did I get offered a job because I can bake, kid noise on calls, and more

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

1. Did I get offered a job because I can bake?

I recently applied for a job after not working for a few years due to looking after my children. As I started the interview, I could tell the interviewer was asking me questions very formulaically. The interview did not feel organic at all — he didn’t ask me about any specific experiences highlighted on my resume, projects I had worked on, etc. The questions were all very general — what can you bring to our workplace, what are your professional highlights, etc.

The final question was, “What are some hobbies you enjoy doing outside of work?” I said I enjoy baking and often do commissioned cakes and other treats for special occasions. This made him perk up and he asked, “Ooh! Do you bake stuff and bring it into work?” Taken aback, I politely said that I hadn’t really done that as baking became a hobby in my time spent out of the workforce. He then asked what my favorite thing to bake is. By this point I was already getting bad vibes about the job so I just answered the question. The interview ended shortly afterwards, and I did not get a chance to ask any questions myself.. I was disappointed. The company was not really interested in specific professional experiences I had had. It feels like they just use the same interview format for each person they interview.

A week later, I got a call saying I got the job. The phone call was pretty standard for a job offer, until the end when the person said, “We can’t wait to have your delicious baked food around the office!”

Is it just me, or does it sound like I got the job because I can bake stuff for the office? In every other way it’s a great job for me at this stage in my life — salary is good, flexibility for childcare, potential for promotion, and I could work from home. But that’s all stuff I had to seek out, as none was explained to me during the interview, nor did I have a chance to ask questions.

Truthfully, I don’t mind if they want me to bake for the office. It’s something I enjoy and do for my friends and family anyway. But I am disappointed because it seems like the interviewer was not actively listening to my qualifications and experience, and it feels like my expertise, skills, and references were not taken into consideration. It’s very demoralizing to get offered a job because I can bake a cake. I have a few days to make the decision but I’m really torn as to whether it is the right move for me. What would you do and how should I address this?

I would be very skeptical that you were offered the job because you like to bake. I mean, anything is possible. But it’s far more likely that you just had a bad interviewer who happened to perk up when you mentioned food. There are lots of bad interviewers out there. Also, if your sense is that he was using the same script with all candidates (which some organizations require their interviewers to do), then it’s not that surprising that he wasn’t asking about specific things on your resume; if he was tied to a rigid script, it’s possible he couldn’t.

Would you have accepted the job if everything else was the same (uninformative interview, disengaged interviewer, little interest expressed in your background) except baking was never mentioned? I’d assess it that way. But also — since you were never given the chance to ask questions, it’s fine to ask for a conversation with your would-be manager before you make a decision. Explain you have some questions that you didn’t get a chance to ask in the previous meeting, and ask if you can set up a phone call to cover them. That should give you a better sense of the job and the manager — and I can’t see making a decision without asking your own questions first anyway.

2. My coworkers’ kids make so much noise I can’t focus on conference calls

My company is still fully remote and likely will be until 2021. We are an international company with multiple locations, so even before COVID we often worked on video calls and the transition has been pretty smooth overall.

My question is regarding the interruptions and distractions that come with working from home, specifically young kids. I have one coworker who has two young children (preschool age), and they always seem to be having a melt down when he joins our calls. He’s mentioned that his parents are staying with him and his wife to help with the kids, and he’s made comments previously that “my wife is supposed to be getting off her call to handle the kids” (I don’t love the gendered overtones there but I don’t know enough about the situation to comment). When the kids aren’t crying/screaming, there is a lot of loud TV noise (think cartoon music and sound effects) in the background. It’s very difficult to focus when he is on our calls, and he is the person leading the calls so he can’t be on mute for long periods of time.

I understand working parents have it extremely tough right now, and I want to be sympathetic. If it were just a few noises here and there, I wouldn’t mind. But he’s made it known he has childcare options available to him, and I know he lives in a house and not an apartment, so I have to believe he has at least one room with a door he could go into for the 30 minutes during our call. He is senior to me at our company but I do not report to him. I don’t think I have the ability to mention this to him directly, but can I mention it to anyone? Is this level of distraction just something we need to deal with during the COVID age?

It’s hard to know what’s really going on — maybe he has a quieter spot available to him, but maybe he doesn’t. Maybe his parents aren’t helpful at all (some parents idea of “helping with the kids” is to sit on the couch and expect to be waited on). We don’t know, so I’d avoid speculating on what he should or shouldn’t be able to do. Whatever you think you can surmise about someone’s home life is often wrong.

What you do know for sure is that it’s hard to focus on conference calls with all that background noise. You’re right that you probably don’t have the standing to bring it up with him yourself since he’s senior to you — although if you truly can’t hear on a call, it’s fine to say, “I’m not able to hear over the background noise — is anyone else having trouble?”

But you can mention it to your boss and see if she has any insight or if this nudges her into raising it herself. Frame it as, “I’m having a lot of trouble focusing on calls with Bob because there’s so much background noise from his kids crying or yelling and the TV, and I wondered if you had any advice or if there’s just not much we can do.”

3. Asking about salary increases for a future relocation to a high cost-of-living area

My husband is currently interviewing for a new position he’s very excited about. The job would be based in a fairly small midwestern city, so the salary range currently being discussed is a great fit and would allow us to live very comfortably. However. The company has already indicated it plans to move operations to California eventually, maybe two to three years down the road. This excited us, as we have always wanted to live there. But during the interviews it has been mentioned that they would move to Palo Alto. This is one of the most expensive areas in the country! A quick cost of living comparison indicated he would need to be earning seven times as much living there as in the midwestern city. There is no way we could afford to make the move without a significant salary increase.

Is it appropriate to ask about how they plan to handle that during the interview process, wait until after an offer has been, or is it just too far into the future to expect them to provide a reasonable answer, and it would make him look bad to bring it up?

He should wait until he has an offer and can ask about it then. It’s unlikely they’re going to commit to a specific increase several years out, but he can find out if it’s even on their radar and how they’re thinking about it.

Do know, though, that it’s very unlikely that they’re going to increase people’s salaries by that much when they move, or even by anything remotely close to that. (And by “very unlikely,” I mean absolutely not going to happen.) So both of you should go into this with some skepticism about whether you’ll end up wanting to make the move with them whenever it happens.

Read an update to this letter here.

4. People incorrectly call me Mr.

I have a problem that has plagued me for years and am looking for advice on how to handle it. I am a female mid-level manager in a large, global organization. I have a name that is typically used for men, so I am very often greeted with “Mr.” in correspondence from those who have never met or talked to me. The latest is from an intern I am overseeing for the summer. I have not corrected him yet and can’t decide whether to let it go, as he’ll figure it out the first time we talk, or correct him via email. I don’t want to embarrass him or make him feel bad. How do I handle these situations remotely?

Matter-of-factly and quickly! Correct someone after the first time it happens, and it’ll just be a quick oops. Correct them after the 20th time and they’ll be more embarrassed — and also will wonder why you didn’t say something earlier.

So the first time someone does it, when you reply back just include, “By the way, it’s Ms., not Mr.!” And with the intern, you could handle it that same way, even though it won’t be the first time he’s done it.

(But also, does everyone in your office use Mr./Ms. when addressing each other? If so, then carry on. But if not, you should teach your intern your norms around this — and at the same time you explain that you’re a Ms., let him know he should call you by your first name too.)

Also, you might find it useful to include Ms. in your email signature — if people see “Ms. James Valentine” right in front of them every time you email them, they’re much less likely to get it wrong.

5. How to ask an interviewer about negative online reviews

I am currently job searching and wondered how I could ask about information (potentially negative) that I read in a job review on a job search website like LinkedIn or Indeed.

For example, I am doing a phone screen with a company that has decent online reviews but with a somewhat common theme: most people mentioned the workload being high, constant new work being added without support, etc. How would I ask about this in an interview to glean whether this is accurate?

My thought was to say, “When I was looking in to the company online I read some reviews from previous employees who mentioned higher than average workloads. Can you tell me what a typical day looks like in this role?” Should I mention the job review at all? I go back and forth.

I don’t think asking about a typical day will get you the info you’re really looking for, which is what workloads are like and whether they’re a chronic problem. You’re better off asking more directly with something like, “I noticed some reviews of the company online talk about workloads being high, and I wondered what your take was on that.”

You don’t want to put them on the defensive, so your tone should convey that you’re not assuming what you read is true and you know there might be more to the situation, but are curious and would like to learn more.

Then listen carefully to how they respond. Do they defensively deny that it’s a problem at all? Do they dismiss negative reviews as something that happens to every company? (It’s not.) Do they seem put off that you asked? Those are all red flags.

But unless they have an explanation that you find compelling (like “we’ve increased our staff by 20% and it’s improved greatly” or “it’s an acknowledged problem in the X department, but it hasn’t been an issue in the Y department you’d be working in, because of Z”), I’d put a lot of weight on those reviews. Generally with online reviews, if you see a theme pop up over and over, there’s some truth to it.

{ 367 comments… read them below }

  1. Paddi*

    Number 4 happens to me all the time! I have a fairly unusual first name so get a combination of Mr First Name or Mr Last Name. I correct ASAP, it’s just better for everyone, it’s annoying but hey ho. The worst is when they’ve spoken to me and then still call me Mr in emails……

    1. Avasarala*

      It’s also very very very common when working globally with people from cultures where you’re not familiar with what gendered names look like. Often I email people from around the world and I’m not sure if they are male or female just from their name.

      It is very common to include Mr./Ms. in your email signature to indicate this, and I have referred to it when people do so. In some countries it is acceptable to use titles for yourself, so you could include “Ms. Chrisjen Avasarala.” But in places where it’s not, I’ve put the title in parentheses afterwards: “Chrisjen Avasarala (Ms.)”. If you use Mx then you could put that too, but my impression is this is not well known around the world, especially in formal, conservative working cultures (where you’re more likely to use titles in business correspondence).

      If someone uses the wrong title, or “Dear Sir”s you when you’re not a Sir, I would correct them immediately in the greeting, or at the end in the closing, wherever feels more natural.
      “Dear X,
      Thank you for your email. By the way, I use Ms., not Mr.”

      “… Please let me know if you have any questions.
      And for future reference, I use Ms., not Mr. Thanks!
      Chrisjen Avasarala (Ms.)”

      1. nom*

        The use of Mr/Ms is pretty uncommon in my field, especially once you’ve been introduced to someone (even if it’s just an email introduction), and it would feel awkward to include in an email signature. Plus a good number of my colleagues have PhDs, so the appropriate form of address for them is “Dr.” and that doesn’t tell you anything about their gender.

        Instead, at my office almost everyone (~75%) includes their pronouns in their email signature. Makes it super easy to know how to refer to people, especially with new staff and now that we’re all working remotely. Generally, it seems like pronouns go after position info but before contact info; typically it looks like this:
        Wakeen Anonymous, MBA
        Head Llama Recruiter, Logistics Division
        Pronouns: they/them
        Office: 987-654-3219 | Fax: 123-456-7890

        For context, I work at a state government agency in the western US. I was trying to think of when we would use “Mr/Ms”, and I think it’s pretty much only when working with constituents/clients. (Very different from when I worked in the Southeast US!)

        1. Anonys*

          Yes, came here to say that if OP thinks it would reasonably fly in her office, she should use pronouns. I think cis people giving their pronouns (my read here is that OP is a cis woman whose parents gave her a unisex name) normalizes it and thus helps trans people.

          In general, OP, I agree with everyone that an immediate, cheerful correction is the best course. I think it’s a bad strategy to wait till you have a phone call with the intern and have him correct himself. If I called someone Mr for an extended period of time without being corrected and then heard their voice for the first time and it was very high, I wouldn’t just immediately assume they were a woman. They might be a trans man, or a cis man with a high voice or something. I think for a trans man, someone switching pronouns based on their voice could be very invalidating, so I wouldn’t want to take that chance. But I guess this whole thing just shows that in general, gender and pronouns are best communicated, not assumed.

          1. Nonny*

            Totally agreed on pronouns— however, I’d be prepared for it not to help. My first name (a relatively normal American name with multiple variant spellings— like Sarah/Sara, but more versions) is *in my email address* and people still misspell it… sometimes even after I’ve written back to them and signed off with the correct spelling…

            1. Media Monkey*

              agreed. i have a common name with a fairly common variant (think sophie/ sophia) and i get the variant about as often as i get the correct name. and they have emailed me with the correct name in the email address *sigh*

              1. Gymmie*

                This annoys me so much. It’s also like giving someone an automatic nickname (Hi Jen! when you go by Jennifer exclusively). My name is very basic (often a nickname for a longer name), but both my maiden and married names are very long and hard to pronounce (slavic origin) and I just really respect when people take the time to spell them correctly. And also to not assume my name is the other name and not what I said it is!

            2. NoviceManagerGuy*

              My last name is missing one final letter from a much more common last name. Sometimes people copy it down incorrectly from my driver’s license.

              1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                My last name has an extra character beyond the assumed variant. It’s incredible what a difference getting a name right can make in attitude and the business relationship.

              2. Gymmie*

                I have a friend who has a very unique name but it is very similar to a popular name: like Jennifer, but it is really Jemmifer, and people will automaticaly “correct” it. It’s not the spelling, it’s actually pronounced differently as well – totally different name.

              3. Rebelx*

                My last name is kind of like that too, and I have a first name with several common variations. I agree it’s a little annoying when people write your name wrong even when you just spelled it for them or they’re looking at a document, but honestly, I don’t think it’s carelessness or lack of attention most of the time. (Or at least I prefer to believe this to save myself the energy of being annoyed every time this happens.) I think it’s just that people write whatever version they are more used to out of habit/muscle memory, and then just genuinely don’t realize/see/notice the error. Like when you see those sentences where the first & last letter of every word is correct but the middle ones are all mixed up but you can still read it perfectly fine, or like times when I’ve written something and proofread it several times and only later see a typo that my brain just… didn’t notice the first few times?

              4. Yorick*

                I’ve watched people spell my last name incorrectly while I spelled it out for them.

              5. Professional Straphanger*

                Yeah, most people seem not to pay any attention. I have to disagree with Alison’s statement that signing my emails with “Ms. Siobhan Straphanger” will head off name related gender confusion, based on the number of replies I got addressing me as “Mr” or “Dear Sir” anyway. My way around it was to get my PhD so now it’s Dr. Straphanger and the awkward confusion is no longer an issue until we talk on the phone or meet in person, lol.

            3. Shark Whisperer*

              I have a gender neutral first name. I have my pronouns in my signature, but it doesn’t really help. I still get plenty of Mr. Whisperer instead of Ms. Whisperer. I have basically given up and don’t bother even correcting people. (Almost everyone who calls me Mister is someone I’m only ever going to have one or two email exchanges with)

            4. Sam.*

              A female friend/former coworker of mine has a gender-neutral name with a spelling that’s more commonly used for men. She has pronouns in her email signature, which is pretty standard in our field, so most people should know it’s something worth checking for. She still gets “Mr.” and “Sir” all the time in emails. It definitely doesn’t hurt to include pronouns, but it won’t completely fix the situation – OP still needs to be prepared to correct people.

            5. M. Albertine*

              I agree – I think Alison is optimistic about people actually reading and cognitively processing email signatures. My last name is a common woman’s name, and despite email signatures and both names being spelled out in my email address itself, I am commonly called by my last name. (Even from others within the organization, who *know* the email naming convention never has last name first.)

            6. Jen (with one N, thanks!)*

              This! My first name is part of my email address, and people often add extra letters on to it when they’re referring to me in the body of the email.

              1. Two N Jenn*

                I have the opposite problem! No matter how many times I sign off with how I prefer my name to be spelled, that final ‘N’ never makes it into people’s brains!

                1. Deanna Troi*

                  My sister uses Jenn and I default to that. I try to remember that some people prefer Jen, so I try to double check before I send something.

              2. blue*

                Not that that isn’t annoying (I also have a common name with several common spellings and people get it wrong all the time) – but misgendering someone is a different thing. Oops Sarah with an H or not is pretty innocuous in comparison.

            7. Laney Boggs*

              Oh yeah. My name becomes masculine if you drop the last “A”, and there is one coworker who consistently directs her emails to “Eric.” Feels wrong to correct her as its obviously a mistype (she knows me, we worked in the office for several months before WFH), but it’s genuinely EVERY email.

              And don’t get me started on the Polish last name that one of my accounts still gets wrong….

              1. Insert Clever Name Here*

                I have a coworker with a similar name. She’s jokingly created an alternate persona for the masculine name “oh, Eric Boggs? He’s the absolute worst and doesn’t know anything about the subject. Who you really want is EricA Boggs — she’s the SME.”

              2. Gymmie*

                I have a Polish name too! Somehow people starting using the first part of my first name and the end of my last name to form another name (which is an actually name, not like Brangelina). It was very bizarre.

                1. Laney Boggs*

                  Oh that is weird. Most commonly people transpose the 2nd&3rd letter in mine – and like many places our work email is First.Lastname@company, so when they email First.Lsatname@company it doesn’t exist.

            8. JSPA*

              We can argue in the abstract whether we over-prioritize gender, and thus whether misgendering SHOULD be a bigger deal than mis-spelling a name in a way that sounds identical.*

              But the fact remains, in most cultures I’m aware of, it IS, currently, a bigger deal. As a result, people are more likely to remember their screw-up before they repeat it.

              For someone who retains information by the sound of the word, Sara and Sarah are interchangeable, in their (phonetic) filing system. They have to dig, to remember whether (‘seərə) is Sara or Sarah.

              I’d like to experience a world where, in perceiving and giving recognition to each other, people focus primarily on other attributes than gender / imputed gender (ditto perceived racial or ethnic categorization, etc) such that none of them weigh more than two phonetically identical spellings of a name. But we don’t live in that world.

              *on a faux-pas, societal level, with individuals of course always expected to have a great deal of variation around that societal default.

            9. MAC*

              Yeah, I wouldn’t put much weight on people figuring it out from the email signature. I have a 2-name first name and it’s all one word, no space, with a 2nd capital AND I have a middle initial (think BettySue J. Ackerblade) and I still get responses saying “thanks, Betty.” Of course it happens within 2 seconds of introducing myself verbally as well, so I think some (many) people are just THAT oblivious.

