I don’t want my new boss to come to my extracurricular event, coworker uses the n-word, and more

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

1. I don’t want my new boss to come to my extracurricular activity

I recently started at a new job after leaving a truly toxic work environment that shredded my mental health. I mostly took it for the opportunity to work with my new boss, who is great on every level — really wants me to grow within the role and organization and is super supportive. Maybe too supportive?

I participate in a performance-based activity outside of work (think dance/music) and casually mentioned an event I was doing this coming weekend. She got very excited and asked if she could come to it, since it seemed like something her son would like to see. I was taken aback and said yes, even though on second thought … I really don’t want her or her son there! This particular event is really meaningful to me, and I’d be way more nervous knowing my boss who I’ve only known for a few weeks is in the audience. But I am still reeling from having a boss who hated me at my last job and don’t want to do anything to rock the boat.

She’s mentioned it a second time now, so there’s no hoping she’ll forget about it. Is there a non-awkward way to rescind the invitation while staying on good terms with her? Also, is this weird/a sign of personal/professional boundaries blurring or is it just her being friendly?

It’s probably just her being friendly and genuinely thinking her son would enjoy it. I can understand why it would make you nervous to have her there though, especially since you barely know each other — and it’s understandable that you felt put on the spot by a request you weren’t expecting and thus didn’t say no in the moment.

The most direct way to get out of it at this point is to just own that reaction and say something like, “You’re so nice to want to come but on second thought, I’ve realized how nervous I’d be with someone from work there! Maybe I can let you know in the future if there’s a similar event that I’d be more willing to have colleagues come to?”

If you’re worried this could seem chilly, make a point of having a few warm interactions with her soon after this. It should be fine!

Read an update to this letter

2. My white coworker uses the n-word

What should I do about my coworker, who is white, who drops the n-word loudly at work? They’re pronouncing it with an -a at the end and not a hard r while talking on what sounds like a personal call, but we can all hear it. I’ve addressed it with them directly and their excuse is, of course, they don’t mean it “like that.” The last time it happened, they left the job shortly after so it never came to a head. But now they’re back and it’s happening again. Do I need to say something to my boss? We’re professional services corp and the offender and I are both professionals.

Yes, absolutely you should speak up to your boss and/or HR, depending on your sense of who will handle it better. It’s unacceptable for your coworker to be using the word regardless of how they claim they “mean” it, and the idea that they think it’s okay to use a well-known racial slur at work — after they’ve been asked to stop, no less — is preposterous.

3. My boss multitasks during our meetings

My manager and I have two scheduled check-ins per month, which are frequently cancelled if more important meetings come up. In our most recent check-in, my manager was openly multitasking during our conversation (talking out loud about messages she was responding to or edits she was making to documents). Other times she will vent about how stressed she is. It’s very clear that our meetings are not a priority. Is it possible to gently ask for her full attention or is it better to just skip the meetings entirely?

Is the multi-tasking just annoying on principle or is it getting in the way of you getting what you need from the meetings? If the former, you probably just need to accept that your boss is pulled in a bunch of directions and it likely sucks for her too. But if it’s disrupting what you need from your time with her, it’s worth addressing that directly. When she seems especially distracted, you can try saying something in the moment like, “You seem busy. Is there a better time to talk?” But you can also address the larger issue by saying, “I know you’re pulled in a million directions but sometimes I really need your full attention for topics like X or Y. Is there a way we could schedule time where you’ll be less interrupted, so we can dig into stuff like that without as many interruptions?”

4. Can I suggest a portfolio review instead of a test assignment?

I’m a fairly senior creative at a well-known company, and I’ve been looking for a new job for several weeks now. As I’ve been interviewing, I’ve realized some companies ask even senior-level creatives to complete take-home test projects as part of the hiring process.

I first encountered this practice several years ago, when I was much less experienced, and I was happy to oblige. But now it feels a little insulting to be asked to do free work at my level of experience. Even though they’re relatively simple, these assignments take a couple of hours each to complete, and I’m still currently employed full-time. I have a strong portfolio of recent work that speaks to my skills and talent, and I’m happy to walk folks through it instead.

In these situations, is there a nice way to suggest we review my portfolio or prior work instead? Is it even appropriate to suggest that? Or should I just suck it up and accept these test assignments as unavoidable?

Yeah, in creative fields, when you have years of experience and a large portfolio of work, in most cases the portfolio and your professional track record should suffice. In cases where it doesn’t, the employer should explain why that is. (This isn’t necessarily the case in jobs that don’t lend themselves as easily to a highly visible portfolio.)

But as with many things in hiring, it depends on how willing you are to walk away over it. If you feel you have plentiful options or if you’re not especially invested in this particular job, there’s more room to take a stand than if you don’t have a lot of options or if you really, really want the job.

If you do want to push back, you could say, “I’m happy to send you my portfolio and walk you through my past work, but it would be tough to spend several hours on a new project on top of my full-time job. I’ve been working in the field for X years though and have lots of work I can show you that’s similar to what you’re asking for.” Sometimes that will work. But other times they’ll hold firm on the requirement, or not even bother to get back to you and just move forward with other people. So you’ve got to decide beforehand if you’re okay with that.

5. How do I find a mentor?

I see a lot of advice around that it’s useful to have a mentor, and that it can be really helpful to push your career to the next level, but how do people get mentors? Do you reach out, and if so how? Or are there formal programs you can sign up for? Or is it more an informal relationship where you just learn from senior staff? My only experience was doing a mentoring program as a student, but I don’t know how to handle it now that I have a full time post-graduation position in my field.

Some employers have formal mentor programs, as do some professional organizations for people in your field.

But I’ve always found the best mentoring relationships are ones that come about organically, rather than through formal programs — partly because chemistry really matters with a mentor, both in terms of what you’ll get out of it and in terms of what they’ll be willing to invest and how much they’ll be willing to champion you. if you do have easy access to formal programs, give them a try! But otherwise (and even in addition to that), try just cultivating relationships with people senior to you whose work you admire. When you click well with someone, try seeking their advice on things you’re grappling with at work or in your career more broadly, and let the relationship build from there.

{ 449 comments… read them below }

  1. Observer*

    I’ve addressed it with them directly and their excuse is, of course, they don’t mean it “like that.”

    Seriously?! Yes, Alison is 100% You need to bring it to HR – and tell them that he’s making this insane excuse. Anyone who hasn’t been living 100 miles underground for the last couple of decades should know that there is no “way” to mean it in conversation that is acceptable.

    1. Observer*

      I should expand on what I was trying to get at. The thing is that it’s just not believable that he really doesn’t understand that he’s being offensive. It’s also not believable that he doesn’t realize that he can’t cover himself by using the -a ending rather than the -er ending.

      Best case, even if he is not especially trying to be offensive, he knows he’s being offensive and he doesn’t care. Or he’s like the guy someone mentioned in a recent post who got fired for being “so stupid he’s dangerous” after he threw an ax at someone “without thinking”.

      Unless your company is a covert arm of the Klan and you just don’t know it competent HR will be horrified and so will anyone whose job relates to public face of the company. Because can you imagine the (well deserved!) black eye to the company if any customer heard that?! And this is also lawsuit territory.

      1. Sloanicota*

        Yeah in my experience he gets a thrill out of saying something he’s not supposed to say, and in his heart he’s thinking “well I don’t have any racial animus, so I don’t mean it ‘like that’ so it’s okay.” I know several guys that enjoy being shocking like this, and it’s annoying because they’re centering themselves when the focus should be on how people feel hearing the word.

          1. pancakes*

            They know what animosity is even if that particular word is not in their vocabulary. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to say it’s a synonym for hate.

          2. Sloanicota*

            Heh heh okay you’re right, my imagined script was probably a little off on the dialogue haha. They thought something like that, but phrased dumber :D

          3. Christopher*

            I squinted as this comment for at least 20 seconds, wondering why I also didn’t understands “Aniums” – I was waffling between them being a new kind of flower, or maybe cartoons imported from Japan.

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          I call b.s. on him not having any racial animus. Thinking as a white person that it’s okay for you to use that word in any form is racial animus in and of itself.

      2. quill*

        There’s “so stupid you’re dangerous” and “so self centered you’re dangerous,” and neither of those types of people should work with projectiles.

      3. DJ Abbott*

        Many years ago I knew a man who used offensive words – I think it was the same one – and said he intended it to mean something different. It doesn’t work like that.
        Reminds me of Humpty Dumpty in Alice in Wonderland.

      4. She of Many Hats*

        He’s probably also the type of guy to tell a -phobic joke and say “just kidding” or “geez, it’s just a joke, no one has a sense of humor any more” when called out about it. Definitely take it up the command ladder otherwise the department and company are perceived as racist as he is because it is allowed.

      5. Database Developer Dude*

        It isn’t just about lawsuit territory, it’s about liability and safety. A white person using that word is inciting and provoking the black people around him (or her, but women usually aren’t that stupid to publicly use that word). Most of us will have the presence of mind and self control…but it only takes one to be triggered enough for an incident.

        Speaking for myself, I would never engage in PHYSICAL violence in the workplace. There’s no place for that. Having said that, as the black man that I am, and not being shy in the slightest, hearing that being said I would not hesitate to engage in some verbal violence, and I wouldn’t need to use a single word of profanity.

        1. health_promo*

          I fully agree with this take. Using a slur isn’t about the person using it, it’s about the person who hears it and how that impacts them. I am not black, and I can’t imagine what it feels like to hear that word coming from a white person, and I can’t imagine what I would do. This is something that can easily trigger feelings in some people that might turn into violent (although not unreasonable) action. And that is a physical/emotional/mental safety hazard in your work environment.

          This whole article is insane to me. That word is never okay, never has a “different” meaning, and is pretty much always used by white people as a power move to intimidate someone of color… and at work???? So many levels of unsafe and damaging. Call HR immediately!!!!

    2. lyonite*

      I would like to refer them to Popehat’s Rule of Goats, but that would probably just bring up a lot of HR complications you don’t need. In short, it doesn’t matter what they mean, it matters what they said.

      1. Observer*

        This is 100% true.

        Which doesn’t mean that it’s credible that he doesn’t “mean it that way.” It just makes it worse that he’s trying to make that inane argument.

        OP, when you bring it up to TPTB, don’t bring up what he claims he “means” or doesn’t mean. If they bring it up, then that tells you something not good. As a practical matter, just keep on repeating that it doesn’t matter what he “means” in his heart. No one cares. They DO care that he is actually saying this, though.

        1. health_promo*

          This! Although I don’t think there is a way for a white person to “mean” it differently. It just matters that he said it. The history of violence behind that word can cause someone emotional damage to hear it, and you don’t know how it will continue to hurt them, even if you don’t “mean” it. And it’s great advice to see if HR cares about how he “meant” it. There is no excuse and it will tell you a lot about your work environment if excuses become a talking point.

      2. GammaGirl1908*

        Heh. I indignantly referred to someone the other day during a tirade as a “goat-banger.” I didn’t stop to think whether the other person knew the reference, and I had a good head of steam going and they didn’t stop me. I really hope they did.

      3. LimeRoos*

        That is amazing. I’ve never heard of Popehat’s Rule of Goats, and man is it perfect. I’m stealing it for personal life, cuz we’ve had a lot of people who think intent is greater than impact and it’s totally acceptable to just ignore your best friends for over two weeks but they can’t be mad about it because you didn’t mean it to be mean, and oh boy are we frustrated.

        Also this guy sounds like a tool and LW, you should totally go to HR because he just needs to knock it off.

          1. LimeRoos*

            Right? Honestly with how much I’m online, I’m amazed I hadn’t heard of it before. But it’s so true.

            Also, not gonna lie, I did a little squee that you replied to my comment lol.

          2. Princesss Sparklepony*

            Same here! (And I wish there was a like button, because that would be easier…)

    3. Construction Safety*

      That guy could have worked for me. He basically said that he grew up sayin “….ah” and he couldn’t change. Yeah, Today’s your last day.

    4. KofSharp*

      I had to dump a personal “friend” because I’d only met him online and he dropped the “…ah” during a call. He was surprised that the ENTIRE FRIEND GROUP we were a part of was ready to completely drop him over it too, because “he’s a good guy” and “we know he didn’t mean it like that!!!”
      Some things, intentions don’t matter, the action you take does.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I think some white people think that because certain Black artists they like use it that it’s okay for them to use it, but it is not.

        1. anonanonanon*

          I’m not defending white people (or this guy) using that word, but I have a really hard time balancing people telling me that the word is so offensive that the mere mention of it causes trauma and it being used like “dude” in mainstream pop songs.

          1. Velociraptor Attack*

            I’m going to guess you’re white, or at least not black, and in that case I’d say it’s not really your thing to balance. If I’m wrong, then my apologies and I’m the one overstepping.

            You can choose to trust people who say that a word is okay for an in group and not okay for an out group and go with it. There’s nothing to balance.

            1. A Feast of Fools*


              One of my best women friends routinely greets me with, “Hey girly, what’s up?” If, say, my male boss or any of my men friends did the same thing, I’d be offended.

              Ditto with my family nickname. If you’re not someone who has known me since I was in diapers, you don’t get to call me by that name.

              And plenty of people are happy to be called “baby” or “sugar” by their romantic partners but would rightfully go to HR if a co-worker did the same thing and, further, if the co-worker did not stop when asked to.

              I don’t know why it would be hard to balance those things.

              1. anonanonanon*

                I get context matters. I am happy with not being able to say the word. Great. Awesome. I don’t say it, don’t need to say it, don’t want to say it, totally get how I as a white guy saying that word is a million miles from a black person saying it. But in recent years that word has been given almost totemic powers of harm, while at the same time becoming more and more pervasive in media and that paradox is hard for me to wrap my head around. It is easy for me to understand that it’s offensive when said by an outmember of the group. But lately that word has been imbued with all of the horrors of the history of anti-blackness in the U.S., while at the same time being used more and more in media. THAT is what I find confusing and frankly a bit hypocritical. Like the argument about how painful the word is isn’t helped by the fact that it is basically used like smurf in some contexts.

                1. Naynay*

                  Hi. I am a black woman. Think of it like a curse word. You do not use it in a professional setting. Curse word are prevalent in music TV and movies- but that does not give you license to say them everywhere.

                2. Eyes Kiwami*

                  Think about the fact that people have been trying, for years, for centuries, to get white people to stop using this degrading word about black people. And it still doesn’t stick.

                  It’s so prevalent that black people reclaimed it, “well might as well use it for ourselves”, to rob it of some of its inherent hurtful power. But when white people try to join that “reclaimed” usage, it’s actually a reminder that white people are still using this word, and aren’t respecting the request to please stop using it.

                  I think some reflection about word use and culture re:in/out groups might be helpful here.

                3. I should really pick a name*

                  Different people have different reactions to words.
                  Black people are not a monolithic group, we don’t all have the same opinions about these things. That’s not hypocritical.

                4. anonanonanon*

                  To be totally clear, the guy in the question is either a clueless a-hole or a racist, prolly a little bit of both. I don’t think white people should use the word, and in the rare chance that he’s a white or white-presenting person who has been granted the ability to use that word within his friend group, he still shouldn’t be using it at work. I don’t mean this as a “why don’t I get to say it if they can????” kinda thing. I don’t want to add to anyone’s pain or make people feel bad for who they are, and there is enough anti-blackness in our society without me piling on by trying to be an edgelord using off-limits slurs. I think I’m just struck by the paradox of lefty culture declaring language violence and inherently harmful, and at the same time hip hop culture (of which I’m a fan and participant), and particularly the hair-metal equivalent of hip-hop, becoming the predominant youth culture meaning that possibly the worst curse word in the American English language is suddenly very prominent in culture, and that in-group language is now being consumed by mostly people from the out-group. Which maybe is the history of hip-hop to some extent.

                5. Splendid Colors*

                  There’s a LOT in pop culture these days that doesn’t belong in the office, because people can decide whether or not to listen to music with the N-word in the lyrics or watch movies where someone is sexually assaulted or killed horribly.

                  I don’t want to hear the N-word coming from the next cubicle any more than I want to hear the soundtrack of an R-rated movie while I’m trying to work. Doesn’t belong at the office where people are just trying to get stuff done and make a living.

            2. Despachito*

              He was saying it in a phone conversation with someone. Could there be a theoretical possibility that both of them are members of a group that considers it acceptable for its members to address each other with such a slur? (As if I addressed my good friend as “bitch” and vice versa, I reckon it would be possibly frowned upon by those who would overhear the conversation and it would make them think that we are pottymouths but it probably would have no repercussions in terms of having HR involved)?

              I am asking partly because I am not a native speaker and it sometimes happens to me that while I am able to “feel” the full force of a slur in my mother tongue, I am not able to do this in a foreign language. That is, I get that something is a slur, I get that the n-word is a very strong one, but I am unable to capture all the nuances.

              1. Nameless+in+Customer+Service*

                Could there be a theoretical possibility that both of them are members of a group that considers it acceptable for its members to address each other with such a slur?

                I feel it stretches credulity to think that such a question can be asked in good faith but for the sake of the discussion and of defending Black people’s humanity I will try to answer it as such.

                In the US, due to this country’s history, White people, who have beeen the beneficiaries of the power of the n-word to dehumanize Black people, cannot arbitrarily define themselves as “allowed” to use this word. There is a large intra-community discussion among Black Americans as to who, when, and why we can or can’t ‘reclaim’ it, much larger than could possibly be addressed here, and one of the reasons it’s so fraught is how many people who aren’t Black like to use the existence of any of us who use it as a reason to throw it at all of us.

                1. Despachito*

                  No, no, no, this is not what I meant.

                  First, I agree with you that a white person cannot arbitrarily define themselves as “allowed” to use this word. But at least two white people here mentioned that they had been offered this possibility by a black person, as a sign of camaraderie. They both declined (I would decline it too), but would it have been OK if they accepted (given it was proposed by the black person themselves), and of course used it ONLY TOWARDS the black person who proposed it and no one else?

                  I absolutely agree with you that even if they consented, it would definitely not give them a free pass to use that word towards anyone else than the person who proposed it, and that even if they were speaking to the explicitly consenting friend, it would be inappropriate to use it on the phone at work, but if it were the case, would it make them a terrible racist?

              2. Splendid Colors*

                I have a better idea–why don’t people talking on the phone at the office USE OFFICE-FRIENDLY LANGUAGE even if their bestie’s nickname sounds like a slur?

                What next, are you going to ask if it’s ok to use slang terms for sex acts to describe teapot manufacturing procedures in front of your colleagues?

            1. pancakes*

              I don’t think “maybe everyone can use it if some people can use it?” is quite the same thing as “nobody should use it.”

            2. MigraineMonth*

              I’m a white person, so my opinion on whether black people should reclaim that word is completely irrelevant. My lane is over in the feminist and queer communities, where my opinions are informed by actual life experience.

              1. SixTigers*

                Mine is in the female professional arena, in which it is NOT okay to refer to female employees as “girls” unless you’re also using the term “boys” to describe male employees.

                The young man kept asking, “Well, what SHOULD I say, then?”
                Me: “People.”

                This is not brain surgery . . .

          2. pancakes*

            In addition to what others have said, I want to point out that not everyone who finds the word offensive and/or just doesn’t want to hear it would also say they would be traumatized by hearing it. And they don’t have to be willing to say that to object to it, particularly at work. I don’t know how you are connecting those dots. It’s almost like you seem to be waiting to understand the matter unless and until there is complete consensus on whether it’s appropriate for anyone to ever use it? You don’t need to wait for that to happen before you consider this in a more nuanced way.

