applying for jobs from work, using a work name and a social name, and more

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

1. Does it look bad to send a job application during work hours?

I’ve been at my current company for three years now and have been looking to change jobs off and on pretty much since day one. Sometimes the desire to leave gets so bad that I find myself browsing job listings during the work day, especially since we have been working from home due to the pandemic.

Does it reflect badly on me if an application or resume was received during business hours, considering the hiring manager or whomever would likely know, at least at some point, that I am currently working and in theory should be doing my job at that time. Any insight as to whether this would even raise an eyebrow? I wouldn’t want something as small as that to derail any chance I might have at being considered.

It is entirely possible that this is a non-issue and I have agonized for nothing. That is my MO, after all.

Tons of applications are received during work hours! Now that I think about it, most applications I’ve received have probably come in during work hours. It’s not weird at all.

Employers generally won’t pay any attention at all to the time it came in. If for some reason someone ever thought about it, they’d assume you were off for the day or working different hours; they’re not going to jump to “she was obviously sending this when she was supposed to be working.”

That said, doing this from work can cause problems with your current employer. Since you’re working remotely now, it might be less of an issue, but doing it from the office is something that can be seen on your employer’s network if they bother to look — and it can really cause problems for you (up to and including being fired).

2. My professional name is different from my social name

When I graduated and started my career, I decided to go by my middle name professionally. It’s gender-neutral (though typically assumed to be male) and kind of unusual for a first name — let’s say “Gates.” I mostly wanted my online presence to be different from the name I go by in my personal life, and I like keeping my personal and professional lives separate. Most people assume I’m a guy until we talk on the phone or meet in person. I know it’s a strange practice, but I really value my privacy and the perks of gender neutrality.

My first name is already a nickname that isn’t immediately obvious as a nickname (think “Elle” to “Penelope”), and I’ve been in awkward scenarios where I ended up having to reveal all three names for paperwork reasons.

I’m realizing that it’s more complicated than I anticipated to go by two different names in the same city. In all professional contexts, I’m “Gates,” but I’ve made friends through a hobby in my new city as “Elle.” When asked about my unusual name in work scenarios, I tell the truth that it’s a middle name. I try to stay consistent per scenario and not confuse people. But not all scenarios are clear-cut personal vs. professional. Some things could be potential networking opportunities. Plus, I wasn’t expecting to make real friends at work, but I’ve since attended parties with them and brought them to my hobby events, where people called me my two different names.

I feel like if I treat it as a non-issue, it’ll mostly be a non-issue, but I’m worried that it comes across as weird or unnecessarily secretive and untrustworthy. I don’t know the protocol here. Have I dug myself into a hole? Am I overthinking this? I’m still young and pretty new in my career, so I’d really appreciate any advice you might have.

Yeah, it’s hard to use two entirely separate names in different parts of your life. Not impossible but hard. It’s not uncommon to use a nickname socially but your full name professionally (like Elizabeth and Liz), but when work knows you as Gates and friends know you as Elle, it’s going to cause confusion. Worlds don’t always stay perfectly separate like that; there’s crossover, as you’re finding.

That’s not insurmountable if you’re committed to doing it. Some people will find it odd. A lot of people will find it confusing and have a “wait, what?” moment where you’ll need to explain. But it doesn’t make you look shifty or untrustworthy, especially if you otherwise come across as a solid, reliable person.

It does mean, though, that you’re signing up for a certain amount of confusion and questions, and that is likely to increase as you progress in your career and your network expands, providing more opportunites for crossover (and even the chance that at some point someone won’t realize Gates and Elle are the same person and significant confusion will follow). That doesn’t mean you can’t do it, but be aware of all the ways it could play out.

3. Coworker always walks behind my desk

I am a receptionist/typist at a law firm. The space in front of my desk is very wide and is a walkway, which most people in the office But there are a few people here who frequently walk back and forth behind my desk, although the space behind me is fairly narrow and is not actually a walkway.

One attorney in particular walks back and forth behind my desk all day long. He is taking this route as a shortcut between his office and a printer that he uses. There is another printer much closer to his office, but he refuses to use it. He prefers to walk back and forth behind me. He usually leans somewhat toward me as he passes behind me, I’m sure to check and see what I am doing (on my computer screen), and once even leaned so far toward me that he almost tripped – and put his hand out and touched my shoulder as he righted himself.

Is this acceptable office behavior? I take two medications every day for a depression/anxiety disorder, and this makes me very unsettled. If I said anything about this, could I make him stop? Could I even ask that no one in the office walk behind my desk as if it were a thoroughfare? Would this even be considered somewhat abusive toward me?

Unless there’s more to this than I’m understanding, this isn’t likely to be considered abusive toward you, but I can see why it’s annoying.

The easiest solution would be to reconfigure the physical space so that people can’t walk behind you at all anymore, at least not without great difficulty. Can you move your desk further back, closer the wall behind you? Or put something there that would block people from that path — boxes, a filing cabinet, a large plant?

If that’s not an option, you can certainly try asking your colleague not to walk behind you: “Bob, would you mind not squeezing in behind me when you walk to the printer? It’s pretty narrow back here.” If that doesn’t solve it, you might need to accept that some people will walk behind you, given the power dynamics in most law firms between lawyers and receptionists. But really, tweaking the physical space is likely the easiest fix here.

4. New grads are sending me generic requests for referrals

Here’s a new gimmick that I’ve seen recently: Some new grads in my field sent me LinkedIn invites with a generic but pushy message like the one shown here. In this message, this student was interested in a position in another department of my employer, said something vague why they’re a good match, stuffed keywords from the job description in their LinkedIn headline, and, mostly importantly, asked me for an internal referral.

If they’re students from my alma mater who would like an informational interview on my career, I’d be happy to set up a Zoom meeting with them. Asking me for an internal referral without knowing your work is stretching way too much.

Please tell your readers, especially the ones in career counseling, not to tell university students to ask a random alumni for an internal referral in the first encounter. The messages come across as overly pushy. I really wish career counselors would teach students to research the company and write a customized message to ask me for an informational interview first.

Yeah, that’s coming from people who don’t know how this works. Anyone conscientious isn’t going to recommend a stranger and asking for it, especially in this low-effort way, looks presumptuous and naive.

That said, at many companies there’s a difference between a referral and a recommendation, where with a referral you’re not saying much more than “this person came through me and they seem generally pleasant” (as opposed to a recommendation, where you’re saying you know and can vouch for the person’s work). And in that context, some people will refer just about anyone, especially if their company incentivizes referrals (like with bonuses if your referral gets hired).

However, the students writing to you don’t know if your company works like that, and either way it’s presumptuous to ask for a referral when they’ve never even talked to you. (And lots of people are going to take “referral” as meaning “recommendation.”) It doesn’t make a good impression, and you’re right that whoever is advising it needs to do a better job of what they’re teaching.

5. I’m burned out on my field

I’ve been working since I was 15 and I am now in my late 30’s. Mostly minimum wage jobs while completing my BA and MA. (I was ignorant about better options at the time.) Now, almost 12 years into my chosen profession, I have a series of short-term jobs on my resume ranging from three months to three years and I am facing total burnout.

I’m finishing up a year-long job at a crisis line, where there have been many high-stress incidents. It has been a lot to handle during coronavirus. Based on feedback from multiple managers and coworkers and repeated job offers from the same, I know that I am good at my job. But at what cost?

I really care about people and have not become jaded about behavioral health clients as many others have. I’m just tired. For me, the cost of genuine connection full-time is too much right now. I don’t overshare or cross boundaries, but I empathize easily and can almost always see both sides to an argument. I’ve seen more neutral colleagues do really well in the field long-term, but would argue that they are less individually effective and just more adept at dealing with a broken system.

I’ve noticed that several of your posts about job hopping are from people who are in behavioral health, like myself. Do you think that some of this is field-specific? Can I speak professionally about burnout as a reason to shift my career in future interviews without alarming potential employers? I have been asked about wanting to leave my field after all of my hard work, with hints from interviewers that this says something negative about me as a person.

Oh lord, yes, a lot of burnout is field-specific. People can get burned out in any field, of course, but you’re especially likely to see it in high-stress fields, including behavioral health. You just did a year at a crisis line! It’s no surprise you feel depleted.

If you’re trying to change fields, you can indeed cite burnout from an emotionally intense field as your reason. People will get it. As for it saying something bad about you as a person — you’ve worked in your chosen field for 12 years! That’s a good solid length of time, and it doesn’t reflect badly on you that you’re ready to do something else.

My hunch is that whatever concern you’re picking up on from interviewers is less about that and more about the series of short-term jobs, since that can make interviewers worry that you’re not really sure what you want to do and won’t stay long with them. I’d focus on revamping your resume to minimize that as much as you can (for example, take the three-month jobs off entirely; they aren’t long enough to strengthen you as a candidate and they’re adding to any impression of flightiness).

{ 368 comments… read them below }

  1. Wendy*

    #2, I worked in a very small office (me and two other people) for two years. Kept getting calls for “Nancy.” We had no Nancy, I’d never heard of a Nancy working in our location, and the caller didn’t know Nancy’s last name.

    About six weeks before I left that job, I mentioned something about it to my coworker Sharon. Her reply: “Oh, that was for me! Sometimes people call me Nancy.”

    I still have no idea who the caller was or why she didn’t know Sharon’s full name, but I shudder to think of how many times I told her she had the wrong number!

    1. LDF*

      I wouldn’t worry about it. I can’t think of many cases where Sharon would have actually welcomed those calls AND the person had no other way of reaching her. Two years??? That’s a lot of calls!

      1. Cautionary tail*

        Op2 – Gates, I use a different first name for social and business reasons. Complifying this, my spouse and I have different last names. Once in a great while there is the tiniest bit of confusion but in our several decades together we just roll with it. The most off-occurence is when I am referred to as social first name with my spouse’s last name but it really doesn’t bother us at all.

        1. Mookie*

          I guess it probably depends very heavily on the discipline/field, but I’ve professionally enough Gates “Elle” (or vice versa) Surname signatures, sign-offs, and by-lines that they seem unremarkable to me. I understand the desire for gender neutrality, and while it’s not always easy to achieve that with both first-name choices, but maybe Gates “L” Surname at work or when involved in work-adjacent socializing could strike a balance for the LW, particularly if the confusion happens more often verbally/audibly than in writing.

          1. Mookie*

            Also, this is a really common phenomenon throughout the world, where resisting the “domestication”/“de-foreignization”/transliteration* of one’s birth, family, and/or private preferred names and/or avoiding a lifetime of mispronunciation by colleagues means adopting brand-new names for work or school.

            *in English-speaking places, literal Anglicization

            1. Kelsey*

              I have a coworker who has the opposite–he goes by his legal name at work but his middle name with close friends. The first time I heard someone call him by his middle name at work, I panicked. I asked him specifically, “Have I been calling you by the wrong name all this time??” He laughed and explained. He’s Hispanic so he already has 2 last names which people regularly butcher. Then his middle/preferred name is Martin, pronounced Mar-TEEN and he hates people calling him MART-in. It’s just not worth the hassle for him at work bc our work email format is and it’s hard enough without him having to tell ppl his email actually jnamename@ instead of mnamename@. Now that we’re friends I call him Martin at work. Occasionally someone will ask, wait, who? And I just say, “Oh Juan Name Name” and we all move on. You’re not alone. My colleague would rather go by 2 names than constantly have his preferred name mispronounced and not receive communication he needs. If you make it not weird, it doesn’t have to be a big deal.

            2. Quill*

              Yeah, many people whose personal names are commonly misunderstood by colleagues just straight up grab a new name they don’t have to explain or correct people on as much.

          2. MK*

            Gates “Elle” (or “L”) Surname would be great for someone who wants to be known as Elle or L, while still referencing their legal name. If I see a nickname in parentheses I will assume the sender wants me to use it. The OP does not want to be known as Elle or L at work, she wants to go by Gates, so using that form would acheive the opposite.

            1. Mookie*

              Yes. In my first comment, I did note (“vice versa”) that the formula as I’ve encountered it would switch order depending on the intended audience. Apologies for being unclear.

              1. Mookie*

                (And, for that matter, one could drop the quotation marks and use L as an initial in either order; that is, representing either a middle or first name.)

                1. Annie(mous) Oakley*

                  I work with someone who goes by his middle name but our email and directory system only shows first names. Luckily his first and middle names start with the same letter. Think Arnold Andrew Smith. Goes by Andrew. Business cards are A. Andrew Smith or sometimes I’ve seen it A.A. Smith.
                  *Obviously not this person’s real name.

        2. Forrest*

          My mum’s best friend didn’t change her name when she got married, so her name is different to her children’s, and she also doesn’t use any of the common nicknames/shortenings for her name. My mum was a bit old fashioned about marriage and names changing, and was always a bit alarmed about Teenage-Me’s declarations that I wouldn’t change my name. Once she said in my hearing, “Gosh, it must get SO CONFUSING.” and her friend looked at her weirdly and said, ‘Not really, people at school say, “oh, you must be Short Kidsname!” and I said, “Yes, but my name’s actually Long MyName, nice to meet you!” and that’s it.’ I cheered.

          1. NotsorecentAAMfan*

            When I got phone calls at home asking for “Mrs. Husbandslastname” it was either telemarketers or teachers!

            1. Yup, Yup, Nope*

              My husband’s full first name is a traditionally used for females. I will say it comes in handy when I have to call the cable company that they assume I am “Leslie”. However I tend to get his credit card handed to me whenever he pays and the wait staff don’t actually see him pull it out of his wallet.

              1. Quill*

                My name’s been in my family for decades (And a similar sounding one that’s ultimately unrelated has as well) but I’m the only girl with it. (Mine is a rare feminine variation on a far more common, but old fashioned, masculine name.)

                I’ve found that people who speak english (my first language) butcher my name to make it closer to more common women’s names with some of the same sounds, and people whose first language isn’t english pronounce it nearly perfectly almost all the time… but have a tendency to assume, absent other context, that I’m a guy.

              2. chi type*

                I’m surprised waitstaff bother to read the card. When I pay for a dinner they often give the receipt to my husband anyway cause the man must automatically be the one paying I guess. Smooth move right before I fill in your tip!

                1. XX*

                  I’m female, and waitstaff usually return the credit card to me regardless of whose it actually was when I’m out eating with men. Perhaps they’ve wised up and realized this was the least potentially offensive option for tips.

            2. NotAnotherManager!*

              Yep. I have no idea why my children’s schools, who have their record right there in the computer, continues to call me Mrs. HusbandsLast when (1) I am the registering parent and my name is RIGHT THERE ON THE SECOND LINE under the kid’s name and (2) I sign the email to which they are responding First MyLastname (kid’s name’s mom). Every damn time. They are also the only place I regularly deal with that still uses Mrs. and Miss.

        3. BubbleTea*

          My choir director when I was a kid was married to my orchestra director. They used different last names professionally, and also the choir director went by her middle name. We went abroad on a choir trip and I happened to be handed the passports for my group, including the director, for the security check. I was a bit confused, and then amused, by holding a passport in the name of Belinda Hepzibah Warbleworth, with a photo of the woman I knew as Hepzibah McSnuffins.

          1. ginger ale for all*

            There was a couple who worked in the same school who had the last name of Herbert. The husband went by the English pronunciation and the wife went by the French pronunciation. It would regularly blow the elementary kids minds when they found out that they were married and it was the same last name for both of them.

    2. Pennyworth*

      I once worked with someone whose family called her by a different name from the one she used at work. We only found out when one of her parents called asking for someone we had never heard of, because they also used her husbands surname, which she didn’t use at work either! Only happened once, when her parents were visiting, and found it interesting for about a minute and moved on. I don’t see why having separate work and social names would cause a problem.

      1. doreen*

        I can see how it might cause some initial confusion – but that’s it. My husband has a friend who is known to everyone as “Bucky”. We were on a group trip once and when checking into the hotel, the clerk called for “Marc”. A couple of people in the group said “Who’s Marc? ” , someone else said “Did you think his mother named him Bucky?” and that was the end of it.

        1. Quill*

          Lol. We had a similar situation when I was in high school theater, compounded by the fact that people got nicknames automatically if 1) they had a common name 2) they did anything notable to earn it.

          So when we got some official documents from the school administration…
          “Who the duck is Eugene?”
          “That’s Flynn, dork.”

      2. The Rural Juror*

        A friend of mine did this because her first name was so common and there were 4 other “Amandas” in her class at school. So when she went to college she started going by her middle name instead, which was much less common. So there’s a mix of family and friends who call her by her first name, and some call her by her middle name. I’ve taken to calling her firstname-middlename because I know her through her family, but spend time with her socially, and sometimes I feel like I need to cover all the bases! She said she doesn’t mind :)

        1. JustaTech*

          This happened with my cousin, but the other way around. I knew him growing up as Fred, but it turns out Fred is his middle name and his first name is Bob, like his dad, who goes by Anthony.

