video cover letters, asking for money to cover a lost perk, and more

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

1. Asking for compensation to cover a lost perk

I work as a staff member at a school, which is categorized as a nonprofit and my colleagues and I are paid nonprofit-level salaries. One of our perks is that breakfast and lunch are available to us for free in the cafeteria. During a normal summer when students are not on campus, the school hosts summer camps so the cafeteria is open throughout the summer too. Last summer, campus was closed due to the pandemic and we all worked from home. It appears that this summer there are no camps. My colleagues and I were just informed the cafeteria will be closed for the entire summer (10 weeks).

Getting paid our salaries in a high cost-of-living area is tough. I am a single parent with a not-super-flexible budget, and I have colleagues in similar inflexible budget situations: new parents, caregivers, single people paying off school loans, and more. I just had a conversation with some of my colleagues lamenting that we are barely surviving on our salaries and are concerned about our summer budgets. Beyond this issue, I enjoy working at my job.

I am considering speaking with HR about some type of additional or alternative compensation to help cover the missing perk that my colleagues have come to rely on as an income supplement. I am wondering if you have advice — even if that advice is “don’t talk to HR and instead search for a new job.” I did not consider raising this last summer because I did not know how long the pandemic would last and worried about being seen in a negative light for asking while economic uncertainty that pervaded the country. Now that we can all see the light at the end of the tunnel and my workplace appears to be more secure, I want to ask what you think about this.

If you weren’t being paid barely-survival-level salaries, I’d tell you not to ask for this — perks sometimes go away when circumstances change and you can’t usually ask to be compensated more when that happens. But the fact that many of you are barely making it on what you’re being paid is relevant, and I think you could raise it if you frame it in that light. You could say that the free meals have been vital to many of you working on low salaries and ask if they’d be willing to consider a meal stipend or other supplement while the cafeteria is closed.

Frankly, that framing should shame them — it’s a problem that they’re paying employees so little that the loss of free meals jeopardizes people’s budgets. Nonprofit work does not universally mean “our staff are barely getting by,” nor is it supposed to. Plenty of nonprofits pay living wages or significantly better, and you shouldn’t allow them to convince you that subsistence budgets are somehow just part of the deal.

2. What’s up with video cover letters?

I was perusing social media and came across someone who applied to a job that required a video cover letter. Is this a thing? I’m an elder millennial introvert and this has me all kinds of confused and irritated.

It’s not often a thing, but occasionally a company does require it. It’s baffling to me because watching videos takes so much longer than quickly skimming a cover letter to see if you want to read more. It also invites a ton of bias (unconscious or otherwise) based on race, appearance, accents, etc. (And yes, those things will all be observable at some point in the interview process, but it’s been well established that keeping them out of initial screenings leads to more diverse candidate pools.) And unless the job requires public speaking, requiring videos is likely to build in bias based on skills that might have little to do with the job too.

Confused and irritated is an appropriate response.

3. What do I owe my boss after grad school?

I’m currently a staff member at my local university. I took this role three years ago to pay for my master’s program in an unrelated field. As I wind down my studies, I am wondering how long I should stay at my current job before moving on to a position related to my shiny new degree. My mom pointed out that my boss has been a huge advocate of my education and has given me an incredible amount of flexibility, without which I would not have been able to complete my program. Therefore I should wait a year before I start my job search.

While I agree my boss has been amazing, I countered that I also have been a great employee. While applying to and completing my program, I have been promoted twice, expanded my current role, received stellar reviews, taken on and created new projects, trained other coworkers, and am always available for last-minute assignments, which my boss has taken me up on several times. Basically, yes my boss is a rock star, but I haven’t exactly been out to lunch either.

Another thing that is coloring my judgement is that while I really like my boss and teammates, I don’t love the work, I don’t like the greater institution, and I’m not paid competitively. (In the salary spreadsheet you published, I had the lowest salary for my type of work by $6,000.)

Do I wait before I start applying to new positions? How long do I “owe” my boss my undivided attention? What’s reasonable for a boss that has gone above and beyond, but a job I could take or leave?

Assuming you didn’t sign an agreement to stay for X amount of time afterwards (which is common with tuition reimbursement agreements), it’s okay to start looking now. Your boss has been an excellent and accommodating boss, and in return you have been an excellent and accommodating employee and given her three years of good work. You don’t “owe” her any amount of your future! You get to leave when you’re ready to leave (always, but especially when you’re being underpaid).

I think your mom feels like your boss gave you something “extra” and you need to repay that by staying longer, but it sounds like your boss did reasonable things to retain a strong employee — and did retain you for three years, doing work you didn’t love and for an uncompetitive salary. You both got something you wanted, and it’s not disloyal to move on when the arrangement doesn’t serve your interests in the same way anymore.

Read an update to this letter

4. Who should initiate a LinkedIn connection, manager or employee?

Who should be the one to initiate a LinkedIn connection: boss or employee? I’m the boss, and I’m connected to all of my direct reports (including one I hired yesterday who sent a request to connect this morning) but one person. Should I reach out to that team member to connect? Should I assume she’ll connect with me if she wants to? Finally, is a boss/direct report connection a good or bad thing overall?

I’d say it’s mostly a neutral thing, assuming neither of you is using LinkedIn in weird ways (like bombarding your connections with crappy articles or constantly doing those one-click skill endorsements for every random skill that pops up).

But if you want to play it safe, wait for the employee to initiate the connection. Not everyone wants to be connected to their boss on LinkedIn while they’re still working together; some people will worry that you’ll pay attention to their activity there and in particular that you might notice indications that they’re job-searching (like a sudden flurry of activity, which doesn’t necessarily indicate that but people worry about it regardless).

5. What kind of bag should I carry to interviews?

I am a graduating high school senior, and I’m applying to some summer jobs and internships. I plan on bringing extra copies of my resume and such to the interviews I have scheduled. The issue is that I’m not sure which bag to use. I really only have two bags, my backpack for school and a tote bag that has an (appropriate) quote on it in pride flag colors. Should I buy a new, more professional bag? Is one of those two okay? Should I carry only a folder?

It’s fine to just carry a folder or portfolio (which is the more professional but not strictly necessary version of a folder).

And really, since we’re talking about summer jobs and internships, the backpack or tote would be fine in a lot of cases too (and the tote has the side benefit of possibly screening out non-inclusive employers) but I’m giving you the most professionally conservative version of the answer.

At some point you might want to get a more professional bag for interviews — ideally by the time you’re interviewing for post-college jobs — but for right now, a folder should be fine!

{ 345 comments… read them below }

  1. PrincessB*

    Considering your response to video cover letters opening up room for bias, do you also recommend not putting your LinkedIn link on your resume?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think it’s fine to include a link to your LinkedIn if you choose to; that’s different than employers building their application requirements around video.

      1. Gul DuCat*

        I don’t! I specifically don’t want to see pictures or extra information, as it might add bias. We even make sure to schedule our initial interviews by phone, so we are not seeing pictures, backgrounds of people’s houses, etc. until we have a feel for the actual skills and experience of the applicants. I work in higher ed. I hope that more and more employers are understanding ways to get bias out of the initial screenings.

      2. Rose*

        I never look for people on LinkedIn. Idk what the point would be; it’s basically a watered down version of your resume for most people, and I have the actual resume.

  2. Artemesia*

    YOUR MOTHER told you that you owe your boss another year? If your boss had said ‘we will arrange tuition for your masters, but would like you to give us a year after that, THEN you would be considering staying. But if your boss is worth his salt, he is probably assuming you will move on when your credentials are improved with the degree and be delighted to help you do this. You are in a University — he knows you are building your career plan. Absolutely do not listen to parents on this sort of thing. It’s business not personal. Always make decisions that advance your own career rather than putting the interests of the boss or organization ahead of the (obviously ethically but if your BOSS hasn’t told you staying longer is part of the deal, it just isn’t.). They are probably expecting you to get a shiny new job.

    1. allathian*

      And even if your boss has “expectations”, they can’t hold you to that unless you have a clawback contract and you leave before the end of that period.

    2. AcademiaNut*

      I don’t see that LW#3 actually had tuition reimbursement, just that they took an on-campus job while doing their Masters. If that’s the case, the boss is likely completely expecting that they’ll move on as soon as they graduate, as that’s the normal thing with student employees on campus. It’s so normal that this is the kind of situation where you can usually ask your current boss for references, and give significantly more than 2 weeks notice.

      1. Luna Lovegood*

        I’ve worked at a few universities that offer tuition remission, and I’ve known several grad students who had full-time positions unrelated to their degree programs to pay for the degree. It’s generally expected that they’ll start looking for jobs in their field when they graduate (though some choose to stay longer for personal reasons). Reasonable managers know this is the deal when they hire grad students, and often the timeline is worth it to gain an excellent employee for a few years. OP, I’d start looking whenever you’re ready with no guilt!
        Just a word of caution: I had an otherwise very supportive manager in my first job out of college, and I told her up front when I decided to start applying for jobs in a different field. She was still supportive, but also saw that as an opportunity for me to help hire my replacement, which meant she pressured me to choose an end date before I had another job lined up. It ended up working out for me, but if you want to give your boss a heads up (which you absolutely don’t have to do), I wouldn’t say more than you’re starting to think of next steps. Lots of managers will follow your timeline, but you never know.

        1. KR*

          Agree! I work in higher education and supervise a large staff. Your boss almost assuredly expects you to leave soon after completing your degree.

        2. JelloStapler*

          Also in higher ed, it is great if the person CHOOSES to stay if it is a related field (we love that!) but we expect – and even want- to move forward and start on your career.

      2. Willis*

        This is what I came here to say. Even if LW#3 did have a tuition reimbursement, if I was her boss and knew she had just completed a masters program, I would totally assume that means she is going to be looking for a new job (unless it were a program related to our work that could help her earn more/advance/etc., but that doesn’t sound like the case here). Especially if I’d been advocating and supporting the OP as she was in schools, I’d be sad to see her leave of course, but on a personal level, I’d hope she could find something in her field of interest!

        1. RecoveringSWO*

          Yep. The University being the employer + the low pay makes this a totally different circumstance than tuition reimbursement at a private employer. It might not be an official “grad assistant” classified position, but I can’t imagine that the boss expects LW to stick around after graduating. Just like Willis said, the only way I could see that being the case would be if there was a clear path to promotion to a position with 1) a reasonable wage and 2) related to the degree. That certainly does not seem like the case here. Apply without guilt, LW! In fact, I bet boss would be willing to be a reference

    3. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      Most parents, unfortunately, don’t really understand the job market of the modern world. They tend to think that if you show loyalty, you’ll be rewarded with advancement and pay increases and benefits, because they think employers will value that loyalty, and seek to retain it. This isn’t their fault – it is what they were told the world of employment was like by their own parents, and often what they actual saw their parents (our grand parents) receive.

      Sadly, most modern companies prioritize short term profits over the long term retainment of employees – they will deliberately fail to reward that loyalty under the theory that most employees will tolerate the conditions they are offered, instead of seeking better conditions elsewhere (or organize and force the employer to actually negotiate and offer better conditions in house). There’s a plethora of studies of game theory that indicates that in repeated interactions, this is a long-term losing proposition (ie, that demonstrate that acting in good faith is necessary if sufficient selection pressures exist, as actors who do not seek to engage collaboratively will eventually be forced out of the market place) – but the key there is the need for sufficient selection pressure (which doesn’t exist when this is standard practice across the majority of all businesses) and taking a long term view (which most businesses aren’t doing).

      TLDR – our parents are bad judges of the modern job market. We should be applying more selection pressure to employers to encourage good actors and penalize bad, not less.

      1. ThatOnePlease*

        Yes to all of this! Boomer-generation parents who have a lot of professional experience and are very well-meaning can still give bad job advice to their millennial children, just because their careers were set in a very different work culture. One of my parents worked for the same (government) employer their entire career, and was *shocked* that my company doesn’t pay 100% of the health insurance premiums for me, my spouse, and my child. The norms have shifted significantly on both the employer and the employee side. LW’s mom is trying to help, but LW would be better off relying on mentors in the field for career advice.

        1. PT*

          My mom recently told me to send a paper resume to the “personnel department” as an end run around the frustrating online applications. They’ll see it and put you up for relevant jobs without you filling out the awful online application!

          When I told her that wasn’t allowed and the resume would just get thrown out, she was shocked. How does anyone get a job then? By filling out the online application, like they directed.

        2. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Ahem. I’m a Boomer and am as loyal as I am compensated. I’ve worked with young folks I could have given birth to who believe in loyalty to their employer, regardless of the professional or personal cost to them.

          Let’s please not make sweeping generalizations about Boomers, etc. How about this: lots of parents give bad advice because they’re in parent mode, not professional mode.

          1. Joan Rivers*

            YES! Our parents / grandparents got a job w/a H.S. diploma and stayed there for life, then maybe got a pension. Of course, that was him; mom could afford to stay home in their house and raise kids on his paycheck.

            Under Ike the wealthy paid a much higher tax rate, it’s been chipped away at for decades.

          2. Pippa K*

            Yes, plus I’m curious about the generation attribution here. A lot of boomer parents are in their 70s now and their children are Gen Xers who haven’t, as a cohort, usually had that post-war one-job-and-pension experience. Bad career advice can come from any generation, of course, but I wonder if what’s often described as generational differences is really more profession-specific. (I recently had to explain to friends that academics don’t get pensions like they do as government employees, and we’re the same generation.)

            1. Carol the happy elf*

              Thank you! Boomer here, and I realized that I needed to give mine advice on work ethic, but that the world is becoming a jet-star rollercoaster, not the funhouse I grew up in, (late 70’s, man.) or the neverending merry-go-round of my grandparents’ careers.
              So when my youngest asked me about reporting something, I could tell her how to navigate, but oldest kindly told my in laws to stop it about the need for cufflinks with his suit. (He has a suit. The jacket has cuffs sewn onto the end of the jacket sleeves, and his work shirt for important meetings has short sleeves, so comfort AND formality,
              rather like a mullet hairdo was.)

            2. doreen*

              I agree that it’s more likely to be profession-specific – I remember explaining to my government employee coworkers 25 years ago that things they took for granted like very inexpensive health insurance , pensions and lots of time off were not common in non-unionized private sector jobs. Apparently everyone they knew either worked for the government or belonged to a union that was able to get good contracts. Also, people forget that boomers typically include those who were born as late as 1964 and the 56 year-old boomers had very different experiences from the 75 year-old boomers. The “bad boomer advice” I’ve seen in this comment section ( both today and previously) is the same bad advice that my 80 year old mother ( too old to be a boomer) has given to late-boomer me.