          3. What a way to make a living*

            The way it is being used, and by whom, is part of what makes it harmful for a lot of people. Not that the word, removed from context, has some magical sound property that triggers the brain.

            I don’t mean to be facetious but I find it hard to see how you don’t recognise that context matters with how the word is used. It is the context that makes it racist and harmful.

            Also, not every Black person uses it so why should a Black person who never uses it have to hear a white person say it? If every Black person is answerable for what other Black people do… well, there’s a word for that.

            And it isn’t even “traumatising” for everyone.

            You can very, very easily find Black people explaining what the problem is with casual usage of this word. I find it hard to balance out you genuinely not understanding the issue with there being reams and reams of information available about it, for free, at the click of a button.

            1. Kit*

              > If every Black person is answerable for what other Black people do… well, there’s a word for that.

              Is it “Supreme Court confirmation hearing?”

              No, I am not over how dirty they did KBJ. Or Saule Omarova. Or, really, any other prominent member of a minority being asked to justify the actions of someone else in that minority group.

              (There are racist babies and a surprising number of them are in the Senate, is what I’m saying.)

          4. Observer*

            I’m not defending white people (or this guy) using that word,

            Really? Then why are you defending him?

            I have a really hard time balancing people telling me that the word is so offensive that the mere mention of it causes trauma and it being used like “dude” in mainstream pop songs.

            And *I* have a really hard time balancing actual reality with the possibility of this question being asked in good faith, not the least because you are setting up a fictional dichotomy and attributing opinions and sentiments that no one has actually expressed.

          5. Beth*

            Multiple have said this already, but it bears repeating: how, why, and by who it is used matters.

            At work is different from in a song. You don’t have to listen to the song. You do have to hear your co-workers’ phone conversations.

          6. Database Developer Dude*

            I regularly have issues with my fellow Black people who use the word. The usual lame excuse given is that “we’re taking the word back, and taking the power of the word from the oppressor”. I call b.s. That word has been used to denigrate us (pun intended) and make sure we knew we were less than human. It’s never okay in any circumstances, and I turn music off that uses it.

          7. health_promo*

            The context of who is saying it and to whom is extremely important to the history of the word. White people have to stand up and tell other white people that it is never okay, even if you’re only in the presence of other white people.

            Words, depending on the context, the environment, and who is saying it, can be extremely triggering an traumatic. I’m a white woman and can only really understand this kind of trauma-by-power-dynamic when I think about misogyny. The personal violence I’ve suffered (that coworkers certainly don’t know about) and historic violence of men against women is something that personally triggers me. I can’t imagine a man, in my work environment, calling women derogatory names in the office while on the phone in front of other people, and just say he didn’t “mean” it that way. I would probably be extremely hurt and upset. But that’s not even what happened… it was the n-word!!!! Just an even higher level of trauma that we shouldn’t even think about touching at work.

            I hope this wasn’t an over explanation and kind of illuminates the difference between it meaning “dude” in some contexts and it being a trauma inducing slur in others.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      “… they don’t mean it like that…”

      “Oh, good so then that means you will have no problem not saying that anymore since you know it means nothing to you and it DOES offend others.”

      I hope HR tells him the next time he uses that term he can consider himself automatically fired.

      Somehow we (society) have lost the concept of keeping our actions and words transparent. If you don’t mean something then don’t say or do that thing.

      If he is so rigid on this point, he is probably rigid about other things. I suspect it would not be a big loss to lose this employee. We have to allow ourselves to be managed, that is, directed and guided. I suspect he is lacking in this characteristic.

      1. irene adler*

        “Oh, good so then that means you will have no problem not saying that anymore since you know it means nothing to you and it DOES offend others.” = perfect!

      2. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

        It’s long been a frustration of mine that people seem to think that calling something “not a big deal” means they should be able to keep on doing that something. If you truly consider it a “not big deal,” stop doing it!

    6. Moonlight*

      RIGHT?! Some language is just unacceptable to matter what; a racial slur is still a racial slur no matter how you “intend it”.

    7. PhyllisB*

      My teenage grandsons say this a lot. I have told them in no uncertain terms this is not acceptable. Their excuses: “everybody says it” (like guys used to say “hey dog” a few years back.) Also they claim not to say it around people who would ‘care’ (screams into a pillow) and that I need to lighten up. I’ve scolded their mother for allowing it. She said she doesn’t like it either, but when you listen to the music (I try not to) they like, it’s full of that. They no longer say it in my hearing, but I know they still do it. Hopefully someday someone can get through to them about this.

      1. LilPinkSock*

        Ugh. I hear so many people say this about kids using racial slurs. “Everyone else does it”. They’re not everyone else, and racial slurs are not acceptable at any time. My friend’s kid is 16 thought it was no big deal to use racial slurs…until a group of other kids had enough of his racism and got him suspended for two weeks.

        1. quill*

          Yeah when *I* was a kid we spent a lot of time sick of That Dude (there’s always one) who decided it was edgy to ‘pretend’ to be bigoted by using slurs. If kids don’t learn that this is the quickest way to make sure nobody likes you, they grow into OP’s coworker.

          1. Ariaflame*

            If you are willing to use bigoted language to be perceived as ‘edgy’ or ‘cool’ then you are a bigot. Because you consider the people you are denigrating to be less worthy than your whims.

        2. Lexi Lynn*

          There was a post in the green neighborhood app lately that 2 children had been called that word as they were walking down the street. At this point over 300 rich white people have chimed in that this is how kids speak, all the rappers do it so why get offended, people are too sensitive and take offense at everything. It was disgusting and all my posts were removed for not being neighborly (I knew the politics were lost so only tried to point out that they were blaming young children for feeling frightened).

          TLDR my neighbors are idiots and “rappers say it so I can” seems to be a widespread belief.

          1. LilPinkSock*

            TLDR your neighbors are racist. That’s the only explanation for continually using racial slurs, allowing children to use racial slurs, and getting defensive when called out for using racial slurs.

          2. anonanonanon*

            Your neighbors are obtuse racists. Even under the “rappers use it’ excuse, calling someone that word means that it is being used as an insult, ergo a racist slur.

            Also don’t take social cues from rappers.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        My dad doesn’t use racist terms but he’s horrendously condescending about a lot of things. My mom keeps telling him that she hates it when he says stuff like [the stuff he says]. He says it’s fine because he only says it to her, not in public, but the problem is that he thinks like that. He’s still an arrogant pain in the neck, he just thinks it’s OK because it’s not race-based and he keeps it behind closed doors.

        Being OK with or justifying to yourself the use of racial slurs may not mean you’re overtly racist but its means you’re comfortable enough with racism to not be caught up short by these kinds of aggressions.

        1. TootsNYC*

          >>it’s fine because he only says it to her, not in public,
          So he doesn’t care about HER, apparently.
          Maybe she needs to more directly say “*I* don’t want to hear that; *I* don’t want you to talk to me like that, or around me like that.”
          But it probably wouldn’t matter to him. And maybe she has already.

          1. pancakes*

            The thing to do with people who insist on speaking in a way you hate is not marry them in the first place. Trying to change someone who behaves that way is a gamble at best. But yes, “I’m the only one here and I don’t want to hear that” might help.

            1. Bob-White of the Glen*

              Easy said if you are getting married now. But decades ago that language was acceptable and widely used. This is a case of she has evolved and he has not. No way to know that when they got married.

              1. pancakes*

                I was alive decades ago. I’ve been around since the late 1970s. “Widely used” is probably going to be regional to some extent, but not wanting to marry someone who is frequently condescending or harsh has been an option for many women for a long while now. Whether people personally feel that is an option open to them is another matter. People evolve all the time, yes, and relationships can evolve too. Or not.

      3. DataGirl*

        My teens listen to music by black artists that is “full of that”. When they sing along, they always are silent for that word. They know that it’s never ok under any circumstances to say.

        1. health_promo*

          Same here. I personally love rap music, but always pause or say “dude”. Never ever ever okay to say that word as a white person.

          And to be truthful, I learned this in my teenage years when I did say “…ah” while singing along and one of my best friends (a woman of color) told me it made her uncomfortable! Self awareness hit me like a ton of bricks and I’ve never said it again! It’s okay to make mistakes when you’re young, you just have to learn from them.

      4. pancakes*

        Yikes. If their mom thinks her own kids aren’t capable of discerning what’s ok to repeat simply because they hear someone else saying it and what isn’t, she doesn’t think much of their capacity to think or learn.

      5. Jora Malli*

        I was not allowed to swear during my childhood and teenage years. Sometimes TV shows or the music on the radio would contain words I was not allowed to say. That didn’t magically turn them into words that were appropriate for me to use.

        There is never a time when it is appropriate for a non black person to use the n word, and it’s presence in popular music does not change that.

      6. Dasein9*

        At least your grandsons are learning the valuable skill of reading a room and code switching for when you’re around. I do hope that someday they understand why you’re insisting on that and eliminate that kind of speech of their own volition.

        1. PhyllisB*

          I do, too. The thing is, they have friends of different races and they are overall respectful to everyone so I don’t get why they insist on saying this. I can’t help wonder how their friends of other races feel about this.

      7. Tinkerbell*

        You should continue to let him say it … even in public, and loudly. The problem will fix itself :)

        1. JustaTech*

          When I was a kid, back in the early 90’s, one day at the bus stop someone’s little brother said that word (after we’d all gotten on the bus and left). All the moms were horrified he’d said it, except his mom who clearly thought it was a fine thing for a 4-year-old to say.
          She did not care *at all* until another mom said “saying that is going to get him beat up”. Suddenly she realized that actions (and words) have consequences and I never heard him (or his sisters) say it again.

        2. PhyllisB*

          That’s what I’m afraid of. But I’m an old lady and I’m just not “with it.” (They don’t say this to me, but I know they think it.) All I can say is, if this is what being “with it” means then I’m glad I’m not.

          1. SESEW*

            They’re thinking it because that’s how you’re coming across:
            – “That music (I try not to listen to it)
            – You also object to “hey dog” (not the same thing)
            – If this is what “with it” means I’m glad Im not”

            If your want to persuade someone youve got to speak in their terms, not say “I chime at this as a fuddy fuddy who hates loud msuic”

            1. SweetFancyPancakes*

              She never she objected to “hey dog”, just that it was a term that was popular for a while. And as their grandmother, she is fully entitled to be a fuddy duddy and they should listen to her anyway because she (presumably) loves them and doesn’t want them to come across as racist jerks.

      8. Omnivalent*

        Ask your grandsons if they wouldn’t mind you videoing them using the N-word and sharing it on Facebook, since “everybody says it”, they don’t mind if everybody knows they’re saying it, right? I’m betting they’ll backtrack ASAP, because they know perfectly well it’s not acceptable and that “everyone” would drag them for saying it. They’re at that age where some boys decide that being edgelord twits is the right way to deal with teenage insecurity.

        1. pancakes*

          Don’t ask them that. Not because it’s something they shouldn’t consider but because a threat or taunt like that shouldn’t come from an older relative who needs to remain trusted.

          1. Omnivalent*

            It’s the modern equivalent of “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump off a bridge too?” Which I wouldn’t ask a teenager for fear that there is some idiotic Bridge Jumping Challenge currently circulating on TikTok.

            1. pancakes*

              I don’t think it is equivalent because there was never a threat, even a lighthearted one, of surveillance or public exposure that went with that line. It wouldn’t be out of place for a tween or teen to wonder whether an older relative who “jokes” about taking cell phone video that way is a trustworthy person to continue visiting.

            2. Splendid Colors*

              An engineer friend of mine kept getting the “if your friends jumped off a bridge…”
              from her mom when she was in college. Engineering school.

              Her response was “Well, my friends are all engineers, so if they’re jumping off the bridge it must be getting ready to collapse, so yeah, I probably would too.” (Had probably seen the Tacoma Narrows Bridge tragedy at least once in class, possibly the pancaking double decker bridges in California earthquakes.)

      9. Petty Betty*

        If it’s truly “no big deal”, then they will have no problem saying it around everyone, including the people that *will* care.

        My teens used to have this “free speech means you can say anything” ideology. Until they learned that sure, you can say it, but you aren’t free of the consequences of saying it. If your words hurt, you can’t expect not to feel some of the hurt back, and sometimes, it’s not social ostracization.

      10. Princesss Sparklepony*

        I listen to some music that uses that word. But when I’m singing along, I’ll hum that word because I have no right to use that word.

        Or just kind of glide by without saying it. I won’t say that word. Along with a few others racist words but they usually aren’t in songs. But I do swear like a sailor so I guess it evens out…

    8. Dancing Otter*

      Couple of decades? That word was offensive in the 1970’s!
      I should know, I was trying to wean my parents off using it.

      1. Observer*

        Oh, I know that it was. But it’s been relatively recent that we’ve gotten to the point that the n-word is more offensive than an f-bomb (although that’s also about how that word has gotten more common), using the term “n-word” has become the expectation rather than using the actual term when talking about it, and the word has become something you simply cannot say at work and polite society.

        1. anonanonanon*

          I’m a fan of punk music, and punk music in the 70s and 80s is full of that word, used not in a hateful anti-black way but to be shocking (to white people) and comment on racism, and maybe show that they were down. I’m not saying this was a justified or skillful use of the word, but it was in a very different context (e.g. X’s “Los Angeles,” Dead Kennedy’s “Holiday in Cambodia,” Patti Smiths “Rock n’ Roll N****”). It is only in the last 20-25 years that culture has decided there is no non-racist way for a white person to use the word, even if ironically, even if quoting other people using it.

          I’m not a fan of the word, but I do think sometimes that we’ve given it too much power. I remember a debate a few years ago whether a former super racist politician who had done super racist stuff had said it, and I just felt like, here is a person who is enacting policy after policy that is super racist, who is constantly using coded and not so coded racist language, and we are looking to him using one forbidden word as proof of his racial hatred. it just seemed pointless.

          1. Nameless in Customer Service*

            I don’t think it’s those of us whom that word is aimed at who have given it its power.

            1. anonanonanon*

              True. I’ve never been on the receiving end of it, and have never or been in a real life situation where the word was being used against someone in that way. But I’ve been in a lot of situation where slurs weren’t used but the intent was the same.

    9. Hills to Die On*

      Just adding in to the chorus. I am horrified at this and I can only imagine that everyone overhearing him is cringing every time he does it, regardless of their skin color. This behavior is obscene.

    10. Free Meerkats*

      “But I didn’t mean it ‘like that’.”

      The proper response to that is say, “Then how did you mean it?”, then stay silent, stare straight at them, and watch them sweat. Let the discomfort flow.

    11. BongoFury*

      We had something similar happen in my last position. It was awful and awkward. The person saying “that word” was African-American talking to presumably another African-American. It was very, VERY tense subject. I don’t know how the conversations with his management/HR (who were Latino and Caucasian so even more awkward) went but eventually he stopped using the phrase.

    12. Elle by the sea*

      I’m white and I’m married to a POC. We do use expressions among each other which are under normal circumstances would only be acceptable for him to use, but not for me. He considers me to be part of his community and therefore this kind of banter is acceptable. In private. But at work? That’s worrying. Do you know the wider context? Were they raised in a black community? Are they married to a black person? I’m asking this because they were not using this word at work colleagues but they did so in a personal call.

      But in any case, it’s unacceptable office behaviour.

      1. KH*

        Yeah. I mean, commenters here are really clutching their pearls, but does intent really not matter at all? I say this as a mix of “minorities” who grew up abroad. I think it’s all context. If someone uses an offensive word to my so-called racial group (ugh) I may or may not gently correct them, but in the end, I only get angry if they were trying to be offensive. And if you are a minority and don’t like this n word or Asians being called “yellow” or using Jew as an epithet or women called b*tch, like, don’t use it yourself please? It’s normalizing it and other people (who didn’t grow up in the US especially) might just not know it’s offensive if they say it! I am kind of uncomfortable with this rule that your own race defines if you can use bad words? Why can’t we just not use bad words, all of us. I’m a mix of several minorities so I can use a bunch of bad words apparently? But then I have to tell everyone each time about my ethnicity since it’s ok because I’m like 1/4 that minority? Ridiculous….

        1. pancakes*

          You are mostly talking about your own reaction, though. Whether or not people will be angry is one of several reasons to have a rule that people can’t say it at work. Minorities who are present in that office don’t have to take a vote on whether they personally would be angry, or how angry, or explain whether they ever use slurs with their friends before the employer gets to make a rule that people should not use slurs at work. If there are clients or other people who will be present they should not be expected to hear slurs either. You don’t have to agree with all of your coworkers on whether it’s ever ok to use slurs to abide by a rule of no slurs at work.

        2. What a way to make a living*

          “And if you are a minority and don’t like this n word or Asians being called “yellow” or using Jew as an epithet or women called b*tch, like, don’t use it yourself please?”

          Well, lots of Black people NEVER use the n word. So why should they have to hear white people saying it, on the basis that *other* Black people, who have nothing to do with them, use it?

        3. New Jack Karyn*

          This dude is continuing to use it after having been checked. At this point, his intent is hostile.
          Also, the history of reclaiming words is long and powerful.

        4. Eff Walsingham*

          I am not “a minority” and I am telling you that none of the things you mentioned are appropriate to say in a North American workplace. There are laws in place to prevent certain things categorized formally as “hate speech” in Canada, and US law protects workers against specific forms of harassment and discrimination. It would be worthwhile for anyone seeking work in a given locale to make sure that they understand the laws and rules they will be subject to.

          Beyond that, if it comes to public facing roles, community standards come into it as well. On at least one occasion, I was shopping in a store when staff began slagging one another off in a hugely derogatory way. Profanity was used. I dressed, left the fitting room and asked to see the manager. Upon learning that one of these individuals was the manager, I told her that I wasn’t willing to listen to that sort of language, that I was now not going to buy any of these items, and left. I didn’t escalate the matter further because nothing racist was said and I didn’t have children with me, but I wanted to make it clear that she was losing sales by carrying on like that. I don’t know if it made any difference, but I wasn’t going to let her pretend ignorance.

          You can’t just say anything you want at work. It’s not a private clubhouse where people can make up their own standards and use them.

        5. Nameless in Customer Service*

          And if you are a minority and don’t like this n word or Asians being called “yellow” or using Jew as an epithet or women called b*tch, like, don’t use it yourself please?

          I don’t. But as long as one Black person exists who does, you’re going to apply the standard you can derive from them to all of us as one monolithic block of melanin. Which is exhausting, by the way.

          1. Stuckinacraxyjob*

            Nod. Like why is it always the guy who says ” oh whatever you want to do is ok with me” listened to? Why is he the arbiter? I don’t use the n word at work ( I’m black personally) because it’s unprofessional. I don’t curse at work ( because I know little mouths love to mimick!)

          1. Nameless+in+Customer+Service*

            Did you notice all the comments which disagreed with KH’s? as a Black person in the US who has had this word thrown at me I will never agree that some Black people using it (in a particular, “reclamatory” context) entitles everyone who can use it as a weapon to use it as they wish “as long as they don’t mean it like that”. Do you really need to argue in favor of this?

            1. Despachito*

              I read KH’s comment differently – if we agree that the n-word is extremely offensive, than no one should be using it (rather than categorizing that some people can, some can’t). So it is not about permission for everyone but quite the opposite.

      2. Nameless in Customer Service*

        Are they married to a black person?

        I don’t have enough hands to facepalm with. If my Significant Other used me as an excuse to use this word — well, they wouldn’t, which is one of the reasons they’re my SO.

