expecting too much when interviewing students, what to wear on the first day of a virtual job, and more

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

1. Am I expecting too much when interviewing students?

I interviewed a student today who is interested in doing an internship at my organization. I love working with interns so I was happy to meet with him (virtually), but I am wondering if my expectations are off in terms of how a student interviews?

He was late, his wifi was bad, the background was messy (dorm room with flags hung on the wall), he was wearing a hoodie and ear buds, and he didn’t have any questions for me. He seems smart and he has some interesting and relevant experience, but I know that’s not how I would have shown up to an interview – even at his age. His resume was a little odd compared to what I’m used to, but his cover letter was pretty good so I may have seen that as a good sign and been expecting too much.

Are my expectations too high? Is it unreasonable to expect that programs that require internships will prepare their students for every part of an internship? Is it weird that he’s not on LinkedIn? Is it ever valuable to offer this kind of feedback?

I don’t think this is so terrible. Bad wifi isn’t his fault, lots of people use ear buds for audio on a video call, and the messy dorm room — well, students sometimes have messy dorm rooms and nowhere else to interview (and aren’t yet used to thinking about professional-looking backgrounds). Not being on LinkedIn isn’t weird at all; he doesn’t have anything to put there yet (and lots of more seasoned adults aren’t on LinkedIn either). Not having questions for you isn’t ideal, but is really common with students; a lot of them have no idea what they should ask. (And yes, there are tons of suggestions out there but not all students have been exposed to those resources, especially if they don’t have parents who push that stuff.)

The lateness does concern me, especially if he didn’t acknowledge or explain it. But if he otherwise seemed promising and your hiring process allows for an additional conversation, you could set him up for success in the next round by telling him what to expect — let him know you ask candidates (and interns) to be right on time, ask him to prepare some questions for you, etc. Hell, if the work would be in-person you could ask him to dress as he’d dress for the job (and explain what that means — students don’t always know shorthand on this stuff). That’ll give you a better sense of how he’ll do once he gets the kind of guidance he’d presumably get if you hired him.

Keep in mind that we’re talking about a potential intern, who by definition are there to learn how the work world works. Your subject line to me was “Can I expect students to interview the way an adult would?” and the answer to that is definitely no. They’re still figuring this stuff out, and some will be further along than others. Partly that’s because some have had families and mentors to teach it to them while others haven’t.

It is possible that he’ll turn out to be overly cavalier about the internship, but it’s also possible that he just hasn’t had good guidance yet. I’d try to give him a little and see what happens.

Read an update to this letter here.

2. Does never getting any feedback mean I’m doing a good job?

I’ve been in my position for three years, and I have never once received formal feedback or an evaluation. I’ve received very modest raises that I didn’t ask for, and during those conversations I’ve been vaguely told that my “hard work is appreciated.” Other than that, there has never been any feedback or evaluation, negative or positive. My direct supervisor doesn’t seem to keep good tabs on any employees. We’re working remotely now and we don’t have meetings, and he doesn’t check in to see what we’re working on or keep track of how we spend our time.

The thing is, I don’t feel like I’m doing a good job. I don’t take initiative and, especially since the pandemic started, I’ve been doing the bare minimum. I have tentatively tried to initiate a new project once or twice but been shot down. I feel directionless and do not know what is expected of me. I’m apprehensive about opening a conversation inviting feedback because I worry it will call attention to the fact that I’ve failed to meet unsaid expectations or something like that. I don’t want to open the door to criticism. However, I also feel like I can’t ask for a raise or promotion because I don’t know if I’m doing what’s expected of me or not. Should I just assume I’m doing great even though I feel like I’m not?

I can’t say from here! With some managers, no feedback means everything is going fine (although not necessarily great). With others, it means little more than that the manager is terrible at giving feedback. If you’ve just been doing the bare minimum, it’s probably not the time to ask for a raise or promotion.

If you want to change the situation, you likely do need to ask for feedback, despite feeling uneasy about it. But it would also be useful to talk about what the goals for your position should be over the next year: What does your boss hope you’ll achieve? What would a great year look like? You could also explicitly ask what things you should work on if you want to work toward a promotion at some point.

3. My coworker gets roped into long complaint sessions with a difficult colleague

I work for a mid-sized company in a processing role. I have a coworker who I also consider a friend, “Daisy.” There is another woman on our team, “Ruby.” Ruby has an abrasive personality and does not work well with the rest of the team. No one feels comfortable giving her feedback or asking her to help with an issue that may have come up that she had a hand in.

A couple of times a week, Ruby calls Daisy on the phone to complain. Sometimes it’s from work phone to work phone, and sometimes Ruby will call Daisy on her cell phone if she doesn’t want the company “listening.” These rants usually go on for a hour or so, with Daisy having very little opportunity to back out of the conversation. Daisy is basically too nice to tell Ruby that she cannot continue these conversations.

Is there anything I could/should do about it? I know the conversations give Daisy some anxiety, both by being on the receiving end of a laundry list of grievances and because of hours spent on the phone that could be noticed by someone. Should I reach out to our supervisor? I don’t want to get Daisy in trouble but I know she is in between a rock and a hard place with Ruby.

No, this is Daisy’s to handle on her own. You can give her advice if she seems like she wants it (once, maybe twice at most), but you don’t have any standing to do anything beyond that. This is between Daisy and Ruby, and between Daisy and her manager.

4. What to wear on your first day of a remote job

I am starting a new job next week (yay!). It will be remote for now but in person eventually. There will of course be lots of Zoom and that type of interaction. What to wear for the first few days? I have a full range of clothes in my closet so having something appropriate is not the issue. If I was going in person, I would probably err on the side of business casual with a skirt and sweater or something (I am a cis-female). The job is at an accounting firm but I am not an accountant and likely won’t interact with clients even once we are back to in-person.

Go with business casual for your first few days until you get a feel for what others on your team are wearing. You might find that you can go more casual, but get the lay of the land first. (And business casual is not so dressed up that you would look like you’ve weirdly overshot.)

5. Is it unprofessional to organize a goodbye for a coworker who the company is angry with?

At my organization we typically organize a send-off for employees who leave (usually a card, gift and/or leaving drinks with the latter done virtually during the pandemic). Often it’s the person’s line manager or boss who will organize this but it’s not a hard and fast rule and peers will sometimes do it too.

One of our colleagues recently took a long period of unpaid leave (~1.5 months) so she could travel and tend to some personal matters. We have since been told that she handed her notice in and won’t be coming back at all. It seems this colleague was keen to extend her leave and/or work from her new location, which was turned down by the organization, but we don’t fully know the details.

Management haven’t mentioned her name since and have curtly confirmed they will not be planning a send-off when asked. Many of us across the organization are upset because we remember her as a warm, kind, and supportive colleague and would like the opportunity to personally extend our goodbyes and well-wishes. I suppose there’s nothing stopping us from self-organizing a card or a gift, but would it be seen as unprofessional?

I should add that management has sometimes reacted weirdly and personally to colleagues who’ve quit in the past (even though this is a natural part of progression) which is why I am questioning their judgment here.

It wouldn’t be odd or unprofessional for you and your colleagues to organize a card or a gift! It sounds like your managers don’t want to do an official thing because there’s some kind of resentment in play, but there’s no reason those of you who want to can’t do something on your own. (It could get a little stickier if you were, say, sending out official all-staff emails about a virtual drinks thing when they’re treating her like persona non grata — although “stickier” doesn’t necessarily mean don’t do it as long as you’re aware of the politics — but a gift or a card is really low-key.)

{ 656 comments… read them below }

  1. Lala*

    I’m extremely confused by the idea that ear buds are verboten. All of us working from home this past year have quickly realized that doing video discussions without any sort of headphones creates unpleasant feedback. Is there an expectation here I don’t know about?

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, me too. This is really weird. I would think that a ginormous gaming headset would be more unprofessional than a set of barely noticeable earbuds. Not that I’d blame anyone for wearing a headset, and some people can’t stand earbuds. But feedback is definitely an issue that can easily be avoided with a headset, whether on-ear or earbuds.

      1. Not Australian*

        Doesn’t significantly alter your point, but I literally can’t wear earbuds without extreme discomfort; my ears are different shapes, and one will stay in easily while the other one has to be jammed in to the point of pain or it falls out at the most awkward moment. Over-ear headphones are the only type that work for me at all.

          1. Annie Jean*

            I discovered I’m allergic to airpods! Never had a problem with earbuds before but something in the airpods was causing a reaction in my ears.

        1. Good Vibes Steve*

          Same here, I’ve yet to find earbuds that don’t cause pain after a while. I think my ears might be smaller than average, or a weird shape. I sure hope no one thinks my over-the-ears headphones look odd, because that’s all I can handle!

          1. Cat Lover*

            I don’t think anyone reasonable would judge you for it! Especially with the rise of streaming, headsets are more and more common.

            I’m completely opposite, over the ear headsets trigger migraines due to the pressure (even if they fit properly, it’s hard for me to wear headbands or helmets) so my AirPods were a lifesaver.

          2. AnonEMoose*

            I had issues with earbuds, too, until I ordered some specifically for smaller ears. That helped a lot. For some things, I still prefer my headset, but the earbuds are great for most meetings with my coworkers. It’s such a weird thing to be judging someone for…the feedback created by not using something – earbuds or headphones – would bother me a lot more.

            1. AFac*

              Can I ask which ones you got? I have small ears, and hate having to buy earbuds only to realize they don’t fit…

              1. AnonEMoose*

                I got these: Panasonic ErgoFit In-Ear Earbud Headphones RP-HJE120-A (Blue) Dynamic Crystal-Clear Sound, Ergonomic Comfort-Fit. I ordered them off Amazon after search for “earbuds for small ears”, and they’re fairly comfortable for me.

          3. boop the first*

            I had to get used to the pain because we’re sharing one room, and it has gotten better, but boy does it take a long time and it’s still frustrating to wear earbuds. Mine broke so I went and bought the exact same ones because they actually got nice bass if shoved in recklessly, but the exact copy just… doesn’t fit, doesn’t block out noise anymore (grr!!! that’s the whole point!), and one side seems quieter than the other. I don’t understand how earbuds took over, because other than Apple ones and broken dollar store ones, I haven’t seen the old style around anymore.

        2. Lady Meyneth*

          That’s funny, I’m exactly the opposite. I can’t stand headphones for more than maybe 20 minutes before I’m in excrutiating pain. Not only are my ears to curved to fit properly inside headphones (even the crazy expensive ones), but also having the extra pressure over the whole side of my head triggers awful migraines.

          I’m better with earbuds, but earpods are definitely preferred. Shame they’re so hard to find these days.

          1. Glitsy Gus*

            I have a big head, and yeah, over the head headphones always press in on my temples in a way that gives me bad headaches. I have one set that is kinda OK, but most of the time I just use my earbuds, which are way more comfortable. It also took me a while to find a pair of those that I liked, apparently I’m far more picky about these things that I thought I would be, but now that I ave a good set that fit me, that is very much my preference.

          2. whingedrinking*

            Strangely enough, I’ve recently come to realize that there’s an upper limit to how much stuff I can have on my head/face before it stresses me out. A headset by itself doesn’t bother me, but add on glasses and a mask or face shield, plus a hair claw to keep my waist-length hair under control, and it’s all too much. Luckily if I’m on my computer I can probably ditch the glasses and I haven’t been at work in person since September, but for a while there it was all a lot.

      2. Very anon for this*

        Haha really?! Since my kid has been doing online lessons I bought a pair of noise-cancelling headphones because it’s the only way i can tune out their lessons to concentrate. They’re much bigger than my old headset and I never even thought that they could look unprofessional when my camera is on. Hey ho, can’t do anything about it.

        1. Willis*

          I work with a few people that use pretty big headsets. I think this is just a case of doing whatever works best for you!

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          Yeah, my organization is offering to buy these for people, understanding that many, many of us are home with kids/spouses/pets/neighbors/distractions. I would say most people have ear buds, but the large headsets are not unusual or viewed as unprofessional.

          1. AnonEMoose*

            I just thought of another factor, too – I use a docking station with my laptop, and the microphone attached to my headset doesn’t work with the docking station plugged in. I’ve Googled it, and it’s a known issue for which there doesn’t seem to be a resolution. So I use earbuds and a USB microphone instead, and that works fine.

        3. many bells down*

          I had a director ask jokingly if I was landing airplanes because my headset is so big.

      3. David*

        I’m very surprised that you say a gaming headset would be more unprofessional than earbuds. Any chance you can share your reasoning on that?

        Personally, if I *had* to rank them, I’d have them the other way around. As far as I understand, being “professional” has a lot to do with showing that you take a thing seriously. A typical high-quality headset is more expensive than a typical set of earbuds, so if one is going to infer something from a candidate using a headset, I’d think the inference would be that a person is taking the interview seriously enough to spend some money on good equipment. (Of course in practice, it probably means nothing.)

        1. Mongrel*

          “I’m very surprised that you say a gaming headset would be more unprofessional than earbuds. Any chance you can share your reasoning on that?”
          IMO, it’d be because they’re (mostly) designed to be garish so bright colours, sci-fi looking sculpting and the current scourge of the PC world – RGB LEDs.

          That said, if it’s what you’ve got it’s what you’ve got and sometimes it was all you were able to get hold of.

          1. Harper the Other One*

            What is it with all the LEDs in gaming gear?!

            I fall into the “it depends what gaming headset” for this reason. My husband’s set is not that different from standard headphones except for a small amount of dark blue accent. But the set my son has his eyes on? SO MANY BRIGHT THINGS. They would be very distracting on a video call!

                1. Accountress*

                  Oh, they’re back. Find a big mall near you, there should be a kiosk selling light-up shoes. Don’t worry about your age, get them and be joyful!

                1. Quill*

                  Oooh, remember sketchers that lit up and MADE NOISES?

                  Teachers went directly up the wall, kids loved them.

          2. Janne*

            Yes, I saw someone with a gaming headset with rainbow-lighted cat ears on it. That kind of gaming headset doesn’t look very professional.

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              I have these. They bring me joy.

              I absolutely do not use them on work video calls.

              1. sacados*

                Those sound awesome! Yes I think that’s the sort of thing that you very easily could use in day-to-day (internal) work calls — for many companies/industries that sort of thing would be totally fine, but it would definitely be a case of knowing your company culture well enough to know that it would fly.
                But definitely would not use on an interview.

              2. PeanutButter*

                Yep. I have an RGB + bright purple giant gaming headset that I use for streaming, gaming, 1-on-1 calls with peers, and of course, listening to my coding flow synthwave playlist. I put a giant fluffy tube for padding on the headband because the crown of my head is apparently a delicate flower. I have a very low-profile bone conduction bluetooth headset for larger/external meetings, but see plenty of folks with all manner of headsets/audio set ups.

              3. Gretch*

                I have a pair of these and I DO use them on work calls. They bring me joy and others enjoy them too. Lots of giggles. But I’m the director of a state nonprofit that works in advocacy

            2. ten four*

              omg I need a pair right now. my office would actually get a kick out of them (although I wouldn’t wear them on client calls :P)

            3. IEanon*

              I spent decent money on a set from Hong Kong that’s bluetooth, lights up all the way to the cat ears, and has very cushioned cups for my ears.

              I would never use them for work, but they sit out on my desk at home and bring me joy!

          3. AndersonDarling*

            I ordered a mid-range headset for meetings and it happened to be a gaming headset. It was green, but not obnoxious. But it did have the option of plugging in an additional usb to turn on LEDs. I didn’t understand the lights, I don’t get to see them while I’m wearing the headset.

            1. AnonInCanada*

              No, but your followers watching you playing (insert game here) on Twitch would. Gotta show off your RGB bling! :/

            2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              Mine flash when they’re bluetoothing something. It’s a headsup for the rest of the household about whether I can hear them or not.

          4. Falling Diphthong*

            My son’s gaming headset is matte black. I borrowed it for some remote meetings (he would be asleep or at school), and eventually he got me a pair of over-the-ear headphones. I’ve used those for any pandemic meetings.

            That is, I agree with both the original point that some sort of headset is the norm, and the subpoint that bulky earphones (which comfortably fit around the ears rather than trying to perch inside them) are a banal solution to that.

        2. TootsNYC*

          have you not noticed that everyone who gets interviewed for a national news show and is speaking from their home office is wearing earbuds? Because they’re less distracting.

      4. FiveWheels*

        Is a gaming headset unprofessional? To me it reads as perfectly professional because there is likely to be better sound quality. Very standard for my stuffy law firm to issue headsets like that.

            1. pancakes*

              I’d prefer audiophiles in retro-look Sennheisers. Maybe employers are missing branding opportunities here.

              1. pancakes*

                (I should clarify I’m joking before someone jumps in to tell me they don’t want to wear any of these!)

      5. Zephy*

        I use a gaming headset while WFH, it’s why I never turn my camera on. I look ridiculous. Like, I’ve been in PJs every WFH day for the last year, for sure, but the giant glowing red contraption on my head would surely distract from my jammies if I *were* on-camera.

      6. Violet Fox*

        We bought over-ear headsets with microphones for everyone who wanted them because of the pandemic. Yes they are business not gaming ones, but still they are headsets.

        Headsets/headphones are a really good idea anyways to keep things more private and to prevent echos and reverb.

        Honestly also for students at least with headsets/earbuds, they use what they have. These things can get really expensive really fast..

      7. pamela voorhees*

        … Is a big gaming headset unprofessional? That’s what I wear, because it fits over my ears really well so I can wear it all day, and it has a dedicated mic that is really clear and crisp. Is it unprofessional because it’s so visible?

        1. pamela voorhees*

          Boy, I wish that every other person asking the same thing had loaded/sunk in before I posted. Sorry!

      8. Keyboard Cowboy*

        Earbuds always fell out for me, and I tried about a million different shapes and sizes of them with no joy. Then I started getting ear piercings and now I literally can’t wear them without aggravating my piercings, so you can pry my over-ear Bose out of my cold dead hands.

      9. Andy*

        The ginormous gaming headset is sometimes the only headphone you have. Plus, it cancels surrounding sounds very well and has very good sound, so you understand whoever you are talking with better.

    2. Esmeralda*

      Earbuds at an in person meeting are not acceptable, I think that’s where OP is coming from. And earbuds w a mic is not something “all of us working at home” are aware of. It wasn’t til I saw a very professional colleague w buds in that I realized that was why my students were using them during zoom class.

      1. allathian*

        Fair point. That said, I would expect that most earbuds these days have a built-in mic, simply because most people use them to listen to podcasts, music or audio books on their phones, so I don’t think there’s much of a market for earbuds without a mic anymore.

        1. Uldi*

          They do have mics and are usually significantly cheaper and easier to store than full headsets.

      2. Sylvan*

        Earbuds with a mic have been around for years, though, and even come (came?) with many phones. People use them to talk on the phone or FaceTime all the time. It seems like a natural enough thing to do for a virtual meeting, especially if it provides the best audio possible for you.

      3. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        I’ve been teaching via earbuds for almost a year now! Well, I’m back to partly in person. But whenever I’m teaching over Zoom, I’m using earbuds. I have a spouse, and last spring also had a three-year-old in the house with me. Earbuds is just being a polite family member, along with the feedback issue.

        1. Flower necklace*

          I always use earbuds when I teach. I don’t want feedback from my microphone picking up the noise from my speakers. It also helps eliminate any distraction from background noises.

          We’re in person now, and I’m still using earbuds because we’re teaching on Zoom and in person at the same time. So I have to have a wireless earbud in one ear.

      4. Forrest*

        I think this just goes to show that the expectations for virtual interviews are very much still in flux. LW isn’t just judging the student against what she’d expect from an adult, she’s got a set of expectations which aren’t necessarily widely shared or sensible even if she was interviewing seasoned professionals.

        We’re all still learning at this, on both sides!

      5. Helvetica*

        I bought wireless earbuds specifically for video calls because my computer’s own audio is not too great. In my experience, for most people, speaking into the computer’s mic makes them sound to be very far away, especially if their computer isn’t great for sound quality.

        So I’d push back hard for your comment that this is “not acceptable” and I wouldn’t think a person was using their earbuds for anything else than…participating in the video call.

        1. BadWolf*

          Interesting, I’ve found it the other way around — often the earbud mic is worse than someone’s laptop. Although I’m quite sure it’s super variable on the age/type of lap, where they’ve put the laptop (definitely had people who were too far away), etc vs the quality of their earbuds/phones.

          1. BadWolf*

            Now that I think about it — it’s usually the wireless earbuds that are worse — wired earphones with mic are better.

          2. Grump*

            Yes! Glad someone else finds this to be the case. They always seem to pick up people’s breathing and rustling fabric noises.

            1. whingedrinking*

              My partner once recorded a tabletop RPG session on both his phone and with his Yeti mike. The Yeti, to his annoyance, picked up absolutely everything – people shifting in their chairs, the dice falling onto the table, that kind of thing. The phone recording was lower quality, but much more listenable.

      6. Cat Lover*

        Not gonna lie, this kind of baffles me. You didn’t realize what AirPods (or equivalent) were used for in a virtual meeting setting?

        1. Fieldpoppy*

          Yeah, that’s the part I’m stuck on. You’re on a video call, you need tech to connect. I am on zoom 80% of the time and my airpods are kind of an important part of that.

          1. Cat Lover*

            I teeter on that line between millennial and gen z (I’m 25) so maybe I’m just being mean, but I would hope that a teacher would be able to figure out basic tech. I would also hope that she doesn’t have notions that her students were listening to music or something.

        2. Cat Lover*

          Sorry, that sounded mean. But ear buds (wired or wireless) with a mic have been around for a long time.

          1. Rach*

            At 40 I don’t understand how anyone doesn’t understand that. Even my 70 year old mom, who teaches, understands and uses airbuds/headphones in virtual settings.

        3. Esmeralda*

          Clearly not, because otherwise they would not have asked the question. Not everybody uses them or needs to use them. Or even knew about them.

          1. Cat Lover*

            I didn’t say that everyone needs to use them (although 11 months into a pandemic….). But headphones with mics have been around a long, long time by now. Facetiming, google hangout, etc aren’t new concepts and I find it kind of hard to believe that two and two were never put together.

            1. Esmeralda*

              Again, please believe what people are telling you. I’m feeling testy about this! I’ve been using earbuds for years but had no idea until recently that there was a mic — because I never needed one, nor did anyone I worked with. Clearly the OP did not know.

              1. Cat Lover*

                Well, better late than never, I guess? Maybe this was OPs first virtual interview since the pandemic started, but if it wasn’t, I would hope other good candidates weren’t unfairly judged due to the interviewers lack of knowledge regarding basic tech norms. I have more sympathy for the interviewee here.

              2. CR*

                I mean, the fact that there are mics in earbuds are part of the advertisements and are a big selling point…I believe you, it’s just really strange! You should use the mic, it’s super handy.

              3. Corey*

                > Again, please believe what people are telling you.

                Which people? Everyone else in this thread is expressing bafflement.

                > Clearly the OP did not know.

                You keep saying this, but it is not clear. All we know is that the LW was judging student interviewees by their earbud use.

                It’s fine that you did not know that earbuds have microphones. It becomes a problem if you had secretly judged your students based on that blind spot before seeing your very professional colleague using them. Talk to your students.

              4. Ethyl*

                But what did you and OP think that people were using the ear buds *for*? Did you and OP assume these folks were like, listening to podcasts or watching TV or rocking out to music during the interview/classes? Because that’s an assumption that is not only outrageously outdated, but also extremely out of whack with the world we are all currently living, learning, and working in.

              5. JB*

                I’m not sure why you would need to know about the mic to intuit what the earbuds are for?

                My earbuds do not have a mic. I still use them during video calls (earbuds for output, phone mic for input – my company prefers a phone app for video calls) because it allows me to hear the person speaking more clearly and eliminates feedback.

                1. boop the first*

                  But also more importantly, so a stranger’s voice isn’t booming across the house where other people are also doing things :D

              6. Observer*

                I’ve been using earbuds for years but had no idea until recently that there was a mic — because I never needed one, nor did anyone I worked with. Clearly the OP did not know.

                The issue here is not the mic or lack thereof. The issue is that there are people who don’t understand why someone would use earbuds or a headset for a virtual meeting. That’s nuts, mic or not! Because whether you use a separate mic or not, for a lot people, using the speakers on their laptop is much worse than using earpods / headsets, and some people don’t even HAVE speakers on their computers!

            2. PT*

              I’ve been seeing people walking down the street with earbuds in holding the wire with the in-line mike up to their mouth to avoid picking up background noise for *years* now. It’s very obvious, because they look very goofy.

            3. Des*

              I own about 4 headsets, I don’t want to use them and use earbuds and laptop-mic because I find it more comfortable. I’m the interviewer (in a senior role in my company). Does that help clarify how silly it is to expect a student not to do this very normal thing?

              1. Des*

                Sorry I think I might be lost in the thread-argument that’s going on and basically this whole discussion is baffling. Just let people use their tech however they want as long as you can hear them and they can hear you!

          2. acmx*

            Not all ear buds have a mic. I specifically buy wired buds without a mic. Or I did. I’ve had mine for a couple of years and only use these for walking.

            My Bluetooth set (which are Aftershokz so specifically not for in ear) do not have a mic.

            1. Observer*

              Not all ear buds have a mic.

              The hangup over the mic is not really relevant, though. You presumably like your buds. Would you NOT use them for a meeting in a shared space (assuming you had a separate mic) and insist on using the speakers on your laptop?

              1. acmx*

                I was responding to Esmeralda not knowing earbuds have mics, pointing out not all have them.

          3. Observer*

            Not everybody uses them or needs to use them. Or even knew about them.

            Not everyone needs them. But to not KNOW about them? When you are teaching remotely?! Judging people for using the tech that they need to attend the class / meeting? Yeah, that’s just hard to wrap my head around.

        4. A*

          Ya, I had the same thought. Fair enough if OP is somehow unaware, but I don’t think it’s reasonable for others to EXPECT that level of unawareness. If I was using some brand new tech on a call I would potentially think to explain it, but it would never occur to me to explain something as common as this. I certainly wouldn’t mind them asking about it, but my general assumption is that most people are aware of mainstream technology.

      7. ceiswyn*

        Well yes, but that’s because at an in person meeting they would indicate that the person isn’t listening to you. Earbuds or a headset in an online meeting indicates the exact opposite.

        I’m now kind of wondering whether the LW was just using their computer mic and speakers, and whether they have considered what signal that sends to candidates.

        1. Nanani*

          Exactly – zoom isn’t in person and pretending it is just creates a lot of needless blather.

        2. whingedrinking*

          Agreed. I was recently doing some transcription/note-taking for an academic project, and I made a point of wearing a visible headset to show that the confidential information I was taking down was only audible to myself.

      8. Ace in the Hole*

        I’m a bit confused, why does having a mic make a difference on whether the earbuds are acceptable?

        If I’m understanding right you are assuming headphones are unprofessional/recreational in meetings if they don’t have a microphone as part of the headset – is that right? My laptop’s built in microphone is perfectly fine for video calls, but I need to wear headphones for privacy (roommates), clarity, and to reduce feedback. I expect a lot of people are in a similar situation.

        1. boop the first*

          I’m surprised how receiver-centric the conversation is… if they weren’t using headphones, the caller would then be on the equivalent of a speakerphone, and I thought everyone hated that!

      9. Observer*

        Earbuds at an in person meeting are not acceptable, I think that’s where OP is coming from.

        Except that this was not an in person meeting! If there is anything unprofessional here, it’s not understanding that some sort of earbud / headphone set up is the default appropriate set up for virtual meetings where people are in shared spaces, and highly typical in all other virtual meeting scenarios. Sure, I know a lot of people who don’t do that. But it seems kind of oblivious to not realize that this may be, and probably IS, a practical necessity not just “kids these days” or disrespectful sloppiness.

        1. A*

          Exactly. In person meetings to virtual meetings is comparing apples to oranges. It would be one thing is we were discussing brand new technology only known by early adopters, but at this point this is the equivalent of not knowing computers also come in laptop and tablet form.

          Back in the early 2000s I remember being taken aback by seeing people walking down the street seemingly talking to themselves only to finally realize it was because they were on the phone. It’s been…. a long time.

      10. pleaset cheap rolls*

        If the OP is going to judge someone on tech in this pandemic situation, at least understand the tech.

        Frankly, earbuds or business headphones or even audiophile headphones show attention to sound on a call. That’s professional. Big colorful gaming headset give the wrong vibe, but everything else to help with sound shows the person is trying hard.

        I use headphones and a podcast mic on calls. The mic actually is a benefit to people listening to me – it sounds great. Sometimes I have if off-camera, but usually I have it visible (because the sound is better the closer it is to my mouth).

        This is the world we are in. People should embrace it.

        1. Observer*

          f the OP is going to judge someone on tech in this pandemic situation, at least understand the tech

          So much this.

      11. Des*

        I still don’t understand why earbuds are not acceptable. I have a mic on my laptop but I prefer earbuds to stereo from my laptop, so I interview people with earbuds in and no mic. Nobody in my company has a “headphone” code for video meetings either!

