is remembering that she assigned me something.

          1. Lora*

            This is…literally her job. That is the job of a manager. I don’t know what she thought managing was like, but this is it.

            She doesn’t have to remember it, exactly – she can make a note in Outlook or whatever, then forget until the Outlook pop-up comes up. It’s not like it has to live in her memory forever.

            She is not a very good manager. This is pretty basic. This is like if you complained it wasn’t fair that you had to use a computer and read emails and wear pants and stuff.

            1. EPLawyer*

              Yeah. Reminders were invented so we don’t have to keep all this stuff in our brain. Honestly a quick note — The quartely llama grooming updates are due on September 30 is not that hard. Outlook (and google tasks) will let you set your reminders in advance so you can keep on track.

              Your boss doesn’t want to manage, instead she is putting it off with excuses. This is not a good sign.

              Of course you could set your own deadlines to yourself. Then see what happens when something doesn’t get done when they want. Well you said whenever, so I decided November was a good time to do it.

          2. TechWorker*

            To be fair in my company we don’t assign deadlines for individual tasks very often, but we do have clear priorities and agreed estimates.
            If I know that task x takes 1 week and task y takes 3 weeks, then sometimes it doesn’t matter which gets done first. If it does matter, it’ll get discussed.

            I don’t think this is what’s happening with OP, but I think you can infact have a functional workplace without your boss assigning you a deadline for every single task, especially if the task genuinely is ‘this is something that would be good to do and I want you to fit it in when there’s room around higher priority stuff’ rather than ‘this must be done in the next 3 weeks because external reasons’.

          3. Ama*

            It’s weird that she assumes she will have to follow up with you — when I give my reports a deadline (usually it is more of a conversation where we mutually agree, unless it is an unexpected emergency) the understanding is that they will have their work to me on or before the deadline *without* any follow up from me. When I had a report who was routinely missing agreed upon deadlines (inexperienced employee who had some early time management struggles) we had a separate talk about my expectation that they would get items to me on time or let me know that there was a problem meeting the deadline before the item was actually due.

            Also like everyone notes below — more than half of the “meetings” in my Outlook calendar are just reminders that I need to check in with X on Y project if they haven’t gotten back to me.

          4. Ray Gillette*

            It’s telling that the prospect of you giving her completed work by the deadline without needing to be hounded for it never crossed her mind. You are completely reasonable and she isn’t managing.

          5. Yorick*

            But missing a deadline doesn’t have to come with a consequence. And a deadline can be soft, like “try to have it in before the end of the quarter if possible.”

            1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

              This. I’m not seeing why she thinks she has to follow up with enforcing the deadline and then give you consequences.

              This isn’t “Curfew is 10 pm…OK you just got home let me look at the clock…what time did I give you for curfew…OK it’s 11 and I gave you 10 right? and now uh you are grounded from social media for a week? Is that a good punishment?”

              This is, “Hey the kitchen’s dirty, could you clean it up in time for me to make dinner?” and then she doesn’t have to do anything unless the kitchen is so filthy she can’t make dinner.

          6. Librarian of SHIELD*

            It’s weird that she thinks if she sets deadlines it means she has to think up a consequence for if you don’t meet the deadline. That’s punitive and infantilizing and not really how workplaces are supposed to function. If she sets a deadline that you aren’t able to meet, and you not meeting the deadline doesn’t have a negative impact on any of your other work, she should just set you a new, more realistic deadline.

            If she doesn’t want to “enforce” deadlines through punishment, she doesn’t have to do that. That’s not what you’re asking her for. But she *does* have to give you some kind of ballpark for the time period she’s looking for. What she’s doing right now is giving you incomplete instructions and getting mad at you for not doing a thing she never told you she wanted, and that’s not a fair or adult way to behave.

          7. Escapee from Corporate Management*

            This would greatly concern me if I were Jill’s manager (and OP’s grandboss). If there is no timeline or deadline, then what is the business need for the assignment? Most work projects are not stand-alone and timeless; they feed into other business needs. That’s why a deadline is rarely completely arbitrary. Also, if Jill cannot put a reminder on her phone or computer, I would worry about her skill set. This is 2020 and I expect any competent manager to be able to set a reminder on a device.

          8. Ask a Manager* Post author

            This is bizarre. Is she saying that if she doesn’t give you a deadline (like currently), she doesn’t have to remember the work and follow up on it if it never comes back to her?

            1. andy*

              Both Jack and Jill are sending follow up emails, so they do remember work was assigned and that they want it.

            2. OP1*

              No, sorry, I’m not being clear.

              She’s saying that if she gives me a project with a deadline, she now has two things to remember: She has to remember that she tasked me with the assignment, and she now has to remember that the deadline she gave is a certain day, and then she has to deal with it and follow up if I don’t meet a concrete deadline.

          9. andy*

            Given that the deadline would be an arbitrary date and she would not be following up on it, what exactly would that be good for? Other people here say that she can write that deadline down or that she does not have to check it after. But then, she is really giving you arbitrary date with no meaning, whether she is writing it down or not and you can make up one yourself.

            Honestly, it seems to me that you have honest and direct communication with your managers where you can safely say your complains. You wont always get your way, they wont change how they manage for you, but they are not people who would be retaliating for saying things.

            So, build on that. If you think they are disappointed, you can address that like “was that supposed to be sooner”? Or be like “I have to do Jacks things for next weeks, it is going to be only after” and if they say it is not fast enough talk about what to remove.

            Even with deadlines, you would cause disappointment sometimes. Because then you have to say things like “I know there is deadline, but it seems impossible for me to make it” or “it can be done at deadline only if I skip this or that” or “but Jill, that clashes with Jacks deadline”.

            Having worked with both deadlines heavy and non-deadline environments, deadlines are not a way to ease up on anxiety. They have their role in many situations, but you are better off when you have more control over work time rather then being pushed deadlines from top.

            1. OP1*

              In my case I’ve actually run into situations where they have said “I needed work by X date in order for it to be useful/in order for me to communicate to upper management/in order for me to do [other thing]” and have been upset when I haven’t completed something “on time,” yet when they gave me the assignment they didn’t indicate any of that. Even something like “Get it to me this week if you can” or “This shouldn’t take more than a month” would be helpful at this point.

              1. Junger*

                Yeah, that definitely sounds like bad management.

                It’s the old mindreading problem again. They do have deadlines, they just don’t want to do the work of telling you what those deadlines are.

                1. Elfie*

                  How strange – why is telling someone a deadline such a difficult thing to do? Especially as OP1 is literally asking for deadlines!

                  The cynic in me feels like they’re either setting OP1 up for failure, or trying to blame her for their lack of actions. I hope I’m wrong or just being uncharitable.

          10. MCMonkeyBean*

            Oh dear, that definitely sounds like bad management. Especially the part about “consequences.”

            I work in financial reporting which has firm deadlines set by government agencies. So to allow for preperation and review and addressing comments, there are lots of deadlines our managers set for us along the way. If we are coming up on a firm deadline that we absolutely have to meet then we stay and work as late as we have to to get it done. But earlier in the process it is not that uncommon to miss a targeted deadline, and as long as we are keeping the managers up to date on any delays there is not really such a thing as “consequences.” If X is late because Y took a couple of days longer than anticipated to prepare, that’s not something we would be *punished* for, and it sounds like she is thinking about it that way.

            There are miles between giving you an idea of when she would like to have something finished versus actively “enforcing” the assigned deadlines. She sounds pretty difficult to work with.

          11. Nanani*

            That would only be extra work if she was making up deadlines as a sort of weird cosplay of school or something. Work has deadlines because the work needs to be done! Not because deadlines are some kind of glitter.

            Even if there’s no hard “need this by X day” deadline, there should be a natural priority for different types of work. X needs to happen before Y, event planning needs to happen before the event, regulatory things need to be done to an external deadline, and so on. Higher level people, which all managers are, have a broader view and it is part of their job to communicate it to you.

          12. OP#2 HERE*

            Someone recently told me that the difference between good and bad managers lies not in how employees are treated but in whether the manager understands how to shift from the role of a worker bee is understanding that your job is no longer managing the results, it’s managing the people who produce the results. Maybe they haven’t learned this yet…

      2. tom*

        > Assignments and deadlines aren’t arbitrary, they reflect the actual needs of the organization.

        The deadlines are arbitrary pretty often. They may be result of negotiation, they may be something someone blurted out on some meeting and no one corrected at time. Other times they exist so that people are pushed to actually work, but there is no other business reason for that particular day.

        They are non arbitrary when there is legal reason or larger process going on. But even then the deadline is for bulk of tasks, not for partial smaller tasks related to major task.

      3. Washi*

        I was assuming that these are intermediate tasks to a larger goal where there’s not a hard deadline, but they all contribute towards the end product coming out on time.

        I mean, it IS work to manage deadlines, but that’s what you have to do if you are leading a project. Whenever I give someone else a deadline, I put the deadline in my calendar, plus often T-3 days, a reminder to remind the person, plus maybe another reminder at the halfway point for me to check the status of the thing. And if one task depends on another and multiple people contributing, there’s some tetris involved in making it all work together. I’m guessing Jack and Jill maybe struggle to strategize in this way and would rather throw tasks at OP than do the mental math of figuring out how all the pieces should work together.

        I agree with Alison’s advice that the OP should just give herself deadlines and run them by Jack/Jill. She could even include it in her project list:

        Active projects
        Mock up squirrel parachutes – due 9/1, on time
        Interview squirrel participants – due 9/15, on time

        In the pipeline
        Film squirrel activity – due 12/3, waiting on videocamera order

      4. OP1*

        Yes, I do get that sense. I’m not sitting off by myself creating spreadsheets no one uses or organizing old files in the storage closet no one opens or anything like that.

        1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

          OP1, since your managers refuse to manage you, I recommend you speak to people who use your work and find out what their needs and timelines are. Also, do you every interact with your Grandboss(es)? You may be able to get a sense from them what their timelines are.

    4. Quinalla*

      Yeah, Alison has good guidance here. If they don’t want to do hard deadlines, that might make sense, but they clearly have an idea when they want it. I’d just skip right to suggesting a deadline as Alison suggested – “I can have this done by next Wednesday without impacting my other work, is that ok?” This is the strategy I use with folks I work with that don’t want to set deadlines who are senior to me or who I am a consultant to. For peers that I know well, I’ve flat out told them that if they tell me ASAP instead of a deadline, it gets put on the pile with all my other ASAP work BEHIND everything that has a deadline. That gets most of them to set deadlines, lol, but you can’t really do that with a boss :)

      But yeah, deadlines are not equal to managing feelings. Honestly, they are asking YOU to manage THEIR feelings about not likely deadlines which is pretty nonsense in the business world again like I said since they clearly based on their frequent checkins have an idea of when they think it should be done. Some things truly have no deadline and everyone should then chill and expect it to get done slowly or maybe plan to commit an hour a week to it, but this is not work like that.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Sometimes, with bosses I have a good rapport with, what has worked is asking “Are you thinking hours, days, or weeks here?” Usually they can at least pin it down to that!

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        “For peers that I know well, I’ve flat out told them that if they tell me ASAP instead of a deadline, it gets put on the pile with all my other ASAP work BEHIND everything that has a deadline. That gets most of them to set deadlines, lol, but you can’t really do that with a boss :)”
        I have done that with my clients. Given that these managers are refusing to manage, I really don’t see why OP should have to work out their priorities for them.

    5. OP1*

      I would say that they are both extremely hands-off managers and are both conflict-avoidant people. They don’t like talking about personnel matters-for instance, once a direct report of Jack copied Jack on a snarky email to me, complaining that I had excised all of her work on a project with my redline edits. Jack said I did fine and that he would talk to her, and then he never followed up with me…and that’s been a year ago.

      There are also other instances where I get copied on emails and I’m not sure what the scope of my involvement in the project is supposed to be, so our third-party consultant will end up getting confused and emailing me about X or Y things that the business needs to do because Jill isn’t being responsive, and I have to direct them back to Jill because…she hasn’t actually asked me to do anything.

      1. Not for academics*

        I think I understand what you are saying about what they are saying. Jill doesn’t want to create more work for herself – she thinks that by her saying “I need you to do this by Friday” that she has to stay on top of you, remember or note that you were going to do it by Friday, and then come looking for you on Friday when it’s due. She thinks a “deadline” makes it her responsibility to follow up.

        So, take the “deadline” out of it, and quit asking for deadlines.

        “Thanks Jill, I’ll have this to you by ___.” That gives her the option to wave you off and say fine whatever, or she’ll say No, we need it for the thing on Thursday.

        More broadly, you’re going to have to manage yourself more with these two. As for the copy-everyone-and-not-assign-anyone-specific problem, the easiest way to solve this is to reply all immediately and say, “I can do X, Consultant can you do Y?”(I too, hate it, but I also work in a reply-all culture and it’s just what’s done.)

        1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

          “More broadly, you’re going to have to manage yourself more with these two.”

          Yeah, sadly, I think this is the case. You’re going to need some kind of project-management/tracking system – paper, software, whatever – and every time something new is assigned to you, you’ll have to prioritize it and you’ll have to slot it on the schedule. Then you’ll tell your ‘managers’ when you’ll deliver it.

      2. TechWorker*

        To be honest it’s not clear in that example that there was anything to follow up on? Jacks read of the situation was that you were fine and his report was the one ‘in the wrong’ – and he told you so. I’m not sure why you would expect a follow up there, from that point it would usually be just conversation between him and his report?

        1. OP1*

          Jack’s direct report blasted me in front of Jack and said that she wasn’t okay with what I planned to submit. Jack said that he would talk to her and follow up with me about the project. He never talked to her, never talked to me, and the project was never submitted. So now we just…don’t really work together and haven’t ever spoken about it again. In this case the project was along the lines of an internal process improvement rather than being a deliverable

          1. TechWorker*

            Ah sorry :) i didn’t have the details that he a) never talked to her or b) told you he’d talk to you about it again from the original description.

      3. LCH*

        it sounds like you need to set your own deadlines, tell them when you’ll get them the finished work, and see if they have an issue with that. otherwise you could just complete it by next year?

      4. Blue*

        Do y’all have any kind of project management tool that your whole team uses? Even something as simple as Trello or a semi-robust outlook/google calendar can be helpful for noting what everyone agreed to, marking status updates, etc. It’s extremely weird that your managers are acting like assigning and tracking work is too burdensome. As others have said, it also sounds like they have this idea that giving you a deadline is a ball they have to juggle rather than static data they can set down by storing it in a mutually accessible location. *dramatic voice* It doesn’t have to be this waaaaaay!

      5. andy*

        What kind of follow up would you expect from Jack? It seems that Jack told you not to worry, because Jack agreed with you. If Jack talked with the direct report, it was likely something like trying explaining the report that redline edits are appropriate, not personal in a way that does not hurt reports feelings. Basically, Jack would be trying to calm situation with report too.

        It sounds like one of those conflicts that happen at every workplace and management wants people basically to move on, not to hold grudge and also to make everyone know when redline edits are appropriate.

        1. OP1*

          (I should have included this part with my example.

          Jack’s direct report blasted me in front of Jack and said that she wasn’t okay with what I planned to submit. Jack said that he would talk to her and follow up with me about the project. He never talked to her, never talked to me, and the project was never submitted. So now we just…don’t really work together and haven’t ever spoken about it again. In this case the project was along the lines of an internal process improvement rather than being a deliverable.

      6. hbc*

        So, if you’ve got someone passive like this, you have to be more assertive.

        -“I never heard back about the [snarky email] thing, are we good there? Anything I should do?”
        -“Any kind of rough timeline you have in mind? Today, this week, this month?”
        -“This will go at the back of my queue, finishing by next Friday unless you say otherwise.”
        -(After check-in about progress) “Are you asking because it’s become more urgent? I can kick it ahead of Z if necessary.”
        -(After consultant email) “Hey, Jill, not seeing anything actionable here for me yet, let me know if you want me working on X or Y.”

        I don’t know about your level or environment, but I don’t think it’s terrible for non-managers to manage their task list without deadlines. A lot of times, individual contributors know best how long something should take, which customers need speed, when it makes sense to do lower priority task Y first because it’s only a day and high priority X takes 10 days, etc.. To me, it’s only bad if you get grief for failure to take into account information that you don’t have.

          1. BethDH*

            I wonder if part of the problem then is also that you might be phrasing it in a way where they/you think of it like a school assignment due date? That would explain why they feel that it would involve “checking up” on you. Phrasing it as “when do you need this?” Might help frame it as something to help them rather than helping you.

            1. OP1*

              Unfortunately I’ve tried it a variety of ways and none of them seem to work. I’ve tried When do you need this, when would you like this, how should I prioritize this, etc. Jack will generally just wave his hand and say “Get it to me when you can” or “I don’t know” and Jill will generally sigh and rub her temples and say “Use your judgment.” The times when I’ve said “Should I do A or B first” I’ve gotten, “I really need them both so I need you to figure it out.”

              1. Lord Gouldian Finch*

                Okay your managers suck and aren’t going to change. Sorry. But “should I do A or B first” is LITERALLY THEIR JOB. Even if the truth is both are equally high priority they should be telling you “Both are equally important so do them in what order makes more sense for you to expedite completion” not “you figure it out.”

              2. Not for academics*

                Yeah, you have to stop asking and start telling. Set your own deadlines.

                “I’ll have this done by Friday.”

              3. Escapee from Corporate Management*

                OP1, thank you for clarifying that you are still new to the workplace. Please don’t think Jack & Jill are acting like “normal” managers. They seem weirdly afraid to actually, well, manage. In fact, as someone who is relatively new to the office workforce, they should be doing MORE management, not less.

                You can’t change your managers, but you can try to manage them. I agree with the people above, set your own timelines and then document them with emails to Jack & Jill.

          2. KTZ*

            Admittedly I’ve come from a LOT of hostile working places. but my advice is document, document, document! If all conversations are verbal then boss lady can throw you under the bus. I learned after every meeting to send an email confirming my action items and deadlines. That way there’s an opportunity to clarify in necessary and you have a record to refer to later. Although I’d worked in nonprofits prior, my first “real” job at a Fortune 500 company I was told it would take me up to a year to learn the business and about six months to start making autonomous decisions. I was an admin though – and your work may be different. My point is – hang in there! It gets better as you start to learn.

      7. BethDH*

        It sounds like overall they think you should be more self-sufficient in setting priorities and understanding how your role and its tasks fit into the larger picture. It sounds like that’s not a fair expectation based on what you’ve said, but there are roles and levels where it would be normal to assume that you would be doing that kind of strategic thinking mostly by yourself.
        Talking to them based on the scripts above is important, but I also wonder whether you can look for patterns in what’s already happening. “Ok, when Jane asks for this sort of report, she typically checks in on it after a week / before the meeting about project y / on the first of the month.” The more you know how they are using your work the more you can probably intuit what they want.

    6. JJ*

      Her managers CLEARLY have a timeline in their heads, they’re just communicating it by “checking in” instead of just saying “I need this by X”, thus really making it impossible for OP to prioritize correctly. I’d wager she has to work in the “putting out fires” mode because her managers are bad communicators.