        1. Elle by the sea*

          Please read my comment above again. You can also read other people’s comments who reacted to it. Where did I mention that significant others can be used as an excuse to use any slur words? I don’t think I need to explain anything further, a reciprocated facepalm will do. :)

          1. Nameless+in+Customer+Service*

            I endured your comment sufficiently, and noticed quite a few commenters who disagreed with your primary supporter. After several iterations of statements that boil down to “maybe they know a Black person so it’s okay” you tacked on “But in any case, it’s unacceptable office behaviour.” so at least there’s that.

        2. Despachito*

          But I’ve understood that they use it towards each other with MUTUAL consent, does that not make a difference?

          1. Nameless+in+Customer+Service*

            Not in the office, it doesn’t make a difference! This is just a version of “one particular person ‘gave’ me permission to use this incredibly offensive and dehumanizing word so now I can use it anywhere anytime and regardless of what anyone thinks about it including people against whom it is a slur.” I’ve heard this argument for literally decades and it is EXHAUSTING. Why do people want so much to use words that dehumanize others?

          2. Splendid Colors*

            Look, if I were in a BDSM relationship and called my partner something unprintable because we liked it, would that make it OK to say at the office? Even if it’s on the phone at the office? NO! No, because one rule in that community is you don’t involve innocent bystanders in your kink because they didn’t consent to be part of it.

  2. Marnix*

    Oh OP#2 — It simply does NOT matter how your coworker pronounces this word or how he means it. It has to be completely shutdown immediately. There’s no need for this at work.

    1. Bilateralrope*

      How he means it should be pretty clear from how he uses it. Not that it matters, unless you want to entertain yourself by asking for an explanation of how he actually meant it. I doubt he thought any further than “if I say I didn’t mean it that way I won’t be in trouble”

      1. pancakes*

        It truly does not matter how he justifies using it to himself. Asking idiotic people to talk about their views is not a great form of entertainment even if it amuses you because it sends the wrong message to idiotic people.

      2. Lily Rowan*

        Assuming he is calling his friend “my n—–” and the friend enjoys that, it is still 100% inappropriate in the office. I wouldn’t bother asking.

      3. Dmitri*

        Not necessarily. A former roommate of mine, a black male, started calling me (white male) that word (the “-ah” version). Considering the timing of the first use (we’d become quite good friend by that time), it was clear that he was using it as a sort of “in-group” indication, like, “you’re part of my circle now, buddy.” I came to find out he had a couple of other white friends in the same boat. Although I never did–because I hate the word–they “returned the favor” and he had no problem with it (I asked him once about it). Not saying that everyone he drops this term with is an accepting black person, but neither can you just lay down a blanket “it’s quite clear what he means by it”

        1. pancakes*

          I don’t think anyone is unaware that some friends talk to one another that way. It does not matter what this guy means by it because he’s not hanging out with his friends, he’s at work.

          1. Despachito*

            But he was presumably talking to a friend on the phone, wasn’t he?

            (Still inappropriate in a work context, but would satisfactorily explain the “did not mean it” part)

        2. Observer*

          Except that you are overlooking some specific context here. If he were THAT close with Black folks, I would expect that he is aware that it’s not a term to be tossed around lightly. Which means he would not be using it around others who don’t have the context. Like you wouldn’t expect someone to give their partner a french kiss and a full on body hug while in the office, either – and those things are FAR less laden with offensive connotations! And if he did miss that, he WOULD HAVE STOPPED once it was brought to his attention, or AT LEAST tried to explain what was going on.

          So, no, this is SUCH an unlikely scenario here that it’s just not reasonable to bring it up.

        3. Nameless in Customer Service*

          And this is why I really wish he hadn’t, not least as a Black woman, because until the heat death of the universe you’re going to cite your Special Black Friend as a weapon against everyone who doesn’t want to hear this especially charged word. sigh.

        4. quill*

          You can also yell “get in looser, we’re going shopping” to your friends, but not people you work with. If he can’t evaluate his audience and tell when it’s appropriate to use a word, he shouldn’t be using it, point blank, no matter what his hypothetical friends are comfortable with.

        5. LilPinkSock*

          One Black person you knew once claims that he didn’t have a problem with constantly hearing racial slurs. I’m willing to bet many other Black people don’t feel the same way.

          I’m mixed-race, and I will confidently tell you that I am absolutely not ok with the racist language I hear. But I’m sure there are plenty of folks who “got a pass” from one of their friends and so they think it’s totally cool to use everywhere.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Not to mention using that language at work carries legal ramifications that don’t apply to, say, a group of friends standing around in someone’s backyard in casual conversation.

            Not that the racist casual conversation is any less racist—just that you don’t have specific workplace discrimination and harassment laws around it.

          2. Despachito*

            Everywhere definitely not, but my understanding is that that one particular Dmitri’s roommate did not mind using it/it being used towards him.

            Dmitri even mentioned he would never use this word because he hated it, and we have no reason to assume that the other friends who did not mind using it would use it freely with another person than this particular roommate. It would be definitely wrong to think that if he didn’t mind they had a free pass towards everyone else, but does it have to mean that they absolutely shouldn’t have done it towards this one specific person?

        6. Lenora Rose*

          Your friend still wouldn’t call you that at work, in the workplace, where your coworkers could hear, right? Or in an office space? He didn’t use it on random strangers? He’d likely be careful about who in public could overhear?

          The language you use among friends is not the language you use at work, even when talking to friends, and especially when others are in hearing. Especially when it’s a word you know society as a whole knows is an insult.

          White people who feel like “their Black friend” gave them a pass seem to struggle with this, and behave as if that full context follows them everywhere, even among people who never met their Black friend. it’s like they forget the full social context or think that their close social group’s rules overwrite society. (In this case I mean the white guy in the letter, not you or even, necessarily, the other white friends you talk about.)

        7. Amadeo*

          I had this interaction with a black coworker friend when I worked retail. She initiated ‘teaching’ me how to use it with the ‘a’, but I think I ended up telling her I was too white for me to be comfortable with it, though I appreciated the attempt. I just couldn’t say it to her, even with her express approval.

    2. Erin*

      Tbh, I’m really shocked that someone would feel so comfortable casually dropping such a hateful term, with no regard for how offensive it is. And then to double down and justify saying it because “I didn’t say the ending in er version, I said the ending in a version”?? Just no. I would definitely escalate this with HR, and I would keep on them about it.

      1. LilPinkSock*

        I guess I’m not super shocked, since I had a boss who was also racist in subtler ways, but OP’s colleague is outright using a racial slur and pretending that it’s no big deal. How can one person be so stupid?

    3. madge*

      This. Also, how on earth is no one responding at that moment? I get being too shocked the first time but I really don’t think I’d have a problem calling out immediately to shut up (and we NEVER said “shut up” in my house growing up – it was considered on par with cursing. I curse like Tarantino now but still avoid “shut up”), or just walking over and disconnecting the call if he’s on a landline.

      There’s a time to be gracious and calm, and this…ISN’T it.

      1. Salsa Verde*

        This. I think we should react to hearing this word spoken at work (or maybe everywhere) as if someone has flung poo at us, or slapped us. Scream in shock, or however you would react if someone threw poo in your face.

        My friend recently told me about a contractor who came over to give an estimate and somehow managed to work the n word into the conversation. They wanted me to be shocked at him; I was shocked at them for not reacting more strongly to hearing that word from someone they were choosing to work with.

        1. pancakes*

          Screaming does not seem helpful. There are so many other ways to express disapproval that are less confusing and likely to escalate the situation than that!

  3. learnedthehardway*

    OP#4 – Yes, please do ask to do a portfolio review rather than a test assignment. I’m dealing with a hiring manager now who wants a test assignment done and advising them that NO – it’s just not appropriate when they’re already losing candidates because there is so much demand in the market for people in their field right now.

    I know some hiring managers are saying that a candidate who doesn’t want to do one isn’t serious about the role, but frankly, I don’t see why they should be THAT serious about a role until it is offered to them.

    1. Observer*

      Any time a manager says that if someone won’t do some extra and unnecessary pace of work it means that they are not “serious enough” about the job, that’s a HUGE red flag. If this is what they are expecting from people who are not employees, what are they going to expect from people who are employees and thus are actually beholden to the company?

    2. Two Chairs, One to Go*

      I spent 2 full days working on a project for an interview that said it would take 1 hour. (And I checked with senior people in my field and they agreed it was a lengthier assignment.) I can’t do that each time I interview. Thankfully it’s been the only one so far – and I added the project to my portfolio!

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        woo! I do tests for jobs (as a freelancer) but would never expect to work for more than a couple of hours for free.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood, CTA*

        Which indicates to me that the company has a problem of under estimating the time it will take to do your role on a regular basis. From my own history, I’d be concerned they undervalue my product/service on general.
        (I’m a technical writer. The worst cases of ignoring writer estimates for producing a new manual have come from people who “joke” no one reads the manual. Spoiler: tech support call data shows they do.)

        1. Lizcase*

          You who reads the manual at places I’ve worked: Tech Support
          So they can help all those users who didn’t read the manual.

    3. PollyQ*

      And it’s so easy to flip that “serious” bit around. Employers aren’t serious about finding the best candidate for the role unless they’re willing to meet them halfway.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Exactly, if you’re serious about finding the right candidate then you should be respecting their time and putting actual thought into what you’re asking for and why. If you won’t do that much, the candidates are naturally going to think that’s how you manage — with as little critical thinking as you can get away with.

      2. Whoop There It Is*

        This, exactly. Saying candidates aren’t “serious” about the role is indicative of the attitude that interviewing/hiring is a one-way street going the employer’s way. It’s good insight to have — the hiring manager won’t treat you any better as a direct report than they do as a candidate (and probably worse).

    4. Kate*

      I think it really depends on the test and position.

      A well-designed test exists to answer specific questions about a candidate’s capabilities — not re-test the skills showcased in their portfolio. Of course, if a hiring manager is handing out tests just to hand out tests (which they sometimes do), that’s absolutely a waste of everyone’s time.

      Companies also need to be compensating test takers for their time.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yeah, when I used to hire people doing my current job, I had devised a test that would test various skills such as creative flair, attention to detail, spotting mistakes in source documents etc so I needed people to complete the test to compare with what others did. But it only took about an hour to complete. And we only interviewed people once in person (quick screen interview on the phone first).

      2. PollyQ*

        I’m not sure test takers should always be compensated. I think of something like a 1-hour test as just a more technical phase of interviewing, and job applicants aren’t typically compensated for interviews.

        1. Rachel*

          I honestly can’t imagine what a 1-hour design test would look like. What kind of significant design work can be achieved in 1 hour for a company someone is unfamiliar with?

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Admittedly, I’m not in design but in translation, and I can tell from four lines of text (which shouldn’t take more than ten minutes to translate) whether the translator is any good. In the days of old, I used to send tests to several people, and eliminate all those who had not run the spell check before even starting to examine their work, because I noticed that all good translators perform one last spell-check just before they deliver.

          2. Venus*

            I have done ones where they give you the test at a prearranged time and it needs to be finished in an hour. The assignment isn’t even close to complete in that time, but the progress made can be compared to others. It isn’t a significant work, but it is sufficient to assess skills. I also use the opportunity to show that I’ve researched the company a bit in the past, by explaining that I made specific choices based on x or y.

            1. Smithy*

              I had this kind of test (albeit not in design), and actually really liked it philosophically.

              It’s the only employment test I’ve ever had that truly only took an hour, and I also liked the idea of intentionally showing my work in progress as opposed to a more grey area of how polished the final product was supposed to be. The test in question was basically having a 30 odd page donor report that had been done by programmatic colleagues but needed to be reviewed with tracked changes. Again, I was a fan because they could see what I was going to focus on (questions on content, syntax, and clarity) and what I wasn’t (copy editing).

              Also…for a job that rarely involves writing from scratch and far more often getting the writing of others to create/refine for new content – it felt far more practical.

            1. OP 4*

              Yeah, I’ve hired and worked with editors, and I think tests can make sense for that type of role.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                I was given one for Exjob, but editing was a huge part of that role. It was only supposed to take a couple of hours. I worked on it for a few days and went extra on formatting, and I got the job. My boss said my test blew everyone else’s out of the water. But I CHOSE to do it that way; it wasn’t a requirement.

                Anything over three hours is not worth my time, particularly when I already have a varied portfolio. That nobody ever looks at *sigh*.

            2. alj1212*

              Yeah, we always do CAD tests for mechanical engineers and drafters, and code writing/review tests for software engineers. Always 45 minutes or less, always with dummy parts or code so no value is produced. We wouldn’t pay them for this work for the same reason we wouldn’t charge them an admission fee for the standard facility tour.

              We have, however, had cases where we were interested in industrial designers – a skill that we can’t really craft short tests for – and in that case we did in fact contract paid work from them as part of our evaluation. This process has enabled some candidates to earn good money for terrible work we had to throw away, but obviously that’s preferable to the other way around!

          3. Autumnheart*

            I guess the issue is that it shouldn’t BE significant design work. High-level napkin design work, sure. But nobody should be asking for a working prototype or a review-ready PSD for an interview. A basic wireframe showing an example workflow, or a detailed wireframe for one particular page, wouldn’t be a huge ask.

      3. ThatGirl*

        I did a sort of test for my current job – one was more of an editing/proofreading test and the other was a quick write-up of some selling features. But they were clear that it was not meant to take very long, and I understood that they wanted to see how I adapted to their voice as well as what kinds of things I would catch in editing. I also don’t have an extensive portfolio for various reasons (though I’m remedying that). So it didn’t bother me, but I also spent less than 2 hours on the whole thing.

    5. bamcheeks*

      “OK, do you want someone who is serious about the role, or do you want someone who is good and has other options?”

    6. amethyst*

      I’ve been trying, and so far failing, to convince my team to kill our written exercise, or at least shorten it significantly. First of all, it adds so much time to the process – we give the candidates a week to do it, and then I have to review them all (or find other people to split it up with), so that’s at least an additional 7-10 days assuming I get to it quickly.

      Don’t get me wrong – it is actually helpful. The questions are quite basic; it should take someone with the bare minimum skills to do our job about 1-2 hours to complete (and I’ve done it myself prior to being hired here). But I think we could work through the same problems/skills in a sufficiently-timed and well-constructed phone call.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        If it only takes a couple of hours to complete, candidates could do it at the same time as they come in for an interview? We used to do it like that (then we decided to send the test first, because there was no point having someone come in for an interview if their test was rubbish). We usually gave the applicants a couple of days, but we’d be open to letting them have more time if they said it wouldn’t be possible. The test would normally take an hour at the most.

    7. mreasy*

      When we were hiring a junior designer, I had them do a one-hour times design test because we have specific production needs for social media. It was a single timed hour, and they were assured we wouldn’t use their work.
      This ended up being the best way to distinguish between two good candidates, but for someone more senior, I can’t imagine asking for even this time commitment, let alone more.

      1. OP 4*

        This might make sense for high-volume production work, but I do a lot more than production!

    8. Margaery Tyrell*

      tbh as a fellow creative, I can see the value of asking for a test assignment to augment the portfolio review, but in no way should the work be done for free — I’d say something like “I’m happy to do this freelance assignment at $X/hour” or something.

    9. Persephone*

      I recently got hired at a new job after decades at my old one, spent occupying varying positions in my field (but all still field-related.) I had plenty of examples of my work available and sent recent items and/or work that I thought was most relevant to the job, which they all asked for, BTW.

      However, for multiple jobs I interviewed for, I was also given “tests,” which ranged from hours long actual work, filling out a long document that very much felt like a test in college-level, and taking Internet tests that also felt very much like school. These were often sent after an initial phone call, and some after a first interview. And then after doing what felt like college exams or free work, I was never contacted again, or finally was months later with a boilerplate no thanks email.

      New job: I sent them several examples, and we talked about my jobs/responsibilities/work in both interviews. Never sent any tests. Accepted job offer.

    10. SteveHolt!*

      I completely disagree with this. Doing a test assignment (either a very short one unpaid, or a more standard project at a freelance rate) isn’t just about judging a candidate’s creative talent, it’s also to see how well they work with the team, come up with creative solutions, follow directions, accept and respond to feedback, etc. You simply can’t assess those things from a portfolio alone and it’s a big mistake to rely on it, in my experience as a hiring manager for an ad agency.

      1. OP 4*

        I should clarify here that none of these assignments are collaborative, and most don’t even include a review or feedback session. It’s way less of a trial run than what you’re describing!

    11. Squishy*

      This is so interesting to me. I’m a senior-level software developer, and I’d much rather join a team where I know everyone had to do the same assignment to be hired. Of course, I think the right way to do it is to have a clear set of guidelines, some amount of creative decision making, and incorporating a discussion of the results into the followup interview. And it’s clearly different depending on the industry, even if software devs too can have portfolios of prior work.

    12. Wonderer*

      I was interviewing people for a role in my team and ended up setting a short task (~30 minutes) for the last two finalists to do, because I was concerned with their ability to do a key part of the role. This wasn’t something I would normally require and I had to specifically create the task for them. They both ended up performing extremely badly at the task – including some cheating – and completely ignoring more than half of what they were supposed to do.
      It was so bad, that I immediately ruled them both out and started the whole search/interview process over again.
      I’d say it was well worth it, because up until that point I really thought they were much stronger candidates.

  4. Mary Ellen*

    I own an agency, I always do test assignments, regardless of how senior people are. I’ve seen way too many creatives with great clips and portfolios turn out to be underwhelming performers. They just had great editors and creative directors.

    But we also pay for people’s time at their equivalent consulting rate.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        When hiring a contractor, we would start by giving them a small paid job, and if it worked out, we would start giving them bigger jobs.
        We only sent out unpaid tests when hiring employees and interns.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          In my field, “small (PAID) starting project” is the common way to assess skills and determine if the freelancer should be given more and bigger projects. It tells you not only the quality of the final work, but how much handholding they need, whether they ask good questions, etc.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yeah, me too, I actually wondered whether the work in some portfolios was really that of the applicant.

    2. Rachel*

      Great point. If you’re going to be requiring a design test you need to be paying people.

    3. OP 4*

      Hi everyone! I’m OP 4. Just wanted to add a little context here—I’d feel pretty differently if these assignments were paid or even close representative to my level of work. For example, I got one the other day that literally didn’t even want actual deliverables; they just wanted me to write out in bullet points how I would approach a certain type of project, which feels like something they should have asked in one of our five interviews so far.

      As for making sure the work in a portfolio is actually that person’s, I’ve very intentionally crafted my portfolio/clips prezzo to walk through the entire process from the brief and concepting to production. I’ve also included a lot of cutting room floor clips that I walk through and explain why we didn’t go a particular direction. In every actual portfolio review I’ve had, it’s been incredibly well-received.

      IMO, a gifted editor/CD only goes so far. I’m sure plenty of folks engage in portfolio puffery, but (not to besmirch anyone’s experience!) I also think a well-structured portfolio review—where you ask pointed questions about the work—can suss that out in most cases.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        I do an exercise as part of my hiring process, and some it is a “walk me through your process” kind of question. A big part of why I do it is that I’m open to people with non-obvious career paths, but the skills to do this work, and I want to create a level playing field. If I ask for samples, only people who have already done this job will have ones that reflect the exact thing I’m looking for. And I know from doing this work how collaborative it is! I always struggled when I was asked for samples to come up with something that felt like even 90% my own work.