    3. Sylvan*

      Maybe he should have used his laptop’s speaker and mic to share the interview with a roommate?

    4. a sound engineer*

      I was confused about this too. Earbuds have been standard for years, and to me usually read “other stuff is going on in the background and I want to hear better” – especially in a dorm room setting I’d think maybe the roommate was still in the room or something.

      Honestly, I think the pro audio headphones I use for work might come across as less professional/more weirdly in an interview than earbuds (ironically, since the sound quality is so much higher)

    5. Frankie Derwent*

      Yes, thank you! That was my first thought. What’s wrong with earbuds?

      I would think that anyone would prefer it to the computer’s default audio/mic which often cause annoying echoes.

    6. Richard Hershberger*

      My guess is that the LW has a dedicated work space with no one else around, and therefore uses the computer’s speakers. The LW worries that the interviewee is listening to music or a podcast or whatever during the interview, and is using the earbuds to hide this. In all likelihood the interviewee is actually using them to hear the interview in a shared space such as, well, a dorm room. They don’t want their roommate to listen in, and their roommate probably doesn’t want to listen in either. The earbuds are not unprofessional. They are common courtesy.

      1. Amtelope*

        Plus, using speakers has a high chance of creating feedback even if you have your own work space. Headphones with a mic are the way to go.

      2. Ethyl*

        Yeah that’s what I don’t understand — this assumption that the ear buds imply doing something *else* during a remote interview rather than using them *for* the interview.

        Also, OP, consider that the university may not have that many other places available for students to do interviews. I know at the university my spouse works at, libraries and student lounges are still closed. Your potential intern may literally have nowhere else to be.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          No great mystery. The LW doesn’t use airbuds for Zoom meetings, and assumes that everyone else is the same, just like they assume everyone has a nice, tidy place for the interview.

          1. whingedrinking*

            I was reflecting on how fortunate it was for me to have moved out of my tiny basement suite before the pandemic. There were exactly two places to sit: the bed and the couch. If I’d had to take virtual meetings from there, I don’t know how I would have managed.

    7. I'm just here for the cats*

      No there’s no expectations. We did virtual interviews for new director and some of them had earbuds and these are professionals with advanced degrees.
      Heck I see peoe.on the news interviewing with earbuds all the time.
      I think this LW just has some odd hangups

      1. Zephy*

        Yeah, the letter reads like maybe their internship program has been suspended for the past year and the LW has never interviewed anyone over Zoom before.

    8. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      My and my coworkers’ equipment does not create any feedback that I’m aware of, and I was still puzzled. Was OP wanting to be on speaker for that interview? Wouldn’t any kind of headphones be the prudent way to go if the candidate lives in a shared space with other people?

      1. fhqwhgads*

        I wonder if OP for some reason didn’t recognize the earbuds as being in-use for audio for the interview and thought the student was listening to tunes instead of focusing on the internew?
        Either that or they were conspicuously goofy earbuds…like I donno….Pikachu or something. Otherwise it’s a weird beef.

        1. No Sleep Till Hippo*

          I almost wonder if the headphones thing was just something that kind of contributed to the bigger picture… like, if someone shows up on a Zoom meeting in a suit and tie, against a Wall of Books ™, with a crisp clear video feed and no lag, but had earbuds in – well, it would probably be easier to assume that the earbuds were necessary for the interview. But when you factor in the hoodie, messy background, and glitchy connection – then whole picture is one of “This person does not have their shiz together” and the headphones read more easily as “not engaged” than “using for the meeting.” If that makes sense.

          I still fully agree that they’re not a signifier of unprofessionalism in the least (I use purple ones for all my work meetings, which I would classify as at least semi-conspicuously goofy), but I can see how all the details kind of add up to an overall impression if you don’t put too much thought into it beyond that.

    9. BadWolf*

      I would say only on how well they work??? I’ve been running a regular hobby group meet up and sometimes the mic on earbuds is not great compared to the laptop/phone mic. But sometimes the laptop picks up the audio and creates echo of doom, so earphones are better than that. I had someone who was frequently very hard to hear swap to earbuds and now you can hear her more consistently but she still sounds…far way? Extra digital? I’m sure there’s a term for it.

      I suppose the maybe skipping the headphones with cat ears on them…

    10. NotAnotherManager!*

      No, pretty much everyone at my office (conservative industry) is using some sort of ear buds or headphones for meetings. I also interview college students a lot (run an entry-level hire program), and the vast majority of them use some sort of headphones/ear buds as well. The only part of what OP mentioned that I’d take note of is the hoodie, but I also work in a conservative industry where business casual is expected (I throw on a soft blazer and necklace for interviews), and most of my interviewees wear a blazer, shirt/tie, etc. I give a lot of leesway right now because where are college students going to go? Many of them live in cramped dorm rooms/small apartments or have roommates. I’m also in DC where housing is very expensive, so many local candidates are dealing with even smaller spaces. (And a number of my entry-level folks have gone home to live with parents rather than cramped apartments or shared houses in the District.)

      I have a pair of AirPods, but they simply will not play nicely with my work computer – they connect and I can use them in the videoconferencing programs, but, as soon as I take a call in our VoIP software, it kills the sound when I take a second VoIP call or try to reconnect with the videoconferencing platform. I gave up and went back to my corded headphones. Being able to hear/be heard is more important than the optics of a thin cord.

      1. KRM*

        My work computer refuses to even see my airpods, so if I have a meeting that’s not in a conference room or phone booth, I have a regular set of headphones I have to use. Nobody cares about the red cord of my headphones. They know I’m using them to hear.

    11. HoHumDrum*

      Yeah, like I use ear buds for all my work meetings because obviously I need headphones and a mic and those headphones came with my phone. I have no idea what LW1’s issue with them is, like I truly don’t know what LW1 thinks the student should have done instead. Were you expecting them to have purchased like a professional call center type headset for this interview? I think of ear buds as being ideal for this because they’re more discrete. Plus those over the ear mic sets can be expensive! But for real, LW1 I am baffled- what’s your issue with ear buds and what are you expecting instead?

    12. lilsheba*

      I’m amazed this is even a discussion. Who cares whether one wears headphones/earbuds or whatever? Personally I use a speaker, that’s much easier for me. I don’t want headphones, and I had to wear a headset 10 hours a day at my last job, I’m not doing it now.

    13. Quill*

      Having any headphones at all on is a courtesy to YOU, the interviewer. The last thing you need is your own voice echoing back at you from the call.

      1. lilsheba*

        I never hear echo. My speaker setup works great. I just can’t deal with headphones anymore of any type. I have a phone headset but luckily I don’t wear it more than 10 minutes a day max.

        1. Quill*

          I’m stupid sensitive to the audio feedback. I make my mom call me back if she’s in the car when she calls me because I cannot HEAR her over whatever garbage compactor flying through a wind tunnel full of candy wrappers encased in a submarine that the phone is listening to. None of these noises are actually occurring in the car. The phone is just picking them up from, I don’t know, an alternate dimension?

          The same thing tends to happen to me whenever anyone has me on speaker, because the mic pics up the speaker rather than anyone speaking, because the speaker is closer.

        2. Perstompa*

          If you’re the one with the speakers, you’re not the one who hears the echo. Here’s how it works:

          – Person A talks into their mic
          – Person A’s voice comes through Person B’s speakers
          – The ambient sound from the speakers gets picked up by Person B’s mic, just like your voice would be
          – The input from Person B’s mic goes into Person A’s headset

          If you don’t hear any echo, that means the person on the other end has a properly maintained setup. It does not necessarily mean that _your_ setup is actually set up.

    14. TootsNYC*

      yeah, the earbuds thing threw me too.
      All of the people being interviewed from their home office for network news shows are wearing earbuds.

    15. Amaranth*

      I get the feeling LW#1 has a snap reaction that earbuds are for listening to music so it seemed like background music rather than for communication.

      1. pancakes*

        If that’s the case, the interviewee being able to hear questions and respond without delay should be a clue that they’re using them to communicate.

    16. Observer*

      I’m extremely confused by the idea that ear buds are verboten. All of us working from home this past year have quickly realized that doing video discussions without any sort of headphones creates unpleasant feedback.

      Yeah, that totally jumped out at me, too. Why would you NOT want them to be wearing earbuds?

    17. Public Sector Manager*

      I’ve used ear buds, gaming headsets, internal speakers on my iMac, bluetooth speaker, you name it. Anyone who gets hung up on how someone chooses to listen to a video chat is hung up on the wrong things.

      For the OP, other than timeliness, everything else is a “meh.”

    18. Becca*

      FWIW I wore earbuds for a job interview last fall and still got the job. I think it’s normal? My employer doesn’t really use videochat much, but when we do it seems like most people have some sort of earbud/headphone set up.

    19. Self Employed*

      I am a big fan of Trevor Noah, and HE wears earbuds and a hoodie when he interviews famous people. I’m pretty sure OP1 doesn’t rank higher than President Obama.

    20. Allura Vysoren*

      I was also confused. As a young professional, I wear earbuds to all my interviews. I even put them in if I’m just doing a phone interview. I sometimes struggle with processing speech, especially if there’s background noise, so it helps me both to hear and to concentrate.

  2. CoffeeLady*

    # 1 – maybe they were late due to bad WiFi? I really wouldn’t judge someone for not being dressed up in an interview. Working from home I always have headphones and some days bad internet connection. There is literally nothing I could do about either of those unless I went into an office.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah. Lateness could be explained, but I’m more worried about the fact that the candidate didn’t even apologize for being late.

      1. a sound engineer*

        I didn’t see where in the letter it says that the candidate never apologized? I thought the OP just left it at “he was late”, but maybe I misread

    2. Willis*

      Yeah, the OP didn’t say how late he was, but I’d give some leeway for logging in to the interview. Especially if the OP was using some type of video software that is less common for students to be using. By this point, I’ve probably got most video apps downloaded because some along the way has wanted to use them, but there can definitely be a lag signing in for the first time. Sometimes even if you think you’ve got everything set up beforehand, there’s some final step that takes extra time. Of course, that excuses a couple minutes, if he was 5-10 minutes late…that’s a little more concerning!

      Overall, I’d probably judge based on how engaged he was during our discussion more than these other things. Adults in the work world have had a year to adjust to working from home and how the idea of “professionalism” translates to our living rooms, and I don’t think we’ve reached a consensus. Students are already navigating this stuff for the first time, but with the addition of the pandemic.

      1. KateM*

        I’m at an old laptop which may need several restarts until it understand that it does, after all, have a built-in camera.

        To punish a STUDENT for not having a office, high-speed internet connection, expensive headsets, and whatnot? Seriously?

        1. GothicBee*

          If the student’s in a dorm room too (presumably on campus) where potentially hundreds of other students/faculty/staff are also using wifi, especially during the hours an interview would happen, it doesn’t surprise me the internet sucks. I work on campus at a large university. We have virtual meetings fairly frequently and the connection can be bad at times.

      2. Quill*

        Yeah, you think you’re set up to use an app and then it has logged you out, it wants to update, whatever.

      3. TootsNYC*

        If a job candidate, is 5 or 10 minutes late to an interview, I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want an apology or an explanation. Once you get to 15 or more, then it’s a problem. I still wouldn’t really hold it against someone if everything else were good.

        But I have done all my hiring in NYC, where it can be hard to accurately predict how long a subway trip or a walk from the station might take.

        1. A*

          I think the fact that this is a student intern is a very important distinction. Not the same as interviewing a traditional candidate (even more so given current circumstances). Everyone has to start somewhere, and unfortunately not everyone is taught work place norms in school or by their parents etc.

      4. LunaLena*

        Yeah, I’ve occasionally had my computer start an update unexpectedly, restart, and then finish the update. So even though I usually get back to my desk a few minutes early to prep for a meeting, I’ve been late a couple of times for technical difficulties. If it’s a small meeting where my absence was noticed, I usually apologize, but if it’s a big one where dozens of people are popping in and out, I just quietly join. If the student is used to classes on Zoom where no one notices or cares when someone else joins, he may have simply thought that he didn’t need to explain his tardiness to the interviewer.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Lateness and the earbuds could also both be related to noisy people in the dorm. I had a friend whose roommate was loud & inconsiderate, and sometimes tried to join in on family phone calls. (!)

      1. Just Another Zebra*

        And if they have a roommate, the “mess” (which, I don’t find flags on the wall to be messy?) might not even be theirs. I think OP needs to recalibrate their expectations.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Posted about that very same pint elsewhere. I had a few roommates when living in the dorm who took over everything but my bed and closet space. It was like some weird gravitational thing where I was pulled into their space, not that we were sharing a space.

    4. GT*

      The students in the dorms at my daughter’s college really don’t have anywhere else to go on campus where they could hang out and use the wifi for more than a few minutes. Everything with seating (from the library to Starbucks) is closed except for takeout/pickup. If the dorm wifi is terrible, it’s still probably their best option for a long video call.

    5. Momma Bear*

      If I were to hire them for a remote position, I would ask them about the wifi and see if there’s something we could improve for them. One of our kids could only make calls from her cell phone from the top floor of her dorm. Once we realized it was the carrier and not her phone, we changed providers. Maybe it will improve if the student is home for the summer.

      I did a bunch of virtual interviews recently and some just had struggles getting connected – either the platform was not what they already had installed, or they had wifi issues. Many students are stuck with what the school provides. I would give him some grace on that. Most of the ones I spoke with did dress up a little, but I could count the number of suits on one hand. It would have been best for him to clean, but think back to yourself and your dorm mates. He may not have been prepped as well as he should have by the school. If everything else checks out, I’d give him a chance. It’s just an internship. You can guide him toward LinkedIn yourself. He may not be there b/c he doesn’t have much to put in his profile.

      FYI in my office we wear huge headsets with a mic and look a bit like pilots. Earbuds may be the only way someone can have a private conversation in a dorm. I wouldn’t ding him for that at all.

      1. PeanutButter*

        >FYI in my office we wear huge headsets with a mic and look a bit like pilots.

        I might have showed up to a weekly lab meeting with the cockpit from Airplane! as my Zoom background the week my cheap headset gave up the ghost and I had to borrow my mom’s old aviation David Clarks.

      2. Alice*

        Internet slowness is why I take so many zoom meetings from my phone, utilizing my unlimited data plan (that not everyone has). The downside is that my hand gets tired, but the upside is that I can use my phone mic plus bluetooth headphones to easily participate in the meeting. The internet at my house isn’t as bad, but if I have to use my laptop in the Student Union everything is so slow.

  3. Why?*

    #1 – I always get a kick out of these type of questions. My children have always understood how to dress, be on time, etc. I’m never sure if this has to do with going to Catholic schools with uniforms, teachers who dressed like they were working, and discipline and respect or because their parents were baby boomers and much older than the majority of the other parents.

    1. Mellow Yellow*

      For a perspective from the other side- I was raised by a young, single mother who worked blue collar jobs her entire life. I was the first in my family to go to college. No one in my family had ever held a traditional white collar office job or had gone on what most AAM readers would consider a “typical” job interview. I was woefully unprepared when I first started interviewing for jobs after college. I showed up to my first job interview in a sequin top, pinstripe mini skirt, and flats with holes in them because it was the nicest outfit I owned. When asked if I had any questions, I asked if it was ever possible to leave early some days if I came in early the next day.

      Thankfully I had a wonderful manager at my first office job who saw my potential and put time and care into training me. I’ve now been in the working world for 15 years and have won workplace awards for jobs I’ve done in client-facing roles that require a lot of professionalism.

      Everyone needs to be taught. Your kids were taught when they were young. I was taught when I was 22.

      1. Esmeralda*

        Yes, I’ve had to talk w grad student interns — early to mid 20s about appropriate dress. If you don’t know and no one ever told you, well, someone needs to help you learn.

        1. Mid*

          And honestly, it can be such a fine line between professional and unprofessional outfits, especially for women. An inch or two off your skirt and it goes from office to nightclub. Heels an inch too high, one button too few on your blouse, and again you’re going from office appropriate to party outfit. And learning what your particular industry or field expects is another layer of confusing.

          1. Forrest*

            Right! And there’s a whole other level about who had the standing, authority and lived experience to decide what professional looks like, and what’s gender/class/race policing.

          2. Tuckerman*

            Yes! I do career planning with college students and when we talk about what to wear to an interview, I purposefully show images of outfits that seem to hit most of the marks, but then are off in some substantial way. Think a Forever 21 matching suit skirt/jacket combo but the skirt only hits mid-thigh. A college student, especially one on a limited budget, might see a suit and think that automatically means it’s professional.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Thank you for this. I had something similar done for me when I was in college. My dad had an office job, but my mom wore scrubs. It was helpful to get rules and examples of professional wear for a woman since I didn’t grow up seeing it.

            2. Smithy*

              I love this – while the night club issue is one challenge women face – the line I struggled with earlier in my career was with women’s dresses/skirts that were read as too casual, too wrinkled, etc. Your hippie/peasant style of clothing that if styled a bit haphazardly (i.e. alarm went off at 6:30 and I’m going through the motions to get ready for work) can come across as very unpolished.

              My parents both had business casual jobs (Dad a federal scientist, Mom clinical job at a hospital) – so while they wore office clothing, in retrospect it was an 80’s/90’s definition of business casual. When I initially was translating that to the clothing trends of my early professional life…..again, some trial and error. I had a very aggressive boss at the time, who had no qualms telling me when my clothing did and didn’t hit the mark. While it was certainly not the kindest way to do it, it has left me in a place where when I tell peers/coworkers about that story now I get feedback like “I can’t imagine you not knowing how to dress for X kind of meeting.”

              Truly not all of us hit our 20’s fully formed on this point.

              1. Forrest*

                It was *incredibly* hard to find tops and trousers that met in the middle when I came out of university in the early 00s. I think in some ways business-casual can be harder for young people to get their heads around, because it can be, “what you’d wear normally, but, like, a really uncool version of it”.

                1. Smithy*

                  I clearly remember the early 00s as a real struggle to grasp what business casual meant. This was likely made far more for me is that my first, longest early jobs was as a research assistant on a medical study. My office was in a basement with other research assistants, and occasionally I could go for days without seeing another person I professionally interacted with. Therefore “normal clothing, but really uncool” 100% described how I dressed. By the time I transitioned into a job with a lot of external interaction – that’s where I was told twice by my boss “go home and change before you take that meeting”.

                  I deeply resonated to your comment below around assorted high status/mid status jobs and the clothing that does or doesn’t come with it. It is incredibly subtle – much more so if you’re a woman – and really can require time to figure out.

                2. A*

                  “what you’d wear normally, but, like, a really uncool version of it”.

                  Best summary I’ve ever seen!

              2. Tinker*


                The outfit I wore for the first job interview I had was a short-sleeved V-neck sweater that conformed very closely to my body, a stonewashed denim skirt of about mid-calf length or so, hose, and flats. In retrospect it was pretty hilarious, and not just because of later personal revelations.

                I was raised by white-collar Boomer parents who knew and taught me “the way to dress” — primarily the way to dress for women, and specifically the way to dress in a way that signaled that while you might be a “career girl”, you were one of the “good” ones — straight, feminine, unintimidating, “soft” (a word that was specifically used a lot as a guideline), not trying to “be a man”.


                Thusly, the sweater in question was the pinnacle of “soft” and hence excellent, more or less anything that was a skirt and long constituted higher-formality wear for women, same also with the hose and heels situation. I looked like the very model of a “co-ed” from my mother’s college years, except that I wore glasses and didn’t perm my hair.

                Unfortunately it was 2000 rather than 1965.

                After that point I dressed more in line with the current norms of my actual industry, but thought of myself as constantly hovering on the edge of acceptability because my parents were constantly in my ear about how badly I dressed, how people would think I was “lavender”, and how I needed to dress like the boss not like the peons, while pressing on me a style of clothing that would have read as bizarrely dated and unprepared to do field work in jobs where that was a significant component.

                Hence, you might say that I have a fair bit of skepticism about just how much someone knows how to dress if what they are wearing is fully approved of by the type of Boomer who refers to “how to dress for work” as if there is a singular standard.

                1. Smithy*

                  My parents were zero help on the “how to dress for work” other than that they were supportive in purchasing some early interview suits.

                  However my boss who yelled at me, to be fair – the times she sent me home to change, both times she got it entirely correct. I wasn’t dressed quite appropriately for the meeting and was thrilled someone had told me to change.

                  Ultimately why that dynamic did more to help me than hurt my self-esteem/confidence was that she never made me show her what I changed to. I largely received the message as ‘you normally do get this right – but right now, you’ve missed the mark’. Not everyone would, and it helped that the two times it happened…..I was so happy to have been told to change.

                2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                  I remember my dad taking me to choose an interview outfit. Now I was looking for something creative, but Dad coughed as I looked at something a bit wacky, and said I needed a white blouse and a black skirt and cardigan. I told him I wasn’t intending to work at a funeral parlour and went for the wacky. (Then I found out I was pregnant and put off looking for a job until my unemployment ran out, by which time my body size had changed with the wacky outfit still unworn)

            3. Malarkey01*

              This is so fantastic- I CRINGE that at my first professional job I was so proud of the business suit I bought and did not realize that you wore a blouse under the suit jacket, I thought you just buttoned it up. Nothing too inappropriate but it obviously had a bit of a plunging neckline and I know it raised eyebrows until a very nice coworker suggested I needed a blouse with a higher neckline for that suit and let me act like of course I knew it needed a blouse but it just couldn’t be seen based on the cut.

              1. Bumblebee*

                Me too! But then I recently saw a picture of Laura Bush in a pantsuit with a jacket and no visible blouse (from about the same era) so maybe that’s how they were modeled to us? Mine was from Petite Sophisticate and I had a jacket, skirt, dress, and pants, all in navy polyester. In a lot of ways it’s so much easier to be middle-aged than it was to be 25 or so and trying to dress professionally.

            4. PT*


              We had a death in the family a few years back and I got the job of taking my then-college freshman cousin shopping for funeral attire. She needed a full outfit to wear to the funeral. It took HOURS of walking around the mall with her, vetoing dress after top after skirt after pair of heels that she picked out, saying “That’s formal but that’s more for a dance or a wedding,” or “You’d wear that to a club, but not a funeral,” until I said, “You want clothes like the President or a Senator, like Hillary Clinton,” before it clicked what she needed to be looking for.

              1. Daisy-dog*

                My grandfather died when I was 14 and my mom took me to Kohl’s to find a black skirt & top. The skirt lived in my closet until I was 18 and I went to my uncle’s funeral. I wore the same size, so I thought my body had not changed at all. Turns out, I had developed hips and putting this skirt on (when hundreds of miles away from home, in the middle of the country with no stores) the morning of the funeral is when I discovered this fact.

            5. TootsNYC*

              One of the best freelancers I ever hired wore suits like that. Her attire was a little bit jarring, especially when paired with obviously bleached hair and strong makeup. She wasn’t a youngster, and she had a lot of experience in a financial services firm. I thought it was interesting that her style was just skating along the edge there.

              1. SweetTooth*

                And there’s a difference, too… Once you are at a certain level of independence, like freelancing, but even in a more corporate environment, and have a reputation for great work, you can take more risks and have more of your own personal style. It’s especially important for early career professionals to learn how to dress appropriately for a job because the job is the thing they want to be known for rather than how they dress for it.

            6. Cat Tree*

              This is interesting to me. I have been on the hiring side of interviews in a professional industry, and a mid-thigh skirt wouldn’t even register on my radar as inappropriate. I guess hypothetically there is such a thing as “too short”, but mid-thigh wouldn’t automatically meet that.

              1. whingedrinking*

                It also depends on an individual’s shape and size. “Two inches above the knee” creates a different silhouette on someone who’s five feet tall than on someone who’s six feet tall.

          3. Qwerty*

            I get really annoyed with TV and movies that have women dress super sexy or like they are going to a club for their office attire, because that sets the standard for “normal” if you don’t have any office experience or a family member to guide you.

            Plus a lot of tops that are sold in the business section of department stores are basically club shirts paired with a suit, which only reinforces the confusion!

          4. Momma Bear*

            No lie. At an incubator where I worked for a few years one young woman wore thin leggings, bare shoulder shirts and shimmy belts. Very out of place. But probably no one told her to wear slacks and leave the belt at home. And even with casual – is the office a “jeans can be faded/fashionable” kind of office or is it a “dark wash, no rips, tears or fades” office?

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Thank you, that’s the point I’m trying to make — some students have the advantage of having had someone give them the playbook for this stuff, and some of them don’t. At that early professional stage, screening for some of this stuff is screening for privilege.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Heck even in the same family it can vary as to knowing what to wear to interviews. My dad was very white collar middle management so wore suits and ties while we were growing up (he is SOO GLAD the business casual trend came around).

          Older sister dropped out of college and worked back office at a variety of garden centers (turns out she is a business natural). But because she works at garden centers her jobs have ALWAYS been business casual, jeans, a nice shirt and maybe a jacket. I moved in with her for a while. My jobs have always been law firms, paralegal type work. I had suits. When she saw how many formal business outfits I had she about fainted. She didn’t realize what it took to dress appropriately for those roles.

          1. Momma Bear*

            Also, you may need to take into consideration someone’s culture. For example, what may seem too casual is actually a formal but traditional outfit (like a guayabera). The person is not being disrespectful by wearing it.

          2. Huttj*

            Also it can vary by region. I grew up in northern New Mexico in the 80s and 90s. Unless you’re working in banking or law the baseline tended to be significantly more relaxed than out east (also applied to other formal events, made for an amusing bar mitzvah where it was really easy to tell who the out of towners were).

        2. Nunya*

          I would really encourage LW1 to add some explicit guidelines for candidates that spell out their expectations when setting up the interview* (see below). This helps even the playing field when interviewing students who don’t have (access to) a “professional/white collar” mentor figure. (It also helps neurodivergent people like me prepare, too. I really wish this were standard practice).

          And please keep in mind that college students especially don’t have as much control over their physical environment as independent working adults, so consider being really lenient over things like lighting, background, and dress that doesn’t adhere to the interviewer’s office norms. After all, before Zoom calls superseded preliminary phone interviews, none of the above would have been relevant at all. In addition to that, please don’t disparage or penalize candidates for using X kind of technology; as long as you can achieve your interview, the tools your interviewee uses shouldn’t matter (assuming this isn’t in IT or other industry where that might matter more. Even then, it’s unrealistic to expect college students–or anyone–to buy new equipment just for an interview.)

          *”To the best of your ability, make sure you have reliable internet ; log-in at the arranged time ; wear clothing that is [clean and unwrinkled/business-casual/insert-standard-for-interns] ; use an uncluttered background ; keep your camera [on/off] and so we can see you clearly [if applicable]; etc. We expect the interview to last X minutes.”

          1. Smithy*

            For interns, I think this language is really helpful – particularly for Zoom interviews. What is business appropriate/relevant for Zoom/fully remote work is certainly not set in stone.

            While I understand the advice around dressing up for an interview in the sense of putting someone in the right frame of mind – as well as if they need to stand up for an interruption, to not display neon yellow leggings/board shorts/underpants – I don’t think that’s the same as what’s expected to look professional for all Zoom interviews. Taking the time to articulate “wear business casual, such as collared shirts” not only helps the interns, but likely helps the interviewers as well.

          2. Librarian of SHIELD*

            I think this is something that every organization that works with interns/student workers should have, whether their interviews are video calls or in person. The whole point of internships and work study placements is that students are supposed to learn how the work world functions. This is essentially a class for them, and companies that use interns and student workers need to be really clear on the fact that they’re operating in a teaching role for these positions.

            1. Nunya*

              I agree! Allison has even written before on how inconsistent (unreliable?) college career services are in preparing/advising students for the working world. The more employers see their roles as *mutually* beneficial, the more they will set their interns up for future success.

          3. TootsNYC*

            also–I think for interns, I’d want to say something like “a polo shirt or a button-down, or a dressy T-shirt with no design on the front, or the equivalent. Suits are unnecessary for this interview [but will be required in the office].”
            Suggest something that people at almost every income level would be able to get their hands on easily.

            (a hoodie is actually a form of jacket)

            1. TootsNYC*

              Right now I might even add info on pants, like “khakis, black jeans, or other nondescript trousers or skirt”– including “(do wear pants or leggings, even though we’ll be speaking over FaceTime; you never know what might end up being visible)”

          4. Daisy-dog*

            I love this!! To add for the other issues, “You will have the opportunity to ask any questions that you may have on the position or the company.”

        3. meyer lemon*

          I feel like the pandemic can heighten this effect even more, because it also brings in the potential to be judged for your living environment, as well as your ability to acquire well fitting and appropriate clothes quickly. At least where I live, thrift shops are closed and no clothing stores have their change rooms open. If you don’t have the disposable income to buy multiple sets of new clothes to try on at home, it could be a real challenge to buy interview clothes in a hurry.