      2. Cheshire Cat*

        Yes, “some” parents give bad career advice, but I’d disagree that “most” Boomers who are still working and are not in fields like academia are in that category. Corporate loyalty to employees started waning decades ago; when my father retired after 35 years with the same company, I remember having a conversation with him about how I couldn’t expect to do that.

        Many of us have experienced the same economic realities that our adult children have, and have had to deal with online applications, etc. in our own job searches. And many of us who haven’t, have friends or relatives who have.

        TLDR: Younger Boomers have experience in the current job market. And some of us even read AAM ;)

        1. London Calling*

          Boomer mid 60s here who learned 20 years ago that loyalty to employees means zip and adjusted a work philosophy accordingly from ‘I owe my employer loyalty’ to ‘The most important person to be loyal to is me.’

    4. twocents*

      My mom is like this too. I’ve reminded her that her loyalty to a company will mean jack all the second they decide they’re better off without her.

      Absolutely grating to have anyone suggest you can be “disloyal” to an institution. It’s an exchange of services for money, not a deal for my soul.

    5. El l*

      Completely agree with all the comments here.

      Especially the ones about the generational difference – showing loyalty just doesn’t work anymore.

      Final question for LW’s mom: What, exactly, is a reasonable expectation for how long she should stay – just to say thanks? Why is a year sufficient? If it wasn’t agreed beforehand, then you are just having to guess so that you don’t risk a possible negative reaction from the boss. Which…isn’t reasonable.

      In the end, LW, it’s your life and your time. This is dead end, and you really have nothing stopping you. Go.

    6. Nanani*

      I’m guessing LW’s mother does not have recent experience in a relevant field. Professional relationships are not social ties and they are not built on favours and niceness.

    7. Cheshire Cat*

      Something else to consider is that, barring an agreement with your employer to stay for x length of time after completing a degree, it’s going to look strange to hiring managers if you don’t start looking for a position in your field right away.

      Of course this may vary by field, but it’s the case in my industry.

  3. middle name danger*

    LW3: If your boss was a huge advocate of your education, presumably they knew your expected graduation, and they most likely expect you to begin moving on soon!

    My current manager knows my job is not my career, and that I’ll be applying elsewhere when I complete my degree. She has a rough idea of when that will be. In the meantime, I’m a good employee, so she’s happy to have me onboard while I’m there.

    Hopefully if you have a good relationship, your manager will be excited for you!

        1. LifeBeforeCorona*

          That letter was my intro to AAM. The nerve of that manager. I wish there had been an update.

    1. Dr. Whatsit*

      LW#3 While I can’t know the details of your situation, I know that I have worked with students in ‘unrelated’ staff roles before (i.e. clinical co-ordinators, technicians, etc.). My expectation was always that once they got their credential (or got into medical school, or whatever the goal is) that they would move on as soon as possible. I don’t take that personally.

      If I’m being honest, I’m pretty sure I would be concernedif the student-worker didn’t start looking for work in their field; I would be miffed if they delayed their career because of me.

      In a university/research centre I’m used to taking on/training new people as students cycle through. ‘Pay your boss back’ by checking in to say ‘hi’ occasionally in the future.

      1. Pennyworth*

        It might even be an expectation that graduates will move on – if they never left there wouldn’t be employment opportunities for students coming behind them.

        1. Long Time Reader*

          Yeah. My partner employs many grad students, mostly in work that is related to their field, and he is regularly thrilled about the jobs they get after graduation. They throw a party and move on. Totally expected for student work.

        2. Cheshire Cat*

          This was my experience—I had an on-campus (paid!) internship in my field while I was in grad school. I graduated in May, but the professional positions I wanted started their hiring in July. My department head allowed me to continue the internship for the summer, but her expectation was that I would move on after that to make room for another student.

      2. Abogado Avocado*

        +1! While I have not worked for an academic institution, I have worked at places that provided flex-time and other accommodations so employees could obtain more education. In all of those places, we supervisors and managers expected — in fact, really hoped — those employees would get shiny new jobs that matched their shiny new degrees. We knew that in some fields there were small windows of opportunity to get into those fields after graduation and we didn’t want to prevent the graduate from entering their chosen field.

        That said, your Mom sounds like a very nice person, but in this case I think her concerns can be allayed by a (handwritten, in blue-black ink) thank you note from you to the boss for all the accommodations that enabled you to get your degree.

    2. Lenora Rose*

      My thought is that being a good employee with a good boss means exactly 3 things:

      1) Your boss is not only expecting but hoping you will find a better paying job in your intended career with your shiny new degree (and likely knows their institution underpays, though this is a common boss blind spot in some fields…)

      2) Your boss will give you an excellent reference.

      3) You *have* a job as a safety net right up until you do line up that shiny better job, or need to move cities, etc.

  4. rubble*

    with the bag question, I wonder if the LW is also carrying things like their phone, keys, wallet in the bag because they only have totes and nothing smaller (I didn’t have a handbag (purse?) in high school). in that case would you recommend a purse/handbag or small satchel and a folder; or putting it all in one bag?

      1. heatherbelles*

        I’ve moved to a big enough handbag that I can keep my A4 folder with my qualification certificates, a note pad pen and pencil all in it.

        (plus car keys, hairbrush, pack of tissues etc)

        It’s a Radley (because I like them) in a dark purple leather I found on e-bay for a reasonable price).

        That way, it’s just one bag I need to worry about on the day, but it fits it all in.

          1. Joan Rivers*

            I have a black purse from a consignment store [but a pricey label in the same vein as Eileen Fisher clothes]. It can hold a file folder and personal stuff and fits under my arm inconspicuously. Boring but loaded w/pockets, nooks and crannies.
            One bigger bag is nice and organized, and can hold paperwork you might collect at an interview.

            1. Heatherbelles*

              I have a few ‘big enough to take a4 folders’ . Not just useful for interviews – they’re pretty good for the few conferences I’ve gone to, where it’s useful to have a bag big enough to take the handouts (and a notepad!

              I have smaller ones too for going out etc.

              Ebay is where I get most of my ‘designer’ labelish bags, cos I refuse to pay full price, and most of the time they’re in pretty decent condition, and I’m not precious about them being

              Radley do the level of ‘quirk v smart’ that I enjoy. I work in museums, so there’s a level of quirk expected anyway I think.

      2. Mimi*

        I’m more than ten years out of college, and it took me until 2019 to buy a large leather bag (like a messenger bag, I guess?) for the purposes of having a nice bag to take to interviews.

        I think I did borrow something from my mother for my very first interviews. I don’t remember, but my interview suit doesn’t have pockets, so I assume I must’ve. And then the next time I interviewed, I was coming in from out-of-town in the middle of winter, and I figured they could deal with my puffy coat and backpack full of stuff I’d need to wander around a strange city all day.

        Of course, then there was a pandemic and I did my last round of job searching entirely remotely, so I still haven’t used the fancy bag.

        And I strongly recommend borrowing something, if you feel you need something and have the sort of friend who will have an appropriate bag. You’ll probably only need it once in a blue moon.

        1. Smithy*

          Strongly agree on this. I think there are number of things around interviewing where looking a certain way can make you feel more confident/comfortable – but then have little to no correlation to what you need if you get the job. So if there is clothing/bags/accessories that you can borrow, definitely do that. And borrowing a bag is very often one of the easiest as there are no fit issues.

          1. Momma Bear*

            I agree. If LW doesn’t have an accessory, borrow one.

            I have a leather portfolio thing I got at a past job that I take to interviews, along with my purse. But in other jobs I have used a messenger style bag, especially if I was carrying a tablet or laptop. For daily commuting, I have a backpack. But I try to stick to a tote or messenger bag for interviews.

        2. calonkat*

          I’d suggest a quick look in whatever secondhand sorts of shops might be available for a bag that might look a bit more professional if desired. I don’t worry a lot about appearances (note, I’m not in a position that hires or interviews), but when I was interviewing, I felt better knowing my papers were neither crushed or wet. Between all the various types of bags that are manufactured, there may be an option that suits the LW and will work better than a backpack. Borrowing is good too, but that doesn’t help sometimes (my mom used every bag she owned until it fell apart).

          1. Emi*

            Sometimes you can find leather bags looking worse for wear and priced accordingly; they’re pretty easy to spiff up with shoe polish (nb: this does not work so well for artificial leather), and a cobbler can mend zippers for less than the cost delta to a new bag.

            1. Joan Rivers*

              I like my large purse that can hold a lot, because I don’t have to fumble around — it’s automatic to go to the various zippered compartments or the top that opens up.
              Using it is familiar and it’s dull enough not to be distracting. One less thing to make me nervous.

      3. HoHumDrum*

        Would it be possible someday to do a post where people can suggest sources for affordable places to buy professional clothing/accessories? I’m in my 30s and I still don’t know where to buy a bag that isn’t obviously cheap but isn’t like a designer bag I can’t afford. And I’m realizing that I think I have the same issue with a lot of my fancier work clothes- my field really only requires something nice in the interview stage so I haven’t built up a solid work wardrobe that isn’t basically fast fashion trying to look professional. Would love any tips anyone has to offer!

        I was also thinking about how hard it can be to just buy generally nice plus sized clothes, let alone good business ones, and maybe others would have some suggestions on that front as well.

        1. Ann Nonymous*

          Does your neighborhood have a Buy Nothing Project group on Facebook? This is a group dedicated to sharing items we no longer need. I get (and give) gently-used kids toys, kitchen items, household decor, all sorts of stuff from my local Buy Nothing group. Often, folks are cleaning out their closets and offer clothing and accessories.

          You can also post on the group that you are searching for something – like a gently-use, professional looking bag or interview outfit. In my experience, people are super generous with these sorts of requests.

          Good luck!

        2. Joan Rivers*

          Consignment stores are 1/3 of retail and often have bags and clothes that can fit for work. They claim to keep to year-old stuff but it can be a bit on the conservative side, good place for more “classic” looks. And basic pieces.

          I’d look there for “interview” bargains that won’t get worn a lot, but they also have jeans, etc. And some trendy stuff. If you can find a deal on interview clothes you can be more on trend once you have the job.

        3. Mimi*

          Most of my blouses come from the thrift store, though I will say that it is WAY easier to find anything at the thrift store when I’m a (US) size 14 than when I’m a size 16 or larger. If you have multiple thrift stores in your area, it can be worth looking around — I often find that one store has consistently nicer clothing than another, or more likely to have certain sizes.

          Betabrand has yoga-pant-fabric/professional cut pants, some of them in plus sizes. They aren’t cheap, but you won’t pay $100+ per item, either. DO look at the lengths; they assume you’re wearing 3″ heels for some reason.

          I have a couple of dresses from eShakti that I’ve been very happy with. (They have pockets!) Some of those do get to the ~$100 range, but having them custom fit to you is super useful if off-the-rack fits are iffy, and the ones I have look nice and wear well.

          Land’s End has sturdy stuff that’s business casual as long as you aren’t leaning hard into the BUSINESS part of business casual. I have a bunch of corduroys from them, and a few pairs of nice jeans that actually fit me. My winter wardrobe also features a lot of turtlenecks; YMMV if that’s what you’re looking for or not.

          I think my interview suit came from Ladies’ Dress Barn, but that was a decade ago, so who knows what they’re like now.

        4. Chinook*

          If you are interested in something new and don’t mind dresses (though they do skirts, tops and pants too), eshakti dot com is mentioned often in comments for a reason. Their prices have gone up recently to reflect costs but are still reasonable for the quality of clothing and material (plus they have taken active steps to protect their employees in India during COVID and have been donating masks locally all along).

          The custom fit costs more but is worth it if you ever had issues with clothing off the rack. There are also so many options when it comes to fabric, style, colour, etc, that aren’t limited to certain body types or sizes. Oh, and most of their dressses come with decent size pockets (by that I mean “I can put a phone in one side and my wallet in another and not ruin the cut of the dress” size pockets)

        5. Momma Bear*

          Freecycle/neighborhood listservs (some allow “wanted” posts)/thrift stores/stalk higher end stores for sales and clearances

        6. beach read*

          JC Penney has plus sizes and a good selection of career-wear. (And separates!) The stores are fairly well stocked but online even more so. I think they are budget friendly. You can also find accessories there. I have had good experiences with their online ordering and shipping.

        7. Heatherbelles*

          Bagwise -Ebay is where I get mine.

          I know the ranges I like, so I just search for them. Radley is the main one, though I haven’t looked for them for ages, as have a decent enough selection now.

          I also have a search for a particular Clarks heeled court shoe that I discovered fits and suits me (I’ve got wide feet), so I can get the various colours. Not that I wore heels very much pre-pandemic, but I want all the pretty colours, just in case… (but I pay about 30 quid max, instead of the 60 or 70….)

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Oh to have the pockets of men’s suits. I remember seeing an interviewee some in with just himself and I was so envious.

      1. pancakes*

        Carrying so many heavy, lumpy things in pockets doesn’t look good on men or women, though. A lot of men where I live use man-bags rather than cram everything in their pockets.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Nothing lumpy necessary — I strip down what I’m carrying for interviews, like I do for parties. The last time I interviewed, I brought a small notebook, keys, a brush, and my “mini wallet” (just driver’s license, credit card, a $20, and a transit card if I wasn’t driving). Updated for now, I have a leather notebook folder with a space for license & credit card and add extra copies of my resume. I’ll drop the brush because I’ve got newly short hair, maybe slip a comb into the folder. The only makeup I carry with me is a lipstick — and that only if it’s a very formal company where makeup seems expected.
          The reason I’m having such trouble finding a replacement blazer is my insistence on an inside pocket.

          1. pancakes*

            That’s still quite a bit of stuff! Just keys and a phone can be lumpy, unless it’s a single key and some sort of James Bond-type secret phone. This really depends on how closely-fitting (or not) the clothes in question are, though.

            I have a Rachel Comey blazer with an inside pocket but it was still expensive on sale, after the sale went on sale.

            1. TechWorker*

              If you live somewhere cold/rainy enough to justify a coat or jacket in addition to your interview gear, you can just ram the pockets of that full. Yes, you might still need to hold the coat itself, but I’ve not been in an interview situation where that would be weird or a problem.

      2. Chilipepper Attitude*

        I only recently realized that some women buy men’s suits and since they will be tailored anyway, just have them slightly altered to fit the way they like. Boom, pockets!

    2. Abogado Avocado*

      I’m with Alison Either is fine. I’ve done tons of interviews with college students seeking Summer jobs and, this probably says more about me than anyone else, but I never even looked at what they carried their stuff in. Backpacks are such a part of the student experience that they’re just expected. And any employer who would screen you out based on your pride flag is likely an employer for whom you would not want to work anyway.

      1. Chinook*

        I agree. And, if you are worried enough that it will shake your confidence, drop hints to those around you that a “professional bag” would be an awesome graduation gift.

