I saw my manager’s rude texts about my resignation, a dramatic haircut at lunch, and more

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

1. I saw my manager’s rude texts about my resignation

I just put in my two weeks this past Friday at a company and during my Zoom meeting with my supervisor, I noticed her texting, which is not uncommon (I assume she’s very busy). However, I also noticed some texts coming into my phone from her from the corner of my eye while on the same call. Our call seemed fine but I realized when I got off that the texts that were popping up on my phone were between her and the CEO regarding me — I was accidentally the third person on this three-way chat. They mentioned me leaving being “not a great loss” and also said that my not receiving a certain bonus (one of the reasons I listed for leaving) was based on “problems” they had with me, although my boss had given me a non-performance reason for that. I was not made aware of any performance issues in my entire employment at this company.

I cannot stop thinking about how they saw me and now I have to finish two weeks here knowing that this was said about me. Should I go to HR under the guise of seeing if I can wrap my time up here sooner? I also want to bring up issues with the fact that they seemed to have withheld information from me that could have been rectified in order to qualify for this bonus. I am so paralyzed with knowing that they regarded me so poorly.

They might not have regarded you so poorly — some managers become bitter and petty when someone leaves and suddenly have complaints about their work that never existed before. Frankly, I’m not not inclined to put a lot of stock in your manager’s judgment (or character) because of what she revealed about herself in those texts; she sounds like a jerk. It’s not that managers never privately acknowledge to another manager that someone’s departure wasn’t a great loss; it’s that texting things like that while you were sitting right there, still in the middle of your resignation is a jerk move and says a lot about her professionalism and judgment.

As for what to do now … you’re right there on the texts so if you wanted to ask your manager about it, you could. You could say, “I don’t think you meant to include me on these texts, but I’m concerned about what you said about the bonus. You told me X but it sounds like it was Y and I’m wondering why I didn’t get that feedback while there was time for me to act on it.” And if you want to, you could indeed say, “It sounds like it would be better for me to wrap up my notice period earlier.” You also could say similar things to HR if you want to.

The big caveat is that you need to balance that against whether you’ll need a reference from her in the future (especially since you don’t always get to choose your references, so it’s not necessary as simple as “well, I just won’t list her”) and whether you think putting her on the spot will harm your ability to get a good reference from her. That’s awfully unfair, but it’s the reality of it … although these texts might show that you wouldn’t have gotten a good reference from her anyway, who knows. One possibility is to talk to HR and say explicitly that you’re concerned that raising this will affect your future references; sometimes they can ensure it doesn’t, but other times they can’t. You’ve got to factor this all into your thinking as you decide what you want to do.

2. Getting a dramatic haircut on my lunch break

My company just moved into a new office building. As luck would have it, our new place is right next door to a hair salon. I’m very overdue on a haircut, so I’ve been debating booking an appointment during my lunch break because it would be very convenient.

Would it (1) be weird to get a haircut during a workday as long as it’s on my break, and (2) be weird to get a sizable haircut if so? My hair is three feet long and very thick, and this would be a pretty major chop.

Nope, go for it. It’s  fine to take care of personal errands like a haircut on your lunch break. The fact that it’s a dramatic change will probably draw comments and interest — but just because dramatic changes always do, not because there’s anything wrong with doing it on your break.

3. Applicant complained about not hearing back … a few hours after applying

I totally realize that this is a job seeker’s market, and I equally recognize that employers have definitely established a record of bad behavior when it comes to job applicants. But I have to offer some advice on how applicants follow up.

This morning I received a LinkedIn message from a student at my alma mater who was messaging me about an application she submitted for an internship at the company where I work. I don’t know this person, but she found me through the alumni group on LinkedIn (and I have no problems helping students from my alma mater if I can).

In her message, she told me that she “applied quite some time ago” and hasn’t heard back, and is trying to follow up. She had messaged me at 10 am and the job posting went live when IT refreshed our site in the overnight — literally eight hours previously. This is not exactly “some time ago” and it definitely is giving us pause about bringing her in for an interview!

Yeah … that’s someone who’s letting their impatience to hear back get in the way of reasonable behavior. In fact, it’s so over the top that I wonder if it’s possible she’s referring to a different job that she did apply to a while back, not the one that was posted that day! Even if you’re pretty sure if it’s this same job, though, it’s worth writing back and saying, “This job was just posted today — when did you apply?” That way, if she did mean a different job, you’ll at least know why she sent this weird message … and if she didn’t, you can point out that she hasn’t allowed any time at all for a response (and perhaps as a fellow alum can also explain why this was a bad move).

4. Talking about jobs socially

When I meet someone socially, of course the topic of jobs quickly comes up. If it’s something in office, academia, sciences it is relatively easy to respond with “oh that’s cool, what does the job entail?” or something similar. But what if a person has a job in public service, as a cleaner, bus driver, waiter, garbage man, even some in retail — all jobs which in my view are more essential than many office ones and yet still in a way stigmatized. I often feel that whatever I say as a reaction would feel condescending or patronizing to the person, when I have nothing but respect for their job since I couldn’t do it. How do I convey that? Or generally how to respond so that the conversation goes on?

A different way to look at it is that you don’t need to react to the job at all (with “that’s cool” or so forth) — for any job, not just the types you listed. You can just move straight to, “Oh, how long have you done that?” and “How do you like it?” and any other conversation you want to make.

And really, all jobs are interesting in one way or another, and genuine interest shouldn’t sound patronizing (as long as you’re not responding with a tone of “well, my word, I never expected to meet a bus driver in these circles!”).

5. The job I turned down contacted me again, but my salary requirements have changed

About six months ago, I was almost recruited by BigCorp to move from my SmallCorp position. It would be a very similar job, larger scale. It was a decent process, but we couldn’t get to a salary and benefits figure that made sense. They were under orders to hire for a level 2, and my salary ask was a level 3. We left on good terms, and I genuinely enjoyed the people.

A week ago, the team lead reached out to me and said their hiring mandate has changed because the search has proven unfruitful in my area and the executive gave them the go ahead to “make it happen.”

Here’s my conundrum: the recruiter and hiring manager know what salary I asked for six months ago, but with the current state of the economy, my number would (ideally) change, by about 10% (inflation in my area is 9%). How do I go about saying that gracefully?

“Thanks for thinking of me again! I’m still really interested but I want to be up-front that given the market and economy right now, I’d be looking for a slightly higher number than we talked about last year. If you can do $X on your side, I’d love to say yes.” (Or if you’re not quite ready to say yes, change the last sentence to, “Could you do $X?”)

{ 546 comments… read them below }

    1. short'n'stout (she/her)*

      Haha, glad I reloaded comments before I became the third person to post that link ;)

      1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

        I am late enough to the party that I knew it would be in here somewhere.

    2. GythaOgden*

      Oh boy. That thread and its update were wild.

      I’ve had my hair cut before work, but I work afternoons, so it was easier to get there as the salon opened. I think I even got highlights done one morning, though we must have been racing the clock.

      Eventually, I started getting a Saturday appointment in my home town rather than in the one I work in, so things are less rushed.

    3. GythaOgden*

      Oh boy. That thread and its update were wild.

      I’ve had my hair cut before work, but I work afternoons, so it was easier to get there as the salon opened. I think I even got highlights done one morning, though we must have been racing the clock.

      Eventually, I started getting a Saturday appointment in my home town rather than in the one I work in, so things are less rushed.

    4. T.*

      Yikes! What a crazy story in the link.

      1 change, hair or nails or part of an outfit, ok, all is a lot. Drastic gets you attention no matter when it’s doves

      #2, if you cut a lot, please consider one of the donation sites that make wigs for kids with cancer like Pantene, Locks for Love or Dana Farber.

      1. Someone*

        I’d really like to note that there’s possibly some issues with Locks for Love, but also even more importantly (because the misconception definitely feeds some of the criticism you’ll see): the charity has never used the donations for kids with cancer who have regularchemo hair loss. They are used for hair pieces for children with permenant or long term hair loss, which is what they were founded for.

        I honestly don’t have a good grip of the other issues to detangle those here, but I wanted to clear up that big one.

        1. KTB1*

          Locks of Love is actually great–my housecleaner has alopecia and was telling me that she got high quality wigs for free from them until she turned 21 and aged out of eligibility. I think the main issue is that people don’t totally understand what it is that they do, to your point.

      2. Trixie the Great and Pedantic*

        Yes, this! I donate through Wigs for Kids, since I am an ardent believer in not just going to get a trim and hate to waste that much hair.

      3. Princesss Sparklepony*

        There are a lot of requirements for donating hair as well. It sounds like she has the length but if it’s been colored or chemically treated it’s a no go. And the amount of grey can make it a no as well. I don’t have a lot of grey but I’m borderline on the amount. If I go to donate in a few years (I’m enjoying the length now,) I’ll likely have too much grey to donate.

    5. Minerva*

      Hah! I thought of this the minute I read this. I can’t believe it’s not one of the “You May Also Like” Thank you for the link cuz I was about to go searching.

    6. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I was counting on someone posting like. More like, don’t get so offended that you walk out

    7. Xantar*

      The thing about that letter is Michelle wasn’t doing anything wrong until she got some feedback that it was affecting perceptions when she made those changes during a meeting with external people. And even then, she could have continued to make changes to her appearance (hey, it’s her body). The problem came when she dramatically flounced out and then expected to get a good reference for her next job.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        And honestly they told her they had no problem with the big changes, just asked her not to do them on days when she was meeting with external clients. It seemed like such a minor restriction that the way she reacted made it seem like a maturity issue more than anything else.

    8. anonanna*

      I’m so glad someone posted this because I didn’t know there was an update! Though I still want to know: why?!

  1. AcademiaNut*

    For LW2 – maybe don’t change your appearance drastically in the middle of meeting with visitors, as it might confuse people. Also, in a related note, don’t be the person in the following link (which, along with the follow up, is epic)

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Yup – instantly came to mind for me as well. I think if it’s a one time thing it’s no big deal to do a drastic haircut during the day.
      That person was going full scale transformations including clothes in the middle of client meeting days though, which is a totally different sounding proposition from OP’s haircut. She also seemed to really be a touch immature when presented with the really mild “don’t do this during client meetings” request.

      1. Venus*

        I don’t work with customers at all, and if I made drastic changes then my coworkers would think it was fun or not notice at all if they were busy. Many workplaces would be ok with a drastic change, and thankfully there are few client-focused roles where they only spend one day together.

        1. Just Another Cog in the Machine*

          If I were working with clients all day long and planned a drastic haircut for lunch, I would just mention it. Then they wouldn’t be surprised.

    2. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

      And since your hair is *so* long, be prepared for people having an unwarranted amount of feelings about you cutting it, along the lines of “but your hair was so beautiful why would you cut it!”

      1. Dahlia*

        Also unsolicited remarks about donating it from people unaware of the issues with many of the popular places or the requirements to do so.

        1. Princesss Sparklepony*

          My only unsolicited remark about big haircuts is You are going to save money on shampoo and conditioner. Remember to only use about a third of what you used to use.

          Yes, I have gotten a haircut and then used way too much shampoo. Like WAYYYYY TOOO MUCCCCHHHH! :D

  2. Marnix*

    -4- I’ve not ever had too many people be interested in my job. 8th grade science. EVERYONE went to school and took a few science classes, and their opinions and memories loom large. Usually for middle school, it’s not all fun and games (middle school can really be a tough time for lots of kids) and not too many people want to revisit that time in their lives.
    I’m enthusiastic about it but generally only hear about people’s bad and sad experiences. Which is in itself, sad to me.

    1. AED*

      I really enjoyed my science classes in junior high! Well, except for that dissection stuff. I tried though! All 3 of my teachers were great and I remember having many interesting conversations.

      1. My dear Wormwood*

        The dissection was my favourite due to the teacher managing to get rat intestines wrapped around the ceiling fan.

        The was at a girl’s school, so you can imagine the screaming.

        1. Despachito*

          Now, you’ve left me wondering:

          How on earth did the teacher manage this? And was it done on purpose?

          1. My dear Wormwood*

            He did a lot of interesting things by accident.

            So my rat was pinned to the board and the teacher told me to snip off the intestine under the stomach and tease it out into a single line to show how long it was. I did so but he said that wasn’t long enough and grabbed the forceps to pull out more. But he yanked too hard and the intestines snapped off at the anus and, well, ceiling fan. Fortunately it wasn’t on at the time.

          1. quill*

            Seconded, from someone who won the prize for longest intact intestine extraction from my fetal pig.

        2. Science Lover*

          June Brown passed away a couple weeks ago. She was an actor on EastEnders for years, and her obituary itself made the news.

          Her obituary in the Times said:
          June Brown, the actress best known for playing Dot Cotton, the world-weary, Bible-reading, chain-smoking launderette manager in EastEnders, has died aged 95. As a child there was nothing Brown liked better than putting a rabbit in a biscuit tin, gassing it to death and then cutting it up.

          At first it seems like an awful way to describe someone, although apparently someone took her love of dissection during science class way out of context!

      2. pancakes*

        Same, AED. My science teachers in junior high and high school were popular with the kids, and the classes were interesting. I looked up my high school biology teacher from the 90s just now and she is a development chair at the school. I’m sorry to hear you’re getting such sad stories, Marnix!

    2. LittleMarshmallow*

      My middle school and high school science experiences were great. I went to school in the basement of a church so we didn’t have a real lab (I don’t say that as a sad story it was mostly hilarious). The hilarity of trying to do our experiments on rolly tables and our chemistry teacher trying to put out a potassium fire with water (we had to evacuate for the day… for the smoke to clear) were definitely formative experiences. But happy ending! I am a scientist now. I work in R&D at a large ag company.

      1. My dear Wormwood*

        Me too! Writing this on my tea break at a medical research institute. Many thanks to all the science teachers out there for inspiring us.

      2. PostalMixup*

        Writing this from the parking lot before I walk into my R&D job at a life sciences company! I for sure sent emails to my high school science teachers when I went to grad school and when I defended my PhD. They made science cool. My middle school science teacher was a real piece of work, but that’s on him, not a reflection of middle school science in general.

    3. Willow*

      I look back on my seventh grade science teacher with so much fondness! She really encouraged my love of science!

      1. GythaOgden*

        My science teacher put notes in my class’s register warning me when he did assemblies… (In the UK, we have communal ‘morning worship’ – it’s largely secular nowadays but thirty years ago it was more generally religious, but we’re talking for the most part woolly liberal Anglican here. Surprising how many of the Christian Union members were science teachers and students – we were over-represented and part of it was actually how much knowing about how the world worked convinced us that there was something spiritual behind it all).

        He wanted to prepare me for the big bangs he was planning to demonstrate – the old hydrogen-filled-balloon-and-lit-taper trick that gets done in the first few secondary school lessons. I’m not sure what the religious message was behind that, but he managed to find a way of linking it! The first time he did it in class I hid under the desk, and I must have made an impression on him… I loved Chemistry for its own sake and did it for A-level alongside maths, but I was more interested in continuing politics at university. A good teacher can really make students come alive.

        1. londonedit*

          That’s definitely not common in all UK schools – my primary was loosely C of E so every now and then the vicar would come in and do an assembly, and we’d go to the village church for a school Easter/Christmas/harvest festival service but that was it. My primary was totally secular and assembly was just school notices and some sort of speech from the headmaster about hard work or social responsibility or whatever. We had RE lessons that covered all the major faiths/religions, but there was absolutely no ‘morning worship’ and the school had no religious affiliation (though of course this being Britain the school choir sang Christmas carols every year because that’s what we do).

          1. bamcheeks*

            It’s theoretically the law– my (extremely right-wing) choir director in the 1990s was very fond of telling us that we all ought to be having an act of collective worship every morning and how terrible it was that we didn’t.

              1. GythaOgden*

                Yup. Daughter of a teacher here – it is compulsory and was never for me overtly religious. I went to CofE schools and we’d get the priest once in a blue moon for some vague platitudes, but I can’t say it was anything completely inyerface like you’d expect in some parts of the US if they had the same system.

                I mean, nine out of ten times it was ‘pull your socks up, don’t wear your skirt too short, blow your nose and smile vaguely’ and an extension of personal and social education. My mum is a head and made a lasting impression on her last school with a speech on ethos likening people with good hearts to Jammy Dodger biscuits – basically sandwich cookies with a heart-shaped cut-out and a jam centre. She was presented with a hand-sewn pillow in the shape of one when she retired, even though by that time the youngest students who had originally heard the speech had gone right up through the school. Although she herself is the best kind of religious, she says she always made her talks applicable across social, religious and ethnic boundaries because she was so conscious that her own bias might creep in. I can see why her Jammy Dodger speech captured students’ imagination. I’m biased but my mum worked flat out to engage her students; she was one of the first generation of heads to actually have school-age children and so could connect better with teens than others could.

                It’s basically a morning pep talk. I’ve had some assemblies memorable for the right reasons and memorable for the wrong ones (one became a school meme in a bad way), but it’s not like it’s a church service and it’s actually quite a good way to start a day if you have an inspiring headteacher.

                1. londonedit*

                  That’s what we had, but it was just called assembly, never ‘morning worship’. So I guess it was the same thing, but it was never presented to us as being anything to do with religion. It was just 15 minutes of sitting in the hall listening to the head wang on about whatever behaviour issue he was currently focused on eradicating!

                2. GythaOgden*

                  Ah, right! I labelled it as such for people in America who might not know what assembly was, but no, it was always just called assembly at my schools.

                3. Koalafied*

                  We Americans also use “assembly”
                  – referring to events where the entire school gathered in one place to hear a speaker or see a performance, which sounds like the same thing? Not connected to religion at all.

                4. SixTigers*

                  I am just charmed to pieces with your mum! What a wonderful person to have as the head of one’s school — and to have as one’s mum. What a great simile! And what a wonderful retirement gift to her.

          2. Virginia Plain*

            I think it depends on the time period. When I was at secondary school (1989-1996) assembly was twice a week, with a hymn, notices, and a musical item. No idea what they do now. But assembly was definitely a standard across state education. In primary school it was for sure every morning, cross-legged on the parquet hall floor, with a children’s hymn, and some sort of talk or presentation or display etc.

            1. londonedit*

              Assembly yes, but there was never a religious component at secondary school (primary was different but that was actually a C of E school so you wouldn’t be surprised by there being some sort of woolly liberal church stuff going on).

              1. GythaOgden*

                Interesting. I think it varied from school to school – I changed schools every two years – but then I went to girls’ grammars and then indepedents schools rather than comprehensives, so I may have had a different experience.

                1. londonedit*

                  Yeah mine was a dodgy comp and assembly was mainly ‘will you PLEASE stop hanging around in town in uniform, people don’t like it’.

                2. bamcheeks*

                  londonedit, same– C of E primary with daily hymns/story/prayer (we used to run our own assemblies in fourth-year junior and those were the essential elements you had to have), but non-church-funded secondary school meant assemblies in year group or school house once or twice a week and it was very much generic “be respectful, don’t drop litter”.

              2. si*

                I went to a state primary with no church affiliation, but we had to pray at the end of every morning assembly, and all the songs were goddy. Secondary (also bog standard state comp) was much more secular.

                1. Lemons*

                  Exactly my experience too, and you’d get in serious, full-on, ‘walked to the front of the hall’ trouble if you were seen not bowing your head or not hymning hard enough. High school dispensed with hymns (first and middle had included weekly hymn practice lessons) but still had prayers ending with ‘Amen’, parables, and all the speakers/ two years of compulsory RE were Christian. None were church-affiliated schools.
                  I probably could have sat it out if I’d made any kind of protest, but at that age you really don’t know what you don’t know.

              3. si*

                I went to a state primary with no church affiliation, but we had to pray at the end of every morning assembly, and all the songs were goddy. My secondary (also bog standard state comp) was much more secular. The odd prayer if an assembly had been particularly religious in content but you could just sit quietly rather than joining in.

            2. quill*

              American, private school, 1997-2000: assembly was where everyone crammed into the auditorium and they passed out schoolwide notices, announced events, made us sing the school song and had our teachers take roll. Took 20ish minutes in the morning. This school was K-8 (ages 5 to 14 for you brits)

              In the public schools I attended 2000 onwards, assembly was once or twice a quarter for much larger events: the talent show, whatever motivational speaker the principal had scraped up to tell us about the dangers of a drug we had never heard of, school pep rallies (Long before anyone ever got excused from those due to the inevitable headache of sitting in the basketball court screaming for an hour…)

              In the very small K-8 public school my mom taught at, they had assembly every morning: count the kids, make announcements, pass out lunch cards, determine if it was cold or consistently rainy enough to declare indoor recess.

          3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            Depends on the area I think. My secondary school had mandatory weekly assembly complete with hymns (to which I sang the rude versions) and girls were not permitted to wear trousers. Not a religious school either, just the only secondary school for all the villages.

            Of course this was late 80s.

              1. Princesss Sparklepony*

                My older sister staged a pants-in to change the rules. It was probably around 1970. And it worked. It probably helped that it was in the San Francisco Bay area.

          4. HardNo*

            All UK schools have a religious requirement. It’s the law. Apparently it’s not followed in many schools, but it’s technically the law. No one is listening to the current (amazing) season of Serial?

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              Ooooh, the Trojan Horse Affair! It’s already been released as a separate podcast on its own. Good stuff.