          2. Brooks Brothers Stan*

            It may also just be my location (Beltway area), but I have noticed an increase in just everyone’s email signature in listing their pronouns – even when it is ‘obvious.’ Plus, when you put it in your email it normalizes the information in an unobtrusive way.

            1. WantonSeedStitch*

              That’s why I decided to do it, even though I’m a very femme-presenting cisgender woman who has not been misgendered since I was eight years old and my mom made me get a really short haircut.

            2. Mallory Janis Ian*

              I’m in a university department where most people have taken to putting pronouns in our email signatures, and it does help.

      2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        In my industry there’s a lot of international correspondence and you learn to use first names with the US and Australia, but never with Japan (for example).

        It’s reasonably common for me to encounter someone with a first name I don’t know, and who doesn’t have an obvious online presence (so you can’t check their profile where it says “Alex specialises in teapot spouts and her work has been featured in Teapots Weekly”), but where I need to use a title. Sometimes Google will help me because an image search for the name will turn up a hundred men’s faces and no women, but as LW tells us, that may be misleading, and sometimes it’s 50:50 anyway.

        There are enough PhDs that I can plump for “Dr” and have a reasonable chance of being right. And there are some places where it is still better to be wrong the right way round – where if you’re guessing, guess “Mr”. I don’t love that, but in a work context I have a greater immediate responsibility to client/supplier relationships than feminism.

        But in terms of being on the receiving end of the wrong title, I have had success with Alison’s suggestion:

        Also, you might find it useful to include Ms. in your email signature — if people see “Ms. James Valentine” right in front of them every time you email them, they’re much less likely to get it wrong.

        I go for Jane Smith (Mrs) but same principle.

        Where it’s someone else getting the wrong title, I have occasionally dropped an “actually, it’s *Ms* Smith” or engineered an opportunity to (over)use the correct pronouns.

        1. Srf13*

          So I was OP #4…I did let my intern know after his second email to me by saying “By the way, I am a Ms not a Mr, but it happens all the time!” and he was very thankful I told him. I also did let him know to call me by my first name. I’ve considered putting the Ms. in my email signature and now after AAM suggesting it, I probably will. I know people don’t mean to make this error but it’s amazing how much more cognizant I am of those things as a professional after having dealt with it, I really pay attention to a name.

          1. Alice*

            Sounds like a good plan!

            I think that it’s much, much better to correct people early. Most people in the world want to find out they made an innocent mistake so that they can fix it. If you wait for it to become a pattern, the person will be embarrassed (“I’ve been getting it wrong all along”) and grumpy (“if you wouldn’t tell me that what else are you not telling me”), and they’ll have learned it the wrong way, so it’s actually harder for them to remember the right way.

          2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            I’m glad it turned out to be an easy conversation, and I hope the signature prevents a recurrence.

            Caveat: people are remarkably unobservant.

        2. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

          I agree with your overall strategies, but just want to that say it’s confusing to talk about “first names” and “last names” in these discussions. I think “given name” and “family name” or “surname” are clearer since the order in Japanese is typically different than in English.

      3. Lady Meyneth*

        Is Mx a thing? I’m sorry, I’ve never heard of it, and I’m curious. Is it mostly for gender neutral/non-binary people, or is is more a strategy to avoid possible gender discrimination in work settings?

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Better yet, simply “M.” It covers all the bases, and has a Gallic flair.

          1. Amy Sly*

            If you say so. Personally, if I saw M. [First Name] [Last Name], I’d parse it [Name they doesn’t want to be called that starts with M] [Middle name they actually go by] [Last name], and still have no clue which pronouns to use.

            Comes from having a great-grandfather H[illary] Ralph and a father-in-law H[ubert] Craig.

              1. Amy Sly*

                That too. To avoid be called Mr., you label your name with equivalent of Mr. in another language?

                Does not compute.

            1. Nerfmobile*

              Yeah, my Dad was a J(ohn) Phillip Lastname type too so I’m more attuned to a single first letter being an initial than an abbreviation for an honorific myself.

          2. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

            Simply “M.” is too unclear – could easily be taken as the initial of a first name.

          3. JSPA*

            M. is monsieur. Mx (roughly, “muks”) is formed along the same lines as Latinx for “Latino/Latina/Latin()”. Which is a whole other argument.

            Mx pluralizes reasonably, too (the same can’t be said for Mr. or Mrs.)

            For anyone who can’t get their head around making this level of intentional change, I offer the following link (separate post). Ursula le Guin, on growing up in the era of using He, His, Him and Mr, as the gender neutral pronoun.

            As it may take a while to show up, you can alternately google “Ursula K. Le Guin on Being a Man.”

            1. iantrovert (they/them)*

              In my experience, which is admittedly primarily in trans spaces, “Mx” is pronounced like “mix.”

              1. JSPA*

                Trans space is not singular (nor definable by bounded rules) any more than there’s just one “gay community” or just one “Black church.”

                Now, I’m in an area where “yinz” is the local equivalent of “y’all” (and there’s lively argument whether it’d better be represented as “y’uns”). Plus pin and pen are pronounced essentially identically. Furthrmore, most of my trans friends (and their friends) are (like me) over age 50.

                So I freely admit that I may be defaulting to local norms that are not global norms (including what “u” vs “i” represent, not only on how Mx is best pronounced) and that there could be an age or cultural difference in the pronunciation (but that’s a given for most words).

                Looking beyond “this is what my trans friends use”:

                It’s not yet included on the tophonetics.com website.

                Wikipedia confirms the variation (or rather, the fact that the reditors can’t agree confirms the variation):

                “Mx (usually pronounced /mɪks/ MIKS or /mʌks/ MUKS and sometimes /ɛmˈɛks/ em-EKS) is an English language neologistic honorific that does not indicate gender.”

                But then, for Mrs, some people say (ˈmɪsɪz) and some say (ˈmɪsʌs) and some say (ˈmɪsəz) or anything in between.

                And that doesn’t even consider that there are almost certainly a dozen additional pronunciations outside the US. Even for neologisms, we speak the English Languages (plural).

          4. Pathfinder Ryder*

            As a Filipina, I’d read that as Maria being the first part of a double barrel given name – sooooo many Maria so-and-sos who end up just going by the so-and-so.

            1. Genny*

              Same with Muslim populations in South Asia (and maybe elsewhere, I’m just more familiar with South Asia). “M.” would likely be short for Mohammed since everyone and their brother is named Mohammed.

        2. Filbert_Dinwittie*

          In my experience Mx. is 100% for people who choose to use it, generally folks who are non-binary. I would not consider it a good solution for when you don’t know someone’s preference.

        3. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

          Both. Similar to how “Ms.” doesn’t indicate marital status, “Mx.” doesn’t indicate gender, so it’s useful when you don’t want to use a gendered title, whatever the reason may be.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            Yes, but twenty or thirty years ago “Ms” was widely interpreted as making a statement. It was not uncommon to be “corrected” for using “Ms.” This has pretty much died down now. It would be odd nowadays for a woman to get snippy about “Ms.” But we aren’t there yet with “Mx.” While the intent is to be entirely gender-inclusive, this understanding is far from universal.

    2. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      On No 4, a mid-level manager letting an intern go uncorrected? Please, correct the intern immediately. You can correct it with regards to your name and ideally suggest they be more careful about assumptions in the future too.

      Step up!

    3. Sparkles McFadden*

      Sadly, most people don’t really pay attention to corrections

      In my former office, we always used first (given) names. I have a first name that has various spellings and a last (family) name that some people think sounds like a different first name. I routinely received all sorts of name combinations via email.

      My personal favorite was when one of our remote offices somehow thought I was two different people, and sent an email saying: “Well, McFadden, we usually get these assignments from Sparkles, so maybe you can talk to Sparkles about it.” My correction of explaining that I was the same person, and to please take a close look at my email signature fell on blind eyeballs. It took several phone calls to get them to accept that I wasn’t two different people. I actually had to go up the food chain to tell the remote manager to explain I was me. It was a truly absurd experience.

    4. Mama Bear*

      One of our children has a unisex name and is often mis-gendered before someone meets them. I agree to correct it quickly so that the wrong impression doesn’t get perpetuated. Remember that interns are also there to learn about office norms, so please empower them by showing them how to deal with such a situation and enlighten them about making assumptions.

    5. Another Mr who is actually a Ms*

      I have personally just given up because people not only call me “Mr” a lot, but they also misspell my name a lot (from the feminine to the masculine spelling) EVEN IF I JUST SENT THEM AN EMAIL WITH IT IN MY SIGNATURE. There is also a photo of me on our work website and my LinkedIn so anybody could Google me in 5 seconds and find out if they cared. I just figure it doesn’t really matter how I’m being addressed/gendered, and if we ever talk on the phone they get a fun surprise. And yes I’ve had people exclaim on the phone that they did not realize I am a woman.

    6. Ew, David*

      Also a benefit to adding your pronouns in your email signature or internal bio (if your company has one)

  2. AcademiaNut*

    For OP #3 –

    When you move to a high COL urban area, your style of living will change significantly, which is why the 7x salary number will come across as extremely out of touch. Things that are considered normal in smaller, lower COL areas (like a big house with a yard, a separate room for each kid, a short drive to work, affordable parking) become a compact condo, shared bedrooms and a nearby park, a long commute, and not being able to afford to park at work. So while you can ask about changes in salary after the move, if you decide to go for it, expect to have a very different lifestyle than you currently do.

    1. Eric*

      Yep. Most of those calculators are driven by housing costs. They assume you will buy a median priced house in each area. But you won’t br buying a $3 million house when you move to Palo Alto. If you take that out of the equation the difference falls dramatically.

      1. JSPA*

        Just checked a realty site. At the moment (and it looks like prices are dropping a bit), 2-3 BR condos and townhomes in Palo Alto are listed for $900K-1.8 million.

        In many smaller midwest cities, you can get a decent 2-3 BR house with yard for somewhere between $80K and $200K.

        That’s a huge difference, even if you’re not assuming “same to same.”

    2. LDF*

      Also, I interned in Palo Alto for a summer and none of the full time staff lived there. It’s a very small city so you should be looking at areas basically all up and down the Caltrain line. But also absolutely agreed that you should still expect to have to give up some things.

      It also sounds far enough in the future that he could just take the job and then start job searching in 3 years if you two don’t like the details that get hammered out.

      1. Lady Meyneth*

        Yep, I wouldn’t even mention after the offer. It’s so far in the future, they’re unlikely to have any kind of decisions already made, and probably aren’t even 100% sure IF they’ll really move or where to.

    3. Ping*

      It’s also important to look at surrounding areas. Palo Alto is a very high end city. Many people commute there from other places like San Jose or Mountain View.
      You’re still not going to afford a house right off. A 3 BR in San Jose will go for $1.5M. Condos for less than that.
      It’s good to be watching the issue though. Many times HR in midwestern places has no clue about the true costs of this type of transfer.

      1. EPLawyer*

        This is where I fall. I would bring it up because I can bet that the business — despite tons of news stories about the high cost of living in the Bay Area, are not thinking about what that actually means in terms of salaries and benefits. The sticker shock for the company when they try to find office space is going to be a sight to behold.*

        *Presuming everything doesn’t crash post Covid.

        1. Lizzo*

          +1. I work in a tech-adjacent field, and the trend seems to be that most companies are moving away from the Bay Area due to high cost of living. Why a company would want to move *to* the area is baffling. If they’re not fully considering the financial impact on the company and staff, I would have serious concerns about the leadership at this place. Ask good questions and proceed with caution.

      2. Spek*

        From living there up until last year, you will probably need to do what most middle class wage earners do – look at residences out east until you find the mix of affordability vs commute time that works for you. For some people that means right across a bridge in Alameda County, for others who want a big spread, it means driving in from Concord or Tracy.

      3. SDJ*

        South San Francisco, Daly City, Colma, Redwood City, San Bruno, etc. would not be a bad options for commuting to Palo Alto.

    4. Dan*

      Yeah… most of my family lives in a much lower cost of living than I do. My parents own a real house with a real yard in a decent neighborhood, and there exists NOTHING where I live for the same price. My brother and his wife own a nice big house in a nice tony suburb with a lot of other nice things. For the price they paid? I can get an ok-ish condo.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        Yep. I’m from a small town where the cost of living is pretty darn low. It breaks my heart to see my friends from that area that are realtors post their listings on Facebook and a 2,000SF house with a 2 car garage and a nice large yard is half the price of a tiny condo with street parking in my city. But, I’m the one who chose to live here…and I’m still not in a hurry to go back!

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        My spouse is from a rural area, and my BIL has a 5K square foot house on acreage that cost less than our one-bedroom condo in the DC metro area. We used to live in a neighborhood where the 1940s ramblers (in which we lived) were being sold to builders and replaced with huge McMansions that ran more than $1M, and my SIL commented on how nice the one across the street from us was (and then choked when I told her it better be nice for $1.4M). My spouse was actually annoyed with me for sending the real estate listing for our current house to family because it had the listing price, which was pretty modest for this area but total sticker shock for his folks. I laugh when people tell me they could NEVER live without a garage – I thought that, too, until I lived in an area where you can’t get a garage for less than about $850K… then, the garage became totally optional. My list of negotiables is much longer than I ever thought it’d be.

        Location, location, location is a definitely a thing.

        1. Cj*

          In rural MN, we purchased a 2081 sq foot house on 6.34 acres. Stuck about 40,000 the house, and it is now awesome except it really needs a new kitchen. Like you said, location, location, location.

    5. Kristine*

      My family did the opposite move, from a very high COL city to a lower COL city. We traded a 700 sq ft condo that hadn’t been updated since the 90’s for a brand new 2,100 sq ft house with a yard and paid $25k LESS for the house than we did for the condo. We bought our first car, too, since there’s no public transportation here. It’s a very different lifestyle all around.

      1. Dan*

        My honest opinion on a straight up, dollar-for-dollar comparison between HCOL and not-HCOL areas? Unless someone is hell bent on moving to HCOL city, or otherwise has reasons for moving away from the cheaper town, stay put. If one is on the fence, the money thing is a shocker.

        Your case makes the point.

        1. Kristine*

          It depends on the lifestyle you want to have. The high COL city made sense for us when we were DINKs who prioritized social outings over lots of space or in-unit laundry. Now that we’re older and have kids, we don’t want to be schlepping strollers on the subway or turning a literal closet into a nursery.

          1. AcademiaNut*

            Having kids, or a second kid, is often a transition point. Before you have kids there’s the social scene, nightlife, museums, shows, cultural festivals, restaurant scene, job opportunities, a big pool of potential partners, a walkable neighbourhood and other stuff that compensates for the tiny apartment and awkward commute. Once you want a second bedroom, or need to factor daycare into your commute, or care about the quality of schools, or want a car, moving to the suburbs or a smaller city has more appeal.

            Of course, right now, all the cool things in the city are shut down, so the car, yard and extra bedrooms have an added appeal.

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              Yep, who cares that your apartment’s tiny if you’re only in it to sleep and shower?

              This week a single parking space in London was advertised at £250k, and Twitter had fun saying, “Meanwhile, in (LCOL area):” and linking to listings of whole houses with garages and gardens and brand new kitchens.

              Anecdotally it appears that people are abandoning the big cities in favour of bigger/better accommodation or lower costs, as remote working becomes more accepted and available. It would be interesting if The Plague even slightly resets property madness.

              1. UKDancer*

                I’ve a friend who is an estate agent and she said property in London is tanking at the moment due to Covid. I think now a lot of people have demonstrated they can work remotely the combination of that and the extremely high costs of office space in London means that an awful lot of people are thinking again about where they might live.

                Personally I live in London because I like the public transport and the level of activity but I am well aware that other factors may make a slightly smaller city like Leeds attractive at some point if my company decided to move out of the city in favour of a smaller, cheaper one. Not least the fact I could afford a lot nicer property there.

                1. OccassionallyEngineer*

                  Not just London, I am currently trying to offload a condo in Toronto Canada. Dear lord the market has gone from a sellers market to a buyers in the matter of 3 weeks. 1 bed 1 bath condo listings have skyrocketed by ~70% whereas purchases have only increased 2%. Prices are being driven down and it is just weird. I am seeing units sitting on the market for weeks / months whereas 6 months ago you were lucky if a place stayed on the market for a week. Strange times indeed.

                2. Helena1*

                  Hmmm, not sure actual prices are tanking – people are just staying put and not listing their properties.

                  There are literally no three bed houses on the market in my postcode right now (usual price £900,000-1200,000).

                3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

                  @Helena1 – out here in the sticks the market is absolutely booming. Which may possibly prove my point. Maybe flats where you live are the ones being listed.

                  Non-London cities are often still HCOL but the cheaper areas tend to be nearer. You need to live an awful long way out of London to get the real cost benefit, whereas I’m maybe half an hour from Liverpool (public transport or driving) and you can get three bedrooms, garden and garage for the price of that London parking space.

              2. Turquoisecow*

                I live in the suburbs outside NYC and housing is a seller’s market right now. I know personally two families who were quite content in small urban apartments who are now looking for houses with yards, and a coworker of my husband’s is hoping to take advantage of freeing up apartments in the city to get his family a larger one. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out long term.

                1. NotAnotherManager!*

                  I’ve heard this from a number of people – the DC market is also hot right now, and I’ve also got two folks on my team trying to buy places in less urban areas in two different states that having trouble finding a place and getting a successful bid in. I was really surprised by this – I would not want to go through the moving process right now. We are getting multiple cold-contacts a week about selling our house, though.

              3. Sam.*

                Yeah, I’m hoping that Covid will open the door for WFH long-term, at least part of the time. If I’m only commuting ~2 days a week, I can live with a slightly worse commute, which means I could move a bit farther from public transportation and actually afford a place with laundry! My fingers are crossed. (I’m in my mid-30s, and while city living is definitely still the right option for me and I have zero desire to move back to a suburb…ever, honestly, I’m at a point in my life where I would really like to have in-unit laundry.)

        2. BTDT*

          When I wanted to move to the Palo Alto area from Midwestern City, our conversation started with, “but you know we’ll be moving from a 2 bedroom house to a one bedroom apartment in Sunnyvale, right?” My answer was no, dealbreaker. When the right offer came through, the bump in salary exactly made up the difference to get a 2 bedroom apartment in a rural-ish neighborhood, and save for a down payment on a house in a pleasant rural bedroom community.
          Much harder to do now, but figure out what your own dealbreakers are. For me it’s at least 99% ok to be here rather than there, but don’t underestimate traffic! Freeways are 4 hours of rush hour parking lot both morning and evening.