          When my cousin went to college he started going by Bob, but kind of didn’t mention it to family (this was before Facebook), so it was super confusing at his wedding when I was chatting with someone about Fred and they’re like “who?” and I said “the groom?”.
          We’re always asking if he wants us all to just switch to Bob and he says “whatever you want I don’t mind”, which I think just makes it more confusing.

        2. Aggretsuko*

          I considered doing this because I have an Amanda-y name, but then I watched a friend of mine try to switch to using her middle name and how other people didn’t deal with that well, so she gave up and went back to the first name.

      3. Mallory Janis Ian*

        My brother has different names in the family than he does in the whole entire rest of his life. In high school, he started going by his first name “Eric” and at home he had always been called by his middle name or its nickname (“Scott”/”Scooter”). Everyone in the family thought his name change was just a youthful phase (several others of us had already tried on different names in high school and never stuck with them), so we all kept calling him “Scott”, and everyone in his work and social life and his wife and her family call him “Eric”.

        1. Filosofickle*

          After a big life shakeup my brother decided to switch to his middle name for his new job and life in a new city, but never asked us to call him that. AFAIK he’s gone back to his first name almost everywhere, except the girlfriend he met during that time still calls him by his middle name. It always takes me by surprise when I hear her refer to him by a different name!

        2. jenniferM*

          My husband has always gone by his middle name – or a version – Think David or Dave…. so whenever anyone calls the house using his real first name – you know it’s a telemarketer. On all paperwork for schools, etc we list his name as Initial. MiddleName (Q. David). So we know when it’s a legit call or not. Same with mail. My son in law went through school using his middle name, but also uses his first name….confused the heck out of me at the beginning – but now I call him as I was introduced (middle name Carter) and when he doesn’t answer – I use a version of his first name. (Nick or Nicholas)

      4. Lexie*

        My mom’s parents opted to call her by her middle name and a nickname for her middle name as a child so she goes by that nickname as an adult. However, her degrees and professional licenses have her legal first name on them and when she signs anything she signs FirstName MiddlleInitial (than initial is not the first letter of her nickname) as a result there are people who think she is two different people. They interact with one professionally via phone and correspondence using the first name and one they interact with socially in person using the nickname.

        It’s caused her a lot of problems over the years and therefore she is very much of the idea that if you plan to call a kid by their middle name from birth just make it the first name to cut down on confusion.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          I am also a proponent of putting the name you intend to use in the first name slot – I am Southern, where a family first name and sticking what they’re actually planning to call you in the middle is common. I made it to 12 before I gave up correcting people and just went with my first name. It’s not terribly confusing, but it’s irritating to constantly have to correct everyone.

          One of my friends in high school got the short end of this stick – her first name, after grandma, was something in the Gertrude/Bertha range of outdated and heavy. She hated it, and her parents never intended to use that name – no clue why they didn’t hide it in the middle. It’s a lot easier to be Angela Gertrude called Angie than Gertrude Angela called Angie!

      5. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        It’s a problem when a teacher calls your work number to tell you that your child has just been taken to hospital in an ambulance, but they ask for Mrs Childsname, even though Rebel clearly marked “MouseyHair” as her surname on all the dozens of forms she had to fill in at the beginning of the school year. Then when the boss says there’s nobody called Childsname (because Rebel is on her lunch break), the teacher doesn’t check the name but just repeats the number to confirm, and assumes Rebel wrote the wrong number on the form.
        Then the teacher calls the father who does answer to Mr Childsname, and goes to the hospital and then calls Rebel to tell her she only needs to pick up Kid Sister, he has taken the InjuredChild to his office, and on the way home several kids come to ask how her brother is because they were worried at seeing “so much blood”) and Rebel has to call several times for the father to finally bring InjuredChild home, who promptly collapses in her arms after being Very Brave with Daddy, because he prefers to fall apart in Mummy’s arms; and yes there was a lot of blood on his T-shirt, I had to bin it.

      6. NotAnotherManager!*

        Oh, this is me. My family calls me by my middle name because I have the same first name as a close relative. I got tired of correcting people in late elementary school, so my friends, coworkers, etc. use my first name. It has never been an issue – it’s mildly confusing for some people, but they catch on quickly and, when my mom uses my first name, I assumes she’s taking about my older relative and not me. I don’t think I’d even answer if she called me by my first name.

    3. EvilQueenRegina*

      My former coworker was often telling people they had the wrong number due to confusion about names. Say we had a coworker called Eddard Stark, who went by Ned. She’d be okay with people who called and asked for Ned Stark, but if anyone called him Eddard, she’d do one, or a combination of, any of the following:
      1. say something like “I’m sorry, I don’t know what he looks like”,
      2. start shouting out to the office “Excuse me, does anyone know an Eddard Stark?” (inevitably the moment he’d walk in)
      3. Call another department and ask if Eddard belonged to them, as I’d be trying to get her attention to say that was Ned,
      4. Deny all knowledge and tell them they must have a wrong number.

      One time that happened it was a debt collector and the person in question was quite happy about it, but there were times when people weren’t happy at all.

      Another time I can think of is family friends, Willow and Tara. Both had been married to guys before marrying each other, and Willow had kept her maiden name instead of taking her husband’s. So one day Tara answered a call and when someone asked for “Mrs Osbourne”, Tara didn’t immediately connect it with Willow and said it was a wrong number, and only realised when she repeated the conversation and Willow said it was her. In all honesty, that was quite likely a junk call, since anyone who actually knew Willow knew she went by Rosenberg and had never taken Osbourne, so Willow wasn’t that bothered.

      1. Dani L*

        My workplace had two people by the same name, one who worked in our department and died three years prior, and one who was still working in another division. Someone accidentally was forwarded to our department while looking to speak with the still-alive-and-employed person, and my coworker answered the phone and flatly said “He’s dead.” and then hung up. I had to tell her that no, in fact, there was a still living employee by that name, but I have forever been shocked by how she broke the news to them. Not even an “I am sorry…” or anything. Ouch.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Wow — callous much!?

          When I was a kid, my stepmother’s father’s obituary was published in the newspaper, and a local gentleman thought it was my grandpa on my dad’s side. He came by the house to pay his respects, and while he was sitting visiting with my grandma the “widow”, my grandpa walked into the room. The poor guy jumped up out of his chair and yelled and almost fainted and said, “I thought you were dead!” and then they all sat down and figured out that the obituary was why he thought my grandpa was dead.

          1. EvilQueenRegina*

            A kid in my primary school class had a cousin a year younger who had the exact same name as him. The cousin went to our same primary school, but then to a secondary school nearer where he lived, and kind of fell off our radar after that.

            Years later the cousin died, and a classmate had seen the obituary and thought it was the Fergus Smith who’d been in our class. So during a group chat on Facebook messenger about a potential 25 year reunion, he announced in the group that our Fergus had died. It caused a bit of upset in the chat until Fergus’s best friend Cecil, who knew it was the cousin who had died, clarified.

    4. Jcarnall*

      It was quite annoying at first when my workplace required me to use my first name (which I never use ordinarily) at work – email, talking to clients over the phone, etc – not my middle name, because they claimed my first name was my “legal name”. (They were wrong – your legal name is the name you use routinely, and outside work I am always my middle name.)

      But as the years went by it actually came to amuse me. Colleagues I regard as friends do call me by my proper name, and the rest of the time, I think of this as being a “work persona” I can leave behind at the door. Some one asked m once “What is this you being called by two names? Some kind of secret agent thing?” and I told him yes.

      I have a little spiel I use to explain to people who get confused, but mostly it’s fine.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        This reminds me of my school being very difficult about my wanting to use a nickname, resulting in an exasperated teacher yelling, “Yes, but what were you christened?!”

        She was deflated by my answer. I had not been christened.

        FWIW my child uses a name bearing no relation to anything on his birth certificate or passport (think John Matthew Smith known as Tiger). It’s absolutely fine for him to be addressed as Tiger, write Tiger on his work, etc, etc, but school have to issue official documents in the name of John.

        Interestingly, children find this entirely unremarkable. It’s only certain adults who get remotely confused.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          I have a cousin who I went through school with who’s named after a family friend. His name is Billy Bob. Not William Robert. His birth certificate says “Billy Bob.” But he hates it so he goes by Red (because he flushes easily and you can always tell when he’s embarrassed). I don’t think anyone has called him by his legal name since elementary school when the teacher made us all use our “real” names. He might go by Bill at work, but he’ll always be good ol’ Red to everyone else.

          1. nonegiven*

            I have an uncle on each side named Billy on their birth certificates. I can’t imagine some pushy teacher making either one go by William.

        2. AKchic*

          One of my kids had a similar issue in elementary school. Until he was 12, he went by the nickname JJ, because those were his initials (and the poor kid was named Jacob just before Twilight was published).

          One teacher absolutely refused to call him JJ. She would call him by both first and middle name, or his first name, but no nickname or diminutive. Nobody else in the class was called JJ. She was fine with little Michael being called Mikey. One child’s legal name was too difficult for her to pronounce so she allowed him to call himself Joe. But not JJ. It wasn’t his “real” name and it would confuse everyone (uh… he’d been doing it for 4 years in school already?). It’s not the name the church knows him by (we are anti-church and none of my kids have ever been baptized/christened). He did finally start going by “Jake” and it’s stuck.
          I don’t understand what the teacher’s problem was with him going by JJ.

          1. Dancing Otter*

            Teachers can be weird about names.

            The son of a friend got marked -0- on all his school papers one fall, until his mother had a TALK with his teacher. Seems, despite the class roster, the teacher believed the poor kid was mis-spelling his own name because it wasn’t pronounced the way it was spelled. (Last name ending with “assle ”, pronounced “ace-lee”, not to rhyme with hassle) So, no matter how well he did on an assignment, they gave him an automatic zero.

        3. Foxgloves*

          Ha, I had this with a manager in retail once. They’d put me on the schedule as “Caroline”, when my name is “Carol” (not real names but you get the idea- two different names, one that could, at a stretch, be short for the other), and when I pointed out I “wasn’t on the schedule”, she said “Yes you are, there, Caroline!”. I pointed out that my name was Carol, not Caroline, and she looked at me and said “Yes but surely you were CHRISTENED Caroline?!”. I had to point out that no, my name was, and always had been “Carol”, and Caroline was a totally different name to which I would not respond.

    5. Insert Clever Name Here*

      My uncle is a retired Air Force colonel. One of my favorite family stories is that he once happened to overhear his receptionist say “I’m sorry, ma’am, I don’t know of a ‘Scooter.'” He asked to take the phone and sure enough, it was my grandmother. He let the receptionist know that anyone calling with a heavy Southern drawl and asking for “Scooter” could be put right through because they were family!

    6. Justme, the OG*

      I used to work with a Ruby whose real name was Jessica. We all know her as Ruby, it’s her name on Facebook, it’s not a middle name or a legal name change.

    7. SometimesALurker*

      I know someone who goes by two very different nicknames for her first name, a gender-neutral one at work and one that sounds more feminine, but is also less common and less immediately associated with her first name, socially. Think “Patricia” who goes by “Pat” and “Ricia.” I think that the “if you act like it’s a non-issue, it will be a non-issue” principle has been working for her. People who know her in both contexts know her by both names and know when to switch. No one would call her work looking for Ricia, at least, no one who has any business calling her at work.

      1. Uranus Wars*

        I think this also boils down to people knowing when it’s appropriate to use and when it’s not.

        I am outside of work friends with someone high up in my org. When we email about something at work or if we bump into each other in a common area I will say “Hey Joe” but when we are in a meeting I call him “Dr. Schmoe”

    8. MsMaryMary*

      I used to work with a guy who used his first name at work, but family and friends used his middle name and that’s what he went by socially. He was young, out at a bar one weekend, and he introduced himself to a young lady by his middle name. As they were talking, a crowd of coworkers came along and greeted him “Hey, First Name!” The woman gave him a dirty look and left before he could explain, clearly thinking he was a creep who gave her a fake name.

    9. Pink Dahlia*

      When I was a server I worked with a line cook who went by his middle name at our restaurant and his first name at another restaurant. It was so damned confusing because people calling to find him could never remember which name to use at which place.

      1. RocketGirl*

        My husband shares a first name with his dad so socially he goes by a nickname of his middle name but professionally he usues his first name. When there is crossover he usually gets confused looks but after a one sentence explaination, people understand and move on. It’s really not a big deal! Keep on keepin’ on.

        1. jenniferM*

          That’s my hubby – his dad and grandpa were Richard “Dick” and when hubby came along there were already too many Dicks in the house – so he went by middle name. LOL

        2. TardyTardis*

          One side of my family calls me by OriginalFirstName. The other side calls me by PreferredMiddleName. Admittedly, I’m slowly outliving both sides…

    10. Massmatt*

      I wonder if it was a “burner” name she used for people she didn’t want getting in back touch with her. On “Friends”, Phoebe used Regina Phalange.

      Annoying for the people getting the calls!

    11. pleaset cheap rolls*

      I remember the day my favorite professor in grad school said to me “Hi Pleaset, I met someone and heard you are also known as [nickname]. Can I call you that.”

      I’d been going by my first name (say Pleaset) in school but in my work and personal life people address me by initials (say, PC). It was funny when she called me PR.

      I do have some separate in personal and business life – in personal life I use my middle name Pleaset Cheap Rolls and in business/school it was Pleaset Rolls. There’s some bleed between the two, but generally they’re pretty separate.

    12. Gossip Whisperer*

      Not your fault. Sharon could have told you she was also “Nancy” but maybe gave that name out to vendors she wanted to be polite to but hoped to never hear from. Or, if she did want to hear from them, could have in fairness told you “I sometimes go by my middle name Nancy to close friends and relatives.”

      Without giving too much detail my name is commonly used with the nickname Peggy, and I have never gone by it. But some people take it upon themselves to use it thinking it’s just normal to do so. Imagine their disappointment when, “We have no Peggy at this number.” That’s right, you don’t.

    13. Prof Space Cadet*

      Funny story: I had an acquaintance in the late 00s who used different personal and professional names to conceal his celebrity-sounding job from people (think along the lines of “most junior speechwriter in the Obama White House” or “weekend backup to Mark Zuckerberg’s personal spokesperson”). We knew each other vaguely from overlapping social circles where he went by “Ash,” but he eventually told me his professional name (“Daniel”) because we were going to be in a situation where it would probably come up.

      About a year later, I unexpectedly ran into him at a very formal cocktail party. I blurted out without thinking “Which name are you using at this event?” and about five people turned around to see who I was talking to. Fortunately, he was using “Daniel” that night, so I didn’t blow his cover!

  2. Catherine*

    OP #2, you’re fine. I use my middle name socially and only go by my surname at work. It’s never been a problem for me even in America. (I don’t demand to be Ms. Surname, and I think that does make a difference in people’s willingness to indulge me–I go by my last name in that kind of bro-ey way that sometimes men are exclusively Surname to each other.)

    1. Data Bear*

      Agreed. I’ve gone by my legal name professionally and by a college nickname socially for almost three decades, and it’s never caused me any trouble. There are a handful of people who I know both socially and professionally, and you’re absolutely right that if you treat it as a non-issue, so will they. Just say “Oh, I go by othername socially” and carry on. Lots of people go by different names in different contexts; it’s really not a big deal.

    2. Lynca*

      That’s been my experience and I go by my first name professionally which is short and everyone else in my personal life calls me by my middle name. Which is a beloved family name and unusual. I’ve not experienced any confusion once I clarify that and most people don’t have an issue once I explain that.

      I’ve not found it to be very hard because my social circle and work circles do not overlap really. And I know a ton of people that have nicknames they don’t use professionally.

    3. HR Bee*

      Yea, all through High School, I was known exclusively by either my Surname or my nickname Sticks (I was number 11 in sports). It was definitely a bro-ey, sports thing, even though I’m a woman, and it took me a good year to get used to people calling me by my actual name again once I was outside of my little smalltown, hometown bubble. It’s been 11 (haha) years since I graduated, I’m married and have a child, and took my husband’s last name, but when I go home, I’m still called by my Maiden name.

      Honestly, OP2, I’m impressed that you can keep it straight in your own mind! Even though “HR Bee” was my actual name, it was so hard to go back to it and took me a while to realize people were talking to me when they said it. I think there are challenges, as Alison points out, but are definitely surmountable if you want to continue.

      1. JustaTech*

        At my girls-only high school a not-insignificant portion of my class went by Surname because they were *all* Elizabeth and Liz and Beth were taken and no one was going to be called Betty. One poor girl had to go by “Elizabeth Surname” because she had the same last name as a teacher, so you couldn’t just shout “Surname” without getting a dirty look from the teachers.

    4. The Rural Juror*

      In my social group, there’s at least 5 friends who see each other frequently who are named Michael. All the guys in the social group go by their surnames names in that setting. If you refer to someone as “Michael” in a conversation, it would be too difficult to know which one you’re talking about!