          1. Smithy*

            I interviewed last summer while I was staying with my mom – but not with my professional wardrobe. At this point in my career, I was very confident that as long as I wore tops with nice collars – it didn’t matter what they were attached to. A dress, shirt, kaftan – whatever. As long as the colors were solid and the neckline professional and laid flat – it was fine.

            But I’ve now been in my field for over ten years, and really confident on the professional norms. Even though I knew I’d have at least 4 interviews with each place, this was a way I could make it work and not attempt an expensive misery of finding a blazer or similar during COVID.

            Given that some of the outfits in their entirety were not remotely appropriate to wear into most workplaces on a normal day, let alone for an interview – my mom looked at me like I was performing a magic trick. A month ago she called saying she “tried my trick” for a Zoom presentation she gave. Her top with the most interesting/nice collar was some athlesiure sweatshirt, and while none of this is revolutionary – I do think it indicates how much Zoom can upend normal advice on work dress.

      3. CoffeeLady*

        My family was the same. My parents thought I should just walk in, fill out an application in person, and give it directly to a manger. I’ve never had a career post-college that didn’t require to apply online or a badge to enter the building. I had no idea about a professional interview until I was 22.

        1. Headache4Life*

          I tried to explain to my husband way back in college that it didn’t work like that – you just apply online. But his parents had told him the same thing – walk in, ask to speak to a manager, and physically fill in an application, so it took a few tries for my advice to sink in.

          No one in his family had ever had to do anything like that. His dad had the same job (well, same company, different positions) since the 70s, his brother worked construction, and his mom took odd jobs in a very small town, so there wasn’t any need for them to have done anything different. It’s definitely a learned (and sort of specific) skill set and not an indicator of being poorly raised or not intelligent.

      4. IGoOnAnonAnonAnon*

        +1 and thank you for this response. Not everyone has the same background and support.

        1. Caroline Bowman*

          that’s true, they don’t, but being late and not apologising is, to me, a fairly substantial red flag. I am presuming here, but would guess that internships are competitive and sought-after. No one can control technical problems, but they can say ”I am so sorry to be late, X happened”. That costs nothing and involves no privilege.

          Being casually dressed is a lot more moot and subjective. I’d generally expect candidates to look clean and awake and plainly dressed, not visibly in a tracksuit or loungewear. I do appreciate many don’t have endless money for expensive wardrobes, but a plain top and brushed / neat hair is all I mean.

          1. Idril Celebrindal*

            But, considering that OP knows they had bad wifi, doesn’t that suggest that perhaps the student did exactly what you suggested? “Sorry I’m late, my wifi is bad.”

          2. TootsNYC*

            we also don’t know how late. It’s interesting to me that it wasn’t specified; I don’t know what that means–if it was 15 minutes, would the OP have been outraged enough to include it, or was the OP just being streamlined in their writing?

            I said this elsewhere; I’m not interested in having a 5-to-10-minute lateness be part of our conversation when I’m interviewing someone. It just doesn’t matter to me, and I don’t want to derail. People’s clocks can be off; he can be ready to log in and have his roommate knock on the door. The distance to drive (if it’s in person) can be hard to estimate.

            15 minutes or so, yes, I’d like an acknowledgment.

          3. Observer*

            that’s true, they don’t, but being late and not apologising is, to me, a fairly substantial red flag.

            Well, the OP didn’t say whether they apologized or not.

            And given the other things that the OP is getting bent out of shape about, I really do think that I tend to giving the student the benefit of the doubt here.

      5. PspspspspspsKitty*

        I agree with you. Someone told me to dress like I was at church so I wore a long bright church dress to an interview for a custodian job. It didn’t look business anything and was really the wrong thing to wear. Once I started to get into interviewing for an actual career, I had a matching jacket and pants suit that didn’t fit well at all. I’m embarrassed to think about it. Lol

        I’m grateful for my bosses who were willing to work with me. Professional life was a very hard change for me because even my own father was new to being an office worker.

      6. H2*

        So, as a college professor, my gut reaction was to say that this student knows better, because generally universities these days spend a lot of time going over professional norms.

        Then I thought more about it and came here to say that some students, particularly first generation college students who are earlier in their college careers may not know better. Because, as you say, someone needs to tell them. We constantly find small but meaningful ways that first generation students don’t know the “code” and it’s so important that we are clear so that they get equal footing.

        I think I would for sure count the lateness as an issue if he didn’t explain. Even if the kid is a freshman he knows by now that he should be on time. If he had connection issues he would/should have said. And maybe I would give a hoodie some side eye. But the rest I wouldn’t worry about and I would go with how he did in the rest of the interview. And i think it would be helpful to give him some constructive feedback either way. I like the idea of another interview if possible.

        1. Blackcat*

          “We constantly find small but meaningful ways that first generation students don’t know the “code” and it’s so important that we are clear so that they get equal footing.”

          Yeah. For years I taught for a bridge program for first generation college students. I taught a lot of the “code” stuff very explicitly, from how to address professors (many think “Mrs. X” is polite when it’s super rude when used in place of Prof. or Dr.), to how to write email, to lots of talk around to manage one’s own time and to know when to ask for help.

          The first gen students I’ve taught–at a high ranked private institution–are phenomenally smart and are really happy to have someone just say “I know there’s no dress code anymore, and I’m fine with that shirt with expletives on it, but subsequent faculty might not be.” These students bring so much to the table, but small missteps like what OP described–a hoodie at a job interview, for instance–are often interpreted by non-first-gen folks as evidence that they don’t care or are unprofessional. When that’s very much not the case! Their room may be cold and they figure hoodie is better than shivering. And they may not have a laptop capable of running a virtual background (many basic laptops cannot).

          1. KRM*

            I have a chromebook as my personal computer, and I can’t put on a virtual background. Students may be in the same boat, and have to take what they can get in terms of background.

            1. Self Employed*

              One of my congregation members has made such a big point of how HER computer can’t manage a virtual background like MINE can that it’s kind of uncomfortable. I always say it’s a used iMac that cost me $400 several years ago and I am lucky it is so powerful. I don’t know if she’s trying to hint that it’s rude for me to use a virtual background, but it’s difficult for me to find a spot in my studio apartment that has good lighting (but doesn’t give me a migraine) and a good background.

        2. Elliott*

          I graduated in the last decade, and I don’t remember ever learning about professional dress in college. It’s possible that things have since changed, or that the “life skills” class that freshmen would have taken covered that, but since I was a transfer student from a community college, I never had to take that class. I think that resources like these exist in college but that it can be easy for people to not get access to them depending on their major and circumstances.

          1. Bumblebee*

            Many of the life skills classes that used to be so common (for example UNIV 1000 might be what they are called, or similar) are no longer able to be paid for by financial aid. There are a lot of newer federal rules about classes having to be on a degree plan to be covered by Fin Aid. In addition, teaching these classes has not always been valued as much as teaching in your subject area, so they don’t help faculty get tenure (I know that’s a sweeping generalization so this may differ by institution and even by institution type). Finally, these classes may not be allowed to be part of the core curriculum (that’s the case at state institutions at my state) which devalues them further and exacerbates the Fin Aid issues. Despite the fact that these classes are demonstrated retention-boosters and all of our stories here that demonstrate their value, they have been very much diminished over the past decade.

          2. not_salad*

            I graduated in 2006 and I remember very explicitly being taught in one of the classes as part of my professional program (I think it was open to both undergrad and graduate students), a professor discussing professional dress including advising women not to wear thongs and encouraging boy shorts instead, as his wife wore!

        3. BBA*

          I think the degree to which various institutions teach this and when varies widely. I wouldn’t judge all students based on the exposure some students at some institutions might get.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            It can also vary inside the university by program. I know at the one I attended the Education and Business programs (as well as the nursing school) had sessions and or seminars on dress codes, how to check cut, hemlines, and necklines. The Engineering and heavy science programs didn’t have anything on how to professionally dress.

        4. MHA*

          This definitely varies by institution and even probably by academic program within an individual institution– I graduated from my BA program in 2016 and my MA program in 2018 and we were not taught professional norms or interviewing skills in either program.

      7. AndersonDarling*

        I was taught to be punctual and I had a good sense of what to wear, but I didn’t know how to talk. I came from a place of being spoken to and I was never to talk up to an adult. During my first interviews, I was very formal answering questions and I had zero personality. I would never have considered asking my interviewer a question. I was there to beg for a job, why would I make demands of the employer by asking questions?

        1. Esmeralda*

          This can be cultural too. We’re having an issue with profs being concerned about (they call in the counseling center) or feeling disrespected by some international students (especially female students) who won’t look them in the eye. Particularly problematic when the student is there to discuss a problem and the prof takes not looking in the eye as an admission of guilt…

        2. nnn*

          Yes, this is something that I internalized as a kid too. The narrative I received constantly growing up was “You have to be willing to do any job, even cleaning toilets!” so I was completely unprepared for “Why do you want this job?”

          My baby-boomer parents got their jobs in a hiring environment that was like “You can teach French immersion math? Great, you’re hired!” so they had literally never been exposed to things like interviewers expecting interviewees to ask the right questions, or “tell me about a time” questions when you’ve never been in that situation. Despite being middle-class and white-collar, they had no insight whatsoever about how to succeed at the kinds of job interviews that I went through.

      8. Anonapots*

        This right here. I work for an organization that teaches this kind of thing as part of our work (and it’s my job to teach it). Now, my students would never show up for an interview in a hoody with a chaotic background, but that’s literally only because I spend a lot of time prepping them for in-person and online interviews. We go over how to dress, to make sure their backgrounds are neutral, etc. But the point is, we teach them. It is my job to make sure they know how to do these interviews and if they show up looking sloppy with inappropriate backgrounds, I didn’t do my job correctly.

        1. Observer*

          It’s good that you are teaching this stuff.

          But you are still making a lot of unwarranted assumptions. For instance, you are assuming that these students all have the option to have a background without “chaotic” decorations. But that’s not necessarily true.

      9. adk*

        In the summer of 1994 when I was 17 and had my first professional job, my second nicest outfit included a pair of silk shorts. I didn’t know shorts shouldn’t be worn to work until the ladies I worked with told me. And they didn’t even know how to say it, they just said my outfit was inappropriate for work. I had to work out on my own what was wrong with it.

        1. DJ Abbott (formerly Tidewater 4-1009)*

          I remember that. Suits where the bottom half was shorts were on the runways and in stores. Some of them were very nice, but the shorts never did fly.

      10. PeanutButter*

        My grad program started having workshops on professional dress codes (and we had to send pics of our internship interview outfits to instructors for approval/input prior to interviews) because a student showed up to an interview in a prom dress after being told to dress “formal” and that was the only experience with what was meant by “formal” they’d had. So this was someone who had probably overcome many, many more challenges and roadblocks than most other students in the program, (since it was likely she was the first person in her family to ever go to college let alone a rigorous grad program in the hard sciences) and would probably be a fantastic asset to whatever company hired her.

      11. Mockingdragon*

        And everyone needs to be taught different things, versus what they absorb by osmosis. My first pro interview, that my parents found for me to apply to, was for an internship that I didn’t realize would be during the summer (I was looking for something for when I returned to school in fall). My mom made an enormous deal about buying me a suit with a skirt because Pants Were Not Professional (I ended up in an A-line skirt I couldn’t comfortably walk in) but didn’t tell me to bring a copy of my resume. When the interviewer asked for it I started crying because I was so physically uncomfortable and embarrassed.

        I didn’t get the job.

    2. allathian*

      Your kids also saw what their parents wore to work, and if you worked in an office with a fairly formal dress code, they’d know what to expect. Contrast that with a kid from a working-class background who’s maybe the first person in their extended family to go to college, and they just won’t have had the same role models from home.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        My secondary school did bit of careers advice in the final years with mock interviews, but it was only a couple of hours, and this predates the internet. Come to think of it, having an internship wasn’t common at the time.

      2. Autumnheart*

        I’m Gen X, and if I’d had kids (I didn’t) they would have been watching me wear jeans and (at best) business casual shirts to work for the last 20 years, except for the several years about a decade ago where I was working from home most days. I’ve been in tech-related corporate positions since the mid-90s.

        Now, since I’m an AAM reader, I’d still be able to give my hypothetical kids good dress code advice, but it sure would mostly be “You’ll be dressing more nicely in interviews than you might be for the actual job, so have at least one nice interview outfit.” It wouldn’t be “dress like I do” because I’M wearing jeans and a sweatshirt.

        1. Autumnheart*

          Also, I went back to school in 2013 and completed my degree in 2016. Maybe this is because most of the students were already working adults, but there was no class on professional expectations and how to interview. That sounds like advice that would come out of a career center, which could be hit-or-miss depending on who’s providing the advice in those places. There’s been a letter or two about career centers with super out-of-touch advice.

        2. Alex*

          Good comment all around – my “business formal” has been a jeans and a polo these days – business casual is the same jeans but with a printed t-shirt instead. I’m in IT, no-one cares.

          For an interview, that might not be the case however.. (I have a pair of dress-pants to combine with the poloshirt for those occasions ;)

        3. Sunny*

          This, too. People say I should model my business dress off what my parents wear to work. My mom is stay-at-home and my dad works for one of the big tech companies, so… nerdy shirts and jeans? (If it’s really important, sometimes a polo shirt and slacks.)

        4. Rock Prof*

          My son is seeing his parents wear jeans and hoodies pretty much everyday we work from home. Sometimes I swap it up with a flannel! I dress a bit better when I go into work, but the fashion standards for Geology Professor are very, very low in general.

      3. adk*

        My mom was working class, and my dad wore suits to work. What does a 17 year old girl wear to work in a professional setting? My mom didn’t know, and I don’t think my dad knew enough about women’s clothing or my lack of knowledge of the situation to teach me. It honestly didn’t even come up, like they both just thought I knew, and I thought I knew too. Then I wore shorts to work. Sigh.

      4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Or a person whose parents had professional jobs with uniforms – like a nurse, surgeon, dentist where you frequently are going to be wearing some form of a uniform/scrubs. It really depends on what you are seeing your parents wear and what their jobs are.

    3. Tinker*

      Do your children understand how to dress, or do they dress in the way you approve of?

      If the latter — and if the distinction isn’t material to you, it’s the latter — then the difference between them and this student is luck, not skill.

    4. Andy*

      I’m kind of curious after reading #1 and comments relating to it… In Australia high schools, at least when I was in high school 20 years ago (where DOES the time go?) have a careers class on the year 10 syllabus. One period every two weeks, the high school careers advisor would teach things on resume and cover letter writing, interviewing, general workplace norms, etc. This was just a regular small town public school, not some private school thing.

      Is this just something American schools (and other countries) don’t do like I’m vibing here? If so, that’s a shame. While my parents were supportive in all that, they had been out of regular workplaces for quite some time (own business, no other staff) so weren’t up on everything to expect so careers class helped a lot there.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s not common in the U.S. Some do it, but I’m not sure how useful it really is since high school students don’t have the sort of work experience that would lend itself to resume and cover letter writing.

        1. ambrosia*


          Not many high schoolers need resumes or would have much to put on them. They are filling out job applications, not writing resumes. And the interview advice you’d give to high school students for the sorts of jobs that age group are applying for isn’t necessarily going to be good advice for professional jobs. The stuff I have seen target that age group is usually overly simplistic or just bad.

        2. rubble*

          here (also australia) we definitely use resumes for the kind of jobs teenagers apply for. you have to upload a resume as part of the online application forms, which you’ve already put all the relevant info into anyway. no cover letters, though (they didn’t teach us about those, iirc).

          I don’t think we actually learnt much about workplace norms at my high school, but we did resume writing and a bit about workplace safety and wage rules (much different here than in the US!). we all did work experience (spend a few days/a week working in an adult workplace, I guess as a sort of intern) in year 9 though, so I put that on my high school era resume, along with volunteering and my extra-curricular activities.

          I’d say 90% of the high school kids my bosses interviewed at my fast food job did the interview in their school uniform, too. most had a blazer so I guess the idea was that it looked “smart” and we wouldn’t necessarily have business casual clothes yet, so that’s what schools recommended to us.

        3. Harper the Other One*

          Yes, I had a class like this in Canada in the late 90s but the resume advice was extremely dated, the cover letter format we were taught was basically “I am X and I am applying for job Y. My resume is enclosed,” and there was no advice about interviewing at all.

          A course like that is theoretically useful but it requires regular updating to be in sync with current expectations, or it’s far from helpful!

        4. Environmental Compliance*

          To be honest, I had that class in college (private) AND high school (public), and neither were helpful. They were taught by the career centers, who were a minimum of 30 years behind. Gumption! March in there and don’t leave until you have an interview scheduled! Your mom can be a reference! Make resumes fancy colors to Stand Out (TM)! Everybody needs a portfolio! No one needs to write cover letters!

          We never went over the difference between business and business casual, or how to interview, or how to negotiate, or how to set expectations for salary/hours/etc., workplace norms, what are reviews, etc., etc. Heck, I had never heard of the term exempt until my first full time job *after* my master’s – three full time jobs into my career.

          1. Anonapots*

            I teach this stuff for a CTT (career and technical training) program and my particular trades are white collar, some of them are blue collar. It’s difficult for some higher ups to realize the things you can do if you’re going into auto body repair work are much different than things you can do for receptionist work. “Have they followed up?” “Yes. They emailed a week after they were told they would hear from the hiring manager and still haven’t heard back.” “They should call, then.” “No. No, they shouldn’t.”

            I’m so glad I can fall back on AAM to back me up. :)

        5. Quill*

          We had that in typing class, a course which was 1) not mandatory 2) poorly attended 3) approximately ten to fifteen years out of date by the time I took it in ’09 ish given that the textbook still referred to typewriters in almost every case.

      2. a sound engineer*

        In my high school (I graduated 5 years ago, so this is fairly recent) we didn’t have an actual class. I think we had a day where one period the counselor came in, we talked vaguely about how to make a resume, and they had us take the Meyers-Briggs personality test and matched us to jobs based on that via some some software program called Naviance(?), but other than that it was very hands-off.

        I think there were a few goals we were supposed to complete in that software throughout the year, but it was things like “list 3 jobs I’m interested in and their average salaries using the job search portal in the software”, nothing substantially useful. We had to submit resumes eventually, I think, but no one looked at them or gave us feedback on them.

        1. Quill*

          I remember careers day in business class, which was combined with budgets day in a way that made me, and another classmate who was certain we’d both always be single, realize that the only way we could make the numbers work with the sheet we were assigned was to move in together in the middle of nowhere, assuming there were jobs there.

        2. clogerati*

          I went to a small private school for most of my grade school life that had no career classes, but one year I went to a public school that had us take one of those tests. The test told me I should be a model or artist. I much preferred the complete lack of career help from my private school because at least they didn’t tell me that I was woefully unfit for an actual job.

      3. IGoOnAnonAnonAnon*

        The majority of schools in the US do not provide this sort of education/training.

        1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

          They sure don’t! I’ve had to work with several hs students on ” we don’t wear rainbow crocs to work” and ” that shirt has too much cleavage for an interview “

      4. Bagpuss*

        I’m in the UK – when I was at school we didn’t have anything like this, although we did have work experience / work shadowing programs where there was a week where you got to shadow someone in the type of work you were interested in, which when it worked was a useful way for getting some idea of what might be usual. IIRC the work experience happened in the 4th and lower 6th forms ( so ages 15 and 17, more or less)

        I know that the school local to where my office is runs a program where they try to set up mock interviews etc with the help of local businesses – I’m not sure what else they do but assume that it’s part of a wider programme. (Unfortunately when they approached us, the timing didn’t work as the dates they wanted were during a very busy period and at short notice, so we couldn’t participate)

        When I went to university there was a careers service but they were terrible. I met with them and got some very bad advice about CVs and cover letters (Happily for me, my dad was able to give me some rather better advice – he worked in a completely different field to me but in a ‘professional’ industry and in a role where he was involved with hiring decisions.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes we had work experience which was very helpful. I did mine in a solicitor’s office which was very informative in terms of teaching me how to behave in an office setting and I got quite a lot out of it.

          My university also had a fairly dreadful careers service. I did a couple of summer placements as a student which was actually more helpful. These placements were also helpful in terms of making me aware of behaviour and dress standards.

          Like you I was lucky having a father working in a white collar job who could give me some broad pointers on how to do successful applications and what sort of thing to wear. I can imagine all of this must be much harder if you don’t have someone to ask for these things.

        2. Alice*

          Did they make sure the shadowing locations were near public transit stops for students who didn’t drive? Or were all the locations by public transit? It’s just such a different culture in the US, where the video for job site check instructions (volunteer group) includes the line “when you get back to your car”.

          1. Alice*

            I realize that driving culture is a little different in other parts of the US, but I’m stuck in Kansas. It wasn’t until 11th grade that people expected others to know how to drive, and people realized that not everyone had a car with them/at all. In college a lot of people don’t bring vehicles, but there isn’t really another way to get certain places quickly/at all. Lots of carpooling happens for activities. And yes, I know how to drive. I just live at home in college and don’t have my own working car because I hate driving.

            In Kansas, if you live or work on a farm, you can take the written and driving tests at 14 or 15 (or do it in driver’s ed), allowing you to drive alone to and from school/work. At 16, you get/move to less restricted privileges (same physical license). Everyone else gets an instruction permit, as early as 14, where you take the written test/driver’s ed, and hold the permit for a full year before moving onto a restricted/less restricted license. Or you turn 17, turn in your driver’s ed paperwork + 50 hour affidavit, and move directly from a permit to a full license (I had held the permit for almost a year when I did this). The restricted license at 15 requires driver’s ed, and a 25 hour affidavit, same restrictions as restricted farm permit. The less restricted privileges (same physical license) happens automatically at 16 for both pathways as long as you have your 50 hour affidavit turned in to the DMV. “Driving restrictions: Anywhere from 5am to 9pm; anytime going to or from work; anytime going to or from authorized school activities; directly to or from any religious worship service held by a religious organization; anytime/anywhere with licensed adult – minimum age 21”. Oh, and you now get to transport 1 non-sibling minor passenger (restricted is siblings only). Once you hold less restricted privileges for 6 months, the restrictions go away. The minimum age to apply for a non-restricted driver’s license directly is 17 (to go from permit to license after 50 hours of practice), or 18 (you no longer have a parent/guardian to sign off on practice, so none required).

            1. londonedit*

              I’m so late replying to this, but yes, in the UK the school would make sure kids were able to get transport to/from their work experience placements. Either public transport, or making sure the kid has some way to get there by walking or bike, or making sure they have a parent/friend/guardian who can drop them off. You can’t drive until the age of 17 here (you get a provisional licence first, which means you can drive when accompanied by an adult over the age of 21 who has held a full licence for a certain number of years, or with a qualified driving instructor). Most people have driving lessons with a qualified instructor in a car with dual controls. You then have to pass a computerised test on driving theory (what we call the Highway Code) and a computerised hazard perception test. Then, you can take your practical driving test (which you do with a qualified driving examiner at a dedicated test centre). The test involves driving around a town following instructions from the examiner, as well as doing set manoeuvres like parallel parking, reversing into a parking space, turning in the road etc. In many bigger towns and cities in the UK people don’t learn to drive when they’re 17 because public transport is decent but in more rural areas you’ll definitely learn to drive as soon as you’re 17.

      5. Librarian of SHIELD*

        The US doesn’t really have a cohesive educational system. Every state has a set of educational standards, but each state also has multiple school districts (some have 30 or 50 or 80, some have hundreds) and each school district has their own method of implementing the state standards. So while I know of a handful of schools that offer a class on business skills, those classes are not even a requirement at the schools that offer them, let alone on a national level.

      6. meyer lemon*

        In Canada, we had a “career and personal planning” class when I was in high school, but in practice it was some degree of useless. Most classes just watched movies every day. My teacher made more of an effort, but I just remember her handing out endless worksheets full of overwrought adjectives (“scintillating! sincere! spunky!”) that I guess we were supposed to use in cover letters. We did learn a valuable lesson about how far a stapler can be thrown from a third-floor classroom window, though.

        1. Nanani*

          I had a class like that too!
          I remember using a typerwriter to fill out forms because the curriculum hadn’t been updated and still required them (I’m a millienial, nobody had a typewriter outside that classroom)
          Pretty sure the most real experience anyone had, given that this was early high school and not near graduation, was a bit of babysitting? We were all too young to work legally at any job that required an application.

      7. Can Man*

        I’ve thought about whether high schools should have something like that, and I realized that unless American schools vastly step up their training and curriculum budgets or get someone from the outside to teach it, it has a big risk of not being useful. That’s not because of incompetent teachers but because education has such different professional norms from other fields (such as extensive CV’s, recommendation letters, and formal essays on teaching philosophy rather than a short resume, reference list, and one page cover letter). I’d say the same sort of phenomenon contributes to the problems plaguing some government-sponsored career centers: the skills and tactics you develop to get the job wouldn’t serve you well in most job searches.

    5. a sound engineer*

      Personally I think it has far less to do with “discipline and respect” and what generation your parents are from (what?), and really comes down to having people in positions that can provide examples. If I grow up not really knowing anyone with in “traditional”, corporate jobs, I have far fewer resources to turn to to find out how the system works and what all the unspoken rules are.

      1. Bagpuss*

        Yes, I think this is key.
        I’m also confused by the comment about ‘teachers who dressed like they were working’ – the dress code for teachers isn’t necessarily the same as the dress code in (say) a city law firm, but that doesn’t mean that they are not dressed in a work-appropriate way.

        I think it is mostly about whether , as a young person, you are applying for jobs which are similar to the jobs people in your family already have, or not, and if not, whether your family (or teachers or other older adults) are able to offer accurate advice and think of doing so.

        It’s similar with interviews – if you happen to have parents (or other mentors) who have recent experience of interviews (whether as interviewer or interviewee) for roles in similar workplaces to the ones you are applying for, they are better placed to tell you what to expect and to give advice. And you are more likey to have picked stuff up from comments they’ve made, or from seeing / hearing them prepare, even if they’ve never actually sat down and given specific advice about This Is How You Dress For Interviews

        (I remember when I was trying to find a job, when I first graduated (into a *very* tough job market in my field) and my mum actually apologized to me that she wasn’t able to offer any helpful advice, because she had never been in a comparable situation – she’d graduated into a job market where people with her qualifications were in short supply, so her job hunting experience was ‘ decide which of these many offers I want to accept, and tell them’ and then after long period as a stay at home parent her subsequent roles had involved starting as a volunteer, then being offered the paid role when it came up, and then being invited to make various internal most. And the original volunteer and then paid role were in a scenario where the person with hiring power was someone who was a friend and neighbour, and part of the same small community, so it wasn’t anything like a normal interview or application process

        1. Harper the Other One*

          +1 re. the teacher dress code. Teachers have a dress code appropriate to their work. Equally importantly, what makes a good teacher has very little to do with how they dress.

          1. Quill*

            Yeah, especially in the lower grades. If someone comes in to interview for a kindergarten teaching position in a suit? It’s a serious mismatch that means the principal is going to question if they can handle even one five year old covered in snot and finger paint.

        2. Forrest*

          We’ve also got a huge split at the moment between dress cultures:

          – high status workplaces with very formal / high corporate dresscodes (finance, big law)
          – high status workplaces with mid levels of formality (medicine, business and technical subjects at universities)
          – mid status workplaces with formal dress codes (often customer focussed and sales environments)
          – mid status workplaces with mid levels of formality / business casual (many charities, education, libraries, many mid-sized office environments)
          – high status workplaces which explicitly reject formality (arts and social sciences at universities, some fashion, tech)

          You notice a real split at schools which cater to less privileged social groups, which are explicit about associating “professional” with formal dresscodes, and those that cater to highly privileged social groups where the unspoken expectation is that of course you understand the difference between highly formal dresscodes, mid-level dresscodes, and anti-formal dresscodes. And if you come from the former, you can make just as big a mistake by going too formal or the wrong kind of formal.

          1. pancakes*

            These categories aren’t always so rigid. Many high-status law firms have casual Fridays, or permit business casual so long as there isn’t a meeting with a client or opposing counsel. High-status tech companies have c-suite execs who wear athleisure.

            1. Forrest*

              Sure, but that makes it *harder* for people who are coming from outside the culture to understand, not easier!

              1. Anonapots*

                Exactly. And the general understanding is that the higher your personal status is (CEO, etc.) the looser the expectation is for how you dress.

        3. Jack Be Nimble*

          I switched from corporate work (specifically HR) to teaching, and my dress code changed a lot. No more ties and no more dress shoes. It’s not because I’m lazy or don’t care about the students, it’s because I’m on my feet and moving around much more during the day, and my old dress shoes gave me blisters just walking to the bus stop.

          The dress code that makes sense for teaching very young kids is also different than high school, since those teachers are moving around even more. (And a few particularly awesome teachers rock Ms. Frizzle styles and coordinate their clothes to their lessons!)

          1. ellex42*

            My mother is a retired preschool teacher. Her work wardrobe was chosen for easy cleaning and freedom of movement (she spent a lot of time sitting on the floor), along with inexpensive (because small children are messy and she never knew when a piece of clothing might be ruined past repair or not worth taking home to wash). So mostly jeans, t-shirts, and casual cotton blouses. And supportive shoes, because when she wasn’t sitting on the floor she was on her feet.