    3. Generic Name*

      Honestly, as long as the bag you’re carrying isn’t eye-catchingly weird (like a huge greasy paper bag or a mesh bag full of ferrets or something) people aren’t going to notice or care if you have a backpack or tote bag or inexpensive Walmart purse to carry your things. I think most adults wouldn’t expect a high school student to carry a briefcase or an expensive yet tasteful handbag.

      1. kt*

        I disagree, in that I have a lot of bags that are not so weird (I think) but also not quite appropriate. Think bags from the Get Bullish store (you can look that up if you like) — one has something about smashing the patriarchy. It’s also a fairly light fabric, and it’s a weird but true thing that mid-weight fabrics look “cheaper” than heavier fabrics or leather in general.

        OP, you might consider looking at a thrift store/consignment shop if you’re interested in buying something. On the other hand, I made it to age, ah, 37 without buying a normal American purse. I did use versions of backpacks for years (usually more structured as they were backpack/bike pannier combos) or messenger bags, or more Euro purse-like bags.

        1. Ann*

          I think that is exactly what “Generic Name” was saying– if it has a provocative quote (or actually any words at all other than a pretty simple logo) that is “eye-catchingly weird” in the context of an interview.
          I think their point was just that you don’t have to spend a bunch of money on a briefcase or purse if you have a simple, reasonably clean backpack or tote bag.

      2. vlookup*

        Ignore your parents’ outdated advice to show initiative by bringing a bag of ferrets to your job interview! These days it’s considered more professional to leave them at home.

        1. ThatOnePlease*

          LOL! I’m just imagining how quickly ferrets would chew through a mesh bag and be running wild during the interview.

          1. Pippa K*

            I’m training mine to smash the patriarchy, which is why I’m replacing their old mesh bag with the Get Bullish one kt recommended above :)

      3. trekkie*

        I strongly agree. I find the concept of judging a young applicant based on the quality of their bag mind boggling. (I guess there could be an edge case, like a sales position for fashion stuff, but that is, again, an edge case.)

        1. pancakes*

          I think everyone would agree that it’s unfair to expect students and recent graduates to have a full professional wardrobe, but that isn’t the question – the question the student is asking is, what sort of bag can I use for interviews, and do I have to use one at all.

    4. Pumpkin215*

      I have one specific “interview bag”. It is plain black, big enough for a folder and note pad and has pen slots. It sits there until I need it! I blow the dust off it every now and then but it stays in pretty nice condition.

      1. Joan Rivers*

        I’ve ended up using a very boring big black purse every day because it has all those slots for phone, pen, etc., and opens at the top for newspaper or file folder. I’ve stuck purchases in there in a pinch. It can go to a house closing or interview or the food co-op, so handy.

    5. Daisy-dog*

      I personally don’t bring anything to my interview except my keys and my portfolio – I detach my car key which fits in a women’s pant pocket. All other items get hidden in my car. My portfolio is faux leather and looks nice – it was a special gift at an event that I attended in college.

      Obviously this is a risk if you don’t feel like your things will be safe in your car.

    6. Lizy*

      During Yesteryear days when I was younger, I’d wear a jacket and put my keys in my pocket. My “wallet” was one of those little tiny things that held an ID card and that was about it, so it fit nicely, too. I’d lock my phone in my car, although I may have taken it, too, since those were the days of the Motorola flip phone.

      I miss that jacket. It was just a kacki (cacki?) jacket but probably my favorite of all time. I couldn’t fit it one sleeve now, and it probably isn’t (wasn’t) the most professional, but early 20s means you can pull that stuff off and dang, I miss that jacket.

      1. Beth*

        Khaki- no c’s anywhere. I do the same thing, though. Pare down what you need to the bare essentials and use a jacket for the pockets.

    7. Jaydee*

      For a high school or college student who presumably doesn’t have a huge budget for bags and isn’t going to use it as a daily bag, I would recommend getting a professional looking tote from Target (or a similar fast-fashion retailer).

      They’re not sturdy enough to hold up to heavy, daily use for very long but would be fine for a few years of lighter use for interviews and career fairs and such. Plus it will provide a cheap way to identify features you like and don’t like in a bag so when you do eventually want to spend $$$ on a nicer bag, you know you’re getting one that will work for you in the ways you want it to.

    8. RecoveringSWO*

      I’ve also used a larger, zip-up portfolio to place my wallet and phone in during interviews. They have larger and smaller pockets on the left-hand side. The items didn’t look bulky or bumpy because of the stiffer leather of the portfolio. I’m not a regular purse-user, so I found that to be more comfortable personally.

    9. Springtime*

      When I was first interviewing, I purchased an expanding wallet folder to carry to interviews–the kind that have a flap that’s secured with string or an elastic band. The dividers make it easy to keep the pieces of paper you’re taking with you organized (which is probably overkill but does the job), and if your wallet, keyring, and phone case aren’t too big, you can also slip those things inside, too. If you don’t have a professional-looking purse or bag, this can make it easy to do without one for the interview. You can find options for under $10.

  5. Raktajino*

    OP3, does your mom think that “typical” college employers like restaurants or on-campus work-study deserve to have recently graduated BA students stay for an extra year? After all they also allowed flexible schedules and sometimes even let people do their homework on shift.

    If your employer wasn’t paying for you to attend, idk why you’d be expected to stay any longer than anyone else. An employer can always find a reason why it’s not a good time.

    1. Artemesia*

      It is clear that Mom is a ‘nice girl’ who has been raised to be submissive and considerate of everyone’s else’s needs and so doesn’t really ‘get’ that a job is not a personal relationship but a professional one and that decisions made by the employee should be in the interests of the employee. Jobs don’t care. If it were in the boss’s interest to cut you tomorrow, off you would go. We see this attitude in letters here from time to time where people wonder if they should take a great new job because it would let the boss or the team down — Just NO.

      All waiting a year will do is make it look to any employer that you couldn’t get a job in your field for that year and were stuck making do.

      1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

        It’s more likely that Mom’s own work experience was from the not-so-distant past when employers brainwashed employees into thinking the company owned their workers. We see plenty of letters here that confirm this is still going on.

      2. EmKay*

        Mom has the double whammy of internalized patriarchy and capitalism. We all do, of course, but this example illustrates it so well,

        1. Jack Straw*

          Yes. This is a more accurate (and nicer) way of saying it and well articulated.

          1. EmKay*

            Thank you! That comma instead of a period will haunt me for hours, lol, so I particularly appreciate your kindness :)

      3. EPLawyer*

        Heavens this about what effect waiting a year will do. Waiting a year to make your boss happy in an unrelated field will only harm your career. You will be a whole year late getting started.

        Your boss KNOWS you are going to school in an unrelated field, they probably expect you to be already looking for a job in your field. Do it.

      4. Smithy*

        Agree with all of this, but also I think the reality of whether or not 3 years is a long or short time to be working somewhere continues to have a steep generational divide.

        Early I worked as a research assistant where it was a very common job people did while getting degrees. It was also common for the PI to stress how long they wanted someone to stay on the job. Normally it was only 2 years, but it wasn’t out of the norm to see a study that had some unique parameters and for PI’s to emphasize that they really wanted candidates looking to stay for 3-4.

        No contracts, no guarantees – but it was essentially known that if you left “early”, you were leaving without a reference. Not in an angry black ball sense, but more matter of fact that if called on they would stress you left early and were very likely to forget you (there were always new research assistants) and feel no obligation to refresh their memory.

        The most generous read I can give this mom, is that she’s interpreting this scenario based on dated work norms – which were also far more paternalistic, misogynistic, etc.

    2. Mental Lentil*

      Mom + capitalism = Stockholm syndrome. We see this a lot with some people here.

    3. Fleapot*

      A lot of those basic student jobs are only open to students, and work-study is a form of financial aid. That recent BA graduate probably isn’t eligible to stay in the job for an extra year, even if they wanted to. I’d say that OP is probably fortunate to be able to keep their current job until they find something in their preferred field! It sounds like a pretty tolerable position, and I’d think that the stability will make the job search easier in many respects.

      But of course OP absolutely doesn’t have any obligation to stay in their current job longer than they want to. The flexibility offered by her boss actually makes me *more* confident that the basic expectation was that OP would leave soon after finishing the degree.

      Thinking long term, waiting a year could actually harm OP’s chances of finding a job in her area of specialization. That consideration depends a bit on the field, but some employers will give preference to a fresh graduate over somebody who’s worked in an unrelated field for a year; they’ll think that skills/knowledge might be rusty, or they’ll read that year as an indication of lack of enthusiasm/commitment, or they’ll wonder if there were red flags that led other employers to turn her down. (That’s bullshit, and it penalizes people who can’t afford not to work or who face other barriers due to gender/race/disability, but it happens.)

      I might suggest that it would be courteous to clarify how long they expect to stay before the beginning of the next academic year because recruitment for the replacement is probably going to be aimed at incoming grad students–but that’s just a courtesy, not an obligation.

  6. Rara Avis*

    I feel your pain, op #1. Also a teacher with free lunch in a high cost of living area. Last spring my grocery costs more than doubled, my husband was laid off, and I was paying for a lunch my daughter wasn’t getting as part of her tuition. (We have an amazing tuition benefit but lunch isn’t included.). We did eventually get some of the lunch cost refunded (but not all, because the school didn’t want to lay any of the kitchen staff off.). Last summer the course I teach was canceled; I contacted the summer office about pulling my daughter from the program she was in because I couldn’t afford to pay full price. They let me keep my discount (usually only available if you are teaching summer). So, it’s worth asking!

  7. Ophelia*

    LW1: If you belong to a union I would be talking to them – they could help advocate on behalf of yourself and the other staff.

    1. Double A*

      I would bet anything this is a private or charter school. Public schools don’t usually provide free lunch to staff (though it’s sometimes discounted). Nor are they classified as nonprofits since they’re government entities.

      1. Generic Name*

        I was wondering about this. Assuming that the school isn’t the OP’s local public school district, they could look into whatever school district they live in to see if they are providing food to the community. My school district (and I think it’s a nationwide thing) has a grant from the USDA to provide free lunches not only to every child in school, but their families and the general community during the summer.

  8. Heidi*

    I’d vote backpack for LW5, but I’m also the type who likes to bring a lot of just-in-case stuff to an interview – water bottle, phone charger, reading material, a sweater, etc. I’d love to see backpacks become more mainstream for professional work. I switched from a shoulder bag to a backpack after an injury, and it’s great because it holds more stuff and isn’t putting all the weight on one side.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      While they don’t read as particularly professional now, I predict that they will be more accepted sometime in the next 10 years. I’m going to revisit this on May 28, 2031.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        There are varieties, too. You can get a nice, sleek black backpack with a simple pocket and main chamber, which looks a lot more classically professional than something multi-coloured with multiple pockets and ties.

        I commute on public transit, and over the shoulder bags screw up my back, so I do go for the big multi-pocketed deal which fits a laptop and periphials, phone, ebook reader, assorted shopping bags, an umbrella, a bottle of water, sunglasses, a light jacket and my lunch, and still has room to pick up shopping on the way home.

        One thing I find amusing about the whole smart-phone thing is the number of men who now carry purses on the subway. I don’t know what they’re officially called, but it’s a small closeable bag with handles and a strap to hold stuff that won’t fit in their pockets, which is essentially a purse.

        1. BRR*

          that’s what’s I was thinking as well. From my time commuting into nyc I have a more professional looking backpack. Is it the most professional looking bag? No. But it certainly passes the test of being professional enough.

          1. Pointy's in the North Tower*

            It’s a satchel; Indiana Jones has one!

            I used a backpack for years to carry all my junk to and from work. I use a thin laptop bag now. When it wears out, I’ll find a new backpack because those hurt my back less.

            I have also seen professional people (suit-wearing folk) with a backpack. I think lots of us realized that sacrificing our bodies isn’t worth looking ‘appropriate’ as we’ve gotten older.

            1. The Rural Juror*

              I quoted that the other day and my coworker had no idea what I was talking about. He was carrying a satchel! I looked up the video on YouTube and we had a good laugh.

              I need to adopt this attitude of not sacrificing my body, as well. I hate shoulder bags, so I use a cross-body purse. I’ve realized it’s causing me to have a knot in my left shoulder because of the unequal weight. I really should get a small leather backpack…but they just look so 90s!

          2. Cheryl Blossom*

            Honestly, I really hate that word. Is masculinity so fragile that men need to invent their own word in order to be seen carrying a bag around?

            1. HelloWorld*

              Satchels were invented in the 17th Century. I often think of satchel as handbags that have a cross body strap, while purses have evoluted from just being a coin bag to something that has handles and are carried on one side.

              1. Lalaroo*

                Lol I’m 99% sure Cheryl Blossom was talking about the word “murse,” not satchel.

        2. Guacamole Bob*

          I live in a city where a lot of people use public transportation. I was involved in a few rounds of hiring pre-pandemic, and probably saw 15 candidates in person, mostly for early career positions. I have absolutely zero recollection of what bags anyone brought with them. I highly suspect there were some backpacks in the mix, and that was fine by me.

          This is at a local government agency in a large US city, where the dress code is business casual in most circumstances. We’d expect suits or fairly formal dress from most interview candidates in the normal course of things. But not all candidates are going to own nice briefcases or more professional-looking backpacks, and many are going to want to bring a notebook, water bottle, umbrella, maybe a change of shoes, etc. since candidates are likely either using transit or getting an Uber. As long as you didn’t look like you were about to set out on the Appalachian Trail I can’t imagine even noticing what bag a candidate was carrying.

          I carry a backpack when I go to the office, as do many of my colleagues. It’s either a company-branded one or one I picked out to look reasonably professional (gray fabric without a lot of straps and buckles), but I wouldn’t look askance at a young candidate who hadn’t been able to upgrade yet. Though if you search “gray backpack” on Amazon you get a lot of very affordable options – that’s where I got mine and it’s lasted me for a solid couple of years.

        3. Ms. Hagrid Frizzle*

          My brother found me an amazing commuter backpack on Kickstarter a few years ago. It also converts to a camera-bag for my off-work hours. I have always received sincere compliments when using it for work travel and interviews. When I was going through the interview process for my current employer I was flown out on short notice for just over 24 hours roundtrip. And I was being flown from my summer placement with the National Park Service, so my luggage/handbag options were limited. The backpack and my weekender suitcase for my suit were well received by the hiring panel and both fit my personal luggage needs within the airline’s requirements.

      2. English, not American*

        Backpacks aren’t professional? (Everything after this point is pre-pandemic) Every office-based worker seems carry one with their work laptop in it. My workplace even provides them so they can enforce everyone taking theirs home every night after we had a break-in and lost about 20 laptops from a 70-person company.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Not a big deal once you’re on the job but I wouldn’t take most backpacks to an interview for a professional job at any office that’s not very casual.