          1. HCOL vs LCOL and more*

            The point about commute/traffic is an excellent one. Do not underestimate how much time/energy that can suck out of your day. It can make you miserable if you’re not accustomed to it. You are basically going into work stressed, and returning home stressed. It takes time and energy to reset.

            Also, yes to finding dealbreakers in general! For me, moving for work came with significant lifestyle reductions. I agree to what others have said about where you are in life affecting where you want to live. Younger-me would not have been as bothered by things that are constant stressors to Older-me.

            1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

              Yes! I live in MD and while the traffic is not as bad as LA, it’s bad. My husband and I bought our house in an area where we could afford a bit of land, which meant it was far from our jobs. With the construction it was taking me an hour and a half on a normal day one way. Thankfully I had an awesome boss who let me work from home a few days a week, but it still put me in a bad mood all the time.

              1. NotAnotherManager!*

                Another victim of the Beltway here. My commute to DC, when I had to do it, was about an hour to go what’s essentially 15 miles. DC traffic is nowhere near as bad as LA but it still blows.

            2. schnauzerfan*

              Yes. A friend was trying to convince me to apply for a job in Big City. I do basically the same job here in Small City that’s a hub in our very rural area. “But look! More money! Culture!” So we did the math. My commute – 10 minutes, 15 on a terrible traffic day. BC commute 75 minutes, each way to get anything similar to my current home. My home cost X for an oversized ranch with room for two sets of in laws on an acreage (that I rent to the neighbors horses, so a little extra income) So yeah I could live in a much smaller place (OK, but what do I do with the people living in those “extra bedrooms” in my house) and take advantage of the museums, concerts etc. Or I could live in the boonies and maintain my household, but how often will we go downtown for the culture after 10-12 hour work/commute days? And now of course you have the added bonus of protests tying up traffic. Am glad I stayed a country mouse. And right now our commute is 10 – 20 minutes each week when we go in to check mail etc. And the house is big enough that we have privacy for zoomage.

        3. Avasarala*

          Depends on your lifestyle and city!
          When I moved to the city, I did not enjoy the lack of space and high cost of living. But!
          -Smaller spaces are easier to clean and you don’t need as many things to put in it, saving money on decor.
          -Cities are more likely to have better public transportation (though this varies) and I’ve saved a great deal not needing a car (parking, gas, insurance, repairs…)
          -Cities often have more options for almost everything: more job opportunities, more restaurants, more plumbers… It may be easier to find a cheaper option (or better paying job) when there are more options.
          -Bigger cities often have large airports nearby, which makes travel much easier. Public transport to the airport+1 flight, vs. drive hours to a small airport and park+2 flights, for example.
          -Depending on your lifestyle, you may spend more money traveling in to the city for concerts, exhibits, fancy restaurants, visiting friends in town, and so on. If this makes you happy, then you can’t forget to factor that into your calculations!

          It really depends on your lifestyle and what you think is worth spending money on!
          That said, I do agree that some cities are so absurd in their housing prices and public transport that it does knock down a lot of the benefits on my list–and that should be considered carefully.

          1. OP-3*

            Thanks for the input everyone! My husband and I have already moved a bunch of times over the years and we’re familiar with the process, but it’s mostly been in the Midwest, so this would certainly be a more extreme change. We’ve felt the frustration of changes in COL and commute times before, but I really appreciate the insight from people who’ve made the move to/from this specific area before.

            1. anon for this*

              I live in a larger Midwestern city and normally travel to the Palo Alto environs a couple times a year for work. It’s not just real estate, everything is more expensive. The dinner that would cost me $20 in Cleveland or $25 in Houston is $30 or $35 in the bay area, the cup of coffee is $1 or $2 more than in Minneapolis, the glass of wine is $2 or $3 more. The company preferred hotel is the worst preferred hotel we have in the US and it costs 2x what we pay for much better quality in other locations. The three mile commute down the highway takes half an hour or more.

              Most telling, I have friends who moved there for his very well paying job. They sold three houses in a more expensive midwest real estate market when they moved (primary plus rental properties) and they still can’t afford a house in CA. They love it and don’t plan to leave, but they know they made a choice about the cost benefit.

      2. MCA*

        As a parent and a manager, I’ve learned to tune a lot of the noise out. The TV especially and the noises he makes when he’s playing by himself. I don’t always realize how loud it is to other people.

        I wouldn’t mind if someone asked me to move somewhere quieter, although I might need to take a 5 or 10 minute break to make it happen.

      3. Free Meerkats*

        Yes. When we moved from San Mateo to a Seattle suburb, we went from a 2-bedroom apartment and being on the list to buy a subsidized one bedroom with loft condo to buying a rambler on a quarter acre lot, in town, for less than a third what the subsidized condo was going to cost. Yeah, our total income dropped by >30%, but our COL dropped by more than that.

    6. AP*

      I’d also take the company’s assertion that they’ll move to Palo Alto with a grain of salt. It’s the very pinnacle of Silicon Valley real estate. Unless the company is crazy profitable or it has some overriding need to be in the area they’re more likely to relocate elsewhere.

      1. MK*

        It would certainly be a good idea to sound the company out about how settled this plan is, e.g. “we already budgeted for this and are looking at real estate” vs. “the owner thinks it would be cool to move to Silicon Valley”. In any case, it sounds to me too soon for the OP to be making solid plans with this move in sight; the job might not work out for her spouse or their family circumstances might change or the company could change its plan about moving. And even if they do, say, assure him the salary will rise to cover the COL increase, they are unlikely to make any contractual commitment about it, so they could answer perfectly honestly and things still might not work out.

        I wouldn’t factor the potential move to California in the decision to take this job, as it may never happen or it might prove impossible for the OP’s family to move with them. I wouldn’t count it against the company either, unless e.g. the company says definitely they expect to pay Mid-western salaries in California (which tells you something about how reasonable they are) and/or the husband has another offer that offers more stability.

        1. OP-3*

          The company actually already has an office in Palo Alto and some of the team works there. The conversation for my husband’s interview centered around the likelihood of his particular role moving there vs. staying in the Midwestern city. He’s in manufacturing and the plant would be Midwest, and the head offices in California.

          1. Gumby*

            I live in the Bay Area and right now many more people are leaving the area than coming into it since it is clear that remote work is working for a lot of people. And even before COVID, some huge percentage of people were saying they hoped or planned to leave the area within the next 5 years. Like 40-50%.

            Even given the existing Palo Alto office, I’d take plans to base the role there with a grain of salt. It isn’t like our commercial real estate prices are less whackadoo than residential. If they move more people to the Palo Alto office, they will need a bigger space…

            Plus, if he takes the job and holds it for a few years and they want to relocate you, he will probably have built up some capital so that his opinion might be taken into account.

            However, at the moment, commuting is a breeze! I don’t expect that to last indefinitely but I dearly hope that it doesn’t go back to pre-COVID levels.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        Yup: The “two or three” years is awfully vague, not like a definite plan. And if they start getting serious about the move, they are going to get the cost of living salary inquiry a lot, which may dampen their enthusiasm. And frankly, from a “should I accept this offer” perspective, if down the road they announce that they are moving to Palo Alto and salaries will stay the same, then quit. This is a perfectly cromulent reason to leave a job.

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Yeah, “we are moving our whole office to a ridiculously high-COL area, and expect the employees to all move with us” sounds pretty… unorthodox.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          Also unrealistic, as they will find when they try to implement the bright idea.

    7. NYWeasel*

      OTOH, when we moved from a higher COL area, we were shocked at how much we saved on the supporting things like groceries, electricity, etc. I was able to make do on 30% of what I’d made in NYC, but still have a higher standard of living. And once you get accustomed to having more space, it’s tough to readjust smaller again. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of getting a little more apartment to be comfortable, but then forgetting how much more everything else costs too.

    8. Anonymous At a University*

      +1 Yep. My brother lives in San Diego, having moved there from a small town in the Southeast. He and his wife can afford it because he does in fact make crazy money doing a job that no one else at his company is qualified to do and they have a combination of luck (no chronic illnesses, no disabilities) and chosen frugality (no expensive hobbies, sharing one used car, etc.) that has let them save money. My brother also works from home and so doesn’t need to commute daily, and my sister-in-law is a freelance web designer who can also work from anywhere. But even they were shocked at the cost of utilities when they moved there, have been shocked at how expensive some amenities like restaurant delivery are, spend a LOT for food, etc. They really love it in San Diego, but they have kids now, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they moved outside the city itself soon, since they don’t have to worry about a commute.

      I agree with other comments that the company is probably going to be shocked in turn by the cost of real estate in Palo Alto when they look into it. But the OP and her husband should likewise be prepared to a) not get a 7x salary increase and b) accept that they’re not going to be buying a 4-bedroom house in the city if they make the move with the company.

      1. Spek*

        After 30 years in San Diego and realizing I won’t be able to retire here or ever own a home; I am moving to a new job in the midwest this week. So sad to leave, but it’s just not working for me right now. And San Diego isn’t anywhere near as expensive as the Bay Area.

        1. Anonymous at a University*

          Yes. I live in a small city in another state that isn’t ideal for me (limited public transit when I can’t drive, high price for rent, limited amount of things I like to do), but my brother’s solution to every problem is just, “Move to San Diego!” Which…the money alone makes it Not an Option.

      2. Stephanie*

        I’m surprised utilities are so crazy there given the mildish weather. Maybe it’s cost of labor…

      3. littlelizard*

        Speaking as someone who grew up in the bay and then moved to San Diego – it’s a constant weirdness knowing that my life is much more affordable than friends who made a life in the bay, while still being famously expensive to people used to “normal” (non-California) rent.

    9. Georgina Fredrika*

      oh, that’s a good point. I was extremely thrown off by that 7x number haha – even if you’re only making $50,000 now, that’s suddenly $350,000 and I don’t think any place is THAT extremely different!

      1. Smithy*

        I actually think for someone making $100-200k in a low COL area, the impact can feel even more extreme.

        I used to work for a large high profile midwest hospital, and every so often I’d be talking to a doctor who was being recruited by the NIH or hospitals in NYC or the Bay Area. The salary would seem like a significant increase – maybe even as much as double. But then they’d go on a recruiting visit with a real estate agent and actually see what that options were and then it’d hit home.

        Inevitably you’d get the conversation around how midwest hospital was ranked similarly for research, they could do what they wanted professionally, and even with their lower salary they could live where they wanted, buy the luxury items they desired, take the vacations, afford the private schools – whatever their priorities were – it was accessible without as much perceived budgeting effort or struggle.

        1. Doc in a Box*

          Yeah, I went through this calculus a few years ago. At least in academic medicine, sometimes the Big City Hospitals try to pull the “prestige” card to justifying paying proportionally less, at least to new assistant professors.

          I was lucky enough to have 3 offers all come at about the same salary but very different workloads. #1, in Biggish Northeastern City, wanted me to do 8 clinic sessions a week, plus a couple weeks inpatient over the year. #2, in College Town, offered 6 clinics and 6-8 inpatient weeks. #3, in the Southeast, offered 6 clinics and no inpatient; they were also the only ones willing to negotiate (so I asked for and got an extra 18k in salary). When I asked #1 about negotiation, they were all “We are a top-ranked institution, so you should be grateful to work for us.” Uh, nope.

    10. doreen*

      And even the things that on the surface seem the same are different- for example, a “house with a yard”. I own a house in NYC with three bedrooms and a yard. My daughter owns a house 40 minutes away in NJ also with three bedrooms and a yard. My entire property is 2000 square feet ,the house is maybe 1200. Daughter’s house is worth 50K less than mine and her smallest bedroom is bigger than my largest. Her lot is about 7000 sq feet and the house is about 1500 sq feet. If she tried to buy something similar in NYC (assuming it even exists) it would cost three times what hers is worth.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Yep. A friend in Chicago just paid half again more than I did in Indianapolis for about a quarter of my house and yard.

    11. high school teacher*

      Yep, good point. My partner and I are currently house hunting for our first home in a HCOL metropolitan area. With our budget we can afford a small 2 bedroom – most likely a townhome or a duplex. Both of our sets of parents, who do not live in the area and live in suburban neighborhoods, seem to be incapable of understanding that no, in our area we cannot afford a 4 bed/3 bath with a backyard, long driveway, one car garage, mudroom, extra den, and possibly a pool. We are fine with our lifestyle (young, no kids yet, love the city etc) but they really don’t get that their expectations are just not the norm in many urban areas.

      1. Now In the Job*

        Man, this. In late 2018 my parents moved out of my childhood home (3BR, 1.5BA, 1700 sqft) for $225K, and bought a new house for $420K (3BR, 3BA, 2000sq ft and triple or quadruple the property size) and I’m sitting here like “I could get a 2BR condo a mile from public transit for the latter, and nothing for the former.”

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        Same, same, same. The first time my SIL visited us, we got a number of comments about how she could never live with our lack of garage, small kitchen, small closets, etc. and did not believe us when we said that, to get all those things, we’d need a fairy godmother to plant us a money tree to get the $1M+ that would cost in our area.

        They also do not understand that my job does not exist outside of cities like DC, NYC, Chicago, LA, etc., and DC is our best option of the available choices.

    12. Mama Bear*

      Also, even though the office might end up in location A, could you live somewhere within range with better affordability? We do not live in a major city, but it is not uncommon to commute an hour TO a major city for a job. People here trade time for affordability. There are a lot of unknowns and even things that are presented as certain often aren’t until it happens. In 3 years he may be ready to move on to a different company anyway, they may leave a satellite office, they may decide not to move, etc. I’d keep the possible move in mind, but think about what you/he need in the near future when deciding to take this job now. Also, if you ever want to live in CA, maybe make that plan on your own. Make it your future goal as a couple vs hanging it on a company’s whims.

    13. Portia*

      Don’t underestimate the effect COVID’s shelter-in-place restrictions could have on the company’s future plans. Right now, the major tech firms, many of them in the South Bay/Palo Alto area, are enforcing work-from-home through 2021, and the small ones are following suit. Many of my friends and neighbors in Oakland are leaving for more affordable areas, since they don’t have to commute, which is driving rents down. So the plans the company is making right now might not make sense in 2-3 years. Or the calculus of moving from an affordable midwestern city to the Bay Area may have changed.

      For what it’s worth, I moved here several years ago from a mid-sized southern city and it was an amazing decision. In 20 minutes, I can get to one of the all-time great cities or an amazing redwood hike. In an hour, wine country or Marin’s beautiful rocky shore. And I’m a short drive from some of the world’s most sublime topography (Yosemite/Big Sur/Lake Tahoe). Oh, and I’m walking distance from the San Francisco Bay. That’s all worth it to me.

      1. Tina Dinosaura*

        I think this is a key point: it’s easy to quantify the higher COL when making a move like this, it’s much harder to put a value on the amenities of living in the area.

        We live in the heart of Silicon Valley, in a 800 sqft rental (anywhere else we would be homeowners). But pre-covid we would stop at the beach on the way up to SF to visit a museum and get Korean food with friends. Or we would go hiking in the East Bay hills or the Santa Cruz mountains. We’ve eaten truly delicious food at all price points and often go wine tasting and skiing on weekends. And the week in February where it’s 75 F and sunny is always a good time to call friends in Ohio :-) .

        I don’t know what things will be like post-Covid, but until now companies have been able to find many folks willing to take a small condo instead of a big house to have these kind of experiences outside their door. Personally I love it here.

    14. Jennifer Thneed*

      Palo Alto has *always* had outrageously high housing prices because of Stanford University. Having Google right next door (and other large tech companies nearby) has exacerbated it, but it’s a long-standing issue. But this also means that commercial real estate prices are outrageously high! I wonder why the company has targeted Palo Alto specifically? I mean, there’s a *lot* of California, and even a lot of highly urban California, without getting into that whole mishegas.

    15. Librarian1*

      Except if you’re moving from a small Midwestern city to frickin’ Silicon Valley, it would not surprise me at all if the cost of housing is 7x what it is in the Midwest.

  3. Kimmybear*

    #5- when I interviewed at my current company, the interviewer offered up that the opinions you see on Glassdoor are accurate for certain roles but this department isn’t like that for these reasons. And for the most part that’s been true. Definitely ask because the truth is probably somewhere in between.

    1. Not a Girl Boss*

      Yes, at large companies stuff like this can vary so wildly. But its still worth asking! If nothing else, it can tell you a lot about the company by how they respond to criticism.

      I recently had an interview with a company that had some bad reviews about how it was a ‘dictatorship’. I was surprised because its one of those companies that everyone loves (lesson learned: don’t Glassdoor companies you’d be crushed to find out are dictators).
      Anyway, I asked about the reviews, and the response was so ridiculous. They went on some long winded rant about how “people have issues with rules” and they have a “clearly spelled out attendance policy” about how you have 24 hours to provide a doctor’s note if you’re out sick or else you’re automatically fired and “some people just couldn’t live with the consequences of their actions.” [mind you, this was for a professional/salaried role].
      So, I’m glad I was able to ask, because the way they doubled down on their totalitarianism allowed me to nope right out.

      1. Not a Girl Boss*

        They also mentioned several times how “Outsiders show up and then demand we change how we do things without even taking the time to learn why we do them that way.” And mentioned that “humility” and “willingness to learn” were key traits they looked for.,
        I could really have seen that going either way and still don’t know what my take would have been if they hadn’t gone on the attendance rant.
        Maybe, since this is an industry that attracts egomaniacs, people really were showing up and wanting to change everything that made the company successful.
        But maybe, highly qualified people with experience outside of this niche industry were showing up and just completely flabbergasted/horrified by what they saw and felt compelled to say something right away.

        1. MissDisplaced*

          Oooohhhh! Yeah, big NOPE to that company! Especially if they double down on exactly the thing the bad reviews said. And to me if someone went on about “humility” it means they want servile.
          This is why interviews are a two way street!

    2. Bostonian*

      Yes! As a hiring manager, I am well aware about the negative Glassdoor reviews and try to address those if the topic comes up (yes this is a real problem, mostly in other departments, but here’s how it affects our work).