      It’s annoying and stressful, and SO many people do this (I’m looking at you, “just get it to me when you can” / “ASAP” people. Does that mean EOD? Next week?? Everyone’s idea of “soon” is different.) I know all industries differ, but in mine, you have the “OK so what is the timing on all this” chat directly after talking about what we’re doing in every. Single. Kickoff. It’s normal and ensures everyone is on the same page.

        1. alerievay*

          I agree with this advice. I work in law, which is a mix of hard deadlines and softer deadlines. When I am asked to provide work product to someone (a colleague or a client), I communicate when I expect to complete the work (e.g., by the end of next week) and ask if that works for them. Similarly, when someone works for me, I give them either a rough time frame or a deadline, depending on the task. If it’s a longer term project, I typically give them milestone markers, e.g., check in with me when you’ve spent a few hours on this and have a better handle on what it will take. It’s really about making sure communication lines are open and setting expectations on both sides of the relationship.

    7. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, I thought this was the weirdest “normal” question I’ve read in awhile. Providing a deadline isn’t managing feelings! It’s just letting an employee know how soon you need this done. It’s 100% logistical and pragmatic, not emotional. Your managers are weird.

    8. Recovered Feelings-Manager*

      A problem I see is that they won’t give deadlines, but then keep following up asking where the work is, or vaguely say “hurry but don’t hurry too much because all your other stuff has to get done too.” If they want it done by a specific time, they need to say so. If something is a priority, they need to say so. If it doesn’t matter when it gets done, they need to stop pestering OP about where the work is.

      From the letter it kind of sounds like they do some things done by a certain time, but don’t want to tell OP that, maybe because they don’t like direct conversations, or it makes them feel like the bad guy or something. Which actually ends up as OP having to manage THEIR feelings, not the other way around.

    9. Surprisingly thankful for my Georgia employer right now*

      I can’t tell what level of the organization you’re at, but reporting to the C-suite it’s common for me to not get deadlines from my boss. He expects me to tell him how long he thinks it will take, and I tell him where I’m planning to slot it in with my other priorities and confirm that this is the right priority order. He has never once given me a deadline (unless it’s directly related to a meeting with a client). Most of our conversations go like this:

      Me: “What’s the urgency on this? I’ve got X and Y projects on my plate, so I am planning to get to Z early next week.”
      Boss: “I need to bump this up because (reason).”
      Me: “Ok, so You want me to work on Z, then X, then Y. In that case, I’ll bump X & Y to early next week and start on Z today. I’m thinking it should take about (hours/days) for a first draft.”
      Boss: “Sounds good. Let me know when you have something to look at.”

      Obviously the dialogue isn’t that stilted, but that’s pretty much how it usually goes. I don’t know if this is typical of execs; I just have learned to work around it as it’s his personal style. My boss expects more self-directed work, so I’m usually the one telling him how long a thing will take, and then asking him to approve my prioritization of the said item. So he’s not having to tell me how long it takes or give me a deadline, but he is approving a decision about my priority. I’m sure it would drive some people nuts, but I choose to think of it as an endearing quirk (among many other endearing quirks) and figure out how to make it work for me.

      1. Surprisingly thankful for my Georgia employer right now*

        Also – I’ll often get a “where are you on this?” and 99% of the time it’s because my boss’s (the CEO) is now hot on the trail, and boss needs a status update to give him. I used to interpret those kinds of requests as indirect accusations that I wasn’t doing my work fast enough — but now I know that he’s really just asking literally “where are we on this?” because he just needs that information to communicate to someone higher up. Sometimes that does influence the urgency or change the informal deadline, but I thought it might be helpful context. It may not be that the managers have a secret deadline; it may be that they’re getting pressure from above to get something done and that trickles down to you.

  3. MJ*

    #2 “I want to communicate my personal brand”

    I hear that more and more. I always think that ‘you’ might want to communicate your personal brand, but the employer wants someone who can do the job. Do employers really concern themselves about potential employees’ personal brands?

    1. Courtney*

      This is speculation, but I think there might be an element of social media influence in this. You see a lot about personal brand on money-making platforms, like Twitch, Youtube, Instagram influencers, etc. and that makes sense for those roles. It doesn’t make sense for a system admin (for example) to have a personal brand though, but maybe people are using this new and exciting marketing technique! without considering if it’s actually applicable to them.

      I want to emphasise, this is speculation! I could be entirely wrong here

      1. Gruntilda*

        This is my thought as well. I’ve seen “personal brand” and similar terms thrown out as desirable qualities to have since people could make their own websites. It seems to range in meaning from “have a human personality” to “be an influencer/active in the community”.

        Honestly I really hate it because I’m sure companies would looooove if everyone was active on r/llamagrooming or the community forums of their platform, and posted on LinkedIn and their personal blog about changes in the industry. If people love to do that then great, but those people are really few and far between. It feels like part of a larger cultural expectation that we should “be productive,” turn every hobby into a “side-hustle” (used to be called a “second job”), be “passionate” about what we do for work, and perform a lot of emotional and social labor to demonstrate how devoted we are to our jobs.

        I’m a work-to-live person unlearning all my sick habits during this Great Pause, and I really want to push back on this idea that people “should” be “passionate” about sitting at a computer all day looking at spreadsheets or whatever. If people are, that’s great! But I am an ape and find fulfillment in being outside, or with my troop and so on. I’ll trade my labor for sugary snacks, but don’t make me pretend that I loooove it and can’t wait to tell all my fellow monkeys!

        1. Courtney*

          My job is to answer phones for a living (ok, it’s more involved than that, but my point is valid nonetheless) and I am absolutely not passionate about new updates in accounting & reception/admin work for finance. I am working because I need to be able to feed my family and staying busy during the day is good for my mental health, and it’s totally ok that they are my reasons for having a job.

          I like that you’re using this time to reassess your values, and being honest with yourself. (Also, I love the phrasing ‘Great Pause’ for what’s happening right now).

        2. Mighty Mouse*

          I’m in a compassionate industry and I’m one of the weird ones who doesn’t eat, sleep and dream my job and refer to it as a “calling.” I find those people burn out hard and let the job take over their lives. It took me a long time to get there and I’m not going to start making personal sacrifices that will ruin my mental health for people who do have other options in my line of business. My previous bosses thought we should martyr ourselves for our clients and had insane turnover.

          1. Liz*

            Agreed. Burn out is common in the care sector. Fortunately all my trainers and managers have been big on resilience, self care, and work life balance. We remind one another to have a proper lunch, take a break to decompress after a tough phone call, and to not get personally invested in a client’s troubles. I couldn’t imagine working in an environment that did not support its staff in maintaining a healthy perspective and boundaries. The turnover must be high.

        3. Brooks Brothers Stan*

          I was just talking with a friend the other day that we seem to be losing the ability to have hobbies because of the need to quantify the ‘returns’ on everything we do – personal growth and/or fulfillment should ipso facto be enough of an ROI! Turning everything we do into a money making opportunity, or a chance to grow our brand, or to market ourselves is just adding mental labor onto things we should be doing that give us meaning and fulfillment. It’s how you turn something fun into something you don’t look forward to doing.

          1. Lady Heather*

            Ooh, my mother keeps pushing me to become an author because I like to write stories.

            I’m a terrible novel writer. My writing style is more ‘I fantasize about what’s happening with my characters, and I jot down scenes so that I keep track of where I am in my fantasy, and occasionally there is a piece of beautiful prose’.
            Furthermore, I write for fun, not for a deadline, and I give up stories once I lose interest (and maybe continue them a year later), which is fun
            And then there’s the bit where writing prose is extremely personal – moreso, in my opinion, than poetry (because prose is explicit, and poetry is allusions and metaphors and exaggerations) – and I’m not keen on publicizing that and people questioning about what the way my character’s insecurities in their relationship with their mentor say about myself and my relationships with my parents, mentors, etc.

            So.. I’d be bad at it, it would ruin my hobby, and publicizing would ruin my life and my relationships.

            But according to my mum, ‘I’d be bad at it’ just means ‘you need more self-confidence, you are great!’ (keep in mind she’s never read one of my stories) and she keeps harping on about me becoming an author.
            (And the ‘it’s a hobby’ and ‘it’s personal’ arguments are just ignored.)

            (There is something really toxic about ‘I’m objectively terrible at this’ being seen as a ‘you just need more self-confidence!’. I’m objectively terrible at many, many things, and that’s alright. I’m objectively good or great at many other things and that’s alright. I do some things I’m terrible at because I enjoy them or I have to, I don’t do some things I’m great at because I don’t enjoy them and I don’t have to. But can we just all accept that all people are objectively terrible at some things, that acknowledging that is not an insult or a problem with self-confidence, and that being bad at things doesn’t make you less of a person?)

            1. Caroline Bowman*

              I am a decent home baker. I say decent, my cakes taste nice. I have… very little skill re the decorating and aesthetic appeal, but of course that can be learned. I like to make birthday cakes for my kids and friends / at suitable celebration times… so many people have said ”you should sell your cakes”.

              Um no. It’s fun. It is literally fun. I like to do it *when I feel like it* for people I am fond of / for occasional personal events. Having to do it to a deadline, to match a particular brief would be AWFUL. It’s a hobby. It’s one that is nice because sometimes it yields gifts to the people I love, but that’s as far as it goes. Making cake to sell feels like HARD work.

              My passion is mine, your writing (which sounds like it’s really good by the way), is yours. If it sucks or if it doesn’t is irrelevant, isn’t it great?

              1. KaciHall*

                I very very occasionally take ‘orders’ for the cakes I bake. I bake because I enjoy baking; I like decorating but I’m not great at it. I ask that the people who order cover my costs – so for the sixtyish cupcakes I’m making for someone grass party next weekend, I’m asking twenty bucks (and that’s only over ten because I needed to go buy a couple cake boxes and it’s basically three batches.)

                I like taking orders in the sense that it means I don’t have to debate what I want to bake, and people are willing to cover the costs for me! I dislike it sometimes because deadlines are not always my friend. I don’t bake to make money, I bake because it’s fun and there are yummy things at the end. (Usually… We don’t talk about peanut butter cupcakes anymore in my house!)

              2. Meganly*

                I also bake for fun, though I also like to do ridiculous decorating and tiered cakes and such. When people tell me I should sell my cakes, I tell them that my secret ingredient is love, and making cakes for strangers won’t have that very important ingredient. Also, I never want to get sick of the taste of buttercream frosting. I suppose that’s weird/off-putting, because usually I get left alone after saying that lol

              3. LunaLena*

                Same here – art is for fun, not a living for me. I do sell some of my work on Etsy and other sites, but it’s less about making money and more about the tiny satisfaction that I made something that’s good enough that other people are willing to give me money for it. I actually get a little annoyed when I get orders because it means I have to get off my lazy butt and package it up, though the extra few bucks I make is nice for buying gifts for friends and family.

                If I had to create high quality artwork all the time according to other people’s specifications, it just wouldn’t be fun any more. It’s only fun now because I can do it when I want to, what I want to, and there’s no deadlines or pressure of any kind. Gary Larson of the Far Side comics actually recently started drawing comics again now that he has realized he can just post them on his website whenever he wants, instead of adhering to newspaper deadlines, and he said that he really enjoys it because it’s just pure fun for him.

            2. Oli*

              I also think it’s actually good for us to be bad at some things. Rock climbing, which I love, really leans into my weaknesses with perception, taking care, focusing and doing things the same way each time. That stuff is always going to be work for me, and definitely disqualifes me from being a climbing instructor. I’m more patient at other people who are bad at things because I spend so much time being recreationally rubbish

              1. Meg*

                This is a great comment, especially the phrase “recreationally rubbish.” Enjoying activities for their own sake is such a pure thing. I think a lot of us abandon that in childhood because we’re pressured to do things we have an aptitude for, and I’m very envious of people who press on with hobbies that maybe don’t come naturally to them or won’t be lucrative in some quantifiable way.

            3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              Furthermore, I write for fun, not for a deadline, and I give up stories once I lose interest (and maybe continue them a year later), which is fun

              I’ve lost track of how many people have told me that the best way to ruin a hobby is to convert it into a job.

              1. Brooks Brothers Stan*

                This wording was what my brain was looking for when I made my comment. Hobbies shouldn’t be jobs!

            4. Liz*

              YES! Thank you so much for saying this! I have various creative hobbies, and I have no desire to make it professionally in any of them. I just do them for fun. I write pretty well, and people ask me if I ever hope to get published. Well…. it’s unlikely? I write fanfiction, and that’s all I really want to write. I write it well and I’ve made a couple of high profile rec lists, and that’s enough for me.

              Parents can be terrible for this kind of over-enthiastic cheerleading. I guess many are predisposed to think of their moderately skilled kid as exceptional, even if the kid can objectively say “I’m a solid B- at this, and that’s fine.” (Also, I find anybody who cannot do that particular thing at all will often regard the skill as being exceptional because “pretty good” and “impeccable” look kinda the same level of impressive to someone who can’t do that thing. I’ve had numerous people tell me that I should take up dressmaking professionally because I can make garments, but they are messy and really not all that great – but look phenomenal to the untrained eye!)

              Or, as you say, there are a host of other skills and requirements that you JUST DON’T HAVE in order to make it professionally. I actually did stand up for a couple of years. I did pretty well by amateur standards and received great feedback. But I HATED the self promotion and the process of booking gigs, and I had a run in with a bad agent. My desire to just… not have to deal with that stuff outweighed my desire to succeed in comedy. I also sing, and I get a lot of “why don’t you release an album?” Because I wouldn’t know where to start and I can’t be bothered? Not everybody wants to make it big doing their “thing”. Sometimes they just want to do the thing quietly in their house, and enjoy the doing rather than trying to “succeed”.

        4. Gazebo Slayer*

          All of this. Also, a lot of us have reasons for wanting to be private people, and part of the “personal brand” nonsense seems to be “put yourself out there on the internet under your real name all the time.”

        5. TechWorker*

          This is suuuuuper prevalent in tech too. Can you even be a good programmer if you don’t spend evenings and weekends coding your hobby projects for fun?

          (Yes, yes you can. But some people honestly think not and explicitly request that in their job ads…)

        6. ampersand*

          I appreciate your entire post, and +1000 for “I am an ape and find fulfillment in being outside” and “I’ll trade my labor for sugary snacks.” It’s easy to forget (I don’t think it’s just me?) that we’re all basically more advanced chimps who still have chimp needs.

      2. Kiki*

        Yeah, I think there is a realm for which cultivating a personal brand can be advantageous: influencers, like you said, but also anything kind of entrepreneurial or anything with a public or community-facing component. It’s not really applicable advice to people whose career paths don’t include those facets. Most people don’t really need to worry about their personal brand or really it just needs to be “I will do the work I am being paid to do.”

      3. I'm just here for the cats!*

        The personal brand thing is every where. From college career center to unemployment agencies. Last year when I lost my job I had to go to my local unemployment agency and multiple people talk about Personal brands. I don’t really get it,.and I think it depends on your area. If your going for a high rank, lie CEO or something then I think a brand would be important. But if your just answering phones I don’t think it’s important.

      4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I’m a freelancer and I definitely have a personal brand. I have already told a potentially huge client that if he wanted Globish rather than English, I was not the right person to review his book. He audibly paled and quickly backtracked! And became my best-paying client that year.
        I can afford to have a personal brand because I’m well-established in my line of business and I only want to take on projects that I find interesting. As you say, it can depend a lot on what the job is, and would be far more relevant to jobs with a creative element than say accounting.

    2. MK*

      I suppose it means they want to give an idea of the kind of person they are. But there are several, em, unusual word choices in this letter; I am not sure if it’s typos or a language issue or if the OP was told to use them.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      I don’t – I’d like to hire someone whose experience lines up with our job opening. But I also hate the phrase “personal branding” (meaningless and misused 90% of the time) and infographics on resumes (non-design/not a creative field).

    4. Blaise*

      I see that phrase as just being a pretentious way of saying you want to show how you stand out. Which IMO is a super important thing to do! I’m a teacher, and my priority when interviewing for a job is to show why I’m a better choice than the other teachers interviewing. We’re all qualified, and every job we’re interviewing for is more or less exactly the same. So why am I the right choice? That’s the important thing to show. I would never use the phrase “personal brand”- it makes me cringe- but I think the idea is perfectly valid.

    5. Barbara Eyiuche*

      I am enrolled in a job search program right now (which is running remotely because of covid), and one of the tasks we have to do is work on our personal brand. This is supposed to help us clarify our job search and improve our resumes and cover letters.

    6. Ask a Manager* Post author

      A commenter here once called personal branding “marketing the reputation you wish you had,” and I think that captures it a lot of the time.

      If you genuinely have a personal brand, it develops organically. The people I’ve seen pushing personal branding as something job seekers need to do mostly seem to be trying to make money off the concept, or don’t have particularly good job search advice and are offering this up because it feels like something actionable.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I actually received a CV application for a job where the person had put ‘My personal brand is:’ and then listed a load of things that sounded more like Instagram hashtags than anything else.

        Did not move that one onto the interview pile. I guessed they’d read it on one of those ‘10 clever hacks to get you a job’ sites.

        1. Brooks Brothers Stan*

          Having read a few of those articles (US, non-academic focused), they seem to be trying to combine listing your skills with your goals – both areas that are very industry specific. As Allison comments though, the traditional resume is still your best bet. People shouldn’t need to /think/ when they read your resume, the value should speak for itself.

          1. OP#2 HERE*

            BBS – ‘combining your skills with your goals’ is a much better description than the one I used in my OP.

            1. Brooks Brothers Stan*

              Either way I would highly recommend against doing this on your resume. You resume is about your skills and your past history of achievements. It is what you are bringing to an organization, basically your value add.

              Your cover letter is where you can flex your goals, and how the company you’re applying to is a good fit for mutual growth.

              1. OP#2 HERE*

                BBS – this makes sense to me, thanks. I’ve always done a bit of tailoring to fit metrics to the job skills listed in the description and I do have a bit of a blurb under my contact info but I hate the concept of the objective portion of a resume and instead put a quick self-description. Perhaps that’s the portion that’s not forward looking? I don’t like stating an objective because it feels very defining to me and I dislike the idea of being boxed in before I’ve even spoken with the HM. Here’s something close to mine.

                “Experienced, creative professional with experience in successful event planning, meeting management, data organization and change management. Passionate interest in building community partnerships, strong teams and positive working relationships. Demonstrated ability to manage project budgets, source vendors, recruiting and motivate volunteers. Proven training abilities.”

                1. Blaise*

                  Your resume is probably fine as-is once you just delete that part. You don’t need to replace it with anything; just delete it. Those words are a whole lot of nothing… anyone can say those things about themselves! Drop your self-description and let the resume speak for itself.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I agree with Blaise; delete it. I ignore those sorts of statements and most hiring managers do; they’re so often empty fluff that they’re just in no way helpful. At most you could have one sentence that sums up who you are as a professional, but it needs to be totally free of buzzwords or it’s not worth having. Delete it and be free!

                3. Foila*

                  You can just take that out completely, objectives are just as out of place on a resume as goals. Axe it, and use the space to list a couple more things you excelled at.