          1. BubbleTea*

            My handbag/purse is backpack style but to my eyes looks pretty smart – it is the Mia Tui Emily. Perhaps part of it is the fabric the bag is made from?

            1. EmKay*

              What a smart looking bag! I’m a smidge disappointed it’s not genuine leather, but my MasterCard bill just sighed in relief, haha.

            2. pleaset cheap rolls*

              For any given fabric, a backpack will look less formal than crossbody bag which will look less formal than a briefcase.

          2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            I think that’s fair – most job interviews don’t involve bringing a laptop (plus accessories) and stationery.

            My spouse has today gone off to his first in-person meeting for months with his ridiculously professional (ie expensive and sleek but robust) backpack containing technology and emergency spare socks, so I’m amused by the timing of the question!

            1. Jack McKinney*

              I have an emergency undershirt, dress shirt, tie and suit jacket in my office. Never thought about emergency socks, though. Time to toss ’em in my bag!

              1. RabbitRabbit*

                Emergency socks are great for those days when you unexpectedly get soaked feet from rain. We used to have a washer and dryer on the same floor and while we had access, that was nice for problems like that.

                1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

                  Yes, I think it’s far more common to get wet feet than need a full wardrobe change.

                  That said, spouse used to carry a shirt/socks/underwear change at all times because he travelled so much. His laptop backpack was his carry-on luggage, so it also always contained a toothbrush and spare contact lenses!

            2. Guacamole Bob*

              In a city I wouldn’t think it was strange for a candidate to have more stuff with them than strictly necessary for the interview – they might be coming from or going to their current office, need a change of shoes if there’s a long walk involved, be planning to head to a coffee shop with their laptop to do schoolwork or more job search tasks after the interview, need to bring a lunch or snacks if they aren’t sure how long it will take or have other errands to run, etc.

              An interview doesn’t require a laptop, usually, but it wouldn’t be weird for a candidate to have a bag large enough for one, in many circumstances.

          3. Save the Hellbender*

            Does this apply to all backpacks, even ones that look like this ( like gray or black, sleek, clearly for work? I don’t ever want to go back to a bag again, as backpacks are so much easier for commuting and better for your posture!

          4. Ms. Hagrid Frizzle*

            I think sometimes circumstances come into play on how backpacks read – if someone is being flown out, especially at short notice or from a location that is not their permanent residence I think there would not be an issue so long as the backpack is more of a business-y style (not a Jansport school bag). In those situations I would hope a professional-looking backpack would not reflect poorly on a candidate unless the industry/workplace were exceptionally formal.

          5. twocents*

            That’s been my experience too; you can bring a backpack into work everyday, but I would never bring it into an interview.

        2. Ferret*

          Looking at your username, and as a person based in London I thin this might be one where cultural differences are coming in. A lot of Americans talking about backpacks/rucksacks seem to have this idea that they are somehow automatically juvenile or informal which I don’t think is the case over here

          1. Mae Fuller*

            I agree – I’m also in England and my perception is that neat backpacks are very normal in everything except extremely formal / traditional fields (and possibly even then).

          2. allathian*

            Yes, this might be just a cultural difference. To be fair, I took a tote bag last time I went in for an interview, because it had room for my papers and certificates, and I didn’t need a laptop. The last time I got a new work laptop, they gave me the choice between a tote bag or a backpack. I took the backpack, because I can’t carry any weight on just one shoulder anymore.

          3. cncx*

            yes, american in europe here and there is a big difference between carrying one’s college bag or having a tumi. i even see bankers with sleek tumi or luxury backpacks . in the city where i work, it depends on the bag brand more than anything. a fjallraven wouldn’t fly for an interview but depending on the position could cut it once someone has the job.

          4. pancakes*

            I think there’s probably an urban / suburban divide within the US, too – I’m in NYC and see lots of people with professional-looking backpacks on the subway. My boyfriend recently bought a really nice navy canvas & black leather one from Kika NY.

            1. Guacamole Bob*

              Yes to this. I’m in a different US city with a lot of walking and public transit. You see tons of backpacks on the subway on people who are obviously commuting to office jobs.

              I bought an inexpensive gray fabric backpack off Amazon a few years ago and have fun spotting duplicates and very similar ones. Including one owned by at least one colleague from another agency who regularly comes to meetings at my office.

              A backpack that’s not bright colors with tons of straps would attract zero notice from interviewers in my neck of the woods.

              1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                This. I also am in a heavy transit city, and the norm for professionals is neutral colored, slim styled backpack big enough for a laptop and the sort of peripherals most people carry for work.
                Where I’m going is it’s more about color and construction than the fact it’s a backpack.

            2. Birch*

              Yep, I think it’s more about urban/suburban divide and field. In a city where people might be expected to cycle or take public transit, and in certain fields, backpacks make a lot more sense.

              IMO there are a lot of small to medium sized, sleek, black backpack designs out there these days for all price points, and many of them can be carried either as a handbag or a backpack. Even ones that aren’t designed with extra handles can often be carried in a way that doesn’t make the shoulder straps obvious. This seems a great option for OP!

            3. SomebodyElse*

              Honestly I think it’s just Alison being off base with this one. I work in a lot of different regions of the country, urban and suburban and have never observed anything weird about backpack use in a professional setting. They’re everywhere.

              1. Guacamole Bob*

                It may also be industry specific. My wife would always pull out her barely-used briefcase for interviews, even though she carries a backpack day-to-day, but she’s in law. She’d also never, ever interview in less than a suit. For my field (technical role in local government) things are a notch less formal much of the time – some people interview in nice blazers and other formal-but-not-a-suit outfits, and a nice backpack wouldn’t attract any notice.

          5. Brent*

            For sure. In cities where many workers commute, especially ones interviewing for entry-level positions, backpacks are common if not ubiquitous in professional settings. Most handbags just won’t fit an umbrella, water bottle, hygiene kits, etc that the typical commuter has.

        3. L.H. Puttgrass*

          One thing about backpacks I haven’t seen mentioned yet: when worn on the back (as the name suggests), they can absolutely ruin the lines of a suit. That’s not that big a problem in many situations, but it may not be ideal when you want to project the most professional image possible, like interviews and court appearances.

      3. CheeryO*

        There’s so many sleek, nice-looking leather/faux leather backpacks out there these days. I wear one to work daily and have only gotten compliments on it. I’m not buying a tote bag that I’ll never use just for an interview, so hopefully I never encounter anyone who cares!

      4. Generic Name*

        I’ll put a note in my calendar to come back here to check in 10 years’ time. ;) Seriously though, as a data point, I work in the mountain west in environmental consulting. The vast majority of my colleagues are very outdoorsy types, and I see tons of people carrying backpacks for work. They are usually sleeker and higher-end backpacks than a typical school backpack. The one I carry is a Patagonia “black hole” backpack and it fits my laptop, lunch bag and other essentials.

      5. Hillary*

        I think it’s the difference between a Jansport, Swissgear, or Tumi – I have all three styles. I’ve travelled the world with a Tumi-style backpack and no one bats an eye in a formal environment. My Swissgear is ugly, but it’s also accepted because it has my company logo on it. My Jansport-style is for hiking.

      6. Lora*

        STEM person here, we all have backpacks – though they are more professional-looking than the bright purple Jansport I took to grade school. If you have a backpack with a work logo on, that is acceptable, but there were several styles online that are quite sleek. Found my current backpack some years ago on Etsy – it’s a charcoal grey fabric with leather straps holding it closed, and importantly has an extra-large extra-padded computer pocket inside to hold one of the giant Lenovo laptops that are cinderblock-weight with a large screen and all the peripherals, plus a couple of days’ worth of essentials in case of travel.

        I am also of the Girl Scouts method of packing for work: I need spare undies, tights/socks, makeup, toothbrush/toothpaste, deodorant, soap, washcloth, comb, hand sanitizer, hair ties, water bottle, ibuprofen, dramamine, migraine meds, first aid things, duck tape, multi tool, fold-up tote bag, iPod with preferred playlists, packed meal or snacks and computer with charger / mini-projector, headphones, various power cables and chargers, travel keyboard and mouse at all times. ALL times. The past year and a half has added mask, backup mask, disposable mask and various disinfecting wipes to the mix…

      7. NylaW*

        This could be industry specific as well, because backpacks are very common as work bags in IT.

    2. turquoisecow*

      My husband carries a backpack on days when he commutes via bus/train – or even when driving, as he carries his laptop in it. But it’s a different look for a middle-aged tech guy than a high school or college aged intern, and might make someone seem younger or less serious than they are.

      I probably wouldn’t recommend it for a young woman starting out who’s concerned about being taken seriously, but if she did have a backpack I’d definitely lean toward something black or maybe leather as it looks more professional to me.

      I had a boss who had a wheeled bag for her laptop, which she took home every evening. We could hear her coming a mile away when the wheels rolled down the linoleum – “oh! I hear Boss coming!” and it definitely saved her back a lot of pain, I’m sure. I don’t know how that would look for a younger/newer woman, though.

      1. NeutralJanet*

        That’s an important consideration—I have a baby face and am young for my field, so I tend to dress more conservatively than most of my colleagues and would definitely not wear a backpack, even a nice one, because I’m worried about being read as young. OP, however, is applying for positions where it’s okay if she’s read as young, so that’s not really a problem for her.

      2. BookishMiss*

        I have a purple Disney villains backpack for work, that i use when I’m just popping into the building to grab something :) But my company is pretty relaxed about stuff like that. I also have a purple rolling bag for carrying my laptop etc back and forth, but i only switched to that from the backpack because of my back.

        Would i take the Disney backpack to an interview? Probably not, but i definitely showed up with it on day 1, and only ever got compliments on it.

    3. Rez123*

      I cycle to work so I have a backpack that fits my laptop. A few years ago the mini backpack that was in style in the 90’s made somewhat a comeback and I was thrilled that I could start using one as a purse. I don’t want to carry anything in my arms anymore. My current backpack is a kånken so not the most professional but when I change jobs to more formal environemt I will be investing into more professional looking one. There are tons of really cool ones.

    4. Filicophyta*

      I also have long subway commutes and it took me years and years of looking but I found a very professional looking backpack from Herschel (hope it’s ok to mention brands here). It looks like tweedy grey suit fabric, but stronger, and there are no plastic buckles or patches (or water bottle pocket) so it looks serious. It wasn’t cheap, but I can tell it will last a long time.

      I hope Alison is right and backpacks in a variety of styles will become the norm. Reality is though, as with most looks, they will probably come in and out and in and out of style over time.

    5. Well...*

      One of the perks of academic life (at least in my field) is the wide acceptance of backpacks as professional. Every PI I’ve had carries one, even the more conservatively dressed.

      1. Dragon_Dreamer*

        Same here, I have a very nice LL Bean backpack I take almost everywhere I need to take my laptop. Durable, comfortable, AND it has a waist buckle to take pressure off my shoulders! I don’t carry a purse, since I tend to lose them, so I just make sure I wear clothes with deep pockets. (They do exist!)

        Invest in quality no matter which bag you get, however. I’ve had backpacks literally shred themselves off my back! (Was wearing a cheapie backpack a relative gave me in high school and took a sharp corner at a run at high speed, using the post at the top of the stairs to make the turn. Books everywhere.) My first LL Bean is 22 years old, and just needs a buckle replaced, along with a few minor tears. My 2nd one, bought 4 years ago as a gift to myself for getting back into school, looks like it’ll last even longer.

        1. Well...*

          Yea like I can’t carry my water bottle in my purse and I want that with me everywhere so it’s backpack life for me. Plus I can always have a scarf, hat, gloves, and sunglasses with me so weather can change all it wants I’m good to go.

      2. A Genuine Scientician*

        Absolutely. I have yet to see someone get a weird look in an academic setting for a backpack instead of a satchel/handbag/messenger bag/whatever. Academia has some weird hangups in a lot of things, but I think it’s generally pretty good on “This is a functional option; please care more about practicality than appearance.”

        Which is great, because the ergonomics of putting all the weight on a single shoulder are terrible.

        When I’m being a tourist and have to put my backpack on just a single shoulder in a museum, my lower back is screaming at me a few hours later, even if I only have a tablet, water bottle, and book in there. I’ve managed to convince a number of security personnel at such places to let me wear it on both shoulder but on my front instead of my back — still ergonomically worse than wearing it properly, but way better than a single shoulder. But I’m a flat chested male; your mileage may vary.

    6. What's in a name?*

      I recommend a padfolio. They are usually well made, have space for resumes, business cards and a pad of paper. It is not uncommon for them to be given out as favors from places. I have one from a scholarship and one from my fraternity.

      1. Mockingjay*

        Agree, I’ve been using the same pleather one for nearly 30 years. You can get them at most big box or office supply stores. A quick google shows that Walmart carries one for $12.83 and another for $10.76, in store. Both look really nice.

        1. PT*

          My husband and I have been sharing a padfolio for 15 years, I bought it at CVS of all places.

    7. Colette*

      I have a messanger bag from MEC that is also a backpack – usually the backpack straps are zipped into a compartment and I use it as a messanger/laptop bag.

    8. Daisy-dog*

      Do you take public transportation? Or do you work in an industry with interviews that include several hours of testing? Because every interview that I have been in has taken less than 90 minutes. LW5 is unlikely to need supplies in an interview for the roles they are looking for as a recent high school graduate.

    9. Monty & Millie's Mom*

      I have not read all the answers here, but I have to say I am in my mid-40s and typically use a backpack for everything, except truly “fancy” things. And I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t had to be super-professional about my backpacks. My current backpack is from Walmart, and is black, bright pink, and blue patterned! But SO handy – lunch, book, extra masks, work badge, keys, wallet, sweater/sweatshirt, water bottle, pens/pencils/highlighters, notebook, phone charger… all fits!

    10. Cooper*

      I think it really depends on your field! Granted, I work in software, so the standards for dressing up for an interview are about what most business people wear normally, but especially since most of us wind up moving laptops around a lot, backpacks are pretty ubiquitous.

    11. Kat*

      Backpacks are really common in NZ offices and aren’t considered unprofessional (providing they are fairly plain and clean). In my particular industry (construction management) we often visit other sites during the day and are expected to take laptops home at night. We also prioritise health and safety/working comfortably so you would have to have a really problematic backpack for anyone to even notice!

  9. Esmeralda*

    OP 3: It’s not likely that the OP’s boss is funding the tuition. More likely that’s a benefit available to employees of the institution (tuition remission).

    1. NoBrasEverAgain*

      Exactly. OP is just working at a university and getting free/cheap school, as they do for employees. It’s completely understandable for them to bounce afterwards (and probably expected).