          5. Batgirl*

            Hah, it’s quite different if your UK schools were Catholic! I had a friend start teaching in one and she said: “So, had you been looking at these life size crucifixes your entire childhood?” And… I honestly hadn’t noticed that might be noticeable.

    4. TooManyHobbies*

      I went to a really, really small rural school, so Grade 8 science was…reading parts of some textbooks. There wasn’t anything like a lab (my folks had bought me a microscope for Christmas a few years earlier, so I had more science tech than the school) or experiments or anything really. And 4 grades in the classroom. All this to say, you could tell me about Grade 8 science for HOURS and I’d love it. It would be all the things I would have liked to try!

    5. Virginia Plain*

      Fwiw I remember my year 9 (aged about 14) science classes with great fondness and remember the human biology we did then best of all!

    6. Asenath*

      I found that EVERYBODY wanted to say something about teaching jobs to teachers. Way back, when I briefly tried out teaching, I got to the point where I was slow to admit I was one, because when I did, I got everything from the other person’s own experiences in school, and/or those of their children (always negative and always looking for support) to general critiques of the entire system – every aspect of its organization, including the “fact” that teachers were way overpaid for a job anyone could do. In fact, one person, apparently on the basis of his own experiences in school, claimed to be able to teach any subject at any level. Of course, none of these people ever actually taught anything, even in an informal sense (hobby classes, sports etc). I concluded that since everyone had been through a fair number of years of schooling, everyone was an expert on the subject.

    7. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I found out the day after my eighth grade parent-teacher conference that my eighth grade science teacher had been one of the two women to take my dad’s physics class (he taught HS physics for 17 years in a rural backwater) the very first year the district let women take the higher math and science courses (see also, rural backwater). He was pretty pleased, and she was entertained.

    8. Lady_Lessa*

      Thank you for being a science teacher. I don’t remember my 8th grade science, but 7th grade was bad, due to large class and no lab.

      I am now a chemist, nearing retirement, and still the lab work is my favorite part. (GRIN, even if yesterday I struggled with color matching two grays. But the regular color matcher is back today. YAY)

    9. Humble Schoolmarm*

      I teach almost the same thing (grade 8 social studies, grade 9 science) *waves enthusiastically*. I don’t get a lot of people sharing their middle school trauma (although, as you say, it’s not a time that’s often looked back at fondly). For me, the very predictable script is “Junior High, oh that must be tough.” Followed by either “That must be rough with masks and everything.” or an ever so slightly condescending “It’s soooo amazing that you’re willing to do that.” I’m not a huge fan of either having to smile and nod my way into the job of foolish saint, or defend the considerable delightfulness of the kids I work with to someone who was just making (annoying) small talk.

      1. Y'all Come Back Now, Ya Hear?*

        I teach grade 8 Science and I really dislike the “That’s so amazing” comments that I get. I don’t love every day of my job, but I get to guide some pretty amazing people as they discover the scientific world and learn to grow up. Also, I think there’s a lot of joy that can be found in a school building, even with all the craziness in the world right now.

        I don’t know that I can do it very long with the current climate in my state towards public education, but being a middle school teacher has been a lot of fun in the midst of the low stakes 8th grade drama :)

    10. alienor*

      I had the same teacher for both 7th and 8th grade science, and he was a notorious hardass with some picky rules that I think were intended to train us to follow directions. As an example, he would assign us to write out definitions of terms from the textbook, and we were required to write and underline the word in ink, using cursive, and then print the definition itself in pencil. (He also liked messing with people in class, in a sort of “annoying uncle” way. He sneaked up on me once while we were taking a test and draped a disembodied skeleton arm across my shoulder to see if I would scream. I reached over and shook its hand and then went back to my paper.) We got along fine and I finished all four semesters with an A, but I don’t know how the other kids from my cohort experienced him.

    11. Falling Diphthong*

      Speaking from experience, there’s nothing like a degree in math or the hard sciences to generate. “Oh…. Man, I hated that topic.”

      1. Mianaai*

        I’m a statistician and oh boy do people have negative things to say about that. You’d think that everyone’s poorly-taught stats 101 class in college was my fault, and that I have a personal line of communication to Nate Silver and am directly to blame for his missteps on Twitter… Sigh. I’ve mostly learned not to take it personally but I swear the next “lies, damn lies, and statistics” quip I get from someone trying to be clever will make me scream.

        1. Jo*

          I have fond memories of my college stats class. Teacher was a retired colonel whose favorite quote was: “figures never lie, but liners sure do figure”! Makes me smile every time I think of that class.

          My first thought when I meet someone who majored in statistics: “ha! Someone who actually understands odds and all those “chance” puzzles.”

      2. anonforthis*

        As someone who was a science major and now do light math as part of my job, I HATE it when people say “Idk why had to learn geometry…I never use it!” Maybe YOU don’t use it, but pretty much everything that makes your industrialized country (if you’re in the US) 21st century life bearable is because of applied math and science so STFU.

    12. Irish Teacher*

      My experience mentioning my job to people as a teacher is quite different. It’s usually a reaction of “oh, I’d say THAT’S a tough job. Teenagers are so difficult these days” or questions about whether I am preparing students for exams or occasionally stories about their own teenagers: “my young fellow is supposed to be studying for his exams, but he’s doing nothing. I keep telling him to listen to his teachers, but sure, he thinks he knows it all.” That sort of thing. Or “oh, I loved/hated English/History when I was at school.”

      On the radio and internet commentary, you get all the “oh, teachers have too much time off,” “teachers just make rules because they’re on a power trip” (in reality enforcing rules is a massive hassle and we don’t make them lightly) or “all my kids’ teachers just pick on him/her,” but face-to-face, I find most people pretty appreciative.

    13. BethDH*

      My eighth grade science teacher is one of my favorite teachers ever even though I have always been a humanities person overall. Among other things she let me research the science behind sci-fi and taught us how plumbing works (including how to fix a drippy faucet). She found a way to work all of our interests into the “official” topics we were supposed to cover that year.

    14. Saraquill*

      Unfortunately, teacher quality is a crapshoot when you’re young and have little say in what classes you take.

      To make a long 8th grade story short, my science teachers had us using Imperial, rather than metric, measurements. This has never happened to me in a science class before or since. I don’t know why that happened, especially since a previous grade explained the importance of using metric in science.

    15. Three Cats in a Trenchcoat*

      It can definitely be uncomfortable to have a job that lots of people have opinions about. I’m not a teacher, but as a psychiatrist I get all sorts of odd reactions (including an uber driver who insisted I analyze him). The absolute “best” are people who decide to tell me they don’t believe in psychiatry, like I’m some sort of fairy. Look, I’m just trying to make standard DC small talk, I didn’t ask for justifying my whole field!

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        You can always go with the “oh, I work for a small consulting firm” line ;)

        (when I lived in DC, that was code for “don’t ask me about my job because I can’t talk about it” and conversation swiftly moved to other topics!)

    16. K-Sarah-Sarah*

      Middle school was often a huge bummer for a lot of us, but educators have some incredible stories! I love hearing tales from my teacher friends.

    17. a tester, not a developer*

      My science teacher was great! The single most useful piece of information she gave us was that when you go to university, don’t date the engineering students. Considering it was a semi-regular occurrence for them to get suspended for dyeing themselves blue and running around naked, it was good advice. :)

      1. Eff Walsingham*

        Ha! At my school they dyed themselves (and each other, and the fountains) purple. And yet all the engineers I’ve met since school seem quite… naturally pigmented, and clothed. I do wonder about this.

    18. straws*

      Just chiming in to say that my 8th grade science teacher was one of my favorites of all of my childhood school teachers. He made science exciting and was just the nicest man, despite some terrible acting out by my classmates. Thank you for your work & enthusiasm for it :)

    19. NothingIsLittle*

      Middle school might have been hard for me, but my 6th grade science class was amazing! We a unit on forensics with different stations to analyze the evidence, like fingerprints and “DNA,” and even had a fake trial. I don’t have the memory for high level science, but wow I really loved that class.

    20. Elenna*

      I loved my middle school science classes! And most of my high school ones, too – I had great teachers. (Actually, my middle school science teacher was the one who referred my class to the math and science focused high school program I ended up going to.)
      Although I don’t really have stories, per se, just a general feeling that the teacher was great.

    21. anonforthis*

      I hated middle school, but the reason I ended up majoring in molecular biology in college is because I had a great high school science teacher. I admit that when it comes to teaching, I’m not interested in the job itself but the subjects, because I remember being a nerd in school and actually enjoying a lot of them. So that is probably what I would talk about with a teacher.

    22. Eff Walsingham*

      My 8th grade science teacher was amazing! He really recognized our strengths as individuals, and found ways to let shy kids shine, and slyly let bullies and braggarts show themselves to be ridiculous. It was glorious. I had had a hard time for a couple of years before that… our district had trouble getting good and qualified teachers, I guess, and some of them seemed to actively hate children! So without him I might have been a 13-year-old dropout. My mother needlepointed him a footstool in gratitude.

    23. Panhandlerann*

      I can commiserate. We English teachers are quite used to folks, upon hearing we are English teachers, reacting by rolling their eyes and saying “Oh, I’d better watch what I say now!” and/or “I was never any good at spelling [or grammar, or something else that most English teachers consider just a small part of what their subject is all about].”

  3. Sue Wilson*

    #2: If you’re actually concerned about a dramatic difference, put it up for the morning of the hair cut (buns tend to let allow some under estimation of how much hair you have), and then the change won’t feel as dramatic.

    1. Allonge*

      Depending on your relationships with coworkers, you could also tell some of them about the plan, as a low-key, ‘I am excited, hope this works out’ thing. I mean, don’t send out a memo or anything, but this would be totally normal to tell people about.

      1. amoeba*

        Yeah, all places I’ve worked in, I’d definitely have told people “off to get a haircut, wish me luck”. I mean, obviously not the whole department, but the people I’d chat to that morning, for sure.

        1. Wendy Darling*

          Seriously, I would straight up be like “Okay off to the salon, say goodbye to most of my hair!”

          Actually I’m about to go to the office for the first time since getting an unexpectedly extreme haircut, and I haven’t mentioned it to anyone, so that’ll be fun. (Sometimes when you have curly hair your hair curls more than expected and your haircuts end up shorter than anyone really intended…)

          1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            I have hip length hair, until it’s straightened and I have mid-thigh length hair :)

            1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

              Ditto! I’m considering getting it dyed blue entirely actually which would be a major change for my coworkers! Given that my hair is generally black/grey.

              I know it’ll take hours but got to admit I’m kinda tempted to just rock up for work one afternoon with blue waist length hair after taking the morning off to have it done. Probably get a few comments about why a woman my age is doing that to her hair but meh.

              1. bamcheeks*

                I don’t know if you do any more, actually! I’m 43 and have a “peekaboo” vibrant colour done a year ago — basically, the part of your hair that you’d cut off if it was an undercut, and I’ve cycled between various mixtures of purple, pink, orange, peach and yellow (thinking of orange/yellow/teal the next time I get it done professionally.) There’s someone in my team ten years older than me who cycles blue/purple/red. I’ve not heard anyone suggest that either of us are too old for this– I don’t think it’s nearly as weird for our generation to go for bright colours as it used to be!

                1. PhyllisB*

                  I used to dye my hair red, and once I used a color reviver on it to extend between colorings. It turned my hair pink!! It actually didn’t look bad, and my grandchildren thought it was awesome. Then after I let it go natural I used a shampoo that is supposed to help gray hair look more vibrant. It turned me a lovely shade of lavender.

              2. GythaOgden*

                I’m putting out feelers for jobs at the moment. I really want to get mermaid hair or something subtly iridescent — I’m not in a job where it would 100% matter, but I just want to get the lay of the land in a new job first. I think chestnut highlights may be more suited to job-hunting though.

                When I was 16 I home-dyed my hair a very dark purple and I loved it. From a distance it didn’t look any different to my normal very dark brown but up close I knew it was actually purple. I spent ages afterwards trying to find the colour again but a few bad hair days later, I had to give up. It was also way too much effort for way too short a time.

                So something really subtle but which gives my dark and rather frizzy hair something that catches the light.

                And bamcheeks — I’m 42 and there’s way more I can do with my hair than there was when my mum was in her 40s. It’s not a priority at all, just something I want to think about a bit more.

                1. ES*

                  Have you tried Overtone? It gives off that subtle look you’re talking about on dark hair, I love it!

              3. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

                Nah. I’m in my 40s and have had my hair dyed at least three unnatural colors at a time, from the shoulders down, for the last twelve years.

              4. Corporate Lawyer*

                This 55 year old woman in a generally conservative industry (my user name is accurate) who’s currently rocking vibrant purple peekaboo highlights is here to tell you you’re never too old. Go for it!

              5. PhyllisB*

                If this posts twice, forgive me
                My phone is acting wonky.
                I used to dye my hair red. I used a color reviver to extend between colorings. It turned my hair pink. My grandchildren thought it was awesome.
                Then after I let go natural I used one of the shampoos that’s supposed to make grey hair more vibrant. It turned a lovely shade of lavender. :-)

              6. Pointy's in the North Tower*

                Do it! I’m waiting to get my hair cut before I dye mine purple again, but oh man I’m already SO EXCITED!

                Added bonus: the boss’s boss hates it because it’s “not professional” yet isn’t against dress code. Joke’s on her because even with purple hair and sneakers I’m one of the more professionally dressed folk in my office.

  4. voyager1*

    LW5: If you are going to ask for 10% more, you probably need a better reason then inflation.

    I would counter you if I was the interviewer as to why you worth that extra money. Inflation is a pretty non compelling reason. Now a new experience or skill might get my interest.

    1. AED*

      Inflation is a very appropriate reason to ask for more! ‍♀️ IDK why anyone would think otherwise. Every business has raised its prices due to “inflation.” The business of you deserves the same increase as any other.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Especially if OP is getting COL pay rise from her current employer, which is more than possible.

      2. DataGirl*

        Unfortunately while every business has raised it’s prices due to ‘inflation’, those profits are all going to CEOs and Shareholders. No one is paying more due to increased COL. I’m not saying that’s right, in fact it makes me want to scream with rage. But so far it is not making companies re-evaluate what they pay their employees.

        1. pancakes*

          From an article I linked to in a pending comment –

          “The analysis of Securities and Exchange Commission filings for 100 US corporations found net profits up by a median of 49%, and in one case by as much as 111,000%. Those increases came as companies saddled customers with higher prices and all but ten executed massive stock buyback programs or bumped dividends to enrich investors.”

        2. Le+Sigh*

          Sadly I think my office is the exception — my office has an annual COL raise for everyone that is based on where you live/work and adjusts each year to current numbers. This year they more than doubled the COL raise due to inflation which still probably doesn’t fully absorb everyone’s increased costs in high COL areas, but does help.

      3. WhoKnows*

        I agree with both you AND the other commenters who say this is a difficult sell. However, I do want to share that I recently had success with this argument, but my job had also sized up dramatically in scope over the years, with no additional raises (think, now working across 4 business units, instead of just 1). I explained to my manager that I did the calculations and I was making less now with inflation than when I first got hired 4 years earlier. So even all the “merit raises” in between hadn’t gotten me anywhere. While I didn’t get a HUGE raise, I did get one that met my old salary, incorporating inflation, and added an extra 3k. Not gangbusters, but not terrible either.

    2. AcademiaNut*

      I think that changes in the economy and job market are perfectly reasonable reasons to have changed your minimum salary requirements since the last time you interviewed. And if that’s what the OP needs to consider the job, it’s better to be up front about it so that everyone knows the situation. The OP isn’t claiming they’re 10% more valuable as a candidate, rather that the salary they’d need to change jobs is 10% more than it was six months ago. The employer has already decided the job is worth more money than they were willing to offer six months ago, after all.

      Now if she’d already taken the job, asking for a 10% raise six months in would raise eyebrows, unless the job had changed drastically, because that’s after the negotiation process is over but before you’d normally be talking about raises. Here, though, they’re still in negotiation.

      1. Snuck*

        Agree. I don’t know about your local job market but in Western Australia right now the unemployment figures are so low that anyone who breathes can have a job…. There’s literally notices in every second shop window, and recruitment bonuses being handed out for basic retail and fast food jobs.

        In this market the OP could ask for more because right now market rate is more.

        She could also ask for more because they haven’t found anyone, and come back to her, which shows that her demands weren’t unreasonable and she wasn’t selling her self below market rate – if the market rate was lower they’d have found someone.

        Ask for your 10% hon, and say “In the last six months the market in this role has shifted dramatically, and I am also aware that there’s many opportunities out there for me. I am keen to explore further with you because I prefer your way of painting decals on teapots as it’s chakra aligns synergetically with my Lycra pants, and really would prefer to find a common ground with you. My market research says this role is now paying 15% more, but how about we drop it a little and go with 10%? What do you think?” And what they say in response will be telling. They’ve gone without for six months because they were holding on to that old job rate… will they go without for longer?!

        1. KRM*

          Well, they rejected her in the first place because her job level was above the level they wanted to hire for, not because LW was undervaluing herself. They were unable to find someone at the level they wanted, and so now they’re saying ‘OK, it makes sense for us to hire the higher level person we liked before, so we have someone to do the job we need”. So the extra 10% on top of the higher salary for a higher level may not work for their budget because now it’s way over what they’re able to pay for that higher level. She can ask, but has to be prepared for compromise if she wants this job.

          1. Antilles*

            You’re right that it might not work in their budget.
            But it also isn’t going to hurt OP to ask, so might as well. Worst case, they say no, so you end up making the same decision you’re making now.

    3. ZucchiniBikini*

      But they don’t need a better reason, or any reason at all. They’re being directly approached for this! The company obviously found plenty in them to like and want during the first ultimately unsuccessful hiring process, and has come back to *them* to try again, not the other way around. That puts the LW in the box seat here. (I have been in almost the exact same situation as the LW, and if the hiring manager had came back to me and said “why are you worth that extra money?”, I’d just have passed and left it at that. LW is not the supplicant – not even the applicant – here. They don’t have to justify a thing).

      1. Antilles*

        Especially since the company has apparently found the job market so tight that (a) they’re still searching six months later and (b) were willing to up the salary band for the position.
        Maybe the answer is that you really can’t afford the extra 10% and that’s that…but there’s also a decent chance the exec who said “make it happen” after this long of a search would be pretty irritated that voyager lost a good candidate over a cost-of-living adjustment.

    4. Well...*

      What? This is a good reason. Given inflation, the effective salary ask had gone down. I know people who have gotten “a raise” solely based on requesting their pay to reflect cost of living increases.

      If salaries stagnate during inflation, employees are getting a pay cut.

    5. Inflated*

      I mean, sure, if someone is dealing with unreasonable people like you then a reasonable argument won’t work. That’s not the OPs problem.

      1. Zelda*

        Whoa, a person can be mistaken on this point without being a 100% unreasonable person. I don’t think the slam is productive here.

    6. Falling Diphthong*

      What if they didn’t have a new skill or experience, but did have a competing offer from another company willing to offer that higher salary? Would it suddenly become worth that extra money?

      You seem to be operating under the assumption that if someone would have taken a job last year for $X, then they MUST take that job if it is offered at that salary at any future point, unless they can prove they have a new certificate or something. (There’s a parallel in romance, where some people imagine that anyone once willing to date them must be an option forevermore. Those people look pretty delusional to outsiders.)

      1. Curious*

        You’re right — the issue isn’t what OP was asking for last year, or general inflation. The question is what is the market price for someone with OP’s skills and experience to do this type of job in the relevant geographic area.

    7. BRR*

      I don’t think the lw needs to give them a reason at all. I think they can just say their salary requirements have changed and are now $X. If asked why, the lw can say their research shows market rate is $X, because theoretically market rate is affected by inflation.

    8. BethDH*

      I think you’re mixing this up with people who ask for a raise because their personal needs have changed (like with Alison tells people that saying their kid is going to college is not a compelling reason). Inflation feels very personal because it affects our spending power but it is a market force. The reason you want more pay per hour than your parents would have for the same job thirty years ago is inflation too.

      1. Kes*

        This. In terms of hiring, OP can set their threshold of what it would take for them to accept wherever they want (of course, the company may not agree to that, as what happened previously, in which case they just won’t hire OP). This isn’t the same as asking for a raise where you need to make a case for the higher amount (and also, inflation is a pretty acceptable reason anyway)

    9. I should really pick a name*

      I don’t think inflation is an unreasonable justification for the higher salary request.

      I also don’t think that the LW needs to get into the specific reasons for the change unless the employer asks. It sounds like they’re in a stable position, and it’s the employer who reached out to them, so they’re in a position of strength here.

      The employer might see the request for the increase and decide it’s not a problem because it’s within their budget. If they decide they don’t agree with the LW’s reason for the request, they might be less likely to grant it.

    10. Anon Supervisor*

      It’s a perfectly acceptable reason. It doesn’t mean the employer has to give the person that salary, but it’s a perfect fine thing to ask.

    11. Fluffy Fish*

      It’s absolutely appropriate. Think of it this way – If I’m moving for a new job from area A to area B, and the cost of living in area B is higher – you’d have no problem with factoring that into salary discussion, right?

      It’s the same thing. Expenses are higher ergo it’s reasonable when changing jobs to factor that into salary.