        2. OP#2 HERE*

          Oh my gosh, I’d never ever do that. THAT is pretentious and to me represents a lack of ingenuity and self-knowledge. Like an actor who has to verbally define his emotional state, rather than display it, so the audience will understand.

      2. OP#2 HERE*

        I had no idea the animosity the phrase ‘personal brand’ could generate, nor did I realize it was out of date. If “living the brand” means to do your work using the company’s core values as a guide, then to me a personal brand defines one’s core values and strengths and how you apply these to your work.

        So when I say “communicate my personal brand” I actually mean that I want my resume and/or cover letter to share my personal culture (who I am, not heritage) and how it best serves/matches the company’s core values. Perhaps think of it in the opposite – “I’m sorry, I cannot ‘fudge the numbers’. Not only is it against company policy, it violates my personal brand.”

        Pshew – I’m struggling not to use buzzwords and probably failing. I’ve worked closely with some self-ascribed ‘buzzword queens’ and it’s rubbed off. It wasn’t my intention to sound like a motivational speaker or come off as pretentious – good to know it sounds like this.

        1. pancakes*

          I don’t know what personal culture means. It sounds like you’re describing ethics. I don’t do hiring, but I think I’d probably be wary of someone trying to emphasize their ethics on a resume. “I’m not going to help you cook the books” or whatnot should go without saying, and should be the baseline for all candidates. It’s also a self-bestowed distinction, unless the candidate has served on an ethics board in their industry or something comparable.

          1. 2 Cents*

            I think you communicate that with the level of responsibility you’ve been entrusted with in the past. Like, “approved all major purchases for X” or something.

            1. pancakes*

              Yes, that would work. Maybe something like being selected to mentor others, too. Credentials like these indicate that the candidate is trusted by colleagues vs. trusts themself.

          2. Mouse*

            I’m interpreting OP2’s comment as more than that–more like, an office has a “culture”, and her term of “personal culture” is how she fits in with that. It can mean ethics, but it can also mean things like “enjoys a collaborative work environment” or “thrives with a little more managerial oversight” or “really needs to be in one of those offices where nobody talks to each other ever”, etc.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              Well, sure, but that’s what the interview is for. Employers are not reading resumes going, “Oh, this candidate seems like they’ll really live our corporate values.” Generally, we’re reading resumes going, “Oh, OP#2 has great experience in this key are that’s really important for the position. Let’s bring her in for an interview to see if this is a good fit.”

              And, just as candidate self-assessments on resumes are not helpful, I would not expect an employer to be able to assess their own personal fit with a candidate based on a resume. Many employers may not even be self-aware enough to do that.

          3. OP#2 HERE*

            Pancakes – not referring to ethics or morality. It’s the idea of having a strong sense of the persona you want to project to your peers/community.

            People often say things like “I’m a grammar NAZI” or “I don’t believe in chit chat before meetings.” In this way, you learn not to give person A a first draft proposal because you understand their personal brand. You understand that when you enter a room for a meeting run by person B, to sit down and be prepared to get to work straight away, rather than asking the person next to you what they did over the weekend. Person B has created a culture through their personal brand – and it’s what they’re known for around the office and their expectations are understood, though some may not care.

            Positive examples are “If you need to learn SAP, speak with Jane, she’s an expert!” or “I’ve noticed that Jim has good EQ (or, is sensitive to the emotions of others) and we’ve identified EQ as a weakness in this team. Let’s include Jim in our next employee development planning session and get his take.”

            I hope this clarifies and frankly, I’d love a different way to express this concept.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              The issue here is “show, don’t tell.” If you want to convey that stuff, you convey it through concrete accomplishments that demonstrate those things. If there isn’t a concrete accomplishment that reflects it, that’s a sign that it’s not resume-worthy. It might be something you can reference in your cover letter instead, or it might be something your colleagues come to learn about you once on the job but which doesn’t make sense to use as part of your application strategy.

              But on a resume, you must show, not tell. If you can’t find a way to convey something by showing it, and can only announce it about yourself, it doesn’t belong there.

              To me, it sounds like whoever told you to be this hung up on personal branding on a resume is leading you pretty far astray from what employers actually want to see (and what will make you competitive with other candidates).

              1. JJ*

                100%. You can show SO much about what your work personality is (which is what I think you mean by “personal brand”) by how you write about things in your resume. i.e., a writer might have more descriptive, visual prose while a data analyst might be more clipped and precise in their descriptions.

                I write conversationally to signal that I’m an easy person to work with/good at collaboration, but make sure what I say is also firm and precise, to show that I know what I’m doing. Writing confidently in whatever tone makes sense for your industry will get you a LONG way!

            2. NotAnotherManager!*

              What you’re describing is personal working styles, skills/strengths, and preferences. Those are not “brands” they’re people’s personal characteristics and trying to attach buzzy labels like “personal branding”, IMO, is depersonalizing and a little weird.

              1. OP#2 HERE*

                NAM – I feel you’re being rather judgy here. I appreciate your thoughts and am welcoming of the feedback but don’t appreciate being called weird, whether in name or through practice. Just that you may not be familiar with the concept doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Tomayto/Tomahto, call it as you like, it’s the phrase I was coached to use, early on.

                1. NotAnotherManager!*

                  Respectfully, I did not call you weird, I called the attaching of buzzy labels to people’s skills and personal working style weird.

                  I also disagree that it’s different name for the same thing. Creating a personal brand is about creating a profile, usually public, for yourself, where you curate your content on media appropriate to you industry and essentially sell your expertise or your influence. You’re marketing yourself. That persona is deliberately created and used to position oneself as an industry leader or to do influencer advertising. It’s been co-opted, twisted, and dished out as job seeker advice, likely by the gumption and gimmick squad.

                  Applying that to basic work relationships/reputations doesn’t work because it assumes that people are deliberately setting out to create certain perceptions or images of themselves at work when most people are really coming to work, doing their job, and being their own self in the most professional form they can muster. Personal branding has its roots in social media and, at work, you simply have less of an opportunity to curate yourself as selectively and less control over how others see you.

                2. Ramona Q*

                  I would take NAM’s critique seriously, OP#2 – a lot of people here (including me) are noticing similarly frustrating things about your ways of writing and (mis)using words. If you use these words in interviews, you may get similar reactions.

                3. OP#2 HERE*

                  Ramona Q – I appreciate your specific examples regarding misuse of words.

                  NAM – I still disagree. I have colleagues who also strive to create some positive reputation by becoming expert in some professional skill set and refer to this as building a personal brand. I believe I understand your point of view but struggle to agree that there is less opportunity to, as you say, curate yourself. I think we’ll have to agree to disagree. As for the insult, I’m happy to know that it was unintentional.

            3. Escapee from Corporate Management*

              OP2, the phrase “Personal Brand” is not a universal positive. For many, it seen as shallow or misleading. Take the person who doesn’t believe in chit chat before meetings. That person may think their personal brand is “I’m very busy,” but others see that person’s personal brand as “I’m an antisocial jerk.”

              I’ve done branding for a living. It’s great for products. Not for job seekers, especially when their resume doesn’t jibe. Please avoid that phrase.

              1. OP#2 HERE*

                Escapee – noted! This hasn’t been my experience (until today) but I’ve read enough responses to reconsider. Your point (IMHO) regarding interpretations just expounds on mine. People establish a reputation by which their peers judge them. And my point was that I didn’t want to lose myself in focusing on future goals, if indeed that was the best format for a resume. As I’ve said in other responses, this was a new concept to me and I was seeking an opinion and resources (presuming validity). I was not really asking about establishing or creating a personal brand, etc. Thanks for your thoughts!

                1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

                  You’re welcome, OP#2. That’s the great thing about AAM: you can test out ideas and get feedback from many people. Think of us as your personal market research pool!

            4. RagingADHD*

              That’s not a brand. Those are character traits.

              I have a personal brand for my creative work. It’s about the kind of work I do. The design of my book covers, my website, and my social media persona (on the channels associated with that brand) all match with it.

              That branding has nothing to do with my working relationships or how I communicate with colleagues. it is an external, constructed marketing tool.

              Describing one’s personality as a “brand” sounds like it’s an artificially constructed persona. And has a passing whiff of the way teenagers & new adults work very hard to make sure people know what clique they belong in.

        2. DarnTheMan*

          OP #2 – I work with a lot of influencers and I’m inclined to agree with Courtney in that it started with them (which makes sense – they are their own company so they need to have a ‘brand’ as much as a physical company like Apple or Nike would) but then it started bleeding into professions where it makes a lot less sense. If you’re looking to use less buzzwords, might I suggest swapping in values or beliefs? I think it still communicates a lot of what you’re hoping to communicate while being a more widely used term – i.e. “I’m sorry, I can’t fudge the numbers, I value my personal integrity and accountability towards my work too much.”

          1. LunaLena*

            I don’t think it started with influencers – I knew some aspiring voice actors before smartphones were even a thing, and they were told that personal branding was important. I also heard it occasionally when I was still early in my career as a graphic designer, 15 years ago. The idea has been around for a long time, but I think it was mostly confined to creative fields until influencers got hold of it.

            1. OP#2 HERE*

              Agree – “personal branding” may be a modern day buzzword but it’s not a modern concept.

        3. anonymous 5*

          It sounds a bit like some of what would ordinarily go into a cover letter has found its way into the resume. And honestly, I think some of this is getting ahead of the game even for a cover letter. I don’t think there’s such thing as a “personal culture” under any circumstances; and if we’re talking about personal values and ethics, there’s unfortunately no good way to convey them in words…unless you can tell a story that illustrates how you *acted upon* those values. That opportunity doesn’t often come up until an interview.

          What would you tell someone who had zero knowledge of any of your fields, if you were going to tell them about your work experiences and skills? If you happen to speak more than one language, how would you describe your work experiences, skills, and goals in the second language? If you were speaking with someone with whom there was no chance that the conversation could lead to a job offer, what would you say about your professional background and ambitions? I think it’s really easy to be so caught up in the presentation (because, yes, that is the first impression that people will have) that the important stuff actually gets lost. But if you’re able to set the presentation aspect aside–which you sound ***impressively*** open to doing, by the way–I think the important stuff will actually be pretty easy to spot. Crossing fingers that it will ultimately lead to a fulfilling new career direction!

      3. Shortstuff*

        If you work in a field where brands are part of your professional live (marketing, public relations,…) then it makes sense to think about the same kind of concept and how it applies to yourself and what you bring to your work. What is your unique selling point, what is it that you bring that another person might not, what is your reputation, what do you stand for, what do you want to be known for?

        In those terms, my personal brand is strong on delivery, integrity and leadership. I’m not particularly creative compared to peers, nor am I outgoing or process-oriented. I bring a particular slant to my work, some aspects of which are genuinely unusual (I have good data skills for my profession) and some are not (I am calm in a crisis, which is normal/essential in my profession) but which taken together define the way I do the job differently to another applicant.

        If you work in a completely different kind of field, then there’s probably a different framing to this kind of thing that is more helpful than ‘personal brand’.

        1. OP#2 HERE*

          Shortstuff – on the nose! This is exactly what I’m thinking re personal brand. And my most recent field has been project management amongst corporate hospitality, events management and fine dining, serving c-suite executives and purchasing customers. It may be why I’m not translating as that work can be niche.

    7. NoviceManagerGuy*

      If a candidate started telling me about their personal brand, I’d consider it a negative.

      1. Quill*

        I’d presume they were in an MLM or an instagram / youtube / tiktok ‘influencer’ and take everything they say way less seriously.

    8. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Not where I work – we are all expected to be interchangeable cogs around here :) But OP2 mentions it in a comment farther down the comment section that this is something a lot of the people she works with are using. I guess it’s a know your culture type of thing.

    9. Generic Name*

      I’m of 2 minds on this philosophy. One, I think it can be helpful to reflect on how your personal qualities are seen by others and how that plays into your career and what jobs you’re most successful at. It’s helpful to think about how your aptitude’s, skills, etc. made you successful at some jobs but not others and to tailor your resume to jobs you want and would be good at. It can be helpful to think of this process as “personal branding”. But on the other hand, as a hiring manager looking for, say a file clerk, I look at peoples resumes to help me answer the question, “do I want to hire this person as a file clerk?” To answer that, I look for things like direct experience at being a file clerk for other jobs, or barring that, evidence of an ability and desire to file things (other jobs that include filing or other organization, for example). I’m not looking at resumes wondering what their passions or personal brands are.

      So use the idea of a personal brand to get clear on what you’re good at and what you want to do, but don’t apply to jobs trying to show a company what your brand is. When applying to jobs, try to show that you have the ability to do the job and do it well, based on your skills and accomplishments, as shown in your work history.

      1. lapgiraffe*

        +1 – I’ve been doing a lot of “personal branding” work that is purely internal, both in the sense that I’m looking inward and also that it stays in the house haha. It’s not on my resume or in my cover letter, but it informs how I craft both of those and also the jobs I want to go for. This thinking seems to fall in between “my work is my calling and my life” and “my job is how I make money and I shut it off at 5pm.” My personal values and aspirations inform my professional life, and my professional life informs my personal. One can still have a distinction between the two loves while also understanding that they don’t exist on their own islands, never to influence the other, and that to me is where personal branding work can be both useful and differentiated from branding in an Instagram influenced sense.

        1. OP#2 HERE*

          Lapgiraffe – eloquently stated! This career counselling came about because “my work is my calling” concept is what I want but never quite seem to land.

  4. anonnonaanon*

    LW #3, fistbump from this academic librarian who also needed input re the same kinds of questions!

    1. Sam*

      I’m not a librarian but their is nothing I have been lied to more about in my corporate career than this. “We’re agile”, we “fail fast” – no you don’t, you just know the buzz words, possibly because you paid a consultant to tell you the latest ones.

      I would still ask Alison’s question and I would take a ‘we’re really risk adverse’ at face value but I don’t know that I could ever trust trust the opposite statement. I’ve tried to get at that information before with questions like “how many new initiatives are year are typically launched?” and “what is the typical time from idea to launch?” but the results can still be hard to interpret.

      1. anonnonaanon*

        This is exactly the kind of thing I’ve been wondering about (with other issues as well) — how to get past the glib buzzword use. I do like the idea of asking for specific examples and seeing what the reaction is.

      2. SuzieQ*

        I was hired specifically because of my ability to “shake things up” and “do things differently” – and then discovered that the biggest obstacle I faced was the person who hired me, who was also my boss! I completely agree, I’d never take any statements about risk taking at face value. When push comes to shove, no one wants to be the one who supported a failed program, even if everyone knew the risks going in.

      3. Tricksie*

        My institution right now is all about how “nimble” we are and how we “pivot” so easily….when this is the most change adverse, risk adverse, not nimble, not pivoting place I’ve ever worked. We’re like a lumbering creature that believes in ten million task forces and sub task forces and considers holding meetings to be its own form of productivity.

    2. Anon librarian for this*

      A second fist bump! This is such a thing in libraries where we say one thing about our field and act another way.

      I will also add for the OP to look at the social media feed of the library. Ours is very telling. It is milk toast in a curry world and accurately reflects our culture, we dont even get to post engaging fun posts about books that get loads of responses for other libraries bc too controversial.

      1. LW3*

        For sure — this question was actually prompted because of a specific incident (that I realized was indicative of an overall culture as time went on) on my current employer’s social. It’s a good place to get a bit of an idea.

    3. Saby*

      also an academic librarian, absolutely felt this question.

      About ten years ago (before I started here) my library tried a Thing and it didn’t go well (or was the worst thing we ever attempted, depending on who you ask). However, a decade on, the technology and processes for that kind of thing are a lot better so we proposed trying it again, with better technology and taking into account the lessons we learned a decade ago… Well!! I have never seen senior leadership’s faces go so pale so quickly.

      1. Saby*

        Actually, not sure how well this would work in public libraries, but in academic libraries anyway it might be helpful to do a quick lit search for the library before your interview to see what kinds of projects they’ve written up, so you know what kinds of things they are willing to publicly admit they’ve tried. And if you find anything interesting and things are vibing right during the interview you can ask about those projects specifically and see how they react. I know my colleague got a paper and a couple of conference posters out of the Big Fail Project.

    4. AnonAnonAnon*

      You could also ask about the community you will be serving at your new library. The way the hiring manager or search committee describes the community could be telling – who does the current programming target? who is being left out?

    5. Librarian of SHIELD*

      LW3, I’m going to wholeheartedly second Alison’s request to lean in to the network of other librarians. We’re not the biggest of all professions, so the odds of you being 2 or 3 people removed from an employee in the library system you’re applying for are pretty high. Ask people you’re friendly with if they know anybody there, and see if you can talk to existing employees.

      1. Anne of Green Gables*

        Yes, another librarian here who was planning to say something similar. Try to talk to current or recently departed staff and ask about their experience trying to implement new things.

        I do think you can still ask in the interview, but I would absolutely frame it in terms of programming and not a general “do you allow your employees to take risks” way. In fact, I’d suggest different language that takes out the word risk all together, but you can still ask about “trying new programs” “implementing new initiatives” or similar. Or, ask about programs that other staff have tried that didn’t go well and what the end result was–were they given time to tweak and find an audience? Or shut down immediately?

  5. schnauzerfan*

    LW3. I’m an academic librarian. A speaker at a program planning workshop years ago told not to fear failure, maybe only 5% of your ideas for programs will be a hit. But none of the ideas you don’t try will work out. You might throw that out and ask if the interviewer has found it to be true.

  6. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

    OP#3: I don’t know if this will work in your situation, but when I wanted to find out something similar from a prospective manager, I framed the issue in terms of change management approaches and process rather than risk-taking support. I opened my question with something about how our field is dealing with a massive shift in [day-to-day technology] and that I understand that my role would likely involve updating some long-standing processes.

    A lot of how a manager answers this question is going to (or should?) be less about their own appetite for risk and more about how they handle the fact that there is probably a wide range of risk tolerance among their team members. When you’re asking a question about the team’s or organization’s approach to change management, you get a very valuable answer to “How willing are you to defend new ideas from a meddlesome skeptic colleague who’ll find fault with things that don’t directly affect them or their job?”

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        You’re welcome! I really needed to hear that I’ve provided something useful today, as it were…

  7. Tau*

    OP#1 – it sounds like this isn’t the case for your situation, but for what it’s worth there _are_ roles that don’t really do deadlines in the way you’re thinking. I’m a software developer and most of what I do has no deadline attached to it. This is because:
    – I’m working off a huge backlog of prioritised bugs and feature specifications, most of which we want to have in our product at *some* point soonish but it’s not important if it happens this month or next month
    – time estimation in software development is notoriously difficult, it can be very hard to know whether a task is going to take you a day or two weeks until you’ve done it

    My job is to keep the tickets flowing at a reasonably steady pace, and to know the prioritisation and what’s a reasonable amount of work so that I can raise it if I discover an issue will take more effort than I think it’s worth to implement right now. We do do ballpark estimations, but on a higher level for planning purposes (“hey, do we think finishing off this set of features in the next six weeks is reasonable?”) But in general, nobody will tell you “this specific ticket must be done by this Friday”, barring the occasional exception when something must be in a specific release – and even then that often involves sets of tickets and buffer time.