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I have the same experience, except one of the departments with negative reviews IS mine and they stem from a period a few years ago when there was a change in the day-to-day supervision of that department, and we made a bad hire that had a lot of bad effects on the team. It took time to right the ship, even after we terminated the frankly bad supervisor and worked with the remaining team to ensure they had the resources and support they needed. I am as honest as I can be (without violating employee confidentiality) about the circumstances/problems and the steps we’ve taken to resolve them and where the team is now.

        I am, however, also really, really honest in interviews about teams that simply have high volumes of work, crazy deadline, etc. because of the nature of the work. It is not a good fit for everyone, and I think it’s better to be upfront about teams that we know will require last-minute OT to deal with whatever crazy demand the government agency has dumped on them that day so candidates can assess whether or not something is a good fit. Doesn’t do me any good to paint a rosy picture and have to hire again/retrain in a short timeframe.

  4. Lioness*

    I am someone who easily perks up at the mention of food, especially dessert. I do think it’s more likely that it was just a bad interview. Do not feel pressure to bake for the office if you don’t want to, I also like to bake and have actually brought flan into work before, but it was also after I had worked there for a bit. I never felt pressured to bring baked goods as a consistent thing, but given that last line in the phone call, personally I wouldn’t bring anything in for a little while until I knew that it wasn’t going to be a constant point of conversation or if they were receptive to trying to shut that down.

    1. Thistle Whistle*

      No matter how much you like baking, do not start bringing in cakes for every little team win or life occasion. Before you know it you will be expected to do so every time someone does “anything”. Its a slippery slope and its all too easy to end up as the in-house baker.

      That may sound overly dramatic but I had a family member who had a side hustle as a pro-cake baker and what started out as a cake for a team members birthday gradually grew arms and legs. Within a few years she was expected to do 3 or 4 cakes a month by senior management, sometimes at short notice. Up till 2am baking then in work all day. Almost all out her own pocket and each one took hours to decorate. She eventually changed jobs and was VERY careful not to go down the same path.

      People underestimate the time, effort and money it takes to bake quantities for an office. And they can get huffy if they don’t get the cake they expect when they expect it.

      If you really want to bake for the office don’t bring them in for occasions, make it once a month on a random day so can never become expected.

      1. Gamymede*

        I was thinking this too. Absolutely make it a hard boundary that you will bake once a month. Polite surprise if anyone suggests more often. “Oh no, you see, I bake once a month for the office”. You could make it jollier by having people take turns to make requests or ask you to try a new recipe. Maybe make it a thing that they contribute to financially (it mounts up, another reason for not increasing frequency). That can be your “thing”, you will enjoy the baking and not get overwhelmed or feel resentful, everyone will enjoy it.

        I’m also bringing to mind previous letter writers who have found it difficult for health reasons to have cakes in the office very frequently. Once a month is manageable for everyone.

        1. MCL*

          Heck, once a quarter, once a year, or never. Having a baking hobby doesn’t commit OP to bringing in work treats, even though people at the office seem excited. I would probably at minimum wait a few months before bringing anything in at all, just so people didn’t start getting expectant.

          1. Gamymede*

            Indeed, I would do that. LW did say they like to bake though, and isn’t against bringing stuff in. Waiting a bit before starting also seems good tactics.

            1. The Rural Juror*

              I love to bake, but live alone and could never eat all the things I bake (before they go stale). But, I don’t usually bake for my office because I’m the only woman in a teeny tiny company and I don’t want any of those dudes to expect it of me. I bake for friends and family…although lately I’m just baking for me…sad times.

              To agree with your point, if someone DOES want to bake for their office, they should wait a month or two and establish themselves as a member of their team before breaking out the baked goods. They can find joy in baking for others, but don’t ruin the joy by feeling pressured to do it!

        2. Mockingjay*

          The problem with cooking and small crafts is that they are quickly (for the most part) produced and portable. Then what was once an enjoyable hobby turns into a voluntold duty.

          We don’t do this with other coworker hobbies. I mean, we have a coworker who is fantastic at woodworking, but we’re not asking him to build a deck for the office.

            1. Gumby*

              My co-worker who brews beer would beg to differ. (Though he shows no indication that he is not happy to do this – it was his idea in the first place.)

              I would absolutely say we do it *less often* with “guy” hobbies.

          1. JustaTech*

            I have two bosses who are super into woodworking and they actually did build stuff for the office: giant Jenga and cornhole (bean-bag toss) boards.

            But we’ll have those things for years and years, where my cookies are gone by the end of the day. But hey, no baking now that we’re not sharing food!

      2. Green great dragon*

        Completely agree with this. Bring them in for *your* life occasions perhaps, but not other people’s. We have (had, I suppose) a tradition that people brought something on their own birthday (which could be £5 of biscuits/fruit if you didn’t like baking).

      3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I found that offices are a great place to try out experiments. You can bring the stuff that went slightly wrong (maybe it unexpectedly collapsed in the oven, or the phone rang and you left it in too long) or even just try a new recipe, and it will all disappear.

        I agree that you don’t want to be The Person Who Bakes For Occasions.

        1. Aria*

          Also works if you *want* the feedback! One of my old coworkers roommates was an aspiring baker and sent in baked goods to our large office with requests for feedback. Of course, it’s an office, the feedback is “anything left in the breakroom was eaten” but we did also give him useful info

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Yes, definitely. And even if someone just says “I preferred the one last time” that’s still a useful data point.

            Especially if it’s Fussy Fergus who says so :)

        2. Ama*

          Pre-covid this was pretty common in my office — I have a lot of coworkers who are single or live with one other person and it was very common for someone to turn up with “I tried a zucchini bread recipe and it made two loafs instead of just one — here’s the extra.” I think it worked because it was very rarely for an occasion (for people’s birthdays their manager generally bought treats) and it was a bunch of different people — including one of the men in the office who was a big gardener and would bring in extra herbs or vegetables if he had an abundant harvest.

      4. Oh Fiddlesticks*

        In marketing that’s called an Entitlement. For example, when a store has has a sale only a few times a year, at random times, that’s not an entitlement and customers will view the lower prices as a special thing.

        But if they have sales twice a month, that becomes an Entitlement and the sale price is seen as the *real* price, while the actual real price becomes seen as some kind of punishment, and people will just wait for the sale.

        Same idea here, with the cakes.

      5. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

        It’s store bought but my work (pre-COVID-19) did a monthly Friday all birthdays cake. If OP wants to bake, she could pick a consistent date like first Friday of the month or something and bake on that to cover all occasions. People then know when to expect it and how often to expect baking.

        1. EPLawyer*

          I wouldn’t even do this. What if OP doesn’t feel like baking that month? Or is on vacation, does she make it up?

          OP do not bring in baked goods. You were worried you were hired because you bake, you probably weren’t. But you want to be known in the office for your job related skills, not your baking. You want to be introduced as Sacharissa, who is a whiz at analyzing complex data, not Sacharissa who bakes amazing cookies.

          1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

            It’s really not that serious if you create boundaries. I was the company baker, but it didn’t undermine the work I was doing.

            1. Colette*

              Agreed. It’s OK to bring in baked goods – but do it when you want to, not because you feel like you have to. (And I’d wait a few months after you start before you bring anything in.)

      6. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        Or you can learn to say no to every request no matter who asks for the cake. You create boundaries, just like with everything else at work. People try to move them, you push back. I like to bake as well and I hate grocery store cakes (which is what everyone used to bring to work for birthdays). So I started making everyone a birthday cake on my team. When I moved to another team, there were about 3 times the amount of people on it than my last team, so I told them I’d make a cake once a month for birthdays.

      7. SarahKay*

        Definitely this. Usually about halfway through a series of Great British Bake-Off I get the urge to bake something myself, but I live alone – at that point work is a great place to bring the excess cake so that it doesn’t go to waste. But it is always just something I do because I want to; not to meet any work demand, or any any schedule but my own.

      8. Saltine In Disguise*

        I’ve never really understood this. I have a coworker who likes to bake and bakes quite a bit. But she made it very clear at the onset that she bakes what she wants and when she wants and it’s likely that anything she brought it would be an experiment to test a recipe.

        Nobody expects anything from her and we’re all quite happy with the arrangement. She gets guinea pigs and we get baked goods. There is zero expectation on what or when she brings baked goods to the office.

        Back to the not understanding part… why does this get made into a big deal by people? OP bake or don’t bake, totally up to you. But I don’t think your employment is based on your kitchen prowess, the comment sounded more like something to connect with you vs. the reason you were hired.

      9. MCMonkeyBean*

        Keeping it random and unexpected is great advice! At my office there was one woman who would sometimes bring stuff in very randomly and it was always along the lines of having baked for something outside of work and just bringing us leftovers or extras. They were super delicious and appreciated but never *expected* and she didn’t get a reputation for being The Woman Who Brings Us Cupcakes or anything like that.

        1. Lizzo*

          +1 to this. Bake on your terms and your timeline. Set boundaries early and (initially) refuse requests to bake for office-related occasions. This will prevent anyone from having expectations, and then you’re free to do as you please.

    2. Alice's Rabbit*

      I think it was likely just the interviewers way of pointing out that he remembered something specific to OP 1. It’s a common trick when getting to know new people, to latch onto one particular trait or hobby and attach it to their name, face, and conversation. “This is OP 1, who likes to bake; strong resume, all the skills we need, and seems easy to work with. Hired!”
      When asked about hobbies in an interview, I mentioned fencing in college. When my interviewer called with the job offer, she mentioned it. I asked her about it some months later, and she said it had nothing to do with why I was hired; it was just the unique thing that helped her remember which of the 2 dozen interviewees I was.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        Yup. Some personal tidbit that makes you stand out is a good thing. What it is doesn’t really matter.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I agree that this sounds likely. For in-person interviews it might be “the one in the green shirt”.

      2. Not a Girl Boss*

        Agreed. I think the interviewer was just a bad interviewer, and was thrilled to have some personal tidbit to ‘relate’ to the interviewee with.

        I’ve also been subject to form interviews on both sides and I promise its just as awkward for the interviewer as it is for the interviewee to not be able to ask questions they’re actually curious about.

      3. MCMonkeyBean*

        That’s what I was thinking, especially since OP’s main complaint is that the interview was so impersonal. It’s extremely possible that they don’t really expect baked goods but were just looking for something friendly to include and the note about baking was the only personal thing they could think of since the rest of the interview was so formulaic!

        I think the OP did an excellent job responding during the interview, pre-emptively setting up boundaries between her baking hobby and work and saying right away that she *doesn’t* usually bring stuff in for coworkers. So I definitely agree with Alison that I would just ignore the baking component and focus on how you feel about the rest of the interview and whether it was just kind of weird or if it’s a dealbreaker.

    3. Myrin*

      I do think it’s more likely that it was just a bad interview.

      I think this is key. It sounds like this guy simply wasn’t a particularly good interviewer (and yes, even if he was directed to only ask the very same questions to everyone, there are still people who manage to make that process into something at least somewhat organic or at least not-stilted) or, if that sounds too harsh, an awkward interviewer.

      I’d be incredibly surprised if they honestly want to hire OP solely because of her baking expertise for a job that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with baking. More likely, like another commenter mentioned, that was the one thing that distinguished her from others in a “oh, that’s something I can remember!” kind of way – and the other interviewees probably had such a “one thing”, too. Which is why I think Alison’s advice about going forth like baking was never mentioned at all is key here.

      By all means, OP, if you feel apprehensive about this job in general, don’t force yourself to take it. But if you, when really, honestly listening to yourself, realise that it was really just the baking incident which made you feel doubtful, I think it’s perfectly fine to change your tune and decide that it’s for you after all. But yes, do see if it’s possible to ask further questions before accepting lest the cake was a lie and there’s something else prohibitive about this office that hasn’t even come up yet!

      1. londonedit*

        Yes, I assumed they were just trying to be friendly – it’s a nice thing to be able to offer someone a job, and you generally want to convey that you’re excited about the person joining the team, so if you happen to have an opportunity to reference something you’ve chatted about in the interview by saying ‘Can’t wait to try your cakes!’ or ‘The lunchtime running group is looking forward to having another runner on the team!’ or whatever then it makes everything seem a bit more warm and personal. I wouldn’t infer that they were going to expect me to bake for everyone, or expect me to go for a run every lunchtime, just that they’re pleased to have me on board and they’re reassuring me that they think I’ll fit in with the rest of the team.

      2. Guacamole Bob*

        Yes to your first paragraph. I’ve done a bunch of interviews in my organization where we have to do the same set of scripted questions for each candidate and take notes on their answers in specific places on their forms, and we manage to make it better than this guy did. We always start by explaining the format up front and acknowledging that it’s awkward, which helps a lot to defuse the weird vibe of a scripted interview. We also always leave time for questions and some less stilted conversation at the end.

        1. Not a Girl Boss*

          Yeah, I guess I do have some concerns that this might be a sign of a personality mismatch.
          I’m used to working with engineers, so to me ‘not great at interacting with other humans’ is no big deal. But some people really do value a warmer interaction with their manager. And that’s ok! It’s ok to want a manager who you vibe with! And maybe this guy ain’t it for her.

          Future conflict I’m anticipating would be, for example, manager never passionately thanks her for her work, and she feels like maybe she’s doing something wrong or is not valued. Or she feels awkward jumping into work talk with no small talk during one-on-one. Or manager never remembers her kids names and it makes her feel like he doesn’t see her as a human. Only LW can say for sure if these things would hurt her job satisfaction.

    4. KayDeeAye*

      Hi, OP#1, I agree with Alison that it’s *extremely unlikely* they offered you a job just because they yearn for homemade cupcakes. Just to give you a bit of perspective, years ago I was being interviewed for a job and it was going OK – not outstanding but OK – until I was showing some photos (this was for a reporting job) to my prospective boss. Among those photos was one of me being hauled up a rock face as part of a search and rescue exercise, which I included because it was part of a series of photos taken by me during that exercise.

      Well, he perked right up! It turned out that he was a rock climber, and he’d always wanted to try the rocks at this particular national park, and so we had a very nice conversation about the climbing conditions at Joshua Tree National Park (even though I wasn’t actually a climber myself).

      And I got the job. I didn’t get it because I knew about the rocks at Joshua Tree, but that conversation did create a personal connection during that rather dry interview, so it probably did help a little bit. I think you should look at this baking conversation in more or less the same way – it provided a small personal connection in your even more dry interview.

      But I agree with those that have mentioned that if you take this job, you don’t want to become The Baking Lady. A few treats now and then are fine, if you enjoy doing it, but don’t make it a regular thing. Make it a very special treat.

    5. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      My hobby is vintning instead of baking. I leave it on my résumé because it’s a fantastic conversation starter, and I can spin it into personality positives (wine is essentially bottled patience).

      I’d never bring samples into the office, though… I do have at least that much sense.

    6. Pigeon*

      My employer is unfortunately one of those that does TERRIBLE, scripted interviews in the name of “fairness”. They are awkward for us to conduct, and I am sure they don’t leave a good impression on candidates. (I began at this company as a contractor and didn’t go through the formal interview process myself.) Frankly I only just started being involved in this process in the last year or so, and already I’d jump on any opportunity to break free of the rigid structure imposed by the powers-that-be and have an authentic conversation and connect. I suspect Alison is right, and that’s all that happened here, even if the interviewer had a particularly cringy way of doing so.

    7. old curmudgeon*

      True story:

      When I applied for my current job (a highly technical and esoteric branch of accounting for a state government agency), I had the usual state job interview, and as usual, supplied a list of five references.

      It turned out that the interview panel couldn’t decide between me and one of the other applicants. So as usual, the hiring manager decided to base the decision on our references.

      She called each of my references and asked the usual questions, to which I assume the answers were satisfactory. And then there is always that question at the end of the call: “Is there anything else about this applicant that would be relevant to our decision-making process?”

      To which one of my references promptly replied “oh, yes, Old Curmudgeon is a great baker and brings wonderful cookies to work on a regular basis.”

      Reader, I got the job.

    8. allathian*

      One of my coworker’s wife changed careers and went to culinary school. My coworker is on a gluten-free diet and he’s also allergic to eggs. She wanted to specialize in vegan baking and whenever possible, adopted the recipes they were making accordingly. When she was in school, he brought in a lot of vegan, egg free and gluten free stuff for us to try, all of them were fabulous. In the beginning, they didn’t all look very appetizing, but the taste was great. I assume that her coursework included some non-vegan recipes and stuff that contained eggs, but they probably sold those in the school bakery…

  5. Dan*


    With regard to COLA when moving to a higher-priced area, my advice is expect to be disappointed, as I’ve just never seen salaries blindly adjusted based on an online calculator. Companies pay what it takes to recruit and retain talent for their business operations.

    That said… nobody knows anything, even if they say they do, and I believe this to be especially true in the Bay Area. COVID is going to drive a lot of Bay Area tech employers to conclude they can save a lot of money by having their staff telecommute, and I think that will have huge ripples in the Bay Are economy. Expect a lot to change there.

    1. Sam*

      +1 “expect to be disappointed”

      Yes moving to the Bay Area will come with a pay raise, but it’s hardly substantial. More often than not, you will just have to spend a higher percentage of your income on rent.

      A company that plans to move to Palo Alto in a few years has a very specific reason for doing so and I expect they already know that salaries will have to increase to grow or even sustain talent.

    2. LadyByTheLake*

      This. Do NOT expect the salary to move proportionally with the cost of living. When I moved from a midwestern city to San Francisco for a Fortune 50 company, the pay differential was only 15% even though the cost of living difference at the time was 300%.

    3. Annony*

      Yep. Don’t do the math to figure out what you would have to make to maintain your current lifestyle and expect that to be what drives a raise. Look at what people doing a similar job make in Palo Alto. That is the number the company will be looking at.

    4. Luke*

      A friend of mine in the Midwest was offered a promotion . It came with a 10% salary increase – but the new job was in San Francisco.

      After discussing the subject, our social circle had to break the news he’d be giving up a lot to move there. No home, ATV, big yard & two car garage. Sure he’d make more money, but between the taxes and higher COL he’d have less money. He went back to his company to make a counteroffer- his COL adjusted current salary. The firm politely withdrew the promotion offer.

  6. TPS reporter*

    #4- could you add pronouns to your email signature? Or a profile picture? It’s available in Windows 10.