    12. The OTHER Other*

      Inflation is literally defined as increasing prices. Why do other prices (food, gas, rent) increase and we either like it or lump it, yet when it comes to salary any increase must be “justified” by “being worth that extra money”? The bread and gas I buy is not improved, it’s the same bread and gas, what “justifies” this extra money? Is this company improving its goods or services to justify their raising prices?

      Honestly, it’s as though people think salaries/wages are and should be considered in a bubble, utterly disconnected from anything else we know about economics.

      Bread was $3, now it’s $4. Llama groomer was paid $60k, now it’s $80k. Them’s the breaks.

      1. Le+Sigh*

        And what’s wild is, we already do base salaries on overall costs. The same job in DC or NY or SF doesn’t necessarily pay the same as markets where housing isn’t astronomical and overall COL is less (even accounting for inflation). That’s not the only way you determine salary, but it has to be a factor — if my office wanted to move me from a mid-market southern city to say, NYC, the salary better move up accordingly.

    13. fhqwhgads*

      In this case though, the employer is the one with the greater need than the candidate. It’s very much an employee’s market right now. So even if inflation weren’t the reason, the point is primarily “a lot of time has passed and this is now my number”.

    14. Gan Ainm*

      I’ve never been asked “why” when I counter for more money, especially 10%, not 50%. I just say something like “I was really hoping for $x, is that something you can do?” And they say “i will check and get back to you.” If they asked why my answer would basically be “that’s what I need for this move happen on my end.” I think your approach is a little old fashioned and based on when employers held most of the cards.

    15. Rogue Paginator*

      OP here- thanks for all your comments, I really appreciate the overall gut-check that I’m not wrong to at least try for a higher figure. The new job salary even as I proposed 6 months ago would represent a pretty decent increase, but given a move from a smaller company that I have a high standing in and a large “emotional bank account” with people at all levels to a large company where I’ll be more of a cog in the big machine, (and therefore perhaps more expendable), I am wanting it to be really worth it financially to give up some of the non-tangible goods that I have now, and will have to rebuild at a new company.

    16. Miles*

      What? Not increasing the pay to match inflation means you’re literally saying the work is worth less than it was 6 months ago. Then it was worth 6 gallons of gas and 5% of a month’s rent, now it’s worth 2 gallons of gas and 4% of a month’s rent? Please.

  5. voyager1*

    LW1: I can honestly count on one hand using thumbs how many managers of mine have handled my leaving well or the leavings of others. People really resort to their worst when you resign. It is the whole, you didn’t break up with me I dumped you mindset. I honestly would let this go, but I do get it hurts though.

    1. LittleMarshmallow*

      I’ve mostly experienced the other way. I’ve seen a couple respond poorly but those were always ones where the manager was a big part of why they were leaving so it wasn’t shocking. I’ve been fortunate to be in jobs where turnover is expected as a healthy part of career development.

      1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

        My experience has been similar to yours. I can only really remember one case where a boss acted offended about my resignation, and he had absolutely no right to do so, imnsho.

        Yeah, dude, you totally changed my work schedule to something that was completely incompatible with my family responsibilities, and about 80% of my job duties as well, to the point where it wasn’t even really the same job, and you think you get to act all surprised and miffed because I went looking for something else? Give me a freaking break!

    2. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

      While I was working my notice period at one company, taking my full lunch break was apparently me “taking the p*ss because I was leaving”.

      1 – It isn’t.
      2 – You’ve done nothing but take the p*ss for 2 years, so suck it up.

    3. Rainbow Brite*

      I had one job where they took my leaving a little too well — I think maybe they were in denial about it! They had a big send-off presentation and announced it as an “extended holiday” (I was moving overseas).

      1. Jackie*

        Huh. The last time I took somebody leaving REALLY well, they were doing badly at their job (but complaining about me to everyone so I had to tread carefully with HR – though I did have plenty of documentation) and it was just such a relief. Other times I try to not show it but feel bummed. An “extended holiday” when you leave though… that’s something else.

    4. Kfish*

      Sure, but dropping a “hey, am I meant to be receiving these?” into the chat would be both polite AND funny.

        1. L.H. Puttgrass*

          “Soon to be ex-employee is still in the chat.”
          “Hey, everyone, I’m not gone yet.”

          So many possibilities.

        1. Hills to Die On*

          Fantasy scenario: Do the above, and then tell them that when you try to slander someone you at least are smart enough to do it behind their backs.
          Note: do not actually do this. Just think about how nice it would be.

    5. infopubs*

      I think I would have replied to the texts, saying, “You’re certainly allowed to have your opinions about my departure, but texting them directly to me is rude and unnecessary.”

      1. tw1968*

        Does LW1 have good reason to go to HR with these texts and her performance evaluations and say “Besides the fact this was extremely rude and unprofessional, none of my performance evals have ever listed any problems with my performance. It appears they have deliberately withheld feedback for my professional development in order to deny me the bonus later. I wonder how many other people they’ve done this to as well?”

    6. That One Person*

      Even got a smidge of this at my old retail job, though I imagined it came more from a place of that team lead trying to figure out how to deal without me by that point given my experience and seniority :) Felt a little off putting at the time to be told I was “abandoning” them but between my elation of a sense of freedom and new possibilities it was hard to feel too hurt either, and I still got a hug so like I imagined it was probably just stress of plotting out future schedules and the like.

    7. L.H. Puttgrass*

      I saw this at an old company. A co-worker left for a job at another firm on a management track, and almost instantly the co-worker’s managers started talking about how they couldn’t believe that that guy would be manager material.

      And I thought, well, maybe that’s why he left?

      1. Meep*

        My former toxic coworker/manager would read anyone who left to filth about how they couldn’t hack it, they weren’t meant for this role, etc. She would b*tch and whine about them for literal months after their departure and how inconvenient it was while simultaneously following the “we don’t need you!” attitude. Even someone was fired. She is ridiculous and 100% the reason everyone has left to date due to some reason or another.

      2. Hobbit*

        Personally, I’d let it go. I don’t see the point in bringing it to HR. OP is on their way out the door and won’t have to think about their soon-to-be ex-job anymore. Does anyone think the boss did it deliberately, as in they are trying to take one last swing at OP before they leave?

    8. Alexis Rosay*

      My partner is at an org experiencing very high turnover and after every single person leaves, there’s talk from the leadership of how “oh it was a good thing Beth/Bob left” regardless of their work quality. As you may guess, yeah, the leadership is demoralizing people and people are leaving because of the leadership!

      Some managers are–unfairly–hurt when someone leaves and just trying to make themselves feel better. This is super crappy and you’re right to feel sad about it, but I think it reflects more on them than you.

  6. three soft tacos*

    Lol, ironically #4 instantly made me feel really self-conscious about how uninteresting my job is. Which I guess is more about how I see it than anything else, and not a criticism of the LW at all. Just an illustration of the way we stratify work.

    1. Snuck*

      I’m wondering who they are asking about work? Is this party introduction conversations? Why not ask about something else entirely? I try not to talk work when I meet people (unless it’s actually work related) – I mix with a very wide range of people (We all do!) and I resent being defined by my ‘work identity’ (because I am so much more awesome than a job title!), so instead I start conversations about other things.

      Finding a common ground can start with hobbies and interests, kids, community service. Why not start with how you know the host, or whatever brings you to that common place to talk? If you are meeting at a community hall then comment on the things on the walls, or another event you had there. If you notice the person has tucked a plant cutting into their pockets ask them about their garden. There’s so many many other things you can ask a person than “what do you do for a job”.

      1. anne of mean gables*

        Yes, The Little Prince is my guide here. Love to talk to people about anything other than what they do for work – although this opinion may be heavily shaped by the fact that many of my friends are microbiologists, and my knowledge in that sphere is limited to the cell cake I made for 9th grade science class.

        1. WantonSeedStitch*

          You can talk to most microbiologists about booze, in my experience. Or pickling. Microbiologists DIG fermentation.

      2. Lizzo*

        My preferred question to avoid focusing on work is, “How do you spend your time?” The answer could be any number of things–it’s up to the respondent to decide what they want to share.

        1. Coenobita*

          One of my parkrun friends uses a similar “what do you do when you’re not here?” for people he meets at our runs, I think is open-ended and fun. My go-to is usually “have you been in this area long?” since I live in a city with a lot of transplants. Much of the time that does turn into a work conversation because so many people move here for a job, but it doesn’t have to.

      3. Eff Walsingham*

        Same. Wondering also, why do people feel this need to talk about work socially? I often work in accounting. I know my tales from the trenches don’t make lively party chit-chat.

        Also, my husband works in an industry where many/ most people have a side job or a day job. It can be awkward to ask about that, because one would not want to imply that someone can’t make a living in their chosen profession. (Most can’t. The field is oversubscribed. But some people are very sensitive about it generally, or may just be going through a period of questioning themselves. Or their circumstances have changed. But anyway.)

        So, yeah. Sometimes it’s a case of, “What are you working on?” leading either to *flood of excited chatter* or moody “Nothing much.” It’s easier if you know something, such as they’d been taking a course or looking for a side job, and you can ask, “How’s that going?”

        For coming in cold, I recommend “What’s new with you?” Then they can lead with a subject of their choice.

      4. penny dreadful analyzer*

        I mean, people spend a lot of their lives at work, so it tends to come up eventually. I move in a lot of circles where the conversation is predominantly about other stuff, and it’s always somewhat awkward when someone I’ve known socially for like two years and consider myself friendly with says “I’m bummed I had to miss the meetup for the teapot exhibit last week, we had a massive client emergency and I had to work late every day,” and I have to get oriented before I can be properly supportive because I have no idea whatsoever what they do or what kind of clients they have or whether an “emergency” means somebody might die or not.

    2. pancakes*

      Anything can be interesting to be people who are genuinely interested in things. Even boringness or repetitiveness is a characteristic people have thoughts on. Whether those are interesting or inclusive thoughts will depend on the person. Another thing is, there are a lot of social situations where it’s just more fun (and perfectly acceptable, if not a widespread preference) to not talk about work at all.

    3. anonforthis*

      I have a nonprofit job that I enjoy doing but can’t imagine it makes for interesting party conversation. I think it’s just better to not talk about work.

    4. Double A*

      As I’ve moved to a more educationally diverse area, “What do you do?” has moved way down the list of conversation starters. I often don’t talk about work with someone until I’ve met them a few times.

    5. Elizabeth West*

      Same here. No one wants to hear about an admin’s day.

      If I say I’m a writer, then I have to either dispel myths about it (that I have money, that I drink a lot, that my characters are thinly veiled versions of me), or fend off inquiries to look at other people’s manuscripts.

  7. Loulou*

    Am I the only one who finds “do you like it?” a somewhat jarring response to someone telling you their job? I don’t know why, but it feels more prying than “how long have you worked there?” (Or maybe just more likely to lead to an awkward conversation if the answer is “no”?)

    Personally, I’d rather stick to a more factual follow up about where the other person works and then use that to segue into a more general conversation.

      1. Kate*

        I’ve heard plenty of people talk socially about not liking their job? It’s not an interview. And it’s pretty easy to say something blandly positive if you don’t want to get into a whole thing (‘the hours are good’ or ‘I like being outdoors’ or whatever).

        1. GythaOgden*

          Yup. For me the boredom is killing me. I no longer do the job I was employed to do because the pandemic has emptied our office and reduced me to post-person and glorified directory enquiries. I’m the first to say casually that I’m looking for a similar position but in an office that’s still populated with people who need stuff done.

          I don’t hate my actual job…I just don’t get to do it any more.

        2. Humble Schoolmarm*

          Sure, but I think it can be a loaded question for small talk with someone you just met, especially if you’re in one of those sectors that have been in the news for spectacular rates of burn out in the past few years. Most of the teachers I talk to can barely decide for themselves whether the good parts, of which there are many, outnumber the vast number of challenges (unsustainable demands on time and energy and how everyone always seems to be telling you that you aren’t giving or doing enough). It’s a really hard conversation and not one I want to get into with a total stranger in the name of social lubricant.

      2. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        I don’t mean this in a snarky way, but assuming it’s a social and not a work situation, why wouldn’t you be?

      3. Lizzo*

        If someone honestly told me, “No, I don’t enjoy my job,” I’d love to know more about what they do enjoy, because maybe I know of a job they’d be interested in doing! This is how networking happens.

        1. Coenobita*

          Yeah, my typical answer is a jaunty “Actually, I hate it!” delivered with a big smile, which tends to get a laugh and then we move on. Though my dream is that a new career will magically fall from the sky and present itself to me, so I hope that you’re not alone in helping acquaintances think of new opportunities :)

      4. This+is+a+name,+I+guess*

        I do! “It’s good enough for now!” “It pays the bills.” “I hate and I’m desperately looking for a new job.” Then again, I’m from a culture where being honest about your experiences is a part of being human.

    1. LittleMarshmallow*

      What’s the funniest/scariest/most wtf moment have you had at work can be a fun way to sort of lightheartedly inquire about their job without asking if they like it. If someone asks me that I usually say something along the lines of “I really like the teapot design responsibilities, but I do have a couple of challenging personalities on my team”. It’s a sort of non-confrontational way to answer “do you like it”. Alternatively “well the work itself is pretty dry but my coworkers are awesome” works too. And unfortunately if you hate the work and the team… well maybe a job hunt should be in your future. Haha. In my line of work, the work itself is nearly always fun, but the coworker and manager aspect can make or break it.

      1. Clea*

        “What’s the funniest/scariest/most wtf moment have you had at work ” – Oh please no! Don’t ask me this. It makes me feel so put on the spot to come up with an amusing anecdote to entertain the asker, and I don’t have those. I hate this question so much. It’s not fun for me, it’s a stressful social interaction that I am doomed to fail. I’m going to stammer, stumble, look blankly at you for far too long, then mutter something about my work not being funny/scary/WTFy, sorry, and then try to escape you and then avoid you forever.

    2. My dear Wormwood*

      I tend to prefer to ask, “Oh, how did you get into that?” I’ve got no idea how you go about becoming a bus driver or garbage collector so I really am interested!

      1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

        Agree! I also think that socially that can lead to other topics you might have common ground in like they mention something about their past or where they grew up, or went to such and such school, “oh really, you went there? I lived there in my 20’s, what a nice little town” and then you’re building more connection/rapport.

      2. Mockingjay*

        The same as any other job: read the job description, matched quals, and applied.

        The problem is that society stratifies jobs, viewing some as more glamorous or more worthy than others, and deeming others as bad or unthinkable. As a former janitor, I can speak to the classism in this kind of question. I did it for the same reasons as most people take jobs: it paid decent and fit my schedule. My grandfather, father, and daughter worked for municipal water and sewer districts. During the pandemic, everyone cheered (rightly so) medical staff, but no one ever mentioned the municipal employees who kept potable water coming through their pipes, because sewer is NOT glamorous. It does pay very well and offers fantastic benefits, largely to attract people in spite of the stigma.

        OP4, please find other common ground, at least for initial meetings. When you get to know someone, then bring up work/job/careers.

        1. This+is+a+name,+I+guess*

          I mean, I’m an over-educated office employee, and you telling me about your family connection to water/wastewater is a point of connection! My partner is a civil engineer, so she knows all about water/wastewater. And, my father worked in municipal water, too. I used to go to work with him as a kid. Sometimes we got to use the blowtorch! It was the best.

          Then again, my partner and I are both first gen college students, and we’re pretty much the only people in our families who worked from home during the pandemic. And, even though we have white collar jobs, we still retain some of the blue collar conception of work even in our office jobs. So, there’s a high likelihood that you would pick up on that while talking to us, so this whole convo is really moot. Since, ya know, I don’t need a script to talk to blue collar folks about their jobs. :)

        2. Elizabeth West*

          I like to thank those people for keeping that stuff going. Garbage collectors too. Without them, we’d be up Shit Creek without a paddle…literally.

    3. Allonge*

      If this comes up in a social setting, it’s ok to answer with what you (used to) like about your job. ‘it’s tough these days but I always loved [aspect]’ is a good answer and so is ‘it pays the bills, howabout thatt subject change’.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ha, maybe that’s just my own weirdness. I’m always really interested in hearing about people’s jobs and whether they like it or not. If they don’t, it’s so interesting to hear about why … and if they do, it’s interesting to hear about that too. And I always have a zillion questions I want to pepper them with from there. But this could be a me thing. (However, I’ve found most people respond really well to it and like to have someone taking a genuine interest … on the other hand, I’m in the DC area, where people talk a lot more about their jobs than other places.)

      But of course, this is for social situations. I’m not asking “do you like your job” when talking to someone in a professional setting.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Thinking on it more, I think it very well may be overly specific to me and is not everyone’s way. I’m going to tweak the language a little!

        1. Lizzo*

          For the record, Alison, it’s not just you! I have great enthusiasm for other people and their experiences–especially with things I know nothing about. I also like networking and being able to introduce people to each other if their meeting could be mutually beneficial. Not sure if this is an extrovert thing, or a Midwest thing, or something else.

        2. Mallory Janis Ian*

          I like hearing what people like and dislike about their jobs. I’m always fascinated by the different quirks of personality that can make aspects of a job onerous to one person but delightful to another.

        3. DashDash*

          I’ve heard advice that “Wow, that sounds [hard/challenging]!” can be a go-to response for what someone does for a living, because no matter what they do, it acknowledges it’s something that requires the skills/knowledge that person has, and that there’s always more depth to any job than we can see from the outside.

        4. CatofUlthar*

          I’m the same – I love to hear about other people’s jobs and how they got into them. On the other hand, I HATE to talk about my own job when anyone asks me. :P I don’t know if it’s leftover from my younger days when I worked jobs I hated – or maybe it’s because it’s always the first thing my parents ask me on phone calls! – but even now when I get asked about my work, I dislike going into details. It happens a lot right now (even AT work), because I transferred to a different team within the same department. I usually just tell them that I love it (which is true) and then ask how their job is going! :)

      2. GythaOgden*

        I totally agree! I never in a million years thought I’d enjoy customer service, but it was so great to master it and I do better as a gofer than I would at more of a project level.

        I do think the main pitfall is appearing condescending when you talk to someone without a white-collar/office job. It can be hard for some people to know what to say, and the risk of coming across as patronising is real.

        But in real life these things come more naturally than if we try and parse out ahead of time, and the main thing I’d say to people nervous about talking to us is just treat us as equals and don’t think about it as a stigma. The only place it’s stigmatised is, to be frank for a moment, in your mind. If you think it’s a stigma to be in a non-office job, then it does come out as condescension. Having a diverse group of friends and acquaintances is the best way to do this or see it as a non-issue. Just like sometimes in social justice circles for the people for whom allies are standing up for can have different priorities that get ignored, so we in the jobs OP4 talks about also have different perceptions of their own social position. Therefore knowing us on human terms avoids the problem of seeing us as the ‘other’, even when that makes people want to help rather than act with direct bigotry. As disabled, I see this from activists, and as a facilities worker, it comes across from office workers who approach as intellectual objects rather than human beings with lives that more closely resemble theirs than they sometimes assume.

        Essentially, we’re not Cinderellas, and the whole thing was made much easier for me on the receiving end of this to realise that 70% of the UK work force can’t do their jobs from home, meaning I’m in the majority group here. It felt liberating and empowering at a time when my job was atrophying and people were forgetting that in order for a minority of people to be safe at home, the majority were still out working to keep the infrastructure of their lives going.

        To that end, it’s hard to get outside of a social bubble in this way, but I totally think it will make OP4’s conversation a lot easier.

      3. bamcheeks*

        Same here, and I usually say that up front– “Sorry, I’m such a geek about people’s careers and jobs, I always want to ask too many questions!” I find you get a mixture of people who just innately like talking about their work, people who don’t necessarily want to talk about it but will if I make it clear I’m genuinely interested rather than just making polite small talk, and people who just don’t think it’s an interesting to talk about under any circumstances, so I try and watch out for the cues that they’re the last and not push it!

        I also LOVE talking to people who do things that don’t fit into the traditional definition of a “job”, but still have that as a key part of their identity and their way of making an impact on the world– activism, involvement in their community, fostering, parenting, being a trustee, volunteering, being involved in their church or mosque or temple, being a carer or an advocate for someone or themselves — and I’m always on the lookout for ways to make it clear it’s the engagement that I find fascinating rather than whether or not it’s “paid work”.

        1. Irish Teacher*

          I love being asked about my job. I might be…pretty obsessive in general. A couple of weeks ago, we had a census in Ireland and they include a “time capsule” thing at the end where you could write something that will not be read for 100 years (this is probably because it was 100 years ago this year that Ireland officially got its independence). I wrote about 300 words about the Ukrainian students who were due to arrive in the school the day after the census, the proposed changes to the Leaving Cert., my role as a learning support teacher, a role which really did not exist when I was at school 20 years ago, so who knows how it will change in the next 100 years and the whole remote learning thing during the pandemic. This was all written in tiny handwriting, given that 300 words was…a lot to fit into the given space!

          1. The Prettiest Curse*

            That sounds really cool! I’m very impressed that they gave you that option in the census.

            1. Irish Teacher.*

              It is. A couple of the papers asked people to send in what they wrote for publication on their websites and there was everything from jokes – “has Mayo won an All-Ireland yet?” – through political commentary to the really sad – people mentioning family members who died and therefore wouldn’t be included on the census. There was one about a child who was born and died between two censuses and how the parents were glad to have the opportunity to include her. There was also stuff about climate change. All kinds of stuff.