    In my role, having someone ask for deadlines for all their tasks would come across as… out of sync with the culture? demanding a weird form of micromanagement? trying to offload their time management? Alison’s scripts are better, but would still be a little weird. It doesn’t sound like this is the sort of role you’re in, but is it possible this is the sort of culture your bosses are used to?

    1. Miri*

      Yes – I was thinking the OP is using deadlines as shorthand for (and possibly their only means of?) prioritisation, and I wonder if looking at it as a “which shall I do first” question not a “what date does this need to be completed by” question would help them and their management.

      1. Tau*

        100% agreed.

        OP, it may be worth trialling a version where you keep your bosses in the loop about the current prioritisation list and any changes to it rather than asking for or offering fixed deadlines:

        “Sure! I’m working on the llama candidate selection for Jill right now, but I’ll get to this as soon as I’m done with that.”

        “Hey Jill – Jack just asked me to do a check of the comb inventory before the audit. I’m putting the new razor trial on hold to work on that.”

        and see if they react any better to that and if you still get the feeling they’re unhappy with when things are being done.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Yes, it does sound like the main problem is that LW is split between two teams/managers rather than the deadlines exactly.

    2. Jane*

      Yes – it’s more work for you LW, but when I was in a role where I did work for lots of different people I would give an estimate of when I expected to be able to complete the work when they assigned it to me (I’d also pad it by 20% to make sure it was a realistic estimate and could account for delays), and ask them to let me know if that didn’t work for them. It takes the onus off them to do the initial thinking.

      If they needed it sooner then sometimes I’d shuffle things around, sometimes I’d push back, sometimes I’d loop in their other team members and ask the team to prioritise what order they wanted stuff in (in this role everyone thought their stuff was most important and they all wanted it asap).

    3. Wakeen Teapots, LTD*

      FWIW, it would make me crazy if anyone on my direct report staff required up front deadlines from me for all of the work I asked them to do. I am way too busy for that and it is not my job to manage their time. Our environment is fast paced so what generally happens next is the individual will ask me, “does by Friday work for this or should I put this ahead of the Llama Tour promotion”? My answer might be “Friday is fine” or it might be “eh, I don’t care, work on that in whatever order makes you happy” or it might be “Llama is low priority, this goes first”. Happy to answer a concise, well former question.

      Now if a boss won’t answer a direct question like that, that’s a problem, or “get it all done this afternoon bending what is possible within the space time continuum”, that’s a problem, but in many places asking your boss to schedule your work for you, it isn’t their job.

      1. OP1*

        Miri mentioned it above, but what I’m essentially asking for is a comment on prioritization. I don’t necessarily need hard deadlines for everything, but when I have A, B, and C on my plate and then D and E get added in and I have no idea which one is more important, I have to start either making guesses or just default to doing the easiest thing.

        Which would be fine if my workplace worked like yours did, but often I get “Where are you on A?” or “Have you finished C yet?” And I have to say “I haven’t started A” or “I’m halfway done with C” and then they don’t like that, or they decide at that point they want me to hurry up with A. When I’m given an assignment I try to feel out how quickly they want it by asking things like “Would Friday be okay?” or “I have A, B, C assignments, can I get this to you later this week?” Generally I get some sort of deflection as I mentioned in my OP or a “You should be able to hurry this up,” and then the next week it’ll be “Okay but why aren’t A, B, and C, done?” when I’ve tried to read between the lines and spent all my time on D.

        1. Colette*

          Have you tried asking for priorities instead of deadlines? I.e. you have A, B, and C. When you’re given D, ask “Is this higher priority than A, B, and C?”

          1. Call Me Dr. Dork*

            Yes, this. I’m a software developer, and I’m generally asking for prioritization (although we now have a sprint board, and so we just work from the top down). Sometimes we have deadlines (“we have a delivery tomorrow and we just found a bug!”), but mostly it’s working from the top priority down.

            The stream of questions about where you are on things would be deeply annoying, though! If you don’t have something like a ticketing system/sprint board, perhaps you could regularly send out something to both managers about what you’re currently working on and what’s up next?

          2. Kes*

            Agreed with this and with Alison – it’s probably worth calling out your expectations and assumptions to them – “Is this higher priority than A?”, “Okay, this will probably take me about a week”, etc

          3. Yorick*

            It sounds like OP is doing this but in the moment the managers typically think the one they’re assigning is the highest priority. Then next week when they’re thinking about A, B, or C, that one becomes the highest priority.

            This could be a manager problem that OP isn’t able to solve by asking different questions.

        2. Kelly L.*

          I totally get it! I’ve had bosses who seemed to use the words “no rush” to mean “super duper rush.” They’d drop something on me and go “No rush” and then check up on it within hours!

        3. Wakeen Teapots, LTD*

          Well that seems very frustrating because if D is the kind of thing you can spend all of your time on, of course A, B & C are not progressing.

          To me, it sounds like a work flow/workload problem more than a deadline problem, tbh. Sounds like the assignments you are being given have an expected quick turnaround and you aren’t able to meet their expectations. That is a lot of stress for you, and also for them.

          Would feeding back to them the expected hours of an assignment, when it is given to you, be possible? I am utter crap at estimating my own work time so if someone suggested this to me, I’d be shit at it, but, if you can estimate “Thanks for D. This is about 30 work hours. Should I work on this straight through or about 10 hours a week over the next three weeks?” maybe that would help?

        4. Kiki*

          That sounds so frustrating! Especially that they give no timelines but then follow up so persistently and dislike the prioritization you ultimately decided to go with after not receiving much guidance.

          I think Alison’s advice is spot on. I think I would also bring forward the idea that setting a deadline or ETA at the outset is indeed adding some work at the beginning, but ultimately it will save everyone time because they won’t need to persistently ask you for follow-ups, statuses, and figure out how to get you to change gears. Especially if you offer to keep some sort of public list of task and their ETAs/deadlines for your managers to look at– they won’t even have to email you anymore for statuses.

          1. Kiki*

            And this advice is just based on something I learned about myself and may not be applicable to you, so keep that in mind:
            Double check whether or not Jack and Jill actually expected you’d have prioritized differently or have things done sooner. Sometimes if you are a really conscientious person, it can be easy misperceive the expectations, desires, and questions of less conscientious people. Sometimes people are really just checking in and will say “Oh, well, I may as well check if so-and-so has X done early!” and don’t actually mean to rush someone. Or even if they need to switch up the priorities, they never really expected you to have known that in advance. I might check in with your manager and ask straight up how well they think you’re managing priorities to see if they think there’s actually an issue or if their expectation is that priorities will just switch all the time.

        5. Batgirl*

          That’s a huge problem; this is not just them asking you to manage your own time, this is them not knowing how the work operates, what they’ve already assigned you, how long a typical task would take, or how to prioritize it, so they’ve decided to just whip away, say ‘gee up’ and see what speed they get.
          You probably need to set expectations and manage up, saying quite explicitly (while you job hunt) what’s possible.
          So, Monday morning they assign you Task A say “OK that will take two full days so you can have it end of day Tuesday if nothing higher priority comes in.”
          Tuesday they assign you Task B, and unless they say (or it’s apparent) that it’s higher priority, say “I’m assuming Task A is still the priority; this will take one day following Task A completion, so end of day Wednesday for this?”
          They’ve said they can’t set deadlines top down, so setting your own timelines is completely reasonable.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        Whereas I would never give someone a task or project without setting at least some base expectations of when I expected it to be completed, and getting deadlines for projects is something we drill into new hires from Day 1. If your director/associate doesn’t give you a deadline, I expect my folks to use a script similar to Alison’s to pitch a timeframe to make sure it’s what they’re expecting or need. They also do projects for multiple people, and no one of those people would be able to dictate management of their workload for them (and some might prioritize their own work when that’s not what really needs to be done first).

        In our environment, it’s the only way to manage your own schedule and also to avoid mismatches in expectations/delivery like situations where someone asked you to do something “as soon as possible” (which, to them, means drop everything and have it back in an hour while the recipient of the project thinks, “Okay, I can fit that in tomorrow, no problem.”). And then, boom, the project assigner is unhappy and the employee is upset because they didn’t realize what the assigner expected.

        Deadlines also make my job of managing people much easier because we don’t constantly have to go over their list for priorities. They know when things are due and (generally) how much time they will take, so when they get a new assignment, they figure out how to fit it in or that they need additional time or support to get it done. Self-management is important, and having deadlines help with that a lot.

        I see deadlines as part of proactive management and expectation setting, and I find people are better able to succeed when they know what’s expected of them. Throwing out a “By the end of the week is fine!” or “This is urgent, can you have it back to me by 2 p.m.” or “Do this when you have time and shoot me an update on how far you got at the end of the month.” does not take much effort on my part and makes sure there are no miscommunications or bad assumptions.

        1. Wakeen Teapots, LTD*

          I only do it with outliers. If I have a specific reason something has to be done by Friday, I ask “so I think we should launch these new masks on Friday, are you able to have them live by then?” but otherwise, they just don’t need to manage what they are doing then. I put my effort into making sure they understand the overall goals/mission/big picture priorities, and then they make their own choices within that framework. It works very well (and has been a godsend since EVERYTHING CHANGED in an instant with the freaking pandemic. I worked the big picture and they worked the details of how to meet the big picture needs)

    4. Colette*

      Yeah, I’ve spent much of my career in software development or related fields and I don’t think I’ve ever had deadlines (except “all code must be submitted by X or it doesn’t make the release”).

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        “All code must be submitted by X” is a deadline. You know by when your work needs to be done for inclusion and can plan accordingly.

        1. Colette*

          Kind of, but it’s OK if code doesn’t make the release sometimes. Not everything is achievable in a software release cycle – and typically there are many things you have to do to get that release out the door.

          If I said “I want homegrown tomatoes in my garden by August”, that’s a deadline, but it doesn’t tell you much about how to get to that point. (When do you plant the seeds? Transplant the plants into the garden? Water? Weed? Stake the plants?)

          1. Karo*

            But that’s not what the OP needs. If her bosses thinks she’s asking for all those pieces then I’d get why they’d be frustrated trying to provide a deadline. But she’s not. She’s just asking to be told when they want the tomatoes, and then she goes back and figures all that stuff out.

            1. Washi*

              This is such a helpful analogy! I agree that if OP “owns” the whole tomato planting cycle, then her bosses might reasonably expect that they hired her to figure out and time the intermediate tasks accordingly.

              But if Jill is in charge of overall plant cultivation and just hands OP a bunch of tomato, cucumber, squash, and sunflower seeds and says “plant these,” then OP needs to know something about when the seeds need to be planted in order to harvest each vegetable at the right time. Maybe it’s not a big deal to plant the tomatoes Tuesday instead of Monday, but there is a window where they need to be planted in, otherwise the tomatoes won’t be ready!

              1. Colette*

                Yes, and I think that’s the disconnect. The OP feels like Jill is responsible for planning the project; Jill thinks it’s the OP.

                (It’s possible that Jill has deadlines but doesn’t want to tell the OP, but I don’t think that’s the case based on what the OP wrote.)

                1. Yorick*

                  It absolutely sounds like Jill has a deadline that she doesn’t tell OP, even if she didn’t realize it at the time. If you email someone to ask if they’re done with something, you must expect them to be done with it by now (or at least be close).

            2. Colette*

              Maybe? But she seems to be asking for deadlines they can’t or won’t give. There are jobs where you don’t have deadlines and are expected to manage your own time. It looks like the OP is in one of those (whether she should be or not).

          2. Insert Clever Name Here*

            But knowing that you want the tomatoes in August gives you the ability to research all the other stuff — if you want tomatoes in July, maybe you need to plant a different type of seed. I write contracts for my company, and the person saying “Insert, I need Llama Grooming Services available in August” doesn’t know all the work involved, but *I* do and it’s my job to 1) do all that work between now and August or 2) say, “Llama Grooming Services require a 6 week lead time so the earliest I can do is September 1.”

          3. NotAnotherManager!*

            I can work with “I want homegrown tomatoes in my garden by August.” It provides a stated goal and by when you want it done, and that’s enough for the person receiving the assignment to put together a project plan (or options Jill could pick between) and get started to achieve the end result. The middle stuff is something the assignee could figure out now that they know what the end result is supposed to be.

            It does not sound like OP#1 is asking her boss to fill in all the details in the middle, just when the end result is expected, which is a pretty reasonable ask.

          4. Yorick*

            That’s still a deadline, there’s just some things that can’t be finished by then.

    5. Nikki*

      I’m also a software engineer and this was my thought when reading this letter. My boss would be irritated if I asked for deadlines for each task because that’s not how things work in this industry. She prioritizes the work so I know what I need to focus on, and she watches our task board to see what’s been done and what I’m still working on, but ultimately it’s on me to get things done in a reasonable time period and let her know if something is taking longer than expected.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I’m genuinely curious, because my industry is very different and would be chaos without deadlines, but how do you know what “longer than expected” is if there’s not a target date/timeframe? (Hope this does not read as sarcastic or rude, I just don’t have experience with this sort of environment and am interested in how it works.)

        1. Tau*

          (Answering as another dev)

          Usually you have some idea of how complex a ticket is going to be before you take it on. A lot of software development processes actually have a formal estimation step where the devs give a ballpark estimate of how complex they think the task is going to be – usually specifically avoiding time estimates, something like “medium in T-shirt sizes” or “five story points”. My team doesn’t do this, but you’ll still have the same sort of intuition from experience and familiarity with the project. (“Turn this button green” – OK, that should be a one-line change. “Integrate these automated tests into our pipeline” – none of us have ever worked with this framework before, that’s going to take a lot of Googling. “Allow users to edit their name” – oh god, that’s in that horrible mess of spaghetti code that was written at the very start of the project which no one still at the company is at all familiar with. I’m going in with a pickaxe and a flashlight, if you don’t see me after a week send help.)

          Tasks take longer than expected when your intuition is wrong because you overlooked or didn’t know something, which is pretty frequent and unavoidable. Maybe it turns out that that button is still coming from that weird obsolete styling framework that someone managed to half but not entirely remove months ago, and in order to change this one button without changing three others as well you’re going to have to finish the job. That’s worth flagging, it may be possible that it’s not worth you spending a week of time to uproot it right now and that it wouldn’t be as highly prioritised if it was clear how long it was going to take.

      2. Yorick*

        You have to get things done in a reasonable time period. How do you know if you and your boss have the same idea about what that is? What if your boss started following up with you about one of your tasks, asking why it wasn’t done yet? Would you be frustrated that she didn’t tell you it needed to be done in a certain time frame?

        Also, it sounds like the bosses are not prioritizing the work for OP. Most jobs don’t have a built in prioritization the way software development does.

    6. Yorick*

      I don’t think OP’s job is really like this. OP’s managers start to follow up with her about the task, which means they have either a time they want it by or an idea of how long it should take. They’re just not willing to think ahead and communicate that with her.

      1. Tau*

        Yeah, I was crossing my fingers for OP that it was a case of her having reasonable bosses but a work-culture clash, but the comments made it clear her bosses are just being unreasonable. :( Clear communication about planned completion dates and priorities could still help, but it’s going to be an uphill battle if they think OP should just be able to read their minds.

  8. andy*

    LW1 I do find it somewhat in category of “managing your feelings”. When you are asking for deadline, you are asking them to estimate and then check up on whether estimate was correct. They dont seem to have business reason for any deadline, they just generally need work to move.

    Also, artificial deadlines can be harmful in two ways. First, when they go in the way of proper prioritization. You should work on the most important things either strategically or tactically, not the one that has deadline because someone was forced to make up one two weeks ago. Second, when you cut corners in order to make the deadline. The deadline does not mean that amount of work shrinks, but if too short it means you will skip some stops to make it.

    Try to ask for prioritization instead of deadline – is this more or less important then other things you work on? Which one should be done first?

    1. Donna*

      I think even asking for priorities is a little passive. OP knows what work she’s doing, and when she can expect to finish it. Why not just tell boss when she’ll get to the new task? She works for two people, so it’s even more complicated for each boss to know what’s been assigned to her and what her current priorities are. Just offer a suggestion! That way, as long as they agree, any future check-in emails can be responded to with “as per our discussion, I’ll start on x date” or, “it’s on track to be finished by x date as we agreed”. I feel like OP needs to learn to operate a little more proactively.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Because the new task might be more important or more urgent than the old task but she has no way to know that unless they tell her to get it done first.

        1. Donna*

          Yes, which is why she says “I’m working on A and B. I can start C in 3 days and it’ll be finished in a week. Does that work?” There’s nothing stopping the bosses from deciding “C is more important than B but if A is almost done then finish that first”. But she should give them the tools to make that decision.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      This has nothing to do with her feelings. A manager’s job is to provide support and guidance. Even if something doesn’t have a hard deadline, the managers need to provide some sort of time frame. They’re asking “where are you on this?” so they clearly have deadlines and they’re choosing not to share them – and their reasons for why are BS. They can’t have it both ways. You can’t prioritize without deadlines. The managers need to do their jobs and stop being ridiculous.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Came here to say this – if they really didn’t care when anything got done, I could accept that. But they keep asking OP for where she is on her tasks. It’s almost like they do have the deadlines after all, but cannot be bothered to come up with concrete dates and priorities, so they expect OP to read their minds better than they read their own. That’s nuts, to be honest.

      2. andy*

        > They’re asking “where are you on this?” so they clearly have deadlines and they’re choosing not to share them

        This does not follow at all. It also assumes that Jill and Jack are passive aggressive for no reason.

        People asking you how you progress really can be direct and honest question “how do you progress”. Most often, when my managers ask me how it is going, they want to get answer. Status updates questions are very normal. When I ask other people how things are going, I want to know how things are going. I am not implying secret deadline.

        If you do not ask about progress, some people stop to work on that task assuming you no longer want it. Other times, they get stuck and need help, but they are too shy to ask or are soldering on fighting issues. Yet other times you need to tell someone up the chain how fast is it moving, but that person is not setting deadline either.

        > You can’t prioritize without deadlines.

        This is not true at all. Prioritization is about what is most important to be accomplished. That does not mean the task in question has natural deadline, not everything is a law. Pretty often you want things to move, then measure how fast it is going and then reconsider negotiations and plans. We have release, but some tasks are “blocker”, “must be done”, others “nice to have” and yet others “minor if you all are bored”. That is prioritization and no deadline is necessary.

        Management promised the customer the feature, but did not promised when exactly it is going to be done. We have to do it sometimes, but it can be any time within next three months. The task itself takes 1-5 days, so it would be ridiculous to put “three months” deadline on it.

        Product vision has set of things that want to be accomplished for next release and the one after. We don’t really know when the next release will be, it will be when those tasks are done and tested. We need to track progress, in case it is slow we reconsider list of features for release.

        1. Ranon*

          “Any time within the next three months” is still a deadline- deadlines don’t have to be structured so they only allow the necessary time to do the work, deadlines are for telling you when the work should be delivered. It sounds like right now OP isn’t even being told whether their boss expects something this month, quarter, or decade. I bet even your product releases have goal release dates even if they’re not totally fixed. Everything has a deadline eventually, or it’s so unimportant it doesn’t matter if it ever gets done, which rather raises the question whether it’s worth doing at all.