          2. KaciHall*

            My sister is already sourcing clothes to tie into lesson plans, and she’s still in college. She’s tried to convince me to learn how to sew dresses so I can just make them for her. (I can do small things. Clothes for my kid who doesn’t care about perfect seams. Masks, so many masks. Purses and wallets. Actual dressmaking requires way more abort to concentrate than I actually have. )

            1. SweetTooth*

              You could learn to make fabric scarves! Princess Awesome also makes really cute mostly STEM-themed dresses for kids and adults.

        4. Smithy*

          This conversation has me remembering all the way back when, when job applications were in flux between applying online, submitting an application over email, and some still accepting resumes via the mail (hello resume paper!). I remember asking my parents if my email needed a separate “cover letter” in addition to what was attached as the cover letter? Did I need to both email and snail mail an application?

          At this point, both my parents had been in their jobs for 10+ years, hadn’t applied anywhere, had no clue, and in retrospect offer or think of reaching out to anyone they might know in HR to answer my questions. If I’m remembering correctly, they were big fans of encouraging me to apply as many ways as I could to the same job.

        5. Slipping The Leash*

          My dad was a paint contractor, so his wasn’t the example for me to follow. My mother was SAH, and when I moved to NYC after college seeking an office job, she brought all of her 1950’s sensibility to her lecture that I must wear nylons for job interviews. In July. In 1999 when NYC was enjoying one of those blackout heat waves. Oy.

          1. jp in the heartland*

            In 2013, I had a female boss at a nonprofit who also thought “professional” women should wear hose…in humid Midwest heat. So I did.

    6. Forrest*

      Ok, but do they respect people who didn’t necessarily have all these advantages? Do you?

      1. Caroline Bowman*

        I have plenty of respect for people, be they advantaged or not. The people I’d be likely to hire or ask to intern would be those with some thought to preparing just a little for an interview for something that they presumably want. This might include googling ”what would one wear to an accountancy role interview” (just as an example) or ”what does business casual mean” or ”how important is it to try to be on time for interviews generally?”. That kind of thing requires a bit of effort and thought. I would never expect a young person applying to intern to be dressed in some fancy expensive suit, but I’d look for evidence that they were neatly presented generally. Being late without specifically explaining the reason is a hot ”nope” from me too. It shows, dare I say it, a lack of respect.

        Respect is why I’d always pay a person who interned, even just to cover costs, because everyone’s time is valuable and this should be demonstrated.

        1. Harper the Other One*

          I’m going to challenge you a little bit on this. It’s not just about googling what to wear – it’s also being able to find/afford something that matches that description. It’s not just about knowing it’s not okay to be late – it’s about knowing how to handle it when something (like, say, poor WiFi) makes you late, and whether it’s better to apologize and draw attention to the fact you were late, or just move on with the interview. These things are all obvious WHEN YOU KNOW THEM. When you don’t, they’re not.

          OP1 says this candidate was smart and had interesting experience when interviewed. This sounds precisely like the kind of candidate who has a lot of potential but is rough around the edges (as the vast majority of us were, even folks like me who grew up with white-collar parents). Alison’s advice re. providing some feedback and seeing how he responds is spot on IMO – that will tell you a lot about how coachable he is, which is worth a great deal in the working world.

          1. Elliott*

            I agree. Knowing how to handle it when things go wrong can be just as important, since nothing goes perfectly 100% of the time. There’s also a difference between knowing you should be on time and knowing what you need to do in order to ensure that happens.

            Professional clothing can be so frustrating, especially when you don’t have much money. I wanted a suit for interviews after I graduated. I didn’t have much money, and I’m a plus-size transmasculine person. Buying a men’s suit off the rack wasn’t feasible. I didn’t know anything about tailoring and alterations. And when I decided to get a woman’s suit from a department store, I discovered that the only things in my size were either really cheap-looking or the pants had elastic waists that made them look less formal. Obviously there are choices in between a suit and a hoodie, but I never felt very polished as a college student/recent grad even when I really made an effort.

          2. TootsNYC*

            Oh, I’m so glad you said this about “knowing how to handle it”

            Such a good point. If your interviewer doesn’t bring it up, maybe they don’t really care? (I don’t, if it’s only a few minutes.)

        2. Forrest*

          OK, I just googled “how to dress for a zoom interview for an internship”, and the first hit is WILD. Some of the advice:

          1. Get good lighting (probably not something you can affect in a dorm room!)
          2. Match your top to your eyes (what!)
          3. Fit in the with the culture of the job you’re applying (not helpful when you’re an intern since the whole point of it is to find out what the culture is!)
          4. Wear pants (OK, check, we’re assuming he did that.)
          5. Make sure you’re in the centre of the shot (hopefully he did that too.)
          6. Avoid busy patterns (sounds like he did that.)
          7. Wash your face and wear more make-up than usual if you wear make-up (let’s assume he did that.)
          8. If you play a musical instrument, why not leave it out behind you to demonstrate your personality? (Legit could have read this and assumed that leaving his flags up was “part of his personality”– assuming they are his flags and not his room-mates.)

          My point is that he could have done exactly what you’ve suggested and googled what to wear, and literally the only piece of good advice he’d have got is “try and match company culture”– but again, interns are there to *learn* this stuff, not to know it already.

          It’s really possible that the only things that were under this man’s control were wearing a hoodie rather than a shirt, and not apologising enough when bad wifi meant he didn’t sign in on time. If you’ve got discretion to hire, you can hire on whatever criteria you want– but if you think wearing a hoodie and being in a dorm room during a pandemic signifies “a lack of respect”, I think you’ll probably knock out plenty of good candidates for fairly superficial reasons.

          1. Self Employed*


            “Match your top to your eyes”? Really? Is this just a way to underline your ethnicity? I guess it looks better to wear blue shirts if you have blue eyes and grey shirts with grey eyes instead of mixing it up, but when we start getting into different shades of brown/black eyes that’s kind of weird. (And I’m white but Euromutt white with greenish brown eyes. I guess I could just go for medium brown but that would be kind of drab.)

        3. Blaise*

          People aren’t going to Google something they think they know the answer to!

          I was a first generation college student. When I was a sophomore, I interviewed for a job in my dorm- working the front desk. The people who I saw at the front desk wore whatever; they were certainly not dressing business casual. So I figured jeans would be fine for the interview, and I’d just wear a nicer shirt. I ended up being told that I wasn’t offered the job because I didn’t dress professionally for the interview. I’m still pissed about that because that was totally gatekeeping for privilege- I had actually put a fair amount of thought into my outfit, but just came to the wrong conclusion.

          Also, it’s not just basic laptops that can’t handle virtual backgrounds- my laptop I have now is only like three years old and was $800 (unless that’s basic? But yikes, on a teacher’s salary I definitely can’t justify any more than that!) and it can’t do virtual backgrounds either.

          I really think this was all pretty standard for a college student, as long as he apologized for being late. Even that part, I feel like it’s possible he could have thought that if they didn’t bring it up, maybe they didn’t notice, so he wouldn’t bring it up either and call attention to it. It’s also possible that since this wasn’t an actual interview, just more of an informational meeting (if I’m understanding correctly), he may have thought there were more relaxed standards to this than there would be in an actual interview. He may have placed this meeting more in a “meeting with friends” category in his mind, if that makes sense.

          1. Ray Gillette*

            I’m on a 2018 MacBook Pro and it requires a green screen for custom Zoom backgrounds.

            1. Self Employed*

              I have a 2011 iMac and it rocks. I don’t even think I can run Zoom on my 2009 MacBook non-pro running Snow Leopard.

        4. Bagpuss*

          I think one problem with that is that you also need to know that you *don’t* know. If you’ve only ever interviewed for casual jobs and dressing fairly casually was OK, it’s not necessary obvious that different jobs may have substantially different expectations dress requirements for interviews.

          Or if you’ve seen lots of articles about how WFH and zoom meetings mean everyone is living in their PJs, it may not occur to you to do further research. I think that in many instances you need to know at least something about what the norms are, to be able to identify wen you need to check for additional information

          1. Jackalope*

            This so much. When I was last interviewing for jobs, I didn’t even know what questions to ask to get the interview information I needed. I look terrible in a traditional pencil skirt and blazer, and had no idea what other dressy options were available for interviews – I just dressed like I was going to church. Some of the questions raised by people on this blog are things I didn’t know to ask at the time, so I wouldn’t have been able to find an answer.

            And on a related note, I’ve been involved with a hobby group for awhile that sometimes has formal-ish events where they asked that we wear “cocktail attire”. I tried looking that up and since I know so little about clothing, I couldn’t make heads or tails of the explanation. Since I didn’t have the exact outfit in the pictures, I didn’t know how to extrapolate to something different. I finally called a friend who more or less knows my wardrobe and had her tell me what to wear, and then memorized that as an outfit for future use. Trying to do this for an interview would have been tough, especially if I didn’t have the needed clothes already, since I wouldn’t know where to buy them.

            1. UKDancer*

              Definitely. You don’t know what you don’t know.

              I learnt what to wear for black tie events from my very middle class grandparents who taught me how to dress for interviews and parties and which fork to use for which course. (My Grandma was a Hyacinth Bucket level snob and social climber but I will always be grateful to her for this). I don’t remember being formally taught any of it, but I just absorbed it.

              If you’re not exposed to things, you don’t know them by instinct.

        5. hbc*

          Your examples are like expecting a person to know to google “how do I use a gear shift” when they’ve never even seen a manual transmission car before.

        6. Observer*

          This might include googling ”what would one wear to an accountancy role interview” (just as an example) or ”what does business casual mean” or ”how important is it to try to be on time for interviews generally?

          You are assuming that the kid knows enough to know that the way he dresses is an issues, that he knows enough about the subject to be able to figure out what is good advice and what’s garbage, AND that he has the funds to purchase clothes.

          The ONLY truly legitimate issue is the lateness. *IF* the student did not apologize or explain, that’s a problem. But considering that the OP is dinging him for having poor wifi, I suspect that he DID explain but it didn’t register with the OP, because they apparently expect potential interns to have control of a lot of things that most young people in their situation actually don’t have.

        7. Anonapots*

          If you’ve ever googled “what does business casual mean” you’d be quick to find out it’s not that easy and it’s more cultural knowledge than being able to explicitly state what that is. Your assumptions are based in your privilege and you’re probably missing out on a lot of great internship candidates because of it.

          Someone who has to explicitly state to her students what to wear during interviews and has placed interns in US Senators’ offices.

        8. A*

          “preparing just a little for an interview for something that they presumably want.”

          I would encourage you to stay away from this assumption. Many degrees REQUIRE an internship in order to graduate, and depending on the field you can be limited to a small number of options. In my case I was on a full ride merit scholarship requiring an extremely heavy course load outside of my control and was studying in a field that required an internship. Based on my class schedule, the ONLY internship option I had available (I went to school year round, so summers brought no relief) that would also qualify to meet the requirements of my field of study was…. law enforcement. I completed it, and did well… but make no mistake, I did not want that internship. Had I not been privileged enough to have parents able to prepare me in a similar way as you have with your kids, I could easily have made the same mistakes this intern candidate did.

    7. Dreep*

      I’m sure being catholic and having boomer parents has nothing to do with it. Lots of catholic boomer children are quite horrible tbh.

      1. PT*

        You don’t have to be Catholic to go to Catholic school. In some areas most of the kids attending Catholic school are not Catholic. Catholic schools are often the cheapest private schools available in a given area.

        1. Insert Clever Name Here*

          And the kids who go to private schools (including Catholic schools) can be just as disrespectful and disorganized as their public school peers. My husband teaches in a Catholic school and yeah…it’s a lot of the same issues his public school friends deal with, except with uniforms and weekly mass.

    8. Morning reader*

      I don’t follow how wearing uniforms to school can teach you how to dress professionally. Seems like it would do the opposite as you would not have to navigate clothing choices at all. As for discipline and respect…. these are not qualities the boomer generation is known for. That’s the generation before us. “don’t give a damn about my reputation!” – My Generation, the Who

      1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

        If anything, wearing a school uniform taught me how to use the loopholes, not “dress professionally”.

        Also, there’s not a thing about that plaid jumper and Peter-Pan collar that translate to professional dress. Eww. Getting demerits for wrinkles, having to kneel to make sure my skirt was long enough, and making sure my shoes were tied perfectly?

        1. onco fonco*

          School uniform is standard in most UK schools so I wore one all the way through and loathed it. All my associations with dressing smartly are of horrible regulation garments that fit badly, flattered no one and were hardly ever right for the weather. It didn’t resemble smart business wear, it didn’t teach me about smart business wear, it taught me to feel uncomfortable in formal clothing.

          1. BigGlasses*

            Raised in the UK here too and I agree it didn’t resemble anything like the professional dress I have worn in my adult jobs. I completely got sick of being told that it “prepared us to learn how to tie a tie”.
            (a) I did learn how to tie a tie, but many of my classmates just had their parents tie it once at the beginning of say, a year or a term, and kept it tied indefinitely without learning,
            (b) As a woman, I have *never ever* needed to wear a tie to meet a professional standard of dress. The only times I have tied ties as an adult is to show my (American, non-school-uniform) husband how to do it.

        2. Quill*

          I still have a visceral negative reaction to toe socks, because they were the loophole when I went to private school. And my mom was not buying me any stupid socks after the uniform costs! And then I begged for them, and then they were horrible and gave my feet blisters…

      2. YetAnotherAnalyst*

        I knew a guy in college who had only ever gone to schools with uniforms and strict codes of conduct, and he had absolutely so sense of dress or behavior norms. He saw the absence of an explicit dress code as “everything is allowed now!” and would show up for class wearing (or not wearing) whatever he felt like. So +1 on uniforms not teaching what acceptable clothing is at all.

      3. MassMatt*

        Not to derail, but the line is “I don’t give a sh!t about my bad reputation” and it’s by Joan Jett.

        1. Autistic AF*

          “I don’t give a d@mn ’bout my bad reputation” is the line you’re looking for.

      4. Clisby*

        Yeah, my son’s school uniform was khaki pants or shorts (no particular style – I usually bought Lands End because they wear well) and a navy blue polo. I’m not sure how that translates into “professional wear.”

    9. Anon for this*

      I had a video interview with a big tech firm recently, and when asked what to wear was told “whatever you feel comfortable in”. Pretty sure my interviewer did wear a hoodie. I wore a T-shirt. Every interview that I’d had previously in my career, I wore the same suit that I would wear to court or to a funeral home. It would’ve been way out of place with this last company, to the point where I would’ve looked like a bad fit for them. Maybe OP’s candidate interviewed with similar places prior to OP’s company, and did not realize that OP’s place had different expectations? IMO it has nothing to do with work ethics, discipline, respect, or having boomer parents (geez really?) and everything to do with the fact that office culture has unwritten rules that vary wildly from one place to the next, that someone early in their career would not know to ask about.

      1. HoHumDrum*

        Ooh yes- will never forget when I was interviewing for a child care job as a teen and my parents *insisted* I needed to dress in business clothes if I wanted to get hired because that’s “the professional norm” and then it turns out the interview was more of a working interview, so cut to me trying to run around and play tag with children in heels and a business shirt. It was also at a nature center and I think I gave the interviewer the impression I was a real prima donna.

        Even having parents who do know professional business norms isn’t enough to save you from making mistakes, they have to know your specific field. That day I learned to ask ahead of time for more details about the interview and general dress code, because in active jobs sometimes the most “professional” outfit is a practical one.

        1. PT*

          I worked in fitness for awhile and my dad, who worked in a slacks-and-tie office, was horrified that I went to work in athletic clothing. Because it was work, and I should wear a blouse, slacks, and dress shoes!

        2. Ace in the Hole*

          Hah! I have had similar (though milder) experiences… I now handle it by arriving to the interview in my blouse/slacks and nice shoes, but I keep a set of coveralls and work boots in my car so I can quickly change if they want to do a floor tour or work test.

        3. Filosofickle*

          My mom’s firm interview advice was that you can never be overdressed. So at 22 I showed up to interviews in conservative matchy matchy suits. Total Business Barbie. I got such looks! Note that I was being interviewed by creative directors design firms in big city downtown lofts…they were wearing denim or all black. It took me most of a year to realize I was presenting myself all wrong and redirect. Decades later, social media photos of workplaces and people have been super helpful for triangulating what “one step nicer than them while still looking a little edgy” looks like.

      2. TootsNYC*

        and some of us set our early expectations in a time when there was no such thing as business casual. (I’m old enough that I remember being privately shocked that the women from my office were going to a midday awards banquet with dresses, heels, and bare legs. I lived through that transition.)

        It’s easy to forget that the standards are now all over the place, even sometimes within industries.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Ha! Yes, the no-bare-legs thing was only been removed from our dress code within the past 10 years.

    10. Cat Tree*

      It’s super easy to become oblivious to other classes and feel like your own experience is universal. But it’s not.

      Plenty of kids grew up with parents who worked in factories, or as house cleaners, or in construction and didn’t see their parents wearing business casual. A lot of those types of jobs also don’t have formal interviews the way professional office jobs would, and certainly don’t have internships. So these kids can grow up without having someone to teach them how the professional world works.

      Colleges also vary greatly. My university has a well established internship program that many employers in the area rely on. We also had an actually *good* career center that gave us free resume reviews that were actually meaningful and in line with professional norms. We had seminars and one-off classes to learn about interviewing, working, and similar topics. We had on-site career fairs with so much support from the school. From reading AAM, this is not a typical college experience. I wouldn’t have known all these things without being taught, so why should I hold it against someone who didn’t have the same college experience as me?

      As for punctuality, you’re painting a really weird picture. I’ve known plenty of professional adults who are constantly late, including some that went to Catholic school. That’s a weird reach.

    11. Jam Today*

      This is rude and insulting. This isn’t the parenting Olympics and you don’t get internet points for telling everyone you’re a better parent than other people because your kid owns a dress shirt or whatever. Most children do not have parents who can afford to send them to private school (or would even want to, my public school system was outstanding). Many children reach adulthood without having access to dress clothing, a private room or space that they can call their own, or guidance or instructions on how to interview for a white-collar position. Millions of kids are learning as they go, frequently teaching themselves through trial and error and lessons learned the hard way. They do not lack respect, and they do not lack discipline (indeed, kids who are pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps have discipline to spare). Your triumphalist response to the young man who is the subject of this letter, and his peers, is really unkind.

    12. CCSF*

      You know who doesn’t “get a kick out of these types of questions”? People who didn’t have a parent with the knowledge or desire to teach them how to dress or a private school experience.

      Your privilege is showing.

      1. Anononon*

        Yeah, it’s a really, really unfortunate phrase in this scenario. Like, I get a kick out of the rituals of tea breaks in some English offices that I read about on here. I’m certainly not amused by less privileged potential employees or employees not being hired or being held back in their jobs solely because they haven’t learned random implicit norms yet.

    13. Accounting Gal*

      I wondered about this as well. I have baby boomer parents too but I know when I was this student’s age I definitely knew to show up to an interview on time, dressed appropriately, etc. I also come from a more working- to middle- class background where kids are expected to start their first jobs by age 16 though, so maybe that’s part of it too… I would imagine students from wealthier backgrounds probably don’t have those high school years of jobs working in the service industry where they learn some of this stuff?
      But it always seems a bit too coddling and giving these young adults too much credit for what should be fairly obvious expectations (i.e. if you’re late, give an explanation).

      1. Jam Today*

        It’s “obvious” because you were taught it. You did not emerge from the womb with the full compendium of adult knowledge in your brain. What is at issue here is: should a person who is going to be hiring young people who are still in school expect to take on a role of adult and professional mentor, to provide those young people with the skills they need to be successful as independent adults? My answer to that is “yes”, that’s the operational overhead of wanting the cheap (or free) labor of student interns. Some of the kids you work with will learn from mistakes and improve over time, and some kids won’t. You deal with each set accordingly, but expecting a 19 year old with no prior work experience to have internalized the “work culture” norms of a 29 or 39 year old is unrealistic and frankly kind of silly.

        1. HoHumDrum*

          Thank you for pointing this out, because it’s true and older generations don’t seem to understand.

          Most traditional “teen” jobs have gone by the wayside as they either have become seen as requiring professional adult judgment and knowledge (ex. Babysitting, lawn care, pet sitting/walking, etc) or as adults have struggled to get other jobs and end up working in fields traditionally seen as teen work and getting grossly underpaid (retail, food service, customer service, etc). I was just saying to a friend I can’t remember the last time I was served by a teen anywhere, and as someone who works as a nanny I know no one in my area is comfortable hiring teens to watch their kids anymore (I’ve actually been hired to babysit high schoolers!). The job market has changed, but some of the older generations don’t seem to realize.

          1. Quill*

            Yeah, no job I had as a teen had anything to do with any professional norms. The only job I got before age 21 that wasn’t a one-off tutoring / dog walking / babysitting / plant care gig was at a store at the outlet mall that explicitly did not want anyone under 18. Friends who had jobs at that age were mostly working food service, at the same mall, or in family businesses. Places just would not even think to hire you if you were still in school, because it meant they’d have to pay attention to not scheduling you during the school day, (or the exact second it ended.)

            Between the kind of job you used to hire a local twelve year old to do, like watering your plants, and what employers want out of a part time, minimum wage employee (basically, universal availability and not being a minor,) there’s a vast gap these days, and the proliferation of gig economy dog walking, babysitting, and lawn care isn’t making it any smaller.

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Yep! By the time my youngest started looking, you pretty much had to have an inside connection to get a job. He interviewed for a fast-food job in walking distance from our home and didn’t get it. Ended up getting a job through a classmate at a place where the classmate was already working. Class of 2014.

          And I now realize that, in the 00’s, I used to see all high-school-age teens working in grocery stores, and now the youngest people I see there are in their 20s. Almost everyone is middle-aged. Remember the annoying problem when you’d buy a bottle of alcohol and your cashier would have to call someone to scan it, because they weren’t 21 themselves? Hasn’t happened to me in a long time.

        3. GothicBee*

          Honestly, yeah. Not to mention a lot of teens can’t work due to outside obligations/extra-curriculars/parents who want them to focus on grades/whatever. I got my first job in high school in 2005 and even then most of the people I worked with were out of high school. I have a friend who is a manager at a popular fast food place and they don’t hire that many high school students at this point.

          Plus if you do work, you have to pay for it in other ways. I lost a scholarship during college because I *had* to work in order to afford going to school in the first place, but my grades dropped drastically one semester when I had to take extra classes specifically for that very scholarship. Still annoyed about that.

          1. KaciHall*

            Even if it doesn’t affect your grades, the more you work affects your fafsa for the following year. Then you get less in grants, so you have to work more. Since you worked more, you get the less in grants the next year. And repeat. I ended up working 35 hours a week at one job, taking 18 credit hours, and picking up a side job my senior year to afford rent.

          2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Plus if you do work, you have to pay for it in other ways. I lost a scholarship during college because I *had* to work in order to afford going to school in the first place, but my grades dropped drastically one semester when I had to take extra classes specifically for that very scholarship.

            I didn’t quite lose a scholarship, but in Home Country, tuition was free, room and board negligible, and, if you got high enough grades on your finals, you were paid a stipend the following semester. I lost the stipend (then got it back in the next semester). Not only that, I failed two of the final exams (one of them twice – went to retake it and failed it again) and was one more fail away from flunking out of the school. It was my second year of college, and I’d had the bright idea to take a fulltime 2nd shift job at a factory, with a 30-40-minute commute. The beginning of the shift overlapped with my afternoon classes. I never made it to my morning classes, because I’d come back to my dorm room at one am after a shift, crash, and sleep through the morning class the next morning. Only worked there for a month before I realized what it was doing to my schoolwork and quit the job, but it was enough to obliterate my academic performance for that semester. That was a valuable lesson. I told both my sons when they left for college “nothing you’ll make in a minimum-wage job will make up for your loss of scholarship, so don’t” (admittedly, I was in a privileged position of being able to support them so they didn’t have to work). (Then the youngest lost his scholarship anyway and I was, “yeah whatever, go ahead and work” which I suspect he’d already been doing anyway.)

      2. Observer*

        But it always seems a bit too coddling and giving these young adults too much credit for what should be fairly obvious expectations (i.e. if you’re late, give an explanation).

        What “obvious” expectations did this young man miss, though? We don’t know whether he explained his lateness.

        Other than that, what else did he do wrong? Why would it be obvious that a hoodie is not appropriate clothing to an interview?

        Nothing in the rest of the OP’s list is actually anything the kid did wrong. Complaining about the earbuds is simply bizarre, to be honest. And what exactly did they expect him to do about the wall decorations? As for the bad wifi, in a dorm there is simply no way there is anything the applicant can do anything about it.

        Even in normal times, the student would not have had a lot of good options for a virtual interview. In pandemic times? What was the OP expecting?

        I think that the lack of knowledge here is on the part of the OP, not the student.

    14. Binderry*

      This perspective is really unhelpful and shows a lot of class privilege. My parents were baby boomers, but they were in working class, blue collar jobs. They did a great job of teaching me about the importance of a strong work ethic, but their other career advice, such as how to apply for jobs and dress for interviews, etc. were not applicable to the types of jobs I was seeking. Not because they were bad parents, but because they just didn’t know and didn’t have that experience themselves. I also came from a small, working class community, so I wasn’t really exposed to many white collar professionals. I was a first generation college student and had to learn a lot of the norms and unspoken rules. Not everyone has the same privilege as you do and it’s not helpful to judge people for that.

    15. NotAnotherManager!*

      Ugh. I deal with people like you all the time who think it’s funny that other people don’t have the advantages that they did or can’t see beyond their narrow world view to realize how fortunate they are. I’d rather hire someone who needs a little coaching on aesthetics than someone who thinks that having the good fortune to be born into an upper-middle class family with white-collar role models somehow makes them more worthy.

      I’m a class migrant who was laughed at as an intern because I didn’t have cashmere sweater sets and pearls like a lot of my peers. I got hired at my internship because I had work experience from my parents blue-collar small business and did well in school. (My parents’ business involved a lot of chemicals and ink, and your judgment would be questioned if you wore a tie around the machinery – strangulation hazard.) I got with the dress program once I understood it and could afford it, but the people who had no concept that others weren’t taught this from birth were not kind and made it very clear they looked down their nose at me.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        My first job interview in the US, was two months after we’d arrived in the country. Money had been incredibly tight the last few years in Home Country, and none of us had jobs in the US yet. I was told that I needed to dress to business code for my interview, so I came in wearing a mix of what I’d brought with me from Home Country, and the hand-me-downs given to me in the US by family. A checkered black-and-white blazer, a striped gray skirt, a light blue dress shirt. A year later, my boss told me that one of the reasons he’d hired me was, “when you walked in and I looked at what you were wearing, I could tell right away you were struggling financially.” (Thank dog he didn’t choose to reject me for the job based on that. He turned out to be an awful human in a lot of ways, but this was the one time he did things right.)

        Granted, I had no idea that my makeshift “interview suit” wasn’t; but, even if I’d known, there was nothing I could have done about it. There was simply no money for me to buy a real suit.

    16. Jaydee*

      Don’t forget that it’s not always a matter of learning the cultural norms surrounding what to wear. There are many people who know what they’re “supposed to” wear but don’t have access to those types of clothes because they can’t afford them or because they literally aren’t made for different body sizes and shapes.

      For a long time it was very hard to find traditional plus size suits for women in a decent fabric and that didn’t have some pattern or decorative zippers or other “flair” to them. Even when a certain style of clothes are available in a certain size, they aren’t always cut to fit variations in body shape and the different places bodies carry fat.

      People with disabilities and body differences can also have a hard time finding clothes that look professional, fit well, and accommodate their bodies in whatever way they need (sensory issue with certain fabrics, fitting around/over medical equipment, accommodating limb loss or postural differences or muscle contracture, having closures that can be done/undone easily and independently, fitting well in a seated position if they use a wheelchair for mobility, etc.).

      1. Quill*

        Yeah, at my first interviews I’m sure I came off very poorly because I need very specific shoes. There are basically no “professional” shoes for women that will work with my specific foot support needs, and back then my limp was way, way worse.

        I shoved my orthodics into the best shoes I could find for the job, a pair of clogs that were at least thick enough to keep them in, and then came to a facility where a narrow, open riser staircase was the only way to get between floors… Took me three times as long to get up those as anyone else. Forgot about them on the way down after an otherwise successful interview, and promptly turned an ankle and lost a clog, which sailed happily down two floors to crash against the concrete below, and spat out my orthodic.

        The interviewers were very nice about helping me retrieve my shoe and orthodic.

        I did not get called back about that job.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          My ex-husband has a limp, and did not want to wear orthotics and wore regular shoes the whole time I’ve known him. Never had it become an issue in an interview. Looks like yet another double standard that women have to deal with, which absolutely sucks and I’m really sorry.

