it’s your Friday good news

It’s your Friday good news, with more accounts of success even in this weird time.

1. I just wanted to share a little good news and thank you for your blog. I’ve been reading Ask A Manager religiously since I was in college and I’m now almost 10 years into my career. As a new grad with a Philosophy degree, I got a job doing office admin and loved helping with the bookkeeping. Using your advice, I got employer-sponsored accounting education, moved into the field, and have never struggled to find a solid job.

Late last year, after working in industry for a couple years, I decided I wanted to focus my career on public accounting. I needed to find a firm where I’d be comfortable working for 3+ years or my resume would start to look job-hoppy. I broke out every piece of AAM advice I’ve ever read, and within a couple months had good offers from three firms. I negotiated and went with a local firm who increased my salary by 50% with fantastic benefits, gave me a lot of responsibility and great feedback, and has handled Covid in a very responsible way. I have flexible hours to work on my master’s and eventually CPA, my own office (no more hot-desking or cubicles!) and at my recent 6 month review I was given a little raise and bonus. I’ll be supervising junior staff soon.

But best of all in this conservative industry and swing state… I’m totally comfortable being openly queer. I’ll probably transition to male in a couple years, and I think it’ll be awkward but fine. That’s a HUGE, HUGE deal. (For comparison, in the Big 4 I was sent to a “professional dress” session which mandated sheath dresses, heels, manicures, and impeccable accessorizing. Not exactly comfortable for me.)

Thanks for all the amazing advice you’ve provided over the years. I always recommend your blog to interns and juniors. It’s been invaluable for becoming a better and higher paid professional, and that has given me the luxury of being able to choose the workplace where I’m most comfortable being myself.

2. Last Friday, I accepted an offer for a great new job (yay pandemic hiring!). On that same day, a different company where I was interviewing reached out to me with an outrageous interview assignment. After completing only a 30-minute phone screening interview, they reached out to me six weeks later with a massive test assignment. Without exaggeration, massive: this is the type of assignment I would normally hire a consultant for, and was easily 12 hours worth of work to do properly. They wanted it completed within 72 hours! I told Company B that I was removing myself from consideration, but would gladly offer them feedback about their recruitment process.

I just got off a call with their HR department and they were truly incredulous to hear my (extremely polite and professional) feedback. It had never occurred to them, apparently, that this was a huge assignment to give to someone who yet to speak with their potential supervisor or learn more about the role; that 72 hours was not a reasonable amount of time; or that it was ethically dubious to ask for work that the company could immediately use without compensating a candidate. The HR director said no other candidate had raised an issue, and I pointed out the other candidates were hoping to get a job in an incredibly challenging environment!

The HR director said they would make some immediate changes to their recruitment process, and they were sorry to lose me as a candidate. I hope they do make changes – and it was only because of your blog and advice, Alison, that I felt confident enough to advocate for myself and future jobseekers at their company. Thanks!

3. For the past few years I have worked in a position that was not conducive to my professional goals, with awful leadership, poor culture and no opportunities for growth. I was miserable and started aggressively job hunting in late 2019. Early this year, I interviewed for a position I was incredibly excited about and while I made it to the final round, I was rejected. I think my overeagerness and desperation made me interview quite poorly, and I left each interview in tears, frustrated with myself. Then COVID hit, jobs got even more scarce, and I resigned myself to another year (at least) of being miserable.

However, I recently had the chance to interview with a great organization for a position that really aligns with my skills and goals. I took all of your advice to heart and was so much more calm and collected this time around. It was one of the best interviews I’ve ever had, and I got offered the job! I start this week and can’t describe how thrilled I am to be moving on to better things.

{ 58 comments… read them below }

  1. nep*

    Bravo to all of you, and thanks for sharing your great news. (Wow, LW1–Love that twist toward the end. So happy for you.)
    AAM has helped countless people in countless ways. Thanks, Alison.