          2. Moo*

            similar – I wrote about my particular position and what it meant to me, and to others…. got all emotional about it… and then I squeezed in a line about how great my dog is!!

      4. LimeTwist*

        I interpret it as “tell me more”, but delivered in an awkward way.

        I recently grabbed a virtual coffee with a new coworker, who I had sent work to but not actually spoken to yet, and during it, after I got through explaining my role and responsibilities, he asked me if I liked it. In this case, it was a perfectly fine question to ask – because I’m both senior to him and specialized – but it was extremely awkward for me because I was waiting for another job offer to come through (I ended up giving notice three days later). So I had to lie a bit in the answer.
        None of that’s on him, but I wouldn’t have minded different phrasing.

      5. Underemployed Erin*

        OP4’s question reminded me of the episode of The Moth by Frank O’Keefe called “The Greatest Job in New York.” He works for the Sanitation Department of New York City. The episode is about how he was embarrassed by his new job at first. However, as he learned more about it, he realized that no other work in the city would be possible without the work that they do.

      6. RagingADHD*

        No, it’s fine. It’s a perfectly normal conversational gambit. IRL when you talk out loud with your mouth, in real time, most people don’t parse every word so literally.

      7. justabot*

        The thing is, it does on some level make a difference when you have a job that is “socially acceptable” or even just neutral. People generally respond warmly and interested. Once upon a time, I had a very (in theory) “cool” job and people’s eyes would light up and want to talk all about it. I didn’t actually like that job, but it did have the social cachet for social situations. Honestly, it got so annoying, I started just telling people I worked in “finance” or “with computers.” They didn’t want to know about me, they just wanted to know about what celebrities or athletes we worked with.

        I had another job in the hospitality industry. I actually loved this job way more in terms of management, my coworkers, the type of work I was doing. But socially, you know what, it was NOT as fun to deal with the subtle condescending or patronizing responses or comments, even from friends. I had pride in it, but really wasn’t interested in justifying it to anyone else. It’s one thing if questions come from someone who genuinely cares. Too often they come from someone just being nosy, or even worse, someone just trying to gauge if you are “worth” knowing or not.

      8. Work Talk*

        Depending on the circumstances, “peppering them with a zillion questions” about their job probably isn’t polite either, at least in my experience. Regardless of what type of work they’re in, it’s better to get to know someone on a personal level and if they want to talk about work, they’ll talk about work. If you let them take the lead on that, it’ll be a lot easier to talk with them about it without sounding condescending.

      9. Ellena*

        LW 4 here and thank you Alison for the great insight and especially for the laugh with the “bus driver in these circles” :D
        BTW the question wasn’t whether one job is more interesting than another. It was more related to what to say next once the job is announced. I like the suggestions Alison gave.
        And PS – since someone above wondered how on earth this always come up – I have never ever met someone and not had a version of “what do you do” (work, study) conversation, so I can’t imagine avoiding it altogether. And I wouldn’t want to. An occupation is a huge part of a person’s identity and I wouldn’t want to miss it.

    5. Kal*

      My go-to tends to be along the lines of “what’s that like?”, which has gotten me a variety of responses from people who are basically doing a “its a job” type responses to people who are super enthusiastic about getting to talk about it with someone. Even if I’ve met someone who does the same job before, there tends to be enough differences from person to person that makes it easy to be genuinely interested. I then just take the cues from them whether that’s a conversation chain to continue down or we move on to other topics, and it hasn’t seemed to lead to any particular awkwardness at least.

    6. Squidhead*

      I’m a nurse and I work in a highly specialized ICU. Most people, when I say where I work, look visibly horrified/pitying and say “oh, I could never do that!” I don’t need to be anyone’s hero and I genuinely feel like, well, someone needs to do it! But the patients we care for often undergo a lot of pain and long hospitalizations, and some of them don’t survive (and those often wind up in the news). So if someone asks me if I like it, “yes” OR “no” feel like insufficient answers. I value the care that we provide, and many patients recover and heal, and we are privileged to be a part of that…but I would fervently wish that no one ever needed our services to begin with.

      When I’m thinking clearly, I can explain this difference, but when I get caught off-guard (clerk at the store, random encounter) I wind up stumbling while trying not to say something too morbid in response to a small-talk kind of question! (I don’t blame the asker, but not all jobs lend themselves well to small talk!)

      1. MK*

        Eh, if it’s a clerk at the store type of thing, why not say you are a nurse and leave it at that. I work at a judiciary-type position, but often I just say I work at the courthouse in these type of situations, when I don’t want to get into the pros and cons of the legal system with the cab driver.

        1. Squidhead*

          Fair point, although saying I’m a nurse usually is followed by “oh, where do you work?” and then “what unit do you work on?” (Cue wincing expressions and “do you like it?!”) I don’t usually jump right to that but the pattern of small-talk often leads that way and I tend to answer people literally. You’re right that vagueness is a good dodge, I just need to get better at it especially when I know that the asker is just making polite conversation.

          1. Cordelia*

            mental health nurse here – my go-to response is “I do admin in the NHS, very dull, how about you?”
            Because its true, I do do a lot of admin, and that part of the job is very dull. The rest of it is not usually what I want to be making small talk about.

      2. Snuck*

        I think all jobs have their good and bad points, and we (collective society ‘we’) like to classify and sort the people we meet. We can use a few basic assumptions and pigeon hole people, and this is why a lot of people don’t like talking about their work. It might not just be the work itself, it’s the assumptions that are made. Now if you come across a genuinely curious HR manager type who is just fascinated by that side of humans that’s different to a retail worker or a random stranger at a party over the BBQ.

        Just like we have different levels of intimacy and trust with our friends, we have different ‘cover stories’ for our work. People close to us can see it all, the further out the intimacy layer the less open and honest we have to be. Right now health workers are heroes and everyone wants to make small happy chat with them, or ask them how they are going and be supportive – but proximity doesn’t equate with trust – just because someone is there, now, doesn’t mean they deserve answers.

        And just because someone else wants to use generalisations about you (they can see your general presentation, gender presentation, age, probable socio economic class, accent etc and the occupation can be the icing on the cake) doesn’t mean you have to participate. I don’t. I actively seek to avoid discussion about my work history – not because I am not proud of it (I am, I have done an awful lot of things that are socially ‘successful’), but because I don’t want assumptions made about me. Yes, people are going to make them, but I’m not feeding that beast. Come get to know me for me. And if you are not close enough to me for that, then that’s fine too, I can just give you a short hand version and make nice and leave.

      3. Washi*

        I think this just depends on the person, I work in hospice, which gets a pretty similar reaction, but I actually like how saying what I do can, depending on the person, prompt some really interesting conversations! And I say this as someone who is definitely struggling with burnout at work (though that’s less about hospice and more about pandemic+being pregnant+the state of healthcare/my employer).

      4. pancakes*

        “Most people, when I say where I work, look visibly horrified/pitying and say ‘oh, I could never do that!’”

        That is rude somehow. I’ll have to think about why, but it’s not good. And just not necessary. No one asked for a volunteer! Maybe it’s that it’s sort of subtly othering, in a way, as if people who work in uniquely demanding, high responsibility jobs like yours are a special type of human. In terms of skills and dedication, yes clearly there is a lot required, but often that mindset seems to go hand in hand with the idea that pay and benefits should only be talked about behind closed doors, or on special occasions once every decade or so.

        1. Batgirl*

          I agree totally – it’s making it all about centering themselves which is the height of rudeness. It’s so much more polite to say what do you think about it/what’s it actually like for you, person-who-actually-does-it? I might forgive it being said in an admiring way, but not pity and horror; nope.

      5. I heart Paul Buchman*

        I have a similar (essential but wish we weren’t needed) job except it’s not medical. When people say ‘I could never do that!’ I reply with ‘its actually really different to what people think’. Which is true. It seems to make people feel better.

    7. amoeba*

      Yeah, I’d probably go with something like “oh, cool, how long have you been doing that for”, “how did you get into that” or an actual factual question (for instance bus driver “oh cool, do you work in city XY? Maybe we’ve met!” or cleaner “ah, which kind of cleaning, offices or private homes?” etc.)
      For some reason “Do you like it” to me sounds like the person thinks the job would be hard to like (like, “oh wow, can one actually enjoy doing that?). But of course, depends on the tone as well! And I might be biased because the reaction to my science job is very, very often “Oh god, I’ve always hated that!”…

    8. KateM*

      Agreed, if the person does NOT like their job, they will probably show that soon enough if you ask other questions.

      1. alienor*

        I always think people who act very enthusiastic about office/corporate jobs are lying–not in a deliberately malicious way, just because we’ve all had it drilled into us that you’re supposed to be excited and fulfilled by sales or marketing or business operations or whatever, and if you aren’t you had better pretend you are. I know I do!

          1. nona*

            Ditto, Baby Yoda. I like being a cog in the machine, because it’s kind of a cool machine and i work with cool people and we couldn’t do the thing we do without all these different cogs working together.

            Is there some eye-rolly mgmt stuff that happens? Sure! But that can happen anywhere. I mean, what’s the alternative, working for myself? *shudders*

    9. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I generate toward asking what is their funniest or most aggravating thing about the job.

      Get some great answers! My next door neighbour is a builder and told me the one thing that annoys him the most is not being allowed to use the bathroom in office buildings near to where he’s working and not having decent toilet facilities wherever he’s doing repairs.

      ‘Let builders use the bogs!’.

      1. Bexy Bexerson*

        I do something similar, like “I bet you’ve got some interesting stories!”…that gives them an opening to share, if they want to. Folks like servers, trash collectors, mail carriers, and retail clerks almost always have wild tales to tell.
        With restaurant folks, if I’ve been to their place (and had a good experience) I go with “I was there recently and ate X, and I really liked it! Have you tried it? What’s your favorite thing on the menu?”…but the key is to tune in to whether or not they seem enthusiastic about talking about their job (but that goes for all jobs, I suppose).

      2. Lemons*

        I have an odd-ish job and some decent stories, but I’d dislike this approach. Please don’t oblige me to make a performance out of my work. The stories will come naturally if we have a conversational connexion, but ‘What’s the *most*…’ feels pretty demanding, like you just met me but you want my curated highlights.

      3. Eff Walsingham*

        “Let builders use the bogs!”

        I learned somewhere online that people who make service calls where I live often do not get recognized breaks, and in some cases are not allowed to ask to use the bathrooms of customers. Since then, I’ve tried to always ask if they need to use the bog before they go. It feels really weird to enquire, because I don’t even have kids! So I’m not used to raising the topic at all.

        The internet guy was super grateful, said they’re not supposed to ask. Only one installer looked at me like I was nuts. Everyone else just said “no, thanks.”

        I told the plumber that I *would* ask him, but…. He laughed and told me that they’d stop at Tim Hortons, and come back in the morning to finish the job. :)

    10. Chili pepper Attitude*

      I also find, “do you like it” a bit jarring. Maybe a softer way is to ask, “what is your favorite (or least fav) thing about it?”

      These days my go to when talking about jobs is to ask if they are on TikTok bc I follow a person who does that job and makes funny videos about it. And the convo flows from there.

    11. Koalafied*

      My go-to response to hearing anyone’s job is variations on, “Huh, I’ve never met anyone who does that before – is it hard?” “I’ve always thought that must be a hard job!” “I’ve always wondered what the hardest part of having that kind of job is.”

      The thing is that every job can be hard in its own way – even a job that seems easy on the surface, you may hear that it’s hard to cope with the boredom! I’ve never said this and not had the other person agree that their job is, or can at times, be hard. Most of the time, their eyes will visibly light up because having someone else recognize that you work hard makes you feel seen. And often the hard parts of a job are the most interesting parts of it too, so more often than not it leads to entertaining anecdotes with enough detail to build a conversation on.

    12. RagingADHD*

      “How do you like it?” is rather like “How are you?” It is not to be taken overly literally.

      How are you = I wish you well.

      How do you like it = do you want to discuss this?

    13. RagingADHD*

      “How do you like it?” is rather like “How are you?” It is not to be taken overly literally.

      How are you = I wish you well.

      How do you like it = do you want to discuss this?

      A standard response to “How do you like it” might be something about the benefits, job security, or schedule if the person doesn’t enjoy the actual work.

      1. Joielle*

        Yeah, if you don’t like your job or don’t want to answer the question you can just say “eh, it’s a job. What do you do for a living?” (or “how about that baseball game last night? or “how do you know the hosts?” or whatever). Just like when someone says “how are you,” you can just say “pretty good, how are you?” More of a social nicety than a deposition.

    14. WantonSeedStitch*

      I feel like “do you like it” by itself is a little odd. But I could see saying something like “Oh, you wait tables at Le Fois Heureux? I feel like that could be awesome because the food is so good, but I imagine dealing with the customers could be difficult. How do you like it there?”

    15. MCMonkeyBean*

      I don’t think it’s more prying, but I do think it is going to be often that the answer is “no” which might make the conversation a bit awkward–or it might not! Not liking your job is a common enough feeling lol.

      I would agree though that sticking with more factual things for at least the first couple of questions and then maybe you can gauge from their tone if they want to keep talking about their job or you could move on to asking about hobbies or something else.

    16. Squishy*

      I’ve also been advised that there are also some cultural differences around what’s appropriate. I’ve been chided by acquaintances from Germany and France specifically for asking about work as a topic of social conversation – got awkward. Curious if others have experienced that.

    17. Jora Malli*

      I’m in the middle of an existential crisis about my career, so “oh, do you like that?” from a new acquaintance would be extremely hard to answer. Because that answer changes by the minute some days.

      1. teacher*

        Is that like people who think “how are you?” is an order to answer honestly and thoroughly? You can say “it’s OK” or “it has its moments, like any job” or “some days yes, some days no” or blah blah.

    18. anonforthis*

      Me too. “Do you like your job?” can be a loaded/heavy question not good for small party talk. I’m surprised this is still around post-2008.

    19. Eff Walsingham*

      Re: “do you like it?” I think this might be regional. I’m not aware of ever hearing it in conversation, and I can just imagine the other person shooting back, possibly in a New York accent, “Why? Are you a therapist?” :)

      It does sound somewhat invasive for a first encounter.

    20. WhoKnows*

      I used to sugarcoat it when family members asked me this at holiday parties, and I finally just started being like “No, I hate it.” It’s a great way to kill a conversation you don’t want to be having in the first place.

    21. Gumby*

      I’d be all over a response of “oh, do you have any good stories about that?” Any one of the jobs listed are sure to have entertaining stories. I am always up for a awful / hilarious / wonderful / clueless / deeply weird customer story. And if crime shows on TV are to be believed, anyone working in sanitation has run into a corpse or two in their time (I am only joking because I am fairly certain this is *not* actually true).

  8. Julia*

    LW3 – To me, the most likely scenario is that she was just telling a little white lie. I’m guessing she wanted to reach out and start a conversation to get her foot in the door, and she knew it would sound too impatient to say she’d applied a few hours ago, so she said it had been a while. I don’t think she realized you’d quickly find out she had lied – that kind of thing can be pretty opaque to people outside the company.

    Just a guess, but to me it seems likely. I’d just gently call her out on it as Alison suggests.

    1. Felis alwayshungryis*

      Pretty aggressive way to get your foot in the door, and showing that level of impatience isn’t going to endear you to any hiring manager!

      (I’m not saying you’re wrong, just musing about what a strange way it would be to open the door to conversation.)

    2. TechWorker*

      I guess another possibility is she applied 3 months ago or whatever, never got a response, and the re-posting of the ad prompted her to a) apply again and b) find someone to ask about it.

      1. Observer*

        That’s the only scenario that doesn’t sound wildly unlikely AND does not make her look bad.

    3. Phryne*

      I work with students (uni of applied sciences, not in the US). I’ve had a student ask me if the test was graded yet the day after the test. When I pointed out to her that the class was near 200 students and at 30 mins. per student the teacher would have to spend 2,5 weeks at a full 40 hours a week to get trough grading it all, and so there was no point in expecting results sooner than 3 weeks from now, she miffily replies ‘Well I can just ask can’t I?’.

      I another case a student complained that a teacher did not answer her mails, she had mailed three times already. When I asked her when she mailed, she said ‘Thursday, Friday, Sunday’. This teacher only worked for us on mon-tue-wed, something that was very clearly stated in the auto-reply said teacher put on the days she was out.

      I guess being realistic about how much time some things take is just another skill they are here to learn.

      1. seriousmoonlight*

        Yes, this is my experience working with students as well. I very often will get an e-mail and then maybe 20 minutes later a phone call asking if I got the e-mail. Learning that things don’t happen instantly is all part of the process — explaining that she won’t hear back immediately when applying for jobs would be an important lesson.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Ask vs guess culture. “All things are okay to ask, so long as you take no for an answer in good grace, the definition of ‘good grace’ being extremely elastic and in your favor” vs “Sometimes you should use your common sense and it will say not to ask, and then you don’t ask.”

        Kind of like applicant rejections yesterday, and the feeling that within a couple of hours of the interview stung more, so 2-3 business days was about right.

        1. Observer*

          Ask vs guess culture. “All things are okay to ask, so long as you take no for an answer in good grace, the definition of ‘good grace’ being extremely elastic and in your favor” vs “Sometimes you should use your common sense and it will say not to ask, and then you don’t ask.”

          No, that’s not what ask vs guess is about. Sure, some people ARE like that, but the “always interpret favorably to me, even to the extreme” shows up in both Ask and Guess cultures.

      3. I should really pick a name*

        To be fair, the student probably doesn’t know how long it takes to grade a test, so if your response implied that this was obvious, I can understand why she’d be a little upset.

        1. doreen*

          I think it is kind of obvious that the tests wouldn’t be graded the day after the test – the only way I can see 200 tests being graded by the next day is if it was a multiple choice test with some sort of automatic grading (scantron or whatever has replaced it). If the tests take 30 minutes per student to grade, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a multiple choice test at all.

        2. Phryne*

          The test was open questions, not multiple choice. She must have been aware of how many people are approximately in that class, they have class together for that subject in an auditorium. Even if there had been 10 people grading the test simultaneously, getting results in 24 hrs is not a reasonable assumption to make. If it had been a week I’d understood. But a day?
          Also, if a test is graded, the results are put into the system and they get a notification. Teachers have three weeks to complete grading. Asking after results is only ever useful when it has been more that three weeks and you think something went wrong.
          Yes I was probably showing I found the question strange. If she was offended by that, I guess a lesson was learned.

          1. Pescadero*

            For the class I’m regularly involved with administering:

            ~80 students. Engineering. All problems open question with partial credit.

            Lab exams: 2 days.
            Regular exams: less than 1 week.

      4. Jora Malli*

        Gen Z have grown up in a world of instant communication. You email a company’s “contact us” line and you get an immediate automated response to confirm that your message has been received. So I totally understand why to a younger job seeker, several hours with no confirmation or follow up might feel like a longer than normal amount of time. I think it would be kind of OP is willing to explain that hiring processes can take a long time and you might not hear back for several weeks, if at all.

      5. LunaLena*

        “I guess being realistic about how much time some things take is just another skill they are here to learn.”

        And honestly, some people never learn this. I used to work in a customer-facing job, and it wasn’t unusual for me to get a “did you get my email” phone call within 15 minutes of the email being sent. Some people just don’t grasp that they are not the only person in the world with an urgent request.

        Another thing is that “it never hurts to ask” seems to be a pretty common mindset nowadays. It was something I certainly heard a lot back when I was fairly new to the working world.

      6. Elle Woods' Pink Sunglasses*

        Right, some students don’t really have a sense of professional norms/time. Especially with email.

        I posted about a job opening at my company to a mailing list at my undergrad, and one very enthusiastic and polite student emailed me her resume at 8 PM Friday night and sent a follow up email around lunch on Monday. I just told her that, in work hours, that email was received just a few hours after the workday started since I/most people won’t respond to emails about work during the weekends. Mine was probably a case where they’re so used to doing homework/working on the weekends that they didn’t realize!

    4. ecnaseener*

      This was my thought as well. She’s been told that “following up” is a good way to get someone to take a look at your application, so she fibbed about the timing. Probably she didn’t realize it had been posted that same day.

      1. Canterlot*

        Yeah – I feel like somebody needs to squash this. I am constantly spammed on LinkedIN by undergrad seniors reaching out to anyone whose title looks faintly related to hiring. It’s always a connect request with a note saying “I applied and nobody got back to me when will you get back to me I am sure you will hire me you must not have seen my resume.”

        Long experience has taught me that early-career candidates who pester like this are almost always AWFUL hires. They have created a fantasy version of what the job will be, and nobody can deter them.

        Ugh – and so many are blind to any failure of reality to match the fantasy in their heads. The job requires doctorate-level lab work in chemical engineering, and you have a BA in industrial supply chain? No! It’s the perfect job! Hustle! We would need you to manage a team of six in a critical client-facing role, and your only experience is an internship and camp counseling? No! It’s really relevant! Hustle!

    5. Observer*

      To me, the most likely scenario is that she was just telling a little white lie.