          1. Quill*

            At least every place has been reasonable about not arguing with me about shoes for the actual workplace. I can wear the clogs for maximum about one hour before my feet start to rebel, but my kingdom for fashion that normalizes a laced up, supportive, thick soled women’s dress shoe.

    17. Ace in the Hole*

      “Teachers who dressed like they were working.”

      Oh my. That is incredibly rude and close-minded. Appropriate workwear is highly contextual, depending on the type of job and local culture. If I showed up to my job at a garbage dump in rural California dressed appropriately for a law firm in New York, people would think it was very unprofessional even though I work in the office.

      Leaving aside issues of dress, nothing here sounds like something the *student* misunderstood nor that was within his control. Earbuds? A normal and necessary piece of technology used for participating in video conferences. Bad wifi? He’s a student in a dorm – he has no control over the wifi, the school controls that, and he likely has no access to other wifi because of pandemic restrictions. “Messy” background? The “mess” seems to be ordinary wall decorations in a very small shared living space, and even if there was some genuine mess it might be from a roommate no matter how tidy the interviewee is. Lateness? With no details on how late, this could be anything from effects of bad wifi to technical difficulties getting his microphone working to a rude roommate/neighbor who’s playing something inappropriate on speakers.

      1. HoHumDrum*

        I didn’t even catch that line about teachers until now, oh lord.

        Hey OP, you know what “dressing like you’re working” looks like when you’re a teacher? Shoes you can wear all day comfortably, pants that can stretch and move so you can get on the floor or bend down to actually interact with kids, and fabrics that are durable enough to withstand paint and snot and everything else kids smear on you all day. I literally could not do my job in formal business attire.

        I “get a kick” out of OP’s comments because both of my boomer parents have described themselves as succeeding academically *despite* having gone to catholic schools with nuns who cared more about formality and discipline than engaging education. Obviously there are lots of wonderful catholic schools out there, I’m sure, but if you’re judging a school by how formal the teachers look and how strictly those teachers enforced conforming to white middle class social norms, I have a feeling your children’s education wasn’t as great as you may think it was…

    18. Nanani*

      Your children had the privileges of being exposed to those norms. It’s not universal – some kids had parents who never worked white collar jobs.

      “Discipline and respect” look different in different cultures, too.

      You and your kids aren’t actually better than others because of your boomer status. They just have a leg up.

      1. londonedit*

        Totally. I have 17 years’ work experience in the UK, a degree from a good university, parents with white-collar jobs, I went to a school with a uniform (basically everyone does in Britain), my upringing was pretty damn solidly middle-class. I know how to dress and behave for pretty much every social situation. But having read this blog, I’m pretty sure that if I was interviewing or starting a new job in the USA, I would get a heck of a lot wrong and would probably make myself look like an idiot. Because cultural norms are different.

    19. Observer*

      My children have always understood how to dress, be on time, etc.

      Maybe you also just got lucky.

      On the other hand, there is little in this letter that actually indicates that the student in question doesn’t know how to behave himself. Even the lateness may not be a matter of lack of punctuality as much as of technology glitches that he could not control.

      As for the rest? Really?

      1. Self Employed*

        I’ve been late at least once (to things like public comment at City Council) when Zoom decided the version I was running needed a critical update before the host could let me in. I’ve had my computer decide not to recognize the WiFi because there are 50 different networks in my apartment building (and in office buildings line-of-sight from my apartment). The interviewee can’t just plug an Ethernet cable into the DSL gateway like I can.

        There are so many things that could’ve gone wrong even if he started logging in 5 minutes early.

    20. Absurda*

      I’m lucky that both of my parents are professionals who worked in offices so they were able to coach me a lot on the finer points when I was just starting out. I’m sure I came across as more polished and professional than a lot of my peers. BUT that is a level of privilege that not everyone has.

      Your kids know how to dress, be on time, behave, etc because someone in their lives knew these things and taught it to them. I’ve never heard of a human gene that codes an instinct for proper interview attire.

  4. HiHello*

    #1 I remember when I was an undergrad and we had presentations. Some females dressed up as if they were going to the club. So we had our professors explain what to wear and what not to wear. In one of my majors, we had a class that was specifically all about teaching students how to behave during interviews and in the work force. But I am aware that not every school does that. Depending on where you came from and what your situation is, you may not even afford professional clothing. I know it seems as every person should have nicer clothes but not everyone does, especially, in college.

    1. atgo*

      That’s great that they taught that. I grew up with class privilege and attended a top-5 university in the US, and I still felt really unprepared for how to apply for and handle interviews and whatnot. I had some context about formality/punctuality from my home background, but there was literally no attention to preparing students for actually getting to work at my university.

      1. Chilipepper*

        Same for me ATGO.
        Both my parents came from wealth that had been lost a generation before. Dad had a professional job as an engineer and mom in bookkeeping. But neither had awareness that they needed to pass on professional tips beyond show up on time and wear work clothes. I was very unprepared!

        We also had no direct instruction in High School or college (university). And work experience was for poorer kids and it was called “after school retail jobs.” I did not exactly learn professional skills there!

        One of the best learning experiences for my kid was when he was 15 and his high school buddy decided to apply for a job without telling us so we gave no advice. It was a group interview and he both had time to think of answers and heard the terrible answers the other kids gave. It was a real eye opener for him and gave us a lot to talk about. It was like interviewing 101 and the movie Speed at the same time. Great experience for him.

      2. Richard*

        I grew up in upper-middle class privilege with white-collar college-educated parents and did fine in job interviews for my first several years as an adult, but when I interviewed at a pretty prestigious place with a bunch of ivy-league alum staff, I felt woefully underdressed and generally out of place and was rejected quickly. My college (competitive, but a couple tiers below Ivy) did essentially nothing to prepare for interviews and I was left with what I could glean from family and friends. It takes a lot of intuition and ambition to break into a level above where you’re used to, and the advice that people should just figure out it is a good way to keep them where they are.

    2. Scarlet2*

      I hope this doesn’t count as nitpicking language, but… can we not call women “females” please?
      It’s pretty gross.

      1. Frankie Derwent*

        Really? I’m not from the US and I never thought calling men “males” and women “females” was offensive.

        1. Cat Tree*

          There’s a really common double standard where people will use “females” and “men” as nouns for people. In fact, the only time I ever hear “males” as a noun is when the person is assuming that some behavior is inherently biological to men. It’s often implied as an excuse for bad behavior, such as “it’s ok for me to shame my daughter’s clothing because I’m protecting her from males”, or “oh, this guy cheated on his wife, but that’s just males for ya”.

          I cringe every time I hear those terms.

        2. Blackcat*

          Female & male = adjectives when talking about people
          Women & men = nouns

          This is actually one of those professionalism things I’ve taught students!

    3. el knife*

      1) the females? maybe you should call your classmates who are women….women

      2) lots of universities “teach” what they think are professional norms/how to get a job and it’s often wildly off base because universities are a very non-normal work environment, most professors haven’t been in the normal work force in decades, and the university has no idea what the actual work force is like. I got terrible advice on interviewing and cvs from my university! this idea that we should punish people for messing up on work place norms because “universities teach it” is not in line with reality

      3) who cares if you wear club clothes to your undergrad presentation? when i was a student i left my flat at 9 in the morning and had to be dressed for running around between buildings, multiple different classes, catching a meal with a friend, going to debate club practice, and then going to a bar that night. my professors better now have been grading me on how i was dressed because being a student isn’t like going to work

    4. TimeTravlR*

      The military now includes a dress for success element to their transition assistance program for those separating or retiring from the military. They know how to look sharp in their uniform but don’t necessarily know what business vs. business casual is, for instance. It is a gift to have this information!

  5. nnn*

    I just wanted to add for #1: depending on the specific tech, the earbuds might also have a mic in them, and some devices simply don’t have an onboard mic that’s clear enough for a job interview.

    You often see people – even important officials appearing on television – wearing some kind of earbuds or headset when zooming. It’s very much part of pandemic normal.

    1. Uldi*

      I don’t know of any. Even a phone’s mic is designed for point-blank range and can suffer from picking up too much background noise if far enough away to use the camera the way you’d expect for an interview.

      #1 should just accept that earbuds are becoming the norm (again) now that most have a mic.

      1. Uldi*

        And by “don’t know any” I mean I don’t know of any laptops or tablets that have good mics.

        1. English, not American*

          My latest work laptop somehow has a fantastic mic, even when using the built-in speakers as the output it doesn’t echo. Which makes me so happy because I can’t stand the headsets the company provided (and left mine in the office I’ve not set foot in since 16th March 2020). It’s some kind of 14″ Lenovo, I don’t know whether their old reputation for build quality still holds up but I love this laptop.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I have a work Lenovo, and just bought a personal Lenovo. Really happy with both.

        2. Cat Tree*

          Yeah, I hate when someone has to use their laptop mic in a work meeting because the sound of typing drowns out the sound of talking. It’s especially unpleasant when that person has to type all notes, even while others are speaking. I get it that sometimes they don’t have a better option and it’s just part of meetings now sometimes. But I really appreciate it when people can use anything else.

    2. RabbitRabbit*

      Yup, from my watching a national nightly news show, you frequently see guests broadcasting from their den/living room/whatever with a carefully curated background and with EarPods/wired or wireless earbuds in their ears.

      1. Self Employed*

        Trevor Noah hosts The Daily Show with earpods in his apartment wearing a hoodie. (And letting his natural hair grow out, good on him!)

        1. Arabella*

          Not so much “a hoodie” as “a rotating collection of identical hoodies in every color he can find”. I love it.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yep, I swear by my bluetooth earbuds with a built-in mic. Until my work set me up with a webcam that had a robust, working mic, I used them for all meetings.

      I see people outside all the time having phone conversations with bluetooth earbuds on as they walk down a street or a trail. I’m surprised that OP hever has.

    4. Sunny*

      I have a pair of nice Bluetooth headphones (Sennheisers, no glowy bits or weird colors) that I originally got because I’m autistic and need the noise cancellation. I use them for all my video chat because it’s nice to be able to move around somewhat without worrying about exactly how I’m moving relative to the device speakers and whether that’s going to cause problems. It also avoids the weird echoey effect when someone’s mic is picking up what’s coming out of their speakers, which everyone hates in big meetings.

      It had honestly never occurred to me that anyone would have a problem with it. Do they prefer the echo loop?

  6. Bob*

    Late: Not good, especially with no commute. Red flag.
    WiFi bad: Dorm provided Wifi is not the resident’s fault,
    Background messy: It may be all he has or he doesn’t know better. You don’t know which.
    Hoodie/ear buds: Should be dressed better but Zoom norms are not as entrenched or developed as in person. Possible red flag
    No questions: Not an interview expert. Not a red flag but not a green flag.
    Seems smart: Good thing
    Has some interesting and relevant experience: Good thing
    His resume was a little odd: Possible red flag
    Cover letter was pretty good: Good thing.
    Not on LinkedIn: I personally wouldn’t care

    I would suggest considering him further, perhaps with a more formal interview unless you have stronger candidates already. Design the next interview to screen out or confirm your concerns. You should also mention that your looking for formal dress as an in person interview and see if he takes that direction well.

    1. allathian*

      Formal dress sounds a bit much! Given that instruction, I’d probably dress as if for a funeral. Depends on the job and field, of course. I would assume that interns on, say, Capitol Hill, would be as formally dressed as other employees.

      Earbuds definitely shouldn’t be an issue, it’s the new normal for video meetings. I have a decent work laptop but the speakers are horrible, so I always use a headset.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Interestingly, interns on Capital Hill dress far less formally than you’d think. I’ve seen a lot of flip flops there. (And I salute them for it, as one who likes flip flops.)

        1. allathian*

          That’s cool to know, thanks Alison! I’m not in the US, so most of what I know about US politics I get from the media, where interns rarely appear and are probably never identified as such, and from watching reruns of The West Wing.

        2. TimeTravlR*

          Everything from flip flops to $1000 red bottom shoes! I’ve seen it all on the Hill! LOL

        3. BPT*

          I mean I think this is another case of what you see people doing and what they “get away with”, versus what is considered appropriate. Plenty of interns, including ones on the Hill, don’t understand dress codes. You’ll always be able to find examples of interns who show up in things that are less than appropriate, such as flip flops, club wear, etc. But I have yet to see an intern handbook that states that flip flops are ok. You might be able to find one or two Chiefs of Staff who don’t really care, and there are always going to be interns who come in with inappropriate clothing who fly under the radar because the staff don’t notice what they’re wearing sitting behind the desk until it’s time to go to a meeting, but if specifically asked about it, it’s probably not going to be ok. Plenty of people have commuting shoes, which may include flip flops (although how uncomfortable that would be boggles my mind), but usually they change once they get to the office.

      2. Bob*

        For a job interview i think formal. I did say more formal, he could at least do business casual.
        For day to day formal is not needed imo.

        1. Just Another Zebra*

          But business casual is a VERY subjective term, one that tends to be defined by individual employers. Also, I know I didn’t have anything considered BC in college, and would be unlikely to purchase something for a virtual interview. You think formal because you have experience in the business world. As Alison said, an intern does not, and is in fact looking to acquire such knowledge.

    2. English, not American*

      “Zoom norms are not as entrenched or developed as in person”

      I’ve been attending work video calls in my dressing gown so consistently that one coworker feigned shock when I appeared in a hoodie one morning. Which I was only wearing because I’d run a pre-work errand. Of course, having been in the working world a number of years now I’d wear my “work clothes” for an interview but that’s defaulting to a “comfort zone” that a current student likely wouldn’t have.

    3. rudster*

      One thing I don’t see mentioned yet… From the letter, it sounds like this was an internship required by the student’s program (and is probably for degree credit). In a certain sense, not only is the internship (presumably) unpaid, but the student is actually paying for the internship (in the form of their college tuition). Of course, none of that is an excuse to be lazy, disrespectful or disengaged (not that that’s the case here), but I think it might shift/skew expectations a little.
      I wonder what LW found odd about the resume though – a college student wouldn’t have much of one anyway, unless they are involved in a ton of volunteer activities, and they might not have thought that unrelated part-time/school-break jobs, if any, were relevant.

      1. Janne*

        I don’t know how it is in the US, but here in the Netherlands we’re not paid when we do an internship as a university student (inside or outside university) and we do pay tuition for it, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have to compete for internships. Often internships outside university are hard to find because it costs companies time, and there are not enough research internships inside university. There have been students that had to wait a year because all university internships were full and they couldn’t get one in a company. So most people do their absolute best to appear well in internship interviews.

        In our “universities for applied sciences” (which is a lower, more practical level of higher education; you end with a Bachelor’s degree and not a Master’s) the students do a lot more internships, always in companies, and the university does their best to secure enough internship positions in companies. If they cannot offer enough places in companies, they create positions inside the school. And the interns are paid minimum wage or above. Every now and then the discussion of whether universities should do it like this and pay their interns flares up again.

        1. Disabled trans lesbian*

          I’m also Dutch, and I had to do my research internship (which was a requisite for graduating from my university of applied sciences) unpaid! I heard from numerous other students that their internships were unpaid as well. In fact, I’m pretty certain that internships in my field (biomedical sciences) are (nearly) all unpaid.

          1. Quill*

            My research was paid! Via stipend, as it was within my college and took place over the summer.

            The only internship I got, since my college didn’t have a partnership with anyone local, was actually the fall after college, and it was paid, but I was working in a paint factory. If you saw anyone who was NOT stained with paint you knew that 1) they were somebody’s boss’s boss and 2) something was going down.

      2. CheeryO*

        Yes, this stood out to me, too. It really irks me when companies get free (or very cheap) labor out of interns but also expect them to be as polished as someone with more experience. I ran into that at both of my internships, and I think it actually held me back. I could sense that I wasn’t living up to some vague, unstated expectations, and I just figured that I wasn’t good enough for the working world.

        Also, on the resume, I’ve helped my alma mater with resume review as part of a mentoring program, and even the brightest, most try-hard students had terrible resumes. Too long, too much stuff from high school, lists of every relevant course they’ve taken, awful objective statements, etc. Colleges are REALLY failing people when it comes to this stuff.

        1. RecoveringSWO*

          Yeah, this reminds me of an internship I had where I was being paid by a grant program outside of the organization and another intern was unpaid. The unpaid intern wore sneakers and I wore more formal(ish) shoes. One employee remarked negatively on the unpaid interns sneakers and every other employee who hear immediately made it clear that making a snide remark about an unpaid intern not having formal shoes wasn’t cool.

    4. PspspspspspsKitty*

      I add caution to using the word “Formal”. A lot of young adults think that means Prom dress. They need to use Business Casual or Business dress.

      1. pleaset cheap rolls*

        The same is true in the style world. A traditional suit and tie for work is called conservative business dress.

        Formal wear is, for men, a tuxedo.

        So the kids are right.

    5. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I will also say, the messy background could have been because of his roommate. I had a few roommates back in my dorm living days that literally took over every inch of the room with their mess except for my bed and closet. It literally felt like some weird gravitational force – their mess was everywhere no matter what I tried to contain it.

      1. PT*

        If they’re in a shared bedroom, too, they literally have no control over the decor on their roommate’s side of the room if they are sitting at their desk.

        If I sat at my desk three of my four years of college, my background would be my roommate’s desk. My side of the room was neat and tidy and blandly decorated. One roommate I had was very neat but decorated her side of the room very childishly, the other had it full of makeup and beauty products and was somewhat messy. Neither was a professional image.

  7. Analog*

    #5 – Yes, definitely reach out to your colleague who’s leaving and express well wishes, whether it’s in the form of a card, small gift, or sincere words of appreciation.

    I’ve been the persona non grata in an job before and been given the cold shoulder upon leaving after half a decade, and it would have meant a lot to me to have my close colleagues reach out to me privately to express their well wishes. No one did, and it still kind of hurts, all these years later.

    1. S.Tune*

      Thank you for your response (I was the OP) and I’m so sorry to hear you’ve been in that position yourself. I can imagine it would be hurtful not to hear from anyone at all – especially after spending such a significant chunk of time there.

      I feel like management is tapped out right now and is not reacting as consciously and humanely as they might (it’s basically just Another Thing to deal with right now) although as I mentioned they have taken it personally when people have left in the past so that’s not really an excuse.. I also feel that given the circumstances (i.e. a freaking pandemic!) that we all have more of a responsibility than ever to extend sympathy and compassion. We want our old colleague to know we care and are thinking of her and will certainly be sending something her way <3

      1. Bagpuss*

        I agree, reach out,.
        Where I work, normally any kind of leaving event is organized by the person leaving (e.gg, in the before times, they might say they were planning to lunch at the local pub or to order in pizza, and ask who wanted to join them) and cards or gifts are organized by co-workers.

        As one of the owners of the business, I would normally participate but I would chose not to go along to the event if they are not leaving on good terms, (not least because I feel it would potentially be uncomfortable for the person who is leaving) and would simply say I was too busy, if asked. I wouldn’t see it as in any way unprofessional for staff members to organize something. I wouldn’t see it as unprofessional even if someone had been sacked, (although in those circumstances I might make clear any event had to be outside working hours)

        Mind you, if they’d simply given notice rather than having been dismissed (or asked to resign as an alternative to dismissal) then there’d be no reason why it would be non bad terms even if it wasn’t particularly convenient,

      2. hbc*

        I obviously don’t know what went down, but I would just keep in mind that you don’t know how this situation with the colleagues leave and resignation went down. That doesn’t mean that you can’t reach out, but I wouldn’t necessarily ding management. If they were on the receiving end of “I just need a couple of weeks, I swear I’m coming back, X and Y don’t have to be handed off because I’ll be on them within 2 months,” they might be reasonably feeling annoyed.

      3. JustaTech*

        Sometimes management is just plain weird about people leaving.

        A while back a lot of people left my company in pretty short order to go to the new hot shot company. After the third or fourth “going away” party word came down form on high that there were to be no more going away parties “because we don’t want people to feel that we are happy they are leaving”. Yeah right.

        So we starting calling the “going away” parties “happy hour”, holding them off-site and specifically not inviting the managers who had made a fuss.
        We used to do the same thing for layoffs (with the strong and compassionate understanding that people might not want to go to their own layoff commiseration). We didn’t get to do that for this summer’s layoffs and I still wish I’d had a chance to say a proper goodbye to folks.

    2. pbnj*

      I had a coworker who was told to either retire or be fired after working there for 30 years, so they didn’t leave on great terms and didn’t get the typical cake and other celebrations. We had an informal party off-site for them (this was in the before-times). It just felt wrong to not acknowledge their departure and transition to retirement.

    3. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      When I left my last job – my colleagues threw a wonderful dinner for me and my wife (23 years there). And presented us with generous gift cards.

      But management was rather tepid. It was a retirement, but management treated like I just quit. I had even offered some scenarios in which I’d stay aboard longer, and those were refused. The only contact I had with management after that was that I had to return two laptops, and two groups got into a memo war over who was gonna pay for the FedEx box.

      Finally I wrote an e-mail to the two groups and my former manager. “You guys can fight out the malarkey,
      leave me out of it. They’re here at the house. You can pick them up BUT make an appointment. The address is…..” Considering I’m in Massachusetts, one of the feuding parties was in Texas and the other in India, this was not an option, so my former manager told one of them = send the box with the shipping label to the address in his e-mail.

      This all went down a month after I left….

    4. Sparrow*

      OP, I’m sure she would really appreciate you doing something to acknowledge her and wish her well, no matter what it is. I think it would be kind, thoughtful, and not at all unprofessional.

      I once saw someone get forced out of a job because the new grandboss saw her as a threat. There was no goodbye planned even though she worked there for >10 years and was the backbone of the office. We were really uncomfortable letting her leave without some kind of send off and collectively decided to take her out for lunch on her last day (“we” meaning everyone but the grandboss and his #2) which she really appreciated. And it had the surprise bonus of shaming leadership into doing something! At the last minute, the #2 invited himself along so he could pay for everyone’s meals and make the goodbye lunch an “official” office event instead of a rogue one. They went way overboard the next time someone left, and I’m pretty sure that was at least partly an attempt to patch over staff resentments from this incident.

  8. Esmeralda*

    OP 1: If you ask for office or interview clothes, please make the standard reasonable. More students than you might expect can’t afford business clothes. So don’t ask for a suit or a blazer if an Oxford or polo would do. (The career center at the U I work at has a closet of professional clothes for students.)

    1. Raine*

      Yeah, I remember going to JCPenney and being flabbergasted that someone expected me to pay over $50 for an article of clothing, when I’d grown up with my mom sewing 90% of my clothes and shopping at Walmart for the rest. I had no concept of what “nice” clothing costs were when I was starting out because we didn’t buy them, and anything over $30 was “too much money”. Not everyone who manages to get to college and lives in a dorm knows what “interview” or “nice” clothes are, and people shouldn’t be dinged for that lack of knowledge, especially for an internship position. How they behaved while being interviewed would weigh heavier in my head than what they were wearing.

      1. Richard*

        Once in my late 20s, I went out and spent an unthinkable $150 for a suit for an interview at a prestigious place and found myself absurdly underdressed there. Dress expectations can be a way of just interviewing someone’s (parents’) bank account.

        1. Becca*

          My husband saved up money from a summer construction job to buy an interview suit (thanks very kind salesman who told him when the next sale would be). It can be really hard if your parents can’t just buy you a suit.

          1. Richard*

            A little fortunate to find a good salesman willing to help with a sale and probably some good advice on making the most of a sale purchase. It’s easy to forget how tight a margin people without much money have when trying to fit into the working world.
            My suit lasted me for several years worth of interviews and weddings and finally got tossed when our apartment got a mold problem last year. I’m hoping I never have to replace it, but I imagine I will at some point.

    2. Gingerblue*

      Yes, this! Students who might normally borrow something from a friend or career center may not have that option, and even if they can buy something new, shopping isn’t even easy right now.

      1. HoHumDrum*

        Especially with everything online. Like I can justify spending $$$ on one item of clothing if I know it fits well and is made well so I know it’ll last me a long time. I can not justify spending $$$ on something I’m buying sight unseen, with no way of knowing what the fit is, what the fabric feels like, what the stitching is like, etc. It’s just a lot riskier of a move.

    3. a sound engineer*

      Yup, as someone who had to pay $70 for a dress shirt my freshman year of college… that was all my extra money for the week. (Wasn’t told I’d need formal dress until the last minute, too small to borrow from any of my friends, there was only one shirt in stock that fit me so I was stuck with it)

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        One of the (only) benefits of near-universal school uniform in the UK is that plain smart shirts are readily and cheaply available. I could go to the supermarket today and pick up a packet of two plain white or blue buttoned shirts or blouses for maybe £12.

        It also means that children and young people applying for jobs likely already own a vaguely suitable interview outfit (button up plus trousers) and are used to wearing it, even if they dislike it.

        I think the potential intern’s earbuds and flaky internet are ignorable, but he might be well advised to buy or borrow a single dress shirt purely for interviews (if they’re Zoom then he can wear anything plain below the waist).

        1. Scarlet2*

          It’s a good idea to buy a dress shirt, but you also need to be able to iron it after washing it and it might be complicated when you live in a dorm room. Also, I don’t know where the student lives but in my country, all non-essential shops have been closed for the last couple of months so it’s a bit tough to shop for clothes at the moment.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            All of this is true.

            Hanging up your shirt generally, and hanging it in the bathroom while you shower can get it smooth enough for Zoom (or even in-person).

          2. onco fonco*

            That’s a good point – I could order a smart shirt online if I realised I needed one in time, but I wouldn’t be able to rush out to a physical shop and buy one on short notice because it’s considered non-essential retail.

        2. English, not American*

          That’s true, for my first ever “office job” interview I just wore my old school trousers with my least t-shirt-y shirt. A testament to the value of being a pack rat that I still had them 6 years after last needing them for school!

        3. Bagpuss*

          I think it depends a bit – the school I went to (and I think most other local schools) don’t require 6th formers to wear uniform so unless the stuff you had when you finished your GCSE s at 16 still fits you when you are job searching at 18 or 21 you won’t necessarily have suitable clothes. Although I would agree that most people would be able to buy something cheap and fairly smart.
          When I was in the 6th form, our dress code was basically no denim, no big logos and (until I pushed back because I was pissed off, and Had A Word, after they held a girls-only assembly to speak to us about what we wore ) no low cut tops or mini skirts. I didn’t personally wear, or want to wear, lowcut tops or mini skirts, but I did not think that telling us not to lest we distract the boys and younger male staff was fair or appropriate. I don’t think they formally changed the dress code at that point but they stopped trying to enforce that part of it.

          1. UKDancer*

            Ha ha good for you with the pushing back.

            My sixth form had a “collar and tie” approach for men and “smart tops” for women. I think there was a dress code but don’t remember the details. I hated school so have blotted much of it from my mind.

            1. Bagpuss*

              If they had left it t saying we couldn’t wear low cut tops or mini skirts I probably wouldn’t have said anything. It was the fact they explicitly said it was so we wouldn’t distract the boys and the male teachers which had me seeing red. I thought, and said, that a man who who couldn’t control himself in the presence of teenage girls in short skirts did not belong in the teaching profession, and also asked them whether they were going to be telling the boys not to wear tight fitting shirts in case they distracted us, and whether they didn’t think that teaching the boys that being able to behave appropriately in public is necessary would make more sense than trying to police what we looked like.
              I was never the rebellious kind and I think that they were completely stunned by the fact that it was me protesting, much more than at it being protested at all. With hindsight, that may well be why they backed down. I suspect that if it had been any of the more flamboyant students they would have written it off as the usual suspects complaining about having to follow rules.

              1. UKDancer*

                I am stunned by your general awesomeness. I think that’s a great use of personal capital to achieve cultural change and point to the weakness of ingrained institutional sexism.

          2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            My university two semesters before sending us off to our internship placements had a big program wide two day seminar on professional conduct and attire (very helpful). When the program coordinator came up to talk about clothes she was totally gender neutral – putting it as hemlines and necklines – and specifically telling guys that hemlines doesn’t leave you out. If you are able to wear shorts please sit down/bend over in front of a mirror. This will show you what others will see when you do the same. Please remember we’re a more conservative dress field by and large – and you need to make sure if it should be covered that it is.

            She also recommended bending at the waist in front of a mirror to check your neckline – for both men and women – putting it as I don’t want to see cleavage of any kind, and yes gentlemen you have cleavage too. I liked that the guys were being held to the same dress rules I as a woman was being held to.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Adding after the fact – she wasn’t expecting you to be covered from head to foot, but she did want you to think about the presentation you were giving of yourself. If you had more “blessings” than the average woman she always had he door open to give advice on that sort of thing.

              She also had a huge list of resale and thrift stores that had good selections of professional clothes that she gave out every seminar. Which is why she held it two semesters (for us a full calendar year) ahead of your internship – to give time to those with really small budgets (college after all) to get at least six or seven good work outfits.

              (This also took place about 15+ years ago now though. Still use the neckline bend at waist tip though, has saved me more than once.)