    1. AGD*

      This is exactly how I reacted all around. High fives to all, and here’s to a straightforward and well supported (probable) transition, LW1.

  2. WellRed*

    Yay to speaking up on a recruiting process. Your ability and willingness to do so could help future job candidates who are afraid to speak up!

    1. Mama Bear*

      Absolutely. I’m glad they took LW up on the offer of feedback and hope they act on it.

  3. Observer*

    #2 – Thank you for helping out other people by speaking up to HR.

    I have to say that I’m less than impressed with the competence of the HR department though. I mean how does HR not realize that the power differential inherent in job seeking is going to affect what people tell them? That’s a concept that integral to how most harassment and a lot of legal liability works.

    1. Sun Tzu*

      I am doing a standing ovation right now for OP#2.

      Whether HR change their recruitment process or not, you have spoken, and now they now. Well done!

  4. Bookworm*

    YAY! Thanks as always to the LWs for sharing.

    Also: LOL at the absurd recruiting process. I know hiring orgs want to know if a candidate can do X, Y and Z and all that but, uh. Glad you felt comfortable enough to speak up and hope they do take it seriously (can’t lie, first thought was that they’ll try to disguise the project but still make a potential candidate do an absurd amount of work).

    1. Sam.*

      Yeah, I was thinking they’d cut it down some so they can say they’ve addressed the issue, even though that still leaves candidates with 6-9 hours of work, or that they’d keep the same assignment but extend the window for completing it. Hopefully I am being overly pessimistic and they’ll surprise me!

    2. MayLou*

      I had to do a “trial shift” at a cafe once, when I was a naive teenager. I did not get the job, I did not hear from them again after that day, I was not paid for the shift, and to crown the whole thing I had money stolen out of my bag while it was in the staff room!

      1. MissDisplaced*

        Early in my career I did a “trial day” at a big fancy advertising agency in L.A., which they said was to try me out and they claimed would be paid. Naive young me went and worked all day for free. At the end of the day I was blown off when I inquired how my “trial” went but was told to come back the rest of the week. I never did go back and never did get paid. It was basically a scam to get free work. I often wonder how many people went back day after day and worked for free hoping they’d be hired?

  5. drpuma*

    LW 2, as someone who applies for roles that often have some sort of assessment, thank you from the bottom of my heart. No real way to count how many peoples’ lives you were able to make just that little bit easier during very stressful times!

  6. EPLawyer*

    Yaay, all 3 show how awesome it is to follow this site.

    As for the HR in 2 — seriously they had no clue that asking for a HUGE assignment from potential employees might, possibly be problematic simply because no one spoke up? What else goes on there that HR doesn’t deal with because nobody said anything. Also highlights the key thing that Alison brings up a lot — just because no one says anything doesn’t make it okay.

    1. Kathlynn (canada)*

      Since we don’t know the industry, it could be something like a manager telling HR that candidates need to complete xyz task, claiming it could be done in abc (say less then 4 hours) amount of time. And because it’s programming or something skill based, HR might not know they are lying about the time it would take.

      1. ampersand*

        That’s a very charitable interpretation, and I hope you’re right! Otherwise: what were they thinking?!

  7. Goldenrod*

    These stories are all heartwarming!!

    I’ve learned so much from this blog too. Thank you, Alison!

  8. Pretzelgirl*

    Congrats to everyone!

    LW1- its hard to imagine places having that kind of dress code! I write that, as I sit here in a grey tee, jeans and sandals.

    1. The Rural Juror*

      You just described exactly what I wear to the office almost every day. If I ever have a job where I can’t wear jeans…well…I won’t be happy…

    2. FionasHuman*

      I was coming here to say that kind of gender-specific dress code should be — and possibly is — illegal as hell. Requiring heels and and a specific kind of dress, seriously?!? What year is this, 1957?

      1. Nanani*

        They better be paying for those dresses, accessories, and manicures. Not paying enough to afford them (that should be a given) but paying for the whole damn uniform.