      Possible. And if that’s the case, I would not consider hiring her for any position. She didn’t lie to avoid embarrassing someone or about an irrelevant. She lied in order to get the OP to do something for her. That’s a different class of lie, and one I would not want in anyone I work with.

    6. justabot*

      I have such a pet peeve with people who lie about response times. I notice this more and more. Someone will call or get someone else on the line and say, “I called or emailed four times and haven’t gotten a response.” And then we look and they sent ONE email at 7:52pm the night before and it’s about 10:06am the next morning. And it’s a cold call about something in 2023. These people go right to the bottom of my reply to list.

    7. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      I would bet real, actual currency that this is a another job-hunting “strategy” some attention-seeking goofball has come up with, e.g. “Right after you submit your resume, find someone who works there on LinkedIn and tell her that you haven’t gotten a response yet!!1!! It will get you on her radar, and she may even go to bat for you!1!!!!!”

      What a crumb-bum.

  9. Ellen Ripley*

    For 4: I would really like it if we normalized not always asking people what they do for work! A lot of people have their jobs simply so they can afford to live and don’t really take pleasure in discussing it in social conversations. There are so many other things to talk about besides work! It’s something that (at least, for me) was weirdly engrained to ask when meeting someone new, but since consciously pivoting away to other questions about hobbies, common friends, or basically anything else I’ve found conversations to be more engaging and I learn more interesting things about the person!

    1. Pop*

      I agree! I like asking people something like “what do you do with your time?” Some talk about work, but plenty talk about hobbies, caretaking responsibilities, etc.

      1. OtterB*

        A variation on this is “So what do you do when you’re not at [whatever kind of social event you’re both at]? Or, depending on context, perhaps introduce yourself with your relationship with host: “I live down the block” or “We were classmates in college.”

        1. WantonSeedStitch*

          It’s also a great question at professional conferences where most people have some variation on the same kind of job, when you’re tired of shop talk.

      2. anonforthis*

        This is what I do too. It’s not that work as a topic is completely off the table, but I only want the person I’m talking to bring it up voluntarily. So if it comes up organically that is fine.

    2. David*

      I have been out of work for a few years, because of mental health reasons. I had one failed job in the mean time (3 weeks and I was out because I had a huge, embarrassing mental health crisis). For the same reason I also haven’t been able to commit to volunteering or something similar.

      Recently I had to go to a big celebration and converse with a bunch of acquaintances. Every new interactions was me hoping they would not ask me what I was doing for work now.

      Same goes for when I meet a new person. There is not really a breezy way to describe what is going on in my life the moment people start asking about work. I have found some phrases that work to at least not make the conversation be extremely heavy immediately, but I wish people would not always assume everyone works.

      1. Robin*

        Agree with this so much. I have Bad Employee Syndrome (ADHD + DSPS lmao) and some other difficult mental health stuff, and when I do manage to get a job I tend to sour on it before long and honestly don’t love talking about it. We live in a very work based culture and obviously it makes sense that people are gonna talk about it but I wish it wasn’t always defaulted to and that it wasn’t weird to respond honestly to questions about it.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Also with a loooong period of unemployment due to brain going wrong and when people during that time asked what I did all day I just couldn’t come up with an answer. Because ‘looking at the wall and waiting for the voices to stop’ would make things awkward!

        When asked about my long employment gaps though (one from a car crash, one from said brain) I tend to just say ‘medical issues’.

        As a side note I don’t like ‘what do you do?’ As an opener anyway. The instant someone hears I’m in IT they always ask me to fix their computer!

        1. londonedit*

          Yeah I tend to dread the ‘what do you do?’ question because nine times out of ten I’ll get ‘Oh wow! I’ve always wanted to be a writer. In fact I’ve actually written a book, I’ve been working on it for five years, can I send it to you? Can I ask you fifteen million questions about how to get published? I sent it to an agent but never got a response, so rude, would you mind just having a read and letting me know what you think?’ And then I have to be the Crusher Of People’s Dreams and/or try to get out of looking at the damn thing. Luckily working in a niche bit of non-fiction means I can often say ‘Oh, sorry, I don’t work with that genre – your best bet is getting a copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, that has a ton of useful info’ but every now and then I meet someone who happens to have written a book that does fall under our category of publishing and then it’s cringeworthy.

          1. Baby Yoda*

            I used to get those requests too — but learned to say I have an agreement with my agent that I don’t look at unpublished works for anyone. It works.

        2. Asenath*

          I once did a program in instructional design – figuring out the best way to organize materials on computers for educational purposes. The institution used “IT” in the name of the program. I was asked SO often if I could fix someone’s computer!

      3. pancakes*

        That is a tough scenario to be breezy about. Maybe something along the lines of, “I’ve been recovering from some health problems. Lately I spend a lot of time [reading / planning long walks / making porridge / something you like]”?

    3. Feo Takahari*

      I once saw someone on Tumblr argue that asking what job someone else has is a bad thing white people do. They claimed the superior approach black people take was to say something like “I hope that oil well keeps flowing,” and let them either explain what they do or change the subject. Honestly, the latter would offend me MORE.

      1. MK*

        I can understand staying away from the topic of work altogether, but this approach is odd.

        In my country, one of the results of the recession was that people, especially younger ones, got rid of the shame of being unemployed. After 2010, you got a lot of people unapologetically blandly stating that they haven’t been able to get a job after university or after being laid off, and while I am sure there were jerks who reacted badly, most people took it in stride that, with a 25% unemployment rate, of course you would meet a lot people who didn’t work.

        1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

          I’ve noticed among my peers (mid-30’s folk, aka: people who entered the workforce in 2008-2010) that “what do you do?” has a much more fluid meaning than it does for older folk.

          Because if you asked most of what “what do you do?” in 2011 the answer would have been “working three minimum wage jobs and struggling to pay off my student loans for the degree that is now useless since it’s several years old and I have no relevant work experience to back it up to get a job in my field now.” And that was a) depressing but also b) the reality for most of us. And I noticed at social events that people would respond to “what do you do?” with hobbies or interests.

          “Ah, several things, but I’m working on writing a novel.” Or “I bartend, and try to get out to a concert any time Band is in town.” Or yeah, even “Don’t have a job right now – thanks recession!” was a perfectly fine answer that would get a ton of commiseration.

        1. doreen*

          I think I understand what it means ( something like ” I hope your source of income continues”)- but it doesn’t make sense to me without some previous conversation about that “oil well”.

      2. Nameless in Customer Service*

        I think you’ve oversimplified that post (the “oil well” line was in the context of hinting around someone’s source of income without asking about it outright), but I’d have to go find it to quote and discuss it fairly.

    4. bamcheeks*

      One of my mum’s friends uses, “How’s your week been? Marks out of ten?” as a general small-talk starter, and it’s pretty good for letting people pivot to talking about the thing they’re excited about (whether that’s work, their family, their hobbies, their activism or the latest film they saw or album they bought), have a bit of a moan, or if it’s genuinely too awful to talk about, grimace and re-deflect with, “Not great. You?”

      I think it’s kind of the nature of small talk that it rests on shared assumptions and conventions and it’s probably not possible to have a genuinely inclusive opener that doesn’t feel awkward for somebody, but it’s definitely worth trying to think of ones that pivot away from the idea that everyone’s identify is defined by their paid job.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I like this a lot. It sets perimeters for the question- interested without prying.

        This is one of those questions I wish I could ask my father. What did people say to each other during the Great Depression where it could be assumed a person did not have work? Maybe it was, “what did you used to do?” sigh.

        I do agree that any conversation starter question is has the potential to be loaded. What town are you from? Where did you go to school? Do you know so-and-so [person with same last name; possible neighbor or cohort]? Almost anything can backfire.
        I had a customer ask me questions about my father. At this point, my father was going through a rough time and the nature of his problems were such that it made sense to be wary of strangers asking questions. I gave vague answers and the customer said, “What? Are you ashamed of your father?”
        I had two seconds to think about my reply and I decided to let the cookie crumble. “No. It’s the opposite. My father is having legal problems such that a stranger asking a bunch of questions sets off a red flag for me.”

        The customer lamely explained, “I thought I might have had him in class.” I said, “Did you teach in NJ in the 1920s?” The customer was clearly not old enough to have been teaching in the 1920s and he said NO.
        I said, “So you did not have him in school. There’s the answer to that one.”

        To this day, I still wonder if that person knew something about my father’s legal difficulties. He never offered an apology and he continued on as if he had every right to ask me whatever question he wanted. I have that dual thinking here- where I can see that the whole thing might have been benign but I still think I made the right call to nip the line of questioning.

        1. Nameless in Customer Service*

          Wow, that person was obnoxious. I’m very impressed with your response.

        2. Eff Walsingham*

          When/ where I went to University there was a lot of that social-stratified “What does your daddy do?” theme of small talk. To which I would reply, “He works here.” And they would invariably come back with, “What does he teach?” Many people would visibly panic when I said, “He doesn’t.”

          My father was in charge of a non-academic department. But equally, he could have been the groundskeeper. Universities employ many people who don’t teach.

          Being a reactionary young (jerk), I often took the panic reaction as a clue that we wouldn’t get on, and pointed the above out to them. Some did seem relieved that Daughter of Potential Groundskeeper Willy didn’t want to be their friend. :)

      2. Insert Clever Name Here*

        I appreciate this.

        I legitimately like and enjoy my job, and because it’s something that impacts everyone where I live (I work for a utility) I honestly welcome the opportunity to give people a glimpse at one of the lesser known things that has to happen to get the utility to them*. But I also have a close friend who is a stay at home dad who really dislikes the way people’s faces fall and they suddenly find someone else to talk to when he’s asked what he does at an event for his lawyer wife.

    5. Irish Teacher*

      In Ireland, when I was younger, it was something you had to be careful about, because…well, in the ’80s when I was a child, there was somewhere close to a 20% unemployment rate, so…you didn’t want to ask somebody who was long-term unemployed and possibly quite stressed about it. Even when training as a teacher (during the boom time), one of the things we were told not to ask our students was “where does your mum/dad work?” because you never know whose parents are disabled/long-term unemployed/in prison…

      1. pancakes*

        I think it is often a thing, an ironic thing, that struggling people and rich people tend not to ask. People who are struggling (or struggle-adjacent) don’t want to put one another on the spot about it, and rich (and rich-adjacent) people know that the ones with big trust funds aren’t working.

        1. Eff Walsingham*

          I only know one trust-fund person, and in their case, it’s the opposite. They’ve found that with new people or acquaintances an awareness of wealth always changes the interaction. So they have made a career and will talk about it as one does. Only with family and close friends is there any implication of not really needing to work. But I guess it would be different if they wanted to hang out with other trust fund people.

          1. pancakes*

            There are a number of trust fund people in NYC who do a bit (or sometimes full-time) of the sort of work one just doesn’t get to do without a trust fund. Writing or editing magazines that pay peanuts, for example. There are some jobs where it’s a reasonably safe assumption that the wages are more or less . . . ornamental.

    6. Julia*

      I think I’m in the minority here, but I prefer the work question. Work (or school) is a thing I have in common with most people I meet, so it puts me at ease in slightly stressful social situations by giving me a conversational topic where I don’t have to work to find a connection. Plus, answering questions about work is easy – it’s what I spend most of my day doing. Interests are slipperier – those can change and when I’m in a bad place mentally I don’t have time for them and I feel guilty that I haven’t been keeping up with them. With new people I prefer not to have to pretend that I’m this perfectly well rounded person who always keeps up with my interests.

      I am well aware I’m weird though and that it’s more polite these days to ask people general questions about what they’re up to instead of what they do.

      1. Software Dev (she/her)*

        Yeah, I always feel like my interests are very mundane, mostly video games, books, etc, so getting asked the interest question is me trying to feel out ‘how productive/interesting of a hobby does this person expect me to have and are we going to have anything in common?’.

        Whereas I genuinely find people talking about work interesting and less, I don’t know, like I’m risking less talking about it. But I have strong social anxiety about everything I say and always assume I come off as embarassing so this might just be me.

    7. Nancy*

      Agree! I don’t want to talk about work and frankly, I am not interested in hearing about other people’s. I ask about hobbies.

      Also, I work in cancer research and lots of people seem to feel that it is a good time for them to list the people they know who died of cancer.

    8. CB212*

      THIS! It’s so often not the most interesting thing to know about someone, and it brings so many chances for implicit judgment as LW notes. (People who *want* to be judged by their job will always manage to tell you what it is, I promise you). It can also be an awkward question for people who aren’t employed right now, or for stay-at-home parents, or for people who have a money job and a profession they’re proud of that doesn’t pay the rent – because if they lead with that one, someone will always ask if it pays the rent…

      I generally go with a phrasing like “So, how do you spend your time?” or “what are you up to lately?” or etc, which is a fine lead-in for an attorney who bills 90 hours a week but also lets someone tell you about their sourdough bread baking or their Etsy shop or at worst, their running times or golf score. ;)

    9. Nanani*

      I agree!
      Some people are unemployed, some people don’t like their jobs, some people would like to disengage from work mode, some people have jobs that attract a lot of misconceptions due to things like TV portrayals, etc etc.

    10. Lana Kane*

      I agree, and my best example of this is something that happened to my dad. I don’t want to out him, so I’ll just say he was in the service insdustry. His good friend was some sort of well-to-do businessman and he invited my dad over for a party at his house. A group of other well-to-do businessmen (fun!) was chatting and asked my dad what he did for a living. He answered, the group got quiet, and everyone sort of wandered away.

      Stop asking people this shit.

      1. L.H. Puttgrass*

        “I know—that person is THE WORST, right?”

        The reaction would be fun to see.

  10. Extra Anon for This*

    #1– Sounds like sour grapes to me! I’ve worked with someone (awful) who did this: everyone who left got badmouthed left, right, and center, never did their jobs properly in the first place, good riddance, blah blah blah… 100% of it was just lashing out by a bully whom people were leaving in their rear-views for good reason.

    1. Mangled metaphor*

      It never ceases to amaze me how many managers take it so *personally* when someone leaves.
      I mean, there’s the whole “people don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad managers”, but of course that’s not true for 100% of resignations, until suddenly it is by the manager’s response to the notice period.

      It’s weird and fascinating

    2. Sloanicote*

      That’s what I thought – it’s possible OP’s supervisor had their own reasons for taking this position now; for example maybe they didn’t want it to seem like they had miss-managed their staff and caused a valuable person to quit, so they were hastily covering their backside by acting like you weren’t that valuable. Honestly, you’ll never know and I’d put it out of my head if I were you OP. You have revenge because I bet these people are super uncomfortable knowing they screwed up on the three way chat (which are the devil).

      If I said anything about it to my boss, it would probably just be to confirm they’d be willing to give me a good reference. You can also mention to future employees that this supervisor reacted very bitterly to your giving notice but that you can show them your excellent employee reviews to compensate.

  11. Support your local street cats.*

    Op4- I work for the local water utility doing mostly sewer maintenance. Best response I ever heard when someone asked, and I told them my line of work…”Wow, you have a shitty job!” And I agreed. Its a good job,but it can be on the shitty side, dealing with sewerage and all. They ment it in jest, and I got the joke.
    I think as long as you’re respectful about what folks do and understand that they know their job isn’t the most glamorous, but it is something that needs doing and that’s what they are paid to do….and may even take some pride in it. I know it’s easier said than done, but “reading” the person’s reactions helps. Maybe I’m over thinking it? I think if you relax, you should be fine.

    1. Fikly*

      I used to live in an area where there was a local company dealing with septic tanks and the like called CRP Sanitation. I always laughed when I saw their trucks, and hey, years later, I still remember their name, and if I lived their and needed to call someone in an emergency, guess whose name I would have googled.

      1. Eff Walsingham*

        My home town has / had an emergency plumber whose truck said “Don’t Panic!” on the sides. Any time you saw that truck you knew that things were bad, but they were going to be all right.

    2. Phryne*

      I would consider a job like that way more interesting to hear about than any office job or such. No faster way to lose my interest than talking about being in insurance or banking, but this sounds like you might have some stories…

      1. Popinki*

        There’s a reason why the TV show “Dirty Jobs” ran for as many seasons as it did. for those who haven’t seen the show, the host Mike Rowe tags along with and tries to do the job of someone who has… a dirty job. He did in fact do sewer maintenance and sewer inspection, as well as farming, construction, mining, fishing, and my personal favorite, working for a cloth diaper service sorting and cleaning the dirty ones (talk about your shitty jobs!)

        He was always very respectful of the workers, and admired the skill and knowledge they had. He even testified before congress about the importance of blue-collar jobs.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          The only episode I saw was about trying to put probes into snake cloaca. The snakes get extremely mad and bite you, which is nonlethal because they are not poisonous but still, like, an angry snake keeps biting you.

        2. GythaOgden*

          I love the sound of that show. Those programmes about ordinary people are one of the best things about modern TV IMO.

          1. Insert Clever Name Here*

            It was genuinely delightful and interesting. You will do yourself a great favor if you are able to find the “Monkey Caretaker” episode!

        3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Dirty Jobs just got rebooted! New episodes are supposed to be coming out this fall if I’m remembering correctly.

          My kids love the show – and I always liked the part where he would ask how folks go into that line of work – it’s great to point out that not every job requires a college degree, but that every job requires training to do. Watching Mike with his degree fail to do parts of those jobs was fun, and great for emphasizing just because it’s “blue collar” doesn’t mean it’s training free work.

            1. Nameless in Customer Service*

              They are. In one of the most recent ones he sang inside an emptied water tower.

          1. pancakes*

            There are some labor activists who are emphasizing that too, all labor is skilled labor. I think it’s a great strategy. The latest tweet going around on this theme is a guy throwing big propane tanks onto a truck single-handed and they all land perfectly. It’s amazing. Other ones often show farm workers, and their speed and accuracy is intense.

            1. Software Dev (she/her)*

              This so much. when I worked in both retail and fast food, there were obvious skill differences between different people and I was generally at the lower end, because I am uncoordinated and had issues with going too fast because adhd. The only job I was ever fired from was a retail job because my till was over/under too much (because counting too fast and dyscalculia). All jobs are skilled!

              1. GythaOgden*

                The time I worked a bar at a wedding was crazy. Completely in at the deep end. I learned how to use the till — but not how to mix drinks properly. I was eventually relegated to cleaning tables and not called in again. I was very frustrated — I guess they needed someone who could pour well, but the way they handled my first shift was crazy bad.

                That said, when I get a poorly made drink now, there’s a smile of sympathy as I sip. I’m not a connoisseur and am now teetotal due to meds (and creating mocktails is also somewhat of a hobby) but I have to say having been on the other side of the bar for all of an hour, and now in a service role myself, really makes things much easier to empathise with.

            2. Insert Clever Name Here*

              We took some trees down in our backyard recently, and it was a fantastic reminder that labor is skilled. Also made me happy that my elementary-aged daughter and a neighbor’s daughter were watching one of the women on the crew and saying “oh there’s a girl doing it! That looks SO COOL!”

          2. Zelda*

            “great for emphasizing just because it’s “blue collar” doesn’t mean it’s training free work”

            I also love it that Mike Rowe does the voiceover for How the Universe Works on Science Channel– he has an image as a reg’lar guy aligning with reg’lar folks, and the implicit message there that cutting-edge physics is not just for weirdo eggheads, it’s for *everyone*, I like that.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              He’s not a regular guy, though. He’s worth over $30 million. He is a professional entertainer who was trained as an opera singer to get into acting. It’s all a show, folks.

              I mean, I used to like him, but he allegedly said on Fox Business (gross!) that unskilled work is a step on the ladder to $15 an hour jobs, and raising the minimum wage to “artificially high levels” would discourage people from pursuing skilled work. He seems to be oblivious to the fact that in some communities, those minimum wage jobs are the ONLY jobs, and that “unskilled” work is no longer being performed by teenagers after school but people trying to support families.

              It’s the old “why should we pay the McDonald’s worker the same wage an EMT gets,” but someone needs to ask his ass why an EMT is only getting $15 an hour.

              1. pancakes*

                Oh, yuck. I had a vague sense there was something off there but didn’t know he’d said that specifically.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      Spies always pretend to have mundane office jobs–“I work for accounts receivable in a very bland subdivision of a very large corporation” and no one expects an amusing anecdote (or an explanation of repairing the askee’s plumbing problem) to follow.

    4. Mockingjay*

      I posted above about family members in the same business. I even worked at my dad’s municipality one summer in college. It’s very valuable work. The summer I worked there, a Middle Eastern country sent engineers to study how we did things, because they were building and modernizing their own system.

      Potable water distribution and safe sewage disposal/reclamation are one of the biggest contributors to the rise of global health. Yet people go: “eewww, you work for the sewer district? It’s always so smelly.” Well, yeah, people’s output stinks. But it has to be dealt with. (I don’t think anyone’s advocating a return to the chamber pot, no matter how romantic ‘Outlander’ looks on the tv.)

      1. Support your local street cats.*

        Yep, alot of people talk about the stink and how nasty it can be. But we have PPE that keeps it off of us, for the most part. You kinda figure that eventually, no matter how hard you try, you’re gonna get a little on ya…maybe even alot in a bad situation…but you don’t wanna wear as perfume.
        Not an hour ago, I had to go into a grinder vault to pull a broke down set of cutters. After we were done, guy walking by stopped and asked if we had just lowered someone down in that hole. We showed him the hole and what we worked on and he noped right on out. But its fun to show our customers how the system works. Alot of folks have no idea about where the water comes from and “used water” goes or the size of things used to make it work.