          And as someone who does project based work, artificial deadlines and milestones are a great way of forcing progress by creating reason for prioritization (particularly as my projects happen across multiple companies with folks who are working towards a variety of other deadlines, most of which I don’t control). Many people perform better with hard targets and it isn’t unreasonable to ask for or set them.

          1. andy*

            > “Any time within the next three months” is still a deadline- deadlines don’t have to be structured so they only allow the necessary time to do the work, deadlines are for telling you when the work should be delivered.

            That is in no way useful deadline. OP is getting small tasks and when Jill or Jack are giving him/her task, I am pretty sure they do not want it to be done in three months. If OP is forcing Jill and Jack to make deadline, in this case it would be something like 5 days (if op is unlucky 3 or 4).

            What you describe is using deadlines to create pressure on people. The whole “I made up deadline and pretend it is important so you work weekends and overtime” is just made up artificial stress – until I figured out the deadlines are made up to made me pressured. And possible reason why Jill and Jack dont want to play that game.

            Instead, they ask about progress which works too if you dont want people to slack.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Huh, this is totally contrary to how everywhere I’ve ever worked operates. There genuinely are plenty of small projects where “sometime in the next 3 months” is the real deadline. It’s not there to create artificial pressure; it’s there to fully communicate what’s in the manager’s head. If the manager is going to start getting antsy after that point but it doesn’t need to displace anything important before then, that’s info the OP needs.

              1. DarnTheMan*

                Yup, just had this conversation about a deadline with my boss yesterday. Truthfully got told “anytime before September” which says to me September is our drop-dead date for having the work done but otherwise, whether I do it this week or in three weeks is flexible.

            2. NotAnotherManager!*

              Why is “within the next three months” not useful? Our department assistant has at least two longer-running projects that are structured that way because she does have daily task work that needs to be done in a shorter time-frame and it’s unlikely she’ll be able to work on the longer ones every day. She manages her own schedule, so she handles the do-it-now tasks from team management and, if she has downtime, she works on the bigger ones. She sends me a status on the long-runs once a month to keep me posted, and it works quite well – she’s not bored when immediate tasks dry up and we’re accomplishing things that have been backburnered for a while.

              Really, you’re talking about false deadlines are bad for a number of reasons. A long-term deadline is not fake and you do not have to giver a shorter-term deadline as a fake in its place. You are honest with people about what you need – you get the work you need on time, your employees have the info they need to manage their own dockets.

              And, in the reverse, I work with a lot of highly motivated people who assume projects are high priority and will do the same OT/weekend work if they don’t realize that they had a week to do something. A real, honest deadline solves for that.

            3. OP1*

              >OP is getting small tasks and when Jill or Jack are giving him/her task, I am pretty sure they do not want it to be done in three months.

              I didn’t actually mention how big or small the tasks were or their duration…in some cases I have large tasks and three months would be a reasonable deadline.

          2. OP#2 HERE*

            I totally get this and I think that habit gets started by managers who struggle with confrontation or maybe holding folks accountable. I think their mothers must have been people who arrived two hours early in effort to curb their tendency to run late.

            I’m not sure of your field but from my experience, I’d assume that Jack and Jill have not had opportunity to rely on support in the past? From an admin perspective, I’ve discovered that managers that work this way have either

            (1) Never had a direct report before and aren’t sure what to do with you, so they slam you with low to medium priority that’s so routine to them they feel it’s simple and therefore doesn’t need to be defined. Wrong, obviously, and so you have to learn to manage up and teach them how to use your skills to their benefit.

            (2) Have never been accountable for a project, only responsible and therefore they don’t delegate well and may not have had a particular system, if they only presented results in the past.

            The accountable person is the individual who is ultimately answerable for the overall activity or decision. Only one accountable person can be assigned to an action.

            The responsible person is the individual(s) who actually complete the task. The responsible person is responsible for action/implementation.

            1. OP#2 HERE*

              I know it’s just the three of you but you might consider using Microsoft To Do? It’s a bit OCD for my taste but it would be a shared view of your progress and they can use it to assign milestones/deadlines. Or you can assign your own deadlines and they’d be notified. All the assignments, completion notices, etc sync with Outlook’s calendar. So, it’d all be right out there. Seems like overkill but pretty efficient overkill, as set up and maintenance are pretty simple.

              1. OP1*

                No, they would see that as one more thing for them to keep track of, unfortunately. They don’t even let me do things like put notes on their Outlook calendars.

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          It also assumes that Jill and Jack are passive aggressive for no reason.

          Nah. To me it assumes that Jack and Jill don’t know how to manage, and don’t want to know. They are not deliberately hiding the deadlines from OP. They just cannot spare five minutes to put the vague idea of the deadlines that they have in their heads, into a concrete timeline.

          1. Ray Gillette*

            Based on OP’s comments in other threads, it does indeed look like Jack and Jill are SMEs who don’t know how to manage people. Peter Principle in action.

        3. e*

          Just letting you know, OP1 did comment with some additional context indicating that her managers are following up upset that there hasn’t been more progress on some projects, which to me does indicate that they have some sort of timeline they expect.

          1. OP1*

            Thank you! This is correct. It’s frustrating to hear “I don’t have a deadline in mind but I feel like X should have been done sooner,” which is something that I’ve heard from them.

            1. MCMonkeyBean*

              Ugh, that sounds like you’re likely in “your boss sucks and isn’t going to change” category. I think your best options are to try to ask a lot of followup questions to get any priority information out of them that you can, and what it sounds like you are already doing of just proactively sending them updates regularly so they have less reason to ask “where are you on this?”

      3. Colette*

        I don’t agree that asking “where are you on this” means they have a deadline in mind – they just want to understand how the work is going. It’s possible that acceptable answers might be “I haven’t started it – I’ve been focusing on X since it’s higher priority”, “I started looking at it but need to get information from Y before I can proceed”, or “I’m about half way done, it should be finished next week”.

      4. WFHHalloweenCat*

        Yes! The managers claim they don’t want to have to keep track of a deadline, but they have time to ask more than once how a project is going? “Keeping track” of a deadline should be as simple as putting the due date in a calendar. Maybe I’m just sensitive to this issue because my department gets assignments from 5 different divisions and all of them are always “top priority” with no hard deadlines or ranking.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          When I first started my current job and we were in the middle of a large, multi-year project, I used to come into work every morning to five new tasks in my queue, all of them Priority 1, and all of them due the next day. The manager that assigned them to me even put a time estimate on each. Anything that was a simple change had an estimate of maybe an hour or 30 minutes, and everything else always had an estimate of 5 hours when I got it from him. Even if it took me two weeks in reality. I’ve gotten very good at setting my own priorities and completion dates, because that ish was just as useless as what Jack and Jill are doing. Agree with everyone saying that OP should start doing the same. Make her own schedule with estimates and dates, and communicate it to Jack and Jill at regular intervals (say, once a week). I had started keeping my own Excel sheet during that time, with the list of all tasks in my queue, in order of priority, with my own estimates and estimated completion dates. It helped greatly.

      5. LQ*

        OP #1 – start to offer your own deadlines. This is an important skill to build and can be really valuable in managing unreasonable expectations. You are the best at offering up the length of time it will take you to do the work, and handing that off to your boss isn’t great.

        I think it’s also important to identify what the speed of your work is, if most projects are completed in less than a week then sending something weekly isn’t enough, if most projects are done in a couple months then weekly will feel repetitive and too much. You want your reporting to be about half a cycle or so in my experience.

        1. Mockingjay*

          Came to suggest exactly this. Build your own timelines and run them by Jack and Jill for “yes/no.”

          I’ve done matrices for some bosses outlining all the task types I did with estimated (realistic) times for each step.
          For example: Design (1 month) > Internal Review (1 week) > Test (1 week) > Interim Progress Report (3 days) > Production (2 months) > Delivery (Shipping – 1 week)
          The bosses loved having everything laid out for them and actually followed the timelines.

          Also, consider that Jack and Jill might be hands-off managers who trust you to do what needs to be done. When they ask for status, what they probably want to know is: 1) are we on track? 2) if not, what’s the impediment and do you have a solution to propose? A verbal response should suffice, although I’d still send your weekly status report. If you add a documented process to support your answers, you’ll be golden.

      6. Yorick*

        Agreed – you can’t prioritize your work without deadlines. Something might be super important but not needed until December, while this other thing that doesn’t have too much impact is needed for a meeting tomorrow morning.

  9. Coffee Cup*

    “making [her] keep up with one more thing, because now I have to remember that I assigned you the thing and that there’s a deadline for it.” is such a strange line from Jill, as if she thinks she needs to make up deadlines as opposed to asking for something for when she needs it (with enough time for contengencies or to review it etc).

    1. Everdene*

      I agree. As a manager I think there should be some guidance on timing or priority when you assign work. Depending on context it could be 12:30 tomorrow or whenever you have time this month or it’s important but not as preasing as X and Y.

      I was asked to put together a 2021 budget recently. Normally we do this October/November time. If I hadn’t asked when it was needed by I definitely wouldn’t have thought myself to prioritise it in the way that was needed.

      1. Time_TravelR*

        They asked for next year’s budget out of cycle, and didn’t think to tell you there was a different deadline/priority to it? That’s crazy. Glad you asked!

      2. andy*

        But this is different situation. They don’t seem to have hidden deadline like that. They dont have deadlines when it must be done and OP is asking them to make some.

        This is what was said “I don’t have one for you, just hurry but get your other work done”. That sounds pretty clear as an instruction. Other work has first priority, when it is done do this as fast as you can.

        1. doreen*

          I don’t think that’s clear at all, because I don’t see where the other work has first priority. Could be get this done fast and then get the other work done, could be get the other work done and then get this done quickly.

          1. andy*

            “get your other work done” means that you can not sacrifice other (usual, routine, whatever) work in order to pushing this out faster. That is why I called it first priority. It does not sound like the manager cares about particular exact order of tasks as micromanager would.

            So, depending on the job, dont let emails unanswered because of this, dont skip on usual duties because of this. You should not need the manager to schedule everything for you exactly by hour.

            I dont see how deadline would help in exact ordering of tasks anyway. So now you would have new tasks with deadline a week – because that is what manager estimated as reasonable, but still hopes you mange to get it faster. The task may or may not be doable within that week. And you have other tasks with similar arbitrary deadlines that don’t mean much.

            1. Allonge*

              I mean, LW is asking for a deadline not just because, but to know what the manager is hoping for. That is the deadline: the boss’ expectation of when something should be finished. And I don’t think hurry is in any way a clear instruction, never mind with the addition of do your other tasks too.

              I get that not all tasks or even jobd have hard deadlines, but part of being a manager is also to give an indication of how long things should take, based on priorities etc.

              1. Colette*

                I think the OP would be better off asking for the priority, not the deadline. Is this something she should focus on instead of the other stuff on her plate?

              2. andy*

                My manager is hoping right now I will be done today, but it is not deadline at all. He hoped for yesterday too and was disappointed. I dont think I will be done today, but it is theoretically possible it will be done this week.

                The expectation when something should be done is not the same thing as deadline. The expectations are often wrong or naive or overly optimistic. Or overly pessimistic.

                > how long things should take, based on priorities

                The length of task does not depend on its priority. It depends on how difficult and time consuming the task is. Some tasks require long time and have high priority, others are equally long and have low priority.

                > part of being a manager is also to give an indication of how long things should take

                This does not seem to be situation in letters, but managers often dont have a clue how long the work should take. They dont understand the details of what I do. It is difficult even for me to estimate, typical manager has even less chance.

                1. Allonge*

                  Based on your comments, we work in such different ways that we are not talking about the same thing when we both use the word deadline.

                  For you, it seems that all tasks take as long as they take and therefore any deadline can only be arbitrary. And I know there are tasks like this.

                  In my work experience though, there have been thousands of tasks where I could spend, if I had the time, a week to complete (combined with other tasks), or I can do a less thorough but still workable version in three hours. And it was very much up to my boss to say: do spend one week, we want this very thorough and perfect, or, we need this by noon today, give me anything you can do in that timeframe.

                  So if LW’s tasks are more like this latter, does it make sense to you that she is asking for deadlines? Or, that she should be asking for priorities but part of the priority will be the deadline?

    2. BRR*

      Yeah this was a bit odd. I would assume Jill needs the finished work so that’s the follow up.

  10. Donna*

    #1 – I wonder if this is an issue of phrasing or communication styles. When you ask them to give you a deadline, that’s asking them to manage your workflow. They don’t necessarily know or remember everything else you’re working on. Have you tried saying something like “I’m working on A and B right now. I expect to be able to get to new_project_C on this date, and finish it by this date. Does that work for you, or is this a higher priority than A and B?”

    Basically, instead of asking “when do you need it by” and making them do the work of thinking through your tasks and re-prioritizing them, give them a reminder of what you’re working on and propose a date, then let them reprioritize if need be.

    Overall, it sounds to me like you have a bunch of tasks that don’t necessarily have strict deadlines. I don’t see anything here about unrealistic deadlines, just an unclear communication style. You’re the one who wrote in for advice, so it’s on you to “manage up”.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I agree to a point, but the bosses tell OP there’s no deadline, and then keep asking “where are you on this” which means it has a deadline. It would probably help to ask where it falls in priority with other tasks OP is working on, but they don’t need to “manage up”. The managers needs to do their damn jobs, part of which is providing expectations when assigning work.

      1. LQ*

        The managers didn’t write in. Telling the OP to give up doesn’t help at all. How does telling the OP that the managers need to do their damn jobs actually help the OP. Other than saying, whelp may as well quit because this boss doesn’t do everything perfectly.

        “Manging up” tips could actually be useful to the OP who may read this. Give up because your boss is imperfect is not. (Secret is all bosses are imperfect. Find imperfections you can live with. Manage up when you can. Or be independently wealthy.)

        1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          At no point did I say the OP should give up. I wasn’t telling the OP the managers should do their damn jobs, I was responding to the comment above.

      2. tom*

        The jump from “where you are at with task x?’ to “omg manager have secret deadline in mind” is absurd.

        1. Secretary*

          I wouldn’t say absurd.
          My boss does this to me all the time. I have the kind of workflow that I need to finish all my work every day and I get more the next day. Sometimes he’ll call me at 8am and give me something like, “Can you please get this invoice out today?” and so I put it in my stack of emails to send and do another project that I know I’ll have some quiet time to focus on, and plan to send the invoice out around 12pm. Then my boss will call me at 10am and ask me if I’ve sent the invoice out yet, when I say no, he asks me to send it out right that second.
          So I can only reason he had a secret (or unconscious) deadline of 10am. It’s infuriating because I would have prioritized my work completely differently had I known that at 8am.

        2. OP1*

          I should have expanded on this-it’s never “Where are you at?” and then “Okay, cool,” they always ask me where I’m at and then say something vague about needing me to hurry up, or that I should have completed it by now, or something along those lines. So in this case if enough time has gone by they do generally have a sense of, “I feel like this should have been done by now.”

          1. andy*

            Can you push back at that point more assertively at them? Assuming they are not sociopath who would retaliate (and such bosses very much exist). Defending when they seem to blame you might be better then trying to tell them how to manage them which is apparently only annoying them.

            With good bosses I had, I could react to “should have completed it by now” by saying “I did not knew this is urgent, I was working on X first” or “I was doing X first, it was bigger priority” or “it was more work then it looks like” etc. For vague “hurry up”, at least my boss typically did not used it as blame, but as expression of his anxiety and pressure on him. So I would say ok. If it was complain, I would defend myself.

            With the boss I have now, I could openly say something like “you never said it is priority, so I treated it as normal”.

          2. Lord Gouldian Finch*

            Hm. This seems like it could be three different things.

            1) Something changed, and now the task is higher priority than it was. If so they shouldn’t be angry at you, though, because you were operating without the knowledge.
            2) There is a disconnect as to whether you are doing as well at your job as your boss things you need to be. If they’re thinking “Two hours should be enough to redo the TPS cover sheets and groom the llamas” and you’re finding grooming the llamas takes four hours and were going to do the TPS sheets after that, there’s a problem. It could still mean you’re not where they need you to be, or it could mean they have an unrealistic idea of the time things take.
            3) Your bosses suck at management and aren’t giving you enough data to prioritize. I suspect the answer is #3, but you can consider if the other two might apply.

          3. Donna*

            Are you telling them ahead of time when they can expect it by? If they have unrealistic expectations of how quickly you can complete these tasks (especially because you’re getting work from multiple people, and they’re likely not aware of what else is on your plate), then what happens if you start preparing them in advance? They give you a task and want it done ASAP. Well sure, all work should be done ASAP. So tell them when to expect it by, and if they agree in the moment then when they check in you can refer back to their initial agreement and tell them you’re still on schedule.

            If the actual problem is that you have too much work and they have unrealistic expectations about how quickly you can work, that’s a different conversation to have. You can have a big picture conversation of the tasks you have in a week and how long they typically take. Maybe they didn’t realize how much work you get from other people. Maybe they never stopped to think about how 20 2-hour tasks will take a full work week to complete. Or maybe you’ll find that certain tasks are “nice to have” or can be indefinitely put on the back burner.

            All I’m saying is, right now it sounds like they’re getting disappointed because they don’t know what to expect. Why not just tell them what to expect so that they can manage their expectations better?

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      The thing is that giving even a general deadline would help OP#1 manage her own workload. If you know project A takes three hours but isn’t due until next week, it’s clear project B, which takes five hours but is due tomorrow, should come first. And new projects can be slotted into a deadline-based framework by OP#1 without having to run the boss down her full list for a reprioritization when new things to do are added.

      1. Washi*

        Agreed! In my experience, most things have a deadline in the sense that at some point, the manager would be going “you’ve taken way too long on this.” Even something like “tasks like X and Y should generally be turned around within 5 business days unless there’s an emergency, and Z should be processed once a month” would help.

      2. Donna*

        But OP can just as easily provide that information to her bosses! Boss A assigns project A. Boss B assigns project B. Boss A comes back with project C, thinking that A is almost complete and knowing about the potential existence of B but not whether it actually exists or how much work it is. OP asking “when do you need C” is not always useful, because they need it as soon as they can get it. Not everything has a deadline. OP saying “I’m doing A and B right now. I can start C on Friday and it’ll be finished next Tuesday”, let’s them know what to expect. Now, boss A knows about the existence of project B and also knows when to expect project C. They can decide if C is higher priority, or ask for more information. If C will take 4 hours and B will take 12, maybe it’s better to do C first. If OP needs to check with boss B first, that’s ok.

        Right now everyone is saying the bosses are unreasonable, and it sounds to me like they just haven’t been given specific expectations. If OP says “C will take 4 hours and I’ll do it on Friday because I’m working on A and B until then” and they push back and say “C should only take 1 hour, and A and B should be finished by Thursday”, then we know there’s a problem. Right now it seems more like OP is saying “ok, I’ll work on it when I have time” and boss knows C only takes 4 hours, so absent the knowledge of the existence of A and B (or vague knowledge but without understanding of how much time is needed for those tasks) they think “it’s Monday, OP can knock it out in an afternoon or two, so I should have it by Friday.” You’re both making assumptions on limited information, but OP has the power to just tell them what to expect!