              1. nnn*

                She also had a huge list of resale and thrift stores that had good selections of professional clothes that she gave out every seminar

                THAT is excellent! I’ve long thought that anyone advocating for a specific dress code must also tell you where you can immediately buy clothes that meet the requirements and fit your body and your budget.

                1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                  She was pretty practical. She believed in making sure that resources to be successful should be available to everybody.

                  In fairness though – the school district she was sending us out to intern in had a very conservative dress code. She wasn’t setting the dress code, just making sure we all knew what the dress code was.

      2. PT*

        That is ABSURD. I got my most recent basic blouse at H&M for $12, I think. I do layer a tank under it.

    4. voyager1*

      I am not sure I agree with this. If someone is pursuing a career that will require an interview in a professional setting, one suit isn’t unreasonable.

      There is plenty of business casual clothing one can get at a discount store like TJMaxx or Marshall’s.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        This is good general advice but, as others point out, store opening currently varies significantly by location (eg here the only place to buy clothes in person is the supermarket). All the more reason for LW to extend grace at this time – though she could feed back, “Normally it’s a good idea to wear $DressCode for interviews in this field, but I get that $SpecificItem may be difficult to source just now.”

      2. Melewen*

        I know we’re assuming this person is from the US, but retail stores aren’t open everywhere. In Germany, for example, in-store shopping for anything other than food/essentials hasn’t been possible since December.

        1. Violet Fox*

          Same where I am. Delivery times for anything bought online — assuming it fits, are also not reliable.

        2. Worked in IT forever*

          Yes, that’s true about retail. I’m in a Canadian hot zone. This coming Monday, our “non-essential” retail stores are reopening, and even then, it will be at only 25% capacity. These stores have been closed for in-store shopping since our second lockdown, which happened in November. From November until this coming Monday, only “essential” stores (basically only stores selling food and drugs) have been allowed to be open for in-store shopping.

          (Side rant: “Essential stores” here include Walmart and Costco, because they sell food and drugs, but they sell clothes and shoes too. That’s been terribly unfair to all the small clothing and shoe stores that could not reopen.)

      3. FridayFriyay*

        I mean, we are in the middle of a global pandemic so shopping for business clothes, especially at discount stores, is more difficult even than usual and there are plenty of reasons why it wouldn’t be advisable to go out and do that. Ordering online can take a long time (especially with USPS these days) and hit or miss in terms of fit, plus the risk of needing to go in person to return things if they don’t work out.

      4. Just Another Zebra*

        I’m short and curvy. There is literally nothing that fits me at TJMaxx because I’m not a straight size. And this isn’t that uncommon of an issue. There’s also a bit of a gap between “interviewing for first internship” and “interviewing for first job”. One is to gain experience, one is to use that experience.

        1. EmmaPoet*

          Same. I have to either alter stuff myself or get it done, and not everyone has a handy tailor, especially right now.

    5. CupcakeCounter*

      Agree. I’m an accountant and was doing Zoom interviews this summer after getting laid off and I didn’t go the full suit route. I wore a nice shell, blazer, and made sure my hair, makeup, and jewelry looked professional on screen (very different than in person). With my lighting and background, my normal suits (gray and black) just didn’t work well so I went with something polished and complimentary to how I looked on screen. I wore clean black yoga pants on the bottom just in case I had to stand up.
      A hoodie is just a no on all levels though…a least a clean, collared shirt and pants (don’t care what kind…just need to have pants on).

  9. LizM*

    Having adults in your life who can educate you on important professional norms as you prepare for internship interviews is an example of privilege. Organizations who are committed to diversity would be well served to really spend some time looking at which of those norms are actually indicators of success in internship and entry level positions.

    Some are important. But if you interview someone who you think hits the right marks but seemed to miss some of the norms, it may be worth bringing them in for a follow up interview or taking a risk.

    1. Language Lover*

      I was trying to think of how to say this but you did so well. When I grew up, I was taught these professional norms. I thought everyone was taught them. I never questioned them. I also never thought deeply about who established the norms. They were taught to me as an example of showing effort. It wasn’t until I was older that I saw they’re also used as barriers of entry for groups of people who aren’t taught these norms. It might not be as purposeful now as it was when they were established but that doesn’t mean we don’t still live with the legacy and effect.

      It’s a big topic when it comes to diversity in hiring discussions and it has made me rethink about how I evaluate candidates when I decide who to interview and who to hire.

      1. a sound engineer*

        Focusing and screening for these norms when people are just starting their careers, and *especially* at the college age, really hurts those who come from less privileged backgrounds and didn’t have those examples.

    2. Bagpuss*

      I think this is something where offering & providing feedback, especially to applicants you don’t take on, can be really helpful.

      Some years ago I had an application for a student who wanted to do some work shadowing with our firm – we’re a small, high street practice and we don’t have any formal internship or official program but are open to this kind of request, it can be really helpful especially as in our field (Law) actual practice is very different to the academic study you do when getting your degree. so really, the fact that she asked was enough for us to agree.

      But – her CV was awful and her cover letter wasn’t good. Had she been applying for an actual job then I probably wouldn’t have offered her an interview.

      At the end of the time she spent with me I sat down with her, explained that I didn’t think that her CV did her justice, and went through it with her and offered her suggestions to change it , and also talked to her about improving her cover letter. It turned out that she had had some help from her university careers service, so even where an institution offers those services they may not be very good, or up to date.

      (One example was that she had lots of space taken up with a list of her GCSEs (which are exams taken at age 16 – unless you leave school at that point, they have very little relevance as you’ll have then gone on to take ‘A’ levels and potentially a degree) – this took up loads of space so more relevant things such as the work she was doing with the university’s law clinic was squeezed down to a single line. )

      She was, I think, the first person in her family to have gone to university. I think her family were also relatively recent immigrants so it’s likely many of them had English as a second language, and may have had fewer opportunities to experience business norms. Even little things like having someone proof-read your application must be harder if your family has English as a second language.

      1. Forrest*

        >>so really, the fact that she asked was enough for us to agree

        I work with Law students in the UK and I’m always trying to convince them that this is a thing they can do, so hooray! Thank you for saying yes!

        (I do try to make sure they’ve done some CV and cover letter prep, though!)

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes I did this as a student. I sent my CV to a lot of high street firms and one of them got back to me and offered me a 2 week placement over the summer. They didn’t have a formal scheme but were happy to have an extra pair of hands for a fortnight.

          I learnt a lot from it, mainly that I did not want to go into a high street solicitor’s firm doing small time family law and crime cases. But it also taught me a lot about how to exist in a white collar environment.

    3. Cat Tree*

      The company I currently work for is pretty good about diversity and inclusion. There’s still plenty of room for improvement, but overall much better than other places I have worked.

      I’ve been on the hiring panel for a few high level positions. The company explicitly tells candidates to wear whatever, and tells us not to consider clothing in our hiring decision. I liked that. The people I interviewed had at least 10 years of experience in the industry, so they all wore suits anyway. But for interns or entry level, I would really try not to let non-traditional clothing influence my decision.

      Personally I support more variety in interview clothes for other reasons. I’m a woman in a male dominated industry and interview clothing is tricky to navigate. Personally, I have pretty much landed on what a man would wear minus the tie: gray or black suit with pants, dress shirt, and flat shoes. Wearing a tie would come off as really weird, I think. But without it, I’m inherently less formal than male candidates who are wearing one because I have to leave the collar unbuttoned. I’ll sometimes wear a nice non-button shirt under my blazer but it still seems less formal. Anything to seem more formal, such as a skirt or high heels just draws even more attention to me being different than the male candidates. Plus that is impractical for plant tours when interviews are in person.

  10. LizM*

    The microphone on my computer makes me sound like I’m in a cave. I have to use a headset or earbuds with a microphone if I want whoever I’m talking to to be able to understand me. It never occured to me in the last year that might seem unprofessional. I see lots of people wearing earbuds, even professionals being interviewed on TV.

    1. Raine*

      IMO, the pandemic has proven that “using what equipment you have as long as you can hear and be heard” in a virtual setting is more valuable than having the fanciest tech.

      1. pleaset cheap rolls*

        I don’t know about fancy, but I wish more people got better microphones. If they’re talking a lot, the difference over a built in laptop mic can be massive. A USB mic or mic on a good headset or certain lav mics can be a big improvement and a real service to people listening. People don’t have to look at your blurry face, but listening to scratchy audio is draining.

        Big upgrades are possible for under USD50 in the US.

        These two videos have good ideas.

    2. MassMatt*

      Not to mention, earbuds/headsets preserve privacy. No one else wants to hear your zoom calls, and you don’t want to hear zoom calls from an interviewee’s roommates, either.

    3. LKW*

      One of my clients sounds like Barry White if she uses her computer mic vs headset mike. Sometimes that’s the way it is.

    4. Sparrow*

      Yeah, even pre-pandemic, I didn’t find ear buds unprofessional in the context of work video calls. It was obviously for practical purposes, so why would you side-eye a piece of equipment that makes it easier to do your job? And these days I find it as normal as wearing glasses – I barely notice them. (I will notice over-ear headphones, but I don’t find those unprofessional, either.)

  11. Smishy*

    I learned early in these zoom days that, over video, basically anything black makes you look immediately professional, even if you’ve actually been wearing pajama pants outside the video screen for a week. Not sure if a call is going to be casual or formal? Lean into black sweaters, they are your best friend.

    1. a sound engineer*

      I always go for a (not plaid flannel) button-down when I don’t really know how formal I should be dressing. This is another good tip I will be filing away.

  12. PspspspspspsKitty*

    LW 1 – I just want to throw caution out there to be careful on what to expect for an interview. It speaks high of privilege to be able to know how to interview well as a student. I was first generation to go to an university and I felt deeply lost. I barely knew how to dress for an interview. I didn’t know how to interview at all nor what questions to ask. I could barely navigate the campus world. I never was able to get an internship while in school. My program didn’t prepare me at all and sent me to supposedly STEM career fairs that only wanted to speak to engineers. I network hard and couldn’t get anyone to talk to me. I was unemployed for a while until I finally used one of my Dad’s contacts to talk to a supervisor in a company that had originally rejected me and was a very different field than what I studied (which I recognize is a privilege in itself). A lot of students have way more disadvantages than me. Point is, it shouldn’t be this way at all. Whatever biases you have, please check and ask yourself why.

    1. Squeakrad*

      I agree with just about all the comments here but I will say it really depends on the university, the student, and in fact their year in school. I teach business communication to juniors and seniors had a large state university where most of my students are first generation college students. But as upper division students all of my students would know to tidy up their room And to apologize for being late. They might wear hoodies and they certainly would have earbuds.

      But if they were first or second year students Do you have any since it’s their lack of knowledge about the work world that contributed to these issues, I would certainly give them some slack.

      1. a sound engineer*

        Tidying up their room is one thing, taking down your flags and other decorations on the wall is another thing altogether, in my opinion.

        Also, depending on OP’s standards for tidy. I’m pretty sure my side of my “tidied up” college dorm room would’ve still been deemed messy by some standards – since I was an engineering student, I had in-progress breadboard circuits and development boards and all sorts of things out all of the time, and my dorm room definitely did not have enough storage for all textbooks / school supplies / lab projects / office supplies / etc to be stored out of sight. When I needed to clean up, a lot of things got put into neat stacks at the edge of my desk.

        1. Frankie Derwent*

          Yes, i wondered if the room was really messy, or if the wall decors just bothered OP. Dormrooms are like that. I once had an interview via skype which I had to take in my dorm room since it offered the most privacy. The background had to be my or one of my roommates’ bed. We were all fairly neat but it was a tiny dorm roo.. There was only so much one can do. This was 2016 and It was my first time to use skype.

          1. Sparrow*

            Yeah, the mention of the flags made me think it was the decor was part of what she considered “messy.” That’s not a reasonable criticism, imo, especially since we’re in the middle of a pandemic and we want people to stay in their living spaces as much as possible. And if that’s what she has a problem with, is she expecting them to redecorate for an interview…? That’s on a very different scale from thinking they should shove the big pile of dirty clothes out of camera view.

        2. Blackcat*

          Also, the decorations might belong to a roommate if the student is in a double room.

        3. LKW*

          Your dorm room is your bedroom, living room, pantry, game room/den, that you often share with someone else, I suppose you can put up one of those faux office backgrounds if the meeting application has those embedded but that’s not always an option.

          1. Quill*

            These days not having visible dirty laundry or audible roommate in the shot is asking kind of a lot, as there’s no place else on campus to GO.

      2. PspspspspspsKitty*

        I think you only proved my point even more. It’s great that you taught your students what to do. That doesn’t mean that all students have that. You can’t even base that on the university itself. I went to a very well known school and I still didn’t get all of this info.

        According to the letter – she only mentioned flags on the wall which isn’t messy. I thought bad wifi was the excuse for being late? Either way. We have to be careful.

      3. Sunny*

        I’m a current college student, in my fourth year. I could manage nice clothes – for the summer job interview I had last year (I got the job, but they never opened), I wore a polo shirt and slacks. I wore my headset, because it makes the audio arrangements much easier. The lighting and background are what they are; you can see most of my room, which looks like I live in it even though it’s clean, and the lighting is kind of suboptimal because it was meant for doing schoolwork at the desk, not video chat. I have great wifi and at worst would need to turn off video, but that’s really not something I’m responsible for.

        Also, while my school covered clothes and showing up on time, no “professional norms” class I took (and my university requires several for my major) ever covered how to do a virtual interview. I think one mentioned phone interviews: make sure your cell phone is charged if you’re using a cell, and be somewhere the call won’t drop unexpectedly. Literally nobody did interviews over video chat in this field before the pandemic. I was never taught how to do them.

  13. Gingerblue*

    OP 1, I do think your standards are a bit weird—besides what other have said, do you expect a student to take down decorations on the wall of a shared dorm room just for an interview? It’s a pandemic; you’re being invited into people’ homes on camera; you’re going to see, well, parts of their homes. Even adults with normal living spaces might struggle to find a non-distracting background, depending on their situation, and demanding that people treat heir homes! where they live! as if it were your corporate space gets really uncomfortable fast. That goes triple for someone whose whole life is crammed to one room or half of a room. I promise you that students right now are profoundly, profoundly stressed without people expecting them to redecorate for a single conversation. This student will have almost certainly spent hundreds of hours on Zoom in the last year and is not likely to be particularly thinking about his background for this particular occasion, nor should they need to.

    The lateness isn’t great, and ideally he’d have something other than a hoodie if possible, but your expectations are off for a student otherwise. Treating the dorm wifi as if it’s under his control is definitely coloring how I read the rest of these objections, however.

    1. Willis*

      Yeah, I agree with you. It’s hard to evaluate some of the OP’s possibly-legit concerns (lateness, hoodie, odd resume) when a bunch of the concerns seem pretty irrelevant (not on LinkedIn, dorm posters, used earbuds). Being 10 minutes late, wearing a ripped hoodie, and a resumes with a few mistakes would be one thing. But from the OP’s expectations with other stuff, I could see this guy being two minutes late, in a clean but casual outfit, with a resume that’s formatted slightly differently and OP would still say it falls outside norms.

      1. Gingerblue*

        Yeah, exactly. Though I should have said, too, kudos to OP for wondering if their expectations were calibrated right.

    2. Sylvan*

      Agreed. The lateness is an issue, but everything else is what you can likely expect when you interview a college student right now. They don’t necessarily have other places to go, WiFi to use, clothes to wear, etc.

    3. princessbuttercup*

      Yeah the implication that “flags” made the room messy is very off to me.

      1. Quill*

        Another thing to worry about: what flags are we talking about?

        Because the flags that immediately come to mind are countries’ flags (barely unusual decor for a college dorm room, more professional than movie posters) pride flags (in which case OP would need a mental preconceptions check) and sports teams pennants (pretty standard dorm decor.)

        1. Anon Lawyer*

          Well, Confederate flags came to mind for me, but I assume the OP would have mentioned that if it were the case.

          1. Quill*

            Yeah, I assume OP would have been able to articulate why they didn’t like the flags if they were confederate.

      2. sb51*

        Yeah, I mean, I would expect school or country flags to be a “standard setup” for a college room that’s so typical as to be stereotypical, and if I was a student interviewing from my dorm right now, I’d probably take down any fun posters and put up flags! And I’ve seen numerous people recommend that sort of thing to make a more bland background — the flag might be covering up a messy closet or bookshelf, too. Dorm rooms are TINY and students have stuff everywhere.

        A playboy centerfold? No. A flag, unless it’s an extremely political one? A nice neutral background, possibly re-inforcing what school they go to if it’s a school or athletic team one.

      3. 1.0*

        Yeah, I’m glad someone else also noticed that — I’m biased since I met most of my college friends through the LGBTQ student group, but I definitely was wondering exactly what “flags” entails.

    4. Reba*

      Yes, I really feel for university students right now. On some US campuses, the students are there but so locked down or “sequestered” there might literally be nowhere else for them to go outside the dorm room.

  14. Pikachu*

    OP1’s letter says the student was “interested” and OP was “happy to meet with him.” This makes it sound like they set up an informational virtual meeting. Was there a real application process that led to a real interview for a specific internship and was that clear to both sides?

    Except for one part. “That’s not how I would have shown up” is a relatively privileged statement. Many of us did not grow up with parents, teachers, or mentors who would have offered guidance on interview skills (let alone pandemic video interview skills), college internships, and the like. Its availability (and usefulness) at high schools or even colleges is hit or miss.

    If it’s a consistent problem with interns from this school, then it is worth a call to whoever runs the program to offer feedback, but if it’s one kid with a good head in his hoodie then I think a little leniency is warranted.

    1. Archaeopteryx*

      This is what I was coming here to say, essentially – the student may have had no idea that this was equivalent to a formal job interview. Especially with the muddiness of things being virtual, and this being an internship, not a job, he may easily have thought this was just an informational conversation, or that you were going to describe the program to him and he would just decide if he was interested. In which case, putting on a button down shirt may never have occurred to him.

      As to your question about whether programs which require internships actually tell students how to get an internship or how they work or what one is even supposed to be, in my experience: no. My major required an internship and the advice basically amounted to “Get an internship and prove that you did it.”

    2. Just Another Zebra*

      Oh, I didn’t catch this, but rereading the letter I agree. If I asked for an informational meeting about an internship, rather than an interview for an internship, I probably would dress differently.

  15. Dan*


    Two things:

    1. Broadly speaking, often interviews will ask on this forum if Thing X is a “red flag”. My question is always (even if I don’t write it): What does the applicant’s competition look like? If you’re finding great candidates who don’t display Thing X, then you’re free to select whom you want. If the applicant is the best candidate otherwise except for Thing X, then you have a real conundrum. Is Thing X going to be material to the applicants presence on the job in some way shape or form? Then it probably matters. If not let it slide. (That is to say, if you have other applicants who present a more polished image and seem equally qualified, you can select that way if you want.)

    2. I kind of bristle at “I would never” statements when referring to an applicant. Mostly because when we talk about diversity in hiring, that comes in all shapes and forms. Hiring people too much like ourselves is counter-productive when it comes to diversity. We need more people *not* like ourselves.

    1. Bird bird*

      I want to take your second point and paint it across the walls of my workplace. Very well said.

  16. MassMatt*

    #3 I agree the coworker needs to use her words to get off these calls or just let them go to voicemail, but still—where is the manager in all this? 2 employees are spending hours on the phone with each other every week (often the problem employee is using her cell!) and the manager is not noticing this? Unless these folks are working remotely, the manager is derelict.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Agreed. Unless OP’s friend has a job where long phone calls are part of their responsibility, I’m going to side-eye the manager who is letting disruptive coworker get away with monopolizing her other coworkers time with these rants.

    2. Artemesia*

      This is not the OP’s business but if she is a close friend she might say ONCE ‘you know, you don’t have to listen to her complain. We are at work and this is sucking up work time — you have the perfect excuse, ‘I have to go now, I have so much work to do’ or ‘I have a deadline this afternoon so can’t talk now.’ I worry that someone who can’t manage that without coaching will have trouble finding their way home after work.

      1. JustaTech*

        If Daisy has asked for help avoiding/getting off the phone with Ruby and Ruby isn’t respecting/responding to the normal “I’ve got a deadline”, then OP3 can offer to help.
        (I can understand how it can be hard to get off the phone with some people; I used to have a coworker who was a perfectly nice person but was also just a firehose of words and simply would not hear “I have to go now”, even when you straight up said “I have to go”. Most people have been socialized to not just hang up while someone is talking so it can be hard to get away.)

        If daisy is desperate to get off the phone and Ruby won’t let her get a word in edgewise to say “I have to go” and Daisy needs to keep a functional working relationship with Ruby (and so can’t just hang up mid-word) then OP3 can offer, on Daisy’s signal, to call or come to Daisy’s desk with a (manufactured) urgent work issue. This can’t be a frequent thing, as Daisy needs to learn to get off the phone with Ruby by herself, but there’s nothing wrong with an occasional helping hand.

        I did this once for a coworker who’s boss and other coworker were standing over her desk discussing their eye infections (gag). She was seated, working, and too intimidated to ask them to stop, so she IM’d me for help, and I walked over, said “excuse me” to get past the eyeball guys and said “I really need you to look at this audit thing on my computer, I don’t understand.” Would it have been completely reasonable for her to ask them to take their disgusting conversation somewhere else? Of course. But sometimes when other people have transgressed conversational norms, it’s hard to confront them.

      2. Roci*

        Yes, or saying “Hey, it sounds like those phone calls run kind of long, if you ever need an excuse to get off the phone just say I need to talk to you about work or something.” Basically OP could offer themself up as an excuse if that makes it easier for Daisy to feel like she’s not hurting any feelings.

  17. Dan*


    I’m going to take a crack at this… over the last year, I’ve found myself in technical leadership roles on projects. They’re not formal roles, but I’ve established myself as “someone who knows what he’s doing and we respect his opinion” so they’ve given me support from other colleagues on occasion.

    Let me tell you, giving feedback is *hard*. We recently kicked a more senior colleague off our project because he was contributing anything of value. How do you know when to cut someone loose vs give them more “chances”? That’s hard. We’re all software developers, so contributions are easy to measure, but deciding someone isn’t working out is truly a judgement call that’s hard to do objectively.

    OTOH, we just picked up a new college grad who is knocking it out of the park. That again is a judgement call. Can I objectively say what he’s doing well? In general, yes. But if you were to ask me to define his “criteria for success” before he even started on my project? I have no idea what that would look like.

    Thankfully, my oversight roles are informal, and there are real managers who are in charge of the actual evaluations and tough decisions.

  18. Niii-i*

    LW: 2
    In addition to what Alison suggested, is there any colleague or senior you could ask for guidance? Someone you look up to and has advanced within the company?

    I’m suggesting this, because I am also lacking feedback from my manager, but even after asking for it, I’ve got nothing but vague “you’re fine”. And when I have tried to open conversation about the goals of my role, she bounces it right back at me. So my conclusion about my boss is that she’s not giving feedback, because she doesn’t know what I do, or what I should be doing. (And honestly, at this point, because of ALL THIS, I’m not doing much…)

    1. Uranus Wars*

      This is my suggestion as well. I am in the same situation – a boss not really connected to what I do other that managing me. I’ve started fostering some other connections and asked about partnering with other departments for new projects – “is there something my department can do to help you?”. I started this about 18 months ago and it has served me well. I am currently working on a project assigned by the C suite and am engaged in work more than I have been since my boss took over my department.

  19. Dr J*

    #1 – I interview a lot of students. If you also work with university students as interns frequently (it sounds like you might), you may find this helpful. I created a flyer to attach to emails that contains: what to expect during the interview, expectations about dress code and netiquette, and links to tips on giving good (virtual) interviews. This also includes a link that explains what the dress code means with examples for lots of gender presentations.

    I also make clear that things potentially outside an interviewee’s control – lighting, bad wifi, your location – are NOT counted against them in any way. Lots of students are really struggling right now, and those sorts of habitat expectations just aren’t reasonable, in my opinion.

    1. Certaintroublemaker*

      Is that dress code link to a publicly available site? Because I’d love to see it if it’s shareable.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        This sounds a little out-there to some folks but hear me out, because I heard this here in a comment section a while ago — the website for the dress guidelines for new LDS missionaries actually has some decent guidance for work appropriate attire in the business-casual range. (At least the women’s page does; I’ve never looked at the men’s side but I’d expect similar.) I found it again by googling “LDS missionary dress code” – it’s got some written guidelines that are more conservative than absolutely necessary but if one doesn’t know then erring on the side of conservative isn’t terrible, and by more conservative I mean for example that they say skirts should come at least to the knee. But more importantly, it has a ton of visuals (and quite a few of them are women who are not white, by the way) of different types of clothing (it’s sorted by category – blouses/tops, skirts/slacks, even a section on suits/jackets, though it’s still def more casual than a Real Suit). Unfortunately I don’t know that a workplace could get away with recommending it, since it is very definitely affiliated with a religion – but I first looked at it because I was skeptical when it was recommended by a commenter here, and I subsequently used it to show my niece what kinds of things would work for business casual wear for work because her thoughts (at 19) and mine (at just shy of 40) were not quite linking up and her mom didn’t have the work background to be a reliable source. To that end it was quite useful.

        1. Audrey Puffins*

          I was today years old when I learned that my personal office “uniform” can best be described as ‘LDS Sister Missionary Chic’.

          1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            Hah! I mean, it’s not perfect by any stretch for sure, and they’re definitely gendered and binary, but if one is actually looking for specifically examples of “women’s business casual,” it’s at least a start.

          2. PeanutButter*

            I literally have the exact outfit on one of their pictures! (Brown flat boots with understated plaid midi skirt and yellow cardigan).

        2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          That’s a great tip.

          The women’s photos are diverse, body positive and professional (and not at all conservative, which surprised me). I wouldn’t be surprised by any of those outfits in an office, and any would be suitable for an intern to interview in.

          The men’s are a bit boring, perhaps, but again a very safe guide to looking “professional”.

          Thanks for sharing!

          1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            Yes! Definitely not what I had expected to see when I first went to check it out. :)

        3. FridayFriyay*

          I (to my surprise!) agree this resource has good suggestions but VERY MUCH agree that it would not be appropriate for an employer/prospective employer to share, especially at the interview stage. As a queer applicant who is not religious I would be extremely wary of an organization that sent something like this to me, and make a lot of assumptions about the organization and hiring manager that they thought it was a neutral/professional resource.

          1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            No, absolutely not for sure.

            Though I wonder – could someone who was drafting up a document on their own for their organization to use get away with using a few of the pictures as anonymous grabbed-off-the-internet examples? I don’t know what’s required for “grabbing pictures off the internet” in terms of fair use, or if attribution would be required somehow.

            1. meyer lemon*

              Not to get into the boring copyright weeds, but you would almost certainly need permission and attribution to use the photos. But there are lots of stock photos out there that could be mined for examples.

            2. Not Australian*

              You should never *ever* just grab an image off the Internet and repurpose it like that; the image rights always belong to *someone*. It should be possible, though, to acquire the use of very similar images from a stock image website for a reasonable sum – and if that goes beyond the budget, why not just take your own?

          1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            Haha, right? Though I was pleasantly surprised to note, in their written guidelines, they specify that pantyhose or tights are not required with dresses/skirts.

        4. Malarkey01*

          I totally rolled my eyes when I saw this suggestion, and then I checked it out because I have some time to spare- it is AMAZING, especially for women. Thanks for mentioning it- I just wish they had a buying guide link since I want several of those blazers now.

          1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            I KNOOOOOOOW – that is exactly what happened when I first saw someone else suggest it, gosh, probably a couple years ago now. “YES LET’S TOTALLY TELL OUR COLLEGE STUDENTS TO DRESS LIKE MORMON MISSIONARIES HAR DE HAR hey wait a minute, I really like that blouse. And that one. And that one. Huh.”

    2. Richard*

      I used to interview a lot of students, too, and I learned to put a lot of information up front in the job announcement: advice for cover letters, resumes, interviews, likely interview questions, how to contact me with questions, etc. I also included open-ended short answer questions in the application for people who didn’t have enough to write in cover letters or resumes. There are a lot of great students with a lot of talent and skill and motivation that don’t know what they don’t know about job searching.

  20. Certaintroublemaker*

    LW2, I’d cut both you and your supervisor a huge amount of slack for the past year. It’s pretty understandable that you’re doing the minimum; you’re going through the weirdness of working remotely during a pandemic and you aren’t receiving any direction. But you don’t mention that you’re letting your coworkers down or feeling like the business is sliding under. And in fact, you say you haven’t taken any initiative but then say you tried to initiate a few projects. That at least shows you’ve been willing.

    Your supervisor is likely in a similar boat—either general pandemic malaise or having to balance too much at home. Granted, it sounds like he wasn’t any great shakes at feedback before the pandemic, either. Still, I’d give it until things feel like they’re getting back to normal before trying to get much from him. And going in with something for him to react to helps a lot. “Am I doing x the way you like it?” “Do you prefer if I do a or b?” “I was think in learning y skill. Would I be able to get training in that?” Leading into, “I’m interested in improving and open to hearing your feedback.” And try again on one of those initiatives—after things are moving along again.