    5. Ann Nonymous*

      My husband drives a trash truck (it’s automated, but his job is emptying trash cans), but the people in our social circles are almost all very white collar. When a new person asks what he does, my husband used to be cagey – and sometimes he still is – but just blurting it out sometimes provides a satisfying shock when you see the reactions of the questioner. Many times, though, an interesting conversation ensues since it’s so different and far-removed from most people’s work experience.

  12. Beautiful Tropical Fish*

    OP4 – “Wow, that must keep you busy!”
    I work in a public facing role where I have lots of opportunities to chat with people during their workday. I always find it a bit awkward when making work-related small talk with my clients, or in that “getting to know you” phase with a new acquaintance as well. Usually someone tells me their job title and it is super vague or overly technical (for instance, what does it mean to be a “Regional Partnerships Consultant” or an “Agile Scrum Master”?) and instead of standing there blankly trying to figure out what it means, I’ll say “Wow, that must keep you busy!” and that usually gives the other person a jumping off point to tell me what they like or dislike about their job, or some of the tasks they do on a daily basis.

    It literally works for every type of job. It shows interest and can usually be said in a bright and open tone, allowing for the conversation to continue naturally.

      1. GythaOgden*

        I totally agree!

        I’m on reception before the pandemic and very recently (like, literally this week), I said that you need to be an octopus to get everything done simultaneously.

        In one half hour on Tuesday morning, I did more work than in the past year. Two couriers at reception, two drop-ins, five callers each wanting to explain their life stories, a recalcitrant franking machine to beat into submissiom and an ornery IT tech on a call but late for his drop-in. It was like the good old days…but it then dropped off again almost as quickly.

        At the nadir of the pandemic, though…nothing. Empty office, empty brain tuned to YouTube, empty world. I’ve decided to move on to another office where there are actually people in the office waiting to be called (e.g. ambulance service, fire brigade etc) just to actually feel like I’m being useful again.

    1. Virginia Plain*

      I also like, for people who are in public facing roles or offer some sort of service to all and any staff in a large company, “you must have some stories to tell!”
      Slight tangent – if I ever meet someone that works at Walmart I am so going to ask them if those stories on NotAlwaysRight ring true. I am always flabbergasted at the behaviour of some shoppers in those anecdotes especially when they insist a random person is a shop assistant and must help them, despite being told they aren’t. Why would anyone lie about that?!

      1. GythaOgden*

        As someone at a reception, those stories are there because they’re so remarkable. I also take NAR submissions with a pinch of salt. There are some terrible people on both sides of the till, but sometimes it’s easy to overlook your own part in a hostile encounter. Reading them as ‘a funny thing happened…’ rather than typical of day in retail helps put them in their proper perspective, I think.

        Please don’t let it make you feel ‘sorry’ for people who work in CS or retail. My colleague and I are the people who are known in our area to offer people cups of tea to drivers and maintenance and have the time to deal with a situation thoroughly, and if we can’t do something we try our best to find someone who can help. So we try our best to go the extra mile, but honestly I’d prefer to come home thinking I did the best job I could rather than seething at something I couldn’t control.

        The trick I think is to go in with the attitude that you are there to help the person get what they want and not to be too combative or unwilling to help. It’s a real skill to be able to both help someone as much as you possibly can and then be able to draw the line over which you can’t cross. Assuming a customer is going to be aggressive and belligerent is not going to help, and it is a skill-set of its own to build a rapport with them. Most of the time if you at least try to help and then say you can’t help someone they will accept that.

        As I said, we’re not public-facing, and this may be a big difference in our job and big-box retail, but bad behaviour isn’t the norm. I’ve been in shops as a customer often enough to be appalled at some stories on NAR, but have only witnessed such incidents rarely in 40 years of existence. A CS role has certainly thickened my skin and given me good training in de-escalating a situation, and it’s a day like any other. Sometimes you even come away feeling good about an encounter and that you made someone’s day just a little bit better.

        1. Anon all day*

          Yeah, I had customer service/public-facing positions for several years, and I rarely had awful customer experiences. Like, yeah, I’m sure customers were rude sometimes, but that’s just because people are rude sometimes.

        2. Irish Teacher*

          Yup, you tell the interesting stories and often, it’s the things that go wrong that are interesting. I worked in Lidls for a year between my degree and teaching qualification and I would say I had maybe 5? really negative encounters during the year. And even most of those were just “I want to speak to your manager” or “I won’t come back here if you don’t do x”. I only had one really upsetting encounter, but you know what? That’s one of the stories I tend to tell, because it is the interesting part.

          Same with teaching. I would say there are maybe 10 or so really difficult students in the school where I teach. Encounters with them tend to come up in conversation more often than encounters with the vast majority of really nice kids because “one of my students climbed out the window today” or “one of my students pushed over a desk and stormed out of the room” makes a more interesting story than “one of my students wrote a brilliant essay today” or “one of my students was talking in class and it’s the first time this year I had to tell him off.”

          People DO get somewhat entitled around retail staff sometimes, but they are a minority.

        3. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          I am fully confident that the majority of NAR posts are, if not made up whole cloth, at least heavily altered to be almost entirely fictional. I’ve worked in big box retail on and off for over ten years over the course of my life, and my sister has done for over 20. Sure, people are dumb sometimes, but not nearly with that level of consistency. (And almost every single post, they either come up with the perfect zinger on the spot – and who actually manages that – or they’re completely paralyzed by social anxiety. It’s absurd.)

          1. Jellyfish*

            Agreed. I stopped reading that site a while ago because I think the majority of posts start off in reality and then quickly veer into fantasy land.

            Someone unreasonably grumpy about their order being wrong? Yes, absolutely, I worked in food service and saw that plenty of times.
            Escalating drama where cops or outside authorities get involved? It happened once, and that was a wild story that made the news.
            Learning about the fallout after everything is over, and getting a satisfying conclusion? Never. Not one time. Yet most of those stories get tied up in neat little bows where everyone gets their due. That’s just not real life.

            The stories here are far better for being believable and relatable most of the time. Back to the post though – everyone has stories, even if they aren’t screenplay-worthy. Even if it’s coworker silliness or everyday absurdities, most people have a couple good tales. Those are probably more conversationally interesting than day-to-day duties too.

            1. Eff Walsingham*

              I am not familiar with this NAR, but I’m astonished that some people don’t think extreme stuff happens to retail employees on the regular. I am Canadian, have worked in retail on and off from the mid-90’s to about 5 years ago. Multiple cities. Not big box, mostly boutique.

              I’ve seen numerous assaults. I’ve been assaulted. I once came across a broken glass crack pipe and a heroin works on the same shift! People have abandoned their children for hours. I’ve called the police, oh, so many times, and in some places they don’t come for hours, so some stores decide not to bother, with varying results. And these things have all happened in “good” neighbourhoods, in front of shoppers who just wanted to get what they came in for and go home.

              Oh, and many many stories involving bodily fluids, that I’m not going to relate here OR while making small talk! Although… during the pandemic, a well-dressed woman ahead of me in the grocery store line *did* threaten (loudly) in so many words to pee on the floor if they didn’t open the loo for her.

              So I really don’t understand why the stories must be exaggerated? My experiences are pretty typical across people I have met. Perhaps Canada is actually the epicenter of people being horrible to retail workers? I would like to think that somewhere there’s a Land of the Well Behaved.

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            What, you’ve never seen customers break into applause when a downtrodden employee finally makes a stand?

  13. GythaOgden*

    As someone in facilities/estates, please whatever you do DON’T respond in such a way as to assume we’re exploited or living on the breadline or whatever! That seems to be a trend for people who are not negatively discriminating against us but equally see us as if we were 19th century servants etc. rather than 21st century employees with homes and lives. Maintenance has joined the 21st century and our company is paperless, meaning jobs are sent out electronically — I’ve seen people here debate whether we even have email addresses!

    While, yes, it’s frustrating for me as a receptionist to feel like I’m expected to do secretarial duties for tenants and be a message girl for people who aren’t part of the organisation I work for (public sector facilities company) and don’t have clearance to handle the data they’re asking me to transmit, it’s also frustrating to be seen as some poor exploited Cinderella. I make a decent wage, go home to a nice 3-bed semi, took the job to bide time before my PhD got funded, and enjoyed it enough that I stayed on while I got married and then got widowed. I’m a person with an education who has sacrificed money for quality of life and a low-stress job. Money is tight, as it is for everyone these days, but I’m not living in a Dickens novel! I’m thinking of moving on, but I’m good with a busywork job and my own intellectual life outside of work. Hubby was a landscaper’s office manager and went to work in a polo and fleece rather than a suit and tie — and while I appreciate respect and regard a lot more, I get more rankled by white collar workers who mean well being condescending than I do by bigotry. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. Bigotry can be laughed off, but the condescension stings more because you’re on my side…but you’re not looking at it from my perspective, just like allies who speak over minorities frustrate me more sometimes than outright bigotry. I think it’s because I find the bigots laughable, but feel disempowered by the assumptions of people who aren’t in the trenches here with me but think they know best about my situation.

    I have a company phone and my own electronic toys. Thanks to savings and my husband’s life insurance :( I’m going to Disneyworld next year — a transatlantic trip. It doesn’t matter how you earn your money — it’s possible to make a reasonable modern living at a traditionally blue-collar job (hubby’s boss and Mrs Boss were a farmer-turned landscaper and cleaner turned florist, and have a nice house and stuff paid for by more blue-collar work).

    There was a thread here about a facilities person who won a company prize and while I shrugged off the bigoted jerk who was aghast a janitor won the car, I was also shocked by people who felt sorry for him and automatically assumed he didn’t have a phone or a laptop, or couldn’t afford a new car on a janitors salary.

    So yeah, when you think ‘these jobs get stigmatised,’ don’t go completely in the opposite direction. We’re workers with dignity and on the whole, livable incomes. We may not be on the way to becoming CEOs of Teapot Repair, but we could probably go up to CEO of Teapot Factory Maintenance Ltd, which keeps your workshops open.

    Basically we get paid the same money a white collar worker does, so just speak to us as an equal rather than like I’m Little Dorrit.

    1. Today is the Day*

      Unionized “blue collar” workers can make way more than office workers, particularly if wages are negotiated.

    2. GythaOgden*

      Thanks for saying this. I wrote the above very quickly and in a highly emotional state before having any coffee, and I hoped I hadn’t come across too harshly.

    3. Jack Bruce*

      True! My father worked at a well respected college here and people would always ask me “What does he teach?” and then get really awkward when I said he works in the grounds/maintenance department. He made a good living and retired just fine, no need to get weird about it.

      1. Anon for this*

        Ah, just like when a doctor examining me said, “Your husband’s a doctor, right?” I replied,”he’s a nurse.” “Oh.”

      2. Eff Walsingham*

        Squee! I posted something similar on another thread! People *always* said, “What does he teach?” My dad was neither teacher nor groundskeeper. Actually, he told me that there was a hiring freeze on for all support staff while I was enrolled there. The grounds were starting to look decidedly ratty, and we were all the more grateful that the remaining staff were still there. Considering how frustrating it can be to be understaffed. It was a big topic for my dad at the time, the understaffing, and trying to manage expectations around it. “Can you send one of your guys over?” “Yes, but it will have to be me, and it will not be soon.”

    4. Katie*

      I was kinda irked by the question too. I appreciate how you pointed out how condescending it may come off.

    5. JelloStapler*

      Trust me I am sure you make more than I do! I am sorry that you are being treated as “less than”- all jobs are important.

  14. Dennis Feinstein*

    Q for garbage collectors/cleaners: “What’s the most interesting thing you’ve ever found in someone’s bin?” (Or even, “hey, have you ever fished someone’s torn-up doodles out of the bin, taped them back together and shown it to their boss?” ;)
    Bus drivers: “What’s the worst thing someone’s done on your bus/most interesting/exciting thing that’s happened?”
    Waiters: “I bet you’ve got some good stories!” If you’ve ever read notalwaysright you KNOW they have. Anyone in a customer-facing job is bound to have some juicy tales to tell!

    1. Ridger*

      Around here, the trash must be in a plastic bag and it’s now even picked up by the truck, so that question wouldn’t get you very far!

      1. Metadata minion*

        I think I would ask the most interesting thing they’ve seen put out for the trash, since I would assume they’re at least hypothetically not supposed to be going through people’s bins, and when you’re dumping something into a truck that’s not really going to give you time to look at it. I don’t want to imply that they’re snooping through people’s trash, but it’s not snooping if someone left out a hilariously weird armchair or something.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Yeah, a better question would be what’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen anyone leave out by the curb. They still have to get off the truck to manually pick that stuff up because the truck’s arm only lifts the trash bin.

          I would also want to know what the coolest thing is, or did they ever find anything awesome they got to keep.

        1. Clisby*

          They sure do around here. Although, I think bulk pickup day might be different from regular garbage pickup day. It rarely matters, because any time we’ve put stuff out on the curb, it’s taken before the trash collectors have time to get to it.

  15. EventPlannerGal*

    OP4: You are overthinking this! You don’t need to find a way to convey “I know your job is often stigmatised but I personally respect it greatly although I could not myself do it and I don’t know much about it but like not in an othering way” – that is SO MUCH to try an convey in a minor social interaction. And honestly, it is itself a bit strange and othering – you must come across people with jobs that you’re unfamiliar with on other occasions, right? You don’t need to come up with a special extra-sensitive script for people in blue-collar roles, and I think it’ll come across a bit oddly if you try.

    1. londonedit*

      I agree. I think just about any job could be covered by ‘Oh, interesting – how do you find it?’, or if it’s something particularly unusual (like the sewer maintenance job someone mentioned further up, or astronaut, or whatever) you could say ‘Oh, interesting! You must have seen some things!’

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        Right, exactly! “And how long have you been doing that?”, “oh interesting, what’s that like?”, etc etc – this is such a normal small-talk topic that there are a million generic things OP can say, and probably does say all the time.

    2. GythaOgden*

      Thank you so much for the ‘othering’ comment. It’s happened here a few times and it gets old to see the assumptions made on our behalf, and exhausting to read. People totally MEAN well, but they’re still not listening to those who have the experiences.

    3. anonymous73*

      I’m just confused by the whole question. Am I in the minority in that jobs don’t ALWAYS come up as a topic of conversation socially with people I know nothing about? That’s not my go to question to get to know someone, unless their work comes up naturally in the conversation.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        I think this largely depends on your social circle and geographic area. I vaguely remember a thread from a while ago on here (but maybe it was on Captain Awkward) where in Washington D.C. the first getting-to-know you question is “what’s your job/what do you do for work/where do you work?” and in Seattle the first getting-to-know-you question is “what music do you listen to/what are your favorite bands/have you seen [band]?” and the subject of jobs almost never comes up in social situations.

        1. anonymous73*

          Makes sense. While I don’t think it’s a super personal topic of conversation, it’s definitely not something I’d lead with, but I could see where it may be in some areas.

        2. Eff Walsingham*

          Yes, that makes total sense. Also, in some lines of work it seems more usual to be reticent about it. Like, there are rules about disclosure, or it’s just… not a thing.

          My spouse was working with / for someone excitingly successful in their profession, and he told me that this man leads off every (social) conversation with, “Do you ski?” Just because he’s known to be skilled and prolific at his job doesn’t mean he wants to talk about it at parties.

      2. Critical Rolls*

        It’s a default for a lot of people. Not surprising — if you’ve got a full time job you spend so many of your waking hours at it. It has a defined answer that most people don’t need to think about, an “easy” question. And it often opens avenues for further conversation, even if the person doesn’t want to talk about work.

    4. C in the Hood*

      Thanks for saying this. The OP’s reaction was rubbing me the wrong way & I couldn’t put my finger on it.
      If you come across someone with a job you’re not familiar with (or even have “feelings” about), you don’t necessarily have to get into the nitty gritty. Ask where they work (“Oh, Llamaville? My brother lives there!”), how the commute might be (“That’s so nice you get to work close to home.”), etc.

  16. drtheliz*

    LW4 – my policy is to say “oh, you must have some fun stories!” – if they say “well, nah, not really” then they don’t want to talk about work and that’s fine, I expressed friendly interest. But everyone from janitors to nurses to lawyers has Seen Some Stuff, and I love to hear it…

    1. DarthVelma*

      This. My brother has a CDL and for the last several years he has driven trash trucks. People throw away some really weird stuff.

      My dad spent years working in a hospital and it was fun to listen to them try to out-do each other with the weirdest thing they had seen on the job. :-)

    2. Lana Kane*

      I read somewhere that this is a good thing to say because 1) almost every job has a story, and 2) people like to talk about themselves, or make people laugh with a story.

  17. Ana Gram*

    I’m a cop and I definitely get some terrible follow up questions when I tell someone what I do. Usually, have you killed anyone (what?! no, and I hope I never do), how much do you make (more than you think but if I tell you, it’ll make things weird), and what’s the worst call you’ve ever been on (I guarantee you haven’t given that enough thought and you don’t actually want the answer).

    When people tell me what they do, I ask how they got into it and if they like their company and what the best part of their job is since I wish that’s what people would ask me. I think those questions are pretty applicable to any job, really.

  18. Foxgloves*

    OP4- I always respond with “Oh that sounds interesting! Do you enjoy it?” . People are remarkably often surprised to be asked this, and it always leads to more interesting conversations- reasons why they do/ don’t like the job, why/ how they got into it, what they would rather do, etc etc.

  19. Maltypass*

    4 you can – and in fact I think should ask what it entails. I work in retail and I guarantee 80% of my job is not what you think, and not asking the same question you’d ask in other jobs is robbing you of learning about these jobs and the people who do them. Don’t assume that just because jobs are public service you know what they entail! Especially in pandemic times I guarantee they have evolved, there’s no reason not to show the same curiosity to us as you would office workers

  20. David*

    LW2 : I’ve done this before in the past, to great effect and amusement of all.
    At the end of University and into the first few years of my first job I had LONG hair that I wore in a pony tail.
    At some point it began to annoy me. It was scraggly and a lot of effort to maintain and I was just OVER having a pony tail. One lunch time I wandered over the road to a hairdresser and asked them to chop it all off. I headed back to my desk with a very neat short back and sides cut.
    A little after lunch break was over, other colleagues began to return from their own lunch breaks. One came looking for me for something and wandered in to my workspace. Now, I sat with my back towards the door, so they could only see the back of my head.
    My colleague began “Hey have you seen ” but got half way through my name and then realised it was me and she squealed very loudly.
    The reaction was priceless. We had a good laugh. And nobody cared either way.

    1. Jellyfish*

      My partner also had long, thick hair and shaved it all off on a whim. When he walked into work the next day, a coworker thought he was a customer and said, “Hi, what can I help you– holy shit!
      Good times :)

      1. SarahKay*

        I’ve been that co-worker. I used to work in a family restaurant and the owner’s son was about 19 with thick black hair basically cut in a shoulder-length bob. His mum hated it and spent quite a lot of time telling him how messy it was and to get it cut.
        One evening I’d started work and a young man with very short, slightly spiky on top, hair walked past me and toward the owner’s office. I moved to stop him and asked if I could help him… and then recognised owner’s son! Couldn’t believe how different the hair cut made look.

    2. London Calling*

      Same, back in the dim and distant 1980s I had a curly perm (remember those?) One day I got so fed up with it that I booked a lunchtime appointment and told the hairdresser to chop it all off and give me a pixie cut. A few male colleagues wandered past my desk that afteroon, stopped, narrowed their eyes, looked at me and said some variation on ‘You’ve had your hair done, right?’

      1. inksmith*

        They’d get on well with the guy I worked with – I came in one day with pink hair and he said, “Have you always had pink hair?”

        Well, we’ve worked together for a year, so if you’re only just noticing, probably not!

    3. JustaTech*

      One time I had a very mild hair cut (in the evening); trim, touchup the color, and blow dry it straight (which I never do, it’s usually wavy).
      The next morning my boss comes in, see the top of my head and shrieks, thinking someone else had stolen my desk.

      It was hilarious.

    4. Elizabeth West*

      Haha, I’ve always had long hair, but I got some wide-eyed looks at Exjob the day after I went from dark auburn to blonde.

  21. MagicallyInsidious*

    This is probably going to come across as unkind but: what is the deal with LW 4??? People in blue collar jobs are people too, gasp. You can talk to them the same way you’d talk to someone working in academia or the sciences.

    1. anonymous73*

      I just don’t get it at all. If I meet someone, I don’t ask what they do for a living unless it comes up naturally (from them) about their work.

    2. Today is the Day*

      Yeah, the elitism came through strongly, like they were meeting an alien or something. Geez.

    3. Tobias Funke*

      I don’t even think this is unkind. I think it’s a kindness to tell someone who sought advice to check themself. OP4 desperately needs to expand their social circles.

      1. Churlish Gambino*

        Funny, I got called out on one of the letters yesterday for saying that it’s not unkind to give advice-seekers a reality check when necessary. I’m glad that I’m not alone in this!

        It seems that people want to avoid it because it may discourage future letter-writers, but…if telling someone else to check themselves stops someone from writing in, that reflects much more on them than this community.