    #2 you could ask if IT can make headsets available. Or if your co worker could use non speaker phone audio for video calls instead of computer audio

    1. Bonnie*

      Ditto to including your pronouns in your email signature! This can let people know which pronouns you use, and at the same time signals support for using folks’ pronouns of choice vs assuming ones based on name or anything else.

    2. E.*

      #4- I have the same problem. I’ve partially gotten around it by having my email signature as “Ms. Firstname Lastname, Department, Company, etc”. More subtle than having pronouns, gets the info across. Feels a little weird but pretty sure everyone can quickly figure out why I did it.

      The worst thing is when people make stupid comments about it. I once had one person say, “So your parents wanted a boy, right?” when I introduced myself. Didn’t really know how to respond to that one.

      1. J.*

        I have this problem as well. For a long time I put Ms in my email signature but I found a lot of the time people didn’t read it…On the phone I’ve been asked if I am my secretary. I have also had this problem when meeting someone at a cafe etc as obviously they haven’t looked up my photo on LinkedIn. I always describe what I’m wearing but there have definitely still been a few times where they ring my phone confused and they see me and obviously expected a man. Not sure what to say other than I just am used to it and make a joke if needed and get it over it.

        1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

          Can we all agree its 2020 and the world needs to quit assuming that a “feminine sounding voice answering the phone” is a secretary on behalf of, I don’t know, everyone?

          My first name is questionable and could go either direction as far as gender.
          My middle name, which I use in my email signature, is most decidedly not.
          My LinkedIn profile is a professional headshot.

          Number of times a week where I get to deal with someone rudely demanding to “talk to my boss, I don’t need his secretary” is definitely far greater than 1.

          1. Catosaur*

            We could be twins.

            I’ve been on the fence about adding pronouns/gender-defining title to my email signature for years and have so far decided against it. I work in such a male-dominated industry that I suspect people would be less helpful or respectful if they didn’t think I was a man over email, so I’ll take cooperation where I can get it and continue to be amused at their reaction if we ever meet in person.

            1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

              My thoughts on adding pronouns to my email signature have a similar outcome, because its just not done in my industry. It’ll help nobody, but will likely get a few “why are you such a snowflake?” thrown.

      2. Ariaflame*

        Ironically this is made difficult for me because my working title is Dr (PhD not MD) but I worked for that and don’t want to give it up just to signal my gender.

        My sister was actually expected to be a boy (in the years before ultrasounds) but did not end up being given the name they had picked for the boy.

      3. Database Developer Dude*

        Someone in the workplace actually said that to you? I’d say a three word response is appropriate, the first word being ‘Go’, the third word being ‘Yourself’, and I’ll leave the second word to your imagination. Then walk away.

        *smdh* some peoples’ kids.

      4. StrikingFalcon*

        I’m a fan of feigning ignorance when people ask rude questions or say bigoted things. *slightly confused tone* “I’m not sure what you mean.” It can be entertaining to to watch them fumble for an explanation when they don’t want to actually spell out their bigotry or rudeness and they suddenly realize you are not going to play along with their “obviously everyone is thinking it, I’m just the only one saying it” spiel.

      5. Cj*

        I do know one woman named Billey Ann. Her parents kept trying for a boy to name after the dad, Bill. After four girls, they finally went with that. (They did have one more kid, another girl).

    3. Some internet rando*

      Agreed. I added pronouns to my email signature in support of people using the pronouns they choose. It solves a lot of problems.

      Otherwise just make the correction ASAP. It only will embarrass your intern if you let it go on for a long period of time. And its a good lesson for the intern (and everyone) not to assume gender identity.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        Yeah, I usually just make the correction when it comes up. Thankfully, it seems to be less and less of an issue. Perhaps because business communication is getting more informal and Mr./Ms. isn’t used as frequently, perhaps because people are less likely to make assumptions than they did previously, perhaps because it’s gotten so easy to search online for someone and find their photo, or all of the above.

    4. MCMonkeyBean*

      Definitely check if you can include your picture! My office used to add everyone’s pictures automatically but I think they stopped doing that years ago–but it’s easy enough to add yourself, so some people have them and others don’t. I just started on my team remotely back in April so one of the first things I did when I started was to add a picture to make sure they have a face with my name :)

    5. Kodamasa*

      I came to suggest the pronouns as well. A) it’ll clear up the gender confusion, B) as Bonnie said already, it shows solidarity with those who use pronouns different than what might be socially expected, and C) saying “Ms. [very male sounding name]” can read as “Ms. [Husband’s Name]”. I personally would want to avoid making it sound like I was using a male partner’s name instead of my own, even if that really wasn’t the case. Which isn’t fair since it’s your own name after all, but society, patriarchy, etc. sigh.

      1. E.*

        I don’t know where you’re located, but at least in my industry and part of the country/world it is *very* unusual for a woman to use “Mrs. Husband’s First and Last Name” in professional communications and would come across as *extremely* old fashioned. (And such a woman would probably use Mrs. instead of Ms.) But wow, now I have to worry that someone is going to assume that I, a queer woman, am using my nonexistant husband’s name instead of my own, in addition to all the other rude comments I get about it. Fun times.

        1. Kodamasa*

          It’s really not a thing in my industry, either, though using Ms. regardless of marital status is (if we use those honorifics at all; we’re mostly first-name users). Honestly the only time I hear it used is with elderly people, overly-bubbly newlyweds, and telemarketers. But I think it’s still enough in the general culture that it very well could be the first thing someone thinks when they read it, right or wrong. I know it was how I read “Ms. James Valentine” at first.

          Though as soon as you start thinking about it it does fall apart; if they’re so excited about being married to this hypothetical husband, why are they using Ms. instead of Mrs?

          All in all, this makes me glad my gender-neutral name is spelled in non-gender-neutral ways.

    6. thee epidemiologist*

      Also co-sign adding pronouns to your email signature. It’s become increasingly common in my field as we become more aware of issues around trans and gender non-conforming people! I just add it at the bottom after my name and contact info (“Prounouns: she/her/hers”). Might not completely clear up the mistakes but it could help!

  7. Dan*


    This can be really tricky. How big is the company you’re interviewing at? If it’s a small company, I think it’s reasonable to assume that the reviews are more likely going to be reflective of *your* experience, and that the hiring managers should be aware of them.

    At a large company? I think that’s much more complicated. I know if you were interviewing with me at my org, and you brought up some stuff you dug up online, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have a clue about them. The reality at a big company is that your department/division dictates everything about your life. My org is big enough such that the only thing I have in common with employees in some parts of the company is that our paychecks are signed by the same people, and we get the same benefits package.

    So it’s entirely possible that the straight answer from your interview panel is “I have no idea about any of that”. It’s unsatisfying as a candidate, and even seems like you’re getting blown off, but it can also be 100% true.

    There are times I’ve read online reviews about places I’ve worked at, and sometimes the accurate response is “it’s true,” especially regarding statements that are more factual in nature. For example if I read that “50 hour work weeks are the norm” the honest to goodness truth could very well just be “yes that’s correct”. But for things that are more opinionated (“Manger X isn’t nice to work for”) it’s going to be very difficult to get a satisfying response to that.

    1. TechWorker*

      If an interviewer says ‘oh I have no idea about any of that’ I would definitely think they were fobbing me off. They could acknowledge that different departments have different workloads and they don’t believe there are workload issues in the job under discussion..

    2. Morgan*

      #2 sometimes people don’t fully realise how much noise gets picked up on calls. I was once in my temp home office with door closed while my toddler was having a meltdown downstairs. I thought no one could hear it until someone in call comment on someone’s child being pretty unhappy. Embarrassing.
      There is software that can reduce or even remove this sort of noise from calls, but it usually has to be used by the person with the noise, so will would still have to find a way to tactfully suggest that. But that is much easier than trying to rearrange a household around trying to have calls.

    3. Akcipitrokulo*

      I’d hope the interviewer in that situation would be something like “I haven’t seen those reviews, and not aware of issues in this department; what I can tell you about the hours and expectations is….”

      It’s ok not to know about it and still answer the underlyong concern.

  8. Stormfeather*

    My first thought for #2 (before I got to the fact that he’s leading the calls) was “have him mute!” So along those lines, is there any way to have someone else step up and lead the calls, maybe learning some new leadership type skills in the process? Have it rotates (at least unless/until some people are obviously better and worse than others)? Or is this a “this is his project, he knows all the ins and outs, so he has to lead” or something along those lines?

    1. OP #2*

      Unfortunately he’s the client contact on the account, and often has lots of information and context the rest of the team doesn’t have and therefore really does need to lead the calls. Otherwise I’d definitely ask him to mute!

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        Definitely speak to your manager about what can be done. As a stepparent (having never raised a child from birth) I’ve found that many parents are immune to the noise their children make. He’s probably able to tune it out because he’s used to it and doesn’t realize how loud and distracting it is for others.

      2. LQ*

        If he’s the client contact, has the client ever mentioned it? If so I think you have a lot stronger standing and you definately need to bring it up with your boss at least. Especially if the client is on these calls and having trouble. Lean into that.

      3. kittymommy*

        Is there anyway he can isolate himself for the calls? I’ve seen some people on calls at my office sitting in their closets with the door shut (we can see clothes in the background) as it’s the only way to avoid the background noise .

      4. Dan*

        For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for people to only unmute when they’re talking, even if they’re leading a meeting… it’s what everyone in my organization does.

        Barring that, you might suggest looking into Krisp (https://krisp.ai/) which is a tool that removes background noise fairly effectively (and, importantly, can be run locally by YOU as the RECIPIENT of the noisy audio).

      5. MCMonkeyBean*

        I’m really surprised no one else has said anything yet–people are usually pretty vocal about background noise issues on the calls I’ve been one. Which makes me wonder whether there are usually other senior people on these calls or if it’s pretty much all people like you who are frustrated but don’t feel like they can say anything?

      6. Annony*

        I have a colleague who uses his phone audio on video calls because using the computer is like being on speaker phone and picks up all the background noise. It definitely helps a lot.

        1. Malarkey01*

          And headphones! I was shocked at the difference a pair of headphones made for one noisy coworker during covid. Instead of the computer mic picking up every sound in the room we now only get his voice and an occasional crash.

      7. Ellllle*

        I agree with others that speaking with your manager seems like a good next step. Maybe suggest that the company purchase a high quality headset for this person? I find that good headsets with mics near the face do a better job of cutting out back ground noise.

        It sounds like your current structure isn’t set up for this, but more and more I have been suggesting meetings be emails unless there’s a good reason to meet over VC. Not sure if this would be relevant in your case, but it’s helped me cut down on the annoying background noise of others quite a bit!

    2. Quinalla*

      I would just address it in the moment on the calls, I have a weekly call I run and one person on the call always has an infant in the background in some fashion. When the infant gets loud, he apologizes and repeats as necessary. Also, there are in general a lot of people on this call and folks no problem asking for people to mute who are in loud areas and forgot or if there is background noise because of kids/pets/whatever, someone will just say something like “Could you repeat? Couldn’t hear you over the background noise!” I would just start doing that when it gets really bad, but you can’t necessarily do it if it is just annoying but you can still hear.

      I do agree with a previous poster that if he doesn’t have a headset, that will help a lot on the background noise. I think it is easier to get them now too – for awhile everyone was out but that has calmed down after the initial WFH buying frenzy. I would bring that up if you talk to you manager as an idea for something that might help.

      I do think this sounds beyond what most people consider reasonable background noise in the age of COVID, especially for someone running a meeting. When I’m mostly listening on a meeting, then yeah his setup would likely be fine, but running a meeting, you gotta get behind a closed door. Print your agenda and do it, that’s what I had to do when my husband and I were in the same office space running simultaneous meetings. Either he or I would move elsewhere to minimize noise.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        Yeah, I agree that this is beyond typical. I have kids and work with a bunch of people with kids, and everyone has long since figured out how to manage so that the kid noise isn’t a constant distraction on calls. Sure, there’s the occasional disruption, and more disruption and noise than pre-COVID, but we all make it work well enough that calls are functional in a way that OP’s calls aren’t.

        One bad call if the kids are having a rough day is one thing. Consistently taking a call in a place where the TV volume is loud enough to be distracting is quite another, and is just inconsiderate on this guy’s part.

    3. Nanani*

      This! Mute his mic, or use a Push-to-talk setup rather than let the mic pick up all audio. This can be done even with a built in laptop mic.

      If he has access to a headset with a mic closer to his mouth, then he could also try reducing the sensitivity so it only picks up when he’s talking.

    4. Nanani*

      #4 – some people still assume certain jobs are always done by men or otherwise think, consciously or otherwise, that women are rare. *all the eyerolls*

      Correct them early, and return the awkward to sender. They’re making the mistake, not you, so it’s not rude to correct them.

    5. MrsFillmore*

      For #2 – it wasn’t clear to me if the writer had already directly addressed this with the co-worker in question. If that hasn’t happened yet, and if this co-worker is generally reasonable, it could be a real kindness to first talk with him directly and give him a chance to make improvements on his own first before involving letter writer’s boss or IT. Key message for co-worker to receive is that the background noise is making it difficult to understand key points during these calls, and to suggest that a headset solution might be helpful to improve.

      1. MrsFillmore*

        Amendment: I see now elsewhere in comments that he’s already using a headset. Sounds like suggestion to use a headset is moot. Still think it could be worth one attempt at more direct feedback to co-worker about the situation and the impact. Since good headsets do eliminate a lot of background noise so I wonder if co-worker could be genuinely unaware of how bad the impact is for others.

  9. They Don’t Make Sunday*

    OP4, I am also a woman with a masculine name, and I find that Alison’s method works well. Total aside: you’d think getting on the phone would clear up the gender confusion, but not always. I was once on the phone with a customer service person at the NY Times, and she called me Mr. Lastname (no one ever mistakes me for a man once they hear my voice). I was so caught off guard that I figured she must be on some kind of autopilot and I didn’t correct her. But then she kept doing it. I was so flustered that I could barely focus. Like, somehow my name was the rock-solid gender cue and my actual voice was beside the point. Afterward, I just figured that in this person’s many calls, she learned that some men sound like women and vice versa. Still, strange to have the name be the only input, no questions asked.

    1. Dan*

      Did they call you, or did you call them? I would have had half a mind to play along for awhile, and then finally say, “oh you keep referring to *mister* so-and-so, did you want to speak with my husband?”

      Side story… I have a friend of mine who is a female lawyer, with a name that is very traditionally male. Sometimes her direct line is posted in public places, and she gets calls from people who think she is the legal secretary or AA. Drives her nuts.

      1. They Don’t Make Sunday*

        That would drive me nuts, too. I would spend a lot of time dreaming up good retorts and then chickening out of using them.

        I called the NYT, identifying myself as Firstname Lastname. I guess that’s why it caught me so off guard. No chance of mistaken identity.

    2. cierta*

      That sounds so annoying. But also probably a good thing for trans awareness, it is nice if people treat Bob as male once he’s told you his name is Bob even if he has a feminine voice. Annoying if you’re Roberta though. Maybe the take home is just to make fewer assumptions, and if you only know you’re looking for Bob Smith, don’t try to be polite by saying ‘Mr Smith’ instead.

    3. Former call centre worker*

      She may have thought you were trans. I’ve had that before with a colleague based at another location – the voice sounded like a stereotypically male voice, but the name was typically female. I didn’t know if it was a nickname or if she was trans. Due to the type of work I never had the opportunity to ask anyone else and I felt asking her/him directly had too much risk of causing embarrassment if it was just a nickname, when our only contact was occasionally transferring phone calls to one another. I don’t think I ever found out but I would have felt safer taking a guess that she was trans than assuming it was a nickname, as I felt getting misgendered is probably less bad when you aren’t trans.

    4. LawLady*

      Purely anecdotally based on my past customer service experience, I will say that men on average responded more negatively to being misgendered than women. There’s a whole can of worms we could analyze there about why men may be insulted to be mistaken for women, but at the end of the day, I would guess that a customer service rep might err on the side of male when uncertain, because that would get her less angsty pushback.

  10. Sarah Beth*


    What do you mean by “gendered overtones”? What is the problem with him mentioning his wife is going to handle the kids? It’s not sexist/misogynistic to use the term wife or say the woman who is presumably the children’s mother will be taking care of them. If the issue is he said she is “supposed to be getting off her call,” it sounds as if that was the plan they worked out earlier.

    P. S. This is a sincere question; I’m not trying to start anything, just genuinely curious. I apologize if it comes across otherwise.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I imagine it’s the implication that the wife’s work is the work that should be interrupted (“my wife is supposed to be getting off her call to handle the kids”), given the long history of women disproportionately being the ones to make professional sacrifices to care for children. The LW acknowledges she doesn’t know enough to say for sure, but it’s not surprising that that rings some bells when you see that dynamic over and over again.

      1. Avasarala*

        I agree that the phrase both sounds like it’s a plan they worked out earlier (whoever is not leading their meeting watches the kids), and the larger culture we’re in suggests that the dynamic may be imbalanced along gender lines.

        But where does this fit with what OP wants?
        OP wants someone to watch the kids so they can hear Bob. The person watching the kids can’t be Bob, because he needs to be on the call with OP.
        What does OP think should Bob do?
        Corral his kids in front of the TV (sounds like that is what he does)? Have his wife deal with the kids when he is leading a meeting (sounds like what might be happening)? Interrupt the meeting to find his parents and have them watch the kids somewhere else in the house (ideal but again we don’t know his situation)?

        I think this is one of the situations where being patient and understanding with parents in general can bolster the feminist cause. Pressure on Bob as a parent also puts pressure on Bob’s wife.

        I’m not saying that OP can’t or shouldn’t say anything! Clearly it’s affecting work!
        But I think that OP might be better able to accept the situation if they reframe it from the rock-and-hard-place of “Bob’s kids are noisy and he makes his wife watch them” to “Bob and his wife are doing their best to do the impossible, and supporting parents supports women.”

        1. MayLou*

          It was an aside, acknowledging an entire other conversation about gender and childcare that is going on right now but which isn’t directly relevant to this letter. My sense was that LW acknowledged that specifically to avoid the comments devolving into an off-topic fan-fic conversation about what Bob’s wife should do about her unhelpful and misogynistic husband.

          1. Something Clever TBD*

            Ha! I agree it was prob to head off comments.