      2. OP1*

        It definitely sucked. It was deeply uncomfortable for me, but I’m sure my colleagues hated it too. The thing was, there were so MANY crappy-but-smallish gender issues that it was impossible to raise an issue about all of them and preserve any semblance of political capital. I was the office Strident Feminist just because I called my male colleagues on it when they said stuff like “women have it so easy, if you want an extra long vacation just have a baby.”

        They get top ratings on gender fairness and LGBT equality. I never trust those workplace ratings any more.

        1. TardyTardis*

          Leave them a Glassdoor review so others know about their gender expectations, please. People need to know this ahead of time.

        2. J*

          I’m just going to call it out, since this is my industry. It’s EY doing this class on how to dress for work, and it is horribly sexist for those who are LGBT and those who are not. It’s another reason that I am glad I never had to work for them. It is completely possible to dress professionally in a conservative industry without having to wear dresses and heels all the time. And if I am being completely honest, I would be more concerned about being dismissed and not taken seriously by my clients and peers if I was always wearing that attire (even in my purple, southern state). Thankfully, when I was working in Big 4 there were other women my level and above that wore pants, blazers, nice flats, etc, so it was never an issue.

      3. Perpal*

        I am imagining a place that has very gender-specific nice dress code, except you can chose which gender you feel most comfortable with (which should be standard but I think usually the two don’t go together?). I mean in theory a dress code is fine as long anyone can chose between skirt, hose and heals vs pants and business socks and loafers, as they desire!

      4. Smishy*

        I question the accuracy of that claim. I work for a B4 public accounting firm and there’s absolutely no “mandating” heels, sheath dresses, and manicures. We also have a large and active LQBTQ professional association. We all commonly wear jeans to the office as long as they are neat and don’t have holes in them. The professionals I deal with for the other B4 firms dress the same as we do.

      5. PBJnocrusts*

        When I went for an internal interview I was told by the company director that I would have to wear a dress heels and make up if I was to even be considered for the role and that if I was successful, that the company director would do random ‘spot checks’ by dropping into the office to check that I was doing this.

    3. MechanicalPencil*

      I identify as female, and I grimace at the idea of having to wear sheath dresses — any dress! every day. And impeccable accessorizing? Psh, what’s an accessory? If it’s not a hair tie on my wrist, it ain’t an accessory. Heels are terrible for my already terrible knees. Flats all the way. I am no one’s ’50s housewife.

      1. Jean (just Jean)*

        Amen and how! Heels are horrible for one’s orthopedic health and sheath dresses are usually not designed for those of us who are not tall and slender. I don’t care about being short and am mostly comfortable with my body shape but wearing sheath dresses (or pencil skirts) immediately puts me somewhere between uncomfortable and demoralized.
        To the creators of outmoded dress codes: *you* wouldn’t like having to work in a too-small suit and too-tight shoes (the equivalent of sheaths & heels for some of us). Neither does anybody else.

        1. BethDH*

          Thank you! I have always felt weird because I want to be comfortable in sheath dresses (they’re in my head as what professional women who have their act together wear, somehow) and putting one on just triples my imposter syndrome. I think you just helped me realize that it is all about body type and not just insecurity. Funny how obvious it is when you say it.

      2. Turquoisecow*

        As a woman who is neither tall nor skinny, I’d look absolutely awful in a sheath dress. And I wear heels on occasion but not every day, and not if I have to do any kind of significant walking. Ow!

      3. WoodswomanWrites*

        I’m so far outside of the dress code world that I had to look up exactly what a sheath dress is. Needless to say, I woudn’t work somewhere that had the audacity to ask me to wear one.

        I have worked at a couple places that required a uniform . One gave us a budget to order our own clothes, and the other asked us our size and gave us the clothing outright. To spend money on a particular type of dress, accessories, and manicures? Hell no.