        1. Vinessa*

          I think it’s unfortunate that this site leans so heavily toward the “kindness = positivity and validation” end of the spectrum. Not only is that just fundamentally untrue, but I actually think that does a greater disservice to many LWs than being straightforward and honest the way Tobias was above.

          1. GythaOgden*

            I see it as treat them as /sincere/. They know their situation better than we do, but at the same time, if a letter is dripping with privilege, entitlement, unexamined microaggressions or other markers of a person who needs a reality check, it’s OK to respond.

            We shouldn’t be interrogating people as if we’re shining a light in their eyes, and we need to advise (and assume people are here because they’re sensing they did something wrong and need help fixing it). As I say as a mod on Reddit, people are here to learn, and although it’s OK to call out bigotry, it’s important to treat posters with respect as well because they’re at least /asking/ for guidance. Indignance without actually guiding just gets wearisome for everyone. There are places for it elsewhere, but as someone definitely affected by OP4’s perceptions of my job and those of my colleagues and friends, you have to cut through that passion and try and help.

            I know about tone policing but as a moderator I feel there’s a difference between expressing frustration and anger at aggressions, micro or macro, and being generally belligerent and aggressive towards people who don’t always dot all the is and cross all the ts. As a mod I find the latter much more exhausting than the former, as I want to give people in that situation the benefit of the doubt, but when the thread on my forum turns from giving advice, even in a strident and pungent manner, to just arguing for the sake of it and abusing someone elsewhere when banned (an activist attacked a fellow mod on her other social media, leading to trauma for her in the middle of her struggles with disability and marginalisation, all because we asked him to take his all-consuming wrath elsewhere).

            But we don’t always need to agree with their initial approach. I mean, no-one was terribly ‘kind’ to cheap-ass rolls lady. OP4 is not cheap-ass rolls or can’t go to your graduation boss, but we have room to point out her own accidental condescension and give her direct and possibly uncensored advice.


      During my adult life, I’ve been a student, a professor, a minimum-wage sales associate at the mall, a nonprofit community worker, a grocery store cashier, a junior HR flunky, and an ordained clergyperson.

      There are people who felt sorry for me or who dismissed me during the less-prestigious jobs, and there are those who have treated me with the same courtesy and respect no matter where my paycheck came from. I’m definitely more interested in continuing relationships with the second category.

        1. GythaOgden*

          Reminds me of the Joan Osbourne song ‘One of Us’. It’s no coincidence God was ‘just a stranger on a bus’ rather than actually being Pope.

    5. EventPlannerGal*

      Yep – it seems like a well-meaning question but founded in some weird assumptions that really need examining.

      (FTR, while I now have an office job I’ve had a pretty large number of random service jobs, from retail to reception to shovelling animal manure. It was always very obvious to me when people were just making normal conversation with me versus when people were sort of thinking ooh, gosh, I’m being so NICE to this girl, I bet nobody else talks to her like this, I hope everyone can see how NICE I’m being. Just… be normal about it. That’s really all you have to do!)

      1. Eff Walsingham*

        +1,000,000 to this! I’ve had a lot of odd jobs over the years. I’ve seen some interesting assumptions.

      2. GreenDoor*

        Yes – one of those assumptions being that white collar workers are the only ones with interesting work. I have a corner office and an MBA, but my God, if someone wanted me to go on and on about my job during a social event I would try and exit that conversation ASAP. The last thing I want to talk about when I’m not at work is work! Why not assume the same thing for your blue collar and essential associates?

    6. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      Agreed. There appears to be a lot of classism here. It doesn’t help to assume that these “lower-level” jobs don’t have anything interesting to discuss and must be dead-end jobs. That trash collector may have fascinating stories of weird items in the trash. That plumber may run their own business and have plenty of employees. Conversely, that professor may hate teaching disinterested students and be woefully underpaid.

      Don’t attach value based on presumed “prestige” or “value” of a job.

      1. Coconutty*

        Yeah, just because you assume you know what a job entails shouldn’t make it so difficult to think of a non-condescending follow-up question!

      2. SnappinTerrapin*

        They may very well have interesting, well-thought-out opinions on arts, literature, philosophy, politics or life in general. Until you engage them in conversation, you don’t know whether they know things you’ve never thought about. Some of the most intelligent, thoughtful people I’ve known never finished (some never attended) high school, but learned from experience and observation.

        1. GythaOgden*

          There was an earnest debate in the UK in the late 70s/early 80s when a taxi driver won the erudite quiz programme Mastermind. Were we an amazing country when even taxi drivers could speak deeply on a particular academic subject, or an awful one where we made our academic people drive taxis.

          Both questions kinda missed the point on that score…

          1. Eff Walsingham*

            It was commonly held in parts of Canada where I’ve lived that we have vast numbers of highly educated taxi drivers, because our universities churn out far more degree holders in some disciplines than our economy can employ, and because the path for newly immigrating professionals to transfer their credentials is very onerous.

    7. anonforthis*

      It’s not unkind so long as you “attack the argument, not the person” so to speak. It’s okay to call out someone’s problematic expressions or behavior in my books.

  22. Falling Diphthong*

    LW2, be prepared for some people to not notice the dramatic change. Especially if the new length is any lower than your shoulders.

  23. Lara Croft*

    Re 4: As someone with a job generally seen as interesting (archaeologist), the follow-up expressions of interest that I usually get don’t actually move the conversation along as well as some of the questions proposed above. I’m never sure what to do with “oh I always wanted to be an archaeologist when I was a kid” or the Indiana Jones reference. The best response ever though was the person who said, “oh, I hated that class in college”!

    1. Dust Bunny*

      My brother is an archaeologist and keeps getting asked about dinosaurs. Which I guess at least gives him an opening to explain the difference?

    2. L.H. Puttgrass*

      Hah! I’d be tempted to make the Indiana Jones reference. But then I’d wonder how much time you actually got to spend outside digging for things versus sitting inside at a computer like the rest of us do.

  24. Shiba Dad*

    LW#1 – it sounds like sour grapes. I’ve seen versions of “we won’t miss them” when a coworker gave notice or after they had left. Often this came with rationalizations.

    Maybe because I’m too old to put up with this petty bulls**t I would be tempted to inform the CEO that you were accidently included on that message and tell your side of it. I realize that is probably not a good idea.

  25. Oakwood*

    Re: jobs

    My HVAC guy is a one man, one truck business.

    He mentioned he was putting his home up for sale (this was before the recent rise in home prices). I checked it out. His home was worth twice as much as mine.

    Those not so cool jobs often pay better than the cool ones.

    1. Shiba Dad*

      He can charge $50/hour or more and he has relatively little overhead. There has also been a shortage of people in the trades for 10-15years. Contractors in trades can do well.

    2. Cat named Brian*

      I hired a retired electrician to teach electrical classes to high schoolers. He has corvette, built his own plane and a large house with pool. All paid for. On one hand, Best hire ever because he didn’t need the money and just wanted to share his knowledge with kids. Other hand when the BS of k-12 got on his nerves, he would come tell me, I don’t really need this job…

    3. CommanderBanana*

      Yep, I had a former roommate who was a plumber’s apprentice, and his earning potential (assuming he followed through with becoming a journeyman and then a master plumber) was way higher than mine.

    4. Rusty Shackelford*

      Some years ago I had a plumber come to my house who I had actually gone to high school with, so we talked. He was doing much, much better than me and my degree. And the world’s always going to need plumbers, HVAC techs, etc. Those are great jobs.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        The first (and last) time I replaced a kitchen faucet myself, I understood why they can charge so much. Plumbing is a difficult job that requires a lot of knowledge and I certainly don’t want to do it!

    5. bamcheeks*

      There’s a big variance in white-collar/office/professional jobs and there’ s a really big variance in blue-collar/trade/manual jobs. I probably know more about the labour market than average because of the type of work I do, but I find people being surprised about skilled trades being highly-paid kind of weird as well?

      1. Hlao-roo*

        There’s definitely a broad societal stereotype that white collar jobs are more prestigious and pay more than blue collar jobs. When I pause and think for a moment, I know that there are plenty of blue collar/trade jobs that pay more than white collar/office jobs, but if I’m ever not thinking critically I tend to fall back on the (wrong) stereotype that and office job pays more than a trade job.

    6. Dinwar*

      I knew a guy who worked for a company running a vacuum truck–you hook it up to wells and literally suck out the contamination (and groundwater). He was also worth several million with a six-figure income. One of the hardest-working men I ever met. To look at him you’d think he was a truck driver or mechanic, and you’d think he was a pretty down-and-out one at that.

      I also knew a guy that started driving a garbage truck out of high school. Worked hard, saved up, and eventually bought the company. He was the wealthiest person in the town I grew up in.

      So yeah, prestige, earning potential, and skills required do not correlate when it comes to jobs!

      1. Shiba Dad*

        One of the wealthier people I’m acquainted with owns a garbage company. There is a lot of money in trash.

          1. GythaOgden*

            Probably on some sort of wage equal to their seniority or skills. Probably not a huge wage, but most such jobs pay enough for a decent living. (I don’t know any actual domestic dustman, but I know one of my friends did industrial waste, and he like all of us had a decent life with hobbies, pets and game nights.)

            The whole thread is about trying to stop the ‘blue collar people are penniless proles’ meme, so this is a really unhelpful comment.

  26. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    Trying to find replies to first letter while viewing on my phone. Not happening (used find on page. No luck)
    So I’ll write this. Silver lining: you now know that your boss won’t be a great reference. Not because of anything you did, but because she’s petty (trust me in this) and unprofessional. Yes, it was a text message, but it’s no different than passing notes in class.
    I’d go to HR just to clarify that your record is solid, but this makes you concerned about references. You can leave emotion out it. My review states X. This text states Y. People calling for references will be told what?

  27. anonymous73*

    #1 I disagree with Alison. I wouldn’t bother confronting your manager about the texts. I would take them straight to HR, and tell them that you will be leaving effective immediately. I wouldn’t ask for nor want a reference from this manager because they have shown their true colors while texting with the CEO. It was unprofessional, even if they thought the message were private. And please stop letting them live in your head rent free. Even if they thought you were a problematic employee and it’s no big loss to lose you, their judgment means nothing based on the way she behaved.

    1. Colette*

      You might not want a reference, but it’s possible the OP does. And the thing is, if she reacts dramatically, that’s not just going to affect a reference from the boss, it’ll affect her reputation with everyone who sees her behaviour.

      1. anonymous73*

        Who said anything about being dramatic? Going to HR and resigning immediately doesn’t have to be dramatic. Her manager is being unprofessional and talking about her behind her back. Standing up for yourself is NOT dramatic. And if she approaches her manager about the texts, at best it will make things awkward and at worst it will make things unbearable. If I were the OP, I wouldn’t TRUST any reference given by my manager after seeing those texts. It’s not about wanting one vs. not wanting one.

      2. Lana Kane*

        Knowing your worth and setting that boundary on how you will be treated isn’t dramatic unless it comes with a tantrum.

  28. Delta Delta*

    #4 – I’m a criminal defense lawyer. No, I don’t find it cute when someone shrieks, how can you defend *those* people?! So, yeah, I know what it feels like to be condescended to or insulted over my profession. That’s why I stick with things like “that’s neat – how long have you been doing that?”

    1. Shiba Dad*

      I sold cars for a few years back in the 90s, so I understand being considered a lower life form by some people. It can suck.

    2. Littorally*

      Thank you for doing what you do. The right of every person to legal counsel, regardless of their situation, is deeply vital and as you said, can be really effing thankless.

    3. Velawciraptor*

      Oh, I have fun with questions about “defending *those* people.”

      “Oh, I love being a public defender. Unlike the DAs, my job isn’t just mandated by the Constitution, it involves defending the Constitution! Don’t you think the Constitution is worth defending?”

      Of course, I do also regularly say that my job is a socially productive way to channel some of my less appealing personality traits, such as my fondness for confrontation. :)

    4. Lysine*

      I’m also a criminal defense attorney and I rarely like talking about my job to non-attorneys because people think they know what my job is about from tv or books, but they actually don’t. And yeah the “those people” comments are tiring to have to unpack.

  29. Baby Yoda*

    I used to get those requests too — but learned to say I have an agreement with my agent that I don’t look at unpublished works for anyone. It works.

  30. Sick of Workplace Bullshit (she/her)*

    OP1: Your manager sounds nasty. I wouldn’t put too much stock in it, although I would be upset by it, too. Just remember to screenshot and save those texts. You never know when you might need them to counter a bad reference, etc. Good luck!

    1. Kiko*

      I agree, saving the evidence is the most important thing to capture regardless of how you move forward. I’m pretty non-confrontational, so I couldn’t face my manager after seeing those words written about me. I personally would be heading to HR, who will be equally aghast when you share this information.

      I’m wondering how old this manager is, talking poorly about anyone in text form is such a rookie mistake. It might not feel like it now, OP, but you got incredibly lucky. Seeing your manager act like this will help you avoid them in the future. Hold your head up high and be considerate about this whole event. This will speak volumes about your class and grace.

  31. Katy*

    LW2: I would check with the salon first to make sure your haircut is likely to start on time and not go longer than your lunch break. I’ve definitely had haircuts that ended up taking over an hour, even when I’d booked a shorter time slot.

    1. Eff Walsingham*

      Agree. I’ve been seriously delayed by a haircut at a new salon. Never went back. (Well, I didn’t like the cut, either.)

  32. Oakwood*

    Re: text message after resignation

    Managers have been known to get pretty snarky when an employee quits.

    What’s the story about sour grapes? The fox jumps and jumps trying to reach a bunch of grapes. Finally, he gives up and says “who would want a bunch of sour grapes anyway”. He only declares them sour because he can’t have them.

    I would just ignore the texts. You are moving on. Don’t get drawn into their drama.

  33. MicroManagered*

    OP3 This sounds like the student may have gotten some bad job-seeking advice (possibly from parents) about networking and “gumption.” I stalked and spammed some people in my early career because my father was INSISTING that this is how it’s done and I was going to miss the boat if I didn’t reach out immediately.

  34. Tobias Funke*

    OP4, expand your social circle a little bit.

    Also, this is a great time to mention my absolute favorite hypocrisy on this forum: the folks who howl and cry and get up on a high horse about blue collar folks having the audacity to not be working at full capacity 24/7 because it’s somehow deviously stealing from the benevolent BossMan…while reading and commenting on a blog at work and trying to pass it off as necessary professional development because farting around online is magically acceptable and good in office settings. Expand your social circles. Please. Seriously, if you’re finding yourself unable to not condescend to someone who does not work in an office, expand your social circles.

    And it’s not wrong to be condescending to blue collar folks “because their jobs are so important!!!” It’s wrong because it’s objectively wrong to use jobs as a shorthand for hierarchy of humans.

    1. Vinessa*

      Regarding your last point, I’d like to add that it’s also wrong to use “some blue-collar people make more money than you!” as a reason to be respectful to them or treat them like equals, as people are doing in this comments section right now. You should be respectful to people regardless of how much money they make. Acting like their paycheck somehow “makes up” for the work itself relative to the social hierarchy is gross.

      1. Nameless in Customer Service*

        This is very well said. I cringe whenever I see people say that, and I’ve made a note of your analysis.

      2. Irish Teacher.*

        And while I know they don’t mean it that way, it DOES sort of imply that jobs that ARE actually low-paid aren’t worthy of respect.

        1. GythaOgden*

          Yup. Also, it’s all the same money. My XX,000 a year buys the same stuff as a dustman’s XX,000 a year and a senior outdoor council worker guy like my friend may make more a year than an admin assistant. It comes from the same place and goes to the same place. Most of my blue collar friends are as comfortably off as I am — not as much as we’d like given recent price shocks, but as I said in my top level post, not Oliver Twist or Little Dorrit.

          The issue with poverty for a lot of people is being on low pay and insecure in housing, food, etc. That’s the problem part, but it can be e.g. a junior accountant in a high COL area unable to live with family (happened to a friend) or a recent graduate struggling to find a way into their career. The problem is not white vs blue collar, it’s general lack of pay and rising prices.

  35. Underemployed Erin*

    OP4’s question reminded me of the episode of The Moth by Frank O’Keefe called “The Greatest Job in New York.” He works for the Sanitation Department of New York City. The episode is about how he was embarrassed by his new job at first. However, as he learned more about it, he realized that no other work in the city would be possible without the work that they do.

  36. Cait*

    #1 PLEASE send the text that Alison suggested and let us know what happens! I’m sure the second your manager realized what a huge mistake she made she’ll slide into a crack in the floor!

    1. Khatul Madame*

      People like LW1’s manager are usually immune from embarrassment, but I would still advise returning awkwardness to sender.
      I had a somewhat similar situation once when someone posted a mean remark about me in a wrong chat (members of my team also saw it). This person was higher than I on the food chain. Because at the time I was already of f^cks to give, I posted “I am right here”. The response? The person claimed they were joking!

  37. Will It Ever End?*

    To those working in jobs that could not be done remotely during the pandemic, service sector or otherwise, I express my appreciation and respect, while acknowledging how difficult it must be. Then move on if they have nothing ore to say. That’s it. People are so much more than their occupation, and all work is needed. Today is trash pickup day and I appreciate my trash haulers so much, nice people too.

    1. Eff Walsingham*

      I was an Essential Worker in my area (not front line though) and I may have a touch of unofficial ptsd. Now I tell everybody (the few everybodies I encounter) who asks: I worked as an Essential Service until this past January, when I just couldn’t do it any more. Like, just could not. I was breaking down. For real, I have no idea how retail workers and servers and health care people and teachers can go on in such a climate of abuse and vulnerability.

      I’m a better tipper than I was pre-pandemic. Not that I was bad before, but the job description of dealing with the public has changed, and IMO there should be more money in it.

  38. Dust Bunny*

    LW1 your (soon-to-be-ex) manager is either a Mean Girl who intentionally-accidentally looped you in on these texts or a doofus who legitimately-accidentally looped you in on these texts, and either way, she’s . . . not impressive.

    I would go to HR, nicely, as suggested in the last paragraph of AAM’s reply, but I agree that you should treat lightly, as unfair as that is, in case you need a reference in the future.

    1. Lizabeth*

      I would go to HR BUT make sure of the wording of ANY reference that this company may give out. It’s something that can be certainly negotiated and especially since Mean Girl pull this stunt. It wasn’t a mistake in my book and needs to be address to limit her future influence.

      Glass door anyone?

      1. Yellow*

        Can you explain what you mean by negotiating the wording of references? In my industry, referees are usually contacted to respond to specific questions and phone discussions aren’t uncommon. Or it might be a general letter of recommendation as a reference (that you would have more control over as it comes to you directly). I can see a lot of ways a negotiated agreement on wording could really backfire – not least that I’d likely have to declare that agreement as a conflict.

        I’ve seen this come up a few times as a strong recommendation, so there has to be something advantageous about this. How does this work to someone’s advantage?

  39. Camellia*

    #4 – for jobs like retail/janitor/garbage, I’d probably be inclined to say, “Well, I bet you have some stories to tell!”, and then listen and sympathize greatly.

  40. Julissa*

    A useful all purpose reply to being informed of almost anyone’s occupation: “I bet you have some stories.”

  41. Fluffy Fish*

    #2 – A few months ago I got bangs after having overall long hair for pretty much the last 15 years or so. It was a very obvious change. I got tons of compliments from family, friends, acquaintances.

    Not one single person at work noticed. Not one.

    Go get your hair cut. It’s no biggie.

      1. Fluffy Fish*

        Nope not in this case. I work with multiple people who don’t hesitate to comment on all sorts of things they shouldn’t. A few are people I actually do stuff with outside of work – I know intimate details of their lives.

        Literally no one noticed.

  42. Nancy*

    LW4: respond with “oh that’s cool, what does the job entail?” or something similar, just like any other job. Really, I think people should use other topics for small talk. I don’t want to talk about work when not at work.

    LW1: eh, just finish your time there and more on. You never have to see them again so who cares what they think.

  43. MCMonkeyBean*

    For LW2 I agree it’s a totally normal thing to do.

    You definitely don’t *need* to, but if you *wanted* to I think you could even say something about it beforehand which might make it feel less dramatic. But probably only if there is a natural opening, like if people are chatting about the new building and the area you could say “yeah, and I was excited to see there was a salon next door as I’m quite overdue for a haircut!” or if you have an appointment and find yourself in a casual conversation with your boss about upcoming plans you could say something like “and I’ve got an appointment at that salon next door, I’m excited to check it out.”

    Again, definitely not necessary, you don’t owe anyone some kind of warning about cutting your hair. Just that if you were feeling awkward about it, talking openly about it and seeing how no one bats an eye might take some of the awkwardness away.

    This is based on my own personal feelings around running errands like this at lunch when I worked downtown. I never felt weird about going to the post office or the bank at lunch, but if I went to like an esthetician or a consultation at a tattoo parlor I sometimes had this “skipping class” feeling like I was doing something wrong! I found just talking openly about those kinds of errands on occasion helped reinforce in my brain that I could use that time however I want and no one cared.

    1. ecnaseener*

      Or literally just, on your way out the door: “I’m heading out for lunch and a haircut!” Not weird at all.