    1. Mockingjay*

      I’ve had managers like this. If you ask for direct feedback like “how am I doing?”, they reply: “oh, you’re doing fine.” They prefer things cut and dried instead of generalities.

      Try giving them idea/solution. “I’d like to get X cert; it will be useful on our project. I’ve researched a couple of courses and have price quotes and dates. Can I send them to you? I’d like to do Course A if possible; the timeline fits in with our project schedule.” Or, “Did you have a chance to review the Peterson report? I organized the data a little differently; does it present a clearer picture?”

      It won’t work for everything

    2. Quinalla*

      Yes, I’d try asking for specific feedback on task – preferably soon after they are completed. And say “Can I get feedback on X task?” use phrasing like Certaintroublemaker suggested or things like “Give me one thing you wish I’d done differently on X task.” or even call out a specific problem like “We had a miscommunication last week on X, going forward would you like me to …” and suggest one or two things to start the conversation.

      Giving feedback can be very hard for the person giving it. We often only think about how hard it is to hear criticism (and it is hard) but it is also hard to give criticism so some folks just avoid it entirely. And even giving feedback when something is good is hard to do well. So yeah, you will likely have to prompt for specific feedback to get it here.

      And if there are peers or others you can ask for feedback, I would do that as well. And also make sure to give clear and kind feedback to others too. As painful as it can be in the moment, feedback really is a gift.

  21. a sound engineer*

    #1 – Nothing except the lateness really gives me pause, and even then, it depends on how late and how the person handled it upon arriving. Maaybe the outfit, but it really depends on whether professional dress for interviews is expected in your industry or just a personal preference – in the one I’m in, and a few of my friends’, dress is more casual and a hoodie wouldn’t be out of line. (If it is, it might help to make sure this is explicitly communicated to internship candidates ahead of time?)

    What I don’t get is the focus on having a blank background. If you’re living in a dorm room you don’t really have good options of other places to interview, are probably crammed in with at least 1 (if not 2) other people, and have a bunch of stuff on the walls. Are you expecting the person to take everything off the wall for the interview? That’s a strange expectation. In the last year I’ve been in many classes and meetings where the presenters and attendees are not using virtual backgrounds, and we can see whatever they are sitting in front of. If there were wildly inappropriate posters on the wall, that would be one thing, but the issue is with anything being in the background at all? Really?

    I’ve been using virtual backgrounds when possible because I don’t like people seeing into my space like that, but a lot of people wouldn’t give it a second thought.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      Virtual backgrounds plus bad wifi is a bad combination, though. If his internet connection was poor, he probably didn’t have the option to use a virtual background.

      I don’t see a problem with flags in the background, unless they’re inherently problematic flags.

      1. a sound engineer*

        Yeah, exactly. Depending on the platform, virtual backgrounds might not be an option altogether too.

        The worst combination is when you have bad wifi and can’t cut the video. I have one class that requires me to be on video, and very occasionally the connection slows. I have to miss out on audio and class content instead of disconnecting from video altogether, because seeing my pixelated and possibly frozen face is more important for some reason. Ugh.

      2. Grace*

        All the students I knew with a flag on the wall had a pride flag tacked up – either the standard rainbow or a more specific flag like trans pride, bi pride etc.

        Maybe it’s different in other countries, but when I saw “and he had flags on the walls” in a disparaging tone, my first thought was oh, it must be a flag saying something about their identity and the interviewer thinks that’s inappropriate.

        Is that a reach? Is that uncharitable? Maybe, but as someone who has had to play the is this place safe, can I come out, can I talk about my life game on multiple occasions, it was my first thought.

        1. Trude*

          I actually thought they were Confederate/Gadsden flags. But you’re right, if the OP is from other countries, it could be very weird to have flags on your walls. In my home country it certainly is.

          1. UKDancer*

            I had assumed it was the flag of their country. I mean that would have been weird when I was a student in the UK but I know views on flags are different in different countries. When I was a student people tended to have posters up but I may be out of date. I had a large poster of Klimt’s Kiss and I don’t know if that would have been considered appropriate or not but I liked it and it was colourful. I certainly wouldn’t have thought it problematic when I was 21.

            Unless it’s something inherently problematic like the Nazi flag or something from an extremist organisation I can’t think why having a flag up would be a bad sign.

            Student accommodation is notoriously small and less than ideal for interviews. I think you can’t be too critical of what people have on their walls.

          2. Insert Clever Name Here*

            Assuming the student is US and at a US school, the flags are likely school related (do a google image search for “university flags” to get a sense), potentially a state flag depending on the student’s home state, and other things in that vein. A confederate flag could potentially be part of that, but I went to college in Texas and never saw one on the wall of a friends’ dorm room (I’m sure there were some somewhere, but just pointing out that it’s not a given).

          3. Observer*

            I actually thought they were Confederate/Gadsden flags.

            If that’s what they were, I would expect that the adjective used to describe the situation would be a LOT stronger that “chaotic”. Chaotic sounds more like sports teams and the like.

        2. Web Crawler*

          I assumed pride flags too, especially if it was flags, plural. And then I made the same reach.

        3. Vax is my disaster bicon*

          I had the same thought, though I hope that’s not the case. I don’t see a lot of other kinds of flags tacked up in dorm rooms…

      3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        If all it is are flags, as long as there is nothing obscene/offensive/controversial on the flags, This should definitely be a let it go. Especially since this is a communal living situation and the flags in question may belong to the roommate.

  22. interrobang*

    LW1: I’m really confused about the issue with earbuds. When I appear virtually in court or have meetings with my work team, I always wear earbuds. Is the issue that the student wasn’t wearing a fancier headset, or that he used any kind of headphones at all?

    1. Charley*

      I was wondering if the LW didn’t realise that earbuds were the same as a headset and thought the interviewee had music on at the same time!

  23. Former Student*

    #1 — With COVID, students have more restrictions than usual on where they can spend time on campus. (And even beyond–My alma mater is currently prohibiting students from leaving campus except in case of emergency.) This student may have had no choice but to do the interview in their dorm room. Especially if they have a roommate, the stuff in the background is not wholly within their control. And not all laptops support virtual backgrounds on platforms like Zoom. I definitely wouldn’t hold this part (or the earbuds) against him.

    1. a sound engineer*

      And, as someone mentioned above: nothing good will come from trying to use a virtual background when your wifi connection is already not that great.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Even on a good connection, virtual background are really distracting, because I’ve never yet been on a meeting with someone using a virtual background where different parts of them weren’t disappearing and reappearing the whole time. My boss did a home perm recently and now her hair is constantly appearing and disappearing in chunks that vaguely make me think of a Medusa-like head of snakes wiggling around. Our ED was doing a town hall and her whole bun just kept flickering in and out. I totally support people who don’t want their space on display, but geez, it’s distracting. :-P

    2. WorkingGirl*

      So i graduated way back in 2013 but even then, my library had restrictions on booking study rooms. You could only book them with a group, they were designed as neutral spaces for group project work, i guess. Some dorm buildings had study rooms, but you couldn’t “book” those and they didn’t lock, so there was no guarantee you would (1) find an open room (2) not be interrupted.

      1. EmmaPoet*

        This. I’m a librarian, and right now all of our study rooms are going to be locked when we reopen (no date set) and we don’t have any idea when we will be able to use them. You could get them for one person or a group, but it could be next year before they reopen them.

  24. Andy*

    #2 You definitely want to ask for feedback. I was on a temporary promotion in a company where those things nearly always turn permanent, and with next to zero feedback the entire time, I would have lost out on the permanent position, had we not got a much better manager right at the end who saw my potential and also made time for 1-on-1’s to get me up to speed.

  25. a sound engineer*

    #3 – Wow, 60+ minute rants twice a week? My sympathy for Daisy, I hope she stops picking up eventually! Unfortunately, the most I think you can do is encourage Daisy to raise the issue with your manager herself if the topic comes up again.

    If it’s significantly disruptive to you or the workflow in your office to have Ruby on the phone for non-work purposes for an hour+ a couple days of week, and others have started to notice or comment, then you might have standing to raise it yourself in terms of how it affects you and your work specifically. But otherwise, not much you can do, except be grateful that you’re not on the receiving end of those rants.

  26. cncx*

    Maybe OP1 has a dorm roommate who is messy- and maybe OP1’s roomate was taking their dear old sweet time getting out of the room, which also may explain the lateness. I’m not armchair diagnosing this i’m just saying, i would give this kid a couple more chances.

  27. Bluesboy*

    # 2
    I am in a similar situation. I’ve been here for a year and a half, and have never had formal feedback, just maybe three times a ‘good job!’ at the end of a project.

    So I relate to you, believe me. A couple of points:
    What you consider a ‘good job’ and what your boss considers ‘a good job’ might be two different things. My entire team is wildly disorganised and I am not. When I, for example, take all of our contacts and create a spreadsheet of them by category, for me, that’s a bare minimum – we should all try to be organised. For my boss, on the other hand, this is real added value and makes the whole team significantly more efficient. Is it possible that your ‘bare minimum’ would be seen differently by other people who have different skills than you?

    Lacking initiative is understandable when every time you try to show initiative you get shut down. But sometimes people think that initiative needs to be big things, and big things only. Are there any small things you can do that add value but don’t necessarily involve whole projects that need to be approved? Even just little things can give you a sense of achievement and lead to a quick email “Boss, just so you know, I have catalogued all the llama harnesses and placed the details on the shared drive. It should make it a lot quicker for everyone to check out a llama”. A few emails like that a month and your boss can start to think “hmm…LW2 is really working hard and providing added value to the whole team!” Equally important, it can make you feel better about your contribution and more confident when you decide to ask for a raise.

    Obviously this is job and office dependent, but whether it’s relevant to you or not, good luck!

    1. ten four*

      This is FANTASTIC advice. My most treasured direct reports are the ones who see little holes and fix them. In my experience, people who take the initiative to sensibly solve for the small frictions and inefficiencies of the job are almost always the ones who do well on bigger assignments.

    2. SarahKay*

      Seconding the idea that your ‘bare minimum’ could be wildly out of calibration (in a good way) to what your boss sees. If you’re still getting all the ‘must-do’ tasks done properly and on time, there’s a good chance that you’re achieving more than at least one of your co-workers, probably more than one.
      A couple of years ago I had a three-month stint covering for a different role which gave me an over-view of the work being done by a number of co-workers. None of them are bad at their jobs, or at risk of a PIP – let alone termination – but it was still a real eye-opener for me, and definitely re-calibrated my view of where ‘bare minimum’ might really fall. Spoiler alert, it was probably below where I’d set it.
      Now, maybe I’m wrong, and you really are just hitting bare minimum, but without some decent feedback it’s going to be hard to tell. So, this is where you have to take Alison’s advice (and your courage in both hands) and see if you can’t get some better information from your manager. Best of luck – but hopefully you won’t need luck and will be pleasantly surprised.

  28. Beth Jacobs*

    I may be reading too much into the letter, but I have the impression that OP isn’t actively trying to skate by on the bare minimum. OP uses the word directionless: sounds like maybe OP is not really sure what they should be doing, they don’t get enough work and aren’t sure what they can take on themselves. Maybe OP only gets four hours of work a day and they aren’t even sure they’re doing that correctly?
    That sucks, but Alison is right that the only way to resolve that is to ask for feedback, even if OP really doesn’t want to.

  29. Staja*

    Re: #1, as others said, I would put more weight on what he actually said during the interview.

    Lateness could be due to bad internet (out of his control, especially at school).

    Earbuds were there for him to hear and his microphone (I find AirPods incredibly distracting, so watching interviews on the news this year has been weird – I use big over-the-ear headset, myself)

    Messy dorm room, characterized by flags on the wall – well, students are pretty much locked down on campus, so can’t go somewhere else, but aren’t we over policing what people have on their walls? I mean, when I was in college, I had a Trainspotting poster and wouldn’t have taken it down before an interview.

    Hoodie- I’m trying to remember back to my dorm room days, twenty-mumble years ago. It’s possible that he may not have any dress shirts with him, if he wasn’t thinking that far ahead when packing for school. As nd, again, due to Covid restrictions, can’t leave to purchase one.

    1. Carlie*

      I would like to put your last paragraph in flashing bold type. A lot of students live far enough away that they can’t go home to pick up anything they forgot or didn’t know they would need back when school started. Buying one requires transportation, money, and time, none of which college students typically have a lot of.

  30. Done being a manager*

    This may seem a little snarky, however this student could have use a thing called the Internet, which I understand is a treasure of information and look for ‘ How to prepare for an Internship interview. More than anything else it would show initiative.

    1. TX Lizard*

      I think this is unnecessarily unkind and has been addressed upthread. Not everyone has been taught those norms, or that they should be thinking about that kind of stuff. Its also a pandemic, and a student interview. Let’s extend some grace.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Agreed. I always hope for managers to display/have this thing called compassion for their employees.

    2. Cat Tree*

      There’s toooooons of conflicting and outright bad advice on the internet. What if he landed on a website emphasizing gumption and gimmicks? Or one that advised a video resume?

      1. Done being a Manager*

        The student possibly could have stumbled across Ask A Manager. Also my parent were blue collar, they always said look neat and presentable.

        1. Richard*

          “neat and presentable” means lots of different things in different contexts. If you don’t believe me, search Google Images for “neat and presentable” and you’ll see a tuxedo, a t-shirt and jeans, and a duck.

          1. biobotb*

            I hope the next person this commenter interviews shows up wearing a duck costume, and when called on it, protests, “Well, I Googled ‘neat and presentable!’ What more do you want?”

            1. Richard*

              “All of the smart internet commenters said you just have to search online for what to wear, no prior knowledge or guidance needed.”

        2. Jennifer Strange*

          Yes, he could have stumbled across Ask a Manager. Or he could have stumbled across a site that gives really bad advice. And how would he know which to trust? That’s Cat Tree’s point.

        3. Cat Tree*

          Sure, the students *could* have stumbled here, but how would they know automatically that this is better advice than much of the other stuff out there? Besides, even though you’re here you’re ignoring Alison’s direct advice in this post to not get hung up on these things, proving that evaluating and incorporating advice isn’t as easy as you seem to think.

          I’ll echo the others in saying I’m glad you’re no longer a manager.

        4. biobotb*

          Hoodies, like many articles of clothing, come in a range. Many look neat and presentable.

    3. Blaise*

      When I was a (first generation) college student, I thought I knew how all that stuff worked. It would never have occurred to me to Google it.

      (I didn’t know how most of that stuff worked though!!)

      You don’t know what you don’t know.

      1. TX Lizard*

        Exactly. Even having the search terms or knowing what advice to go looking for is a level of knowledge that people aren’t just born with.

    4. Jennifer Strange*

      How would googling that help this student have better wifi, a better place to do a video interview than his dorm room, and a computer with a good enough mic and speakers system that wearing earbuds wasn’t necessary?

      1. Done being a Manager*

        Since video conference is relatively, I never did personal video conferencing from my ipad til Covid. Googling helped me to check my wifi before the meeting, it also gives common sense advice like where to pick a place for a video chat. The earbuds are fine.

        Also if this kid is a freshman fine. If this kid is junior or senior different discussion

        1. Observer*

          Checking your wifi is fine if you have the capacity to fix it. In a dorm room, it’s highly unlikely that he could have done anything about it.

          As for picking a good place for a meeting, how many choice do you think this student has? Maybe YOU should do some googling about what conditions are like for students?

        2. Jennifer Strange*

          Great, so he can check his wifi. If it’s bad what can he possibly do about it? He’s in a dorm, he has no control. And as he’s in a dorm (in the middle of a pandemic) it is very likely that his options for a “place for a video chat” are limited to his dorm room which he shares with another person. What’s he supposed to do?

        3. VintageLydia*

          Literally everything is closed. No library, no student lounges, no quiet coffee shops or restaurants coworking spaces you can rent or reserve by the hour or literally anything else indoors. It’s a global pandemic.

        4. biobotb*

          “Pick a place” for a video chat? From the options of dorm room, dorm room or dorm room? How would Google help him there?

    5. Environmental Compliance*

      Have you googled for this and actually read what’s out there? Quite a bit of the “information” is outright crap and misleading. Expecting an intern with minimal knowledge to simply “google” is…. incredibly naïve.

      This also wouldn’t help the poor wifi, the OP’s thing against ear buds (???), or that the entire campus is locked down and he couldn’t get to a store to get any ‘nicer’ shirts.

      Your comment isn’t snarky. It’s simply unkind and unhelpful.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Google a ‘how do I?’ or ‘what to wear?’ question and unless you have a very good knack at narrowing down searches you’ll get a ton of misinformation. It’s like expecting ‘how do I fix my PC?’ to return the exact advice needed when you don’t know you need to put in the exact error message, system specs etc.

    6. Observer*

      This may seem a little snarky, however this student could have use a thing called the Internet, which I understand is a treasure of information and look for ‘ How to prepare for an Internship interview.

      So, I get that you want to get credit for you clever snark, but this just doesn’t qualify. It’s not clever AT ALL. The kindest thing I can say is that it’s profoundly ignorant. And it sounds like a kid who learned about a new tool but has ZERO idea of the limitations of that tool.

      Outside of the dress issue (ie that he wore a hoodie), there is nothing on the internet that would have been useful, actionable, or likely to change his behavior.

      People have broken down the issues quite well, and I suggest that you read some of the comments before commenting again.

  31. Lonely Aussie*

    1. If he’s a student living in dorms, especially with amenities like laundries being limited due to covid, the hoody might have been the least creased/neatest thing he had. I don’t know many students who had irons (and they might not allow them in dorms) during my time at college. Can see someone making the choice between neat, but not formal hoodie and creased/crumpled looking shirt.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Back almost 20 years ago when I was in college, my freshman year I had one of only two irons on my floor. I imagine that number has gotten even lower as time has on.

      1. Lonely Aussie*

        I had one (and a steamer) because I sewed and it’s an important part of getting a nice finish in a lot of things but I also remember a lot of my dormates borrowing it at one point or another.

      2. Run mad; don't faint*

        My roommate had one. We rarely used it and when we did, we had to use the ironing board in the floor lounge. We didn’t have room to store a small board in our room, and our only options for ironing in our room would have been on a towel on the floor… I wonder how many students have access to the floor lounge right now?

    2. EmmaPoet*

      IRRC my dorm didn’t allow irons. The boarding house I moved to later did, and I had my own because I sewed a lot, but not when I was in school.

  32. Bookworm*

    #2: I think you may want to give yourself a little grace. My first reaction was “no, not necessarily” (because I was in a somewhat similar situation where no negative feedback was given, no constructive criticism, and then they told me they were not going to hire me full time from the internship and even admitting they had never giving me anything to think otherwise).

    BUT as you admit: it’s a pandemic (my situation was years ago, different time). Everyone is struggling right now and sometimes the bare minimum is all you can do. I think Alison’s advice is good (as usual) but if you’re still worried it might not be a bad idea to shoot a casual note and set up a time to chat with your manager about if there’s anything you can improve on, etc. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Good luck!

  33. Hiring Mgr*

    The only thing confusing about #1 is that it sounds like the OP meets with students/interns regularly, so it’s hard to tell what’s so unusual about this one.. Is this really the only time OP has had a zoom call with people with earbuds, etc? In any case, these things seem minor, particularly these days.

  34. Sharpie*

    For LW3 – can you rescue Daisy/be her excuse for getting off the phone with Ruby? “I have to go, LW3 needs me to finish the X report by two o’clock…” “I have a call from Y client I need to take…”

    And encourage her to find reasons/excuses to cut these calls short (or not even answer them, if possible).

    Ultimately Ruby just sounds like an emotional vampire.

    1. katertot*

      +1 I was thinking this too! Could you offer to be her “out” if she needs an excuse? “Oooh sorry LW3 just told me we have to do x right away” or something in line with your jobs obviously. This happened with a coworker of mine and I never minded being their excuse to get out of a never-ending conversation.

      Also +10000 this person sounds like Colin Robinson.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      At my office we have a code word that you can send on Teams and someone will come and loudly interrupt your call to get you off. This is only to be deployed with people that just won’t let you get off the phone and move to the next task.

  35. Miniature House*

    #1: For many of us LinkedIn is just another social media site we don’t want to be involved with. I do have an account, but I find it’s more of a way to get spammed constantly than anything actually useful as a professional with a doctorate over a decade into my career. I certainly wouldn’t expect a college student to have an account. I had to lock down my social media due to an unstable ex from HS/college doing some light stalking and that one had WAY too much information that I would never put on Facebook, nevermind a much more public site.

    1. WorkingGirl*

      I update linkedin when i have something to add, but otherwise i rarely use it. The advice about “networking” on linkedin has never worked for me… seems too formal for my industry. I’ve formed more relationships thru Facebook groups.

    2. Cat Tree*

      I’m well established in my career and I haven’t updated LinkedIn for over 5 years. It never really did anything for me, except act as a platform for recruiters to spam me with job postings that are only tangentially related to my field. When I’m interviewing candidates I don’t even look them up on LinkedIn. What info well I get there that’s not already on the resume?

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Thinking of disabling mine. I’m getting really…off…messages from guys who want to ‘meet and be social!’.

      Note to any guys who might be reading this: LinkedIn is not a dating site. Don’t creep on women.

    4. GammaGirl1908*

      I’m a little confused as to why OP1 is surprised a 19-year-old potential intern isn’t on LinkedIn. Why would they be? What would they put there? I have a LinkedIn profile that I don’t really use and I’m 45. What does a college student who’s likely never had a job need with LinkedIn? And why would it be odd for ANYONE not to be there? It’s a choice, not a necessity.

      Yes, there are certain things you should expect of anyone interviewing for a job, but OP1 is putting the expectations she has of 30-year-olds on this student, AND is putting 2019 expectations on a 2021 interview.

  36. Cat Lover*

    If you are interviewing college students during a pandemic, you are going to get college students in a dorm room. That means bad wifi and flags on walls. Interviewee probably lives with a roommate and might be holed up in there. Give him some grace- adults are struggling with “pandemic norms”, I can’t imagine how college students are feeling. (And I myself are only a few years removed from college). Earbuds are also extremely normal for virtual meetings- I bought AirPods at the beginning of the pandemic and they were a great purchase.

    How late was he? Two minutes? Five? Ten? And what do you mean by and what do you mean by a little odd resume?

    1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

      I’m curious about “late” as well.

      I have online meetings where “late” is defined as “you’re not logged in five minutes early”, and others where you can’t even log on the meeting until the defined time. Further, there is a two minute difference between the clock on my phone and on my computer (different accounts, not synced), and we’ve all seen at least one letter asking “so how early is TOO early?”.

      I’m not getting a nice feeling from the mentions about the dorm room, WIFI, earbuds, and clothing choice. The lack of LinkedIn is befuddling too, as there are certainly days where I question its relevance in my field, and I’m a couple years removed from interning. Do college kids see LinkedIn as a useful tool, or more like an antique typewriter? (Honestly asking, I don’t know this.)

      1. Cat Lover*

        Linkedin was pushed on us in college for in every professional-type event we did (our career center had a presentation on Linkedin, etc)… I personally didn’t set up a Linkedin until after college, and I don’t really use it. I think it’s highly field dependent. I set it up when I was job searching, but have touched it in almost two years since I started working full time. For a college kid (especially if they are underclassman and not seriously job searching) I don’t think it’s weird at all to not have a linkedin.

        What do you mean by “I’m not getting a nice feeling from the mentions about the dorm room, WIFI, earbuds, and clothing choice”. Not getting a nice feeling from the letter writer or the interviewee?

        1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

          I’m not getting a good vibe from the LW about those issues. To my eyeballs, and I suppose this could have been submitted pre-pandemic, but, criticizing a dorm-room background, slow WIFI, use of earbuds, none of that meshes with current reality right now. Criticizing clothing choice? Unless a dress code has been provided prior to an interview, I’m not going to throw a lot of side eye at an interviewee’s selection myself.

          Thank you for sharing your experience re: LinkedIn and college. :)

      2. pleaset cheap rolls*

        The clock on your phone is right. Now with cellphones so common, I have far less tolerance for people not knowing the time, and think most people should put up with it less too. There is literally a clock that is accurate to less than a second within reach of almost all of us.

        I don’t have a smartphone BTW – just a flip phone.

        And if anyone says late is not not being in five minutes early, push back. When we need people on call early (say the team presenting) we tell them. They should be explicit. This is basic adult stuff, at least in the US.

  37. pancakes*

    I agree with the advice to # 3. The letter writer’s perspective seems very off to me, though.

    “These rants usually go on for a hour or so, with Daisy having very little opportunity to back out of the conversation. Daisy is basically too nice to tell Ruby that she cannot continue these conversations.”

    Daisy has the opportunity to cut Ruby off at any point! I promise you that if she were to interrupt and say something along the lines of, “I’m sorry Ruby but I’m in the middle of something, I have to go,” the earth would keep spinning and life would go on in a recognizable fashion. Being “nice” doesn’t require letting people like Ruby ramble on as long as they care to. Please don’t characterize self-abegnation in women as niceness.

    1. Threeve*

      I agree that Daisy needs to work on her assertiveness and her tactics to exit a conversation. That said, some of this might be a strong desire to not get on Ruby’s bad side, not just general meekness. It sounds like being in Ruby’s good graces and being able to placate her might be useful, if she’s so prickly that most people won’t ask her for help or information.

      1. pancakes*

        If ending a phone call with Ruby before she’s spent an hour as she pleases brings about vindictive behavior, Ruby needs managing, not placating.

        I meant self-abnegation, of course – I must I’ve accidentally dismissed autocorrect there.

    2. irene adler*

      AND, has Daisy actually asked LW to assist with getting off these calls? She may be just fine spending an hour of work time just listening. Or maybe she participates in the conversation as well. We don’t know.

      It is worth asking Daisy if she’s troubled by the phone calls. And if she wants assistance in curtailing them.

      Long time ago, a lab tech was visited every day by our COO. He (COO) spent hours every day talking with the lab tech as she sat at her bench. Not much work got done.

      After he left the lab each day, she would complain long and loud to the lab folks (I was one of them) about how he was adversely affecting her work-losing her concentration. Then it escalated to how much she dreaded the conversations and hated talking with him. This went on for many months.

      I got tired of her complaining. I suggested that she -politely-end the conversations with him after a few minutes. Just let him know you needed to do your work and wanted to be left alone to do so.

      Oh no! She explained that she was afraid she would be fired if she did that.

      Then I suggested that she bring this to her boss. She explained that she would do that, but feared that the COO would lose his job if she did so. She didn’t want that to happen.

      So I brought it to management. Made a written complaint. They investigated. The lab tech told them there was absolutely no issue. And it was not adversely affecting her work.

      Egg on my face.

      The COO and lab tech conversations continued until he retired a few years later. And she never stopped complaining about this.

      1. pancakes*

        How strange, and irritating. The idea that someone as high-up as a COO would be summarily fired rather than advised to be more considerate of other people’s time would be unlikely in most professional workplaces, though. Treating what should be a very minor conflict as very high-stakes suggests an overly-fraught environment or personal baggage on the lab tech’s part.

        1. irene adler*

          I think she actually enjoyed the attention from the COO.
          But she felt she had to downplay it by complaining to us.

  38. CupcakeCounter*

    My go-to WFH outfit (accountant as well) was nice leggings and a long sweater/tunic. I would simply make sure your top half presented well and not worry about bottoms (other than to make sure you are wearing some).

    1. CCSF*

      I started virtually at a new job, a high level and high profile individual contributor role, this fall that has a relaxed in-person dress code. I (cis female) wore a collared button down with a cardigan for day one, a professional blouse day 2, a collared shirt with a sweater on day 3, and so forth through the first two weeks as I was doing meet & greets with other departments.

      Fast forward five months and I have leaned into the company norm, including dying the bottom half of my hair purple (with encouragement from my grand boss). Yesterday, in a meeting with my boss and grand boss, I wore a graphic T with “feminist killjoy” on it and a cardigan. ;) I would NOT have done any of that within my first month, and yes, the dress code is one of the many reasons I’m in love with this job.

      1. sacados*

        I am in this situation now! I just got an offer for a new job and will be starting at the end of the month.
        My current job, I was there before we went into lockdown so I knew the lay of land well; and in lockdown, I mostly only communicate with my small internal team. So I’ve been VERY casual in my work from home attire. Honestly, shirts that I wouldn’t actually wear to the office, but I know that over zoom, from the collarbones up, it looks just fine. And I knew, based on the culture of my team, that it wouldn’t be a problem.

        For my new job, I know that when we’re all in-person it has the same casual dress code as my current employer (casual clothes, jeans, etc are totally acceptable in my industry). But I’m definitely going to make sure to be a bit more “put-together” for the first few days/weeks until I get a better sense of where the line is.

        Side note, I am SUPER NERVOUS about onboarding/starting a new job when we’re entirely remote for the foreseeable future.