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        We have the same problem in my partner’s social circle, so we just attach a qualifier to each one: there’s Michael Shoes, because he owns a shoe shop, Michael Poetry, because he helped me out with poetry I had to translate – formerly known as Michael Harvard because he studied there, Michael Moscow because the first time I met him, he was about to leave for Moscow, and the second time, obviously, he was just back from there, Michael Architect, who the kids called Michael Chocolate because he always had some in his pocket for them.

        1. jenniferM*

          OMG I have a bunch of Eric’s that do that – there’s Teacher Eric, Chef Eric, Gay Eric (He named himself cause actually there are 2 gay Erics and 2 chef Erics) and then Black Eric (yes he did it himself too) and Wheelchair Eric (cause ya know – there can’t be 2 Black Erics) so even tho it isn’t PC – they picked their names and introduced themselves that way – so we just go with it.

        2. Adultiest Adult*

          Glad to know other people do this too! It’s how I help more distant people keep track of the names of important people in my life.

      2. Hamish*

        My college friends group in Scotland has a similar problem with Andrews and Alistairs.

        The Andrews are all programmers. Consequently, we have Andrew, TwoPointOh, Surname, and Andy.

        And Alistair, Lister, and Withad (whose legal name is spelled Alasdair… with a d.)

        This stuff isn’t that unusual!

    5. Aggretsuko*

      I have a friend who works in academia and uses a drastically different (gender neutral) name when she does acting so her acting doesn’t make her hard science career look bad. Sad but true fact there…

    6. Whatever works*

      My dad had 3-4 names his whole life. Family used his middle name or a version of the middle name (because he shared his first name with a relative). Friends used a nickname coined when he adopted a certain fashion in his early teens. Work used his given first name. It sometimes was confusing, but that was short lived and easily explained. No one thought it was weird.
      And it was kinda funny at his funeral to hear the comments of longtime friends who didn’t know his real name.

    7. Glitsy Gus*

      I have a couple coworkers in this boat. I agree it really isn’t a big deal.

      I think it’s good to be aware it is a thing that may cause a moment of confusion, just so that you can head it off at the pass (like if you think the Receptionist may need to field calls from someone in your social circle calling the main switchboard) but other than that, it shouldn’t really be too big a deal if you don’t make it a big deal.

  3. Nita*

    #2 – my grandmother had two names like that. At work she went by her real name. At home she went by a childhood nickname that had nothing to do with her given name, and somehow stuck even when she grew up. My grandparents were both in the medical field, and at some points worked in the same hospitals, so every now and then her coworkers would hear her husband calling her by the other name. As far as I know, it didn’t cause too much confusion. I’m sure people were surprised at first when they found out that “Elena” goes by “Lisa” outside the office, but after that no one had trouble remembering that’s the same person.

    1. MK*

      Hmm, I think that’s more in the Elizabeth/ Liz category than what the OP is doing. It’s pretty natural to not share a childhood nickname with your employer, while choosing to use a middle name that no one called you before is very unusual, unless in fields where pen-names and such are a thing.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        It’s pretty natural to not share a childhood nickname with your employer

        Yep. I can tell when someone met my brother in law – childhood/high school, or after he entered the working world – by whether they call him Bubba or Fergus.

    2. EvilQueenRegina*

      My uncle has something similar – he’s Christopher Donald, but when he was a baby and mum was about 2, she couldn’t pronounce Christopher and it got to “Tiffer”. My grandparents didn’t want that to stick and thought she might find Donald easier to pronounce. Except when he got to school he was getting Donald Duck and Donald Where’s Your Troosers (one relative buying him the record did not go down well). In the end he changed schools when the family moved and some teacher introduced him to his new class as Chris, and he started using that, although I don’t know why the family never started using it. At family parties he’s always made a big point of explaining to friends that his family use his middle name. I can remember one time he actually got confused himself when someone referred to him by it.

      1. UKDancer*

        That’s quite amusing. My uncle was a Christopher and his sister couldn’t pronounce it and called him “Fuffa” which became a family nickname until he was old enough to put his foot down and insist on Chris.

        My grandmother didn’t like her first name of Mildred because she said it was old fashioned and dreary so she went by her middle name in her personal life and used her first name professionally because it was the one on her teaching certificate. When she retired she stopped using her first name at all and most of us forgot it entirely. Some of her teaching colleagues came to the funeral and it was quite amusing that they obviously knew her by a different name and almost made her sound like a different person.

        1. EvilQueenRegina*

          My family would have probably stamped out Fuffa just as fast as they did Tiffer! Because he was so young when they changed his name, he actually forgot the reasons behind it and was surprised when that explanation came out at his grandson’s first birthday party.

          I suspect Grandad may have been happy for the excuse to use Donald as he was from Scotland and it’s a tradition in my family to give the male babies Scottish names.

        2. Quill*

          For my entire life I thought my grandpa’s middle name was William. He never used it, all his professional stuff only had his middle initial (and anyone who didn’t call him by a shortened version of his first name didn’t know him well or was calling him to relocate a hive of bees) and then at his actual funeral I, and all the other younger set of cousins, were shocked to find his name listed as “Firstname Wilbur lastname.”

          We asked my oldest uncle and he replied “Yeah, he always said he hated his pig middle name.”

          Which… fair.

          1. EvilQueenRegina*

            A work friend’s partner had two middle names, but at some point in his life had misheard this and thought his actual middle name was a mishmash of the two. Let’s say he was Cecil Fergus Wakeen Mongoose, and he’d misheard Fergus Wakeen as Fergkeen. He only found out when he applied for a driving licence and it arrived with Cecil Fergkeen Mongoose on it and his mother asked him where he got Fergkeen from.

        3. JustaTech*

          My great aunt called my grandfather “BaBruh” (baby brother) his entire life. He had a perfectly normal, easy name (Andy) and I never met either of them to ask why.

          1. Quill*

            There is a Brandon in the extended family who hasn’t been known as anything but “Brand-new” for forty years. We’ve also got an Andy, a Drew, and at last count approximately four variations on Mary.

      2. College Career Counselor*

        In college as a first year student, I met a guy who introduced himself with different versions of his first name. After several weeks of confusion in the friend group about what to call him, a few of us got together and said, “Look, your given name is John. We’ve heard that, Johnny, Jay, etc.–what name do you want to be called?” He sighed and said that different people called him different things, so he would answer to just about any variant of his name. So, we wound up calling him Jack throughout college and beyond. This worked perfectly well, although it was always a little jarring at first when his mother spoke of “Jay” or his wife referred to him as “John” (and I’m sure it was for them hearing “Jack”). I think Jack liked having different names for different aspects of his life, so I fully support the LW’s use of Gates, etc. For those of us around him, it was less confusing to have something consistent to call the guy.

        1. Aggretsuko*

          Hahahah, I go by all the versions of my name too. I’m pretty much like “I like Aggretsko and Retsuko equally, go with what you like.”

        2. Adultiest Adult*

          I have never particularly liked my very long name, so when in college, the loudest girl in my dorm decided to nickname me a letter (think K for Katherine), it stuck among everyone who met me or knew me through college. Which includes one of my closest friends, whose entire family calls me K (though friend spells it like a name, Kay). My friend has my real name buried in the recesses of her mind–she used it on their wedding invites, to the complete astonishment of her husband, who thought my name was actually K–but her children happily call me Auntie K, and I see no reason to ever change that. It slightly confused my sister, who knows her socially, but she adapted. She just learned to refer to me as K when talking to that friend!

    3. allathian*

      I have a family nickname that only my birth family uses. My husband knows about it, obviously, but doesn’t use it himself. Even my old friends who have heard my parents or sister use it when I still lived with them have forgotten it in the last 30 years that I’ve lived on my own. The reason I stopped using it is that it has negative connotations in English, a bit like Fanny. (My grandmother who was born in 1920 was a Fanny and the name’s had a bit of a comeback in the last ten years or so, I sometimes wonder what the parents are thinking…) I haven’t been successful in trying to get them to use my given name, but I admit that I haven’t tried very hard.

      1. UKDancer*

        I also have a nickname that my parents use but nobody else has been told about. It’s a little juvenile and a lot personal so I don’t tend to share it. The other person who uses it is one of my ballet teachers.

        There are 3 people with my first name in his class and it’s useful to know which of us he means. I hate having my first name shortened so I told him that I’d rather he use the nickname (which is part of my identity) than abbreviate it (as I don’t identify with any of the common shortenings). That way at least I know when it’s me who is getting the correction.

      2. The Rural Juror*

        My father wanted to name me after his grandmother, but her name was “Lessie” and my mother thought it would be too old-fashioned. I’m very glad my mother talked him into a more modern-sounding variation. I imagine I would have always been having to say, “No, not Leslie. It’s LESSIE.” Also, I don’t care for the nicknames that might have come along with that name… I like my name much better. My mother did good :)

    4. Bagpuss*

      I think it is fairly common even when it isn’t as obvious as ‘Liz’ and Elizabeth’ (or even ‘Liz’ and ‘Beth’)

      My grandmother was known by one name to family and some friends, and another by others – I think that it probably stemmed originally from using her middle name when she first got a job (possibly to avoid confusion as her first name was one which was very common for women of her age)
      My neighbour (who happens also to be my motor mechanic) is the same – (legal) first name for his business, middle name for friends and family

    5. Tabby*

      I do this, and as a rule just tell people outright: My real name is Elizabeth, but I never use it except for legal documents (paychecks, taxes, and the like), but for all else, I go by Levi for short. It’s because I intend to change my name legally to Levi as soon as I can save the money to do so. People are generally like, oh, okay.

      I think the OP can do this pretty easily, just explain if she’s asked. I doubt people are going to be THAT worried about this, since it’s really common to do. Only time I’ve had a problem with someone is the one person who was upset on my mother’s behalf that I don’t like the name Elizabeth — but hey, if my mother is that attached to it, she can add it to /her/ name.

      Hilariously, I have a client who is also an Elizabeth, and one whose daughter is also named Elizabeth — we about died laughing when she used Venmo to send me a tip (ordinarily, payment is sent to the company I work for, but she wanted to send the tip to me, so she needed my Venmo account name). She’d only known me as Levi for several years at that point, because that’s what both I and my boss introduced me as.

  4. Equestrian*

    Thanks for correcting the word generic in the title. It’s late here but I actually thought someone was asking for a DNA sample to go along with a….background check maybe? I was seriously confused for about three seconds until I read the full letter.

  5. Anonyme*

    #5 – Can you move into an adjacent position in the field? I am in Critical Care Nursing and there is a sky-high burnout rate. Especially now. However, there are nurse educator positions, management positions that require frontline experience etc… If you’ve been working crisis-lines, would doing project management with local non-profits work? Essentially can you go slightly lateral in the field?

    1. #5*

      I am looking into these kinds of options, I just haven’t had luck with it yet. I think having had multiple jobs is a factor, as Alison said. Some of those changes have been due to loss of funding, safety issues, a family move etc. I think once someone gives me a chance, a change would be great. Thanks for the feedback.

      1. PrgrmMngr*

        I’ve been in the non-profit sector for 18 years; the last five at an agency that provides comprehensive services to people with behavioral health issues (as well as some other initiatives) – burnout among those who interact with the behavioral health clients is rampant. I’ll be starting a job with the federal government in a couple of weeks; through my job search I’ve had good luck getting interviews at the state and federal level. If your field has public funding, there may be jobs you can move into that oversee these funds and understand how the organizations who receive them operate.

    2. NVHEng*

      #3 – also agree with the creep factor. If you can’t change the layout of your desk, see of you can move his “preferred printer” closer to his office and in an area that requires him to take a different path. Or exchange the printers… If he suddenly likes the other printer more and continues to walk behind your desk you have evidence showing creep factor and not just lazy/obliviousness or some kind of ego trip.

      1. Massmatt*

        I like the suggestion of trying to change the layout, a large plant or wastebasket might do the trick. Or maybe just moving her desk back gradually.

        The attorney vs: receptionist status makes pushing back on him directly hard. I am definitely picking up a creepy or at least creep-adjacent vibe. Leaning in to look at your monitor may just be nosy, or perhaps he feels (or does) have the right to make sure you’re working vs: playing Minesweeper. But leaning in so far he has to put his hand on your shoulder to right himself? That is bizarre. Did you say anything at the time? Do you have an HR you can talk to?

  6. Yvette*

    Re: #3 Am I the only one who sees the one attorney’s behavior as a bit on the creeper side? He has another printer closer but insists on using the one which allows him to walk back and forth behind the LW. “He usually leans somewhat toward me as he passes behind me, … and once even leaned so far … he almost tripped – and put his hand out and touched my shoulder as he righted himself.” It just bothers me. And I can see where someone who is taking medications for anxiety might tend to dismiss the creepiness as being their own interpretation based on their anxiety. But as far as advice, I agree with Alison, put up physical impediments. Is your desk really a desk (as opposed to a counter area type of thing) that can be moved back closer to the wall?

    1. LittleRedRiding...Hu?*

      You’re not the only one. I immediately got a really bad feeling in the pit of my stomach when reading the letter. This felt too much like grooming and “making her get used to the awkwardness”. I hope I’m wrong.

        1. Ramona Q*

          What LW 3 is dealing with sounds super annoying and probably a result of male entitlement. But this is NOT grooming.

      1. Log Lady*

        Come on, this behavior might read as creepy, but let’s not throw the word “grooming” around please. Grooming is very specifically to do with an adult building trust with a child so that they can later exploit them. Not a guy walking behind a woman’s desk at work.

    2. ThePear8*

      Yes this read extremely creepy/uncomfortable to me. OP you’re not weird or overreacting to be very concerned about this.

    3. Mookie*

      Yes. Also, it does in fact sound like the LW has asked, explicitly or otherwise, this man to stop doing this, hence his “insisting” on accessing this one printer using this one specific route. Coupled with actual touching makes this power trip gross no matter what his actual intent is. He visibly cranes at her, presumably in a way designed for her to see.

      Whether his goal is to make sure she knows she is being scrutinized as a lowly peon whose workspace is community property or to create a pretext for pratfalling into a shoulder squeeze, that the behavior has progressed to physical contact makes it automatically not acceptable and, in my opinion, worth pursuing a permanent stop to it. If the deferent, low ley method of furniture arrangement doesn’t do it, I don’t think it much matters whether the LW blows through her social capital to try to force him to stop. It’s either that or leave, given that the LW understandably doesn’t feel she can put up with it much longer for her mental health.

      1. Ama*

        When I was supervising a receptionist I was constantly having to deal with coworkers who would peek at my report’s screen as they walked by (in our office, to get to the copier you actually DID have to walk around the receptionist’s desk from behind) and then report back to me if they thought she wasn’t working, even though I often had her doing projects that required her to poke around on random parts of the internet doing research (no she’s not “planning a vacation,” Jane, I asked her to do venue research for an event we’re planning). So there is a possibility this guy thinks he’s doing that, since OP says it seems like he’s constantly trying to look at her computer monitor.

        I wonder if OP can make the case to her boss that she needs one of those privacy screen layers that would make it much harder for him to look over her shoulder, in the interest of “client confidentiality.” If the lawyer is trying to monitor her work somehow that might discourage him.

      2. TardyTardis*

        Could the receptionist put a large screen behind her? “People walking back and forth behind me are so distracting! It’s harder for me to pay attention to my job up front that way, and it’s not fair to our clients who need my full attention there.”

    4. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      Creepy enough in normal times, but also there is still a global pandemic going on and we’re supposed to socially distance!

      It feels like such a power move and I hate it.

      1. Pennyworth*

        Perhaps OP could use the pandemic as a good reason to put up a barrier and enforce safe distancing.

        1. Lizzy May*

          If the OP is worried about bringing it up, using distancing would be a great way to frame it. If the guy is passing by close enough that it causes him to trip, he’s way too close for covid safety.

        2. EPLawyer*

          That was my thought. Hey Bob, can you not pass behind my desk, the whole 6 feet thing, you know.

          Of course, if he is refusing to use the printer closer to him so he has an excuse to walk behind LW it might not work. I definitely got the creepy vibe from this. I could see using the printer because it’s the one he’s always used. I could seeing walking behind because it’s shorter. Attorneys are notoriously stuck in their ways. the leaning in when he walks past though moves it from attorney quirk to creepy.

          Definitely put a plant or something to obstruct the path. Right at where he turns so he can’t start walking get right behind LW and then say Ooops forgot it was blocked. You want to minimize him even getting into the space.

          1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

            Could you turn the printer so it faces out, not in? So the table/bookcase/file cabinet the printer is on is part of her desk setup and to use it, you’d stand outside the workspace not in it?

          2. EventPlannerGal*

            Could OP maybe helpfully suggest swapping the printers, so he no longer has that excuse? Even if it isn’t actually possible it might make him feel awkward that it’s been noticed. Like “I just thought it might be easier for you instead of you having to squeeze past me all the time! It must be so annoying for you to have to come all the way over here every time!”

          3. Artemesia*

            I suppose the OP has thought of this and it is a no go, but my first thought was to move her desk back two feet so that her chair is up against the wall and there is no path behind her. The giant potted palm was the next though — Maybe one on each side.

