my mother-in-law got a job at my company, my new coworker is someone I talked to on a dating app, and more

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

1. My pushy mother-in-law got a job at my company

Over the summer, I took a job at a new company. Last week my mother-in-law called to announce that she had also gotten a new job … at the same company. We’ll be reporting to the same grandboss, though thankfully not to the same boss.

How on earth do I handle this? I don’t think this would be ideal even under the best circumstances, but my mother-in-law can be very pushy. She really likes big events in her adult children’s lives (graduations, weddings, relocations, new babies) to be conducted according to her preferences. She struggles with boundaries, and I prefer to be as vague as possible with her about the details of my life because she can be very critical. If she had been working at this company before I started, I would not have applied for the job, but now that I’ve had it for a few months, I really don’t want to restart a job search during a pandemic. I had no idea that she was even looking, let alone that she was applying to my current employer.

Also, I’m newly pregnant! My husband and I hadn’t planned on telling either her or our employers about my pregnancy until the second trimester. I was already dreading the increase of pushiness/criticism I have seen with her other grandchildren … and now I have to work with her every day. Do you have any advice? Am I crazy for being annoyed that she applied for a job at my work without even a heads-up?

Fortunately, I will be working from home for the foreseeable future. Even before the pandemic, many of my coworkers had negotiated remote work arrangements, and I was told that my role was considered compatible with remote work once in-person people return.

Updated to add: It turns out she’s going to be working more with HR and with my direct manager than I previously anticipated. I’m not super thrilled about her potentially having access to my performance reviews and this makes me even more wary.

Yeah, this isn’t great. But the saving grace — and it’s a big one — is that you won’t be working with her in-person, because that would open the door for a lot more potential weirdness, especially after you announce your pregnancy.

And yes, it’s odd that she applied there without telling you. Maybe she applied before you announced your job there, who knows — but once it was clear you were working there, it’s surprising that she didn’t tell you. (That said, if it’s a big company and she assumed you wouldn’t have much overlap in your work, it’s less weird.)

Have you talked with your boss about your concerns? A lot of employers would take steps to ensure her work won’t overlap with yours simply because of the family connection, especially where anything HR-related is concerned. And if you explain it’s important to you to keep as much of a firewall as you realistically can, a good boss will try to help you with that or at least will be straight with you if it’s not going to be possible. (Keep in mind, too, that working with HR doesn’t necessarily mean she’ll have access to your performance reviews; it’ll depend on the specific work she’s doing.)

It could be worth talking with your mother-in-law as well. Obviously it depends on how you think that conversation would go, but in a lot of cases you could talk with a family member about keeping work and family separate, wearing work hats while you’re at work, and being conscious of not crossing boundaries despite being colleagues.

But a lot of this might be about waiting to see how it goes, and being prepared to shut down anything inappropriate when it first happens so that you’re very clear from the start. For example, if she sends you work IMs about the pregnancy, you can say, “Oh, I don’t really talk about it at work. Got to jump on a call right now, have a good day!” Breezy refusals to engage might be surprisingly effective, since when you’re remote she can’t hijack your focus in the way people can when they’re right in front of you.

2. My new coworker is someone I was talking to on a dating app last year

I am a recent college grad working my first professional job. I was hired in May, and since March the company has been working remotely with no immediate plans to return to the office. I have one specific coworker who works with me on different facets of the same projects.

Here’s my problem: this coworker and I knew each other before I started working here. A few months before I started working here, I matched with “Josh” on a dating app. We got along really well, exchanged numbers, and made plans to meet up. We texted every day for several weeks, but the day before we were supposed to get together, I called off the date. I was still getting over a bad break-up, and I was home from college at the time, so I knew I would have to go back in the next few weeks anyway. He was very understanding and kind about it, and we haven’t texted since.

When I was hired, I recalled that Josh worked for the company, but there are hundreds of employees, and I didn’t immediately see his name anywhere, so I figured he must have found another job in the meantime. Little did I know, he goes by a different, more phonetic spelling of his name at work so as not to confuse clients. So when his position changed and he joined my team last month, I was initially unaware it was him Our company-provided computers do not have cameras, so I rarely ever see my coworkers’ faces. It wasn’t until he added a profile picture to our chat software that I realized who he was.

When we communicated over the phone before I realized this, we had such a good camaraderie, but now I’m insecure about my job performance or anything I might say to him. He has not given any indication that we knew each other before, so I am wondering if he even remembers me, and I am unsure how to address the situation. I wouldn’t even bring it up, but I am still interested in him romantically. Our workplace is very young (almost everyone on my team, my supervisor included, are in their 20’s or early 30’s), and I know that workplace dating is so common that it’s a bit of an inside joke in company culture, so that part wouldn’t be taboo.

We have occasionally talked about our personal lives on work calls, but I would really like to rebuild the budding relationship we might have had. However, we do still have to work in direct contact with each other, and I am worried he no longer feels the same way about me as he did a year ago. I still have his cell phone number, but I’m too nervous to actually text him again. How can I stop feeling awkward about this? Do I bring up the fact that we’ve talked before? Do I attempt more overtly romantic overtures? Or do I just leave everything as is and hope he brings it up, or even forget about these feelings entirely?

Well, if I can give some unsolicited dating advice: I would not recommend thinking of yourself as having romantic feelings for someone you texted with for a few weeks a year ago but never met in person. Certainly some people do carry on long-term relationships before they ever meet, but when you’re talking about a few weeks of texting, it’s easy for your mind to fill in the blanks about what the person is really like and you can end up invested in an idea of someone that doesn’t match the reality. (This was in fact the cardinal rule of online dating from the dating advice blog I used to run years and years ago in my youth.)

Of course, you do know him better now from your work calls! All I’m saying is, don’t put too much weight on the texting from last year.

Anyway. Back to this blog. Don’t attempt an overly romantic gesture with a coworker. Work just isn’t the place for that. But you could say something like, “I just realized we texted each other for a few weeks about a year ago, before I working here, and didn’t meet up because I was about to go back to college. If you ever want to have that drink, let me know! But just continuing to discuss the Jones account is good too, of course.” I wouldn’t say this on one of your calls since that puts him on the spot and requires an immediate answer; an asynchronous method like email or text would be better. And of course, you’ve got to be prepared for a no (which could be because he doesn’t want to pursue anything with a colleague/isn’t dating right now/has a partner/lost interest) so don’t say it unless you trust yourself not to make things tense or weird if that happens, especially since you’ll have to keep having contact with him.

3. I’m bombarded with requests for my time, despite having created a bunch of resources to answer questions

I’m a very well-known entrepreneur in a very popular field in my area. As it prospered during the COVID era, there are more and more people wishing to switch into this field every day. I consider this a great thing, and I have made myself very helpful and approachable – I have created informative brochures, Facebook groups, held lectures to college students interested in this field, etc., etc.

But lately, it’s getting SO exhausting. People are constantly emailing me with questions that could easily be found in absolutely any of the free materials that I have created; they are asking for “quick” phone calls to get information, and it’s even spreading and it’s really starting to take a toll on my time and mental health.

I don’t know how to stop. I very much value my work and my approachability and it has so far resulted in some great business opportunities, but it is not possible to continue this way. Still, I feel very, very rude for saying no or pointing to a brochure. Any advice on how to stop without feeling awful?

It’s absolutely okay — and often necessary — to put limits on how you spend your time, which for well-known and/or busy people often means saying no to requests. It’s not rude to do that! I mean, it’s possible to do it in a rude way, of course, but you don’t sound like you’re at risk of that.

What many people do is have a kind of form letter response that they can copy and paste,  modifying as needed to fit the situation. For example: “I’m really encouraged to see the growing interest in the X field! My schedule means that I can’t say yes to every meeting request I receive or I would never get to see my family, but because I get a lot of queries like this I’ve created materials that answer the most common questions I hear. (Link to resources.) I hope that helps, and good luck!”

More here and here.

4. We’re hiring someone else with my job title — what does it mean for me?

This week my boss announced they would be hiring someone with the same job title as me. They didn’t use descriptive words like “additional” or “replacement” so I don’t know what this means for me. I’ve been struggling lately and I guess I was shocked by this announcement since I had not heard anything about it, despite being very honest with my challenges. Do you think this is a bad sign or just an oversight and I should be thankful?

You can ask! I’d say it this way: “I wanted to ask about the search for another rice sculptor. When this person is hired, will that change anything about my role?”

It’s possible this is an additional person to take on some of the work, or it’s possible they’ll have totally different projects than you. It’s also possible they’re looking for a replacement in case you don’t work out, since you’ve been struggling. A decent organization wouldn’t do it this way, without talking to you about it, but it’s not impossible. Asking about how the role will intersect with yours will get you more info. (If they’re seeing this person as a possible replacement for you and they’re shady, they won’t necessarily tell you that — but you’ll still get some insight from raising the question.

5. Mentioning personal adversity in a cover letter

I’m a recent grad on the job hunt so I’ve been writing tons of cover letters. Some of the organizations I’m applying for are nonprofits that deal with poverty and surrounding issues. One of the reasons I’m interested in the work they do is due to family history — specifically growing up in an immigrant family that experienced poverty (fortunately, that time in our lives has now passed). In a few cover letters, I have mentioned this personal experience as part of explaining why I’m interested in the work. I’m wondering what your take is on this, in terms of if it’s appropriate to spend time in a cover letter discussing personal adversity as it is related to the organization’s work, or if that’s seen as too personal or something? This kind of thing totally flies in college applications, but I’ m not as sure for job applications.

For nonprofits, it’s really common for cover letters to say something personal about why the person connects to the organization’s mission. Don’t spend a ton of time on it — most of your letter should still be about why you’d do a great job in the role — but one to three sentences, absolutely.

Even outside of nonprofits, there can be room for it if you’re applying to do work that is in some way connected to a social mission or working with a specific population or so forth.

{ 212 comments… read them below }

  1. Enough*

    Re: #3 Could we please drop the ‘or I would never see my family’? It is unnecessary and comes across as they won’t believe me/won’t like me any more if I don’t ‘prove’ I have a good reason.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Sure. It’s not necessary and you don’t need to offer a reason. But I like to write notes that sound like I’m a real person — I feel better about sending them and and I find people respond to them better. It’s not about justifying the “no,” just about writing a more interesting/personal note than a plain old “my schedule won’t allow this.” (I also started using the language in the post because it was true for me.) But adapt to fit your style.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I smiled at that bit, so yes, you totally humanised the CEO there and it would be effective if aimed at me.

        I do also remember a time though when you published a letter that said something like “I haven’t read your blog or materials but could you look over my CV?” and you just answered with a plain “Nope”.