      4. pandop*

        I agree on sheath dresses – but not on the any dress. Even when not WFH, I can wear what I like to work (University Library), and I quite like being able to float around in a loose maxi dress when the weather is hot!

        1. Pomona Sprout*

          I I hear you on the maxi dress (that or a long floaty skirt works for me, too). But sheath dresses? NO. I can’t wear any kind of one piece garment that’s fitted at the waist, because my waist is not where all the clothing manufacturers think it’s supposed to be, which means all such garments look stupid on me.

          The dress code that o.p. described sounds like a nightmare both because of gender stereotypes AND because not all women’s bodies were cut out with the same cookie cutter. Sheath dresses are for women with hour glass figures that aren’t overly bottom (or top) heavy, and they are DEFINITELY not for short women who are very short-waisted (like me).

      5. For goodness sake, wash your hands!*

        I’m a public accountant and, yeah, the field has a VERY long way to go to address the gender and racial gap. A firm can be considered hugely progressive and be riddled with microagressions against BIPOC and women/non gender conforming. I’m so happy for you OP1! Despite the bad rap, I’ve had an amazing career in public accounting and would never want to work anywhere else.

    4. Aquawoman*

      Every single thing on that list irritates me. Manicures cost money, heels are ableist, and sheath dresses can be uncomfortable for curvy or larger women. If accessories mean “a pair of earrings and your wedding ring,” I can live with that. One of the things I’ve realized during the WAH time is how much difference comfortable clothes make over the course of the day. And I wear pretty comfortable clothes to work.

      1. BethDH*

        I didn’t have to dress up before but I am saving so much effort not wearing business clothes or worrying about shoes that are business appropriate, match my outfit, and fit the weather/walking I need to do.

      2. OP1*

        Oh no, that wouldn’t cut it. The lady running the seminar recommended that we pick up jewelry sets in gold, silver, and pearls, and learn how to make a good statement necklace work with those sheath dresses. She also showed us a few different ways to style a silk scarf coordinated to our suit set.

        This was about 6-7 years ago. Everyone in the room had been hired to audit publicly traded companies. Accounting is not a super progressive field.

    5. Exhausted Trope*

      So glad others brought this up…. I felt myself becoming massively peeved just reading that post.
      When will this policing of women’s appearances stop?!

    6. Jackalope*

      Thank you!! I’m so glad someone else brought this up!! As has been pointed out, this is an outdated and exclusive list even for those of us who identify as female. If the employer wants a specific look, they would be much better served by saying something along the lines of, “We require [business formal, business casual, whatever they’re going for]; here are some examples of what would meet our requirements….” I get so frustrated with dress codes that are clearly only meant to cater to one body type (or a small handful of body types). Give a general style (such as the aforementioned business casual) and pretty much anyone can meet it without leaving some of your staff feeling horrible in their clothes (because they don’t fit right, clash with your body type, whatever).

      And as others have pointed out, this policing of women’s appearances is beyond old. I’m not an accountant, but if I were I would want to get – and keep – jobs based on my math and calculation skills, or good critical thinking, or what have you, not my ability to pull off a sheath dress, uncomfortable shoes, and accessories.

    7. Nessun*

      As someone who works for a Big 4 accounting firm, I need to say, we have made a lot of progress from the reality of our past. Nowadays we have a great dress code! Jeans every day is fine, provided it fits with client needs. Historically we had some really…narrow
      dress requirements, but they are in the past. We also have an excellent system of supports and opportunities for LGBTQIA people and allies (and by excellent I mean constantly growing and learning). I’m happy to work where I do, and the inclusive culture is definitely an important part of my own comfort where I am.

      I’m so very happy that LW1 found a wonderful career in a place where they can be successful open about who they are!

      1. Jean (just Jean)*

        Good to read your comment and thank you for saving us from grumbling at Big 4 accounting firms all weekend. I’m glad your workplace welcomes and supports diversity in dress and other ways far more fundamental to a person’s identity and well-being.