            I assume there is no one in authority she feels comfortable going to but if the guy doesn’t accept a tree blocking his route or moving the desk back then that is next. And mention. ‘It makes me uncomfortable that he leans in close and touches my shoulder’. THAT should set off alarm bells in the managing partner

    5. Charley*

      It’s definitely creepy. I have people leaning over me/peering over my shoulder too, no idea why, so I understand why it makes OP anxious.

    6. Flammable*

      I’m going with the creep factor here.

      OP, as he is about to pass behind you, jump up and say: “Sorry, I’m in your way. Let me make a path for you you”. Step out from your desk and smile a disarming smile. Sit back down. Repeat when he returns. If he insists that you don’t get up, reply: “It’s no trouble. I’m just sorry I can’t give you more room”. Again smile.

      He will either stop going behind you (wouldn’t want to draw attention) or not. If he stops, yeah. If not, 100% for the creep factor.

    7. EventPlannerGal*

      No, it’s pretty creepy. Although IME a lot of people, not just full-blown creeps, do weird or irritating things that they would never do with other colleagues because they consider the receptionist some kind of sentient pot plant. Back when I did reception I had people constantly taking stuff from the desk (I went through more stationery than anyone else in the building because people would just pick up notepads/pens/post-it blocks/highlighters that I was actively using and walk off), sitting on the desk, standing uncomfortably close behind me, using the space behind me as a shortcut, commandeering my computer whenever they couldn’t be bothered walking back to their desks to look something up, having loud shouty conversations while standing over me while I was trying to answer the phone, etc etc, none of which they did with other people. I guess that since reception is a semi-public space a lot of people have a hard time remembering that it is also an actual person’s actual workspace, and you often don’t have the standing to ask people to stop.

    8. Ariadne Oliver*

      No, you’re not the only one. I think it’s creepy and bordering on sexual harassment or some sort of power trip because he’s picking up on her being uncomfortable. I would definitely try to block access on one side and if asked would just casually mention that it’s distracting when people keep walking behind me.

    9. allathian*

      That’s where my mind went as well. It seems really creepy, especially when he leans over and seems to fake trip to have an excuse to touch her. I really hope LW3 can put a stop to this without jeopardizing her job.

    10. Lonely Aussie*

      I think it’s creepy AF too!
      I’m in a male dominated industry that requires a lot of close contact (working in narrow aisles etc.) and funnily enough the way many of the guys squeeze past me is pretty different to the way they squeeze past guys. I do notice most of them also seem to have less of an issue pushing into my space than they do with the other guys, even if they aren’t necessarily creepy or are otherwise respectful.

    11. Lore*

      Many years ago, I was a temp admin assistant for an executive, and one of my main jobs—because this was before everything was emailed!—was sorting incoming mail and sending out signed outgoing contracts and such He kept his in box and out box on a credenza behind his chair and it seemed annoying and inefficient for the entire month I worked there. It took me well more than a decade to realize they were there in order to require me to squeeze past him with my butt at eye level. Oddly, the person he hired for the permanent position was someone I’d fine to high school with and I have felt bad that I was too naive to warn her he was a creep!

      1. singularity*

        This reminds me of a job I had in college at an academic department where I was doing busy work like mail sorting, file organizing and delivering, etc. One of the PhD students spent a lot of time in the section of the office where I worked and always made a point to ask for *my* help specifically doing various mundane tasks he could’ve done himself. Whenever I was filing, I would usually sit in front of the cabinet and he would approach and stand there and sort of hover over me while I sat down. I know now that he had a good view of cleavage from that angle. One time he asked me transcribe something he’d done and my boss pulled me aside and asked if he was *paying special attention* to me. I was terribly embarrassed and said no, but I realize now she could tell what he was doing and was concerned. He’s a politician now. :D

    12. Metadata minion*

      You’re not alone! If it was *just* the printer issue I’d chalk it up to printers being weird and maybe the one nearer his office always jams or something. But combined with everything else, the printer seems like an entirely-too-convenient excuse to be creepy.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I could totally see myself using the “wrong” printer simply because I didn’t know how to get the other one to work with my laptop… but I wouldn’t squeeze past the receptionist, I’d use the walkway.

    13. WFHHalloweenCat*

      I agree! It is creepy covered in just enough plausible deniability to keep him on the right side of sexual harassment law. As someone with anxiety, the idea of people walking behind me like that at all would unsettle me but the leaning and touching and knowing that he is going out of his way to do it would make me absolutely unable to work, even with my medication. I would be checking my local garden centers for end of season potted plant sales. A big old fern would do the trick.

      1. Artemesia*

        Someone up thread suggested, leaping up and moving out of the space every time he does this. This draws attention to it and makes it awkward for him as well as you. All done with ‘oh I am just making sure you have enough space.’ NEVER let him actually squeeze by you. This seemed like a good idea if the potted plant doesn’t work —

      2. ...*

        Walking near someone isn’t ‘the right side of sexual harassment’ its nowhere even close to being sexual harassment. Ask him not to walk behind your desk and be done with it!

        1. Observer*

          He’s not just walking behind her desk. He is LEANING IN to her – so much that one time he “fell over” and “had to” touch her to right himself. Something is up there.

        2. Nanani*

          FFS, people need to stop pretending one incident is the be all, end all of harassment.
          The whole -point- of harassment is that is is a pattern.

        3. Barbara Eyiuche*

          Walking close to someone and ‘accidently’ brushing up against them or touching them can be sexual harassment, or the beginning phase of it. It might not be, as well.

    14. asgard*

      On the preferred printer part – no. Even if 2 printers are the same brand and version, they never are the same. I definitely have a preferred printer at work, and it’s not the closest one. When I moved desks I connected to the closest one and only used it twice before switching back to the last one I used. It’s a further walk (but not that far) but its worth it since that printer is just better, somehow.

      Now the leaning? can go either way. If it is a narrower path, people may shuffle sideways, or bend to avoid the wall or corner, and may not even realize. When people are scooting around things they are never walking perfectly straight. They could truly be oblivious. I’m not saying that’s the case, but it could be.

      1. Observer*

        Highly unlikely – Remember, he does NOT have to go behind her. And he DEFINITELY does not need to “lean in”. So, either he’s a creep or he is using the excuse to try to monitor her computer use.

      2. Paulina*

        There are a lot of reasons to use a specific printer beyond proximity. But someone who has had to touch the shoulder of the OP as she works, in order to right himself because he leant too far over her as he passed right behind her, does not have obliviousness as a defence.

      3. Glitsy Gus*

        yes, I have my favie printer, and it isn’t the one closest to me. Now, I don’t go prowling through other people’s work spaces to get to it, but I do walk across the room. Not only does that printer jam less and is just better, I like having a reason to get up and move around a bit during the day.

    15. Thistle Whistle*

      This is the perfect time to start storing some of the printer paper boxes behind your desk. Just enough to turn it into a slalom course for anyone walking there.

    16. not all karens*

      Another vote for creepy McCreepster, taking a “shortcut” to the printer that’s further away, no. Bring in a bunch of big potted plants and block that path.

    17. MissDisplaced*

      Yes. It has that aspect. Like maybe it’s just an excuse to walk behind her and have a snoop down her blouse or fake trip in order to get “close.” Ugh! Or it could just be to make sure she’s “working” and not just looking busy or surfing the net, which is also a big Ugh!

      Ask him directly to stop walking in back of you. You can say it makes you uncomfortable given there isn’t enough space as a walkway and you have to hunch over uncomfortably for someone to get by (or people trip and fall into you). Also, can you ask your IT to move that printer to the other side of you and/or swap the printer with the one he won’t use that’s closest to him? Can you “block” the walkway with a file cabinet or plant or something, thus cutting off the walkway altogether?

    18. Generic Name*

      I agree that it’s creepy, and I’m surprised that Alison glossed over that aspect. Alison is right about the power dynamics between lawyers and assistants, which makes this situation even worse. Creepy dude is counting on the LW to feel powerless to do anything about his gross behavior. I agree that the easiest approach is to adjust your workspace so it’s physically impossible to walk behind you. Maybe request a filing cabinet or bring in a large plant to place on the floor to block one of the entrances. Honestly, if you are denied, I think you could admit that people are using the space behind your desk as a walkway and it’s disrupting your focus on work tasks and is also making you feel uncomfortable.

    19. Serin*

      Came here to say the same thing. He “refuses” to use a more convenient printer, he gets in touching distance unnecessarily …

      Ideally I’d say this behavior needs to be flagged for a manager specifically in terms of “making transparent excuses to get into my professional space,” but in reality I’m afraid that with a lot of managers this wouldn’t help the LW and might even harm her professionally.

      The most practical solution is probably a small reorganization that results in the printer being somewhere else and two plants and a file cabinet blocking the path behind the receptionist.

    20. Kiki*

      Yes, I also think it’s creepy. Granted, I don’t know exactly how the reception area is laid-out, but to my understanding, it seems like walking in front of the desk would not add a substantial distance to this man’s journey. I get having a preferred printer or even using printing as an excuse to get up and move during the workday, but the insistence on walking behind her when there is another option available seems odd to me.
      I agree with Allison that it would be good to start by moving the reception desk back or adding more things behind you to make it clearer that people should walk in front.

    21. anon73*

      Yes, creepy. And I’m curious as to the office setup, because I would never even think to walk through somebody’s personal space as a shortcut. Assuming there’s a wall behind her, why would anyone think it’s okay to go that way? I would have to “accidentally” push back in my chair and run into him every time he walked behind me.

    22. Nanani*

      I was looking to see if anyone else picked up that vibe.

      Yeah LW3, I would try rearranging the space to make it inconvenient to walk by. If he persists, that’s a RED flag that he is using it as an excuse to get near you or see you from behind or whatever it is.
      If you can adjust the printer’s paper dispenser in any way, like rotate it to be easier to access from another angle, that could eliminate all excuses.

    23. Glitsy Gus*

      Yep, that stuck out to me too. It’s hard to tell if it’s “nosy manager” behaviour or “creeper hair smelling” behaviour from the letter, but it’s clear he’s doing SOMETHING weird there.

      I almost think, though, that it gives you a bit of an in, which may make this easier to bring up at first. If he is leaning over and getting into your personal space, you can say something like, “Oop! Hey Lawyer. Man this is narrow, could you please going around so we don’t bump into each other over and over?” (maybe even facilitate this interaction by rolling your chair back as he’s walking behind. It’s kind of passive aggressive, but sometimes you need a good opener.) or (with sort of an exaggerated jump) “Oh, Lawyer! You startled me! You know, this space really is narrow and it’s pretty disconcerting having people squeezing past here all the time. Could you please go around when you can?” Point out that you are noticing him invading your space, but give the room to laugh it off as oblivious, since he is higher ranking. Then, if it does keep up or escalate you actually can tell your manager that you have actually tried to deal with it on your own. “I’ve asked him to go around since having him in my personal space all the time makes me uncomfortable, but he is still creeping up behind me regularly.”

      Add in Allison’s advice of making the pathway less available if you can and that should help discourage the lurking. But keep an eye on him, it’s weird whatever his motivation.

    24. juneybug*

      If you can’t move your desk, could you do any of the following –
      Put a special in-box away from your desk for his print jobs?
      Reach out to his admin to ask them to pick up his print jobs?
      Submit a Help Desk ticket on his behalf to get the printer changed or “fixed”?

  7. YankeeGal*

    Yes, being more “neutral” is one way to be successful in the career. I was in a long-term relationship with a man in a similar profession as yours, who never brought anything home, could see and hear about horrific situations all day long, then simply turn it off. It helped him to fall asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow at night.

    He used to question me about my strong empathy, asking me when I’d be crying over something awful that I’d read or heard about happening to a stranger: “What are you feeling right now? Do you think this is happening to you?” He seemed mystified at my empathy for others. It took me some time to realize that, while he faked empathy really well in his job (he was highly successful), he didn’t actually feel empathy for others.

    It took me years to realize he didn’t feel empathy for me or anyone else, because I couldn’t understand it. I kept rationalizing why he had behaved in ways that didn’t make sense to me, because surely no one could deliberately do such cruel things to another human, especially one they said they loved?

    He did very well in his career, with zero risk of burnout.

    1. MK*

      Having empathy and keeping some emotional distance are not mutually exclusive, and people whose job it is to deal with difficult situations need to do some of the second to be effective, not only successful. A victim of something awful doesn’t need people crying around them, they need the professionals whose job it is to care for them to do so calmly and kindly, and that’s not faking it, it’s showing empathy with actions, not displays of emotion.

      I don’t mean to be harsh, but I have seen too many empathetic people in my job actually making things worse for victims, because they add to their stress instead of diffusing emotional situations. Ideally one should adapt their handling according to what the person they are trying to help and strike a balance between coldness and empathy.

      1. #5*

        I don’t think it’s harsh to say that overly empathetic workers can make things worse for clients. I’ve seen it also, but that is not a struggle for me. I can be empathic but still exercise emotional distance. My boss and I specifically discussed this at my exit interview, and she assured me that my work quality hadn’t suffered despite the added stress. I have also encountered people in the field like Yankeegal mentioned, and it’s truly scary; both for coworkers and clients. I’ve worked with some more severe populations and in crisis care. It does take a toll to see and hear so much pain on a daily basis. It’s kind of like living a double life, though I expect that many professionals could say something similar.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I often thought of it as an alternate universe or alternate reality. There is so much that goes on that the public does not see or know. And in some instances they don’t care to know and this adds a layer to the whole burned out story line.

          I got “lucky” early on because I was talking with people who worked in my field who had degrees. They were talking about burnout rates. The stat was very low, something like 5 years to burnout. And there’s a thousand reasons why burnout comes up so quick. At that point, it was just important for me to realize that this burnout factor was real and it did happen. Of the people who stayed on after the burn out set in, they said of themselves, “I don’t like me when I go out into public. I get upset over the smallest slight. For example, small problems at a store cause me to become very angry. I did not use to be this way.” Sometimes with burnout comes a lot of anger it seems.

        2. Massmatt*

          LW I hope you find a position soon in whatever field you want. Don’t feel self-conscious if you got burned out, there are lots of jobs where that is unfortunately just par for the course, anyone hiring in an adjacent field is sure to know it and for some kinds of jobs it would really seem apparent just from the description.

      2. Adultiest Adult*

        MK, you’re spot-on. And, as OP 5 already knows, the more intense the population or issues, the more you need to cultivate that emotional distance. It is caring for the clients by being able to be the person they need right then, not someone they have to worry is going to fall apart at the details of their struggles.

        OP 5, I once read that the key to success in this field is not to do it full-time. And have noticed that the most successful people who stay in the field don’t do crisis work 40 hours per week. Me, I got into management. I’ve seen others go into adjacent roles, like someone mentioned policy work, insurance companies. Private practice work if you have the degree/license, which you don’t have to do full time to make a good living. Consider all of your options, and good luck. Thank you for being a wise provider in the behavioral health field!

  8. Kevin Sours*

    Something common among my acquaintances who go by their middle names is to use a first initial when writing their full name. For instance putting E. Gates Lastname in your email signature. It’s obviously not necessary, but might help alleviate confusion if that’s proving to be a problem (and providing a useful hint if somebody at work needs to sort out something addressed to Elle Lastname)

    1. Joielle*

      Yeah, this is what I was going to suggest too. It’s also pretty common in my circles and I think it would help clear up any confusion – like you said, it’s a helpful hint that another name exists, without adding too much confusion at work.

  9. Stormfeather*

    Re: 2 – I mean, sometimes it causes confusion when people go even by just one name… poor Wakeen.

  10. Cal*

    5. Any chance you are interested in compliance? I moved from BH direct service work to compliance for a few years and it did wonders for my burn out. I loved spending some time deepening my knowledge of regulations and staring at spreadsheets/doing trainings all day. I didn’t realize how burnt out I was until I started to feel better.

    1. #5*

      That is actually something that I am looking into, along with a few other things like project management.

    2. Washi*

      Yes, I’m from an adjacent field (social work) and moving around jobs within the broader field is pretty common! There are lots of areas where the clinical experience will be a big plus but you aren’t doing so much direct service. In addition to compliance, my agency has folks with your background who are doing technical work on our electronic health record, supervising others, creating training programs to help everyone get their CEUs, etc. Especially after 12 years I don’t think anyone would blink at you moving into another area!

  11. Person from the Resume*

    #2, I think you’re fine. It has potential to cause confusion when your “streams” cross, but I certainly don’t jump to the conclusion that she’s hiding something or she’s weirdly private as the cause.

  12. Dan*


    I work for an org of a few thousand people that places a value on internal referrals. I actually don’t know how things work on the HR side, but there’s a really big difference between submitting a resume to the “referral” pool, and walking up to a hiring manager that I have a personal relationship with and vouching for somebody. The former? Who knows what actually happens. I can submit you for one of our business lines that I don’t have a connection to, but I won’t known a darn thing unless *you* keep me informed. Or… miraculously, you get hired and 90 days after your hire my referral bonus shows up in my paycheck.