  39. nikkole82*

    for everyone saying you have to be ‘privileged’ to know how to dress for interviews or raised a certain way is kind of insulting. I was raised by a single mother in the rural south, she did not even have a job until my sister graduated from high school and the other women around me did housework in people’s homes. Our schools were small- some class sizes were less than 25 kids. I have never thought wearing a club dress, a hoodie, or pj’s were appropriate attire for an interview.

    1. Cat Lover*

      Right, but your experience is not universal, nor are professional dress norms in general. It’s highly dependent on field, type of job, type of company, etc.

      Also, remember that this is all happening during a pandemic. Many students on campus are confined to a small number of places on campus. Money is tight, clothes are expensive, etc.

    2. Save the Hellbender*

      And it’s awesome that you had good ideas about professional dress, but did you really never make a mistake about professional norms when you were just starting out or interning? You don’t “have to be privileged” to get some things right, but it IS a privilege to have been taught all professional norms before experience.

    3. D'Euly*

      Pointing out *a privilege* does not separate people into The Privileged and The Unprivileged, where the former have all the money, knowledge and advantages and the latter have nothing. It’s merely saying that not everyone has x piece of knowledge, and having x knowledge doesn’t necessarily correlate to good job performance, so it’s not a great idea to base your hiring decisions on x factor alone.

    4. Paris Geller*

      Good for you? Congratulations on figuring out those professional norms, but this is a pretty snarky and irrelevant comment.

    5. windsofwinter*

      I don’t know why it would be insulting to recognize certain kinds of privilege, unless you think that lacking said privilege means someone is stupid or somehow less than. There have been plenty of comments addressing why people from a variety of backgrounds may not be up to date on nebulous, arbitrary corporate norms. It’s not a judgment of them or their worth, or at least it shouldn’t be. It’s just another layer of their humanity. It’s fairly easy to tell people about working norms, so it shouldn’t be a huge strike for a student position.

    6. Minerva*

      I’ve recommended candidates wearing hoodies when I did screening interviews remotely this past year. It’s not universally inappropriate.

    7. biobotb*

      I think people were pointing out that having a certain background can raise the chances that someone will know about white-collar professional norms, not that people without that background will *never* pick up on them, jeez. And even people whose parents were white collar may not have picked up on everything (I sure didn’t). The main point is that these norms are learned, not innate, and some people need more coaching (for whatever reason) than others.

  40. Mental Lentil*

    Thank you, Alison, for being so kind and understanding toward students and interns. These kids are here to learn.

    A lot of us who are older were able to start working at a younger age than young people today. It can be difficult or impossible for some kids to get jobs in high school or even in college, where they would learn some of this.

  41. Dwight Schrute*

    For number one: he may have been late because of the wifi or a roommate situation. Many college kids who live in a dorm are confined to the dorm, other spaces on campus are closed right now. They’re stuck with crappy wifi and the background of their dorm room and potentially roommates being loud or whatever. Also, for the causal dress, he may not have anything that fits right now. I know I don’t have professional clothes that fit me anymore and it’s not like I can go to the store to try things on. Money may also be tight so they may not be able to afford trial and error and waiting to return or exchange things until they get the right fit. I’d cut them some slack given the current situation and the fact that interns are there to learn

    1. EmmaPoet*

      You raise a good point. I know a lot of people who have gained/lost weight during the pandemic, and the business clothing they haven’t worn in a year doesn’t fit at all. Unless you’re a great seamstress/tailor, you’re not going to be able to alter it, and you can only alter stuff so much anyway. Plus, they can’t afford to go to a tailor (if they can find one) and new clothing is expensive even if you have an amazing ability to work the sales.

  42. Foxgloves*

    LW4, a skirt and sweater sounds appropriate. I started my role remotely and wore a smart-but-comfortable dress, which I also would have worn to the office. A (male) colleague joined recently an wore a suit for his first week, losing the tie about halfway through the week but keeping the jacket. Overall though I’d say that either dark solid colours or white read as “smart” pretty much whatever you’re wearing, and I’d also recommend wearing actual trousers or a skirt instead of PJs or sweats, in case you suddenly have to stand up on a call (doorbell/ cat knocking something over/ etc). Good luck!

  43. Save the Hellbender*

    Not to pile on OP #1, but my younger sister is a college student in person right now, and they’re basically confined to their dorm rooms! I’m guessing you would have prefered the bad dorm wifi and flag covered walls to the noise and lack of wifi of the quad — we can’t really compare college students in spring 2021 to how we would’ve been, because we weren’t facing 1/10th the situation they are.

  44. Kramerica Industries*

    For #1, I’m not sure what the job description was or if there are any online reviews of the company that talk about a business casual dress code, but taking Zoom aside, I think it’s also increasingly difficult for students to navigate how to dress in an interview for companies where employees don’t typically wear suits. Did the student think they were fitting into the culture/dress code on the interview day? Especially given all the tech companies that have made it clear that hoodies and t-shirts are a okay, students might not know that this isn’t how you show up to an interview if no one tells them.

  45. Newbie*

    Just want to say as a current college student who was required to do an internship for my minor I received zero guidance from my department. No help finding a position, no discussion as to what proper behavior was for an interview, let alone the job itself. The only reason I knew what to do/what was expected was bc I had already completed a couple of internships myself and bc I read this blog! The only people at my school who receive any real substantive guidance when it comes to internships is the business school but liberal arts kids like me are on our own (even tho like I said it can be required we have one!)

  46. Sarah Garstka*

    I’m not sure if anyone will see this since I am so late to the party, but this is OP #1 here chiming in. Alison, I really, really value your response and commenters, I really value your feedback.

    There is a little bit of information that might be helpful:

    1. We typically don’t interview/hire this far in advance, so I don’t have any competition to measure him against, which is why I am so stressed about this decision. He needs a response because of his program’s requirement and I’m not sure I am ready to make that commitment.

    2. I hear and value your comments about privilege. I was a first-gen student myself, my parents did not have professional jobs or went to college and I went no contact with my dad when I was a freshman, so I don’t think I am coming to this from a place of privilege. I am young myself and don’t have a ton of experience hiring, but I do have an intern right now I really LOVE, so my expectations may be high because of her awesomeness. I did have an awesome professor who was a bit of a mentor (and this is a good reminder to send her a thank you email since it’s been a while). I did use my resources (mostly, the internet) to prepare myself for these kinds of things, but I don’t and shouldn’t expect everyone has the same instinct. I started reading this blog pretty young, so I may have been a bit ahead of my peers when it came to interviewing. (Thank you, Alison!)

    3. He is on campus and I know the library offers free private rooms you can reserve by the hour (and they’re available now during covid) and I probably should have added that I expected something like that.

    4. Since nearly all of you mentioned earbuds, I have no idea why they jumped out at me as being weird. I don’t personally see them very often in my virtual meetings (and I don’t watch the news), so I feel very silly now for including them in my laundry list. I wrote in to learn and I definitely did, so thank you all!

    1. ArtK*

      #3 Not all schools have private places students can do interviews; as Oxford comma says below, their library has rooms but they’re closed due to COVID. Expecting the student to find a private space, other than their dorm room, is too much.

      1. Oxford Comma*

        The other thing I’ll throw in here is that even if the library does offer the space…. well, we’re finding a lot of our students are staying away from the library and we’re not the only academic library that’s dealing with very non-compliance around mask wearing. Students coughing their lungs out while not wearing masks is sadly something that other students can and do notice. There was initially university support and money to clean our spaces regularly but we don’t have the money for it anymore and based on what our students say on reddit, they have noticed. If I were a student at a dorm right now, I’d be staying in my dorm room as much as humanly possible.

        I think the lateness that was unexplained and not apologized for is a bit of an issue. I understand the part about their attire.

        But over the years, I’ve interviewed and hired a lot of graduate level students and even at that level, we’ve found their resumes lacking, their sense of proper attire poor. Unless it’s egregious, if they have good references and seem to have the qualities we need, we forgive a lot of that and then work with them to understand what they will need after they graduate.

      2. GothicBee*

        I work in a university library that does have open private rooms right now, but they are booked solid very early on (and that was true pre-pandemic too). Plus I just don’t think it’s that weird that someone would think they could interview in their dorm.

      3. HiHello*

        Even if the library offers rooms, they could’ve been booked like ArtK said. Also, trying to book a room, while scheduling an interview sounds logistically difficult right now. Why? Imagine the student did look at the room availability and used it when giving his availability times. But by the time the OP responded, the rooms became unavailable. Or, imagine the student booked a room in advance but the OP could not meet during this specific time.

        As it comes to flags, lots of international students and students from other states have flags. I was an international student myself in the US and lived with other internationals. We had plenty of different flags.

        As it comes to special backgrounds, almost no one uses them at my work. We are all working professionals but you can see the various things in the background: kitchens, living rooms, pictures of the kids and the dog, kids toys, balconies. None of us really care right now because we know it’s covid time and not everyone has the accommodations to have a separate office space.

      4. Sarah Garstka*

        I know that the campus he is on right now has private rooms and that they are available. I don’t know, to Oxford Comma’s point, whether he did not utilize that option because he is staying away from the library, which is totally fair if that was the case. I am feeling kind of silly about this whole thing now that I am able to read it back and really think about it.

    2. Princess Flying Hedgehog*

      It sounds like if you hired this student, you would need to spend some additional time working with him on professional norms. Is this a deal-breaker? Would the student be sitting in on client meetings or other high-visibility meetings early on (where it would be important for them to look professional), or would you have time to coach them up? DO you have time to coach them up? Does the student seem like they would be responsive to feedback and quick to adapt?
      I hire a lot of college students (undergrad and grad), and due to the nature of our office and the work we do, I’m very frank with them that they have a lot of info to learn in the first semester, including a lot of info about our office’s policies and procedures — and one of the questions I ask in the interview is how they tackle learning a large amount of information.
      In a sense, you’re dealing with something similar — some students just don’t have this knowledge (for whatever reason), and they need a crash course in professionalism — and all students will need to learn whatever norms and policies are specific to your company, anyways. Is the student ready and eager to learn?

      1. Sarah Garstka*

        Thank you so much for your response! All of these comments are educational, but I appreciate this tangible advice. I am reading every single comment on this post, which is a bit overwhelming, but it is helping to inform a plan for an internship should I hire him including a lot of opportunities for professional development for him! I realized how silly the LinkedIn concern was (I guess my instinct is to be skeptical when I can’t find an online presence for a young person), but creating a LinkedIn is something I can help him do!

    3. Web Crawler*

      For #2, I want to say that just reading this blog gives you a huge advantage in terms of learning professional norms. I also discovered this blog early, when I was in college, and I learned so much that my peers didn’t know.

      Before this blog, all I knew about inteviews was to show gumption, showcase my personality, and act like I already have the job. Nothing about dress code, and certainly nothing about zoom interviews.

      1. Sarah Garstka*

        I really appreciate this! The response to my question is both incredibly helpful and also a bit overwhelming! I am leaning into the discomfort and reading every single comment. <3

    4. Paris Geller*

      Sounds like a private library room would have been better, and I could see why you would expect that, but I’ll also throw it out there that just because the library offers those rooms doesn’t mean they’re available. You said they’re available in the sense that they’re still allowing it during covid, but I’m guessing that space is at a premium.

      1. AFac*

        In our library, students are technically required to wear a mask anywhere in the building, including private rooms. The student may have chosen to do the interview in the dorm so that they could go mask-free.

        And even if the rooms are ‘Private’ as in you’re the only one in there, they may not actually be private in that other people may hear you and you may hear them. The dorm might have been the quietest place to have an interview.

      2. Nanani*

        Exactly this. If there’s any way for the interviewER to arrange for zoom interviews to be in a library room, that might be the only way to get it to happen consistently. Might be doable if you/your organisation interview a lot of students at that school.
        Otherwise, you are setting yourself up for a lot of scheduling frustration if you expect students to magic up a library slot at one of your available interview times.

    5. Tinker*

      I’m not just flattering the host when I say: if you’ve had the good fortune to be reading this blog from when you were young — throughout your career? BEFORE your career? (I’m old, and hence amazed) — it would not surprise me if you don’t fully understand the depths of bad advice that people can fall into otherwise.

      I was relatively fortunate in that my class background puts me approximately on the board as far as clothing for white-collar jobs, but even so the advice I had growing up and in my early career was largely from dated books, the loudest of the crotchety subset of older people (some of whom were relatives), and clickbait-ish articles written by young freelance journalists that largely summarized the foregoing in unduly certain tones.

      The thing about that is that while you can tell that some of the advice is probably not right and some of it is definitely not right, being sure of all the parts that are wrong and what ought to be done instead — and understanding that you should be developing and using your own judgment when you’re often being told not to, for that matter — is difficult.

      If what you’ve been told about hoodies-at-work is that no self-respecting or virtuous person would ever think of wearing any such thing and that similarly it is the very height of unprofessionalism to ever darken the door of a workplace wearing boots, will you necessarily manage to both wear the correct clothing for your interview at a steel mill and land on the understanding that a hoodie is legitimately an uncommon look for interviews?

      Unconscious mastery makes things seem obvious that are really not.

    6. annie*

      Are the free rooms the library offers meant to be used for things like interviews? They may be in quiet study areas and not an appropriate place for someone to sit and talk for an extended period of time. In addition to what other commenters have mentioned about scheduling difficulties and students not necessarily feeling safe using them.

    7. Observer*

      He is on campus and I know the library offers free private rooms you can reserve by the hour (and they’re available now during covid) and I probably should have added that I expected something like that.

      You don’t know how booked up they are. And, to be very honest, even if you knew that the rooms were specifically available to him, it’s still a very odd thing to judge on. These interviews are NOT happening in normal times and in normal ways. So, it’s not unreasonable for him to decide to do this in his dorm room rather than a shared room that he may not be confident is being properly cleaned. Also, I still can’t figure out why “stuff on the walls” equates to “chaotic”. It’s not like a desk that’s got piles of stuff on it that look like they would be keeping him from getting any work done, etc.

      1. Willis*

        Yeah I think the expectation that he would reserve a library room is weird. Honestly a lot of OPs expectations (other than being on time) sound kind of exhausting to me. Who cares about a LinkedIn? And if an interviewer suggested I reserve space outside of my home for an interview so they wouldn’t see my decor, I’d probably say nevermind.

  47. Oxford Comma*

    #1 – I’m in academia (library) and I think you should cut the student candidate slack on everything but the lateness. I can’t speak for all universities, but we’ve had students asking us for study rooms so they could do job interviews and we’ve had to tell them no. All those places are closed at the moment. Maybe his only choice as his dorm room. And if he’s in a dorm, then the wifi really isn’t something he can control. Maybe the earbuds were the best option to block out ambient noise. We’ve discovered that a lot of our students really do not have the tech you’d think they would have. The attire …. maybe that would normally be a consideration, but it is a pandemic and not all students know how to dress for interviews.

  48. Colin Broccoli*

    How can you fault someone living in a dorm for bad wifi? I know I never had control over it when I was in college.

    1. Nanani*

      Right? Everyone in the dorm is probably sharing a connection, there might be school-imposed filtering, and students almost certainly don’t have permission to set up their own connection if they even have the means.

      1. Richard*

        Plus everyone in the dorm is trapped in there and is streaming classes and/or Netflix at the same time. It’s a miracle that anyone can see or hear anyone online at all.

  49. Penthesilea*

    LW #1 – Have you worked with students from this program before? Is this off the mark from how they usually present themselves? The program where I usually find my interns does quite a bit to prepare them for both the recruitment process and the internship itself (they are a program that requires an internship as a graduation requirement), so it would stand out to me in a negative way if I encountered a student who didn’t know some of these basics. However, a student from a different program might not get the same preparation. I would factor that into your thinking about the situation.

  50. ArtK*

    LW#1 I’m one of those adults who wears earbuds when in an online conversation. I’m in a somewhat noisy neighborhood *and* I have ADD so blocking out extraneous noise is very important. I know that many of my colleagues use them as well. Absolutely not unprofessional no matter what level the person is at.

    Alison’s advice is excellent. Other than the lateness, everything else is understandable either for the interviewee’s experience level or the current environment (COVID.) I agree that a follow-up with a touch of coaching would be great if your process includes a 2nd round.

  51. Florp*

    #1–I see you’ve responded already, but I just want to say that more than ever, we need to extend a little grace to these kids. I have one in college and one in high school. The college kid gave up after his fall semester, came home, and enrolled in community college for the duration of the pandemic. The college did a LOT to try to mitigate isolation and depression in their students, but here’s the reality for a lot of college kids, especially in states that are taking COVID seriously: He was isolated in his dorm most of the semester, only leaving to pick up food, get a weekly test for covid, and attend one class that had to be in person. He and his roommate had to fit their entire lives into a 15 x 11 foot room, so I’m sure it was a smelly mess. For the first few weeks, the wifi was overwhelmed by the number of students on Zoom at the same time, and we had to upgrade his cell phone service as a back up. He had very little direct contact with professors or the internship placement office that would have given him hints about professional appearance–jobs were advertised online and appointments made through the website without ever speaking to a human. All social clubs were via Zoom, and most kids quit them fairly quickly. Given that he and his roommate had remote classes at the same time, headphones were mandatory. The library was closed; although they did have study pods you could reserve, they were always booked up far in advance. The likelihood that he would have been able to get one for an interview was zero. He was near the Canadian border, so even going outside for an extended time became less viable as winter approached. He’s still doing remote college, but now at least he’s at home where he can leave his bedroom and see multiple family members.

    My high schooler is remote three days a week. My husband and I are working remotely from home as well.

    We are very much a “put a collared shirt on any time you have to speak to a professional” type family, and we’ve been lucky to be financially stable and healthy so far. But even with that privilege I find myself struggling to keep my kids from becoming absolutely feral right now. Heck, I’m having a hard time not being feral myself! Sure, your potential intern should have cleaned his room and put on a nice shirt, but he may not have had the bandwidth.

    Also, as an aside, I have a number of friends and relatives working in education at the high school and college level, and they are stretched thin themselves, feeling isolated from their students and professional peers, and frustrated that they can’t achieve their normal goals particularly with students that are struggling. If any readers here can find a moment in your day to send a kind word to a teacher or school staff member, it would make a big difference to them!

  52. HR Ninja*

    I want to make it clear that I am NOT trying to make LW#2 paranoid. I’m just making a general statement as someone who has worked in HR in the past.

    Just because you’re not being called out for “bad” behavior (routinely late to work, being difficult to work with, etc.) doesn’t mean the higher ups aren’t noticing. Should managers be coaching on how to improve? Absolutely. I used to always say that a poor performance review shouldn’t be a surprise. However, never assume you’re flying under the radar and getting away with anything.

  53. Kelly*

    Just want to note as someone who works in higher ed right now, that students aren’t really allowed to be out of their rooms or in common areas. It’s basically classroom, dorm room, hallway. There’s no library, study rooms, etc. so the student interviewing in his dorm room literally had no other choice if I had to guess.

  54. pieces_of_flair*

    I used to interview a lot of college students for research assistant positions. I spent a lot of time and effort figuring out what factors in the hiring process correlated with success (or lack thereof) in the role. I found that students who were late for the interview NEVER worked out in the job. Being late really did seem to indicate a lack of conscientiousness. Of course, if someone had a good reason for being late I would take that into account, but no one I interviewed ever did. If this student was late because of the bad wifi connection (not clear from the letter whether this was the reason), I probably wouldn’t hold it against him.

    None of the other things the LW mentioned (casual dress, lack of questions) would have been an issue for me. Many students just don’t have interview experience, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be good workers.

    The other thing I did was ask the students to write a personal statement about why they wanted to work in the lab (basically a cover letter). A personal statement that was well-thought-out, detailed, and clearly communicated their interest in the job correlated with success. So I think it’s a good sign that this student had a good cover letter.

    1. Sarah Garstka*

      Thank you SO much for this response. I am still very much learning what correlates with success. I am incredibly lucky to have an amazing intern right now and I think I’m worried she has set the bar so high for me!

      Hiring someone is hard! Especially someone I will have to supervise for 9 or so months. I know when I wrote in to Alison, I was feeling very overwhelmed and burnt out and all of this feedback from commenters is overwhelming, a little uncomfortable, and also super helpful. I really, truly appreciate everything I am learning from all of your insights and experience.

  55. TreeValleyHill*

    Alison I just want to thank you so much for your answer to OP#1 and your understanding of how underprivileged or naive or but otherwise good candidates can be passed over for someone who has been more exposed to work norms, and giving them a chance.

  56. Rossi*

    1) I don’t know know if this was said already ( I don’t have enough time between classes to read all the comments.), but for many students, their dorm room is literally the only place on campus where they are allowed to be maskless right now. Even spaces such as private study rooms have been shut down at some colleges. It very possible that the dorm room is the only option this student had.

    1. juliebulie*

      Sorry, that wasn’t a helpful comment! I was just thinking that if this is mostly done over the phone, Daisy can just… put the phone down. Not hang up, but stop listening. When Ruby eventually notices, Daisy can say she had to do something else but thought it would be rude to interrupt Ruby or hang up on her.

      It might not discourage future calls, but it will give Daisy a break from the audio bile.

  57. Orange You Glad*

    #1 I can relate to your initial reaction. I interview a lot of students through a local university’s co-op program. Most students are required to participate in the co-op program and all take a class to prepare for the job search and interviews. Because of this, I expect a little more from the students that are in that program but I still cut them some slack for nerves or technical issues. It can sometimes be hard for me to reframe my thinking when interviewing students from other universities since I can’t assume they’ve had any preparation.
    The casual dress I’m less concerned about. Hoodies don’t necessarily mean casual/messy anymore. They had become common when we were working in person so I wouldn’t expect any different when working from home. Was this person otherwise put together and engaged? I’d probably be put off if they looked like they just rolled out of bed but not if they just happen to be wearing more casual clothing.

    This winter, the only student I completely rejected was one that met with me on camera but laid down on the couch for the entire conversation and had his roomates in the room making noise (no headphones were used). A light up sign for a local beer was proudly displayed behind him despite him being underage. He could have just lied to me that his camera wasn’t working and I wouldn’t have known anyone else was there if they stayed quiet but the whole situation was very off putting.

  58. TimeTravlR*

    Probably been said… there are lots of comments on this great letter… but he may not have the wardrobe for the position. As a student, some people really struggle with any discretionary funds so he may be waiting to see where he lands to decide what he needs to buy for work clothes. In the current climate with so much remote work, I have spent one cent on work clothes in the last year.

    1. Quill*

      Yeah, assuming that he HAD formal clothes at the beginning of the pandemic / school year (not necessarily) he could have outgrown them. He might not be able to afford them. He might, reasonably, presume that if the internship is going to be remote he should wear what he’d wear to class, especially if this is an internship for credit, which is essentially a class for him.

    2. Mental Lentil*

      Yep. OP’s opinion really privileges those who are already privileged. How the hell are poor people supposed to get ahead in this world when people like this are gatekeeping on irrelevant issues?

  59. singlemaltgirl*

    i’m surprised by the advice for lw#1 – all those things combined would raise red flags to me. one or two? not so much. the lateness, the dress, and the presentation? this is someone in college/uni (if we’re speaking dorm rooms) so we do know to make an effort even if you don’t know ‘professional norms’. we know to ‘dress up’ for occasions and we know to clean up. and showing up late? i think that’s pretty much drilled in school to be on time. i don’t think any of those are high expectations of a potential intern.

    i do suppose it depends on the quality of the intern applicants you see. but google is a thing. ask a manager is a thing. if you’re in college/uni, presumably you know how to use the internet to maybe help you prepare somewhat for an internship interview…unless you don’t really give a shit.

    with interns (and we offer paid internships), i look for attitude and someone who’s motivated and willing to take initiative. this individual didn’t seem to demonstrate any of that when they got an interview. if that didn’t spur them to put their best foot forward, what would?

    1. Observer*

      What “dress” and “presentation”?

      This is his dorm room – that doesn’t allow for much flexibility. And he doesn’t have a lot of choices OTHER than his dorm room.

      And while the hoodie is not great, the question about the earbuds just makes no sense. Why would using the typical garbage speakers on a laptop, in a shared space, be better that earbuds that will ensure he can hear and minimize disruption to his roommate?

      1. Slinky*

        Yes, this. I’ll also point out that a lot of non-dorm spaces are closed right now. In normal times, students book library group study rooms to do phone interviews. Right now, the library has shut down the group study rooms, since we can’t have multiple people crammed into a 5×5 foot space during a pandemic.

        The only part of the letter that would be a red flag to me would be the lateness. He can’t control his dorm’s wi-fi or lack of available spaces. Lots of people don’t have LinkedIn. Earbuds really don’t matter. The hoodie is … not great, but I’d flag that more as something to address if he’s hired.

      2. singlemaltgirl*

        i didn’t see the earbuds as an issue or the spotty wifi – that’s not within the intern’s control.

        but if your competition makes more of an effort than you do; takes the time to ask questions about your business; shows up on time; who are you going to choose? you do you. i know who i’m going to choose particularly when it’s a competitive opportunity.

        and for those speaking about checking your privilege, maybe more white people might get a pass on some of this stuff, but most POC and women POC in particular, would not. we have to try harder and do better…and so when the ones who don’t put the effort, don’t, it helps us when we do. but it does get frustrating reading people giving this person the benefit of the doubt when more often than not, POC who have put in loads more effort without nearly the privilege, get passed over b/c we want to give the ‘benefit of the doubt’ to someone who couldn’t be bothered to make the effort cuz ‘privilege’. i may be too close to this but i’ve seen it enough that it really bothers me.

        1. Andy*

          I consistently find criticizing people about not having questions to be odd. The questions are supposed to be for applicant, if something was not covered for them to get answers. Forcing them to ask questions that they are not really curios about, just so that they fill the “asked question checkbox” is waste of everybody time.

  60. fish*

    LW4 / #4: Whatever you decide to wear on top — make sure you’re wearing pants!!

    This can be tempting to skip when it’s all remote. People forget, they stand up, and … I have really seen the downside (ha).

  61. Observer*

    #1 – Your expectations are not realistic in the general sense. But also, you seem to be overlooking some fairly basic stuff.

    To start, I will say that being late IS a real issue and one thing that I think you can really hold against him, if he did not apologize or explain. Even a potential intern should understand that you need to be on time. The hoodie is not so great, but lots of young people have no way to know what “business” dress looks like.

    Even not having questions doesn’t really tell you much – not only might he not have access to good advice on the matter, he might even be getting really bad advice. I’ve seen plenty of advice about how asking questions makes you look bad, etc.

    As for the rest, I’d ask you this the following questions:

    He’s living in a dorm during a pandemic. Where else is he supposed to take this interview from?
    Why would you think he has control of the wifi quality?
    What’s he supposed to do with the wall decorations?
    He’s got spotty wifi and is in a presumably shared space. Why would you want him to NOT use earbuds?

  62. Nanani*

    LW1 – taking issue with people’s backgrounds is a shitty thing to do.
    Especially egregious with a student in a dorm room, but it’s shitty in general.

    You can’t expect people to magic up a professional-looking office space in their home. You just can’t.
    Some people live in mcmansions with a dedicated office but that is not an ok standard to expect of everyone.

    It would be different if the problem was that specific decorations were offensive (hate speech banners or pornographic images or something), but “there are wall decorations”? Get over it, people don’t live in a blank void.

  63. CouldntPickAUsername*

    are you seriously complaining that the student had flags on the walls? seriously? are we at the point where we expect people to just interview in a floating white void if they can’t come into the office?

    I’m living in my parents and have set up a desk in my room where I plan to get a remote job, it’s not ideal but it’s what I have to work with. You’re hiring the person not their decor. get over yourself.

  64. E Liz*

    OP1 – The only thing in here that should raise a concern is the lateness, and that depends on how late he was. This guy’s dorm’s Wi-Fi connection was not his fault, and earbuds and flags are completely acceptable! The fact that you’re critiquing these things is making me question your judgement more than his, tbh.

  65. dustycrown*

    I work on a college campus, and I’ve supervised a lot of student workers. If you hire a college student who’s never had a job before, you’re going to have to teach them “how to work” in addition to teaching them the tasks associated with their job. “How to work” includes things like being on time; scheduling expectations/missing work; how to fill out their W-4; why they get direct deposit instead of an actual paycheck; why they can’t use the office parking lot to avoid buying a campus parking permit; acceptable language in the office; playing music vs. using earphones in the office…all kinds of things that aren’t really related to their actual work tasks. This isn’t necessarily a reflection on them–it’s just their first time in a work environment, and you have to guide them through the basics.

  66. EmmaPoet*

    #4- Congratulations on the new job! I would stick to the safe side and go with that skirt and sweater or whatever business casual you’re comfortable in for now. Maybe your job will be a leggings and tunic place on Zoom, but until you know one way or the other, err towards caution.
    Also, make sure whatever is on your bottom half is appropriate to be seen should you stand up. Don’t be that person who accidentally flashes their coworkers because you decided you could get away with short shorts during a meeting, and then stood up and WHOOPS! (I add this because a lot of people have been caught out on this one since the pandemic started, not because I think you’re clueless.)

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