        1. OP 4*

          That’s something I hadn’t considered, Lily! I definitely forget sometimes how lucky I’ve been in terms of opportunities to take ownership over great work that I’m proud of. Building a portfolio can be really hard, especially if you didn’t start agency-side or get a lucky break!

      2. Sr. Designer*

        I agree! Asking questions about your process and explanations to each project presented in the portfolio is a must in hiring. It is a great way to suss out any potential misrepresentation in the candidate skills.

    4. Suzie SW*

      I appreciate this approach. The concept that it is an “insult” to be expected to do free work shouldn’t just apply to senior candidates (who presumably have more financial stability to do so than an entry-level candidate) really demeans the value of low level employees’ time. When they are on the lower salary end, they may be struggling to make ends meet and support families, their time should be honored more than anyone’s. Thank you for valuing everyone’s time.

      1. OP 4*

        This is a really thoughtful perspective and one I hadn’t considered. In hindsight, it was so much harder to do these sorts of take-home exercises when I was a struggling new grad working two jobs to pay the rent.

    5. Shirley Keeldar*

      I’ve just recently become licensed as a massage therapist and started interviewing for jobs. It’s standard to have a “practical” part of the interview where you give somebody—likely your new boss—a massage. (Seeing your potential boss naked—under a sheet, but still—is a an entirely different bucket of awkward, but not the point here.) I didn’t expect to be paid for that massage, seeing it as part of the interview process. But the place that did offer to pay me is the offer I took. It said so much about their respect for the time of both job candidates and employees and for the work itself.

  5. Seal*

    #1 – I marched in a senior drum corps throughout my 20s and because we did a lot of local parades it was not at all uncommon to see someone from work in the audience. Many of my coworkers were fascinated by my somewhat unusual hobby and would ask for our parade schedule every year. But I get where the OP is coming from – I would have been freaked out to march past a new boss back in the day, too.

    1. Mynona*

      My partner is a FT jazz musician, and everywhere I’ve worked coworkers, including my bosses, have expressed interest in coming to one of his gigs. So I can attest that this is a common impulse, especially if it is a semi-mainstream genre of performance. Boss is trying to be nice and express an interest in OP’s arts life.

      BUT, I’ve also had musician coworkers who firewall their work and musical lives because they do NOT want coworkers who aren’t into Noise or whatever they do to just show up at a gig. If OP really wants to shut down this kind of thing in the future, that’s the best approach. FWIW, I work in the arts, so it’s really common for coworkers or their partners to have after-hours arts practice.

    2. High Score!*

      I wouldn’t be able to uninvite my boss. I would just remember that her and her son are there to enjoy (like everyone else) not criticize. I was in a few plays when I was younger and the director always reminded us that the audience just wanted to enjoy our performance, they were there to have a good time not to criticize us. That helped keep us in moment and enjoying our work too.

    3. highbury house*

      I once had an employee who moonlighted with me to support her acting/ playwrighting endeavors. She invited me to one of her workshop performances. Wanting to be a supportive boss, I went. She played the lead in the piece, and disrobed in the first scene. Ack! Too Much Information!!!! When she came into work for her next shift, she at least acknowledged how awkward it was and maybe she should have warned me. She was talented and has gone on to bigger things. I still am a little scarred, lol.

      1. SweetFancyPancakes*

        That happened to me once in college. I had a life-drawing class and usually the model was some random guy that the professor had hired, but one time I walked in and it was my dorm-neighbor sitting up there completely nude. It took me back a little, and when she came over to say hi during one of her breaks, it felt a little awkward to have her see my sketches of all of her assets on my easel.

    4. Elizabeth West*

      I felt that way when I used to skate in my rink’s ice shows. It didn’t bother me much to perform in front of a full audience; they were just blurs. But if I was aware that someone I knew was watching (even family, let alone a coworker, yikes), my stage fright went through the roof.

      Fortunately for me, hardly anyone ever came to shows and even though I had “fans,” I didn’t know who the hell they were and never ran into them anywhere else.

      1. yala*

        Performing for strangers is so much easier!

        My brother did just one open mike, and specifically told me not to go. I’m still a little bummed that I missed his first stand up, but absolutely got why.

  6. TiredMama*

    I maybe in the minority but I would be really hestiant to ask my boss to not come at this point. She might have already mentioned it to her son. Granted, I don’t think she should have been so quick to invite herself, but it seems hard to unwind it now.

    1. Becky*

      I’m with you — if this is a public event (and it sounds like it is) then there is every chance that even absent OP’s conversation boss could have found out by some other avenue and decided to attend. You can’t control who shows up a public events, anyone can attend with or without permission or invitation.

      1. bamcheeks*

        You can kind of introduce a level of plausible deniability, though, which is what I think I’d do. You can make it clear that they are of course welcome to attend as a member of the audience, but just clarify that you won’t be able to attend to them as a guest or say hi or whatever, and kind of put up a wall of separation so that if they do attend, it’s just as if they wandered in off the street from seeing a poster rather than a deliberately “we’re here to see YOU!” thing. It gives you mental permission to ignore them and just treat them as members of that amorphous mass, The Audience, rather than as People Who Know You.

        “I just wanted to let you know that I tend to be quite ~in the zone~ when I’m performing, otherwise I get quite nervous. So of course I hope you and Arthur have a great time if you decide to come along, but I just wanted to make sure that you don’t feel rebuffed or slighted if I don’t acknowledge you or say hi! It’s just how I am when I’m performing.”

        1. Cate*

          Yeah, this is the way I would go. I don’t think you can ask them not to attend, when there have already been multiple discussions.

    2. Hollywood Handshake*

      I feel the same way. Personally, I would feel more nervous and awkward about the fall-out of an un-invitation than I would from my boss seeing me perform. However, that calculus of “which is more awkward” may not work out the same for the OP, depending on how freaked out they would be by having the boss there and how reasonable they know the boss to be at this early point in their relationship.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I am with you on that side of the awkward bar.

        And as someone who likes art, music, etc, I’m sympathetic to the boss. This sounds like the sort of reaction she might have had to hearing about this event in lots of ways–it’s not “I’m going to OP’s piano recital to show support” but “Storytelling based on film noir? My son LOVES that! Oh, this is perfect, and we’re free that day, I’m so glad you mentioned this existed.”

    3. Kuddel Daddeldu*

      Yes, it’s tricky.
      My wording would be along the lines of “I now realized how much stage fright I got for this event, and as we are having such a good start, I’d be really embarrassed if this flares up and I forget my lines! Would you mind coming to a later performance when I’m a bit more settled into the role (pun intended)?”

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I personally find that the best way to combat stage fright is to admit to it. “It’s my first time performing in this kind of show and I’m really nervous about it, I’m not sure I want you to see me making a total mess of it!”. If the boss is nice (and she sounds like she is), she will immediately reassure you and tell her she’ll be attending to support you.
        In your boss’s shoes, that’s what I’d do at least. Or I’d say “OK we’ll come next time then, hoping that there is a next time!”. But I might turn up anyway and skulk in the back so OP wouldn’t see me, and just come out of the shadows to congratulate her once she’s proved her huge talent!

        1. Your local password resetter*

          Wouldnt lying to them and showing up anyway just make them really paranoid for all their future events?

        2. Emmy Noether*

          Please don’t show up anyway! You couldn’t be sure the performing employee wouldn’t see you, or that someone else wouldn’t see you and tell them, and then they would be extremely nervous, because not only did their boss show up, now their sneaking, boundary-stomping boss showed up against their express wish, possibly to laugh at them! And while you mean well (and don’t actually mean to lie, sneak, or mock), and it would play out so cute if this was a Hollywood movie, I for one would freak the hell out in the employee’s shoes.

          1. Nancy*

            I highly doubt the boss is going to spend money and time at an event to laugh at the performer.

            1. Emmy Noether*

              I see I wasn’t very clear: I was trying to illustrate what someone already nervous who didn’t want their boss there may be thinking in the moment. Doesn’t hold up to logic and I wouldn’t think that as an objective observer, I agree.

        3. Bexy Bexerson*

          You’d seriously consider showing up anyway after agreeing to not go? I’d be downright livid if someone pulled that crap with me. When an adult tells you what’s best for them and sets a boundary, it’s incredibly disrespectful to go against their wishes, especially in a “SURPRISE!!!” manner. And in a work relationship, well…that makes it even more gross. Manager at work should never mean manager of personal life.

          I’d never ever trust you about anything ever again.

          1. lunchtime caller*

            Luckily this is a completely hypothetical throwaway statement from someone who you absolutely do not know IRL who is also not actually involved in this situation or speaking to the person who would be attending

            1. Bexy Bexerson*

              Yep. And this is happening in a forum where folks discuss both real and hypothetical work scenarios, and give their advice and opinions on them. I was sharing how I feel about this situation, which is a perfectly normal and expected thing to do here.

          2. tessa*

            “I’d never ever trust you about anything ever again.”

            People do mean well, and, within, make mistakes and, often unknowingly, overstep boundaries. That’s life. But forgiveness is impossible for some people, it seems.

    4. MK*

      I agree. Asking her not to come at this point will make it into an even bigger deal than it is. Ideally the OP could find some objective reason for her boss not going, like they sold out tickets or something, but that may not apply in this case.

      A bit of a derail, but I think people should be careful following Alison’s often repeated advice about following a rebuff with friendly interactions. People aren’t stupid, they can usually tell that these are placating gestjres, and it can come across as condescending and inauthentic, and sometimes they emphasize the rebuff instead of softening it. I have been on the receiving end of this tactic a few times, and I used to internally roll my eyes at it, it felt as they were treating me as a kid who needed to be given candy after being denied something, when I am an adult who respects other people’s setting of boundaries and can take it professionally. Then I started reading this blog and realized a) there are many managers who do act as spoiled children in this situation, so employees are not unreasonable in wanting to tread carefully, and b) when you are in a position of authority (which I have been from very young age) employees who are in a lower position don’t feel as comfortable treating you as they would a coworker on their level. Still, I am not sure being pointedly friendly is the best course.

      1. bamcheeks*

        I don’t think of it as placation, so much as offering a hook to re-establish friendly relationships after a moment of awkwardness. Which is a different kind of authentic to me– a lot of work interactions are not, “I’m genuinely excited to hear about your puppy”, but “I am asking you about your puppy because I recognise you’re a person and not just a work function”. I get that that does feel inauthentic to a lot of people, but I think actually that kind of overt demonstration of good will is just a different kind of authentic.

        1. MK*

          I agree that “authentic” can mean different things depending on the situation. But I was refering to the advice to be “pointedly” or “extra” friendly after the awkward moment/rebuff. If we have a habit of making chitchat during our lunch break, then I, say, ask you to get drinks after work and you say no, and then the next day you resume the chitchat, that’s absolutely fine as a “we are back to normal” signal. But if we don’t usually make smalltalk, and the next days/weeks after the “rebuff” you make a point to chat with me about the puppy, it’s going to feel off to me. I think it is better to revert to your usual behaviour after an awkward moment, at whatever level of friendliness that was.

      2. Asenath*

        I also think “disinviting” the boss will make it too much of an issue – particularly if this is a public event she might have attended anyway. And the advice to follow up with friendly comments, although basically good – you wouldn’t want to appear to be holding some sort of grudge – does remind me a bit about the old “sandwich” advice – always say something nice, then give the negative feedback, and then say something nice. That sort of thing has left me thinking that whenever someone says sometime positive about my work, they’re really want to criticize it, and the positive comment(s) are probably insincere, or a trivial point they’re only bringing up because the rule says they have to put something positive in.

        1. Anya Last Nerve*

          I agree with this. I don’t think the sandwich advice is actually good – and I’ve heard it referred to as a “shit sandwich”. Like you I also feel tense when I’m getting good feedback because I wonder if it’s a prelude to a criticism, and as a manager, I’ve seen employees not take criticism to heart because it was sandwiched between praise.

      3. RagingADHD*

        Yeah, it takes a pretty high level of social finesse to pull off the “look for opportunities to demonstrate warmth” without coming across as placating and condescending.

        Tone and timing have a lot to do with it. You have to deliver the original pushback warmly, with the attitude that “it’s better for both of us to keep the lines clear” rather than “back off!” And then you have to leave the right amount of time before making a friendly gesture. You can’t change gears right away.

        It can be done, but a lot of people just aren’t good at it.

        OTOH, I think that being transparent about the fact that the boss’s presence would make LW too nervous is unlikely to be offensive. However, it could also potentially give the boss the impression that LW is fragile and indecisive. In some roles/cultures that wouldn’t matter. In others it would.

        1. Eff Walsingham*

          +1 to this.

          “Fragile and indecisive” was what I was trying to get at in my other comments, but I think you’ve captured it better.

          We can never control how others see us… we’re just leaving a trail of breadcrumbs with our everyday interactions. All I’ve been trying to emphasize is that when you’re new, you’ll typically want to avoid making a peculiar impression, especially if it’s an inaccurate one!

    5. Venus*

      If OP1 has several events per year then a response is “I barely know you and am still worried about making a good first impression. Do you mind if I invite you to the next show, in 6 months, and at that time I will know you much better so I won’t be thinking of you while I perform”

    6. Falling Diphthong*

      “Bringing your whole self to work” gets a lot of emphasis in management circles now, and I could see the boss responding in that vein. (And, of course, sincerely thinking this sounded like a neat event her son would enjoy, like if someone at the dog park had mentioned it.)

    7. pancakes*

      If the boss did already mention it to her son, I don’t think that in itself is a boundary that was crossed that makes it impossible to say anything now. There’s no reason to believe the son has some sort of deep emotional attachment to attending this event, or can’t handle minor disappointments for some reason. I think Alison’s script is fine and would likely go over fine. I can understand not wanting to risk awkwardness too, but I think it would be pretty strange for someone to take offense at “I’m nervous about having coworkers there, please don’t come to this one and I’ll let you know about others in the future.”

      1. MK*

        The script is a thinly veiled excuse from the OP to prevent her boss to come to her performance, because she (understandably) doesn’t want her there. I don’t doubt that there are people who are nervous when they know their aquaintances watch their performance, but if you are a person who signs up to perform publicly, you usually just deal with the nerves, you don’t ask people to not come to the show.

        I don’t think a reasonable colleague will be offended. But they probably would see through the excuse (especially if you don’t actively invite them to the next event), and the whole interaction “sure, come to the show”/”actually, no, don’t come, you will make me nervous” is absolutely going to create some awkwardness. It’s up to the OP to decide whether it will be worth it to avoid her boss attending. On the other hand, if she lets it go, there is the danger the boss will become a fan and start coming to all the shows!

        1. pancakes*

          I don’t see how that would be “veiled.” It’s quite straightforward. “I’d rather you didn’t come, actually” isn’t something that needs to be “seen through” for the listener to arrive at “they’d rather I didn’t come.” It’s not a demand but it’s not ambiguous, either.

          I broadly agree about people attending a performance, but a new boss isn’t just anybody.

          1. Eff Walsingham*

            See, if anyone said that to me, in any context: “I’d rather you didn’t come, actually” when speaking about an event to which I’d previously been invited, I would find it so, so weird! Not like, This is a bad person, but like, Now I’m totally at sea when it comes to dealing with them. I don’t see how it could fail to affect my overall perception if it was a new staff member.

            “She said she loves the direction the Smith account is taking. But maybe tomorrow she’ll want to bin it and try something new?” Or, “She said she would rather have a desk by the window. But would she REALLY? I don’t want to waste time rearranging the seating plan if she’s not sure.”

            I mean, with a new person you have no yardstick as to what behaviour is typical of them. If someone is so oblivious or careless of what I regard as a social norm, I’ll be confused. Conversely, if someone I’d known for a long time said it, I think I’d be more likely to regard it as an odd blip, say “Alrighty then!” and think no more about it. Although I’d probably still be curious about what happened between the invitation and the revocation, I hope I’d be too polite to pry.

            1. pancakes*

              I think a lot of people would think it was weird, sure. I also think anyone inclined to use it as a reason to forevermore second-guess everything the performer said, no matter how banal, no matter what was said, would be hung up on it in a weird way.

              1. Eff Walsingham*

                Who said “forevermore”? Not me.

                But maybe for a little while, depending on how they phrased it, how the overall conversation went. If I’m just getting to know someone and they say something I find weird or inconsistent, I might view them as inclined to be… weird or inconsistent? until I know them better, however long that takes.

                My personal experience as a human and an employee leads me to find it less likely that the boss will feel that the awkwardness was of her own making. Even though the LW states that the boss invited herself, the boss may feel as if it is the LW who is behaving oddly.

          2. MK*

            The script makes it sound as if this is about the OP having some kind of coworker-specific stage fright, while in fact she mainly just doesn’t want her there, at an event that means so much to her. Also, an acquaintance-level person like a boss is exactly the sort of person from whom it would be weird to ask not to come to a public performance. Strangers aren’t an issue, and you might feel comfortable asking it from family or close friends.

            1. pancakes*

              That seems like a distinction without a difference to me. The request being communicated and the end result of either of those statements would be, “I’d rather you didn’t come.”

      2. TiredMama*

        Obviously we have no idea what the event is or anything about the boss’s child (could be 20 years old or 4 years old for all we know). I threw it out there because it could impact how her boss feels about being asked not to come. If I told my six year old we are going to do x on Saturday and then cancel, it’s fine, everyone will be fine, but it will be a thing that I have to now manage and I would be a little annoyed about it, mostly with myself for saying something before the event actually happens, but probably a little annoyed with my direct report too, especially if this is a public event that I could attend without anyone’s permission or invitation. These are just things for the OP to consider as they decide how to proceed.

        1. Eff Walsingham*

          New hypothetical:

          LW has awkward conversation with boss… “Upon thinking about it, I would be excessively nervous if you were there” and the boss says, “Oh! All right.” And thinks… whatever she thinks. If she’s got a good poker face, LW will have no idea what she thinks.

          Then the boss gets home, only to be told by son, “Hey, there’s a dance / music event this weekend… you know, that thing I’m really excited about? I’ve bought us two tickets!” In my world, this is not unlikely, subject to the son being old enough to buy his own tickets. We live in a major city, but the ticket-buying arts community is very insular.

          Now the boss has a bit of a dilemma. Now that she has a ticket in her hand, from an outside source, should she still not go? What if her son can’t find anyone else to go with at short notice and is annoyed? Would she rather risk annoying her son or offending her employee? We don’t know what she’ll do, because we don’t know her. The LW doesn’t know, either.

          So, at this point I guess I’m recommending that the LW keep in mind that it is within the realm of possibility that the boss might be there anyway. Even if she agrees in the moment not to attend. From that perspective, I wouldn’t risk the conversation, since it might raise more difficulties, and might not solve the original problem.

    8. kittymommy*

      Yeah, I think it would be weird to go back and ask her not to come at this point, especially if it’s a general public event. FWIW, I also think it’s important hat the boss isn’t wanting to come specifically to see the employee but because the event in and of itself is something that their son would enjoy.

    9. JessicaTate*

      I really agree. Uninviting seems really weird, especially assuming it’s a public performance. If anyone in the public is welcome to get a ticket and come… well, boss is a member of the public. If it’s truly a private, invitation-only performance, you could maybe do it as Alison suggests. But I still think it’s going to create new awkward.

      As an alternate, what I might suggest is to give boss the info about the performance and then say, “But I’ve realized the thought of my new boss in the audience is making me super nervous. So, could I ask a favor? If you and your son really want to come, could you just… not tell me you are coming or that you were there? I know that sounds odd and you probably want to be supportive! But I’ll actually feel way better if I can just imagine no one from work is in the crowd.” And then… convince yourself that she’s not coming, don’t look for her in the crowd, etc. (I’m assuming crowd and set-ups big enough that you don’t see every face in the crowd. If this is like a balloon artist at a town festival… this won’t work.)