    But if I know the hiring manager personally, and I know you well enough to vouch for you, me walking into his office and making a pitch is the difference between a resume that floats to the top of the stack and a *referral*.

    What track OP #4 wants to take is up to OP #4 and the office dynamics. Personally, I guard my reputation carefully, and I don’t submit any random Joe to the hiring pool for the referral bonus alone. And if I walk up to my boss and say, “Dude, you gotta hire this one?” You can better bet I know the applicant well enough to mean it.

    1. lailaaaaah*

      Honestly, I’d be tempted to block anyone doing this. As someone who used to work in HR, the number of times people used to message me expecting that I’d somehow enable them to get round our application process and get in front of a hiring manager directly- even people I’d literally never met or heard of- was ridiculous and really pissed me off. It shows a total lack of awareness of how work… well, works. If someone’s a friend or former colleague and I can genuinely vouch for their work, that’s one thing, but messages like the ones OP #4 are getting are totally different.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Not to mention that if the only link is a shared alma mater, it’s *the opposite* of good hiring practices and merely entrenches unearned privilege.

        1. Washi*

          I don’t think I am really following this argument. If a student of color reaches out to me from my alma mater, it’s entrenching privilege if I tell them they can put my name in the referral field? What if the employee went to an HBCU? Or the big state school where practically everyone local goes for their degree?

          I’m not disagreeing, but if the job requires a degree, I don’t see how connections from your degree program are entrenching privilege in 100% of cases.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Because it isn’t the qualification itself that’s getting them on the list, but the pure coincidence of going to the same school not even at the same time. The problem isn’t with the candidate but the route.

            Having hiring practices that prioritise applications from HBCU graduates is great; having hiring practices that prioritise “hiring more people who are like the people we already have” is not great.

            If your policy is “we don’t take recommendations purely on the basis of shared alma mater” then you are beginning to break down old school ties. If old school ties didn’t confer unfair advantage, people wouldn’t bother trying them.

            That doesn’t mean if an employee wants to boost an alum’s candidacy on its own merits that they couldn’t offer to meet separately, provide information, etc, or suggest that university as a good careers fair for the employer to prioritise.

            1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

              Yes, but the people getting advice to work these ties are getting this advice from university career centers…who are selling students on a $200K degree with the idea that they’ll be able to name-drop their alma mater in exchange for jobs down the line.

              I get all sorts of junk from my college about “alumni networking” (where were they during the recession when we actually needed help, oh that’s right, nowhere, they had no support whatsoever.) It’s all marketing garbage.

              1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

                A good degree is still a good degree (usual caveats about access apply) but should be so for academic rigour etc rather than networking.

                Like, I should be impressed that you spent four years working your butt off in a stringent programme with world class instructors, not that you drank expensive sherry and learned a song in Latin.

              2. Wendy Darling*

                I’m part of a community (not higher ed affiliated) that gives this advice all the time, but extends it and encourages just cold-messaging people to whom you have no connection and asking them for a referral.

                I think it’s obnoxious and unhelpful but unfortunately I get drowned out by people whose aunt’s best friend’s cousin got a job that way.

          2. Massmatt*

            This seems kind of naive. Almost by definition, a network that includes many people in power is going to be more useful than one that doesn’t; who do you think those people are, overall? Look at workplaces that emphasize which school you go to. They rarely favor POC’s and recruit at HBCU’s. Barring a religious or regional angle (Catholics preferring Notre Dame and Boston College, etc) they usually wind up drawing from the same pool of Ivy Leagues and the like.

  13. R_dm_r*

    To OP #2, I’m somewhat reminded of the German practice: in the professional workplace, people say *Sie* for ‘you’ (the polite form), but in private contexts ‘you’ is *du* (the intimate form). With a culturally strong private-work separation, people can be colleagues for years in a single office room and still call each other Sie.
    Then, sometimes, when enough friendship has been established, there comes a conversation where one invites the other to henceforth use *du*. (It’s an invitation that can still be declined (!), but usually is a beginning of a better friendship).
    OP#2 can be inspired by this practice and use Gates for work and work acquaintances as they did, but when the time comes that the friendship is established, invite them to use Elle.

    1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

      I watched Titanic in the theaters dubbed into French on a study abroad trip. Jack and Rose used “vous” until the scene in the car in the boat storage. Then it was “tu.” It’s kinda funny if you’re familiar with the movie.

      1. DoomCarrot*

        Heh. The office I work in has both French and German as official languages, and most of us speak at least one, but English is our main working language. So some people will use it even with people they share a native language with to avoid having to commit to either the formal or informal mode of address, or do that awkward “I will restructure all my sentences to avoid using any second-person pronouns” thing.

        1. UKDancer*

          German pronouns are hilarious and a minefield. I’ve at least one counterpart in a German company that I’ve known for many years and we still use Sie. I’ve never felt comfortable suggesting we duze each other. As the non-native speaker I tend to wait for the German native speaker to make the suggestion. He never has and for all I know he never will.

          Equally it makes my hackles rise when someone in hospitality tries to duze me too quickly. Please note, waiter at the Rathauskeller, I don’t know you and we’re not friends. In contrast my favourite Tyrolean hotel has known me for several years and we’re still on Sie terms which suits us both fine. I use Herr and Frau Schmidt for the old couple who own the hotel and Fritz and Laura for their daughter and son in law but we use Sie throughout. It’s one of many reasons I like that hotel, they’re pleasant but respectful.

          1. Jo UK*

            I am killing myself laughing at the idea of a conversation where there is some variant of “would you like to “du” me” but that is because I am childish, immature and dirty minded.

            1. Brooks Brothers Stan*

              It is usually not offered that way. It is usually the English equivalent of “Mr. Simon-” “You can call me Al.”
              [/intentionally ignoring the joke]

            2. UKDancer*

              I should say the word doesn’t sound quite the same in German. The way it’s usually asked of me is “Sollen wir uns duzen?” Literally “should we use “du” for each other”

            3. Myrin*

              I mean, it’s a very staple question (and as such doesn’t seem weird) and would naturally be asked in German, where there’s no idiom like “doing someone” meaning “f*cking them” which uses either the word for “you” or the word for “do” but I still snorted. ;)

          2. DoomCarrot*

            UKDancer – maybe your counterpart is waiting for you to make the first move if you’re older/higher up.

            And then there’s the fact that sometimes, saying “Sie” instead of “du” is an insult. Because du is standard in contexts like sports or among students, and then a Sie will denote that they don’t accept you as part of the group.

            Fun times!

            1. Myrin*

              I have to say I think UKDancer absolutely has the right idea here – not to say that everyone with a native language with formal and informal address feels that way but I personally would indeed be a bit miffed if a non-German native speaker made the first move in this kind of situation (which has actually happened to me twice and both times, it was an early sign of a… let’s say, different attitude towards respect than my own; again, doesn’t have to turn out like that, of course) even if our positions were such that if both of us were German, it would be on the other person to take the first step.

              1. UKDancer*

                My German counterpart is older than I am (at least 10 years at a guess). I’d say we’re probably about the same level of seniority in our respective companies. To be honest I think if I’m using his language and not mine, it’s for him to make the running as regards level of formality.

                I’ve spoken German most of my life but there are cultural nuances I might miss so I would defer to the German native speaker as a rule.

            2. Artemesia*

              I lived with a family in Germany in the early 60s as a teen and I was just learning German and not terribly sensitive to these nuances (although I knew you call most people Sie). I remember using Sie to the father of the family and he was instantly insulted because as ‘family’ we were all Du to one another. It was just me struggling to form sentence in German not an intentional choice, but it reminded me how fraught this thing can be.

              1. UKDancer*

                By and large the less well you speak the language, the more people should be forgiving of mistakes so I think it was a bit harsh for the father to be insulted when you were still learning how to speak the language.

                My mother never learned German at school and learned it from my German godmother at the kitchen table so not only does she have a strong Cologne accent, she has no grasp of grammar or sentence structure and just puts the words together any old how. Coupled with looking like a sweet old lady, she gets away with using du for everyone.

                As someone with good German I get a lot less latitude on things like this. I’m expected to use the correct words in the correct order. I don’t have a problem with that, but my mother’s ability to get away with speaking grammatically awful Kolsch-Deutsch never ceases to amuse me.

                1. DoomCarrot*

                  My father’s family was very old-fashioned – he was required to use the formal mode of address for his parents, and his father only offered him the informal after his mother had died, when he was in his late 20s!

          3. Myrin*

            Huge tangent but OMG yes to your second paragraph. I’m especially aggravated by this new-ish phenomenon of big mail-order businesses and the biggest supermarket chains using “du” in their advertising. It drives me absolutely bonkers and when it first started, I actually stopped ordering stuff at certain businesses because it annoyed me so much but by now, I might as well not shop anywhere if that were my bar because it’s so widespread. It’s one of several things I’ve become a right curmudgeon about in the last few years. >:|

            1. DoomCarrot*

              Yeah, at first it was just the big Swedish furniture chain, to mark them as Swedish, and now everyone is doing it to seem hip…

              (And while I’m a native speaker, I spent my formative years in other countries, and not having that instinctive knowledge of forms of address is actually something I’m still struggling with!)

          4. Massmatt*

            Interesting that you see this from native speakers, a common complaint about Americans abroad is that (among other things) we are too familiar too quickly. That our language lacks a formal vs: informal “you” is probably a small part of that.

            I suppose we have “thou” but I’ve never seen it used outside of bible quotes, and even then I internally think “what’s with this ‘thou’ nonsense?”.

            1. nonegiven*

              In Shogun, when they were speaking Latin, because no one around them understood, ‘thou’ was very intimate. If someone said it in English I wouldn’t know how it was meant.

      2. Quill*

        As a spanish student who recognizes that switch over and is familiar with enough of that movie… I hope they made it to “tu” after that!

      3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        So I’m a Brit living in France. A French guy asked me whether, as a foreigner, I was capable of picking up nuance with tu and vous. I said sure (after 20 years living in France, I found it slightly insulting but never mind). We continued to address each other as vous. Then one day he and his wife invited me and my partner to dinner. At one point I found myself alone with the guy and he suddenly started calling me tu. I responded in kind, thinking, at last we can let up on the formality. Then his wife walked in and he reverted to vous – it was weird. I later realised that he was using tu only when we were alone, to imply an intimacy we didn’t have, to show me that he was up for an affair. More than weird, gross! So I then made a point of being extra friendly to his wife (poor woman) and ignoring him. Luckily we were able to drop right out of their social circle.

  14. Bazza635*

    #3 Move the desk, so no one can walk behind, but before you do that, every time he walks past, push your chair out to head off to the toilet; bonus points will be awarded for running into him, running over his feet and pushing him into wall behind you. Oops sorry didn’t see you creepy colleague. I don’t condone violence but hey! nice fantasy.

    1. IndustriousLabRat*

      Ha! Love it. I was going to suggest moving the desk back just a hair every day over the course of a week or two just to see at what point, or IF, he changes his route!
      But in all seriousness, this situation reads to me as a groomy power move by the attorney, and the shoulder-grabbing “trip” sounds like an escalation of The Creepy.

      1. Sasha*

        Like The Twits! Move your desk back just half an inch every week, and gaslight him that he’s imagining it.

        1. Forty Days in the Hole*

          And in “Amélie” the greengrocer’s assistant, Lucien, is tormented by the owner, Colignon. So Amélie sneaks into his flat and – daily, over several days- switches the light bulbs to a lower wattage, and replaces his slippers for the next smaller size. Colignon thinks he’s losing his mind, and quits. Lucien takes ownership of the stall.

          1. Massmatt*

            George Clooney (master prankster) did something similar to Matt Damon on one of the “Ocean” movies. He had a tailor take in Damon’s pants by 1/16 of an inch every couple of days and making cracks about Damon’s weight when they started getting tight. After a couple weeks Damon’s on a 1000 calorie a day all vegetable diet and hitting the treadmill for hours and still only barely fitting into his pants.

      2. Massive Dynamic*

        Agreed – slight adjustment back each day is in general a total boss move for it’s psychological power trip, but here the attorney is just nasty, therefore a huge desk adjustment all at once is in order. Bonus for obstructive plants too.

    2. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I’m okay with this kind of ‘violence.’ Used to work with a guy who stood mere inches behind the women in our office. Waiting in line for coffee, or to use the copier, or just because he could. One of my colleagues began wearing stiletto heels. The next time he closed in on her, she pretended not to notice, took a step back and planted her heel on his foot – hard. He yelped and made a fuss, but she handled him well: ‘Gosh, John, maybe you shouldn’t stand so close to people. Accidents happen.’

      Maybe OP 3 can’t do this, but there’s something to be said for acting really startled when someone invades your space. Heck, I’ve been know to fling whatever I’m drinking, as long as it’s not scalding hot. Heh.

      1. Quill*

        So when I was a kid people liked to pull my hair.

        Got fed up, put cute jingle bell bows on my pigtail braids – clocked the next boy to do that across the mouth with esentially a small weight on a rope.

        Nobody bothered me again, but they changed the dress code to ban bells and wearing heavy items on pigtails.

        1. Artemesia*

          Of course they did because the real problem was the little girl and her pig tails not creepy little boys tormenting her.

          1. Quill*

            You know, the older I get, the more I think that my extremely bad startle response is just a natural consequence of learning “nobody goes to bat for you but you (and your mom, but she’ll burn the place down.)”

        2. Adultiest Adult*

          I always enjoy your responses but this one is probably my favorite! (Well, except for the one which included the reference to falling “Quill over tea kettle.”) Good for you! Also, I would love to be responsible for such a specific ban! “Why on earth is there a ban on heavy items on pigtails? “Oh, let me tell you about Quill…”

    3. fiverx313*

      i had this exact same situation once, except it was multiple people who could not stop themselves from shaving off .5 seconds with their habitual ‘shortcut’. i put a filing cabinet there that cut the space to narrower than a person could go through without turning sideways, and one person STILL did it! added a second filing cabinet and that was that! it was not at a law firm though, so i don’t know if the power dynamics there might make that solution more difficult for the OP.

    4. Barbara Eyiuche*

      I used to have a colleague who would deliberately walk behind my desk. Every time she would bump into my chair. There was plenty of room, so the bumping was deliberate. I told her to stop, but she persisted, so every time she started going behind me I would move my chair back to hit her. I also started walking into her chair whenever I went by her. She never really stopped though. It definitely felt like a power trip – I was the only foreigner in this office.

  15. Roeslein*

    OP#2, lots of people use different names in different contexts. I go by my first name in my native language and a nickname in most other languages (they are all European languages, so it’s not an Asian name situation – my first name is just long, and I’ve found most people insist on shortening it in ways that I strongly dislike, so I just use my preferred nickname straight away), although everyone knows what my full name is. It’s caused some confusion when I use my native language at work, but generally it’s fine. In my country it’s also not uncommon for women to use their husband’s name socially and their own name at work, since we don’t do legal name changes upon marriage (a friend who married into an old aristocratic family does this). So I think you’re fine.

    1. JSPA*

      Plenty of people are “completely unrelated nickname” socially. It’s certainly true of guys; outside work, Frank is Boomer or Bubba or Bubba B; Joe is Hoss or Big D; Deion is Nut, short for Peanut, short for Peanuthead.

      People deal. “These friends know me as Perdita, but my professional name is Lem” is surely no more problematic, and a lot less borderline TMI than stumbling onto male nicknames that incorporate “Big,” “Quick,””Slick,” or “Smooth.”

      Compared to actively not considering why someone named Joe is “Big D” with his bros, I’m THRILLED to have to remember that Lem at work = Perdita in the knitting and kimchi making society friend group.

  16. Karen (Billy T)*

    #2 – I played roller derby for several years and we all had our own derby names which we were known by throughout the community. There’s plenty I still call by their derby name, and them me, even though we know eachother’s real names. People are pretty good at adapting if there is crossover

  17. Sarah*

    #2 – I do know some people who use two entirely different names, but the split is generally more specific than work vs social life. I know several people who have a ‘family’ name and an ‘outside’ name; for example, my aunt goes by a nickname with family that’s completely unrelated to her real name, it dates back to a joke that started well before I was born and is just her name with family now. Others have a language-related switch; a Chinese-American friend’s parents gave her both a Chinese name and an English name at birth, and she considers both to be her real name, but she generally uses one or the other depending on which linguistic context she’s in. Others are community dependent; it’s not at all unusual for people involved in queer and/or kinky communities to have a name they use in that context that’s completely disconnected from the name they use in the rest of the world.

    But all of these rely on having some kind of fairly clear boundary between the name zones. As you’ve noticed, ‘work’ and ‘social life’ aren’t that distinct from one another; there’s a blurry zone between the two. It’s hard to maintain two separate names in overlapping contexts like that.