      1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        Yeah, this can be really common for some staff positions at schools that offer tuition benefits! If the degree’s in an unrelated but career-ish thing, the boss probably expects OP to leave once they’ve gotten their degree, particularly if they’ve been overperforming for the role and pay.

    2. anon here*

      This is a really interesting discussion, as I’ve been trying to get an employee tuition benefits and our company has not historically offered them for masters degrees. The situation we find ourselves in is that the group needs to pay for the tuition out of its own P&L as it’s under the director’s discretion. So it’s a decent pool of money that we’re talking about and this is a good investment, but it actually does compete with other things we could use that money for, like raises. That’s why they definitely want a 2-year repayment clause and the director is a bit touchy about that. The calculation is that this master’s degree will make the employee very marketable, and if they move to another position they’ll definitely have the cash to pay the company back!

      1. raktajino*

        The company I work for does tuition repayment but only for degree programs (not professional certificates) at a higher level than you currently have. It’s weird, professional certificates have a strong potential to bring value in a more cost-effective way than a full degree, so I don’t know why they’re not eligible. And what if your master’s is in an unrelated field and you’d like to get one in a related field instead? Nope, doesn’t count.

        Weird bureaucratic hoops.

  10. Phil*

    #2 Just submit one along the lines of Barney’s video resume from How I Met Your Mother (YouTube it!) ;)

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Me too – particularly when Alison talked about unconscious bias* …!

          (* though to be fair to Elle, her LSATs were astronomical)

          1. Well...*

            Plus she had a 4.0 from CULA (fictional UCLA). Honestly watching that movie as an adult it’s not so surprising she got in. The high GPA plus the high LSAT score (which offsets the easy major arguments) and president of her sorority with a ton of organizational leadership XP? It would be pretty realistic if the video didn’t reference soap operas and show her in a bikini (that’s a level of unprofessionalism only a rich white person has a possibility of getting away with, though even then it’s a stretch).

            1. RabbitRabbit*

              If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend LegalEagle’s channel on YouTube where he did a Legally Blonde review. (It’s more positive than you’d think!)

          2. Mockingjay*

            Werner: Wait, you got into Harvard Law?
            Elle: What, like it’s hard?

            That scene was so fun.

      1. Ferret*

        Yeah, if you can have your video interview directed by a Coppola you’re all set

  11. rudster*

    ” Plenty of nonprofits pay living wages or significantly better”
    Especially to their CEOs – a fact that is a consistent source of bafflement to watchdogs and casual observers alike. Non-profits usually counter this by pointing out that they are competing for the same pool of CEO talent with for-profit organizations, and therefore have to pay them compensation commensurate what in for-profit organizations of similar size.

    1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

      That works for the CEOs because those same CEOs frequently appoint the board members, or are able to influence their outlook. I went from one small not-for-profit whose director advocated strongly for the staff and tried to narrow the gap (which wasn’t very large) between our paychecks, to a larger not-for-profit in the same city whose director advocated only for himself and was paid an outrageously huge salary for the size and location of the institution. He was quite the board schmoozer, and it paid off, for him only. Until a little whistleblowing happened, awww, poor guy.

    2. Anon this time*

      I work for a non-profit that pays better than living wages to its rank and file employees.

      I’m a software engineer and data analyst in an IC role. Mid-career technical staff at my org routinely get paid well into the six figures (to the point where we exceed the social security caps) with a generous 403b match, on a 40 hour work week with a flex schedule to boot.

      AAM is right, non-profit doesn’t always mean poverty level wages to the rank and file.

    3. Ferret*

      This seems like a pretty clear derail that doesn’t really contain any advice for the letter writer?

      1. Smithy*

        Agreed. There are certainly cases where nonprofit CEO’s are paid a salary that seems painfully out of line with what their staff are making. But the same certainly applies to the for-profit side.

        The nonprofit sector certainly falls into a far greater claims of hypocrisy in that they’re mission driven and typically include some ambition for the public good. So when that public seems to be in bad faith towards their own staff, it hits differently than McDonald’s CEO’s fighting a $15 minimum wage in the US. Cause there’s no expectation of McDonald’s CEO’s engaging in any public good?

    4. Well...*

      Yes this argument always gets me. CEOs are paid for talent but everyone else is paid in passion for the work. It’s really a statement about how little bargaining power everyone else has.

      1. Beth*

        My first career was with non-profit arts orgs, where we were expected to work for crap incomes and be grateful for it. One thing I noticed about the management levels, in addition to their mysterious ability to be paid competitive salaries: they were, with almost no exceptions, terrible managers.

        1. JustA___*

          My first career was with a for-profit arts company, where we we expected to work for crap incomes, crazy hours, and be grateful for it! The arts are probably the most overloaded with the “but its good experience/exposure/your passion” excuses for treating employees poorly.
          That said, I moved to a non-profit (not arts), and am now compensated so much better–so I agree with that the non-profit aspect isn’t the real issue, rather that they are basing their budget on not paying living wages to employees.

    5. Daisy*

      I think the ‘because it’s a non-profit’ part is a red herring – it’s not that that’s particularly relevant to OP and colleagues’ low salary, so much as being non-teachers (I presume) in a school. Those type of teaching assistant, admin, etc. roles just generally come with low salaries in my experience. ‘Non-profit’ covers so many things that on its own that doesn’t tell you anything about salary.

  12. tamarack and fireweed*

    The etiquette around LinkedIn can be a little complicated depending on what perspective predominates on what LinkedIn is *for* in that particular company / team culture.

    Back when I was pretty junior in the tech industry I would have found it presumptuous to send my boss a request, but I was overthinking it. I felt flattered when a senior person sent me one because I saw it as an act of semi-automated mentoring (“I give you access to my wider network”.) Nowadays, if it’s in this perspective, if I was the boss, I would probably informally announce it over team coffee – “hey, I saw quite a few of you are on LinkedIn. If you like to connect feel free to send me a request!”

    1. UKDancer*

      I think you’re right that it depends whether people actually care about LinkedIn in a company but then I don’t use it a huge amount. I can’t say I’ve ever thought about what signal is sent by connecting on LinkedIn. If I want to connect with someone then I will (assuming I remember to do so). I don’t tend to connect to my bosses because I can usually get hold of them by emailing or messaging so there doesn’t seem much point but if they wanted to connect that would be fine. If my staff want to connect with me that’s fine but I don’t tend to initiate because I am not very active on it.

    2. Colette*

      I think it’s fine to request a connection no matter where you fit in the hierarchy – but of course it’s also fine to refuse the connection.

      And since it’s more in the employee’s interest to be connected (for future reference requests, etc.), I’d encourage people to send connection requests. If they’re still working together, I might say “just so you know, I’m going to send you a LinkedIn connection. I’d like to stay in touch, even if we aren’t working together in the future, so I like to connect while we are still seeing each other every day.”

    3. fish*

      Yes, right on. If the boss is connected to everyone but one person, I think there’s a lot of room for that person to think the boss has intentionally left them out.
      The boss should either just connect, or better, make it clear that door is open without forcing it. And make this clear to new hires going forward as well.

  13. D3*

    OP3 – check your tuition agreement, but if you’re not required to stick around, move to your desired field ASAP. You don’t want to have to answer a year from now “why haven’t you worked in the field yet?” in an interview.

    1. Sparrow*

      Agreed. And OP, I wouldn’t worry about it. If your boss is as good as you say they are, and they know you’re both underpaid and working on an unrelated graduate degree, they won’t just be encouraging and supportive of you moving on, but they’ll have been expecting it. I also work on the administrative side of higher ed, and I have had colleagues who worked a university just for the tuition perks. If they’re working on a degree in a completely different field, it would be surprising if they *didn’t* leave pretty quickly.

      Take the shiny new degree, find a job in your chosen field, and leave your boss a thoughtful thank you note for being so supportive of your career. Good luck, and congrats on the degree!

  14. Princess Deviant*

    Ugh video resumés. As an autistic person who finds it hard to make eye contact and rarely does well in interviews (my applications are good, I have no problem getting interviews, but I struggle getting through the face-to-face stage) this would probably screen me out even before the interview and make it doubly hard for me to find a job. It’s discriminatory on conscious and unconscious biases. Boo to that employer, and boo if it becomes the norm!

    1. Juniper*

      I think people across the spectrum can unite in our universal dislike of this idea. I hate, HATE being photographed or filmed. I turn into Chandler when Monica makes him take engagement photos. And my god, the idea of actually having to WATCH myself afterwards makes me want to die inside. This idea is so bad on so many levels for any position that doesn’t require actually being on camera. So yes to your boos!

    2. allathian*

      I feel the same, and I’m AFAIK neurotypical. I don’t mind having my photo taken, at least if it’s quick and not a full-blown photoshoot like my otherwise wonderful MIL is likely to go for unless someone stops her, but I absolutely loathe appearing on video. I can deal with it during video meetings because I’m focusing on other people, but I won’t watch video recordings of myself if I can help it. I even hate the sound of my voice to the point that I won’t record anything in my voicemail…

    3. TWW*

      I agree, but is the video cover letter even something we need to worry about becoming the norm?

      This is the first time I’ve heard of it, and apparently the first and only time OP came across the concept was a story from someone on social media — so not even OP’s own experience.

      Are we perhaps talking about requiring an audition tape for a job/role in media or entertainment? In that case, yes, putting yourself on tape rather than going in for a live audition may be a trending thing.

      1. Nanani*

        I wouldn’t sweat it – once the shiny new idea leaves the head of whoever thinks its great, the people who actually have to sift through a bajillion videos – with no ability to skim like you can text!- are going to drop it like the hot turd of an idea that it is.

        That and/or the obvious discrimination issues will nail it, in jurisdictions where photos on resumes are Not Allowed.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          yes, I can’t see anyone wanting to watch a ton of crappy videos of accountants explaining how much passion they have for accounting…
          (I have nothing against accountants, I’m grateful that someone likes it enough to do it since it Must Be Done)

  15. Freya*

    Re: q5
    TBH if I’m the interviewer, the tote with the pride colours would make me biased in your favour, because it implies that I wouldn’t need to hide my own pride (not that I advertise it at work, but I’d rather not actively hide the pins on my conservative handbag if I don’t have to). But for the average workplace where you don’t know going in the personal attitudes of the hiring staff, a school backpack would be fine, as would just a folder with your relevant paperwork in.

  16. Allonge*

    Wow, video cover letters? I know that the default assumption seems to be ‘smartphones for everyone’ these days, but, it’s not the actual case and I for one would be pretty uncomfortable with the video quality I can produce. And I have access to a reasonable camera and semi-professional video editing software, and some experience with it! And all the stuff Alison mentions on top of that.

    So, maybe keep this for jobs that have influencer in the job title?

    1. Kat*

      Agreed – there are the bias issues, and the question of whether the video skills are relevant to the job. I recently applied for a job in a large government department, and three months later got asked to submit a video as my interview. At first I thought they meant a Zoom interview, but nope. And this was for a senior (civil) engineering job where they wanted people with 15+ years experience, meaning that in my late 30s I would have been one of the younger candidates. It was so out of step with my expectations of the job. Super glad I was already working elsewhere!

  17. Raven*

    Of course, it’s one thing if video production is part of the job, as was the case with Brian David Gilbert. Check out his video cover letter: (or just google “this video got me a job at polygon”)

    And no, I’m not him, just a fan. Funnily enough, I had been meaning to send this to Alison recently (the message is still in my drafts, actually) and when I read the headline, I wondered if I had already done but forgotten about it!

    1. Ashley*

      LOL Thank you for posting about this video! I listen to Brian on his podcast (Let’s Make A Music) and so this was a delight! So fun to match a face to a voice I’ve been listening to for months.

      1. Cheryl Blossom*

        You should also check out all of his videos for Polygon! He’s no longer there, but his videos about the Zelda timeline and the Pokemon rap still fill me with delight.

    2. MMMMMmmmmMMM*

      His “buy my bed” video still makes me cackle.

      (“Ain’t nothin’ bad ever happen in this bed! Buy my beeeeeeddddd!””)

    3. Mob*

      I was also going to make a comment linking to that video!

      Video cover letters definitely aren’t any sort of new norm (obligatory ‘in my experience’ asterisk) outside of video-producing media companies, but with the rise of those types of companies, it’s unsurprising that you’re probably hearing more about them, especially online.

  18. ToodlesTeaTops*

    LW 3 – How long you stay depends on your tuition agreement. Some companies require a year of work after the last class or else you have to pay back what you have taken in that year.

    With saying that, if there isn’t an agreement, look for a job. Most bosses who are accommodating to people getting their degree are people who love to help others grow. Most should understand that your skills, talents, and interests play a key part in job satisfaction. There’s no reason in staying in a job that you don’t like.

  19. Bleah*

    LW1 – Be careful about getting a food stipend. Because of the weird way taxes work, your company may have been able to give you free food through the cafeteria without it being taxed as a benefit to you. However, if they do give you a food stipend, it’s almost certainly going to be taxable. So make sure that you don’t have a surprise tax bill at the end of the year. Check with the relevant tax folks to see what might happen since I’m not a CPA, and can’t speak for the taxes in your location.

    1. Juniper*

      Good point! Sometimes well-intentioned perks have significant drawbacks when tax season rolls around.

      1. Dan*

        Yeah… way back in the day, I had a “barely pays a living wage” job in an HCOL area. My employer had a generous tuition reimbursement program, which I took liberal advantage of, primarily to keep my student loans in deferment.

        I pursued courses under two different degree programs. The first time, it was totally free. The second time, they taxed the benefit and took it out of my paycheck without telling me up front. When I inquired, I got a really interesting explanation. They considered the first degree tax exempt because it was “directly related to my employment”, whereas the second degree was judged not to be directly related and therefore taxable.

        I have no idea how true that explanation was, and I didn’t pursue it. The interesting thing is that they never asked me anything about the degrees. While the first degree *looked* by title as if it was related to my job, it really wasn’t, and if they asked me directly about it, I couldn’t BS my way out of it. The second degree? That was much more likely to be applicable to roles my company would hire for, yet somehow that was deemed “not job related.”

        1. WS*

          A similar thing happened to my mother who went back to school in her 40s while also working – the first course was free but the second one wasn’t because it was at the same level as the first one so therefore wasn’t “job advancement” .

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          I suspect that the company has “XYZ degree preferred” in a job description. Like in my company some roles hire “bachelor’s or X years of direct experience”–but promotions are a hard sell without the degree.

        3. DeweyDecibal*

          I had a similar issue with tuition when working for a university- bachelor’s was tax-free, but masters was not.