        (which I also agreed with actually since the guy was clearly acting entitled. I do get the impression that the people asking this OP for help despite the FB group and reading material could also fall in this category)

    2. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

      I know a CEO of a large organisation who has a standing schedule of x hours on a particular day every week during which anyone in the organisation can book in a 15min 1:1 with her. I think proactively offering that strikes a nice balance between approachability and her valuable time.

      Maybe OP could try something similar? Whatever the amount of time is they’re willing to allow for these requests: be upfront about the schedule, offer short appointments for calls in that window, and direct them to the resources in the meantime. It’ll probably filter out some of the more tiring requests, and it’s not a “no” they’re feeling the need to justify, it’s a “here’s what I offer”.

      1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        A distinction I’d draw there is that presumably it’s part of the CEO’s role to maintain a strong culture within her org. That is, she’s getting paid for that time that she’s spending with her employees and its contributing to some of her goals for the company.

        Without knowing more about OP’s role as an entrepeneuer, they could be giving away a lot of hours for free doing something like that, and it’s not likely to result in anything material toward their goals.

        1. There's probably a cat meme to describe it*

          Sure. But it doesn’t have to be lots of hours given away for free, it could be one hour a month, or less. OP could decide whatever schedule hits the right balance for them. It’s just about setting a firm limit on exactly how much and when.

          “I very much value my work and my approachability and it has so far resulted in some great business opportunities, but it is not possible to continue this way”

          I took that to mean it is resulting in something material towards OP’s goals, it’s just not sustainable in its current form.

          1. PoppySeeds*

            I think you are missing the point. The letter writer has already provided time and resources in the form of “I have created informative brochures, Facebook groups, held lectures to college students interested in this field, etc., et”

            The solution is not to give more when people continue to ask for more beyond the time invested and to their own detriment. They after all have a business to run. The LW has already given the time for these folks they just need to access these resources.

    3. Cat and dog fosterer*

      The people who aren’t doing a bit of research initially and who expect the LW to write a response are more likely to respond better to an explanation. In my experience it’s the ones who do the least work that have the highest expectations and respond to a generic email with anger at not getting personalized attention from volunteers and give bad reviews. The suggestion that excuses aren’t needed assumes that people are kind and rational.

      If you are in a public space then there are plenty of people who don’t believe you.

      1. PoppySeeds*

        I would agree. There are a lot of lazy folks out there who would rather ask where an item is rather than looking for themselves. I am far more impressed by the ones who approach having gone through the material and lead with a few questions that arose from the review.

      2. Yam44*

        When I started doing my own consulting, the thing that made the biggest difference by far, was being polite and assertive at the same time. To start with I was terrible at it and it felt awful, but gradually it got better.

        Clients and potential clients ask for free work (in different forms/ways) a lot, and that has to be managed so that I can still make it all work. Now when I have to say ‘no’ I know I have been polite and given them accurate information (where else to look for example) and how they feel after that that is their thing not mine.

    4. Esmeralda*

      Eh, it always sounds like a gentle bit of a joke/exaggeration. A social convention meant to smooth over the recipient’s possible bad feeling at having their request rejected.

      Without that phrase, or something similar, the rejection sounds abrupt. It is ok to include conventional phrases like this to be polite and to make people feel better.

  2. Artemesia*

    MIL in workplace — this is a classic ‘start as you mean to go on’ situation. You need to have this firm separation between workplace and home. And talk to your MIL about this — the need to be strangers at work and family at home. A pushy MIL will also be able to get her hands on your HR records if she works there. So you need to talk with your boss and HR person about creating a bright line between your work and records and her work and access.j

    People will understand this. You spin it as a need for professionalism rather than anything negative about her. But pushy MILs will make your life a living hell if you don’t establish and maintain this firm boundary.

    1. tamarack and fireweed*

      Yup. It would be good if her boss had the “I understand you have relatives working at our company, so it is particularly important that you are respectful of privacy boundaries and specifically, not to access any confidential information regarding them that you have access to without explicit instruction from me, which I’ll only give if there’s overwhelming need” conversation.

    2. LifeBeforeCorona*

      You could also mention to your MIL that HR snooping can lead to a firing. Hers, not yours. However, you will have to be on hyperalert for any hint from her that she knows things she should not have access to and approach your and her’s bosses immediately if that is the case.

      1. Amaranth*

        Unless they are already adversarial or openly acknowledge a lack of boundaries, this seems like something that should come from MIL’s new boss as a matter of fact ‘and of course, we realize DIL works here, so we’ll expect you’ll stay out of her records unless specifically tasked.’

        The whole conversation with HR or OPs manager should be extremely matter of fact, actually, so its not coming across as undercutting her MIL at the outset by saying she’d be nosy if not reined in.

        1. JessaB*

          exactly, a lot of places I’ve worked have specific rules that you are not allowed to interact with family at a work information level. If there’s a question, or some kind of, for instance payroll question, you are absolutely not permitted to go into the accounts and do anything. And since decent systems have access tracking, you don’t want to get caught out being in the records of accessing their files.

          So in a smart company it wouldn’t even be “your dil works here” it’d be “no matter what we do not permit relatives/very very close friends, etc. to mess around with the files of people related to them. Matter of factly. That it applies to everyone and is on page #x of the employee handbook.

          When I supervised at the answering service, a very good long term friend of mine moved near to me and ended up getting hired at the company. She was put on a different shift and even though I did the call reviews/quality assurance monitoring, I was not allowed to listen to her calls. Ever. Even if I was researching a call because of a customer question or complaint, I couldn’t do that alone. I’d wait for the day manager to come in (I was overnight,) and we’d go together to listen so there was no potential for me to try and fudge things if mistakes were made.

          1. BlondeSpiders*

            I work in HR at my firm, and our rule is that you cannot work in any department if you have a household or family member in HR. It’s not just performance reviews, it’s compensation, benefits, transfers, everything you don’t want a nosy MIL to see.

            1. Sometimes Charlotte*

              I wonder if the company knows she has a relative working there for just this reason. If she wasn’t clear with them about that, it could go poorly for her.

        1. mcfizzle*

          Considering MIL got a job at the same company with nary a word to her DIL, and the general description of MIL, I’d argue that isn’t a harsh enough starting point.

            1. Jules the 3rd*

              I am deeply happy that you have never had to deal with someone who tromps boundaries like this MIL is doing. But a chat like “ooh, you’re working with HR? Wow, they’ve put a lot of trust in you! I’m sure you’ll be able to handle it well, not like that person I heard about who read people’s HR records and *talked* about them! They got fired, it was awful! It’s good that you wouldn’t snoop.” is not adversarial, and is probably needed.

              Try reading some justnoMIL on Reddit, the boundary stomping goes from ‘walks in without knocking’ to stalking / assault. OP’s wise to try to head off something like that, this MIL’s waving some yellow flags.

            2. mcfizzle*

              Perhaps, but this is her career potentially at stake if MIL starts causing drama / issues. She has to look out for herself as she sees best.

            3. Rainy*

              My MIL is a snoop from way back (the stories poor Mr Rainy tells thinking they’re funny–!) and when they inflicted a visit on us at xmas a few years ago she waited until I was out of the room and then got into my email. I changed my password, of course, just in case, and two weeks later I got a note from gmail that someone from out of state had tried accessing my email account.

              If my MIL got a job at my organization, you’d better believe I’d be adversarial about making sure she couldn’t access any of my personal information.

              It’s nice that you haven’t encountered boundary stompers like this, but trust me, they exist.

              1. Rainy*

                It occurs to me that I’m not sure the access attempt was out of state. I certainly formed that impression at the time, but it was a few years ago and I don’t remember why I thought so.

                1. Wombats and Tequila*

                  Google tells you where the access attempt originated if it’s in a different location from you. That’s where Google knowing everything about you comes in handy, I guess. I had someone from Vietnam trying to break into my Gmail a few years back. Of course, the region information may have been spoofed, but the attempt wasn’t from me trying to get in from another device.

                2. Rainy*

                  Ah, thank you! I was starting to question myself–and gods know that if you bring up your MIL you get a lot of “are you sure the problem isn’t you” so I really second-guess myself about anything around her horrible behaviour.

          1. JelloStapler*

            +1 as someone with a pushy MIL herself, sometimes you have to put the boundary down harder than you think you should since they may try to step over it.

          2. SunriseRuby*

            I definitely see some cause for concern on the LW’s part, but I’m willing to give MIL the benefit of the doubt regarding not telling LW she was applying for a job at the company. She might have wanted to prevent loss of face if she wasn’t hired. If she’s a pushy, bossy know-it-all, she probably can’t handle rejection well, or bear the thought of her failures being made known in her circle of friends and family. I’ve never told anyone when I was applying and interviewing for different jobs, either, because it’s embarrassing to tell people you weren’t hired, and the expressions of sympathy or advice that follow just make things worse. I’ll take LW’s word for it that MIL presents a number of challenges, but MIL is also human.

            1. LW #1*

              One possibility I didn’t think of until Alison mentioned it was that we both applied before either of us worked there and I got hired first. The company pretty much always has jobs open in multiple different departments, and hiring timelines can vary. And of course, I didn’t tell MIL when I first applied because there was no reason to at that point! So I’m definitely frustrated that she didn’t raise this whenever she became aware that we might be working at the same place, but it’s possible it was a timeline snafu (especially since we were job searching at the same time in the same city and plenty of places have slowed down hiring).

          3. JSPA*

            That really depends on the workplace and location and sub-field.

            If there are dozens of roughly comparable jobs at many decently-run businesses in the area, it’s a bit funky.

            If this is the best / largest / one of the very few good employers in a 50 mile radius, and it’s common for many families to have multiple members somehow connected to that employer, it’s a lot less funky.

        2. Artemesia*

          Probably not harsh enough. This is the kind of thing if let go will be a situation very hard to come back from. Making sure she is warned that she CANNOT access information about her DIL and the DIL making sure that ‘professionalism’ means they are cordial strangers at work will prevent the kind of disaster that can’t be undone.

          Working with a relative even one who is not pushy Or hides they are getting a job where you work is potentially fraught. It is like roommates who don’t sit down and work out the ‘rules’ and responsibilities of the household on the front end and are stuck seething over each other’s behavior. The time to prevent problems is on the front end where you can say ‘it is always a little awkward to work with family members and so it is important to me that we are strictly professional at work.’ Make it clear so she isn’t ‘hurt’ that you are not friendlier or allowing those lines to be blurred.

          1. Lizzo*

            +1 to exceptionally firm boundaries from the start, and agree that if MIL didn’t communicate with OP about the fact that she was interviewing at the company where OP was already working, that speaks volumes about MIL’s lack of boundaries to begin with.