      If boss is particularly empathetic, she might read the subtext and just back off. Or will hopefully respect your wishes and not say anything, and you can imagine she’s not there.

      1. Pharmgirl*

        I agree this seems like a good way to approach it. Especially as it doesn’t seem like the boss is going specifically for the OP, but because it’s something her son would enjoy and she just happened to learn of it from the OP.

  7. Rich*

    OP#5, Alison’s advice is good, particularly if you’re looking for someone to provide general guidance and direction.

    If, however, you have a specific goal in mind (promotion from teapot production to teapot production manager, a move from teapot repair to teapot design), it can be helpful to have a more formal mentoring relationship with someone in or just above the goal position. Specifically targeting the kind of advice you’ll get around the expectations of your particular objective rather than your general company/industry, can accelerate your progress. It can also help put you on the radar of people who would actually promote you into the role.

    Your manager, if they’re a good manager, can be helpful in establishing this relationship. I’ve found, though, that your grand-boss is often better at it. She may be directly managing the position you want to fill, and she likely has more exposure and access to people in that role than your boss does.

    Starting with a recommendation from your boss is good. After you start with your boss, finding out if you can directly approach your grand-boss is better.

    1. SatsumaWolf*

      I agree with this and Alison’s points. I do think there is also a benefit from asking people if they will mentor (rather than trying to build that relationship organically) as then the other person knows what you hope from the relationship. I have had mentors through a program but had the best mentors when I approached them directly. I would say why I admire their work or how they conduct themselves (one person I approached was a man who I saw attend meetings/workshops about professional advancement for women for example), I would ask if they would mentor me and say what I hoped to learn (how to work in their industry, professional development advice etc), and then aknowledge they may be busy and not have time but hope they will consider. My current mentor I found this way has been amazing – supportive in my efforts and a real boost to my confidence, provides coaching on the areas I want to dig into, and she even advocates for me within the company – I was approached about my new role because she suggested I would be a great candidate. I know we will always have a professional relationship now but I still intend to check in and ask if she would be happy to continue this specific mentoring relationship and why I find it useful.

      I think an important thing to remember (which I’m sure you do) is that people are allowed to decline to mentor you for any reason or none and as long as you genuinely approach people without taking a yes for granted and graciously replying if they decline, people are really happy to be asked).

  8. Evvie*

    Ugh, I’m wary of companies that require test projects. I had my work stolen (they remade it with their own program, but it was my exact work) and they never filled the position, making me think they did the same to all their interviewees.

    Not a good look for a nonprofit helping people get out of poverty…

  9. Nah*

    #3 – I don’t see how a distracted manager can possibly not be getting in the way of the meetings, and I really don’t think you just put up with it. A large point of these sort of check ins is for the employee to feel supported and listened to – and you obviously don’t!

    1. Claire W*

      Yeah I think in a 1:1 meeting it’s beyond rude for the manager to spend the whole meeting doing something else. Different if something urgent comes up or the work is relevant to the meeting, but if the manager knows they don’t have the time or space to be able to acknowledge and pay attention to the person they’re meeting with then they should just cancel the meeting. I had a former manager who was terrible for this, she’d spend our fortnightly 1:1 doing anything from other work to texting her husband to looking at the webcam for her kids’ nursery school and it was just miserable, one of the many ways she showed she had no interest in managing me. IMO it’s disrespectful to the person you’re meeting with – if you can’t give them the time and attention, at least cancel so they aren’t wasting their time watching you work!!

      1. azvlr*

        I had a manager do this regularly. I had never met her in person, so this was the only time I got with her. I often went two or three weeks without hearing from her. Unanswered emails, cancelled or delayed meetings, etc.
        When I did get an audience with her, she would just hang-on at the end of our scheduled time talking about her personal life, which put her late for her next meeting as well. She would also regularly send emails at 2am, but then say I needed to manage my time better (feedback that I’ve never gotten from any other manager). Projecting much?

        Overall, I feel this led to her giving me negative reviews. With no guidance, I was drowning. My wake-up call to leave was when I did not meet expectations.

        I wish I had been more assertive with managing this 1:1 time together.

    2. Lauren*

      I agree that is unacceptable – I was surprised to read Allison’s response. Giving people your time and attention in a 1:1 conversation is… the most basic of courtesies. I very much believe employees deserve that from their supervisors, and really anyone deserves that in any conversation.

      1. Koalafied*

        This is one of those cases where the advice is different because of who wrote in. If the manager wrote in, Alison could give the manager advice on changing their behavior. But the person who wrote in has very little power to make her manager change if the manager doesn’t want to, even if it’s the right thing to do. So the advice focuses on the realistic options the letter writer has: accept this as something you can’t change, or gently push back with the limited standing you have as this person’s subordinate.

      2. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

        My 1:1 sometimes get sidetracked, but often it’s because there’s an immediate issue that needs to be addressed and typically if that happens, my boss and I just work it together. Or she’ll ask what I think. It happens. Usually though if we don’t get to just talk about what I need to, she’ll reschedule a time. But this only happens for truly urgent work matters. It happens.

      3. pancakes*

        For extremely busy, high level people I don’t think that is realistic. Certainly not always realistic, at least. And I don’t find it at all offensive if someone extremely busy and high level sees a message pop up while we’re meeting, for example, and says something the lines of “oh crap, I’m sorry, I have to deal with this right now, give me a second.” In theory yes we all deserve to be able to talk without interruption, but something like that is not a deliberate slight and I don’t see any good reason to take it personally. If it’s a pattern and it seems they’re never focused, that’s a different problem, but to say it’s always unacceptable to be interrupted seems simply unrealistic to me.

        1. OP3*

          I agree that a super urgent thing coming up could be a reason to say “can I actually call you back in 10 minutes I need to take care of this” but this happens every time we meet.

          1. pancakes*

            Ugh. Unless they’re a surgeon or something that is a lot. Good luck carving out some uninterrupted time.

      4. Dinwar*

        It depends on the situation and the job. Giving an employee 100% of my attention just isn’t possible–given the nature of my work there’s always the chance that the phone call or text interrupting our meeting is a “We need a medical evac” type call. No meeting is worth someone’s life, and I’ve never met anyone who took offense to me taking a call to ensure my team’s safety (it even convinced one person to join our team). And there are some fields where timing is critical. The idea of llama raising is used on this site as a stand-in for a generic career; well, llamas give birth, and it’s not always easy. If your income relies on ensuring the continuation of your herd you drop EVERYTHING to care for the births–you may not be involved directly, but coordinating things so those directly involved can focus on the task at hand is just as important.

        That said, you know within a month or two if you’re in a field where this is the case. Field geology? Absolutely. Farming? Definitely. Maintenance? Possibly. Accounts Receivable? Probably not, if your department is well-run. If you’re in a field where such interruptions are to be expected, you don’t get to be upset by them–you knew it going in, it’s part of the job. If you’re in a field where such interruptions are abnormal, yeah, it makes sense to view them as disrespectful.

        1. EventPlannerGal*

          Dinwar, this may be off-topic but can I ask what it is you do? You mention medical evacs and I think I remember a previous post where you mentioned people trying to stab and poison you – I’m so intrigued! Whatever it is sounds like material for one of Alison’s ‘interesting jobs’ posts.

          1. Dinwar*

            The medical evac is from the job–field geology, environmental sampling. They send us all over the world, from people’s back yards to Forward Operating Bases. I tuned down the FOB work (I don’t like being shot at), but I routinely work on industrial facilities, military facilities, and other areas where things routinely blow up. Worked on one site (industrial) where there was a cloud of chlorine gas that we were working near, and another where we had to wear PPE so that if there was an explosion they could identify our remains (that was the official reason given in the safety meeting). My wife worked on one where a guy lost his arm when he got hit by a train. I’ve also worked on sites 50 miles from the nearest road, where they keep snake antivenom onsite because they can’t get it flown in fast enough.

            As one PM put it, they do not send us to garden spots. :D

            Again, though, it’s one of those things you know going in. All through school you hear stories. And they put you through Field Camp more or less to test if you’re willing to put yourself through it. My wife actually bought me a book a few years ago for the holidays that’s a collection of “So this is how I almost died” stories from field geologists. You don’t WANT to get into these situations, but they happen, we’re trained for it, we have the resources to deal with most of it, and we’ve got the experience to handle most of what comes our way.

            The industry is changing, too. A lot more paperwork, a lot more planning and prep work, a lot more caution and a lot less attitude of “Man up, son!” I doubt the folks working for me will have half the stories I do. I’ve decided part of my job is to make sure of that, in fact.

            The stabbing and poisoning were family. Let’s just say high school was rough.

        2. Lora*

          Yeah, this. I am definitely the distracted manager here, constantly keeping half an eye out for “Regulatory Agency in Conference Room 249857 wants to talk to you about Document you signed,” “EHS emergency just happened, you are urgently required to help,” and so on.

          Also: I despise meetings where there is some critical piece of data / documentation I need to make a decision, but for whatever reason we don’t have it at hand. Would much rather “okay, let’s look it up” and get the data on the spot and make the decision, rather than have the outcome of the meeting be “and now I have to check in that they got the data and have a follow up meeting.” All meetings, even 1:1s, should have agendas and if a thing happened not according to plan, a heads-up is good so I can prepare for the discussion rather than “surprise! a disaster happened!” But, I have been complained at for not paying attention to something when I’m actually looking up the relevant info on the spot.

    3. anonymous73*

      That’s why OP needs to determine whether these check ins are needed. If OP needs this time with manager to discuss important work things, then yes they need to speak up and have their full attention during the meeting. But if they’re not necessary, they need to be cancelled, and that can be done on a week by week basis. 2 per week is excessive anyway.

    4. Meg*

      We have regular 1:1 that sometimes need to be pushed or multi-tasked through, but we catch up on Slack. I would say “I really want to talk about X so can we schedule a full meeting for it? We can chat about anything else in Slack/Jabber/Skype in the meantime”. And then I would actually schedule the full meeting for the important topic. If it’s outside the normal schedule it makes it clear it’s a huge priority, but otherwise I’m happy to say “this is my progress on XYZ, is there anything you want me to take on? I’ll schedule meeting with spoc of task/etc.”

    5. Office Lobster DJ*

      I agree. It would irritate the heck out of me as an employee. I think Alison’s scripts are one way to approach it, if OP’s not getting what they need from the meeting. I think OP could also approach the subject as “You seem so busy, manager, and I was wondering if it would be easier for you and a better use of your time to [switch to an e-mail / switch these meetings to an as-needed basis/ forget these meetings entirely / whatever works best for OP].” If the frequent cancellations have had a tangible negative effect (i.e. caused some concrete difficulty, not just feeling annoyed), OP shouldn’t be shy about mentioning it, either.

    6. kiki*

      Yeah, the whole point of a 1:1 is really for the manager to listen and engage with their employee, which really can’t be done while doing work multi-tasking. I know a lot of people listen and engage best when they doodle or crochet or fidget or stuff like, but sending work emails is different. A lot of people think they’re multi-tasking well when sending emails, but I’ve almost never found this to be the case. My sister does this all the time and she 100% thinks she’s holding down our conversation when actually she stopped talking mid-sentence. It’s really rude and honestly not having the 1:1 is probably just as well as trying to do whatever this manager is doing.

      1. Allonge*

        “not having the 1:1 is probably just as well as trying to do whatever this manager is doing”

        I disagree. My talks with my manager are not about our personal relationship or her constant acknowledgement of my self-worth.

        If I tell her about an issue and she chooses to devote 60% of her attention to it at any given moment, that is still a lot more than 0%. Almost by definition she has more things on her brain work-wise than I do – I take the time I can get. And I know plenty of people who can draft work emails and listen at the same time.

        1. Office Lobster DJ*

          “If I tell her about an issue and she chooses to devote 60% of her attention to it at any given moment, that is still a lot more than 0%.”

          For me, if something could be solved with 60% of my manager’s attention, I would have already been able to solve it myself. Add to that the inevitable communication errors resulting from divided attention, and I’d say 60% can actually be worse than 0%.

    7. OP3*

      I’m OP on #3! I’m a remote worker and have never met my manager in person, so these are the only times we have direct 1:1 communication. We don’t work in a field where anyone’s health or safety is on the line. However, we do work on projects that can be intense and I have verbalized in the past that the type of work we do has impacted my mental health in the past. So when she multitasks through our meetings (talking out loud as she’s responding to other people’s messages) and then asks how I’m doing I’m thinking, “why should I open up to this person who isn’t willing to give me her full attention for even like 15 minutes?”

      1. Orange You Glad*

        I get the feeling your manager is just holding these check-in meetings to sort of check a box in her mind that they happened. Now you can’t say your manager never checks in. But I agree that if she is not giving you her full attention for at least a few minutes, is it really a check-in?
        I feel like I’ve been in your manager’s shoes before, too much work and not enough time in the day. I still pause what I’m doing during a meeting. I actually like when short meetings break up a busy day but that’s just me.
        I wouldn’t be afraid to speak up though. She can either reschedule when she is free or if you feel the check-in is not necessary that week, just offer to cancel.

      2. Gumby*

        Honestly, I agree with your take. An urgent interruption is one thing. Obviously going through her inbox while having a conversation with you is a different animal. I would lean more towards the “you appear to be busy and I don’t want to take you away from what seems to be more important work so we can pick this up later.”

        But also – are the one on ones too formless right now? Is there an agenda or bullet list of items for discussion? Because it might help if the conversations are more directed. What would happen if an hour or so (or whatever works) before the meeting you emailed with a short list of topics you want to cover? “I need to discuss the X project, vacation/staffing plans for next quarter, and the search for a new chocolate supplier with OP3 today” might result in more focus than “I should check in with OP3 because that is what a good manager does but I have no real goal outside of that and my to do list is sooo long so I will multitask!”

    1. KayStar*

      As though I were young and hip and using it to establish rapport with my peeps. The -a version is often heard in popular music and movies. But, appropriated by a non-POC in a workplace, very vulgar and in poor taste, at best.

      1. KofSharp*

        I’ve… unfortunately known a couple people like this. I was closer to one than another.
        They’ve somehow got it in their head that they, too, should be able to use the word in the same context as “dude”, “bro,” or “man,” and then they drop that bomb in the group that says “We are not at a point in our history where you can SAY that, no matter your intentions behind it.”
        Unfortunately I’ve never seen someone acknowledge they were wrong about it. They always double down.

      2. mreasy*

        Ironically, a white person using the n word in any way is going to immediately reveal themself to be, in fact, the least hip or cool person in the room.

        1. Broadway Duchess*

          I don’t think you get to determine this for a group of people who claimed it when it was being used to further subjugate them.

      3. theletter*

        I think ‘appropriation’ is the best word for it – the ‘a’ pronunciation was meant as a term of resistance among a minority of people who collectively experienced racism and community dis-investment. The term is much more ‘brothers in a struggle’ than ‘buddy’, and lack of understanding that difference takes away what little positive power it has.

        In more recent songs, I’m starting to hear it go the other way though, and it’s never been fully embraced by the orginal communities it intended to serve.

        So even if it’s used correctly, it can still offend:

        – people who prefer the use of it contained to a small group of people who have experienced racism and racism motivated poverty and police brutality.
        – people who never liked the effort to reclaim it
        – people who are re-redefining the word as negative

        Also, in an office? C’mon! You can take your private calls outside the cube farm!

        1. Filosofickle*

          The show Black-ish has a fantastically nuanced episode on this topic. Everyone in the house, across 3 generations, has a perspective on if it’s okay at all, by whom, with whom, and when.

    2. Pippa K*

      I think of this as the “bad linguist” issue: someone notices that this particular word has two different pronunciations and applications but willfully ignores the meaning conveyed by user, audience, and context. Then they aggressively deploy the usage they’ve decided isn’t “technically offensive” and argue with anyone who disagrees. The plot twist is always the same: it’s never about needing to use that specific, allegedly deracialized term, it’s about shock value and usually some bonus deniable-racism. Maybe the only thing that works is “don’t care what you meant, people hear the other word every time; just stop.”

      1. Lunch Ghost*

        Yep, that’s where I was going. Exact quote in educational context. (Of the “illustration of awful racist attitudes” variety, or of the “I am reading this to you as the black author wrote it” variety.)

        1. quill*

          Yes. Outside of rap music I have only ever heard it in direct quotes from historical sources. And even then commentators speaking aloud will often do something like say N-word. Or paraphrase a quote with “he referred to these people with the N-word” or “his cat was named the N-word.” People seem to be more likely to write it as a direct quote than to actually say it.

  10. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    OP4 I’m in a similar situation.
    However, having also worked as someone hiring people like me, I know that the important thing is not just to be able to judge the quality of someone’s work, but to be able to compare it to that of others. I had devised a specific test, to see whether people could come up with creative solutions, whether they paid attention to certain details, whether they could spot mistakes in the source documents, etc. with a specific evaluation grid, to be sure of not overlooking stuff.
    I know for a fact that some people put work that isn’t theirs in their portfolios too (either that or they must have spent huge amounts of time producing their portfolio work, meaning that they probably wouldn’t be able to meet our tight deadlines).
    So I will happily perform tests to show what I’m capable of. It’s a pain, but it means the client wants good-quality work, and since that’s what I want to provide, it also means we’re off to a good start.
    One advantage of having a lot of experience is that you can produce the test work in less time than beginners.

    1. Rachel*

      I absolutely disagree with this stance. If you really need to learn more about attention to detail, skills with necessary programs, etc. that is something that a competent interviewer should be able to discern through a thorough portfolio review and interview. It’s unethical to make designers do free work, and I (and most of the most talented designers I know) will walk away from an interview process that requires a “design test”. Companies are losing top talent who know they can get better jobs without working for free.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I’ll just add that the test I devised shouldn’t take more than an hour to complete.
        I discount the portfolio because I have already seen people hired on the strength of their portfolio who turned out to be far less competent than the portfolio would lead you to believe.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          And also, not design but translation which I’m starting to realise is perhaps simpler to assess with smaller work samples that shouldn’t take more than an hour.

          1. OP 4*

            Yeah, my two cents is that translation is somewhat easier to objectively assess than something like copywriting or design. In my line of work, projects often take weeks to months and involve a lot of iteration—while stuff like grammar is important, for example, it’s not the Most Important Skill for me to demonstrate to a potential employer.

            That said, I’m pretty big on having concrete results in my portfolio. Since I work in-house, I can point to specific campaign results to help folks understand whether my work—well, worked lol.

          2. Rachel*

            Ah, that makes way more sense. I think a 1-hour test could be reasonable if it’s for translation — but design is a totally different field, so I don’t think it’s super transferable, and I think my stance is probably still “people should get paid for their work.”

          3. Wintermute*

            I think translation is a very, very different case because in many cases you’re not going to have a ton of familiarity with the before/after and portfolio work may not contain some specific very relevant skills. Not all translation needs are equal.

            I could absolutely see the value of a very short exercise that deals with some key things different translators would handle in very different ways that are specifically relevant to your business. Those little things where there is no accepted right or wrong way, it’s part of the “art” of translating, not the strict science, and part of what makes a good translator good and an average one average, and are highly contextual to your business.

            If you’re doing technical documentation it doesn’t matter how someone would choose to handle dialect speech, if you’re translating fiction it does. How someone chooses to handle structured speech like poetry or song lyrics, if they maintain the flow and meter ever if it means a looser translation versus a more literal translation that doesn’t rhyme or can’t be sung to that rhythm/tune, really only comes up in a few kinds of translation but when it matters it REALLY matters.