        1. DarnTheMan*

          But that’s on the presumption that the bosses are reasonable, when from OP1’s follow-ups, it sounds like they’re not. I once had a manager where I tried to do this; up to and including presenting her an itemized list of the 8 things she’d asked me to do by CoB (all of which took 3/4 hours each to complete) and told her I thought items A and D were top priority but to please let me know if there were others that she needed first, only to have her tell me that she needed all of them so I just needed to figure it out. She had all the details I could have given her but her expectation was that I was going to wave a magic wand and make it work somehow, instead of reconsidering and either a) accepting my suggested deadlines or b) picking her own.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          I believe OP1 has identified herself as fairly new to the workforce and company, and it’s possible that she hasn’t gained the experience to do this level of estimation accurately with the tasks of her position yet. (I manage a number of fresh college grads in their first jobs, and it can take them some time to figure out that task A takes 4 hours. Not because there’s anything wrong with them, just because they’re new and need more guidance, which is what their line supervisors and I are there to provide.) She’s asking for help, and Jack and Jill aren’t helping. Her only option is to throw out her best guesses and see if they counter them, and I give my new hires the same advise Alison did re pitching deadlines – but I think refusing the answer a new employee’s questions about how to meet their time expectations is poor management at best.

  11. Jennifer Juniper*

    LW1, you have my sympathies. Jack and Jill sound like the biggest airheads ever.

    1. OP1*

      Thank you. They are both very smart SMEs but Jack is the absentminded professor type who essentially refuses to do anything along the lines of personnel management, he shotguns his annual company training on the deadline every year and closes the door the whole day, and he refuses to do things like assign deadlines or priorities. Sometimes I have to email him four times about something before he will address it.

      Jill is the “I have all my shit together but I literally cannot handle one more thing or I will implode” type and is always bending over backward to impress and cater to our Grandboss. We once went a month without speaking or emailing and I generally get the sense from her that she’s always relieved that she doesn’t have to “deal” with me.

      1. Ray Gillette*

        Oh, they’re SMEs! That explains so much. It sounds like they got promoted to management as a “reward” for being experts, even though neither their skills nor their inclinations are actually towards management. I wrote in about a situation caused by this kind of management last year, but unfortunately the solution in my case was the company recognized that the SME in question shouldn’t be managing people and removed that from his responsibilities.

        1. OP1*

          Part of the issue is that we’re in a tiny department. I don’t really want to get into what it is, but when we’ve gone elsewhere and talked to other companies who have the same total number of employees, their analogous departments are always shocked that we have so few people.

          I honestly feel like they’ve “gotten by” and have “trimmed the fat” for so long that they’re not used to doing anything but the bare bones, literal work that’s asked of them by the business. There’s no team building activities, no birthdays/celebrations, no routine departmental meetings, no discussions about process improvement, we use bare bones Excel charts to keep track of things, and in general all of the “overhead” stuff that you would think of is kept to a minimum.

          I have generally gotten the sense that they don’t have time for me, don’t know what to do with me, and don’t like having to think of assignments to give me. I don’t think they dislike me as a person (I’ve been complimented on my personality) but I have literally turned out of Jill’s office after handing her my project list and, out of the corner of my eye, saw her sliding it off her desk and into the trash.

          1. PX*

            Woooooow. I know you said this is your first job and we’re in the middle of a pandemic but please start looking for a new one. Casually if you prefer, but this is unbelievably messed up and sounds like a workplace that will not help you grow or develop your skills at all. There are much better places and bosses out there. Don’t let your sense of self get warped by this environment.

          2. Donna*

            You know they don’t have time to deal with you and dislike having to think of work to assign you. And it sounds like they’re pretty overworked themselves. It’s not an ideal situation, but I think you’re seeing yourself as too powerless. Don’t give Jill your project list. She doesn’t have time for it. Just tell her that you can get to task A by Thursday. Don’t ask Jack when task C is due, he can’t manage that on top of his workflow. Just tell him you can finish it next week, unless it’s urgent, in which case you’ll stop task B and finish C this week. Tell them what to expect!

            Yes, in an ideal world your bosses would be more proactive. But they would also be better staffed. This is your job. You can’t make them interested in managing you, but you can set your own priorities and communicate them clearly. Sure, it would be great if they did it themselves. But there’s nothing stopping you from doing it, and it will make your life so much easier if you can say “I told you I’d do start on Friday and finish on Tuesday.” And I suspect that as you start communicating clearly, you’ll find that they stop checking in as often, or at least are more relaxed when they know it’s on schedule and they can expect it at a certain time.

          3. RAM*

            “I have generally gotten the sense that they don’t have time for me, don’t know what to do with me, and don’t like having to think of assignments to give me. ”

            Okay, given this, I think the problem is bigger than “deadlines” – you’ll need to manage up. They aren’t giving you deadlines because they don’t see the value in it. So make yourself valuable to them. If you have some extra time, suggest your own assignments given what you think is needed and what would make THEIR lives easier. Is there some way to improve that barebones Excel file that you can work on? If you hear them mentioning something they don’t have time to look into, go ahead and look into it yourself and let them know what you find. This “side project” obviously comes after anything they’ve assigned, but the ability to come up with your own projects and follow through with them really goes a long way to establish credibility. And even if they don’t think it’s worth spending time on, you’re showing yourself to take initiative and be proactive.

  12. Everdene*

    LW5: One of my team resigned recently. He sent me a message and asked if I had 5 minutes, I said yes just call sometime before lunch. We had a chat over the phone that in normal times would be face to face and then I asked him to follow up with something in writing.

    He had been advised to just email me but he thought that felt too cold or that if he added in context it would sound insincere. I agreed and thought the way he acted was spot on (although I’m sad to see him go).

    1. Time_TravelR*

      Clearly, he has good judgment at least (which is often a rare commodity) since he realized it’s better to call than email this news. Probably contributes to why you’re sad to see him go. Always hard to lose a good employee. My company is on the precipice of a huge furlough, and I feel quite certain that even if it doesn’t happen, we are going to lose a lot of the good people. No one wants that kind of uncertainty in their lives… and those potentially being furloughed have been dangling for almost a month now. I just don’t look forward to the future when we have to rebuild and don’t have the good ones anymore…

  13. Grits McGee*

    OP#2- I’m not HR, but I’m fairly sure quirky/creative/individuality aren’t traits you’d want to emphasize if HR is the career path you want to follow. (Granted, if this is meant to be a resume for applying to grad school, there might be more wiggle room for personality, but not much.)

    HR professionals, what kinds of “personal brand” traits would you want?* Calm? Knowledgeable about employment law?

    (To be inferred from someone’s application materials, not listed out in an infographic)

    1. OP#2 HERE*

      Hi Grits – the path I’d like to follow is OD, specifically in training teams to work together by helping to develop measures of employee recognition, de siloing, building context driven communication as well analyzing the success of these programs, along with other employee development tools such as onboarding, continued learning opportunities (on-the-job training and certification, etc), employee evaluation, with the end goal of increased employee retention rates and (ehem) employees at all levels who ‘live the brand’ by which I mean invest in the core values of the company, producing results through the lens of the customer. Apologies for the run on sentence and additional buzzwords.

      1. Grits McGee*

        Not sure what OD stands for, but from my perspective (again, not an HR person), creativity and individualism don’t seem like great fits for the kind of high-level, organizational work you want to do. You would want to emphasize your skills as a collaborator, analyst, and someone who can get buy-in from leadership and employees.

        Not going to lie though, “live the brand” sounds a little Orwellian, and it’s going to wave red flags for a lot of people (especially in this comment section). I would highly recommend finding a way to rephrase that (maybe talk about “shared values of honesty/community building/etc” instead) and also maybe work on finding ways to express yourself in more accessible language.

        1. OP#2 HERE*

          Grits –

          Orwellian – ouch. I’m fairly conservative and wouldn’t have read into it that way. Regardless, yes, unlearning “CorpSpeak” is probably not a bad idea. (1984 reference intentional)

          Operations Development or sometimes known as Training and Development, Learning and Development and on an executive level, Leadership Development.

          I found this on a site called HDR (

          “The HR function started as Personnel with a focus on operational effectiveness. Over time, Personnel evolved into Human Resources, signaling that employees are considered a valuable asset to organizational performance and sustainability.” As a result, HR’s focus shifted to the stewardship of Human Capital, for the greater good of both organization and employees. Currently, many HR functions are being renamed Talent Management, implying that human capital is not only a valuable asset, but one that needs to be managed optimally and sensitively.

          Consequently, many HR professionals are busy integrating talent management components such as recruitment and development, into aligned and synergistic systems to ensure optimal connectivity, mutual reinforcement, for stronger impact.

          “Organization development means creating an enabling workplace where people can work effectively toward strategic goals. OD is a change process that explores the overall dynamics of people systems, and how change in one area affects the others.”

          OD Units can be located in the HR function, but not always. Sometimes they belong to Corporate Services, sometimes, to Corporate Strategy, or to Internal Consulting. OD is related to HR because it deals with enhancing individual and organizational capacity for greater performance.

        2. Yorick*

          “Live the brand” sounds like extending the company’s value to one’s personal life, such as “my company sells vegan products so I have to be careful about eating meat.”

          1. OP#2 HERE*

            Yorick – only in public! Just kidding. Yes, similar to this. I generally discount working for a company when I don’t relate to their core mission, vision, values. For instance, I’m not likely to go work for Victoria’s Secret because their mission doesn’t resonate:

            “Limited Brands is committed to building a family of the world’s best fashion brands offering captivating customer experiences that drive long-term loyalty and deliver sustained growth for our shareholders.”

            I’m not plugged into fashion, I’m fairly introverted and I’m not motivated by profit in a monetary sense, despite my being driven to provide quality customer service and valuing retention.

            Likewise I’d assume that VS wouldn’t be interested in hiring me because my personal brand, as expressed via my resume, would not display the requisite passion, even if I possessed some of the qualities preferred.

    2. Jennifer Juniper*

      Is it me, or is the “personal brand” a bunch of hot air for anyone who’s not at a high level?

  14. Time_TravelR*

    I had no concept of creating a resume with an infographic before. Mind blown. (Alison’s advice, of course, was spot on!)

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

      I saw an article in LinkedIn encouraging people to try… Aumentated Reality, QR codes and video… to people in the software industry, a place where some recruiters still insist on doc files instead of pdfs.
      Nice try.

    2. OP#2 HERE*

      Regarding infographics – message received! Currently the infographics I use are (1) my name in a legible but nonstandard, printed font, also offered neatly in 11-point Arial with the rest of my contact info and (2) a sidebar of SmartArt in the left hand margin that lists my StrengthsFinders Top Five Strengths. When I said “express my individuality” my thoughts ran toward self-sufficiency and preference for autonomy through that scale. In effort to be succinct I clearly left out this context. I appreciate the advice on graphics, and can definitely remove them!

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I would not include the results of a personality test on your resume at all, but I also see candidate’s preferred working styles as something they should assess for themselves in an interview.

        1. Lora*

          Seconded. CurrentJob had us do that StrengthsFinder thing and post the results in various locations. They started with people who measure their work experience in decades. It…didn’t really help. It was just an excuse to sit around a conference room for a couple of days eating Panera. The HR people who thought it was a great idea don’t work here anymore. If you haven’t demonstrated with hard data what you are good at after, say, 10 years in a field, the corporate equivalent of a tarot card reading isn’t going to improve your argument that you are good at those things.

          A resume / CV is supposed to say, “here is what I am good at, and here is the data to prove I am good at those things”. If you say you are good at something without data to back up that claim, and your only proof that you’re good at it is a junior HR person gave you an aptitude test, then the claim is worth exactly the electrons it’s printed on and moreover it makes you appear a little dimwitted for making the claim in the first place.

      2. lost academic*

        God no, don’t include that fad with “strengths”. I’ve also seen some new grads using a sliding scale graphic for skill levels. Please don’t do that either.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Definitely don’t list your StrengthsFinder results on your resume! There will be a handful of managers who buy into it, but everyone else will find it cheesy and a questionable choice (and it will look like you’re giving it *way( too much weight). Your resume is for experience and accomplishments.

        1. OP#2 HERE*

          Thanks! I’ve read your bit on terrible resumes receiving positive reinforcement several times. Sounds like mine may be guilty of this. It’s usually what I hear first in an interview – “We really loved your resume. It stood out, it’s really pretty, it’s easy to read,” blah blah. I’m glad I asked so that I could hear all of this feedback.

    3. foolofgrace*

      Not exactly an infographic, but: On the evening news broadcast in Large Midwestern City (U.S.) last night, there was a piece on photographers giving free headshots to people laid off due to coronavirus, and the piece emphasized how very helpful a headshot would be when submitting your resume. They were really gung-ho on pushing this. It was so misleading, I feel sorry for the job hunters who eat up this misinformation. They did also mention its usefulness as a LinkedIn photo, at least.

      1. ThatGirl*

        In 2017 I was laid off and one part of the severance package was the use of Right Management’s services (they’re part of Manpower and basically exist to make companies feel like they’re not leaving laid-off employees twisting in the wind). There actually were some helpful things – interview practices and their resume services were solid. But there was a lot of pfaff, and meh advice that runs counter to Alison’s. Anyway one service they offered was a professional headshot for your LinkedIn photo. And while I agree that if you’re gonna use a photo for LinkedIn it shouldn’t be a casual snap of you on the beach with a mai tai, paying $35 seemed like a bit much too.
        (It also made me think that a lot of their raison d’etre was also to prevent white collar types who’d been laid off after 20 years at Sears from jumping off the roof – lots of pep talks and encouragement and busy work.)

        1. Georgina Fredricka*

          I think $35 is pretty reasonable actually, assuming this wasn’t an iPhone photo setup. Photographers deserve to be paid for their time (and their overhead – lights, cameras, etc costs money) and when you figure in the time to set up and take the photo, and then the time to edit it post-production, $35 seems not so bad.

          1. ThatGirl*

            To be clear – I absolutely value what professional photographers do; I’ve dabbled in photography myself and I know it’s a skill. It’s not that I think paying $35 for professional headshots is too much, it’s that I think paying $35 for a picture to go on LinkedIn is too much. Now, if you can find another use for them…

          2. Lady Heather*

            I think you are conflating two concepts – there is ‘does the photographer deserve this amount’ and ‘is this photography worth this to me’.

            The photographer might very well deserve to be paid 35 dollars for their work, because they are good at their job and they have equipment and overhead and the cost of living in the area..
            but 35 dollar is not a price I am happy to pay for a headshot. Which is why I wouldn’t.

            The Mercedes Guardian is the safest car on the planet with its bullet proof glass, and it never breaks down. It’s price tag is reasonable for such a safe car.
            Might be, but its price tag is more than I am willing/able to spend on my car, which is why I’ll continue driving my 1963 Chevy pick-up truck.

      2. pancakes*

        It’s terrible how much local TV news is lazy filler content like that. That’s marketing, not news. Infotainment.

  15. Mannheim Steamroller*

    #1… [“The solution I’ve come up with is to send Jack and Jill a project list of what I’m working on for them every week, yet sometimes I still get the feeling that they wish I would have done something sooner….”]

    If they actually criticize you for missing (or almost missing) those undisclosed deadlines, then they’re deliberately withholding key information from you. Keep sending those project lists, but include estimated completion dates AND attach read receipts. Meanwhile, start looking for another job.

    1. triplehiccup*

      I think adding dates is a great idea. I don’t think read receipts would go over well. And they don’t actually confirm that the email was read – just that it was opened.

      1. Mannheim Steamroller*

        I have read that courts have considered “opened” and “read” as legally equivalent for purposes of accountability.

        Are there any attorneys who can speak to that?

    2. Batgirl*

      I can’t tell from here if “Where are you on this?” is an actual complaint communicating disappointment with OP’s slowness or if it’s just an attempt to keep pace with her.
      It sounds like Jack and Jill are from something similar to my old profession (daily newspaper) and the rest of the office is like the people I was waiting on for a comment (rest of the world).
      On a daily newspaper there’s a hard deadline with the printers but you’d be nuts to try and finish every story at the end of the print window to be edited simultaneously, so the real deadline is ASAP and prioritise.
      I’d initially send out response requests from everyone I needed comments from. They would ask ‘When do you need this by?’ and my response would be ‘As soon as can you get it back to me’ or ‘One hour is good, two hours is ok and three I can make work’.
      My boss would constantly ask me where we were up to, if and how people had responded so he could change pages and be ready to take the story from me for editing as soon as it was done.
      It does feel like pressure, but if the work is truly to be done in a “hurry” then the pressure to hurry is not necessarily a complaint about OP.
      Maybe…ask? “I got the sense x project wasn’t done in as short a timescale as you’d like. How would you have prioritised differently?”

      1. Colette*

        Agreed. I ask that question often, simply because I want to understand where they are with that work. Is it going to make it in before cutoff? Can they take on additional work? Do they need help from someone else?

        1. Cj*

          If there’s a cutoff, then there’s a deadline, and there’s no reason for the bosses not to tell the OP what it is.

      2. LQ*

        “Where are you at on this?” can just be a question. It doesn’t have to be a hidden secret cabal trying to undermine the OP. It can be “Where are you at on this….because I have 3 other projects I need to assign out and I’m trying to determine who has the capacity to handle these right now…” Or “Where are you at on this….because my boss asked about it so I need to report out on it.” or “Where are you at on this…because I’m trying to gauge where everyone’s workload is at based on the backlog because I may need to request more resources.” or any number of other things.

        You can just answer where you are at. At that point unless they are weirdly huffing and sighing and saying “wellllll I guuuuuuess that’s alllllright” just assume that it is a question about where you are at. (Unless there is more to it that piece may be asking them to manage your feelings, it’s perfectly fine for your boss to ask where you are at in a project, that is a part of their job.)

      3. Yorick*

        I think if she’s writing in to an advice column about it saying they’re wondering why she’s not done, then they’re not asking for just a status update, but with the expectation that it should be done already, and OP has commented to confirm that.

  16. Asenath*

    It ‘s fascinating to read the different takes on deadlines. My thought was that of course Jack and Jill should be providing deadlines – they clearly have some idea as to when they want the work done, because they’re asking at intervals how it’s progressing. And how can OP work out her own schedule if she doesn’t know if “Hurry and get your other work done” means “I want this by end of business today, along with your other work” or “I want it next Monday” or “It can wait until all your other work is done – two month’s time is fine”? I had a lot of routine, I suppose you’d call it “non deadline” work that I just kept working at, work that had to be done so it could be reported on at, say, the next quarterly meeting of Group A., some tasks that I knew were always 24 hour turnaround, as fast as you could make it, and so on. I couldn’t organize my work without knowing what the deadline would be on a new task, although with experience I learned how fast the more routine work needed to be done. A combination of “we don’t have deadlines” and “how is that job progressing” would have driven me crazy. If you don’t have deadlines, I’ll set my own. But if you do (as evidenced by the enquiries), I need to know what it is.