            1. JSPA*

              Could equally be taken as a sign that she’s intent on maintaining a work/family boundary, though. Way too many people “just mention” that they’re applying in a way that hints, “so put in a good word for me.” Also, if M-I-L needs the job (whether for the money, for the benefits, or because she’s going stir-crazy doing not much, at home), she might rightfully expect that there was a risk in telling OP ahead of time.

              What if the M-I-L wrote in as follows: “my D-I-L and I chafe on each other, and worse, I don’t seem to notice her boundaries until I’m far enough past them that she’s feeling wounded and reactive. There’s a perfect job at a large local employer where my D-I-L also works. The job is very good fit for me, the employer’s excellent, and I don’t have other comparable options. The job is not in the same department as my D-I-L, nor would we be in each others’ chain of command. Avoiding direct interaction, as needed, would be simple and straightforward. In addition, much of the work is remote not only for now, but for the foreseeable future. I have no qualms about maintaining good work boundaries. I worry, however, that if I mention to D-I-L that I’ve applied, she might torpedo my application. Do I have to tell her I’m applying? Or, once I’m hired, as is looking likely, do I have to tell her before I start? Or can I prove my professionalism and boundaries once I’m on the job, by being professional?”

              I’m pretty sure the answer would be, “it could be awkward, but so long as you’re not running afoul of any company policy, if you need THAT job, do what’s reasonable, as far as talking with your D-I-L (or not) until you’ve started THAT job. Do give your manager a heads-up, and be scrupulously professional.” (We’ve seen essentially this advice for ex’s, which is comparably fraught.)

              1. Lizzo*

                If MIL was invested in being professional, and was motivated only by the things you suggest, she could have spoken directly to OP at the time she applied and insistent that, if she were to get the job, boundaries would be maintained. The fact that she was secretive about the entire hiring process as it was happening is problematic, and is also consistent with how she’s handled boundaries with her own family to date, as relayed by OP in her letter.

      2. kittymommy*

        Well one would first need to determine if it actually would. Whether they should or should not be, in a lot of places personnel files are not super confidential.

    3. Sue*

      Yes, and do it immediately, before she starts if possible so there is no gap in the company’s knowledge of the relationship. I would be very direct but not personal about the concerns. And hopefully you and spouse are in agreement on boundaries with your family going forward.

      1. Mockingjay*

        Agree, immediately. Be matter of fact: “hey, my relative is starting here and I just want to make sure boundaries are in place first since we both fall under Grandboss.”

      2. Lizzo*

        Doing it (speaking to boss, grandboss, etc.) immediately also puts you (OP) in a better spot if your MIL instigates something that has the potential to jeopardize your employment or make your work environment uncomfortable.

        Think of it as a professionally focused heads-up for those with decision-making power. You’re not asking them to do anything, but you want them to have the full context if there is an issue.

    4. Jane Austin Texas*

      GIRL THIS. And I would take it a step further with your MIL and have a conversation with her! Say something like “I’m happy you have this new job, but I want to recognize the potential for awkwardness. my work is important to me and I’m hoping we can agree on some personal/professional boundaries up front.” And then state your demands.

      And also talk to your boss and HR to see if they can “lock” your HR records or help further empathize your personal/professional boundaries.

      FWIW, my mother (who works in the same field but not the same job) has followed me to TWO companies and I’ve had some form of that conversation several times. Super awkward! For me, it boils down to: work is work, home is home. My big boundaries are: No surprise visits at the office, and don’t talk about me to your coworkers. I’ve had to reinforce those boundaries several times but they are bright enough lines that the “rules” seem easy to follow.

      Good luck to you.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        For this part “and don’t talk about me to your coworkers.” just curious is this a hard boundary or do you mean to an excessive amount? I do not work with any family members but I do mention my family and in-laws to my coworkers.

        1. Mockingjay*

          Given what OP 1 says about MIL, I would say this is a hard boundary. But that’s for OP 1 to manage. My first MIL needed firm boundaries. My step MIL (after MIL passed) did not need boundaries at all. Adjust the advice to fit the person and the situation.

        2. Jane Austin Texas*

          Are you asking for me or the OP? I can’t speak to the OP, she may have a totally different boundary!

          In my situation, I prefer to keep the information that I work there too on the DL. If she’s going to talk about her kids (and I’m sure she will, we all do), I’d rather be the “coworker’s faceless kid” vs. “Jane the llama grooming supervisor on the 3rd floor.” There’s enough potential for crossover that it could become awkward (eg, Mom used to report to someone I am social with). For what it’s worth, I work hard to respect her boundaries. She is also a working professional. I respect that and want to give her professional space.

          Like someone said below, you have to set the rules that will work for you in your situation. And definitely start as you mean to go on. This will be so much harder to fix later if you don’t set boundaries up front.

          1. LW #1*

            This is one of the things I’m trying to think about now – MIL likes to decorate with pictures (particularly pictures of kids and grandkids), but now that we work at the same place I don’t really want the family photo from my wedding up on her cubicle/screensaver/whatever, whereas in her previous job I would not have cared.

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              I understand where you are coming from, especially with your MIL pushing boundaries in the past. I agree with asking your MIL not to shout from the rooftops that you both work together or talk about you a lot, but asking not to put up any photos of you and/or your family seems a bit much, mainly because in most office it is so normal for people to have photos of their kids/family. If you try to keep a real tight lid on it, the greater chances I think it has of blowing up, and it might make you seem weird/odd if you try to keep it a secret that you are related.

              I worked at a mid to large company that employed a pair of siblings (different departments) they acknowledged it and everyone moved on. I think it would have been weirder if they tried to keep it a secret that they were related.

              I understand you have different circumstances with your MIL, and if she wanted to put up a bunch of pictures of you to make it very obvious that you are related, it is reasonable to ask her to tone it down. But if she wants to put up a picture of you and your spouse at your wedding, or a picture of the whole family (with you in it) I think that is understandable.

              1. Rainy*

                My concern would be that with a photo of me up in my MIL’s cube, coworkers who knew me would stop by, say “Isn’t that Rainy from the 4th floor?” and then get an earful about what a piece of shit she thinks I am.

                1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  For me personally and for most people I think, that would back fire on MIL, it would make be think less of MIL and not Rainy.

                  But on the other hand if it comes out later that MIL and Rainy are related, and I learned Rainy did not want MIL to have even one picture of Rainy and spouse on their desk, I would think Rainy was being a bit weird/strict, unless MIL had already shown herself to be a boundary pusher/unreasonable.

                  Maybe this is my lack of dealing with boundary pushing people, but I think you should maintain the same boundaries across the board, and enacting stricter boundaries might make the boundary pusher seem like the reasonable one.

                  But maybe the no photos of Rainy at work is reasonable boundary even with a super respectful MIL just to avoid people making the connection that you two are related.

                2. Rainy*

                  I think you are correct and this is a fortunate lack of experience with boundary stompers. :)

                  This is unfortunately a common MIL problem–if you have a problematic MIL, this is usually one of the ways they’re problematic, and if they’ve already demonstrated that they’re a boundary stomper, you have to defend your boundaries all the time, in every place you encounter them, even–maybe especially–at work. The family stuff is persistent and annoying but the livelihood stakes are low, even if the emotional stakes are high. The work stuff? Absolutely no room for error, because the stakes are my family’s livelihood. This is especially true if you live in a place without a lot of employment options.

              2. Jane Austin Texas*

                My point was that you, OP, have to figure out what your boundaries are and then set rules. Those are going to be unique to you and your work and your relationship with your MIL, but I think you should both understand each other’s expectations and needs. Clearly you’d rather not be related at work and that’s ok! Work on the rules with the MIL and if it comes up (with anyone but your boss) you can shrug and say “I didn’t think it was important” and move on.

    5. Jerry Larry Terry Gary*

      Agreed. Talk to your boss, ask how the company ensures there’s no overlap between you.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        If I were the hiring manager i would be unhappy with an applicant who did not proactively disclose something like this, given that the role has an HR link.
        What kind of questions do interviewers ask to draw out a potentially complicating personal connection like our OP has?

        1. Washi*

          Is this such a common issue that you need to ferret out potential problematic connections? I tend to think that if someone wants to hide it, they’ll just fib/omit information when asked, and everyone normal would be confused by pointed questions about whether they have a relative at the company.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            There are many possible variations and some would not be a problem at all. Close relative works in engineering and you’re in marketing? No problem. Close relative works in teapot design and you’re applying for the teapot design management position? Possible problem.

          2. lost academic*

            Massive breach of ethics to not disclose. Would absolutely be a fireable offense at my company. And we allow people’s family members to even be in their reporting lines at times (don’t get me started) but we don’t ever do it without knowledge. My husband works at a big client (and of course the competitor to other clients) and that’s also a critical piece to disclose.

        2. Chilipepper*

          I think “do you have relatives here” has been on every job application I have ever done. Yes, you can lie, but then they can fire you for that.

          1. pbnj*

            Same here. I’ve only worked for large companies, but they’ve all had written nepotism policies. I’d be surprised if any company would be ok having a family member in HR unless it was something like a recruiting function.

          2. Clisby*

            That’s been my experience; I’ve also been asked whether I know anyone who works at the company (related or not.) I don’t think I’ve ever worked anywhere with an across-the-board policy forbidding hiring relatives, but they always asked about it.

        3. LW #1*

          I’m not sure what she did and didn’t disclose – there are a couple of large/multi-national companies headquartered in our small-ish area, so working at the same company as family is not uncommon, but I also haven’t known anyone who ended up with a family member in HR.

          1. lost academic*

            Get out in front of this asap like everyone else mostly says. You need the boundaries to be in place with your manager and HR management before she sets foot in the door day 1. It’s not about avoid awkwardness, it’s about a potential breach of company policy and your privacy that would be a lot more than awkward. Then you can have a more polite discussion with her about boundaries – it can be polite but without equivocation. No “hoping” – this is your job, your livelihood, and this isn’t a negotiation.

    6. Rusty Shackelford*

      Yes, “start as you mean to go on” is exactly what you should do here. Also, I strongly recommend the website motherinlawstories dot com. There is a lot of experience and expertise in the forums there.

      1. Bean Counter Extraordinaire*

        Another good resource is DWIL Nation (Dealing with In-Laws) on babycenter . com, but they do tend to be a bit more… harsh… than you might want, so just be aware of that!

    7. I'm A Little Teapot*

      And, worse case scenario – do not be afraid to enact consequences. If MIL did get ahold of your personnel file inappropriately, raise hell. She deserves to feel the consequences for her actions.