  18. EventPlannerGal*

    #3 – it’s not abusive but it is extremely annoying – my sympathies /ex-receptionist

    I don’t have anything to add to Alison’s advice but if there’s anyone reading this who likes to do this sort of thing, please consider not doing it! Reception areas may be public-facing parts of the building but they are also someone’s workspace and the person who works there usually has very limited standing to ask you to stop! If you would not appreciate your colleagues unnecessarily getting into your immediate personal space please do not do it to the receptionist because it’s a quicker route to the printer or whatever!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      A friend installed what appears to be a very nice pet gate at her office for this reason. People kept roaming into her work area. The pet gate is something that can be screwed to the walls and it’s one of the more expensive ones out there. The gate was mounted a little higher than usual so the latch was at waist height for easier operation.

      Although the latch is easy to open, the mere presence of a gate sends a clear non-verbal message.

      1. Jen MaHRtini*

        I put up theater ropes on Command hooks at either side of our receptionist’s desk to reinforce COVID distancing, maybe that’s an option.

      2. Good Wilhelmina Hunting*

        Although some colleagues are going to be completely oblivious, unless the obstacle is a complete impassable barrier. I had a colleague who would squeeze past the back of my chair to get to the printer instead of walking round. I couldn’t physically move the desk as it was large and heavy and conjoined with hers and a central shared table area, but I would routinely pile up my area with huge stacks of files (the only things I could find to hand to use as a barrier). She would simply step awkwardly over them, sometimes dragging the top ones off with her skirt, rather than take the hint.

        1. Artemesia*

          That is why the giant potted palm is a good choice. They are not terribly expensive at Home Depot and you can get an appropriate container fairly cheaply there or on line. I have been buying trees for my living room and found a big pot on line that is plastic with a spray coating that looks like ceramic — which makes it look right but also easy to move around. Giant money trees are also good for this; I have one that is about 4.5 feet high and the top is quite bushy.

          And if you get pushback that is the time to tell the managing partner that you put it there because men have been squeezing behind your desk leaning over you and touching you.

  19. Forrest*

    >>Please tell your readers, especially the ones in career counseling, not to tell university students to ask a random alumni for an internal referral in the first encounter

    Just want to say as a university careers adviser that I would never tell students this was a good idea, oh my GOD. *shudders*

    1. lailaaaaah*

      Idk that all of it’s coming from careers advisers- I’ve seen a lot of similar advice floating around on social media like Twitter and TikTok. It’s usually from the single person it’s ever actually worked for, with no real discussion of how to network, how to apply for jobs, how to interview properly, etc.

      1. Brooks Brothers Stan*

        The classic “it worked for me so anyone can and should be doing it!” I’ve also seen this floating around TikTok and it’s tragically bad advice with only a very specific frame of application. As Allison mentioned, some major firms work off of referral systems and in *those specific cases* it makes sense to carpet bomb for referrals. But outside of those cases it is more likely to get you added to a person’s internal “how about no” list.

        The art of networking is becoming an increasingly lost art, as well. With so much (legitimate) criticism of good old boy networks, what is being lost is that networking is still a critically important skill.

      2. Artemesia*

        This. I see this stuff all the time on line. I actually know a small law firm that hired a guy who just walked in and asked for a job, showing gumption. Everything works sometimes — including the ‘shoe’ in the mail and the chocolate bar business card. Or someone has a page to fill with content — lots of job advice feels like something randomly made up.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      For years I thought there was something wrong with me because there is no way on this green earth I could bring myself to ask a complete stranger for a “referral” (whatever that means) just because we went to the same college.

      For me it was on the same level as asking a complete stranger for a million dollars. You just don’t do that.
      I am so happy to see Alison putting the kibosh on this idea.

    3. AnotherAlison*

      Not really are response to Forrest, but related to that question. . .

      My university school has their own “mentoring” network. I signed up because I’m on an advisory board, but I think I may leave the network. The first and only contact I had was someone who graduated in 2019 asking if I could advise him on getting a job at my company, while also complaining about how his past applications have gone nowhere, and not recognizing that my job and his target job are pretty distant cousins. (On one hand a more senior person can have some levers to pull, but on the other hand, I’m so far removed from an entry level field engineer and have never held that role or worked in that part of the company that I don’t have good advice for him.)

      I mean, I can simply say, sorry, I don’t have good advice, but the whole approach was really off-putting. I’m not sure what to do with this network, and I think the students/new grads are probably similarly confused.

      1. Forrest*

        uurgh. People keep coming and selling our senior managers on software that “allows your students to connect with alumni and network!” and it doesn’t matter how many times we point out that a real mentoring scheme is a) hard b) time-consuming c) requires a fair amount of management, they go for it. I’ve never run a full mentoring scheme myself, but I’ve been involved in enough to know there is LOT more to it than “point inexperienced person A at experienced person B, let them get on with it.” This is a perfect example of why!

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Ha, this is interesting to hear.

          Probably >5 years ago, one of our advisory board members wanted to start a mentoring network. She was on another one for a different school within the university and though our school should have one, only it would be more hands on. . .like not driven by a software platform for connection. She wrote a proposal and the department chair had it reviewed, and it was decided that there was too much liability for the university.

          Then suddenly it’s okay with this software platform in place. $$$ makes the world go round, and a salesperson out there somewhere must have made it happen.

    4. Massmatt*

      Sometimes it seems to be a cultural difference where people are not shy about asking, as the worse thing that will happen is you’ll say no.

      I get a lot of Linked In requests from people in south Asia, especially India. I’m not in the area, have never been there, there’s nothing in my profile indicating I have, nor is there even an alumni connection. But I get 1-2 of these per month out of the blue. Mostly they are just looking to connect with me, not a recommendation for a job, but still.

      You can send out 100’s of generic requests for free in very little time. Getting connections supposedly ranks you higher in searches and makes you look better, and who knows maybe one will get you a conversation and interview. Small chance of any big gain, but low effort also.

  20. DoomCarrot*

    RE #4 – they must not realise they’re actually hurting their chances by showing how little they care who’s actually reading it.

    I recently received an e-mail sent to me and the other authors of a publication I’d contributed a chapter to (all openly CC’d) claiming the sender had read my paper, thought my work was amazing, and wanting help getting into my field. (Which, since it’s fairly new, has no obvious career path yet.)

    The thing is, he started it off with “Dear Sirs”, and neither I nor about 1/4 of the other recipients is a “sir”. And if he put in enough effort to find out our contact details and write to us specifically, surely, he must realise that?

    I don’t think it’s a language issue, as the message was sent from a UK university account and signed with an English variant of a male Biblical given name.

    So now I’m still dithering on whether to ignore it (since he obviously wasn’t talking to me) or pointing out that this is, in fact, the 21st century, and attitudes like that will definitely not help him in the long run.

    1. lailaaaaah*

      Depends how invested you are in his future. I did occasionally respond to would-be candidates with advice like ‘please ensure you actually spell check applications in future’, but with someone who’s put so little effort into his email (and his own career, apparently), I don’t know that I’d bother.

    2. Metadata minion*

      Is it possible this was someone who uses an English name at university even though they’re not from an English-speaking country? Normally I wouldn’t reach so far to excuse possible sexism, but the “Dear Sirs” thing is something I see a *lot* from international students who apply to campus jobs I’m hiring for. That sort of idiomatic greeting can be weird to translate, and I could easily see someone going “ok, ok, this (tragically out-of-date) guide says to use Dear Sirs in business communication when the recipient’s name is not known” and not really take in the fact that “Sirs” implies you’re addressing only men.

      1. DoomCarrot*

        Maybe, though that’s a very generous reading.

        But in this case the recipients’ names were known as he sent this e-mail to us, specifically, and would have had to research our contact details to do so. He just didn’t bother addressing us individually or even inclusively.

  21. t*

    #2 – I worked with someone who did this. I knew her socially as one name that was a somewhat uncommon first name and a more common last name. Then I met her professionally – I had a meeting with a new person with that same last name, different first name and I never thought it would be that person I knew socially. But when I came into the meeting to a familiar face, I just rolled with it. It didn’t make me think she was any less trustworthy or capable, just maybe a little outside the “norm”. I quickly learned she was awesome at her job, so the name thing didn’t matter at all.

  22. A Pinch of Salt*

    I used to take my personal laptop to work and use my phone as a hot spot so I could do job applications in my office at lunch without using the company network.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Sincere question. If I am using the company wifi, can’t they tell somehow? I do a volunteer job where reports are sent that say how much the wireless connection is used. The reports are pretty specific with date, time, duration, etc.

      1. Lynn Whitehat*

        They sure can if anyone cares to look. That’s why A Pinch of Salt was using a phone hotspot, to go through that instead of the company’s WiFi.

      2. anon73*

        Yes they can tell. Nothing you do at work is private, and can be accessed at any time by someone in IT. But realistically, unless you’re not getting your work done and they’re looking for a reason to get rid of you, or what you’re doing is using a ton of bandwidth, the likelihood of them looking at what you’ve been doing on the network is slim to none. Depending on the size of the company, it would take at least 1 person full time to track what everyone is doing.

    2. Triumphant Fox*

      I am not technologically savvy. So if you used your computer from your home wifi, they wouldn’t be able to tell you were applying for jobs (obviously you wouldn’t use your work email)?

      1. Oxford Comma*

        There I think you would be fine. Unless they’ve made you download some sort of tracking software.

        1. Triumphant Fox*

          Ah got it! I use my work computer almost exclusively and worried about applying to jobs in the evenings. Sigh of relief.

      2. IT Guy*

        If you log into a company VPN you are on the company network so anything you do while on the VPN can be watched by company IT even if you are on your personal PC. While you are on the company network “incognito mode” or clearing your cache won’t help.

        Personally, I use my personal PC not on the company network for anything that is non-work related. If you are at work, use your phone as a hotspot or just use your phone (not on wifi!).

  23. Aperson*

    #2 – At my world people tend to add quotes around their preferred name in emails, and that helps alleviate some confusion (I.e. you’d sign off as Penelope “Gates” McLastname). Not sure if this would help in your office, but it may be a way to just have the difference in names shown somewhere so coworkers and all are familiar about with difference.

  24. Brooks Brothers Stan*

    When I worked primarily in sales it was an easy tell for who was actually someone’s friend and who was pretending to be. For instance, my Big Boss went by his initials in the professional space and people would try to go, “But I’m friends with [diminutive of Boss’ real name].” Well, he didn’t go by *that* name with his friends either. So it became an easy pushback, “Oh really, then you should know that his friends call him…”

    I also do the same thing. I have a professional name and a name I ask my friends to use, even within social groups at my job (i.e. my professional name is Bobbert but my friends know me as Rob). It rarely causes any confusion, and most people I know have zero issue with any potential stream crossing.

  25. Not So NewReader*

    Just a general comment. OP#5 brings up a great topic for discussion when she says, “I’ve been working since I was 15 and I am now in my late 30’s. Mostly minimum wage jobs while completing my BA and MA. (I was ignorant about better options at the time.). ”

    OP is not the only one. I remember really struggling to figure out what to do with myself for employment while at school. No internet in those days and a bunch of other things were different then too. I think advice for younger people on how navigate this one strategically would not only help younger people but also help parents who really don’t know what to tell their kids.

    1. #5*

      I do feel that lack of understanding my options hff as affected my entire life. No one talked to me at home or school. I took out higher student loans despite working through school because I wasn’t making much money. A lot of stress and little return, now debt.

  26. AnonyNurse*

    #5 – I feel you so much. I’ve been in your field and then in nursing. For me what I realized is I needed jobs where the stakes were lower, where I didn’t feel directly responsible for whether someone lived or died.

    However, I caution you in thinking that your colleagues who aren’t burned out, who aren’t as empathetic as you, aren’t as good at their jobs as you. That was my thinking for years, starting when I worked in child protection. And over nearly 20 years, I’ve learned that what makes someone a good social worker, counselor, health care provider is a combo of traits. And being able to compartmentalize, to set boundaries, to be able to do the work healthfully is a strength. It doesn’t mean they care less. They care different. And getting burned out to the point of not being able to function or needing to quit isn’t actually good for clients — or for you.

    I’ve learned that I, personally, cannot do the direct work and keep myself well. And I feared I wouldn’t feel fulfilled being a step removed. But it turns out I’m really, really good at other stuff. I work at a non-profit now, providing technical assistance and support to the types of programs I used to work in. I “get it” so they trust me, and supporting them doing the work instead of me doing the work has been phenomenal.

    So find what works for you. But don’t dismiss different ways of working and don’t assume your way is better. It isn’t — cause it leaves you so drained you can’t keep doing it.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I so relate to this.
      I found that caring can manifest in different ways for me. And I ended up in a job that is not human services but the fact that I care about people in general, care about my boss, and care about my work has been a huge asset.

      The other thing I rediscovered is giving care/concern and actually seeing positive results. I had forgotten what that looked like. I got use to throwing my care and concern into a black hole that never filled up. The futility of of it all was overwhelming. I mean overwhelming in an extreme as it tore away my health and started to chip away at the quality person I knew I wanted to be.

    2. #5*

      I’m not saying that they aren’t as good at their jobs overall. I’m acknowledging that some of the people that I have seen do well are better than me when it comes to rolling with bureaucracy. I’m definitely not saying that they care less as a whole, though in some situations that appears to have been the case. I’ve known these coworkers pretty well in close knit teams and where they might be stronger in one area, I am others. Im basing this on conversations with others involved and not solely my opinion. Thanks for your feedback and your perspective.

  27. Twisted Lion*

    #3 Im sorry you are having to deal with this. The fact that he touched you creeps me out and that he wont use a closer printer. I suggest getting a privacy shield for your monitor if you dont have one. I would also mention it to your boss or HR because it sounds like you are uncomfortable and are worried its your anxiety. I dont think it is. He is invading your personal space on purpose. This is a red flag for me.

    Also the vindictive part of me says eat a lot of gassy foods and start farting up a storm when you see him coming by. But I have lactose issues so its easy for me to accomplish this.

    1. Helen J*

      Agree on it being creepy. I probably would have screamed when he touched me to keep from falling. If OP can’t move their desk or build a barrier, maybe screamed/making loud startling noises to attract attention from other coworkers would get him to stop. Maybe not, but I would do it anyway

  28. Agnes*

    I’ve gotten a lot less critical of people teaching out to me about jobs in my organization. The job market is so hard right now in many industry sectors and I think people are just trying to do what they think will help them get a job in a really tough job market.

    I just tell those who reach out to follow the instructions on our job board to apply for the jobs they want. If they push I just tell them I cannot assist them any further and wish them well.

  29. Secondary Trauma*

    #5: My spouse did community health with high need clients (think teens and youth involved in the justice system). It was incredibly stressful work and she changed jobs several times due to burnout.

    A couple years ago she got a job in a more administrative roll in the field. She is still helping people, but since she has no direct client contact, the secondary trauma is not as bad. Plus it is better pay and better hours.

    1. #5*

      It’s good to know that other people have experienced this. I have family that just don’t understand and compare/contrast me to siblings who have longstanding careers in the trades. It’s a whole different ballgame.

      1. K*

        LW #5, I just want to say that I completely understand, to the point where I feel like you’re me in 10 years or so. (I’m in my 20s + no Masters degree currently, but I’ve absolutely been bouncing around the behavioral health field for a bit without making much money.) The truth of the matter (in my experience) is that almost all direct service jobs pay very little money for the amount of education and responsibility that they require, and the stress is intense. I agree with other commenters to try looking into options with similar organizations that require less direct work with clients – your experience will be a plus for these roles. There’s also no shame in shifting to a role that involves working with a less intense client population.

        1. #5*

          You don’t have to be me though! Look into your options. Especially if you are interested in your Masters degree. Make sure you really want it and need it. Google is beginning to offer certifications that can be used as a career reset. I’m looking into those.

      2. Filosofickle*

        It’s 100% not just you. These are tough fields. Early on my partner worked at a residential facility for teens with severe behavioral issues and it burned him out so badly he gave up on his dream of going into counseling. He’s now going back, many years later, but considering very carefully what populations and environments where he can do meaningful work without it clobbering him. For example, addiction would be a very logical path for him, but he knows that won’t be good for him. I also have a friend who’s a social worker with CPS, and she works the call-in line instead of being a case worker. I asked her once how she could take those calls all day without spiraling, and she said it’s easier because she never gets attached / involved. She gets to make a difference, from a distance.

  30. foolofgrace*

    #4: So would the OP just ignore these emails, or respond that they can’t comply because they don’t know the person’s work? I’m reminded of job applications/resumes disappearing into a black hole in response, it doesn’t feel very good. I guess ignore…

    1. pancakes*

      An email asking a stranger for a favor isn’t quite an application or a resume. Anyone expecting a response is being unrealistic.

    2. Observer*

      What the OP is getting are not applications, nor are they supposed to be getting resumes. So, if not getting a response doesn’t feel good, it might actually be a good thing – it might make them avoid doing this.

      Now, not responding AT ALL to an application that was submitted appropriately or a resume that was sent to the hiring manager of an open job *is* a crummy thing to do to people.