  20. Ferret*

    LW5 I think this is a question where it might be really useful to check with people in your field/ location because it is so subjective there is going to be a lot of variation. This is one where I was really surprised by Alison’s suggestion that a backpack would be seen as unprofessional. Maybe this is a London thing because the default here is using public transport? or maybe just calling them rucksacks helps. At any rate I am currently using a plain one that was actually provided by my last job and I wasn’t aware that I was projecting any image other than ‘person who has to carry a laptop around’.

    1. UKDancer*

      Definitely. I think in London a lot of people use rucksacks or messenger bags because it’s easier to carry something on trains and tubes if it goes on your shoulder. I’m trying to think how else I’d get my laptop and work papers between home and office on mostly crowded public transport.

      A very few of the men in my company use old fashioned leather briefcases but they’re mainly older. Some of the cyclists have a particular size and shape of bag that goes on the back of a bike but those of us who use public transport tend to opt for the smart rucksack option.

      1. Terrysg*

        If it’s OK, could you link to a “smart backpack / rucksack”? I need a new one, and with the pandemic etc I don’t know where to start.

        1. Ferret*

          I’m not sure where you are but there is a wirecutter list I’ll link to in another comment that might be a good starting point (or just search wirecutter laptop backpacks)

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Should we do a thread for backpacks & messenger bags in the open forum? I’ll be in the same boat soon too.

        3. Not An Architect*

          A lot of outdoors brands now do commuter backpacks with a whole range of degrees of smartness. I just had a quick look at REI (because as a Brit it’s the retailer I’ve heard of most in the US) and there are a ton of options across a range of price points from brands like Osprey, Timbuk2, Patagonia, and a heap more… As someone who used to sell this kind of gear there’s a whole lot of choice depending on your specific aesthetic and practical preferences which makes it difficult to name a specific example, but it could well be a good place to start! (I went to the backpacks section and then set the ‘best use’ filter to ‘casual’).

          I will also say that a backpack from a good outdoor brand is likely to last really, really well. I have a black Vaude Tay (which it looks like they don’t make any more, sad times) which has been my daily work bag, including interviews, for five years and is showing no sign of wear whatsoever.

    2. MissCoco*

      I think there’s a bit of a difference between a school bag and a commuter bag, and probably less variance in what commuters use as backpacks compared to high school students, that may be why Alison erred on the more conservative/formal side.
      IMO anything in neutral that’s relatively clean is totally acceptable, but I had friends using the same backpack at age 11 as they were at 18, and I know I wouldn’t want to be representing myself at an interview with the sartorial choices I made as a tween!

      Another tip for the LW is to run whichever bag she chooses through the wash a few days before an interview – it can really spruce up an older school backpack to take the scuffs off!

    3. SummerBreeze*

      Yeah, backpacks are perfectly acceptable in cities (I work in NYC). And there are SO many gorgeous, professional-looking backpacks out there. (Though standard canvas ones are seen everywhere, too!)

      LW, you’re fine with a backpack!

  21. heatherbelles*

    Letter writer 3
    Unless there was a formal agreement, you’re absolutely fine to start looking and applying. It’ll take time to find that new job as it is.

    I worked in a call centre for 6 years – 2 full time, 4 part-time, as I decided that progressing through their career path wasn’t going to be for me and I arranged to do a Post-Grad that would put me on the right tracks.

    I negotated part times hrs (as I was a good employee in a team that was hemoragging members at the time), and was able to keep those hrs even when I moved to different team – because around those hrs I needed for attending lessons, I was flexible, hard working and accomodating.

    Those 4 years, they got me – but they were always aware that once I got a museum job I was off…

    My last team leaders were crap, and tried to screw me over by not allowing time off once I’d got the job to go look for accomodation to live in, and made me work the full 6 weeks notice rather than the 4 most people had to, even when they too had ‘worked over 5 years with the company and it was a week per year worked. I was a call centre peon, not manager level, which was normally the only level they enforced it).

    But the company didn’t expect me to stay on after I got the post-grad (it took me 2 years to get the next job, but that was because of the sector!). Indeed, the big call centre manager at the time was supportive, and was offering me access to use a PC in the HR department if I needed it to work on my Uni stuff (I didn’t, but he was lovely to offer!)

    Short story long – you did what the supportive boss expected – you were an excellent employee while you studied, but they will expect you to move on to something else in due course.

    Good luck!

    1. Jj*

      I am not trying to be snarky, but I am genuinely curious – in what way could they “make” you work the full 6 weeks. What were they able to hold over you that prevented you from saying “my last day is XYZ date” and just sticking to it at the 4 week mark?

      1. Heatherbelles*

        The contracts were ‘up to 5 years of work, and you’d have to work 4 weeks notice’. Over 5 years, it was week per year.

        They’d refuse to pay me the holiday I was owed – which I also couldn’t take, because ‘they were too busy’. I needed the money to be able to pay the rent on the new flat in Edinburgh.

        (the team themselves were lovely, and said that if I needed the additional day for house-hunting, to call in sick and they’d cover – the managers had refused to allow an additional day if I needed it.).

        It was a temporary museum contract, so I didn’t want to entirely burn bridges either… or risk an awkward reference!

        It boiled down to me being on another specialised team, but one that was loosing the contract (for a certain well-known cosmetics brand who ring the doorbell….), so they didn’t want to have train anyone new up on it, but didn’t want to loose two weeks worth of work.

        It worked out in the end on my temp contract that I just started two weeks after the rest of the team, and finished two weeks afterwards . Still annoying though!

        (they were also the team leaders that tried to claim the orginal contract I signed when I first joined the call centre was the only one that counted, and that they could *make* me work full time hours. According to them, the ‘change of contract letters’ didn’t count. Funnily enough, when I pointed out that as far as the rest of the call centre staff and I knew they were, they suddenly backed down. Those TL were idiots.)

        1. Heatherbelles*

          It was more that they were trying to claim that written confirmation from HR that contracts had changed (hrs, days etc) weren’t binding.

          Which was news to everyone….. (Because you tend to trust that a letter that says ‘we confirm your contracted hours are now X, Y and Z’ to be something both sides abide by…). I’d been on said altered contracts for well over 4 yrs by the point they were trying to force me to change my contracted hours to suit them, but they weren’t asking any of the other parttimers ‘because they have kids and therefore obligations’
          (I was part time to meet placement obligations and gain experience in the field I wanted to be in, so there was no way I was changing if I was the only one expected to, because my obligations didn’t count)

          Management there was awful the last three years, whereas they’d been great and supportive the first three)

  22. Tara*

    I used a university tote bag as my bag whilst interviewing at my current employer (a pretty conservative, asset manager), I don’t think it registered in anyone’s mind, and I think it would even less for high school summer jobs / internships. As long as you look clean, presentable, tidy and relatively modest I don’t think there’s anything to be worried about with using either bag.

    1. raktajino*

      A university tote bag seems appropriately neutral. I might rethink the pride one for fear of unconscious bias against me, but that is largely a rehash of discussions like “how femme do I have to be for the interview” or “can I put something on my resume that outs me.” If you’re in a queer-friendly area and applying to a queer-friendly org, then it’s probably fine so long as it’s not, like, from Toys in Babeland.

  23. Seeking Second Childhood*

    The only thing to watch out for with backpacks & messenger bags is whether the garment underneath wrinkles or deforms when the strap comes off.
    I am remembering when a college friend’s favorite fluffy sweater developed backpack-strap marks…and *thinking* about how fast linen can wrinkle.

    1. Jack Straw*

      This right here is why I always carry a notebook+ pen padfolio and disconnect my car key to slip inside one of the pockets.

      No pocket bulges and no wrinkles. Plus, why are you brining your phone to an interview? I’d be constantly double checking that I turned the ringer off and worried about the loud vibrate sound if I got a call mid-interview. Just leave it in the car.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        (see hundreds of earlier posts explaining that not everyone drives a car to an interview…)

        1. Heatherbelles*

          Why wouldn’t you have your phone with you? I always have mine in my bag for interviews (not least for double checking the email for who I’m asking for when I get there).

          It’s on silent, but it’s there. Even though I’m driving to said interviews, I’d never deliberately leave a phone in the car….

      2. Anonymous Hippo*

        I mean, if you want to stream line what you carry, certainly go ahead.

        But I 100% do not want to work for an employer that would judge me harshly because I had a backpack crease on my shoulder or a key bulge in my pocket.

        As for phones, I’ve never interviewed yet where I didn’t have to sit around and wait at some point, and I’d rather have something to do. I’d no doubt have my phone on DND, but if I got an emergency call from family, I’d take it. This isn’t an audience with The Queen, and I’m a little flabbergasted and the suggestion that you have to bend over backwards so much to make a good impression at a job interview.

  24. Richard Hershberger*

    Video cover letters: Yes, they will introduce bias favoring those with A/V equipment and skills (relevant for some jobs, not for the vast majority). And yes, they will introduce bias in race, etc., which might be the real point. But the cynic in me whispers that their real point is that the individual sorting through them is semi-literate at best, and would rather watch videos. This is, after all, why many people favor YouTube videos or podcasts for information far better suited to expository prose.

    1. Bostonian*

      And, to add to your point, are probably listening to the videos while doing other work because they think they’re master multi-taskers.

    2. Jasper*

      Perhaps I’m misunderstanding you, but it seems very odd to suggest that people who listen to podcasts or watch video essays are “semi-literate at best”. Don’t a lot of people here listen to podcasts to multitask? Personally, reading has always been a favorite hobby of mine and videos are enjoyable in a different way. So I’m having a hard time grasping the idea that people who like to listen can’t read.

      It also read to me that you were calling illiteracy a moral failing, and I hope that anyone who reads this site frequently would know why that is a terrible take, but I realize that may just be a quirk of your phrasing rather than your actual opinion.

      1. M*

        I read it that way too, Jasper. It felt sort of pompous. I listen to podcasts and watch videos while doing other things, like doing homework, washing dishes or driving (podcasts, for that, obviously). Reading can’t be done while I’m doing those things. Also literacy can be a struggle for a number of reasons, and I’d say none of them are related to morality. Dyslexia is a thing that is often undiagnosed, and can make reading stacks of cover letters really uncomfortable and difficult, as just one example.

        Now, the bias thing, I think is a real concern and would make me wary of video interviews, personally, but I wouldn’t jump to “the interviewer is illiterate”, and if that is the case, then it’s not something to look down on them for.

        1. UKDancer*

          Definitely. I am sufficiently literate and I enjoy podcasts and audio books and one of my favourite things to do while working is listen to someone reading a short story, for example an Agatha Christie or Victorian ghost story. I can’t read while I’m working but I like having someone with a pleasant voice reading to me because it helps my workflow.

      2. FD*

        I agree, this is a very strange take. I am what most people would call highly literate–I’ve read a lot of classic books for pleasure, and my normal reading speed for pleasure reading is easily in the 500-700 WPM range (that’s pleasure reading, not speed reading).

        But I’m also a professional working full time, which means that I can’t necessarily read as much as I might like. Listening to podcasts and video essays lets me use ‘edge time’ far more effectively–such as getting ready, cleaning, or doing other tasks where reading isn’t actually practical.

        So, first, I think it’s simply wrong to assume that there’s no overlap between people who like to read and who also like to listen to podcasts or video essays.

        But apart from that, I assume you like to read, correct? How did that happen? Maybe your read with your family when you were small? Maybe reading just came naturally to you (as it did for me)? Maybe you found the books you read in school too easy and were encouraged to read above your grade level? Maybe you were praised for being smart?

        Most of those things were pretty much luck, right? It’s unkind to assume people who don’t like to read or can’t read are just…what, stupid or lazy, instead of people who had different experiences than you, don’t you think?

      3. Richard Hershberger*

        Videos and podcasts while you are doing something else that doesn’t require your full attention is perfectly cromulent. I do it when on the exercise bike. The goal here is not to take in information in the most efficient manner. And for some topics, a video is better than expository prose. This is particularly true of physical tasks. But for many topics, expository prose is vastly more efficient than a video or audio recording. When someone favors–indeed, insists upon!–the inefficient format, we reasonably ask why this is. Their being semi-literate is a perfectly reasonable possibility.

        And no, illiteracy is not a moral failing. It is, however, a job failing, if the job is one that involves reading.

        1. raktajino*

          As a former reading teacher, I’m having difficulty getting past your “semi-literate” hill. It’s a meaningless phrase if you’re actually interested in why they are asking for a certain format. Are they a slow reader? Do they have a shorter reading stamina than the task demands? Do they have a less-academic vocabulary than someone might expect? The connotation of “semi-literate” is much less flattering, and much less accurate to the reality of adult literacy. People have their own workflows.

          I’m curious what the video resume was really supposed to be. Someone who simply wants to avoid reading has other ways to accomplish that. A video resume sounds like it is at least trying to test production value or presentation skills. The reviewer’s literacy levels would be a red herring.

      4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Being literate or not has nothing to do with morality and Richard didn’t say that, you’re reading that into what he wrote.
        Being literate is however a basic requirement for a job that involves sifting through job applications to find the right person for a vacancy, and therefore someone who prefers videos is not necessarily the right person for that job.
        Also, people may want to listen to podcasts while they do a repetitive and pretty mindless task like ironing, they may even be able to watch videos while they knit a jumper, but most office work requires a certain degree of concentration and so watching video cover letters while handling even boring stuff like data entry doesn’t seem a judicious way to organise work.

    3. Simply the best*

      Yes, those darn kids these days with their YouTube and their podcasts and their understanding of different learning styles and multiple ways of sharing information. So illiterate.

  25. Elle by the sea*

    Somehow I would always be hesitant to initiate connecting with a higher up. I usually wait for them to connect if they want to. But I’m not on LinkedIn. I would not accept Facebook requests from people who are currently my colleagues.

  26. MMMMMmmmmMMM*

    #5: A while back I went to target and bought a large faux-leather tote (in a purse style, if that makes sense). Its nice looking, professional, and large enough to hold my padfolio that I use to hold my information. (bonus– it was CHEAP)

  27. Academics Anonymous*

    LW #3 As an academic, having staff members get a degree and move on from academia is entirely expected. If your institution offers tuition reimbursement, that is part of your compensation, not an obligation. Your boss may have flexed schedules for you, but you gave them good work in return. If your boss is on the upper end of supervisors, they may even be appalled that you would stall your career for them. Finally, you don’t want to get into a situation where companies start to wonder why no one has hired you yet. One of my colleagues basically trapped themselves as a staff member because they didn’t launch themselves, although that only became evident after about five years.

    In the best spirit of AAM, go get your job!

    1. FridayFriyay*

      Agreed. Universities that offer tuition remission to staff (often as a supplement to a benefits package to offset pretty poor salaries) generally expect that these employees, who are often “overqualified” for the positions they’ve taken to begin with, to leave once they complete the degree. I’d re-frame that the LW is actually doing someone a favor by leaving the position because university jobs that offer tuition remission tend to be pretty competitive and difficult to get – you’re opening up a spot for someone else to affordable advance their education!