      On the personal life side, you are entitled to whatever boundaries you need. If her behavior earns her a time out or no contact, that’s on her. Talk to your spouse and get them on board. You have (or will have soon) the ultimate trump card – access to the grandbaby. MIL has to behave appropriately with the parents, especially mom, in order to get to see the baby.

  3. tamarack and fireweed*

    LW#2 I think needs to figure out what they want: a) a romantic relationship (or at least a situation that could lead to one) or b) a problem-free collegial relationship.

    If a) I’d give it a very very hard thought, including the “what-ifs” in case as, as odds are better than even, it won’t work out. If they still would like to pursue, then Alison’s script (“still want to have that coffee?”) is the way to go.

    If b) then there is no problem. If he didn’t make the link, great. If he ends up making the link, the LW can be laid-back and say “yes, I noticed you too; isn’t it funny how small the world is?”.

    1. chewingle*

      I agree. It seems LW2 assumes that it not being taboo means it’s not going to be a problem. In reality, having a new relationship with a coworker can get incredibly messy (just read any of the posts from people who used to work with ex-friends—not even lovers). The LW needs to be prepared for a situation where they may even need to find a new job if the relationship goes south.

      1. Dwight Schrute*

        This! I started dating a co worker and I was prepared to leave if things went south. But, 3.5 years later we’re still together, live together, and both have new jobs.

        1. Question Author #2*

          I did make a separate comment about what ended up happening, but just in case: I initially thought I wanted option #1 – a chance for a relationship, but then I realized there’s too many pitfalls in dating at work, even at a company like mine with a more relaxed culture, so now I’m happy to have option #2 – a very satisfactory workplace friend. And I’m so happy for Dwight (lol good name!) that your coworker dating relationship worked out!

      1. JSPA*

        More polite and apropos version of what I was going to say, but, yes.

        There’s zero rush, except for the external factors of Covid and isolation and feeling adrift and a touch of limerence. None of which make it a great idea to rush into this shortly after figuring out who the person actually is.

        If you must, at least add, “once life gets back to normal, or what passes for normal, let me know if you’d like to grab that drink.” That gives you several months to find out that he’s better as a work pal than as a date…or conversely, that being together is worth one of you having to leave for another job. And if you do blow up the job in the process, you’ll at least have had a decent stint there.

      2. tangerineRose*

        I did date a co-worker for a while. It didn’t work out, but it wasn’t dramatic or anything. He just decided he didn’t want that anymore.

        I’ve gotta say though, it really, really helped that we were in different departments so I could usually avoid him after that. (He’s a nice guy, but I didn’t want to be around him for a while afterwards.)

  4. a sound engineer*

    #2 – I think the last sentence of Alison’s response is key: don’t say anything unless you are completely sure that a ‘no’ is something you can let roll off your back. A similar situation played out my last job and the interested person would/could not let it go, despite an explicit no; luckily, it was only a temporary job, so the job ended before the resulting (one-way) weirdness got too out of hand.

  5. Analyst Editor*

    If you aren’t meeting anyone anyway, tread carefully but I wouldn’t impose hard “off limits because it’s my coworker” rules, because ultimately your personal happiness and family is more important than one specific job of your career.
    You can keep talking to him without reminding him you know each other, see if the chemistry continues to build organically, or if you more or less organically learn out existing girlfriends, or negative sides to his character.
    Go with the flow and let fate show the way!

    1. Amaranth*

      I think this is the best approach, since there were a few weeks of remote interaction where she ghosted him and now…a few weeks of remote interaction where he either doesn’t remember her, or pretends he doesn’t.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        She very clearly ‘called off the date’ and they discussed why. This is not ghosting.

        1. Question Author #2*

          Thank you, as OP I was just about to say this to clarify a bit. We had moved from the dating site’s chat feature to actually texting and speaking on the phone, so it would’ve been very rude of me to ghost him or stand him up for our planned date. I felt that I handled the rejection as well as I could’ve, and made it very clear it had absolutely nothing to do with him. He seemed very understanding and that was that. Ultimately I know him a bit better now just through those random coworker conversations, and while I still think he’s a great guy, I’m happily dating someone else outside of work now. If at any point he puts it out in the open, I think it’ll just be a funny thing to mention and we can proceed forward. And if it never directly comes up, then so be it; he’s still a coworker who I have a positive working relationship with.

  6. Question Author #2*

    So I’m the one who asked the question about my coworker and I having previously matched on the dating app. This is really excellent advice, but unfortunately the situation played out a bit differently. Josh and I have continued to maintain a professional relationship, and though I was interested in him at the time of writing the letter, I have come to recognize exactly what you said: I had built up an idea of him in my head that was not the reality. I recognized that I was making more out of the situation than was necessary, and now I am actually in a new relationship with a wonderful guy who luckily does not work with me. I had been feeling awkward and self-conscious about Josh judging my job performance, but I came to realize that we are both just young professionals trying our best. I don’t judge him when he drops the ball sometimes, and if he’s judging me, then that’s his problem. Thank you so much for the advice, even if it technically is no longer necessary for me; it’s always good to keep in mind how to balance awkward situations like this.

      1. Anonym*

        Yeah, great to hear! Congratulations on navigating this situation so insightfully and finding someone great!

    1. PspspspspspsKitty*

      Glad you found someone! I worked in production where many operators are dating/married or have extended family. While it’s an interesting (in a good way) culture, gossip flies fast. Everyone wants to get into your business. It’s much better to date outside of work.

      1. Question Author #2*

        Yes, even though it’s not off-limits to date coworkers, it definitely encourages gossip, as you said. Ultimately I recognized that even if I wanted to pursue him romantically, I just didn’t want to deal with the challenges of dating a coworker. I’m happy my boyfriend and I don’t work together, but that we work in similar enough fields that we share lots in common!

      1. Question Author #2*

        When we spoke, we definitely had a more easy-going interaction than I have with most of my other coworkers. At times, we both indicated we knew things about each other (i.e. – he mentioned my sister when I never told anyone in the office about my family life as far as I can recall, I mentioned knowing he played an instrument that he had previously told me about), so I believe he does remember but neither of us has addressed it directly. Either way, the point is relatively moot now, but it was something that I was curious to see if he remembered me as well!

    2. tungsten*

      I think you shouldn’t feel awkward for another reason. It is unlikely that your dating app interaction was as significant for him as it was for you; in fact, it’s probable that he doesn’t even remember you from the app – given that you were someone that he messaged with a year ago and never ended up seeing in person. I think for people who are new to online dating or who are going through an emotionally difficult time, these messaging-type interactions can feel more significant, but especially for those of us who online date a lot, the parade of avatars we chatted with at some point tends to blend together, especially after so much time has passed. So I wouldn’t go into this with the assumption that he sees you as this woman he was romantically interested in who blew him off at the last minute – go into it thinking that he sees you as his nice new coworker that he’s never met before work.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        That was my thinking too. Heck, outside of two people that I stayed friends with, I would not recognize even any of the people I went on one date with. And if we never met, forget it, I have no memory of that person.

        IME, coworkers make great romantic partners, but only when one or both of you are no longer working there. You still have the rapport you built when you worked together, but without any of the awkwardness or landlines like “what if it doesn’t work out, then I’ll have to work with my ex every day”.

      2. Question Author #2*

        Yeah, I recognize that there was a possibility he would not have remembered me, but since the time of writing this we have both sort of indicated we knew things about the other person that we had not previously brought up at work, so I feel somewhat secure that he did remember but neither of us wanted to bring it up. I probably wouldn’t have remembered if it was just someone random that I matched with, but we had actually exchanged numbers and communicated for several weeks with plans to meet up, but even so I recognized that my memory might be better when it comes to that situation. Ultimately, I don’t think we’re ever going to acknowledge it in the open, but we definitely do still have a solid working relationship!

    3. Colleague’s Dog’s Viking Funeral*

      Ah, the greatest solution of all: Time.
      Good for you. It’s hard, when you’re young (or middle aged or old) to stop, think, wait a little more and then act.
      So no, it doesn’t become easier as you become older. You just become wise enough to accept that.
      Well done, OP.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s been offline for years. But I did once share an excerpt from it in the comments here — let me see if I can find it. (Weirdly, that excerpt was also about online dating, I think.)

          1. Sue*

            Found it and laughed out loud at your great advice. If people followed it, a lot of scammers would be out of business.

          2. Shira*

            Thank you for this!! Totally brightened my Wednesday. I love the contrast between the Polished Professional Alison we know and Charmingly Overconfident Dating Advice Young Alison. If the archive still exists and you want to repost excerpts (on special occasions? Weekends, holidays?) I am unquestionably here for it.

          3. Sled dog mama*

            I am so sad that this excerpt was posted before I started reading and so grateful to get to read it now

          4. Batgirl*

            My best friend and I had the same cardinal rule! As in, no more than two weeks of online chat before a casual date. It was a really good one too as it weeded out the bizarre hermit-esque text only dudes. A couple of them would agree to an in person meet up, then come up with some excuse to bail on it, but now they had my number they would try to get me into hours long text-marathons which would have lasted months/years. When I’d try to cut them off you’d think I was jilting my fiance at the altar, instead of passing on a stranger who didn’t want to meet me.

          5. ThisGuy*

            Wow. I’ve read AAM for 10 years and I never knew about the dating blog either. And for whatever it’s worth, as someone who has done a lot of online dating and been pretty successful at it, I think all of your online dating advice is very sound.

        1. Lady Heather*

          You’ve been an (animal rights?) protester that had to be dragged from the Capitol, worked for a weed advocacy organization, and ran a dating advice blog?

          I’d love to read your autobiography.

          1. Not Australian*

            In the sense that all advice is – to a certain extent – born out of personal experience, I think in a way we do!

            [OTOH I’d be up for that as well!]

        2. Somebody*

          Alison I love that the online dating advice you offered AND your applying for jobs advice are so similar! It made me chuckle while I was reading your response to #2.

    1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

      Yeah I was like completely gobsmacked. ALISON DATING ADVICE??? My horizons, where have they gone…?

  7. Cambridge Comma*

    OP4: If there are no nefarious reasons behind it, having someone with your exact job title could be the best thing that ever happened to you. I spent 15 years being the sole rice sculptor on various teams responsible for all the rice sculpting but with nobody else who really understood what I did or to offer a different perspective or some advice. Later I joined a big organisation that had up to 8 rice sculptors on staff. We all had different backgrounds, different routes to the same profession, and were all really interested in what we did. I learnt more during those years than at any other time in my career and I’m 10 times the sculptor I used to be.