      2. OP1*

        I’m SO glad to hear that. I’m glad I did my Big 4 time, it was great for my career, but it was really horrible socially and was just a couple years ago. It’s very reassuring to hear from people who are having a different experience, especially because it seems like there are so few out accountants. I hope the industry is getting more welcoming.

      3. For goodness sake, wash your hands!*

        I can’t speak to big 4, but I would just like to say, I think that like with all accounting firms, the culture is hugely influenced by the partner group in your office. So I worked for a very progressive regional firm with many support systems for BIPOC and LGBTQIA professionals but in my local office, we had partners with some regressive views, which drove promotions, opportunities, etc. My intent is to not scare off folks from PA, but really to caution against writing off the progress to still be made in the field.

  9. PenicilliumIHardlyKnowEm*

    It’s not work-related, but I used my years of AAM reading to have a potentially uncomfortable conversation with my in-laws. Over dinner, my father in law decided he was going to dictate how my 3 year old eats (an exercise in futility) and, long story short, really overstepped. He also didn’t succeed in anything but his own frustration. I was surprised in the moment, preoccupied with my 1 year old, and he tends to tune everyone out when he gets rolling, so I didn’t stop it when I should have.

    Normally, I would have stewed about it but not said anything because the moment had passed. Instead, I remembered AAM’s suggestions to a few LWs and said, “I should have said something in the moment, but I was distracted with Bingo. That’s really not how we prefer to handle feeding Bluey….” And guess what? It was totally not a big deal. It could have been, but it wasn’t because I handled it directly and kept the focus on procedure. Easy peasy.

  10. Trixie, the Great and Pedantic*

    LW2, you are the hero we need and deserve in these trying times.

    1. Jessica will remember in November*

      YES. Congratulations to all three of you and I’m very happy for you, but LW2, you are a titan. The minute you escaped from a bad situation and had a little power and privilege, you immediately spun back around and put your hand out to help others up. If everyone followed your example, this would be a completely different and better world.

  11. KuklaRed*

    I look forward to these Good News stories every week. They really give me hope. I especially LOVE #1 this week. I wish you all all the best!

  12. MissDisplaced*

    #2 Tests
    I do not think it completely out of line to be asked to take a skills test somewhere between the phone screen, or at the first interview stage. However, the test should not be anything that takes more than 1 or 2 hours at best, and it should be very clear that whatever produced is clearly a sample test and not actual usable work for the company. Generally, this may be things like writing tests, graphic design tests, demonstrations of software use/ability, and the like. Anything more than that smacks of “we’re trying to get some free work out of applicants,” which is infuriating.

    I’m glad you spoke up to this place about their unreasonable interview demands for “work the company could use immediately.” You’ve probably saved a lot of people a lot of wasted effort.

    1. pandop*

      In my previous position we did the test as part of the interview, the candidate would have a brief tour of the building, a chat to a member of the team about the work, the skills test, and then the interview. The first 3 things were scheduled for about 45 minutes total – and the timetable was clearly set out in the letter inviting them for interview, so we didn’t spring it on people unawares either.

    2. Junior Assistant Peon*

      A test/assignment that takes 1-2 hours had better be for the final few candidates only. I’m grateful this nasty practice hasn’t caught on yet in my industry.

  13. 30 Years in the Biz*

    One of the best batches of good news stories to date!! Going out there and using your intelligence and AAM -acquired skills to make positive changes.

  14. Sleepless*

    I absolutely love LW2’s wording to HR. Excruciatingly polite. I’d love to have seen the “huh?” look on their faces.

  15. Time_TravelR*

    OP#1 – I am so happy you are where you feel comfortable being you! Not an easy task in that industry, it seems!

    And congrats to all OPs on success stories!

  16. RB*

    Wow, I knew the Big 4 are a really buttoned-down type of atmosphere but they sent you to a professional dressing class? Wow again!

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