    1. andy*

      > they clearly have some idea as to when they want the work done, because they’re asking at intervals how it’s progressing

      I dont think this implies. This implies they want information about how it is moving, either to be sure it is moving or because they report it further. But that does not imply they know when it is done. Also, when you never ask about task you assigned, there is chance people will forget about it and stop moving it completely.

      This would be extremely normal situation in my job. The (reasonable) manager needs to know progress to know how much they can promis and when they can talk about it as sure thing. But, typical manager has very little idea about how long it should take.

      1. lasslisa*

        Yes! “Where are you on this” often means “Did you remember the chat we had about the new feature release? Marketing is still making noise about it so I want to be able to reassure them we’re working on it and it didn’t get lost in the other features.” Re-prioritization is always happening as conditions change, and some people are better at being clear about it and some are more vague.

        1. OP1*

          In my case it has always meant that they have a general feeling like I should have done it faster, and/or they suddenly want it sooner, or it just occurred to them (like if they’re going through emails after taking time off).

    2. andy*

      Another reason to ask how it is progressing is that many people just slow when they hit obstacle, then you have to intervene. The asking time is a place where you get info such as “I am stuck on x need help”.

      1. lasslisa*

        Or figure out they had the scope all wrong. Like you wanted a sketch and they’re doing fine detail work and waiting for the paint color matching to come back from the shop.

        Asking to confirm your time estimates is useful because sometimes you want the 1-day version and sometimes you want the 1-month version.

    3. Tau*

      Agreed, it’s really interesting to hear the different contexts! I suspect software development may be on the extreme end of a bell curve, with its often very continuous workflow, work packages that are extremely hard to estimate (especially by management – my boss telling me “I think this should take you X amount of time” would in fact be a warning flag for a dysfunctional workplace), the fact that we don’t tend to multitask much, and the fact that trying to rush software development to meet a deadline is a bad idea. (It happens, sure, but it’s also a major warning flag for dysfunction). So deadlines are pretty much useless information to me and I generally work without them. I also wouldn’t assume my boss checking in on me meant that they had a deadline in mind – I’d interpret it as “I haven’t been proactive enough in communicating my status and he wants to know how things are coming along and if I’m having problems”. Judging by the comments, this is… not the case for everyone.

      I do wonder where on the deadlines-required spectrum OP’s work falls.

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        I think we’re also getting really wrapped around the axle here with deadline vs priority vs general expectation, and maybe that’s what’s throwing Jack & Jill? But still, all of us in the comments arguing “this is what a deadline means” is unhelpful — how does OP1 get the information she needs from Jack & Jill? That’s the question.

        1. OP1*

          I think that this discussion has generally been very helpful for me because it’s made me realize that I don’t necessarily need hard deadlines, I just need priorities that are more clear.

          1. Donna*

            I hope it’s also empowering you to set your own priorities and allow them to give input, rather than waiting for them to prioritize it for you. Keep track of the project spreadsheet for yourself if it helps you stay organized, but all they really need to know is when they can expect the work from you.

            Whenever two people are making plans, someone has to set the scope first. E.g. When going out with friends, someone has to say “I’m free Thursday and Friday nights”. If both people say “I’m free whenever, what about you?”, then the plans are never made. Your bosses are doing the equivalent of saying “I can squeeze you in most evenings”, so it’s on you to say “how about Thursday at 7?” Then they can say “sure”, or come back with “actually, 6:30 would be better”. But when they say “I can squeeze you in most evenings” and you come back with “but which evening works best for you?”, you guys end up talking in circles. It’s way easier to tweak or veto a proposed date than to try to come up with one out of thin air. So you set the scope, and let them tweak it.

  17. Leslie Knope*

    #2 – There’s a line between setting reasonable deadlines to guide the work and expecting your supervisor to hold your hand. I’m a team lead in a project-based job. We have set timeframes for the project (i.e., we’re going to groom 200 llamas and paint 50 teapots in the next two years) and I provide interim goals/milestones deadlines to the team (i.e., llama grooming is the priority over teapot painting right now, let’s aim to have these 10 llamas groomed by Friday). I often find that new staff who are acclimating to the work will want more granular deadlines. Like, if I told them to groom the black llama, the brown llama, and the white llama this week, and they’ll want me to give them time frames for each individual llama. But, how long it takes to groom each llama might depend on its size, how thick its coat is, etc. That’s something the team member needs to figure out while they’re doing the work. At a certain point it becomes the individual team member’s responsibility to manage his or her workload.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Yes it’s up to OP to manage her workload, but they’ve given her NO deadlines. What you describe is reasonable. What OP describes is frustrating. They sound like they don’t know what they want, and expect OP to read minds and figure it out. There’s some middle ground between hand holding and mind reading.

    2. Allonge*

      I totally see what you mean, but it’s also natural that new pepole don’t have the sense about this yet. It takes a while to be able to look at ten llamas and say where I should be with grooming them by Wednesday noon to finish this week. Also it may not even be clear at first that this is normal, and there is no need for more specific deadlines. So for tnese cases, managers will need to spell this out.

      1. OP#2 HERE*

        #1 – In the administrative world, I had a mentor give me this advice. I’ve found it helpful for any number of projects.

        First – sometimes it’s helpful to ask them their timeline, rather than ask for yours. This gives you an idea of the urgency of the work in their own mind. If they don’t tell you when the work (your work is presumably supporting) is due, then often they’ll say “I need it for project BusyWork.” and if you can’t connect what that project is or glean from a calendar cruise when it’s due, you can follow up with “And what’s the BusyWork timeline?”.

        Second – when you’re getting slammed by two superiors at once, it can help to play Mom and Dad against each other. Just be gracious when you’re doing it, especially if you’re supporting managers of different levels. It takes practice on your part but they *should* be appreciative of the context because it shows that you understand how to prioritize, even if you just do it for the first few weeks, until you get a handle on company habits and priority. Eventually you’ll be able to make some of those calls first (understand why you made that decision though!) and will only have to do this when there are large conflicts. It also shows that you have an appreciation for time management

        Here’s how that works:
        Manager 1: Do task A
        Manager 2: Be sure to confirm task 1
        Manager 1: Where are you at with A? And could you work on B and C as well?
        You: Sure, when do you need this by?
        Manager 1: Just get it done, quick as you can!
        You: Okay, no problem. I have this task from Manager 2 to complete as well. Could you tell me where B and C fit into priority with task A and task 1?

      2. Katertot*

        +1 to this- I had a manager in the past that wasn’t great about giving deadlines. I generally could figure out the timelines after working with him a while, but he also wouldn’t give me additional context that let me know priorities. ie- while generally this task would be due in a week, this time the CEO needs it for x meeting, so it’s due tomorrow. He definitely assumed I could read his mind on these things haha and said so multiple times.

  18. Bookworm*

    #5: Congrats on your new job! And thanks for asking. I’m not in this position (had hoped I could have been but…pandemic) but this definitely something that’s good to know.

    Good luck! Hope the convo and the transition and new job all go well!

    1. OP#5*

      Thank you! After I wrote in, I got the official notice (although not the offer and start date, so I still haven’t resigned).

  19. OP#2 HERE*

    Hi All,
    Reading this message and the comments after made me realize that I probably sound younger and “quirkier” than I actually am! I’ve been in the professional workforce for 15+ years and am not silly enough to send a resume with no work history or metrics; part of the reason I wrote in is because I wasn’t really getting that concept and was hoping that, if it was good advice, I might have some added resources.

    HR is a bit of a jump from my already varied work history of non-profit youth focused program creation and corporate project management, though my degree is in public management. Regarding infographics – message received! Currently the infographics I use are (1) my name in a legible but nonstandard, printed font and (2) a sidebar of SmartArt in the left hand margin that lists my StrengthsFinders Top Five Strengths. When I said “express my individuality” my thoughts ran toward self-sufficiency and preference for autonomy through that scale. In effort to be succinct I clearly left out this context. I appreciate the advice on graphics, and can definitely remove them!

    With regards to the buzzwords (personal brand, etc), I’m fascinated and somewhat horrified to realize they’re so offensive to so many. I’m from the Midwest – maybe the trend hit later? Or, if not that then I’ve just been working too long with others who use them. I feel a bit like Brittany Murphy when she asks for “some sort of herbal refreshment” in Clueless. Good feedback, thanks!

    1. Ranon*

      I suspect that unless you’re applying to a place that’s already really into Strengths Finder putting your top five strengths on your resume is going to read rather like putting your astrological sign on your resume- the folks that are into it will get what you mean but everyone else probably won’t and you’ll possibly look silly doing so.

      1. OP#2 HERE*

        Ranon – I’ve worked for a major pharma corporation and a major engine company both really into StrengthsFinder, both complimentary of my listing it on my resume BUT both just transitioned to collaborative workspace as well so perhaps this is a bit of a dinosaur and I didn’t realize. My purpose was to provide a neutrally pre-defined scale of comparison (i.e. out of these 30 strengths that are fairly defined by this easily referenced scale, here are my top 5). Though, please don’t hear me as arguing with you – this feedback is valuable to me! Thank you for your thoughts.

        1. Lady Heather*

          From my quick google search, though, it seems that StrengthsFinder is a self-reporting measure?

          The nice thing about self-reporting instruments is that you can make them say whatever you want them to say.
          The consequence of that is that they have no objective value whatsoever.

          I mean, if you personally find it helpful to have a test say ‘I’m good at x and bad a y’ and it gives you a sense of direction, that’s great and you should continue using them (or not, if you don’t want to). But they don’t have an objective value. They don’t control for cognitive biases like the ‘everyone thinks they are above average’ effect, for attribution error, for dozens of other things – they aren’t objective, period.

          As such, don’t present them as objective. Put objective information on your resume, like things you did and/or accomplishments.

          1. Remote HealthWorker*

            That’s not really how strength finders works. It’s also not a great tool for helping you learn about others so I don’t see it landing on a resume.

            “Accomplishment” is a strength of mine for example. It doesn’t mean I’m going to accomplish more then someone else, it’s more that I can’t relax or have a good day unless I accomplish at least one thing on my list.

            Workwise, it means I thrive best in jobs where I can accomplish at least on little thing each day.

            But I don’t see that being helpful for anyone at all. Like some of the skills are woo – I don’t know what that means. So if you put it on your resume even though I like strength finders it’s not going to mean anything to me.

            Maybe it’s changed as it has been 5 years since we had an official consult about it but the strength finders seminar was really clear that it is a personal tool used to help you dig into -“if I were left to my own devices and could design the perfect work set up what type of environment would it be?” Independent work or mostly team based? Difficult theoretical or tried and true processes? Direction or none? That sort of thing.

            It’s not supposed to say – you would be a great chef! Or anything like that.

            1. OP#2 HERE*

              Remote –

              Hmm. Your answer gives me an alternate perspective. My strengths are almost all centered around soft skills and development topics (Context, Development, Restorative, Ideation and Input). For those who recognize the tool (and clearly it’s not as widespread as I assumed) I’d hoped to paint a picture of high EQ which would compliment the analytic skills listed in my work experience. I can see that I’m making more assumptions than I should, in that this message isn’t as clear as I’d thought. Also – yes, much like Holland Codes and SII, as well as other classics like Crucial Conversations, it’s an older tool but was updated a few years ago to show a different list of skills more applicable with today’s needs.

        2. MsClaw*

          OP2, I don’t not mean this as a slam but both in your letter and many of your responses here, it feels like a lot of sentences are coming out of a buzzword generator. Maybe in your industry that’s typical, but if I got a resume that talked about personal brands, top five ‘strengths’ based on a quiz, the color of your parachute, etc — that resume would go right in the bin. I want to know your accomplishments. Strengths are something I would expect to be communicated through your history and/or your answers in interviews if we get that that point. You demonstrate that you’re analytical, work well with others, act ethically, etc based on what you’ve done — not by putting a listicle on your resume. Particularly given the number of years of work history you’ve referenced, this puts you at an age/experience level where that’s not going to get you the benefit of feeling like someone’s college career services department gave them bad advice.

          1. OP#2 HERE*

            MsClaw – Please read my tone as conversational, not negative.

            Re: “…if I got a resume that talked about personal brands, top five ‘strengths’ based on a quiz, the color of your parachute, etc — that resume would go right in the bin. I want to know your accomplishments.”

            It’s kind of frustrating because without being able to display it, there’s really no way for me to clarify, except repeating myself, that I have a resume that IS metrics driven and does present work history/experience. This is why I asked the question to begin with – it was advice I couldn’t figure out how to shoehorn into my current resume.

            I use SF on my resume because it’s something I find interesting about others. Poor assumption on my part that others would also find it useful to know about me. NEVER would I use “the color of my parachute” which is a process used alongside the Strong Interests Inventory (SII) and the Holland Code Assessment, not a defined color. I wouldn’t be listing “and my parachute color is green!” or something. The process gives you greater insight into your best fit career by completing a series of exercises, questions and discussions with a career coach. From this, as well as the assessments mentioned, you identify skills that are innate strengths and can use these to help focus on presenting yourself more accurately in your job search.

        3. Lora*

          Big Pharma employee here – whenever I’ve seen these things used (whether StrengthsFinder, Myers-Briggs, DISC assessments or whatever) the reason they did it was this: they had some dysfunctional department / group / site, driven by one or a few Personality Problems, and the head of the department was taken to task for “why can’t your department get its s**t together?” and the head of the department’s solution is “let’s have these horrible petty jerks do an off-site team building exercise for a few days and we’ll do this tarot card reading thing so they can Understand Each Other better.” Then they come back to their management gushing about how well it worked. Turnover and disgruntlement continues apace, though, and a couple of years after that they either quit or transfer.

          If you’re a good manager, you solve the issues of high turnover, unusually difficult to recruit, disgruntled people and HR complaints by firing the Personality Problems for being jerks, and then you have a long slow hard slog to fix the department’s reputation, which takes 2-3 years minimum just to get back to “they got rid of That Guy and they’re OK now”. Most of these people are not in for the long haul though, and don’t want to fire their butt-kisser of a golf buddy just because he chronically harasses the interns, sort of thing. So they do these feel-good exercises, inflict them on other people, and the problems never do get solved.

          1. OP#2 HERE*

            Lora – Hm. I both agree and disagree with your points. I definitely agree that many of these exercises can be phone it in time wasters that don’t actually affect change. A good manager is usually on top of the problem personalities. I’ve had more than one experience though, where management is a significant portion of the wedge OR where two departments are at war over budget, who’s work is really the hardest, etc. In these cases, I think that basic workshopy-style things like this can help de silo, build contextual consideration among peers BUT this must be done thoughtfully and customized to the specific needs of the department. And the facilitator has to follow up to see whether the results were effective, etc. Maybe I’m just weird. I’m not into making people jump on one leg for fun or anything but I do think retention is vastly improved when employees feel their employer is invested in their success.

          2. NotAnotherManager!*

            I literally laughed out loud at your first paragraph, Lora – it’s so spot on. Every one of these things is self-report, too, so the fact that they’re taken as objective fact is odd and that people make staffing decisions of any sort based on them is wild. Departmental problems tend to be because of bad management and culture, not because you have too many INTJs in with the ESFPs.

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I can’t imagine a circumstance where your Strength Finder results (or Meyers-Briggs, or any other such) belong on your resume, to be honest. Definitely better ways to fill the space. (Also Midwestern – no personal brand buzzwords please. ;) )

        1. pancakes*

          I’m in NYC and have never heard of Strength Finder. I have heard of Myers-Briggs but only because I’ve read articles about it being basically corporate astrology — I’ve never been asked to take the test and would be very wary of an employer asking for it. I’d never encountered anyone who took it seriously until I started reading this site.

      1. OP#2 HERE*

        Fairy – Hah! Noted. I’ve worked for a major pharma corporation and a major engine company, both headquartered in the Midwest and both use the buzzwords listed in my OP. Maybe I’ve just worked with people who are crazy about buzzwords and it has nothing to do with geography, etc.

        1. Batgirl*

          I think you’re right, I’ve been in a lingo crazy culture before and you eventually become blind to it; in your shoes I would head straight for the plainest English speaking person of your acquaintance and use their eyes to spot places where you’ve said personal brand instead of reputation or garden implements instead of spade.

          1. OP#2 HERE*

            Great idea! Thanks Batgirl. I don’t actually use ‘personal brand’ but I’m sure the writing reflects that style.

      2. Lexi Kate*

        I work for big insurance and we use these alot, we have a contact with Gallup and use all of their products. My 1st strength is Woo and it is helpful to know this about myself and in my job as a Project manager it is a great strength. However, if I put that on a resume I am never going to get a call back even within my own company where I am well known. If it goes anywhere do a blurb in your cover letter, but don’t its only going to harm your chances. Your resume is your first meeting with someone you want to pay you the most money you have ever made, put out what works.

        1. OP#2 HERE*

          Lexi Kate – Wood is such a great strength and one I come nowhere near possessing, sadly. As in other posts, because I would find this interesting on someone’s resume I included it on mine however; I can see that’s a poor assumption. Fair enough. Thank you!

          1. Lexi Kate*

            WOO stands for winning others over. Its a Strength from the Strengths finders series from Gallup.

    3. Quill*

      One of your unspoken strengths, from now on, can be “knowing that there are only very specific times to talk about Strengths Finder.”

  20. Delta Delta*

    #1 – How on earth is asking for a deadline “managing feelings?” Jack needs X done so he asks OP to do it. OP needs to know when Jack needs it so it can be done on time and so she can prioritize her projects. Suppose Jack needs X by Thursday but doesn’t tell OP. OP is working on other things and X doesn’t get done in time because Jack doesn’t give deadlines. How is this normal?

    1. OP1*

      This is my first professional office job so I’m not really sure what’s normal. Before this I sporadically did retail to support myself through college and grad school. When I read Allison’s “managing feelings” language I realized that’s what my manager was saying-that asking for deadlines was too much burden and work for her to take on and it wasn’t fair of me to do that. Jack has flat-out said he hates arbitrary deadlines. So both of them acting like it’s an imposition has made me question myself.

      1. Donna*

        I know I’m commenting all over the place today, but I think some people are missing the point. The tasks in retail are pretty clear cut – stock this shelf, clean this aisle, ring up this customer. In school, professors have assignment rubrics and due dates, so you know what you have to do and by when. In most office jobs, tasks come and go and they’re a lot more fluid, as priorities change or scope gets refined. Since you’ve said it’s your first professional job, it’s natural that you want more guidance. Unfortunately, your managers are not equipped to give it to you. This means that you need to be more proactive. You are now your own project manager. Think of yourself like an independent consultant. Plan your work and when they give you a new task, let them know when they can expect it back from you. Take control of your workflow.

        1. DarnTheMan*

          Or you could cut the OP a little slack, knowing that this is their first job and work to understand why they might not feel like they have the collateral to just do whatever they want and hang the managers’ opinion. It’s tough to switch from the school mindset of always needing to run stuff by your professor or risk the consequences (or follow very strict rubrics and course requirements) and into the workplace where if you have a reasonable manager you get more wiggle room for doing things your way, and this is something I think a lot of us who’ve been in the workplace longer could stand to remember.