    1. TaDa*

      If the company was simply adding a rice sculptor then I think they’d be discussing the division of work or the collaboration between the two. OP4 might have even been included in the hiring process if there was good will. I think OP4 needs to start job hunting fast. This is exactly what happened to my spouse last year. He was the only person who sculpted rice, knew where the rice was stored and had the key for the closet. When Covid hit they started trying to cut costs. They contracted a student for peanuts and my spouse had to train his replacement. All through it they acted very ambiguous about everyone’s roll, but it became undeniable at some point that he was being replaced. So insulting, but they gave him a good recommendation and he’s got a better job now.

      1. Autumnheart*

        I’m sorry to say that I agree with TaDa. OP mentioned that they’ve been struggling at their job, and they were not informed that there would be an additional person hired into the same role that OP has. OP didn’t mention whether their struggles were of the “too much work for one person” variety, or the “I kinda suck at this job even though I’m trying really hard” variety.

        If nothing else, I would at least *prepare* for the possibility that this new hire will be a replacement, and brush up the resume and start looking. If it turns out that it’s Situation A and they’re adding headcount to accommodate the workload, that will become clear in time. But better to have all the bases covered.

      2. CmdrShepard4ever*

        This could very well be possible. But if OP is struggling in their job, I don’t think they would have been included in the job hiring process. They might still discuss the division of work and collaboration between the two positions, but the company might feel it is to early for those discussion and are better off waiting until someone is hired and has started working in the role. I assume the new person hired would also need to be in that discussion, so why waste time have the discussion once with just OP only to have it again once the new person is hired. Waiting until everything is finalized does seem to make sense to me, as well as not including OP in the hiring process.

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

          I don’t think OP 4 was ‘involved’ in the hiring process, as such. It was framed in the Q as the boss “announcing” this and that it was a surprise to the OP. I inferred (OP, is it correct?) that the announcement was possibly made to/in front of others, as well as OP herself?

          Not sure what to think about this. “In other news, we’re currently hiring for a llama groomer” (when OP is already their llama groomer) is a pretty brazen and perhaps “unempathetic” (?, what I mean by that is, not really understanding how it will come across, not sure unempathetic is the right word really) type of thing to say especially without any context like ‘replacement’, ‘additional’ etc (as stated by OP). Hasn’t the boss thought about “will OP be worried about this” or (if it’s nefarious) “we should keep this under wraps” and/or “encourage OP to think it’s an additional person but actually they are being prepared as her replacement” ?

          If it’s above board – I’d have expected the boss to have the conversation more delicately with OP than just an “announcement”, though. I wonder if the boss is unaware of how things come across in other situations as well?

          Another possibility, could it be that boss somehow isn’t aware that Llama Groomer is OP’s actual title so doesn’t see the new hire as a “duplication”?

          OP: have you searched local job boards / your company’s website / wherever open positions typically get advertised, to see if you can glean anything there?

      3. yup yup*

        I was on medical leave because I was undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. While I was out, the company hired a new head manager. About a week before I was scheduled to return to work, I stumbled across an ad posting from my company for my exact job. WTF, right?

        My first day back I was like um, this is my job in this posting? My new manager didn’t seem to care. I was like, okay, I will formally throw my hat in the ring and apply for this job. That got ignored. Turns out the new guy had someone (a close personal friend) he wanted to bring on. He made up a new role for me and gave her my job. We don’t really have that much work that suits my new job description, so I’ve mostly been filling in for other people here and there.

        I obviously wanted to leave after that happened, but it’s hard to interview when you’re a woman and you’re bald. And shortly afterward the pandemic started and the bottom fell out of the job market. So, I’m still there. It’s been pretty terrible for my morale.

      4. korangeen*

        A few years ago, I was the lead rice sculptor on a project, and the deputy project manager decided to hire a rice sculptor fellow without talking to me about it. And I don’t think he ever talked to me about it, even though I was the one who’d have to go through the resumes and conduct the interviews and select the candidates. My contract company supervisor assured me this person wasn’t meant to be replacing me, though she was also confused by the situation. Unbeknownst to them, I had been thinking about leaving anyway, largely because there was a long history of the deputy project manager stepping on my toes and leaving me out of relevant meetings and having interns do rice sculpting work without talking to me, etc., and me repeatedly trying to address those issues. So I used the opportunity to hire my own replacement. I hired a great person, trained him, and then left, and he became the project’s lead rice sculptor, so I guess it all worked out! (Other than the new guy having to deal with the annoying deputy project manager, ha.)

    2. Generic Name*

      Yes! I work with a team of about 8 people in my specialty, and it’s amazing. It makes our work product so much better.

  8. Forrest*

    >>I very much value my work and my approachability and it has so far resulted in some great business opportunities, but it is not possible to continue this way. Still, I feel very, very rude for saying no or pointing to a brochure. Any advice on how to stop without feeling awful?

    LW, firstly, you are ALLOWED to do this, and secondly, it will get easier with practice! You’ll feel a mixture of relieved and awful the first few times, and after a while the awful will go and the relieved will remain.

    Depending on how you work, would it help to schedule out some “billable hours” for use on networking which has the potential to lead to firm business opportunities, and networking which is pro bono and done for the sake of helping others develop? Framing them as investments in the business and investments in the field / giving back and actually tracking the hours you can spend on them might help you draw the boundary more effectively and feel OK about it.

  9. Ms_Meercat*

    Hi #LW 5 – I used to work in 2 different non-profit organizations, and I think this will actually rather help you than hurt you. Especially one of my former organizations actually has “has this candidate experienced the injustice that we are working to eradicate” as one of their hiring criteria, because they are making a conscious effort to recruit from the populations they are serving, and to recruit diversely across a lot of different factors.

    Speaking about how the mission of the org connects to your personal history will not only speak to your passion for the mission, but may also be a real strength in your application (the org I used to work for had many great reasons for making this central in their hiring: from the standpoint that a diverse workforce can actually do the job better, to the question of how could a bunch of people who don’t have any lived experience with problem X ever really figure out how to solve it, to basically arguing that if they don’t hire these types of candidates, than they’re engaging in the same biases and gatekeeping that they are trying to eliminate).

    I would probably even argue that an organization who DOESN’T take your personal connection to the mission as a big plus in their evaluation probably isn’t the kind of organization you WANT to work for.
    (And yes, I’m saying that as someone who this criteria doesn’t apply to, having grown up middle class, in a country with free education, white with no immigration background, and being cis hetero; I can still contribute to the mission in a meaningful way, but it’s important that it’s not just people like me doing the work, and even more importantly, that it’s not people like me calling all the shots within that work).

    1. Charlar*

      LW5 – at my (UK) charity it would definitely help to include it in your cover letter, but I recommend you don’t start with it. We like to see letters which explain your interest and experience in the role first, then bring in something about your personal experience of the organisation’s mission towards the end. This is because we get a lot of people applying who ONLY have a personal interest in our cause, and no specific role experience or interest – I wouldn’t want to accidentally filter you out when reading hundreds of letters.

      1. Ms_Meercat*

        Super good point, would second that and had forgotten about that part – yeah, there is generally that problem that people just want to work in the org, and even convince themselves that “yes, I’m totally fine doing this job that I don’t actually love” just to work there, and then leave after a year or two, because – surprise – they aren’t actually super satisfied in their role. So yes, it’s extra important to show how you see yourself in the role, but definitely keep your personal connection to the mission in there.

      2. Sara without an H*

        Good point. I, too, work in a mission-driven nonprofit, and being able to show a connection with the people we serve is always a plus. But I’d recommend saving it for the last paragraph of the cover letter, rather than the first.

        Paragraphs 1-2: why I’m interested in this job and would be good at it.
        Paragraph 3: I grew up in a family that experienced these issues, which is why I’m so interested in your organization.

        Or something along those lines.

        1. Ms_Meercat*

          Agree – I would even maybe think about for that last paragraph to try to talk about how your experience can help you do that role better (something like “because I grew up in a Llama orphanage, I have experienced first-hand the needs of Llamas without parents and the circumstances the orphanages have to deal with, which will inform my work as Llama supplies procurement officer because I’ll know much more about the specific needs of Llama orphans”). I think that would make it even stronger than just talking about how your experience informs your passion for the cause.

        2. CM*

          Sara’s advice is great. Even when applying to private sector jobs, I usually put a sentence in the last paragraph of my cover letter about my personal interest in the job, which for a private-sector company could be something like being an enthusiastic user of their products or having grown up with this as a household name and being excited to be part of it.

      3. Forrest*

        Yes– the way I explain it to students is that “I’ve experienced poor mental health so I want to work to help others’ mental health” is great, but there are literally hundreds of ways you can contribute to others’ mental health. Pharmaceutical sales person. Psychiatrist. Data analyst for a small charity that offers CBT on a sliding scale. Lawyer specialising in mental capacity and power of attorney. Drug and alcohol counsellor. “Personal connection” is about one tenth of the reason why you’re interested in *this* job at *this organisation*, so make sure you’re covering the other nine tenths.

        Secondly, bear in mind that anything you put in a cover letter MAY come up in an interview. If you’ve referred to your experience of chronic illness or trauma or poverty or whatever in your cover letter, you don’t want to be ambushed by a question in interview like, “Can you tell us about how your lived experience will impact your work in this role?” and find yourself stuck for words or on the verge of tears. The adrenaline of interviews can do weird things to you! You want to prepare and practice a version of this that doesn’t touch too closely on anything that’s too close to home, and be very clear about what you’re comfortable sharing and not sharing in an interview. Having a couple of sentences that sketch out the situation in very broad strokes, [“When I was twenty, my sister was killed, and I saw the impact on my parents close up, particularly on my dad’s drinking”] and then move very quickly on to the workplace and professional elements [“I think the work this organisation does in supporting the children of alcoholics is amazing, and it’s a resource I lent on myself. Whilst I’ll never be the person doing the front-line work with clients, I think my digital marketing and communications skills can really support the important work that the front line volunteers are doing, by… and I’m really excited to move from the private sector into work that means so much to me personally.”]

        It’s really worth practising this, so you know you’re not suddenly going to be tempted to add details that take it over the line into too much information or involve you sharing something that you’re not comfortable discussing in an interview.

        1. Night Cheese*

          Definitely have a plan for how you will (or won’t) talk about this in the interview. I once interviewed someone for a nonprofit role who cried through most of the interview because she wished this organization’s resources had been available to her as a child. If you’re so closely connected to the mission that you can’t keep it together, that doesn’t bode well for your future job performance.

        2. Smithy*

          As someone who has mostly worked for humanitarian/human rights organizations finding that line between why this matters to me professionally is a really careful balance.