  28. Beth*

    Re LW #5: I’m more than a little startled at the idea of needing to carry physical copies of one’s resume.

    That said, a nice portfolio with a pad for notes can be really handy — and with luck, you’ll get years of use out of it.

    1. No Tribble At All*

      Eh, sometimes you get an interviewer who swapped in at the last moment and didn’t have access to the HR system. Or if someone says “you’re interviewing for X job, also sound good for Y job here, let me give your resume to Y’s manager” which has happened to me. I’d rather have a physical copy than not.

      1. lost academic*

        This is more common than not in my experience, and for that matter, additional people sometimes get pulled in who haven’t been sent the relevant documents and they like having something to look at in the moment. It’s always a good idea to bring the current formatted copies so you can be prepared.

    2. RecoveringSWO*

      I would absolutely recommend carrying a number of physical copies. I had interviewers who only had a weirdly formatted copy of my resume that was spit out from whatever screening software their HR uses. They were relieved and excited when I offered them all copies of my resume with normal formatting!

      1. AFac*

        Or they have to go fishing in their email, and then they can’t find it because they can’t spell your name, and then they have to wait for the file to open, and at this point you’ve lost 5 minutes off a 15 minute interview slot, and everyone is discombobulated.

        I had an interviewer search the internet* for my name (academic job, many academics publicly post their CVs) and they found a lot of people who weren’t me, and some of them had public information that was definitely not favorable to my interview. I handed over a paper copy when the interviewer said “Did you know….”.

        (*I thought he was searching his email/computer, not the entire internet, or I would have offered the paper CV earlier.)

  29. Information Goddess*

    LW1 I really think that you should be looking for a new job that will pay you a competitive wage. Or at least I hope that when you bring this up at your current employer that they realize they aren’t paying enough that people are worried about affording food and are ashamed.

    1. pancakes*

      Last year the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) put out a report finding that “[a]round 70% of people on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food stamps and Medicaid work full-time.” (I’m quoting a Business Insider article about it). Similar reporting came out in 2018, and at the state level, has been coming out regularly since the early 2000s. Walmart and fast food employers are always at the top of the list of low-wage employers subsidized by public social services. Continuing to wait for employers to feel “shamed” by how common this is isn’t a workable solution.

  30. Carlie*

    My guess is LW1 might be told no because summer school tuition pays for the cafeteria budget, and no summer school means no summer food money. But it should open a much larger conversation about the school’s operating budget that they pay so poorly.

    Also, LW1, have you looked into government assistance? I’ve known full-time teachers who still qualify for food assistance like SNAP and WIC because their salaries were so low.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      The other thing that came to mind is, my understanding on average school meals cost less than $2 each to provide. So I’d worry that if they asked for compensation to offset the meals, they’d basically be offered $20 a week for the summer, which might be enough to actually help, but may not given that costs for one household do not usually have the advantage of buying in bulk for a cafeteria setting.

  31. DireRaven*

    I don’t know if this has been addressed, as I haven’t read through the comments, but it also builds in bias towards people who have the resources for better videography: good cameras, knowledge of lighting and how to use it to maximum effect, a good microphone (doesn’t pick up environmental noise), and good editing software with knowledge to use it. (This was for a class, not a job, but my daughter had to do a speech on video. The difference between the edited file and the unedited file was night and day, even though 99% of edits were removing dead air where she was not talking, but had no time to deal with lighting.)

    1. DireRaven*

      She also used her laptop’s webcam in her room, rather than our professional -level vlogging and podcasting setup (cameras, microphones, lighting) on the main computer, although it was offered to her. Still got an A because the professor does not expect people have that type of equipment. However, if people who have it put their applications in for a job, they could “outshine” other applicants. And all it means is the person has access to decent equipment. Does not mean it is theirs (could be a friend, family member, coworker of a friend, etc).

    2. raktajino*

      My husband had to record himself answering interview questions. He jerry-rigged an elaborate setup with binder clips to hold his phone midair and light it with diy ring light that used a shop light and cloth. He’s a stubborn engineer though, so it was rather in character.

  32. Me*

    #4 I will not connect with a supervisor on LinkedIn while working for them. It’s part of my overall policy of keeping boundaries at work and with my social media (which LinkedIn is). I understand LinkedIn is a little different because it’s all about work connections, but for me I want that separation.

    If you are a manager making the request, your employee may feel pressure to accept even if they do not want to due to the power dynamic. Let the employee make a request if they want. Also keep in mind not everyone has a LinkedIn or is active on there.

    1. lost academic*

      I think that’s an unusual step to take. LinkedIn is entirely about professional networking and refusing to be connected to a direct manager in that way says some of the wrong things. You have the closest possible professional connection, by refusing to acknowledge it on LinkedIn suggests there’s a bad working relationship and raises a lot of questions. It’s different if you aren’t engaged on that platform, of course, because then it’s not so clearly deliberate.

      1. Me*

        YMMV. But no one is ever under any obligation to connect with anyone they do not want to.

        That kind of thinking is concerning. It doesn’t suggest a bad working relationship in the same way that not using a current manager as a reference because you don’t want them knowing your job searching. No one is looking at your LinkedIn to see who you are and aren’t connected with so they can judge you on it.

        1. Ann*

          “No one is looking at your LinkedIn to see who you are and aren’t connected with so they can judge you on it.” wait, what? That seems to me to be a main feature of LinkedIn, if not THE main feature. Yes, it’s also a platform to let you post your resume, but if you are not using it for work connections, then I don’t really see why you would be on there at all.

          1. pancakes*

            I use it in the sense that my work history is on there, and once got a job from a firm that was seeking candidates with a fairly niche experience I have. I don’t use it for connections at all, though I do generally accept connection requests when I get them.

  33. Jack Straw*

    When I was a teacher, I always accepted requests from students (after graduation) on Facebook, Insta, etc. but I never requested them first. There is definitely a power dynamic at play, and the aspect Alison mentions of not wanting someone to see specific types of activity on your account.

  34. Sunflower*

    Is it weird that I would actually really enjoy making a video cover letter? There’s so much I want to express that I can’t put in a written cover letter. I feel like this would be fun (but not for everyone, obviously!)

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Huh. I’m a pretty good speaker and a confident writer, but I’m really curious by what you mean here. There are things in written language, like punctuation, bullet points, paragraph breaks, etc. that are down in (literally) black and white, and not subject to much misinterpretation. Not to mention I’ve worked for companies with oddball spellings & pronunciations for trademark reasons – I don’t want the screeners & hiring personnel to get confused by that stuff.

      So what kinds of things would you be able to say in a 2-minute video that you couldn’t put in a 1-page letter?

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        It’s not so much what you would say but how you say it. Paragraphs and punctuation are pretty thin as communication devices compared to a zingy delivery conveying infectious enthusiasm, body language that projects confidence, a background showing a shelf of cleverly curated books to show your interests and sheer charisma. Charisma very rarely comes across in the written word: look at a picture of Obama, and read a paragraph from his book: in the picture he comes across as having a great sense of humour, being very approachable, exuding confidence and charisma. The paragraph will show someone very seriously concerned with achieving something useful. Both faithfully reflect who he is, but it’s the picture that got him elected.

    2. Koala dreams*

      Last time video letters were trendy, the arguments from the companies that asked for them was that they give applicants a better chance to express themselves, especially for jobs that don’t require writing. So you are not alone, but perhaps in a small minority.

      Me, I doubt video applications will take off. Perhaps in twenty years?

    3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      No it’s not weird at all. If you have the kind of bubbly personality I imagine a sunflower would have in a sunny garden, you could very probably convey that much better in video than in writing. If you enjoy making it, that enjoyment will shine through, and the hiring manager might say “oh yes she looks like she can get things done and everyone will feel like the work she delegates to them is absolute fun”.
      (It’s just we introverts who are apparently the majority among commenters who hate doing this sort of thing)

  35. notadoctor*

    Question: What do people used LinkedIn for other than job searching? I’m leery of connecting with people I work with in case they think I’m looking elsewhere (which I’m definitely not!).

    1. Kimmy Schmidt*

      Staying up to date on news in the field, Linkedin Learning, helping other people job search (providing leads or references), or keeping an active presence all the time so it’s hard to tell when they actually are job searching.

  36. Blaise*

    As a teacher, I found the first letter a bit odd. Pay in education is horrific, but it has little to do with non-profit status. I think you can certainly ask for some sort of meal stipend, but I would be SHOCKED if you actually got one. Free meals is a nice perk (I get two free lunches a week, so two meals every day is definitely great!), but I do think it falls in the category Allison mentioned as a perk, especially since it will clearly return post-covid. If you’re being paid even worse than other schools, you should get a new job. The good news is this shortage would make that easy, but the bad news is we’re all paid embarrassingly low wages and deserve to live comfortably like any other professional.

    1. not everyone can just get a new job*

      We don’t know where OP is, what their circumstances are, etc. It’s not at all helpful to tell someone to just “get a new job” (especially when that wasn’t the question that was asked). There may be teaching shortages in many places, but that doesn’t mean they’re available where OP is nor that they even *want* to leave their job.

      1. Blaise*

        How on earth is it not helpful? OP literally said “I am wondering if you have advice — even if that advice is “don’t talk to HR and instead search for a new job.”

        So yes, that actually was the question that was asked. You don’t have to agree with my response, but I truly believe that people who have never worked in education have no idea what it’s like. Allison definitely knows her stuff, but I’m not sure she really knows that it’s like in education either. And we’re honestly at a point where there is a shortage everywhere, not just where I am and not even just in the US.

        OP may not want to leave their job, but the circumstances may warrant it if they can’t afford to live with the job they have right now.

  37. BrickHouse*

    NO ONE should initiate Linkedin connections with anyone. Linkedin is nothing but a gigantic data mining operation that monetizes all your information.

    This, what was the last time I got a job through Linkedin or used it to improve my career in some way?

    Delete that crap!

    1. Hiring Mgr*

      I’ve gotten my last two jobs through LinkedIn – i think it’s more common in certain sectors for sure. I don’t know what they do with their data but I doubt it’s substantially different than any other company you engage with.

      1. Alice*

        I also got my current job and my next job through LinkedIn. To be sure, it is a data mining operation that monetizes your info, but so is every other social media platform.

    2. SummerBreeze*

      LOL. I got my most recent FT job through a cold LI recruiter (last year! Executive-level!). And prior to my current role, as a consultant, I got most of my clients through LI.

      What a weird take.

    3. Disgruntled Pelican*

      Hah, I’m a freelancer very new to my field and I got my most professionally rewarding and best-paying (by a large margin) client via LinkedIn. I came up in a skills search and (this is important!) we had a couple of connections in common, which was enough for my boss to initiate a conversation and roll the dice on me. I’m a year into this relationship and they have given me steady, rewarding work that has led to other important professional relationships.

      All that said: LW, I agree with other commenters that it’s best to connect with people who report to you *after* they have moved on (or they initiate). It’s kind of you to consider how the connection impacts your employee!

    1. Tired of Covid-and People*

      Sorry, this posted in the wrong place, but y’all are hilarious!

  38. Yellow Warbler*

    As someone who knows just enough InfoSec to be dangerous, video cover letters get my back up. What is the company doing with this video? Who is seeing it? How are they storing it? When are they deleting it?

  39. Rusty Shackelford*

    I kind of feel like a tote bag with a quote on it, no matter how much I might agree with that quote, is a little casual for a job interview. And yes, I guess this makes me officially Old.

  40. hellohello*

    The few times I’ve seen video cover letters required, it’s been for roles that were focused (or at least included a substantial amount of) creating video content. In that case it does seem to make sense, though I wonder if it still wouldn’t be smarter to wait until later in the hiring process to require a sample video, instead of potentially biasing yourself right off the bat.

  41. Elizabeth West*

    #2–I will back right out of an application that requires video. I don’t even like the recorded phone screens. They make no sense—it doesn’t save time because someone still has to listen to all the recordings, people don’t sound natural when they’re taped, and the screener can’t ask any follow-up questions.
    I also just bailed on one that asked for an online assessment with 115 questions. 115!!! Fuggedaboudit!

    #5–If you can find a nice padfolio, that’s a great thing to take with you. Mine is black leather with a legal pad and pockets where I can put business cards and copies of my resume or any other info I might need and zips up so nothing will fall out. It also has a pen loop (it came with a pen). It’s branded from Exjob, but that doesn’t matter; no one cares. I once found a really good one at the flea market with branding on it from a place I’ve never worked. Nobody questioned it.

    As for a bag or purse, it doesn’t have to be expensive or made of leather, just neat and clean. A neutral-colored purse or tote would look fine. If you can’t spend a lot, check Target or TJ Maxx if you have one near you (TK Maxx in the UK). The latter often has department store bags at steep discounts.

    1. tra la la*

      See, I would have done the 115 questions out of sheer curiosity, especially if I were really interested in the job — I’d want to see what kinds of things they asked about!

    2. RagingADHD*

      One of the major reasons employers use multi-stage hiring processes with built-in resistance (like video or assessments) is to cut down the number of applicants they have to screen.

      The big advantage for applicants who don’t bail is that there’s a lot less competition on the other side of the obstacle.

        1. RagingADHD*

          Okay, I can’t speak to the entire job market. But in the book I just ghostwrote on hiring for entrepreneurs, the multistage process recommended by the author is specifically intended to weed out people who aren’t “serious,” “dedicated,” or “diligent.”

          All the stages have other purposes as well, but getting rid of casuals who can’t be bothered is definitely presented as a driving force.

          1. ceiswyn*

            And also to weed out the really good people who know they have other options that won’t require a load of drudge work just to submit an application…?

            1. RagingADHD*

              I’m not necessarily advocating for it, but it’s a reality that happens. There’s a movement toward making hiring more process-oriented and less random or subjective. That means more stuff like
              assessments, interviews with multiple people who have diverse perspectives, and work samples instead of just having one person scan a resume and one person do an interview.

              Technology like video or recorded phone screens also makes it more convenient to get feedback from different people on a hiring team.

              And the thought process from the employer’s side is that as long as the job ad is accurate and attracts the right types of applicants, it’s okay if a lot of them bail. They want to find people who will invest in the process. You don’t have to be desperate to be goal-oriented.

              As a general rule, opportunity often lies on the other side of inconvenience and discomfort. If you have lots of great opportunities that don’t require any drudge work, good for you!

            2. Klio*

              Weeding out people who cost money and aren’t desperate enough to be bludgeoned to agree to whatever.

            3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              ah but these are people with better options too, and they won’t stick around for long if the atmosphere turns out to be toxic.