            How they handle culturally sensitive differences in terminology may have immense importance, or fairly little. If you’re doing technical documentation that’s far different from marketing, in one you just have to avoid using words that are widely taboo, but in advertising you need a fairly sophisticated knowledge of local culture and how things will come off, what connotations and mental associations words have, cultural touchstones, stock phrases people would associate with other brands or with public figures, and how to avoid accidental humor (or create it, if that’s the goal/tone they want to set).

            And what’s more you could really get at those key points with one or two paragraphs of work that should be fairly easy to translate otherwise, and then you can have an intelligent conversation about their philosophy and ask some questions about their choices and how and why they made them.

  11. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    OP5 in my profession there are various mentoring schemes through professional organisations, the school’s alumni org, etc. It might be worth looking into these.
    I agree that an organic mentoring setup works best, but that tends to happen to people who ooze charm, the type who aren’t actually going to have very many difficulties simply because they have the right kind of personality (and often privilege). If you go through an alumni org or a professional community of some kind, the person assigned as your mentor will have volunteered to do it, so there’s already goodwill working for you there. If your boss assigns a mentor, that person may not necessarily want to act as one and it will probably show.

  12. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    OP2: Had, a time ago, a member of staff who’d have loud personal phone calls in the office where they’d use highly offensive words and slurs but when told to knock it off said that him and his friends always speak like that to each other and it’s not meant offensively.

    “I don’t care about your intent, I care about the impact” I said “people at work shouldn’t be exposed to that kind of language”.

    We’re IT and tend to swear a lot but I draw the line at slurs and certain words that are wayy too much. He tried to argue that because it was a personal call it wasn’t the business of ours, I told HR about it since this guy was refusing to stop, they basically said to him to stop it, or else face losing his job.

    He gave me dirty looks on a daily basis after that but took his personal phone calls and potty mouth out to his car. Fine by me.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        You’ll love the fact that he tried to complain to HR initially about how I was ‘spying on his personal calls’ when the reality was I could hear every word he said from next door in the LAN room with all the servers and the AC running. He could have stood in London Paddington and been heard in Swindon I reckon!

        1. Observer*

          Yeah, if you could hear him while you were in the server room, he was waaay off the charts. I think I would have recorded he server room noise on a quiet day and asked HR what they think.

          Many years ago my boss asked why we can’t put a desk in the server room. Aside from the security issues, I pointed out that there is no way any reasonable person with normal hearing could work in that environment.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      The idea that he’s taking personal calls in a public space where a coworkers can hear, but it’s “personal” so he acts like you can’t hear it!

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Even if they’re not using slurs, I hate when people do this in a cube farm. They’re always much louder than they think they are.

    2. The Prettiest Curse*

      Yeah, the argument that it’s somehow not a work issue if you do it in the workplace on work time is … not logical. The miniscule amount of inconvenience caused by his doing these calls in his car was worth it so that nobody had to hear his racist language.

  13. Hotdog not dog*

    I’m not buying they “didn’t mean it like that”. If they meant something different, they should have used different words. There is simply no context where that word should be used in a professional setting. I would seriously question the judgment of that coworker.

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      Exactly. Someone’s intent doesn’t change the impact in this case.

      And, even if we used his logic for a moment just for the sake of illustrating this point: someone overhearing his conversation won’t know his intent, and he has no way of controlling the impact it has on them.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      “I didn’t mean it like that” is a relative of “I was only joking”–it’s an attempt to avoid responsibility for saying something awful.

    3. AnonInCanada*

      Exactly this. The N-word is the N-word no matter how you “meant it.” And whoever overhears it will know the true character of who spoke it.

  14. FashionablyEvil*

    I wish we could ban the word multitasking! As LW #3 so clearly demonstrates, it’s just a euphemism for “not really paying attention.” I hate the way it attempts to turn a vice (not paying attention) into a virtue and venerates the cult of busyness.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      Somewhere, long ago, I ran across the expression “toggle tasking” instead of multi-tasking. I find it more accurate, as did the word/phrase coiner.

    2. Michael*

      Yes, absolutely! Another piece of business jargon that attempts to validate something that you actually just shouldn’t do.

    3. anonymous73*

      The term doesn’t need to be banned, but it needs to be used correctly. Ignoring the one person you’re meeting with to do other work is not multi-tasking.

      1. Wintermute*

        the thing is, neurological research says that there is no such thing for humans as multitasking. The best we can do is rapid context-switching, our brains literally cannot do more than one cognitive task a a time. We can do muscle memory tasks at the same time as cognitive tasks, but you literally cannot think about two things at once, no one can.

        1. Orange You Glad*

          I think more people need to realize their limitations too. I actually only attempt to multi-task when the 2 tasks are different like that – a mindless action and cognitive thought/conversation. I can stuff envelopes while answering someone’s technical question. I cannot sort the envelopes alphabetically while someone is talking to me so I don’t try.

      2. FashionablyEvil*

        But there’s really no such thing as multi-tasking—it’s just constantly shifting between tasks.

    4. quill*

      There are very specific instances where it’s possible to multitask because the level of attention needed to each task is not large. See: washing the dishes and listening to music.

      Work generally does not fall within this category unless your job is to wash the dishes.

      1. Wintermute*

        That’s a special case because one of them is basically offloaded to muscle memory and the other is a “cognitive task”. That kind of multitasking is very possible, in fact we do it all the time.

        What you can’t do is either two cognitive tasks or two muscle memory tasks at once.

  15. Rachel*

    @OP4: I’m also a senior creative and find this UNBELIEVABLY frustrating. It feels like it’s becoming more common in certain geographies, too. In the US, I had decent luck proposing an in-depth and customized portfolio review (customized by showing projects that I don’t normally display but are relevant).

    However in Germany, it seems like these design tasks are pretty much completely mandatory. Every company I interviewed with required one, with no wiggle room. Super frustrating.

    If it helps, I’ve linked nospec in my name, which is a great resource explaining why spec work like these kind of design challenges suck. It’s worked with US recruiters, but not German ones. I hope that if more designers start turning down these tests, eventually companies will stop.

    1. Rachel*

      Oops, looks like I couldn’t link the site in my name! But it’s literally just nospec dot com, if anyone’s interested.

    2. LDN Layabout*

      Employers in countries with better workplace protections for employees are going to stick closer to their internal processes because they’re set out that way for everyone’s sake. Changing the process for just one applicant is not going to fly.

      1. Rachel*

        Sure — but how good are employee protections really if every candidate needs to spend 8+ unpaid hours for a job they don’t even know if they’ll get? Nearly of the design tests I received while interviewing required around that amount of time.

        I now work in Germany (ended up transferring within my company, so no need for a test) and while protections are better than in the US, worker exploitation still exists here in a big way, especially in creative fields where you have a lot of people wanting to break in. I’m not saying that companies should change the process just for me, they should change the process for everyone.

      2. Observer*

        because they’re set out that way for everyone’s sake

        No they are not – these processes often don’t make much sense, frequently the goals can be accomplished din other ways, and are sometimes, as you can see by this discussion, totally disrespectful.

  16. Associate*

    OP3 – I might be misunderstanding, but are these semi-monthly check-ins in addition to any other regular, weekly check-ins you have with your manager? If not, I’m not sure I agree with Alison’s advice. Part of a manager’s job is to perform these types of regular 1x1s with their employees. While it’s understandable there would be some occasional multi-tasking, the manager is already regularly canceling or rescheduling them and then on top of that, the ones they do show up to they’re multi-tasking in? It’s not good management and it comes off as not showing interest in your development. Do you have a relationship where you can be candid about what your concerns are? I would try addressing it directly with her first and then if it doesn’t work, escalating it. 1x1s are an important part of employee development and the laissez-faire attitude your manager has isn’t normal. If other people in your office are getting the full attention of their managers for regular check ins, this situation will set you back.

  17. Katie*

    As a manager of others who is responsible for way to much and hs been guilty of multi tasking one in ones, I think it’s entirely reasonable to ask them not to multitask. If the problem is people pinging her, she should be able to turn on do not disturb.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Yeah, I admit to doing this quite often both at work and at home (I get bored very quickly, my attention shifts more than Safari with 230 tabs open and if I’m doing one thing like playing on the computer I have to be doing something else like painting my nails at the same time).

      I’m a lot better about it at work these days, especially during meetings, and my staff absolutely will ask me to turn the phone onto silent during one to one’s if I forget.

  18. Charlotte (She / Her)*

    I agree 100% with Alison’s advice and take on post #2, but am curious if there was something edited out identifying the offender’s gender. I’ve always appreciated Alison’s position to default to she / her if gender is not known and remember her great explanation as to why she does this. The OP uses they / them in the post, but the response from Alison uses he / him.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      There’s a link at the bottom of the page (where you add comments) to report typo issues. That’s a more reliable way to make sure she sees it.

  19. Hiring Mgr*

    I’m not in a creative field and don’t know exactly what goes into these assignments, but I do wonder if there would be an equity component to letting some candidates bypass part of the hiring process

    1. OP 4*

      This is a great callout! To be extra clear, I think no candidate for these roles should have to do homework. But I totally understand that me asking for a portfolio review could create equity issues for other appplicants :D

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        Agree, a short assignment seems ok but if it’s really hours or days long that just seems overkill, especially if they’re just springing it on you once you’re deeper along in the process.

    2. Rachel*

      I think it can also be an equity issue to require unpaid, time consuming work, right? People from lower income backgrounds might not have 8 free hours to complete a design challenge (not an unusual ask in the graphic design world) in the hopes of maybe one day getting a job

  20. Gray Lady*

    On #1, I don’t think there’s any way you can ask someone not to attend a public event for your own sake without it having a significant negative effect. I would think that having to perform in front of people you know and aren’t yet comfortable with is just part of the package of performing in public. Either way, there’s no good way to tell people they can’t come to a public event because of your own feelings, without causing a problem between you.

    1. Valancy Snaith*

      Agreed. There is no good way to say “hey, boss, please don’t come to this event that is open to the public” without sounding you’re significantly rebuffing them. Even if you dress it up with “maybe in the future!” or a long, drawn-out explanation about stage fright, it will come off as exclusionary and a little weird, which is going to colour the way people see you. And while no, it’s probably not an absolute relationship-ender, it’s something to consider before you act.

    2. Mynona*

      I agree that I don’t see a graceful way for the OP to rescind the invitation. But the sentiment of “you put yourself out in public, so you should be ready for anything” isn’t very generous. OP seems to have a day job, so it’s possible that they are more of a hobbyist and may not get to perform in public often (esp. with the pandemic). I get why they don’t want their new boss there.

      1. Gray Lady*

        I get why, too, and I’m not saying she’s not “allowed” to feel that way. But I don’t think she is allowed to manage other people’s attendance to public events that she’s chosen to perform at, to avoid the issue entirely.

    3. Nancy*

      Agree, if this is a public event that she genuinely enjoys, she may have found out about it anyway. You can’t really tell someone to not attend a public event.

      Plus, I dance and in my experience plenty of people who say they would love to attend never go. Things come up, people get busy, etc.

      1. pancakes*

        You can’t forbid them, no, of course not, but you could tell them how you feel as someone performing in it.

      2. The Internet*

        Agree with both you and Gray Lady (and said something similar to both of you below). It’s not about “you put yourself out in public so you should be ready for ANYTHING”, it’s more “performing means giving up some control, and one of the things you can’t control is who is in your audience” (for the most part). OP1 will be better off if they figure out how to handle the feelings this is bringing up, not try to find a way to uninvite the boss. And like Nancy said, there’s a really good chance she won’t even show.

    4. pancakes*

      Why “significant”? If someone said that to you — something along the lines of, “I’m sorry, I realized I’m nervous about performing and would rather not have people from work [or school / church / whatnot] there” — you would hold that against them? Or is that you think most people would? I think that would be a really pissy and self-regarding response in that scenario, and to hold a grudge about it would be weird.

      1. Metadata minion*

        Yeah, I’m probably not the best test case for “what would the average person do?”, but if a coworker or employee said “actually, on second thought I’m really nervous about performing in front of work people” my reaction would be that I completely understand and to wish them good luck. I’d be a bit disappointed if it was something I had been really looking forward to, but I certainly hope I wouldn’t hold it against the person themself.

        Yes, it’s open to the public, but there’s a big difference between going in knowing that Your Boss Is Coming To The Concert and find finding out after the performance that actually your boss is really into medieval music too and showed up to the concert not even knowing that their employee would be performing.

      2. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

        I might be lightly annoyed if I’d made or changed any concrete plans around the event. Not to the point of long-term grudge holding though.

    5. pancakes*

      I want to add something about this part –

      “I would think that having to perform in front of people you know and aren’t yet comfortable with is just part of the package of performing in public.”

      Why? I used to edit demo reels for actors (and a few dancers, etc.), and I can tell you that people’s approaches to their family seeing their work, including nude scenes of course, is all over the map. Some families are comfortable with that, some are in between, and some people don’t even like to watch their own work. There are actors who don’t watch the tv shows or movies they appear in. The idea that anyone who performs publicly doesn’t get to have feelings about who they want to see it, or shouldn’t have anything to say on the matter, seems arbitrary to me.

      1. The Internet*

        I don’t think anyone is saying she can’t have feelings about this, just that often who shows up at your event is out of your control, and that this is a good time to learn how to manage those feelings. Her feelings are very valid!

        1. pancakes*

          A number of people are saying they think it would be wrong and possibly disastrous for their relationship to say anything to the boss, though. That is odd to me! I just don’t think the situation is that fraught.

          1. Eff Walsingham*

            Well, two things. Number one, my mother told me that it’s always inappropriate to uninvite anyone to anything, which is why you must always issue invitations with care. The person might not feel like it was wrong and you were rude, but it’s a school of thought that’s out there. I think it would be wise to consider that the boss may have feelings about it, just like the LW is having feelings.

            And, number two, as someone with a strong performing arts background, it was dinned into us regularly that your audience is your most valuable asset. It is a cardinal rule that they must always be cultivated and encouraged. Thus, if the LW’s director or co-performers found out that the LW had suggested that anyone should stay away for personal reasons, it would be seen as seriously off-side. (Non-personal reasons, such as “nudity and coarse language” if her son is a minor, are perfectly valid.) But yes, if it’s a public event, anyone may attend. Your boss, your divorced spouse, your high school crush, Hollywood talent scouts…. Okay, unlikely, but the thought is there. This is some of the stuff of which stage fright is made.

            IMO, at this point (after the invitation has been made and accepted) the only non-odd-seeming course of action open to the LW is further discussion in which some preferences are discussed: “Please don’t tell me which night you’re coming” (unless they already have) or “I’d prefer it if you could come later in the run, after we’ve gotten the kinks out.” The latter is favoured by my spouse, who performs both professionally and otherwise. This approach is thought by some to be rather off-side as well, since the box office relies on word of mouth from early audiences. But anyway.

            I’m afraid this event is just going to have to be filed under ‘lessons learned’ and the LW is probably going to be uncomfortable either way. Either say nothing and the boss and son attend; or have an awkward conversation that violates some social conventions. Only the LW could say which would be worse for them, personally.

            1. pancakes*

              Surely your mother didn’t mean for that to be an iron-clad rule that you must never, ever deviate from, no matter the circumstances. If she did, respectfully, I think you should consider her to be a not-sterling source of rules for personal conduct. Either way, I would not assume other people are nearly as formalistic as a general rule, or that it would be common for a new coworker to take deep offense at a request along the lines of, “I’m sorry, I realized I’m nervous and I’d rather you didn’t come.” Or to see it as an unforgivable “violation.” That is a pretty severe view.

              I don’t think we disagree at all that anyone may attend a performance open to the public. I don’t think anyone here disagrees on that? Admittedly I haven’t read every single comment, but that would be a pretty eccentric thing to say.

              1. Eff Walsingham*

                The foundation for etiquette is that other people’s feelings cannot be trumped by our own feelings. My mother definitely instilled a belief that if you invited little Sally to your birthday party last week when you were best pals, and now you’ve quarreled and you don’t want her there, that’s too bad. If she’s mad at you, too, she may not want to come any more, but you can’t uninvite her. If someone was ill, or something else happened that was beyond the inviter’s control, that would be one thing. But no, my mother would not have accepted either “I changed my mind” or “I wish I hadn’t invited her” as valid excuses for what *she* would regard as rudeness.

                Maybe this is not a common view? I can’t say. But I think it’s more helpful to the LW to point out that a range of potential reactions exist, and she should be prepared for some side-eye if she chooses this path. When dealing with people you don’t know very well, there’s no knowing how things will land. We’re in the weeds here to some degree. This isn’t a conversation that happens every day of the week, that everyone has a prepared response for.

                1. pancakes*

                  I don’t think it is uncommon at all to think that uninviting someone from an event is rude, and I don’t disagree with you on that as a general rule to the degree you seem to think I do. It is quite standard for children to be taught that, and I was indeed taught that myself. I was not taught that it is iron-clad no matter what transpires between me and anyone else, I would reject it if I had been taught that, and I don’t think it’s quite on point here anyhow because the boss invited themselves and the letter writer went along with that. They didn’t approach the boss extending an invitation.

                2. Eff Walsingham*

                  (I’m replying to myself because it won’t let me nest any further. Hope this works!)

                  Pancakes: I see that you are absolutely correct. The LW did not issue an invitation, merely brought the subject up in a casual way, and the boss jumped to, ‘That sounds great! My son and I would love to come!’ So, awkwardness that evolved naturally, in the wild, as will happen when people don’t know each other very well yet.

                  I do think that this is still a reason why the LW should realize they don’t know the boss well enough to predict her reaction if she tries to dissuade her from attending. How touchy has this person seemed to anything in the realm of criticism? Because it might be perceived by some that the boss was a tad pushy to invite herself? And it might be that the boss might feel called out on the perceived pushiness, depending on how the LW goes about the conversation? Really, I’m just spitballing here. But my point is that it’s kind of a delicate situation given the newness of the relationship, and the importance of keeping a good rapport within it.

                3. What a way to make a living*

                  The rules that parents teach children about birthday parties is different from what we can do as adults with colleagues.

                  I don’t agree with this as a cast iron rule anyway. Surely it depends what Sally had done? Suppose you invite Sally to a dinner party, then you find out Sally has been sleeping with your husband?

                  Context matters, and enforcing this as a fixed rule just makes no sense.

                4. Eff Walsingham*

                  If Sally has been sleeping with my husband, her sense of self-preservation should prevent her from accepting my dinner invitations, just in case! ;)

        2. Gray Lady*

          Yes, this. I’m not at all saying she can’t have feelings, but having those feelings and working with them is part of what performing means.

          1. pancakes*

            If they want to keep it all to themselves that’s an option, and I don’t disagree that working through feelings about not being in full control is essential to some degree, but I don’t think it’s imperative to not say anything in this situation.

        3. Dust Bunny*

          This. You can have any feelings you want about it but if you’re performing in public you’re by definition inviting people to see you, and some of those people may end up being people you know. It’s just not realistic to expect to be able to control that.

          (Side note: I’m a decidedly mediocre hobby musician and so far everyone who has seen me perform at least claims to think that what they saw and heard was “great”. Either my associates are too nice to say so or they’re not musicians enough to know better, but the response has never been negative.)