          Earlier in my career I actually got more questions about how I was at “switching off” when I went home, and my ability to live with “not helping everyone.”

          That being said, if you’re applying for a job less focused on programming and rather in communications, finance, legal, fundraising, etc. – I agree that it’s about finding the balance of “I’m looking to grow as a social media manager because of xyz, and am very excited to do that in support of this mission because.”

      4. Sleepy*

        I guess it depends on what the mission / cause is. I do a lot of nonprofit hiring in a fairly niche area and we get so, so many applicants who clearly don’t get what this nonprofit is. When someone demonstrates a real understanding of the mission in their cover letter, especially through a personal story, it really makes them stand out.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      OP, I thought that having a personal story and insight into a human service setting would distinguish me on my application.
      It took a while, but once working there I realized that everyone there also had a personal story to tell.

      I think a good balance is to realize that probably everyone there has a family member or friend whose story motivates them and inspires them to help. So rather than thinking this makes you different from other applicants, just express that you see the need that exists out there and you want to help. It does help to illustrate compassion and that is one of the qualities they are looking for. But yeah, other people have strong compassion for their own reasons.

      1. Ms_Meercat*

        I obviously can’t speak for your organization at all – but I would wager it does actually distinguish them from other applicants, because after all, not many people who don’t have a personal connection work there. Yes, it still means everyone inside probably does, but I would assume that organizations do give preference for people having a connection to the mission, beyond just “I care about this”, and that those who don’t have that connection may be less likely to be hired.
        I can only speak from my own experience – but if we had 2 strong candidates in my old organization, the person who says “my lived experience is related to X” and one person saying “I have strong compassion for X”, all else equal we would have always hired the first over the second.

      2. Smithy*

        This may vary from nonprofit to nonprofit – but my larger sector has made it a priority to emphasize hiring people who come from/have the lived experiences of our beneficiary community. This is both driven by our internal organization management, but also by our donors. For government agencies providing similar services and possibly some hospitals/universities that happen to be nonprofits, this may not matter at all – but for many US nonprofits, it does.

        As others have mentioned, in a cover letter your best bet is to lead with why you’re a strong candidate but closing with that personal connection will increase your application strength. For more well known organizations, more internal facing roles do want to make sure that you’re an enthusiastic data manager/accountant/IT professional who also care about the mission. But going with that cadance will overall make you the most competitive.

      3. Observer*

        . So rather than thinking this makes you different from other applicants, just express that you see the need that exists out there and you want to help.

        That’s a false dichotomy. In an organization where “everyone” has a story that relates to the mission, it becomes MORE important to mention your specific experience at a high level – it becomes table stakes that you need to show you have. It might not make you stand out but it might be the thing that keeps your application from going into the reject pile for “not being a fit.”

    3. S*

      OP here – thanks to everyone for chiming in with your experiences. I’ll keep including it, though putting it towards the end of the letter. Glad to hear its valued.

      1. Smithy*

        Absolutely. I will also add that just because it is or should be valued, should you find yourself subject to questions during an interview that feel overly personal – just note that as a red flag around whether or not it’s actually a place you want to work at.

        While your background is a valued component of your candidacy, it does not mean you have to find yourself asking questions around whether your family resorted to negative coping mechanisms growing up or volunteering share your story on their website. Too many organizations with wonderful missions are led by flawed people, and missions don’t balance out boundary crossing staff.

        1. Ms_Meercat*

          This a thousand… There are special reasons why non profits can also be toxic – or let’s just say, if they are, I think they develop their own flavour of toxic – where it’s welcome that people overwork themselves because it’s for the mission. And yes, as you mentioned earlier, in interviews in the humanitarian field I also found emphasis on “what are your coping mechanisms” and on having the capabilities and tools to decompress and switch off. Which I usually saw as a positive in an employer, although the question alone in interviews was not a reliable indicator that this was reflected in the work culture either…

    4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      At the NGO I volunteer with, we only hire people with personal experience of the situation we support people through.

  10. Bookworm*

    #4: I experienced something somewhat similar: was an intern with talks of possibly becoming a FT employee. They hired someone who had zero experience in the field and relatively fresh (under 6 months?) out of college. Turns out he and the boss who hired him had gone to the same school and had connections in common. : [ I was not hired.

    I’m not saying that’s your situation. Just something to keep in mind and I hope it’s just need more help rather than a bad sign of luck (maybe they just communicated this badly?). Good luck to you!!

  11. LDN Layabout*

    #LW3 – There is absolutely nothing rude about pointing people towards already existing resources. It would not be rude to do that even if you were colleagues working together, if they were a customer or client of yours and certainly not for people who contact you out of the blue.

    Depending on how heavy the influx is and how much you use that public email (e.g. is it the same one as the one you use for clients/contacts, if so, consider having an admin or ‘public’ separate one that you use for resources like this) I would also set up an auto-reply linking to these resources.

    Some email clients would likely allow you to do this for everyone outside your established contact list.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I have a new boss. Over and over, her questions are framed as, “show me how I can figure this out for myself”.
      I love this boss. She is doing everything she can think of to pull work off of me. I am a big fan of handing out fishing poles, not fish.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I have the coworker version of what OP3 is referring to (unfortunately he has been doing it for so long that he has gained the reputation in our shift of being unwilling to do any thinking for himself), and honestly I got him off my back by frequently saying things like I know that was covered in X training notes, want me to forward them to you? Or, I know we went over that yesterday at huddle and boss also sent an email telling us how to handle it – need it forwarded? Or any other variant of you should have this in your employee resources – did you look at those first?
      To the OP, there is nothing wrong with kindly saying right now I don’t have time to meet/phone call, but here are some resources you can read. If you want to throw in that maybe you may have time some other time – or that you have a community presentation coming up or similar you can do that as well. As long as you are polite about it, it is fine to redirect some/all requests.

      1. LDN Layabout*

        I have no problem supporting colleagues if that support is necessary. It’s not necessary if it’s been covered off already by different sources.

        (Obviously not in situations where things aren’t clear etc.)

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          The already covered is this person’s case – he would rather come ask you than look through training notes and step by steps that are given to us. Hence why I ask him if he needs those resources forwarded back to him.

          I will go help/answer questions on anything that isn’t clear. I’m willing to help – but I’m not willing to “think” for another person.

  12. Humble Schoolmarm*

    OP 2
    I think it’s perfectly okay when dealing with a former acquaintance to pretend you didn’t recognize them until the other party brings it up.
    Sort of the opposite of a former pre-dating situation, but once a woman was hired at my workplace that had been part of a group that bullied me badly at a week-long activity when I was a child. Luckily, this person was the Karen (hanger on) of the group instead of the Regina, but I was still pretty reluctant to say remember me?.
    In the end, she approached me and I did the whole “Oh, of course! I thought I knew you but I wasn’t sure! How have you been?” Happy to report that our relationship has been pleasant since and she grew out of that unpleasant stage (but I still haven’t ever mentioned the bullying at work).

    1. Question Author #2*

      Absolutely, this can definitely apply to a wide variety of situations when you know-but-don’t-really-know someone who you now have to interact with on a regular basis. For me, we sort of made veiled acknowledgements of the situation (as in, revealing we knew things about the other person that we hadn’t mentioned at work) without openly addressing it, and I ended up ridding myself of my romantic notions soon after. Also, I love the comparison to Mean Girls, and I’m glad that situation resolved well! Hopefully it seems like she’s grown into a more decent person, though I totally understand how bullying like that can stay with you for a long time.

  13. Guacamole Bob*

    For OP3, we’ve seen other questions along these lines on the site, and one thing I remember from those comment threads is that some people who get a lot of informational interview requests have a lot of luck with offering to answer a few questions by email, or asking for a list of questions up front before a phone call or meeting. You get to look responsive and helpful, but some of the people asking for your time won’t even bother to follow up (for some commenters it was most of them!). Those that do, you can point to your existing materials if the questions are answered there. That leaves you with the rest, but it’s usually a more manageable load. And that remainder is people who’ve thought about what they hope to get from a conversation from you, aren’t asking the exact same stuff, and therefore may be more worth your time anyway.

    You can definitely just say no to all of it, but if you want more of a middle ground, it’s a strategy to try.

  14. Cat and dog fosterer*

    LW3: I respond to requests for info for a charity. I do exactly as Alison says, where I have a script for the most popular questions and give it a quick check to ensure everything is relevant to the writer. For the harder topics, where people are reaching out for help, I start by explaining how little our organization really is and how much we regret not being able to help everyone. At the end I include little positive comments about how kind the person is for wanting to reach out for help. In the middle I include a number of resources. I realise that your intro would be quite different, but please know that I have found that the responses are all very positive and I think it’s because I have a bit of honesty and context at the start (“we are a small rescue and only have the resources to save 50 cats per year”) and acknowledge them as good people at the end (“You are so kind for caring enough to reach out, thank you for supporting our community”).

    I get quite a few responses thanking me for all the resources I suggest, and saying that they really appreciate my support. Our financial resources may be limited, but I try to ensure that our kindness isn’t, even if it means a lot of copy/paste.

  15. Watermelon lip gloss*

    #1 Wait and see it may not be as bad as you think, and if your lucky you won’t work on the same floor. You will know best how to work with your MIL so take this for what you will. With my MIL when I tell her stuff I act like I am asking her advice for how to tell my Mom or work where they wont react whatever way I don’t want her to. It makes her feel special and has helped with her overreactions or getting jealous.

    I met my husband at work and his father also worked for the company, so for about 6 years (2 dating, 4 married) we all worked for the same company in the same building (different areas). We had lunch together maybe once a quarter and chatted a little in the elevator or at the coffee place other than that it really wasn’t an issue. The biggest issue was my MIL wanting to be in any work question/comment at home, and when a name was brought up she would ask if it was so and so or get overly excited over someone doing something for a VP or a CFO (we were in big insurance and VP and CFO titles are given out like candy).

  16. MissMS*

    I really enjoy reading this blog, Alison’s advice, and the reader’s comments. However…I have noticed that the word “weird” gets used to the point of overuse…just wanted to point that out

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Much like correcting someone’s spelling, it’s kind of irrelevent. What would you like people to do with this information. Suggest alternative words etc?

    2. Mental Lentil*

      I have discovered that as I get older, the world does get more and more weird, though.

      Stuff hasn’t been normal for a long time.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Actually I’d like to thank yourself and the commenters in general for avoiding using terms like ‘psycho’ et al to describe bizarre behaviour.