  42. NopityNope*

    #2 reminds me of a job I applied for that required applicants to submit a 10 minute video and answer ridiculous questions such as, “Tell us how you are a thought leader.” What the heck is a “thought leader” when it’s at home? I recorded 10 minutes of static so I could claim “corrupted file, it works for me!,” should the need arise. But I wasn’t really interested in a company that asks opaque, asinine questions and requires a video to apply. It just feels wrong, so much potential for discrimination.

  43. SnappinTerrapin*

    I’m not comfortable with one-way video as a screening device to decide who to interview.

    I could probably become more adept at “interviewing” myself, with practice, since I’m pretty good at most other forms of communication, but my first experience with it really turned me off. If I had watched those videos, I would have screened myself out.

    My delivery was very wooden. Thoughtful pauses, without eye contact and body language feedback from the audience, come across very differently than they would in a conversation. After several attempts, I put it aside while considering whether to put in th effort to “punch it up.”

    Ironically, my application caught a hiring manager’s eye, and he called me anyway. He was a little confused about why I was applying for jobs nearly 300 miles from where I lived, but when I explained that I was in a long distance relationship and wanted to line up a job nearer my intended, he understood. We made arrangements for an in person interview with a manager nearer my home, which was another interesting story.

    I was actually “interviewed” in a waiting area by three different managers, in a waiting area where other applicants were were waiting to be called into offices. They offered me a different job from the one I applied for. I called the initial manager back and discussed it with him, including my misgivings.

    The offered job was a stretch for my skill set. I had relevant experience, but in a different context. He told me to take the higher paying job, but to call him back if it didn’t work out.

    Long story short, I’m glad I tried the other job, as it was good to develop some skills that will help in future jobs, but I wasn’t a good fit for that position. After a few months, my manager and I agreed I should contact the initial manager, who quickly found me a position.

    I was subsequently promoted into a supervisory position at a site that had some leadership issues, and cleared those problems up in a few months. I later transferred to another site, where the line employees are paid the same rate I made as a supervisor. (Pay in this industry is de facto tied to what the client is willing to pay.) I occasionally work supervisory shifts, at a higher rate, but I don’t have the 24/7 responsibilities I had as a site supervisor.

    But, as I said, if I had been the hiring manager, I would have screened out my application if the video interview had been submitted.

  44. Cringing 24/7*

    In tangential regards to LW#5’s situation, I remember (back in the day) being told by my parents to always bring 2-3 copies of my resume to an interview, but… is that even still necessary? Once I became a hiring manager, that only happened sometimes, and whenever people handed their resume to me, all I could think was, “I already have your resume on file, and now I have to remember to shred this, because I don’t need physical copies (and if I did, I’d print them).”

    Does anyone else find this necessary to do or is it just expected in some industries?

    1. Wisteria*

      I still bring resumes even though typically the interviewers already have a printed out copy with them. In my interviewing experience, it’s common for someone to get roped into the interview at the last minute. It helps to have a copy to hand those people.

      I no longer print them out on nice paper, though.

      1. Pikachu*

        Even if the employer doesn’t need it, you might. Interviews are stressful situations. If you are customizing resumes for individual jobs and interviewing for various different roles, it all blends together after a while. Having a hard copy of the resume for that specific job in front of you means you don’t have to try to remember what you emphasized in this resume versus others. It’s one less thing to worry about so you can focus on the conversation.

    2. LabTechNoMore*

      Yes, and these days I even do the electronic equivalent post-covid. Usually attach a copy of my resume in response to the Zoom invite email or send it to them ~15 minutes before via the email chain where we confirmed the interview. The hiring managers seem to appreciate the gesture if they were having trouble tracking it down. (Was also useful for sneakily editing away a typo in the resume I sent!)

  45. Lecturer*

    3. I would seriously ignore your mother. You don’t wait a year for a graduate job, because there is a fresh batch of new graduates. It also looks bad, no graduate job for a year? Assumption is you can’t enter the market. Start applying ASAP so you start to gain experience in the field you want to be in.

  46. knitcrazybooknut*

    #5: Back when I was living through my first corporate takeover, one of the gifts that our new corporate overlords gave to every employee was a black leather portfolio with their logo tastefully embedded on the cover. I thought it was a ridiculous gift, but it was too nice to throw out, so I kept it.

    I was so, so wrong. This folder has been my go-to whenever I interview. It’s generic enough that the logo isn’t garish, it’s tasteful enough that I’ve gotten actual compliments on it, and it easily holds my resume, a notepad, lots of notes, and it even has space for a floppy diskette. Yes, I am old.

    When you have the funds, buy something similar — generic, tasteful, nothing that follows the fashions. It may seem boring, and may feel like overkill for some jobs that you interview for. But you’ll reach for it time and time again over the years.

  47. LifeBeforeCorona*

    I work for a non-profit and we are paid competitive wages and have extra health/medical benefits that cover things that aren’t covered by our universal health care Canadian system. Even though we are small the board recognizes the need to keep good people and we have a very low turnover in staff. I wish non-profits like the OPs would realize that believing in the mission shouldn’t mean that you have to go hungry. Asking for monetary compensation is reasonable.

  48. Another Michael*

    For OP #3 – I’ve spent my whole career in higher education. Tuition waivers are one of the best benefits that we have and a good supervisor will understand that after you finish a degree you’re likely to start searching (doubly so if your degree isn’t related to higher ed). It sounds like you have a great boss who appreciates your work, so I think they’ll understand that it’s your time to go!

  49. Ace in the Hole*

    LW5: I agree with Alison that your current bags or a nice-looking folder are fine…. But personally, I always find I feel more confident in interviews if I have a bag that feels more professional to ME (regardless of what the interviewers think). Plus since I bike or walk for transportation, leaving my stuff in a car and just bringing in a folder is not possible.

    My recommendation is IF you feel a more professional looking bag would make you more confident, get one! Thrift stores and other secondhand platforms (grailed, ebay, poshmark, etc) are good places to look. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get something that looks nice… my current interview bag was about $10. Just make sure it doesn’t have any obvious worn-out places on the outside and it’s big enough to hold all your interview supplies (folder with resume, small notepad, pens, whatever other essentials you’ll want). Alternatively, a nice padfolio is a good way to go if you don’t want to carry a bag. You can fit a legal pad, copies of your resume, and some pens in there. They’re also pretty common at thrift stores.

    I will also say that one of my first purchases after getting my first full time job was a nice-looking, durable backpack that doesn’t look out of place in an office. I got it secondhand, and 10 years later it’s still going strong. I don’t see bags mentioned a lot in advice to new grads, but I really appreciated having something that didn’t make me feel like a little kid in a room full of adults the way I felt when I carried my school backpack.

  50. Student*

    OP #3: The norm is to start looking for a post-grad-school job before you plan to graduate. Basically, you send applications out as soon as you are pretty confident you will be graduating by a specific date that you can relay to prospective employers. I was applying to jobs in my field 6 months prior to graduation, but my industry’s hiring timeline is fairly slow.

    Your wonderful boss would probably be mortified to know you’re considering staying in the job a minute longer than necessary after you’ve got your degree. Employers who hire people in a grad program know exactly what they’re getting – highly discounted labor for a limited time. Give the boss some praise on your way out the door for their support, and if applicable to your new field, keep networking with them as your career progresses.

  51. e271828*

    LW1: Ask for a raise. A real one, not $20 a week or whatever the lunches are notionally worth. And seriously job-hunt, no matter what. “Nonprofit-level salaries” doesn’t automatically mean “employees on starvation wages.”

    Jobs like this are like bad one-sided relationships.

  52. Pikachu*

    #2 – I have done one application that required a 60-second video or audio recording. It was to get signed on as a freelance copywriter for a marketing/PR agency. It was part of the first step in the application process and had to be submitted with the resume, writing samples, etc.

    It wasn’t a cover letter, per say, but a short, more creative statement on why we would be a good fit. I thought it was ridiculous at the time, but I later learned that the agency is simply too small to handle the volume of applications for freelance writers. (Thinking back to the recent letter on this topic… I suppose it is easy to see why.) The purpose was simply to allow less-than-serious applicants to self-select out from the very beginning.

    Quality was irrelevant–it was nothing that couldn’t be done with a webcam or phone–so I can’t really speak to how exclusionary the requirement really is (probably quite a bit), but again I think this particular hiring scenario was atypical as well.

    I suppose it is an effective weeding-out tactic, because I would never do it for a “regular” job.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      They may say quality is irrelevant, but you can’t help favour someone who produces good quality. Good lighting and use background will influence your perception.

    2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      They may say quality is irrelevant, but you can’t help favour someone who produces good quality. Good lighting and use background will influence your perception.

  53. Guin*

    Free-lunch NonProfit Person: If you are being paid so little that it is a hardship to have a home-made peanut butter sandwich and a banana for lunch, or a bean-and-rice casserole with a hardboiled egg, then you need a new job immediately. Sure, nice hot lunches with sides of french fries and salad are great when they’re free, but it should not cause a personal financial crisis to switch over to a lunch from home.

    1. pancakes*

      This is pretty moralistic, and disregards what the letter actually says. “I just had a conversation with some of my colleagues lamenting that we are barely surviving on our salaries and are concerned about our summer budgets.” The letter also mentions that they are in a high cost of living area. The problem is that the letter writer and their coworkers are underpaid, not that they’re sad about not getting fries daily – that’s pure speculation on your part.

      1. Guin*

        I didn’t mean to sound moralistic. I think that her employer is screwing her (and her coworkers) over, if they’re not even getting paid enough to afford groceries. No one working a full-time job should be having food insecurity if their free work lunch is being taken away. It’s a huge failing on the employer’s part.

      2. Guin*

        PS I have worked at non-profits, including small schools (which is probably where the OP works), and although the pay was low, it was never so low that none of us could afford food over the summer when they stopped serving us lunch.

    2. clogerati*

      I work at a job that gives us a free meal (sometimes two depending on how long you’re working) every day. I make enough money to live comfortably in my area, but the free meals are beyond a perk. I’m able to 1) not have to meal plan for work thus giving myself more free time 2) budget a little extra money to buy that really nice cheese or go out to dinner or whatever. If my free meals went away suddenly I’d have to adjust my after-work hours to plan out my meals (Which doesn’t sound like a lot, but it actually is! I like to sleep in! I don’t like to plan all of my meals on the weekends! I want to spend my evenings hanging out with friends or cleaning my house!) and I’d have to adjust my budget. I’d be upset if this went away even though it wouldn’t cause me financial hardship.

  54. Maika*

    OP # 5

    When I was early in my career, i just carried a backpack around. Couplea years back I wanted to get something more professional and I got a nice one from this company called Polare. I’ve gotten tons of compliments for it and aside from it being good to carry stuff around, it’s also a nice professional accessory.

  55. I'm just here for the cats*

    #5 A backpack or tote should be fine. I would be careful with the tote if it is stained or tatered in any way. But otherwise either would be fine, especially since you are highschool graduate, there shouldn’t be the same level of expectations for “professional” wear as there would be if you were older.

    If you want you might be able to find a nice looking bag at goodwill or another thrift store. My local stores always have some type of laptop or messenger-type bag, typically black or brown. Sometimes they may have some company logo or something on it. But, depending on the logo, you may either be able to remove it or cover it up with a fabric patch. you can get patches for a few dollars at Walmart.

    Also, I would like to applaud you for thinking ahead and being an AAM reader. Not many Highschoolers would think to ask this type of question. Good luck!

  56. Sleeping after sunrise*

    LW2 you don’t mention what the job was for. Every job I’ve worked had significant interpersonal/public speaking requirements. My current job is known to have a higher than average number of people on the autism spectrum – with public speaking being a major part of our jobs. Absolutely some neuro divergent people, and some introverts, struggle with these skills. Some find those activities so unpleasant they choose not to learn how to do them well. Others try really hard, but haven’t found a way to gain those skills to the standards required. But others excel.

    I can understand how some employers would see video as an efficient way (for them) of screening out potential candidates who cannot do the public speaking/interpersonal component of the job early on. But, if it is a significant requirement of the job, it is sensible to focus on those who meet that requirement.

    If, OTOH, it’s irrelevant to the position, it’s bad hiring practice.

    Regarding the financial equity issue. It sucks, but the simple reality is that it takes money to find work. My opinion is that while workplaces should not introduce ridiculous or unnecessary barriers, it is society’s role to eliminate poverty. It’s reasonable to expect your applicant for front desk staff at a high end hotel to interview in suit with hair and make up etc. because that is what you expect of them on the job. Not reasonable for front desk staff at the local budget motel where the staff wear polo shirts and joggers. Expecting applicants to have computers and Internet and appropriate clothing to apply is not unreasonable for many professional, high paying, jobs.

  57. Betsy S*

    A professional-looking bag can help you feel confident – and keep your papers dry if you have to walk or wait at a bus stop. Rummaging in a backpack is not the best look.

    Small messenger or laptop bags are inexpensive and ungendered, and look at home anywhere:

    For example:

    They can often be found at thrift stores or on freecycle lists. They’re often given away at tech conferences or with laptops, so ask around.

  58. Lynn P*

    #1 The USDA has provided funding through the 2021-2022 school year to allow schools to give breakfast and lunch to all students. Find a school district close to your home and find out when they distribute during the summer. Also, food banks understood the need has increased and provide the basics to help families.

    This will help you while you ask for more money or find a new job.

  59. singlemaltgirl*

    i’m saddened that there are so many full time jobs that require a significant investment in education and skill set where people get paid so little, they can’t make ends meet. every non profit i’ve led, i’ve been pissed about lack of living wages and have addressed it within a year. it usually takes me that long b/c the money has been poorly managed and the productivity and efficiency of operations has been in the crapper (one often begets the other). when people earn a living wage, their mental health tends to improve which benefits their employer. i don’t get why this is a such a difficult concept for people. but i literally had this convo on linked in where an (american) dude accused me of being a communist b/c i explained what a living wage was and why it’s integral to a sustainable business plan. there is something very fucked up by the amazon biz model (and others like it) that cling to their wealth without sharing it with those who make it possible – if for no other reason than it’s the ethical and morally right thing to do. why do you need a law to tell you this? smh.

    i can’t imagine asking for a video cover letter. it would waste my time and i’d be annoyed that i had to watch a video to screen a candidate. #annoyingrecruitment

    i never took my parents’ advice about employment. they were first generation immigrants and grateful for any job they could get and were sucked into the circumstance of having limited choices. i got an education to avoid those pitfalls. they did their best but their employment advice would not have applied to what i wanted for my life.

    i don’t think i can recall whether people carried in a portfolio, a laptop bag, or backpack in the last few interviews i’ve conducted. i do notice dress, grooming, but packs? we’re a professional office but we don’t hit that level of snobbery.

Comments are closed.