            My wife and I both probably use the same line (“my wife will be getting off her call shortly to handle the baby”) at least once a day during this forced work from home. Literally, bc we are both wives and both mothers. We are also both busy full time professionals, so we try to coordinate – “I have a really important call at x time. Can you grab him then?” “Sure, I have a client call at y, but it should be finished by x.” It’s not perfect, and sometimes y runs late, but we are just doing the best we can.

            1. 2 Cents*

              Yeah, the hubs and I coordinate on Sundays all of our meetings and phone calls for the week to make sure we don’t both think the other one has the 2 year old (who *loves* being on conference calls, despite not being an invited guest lol). In our house, it isn’t gendered. It’s because there are literally two people who can watch him, and both of those people also have full-time WFH (for now) jobs.

        2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          OP is being patient and understanding, but the bottom line is that he’s leading the calls and they can’t hear him because his children are being loud and disruptive. I know a lot of people are in a non-ideal situation right now WFH, but he’s made a point that his parents are there helping with the kids and yet they don’t seem to be helping. Something needs to change if they can’t have a productive meeting.

        3. pancakes*

          It seems like it would be best for everyone if Bob & family could turn down the volume on the TV while he’s on calls, for starters. It doesn’t sound like anyone in his household is being mindful of how distracting it is when blaring.

        4. fhqwhgads*

          I read what he said as meaning something closer to “her call was supposed to end just as my was starting, at which point we’re switching who is on kid-duty”. The implication being her call must be running over a little. Obviously we can’t know for sure, but the “supposed to be getting off her call” didn’t sound to me like “her work can wait but mine cannot”. I took it more as “we had a plan for what was going to happen around this time and clearly it’s gone a bit awry”.
          That said if there’s tons of background noise EVERY call, it’s less about that and more about him getting a headset with a mic that won’t pick up as much from the background, or him doing something else to prevent sound transfer, having nothing to do with who is or isn’t on kid-duty.

    2. OP #2*

      As Allison correctly guessed, I was bristling at the fact that she was the one who would need to end her work call to take care of the kids instead of the other way around, but as I mentioned in my letter, I don’t know about their agreements or what works best for them, so I don’t want to accuse anyone of outright sexism when that could very well not be the case.

      1. Mockingjay*

        There’s probably a lot of frustration at Bob’s house. Both he and his wife are WFH and trying to cope with the lack of daycare. As for Bob’s parents, I’m guessing that them being there to “help” is a polite fiction. I know many families whose elderly parents came to stay at the start of this pandemic because they needed assistance which might not have been available when lockdowns were initiated.

        But to address your need, which is to get info from Bob: follow up with him after these calls. Send him an email recapping the points and ask him to verify. Or rather than a conference call, schedule a one-on-one call (so he can hold the phone to his ear). Use a chat program. Communication has many forms. If the conference calls/zoom meetings aren’t working well, change the format or the time.

      2. Quinalla*

        I get it, I’m hyper-aware of this issue right now myself as I work in a male-dominated industry and far too many men I’m working with are like “Yeah, I’m up here in my quiet office while my wife is taking care of the kids while also WFH full-time! WFH is going great for me!” They don’t say those exact words, but that is what is happening based on their explanations and it is BS. Far too many hetero couples with kids are falling into this pattern and it sucks a lot. It isn’t really relevant to the question, but I too would have been thinking about it, even though it isn’t clear cut this is happening here.

        Either way, I would try to have lots of patience, but also if you really can’t hear what is being said, don’t hesitate to speak up in the moment and if he doesn’t have a headset, suggest it or see if your manager can suggest it if you aren’t comfortable. Helps a ton with background noise!

    3. I don’t post often*

      Op2- I have a four year old. I live in a two story house with a basement. The ground (or middle level) is hardwood floor, with a semi-open floor plan. It echoes terribly. I hated this house when we bought it 18 months ago and I hate it doubly so now. About three weeks into staying at home with no help, daughter started losing her mind anytime I had a conference call in the afternoon…. and most of my calls are scheduled for 2:30, it seems. She would not be quiet and if I got on the phone she would start screaming and would not stop. She is old enough to know better but also old enough to try and manipulate me into more tv time or candy or whatever. Shame on me for giving isn’t he first time or two. I couldn’t discipline her in the moment, because that involves time out which just means more screaming. The problem with my house is, even if I go upstairs to the master bedroom, into master bathroom, and into the closet if she is screaming downstairs that can still be heard on a call. If I go to the basement it’s worse. There were times that I went outside, she would follow me. And on those days I swear my neighbor felt the need to mow, chainsaw, or TALK TO ME while I’m on the phone… with a screaming child in tow. No, I’m not kidding. I’m getting stressed and almost crying thinking about it. My husband and I divided the day, so I have morning “childcare” and he has afternoon. If my calls started early or he was a few minutes late chaos reigned. Luckily, I have really awesome managers who understood. If I was on a call with people outside my department, I just did the best I could.

      After about two weeks of this, we changed our schedule around so I had more uninterrupted time with daughter, husband made a better effort to be on time. Things have calmed down now and have stayed calm for the most part since mid- April. But it was rough. All this to say, he may be doing his absolute best. The comments about his wife may be coming out in frustration at a situation that no one can change.

    4. 2 Cents*

      Yeah, I had the same thought. It sounds like they take turns, not that “woman! why are you working!” I mean, the guy might be a jerk otherwise, but this doesn’t sound like it. (I say this as a full-time worker and mother of a small child who’s had to play “who gets the baby?” with her full-time working husband.)

    5. lost academic*

      I can see how this and maybe with some other minor signals would come across as gendered, but it’s literally what happens at my house on nearly a daily basis. We have a toddler who LOVES the home office and his parents SO MUCH and we try to split our workdays so we can cram in 80-100% of our work during semi regular hours but we have to accommodate certain meetings and my clients on their schedules. I can’t just run away from a call that goes long and that doesn’t usually mean that my husband can start his meeting late, and so sometimes there’s the Toddler Alarm Clock interrupting. Everyone gets it, even if it’s super annoying when you’re already running late on a call and just trying to wrap up. (I always just joke they won’t be billed for his time.)

      1. OP #2*

        Totally appreciate that this may not be gendered at all and was just the set up that worked best at the time he made the comment, which is why I mentioned I didn’t know enough about their situation to make a determination. I mostly mentioned it to lay out that he has mentioned multiple different methods of available childcare apart from himself, but the noise is still distracting.

        I also get that you could have a super nanny and depending on the fussiness of the kid and the layout of the house, noise could still get through and this might just be something I’m going to have to end up living with. All props to working parents!

  11. Coverage Associate*

    #3. I am 6 miles from those Palo Alto houses that cost at least 7x what they do near you. This 2 bedroom walk up apartment with no air conditioning is $2,600/month, and that’s easily a thousand less per month than most professionals in the area pay. Lots of students in our apartment complex.

    I work for a national company and I don’t think I make more than my peers in Dallas or Chicago. When I started, the coasts paid 10-20% more than the Midwest for the same jobs.

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics have household spending numbers by region, income and household size, if you want to quantify the lifestyle choices we’re making in the Bay Area.

    1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

      Nope. I’m staying in the Midwest; that’s double my house payment and then some!

      1. Quill*

        Not looking forward to probably having to leave the midwest in order to get a job that actually has health insurance…

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Yep, a specific example: I’m in Indianapolis now, and just checked my old hospital in the Seattle area — my salary here is in the top third of the range they’ve got posted for the exact same job I’m doing, but Bankrate’s calculator says the COL there is 54% higher than here.

  12. Everdene*

    LW1: I’m currently recruiting and our HR department insisit that everyone is asked exactly the same questions, which are approved in advance. This is to ensure fair recruitment practices. When I design the questions I aim to do so in a way that will draw out each person’s skills, experience and suitability for the job. I enjoy planning the flow of these questions to create as natural a conversation as possible. Please don’t write off an interview because they have a set of questions prepared.

    I wonder if the interviewer realised that the interview hadn’t been brilliant and so made an effort to try and engage with that personal detail at the end and carried that forward into the offer call.

    1. TechWorker*

      +1 my read would be that it was the interviewer trying to make a personal connection and not correctly reading that your reaction was only lukewarm.

      1. Alice's Rabbit*

        Also, using that personal detail as a mnemonic device, to remember which of all the candidates OP was.

      2. Threeve*

        I can easily imagine on his page of pre-planned interview questions was “fun fact.” So he asked every candidate that same question, and wrote down their response, so that whoever followed up could personalize their communication. Whatever candidate was hired, it would be:
        “Can’t wait to see what cool homemade jewelry you bring to the white elephant!”
        “Excited to see how you decorate your office with your art!”
        “Can’t wait to learn more about historical reenactment from you!”

        The enthusiasm for baking was probably more sincere, but there’s a good chance the formula was already in place.

    2. Bagpuss*

      Yes, we generally have a core set of question to ask everyone. The order in which they get asked may vary if it makes sense in the flow of the interview, but it’s part of trying to make sure that our recruitment process is, and can objectively be seen as, fair.

      I think the comment in the offer was probably more about trying to show that they remembered you as an individual rather than implying that that’s the min thing they care about.

      However, I would wait a little bit once you start (assuming you accept the job) before taking any baked goods in. Get a feel for how often other members of staff buy or bring in treats and stick to a similar frequency, so you avoid either getting caught in an assumption that you will always bring baked goods, or seen primarily for your cooking skills not your professional work ones. (I doubt anyone will comment, but if they do, then something along the lines of “Baking became a big hubby of mine when I was at home full time, I find I don’t have much time now I am working full time again, so I am mostly just baking for my immediate family now” depending on what is usual in your office in terms of when people typically bring in treats, you could add something like ” I will definitely bring something in when my birthday rolls around / my kid graduates / it’s my turn ”

      Once you have been there a little while and have established yourself on your professional merits you could chose to bring stuff in more often, if you want. I personally would probably make it random rather than once a month or every 2nd Thursday, as I think it makes it easier to reduce or stop than f you establish a set pattern. I sometimes bring stuff into the office but it is generally on the basis that I wanted cake / cookies and made some, and as I live on my own, that means that there is normally a surplus. (In the before times, when casual trips to the supermarket in my lunch hour were a thing, I would also sometimes buy treats on the basis that I really fancy a doughnut and they only sell them in bags of 5, or that everyone seemed to be having a stressful day so maybe some tasy nibbles would be welcome all round. )

    3. MissDisplaced*

      I think it made the OP memorable, though not in the way they hoped.
      It’s funny they mentioned it again, though I think they were just trying to come across as friendly and not presumptuous as though you’d really be baking for the office all the time.

      I would not take this job unless you have another chance to ask more questions.

    4. Joielle*

      I had an interview a couple of years ago that handled this situation well. They had a set of questions that they asked everyone and didn’t ask any follow up questions, but they explained that to me before the interview started so I wasn’t thrown off by what was an extremely stilted conversation. I really appreciated that context!

  13. cierta*

    #3 Also worth bearing in mind that everyone in the company will be in the same situation. One new starter taking a job or not taking a job isn’t a big worry, but ‘90% of our staff will quit if we move’ or ‘we’ll have to increase everyone’s salaries 5 times’ all sound like very big headaches for a company. So it seems unlikely it will actually fly, and easier to negotiate once you’re in and have colleagues and can push as a block.

  14. Green great dragon*

    #2 it sounds like headphones could help. If he’s aware enough to comment on the situation, maybe there is chance to ask if he has any? Or maybe you or your manager could make the point more generally – can the company provide headphones, can people be encouraged to use them on calls if there’s background noise? It seems unlikely he’s the only one with noises off.

    1. Zircon*

      I can’t understand why he’s not using a headset. I have a work supplied blue tooth head set with one ear phone and a microphone that is very tight in its pick up. I have had multiple people talking, dogs barking, chaos reigning in the room around me, and no one on the other end can hear any of it. Bluetooth means I can get up and walk around, pick things up etc and still be part of the conversation.

    2. Quilter33*

      Yes! I was surprised this wasn’t the suggested solution, to be honest. They are so helpful with all the kid noises going on in our house!

    3. Akcipitrokulo*

      I assumed headphones were not great quality, but had some kind, because of COURSE you use headphones when there’s othe people around… which is why suggested below looking at better qualuty ones.

      If no headphones at all? He should get some! OP could make suggestion through their manager if that is more comfortable.

      But yes. Headphones!

    4. OP #2*

      Shockingly he does use a headset/headphones and the background sound is still being picked up. Occasionally the headset actually makes it worse, because he holds the microphone very close to his mouth to be heard over the kid noise and it picks up a lots of static and fuzz from his movements.

      1. Observer*

        I would suggest a headset with a boom mike rather than headset + mike (which is what it sounds like he is using) so he doesn’t need to hold and the mike stays at a consistent distance from his mouth. Also, make sure that it has good noise cancellation. It’s well worth investing in (and I mean that your employer should be willing to pay for a GOOD noise cancelling mike.)

      2. Mimmy*

        Oh the static and fuzz!!! Sometimes I find that more grating than anything else! (Most of my coworkers don’t use a headset, so it’s probably from the person touching the mic area while moving their phone.)

      3. headphonesexpert*

        There are several modern headphones that have noise canceling mics, from Poly, Jabra, and Logitech, and Microsoft has recently announced an “open office” certification for certain mics particularly designed around background noise suppression: https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/microsoft-teams-blog/introducing-new-teams-certified-devices/ba-p/1345703

        Alternately, there are a bunch of new AI devices as well, including an nVidia plugin or this by ASUS: https://www.asus.com/Headphones-Headsets/AI-Noise-Canceling-Mic-Adapter/

    5. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      A headset won’t eliminate background noise for the others on the call if he’s not muted.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        One with a good unidirectional mic should, at least better than an omnidirectional mic.

  15. MistOrMister*

    #4 I’ve noticed that some of our foreign clients will include “(Ms.)” Or “(Mr.)” in their signatures. I don’t see it much for domestic clients. But I think it’s very helpful. I will admit that I just do not know enough about naming conventions in countries like China, India, etc., to be able to tell if I’m corresponding with a man or woman. I never think it’s a huge deal when one guesses wrong, but having a hint in the signature certainly wouldn’t go amiss.

    1. Anna*

      With Chinese names, you sometimes genuinely cannot tell if it’s a man or a woman. Even Chinese people themselves get it wrong sometimes. Some names are clearly female or clearly male, but some names are unisex, and many names are only clearly male or female when you see the original characters and are unisex if you only see the romanisation.

      For me, the only solution is to just address my correspondent with their full name (‘Dear Wang Xinwei’) and find out once I meet them or see a picture of them, or never find out at all.

  16. Anon Y. Mous*

    For OP 1-

    Some offices, especially state offices, are required to ask everyone the exact same questions in an effort to be fair. In those instances a question is usually thrown in to sound spontaneous, but is asked by everyone. A better interviewer probably would have said upfront: “I have to ask everyone the same questions” but it’s not required. It’s what I do to warn people that it’s not going to sound organic.

    What happens with those is that so often you get a lot of similar answers, but you’ll get a standout who gives good answers and something unique. In my case, I really like a unique hobby and when I was hired I was asked about that hobby. When I talked to my interviewer they remembered me as that person who was qualified AND I liked unique hobby. Sometimes it’s that’s person who has a ton of experience including some overseas. Sometimes it’s that person who gave great answers but has experience in a cookie factory.

    I can assure you, as someone who has done way too much hiring over the past two years, there’s a zero percent chance you were hired only for baking and for no other qualifications.

  17. salvor hardin*

    #4: I insert a (Ms.) before my mysterious foreign name in my email signature when this happens.

    (Protip to others: five seconds with Google will usually tell you how to pronounce any name and what gender it is.)

  18. Oh Fiddlesticks*

    When a company moves from a low cost of living area to a much higher one, they very likely expect to lose many employees – or, and I’ve been part of this – they *want* to shed the majority of their staff and that’s the primary reason for the move.

    So OP2, think of this from that perspective. If that is the company’s intention, they won’t be budging on salary because it doesn’t benefit them.

    1. SomehowIManage*

      However, they may post positions to replace the people who didn’t move at a rate more acceptable (Higher) to the new location.

  19. Madeleine Matilda*

    #1 – I work for a government agency and we are required to ask the same questions to every candidate for a position. What I generally am looking for is is someone who can answer those questions by highlighting their experience, projects, etc. We can ask follow up questions and it seems as though that is where your interviewer missed an opportunity. Or it could be they were already impressed by your resume and the interview was pro forma. I agree with Alison’s advice to speak with the manager and ask your questions before making a decision.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Yeah, I’m a little confused as to why the LW didn’t take these general questions as an opportunity to speak to specifics. If someone asks me about “my professional highlights”, I’m going to pull out some pretty specific information. From what she described, I got the impression that the questions were either a) predetermined, as in a government interview, or b) intended to be general so as to provide an opening for the LW to drive the conversation.

    2. Zanele Ngwenya*

      Yeah, exactly. In my company, we have a diversity rep IN THE ROOM for all interviews who makes sure we don’t deviate from the standard questions so that each candidate gets the same questions and same fair shot at the job. It’s much harder to hire based on a “feeling” or “connection” that way, and prevents a lot of narcissistic hires who are used to charming their way through the interview process. We can ask about hobbies at the end, but that’s never a factor in hiring. I used to hate it, but now I see how important this is for making sure we are hiring based on skills/merit, and who answered the questions best.

    3. Madeleine Matilda*

      Having sat on many hiring panels that are structured to ask the same questions of every candidate, I’ve seen some candidates who really understood how to highlight their experience and skills and others absolutely bomb this type of interview including some I had worked with and knew would be great at the job. I wonder if Alison might not offer some tips for acing this type of interview in a future post or perhaps open it up for a Thursday ask the readers column?

  20. Angstrom*

    #2: If you’re on Zoom, there’s a option to make the spacebar a push-to-talk control. It’s easier than constantly muting/unmuting.

    As mentioned, headsets with noise-cancelling microphones are a big help.

    1. OP #2*

      Unfortunately we don’t use Zoom, but I should look to see if our platform offers anything similar!

      He does use a headset, but the background noise still gets picked up.