        As someone with a psychotic disorder it’s actually refreshing to not wince every time I read stuff here, unlike other sites :)

        1. Filosofickle*

          This site has really helped me identify things in my language that need to change, “crazy” being one of them. Recently I was researching this, and found “weird” on one of the words-to-avoid lists which was both a head scratcher and a bummer. I thought weird would be ok! Though now I’m about to go down a rabbit hole to figure out the nuances of weird…

          1. Coffee Bean*

            Well that is just weird. Not being snarky. I just can’t think of a better way to describe “weird” as being on a “words to avoid list”.

            1. Filosofickle*

              I haven’t been able to find any supporting info, so it’s possible it was a one-off opinion. If it’s legit I suspect there may be a distinction between calling a situation weird, which seems ok, and calling a person weird, like referring to “that weird kid”. Again, just going off instinct here, if there’s a problem with weird it could be because it’s often code for people we don’t understand or who are different. Lots of ableism could hide in there.

        2. meyer lemon*

          “Weird” and “ridiculous” are great neutral terms. I’ve been weeding words like “crazy” and “stupid” out of my vocabulary and certain expressions have surprising staying power. I already don’t use them to describe people, but “drives me crazy” seems to have insinuated itself deep into my brain.

  17. Reader, not (usually) a commenter*

    Re #2: The LW posted above that she has since started a relationship with someone else (outside of work), so this isn’t as relevant to her any longer. I just wanted to point out that it’s possible that he does remember her and is still interested, but since she was the one who called things off last time, he’s leaving the ball in her court. (That was my original thought from her description of the situation.)

    I think this is consistent with the advice that Alison would have given if he had asked what to do about a previous romantic interest joining his workplace. Since the relationship ended with her calling things off, he needs to wait for her to express interest or give some indication that things are different now*. She has a right to be able to work without having ex-romantic interests making things awkward, and the fact that she’s new and he’s been working there longer adds a slight power imbalance.

    * There would be an argument that things “are different now”, since she called things off because she was going back to college. But for all he knows, she might have been saying that just to soften the rejection, and that her real reason for calling things off hasn’t changed. So he needs to err on the side of assuming that she’s still not interested until she gives a clear indication that that’s not the case.

    1. Question Author #2*

      Thank you for your insight! I had made some comments that I felt were reaffirming my interest (i.e. – he mentioned going for a hike over the weekend and I said something along the lines of “that sounds like fun, you’ll have to invite me next time,” and other similar comments), but I never thought about it as he might have thought I had just been softening the rejection at the time, and now he was waiting for my cue. Obviously were we not coworkers I would’ve made my feelings more clear, but I never wanted to cross a line at work. Ultimately, I did realize it would’ve been more trouble than it was worth, and I’m happy to have moved on while still overall having a positive working relationship with him. I think it will just be one of those things that won’t get openly mentioned, and that’s okay with me.

  18. yala*

    “I’m not super thrilled about her potentially having access to my performance reviews”

    Yeeeeah, that sounds kinda…not kosher? Like, at the very least, your family member shouldn’t have access to those.

    Definitely talk to your higher ups about your concerns.

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      If OP1 works in a large company, her MIL might not have system permission to access the talent or learning management system. I’m in corporate recruiting for a global company and am limited in what I can access in our system regarding employee data. If they’re internal applicants, I get some info on them, but I can’t see reviews, PIPs or corrective actions, development plans, benefits enrollments, etc.

      However, if the employer is smaller, or less structured, OP1 might have a good reason to be concerned. I worked for a privately held company, ~2000 employees, and my boss was known to ask our credit manager or controller to pull credit reports on employees and candidates. No one told him ‘no’ because they were curious too.

  19. Workfromhome*

    #3 this is something near and dear to me (although in a slightly different context). People are constantly emailing me with questions that could easily be found in absolutely any of the free materials that I have created” is exactly what happens internally and even with outside clients. I am considered a “subject matter expert” in some areas and have spent considerable time and effort creating documents, FAQ workflow diagrams to explain how things work and to cover off common requests. Often I’ll send out a notification about a task that needs to be done with instructions and immediately be bombarded with messages or phone calls to “Explain the request or help them complete it”. There is no way anyone could read it all before contacting me. Which means they don’t value my time I gave my time to write the information now they need to expend their own effort to read it or they can be lazy and ask me to do it for them.

    All to say that you can politely but firmly point people to the documentation you have created and reasonably only respond to those who are willing to put forth the effort to read it. Only engage with the people who are truly interested. A stock reply is a great idea. Something like “thank you for your interest I have several detailed articles around this topic available here. If after reading these you have a particular point you’d like to discuss please email me your specific question and we can go from there.”

    Basically screen people by requiring them to read the information before asking questions. If they have clearly read it and can show they have something interesting to discuss you can connect with them PLUS you might also want to include the answer to their questions in future publications. People who are disrespectful of your time and too lazy to review what you have created don’t deserve more than a stock response.

  20. Bethie*

    I work in government, so different, but we do put out applications for funding for agencies to apply for (think victims services). What I devised was an online FAQ system that collected the general questions (or frequently asked questions) about the application process. Then for each application we have a set of FAQs that pertain to that application. Its a rolling thing for the applications, as a questions comes in we answer it, then post it online. That way everyone has the opportunity to see it and it levels the playing field.
    And, our email box has an automatic reply directing people to this FAQ with the web address. Maybe, as others say, you can filter these requests to a specific inbox and set up an automated response to a link where the resources are? Frequently asked questions? Then you can set aside maybe an hour every week to review the emails and see if anyone needs a follow up? Or have an admin do this?

  21. staceyizme*

    The LW for the first question where the pushy MIL got a job at the same company? It might help to think of the MIL less in a personal capacity. If she’s historically a boundary stomper and tends to be an attention grabber in group contexts, that’s useful information. It’s only HELPFUL, though, if leveraged correctly. I’d give her a wide berth, assume the best, prepare for the worst and give it as little energy and headspace as possible. The same approach that you’d use with any difficult person: minimize exposure, manage contact and maintain connections with those who know and value your role and its contributions.

  22. Esmeralda*

    OP 1. Allison, I’ll tell you exactly why the OP’s MIL didn’t say anything. She knew it was wrong, she knew it was sneaky, and she kept it secret so that no one could object. Now that it’s a fait accompli, she’s smugly gloating to herself.

    OP should not say word one to her MIL about this — it will only cause drama and it will not accomplish what the OP wants.

    OP, speak to your boss and make it clear that the conversation is confidential.

    I’m very sorry your MIL is like this. Do your best to grey rock her (professionally and politely, of course)

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Exactly. Don’t talk to MIL, just go straight to your boss. “I had no idea my MIL was applying for a job here. Did she reveal our relationship? I assume, if she’s working with HR, that everyone needs to be aware of that.”

      And yes, it’s odd that she applied there without telling you. Maybe she applied before you announced your job there, who knows — but once it was clear you were working there, it’s surprising that she didn’t tell you.

      When you know someone like this, you realize it’s not surprising at all.

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

        Yeah, I know this type and I am as sure as I can be that she didn’t apply at that company until *after* OP started there. (I had started to type out some mental arithmetic about dates but it got too involved, let’s just say the letter must be recent and the timelines don’t fit for that to be the case.)

        What can the MIL’s motivation be? Could be innocent, most people need a job after all, or (given the history) could be something more like “OP and husband cut me out? I’ll apply for a job at OPs place and then she won’t be able to ‘conveniently avoid me’ anymore…!” (And what better place to be able to have ‘visibility’ over someone than working with HR, actually.)

        [OP:] I had no idea that she was even looking, let alone that she was applying to my current employer.

        I expect she wasn’t particularly looking, until this ‘opportunity’ came up… [e.g. OP is grey-rock-ing me! Now I have the opportunity to get the real DL and she won’t be able to avoid me then!]

        Ultimately I think this is a ‘relationship’ issue more than a work one although I agree with the advice others have given to get in ahead of the situation and clue in your bosses, HR etc first. If they are generally decent I’d trust them to take it from there (Personally I would give more detail about how interfering etc she is rather than just being vague that you are related, but I am more comfortable being ‘open’ than a lot of people so YMMV about that).

    2. Metadata Janktress*

      Yeah, my first thought when I read “same job” and “boundary pusher” was that her trying to work in the same workplace so close in the hierarchy to OP was intentional. Obviously this is not a family advice column, but I would love to know the dynamic between OP/her spouse and her MIL. Something tells me that her MIL feels like OP/OP’s spouse are not “close enough,” so she needs to take other measures to increase their involvement with her.

      1. LW #1*

        Ha. Hahahahaha. Have you been hanging out at our pre-COVID family get togethers? This is indeed a theme! I’m not quite as warm/fuzzy/let’s get together for lunch every weekend as some of the other members of the family, and I like to keep stuff (like pregnancy information) a little more private. I think I mentioned elsewhere in the thread that because of the size and business make up of our area, it’s not uncommon for family members to work at the same companies in different departments – but this is the closest situation I’ve encountered in terms of working for the same grand boss. The rest of my siblings/cousins/in laws have applied to very different departments when they do work for the same company as someone else in the family.

        1. Metadata Janktress*

          My own MIL is like this with my spouse and I, so your description sounded familiar. :) I hope that my read about her choice in position is overkill then! Either way, good luck and I hope you get the work boundary you need.

    3. Ms_Meercat*

      I feel like Captain Awkward would probably also have a few words to say about this situation… We have limited context here, but just based on the little we have (the fact that OP is already setting boundaries with MIL and withholding information where she can), I think the generous reading that MIL didn’t know or that she doesn’t have some intention behind this is less than likely.

      I would probably also proceed under the assumptions that you are making. And if I was speaking to MIL about this, I would probably do it with the intention of covering all my bases, and framed (at least in my mind) as part of the first (of what I imagine will have to be many repeated) messaging to set boundaries with MIL – and probably after having spoken to HR like you suggested above.

    4. Just Another Zebra*

      Though I have a great relationship (now), with my MIL, I could 100% see her pulling something like this. She always does things with her “kids best interest at heart” and I don’t doubt that… but her methods go beyond boundary stomping. Husband and I have had to stonewall her more than once with very clear, impenetrable lines in the sand. She gets upset with the pushback, but it’s her choice to not accept “no” as a complete sentence.

      Go right to your boss (and loop HR in) so that everyone is on the same page.

    5. PT*

      LW1 should talk to the company about firewalling their business relationship, and plan on using part of her maternity leave to apply for other jobs.

      1. JelloStapler*

        She says she does not want to leave and if this is managed correctly, shouldn’t have to. I am curious as to what conversations have happened so far between her and her MIL when this was brought up.

        1. LW #1*

          She did not tell me directly, just mentioned it offhand on an extended family Zoom call. I was quite surprised!