    3. OP of #4*

      I ignored this particular invite. If the student did some more homework and ask for more specific topics about the company’s work, I’d at least reply. The message sounds like one of “spray and pray” kind of job applications: People don’t bother to customize the applications or read about the company at all.

      A black hole doesn’t feel good at all indeed.

  31. I NC You There*

    #2 and the comments made me realize just how many people I know who have two names! One friend I met at work used a nickname but switched to her first name when she changed jobs. She became a client of mine and there were some pleasant laughs over me calling her by her nickname and her boss looking very confused. But it wasn’t bad and she wasn’t offended, it was a blip.

    I have a bunch of friends who have family names and social names.

    And as an aside, “Gates” is such a perfect example! I went to the same university as Gates McFadden, same major, and a whole bunch of people still referred to her as Cheryl. Took me some time to figure that out, but in my defense, I was young and IMDB didn’t yet exist.

    1. AGD*

      All I am is a huge Star Trek fan, but I remember thinking she’d carved a really neat combination out of her full birth name. Then I got used to seeing it and stopped noticing, haha!

  32. Oryx*

    I’m wondering if there is a way for #2 to use a first initial, like E. Gates Lastname. I’ve known a couple people who always went by their middle name but used a first initial to, presumably, avoid confusion like this for people who knew/know them by their first.

    I know it’s complicated by the fact that E is a nickname and not OP2’s legal first name so it wouldn’t necessarily work for paperwork, but it might help bridge the gap between the personal and professional lives.

  33. Clawfoot*

    Re: Letter #2
    Funny story. Years ago, my husband and I worked at the same job. He hated his first name, and so went by his middle name with friends. So with his own social circle, he was “Rob,” but with his immediate family (parents, siblings) he was “Johan.” He also went by his first name at work, to avoid any confusion between what he was known by and what was printed on his paycheque (this was in Ancient Times before direct deposit was a thing).

    So because I was with him both with our friends (where he was Rob) and his family and at work (where he was Johan), the two names became utterly interchangeable in my mind. I would flip back and forth between them all the time.

    So, you know how at work you get to chatting with people and you tell anecdotes about your friends and family? I would tell anecdotes about my married life with my husband (because he was a seriously funny guy). They all knew I was married to Johan. But sometimes “Rob” would slip out instead.

    Yeah. Well. One time, a coworker pulled me aside and asked, “Um, does Johan know about Rob?”

    1. AnotherAlison*

      I am not sure how you make this make sense! I have a friend whose husband is similarly Jared/Vinny.

      1. Tabby*

        Easy! My legal name is Elizabeth, but I hate it. I go by Levi. When people ask, I simply say, “I hate my legal name, so I don’t use it except for legal paperwork (id, taxes, paychecks, medical).”
        Everyone at my jobs calls me Levi. My dogwalking boss will introduce me to new clients as Levi — the only reason anyone would need my legal name is for the purpose of writing a check to me, which is rare, and typically only happens if they want to give me a christmas tip, or the like.

  34. Mel_05*

    OP2: When I was a kid, I had a friend a church named Doug. One day he brought a friend from his neighborhood who repeatedly called him Cam. Turns out that he was actually Douglas Edward Cameron and went by different names in different social settings! We teased him about it for a little bit, but it was never confusing after that first situation.

  35. Myrin*

    #1, not that I think that anyone cares but if it eases your mind, while sending your application during business hours, you could be on vacation or lying in hospital with a broken foot for all a prospective employer might know.

    1. Delta Delta*

      Or taking a break or lunch or whatever. There are plenty of times during a day when someone might reasonably be available to apply for a job.

      1. Leeza*

        I’m a bit of an overthinker and I just scheduled my application emails to send out at whatever time I thought was appropriate (for me, 8am- not work hours, makes me look like the go-getter I wish I was)

  36. Just delurking to say...*

    #1 – My eyebrows only rise when someone sends an application at 3am. I can’t imagine being that compos mentis at that hour.

    1. Roeslein*

      Ha, I only ever did that once – the night after the results of the Brexit referendum came out and I started frantically applying to jobs on the Continent and in Ireland. I was working in the City in London at the time and all I could think was “I want out”. And I actually got a couple of interviews out of these middle-of-the-night applications!

    2. irene adler*

      If one’s work start time is 4:30 am, then one might very well be up -and functional- at 3 am.

      (I’ll just add that I’m not much fun at parties as I’m usually dozing off.)

    3. Elenna*

      Meh, if I didn’t have to stick to a 9-5 work schedule, I would totally be sleeping 8 am to 5 pm. Some people are just night owls.

    4. Evan Þ.*

      Time zones. If I’m sending you something at 3 AM, it’s probably because you’re on the East Coast, and I (on the West) am actually sending it at midnight.

      I realized recently that my cousin was under the impression that I’m a super-night-owl…


    #5 – I work in behavioral health too, sometimes a total break from the field is needed or you can use your skills in a different way. I work in utilization management for mental health services for an insurance company. In my job I utilize my skills as a therapist to approve mental health and substance abuse insurance claims and help detect fraudulent ones. Its great for me because I was facing burnout but with this job I still get to help people (the reason I got into behavioral health) but I got a break from the day to day direct work.

    1. AMT*

      I’ve often heard utilization review recommended as a safety-valve career for therapists experiencing burnout. This is corroborated by my observations working in hospitals (the UR people just seemed so…chill). Other options: care management (lots of remote jobs), intake coordination (still in a behavioral health setting, but no caseload), HR, telehealth, and the oasis of free time and money that is a well-run private practice.

  38. Gnizmo*

    #5 Burnout in the behavioral health field seems really well handled in my experience. I have worked a similar path as you from what I can tell. I ended up working for child protection as an investigator for a while and that ended about how you can expect probably. The burnout was to the point that I took a couple years away from any form of emotionally sensitive care so I could rebalance myself.

    After it was done switching gears back into the field was super easy, and from what I have seen switching to a different focus in the field is just as easy. A simple “I burned out and now I need to do something different” moved the conversation along quickly and comfortably. Even going back to the areas where burnout is a real risk it was seen as either neutral, or an asset oddly. Basically no one expects you to be willing to go through that twice so you become more attractive than the bright eyed and bushy tailed new person who still has a harsh lesson in compassion fatigue waiting around the corner.

  39. cabbagepants*

    Alison, I received a cold LinkedIn message akin to #4. Honestly, it was so pushy that it made me angry, though I was sure to give a very measured response.

    Here is the message. I’ve taken out sensitive and long bits but otherwise left it unchanged:
    “Dear Dr. [me], I would appreciate your help by providing a direct introduction by email or phone to anyone you know who works at [my company]. Currently, I am a Ph.D. student in [field] at [university that has no connection to my alma mater]. My area of research is […]. I have expertise in the following topics [numbered list of 9! items]. Please include my LinkedIn Profile [link] in your introduction and a short introduction about me that includes my [x] years of experience in the fields of [y and z] that I’m interested in a job opportunity as an intern. [PDF of resume] [no sign-off, thanks, etc]”

    I received two messages just like this from soon-to-graduate PhDs from the same university in about a week. The entitlement made me want to slap these people, and I’m not violent. I actually sent a (polite!) note to the university’s career services team because these messages felt so egregious. Was that a reasonable reaction?

    My response to the individuals on LinkedIn was “[name], thanks for your message. I do not endorse or introduce people whom I don’t know well. Best of luck in your search.”

    1. irene adler*

      I think you handled everything perfectly.
      I notice that the job listings on LinkedIn list the number of employees who graduated from the same university that I did. Initially, that info made no sense to me. Now I understand, through your experience, what use that info might be to a job seeker. And I object to this!

      1. cabbagepants*

        See, I’m actually extremely happy to help people, including strangers, with their job applications, and I have done it for a handful of people already. If these folks had reached out and been more humble and ASKED for a reasonable amount of help with the understanding that I’d be doing them a favor, I would have had an entirely different reaction than DEMANDING hours of work, plus staking my own reputation, in the first communication.

    2. Artemesia*

      Once is a possibly clueless job seeker; twice suggests the career service or someone there is pushing this, particularly if the wording is similar. Well done. This note is slightly pushy from one’s own PhD student for whom one has an obligation although giving a recommender details to include is a good idea (if the person is dealing with their own professor, former employer etc)

      1. cabbagepants*

        For me, it wasn’t the content per se as much as 1) the tone of telling me to do something vs humbly requesting a favor; 2) dumping the entire request into the first communication.

    3. KoiFeeder*

      No, you definitely should’ve sent that message to career services- as I mentioned below, if it weren’t for the university name, I’d’ve thought #4 had graduated from my undergrad! It’s the same darn script that they use for this sort of thing.

    4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      If I do anything (less and less likely), I do the same, but I leave out the word “well”, because I don’t know them at all, I wouldn’t want them thinking they have their foot in the door and can schmooze with me until I feel I know them better!

    5. MeganTea*

      For PhD students (and other graduate students), they may be getting the advise from a faculty member in their department, rather than from their career center. Still, I think it’s always a good idea to let the career centers know that their students are acting on bad advice (even if the students are getting the advice elsewhere). A decent center would want to work to correct bad advice floating around their institution.

    6. OP of #4*

      I’ve worked with people with PhD in the university setting in the past. Some of them sounded and acted entitled. They said things such as, “You don’t have a PhD so don’t touch this” or “I’ve a PhD and should not worry about setting up the appliances.” I’m not surprised if the students just follow their PhD advisors’ footsteps and be entitled.

      The tenured faculty members need to realize that passing on their entitlement isn’t doing their students any favours in the long run.

  40. BadWolf*

    OP3 — (jokey answer) — Positive/Negative reinforcement training. Every time people cross behind your desk, greet them with enthusiasm and cheesiness whenever possible. On the phone? Wave at them. Talking to a client, quick “Oh hi, Bob, I’m with a client right now.” Do not engage when they walk in front, the non-annoying way.

    “Hey Fergus, case of the Mondays, right?”
    “TGIF, Fergus, I know I said it this morning, but it’s still true.”
    “Boy, killing a whole forest today, aren’t we Fergus.”

    If it helps a tiny bit in solidarity, we were moved into an open workspace in groups of lines, in my group, we all walk out towards the nearest walkway to our seat even though it is may not be the shortest path to avoid walking behind coworkers. And I’m sure we have a bigger space to walk through than you do.

  41. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    OP #1: I’ve never once in my life looked at what time an application was submitted, and I’ve been involved in hiring for 30 years. You can rest easy on that front.

  42. Gigi*

    To Burned Out:

    You have all the symptoms of Compassion Fatigue. It’s not something you can toughen up through, not without significant damage to your mental health. Please consider getting some counseling for this very real thing. In fact, there are counselors that specialize in it. Even a couple of minutes a week on Talk Space would do you a world of good. I remember the first time a social worker gave a presentation on Compassion Fatigue to my office (working on International Parental Child Abduction) – I looked around and all of us were crying. It was such a relief to know what we were feeling/experiencing was real and not weakness on our part.

    Since it sounds like your whole office or organization works on these issues, maybe your boss would even consider getting a trainer or counselor to come in and work with the staff? I bet you’re not the only one. And if you get some help, you might even find yourself refreshed to go back to this important work you’re good at and used to love.

    Good luck to you, and please take care of yourself.

    1. #5*

      Thank you. I’m aware of compassion fatigue. In my experience, companies absolutely expect you to work through it. But I know that it’s not a good or sound choice right now. The whole department was struggling when I left, but the company presses on due to contractual obligations.

  43. Yup, Yup, Nope*

    None of my in-laws on my husband’s maternal side go by their legal names. They have all had nicknames since birth that are not the common to their names – one actually goes by a nickname to his middle name! My MIL continued the tradition with her children so my husband and his brother both have legal names that they have never been called. She actually picked the nicknames then looked for names that correlated to those. I asked her once why she didn’t just name them the names she wanted to call them. Her response was that “those aren’t real names…just nicknames”. They are 100% real names.

    1. Barbara Eyiuche*

      My grandparents did the same thing. They never used my father’s official name, only his nickname. At the time, in their church, parents were only allowed to name children names that were in the Bible. The nickname wasn’t, so to them it was not a real name.

  44. M. Law*

    My spouse and one of my parents both have two names, one used among family and old family friends and the other is their legal name used by work colleagues and nonfamily friends. (Their family names are not nicknames or obviously connected to their legal names.) Neither has ever suffered because of this. Yes, there have been brief moments of confusion on the rare occasion when family members meet colleagues or new friends, but it’s not a difficult concept for people to understand.

  45. Save the Hellbender*

    #2 — A big part of my job is donor research, and I will say that men do this ALL THE TIME. I can’t tell you how many men named something like Robert William Carter III go by “Bobby” or even “Bubba” “Tripp” “Skin” “W” in their personal lives but Robert at work. It’s probably a bit of a southern thing but I just feel like if men do it without others batting an eye (besides me, frustrated in my research) you shouldn’t worry about causing anything besides a little confusion.

  46. JenJen*

    As to the names, my uncle had multiple. His given name was First Middle Last, Jr. This was shortened to First Initial Last Initial. My mom gave him the family nickname, which ended up having two different endings, an “a” and an “ie”. He became a radio DJ, and picked a different first name for on air but used his middle name for his last name on air. Some where along the way his DJ first name became his social first name. So…he could be called all of the following: F.M., Nickname, DJ First DJ Last, DJ First Given Last. We got quite used to people looking at us funny when we used one and would just simply say “we mean (insert name they most likely knew him by)” to clear up the confusion. When he passed earlier this year all the names were listed in his obit and it became a moment of humor at the funeral when each speaker referred to how they knew him and what name they called him by.

  47. virago*

    #3 OP, how on board is your firm with COVID and recommended social distancing measures? I was thinking that HR could send out an email reminding employees of the need to adhere to social distancing restrictions in all company spaces, including in the space between other people’s desks and shared resources such as printers.

    Note: I’m aware that there’s a chance of this tool deleting the email w/o ever reading it. But OP could print it out and post it by the printer, so nobody could plead that they didn’t know about the policy.

    PS I’m going to be the ten thousandth person to suggest that this guy is counting on OP not to say anything because power differential.

    Given innate human laziness (to which I absolutely plead guilty), anyone who’s willing to walk to the printer that’s farther from their desk has an ulterior motive, unless the closer printer is out of paper/toner or doesn’t print color copies when you need them.

    1. virago*

      I meant to say, “I’m aware that there’s a 100 percent chance of this tool deleting this email without ever reading it.”

  48. Buni*

    #3 Obviously in 99.9% of all situations gaslighting is a terrible and unwelcome thing, but this is 100% a situation where I would use it: every day over a period of a week or two just shunt your desk + chair back a few inches at a time, and then express complete surprise the first time someone can’t fit through as they usually can…

  49. Erin*

    For the name-game employee: I know this scenario well. Years ago, I started an entry level role with a company that already had someone with my name. It was a commission based job, so, I didn’t want any confusion. I decided to go by my middle name. Lo and behold, I ended up working my way up the ladder a bit and I was Middle Name the entire 7 years.

    I left that company and I reverted to using First Name. There is a group of people who know me as Middle Name. I’ve answered the question you are stressing about many times. I just have a short & sweet version of the actual events….”I started at Company X and there was already a First Name. Because it was commission based, I decided to use Middle Name! I never thought a summer gig would turn into working up the corporate ladder a bit! But, my full name is First Middle Last, so that’s the 411”

    Nobody has ever questioned me. And most folks usually just kind of laugh it off. Since it has been over 10 years since my time as Middle Name, my LinkedIn just says First Name/Middle Initial/Last Name

    It was kind of nice to be able to have that separation of work/personal. However, I also found that there is a lot of crossover from my professional life to my personal life. I’ve met some of my closest friends as Middle Name.

  50. Beth*

    I use a different name in non-work-related online activities (such as this!) that is not my legal name at all, and I’ve done it deliberately and consistently since becoming active online. My online activities are not my employer’s business, and I would rather make it as difficult as possible for a potential stalker to find me.

    When your intention is to avoid “crossing the streams”, my own experience has been that using a different name can help, and there’s been little to no confusion or problems. But nobody who knows me by my online handle would be calling me at work.

  51. Annie(mous) Oakley*

    #2 using middle names or different names for different contexts are more common than you know. As I noted in a reply, I work with someone who uses their middle name, but our system only shows first and last.
    Also, I have someone who i work with who is a published author and uses a pen name. I had just started at large business a few months before and had seen her around, as we worked on same floor. Didn’t know her name. I went to a writers gathering and she presented under her author name. Afterwards we talked as she recognized me. She said to look her up in directory if I’ve got questions. I thought her name was Pen Name but it wasn’t took me a month to figure out who she “really” was!

  52. learnedthehardway*

    OP#1 – I wouldn’t worry about when you apply for jobs. Most ATS don’t track the exact time you applied – at least, I’ve never noticed in the ones I’ve used (and I’ve used several).