  21. Girl With Typical Male Name*

    #4 – I run into the same thing even with ‘Ms.’ next to my name, the coloration has a barely-there purple tint, and is in the Georgia font (semi-feminine)…it’s unfortunate that more people don’t read past the body but a response that includes ‘by the way, it’s Ms.!’ is easy enough. I find that using an exclamation point or smiley face (even if that’s not typical for your office culture) indicates a tone of forgiveness rather than annoyance at the mistake.
    However, sometimes annoyance is necessary…I once had a guy that’s I emailed back and forth with occasionally – never referred to me as a gender – question why my parents named me my name during the first time we were on the phone (in a poke-the-bear way, not innocently) and I responded with something along the lines of ‘wow that’s not really a conversation I was planning to have today – immediately move on to relevant topic’. Slightly uncomfortable in the moment but it worked.

    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      I’m female, and my first name is both uncommon and gender-ambiguous. Plus I’m in tech, which has a low proportion of women. Shortly before I graduated college, my program was part of a major reorganization which led to me getting a new academic advisor who I’d never met. (This was someone who worked in the advising office and was familiar with university-wide graduation requirements, as opposed to my program advisor who knew the details of the degree requirements.)

      When we were first emailing each other to set up a meeting (required to get the paperwork in order for graduation), his email addressed me as “Mr. Hopper”. Getting my gender wrong actually surprised me less than his formality. But when I signed my reply as (Ms.) Alex Hopper, he a) noticed, b) apologized graciously for the error, and c) addressed me as “Ms.” with no further comment going forward.

      1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        (My male cousin has a similar issue – unusual, gender-ambiguous name, and worked in education means he’ll get addressed as “Ms.” by people who haven’t met him. Which has me wondering what reactions he’ll get when his formal title changes to “Rabbi”.)

  22. Hiring Mgr*

    on the COL question, a few tech companies that I know of are starting to have a “we pay X, work wherever you want”, where X is a pretty high salary, even for SF/NYC area..

    Of course not everyone can do that, it only works for remote, etc.. but I wonder if this will start to become a recruiting tool as due to Covid more companies see location isn’t as important anymore

  23. Akcipitrokulo*

    OP2 – is there a tech solution available? Better headphones, directional mic with background noise reduction – would your company stump up for this?

  24. Delta Delta*

    #1 – I was once part of a hiring team and an applicant (one of about 70) told us she likes to bake. I also like to bake. I remembered her because we had something in common. We didn’t hire her for various reasons, but the fact she and I have a similar interest helps her stick in my head.

    #2 – It doesn’t sound like anyone has told *Bob* how noisy he’s coming across. He may have no idea that the chaos in his house (which he may be entirely used to hearing since it’s his house) is drowning out work. Try this, “Hey Bob, it’s very noisy behind you. Can you (insert solution here)?”

    1. OP #2*

      I think he knows how loud it is, as he will occasionally apologize for the noise or mention that he is going to try and speed through the meeting because his kids are melting down. But that was the reason behind my writing to Allison, as I didn’t know what the solution to be inserting should be. I will be speaking with my boss to see if she can gently broach the topic with him and maybe suggest moving to a different area of the house for our calls or upgrading his headset at the company’s expense.

      1. LQ*

        If he’s mentioned speeding through the meeting you could mention potentially rescheduling it (though I’m not sure it would help that much if this is ever present noise). You’ll have to know your audience, and the pace of work, but I think that’s worth mentioning briefly.

        1. Bostonian*

          Yeah, depending on the meeting topic and attendees, and assuming Bob has to be the one leading these meetings, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say, “now seems like a bad time, should we reschedule?”

          1. Nita*

            If his kids have a naptime, it would be nice to try to schedule then. But that’s a big if. Kids have a habit of not napping when you really need them to.

  25. agnes*

    Disgrunted employees tend to post online reviews at a much higher rate than satisfied employees. Not saying that the concerns shared aren’t valid, but just realize that it’s a self selected sample posting on those sites and consider the information accordingly.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      Sure, but that’s why you read through the reviews to search for ongoing themes which is exactly what they did. If most of the disgruntled employees have the same complaint that is pretty telling.

  26. Eberronguy*

    OP #1 reminds me of how I got my first job out of high school. My dad worked at RadioShack for a good number of years and he had a protégé who needed a new hire. I am told that this is the conversation they had after I applied:

    Dad – “My son is looking for a job, would you be able to take him on?”
    Manager – “Does that mean I get your wife’s cookies again?”
    Dad – “Yes”
    Manager – “He’s hired”

    1. allathian*

      So you got the job without an interview? Were hiring policies like this the reason RadioShack went out of business? Only kidding, I’m not accusing you of being a bad employee in your first job.

      My first job was in retail and I was still in high school at the time. The interview was a questionnaire you had to fill in, it was a big chain and they “interviewed” at least 50 people at the same time. We got some training and then everyone who completed the training got a two-week probationary trial. Those who passed got hired. I was 17 at the time. It’s a lot harder to get a job in retail these days.

  27. Sam*

    Re OP#2:

    I would highly recommend building/encouraging a culture of everyone muting themselves the moment they’re done speaking, even if they’ll need to jump back in a minute or two later. This took us a month or so of repeated reminders, but eventually people got into the habit, and figured out tricks like holding the spacebar in Zoom, for example. We (my admin colleague and I) also trade off note-taking and muting duty – whoever isn’t taking minutes for a given meeting takes charge of muting people as soon as they’re done talking, or as soon as we start hearing ambient noise from them.

    Also worth considering – if this guy is talking constantly in meetings, is a meeting the best format? Is there info he could share by email/agenda in advance, so that the meeting is more broadly discussion-focused? Info-sharing in a meeting is exhausting and often a waste of everyone’s time.

    1. OP #2*

      Our team is pretty good about muting when not speaking (about 85% adherence). When his kids are being particularly loud he will mute when he’s not speaking, but he does do the majority of the talking so it’s not a true solution (I definitely will encourage him to still try and do that, as a tiny break from the noise is better than no break). He speaks the most because he is the client contact on the account and has lots of context and information the rest of the team doesn’t have that is easier to share with everyone on a weekly 30 minute call than through lots of disparate one-off emails.

      1. Ann Perkins*

        If it’s easier to him to speak for 30 minutes than deliver that much information via email, could he just record himself when it’s a quieter time (kids are outside or asleep or eating) and then you all listen to it the same day or the next when you can? I think this is a situation where someone on your team who has good rapport with him could help brainstorm a solution rather than bringing it to somebody else on management to intervene, since it’s pretty clear he’s trying to figure out a way to make it work.

      2. Nita*

        I guess this is kind of a last resort, but could he “chat” instead of talking? Most video call platforms have the option of using either talk or chat on the same call…

  28. Roscoe*

    #1. Take this with a grain of salt, because I’m a guy and don’t bake, so I’ve never been in that situation. But, as someone who has interviewed, sometimes its nice to find a personal thing and get excited about it. Like, if you loved baked goods, its not surprising you would perk up a bit more when you hear about that. I’ve interviewed people, and they’ve mentioned a random anecdote and it was something I had an interest in, and I was more interested in that. Hearing what people can do at work is one thing, hearing about them as people will often get more interest. And as Alison said, hiring someone just because they can bake seems really weird.

    #5. I would ask how much you need a job right now before bringing that up. Fact is, most companies don’t like being asked about that stuff. They either know its a problem that they have no power/desire to change. Or have their head in the sand and refuse to acknowledge that is true. Maybe if you had a separate conversation with a peer, this could be something to bring up. But bringing it up to a manager can easily torpedo your chances

  29. Canadian Yankee*

    LW #1 – If all this company wanted was lovely, fresh-baked food, it would be much cheaper for them to arrange a weekly delivery from a local bakery than to hire a full-time employee. You were almost certainly hired to do the job that’s in the job description, not to be the Team Baker.

  30. Important Moi*

    I often wonder long-term is it worth spending one’s social capital to make the point that children are in the background making too much noise. Everyone is on edge right now: parents, non-parents, people who can find a quiet place for work meetings, people who can’t find a quiet place for work meetings, people who live alone, people who don’t live alone……

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      I think being able to hear/understand what is being said in meetings for the next 6+ months is worth rather a lot of capital.

    2. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I think it’s worth a gentle mention because some people really don’t hear their kids the way their co-workers do. Maybe they don’t yet understand that ‘working from home’ means ‘working, just at home.’

      A former co-worker stopped taking her kids to daycare once we adopted a WFH model, even though the company helped pay for daycare Her kids were pretty loud and constantly came into her home office during meetings. She apologized for the interruption, but was truly surprised when our boss told her how hard it was to follow her during conference calls. Thankfully, she used the company stipend to take the kids back to daycare.

  31. Susie Q*

    I feel #2 hard. My husband is essential and I’m working from home with my now one year old. Fortunately my team is very understanding (my grandboss even mentioned that I was doing more than people not watching kids) but I’m well aware that you can hear PBS Kids on in the background with the occasional Frozen. You can also probably hear a shrieking one year (she sounds like a pterodactyl) with the occasional screams/cries because she doesn’t want to be cooped up in her 200 sqft playroom with hundreds of dollars worth of toys. She also kinda still sucks at walking so she face plants and cries. Thank god she is a good napper and sleeper.

    But I realize that this might very very very annoying to some of my coworkers. I wear a headset, I save her favorite shows/movies (don’t @ me, I already feel bad enough that my one year old is watching TV), I rotate toys, I give her a new toy during important meetings, I try to schedule the most important things during her naptimes but it is hard. I know she’s annoying. Most of us parents are burned out from working and trying to watch our kids 24/7. I feel guilty all the time. I feel like a bad employee and a bad mom.

    Can you recommend that some of the meeting be turned into emails so you have something you can read instead of trying to listen to? Or what about someone taking notes and distributing them afterwards? I’m sorry OP that you’re struggling.

    1. OP #2*

      I’m sorry that you’re struggling! It sounds like you’re doing the best with a tough situation, but it also sounds like you’re the only one available to be watching the child during the day. My colleague appears to have other childcare options, which is my main issue with the noise (other than how distracting it is).

      We do share around notes after the calls, and we’ve taken to recording the calls and sharing that as well so people can go back and listen to specific parts they may have had trouble hearing/understanding in the moment.

      I’m going to speak to my manager and see if she can gently bring the topic up to him, and if he can move somewhere quieter or have whoever is on childcare during our calls decrease the kid sounds, than that’s awesome, and if it’s just not in the cards, I will leave it at that and hope his kids are good sleepers as well so he gets a break at some point!

      1. Ann Perkins*

        I mean this gently, but please try to drop any preconceived notions about there being other childcare options available that he’s not using. That might be the case, but if there are grandparents staying there and they’re not already swooping in to take kids outside when it’s clear someone is on a call, they’re probably just as much the problem as the solution. And since the wife works too she’s probably juggling a lot of the same issues. Working parents of young children are under an enormous amount of pressure these days.

        1. Senor Montoya*

          AGreed. OP needs to let go of assumptions about boss’s home situation. Focus on the actual problem = can’t hear what the boss is saying, loud distracting noises in background and forget all about why the problem is happening.

          Boss, I feel terrible to have to bring this up, but the background noise makes it really hard for me/us [if you’ve got buy in from your colleagues] to hear you. Could we share the info on email/chat/cut meeting down to 15 minutes; could you mute more often; or, what ideas do you have?

          BTW, don’t presume that your colleagues agree. About a third of my colleagues have small children. I have no trouble tuning them out and rather enjoy hearing them, even if they are ON for the entire meeting.

        2. Nita*

          I know several older people whose idea of taking care of the kids is (1) stick them in front of a screen or (2) failing that, take them outside so they can climb things. Something about trying to actually interact with the child gives them hives. I don’t know if it’s their health, or they just find kids boring, or both. Anyway, if that’s the kind of help your coworker has… he and his wife are probably spending more time helping the grandparents enetrtain the kids, than actually having time to themselves to work.

      2. Mockingjay*

        You’re really fixated on the children as the noise source. Other sounds are annoying on conference calls too: construction, trucks and trains (we’re a port city), dogs, interference from cheap phone services (especially VOIP systems), road noise from car calls from traveling staff, my husband when we are both on conference calls at the same time (even though we work in separate rooms). The list goes on.

        I’d stifle my annoyance and reach out to Bob after the meeting to make sure I got what I needed. He’s obviously still producing for the client. Help a teammate out and figure out another way to communicate, at least temporarily.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          Yes other things make noise on other calls, but on OP’s calls it is noise from children and television so I’m not sure how pointing that out is helpful?

          1. Mockingjay*

            We’re all dealing with background noise with COVID WFH.

            I think there is an unconscious expectation that the typical quiet office environment is duplicated at home. That might be the case for teleworkers pre-COVID, but now we’ve got people working from home who never expected to be and whose homes are not conducive to create a business environment, complicated by tiny humans whose own routine has been disrupted. Telling Bob’s manager that he needs childcare doesn’t solve anything. Bob knows he needs childcare assistance. If it were easy to obtain, he’d have fixed the problem by now.

        2. Myrin*

          These other sounds you mention are annoying on conference calls in general but it sounds like in OP’s case, the children and the TV are indeed the only noise source, so it’s understandable that OP is focused on those.

      3. Observer*

        Please don’t make any specific suggestions or ask your boss to make any specific suggestion, other than purely technical ones like possibly a better headset that has a good noise cancelling mic, and seeing if the software has something like a “press to talk” type function.

        You simply do not know what the deal is in his set up despite “apparently” having options. Yes, you have a legitimate problem. But you don’t know nearly enough to make any reasonable suggestions in that respect. So all you can do is raise it with your boss. (And, yes, DO raise it.) Do be open to something like changing schedules, though.

      4. Anonymous at a University*

        If you have the recordings and notes, I think it’s much less of a problem! Also, if there’s something particularly important in the moment that you don’t hear because of noise, just ask him to repeat it. I have a colleague where I’ve needed to do that because her kids will suddenly make noise from behind her right when she’s coming to an important part of the discussion, and she’s never minded. If Bob is aware of the noise, then he probably also knows he’ll need to repeat himself sometimes, and I wouldn’t think it’s rude of you to ask.

        It seems like acknowledging the noise and working around it will put you in a much better mood than getting upset about childcare options you’re not sure of.

    2. Em*

      Hey — just a sidenote, but it sounds like you are doing your best to make sure your kid is stimulated, safe, and loved during what is a really hard time. You are a good mom.

    3. allathian*

      Oh, I’m so sorry. My heart aches for any 1-year-old who has to entertain themselves for any length of time, their brains are simply not yet developed enough for this. It’s not your fault, you’re doing the best you can in a crappy situation. I hope you can let go of the guilt about her screen time, because that’s something she can do on her own now, even if she can’t focus on it for long periods of time yet. She’s not old enough for imaginative play yet.

      You don’t mention it, but I assume that you’re interacting with your daughter when you’re not working and she’s awake.

      When I went back to work and my son started daycare, like many kids he was often sick during the first year. I had to take a lot of time off work (I’m lucky in that I had unlimited PTO for caring for a sick child) and I definitely felt both like a bad employee and a bad mom, and that was in pre-COVID times.

      Good luck!

  32. Lexi Kate*

    #1 They likely didn’t hire you to bake but that is what stuck with them. In the past hiring in new graduates, everyone had the same qualifications same education etc. The first year I interviewed I asked all the questions I was supposed to and got hours and hours of the same answers. The next time I didn’t ask any questions about their work experience or skill set I asked them to tell me what they bring to the table, what they do for fun, what their hobby’s were. I wanted a good fit personally, I can train for the job. Some jobs where everyone applying has the same skill set or where you will be training everyone it makes more sense to ask more questions about you personally than what your experience is.

    ** Future advice maybe don’t tell people your great at baking if you not offering to bring in baked goods. People in offices have a love hate relationship with homemade cakes and cookies.

  33. employment lawyah*

    2. My coworkers’ kids make so much noise I can’t focus on conference calls

    Most modern headsets use a type of microphone which is designed to reject other noise. The closer the microphone is to your mouth (boom microphones are better) the better it can work.

    Buy a headset with a boom microphone and have him use if for your conference calls.

  34. I need coffee before I can make coffee*

    OP#3 – I would not bring it up at this stage. “eventually, two or three years down the road” is sufficiently vague that it may never happen. If it does happen, then your husband will have 2 or 3 years at the job and will be in a better position to ask / negotiate about it then, and you can then make an informed decision whether to move or not. A piece of job searching advice I got somewhere many years ago was that “You don’t have a decision to make until you have an offer.” So unless the offer includes signing a commitment to move to California, I’d let it be.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      I really disagree–it may not end up happening but “two or three years” is not a long time at all and a move that big for a company probably takes a couple of years of planning so if they are already thinking about it I think it is extremely possible/likely that it will happen. It would be so, so normal to mention it during the salary discussion.

      You don’t have to ask them to commit to hard numbers or anything but I think it is definitely worth mentioning that you are satisfied with their salary offer for your current location but wondered whether they planned on increasing employee pay if they move to the higher COL area. They certainly will not be increasing it 7 times, but I would think a reasonable company would give at least some raise for that–so getting at least an idea of whether or not that’s on their radar would mean a lot to me in that situation.

  35. doreen*

    And even the things that on the surface seem the same are different- for example, a “house with a yard”. I own a house in NYC with three bedrooms and a yard. My daughter owns a house 40 minutes away in NJ also with three bedrooms and a yard. My entire property is 2000 square feet ,the house is maybe 1200. Daughter’s house is worth 50K less than mine and her smallest bedroom is bigger than my largest. Her lot is about 7000 sq feet and the house is about 1500 sq feet. If she tried to buy something similar in NYC it would cost three times what hers is worth ( assuming it even exists)

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Exactly. My parents haven’t sold their big house in the suburbs because what they would get for it wouldn’t buy them an undeveloped lot closer to the city. There’s no point.

  36. AvonLady Barksdale*

    LW #4: My partner has a name that was traditionally male, became gender neutral, and is now much more popular for girls (think Courtney). When we first started dating, he would get hugely embarrassed and frustrated about correcting people because he always felt like he was embarrassing people by “calling them out”. I pointed out that they would be much more embarrassed if he showed up to a job interview or a meeting and they expected a woman because they’d been calling him “Ms.” all along. He decided to add as a PS, “By the way, I should let you know that I’m a guy” and it did the trick. Most people just apologize quickly and move on. Sometimes we get emails addressed to “Hi ladies” or, “You ladies are all set,” and I just say, “Just one lady, [Courtney] is a man,” and we all go about our days.