    6. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If the boss happened to be planning to attend before the OP mentioned it, I would totally agree — you can’t tell people not to come to a public event. But it sounds like the boss is attending because it’s the OP’s event, as a way to be supportive (and because her son would genuinely enjoy it), and that she wouldn’t be going at all if the OP hadn’t mentioned she’d be performing in it. That’s a big difference, and that makes it perfectly fine to tell her that actually this act she thought the OP would appreciate would in fact be received differently.

      1. Gray Lady*

        I don’t entirely disagree about the two different contexts, but I think with a fairly high percentage of people, this would not land well. It is a way of telling someone “It’s open to the public but you’re part of the public I don’t want there,” and no matter how justifiable LW ‘s reasoning and how much I might sympathize with it, it seems like there’s a pretty big risk of the manager being really offended. The fact that LW doesn’t know the manager that well increases the risk, IMO. Whether someone *should* take something personally doesn’t determine whether they will. I guess the question is whether the genuine discomfort caused by the manager’s presence at the event (and I’m honestly trying not to wave that away) is worse than the potential (in LW’s considered judgement) of annoying the manager to a degree that would affect the working relationship.

  21. anonymous73*

    #1 – “I really appreciate you wanting to support me, but after thinking about it, I’ve decided that I need to keep my work life and personal life separate for now. So I’d appreciate it if you didn’t come to ~event~.” If she’s a reasonable human, she will understand. She may be disappointed, but a reasonable person will not put that disappointment on you and make you feel guilty about it.

    1. AY*

      This would absolutely make sense if OP were reconsidering inviting boss to a hobby club or book club or somewhere private. But because it’s a public performance, I don’t think this reasoning works very well. Boss might be thinking, “Does OP think I’m supposed to check with OP before going to a concert or a sporting event in case OP plans to attend as well? Does OP expect me to pretend she’s not there if we run into each other outside of work?” In my opinion, this request would make OP look pretty unreasonable.

  22. UShoe*

    OP4 – I’ve done a lot of hiring in creative industries (though as a big caveat, I’ve only hired a designer once and we were painfully aware of how little we knew about hiring designers) and I really would encourage you to look at the task before rejecting it outight.

    From a hiring side, it can be very difficult to see in people’s resumes, or even niggle out in interviews how much of a finished product in a portfolio was that person’s work. People at a senior level might have ‘delivered’ something fabulous but only actually handled feedback and approvals. Someone at a junior level might have created first drafts that were dramatically edited and polished by others before it got to their portfolio. For us, short tests make it possible to figure out what their skill level actually is for the tasks of the job we’re hiring.

    I’ve seen senior people deliver eye-wateringly awful and yet hugely laborious things from VERY simple written tests that they should have spent an hour or less on. I’ve seen tests expose junior people who claim to have skills and experience that they clearly do not.

    For me, what I’m trying to see from tasks is how they think about the initial jump-off of a piece of work. Whether they’re asking the right questions. What their instincts are about the specific industry we’re in. Whether they lead with assumptions or research. The assessment tests are short, easy and there to cover those bases. If a task is something like that I’d encourage you to consider completing it.

    That said if you’re being asked to do multiple hours or even days of work, complete a significant project end-to-end, or deliver something it seems they’ve never done before (unless they’re specifically hiring a new role in the organisation) that would seem a sensible reason to push back.

    1. OP 4*

      This is a fair point, and something I’ve considered. I’d counter by saying I’m not expecting anyone to take my portfolio at face value—I’m hoping they probe quite pointedly into the work and ask hard questions about the deliverables *and* my role in crafting them.

      I think where our viewpoints diverge most sharply is: I think that if they’re interested in how I would approach a particular project, they could just ask me that. Many of these test assignments come after we’ve had four or five actual in-depth interviews, so it feels fairly redundant and unnecessary.

      1. UShoe*

        Some people are all mouth and no trousers, they can talk a good game but then you find out they can’t deliver or that they exaggerated certain things to appear more skilled or experienced than they were.

        Four or five interviews sounds to be much more excessive than a couple of hours on a skill test though. That’s crazy!

        1. OP 4*

          Yeah, I think that’s part of what rubs me the wrong way! So many of these assessments come later in the process and seem to measure things that a good interviewer could have gotten a read on by then.

        2. Eff Walsingham*

          Off topic: I’ve never heard “all mouth and no trousers”… I’m assuming that it’s in the same vein as “all hat and no cattle”?

          1. UShoe*

            Ha! I’ve never heard “all hat and no cattle” before, but yes seems to mean the exact same thing. Yours has a better visual though!

  23. Irish Teacher.*

    With regard to the coworker using racist language, I once read a comment that what really tells what sort f person you are isn’t whether you mess up – we all do that. It’s not even how badly you mess up because there are all sorts of things, such as education level or being raised in a really insular community or upbringing that may affect how aware people are of social and business norms. What really says who you are is how you react when somebody points out you’ve messed up. A decent person who really “didn’t mean it like that” (if that’s even POSSIBLE with that word) would say, “oh gosh, I’m sorry. I just didn’t think” and most importantly, would take care NOT to use it in future. The coworker seems to be dismissing the seriousness of what they said, which is a bad sign, in my opinion. I get the impression they are more invested in excusing themself than in…not using racist language or even just not using it in front of people who have said they are uncomfortable with it (not saying the latter would be acceptable, just that even if they DIDN’T get the racism, they should still get that it is making people uncomfortable).

  24. Napkin Thief*

    Black woman to OP #2 : This absolutely needs to be reported and shut down. It doesn’t matter how they mean it, with what ending they say it, if their best friend is black, if they “love black culture,” actually even if THEY were black – slurs of any kind do not belong in the office, period. Regardless of their supposed intent, they have now subjected others in the office to language that is demeaning, ostracizing, offensive, and frankly a sign of an unsafe workplace. It would be the same for any supposedly reclaimed slur (b word, f word, etc) – I have no say over personal conversations that occur outside of my awareness, but once you bring that where it can be heard in the workplace, it’s 100% unacceptable.

    Side note, the only time I have ever hit anyone in my life was when someone called me the n word when I was 14 years old. He was black. I do not claim that word, and I find it deeply offensive from anyone for any reason.

  25. DogTrainer*

    I know LW#2 noted the person is white. I’d love some clarity on whether that matters. What if the person was black? Would that change the answer?

    1. I should really pick a name*

      Not in the workplace.

      In other contexts, that’s a lengthy and fraught topic.

      1. xl*

        This reply is spot-on.

        To add a bit more:

        As a Black man, my reply to DogTrainer would be yes, I would feel differently hearing that word coming from a white coworker than coming from a black coworker. Under no circumstances would it be appropriate to hear it coming from anybody of any race in a work environment, but the word has a complicated and complex history tied into the racial relations of our society—And that’s not a minefield that needs to be walked across at work. But yes, it would be more jarring for me to hear it from a white co-worker.

        The nuances of the usage of that word in our language are extremely complex, and it is completely entwined with so many sociological aspects of our society. Trying to reduce it down to “if it’s not wrong for him to say it, it’s not wrong for anyone else to say it” is completely asinine. This isn’t math where there’s one right answer.

        I again reiterate that it would be inappropriate for anyone to say it in a work environment, but DogTrainer—yes, I would handle the situation differently if it was a white coworker saying it vs a black coworker saying it.

        Please note that this is just one person’s view. Black people are not a monolith that I speak for. Ask 100 different black people this question and you will get 100 different answers. But why even open that door at work?

        1. DogTrainer*

          That’s great to know! I was thrown off by the notation that the person was white, so I wondered if maybe I was miscalculating by not incorporating the variable of race into my decision-making. Nevertheless, it sounds like in the context of the workplace, the race/ethnicity of the person saying it does not factor in.

          Thanks everyone!

    2. Observer*

      hat if the person was black? Would that change the answer?

      No. It does change the dynamic somewhat. In this case it makes it more urgent and a larger problem. And maybe I’d give a Black guy a second chance, where I wouldn’t give a white guy more than one warning. But, the basics here – that it NEEDS to stop and that the OP should definitely kick this upstairs remain the same. This is not language that belongs in an office.

  26. The Internet*

    OP1: as a long time performer (musician in a band), who has played in front of many of my coworkers and bosses, I thought I’d offer my two cents on this:

    1. I don’t agree with Alison’s advice. I don’t think you can uninvite her without causing some damage to your relationship. So I wouldn’t do that. You didn’t even really invite her in the first place! What I think you can do is just not mention it again, and that may actually do the trick.

    2. There’s a VERY good chance she won’t show up anyway! People talk a big talk about going to events but often things come up or they’re tired or whatever. I know you’ve said she’s mentioned it again, but that really doesn’t mean much, truly.

    3. A little bit of tough love- as a performer, you’re going to have to get used to the fact that people you don’t like or want to be there are going to come to your performances. This is just the way it is. You cannot be in control of this no matter how meaningful the performance is to you, unless you want to hold it at a private household or property and be in charge of admission. What if she had just heard about the event some other way and showed up, not knowing you were part of it? That kind of thing happens all the time and it’s a good thing to mentally start getting used to.

    I truly think your best bet is to just mentally do what you can to prep for her being there (and remember she’s going to be rooting for you! She’s on your side! Most people want performers to succeed!) and let this one go. If she shows up you’ll have this experience under your belt and be a stronger performer for it. If she doesn’t, the prep work won’t hurt.

    Best of luck on your performance!

    1. AnonaLlama*

      I agree with this, as someone who has a very similar performing art hobby.

      OP, I realize you’re dealing with some baggage from a not-so-healthy former boss relationship but try to give NewBoss some grace here. Her motivations are likely some combination of:
      – She and/or her so enjoy events like this
      – She is grateful to have learned about this particular event and would truly like to attend
      – She wants you to know she’s supportive of you and your outside-of-work self
      – She is aware that local theaters, etc. are typically eager to sell tickets and therefore wants to financially support the endeavor

      With all of that in mind, try to forget that “YourBoss” might attend and just think of her as
      “Cersei” one of the (hopefully) hundreds of face-less audience members you’re performing for.

      And chances really are about 80/20 she won’t actually attend.

      1. The Internet*

        I’m so tickled by all the performers on this thread saying “yeah she probably won’t come.” We’ve all been there!

    2. Dasein9*

      Honestly, #3 on the list being repeated to me over and over is why I’m 52 and rarely perform due to crippling stage fright. It’s really not helpful since the only option is “just don’t perform.” In this case, LW isn’t powerless and reinforcing a narrative of powerlessness seems very unlikely to be helpful.

      1. The Internet*

        But what else would you propose? I’m not saying she’s powerless, I’d argue that she’s the opposite. I’d encourage you and OP1 to really investigate those feelings and address them, rather than “just not perform”. Stage fright is real, but it is also overcomeable (probably not a word). And often the best way to address it is to just get out there and do it. There’s tons of resources on the internet and elsewhere about how to deal with it. Again, I know that’s tough love but what other solution do you propose?
        Obviously this OP COULD rescind their invite to the boss, but for reasons stated, that might not be the best plan. Also, I am sorry you’ve been unable to overcome your stage fright, and I hope you’re able to in the future.

        1. Dasein9*

          A. How about beginning by not acting like strangers’ therapists and doing them the “favor” of showing “tough love?” It’s condescending.

          B. Next, you might want to avoid framing of the whole concept of performer as professional or public commodity. Some performers are actually not professionals and holding them to professional standards of comfort with performance is inappropriate. LW is an amateur and is in the process from healing from trauma. At this time she would like a little space to do that without the added pressure of a new boss being there.

          C. If you can only think of one way to overcome stage fright, then you’re probably not someone who’s experienced it and I sincerely hope you are not teaching people who have it. Other approaches exist. They take time. People take time to go through them. Your on-off approach leaves no room for that to happen; it’s as bad as telling a student at their first lesson that if they can’t do scales already they may as well quit. Amateurs have less time to spend on both performance anxiety and scales than professionals do; things take longer and happen in increments that professionals tend to blow through so fast they forget they’re increments at all.

          1. The Internet*

            I’m sorry you’re feeling so defensive about my response. But a couple of things:
            1) I’m an amateur performer. I have been doing it for a long time but it’s not like I’m selling out stadiums. I have a day job.
            2) I definitely have experienced stage fright. Lots of times. Visualization exercises and practice practice practice is how I overcame it. But I’m neither a teacher or a therapist, just a commenter on the internet, like you.
            3) I’m probably not going to respond to any more of your comments because you seem really hurt by what I’m saying, but I’ll point out I’m not the only one saying what I said. Lots of other performers are echoing my same sentiments.
            All the best.

    3. Jennifer Strange*

      2. There’s a VERY good chance she won’t show up anyway! People talk a big talk about going to events but often things come up or they’re tired or whatever. I know you’ve said she’s mentioned it again, but that really doesn’t mean much, truly.

      This. I’m a performer and my colleagues are always telling me to let them know when I’m doing a show because they’d love to come see it, but in reality I can count on one hand the number of times it’s actually happened.

      1. quill*

        Everyone is theoretically up for an outing when they theoretically have ample free time, the budget, and good transport. So most attendance remains theoretical. :)

        1. Eff Walsingham*

          “Most attendance remains theoretical”

          +1, have worked the box office many times, can attest to this!

          I have been astounded at the volume of reservations and even paid tickets which are abandoned and result in empty seats, even at sold-out performances. There is no way to prevent it. People get sick, emergencies happen.

          I have found, as a rule of thumb, the smaller the venue, the more certain you should be that you will actually be there before you buy a ticket or tell anyone you’re coming (if you know them). In a 40-seat studio it can be discouraging to face a sea of empty chairs when you know the event was sold out in advance.

          1) Empty chairs don’t react. And they actually absorb and inhibit the reactions of the people who did come.

          2) Most companies can only sell a seat once. Meaning, if all the seats are sold, law or policy prohibits the venue from letting others sit in them, even if they’re lined up around the block. So everyone’s disappointed, artists and fans alike.

          At a big venue it won’t matter. But if you want to support a performer or arts organization and it’s a small venue or a limited run, please consider just making a donation through their web site if you don’t know/ don’t think/ can’t be sure if you’ll come on the night. Usually my strategy is to go, and try to buy a ticket at the door. That way, if it’s sold out, I can always say, “Tried to see it on Friday, couldn’t get in, sold out show, SO happy for you!” This would be less workable, I see, for families or groups, but is better for singles or couples.

          I’m relating this strategy for people invited to coworkers’ shows, or neighbours, or other acquaintance situations. At times when you would be going because of the person, not because you’re a big fan of ballet or death metal or what have you. Obviously if you’re passionate about the art in question you’d buy a ticket and make every attempt to use it. :)

    4. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      I also disagree with AAM’s advice, and I fully agree with The Internet’s advice above. In my opinion, it would be impolite, inappropriate, and potentially very awkward, to ask a co-worker, boss or other work colleague not to come to a public show simply because you are in the show. And like The Internet wrote, as a performer, you really need to get used to the fact that you do not control (or even know) who will be in the audience of your shows.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Again, if the boss was already planning on going before the OP told her about it, absolutely! But my understanding of the situation is that the boss is going because the OP is performing, as a show of support. I’d sure as hell want to know that my employee wouldn’t want me to do that!

      2. pancakes*

        Also, it’s one thing to talk about what performers should do, but what they actually do is another matter. Adele, for example, has said she throws up “quite a lot” before going on stage. She’s clearly not recommending that and I bet she’d like to stop, but she’s certainly not alone in having that response, others have talked about it as well. There are many performers, both amateur and professional, who don’t fully master (or keep mastery over) their anxieties, and some of them really enjoy and are good at performing anyhow. It’s complicated.

        1. Despachito*

          Yes, but it is up to Adele to deal with it somehow. She would probably not want people to stop coming because of her stage fright.

          I think that deciding to perform is a choice (an admirable one), but not an obligation, and that it has some inherent characteristics (such as people will be looking at you), and that if it is unacceptable to you, you just cannot perform. And if you decide to perform anyway and fight your stage fear (which is admirable as well), it is YOUR fight you shouldn’t transfer to your public.

  27. Dust Bunny*

    they don’t mean it “like that.”

    There is no other way to mean it. Period. People who claim to only use it casually and not to mean it “like that” absolutely mean it “like that”, they’re just either lying to you outright or take it for granted to such a degree that they consider the views it conveys to be fact, not opinion.

    Report this jackwad to HR.

  28. Camellia*

    #3 – I had a manager who did this, and I used it to my advantage. Since she was impossibly self-centered, I let every conversation, even our bi-weekly one-on-ones, be about her and her issues/life. She multitasked during our meetings and I simply sat quietly while she did so or, if she made a remark about whatever she was doing/looking at, would chat about that.

    The end result – she loved me! And when I *did* have an issue with which I needed her help, I caught her at her desk unprepared instead of scheduling a meeting, took a quick one or two minutes to state my issue, and then she was able to focus on it, ask questions, and tell me what she would/could do to help. Worked great!

  29. Scotlibrarian*

    OP 5. I don’t have a mentor, I’ve never had a mentor, didn’t know that many people seem to have mentors. I’ve done reasonably well in my career without one. I’ve had bosses who I looked up to and that seems to have been enough

  30. Bethie*

    I created and presented a PPT on a subject matter I pretty familiar with for an interview once – within my same state government, just a different department. I have 10 years with my state and alsot 20 years in what I do. But I did it bc I thought that’s neat! I didnt even get the curtosy of a rejection letter. I met the person who got the position in a virtual meeting about a month later. So, I think Ill rethink how neat doing a project which takes my personal time is in the future.
    When like the OP stated, I can literally just direct people to our website to find my training materials.

  31. Oakwood*

    Re: multitasking

    Multitasking was a big trend in corporations about 30 years ago. There were books and corporate training on how to be a better multitasker.

    Then studies were done which found multitaskers were LESS productive. I actually was given training on how to avoid multitasking about a decade ago.

    Your boss may still be under the false impression that she is getting more done by multitasking. You might point her to some articles/books that show the productivity loss associated with multitasking.

  32. Sylvan*

    2: Go directly to your boss and HR. It’s uncomfortable, sometimes because you just can’t believe it’s actually happening, but it’s necessary.

    Having a conversation with your coworker instead of reporting them may not have any effect at all. If your coworker has made it to adulthood while believing that this slur is acceptable, you need to accept that approaching them as a reasonable, intelligent person isn’t appropriate.

  33. VP of Monitoring Employees’ LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*


    One of my former coworkers actually stopped his side activity (bluegrass band) when a specific Very Annoying Person from the office started showing up at gigs.

  34. WantonSeedStitch*

    Professional organizations can be a great place to find a mentor even if they don’t have a formal mentoring program. Attending conferences or professional development/educational sessions is a great way of meeting people in your field. Make a note of people whose presentations, conversations, etc. you find really helpful or interesting, especially if they have more experience than you or a role senior to yours, and exchange contact info with them. Then get in touch afterwards and suggest meeting up for coffee or something!

  35. BA*

    LW2 – Definitely say something to HR. In most cases, actual offense isn’t the speaker’s to determine. This person may not intend any offense when using a word that they shouldn’t be using. That is quite possibly the truth, though I’d argue the point, especially because they’ve been told to stop previously. However, someone else within earshot may be offended. And they’re well within their right to be offended. That’s not a word that could be classified as an accidental slip of the tongue four letter word in the heat of the moment. This is a word that shall not be said. Your HR department needs to shut this down immediately.

    1. Observer*

      This person may not intend any offense when using a word that they shouldn’t be using. That is quite possibly the truth

      I’d argue that all things considered it is BARELY possible that he doesn’t mean offense. Because once you’ve been told that something offends people, and you continue doing that, you simply lose any credibility around intent. Add that to the fact of how toxic this word is known to be, and it really strains the imagination.