    Also, most recruiters will understand that you can’t necessarily talk during business hours – when I’m recruiting, I always ask if the person is free to speak with me, and assure them that we can set up other time, if they aren’t.

  53. Ophelia*

    OP5, one thing you could do on your resume if you don’t want to completely remove the short assignments, is to reframe how you organize them. For example, if they were consulting assignments, internships or seasonal work, make that a heading, and then list a few relevant examples underneath. That way, you’re giving the reader a rationale for why the jobs are short, rather than having them think “oh, someone keeps firing OP every 3 months.”

    1. #5*

      I was wondering about that for contract jobs. Thanks! I plan to do a few versions and note if one gets more interest.

  54. Khatul Madame*

    I have a slightly different take on #4. The person who approached her at least identified the position of interest. So many, and not just new grads, send out vague messages “I am looking for a job, if anyone hears about an opening please let me know”. Sure, I hear about openings all the time, but a full-stack developer position would not be of much benefit to a jobseeker with say, a financial analysis skillset. I want to help people get jobs, but cannot do all the work for them. Rant over.
    So the LW4 could make an internal referral – put their resume in her company’s system against the position they wrote to her about. What she CANNOT do is make a recommendation – add a note saying that she knows the applicant from work or school and knows for a fact that they have the skills or qualities required for this job. If the LW feels generous, she could write back to the person: “I put you in the system for the job number you identified. Please understand that I am not in a position to personally recommend you to hiring managers, because I don’t know you. Best of luck in your job search.”
    I agree that the school and college career services should explain the referral/recommendation nuances. However, I also know that people in general and students in particular are rather bad at paying attention, so don’t expect the state of affairs to get better anytime soon.
    Finally, about informational interviews. Any overtures for an “informational call” I’ve ever received ended up in conversations about selling something to me or getting a job in my organization. To be honest, with the abundance of information available online about companies/nonprofits/government agencies I have a hard time imagining what questions an informational interview would even answer. I wonder if the AAM readers can share their experience giving real informational interviews, and how many interviewers do their research beforehand.

  55. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    Re: #2. My first real job, more than half of the people I worked with went by their middle names. Corporate set up everyone’s email with first names. I spent months trying to figure out who was who.

    I finally resorted to writing names like this:
    From: G. Julius Caesar
    To: G. Pompeius Magnus
    Re: Graecia Magna
    Veni, vidi, vici.

    People got to see the names they wanted. I got to remember names that reconciled with email addresses and paperwork. I won that battle on confusion, though I definitely lost the war.

  56. Middle name squad represent!*

    #2, last time I changed jobs I started using my middle name at work for similar reasons. My middle name isn’t gender neutral, but it’s less feminine (think “Daisy Petra Smith” or somesuch) and I’d been wanting for years to use a less flowery name professionally.

    My LinkedIn profile name says Daisy Petra Smith and people have seen my credit card at group lunches, so it’s not a secret, but I’ve only been asked about it a couple of times. When that happens, I answer truthfully and unapologetically (“Oh, Daisy is just so flowery, it doesn’t fit my work mode at all!”). Even after they know my full name, people just go on calling me by whatever I was introduced as.

  57. Former call centre worker*

    #3, I used to work with someone who was very easily startled and would gasp loudly and be visibly shaken if someone’s presence took her by surprise. We all learned not to come up behind her too quickly and to take care how we got her attention. Generally people don’t want to make others feel uncomfortable so if you tell your colleague that you’d rather he didn’t go behind your desk, and appear uncomfortable when he does it, he’ll probably stop.

    If that doesn’t work, then I can tell you that pretending he made you jump and feigning some dramatic gasps, shocked expressions, fanning yourself as though calming your nerves, etc, will probably have the desired effect.

  58. Jean*

    LW #3. I would be sorely tempted to “accidentally” forcefully scoot my chair backwards while that creep was lurking around behind me and spying over my shoulder. “Oh, sorry, didn’t realize you were still using this area as a walkway even though there’s already a walkway in front of my desk.” Maybe walking around with a painful bruise for awhile will tip him off that his behavior needs to change.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Or open up an MS Word document and type in 60 pt font “The pervert is looking over my shoulder again, isn’t he?” and leave it open on one monitor or half of a screen.

  59. atthebeachmom*

    For #5, it may be less about the field in general rather than the specific jobs you have held. I’ve been in the field over 30 years in a variety of roles. You may have worked for agencies that have not provided the support necessary to continue in the field. You may want to look into private practice, being in control of your own schedule and working for yourself may make a huge difference. You could also do something adjacent for a while. One of my former colleagues took a year at an insurance company doing reviews and then came back actively to the field. Others went to school systems where there is significantly less paperwork. Others shifted into training, program management or field placement offices in graduate programs.

    It is absolutely okay to take stock and determine whether you need to make adjustments to doing direct service work. The field is broad and there are many opportunities. I would definitely caution you against statements like these, “I’ve seen more neutral colleagues do really well in the field long-term, but would argue that they are less individually effective and just more adept at dealing with a broken system.” Try taking the Pro-Quol ( to see whether it is compassion fatigue or burnout.

    Those of us who have remained in the field have made many adjustments. I did agency work initially, which then became unsatisfying after a change in supervisors. My caseload went up dramatically and my supervisor barely supervised. I moved to a teaching and training facility that specialized in treating trauma. I would have stayed there had I not had a child born with medical needs. I shifted to private practice then, which worked for my family but which was less satisfying to me. I’ve done more than a decade now as a clinical director at an acute residential program for traumatized teens. The combination of training clinicians and interns, individual work with clients, and creating trauma-specific programming has been great. But I’m feeling the end of my tenure here. Not because I care more and others care less, just because I’m approaching 60 and cannot physically do the 12 and 14 hour days any more.

    It’s also okay to leave the field if you want. But be careful about the stories you tell yourself about that. Because all fields have their pluses and minuses and if you find yourself caring more than everyone else wherever you go, then that is more about you than it is about the places where you work.

    1. #5*

      I have definitely lacked support in different positions, so you’re right there. I didn’t feel this way in jobs before behavioral health. I actually used to like retail! But I can’t be in my feet like that now. Thank you very much for the feedback.

  60. Oxford Comma*

    Unless you’re using your work email for the application, I doubt anyone will notice or care. Also, maybe the application is coming in at 9:30 AM on a Monday, but maybe you took the day off. How would anyone know?

  61. PSA*

    I’ll happily share my script for refusing to engage with political talk (works on all sides!). If someone starts talking to me about politics and I don’t want to engage, I just adopt a placid look and say “We’ll see what happens…” and just kinda trail off. It doesn’t give anything away about my own politics and it neutralizes pretty much any discussion because no one can argue: We all will, indeed, see what happens.

  62. Lizy*

    #2 – my husband goes by his middle name but uses his first for all things professional. When it comes up, he just says he goes by “MiddleName” and moves on. Most people are just like “ok whatever”. It might be a little more odd since it’s a nickname and odd middle name, but I think if you just say “yep I have a million names” and laugh it off as a nonissue it’ll be a … no issue.

  63. Delta Delta*

    #3 – I feel like I’d like a little more information about the physical setup of the office and if there’s something about the flow that would invite the coworker’s walking behind OP’s desk. I also think OP is fully within her right to ask him to stop walking behind her. If he doesn’t, she can elevate it to another senior person and also maybe add a house plant or something else to block the way.

    I say this because I have worked in 2 separate offices where the flow genuinely routed traffic in weird ways. In the first, in order for me to get from my desk to the printer/supply area I could either a) walk around the front of the receptionist, which would have required going through an outer door and back in through another or b) walk just behind the receptionist. The receptionist once asked me not to walk behind her because she felt like I was always looking over her shoulder. I didn’t realize it seemed that way – it just seemed like a more direct route from Point A to Point B, so I apologized and went the other way. It took approximately 4 additional steps to go the other way. No big deal.

    I worked in another office that had been an old victorian house and was converted into offices. There was an odd feature that part of the upstairs hallway also could serve as a conference room by shutting doors on either side. If someone was in the hallway-conference room and the doors were shut on either side, someone could either a) walk down a flight of stairs and around and up a second flight of stairs or b) walk through my office, which connected to another office, and walk through that one, too. More often than not (and this wasn’t often because the room wasn’t used much) people would just barge into my office and walk through rather than go down and up a flight of stairs. I asked that it stop and eventually the doors between my office and the other office were blocked so people couldn’t do this anymore. But it never registered with anyone doing the cut-through that it was a problem until someone said something.

    1. Observer*

      I think that this is relevant for most of the people who are walking behind the OP. But if someone doesn’t “register” the fact that there might be a problem with leaning so hard into someone’s space that you nearly fall onto that person, it’s not just a traffic flow problem.

  64. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

    To #3: This lawyer’s conduct is super creepy. It’s weird enough that he makes the effort to always go to a printer that’s farther away, but to walk behind your desk and pause there to look at what you’re doing? Yeccch! I’ve been a receptionist in a law firm. I think the suggestion to enforce social distancing is a good one. Have you ever just told him that what he’s doing makes you extremely uncomfortable? Because if he then continued to do it, you could go to HR.

  65. NoName*

    I’m so pleased to know so many people have professional vs non-professional names. I personally decided to go by my first name when I started by career after going by my middle name since childhood. It caused a little bit of confusion with some, but people got used to it. From my own standpoint, my first name is representative of my mother’s culture, so it prevents the occasional “where are from?” question. They can just look at my first and last name and figure it out.

  66. KoiFeeder*

    #4: If it wasn’t for the fact that the university name doesn’t match, I would swear blind that that was the template my undergrad career office provided for this exact situation.

  67. Silicon Valley Girl*

    #2 – We have 3-4 folks like this in my larger team at work right now! It’s no big deal for us at work, & we only know because it’s one of those ice-breaker-type conversations that have come up. One is our director, & she uses a nickname that has nothing to do with her legal name outside of work & she uses her middle name at work; think, “Lizzie” & “Janice” while her legal name is Samantha Janice Smith. She’s matter-of-fact about it & so are the other people using different names for their personal & professional lives. A simple explanation to those who might encounter the overlap is helpful, but otherwise, it’s not an issue.

  68. Esmeralda*

    OP #4, and all who complain about university personnel giving students bad advice: Please understand that very often we have NOT told them to do these things. In fact, we often tell them the right thing to do (for instance, asking for an informational interview) and how to do it, we even go over with them how to write the email, questions to ask etc etc etc.

    Students often do not pay attention to us. They go right ahead and follow advice they read on social media or in some online job search column, even when we tell them not to.

    I work with freshmen. They have an info interview assignment. It has excruciatingly explicit directions, we go over and practice the various pieces (how to find someone to interview, how to reach out to that someone, how to prepare for the interview, how to act when at the interview, what to do afterwards, what NOT to do at every step). And still, students will do everything folks here complain about. (Don’t even start me on the resume assignment — it’s a bouquet of “F” grades, which they can bring up by revising their resume and doing, you know, what I and the assignment told them to do. Sadly, many do not revise and thus I apologize to you for the terrible resumes you are forced to review.)

    I’m well acquainted with the folks in our university’s various career centers. None of them give terrible advice. Thousands of students. I swear to you, it is NOT our fault when students do these dopey cringey things.

    1. MeganTea*

      I was thinking that the PhD students most likely got this bad advice from their faculty advisor.

      1. OP of #4*

        Yes! That’s what I’ve experienced at university.

        Indeed, some of my former acquaintances who have PhDs recognized they’re so out of touch with the real world. They reached out to me to teach their graduate students how to look for a job and to write a resume that leads to an interview.

    2. KoiFeeder*

      And on the other end of the spectrum, my university career center wanted me to use a resume template that included a hello kitty pie graph.

      I’m glad you’re not giving out bad advice! That is a great thing to know, and I’m glad at least one campus has a career center where students can actually learn to do the right thing even if they do refuse to learn anything from you guys.

    3. Khatul Madame*

      Yeah, this tracks with my experience both as a hiring manager and a mother of current and former college students.

    4. Aggretsuko*

      Hahahahaah, this sounds similar. Students just do whatever the heck they feel like in my experience. I spend SO MUCH TIME trying to stop the lemmings from running off the cliffs.

    5. OP of #4*

      Hey! You should write a guest column for Alison! A “Top 10 job search myth from social media” would be great.

  69. S*

    #2 – yeah, two different unrelated first names is confusing. Just wanted to add that for women, having your professional last name be different than your legal name is not generally a problem in many fields. I know lots of women who are Mrs. Jane Husbands-name legally and in their personal lives, but Ms. Jane Maiden-name at work.

  70. caseykay68*

    For LW#5 you definitely are experiencing compassion fatigue. Along with looking for other positions, you should also do some looking into how to deal with/work through compassion fatigue. There are lots of good tools and several good Ted Talks out there.

    In looking for other positions, your skills gained from a crisis line are readily transferrable, think any kind of call center work and being able to work through crisis situations is an asset. You could consider call center management or other types of roles that would be able to use your skills but do not have the same intensity or urgency as the crisis center.

  71. Choggy*

    OP #3 – what is behind your desk, just a wall, or are there cabinets? Is there any way you could move your desk closer to it so that it limits the space even more? You mention others walk behind you as well, so you could just ask everyone not to do so, and keep on repeating that? Not sure what you think would happen if you asked people not to walk in the smaller of the two spaces, it actually sounds quite distracting. I like the ideas of putting in roadblocks but that’s also rather passive-aggressive. No need to be that way, just a pleasant, please walk in front of my desk will do.

  72. Lorac*

    I also think this has to do with standards from different industries. Many of my friends work in software engineering at FAANG companies, and their attitudes towards referrals is essentially: “Yeah, I’ll pass your resume along. HR will deal with it. If you get hired, I get a bonus.” And they’ll literally refer random people they meet at a party for a shot of getting a referral bonus.

    It took me a while to realize not all industries worked this way, and other people were put off when I just casually asked for a referral.

  73. virago*

    You mention others walk behind you as well, so you could just ask everyone not to do so, and keep on repeating that?

    This approach could be effective if the people who walk behind LW #3’s desk were other receptionists.

    But LW # 3 works at a law firm, and the chief offender is an attorney. Support staff at law firms are essentially told to put up or shut up when it comes to attorney behavior because the attorneys bring in the clients and, hence, the money.

    (I’m not a lawyer but I know some. For confirmation from a capital-S Source, Google “Survey of Workplace Conduct and Behaviors in Law Firms,” by Lauren Stiller Rikleen of the Women’s Bar Association.)

    Your suggestion of furniture rearrangement, eliminating the path behind LW #3, is a good one.

    Artemesia, earlier in the discussion, suggests two big but easily moved plants in glazed ceramic pots from Home Depot (a money tree or a palm, one on either side) and offers a backup plan if he doesn’t get the hint:

    I assume there is no one in authority she feels comfortable going to but if the guy doesn’t accept a tree blocking his route or moving the desk back then that is next. And mention. ‘It makes me uncomfortable that he leans in close and touches my shoulder’. THAT should set off alarm bells in the managing partner.

  74. SC Mill*

    OP#2: I just want co-workers to pick a name and stick to it. I still shudder when I think of the co-worker who changed her name 5 times in the years I knew her. (Multiple marriages and divorces.)

    1. Aggretsuko*

      How very Erica Kane of her….I used to be able to recite all of her husbands, but it’s been a while.

  75. SC Mill*

    OP#3: I would “accidentally” whip my chair around to jump up so that it slams into his ‘nads and loudly and profusely apologize. After a few of those, he would probably take another route. Snarling “get out from behind me” works, too, but I am a cranky old woman.

  76. Dancing Otter*

    OP3: what would happen if you inadvertently rolled your chair back just as he tried to walk behind you? Just gently, you know, not really hard — the first time. “Oh, dear, I tried to tell you it wasn’t good to walk so close behind me! Are you hurt? I’m so sorry! I just knew something like this would happen sooner or later!” And so on and so forth. You’re sorry it happened, but it was his own fault.
    After all, that’s your space, and there could be any number of reasons you might need to stand up or turn around to get something or even just try to get out of his way a moment too late.

    Me, I’d probably just prop my cane or umbrella there, preferably in such a way that he would knock it down, making a big noise at which I could exclaim in alarm. How can he reasonably complain about you keeping your belongings in your own workspace? (Especially the cane – what kind of a** makes a fuss about someone keeping her cane within reach? ADA territory! Might you have a sprained ankle or wrenched knee for a while?)

  77. Memememe*

    #3. I would be so tempted to play the ‘long game’ and just inch my chair and desk closer and closer to the wall behind you.
    Literally inch by inch for MONTHS… just to see how and when the lurkers start realizing how closed in this space is.

  78. Ginar369*

    The next time he walks behind you push your chair back. You don’t need to hit him with it. But just enough so that it almost does. Then you can say something like “Oh I didn’t see you back there! It might be safer for you to walk in front of my desk. I’d hate to run over your feet with my chair because I didn’t realize you were behind me!”

    At least that’s what I would do.

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