  21. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    OP#1 – I’ll set my own deadlines when I’m tasked with something, because that’s the only way it’ll get done, and I’m frank about it when told “there’s no timeline” or “it’s not a rush.” During a busy season, I could get 10-15 tasks in a day, all with deadlines, and if the new request doesn’t fit somewhere in that priority list, it may be months before I get to it.

    OP#5 – Call your supervisor on the phone, explain, and hash out the details. Then follow that conversation up with an email, with your letter of resignation attached in PDF format. At least that’s what I would do if I had to resign remotely, and it’s an improved version of the script I’ve seen remote coworkers resign using.

    1. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

      Email should be fine, you don’t necessarily need to make it into a PDF to attach. You might need to CC HR or similar.

      Last time I resigned, my manager was working from home the day that I had to resign (no more and no less than 2 weeks notice). I called him without warning him first and 1) I’m sure it was surprising because I never called him and 2) He was in the bathroom and unable to accept my call.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        The PDF is like your résumé, so the format is consistent and it’s less convenient to change the contents.

  22. Blue Eagle*

    #1 Is there some reason why the LW is so deadline focused? When I think of a deadline, I think of a specific date that something is needed by (e.g. accounts payable checks are run on Wednesday so all invoices must be in by Tuesday). The LW’s question seems more focused on just general work. And in that case it seems more like what LW needs is to have the work prioritized rather than a set deadline.
    Maybe LW would have more success with the managers if they were approached with a request regarding prioritization of the various projects rather than a specific deadline date for each project.

    1. Insert Clever Name Here*

      But event with general work it is odd that Jack/Jill choose “if I tell you it’s just one more thing for me to remember” rather than “no hard deadline, but sometime in the next month.”

    2. OP1*

      It’s because I’m getting work assigned by two people who both refuse to give me deadlines, and I would estimate that I’m unsure about when they need about 75% of my projects. They then follow up with me and generally express that they think I should have already done something, but in the meantime have already given me multiple other assignments, some of which might even appear more urgent than the initial thing they’re asking about.

      I’ve generally tried requesting prioritization but haven’t had any luck there either except for Jack’s general “Hurry up but don’t neglect your other work,” and they both act like it’s a burden on them to give me anything particularly definitive.

  23. Quill*

    #4 Linked in is, sadly, full of this spam. And I consider all linked in requests that don’t come from actual colleagues or for a hiring purpose spam.

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

      My profile attracts scammy recruiters, but now it has escalated to outright spam. I enter once a week only to reject requests.

    2. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

      Even the ones for hiring purposes can be quite spammy. Many recruiters will try twice, which is OK I guess. But some re-send three times or more, despite zero response or signs of interest from me.

  24. Megumin*

    OP #1 – I had a couple of bosses who were terrible about giving deadlines, but then would flip out on me when I didn’t deliver something when they wanted it (despite never actually telling me when they wanted it). For one boss, everything was top priority, so when I would ask for a deadline, he’d just say “as soon as possible.” So I went with Allison’s suggestion of “I can do X by this date, but that means putting off Y until this date. Is that okay?” He would hem and haw, but ultimately agree. I wrote that down in my own notes, and put it on my Outlook calendar (that I knew he checked), and sent a follow up email with the dates and priorities listed.

    Picking a date for them – instead of asking for a deadline – is usually a much better approach, since it removes some of the mental resistance they have to picking deadlines. They can just say yes or no. It’s tedious, but it usually works better. Also, add that date to your calendar (if you use one) and make the calendar visible. Or use some other mechanism to make the date very visible. The point is just to keep reminding them that they agreed to a certain date, so hopefully they won’t back out on what they agreed to.

  25. nonprofit writer*

    #1: Beware of people who refuse to give deadlines. In my experience, they are the ones who expect *everything* to be done “ASAP.” I’m a consultant and have to really push back on some of my clients on this–in particular, the ones who are competitive about how many hours they work and expect me to follow suit. Who are, not coincidentally, the ones who also “forget” I have other clients. Alison’s advice to propose deadlines yourself is good. Do it in writing if you can.

    1. nonprofit writer*

      I should clarify to say (after reading comments above) that they don’t necessarily have to “give” you deadlines–you can suggest them yourself–but refusing to engage on the topic is just nuts to me! OP is trying to help them get *their* work done by making sure she gets her piece of it done in a way that works for them. It’s totally reasonable for her to want them to share their expectations about this.

  26. Lady Heather*

    OP1, what kind of deadlines are you asking for? Are the assignments things that do have a deadline or that don’t?

    I’ll use an example from my limited retail experience:
    When I worked for a small retailer (as a ‘does everything except customer service’ store employee) my main duties were stocking/tidying the sales floor, filling orders to be shipped, and occasionally a projects like reorganizing the stock room, or ad-hocs like cleaning up spills.

    Cleaning up spills didn’t have a deadline as it needed to be done immediately.
    Filling orders did have a deadline. (In my case, it was ‘before the end of the day’ every day.)
    Stocking/tidying didn’t have a deadline but it was my responsibility to get to it in time. (A shelf that’s (almost) empty needs to be filled immediately; a shelf that’s almost full should be filled if there is spare time)
    Reorging the stock room didn’t have a deadline as it wasn’t a priority, I’d get to it when I had a spare hour and I’d have it done when I’d have it done.

    Which one of those is the work you want deadlines on comparable to? Note that only ‘filling orders’ has a deadline here. The others are ‘do it now’, ‘do it before we suffer from you not having done it’, and ‘do it sometime’ – and they wouldn’t be things managers can give deadlines for.

    1. OP1*

      I’m not going to try and analogize to the retail environment, but if something is a hair-on-fire emergency, I will get a deadline for that or get told in no uncertain terms to drop everything. There are a handful of requests that are generally known (because we have a list) that the document needs to be produced within 24 hours.

      But as for the rest, sometimes I don’t know an external deadline or sometimes there isn’t one. Sometimes there *is* an external deadline but Jack and Jill have their own time tables. For instance, if I know the external compliance deadline is December 31, 2020 and I was assigned the work on January 1, 2020, then I’m not going to hand them something on December 30, 2020. But I recently ran into the issue where they just said “Look into this,” I did, and then afterward Jack said “Actually we needed your input before [a week after I handed it in] for it to be useable.” Which is not information I had going into what looked like a low-priority project.

      1. Batgirl*

        Yeah that’s an organisational mess they need to have sorted out and you need to CYA if they don’t. I’m wondering if a spread sheet of ongoing tasks might help? You could colour code the prioritisation status of each task and put an ETA date on each. With an external deadline column claiming either ‘yes Dec 31’ or ‘No’ listed. That way they could see at a glance whether they had or hadn’t communicated that.
        You could link the sheet as an answer to every query so they get the whole picture; something they are sadly lacking.

      2. Lady Heather*

        So there are hard deadlines, you’re just not being told what they are.

        Your management is terrible.

  27. e*

    #1 – I have this issue and I haven’t resolved it. I think my situation might not be quite like yours in a few ways, but I guess the tips I have are:

    – You really need to be prepared with your own time estimates. If you give something and they’re like “that’s obviously wrong”, then that ends up in the same scenario where you’re asking for a deadline and they don’t want to give it, except everyone is annoyed because you spent five minutes arguing about whether what you just said was possible.

    – I know you’ve said you report to Jack and Jill, but is there anyone else you interact with who has a good sense of project priorities? My actual manager has no interest in deadlines, but sometimes another colleague can help prioritize.

    – In progress updates, it’s helpful to manage what you work on so it’ll read as “progress” to Jack/Jill (particularly relevant if they don’t do quite the same work you do, which it sounds like might be the case). For example, if I have analytical and writing work to do in a certain deliverable and I focus on the analytical work, it looks to my boss like I haven’t made any progress and he gets frustrated; it’s easier to be able to point to something getting done, even if it’s “less” than he expects.

    If anyone has helpful advice for the variant where your boss asks you at 3 PM on Friday to get something done yourself “early next week” that would historically have been handled by you + someone with ten years more experience, then declares on Monday that it needs to be done by the end of the day, and who then says “we have spent way too much time on this” every time he gives you another turn of edits and “we have to do this” every time you tell him how long his requested edits will take, I would love to hear it.

    1. OP#2 HERE*

      E – I had one of those once. I really miss the “Journal” function of Outlook because it could be really helpful for this type of thing (I was primarily slammed with calendaring rework for huge interview processes). Metrics were my saving grace. I scheduled a meeting with the folks I worked with and showed them exactly how much time I’d spent, en total, on each interview with multiple reschedules. Then I learned the phrase, “value added to the business” as in, “As I mentioned in our last 1:1, changes like this can result in overtime (etc) – is the extra cost value added to the business?” But then, I’ve worked where buzzword phrases like this were normal, so obviously judge accordingly. I’ve found that arguing metrics is more difficult.

      1. e*

        Thanks! The most measurable impact of something like this is usually that I can’t work on other things (I am salaried), which is sometimes effective to say… the other one is that it makes me unhappy, which is unfortunately harder to communicate :)

        1. OP#2 HERE*

          Right? And so often it’s unacceptable for you to ask what they would like for you to set aside in your already busy day to complete work that’s actually theirs. I used to work with someone who constantly passed work for her quarterly preread submissions to her subordinates. Which would have been fine except that she passed it to them the day before it was due because she didn’t bother to get around to it earlier, causing her employees great stress because they also had submissions to make for that meeting and their metrics legitimately came in just before the meeting. So her employees were miserable for these meetings that were implemented to try and get two teams to work together better – which put them in a really cooperative mood, yes? Not so much.

          Phenomenally worse when you’re salaried. My husband is salaried and working 70 hour weeks because they’re shorthanded. Employees are paid $7 more an hour than he is because they receive hourly hazard pay AND they’re eligible for overtime. But he’s free – because he’s salaried. Eesh.

          Good luck to you! I hope you’re surprised with a promotion to a new department!

  28. CM*

    OP#1, consider providing status reports once or twice a week? That way the two bosses will know where you are with projects without having to ask, and if they seem annoyed that something’s not done, you can ask if you should move it up the list, or explain you were working on higher priority items above it. Overall, sounds like you have two people who are expecting you to do every task immediately, which is not possible, and who are unwilling to take the time to think about priorities themselves. So for your own sanity, I think you need to be proactive about communicating to them what your tasks and priorities are. Even if they still seem annoyed, you can say, “I’m happy to accept any feedback on my status reports — if you want me to reprioritize, just let me know.”

    1. OP1*

      Yes, after reading through the replies here I will be adding estimated time to completion and external deadlines/factors into my weekly project list.

    2. azvlr*

      My last boss and team lead wanted me to report project statuses once a week. I had already been keeping a very detailed spreadsheet of everything, so I just started sending that prior to my 1x1s. I didn’t expect them to read the entire thing, but at least hoped the would review it before we met, since many of there questions were there in black and white (They were very familiar with the format, so it would have saved everyone time.) Instead, I had to walk them through it each week.

      I confirmed that they never actually read them because I started putting a different rick roll on it every week hoping to at least get a laugh. They never, ever mentioned it. Bummer!

  29. Teapot Librarian*

    LW5, I had an employee who resigned while we were in this working remotely period. I suggest that you NOT do what she did, which was to go into the office, leave her ID, and then email me that she was resigning effective immediately. Please give your boss the standard 2 weeks notice (or whatever is typical in your industry) and let her communicate with you what logistics need to be taken care of. I think the fact that you’re thinking about how to give your notice respectfully is a good sign that you’ll get it right.

    1. OP#5*

      Actually, part of the issue is that my boss is extremely busy with some issues that have come up recently and some delays with the new job offer meant that I might have to give notice quickly after getting the official offer in order to give two weeks. Thankfully, circumstances have improve! So while I was tempted to do the office version of spelling out “I QUIT” in cod, I will not.

  30. Quantifying Girl in a Qualitative World*

    I just recently had a person on my team resign. They sent me a skype in the morning asking for a short phone call when I was available and put it on my calendar. They called me and let me know they were leaving and when they wanted their last day to me. Gave me a month’s notice.
    Honestly even when we were all in the office I wouldn’t want a drive-by resignation, I’d still want a scheduled meeting.

  31. It's Happy Hour Somewhere*

    > “Hello, you don’t know me but I’d like to make money off of your hardship” is not an appealing message.

    I have gotten a bunch of marketing messages like that and I am *so* tempted to use this as a reply to them.

  32. Allie*

    For LW2 – I completely get that you shouldn’t put passions, but what do you think of focusing on what you want to do vs not? Let’s say your job is 50% llama feeding, 30% llama grooming, and 20% stable management. Let’s say you don’t like stable management and don’t want to do it in a next job – can you leave it off? Assuming you still have enough to talk about and a good list of budgets.

    LW3 – love these questions. I ask a milder version but its good to know I can be this upfront.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Absolutely. Your resume is a marketing document; it’s not required to be a comprehensive list of everything you’ve ever done. You can tailor it to include only accomplishments you feel are relevant to what you want to do next.

    2. OP#2 HERE*

      Allie – it’s a good point! My experience is sort of all over the board. In the last ten year, project management, hospitality meeting/events management, political advocacy, various education administrative/coordinator roles, community development (from a non-profit perspective). It’s been difficult to focus these into a streamlined message.

  33. Steve*

    Applying the principle of charity, it may be that the person who told LW 2 to focus her resume on what she wants to do rather than what she has done was trying to express something not too far from Allison’s advice: tailor your resume to the job you are applying for. Some people make the mistake of trying to make their resume an exhaustive list of everything they’ve done and when they are seeking a change in fields it ends up not showing how good a fit they are. Those people need to focus on what they hope to do (by ensuring everything on their resume is there to demonstrate a qualification needed for the job they are applying for) and not what they have already done (except where those experiences help make the case that you are a great candidate).

    A better way to express this idea might be to say your resume is a marketing document, not your life story.

  34. bananab*

    I love the merciful anti-deadline thing when paired with the ten times more annoying constant update request. Second biggest pet peeve after the inverse, “here’s brand new unexpected thing, can I have this today?”

  35. Allonge*

    LW1, is it possible for you to have a whiteboard somewhere (or, you know an online version) with a list of your ongoing tasks and what you are working on at the moment? The idea would be for Jack and Jill to be able to see it when giving you new tasks (you would have to remind them it exists, mind you). This does not need to be very fancy, it can indicate the priority (or if you have one, the deadline) of tasks, and when you expect to be finished with them, so they can put any new task in a context (before Y but after you did X for Jill).

    The thing is, having two people to report to is tricky under the best of circumstances, and with these two not being on top of management, you need to manage your own time quite a bit. It’s ok to take this on yourself, if they are not willing to, it’s even necessary. You can put this under ‘proactively managed my duties in X’ later on in self assessments and resumes.

  36. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

    #4 Ugh, so tacky. MLMers are doing this too: “Sorry you’ve lost your job, but this is the perfect time for you to join my team.”

  37. Betsy S*

    OP1, it sounds like there’s a lot of other dysfunction beyond this in your group, but to respond to the original question:

    I had a very disorganized boss a few jobs back. They were very creative and ran on impulse. They would constantly change priorities, forget what had been done, forget who’d been assigned a project, twice forgot to tell me that there WAS a project, and often be annoyed that I wasn’t working on whatever they were thinking of at the moment. PLUS they would often cancel check-in meetings, and they were an absolute bottleneck for communication.

    This fostered a culture on the team of waiting before starting anything, to see if the boss would forget about it or change direction before next week.

    What I ended up doing was keeping a list of my top 10 projects, putting an expected completion date on the top three, and sending it to them every week with status updates, asking if they approved of the priorities. If I needed anything from them I put it in a bullet point at the top. I would use my own judgement on time frames and priorities unless I heard otherwise.

    I kept it very short and sweet so it was skimmable.

    This worked surprisingly well. When they came up with a random stream-of-consciousness idea I would ask them if they wanted me to put it ahead of x,y,z , or do those first, and half the time the idea would go away. If not, I would pull up the list and take notes.

    It sounds as though in your case your bosses have real external deadlines that they aren’t telling you about, so putting your own dates on things (in big type) will hopefully trigger that feedback. “OK, I’ll get back to you by X with the results/timetable/plan” whatever, and follow that up in writing. Short, large type :-)

    1. Betsy S*

      PS it sounds as though your manager hates the word “deadline”. Might want to just leave it off and say things like ‘completion date” or “ready for internal review” or whatever.

  38. Academic Librarian Too*

    LW1- I don’t get it. Deadlines are a good thing. They help us plan our work. Perhaps the supervisors are super disorganized and they are assigning work when it is actually needed not some future date. In that case, a planning meeting with a calendar is needed.
    LW 2- Please, please, please no infographics. Those go right on the no pile. I have a rubric for position. Making me hunt for the information on your creative resume is not endearing me to you. If the position is for a graphic designer , there is a portfolio, no?

    LW 3- Risk-taking. Good luck with that. I thought it was obvious by my CV and by the interviewers stating that the organization was looking for people who show adventuresome creativity in their work that this type of work was encouraged and appreciated. Alas, it turned out, yes take chances but only if you can assure the outcome and know the return on the investment.

  39. juliebulie*

    LW2 – I don’t want to nitpick your word choice, but I’m not sure if you realize that in some circles “quirky” is a euphemism for “basket case.” Don’t describe yourself that way! When you ditch the buzzwords, you sound like a deeply intelligent, thoughtful, on-the-ball person.

    1. OP#2 HERE*

      Juliebulie – No, I wasn’t equating quirky to certifiable but (hah!) I will remember that in the future. I guess by quirky I mean that I’m un-apologetically my own person, creative, people focused and a continuous learner. But in light of your comment I can see how quirky could infer difficult to train, manage or employ, generally odd.

      Honestly, although I know intentions were positive, I’ve felt like a real idiot for even asking this question so poorly and from many of the resulting answers. I truly appreciate your last comment.

      1. juliebulie*

        No! You’re not an idiot. But you’ve clearly received some dubious advice. Better to get it all out now than in an interview!

  40. PX*

    OP2: thanks for adding so much context in the comments. I just want to add to something someone else said, I think a lot of the things you are calling personal branding are actually more like strengths and preferred working styles. Strengths (ie the things you can demonstrate you are good at) get turned into resume/cover letter fodder. Preferred working style gets turned into interview material, mainly in the form of (very pointed and specific) questions you should be asking about company culture and fit.

    1. OP#2 HERE*

      PX – thank you for reading my context! And thank you for your thoughts. Very useful and appreciated!

  41. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    OP1 Deadlines! I love the whooshing sound as they whizz past my ear!!

    As a translator I often find myself having to keep to very tough deadlines. I always wished I could have more time. Then the dream client came along: he wanted good quality translations and was prepared to give me all the time I needed.
    His file just stayed at the bottom of the pile and I realised finally that I’m so used to having tight deadlines, I can only get stuff done when it’s become urgent. So I called him and told him to give me a deadline. He gave me a week to complete a task that would need three days minimum. I ended up fitting in other stuff and spent not a minute more than those three days.
    Moral of the story: you need a deadline. It might not work if you set it yourself, knowing that your boss doesn’t even care. But then it might help just to keep on top of things and not forget them when they’re not urgent.
    If your managers won’t give you a deadline and chase the work up, they’re not doing their job. I know my job is deadline driven, but still I can’t imagine not ever having one.

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