      1. LilPinkSock*

        Absolutely. How any person feels that racist language anywhere, much less in the workplace, is appropriate is beyond me.

      2. BA*

        Agree… BARELY for sure. But I wanted to just suggest that in their own mind, they may not be intending to offend others. How you can get to “I don’t intend any offense” with that word I’m not sure at all. But as you and I both indicated, the fact that they’ve been told to stop and they haven’t means that they’re supremely inconsiderate along with offensive. That goes a million times over for that word, too.

  36. CM*

    Don’t invest too much in the concept of a “mentor” as your Yoda who will take you under their wing and teach you everything they know. Just look around and when you identify someone as a role model — doesn’t have to be in every way, could be one specific thing they do like being very diplomatic, rising through the ranks quickly, being a great manager, getting a specific certification/qualification — seek them about and ask them about it. Most people are very happy to talk about their own experiences and like the feeling that they’re helping someone else. You don’t have to be super charismatic or extroverted to do this. You can just send someone an email or knock on their door and say, hey, I noticed you do X and I was wondering if you’d be willing to talk about it with me.

  37. Olive*

    #1 I’m wondering if the son is a child. “She got very excited and asked if she could come to it, since it seemed like something her son would like to see” makes me suspect that might be the case. It just feels more likely to me that that kind of spontaneous excitement accompanies a kids event vs. that she’s planning to invite her 40 year old son to an amateur ballet performance. I’d be really put out at having to tell to my 6 year old that when I said we were going to see a kid friendly musical or whatever it is *this weekend*, now we’re not and I don’t have a good explanation for it.

    Also, there’s less than a week before the performance, and I think that’s just too late to uninvite someone. If she made plans around this, it’s too late to reasonably expect her to change them.

    And I’m assuming that the event is free. Because if the boss has *purchased* tickets, there’s absolutely no way to uninvite her graciously. So all my votes go to – OP, you changed your mind about this too late, and you’ll have to figure out how to cope.

  38. arloguthrie*

    OP #3, maybe also offer to make them shorter? And make them more structured. If the meetings are a little long and meandering then it’s easy to get off track and it feel like a bigger lift. Keeping it to essentials only and asking for full attention for 15 minutes can be much more useful than half attention for an hour.

  39. animaniactoo*

    LW4 – It’s not free work if they’re not using it. If they’re using it, you should be getting paid and they should be considering it a trial run.

    If they’re not using it, I would say you are better off considering it unavoidable. Here’s why… if you offer a portfolio review rather than a test that you say is relatively simple and takes a couple of hours? So, designed not to be too arduous?

    Offering it is likely to make me think that YOU are not the person who did all of the work in your portfolio. And even if you are, the work doesn’t give me an idea of what your finished first draft looks like, or your ability to work within the timeframe that we work and potentially even communicate when there are issues.

    On the other hand, if you want to push back on doing it until you’re further along in the process, as a matter of not wasting time (on both ends… they’ll end up reviewing the work of fewer candidates… that they already have a sense of how they feel about their presentation of themselves and whether the skills they’ve discussed will translate well to their need), I’m solidly on your side.

    1. OP 4*

      I strongly disagree with your definition of free work. In my job, it’s common to do a lot of work that never gets used, since we work iteratively. It’s still work. If I pitch a client three ideas and they only use one, I’m still billing for the time it took to concept all three ideas.

      I’m curious as to why it sparks the thought that I’m being dishonest. This seems to be a common thread in these comments, and I’m curious because it seems like a higher level of suspicion than folks would have for a non-creative role. If I were an accountant, for example, would you ask me to balance a fake ledger as proof I can do my job*? Or would you trust that when I said I sped up EOM close by X% for my current company, that I really did do that? And maybe rely on references to double-check my honesty?

      I get it: You want to make sure you hire folks who can actually do the work. But it’s odd to me that there’s seemingly much distrust of creatives.

      *Maybe people do this! I’m not an accountant so I can’t say. And granted, professional licensing counts for something.

      1. UShoe*

        Maybe it’s just the norm in the UK, but I think a lot of interview processes involve assessment tasks. My mother is a PA/Executive Assistant and she’s been through recruiting processes that required anything from typing-speed tests to drafting formal letters based on a verbal brief. My partner is a high-level administrator and has done tests involving spreadsheet management, project planning and email drafting.

        It’s not about not trusting people at all as much as it is not trusting people to be objective judges of their own skills, especially in specific contexts.

      2. animaniactoo*

        I’m a creative myself and I’ve run across a lot of people who have added work that was either not primarily their own or even their own at all to their portfolio. In one memorable case, it was a co-worker who added work that *I* had done to his online portfolio… and it was work that our company had done, during his time here… but he was representing it as his work. Have seen someone else use a preset template where basically you choose one photo, it plops into the allotted place, enter the text and it formats itself for a quick postcard kind of thing… and present that as an example of their work/skills. The best was someone who walked in with a portfolio of their work, being hired as a color corrector/photo editor… who, it turned out, had only a passing familiarity with Photoshop. Did not last long. We did try to teach them, but in the end, they didn’t pick it up quickly enough and we didn’t have the time or resources to put in to training them to even the level they advertised themselves as having. I’m guessing that other people have run across similar. It is unfortunate, but it poisons the well if you know what I mean.

        I disagree with you on the definition of free work in this instance. Yes, it’s work to do it… but it’s not “work” in the same sense of “expecting this end product to be used”. Likewise, I have done plenty of work that ends up not being used and it is designed with the understanding that it may not be used… but the point of doing the work is that SOMETHING that has been done is expected to be used or has been done in the hopes of being used.

        I’m not disagreeing with the time and effort aspect… simply the idea that it’s “free work” for them. If anything… it is work for yourself, in the hopes of getting paid with a job. I’m all for pushing back on something that will be an arduous undertaking for a test sample. But not noping out of the work altogether, because as I said initially… even if it is your work, the portfolio doesn’t give the same sense of what your finished first draft looks like, and so on, for evaluation.

        1. OP 4*

          This is all very fair, so thanks for elaborating! I think we’re always going to disagree on the free work aspect, though :)

    2. OP 4*

      One last thought, since I’m afraid I came off a tad strong in my initial reply: to be clear, a portfolio review isn’t just me saying “Here’s my portfolio; aren’t I great?” It’s generally a structured presentation where I show work comparable to what the company is looking for, walk through the process of doing the work, and answer fairly probing questions about my role, how I collaborated, timeframes, the brief, what the first draft was like, why we chose a particular approach, the concrete results of the work, and so on.

      1. animaniactoo*

        Question: That sounds like something that is useful. But… does it/can it not also take up about the same amount of time and effort as a sample work assignment?

        1. OP 4*

          I think the difference for me is: the work itself is already done! I might have to swap a few slides out of the deck and jot down some notes on potential questions, but that’s 15 minutes of work compared to a couple hours—and typically, the presentation itself is usually folded into a panel interview. When you’re interviewing for 7-8 different roles, it’s a lot less of a burden (to me, at least).

    3. Rachel*

      Maybe it’s not “free work” by your narrow definition, but it’s at least unpaid labor, hours of it. And because it’s seen as unusual to create a contract regarding test work, companies can happily steal an idea or just straight-up the whole design with no repercussions. It’s hard to know how a company is going to use test work when you’re asked to do it — of course no recruiter will tell you that they’re planning on plagiarising your unpaid work.

      And I’m not sure if most people in this thread understand what an in-depth portfolio review entails. It’s more than just looking at work you’ve done, it’s going into detail on your thought process, design philosophy, showing in-progress work or discarded concepts. It’s hard to fake that kind of thing if you’re passing off someone else’s work as your own.

      In my opinion, the people who balk at the idea of portfolio reviews in place of design tests aren’t experienced enough in hiring creatives (or doing enough research about how to hire creatives) so they take the easy way out of creating a design challenge, which severely disadvantages designers and filters out some of the best candidates who have higher standards for their employer.

  40. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    OP#1 I get it as I do theatre, but I wouldn’t rescind the invitation if it is something available to the public. At most I would say something about “I would be nervous knowing you were there, so please don’t let me know if you decide to go until afterwards!”

  41. grizzly barrister*

    My first supervisor was always multitasking during our check-in meetings or blowing them off or “pushing to next week.” It wasn’t technically a business issue since I generally got all my questions answered, but it was part of a larger pattern of being uninterested and unsupportive of me and my work as a junior employee, when she had previously gone on about mentorship and training up junior staff. Working with her was demoralizing at best and draining at worst.

  42. Persephone*

    In regards to #4, I wanted to also mention that those tests don’t always find the “people who may have been lying on their resume about their work.”

    Current job does tests too. Let’s just say certain coworkers prove the test assignment thing didn’t work.

  43. Sea Obie*

    OP 3: I used to have a boss like this. A teammate shared her solution: book time with boss in a meeting room, away from her computer and phone. Voila. I had her full attention and got answers quickly and efficiently. (If your boss is the type who will bring a laptop and/or work phone with them into the meeting room, this might be less effective, but perhaps still worth a shot.)

  44. Voodoo Priestess*

    OP#5 – I completely agree that organic mentors are the best; chemistry IS really important for it to be a mutually beneficial relationship. Also, if you happen to be in an under-represented minority in your line of work, mentors are harder to find, but even more important. I would also recommend trying to find a mentor that isn’t in your company or chain of command so they will have your best interest in mind, not the company’s.

    So how do you find such people? Here’s what has worked well for me:
    Find someone who’s work/career you admire and respect. This can be anyone in your organization or through a professional organization or university. Ask them to coffee or to a 15-30 min meeting to ask about how they got to their position. Spend this time listening and taking notes. You’ll learn a ton. Respect their time, don’t get offended if they need to cancel or reschedule, and see how it goes. Ask questions like: What’s one thing you would tell your younger self? What was the best career-related decision you made? Are their any decisions you made that you would change? What has surprised you in your career?

    People love to teach and they love to talk about themselves. If you spend the first meeting listening, you’ll build a good foundation where they will want to meet with you again. Thank them for their time. Assuming you have good chemistry, that opens the door for future meetings. Mentors are great sounding boards for challenges, good for “how would you handle this?” type situations, or “what things should I be doing” for whatever it is you’re trying to achieve.

    I have some mentors that I meet with quarterly. Some once or twice a year. I would say every other month is the most I would try, otherwise it’s going to feel like you’re taking up a LOT of their time. Keep meetings short if possible. As you get to know each other, they will naturally progress from coffee to lunch, etc. If you see them at other places, say hello but don’t try to monopolize their time (like at a conference or company event). The best mentors will be busy but will want to help. Make it easy for them to mentor you by being proactive but not pushy. If you need to reschedule more than 3 times, you should probably drop it and let them reach out.

    Sometimes mentors can also be coaches and/or champions, but not always. So keep in mind what your expectations are. Someone in your firm can be a champion, but outside of your firm is less likely. A mentor provides guidance/opinions but a coach provides feedback and next steps, like if you’re trying to get a promotion. Asking someone to mentor you doesn’t mean they will start recommending you for stretch roles, but it can develop into that role. You just have to put in the work.

    My mentors and champions have had a HUGE impact on my career (woman in construction/engineering) and I can’t encourage this enough. Now I get to mentor others and it’s really fun, as long as the mentee has the right attitude. Good luck!

  45. Eff Walsingham*

    I have some close associates who are film nerds. They will spontaneously start quoting from films they enjoy, wherever they are, and at length. Some of the films are less recent than others, some are quite obscure, and sometimes they are quoting Black actors in scenes that make liberal use of the n-word.

    Any time I hear this, I point out that “You’d better make sure no one can hear you who doesn’t know you like I do, or you are going to get your a$$ handed to you, and deservedly!” Even though a person may be a skinny yt affluent-suburban-sheltered film student in an adult worker’s body, *there is no excuse* for saying these things out loud. People will judge you. They might even harm you.

    Words have consequences. If I heard this in a workplace, I would immediately escalate it.

  46. Lobsterman*

    LW2: take it to HR. If I heard a vendor’s employee use this word, I’d call the vendor and tell them they have one chance to keep my business, and that’s to fire the employee by EOD.
    In the meantime: document, document, document. It’ll be useful if HR asks for dates/times, or if you need to sue the org later when HR fails to act.

  47. What a way to make a living*

    On the creative design tests, perhaps they have specific things they want to test? And perhaps they want a level playing field, so they can compare directly?

  48. Cheezmouser*

    LW5: I’ve never had a formal mentor, but I’ve benefitted from many mentoring relationships throughout my career. I definitely recommend considering the informal route, where you just ask people about their experience or ask them if they can show you how they do X.

    The main thing to keep in mind is that, like professional networking, you should start with the people closest to you, have realistic expectations, have a clear goal in mind, and be respectful of their time. Don’t approach someone out of the blue and ask them to commit to a formal mentoring relationship with you when they don’t even know who you are. Don’t be offended if they don’t have the time right now. And don’t go in there with the goal of finagling a promotion or new position for yourself (even if that’s your ultimate goal). People don’t like being used.

    I recommend approaching mentoring as a way for you to learn specific new skills that will benefit your role or the organization. Making the mentoring about a specific thing makes it easier for the mentor to commit, because it means there’s a defined goal/purpose and a foreseeable end to this, rather than something high pressure and open-ended like “please help me I get the promotion I want.” Rather, it’s much easier and more natural if you tell Jane, the senior manager you’ve worked on a few projects with, that you’re really interested in learning more about analytics, and you appreciate how she always brings hard data to back up her strategy during meetings, would she mind showing you some of the reports she looks at and how she uses the data to make decisions?

    This is exactly how I got into my latest mentoring relationship. I was on a cross-team project led by the director of another team. I noticed that she had a very specific methodology, and I told her that I’d like to learn more, as her methodology could solve some of the problems that we were facing on my team. She agreed, and during that initial meeting where she walked me thru her methodology, she offered to coach me on it if I had a specific project I was thinking to apply it to. I did, so we agreed to meet biweekly for 4 sessions while I tried applying her methodology to my project. During the sessions, I’d let her know how the project was going, whether her methodology was helping, where I was getting stuck, and if there were any additional tools or strategies she would recommend. At no point was this about me getting a promotion or joining her team, but I gained valuable skills, I successfully completed a project that I had been struggling with, and I now have a collegial relationship with the director of another team.

    Granted, you have to get to a certain level before you typically begin working on cross-team projects and have more exposure to people on other teams, especially more senior people, but that’s also where your boss comes in. Let your boss know that you’re interested in taking on higher-level projects. Be specific if you have a certain type of project (or a certain mentor) in mind. If you get put on the project or assigned a new responsibility, then you’ll have a natural opportunity to work with more people and gain exposure to a wider network of people you could potentially learn from.

    And keep in mind that mentoring doesn’t need to be a lifelong commitment. I had 4 sessions with my latest mentor over the course of 8 weeks, and now that I’ve learned her methodology, our sessions are done. But we have a relationship now, so I can go back to her with follow up questions if I need to, without taking up more of her time via formal mentoring sessions.

  49. What a way to make a living*

    There’s a lot of comments about the etiquette or otherwise of OP1, but what about the boss? I know the boss isn’t reading this, but I feel like inviting yourself to an employee’s event is begging for confusion and awkwardness? Surely you know that they might feel unable to say no, especially in the moment? Unless you emphasise “it’s absolutely fine to say no, of course” and clearly mean it, I think the boss is the one who has made a social faux pax if anyone has. Not a major or unforgivable one! But surely any rulebook that says “never uninvite people, ever” also says “never invite yourself”?

    1. Eff Walsingham*

      I think the situation escalated out of the blue, without anyone being *in the wrong*. The LW mentioned the event, inadvisedly as it turned out, but she wasn’t to know that, necessarily. The boss reacted seemingly without giving the matter any thought, or she might have considered that her reaction might be unwelcome. These things happen.

      Unfortunately, now it’s hard to see a clear off-ramp from Awkward Highway. I agree with those who suggest that the LW should just drop the subject, and maybe the boss will forget. Or maybe the boss was just trying to be supportive in the moment but will reconsider. Or maybe she will realize she has double booked herself and won’t be able to make it.

      Or maybe she (or her son) have now bought the tickets and wild horses couldn’t keep them away! Hopefully, either way, the LW will be able to put it out of their mind when the time comes to perform, and focus on what makes the event special for them.

      1. Despachito*

        But if this was a PUBLIC event you can buy tickets to, OP must be already at terms that it is accessible to whoever may buy the tickets, so even the boss and her son. Who might have bought the tickets even if they did not know OP was performing, and I do not see anything inappropriate in the fact they did it.

        I feel, similarly as you do, that nobody here is in the wrong, but I somehow feel that if you are willing to perform publicly, you should deal with the fact that there will be people coming to see you. I get it that it may feel awkward, but I think OP has nothing to be ashamed of, and that it would be much more awkward trying to un-invite the boss.

    2. Eff Walsingham*

      I think the situation escalated out of the blue, without anyone being *in the wrong*. The LW mentioned the event, inadvisedly as it turned out, but she wasn’t to know that, necessarily. The boss reacted seemingly without giving the matter any thought, or she might have considered that her reaction might be unwelcome. These things happen.

      Unfortunately, now it’s hard to see a clear off-ramp from Awkward Highway. I agree with those who suggest that the LW should just drop the subject, and maybe the boss will forget. Hopefully, whatever happens, the LW will be able to put it out of their mind when the time comes to perform, and focus on what makes the event special for them.

    3. Jennifer Strange*

      I’m not sure I agree? The OP mentioned a performance that is open to the public and the boss recognized it as something her son would enjoy. It’s not like she invited herself to a private performance/event. It’s just as likely that the boss would have heard about the performance through another means and happened to go with her son.

  50. Don Kedick*

    I am whiter than a pool cue and I just can’t see any reason for anyone to use the n word. ‘Hard’ R at the end or not. I get that there’s cultures and this and that where it’s acceptable. But man you’d have to put a gun to my head in order for me to think that it’s okay to use.

  51. Pfs*

    At my work we do a “project to hire” for every new hire. On the design/engineering side we give a candidate a project and ask them to create a plan, time budget, and execute it. It’s typically about 15 hours and we pay them for it. There are a couple of check ins and a final review. When hiring we will typically run 3 final candidates through the process at the same time and choose one in the end. Every department uses this structure.

    The work is important but we rarely use the final product. It’s more about figuring out if the way a candidate works is compatible with the team.

  52. SMG*

    LW 4:

    I’m an art director in a creative industry. We’ve been looking to fill a senior level role on our team for almost two years now. We hired someone with 20 years of experience and while his work was of good quality, his ability to complete good work while prioritizing and managing his time was non-existent. He didn’t last long. We recently decided to bring candidates in for two days, paid as freelancers, to complete some small projects for us. It worked WONDERS. We found someone who is smart, collaborative, and has the skill level we’re looking for.

    I think most creative firms and studios have similarly been burned before. Quality is one thing, but quality within reasonable time frames is a whole other story. This could be the reasoning behind the tests.

  53. Teacher to Nonprofits*

    On test assignments in job interviews: they’ll often say something like “This should only take you an hour”. I can definitely do a version of it in an hour, but usually put in 2 hours to make it more polished. But I have a suspicion that everyone else is taking way longer on these assignments! Can hiring teams tell when someone is putting too much time in? Is that annoying, or does it show initiative? I just don’t have the time to commit multiple hours to each of these assignments, but I don’t want to get shown up by candidates with a more open schedule.

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