    6. Batgirl*

      Yes absolutely. There is no trust that should be extended here and I would have no qualms telling people in authority that I had no idea she was applying, that I was concerned she poses a higher than normal snooping risk, and that I’d like my privacy plan to be outlined for me.

  23. SentientAmoeba*

    LW #1 I would immediately disclose to your boss that the new HR person is your MIL. You don’t have to get into any details about her pushiness or lack of boundaries, simply make it a disclosure to avoid any potential conflicts or problems. I would do this quickly, dispassionately and depending on how your organization works, I would copy HR in the first email so all relevant parties are on board from the start. It’s easier to put this out there upfront as a quick factual detail than try to do damage control after the fact.

  24. Hmmmm*

    I was actually surprised by Allison’s advice for #LW2. I’ve been a reader for a few years now, and though I doubt I’ve read every letter and response, I feel like I’ve come to rely on AAM answers to follow several themes – one of them being don’t ask out your coworker. I get that dating might be common at this work place, but that doesn’t mean this guy is any more receptive to being approached by a coworker than others elsewhere. That said, the script itself is harmless; I was just surprised it was recommended.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      I agree. However should I ask my coworker out wasn’t the question.

      I still would have said first and foremost, don’t ask your coworker out at all, but Alison answered the exact question asked.

      1. Heidi*

        Yes, I also got the impression that this was an, “If you must, do it this way to not make it super awkward.” kind of response, not an endorsement of asking out the coworker. I think that if the coworker were in the OP’s chain of command, the answer would have been, “Don’t do it.” But it’s not illegal in the OP’s case, just fraught with potential outcomes that could make work awkward if not handled right.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      My advice has generally been more like this:
      https://www.askamanager.org/2020/09/asking-out-a-coworker-the-value-of-service-fellowships-and-more.html

      (basically, proceed with extreme caution and make sure you’re seeing signs that your interest is returned — don’t do it just because YOU like THEM — you have to see signs it goes both ways. and obviously, no one in your chain of command, deal with rejection without weirdness, etc. etc.)

    3. Smithy*

      My take on AAM’s view of dating coworkers is more about drawing lines where there are hard “never ever” and then being very sensitive in laying out low stakes approaches for when there isn’t a hard no. Essentially using more friendly line about going out for a coffee and then seeing if they ever reciprocate the request, before seeing if there’s interest in a more personal/romantic relationship.

      There are certainly AAM commenters who advocate for a 100% ban on dating coworkers, but my take on Alison’s advice is that it’s more about articulating when it’s never appropriate and then being mindful when it can be done appropriately.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes, this too! Loads of people meet their spouses at work. It’s not realistic to say you should never, ever date there. I think it’s *better* not to date there, but sometimes people do and as long as they follow this kind of guideline, it can go fine.

        1. A*

          Exactly. And it’s not always an option that can be avoided depending on your area. I’m in a rural area and work for the largest employer. I’m currently single and have no plans to date coworkers – but statistically the chances are high. Online dating apps in my area are essentially a catalogue of my colleagues + a few folks that work in nearby shops.

          HUUUUGE difference from when I lived in metropolitan cities!

    4. Batgirl*

      I think the rule is more like… “Don’t treat the workplace like your dating pool” than “Never date at work”. It’s a place where people are penned in together, it’s not possible to just walk away if you don’t like someone who’s too interested in you, and you have no idea how they’d take rejection. If you have a rapport which makes it obvious you can be trusted to accept a no, and you think you could both handle any potential break up… Fine. If you’re asking out that one person you’re inseparable with, who has dropped hints, that’s different to trying to hook up with everyone on LinkedIn.

    5. Question Author #2*

      As the OP, I was also surprised at the response. I wrote this several months ago, and looking back on the situation, I realize I should have expected a hard “NO” regarding the scenario of me potentially making my feelings known. I was thinking at the time, since company culture is more youthful and relaxed, and since I had previously communicated with him romantically before, that it would make the situation more acceptable. However, I did come to realize it was probably more trouble than it was worth to date a coworker, and even acknowledging the situation could potentially make things more awkward. So ultimately I recognized I had built him up in my head just based on our texts from several months prior, and I’m now happily in a relationship with someone who I do not work with.

  25. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    Everyone’s comments about LW#1 notwithstanding, my first thought was “maybe I’d be able to trade an evening of babysitting the grandchild for an opportunity to see my performance reviews.”

  26. Spicy Tuna*

    #4 – Just ask! I had a situation where I was temporarily taking over another job while my boss searched for an outside hire with relevant experience. The job search dragged on so long, I ended up “learning on the job” and becoming qualified for the role! I applied for it and eventually got it, much to my delight! However, about a week later, a friend emailed me a job posting from Monster or Career Builder (this was early aughts!) with “my” new job! I was horrified! I asked my boss about it and she said they took the posting down but there was a lag or some other miscommunication.

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

      This made me think: in OP4’s position, I would have been tempted to have a chat with the boss later as follows: Oh hey boss, I was thinking about what you said the other day that we are now recruiting for a Llama Groomer. I’d like to throw my hat in the ring as I feel like I’ve really got all the experience and skills needed (or whatever applies in your situation). See what they say. I bet that would flush out a candid response (either explicit, or through body language etc) quickly.

      I wouldn’t suggest it in this case because OP4 said she is “struggling lately” which I took to mean not meeting some performance goals or something like that, which puts her in a weaker position potentially.

      1. Spicy Tuna*

        Also, forgot to mention that in my case, they were *very* reluctant to offer me the position (for a variety of reasons not having personally to do with me or my job performance) but literally had no other candidates that wanted the job. So there was a little bit of insecurity on my part when I saw that the job was still posted!

  27. Dark Macadamia*

    #1 I agree with others who have said to immediately disclose the relationship to your boss/HR in a detached, professional way. You know MIL best and you know how concerned to be, but in some ways I think boundaries at work will be easier than personal ones because there are norms in place already (as opposed to family where people’s expectations can differ hugely and be very… fraught). You didn’t mention how you reacted when she told you or how much you’ve discussed the situation since, but try to have a sort of “it’s a tad surprising you didn’t tell me sooner, but of COURSE you’ll be professional and appropriate” attitude even at home, and don’t let yourself get into long lectures/arguments/etc about it.

    Think about situations that are likely to come up so you can be prepared to handle them calmly. For example with the pregnancy, is she likely to make a “grandma-to-be” announcement at work? If so, you might want to tell your boss about the pregnancy first to get your own needs/expectations worked out before she can start trying to get involved.

  28. Sleepy*

    LW5 – If your personal experience relates to the mission, *definitely* put that in the cover letter. Nonprofits values because connection to the mission is an important part of the culture in a lot of places.

    I do a lot of hiring for a small nonprofit and ‘demonstrated understanding of the mission’ is something we always score candidates on, both in the first round of hiring and after interviews. You would be surprised how many people do not score well in this regard, so it’s really a chance to make yourself stand out.

  29. Lalaroo*

    LW2, I’m currently job searching and doing informational interviews and sending out applications to places that don’t have a position posted, and one thing that has helped me SO MUCH is using the email program Spark. They have a way to set up templates with placeholders you can click on to enter the name of the person you’re emailing, etc. You just open a blank new message, click a button to pull up the template drop-down, and select your template, and it will auto-fill the body, the subject line, and even pre-set email addresses. It saves so much time!

    1. Lalaroo*

      In case it wasn’t clear, Alison’s recommendation of a template response made me think of suggesting Spark to make things even quicker and easier

  30. Jinni*

    LW #3 – have a listen at the Tim Ferris podcast episode #138. They tackle this exact topic and the talk was interesting. I work in an industry with a fairly large number of successful entrepreneurs and we have our own private groups/retreats. This helps in terms of networking and making blanket policies about this exact conundrum.

  31. Dust Bunny*

    My workplace, because of a particularly generous philanthropist, shares its name with a bunch of other local institutions, including a public library. We’re a not-public library. We get people stopping by all the time looking for the public library.

    We literally created out own handout with the public library’s full name, address, phone number, hours, and a map from our place to theirs. We’re not rude but we don’t hand-hold them through it, either: We just tell them it’s a common mistake because of the shared name, they’re in X general direction, here is a map and their contact information.

    My supervisor has also set up a bunch of forms with information about various aspects of our library (for people who actually did need the not-public library) and those have saved us a ton of time. But you can’t let people get a toe in the door–you have to be willing to set a hard boundary and redirect immediately to the forms.

  32. blue*

    As far as the personal note in your cover letter – be CAREFUL with that. Sometimes it’s good to show a personal connection to the mission, and sometimes it can work against you. Really mission-driven employees can sometimes be blinded by their passion when it comes to running the organization.

  33. DaniCalifornia*

    LW #1 that does not sound like a fun situation. Agree you should loop in your boss with a short direct statement about how you are related and you assume she will have no access to your personal info. Grey rock everywhere possible. This also may mean revealing less to coworkers you are closer to if you have close work friends. Just on the off chance your MIL decides to also be their friend. (If you haven’t checked it out, reddit has a sub called JustNoMIL – very helpful advice)

  34. Maxie's Mommy*

    The way to tell if MIL is snooping in your files is to tell work you’re pregnant before you tell family. If MIL sees any info regarding pregnancy in your files, she won’t be able to keep quiet.

    1. SentientAmoeba*

      I work HR and we don’t have a “Pregnant” flag we put on employee records. We don’t even necessarily know an employee is pregnant until they go on Mat Leave. Exceptions would if their supervisor needs to backfill for the duration of their leave or there are additional concerns.

    1. Question Author #2*

      On the off chance anyone from my workplace read this, I didn’t want to expose him since his name is pretty unique. ‘Josh’ is Irish, and so his name is from Gaelic and spelled with lots of vowels in weird places (think like Saoirse or Aoife), so he goes by a more American-ized spelling at work, which is much easier for people to understand. I think it’s sad some people have to change their names to be taken seriously in the workplace, but that is what took so long for me to recognize who it was.

  35. CSR by Day*

    OP#3, I have the same problem, although I did not get to create the reference materials that contain the answers to the questions I am asked. You might want to reconsider the reference materials. The reference materials that my employer provides are overwhelming in volume and I think it scares people away from even bothering to look for the information. (And yes, they can fall into a rabbit-hole of having to look at irrelevant, but tangentially related material if they aren’t careful).

    The form letters and reference materials that my employer has available to the public are horrible, convoluted, cover-their-ass kinds of things that all too often don’t spell out in clear language, just what the problem is and what actions to take get the problem corrected. I regularly refer people back to specific documents and specific pages in those documents so they find the answer themselves and then deal with it. But then that’s my job and, unlike you, I’m not having to deal with too many other things at the same time.

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