    In short, the sooner/quicker/lighter you say something, the better off everyone will be. Don’t sweat it!

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      My husband’s name is the same and every time we go out to eat, if the server doesn’t see him take the card out of his wallet and place it in the holder thingy, they return it to me. He goes by a nickname but credit cards and other stuff are in his legal name.

  37. Anonymous At a University*

    OP 4- I have a name that sits on the line of “mostly considered feminine but there are some men who have it,” and also is an uncommon spelling. I’ve had everything from people addressing me as “Mr. [more ‘masculine’ spelling that is not mine] last name” to mixing up my last name with my first name- my surname also has a masculine first name embedded in it- to getting that I’m female but changing the spelling of my name to a more common one. I correct them first thing. Most of the time it’s not a big deal, outside the few times that someone angrily questions why they’re getting an e-mail or bill payment from me instead of [person they made up in their head]. In the past I’ve sometimes linked them to my public profile on my employer’s website, which includes both a picture of me and the correct spelling of my name, but I think I might switch to just putting my pronouns in the e-mail signature instead, since my title is a gender-neutral one. If your title is not, that’s probably all you need. Good luck!

  38. Gamymede*

    Indeed, I would do that. LW did say they like to bake though, and isn’t against bringing stuff in. Waiting a bit before starting also seems good tactics.

  39. Dust Bunny*

    LW2 I wouldn’t get too hung up on the “my wife is getting off a call soon” part–it’s probably more to do with them trying to dovetail work obligations than anything particularly gendered. My brother and SIL have agreed that he watches the kids in the morning while she works and she watches them in the afternoon while he works, so he might say, “My wife will take the kids soon” but it’s not because she’s the wife coming to do her obligatory mommy stuff–it’s because that’s the division of time vs. childcare to which they’ve agreed while they’re both working from home.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        It really isn’t. She doesn’t know enough about what’s going on to extrapolate, no.

      2. Grapey*

        Not just you.

        It’s important to note such things in a larger societal framework, but remarking on people’s individual instances is not how the problem gets resolved.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      This was my thought as well. A lot of working parents divide the day up, either into shifts or more complicated schedules to work around each person’s meetings and work obligations. Inevitably it seems, some calls run late. Or both parents have a meeting scheduled for the same time. (And it could be that the couple has decided that it’s more important for the wife’s meetings to be distraction-free, even when it imposes on the husband.)

    2. Joielle*

      I agree that it’s not worth getting hung up on, but I also understand why it grates on the OP, who’s already irritated at the coworker. I’d probably also be thinking “I don’t care whose fault it is!”

    3. Myrin*

      I mean, it doesn’t sound like OP is too hung up on it, it was just an aside in brackets, probably to stave off any potential comments on what he’s quoted as saying (although I personally wouldn’t have quoted it at all but maybe OP felt it helped her describe the situation or she felt people would dissect anything less than a quote, which usually happens anyway).

  40. Ana*

    First time commenter here to say that “Also, you might find it useful to include Ms. in your email signature — if people see “Ms. James Valentine” right in front of them every time you email them, they’re much less likely to get it wrong” is way too generous! My name is Ana and it is written that way in my email address itself, my signature, and very often when I end my email Best, Ana. People still address me as both ANNA and AVA constantly.

    1. Ana*

      My emojis disappeared so my tone is less humourous than intended! The advice is great, but I just had to share my two cents on how little people actually look at things you’d think would be important, like names.

    2. Amber Rose*

      Yep, half of all emails addressed to me start with “Dear Amanda” which is just ridiculous. My name is in my signature and my email address. I joke a lot that my name was apparently destined to be Amanda but there was a glitch in the matrix and now the world keeps trying to correct itself.

      My coworker has it rough too, she answers every call with the correct pronunciation of her name and almost always ends up called something different but similar. Think Lisa vs Liza.

    3. Gumby*

      I briefly thought that someone might also interpret “Ms. James Valentine” as being the wife of someone named James Valentine. But that would be for social situations rather than work. It is something I still see. In California. Usually with older people. Though, to be fair, in that situation they usually use Mrs.

      Though lack of detail to names can be beneficial on occasion. In the olden days one of my friends had her checkbook stolen. Her name is not uncommon but the spelling is not the most popular version. The thief wrote a check out and signed it Lindsay instead of Lindsey (not her real name) despite the correct spelling being *right there on the check*! The cashier accepted it. But it made it super easy to convince the bank that she hadn’t been the one to write the check.

  41. Rebecca*

    I have also been the office baker and the “I bake for the office once a month” thing can work. Or sometimes I just baked for the office when I wanted to try a recipe – for a while I brought in cupcakes every Monday simply because I felt like baking cupcakes. Nobody acted entitled about it when I stopped, which was a pleasant surprise! Anyway I would be more worried about the possibility the employer is secretly staffed by aliens masquerading as humans, because no human person would utter the phrase “delicious baked food.”

    1. Now In the Job*

      “Delicious baked goods,” certainly, but baked food is weird! XD
      I like to experiment with baking sweets and I bring it to the office because I don’t want to eat an ENTIRE cake by myself…lockdown has been rough on me in that respect!

  42. Buttons*

    I have worked at home for years as do most of my colleagues, everyone is human and humans have noisy lives. Unless the child is literally standing next to him screaming into the microphone then we need to learn to live with it. I know people will probably blast me, but it is true. I was on a video call the other day, and I noticed the woman I was speaking to was doing side eye at someone and I paused and said- “go ahead” she started laughing and her husband popped into the frame to tell her that the painters were there and they had to make the final decision. It is life! My dogs bark, the rooster can almost always be heard in the background, the cows get loud in the afternoon!
    Kids have been isolated and locked up for months, they are going even more crazy than all of us. Most of us spend the day working and talking to other people, the kids only have their parents and if they are lucky a sibling. Our brains are still being stimulated and we are still having social interactions, even if they are only online. Can you imagine being a 4 year old and not being at playschool all day or having a parent playing with you, taking you to playdates, and reading time at the library?
    I don’t have children but I have great empathy for all the parents out there trying to work 40+ hours a week with little kids at home.

    1. Alice's Rabbit*

      It has been rough on the kids, especially because they don’t really understand why everything has gone topsy turvy.

  43. CatPerson*

    Salary differentials have more to do with the cost of labor than with the cost of living.

    1. Smithy*

      I think that’s also a big factor.

      High COLA areas often have pull factors beyond jobs. California weather, NYC night life, etc etc. And when cities attract industries, then there are also larger labor markets of X professionals. It may be that to hire high caliber professionals for OP #3’s industry, the company is spending a lot of time/money on HR recruiting because the talent pool.

      A friend of mine recently told be about a recruiter call she received for a position in a town that’s about 70 miles from the nearest sizable southern city and was paired with a pretty amazing salary. From the recruiter call, it’s clear that their regional talent pool wasn’t giving them what they wanted and were having to match with “good” local city salaries just to get the applications they wanted.

  44. Buttons*

    Baking LW: You are way over thinking this. The interviewer was bored with interviewing people and has likely been told by HR not to deviate from those questions because a lot of people are really bad at interviews and could say or do something that is illegal. At the end when he asked about hobbies it was the one personal thing that he could connect with.

  45. Now In the Job*

    #4: Although my extremely common name is written on my emails and yet people seem unable to figure that one out… :P

    I jest. I definitely did this to someone once who had an uncommon name for our country and her following email to me had “Ms” at the beginning of her email signature. It certainly helped, and I certainly felt horrible, especially considering I remember it vividly 4 years later! XD Sooner is better.

    #5: This was interesting for my job. I didn’t find reviews that said this per se, but when asking about my current position, I was informed that the whole reason my position was created out of thin air was *specifically* to relieve the burden of high workload and pressure on other team members. That told me a lot about their priorities and what they’re willing to do.

    1. AnnieG*

      To the job-seeking hobby baker: take the job.

      Unless you have a high-demand skill-set or have been out of the workforce for only a couple of years, you’re competing for positions against candidates who are equally qualified and who didn’t take a break from working. It took me a year of job searching before I landed my first position after staying home with my kids (and it was a lower position than the last job I had pre-kids). I continued to search and made a lateral move a year later into the area that I really wanted to be in. I kept searching and two years after that I got a job that fully uses my expertise and is roughly the same level as my pre-kids job.

      TL; DR: Taking time out of the workforce derails careers and currently employed candidates are much more attractive to employers; take the job you’ve been offered and be the best employee you can while continuing to look for something better.

  46. Zanele Ngwenya*

    OP #1- Form interview questions are standard in some industries/companies to prevent discrimination. Even when we want to in my job, we CANNOT deviate from the approved questions so that each candidate has a fair shake. It’s great at preventing “personality” hires that end up being (usually white, usually male) narcissists who know how to charm their way into a job through first impressions. You didn’t get the job b/c of your baking skills, they were just bored with the questions and when they finally got a chance to learn about you and not your qualifications, it’s inherently more fun.

  47. Ann Perkins*

    #2 – this is one of the few times I disagree with Alison’s advice. I’m curious as to why you don’t feel you can raise this with him directly, which is typically the route you should go whenever there’s an issue like this with a coworker. At some point if you’re having a 1:1 conversation with him, bring up that you’re having a hard time focusing on the calls due to background noise. And brainstorm whether it would be beneficial to move them to a different time or have him simply record himself or put all the info in an email.

    If he is not receptive or if it gets to the point where you’re also receiving client complaints, then yes, bring in your management. But the vast majority of people right now are understanding of the fact that there’s a nationwide child care issue and people are having to work under unusual and difficult circumstances. I don’t think you should complain about the noise to somebody else in management without speaking to him directly first to let him know that the team is having a hard time capturing the information that he’s trying to relay.

  48. Time_TravelR*

    I have an unusual first name and people often think I may be male (although there is no reason to think it is either male or female…it’s really unusual). I have taken to adding Mrs. before my name in my email signature block. Some people pick up on it, some don’t. I have also gotten used to it.

  49. Ann O'Nemity*

    #1 Alison’s explanation makes sense to me. When I meet someone for the first time I often find some point of connection, usually a shared hobby like baking, books, skiing, etc. Until I know them better, I will often bring up that topic to make conversation and start building a relationship.

    I can understand OP’s worry that they only hired them for their baking, but it’s more likely they’re just trying to make a more personal connection.

  50. Flabbernabbit*

    #1. Sadly, if I were mentoring a woman in business I’d say don’t bake stuff for the office. I still (still!) see those bakers also become the de facto kitchen cleaners who eventually put up ‘I am not your mother’ signs in frustration. They are the go to for signing group cards, organizing social events and putting up decorations. For me, hell no. I learned early that my value increases if I excel at my work, innovate, and bolster others in theirs. Baking doesn’t to that unless that’s your profession. I buy pizza, bring in bagels, buy a round, order a cake for my team during work stress, for a success, or to keep the team humming like anyone else. I’m a consultant and I work in a lot of different offices. Some more progressive than others, but gender bias is incredibly still a thing.

  51. Jane*

    OP #4 – you can add your pronouns to your email signature instead of Ms./Mrs. If you added Ms. Alex, I would assume you wanted me to call you Miss Alex and that would be weird to me if everyone in the office went by their first name.

    And please correct your poor intern soon. How mortifying for him to find out that he misgendered you for weeks with no comment from you. You’re supposed to also be teaching him office norms, and correcting people on your gender representation should be seen as an easy, normal thing to do.

  52. Wren*

    Re: #2 none of my coworkers have had to work with kids in tight quarters, but for those with more experience, do headsets with the mic right in front of your mouth (as opposed to the integrated mic in a laptop) help enough when there is significant background noise?

    1. Observer*

      In many cases they do. You want to make sure that it has noise cancelling and that it’s “unidirectional” not “omnidirectional”. That means that it’s designed to primarily pick up sound only coming from one direction (your mouth) and not all directions so that sounds coming from elsewhere are less likely to be picked up.

  53. Fuzzy Crocodile*


    I once asked about bad reviews on Glassdoor at a small local firm.

    The response was something about how people were ungrateful and it was a few bad apples. It wasn’t very reassuring.

    The hiring manager then stopped contacting me anyways.

    A person I knew got the job instead… and left in less than a year.

  54. Stormy Weather*

    I always ask about reviews, positive or negative in interviews. “Several people said management was X, was that addressed?” or “The reviews said that many people have enjoyed working here, what do you attribute that to?”

    I had one interviewer thank me for bringing up the negative reviews for it shows I did the research about the organization.

  55. SciDiver*

    #4 this happens to my partner all the time! She has a fairly masculine first name and it’s not spelled with any ‘feminine variants’ (think Evan instead of Evann or Evanne), so she gets letters, emails, phone calls to Mr. Lastname. Her workaround has been to put her very common feminine middle name in her email signature, like Evan Marie Lastname. Pronouns in the signature are another good option, sometimes it’s most effective to combine a few different solutions.

    1. allathian*

      I know you used Marie as an example, but it can be a bit misleading. In Catholic countries it’s very common for men to have Maria or any of its variants as a middle name, and almost as common for women to have a male saint’s name (usually José or the local variant of Joseph) as a middle name or the second part of a hyphenated first name. So María José would be a woman but José María would be a man. When I was a student, I knew a guy whose name was Jésus María José (Jesus Mary Joseph), and he usually used all three names.

  56. blue*

    Add your pronouns to your email signature! I have a gender-neutral name too, and it helps. As well as works to normalize the practice, which is more inclusive to non-binary folx!

    1. Scarrie Fisher*

      This is a good option. I recently did this at my job because it is just not a practice anyone uses and I want to normalize it in our office. I had colleagues and even a high-ranking person ask about the larger meaning of including pronouns and it was great that people were curious and wanted to educate themselves!

  57. Steve*

    OP 2- Even though he said his parents have come to help with the childcare “my with is supposed to get off her call to take care of them” sounds like the two parents are still trying to split childcare coverage between them while both working from home– presumably he has to watch them when she is on a call sometimes. But if you both have a call whattaya gunnado other than let them turn on the tv?

    I don’t know what happened to the grandparents. Maybe it didn’t work out, or maybe they have lives of their own and can’t take on the kids every minute of the day either.

    I feel for the guy. I’m struggling with this too.

  58. Kisses*

    Regarding #1, I’d have concerns about the offer mentioning baked goods. I would worry if I didn’t bring in the goods, they might not maintain my employment. It’s kind of creepy having that thrown in.

  59. Scarrie Fisher*

    LW 1 — I work at a state agency and there are a set of questions the panels have to choose from, with no deviation outside of those options. It sucks–especially when I interviewed internally and bombed (even with a 15-minute preview beforehand, yikes)–but it is in hiring rules for some workplaces. Unfortunately it can be really hard to perform well in those interviews with those rigid and perfunctory questions. It’s quite strange that you didn’t get a chance to answer your own questions, but you did get a chance to show a little bit of your personality, which is probably why they liked you!

    I always ask in interviews if the panel has any questions for me about my experience that I didn’t cover or they were just generally curious about. In an interview for a job I got during my “what are your hobbies” question, I noticed my interviewer had a poster from her time at a theater company. I referenced one of the shows pictured and asked if she had worked on it and said that I loved the performer (no surprise, it was Carrie Fisher). It was a great way to connect and probably once in a lifetime chance to do that and I am super thankful for it. It’s probably near impossible virtually, but it’s always good to do some covert scanning (either in person or online) to connect in ways that you think will directly engage your interviewer).

    I can say with certainty that any job I have proceeded to the reference stage were solely based on when I finally got to show my personality. I bomb every interview where I am not given that opportunity :(

  60. Traveler X*

    Good advice re: #4. I worked with a vendor years ago and the person’s name was “Pierre” but she very smartly had “Ms Pierre Smith” in her signature line on her emails. It was helpful the first time we had a phone call that I knew she was a female ahead of time.

  61. AnonPi*

    #3 I wouldn’t bother asking now, since it’s not a sure thing. And from personal experience, they’ll likely not compensate well enough for the COL difference. I had a similar offer from a place based in CA, but I would be working in middle of nowhere CO at a field site for 2-3 years (until it shut down), then possibly relocate to CA. Their offer was offensive in the first place since they offered me only 2K more than their undergrad student worker I was taking over for (they got in trouble for having a student manage a field site, they was supposed to be a field manager there too). I had 2 undergrad degrees and most of a grad degree by that point, plus 6 years experience. Due to the COL in CO it would’ve been the equivalent of about a 5K paycut (and yes I did my research, this wasn’t just based on someone else’s numbers on the web). I asked about a higher salary at least based on my education/experience and they wouldn’t budge, so I pretty much didn’t plan to accept the offer at that point. But I went ahead and asked about relocating to CA, and pointed out I’d be already be taking a paycut moving to CO, I couldn’t afford another moving to CA and they said they don’t compensate for COL, so that cinched it. I’ve had a few other similar conversations over the years, so just don’t expect most to take COL into account on top of whatever they offer.

  62. we're basically gods*

    #1 — It really sounds to me like the person calling you was trying to make the call sound more personal and friendly, and just…missed the mark. Short of any other red flags, I’d chalk this one up to “people being awkward over the phone”, and not so much intentional malice. (This coming from someone who puts their foot in their mouth more frequently than I’d like to share…)

  63. MS*

    #2, I am truly shocked at how unsupportive the majority of comments are regarding this family trying to balance professional and family obligations. Yes, OP you may find the noise to be an inconvenience, but I can assure you no one is more inconvenienced by trying to walk this tightrope than the parents themselves. Me and my husband both work from home with two toddlers and spend most of outback day hosting conference calls as project managers. Our typical support systems are completely gone because of COVID. I have never experienced anything more difficult or stressful in my life. My children are suffering, my health is suffering, my work is suffering. My only saving grace is that my coworkers show patience and compassion. I cannot imagine if someone pulled me aside to complain that my children are too loud. I know they aren’t loud. I cry every day over the stress of it. I can’t move to another room because young children must be watched, they can choke and need help constantly. People would probably be amazed if they’ve saw the truth of how much miltitasking goes on during these calls! I have honestly thought about quitting my job because I can no longer do it all. OPs annoyance is purely selfish and lacks the most basic level of compassion during a global pandemic.

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