  44. Molly May*

    I know this concept might be strange to some here, but us people in service/retail/admin/blue collar/low income jobs are normal people just like you. We understand social norms, we know how to act civil and professionally in society and you can talk to us just like anyone else. There is no secret code way of talking to us about our jobs or otherwise interacting with us. I really like Alison and her advice but the condescending attitude towards people who aren’t white collar professionals is something I could do without. The only “secret” is treating us like everyone else.

    1. Observer*

      What exactly are you referring to? Alison was pretty clear that you should treat all jobs pretty much the same. And most of the people here have reiterated that and added to it. So, I’m confused.

    2. anonforthis*

      The letter is not a reflection of Alison’s views. I’m pretty sure the reason she selected this letter to answer was to correct the letter writer. Kind of the point of an advice column.

  45. Essess*

    OP #4 – I would have had the opposite reaction to someone’s job. I would have been bored hearing about professional/academia jobs but for cleaners/drivers/waiters I would have said something like “I bet you’ve encountered some interesting experiences/stories/characters doing that job.” All of those jobs you listed deal with the public and have a greater variety of experiences than the standard office jobs.

  46. Victoria, Please*

    OP4, I was at a gathering of missionaries one time – I am not a missionary; long story as to why I was there. When one of them asked what I did, I told her my job title (variety of higher ed admin) and she said “OH!!!” and walked away immediately. I still grin at the memory. I am sure she reacted that way because my job was so foreign to her experience that she had no idea what her next word should be. That or it sounded so boring compared to the mission field that she couldn’t stand another moment, ha!

    I like the suggestion to ask how people got into their jobs. Also something they learned in their job lately. Or simply “Oh, tell me about that!”

    1. Julissa*

      I am truly not trying to be a jerk, but if someone asked me, “What’s something you learned in your job lately?” I would assume they were AI or homeschooled.

      1. Mischa*

        I understand not liking the question–my good friend used to do it all the time and I hated it…but I was the homeschooled one, not her. Just like blue collar workers, homeschoolers are regular people, too. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard, “wow, you have such great social skills!” I am almost 30. It’s super condescending and the main reason why I don’t disclose my K-8 education very often.

        Of course there are incredibly weird homeschoolers. I also understand why people are weirded out by homeschooling in general since it’s not at all the norm and the loudest homeschoolers are usually very, very fringe insane people. There’s weird people everywhere, however.

        1. Irish Teacher.*

          And ironically, that comment about you having great social skills isn’t exactly a sign of great social skills on their part.

          And it is bizarre given that you are almost 30. I can at least sort of see why somebody might expect a teenager being homeschooled to possibly have some difficulties with social skills as school is where a lot of kids get a fair share of their social interaction and in particular, it tends to be where they get interaction with people they wouldn’t CHOOSE to interact with, so I can imagine somebody assuming homeschooled teenagers might only spend time with people with similar interests and a similar background to their own and might therefore be naive about bullies or not know how to deal with kids with serious behavioural problems or that they might be sort of sheltered to the point of not understanding different backgrounds.

          But at 30? I assume the people saying that to you had plenty of opportunities to develop social skills and deal with difficult people since leaving school. Have they never had a difficult client? Had to negotiate hierarchies at work? Even if you WERE sheltered during your schooldays (and I know that is not necessarily true of all homeschooled kids), I’m…pretty sure you’d have had plenty of opportunities to expand your social horizons since.

      2. pancakes*

        I don’t think it’s a great question because a number of people would struggle to think of something that makes for a good anecdote, but that’s pretty harsh. And unrealistic. It’s just not outlandishly awkward.

      3. Foila*

        Yeah, not sure how homeschooling comes into this, since most people who are discussing jobs in a social context are adults. Even if they were homeschooled as kids, that effect tends to wear off pretty quickly as soon as they stop, y’know, being homeschooled, in my experience.

        But it does seem like a question you would ask a child.

  47. WantonSeedStitch*

    I try not to be the one who starts job-talk at social functions unless someone is already talking about work but I don’t know what their actual job is. That’s when I ask, for clarification. I think that for most of the world, even those of us who enjoy our jobs, we like being able to disconnect from them at social functions and focus on other things. “So what do you do for fun?” is a great alternative to “so what do you do for a living?” and it rolls just as easily off the tongue. People love talking about their hobbies and passions. And there are always the old fallbacks of talking about the food (at gatherings where there’s food), the weather, families/pets, etc.

    1. Aphrodite*

      Agreed. I find I can always start with “I have three cats and yesterday one of of them . . . . ” since there are invariably new home traumas there such as the two lamps that have each made two trips to the lamp store for repairs.

  48. The Loaf*

    OP4, I’m a little socially awkward but I have had success in asking questions that aren’t too serious but would require their expertise to answer. For example, “oh you’re a bus driver? Was it difficult to learn how to drive such a huge vehicle?” Then they can give answers, you can ask more questions (have you ever driven trucks or is it just busses, what’s the biggest difference in driving between your bus and your car, how exactly does the bus driver open the door for themselves?). Showing sincere interest and some humility (you aren’t a college educated snob know it all) is important.

  49. Jo*

    #4 I think you can find common ground with pretty much anyone. It’s easy to ask how the got into the field, memorable moments, what they like most about it, etc. And I don’t mind the question: “do you like it?” It’s merely a generic conversation starter. Plus, not everyone does like their job. For many, it’s simply a way to pay the bills. And rarely does someone like EVERYTHING about their job.

  50. Fiona*

    “I have nothing but respect for their job since I couldn’t do it”

    To #4, I think the only condescending thing in your question is the idea that you “couldn’t” do that job. Of course you could, if circumstances were such that you needed to work retail, wait tables, clean, etc. I would stay away from trying to convey respect that way. Sentiments like that are well-intended but come off really patronizing.

    1. Valancy Snaith*

      Exactly. Retail workers, cleaners, etc. are not uniquely imbued with the qualities required to do those jobs. To say “I could never do that!” to a cleaner is patronizing in a way it’s not patronizing to say to an astronaut.

    2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      For most people, there are ordinary jobs we literally couldn’t do — for example, there are people who couldn’t drive a bus because they can’t see the road. Or we could perform the task if necessary, but there’s no way someone would hire us to do it: I could write down meal orders and bring people their food, but a restaurant would want me to be able to carry more plates back and forth at a time than I could do without breaking a lot of them.

      That’s different from someone saying “I couldn’t do that” meaning “I would hate it, and would rather do almost anything else.”

      1. Eff Walsingham*

        Yeah. I worked in a coffee shop for a week once. I tried very hard, but it was mutually agreed upon that I do not have what it takes for the world of hot beverages. Fortunately, no one was injured. But it was very educational. With a lot of time and patience and practice, I might meet a commercial standard, but why would they wait for me? When clearly other people are quick to master these skills. And if it paid 80K a year, I’d be no better or worse at it.

  51. SavedFromLorna*

    Is LW4 really asking how to talk to service professionals like they’re people?
    Why do you assume that just because they have a job you seem to consider lesser that they’re somehow ashamed of it? That a bus driver or a retail worker would be shamed and cowed or even surprised by your everyday question because their title isn’t “CEO”? You are the only person stigmatizing anything in this situation.

  52. Irish Teacher*

    OP4, I honestly think you are overthinking it. “Oh, that’s cool, what does the job entail?” is just as appropriate to somebody who works in retail or the hospitality industry or any other field considered to be underpaid and underappreciated as it is to ask to somebody in an office environment. Most people aren’t going to think you are being condescending unless you give them some reason to think so. Just asking about their job is most likely going to either make them think you are interested in their job or that you are making polite small talk. It really isn’t, or shouldn’t be, any different than for somebody in an office environment.

    I don’t think you need to convey your respect for their job. They probably aren’t going to expect you to look down on it. I mean, yeah, there ARE people who do and no doubt they have come across them but…as some people have mentioned here, even people in “the professions” come across people who judge them for their job. Other comments have mentioned psychiatrists being told “I don’t believe in psychiatry” and lawyers being berated for defending” those people and those are about as highly educated and respected professions as you can get! What I’m saying is that anybody you ask might have come across idiots that look down on their profession, whether that’s because it’s seen as low-paid or doesn’t require college or seen as impractical or seen as overpaid or whatever. They are unlikely to assume everybody who asks about their job really judges it and is just being condescending by asking.

  53. Eggo*

    OP1, it sucks but try to not let it ruin your day/week/month. When I gave my notice at an old job, I happened to see an email (because I managed my boss’s inbox) between BigBoss and JrBoss and how me quitting ‘solved that problem’. Fucking ouch. I try not to dwell on it because I’ve since moved on to bigger and better things.

  54. Office Lobster DJ*

    LW1, I really think the last piece of Alison’s response is the key. Sure, it feels appalling that apparently there were “problems” that they never told you about, but you’re almost free anyway. I can’t imagine of a satisfying answer they could give you if you press that issue. Go to HR, cool as a cucumber, show them the texts, and let them know that you’re concerned about future references. While you could point out the fact that your manager apparently withheld performance-related information that might have let you qualify for a bonus if you had known about it, I wouldn’t put your main energy there, since it’s based on hypotheticals.

    I would also take that approach if you talk to your manager about it. Maybe others can help decide if this is a bad idea, but if you are going to confront her anyway, I’d be tempted to explicitly bring up references with her: “I’m sure you didn’t mean for me to see those texts, but now I’m concerned that there were performance concerns that you never told me about, and I’m worried how that might impact a future reference.” Then wait.

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      Piggybacking -but even if there were supposed “problems”, that STILL doesn’t reflect on the OP – it reflects on crappy management.

      I hope OP can view this as the reflection on management that it is, not on them.

      1. Office Lobster DJ*

        Absolutely! Even if the concerns were somehow legit, the manager failed to manage. It’s about the manager, not OP.

  55. IndoorKitty*

    #4: I read an article many many years ago by someone who said that when he was talking to people about their jobs (I think he was a writer, and he interviewed people for a living?), his go-to response was always “That sounds really hard.” Apparently it almost always got a positive reaction. As in, when he was talking to a woman whose job was shopping for wealthy women, he said, “That sounds really hard,” and she replied, “OMG it really IS!” And she proceeded to tell him how difficult it was to meet her clients’ needs.

    I’ve never deployed this strategy though. I’d worry it could sound condescending. Maybe it’s in the delivery.

    1. Irish Teacher.*

      As a teacher, I hear versions of this regularly and…I don’t find it offensive or anything, but…it can make things a little awkward. I guess this is sort of specific to teaching, but I feel compelled to disagree because when applied to teaching, it usually means “dealing with teenage boys must be really hard” and they usually have a completely stereotypical view of teenagers in their heads, when you know, teenagers are people and yeah, some of them are difficult but most are very pleasant and likeable.

      1. anonforthis*

        Two of my best friends have been middle school teachers and I would hear them rant about their jobs a lot. They did legitimately find the job stressful, but it wasn’t the teaching itself that caused the stress but the lack of support, low pay and shitty administration. They both reluctantly left their jobs because it just wasn’t financially feasible to stay in teaching.

      2. pancakes*

        I think that is a common view, and yeah. I don’t have kids and often don’t come into much contact with them socially, but every summer I have a period of re-remembering / re-experiencing that a lot of the kids I overhear at the local public pool are hilarious and likable.

  56. Critical Rolls*

    LW #4, this kinda feels like a question about being a good ally. But… blue collar people you meet socially don’t need that from you. Just treat them like the normal people they are.

    And, hey, if you want to be a good ally when it’s called for, center the people who need your allyship rather than your concerns about being perceived as “one of the good ones.”

  57. Dinwar*

    #4: One of the most useful skills I’ve developed in my career is the ability to chat with people. And I mean anyone. I’ve had lunch with dukes in Europe and with day laborers sitting on buckets in the California desert, and everyone in between. If you’re going to be spending 10 hours a day with this person for three months on end, it helps to find common ground to discuss; makes everything more fun.

    What I’ve learned is, people are people. There’s no fundamental difference between an executive, and someone who’s swinging a shovel. I once found out (via a series of conversations) that the executives and laborers I was working with bough their pot from the same dealer. Treat everyone with respect, be friendly to everyone (but selective about who you’re friends with), and you’ll be fine.

    There’s a scene in “My Fair Lady” where Eliza and Professor Higgins are discussing how to treat people. Higgins points out that he treats everyone the same–he’s a condescending jerk to everyone. Eliza points out that his friend has a much better method–that friend treated her as if she were nobility from the first day they’d met.

    Another thing I’ve learned is that you never know the background of the person low on the socio-economic ladder. One of the driller’s assistants I met was a geochemist with a PhD with a series of publications behind him. He left academia, couldn’t get a job, so went into drilling. I once met a laborer that used to be high up in the IT department of a major pornographic studio (REALLY interesting discussions about online safety–one of the most dangerous websites you can go to is a church website, because IT is usually voluntary and often not tech-savvy). A bus driver I know is also a blacksmith of some renown. A welder I know is also one of the best swordsmen on the continent. I once met a fire fighter that sat on the editorial board of a museum publication in paleontology and was a widely respected expert on pelagic decapods. You honestly never know who you’re dealing with.

    Finally, the lower-prestige work gives you more interesting stories. Sure, it’s fun to talk to other people in construction management about how I snagged a super-efficient worker and was able to add 5% margin to a project, but let’s face it, that’s a pretty dull story. The guy that lit his pants on fire cutting a pipe with an angle grinder has a MUCH better one. Or the guy who damaged equipment by poking an alligator snapping turtle with it. Even retail has stories–I worked as a cashier for a short period, and man, third shift gets WEIRD. Once you get these folks to open up you hear all kinds of things!

    1. Observer*

      Another thing I’ve learned is that you never know the background of the person low on the socio-economic ladder. One of the driller’s assistants I met was a geochemist with a PhD with a series of publications behind him. He left academia, couldn’t get a job, so went into drilling. I once met a laborer that used to be high up in the IT department of a major pornographic studio (REALLY interesting discussions about online safety–one of the most dangerous websites you can go to is a church website, because IT is usually voluntary and often not tech-savvy). A bus driver I know is also a blacksmith of some renown. A welder I know is also one of the best swordsmen on the continent. I once met a fire fighter that sat on the editorial board of a museum publication in paleontology and was a widely respected expert on pelagic decapods. You honestly never know who you’re dealing with.

      This reminds of the letter from the guy who got into trouble because he assumed that one of the (women) staff could absolutely NOT have any idea about the rocks because no one had ever told him about her qualifications.

      1. Dinwar*

        His hobby is Medieval sword fighting. That’s his main focus, in fact; he works just enough to pay for his needs and to fight. He’s one of the people who trained me, which is how we met.

        I’m in the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronisms), and it’s definitely given me a new perspective on people. There’s zero correlation between what you do outside the SCA and what you do in it. Some of the highest-ranking people in the SCA have some of the lest-prestigious jobs. I know there are celebrities in it–probably met a few–but it just doesn’t matter. When you meet on the field, or sit to feast, they’re just another SCAdian; whether they’re a politician or movie star or welder matters much less than if they have a white belt or strawberry leaves or a badge. The Tuchux are another similar group, that often plays with us, and they’re fun. Most of them are doctors and lawyers–meaning they’ll break you apart, put you together again, and convince the judge that you owe them damages for the effort! :D (I kid, obviously; the Tuchux are a fantastic group of people, and I have nothing but respect for them. There’s just some friendly rivalry here.)

        (Before someone says it–and this is something of a hot topic–the person I was referring to does more than just SCA fighting. *I* am only in the SCA; I don’t have time for more!!)

        1. Vokay*

          Ah. My husband was an internationally ranked competitive fencer and I have literally never heard the term “swordsmen” applied to that sport—in which women also compete— but now I realize that you are referring to something very different.

    2. Lemons*

      ‘People are people’. ‘Lower-prestige’. ‘You never know the background’.
      This is a parody, no?
      Because if you needed to eat with dukes and chat with labourers to *learn* that ‘people are people’ then… well, I don’t know what. Other than, I genuinely despair.
      Especially when it’s clear that you are still categorising people rigidly by class boundaries as based on their jobs, and offsetting that by whatever in their background, side skills, or education you find worthy. A context which puts ‘be selective about who you’re befriends with’ in a rather stark light.
      But it’s ok if the underlings don’t measure up socially. After all, they get all the anecdotes! Shame they don’t get invited to dinner parties, but the arrangement wouldn’t work otherwise.

      And no, I- as a working-class Brit with a manual job- am not going to go around treating everyone like they’re nobility, thanks. Because the really notable thing about nobility, the very basis of it, is that it’s non-reciprocal.

      1. K-Sarah-Sarah*

        Agree. And I thought I read some condescending nonsense about administrative professionals….

      2. Despachito*

        I did not read Dinwar’s comment as condescending, on the contrary.

        I understand it as “you should never underestimate anyone, irrespective of the widely perceived prestige of their profession”, and “it is not always the highest-ranked one who is the most interesting one”, and I like that.

        (When I was doing a sport there was a very interesting mix of professions which absolutely did not matter as far as the sport was concerned, and definitely did not correlate with the achievements in said sport, so I think Dinwar may be coming from there).

        1. Lemons*

          I see the condescension in presenting it as some kind of hard-won epiphany rather than a very basic approach to equality. So your manual labourer could have a PhD; this is astonishing? If you need exposure to all levels on the socio-economic spectrum to understand that people are basically the same and should all be treated with respect, I wonder what the starting position was.
          I also dislike the framing of it being a skill to talk to these ‘lower prestige’ job holders specifically. ‘Once you get these folks to open up’… like they’re a puzzle box, but it’s worth it for the stories.

      3. Asenath*

        I didn’t read it this way at all, but as a description of a life based on treating “people as people”, and discovering almost by accident how much they varied according to the criteria most of society uses.

        1. I heart Paul Buchman*

          There is no way to know but it would be interesting to analyse responses to this post by socio economic origin. Cause I’m from the bottom of the pile looking up and I agree with lemons.

  58. OyHiOh*

    To LW #4, along with everything that’s been said, I’d add some nuance.

    I’m an admin, sort of. My business card says office manager; my role is actually a weird hybrid of office manager, executive assistant, and communications manager. You probably have a reasonably accurate sense of what my day looks like from the office manager title on my card. Probably consider it to be a boring, every day job. Which is fine. The nuance in my job is the industry I’m working in. When I get a chance to talk about my work and my industry, my face lights up. The work is relatively rote and predictable (until I find out that people are supposed to be registered for a conference that’s only 3 weeks out and have to move mountains to find lodging for them!!!!). The work my organization does feels a lot like seeing the man behind the curtain and because of the hybrid nature of my role (tiny office, we employ under a dozen people), most of the projects we run come across my desk at some point in their life cycle.

    That’s what makes my work exciting. Not the routine phones/mail/scheduling/write a press release nature of the day, but the mission and programs that come out the other end. If you ask me about my work, I’ll say that I’m an office manager, and work for XY organization. Since people have usually not heard of XY organization, I give them the one sentence description of what the org does. And then, if asked, I talk about our programs and if I get that question, I have to be very aware of time and context because I can happily rattle on about our programs and strategic plan for an hour if left to my own devices!

  59. exhausted hr*

    #2 — get the haircut and then when someone obnoxiously asks (because it’s no one’s business), look confused and say “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      This is very weirdly aggressive and bad advice. If someone asks you about your haircut, they are generally just making polite conversation. This is super normal and not some kind of egregious invasion of privacy. It’s basically on the same level as “any fun plans this weekend?” Don’t gaslight your coworkers for making basic conversational observations.

    2. Vinessa*

      This is completely unreasonable, and if you have actually done this yourself (as opposed to just recommending other people do it), I’d be interested in hearing what kind of responses you’ve gotten.

  60. A ProdMgr*

    LW3 – a lot of companies will periodically repost the same job listings to keep them appearing fresh, so it is quite possible that she applied a few weeks ago AND the job listing you saw was just posted today. I’ve often been weeks into an interview process and seen the job I was interviewing for coming up as a new listing on various search engines.

  61. anonforthis*

    Oof, letter 4 sounds pretty patronizing. Why do you feel the need to treat those people any differently?

  62. MyinitialsreallyareAAM*

    OP2 – get the haircut but you might have an itchy afternoon with hair clippings inside your clothes. Maybe bring an extra shirt for the haircut.

    1. Popinki(she/her)*

      Yes, I have a pixie cut and the first thing I do after I get home from a haircut is change clothes. It’s amazing how a few tiny snips of hair manage to feel like a cactus on your back after a few minutes.

  63. sofar*

    OP 4: I actually haaaaaaate the “what do you do?” small talk at parties. I never ask people that and I cringe when they ask me.

    My job is one of those VERY specific jobs that exist only because of the internet. So I’ve either got to spit out my esoteric-sounding title, which usually leads to, “Oh … what’s that?” And then I give my explain-it-to-my-aunt quick description. Which leads to, “Oh … so you do XYZ” (which is NOT accurate). So then, I either answer, “Yes. That’s right” to move on and then deal with more questions all night about a thing I don’t do. Or, I have to say, “No. Not exactly. More like ABC, anyway it’s complicated and boring…anyway, I tried a really great restaurant recently…” to which they then reply with more questions. Because people are naturally curious and want to understand things.

    …and then the questioning inevitably leads to, “Well what degree did you get to do that?” And then I say Journalism and English, which opens another ENTIRE can of worms about the State of Journalism and Fake News, or at the very least an odd line of questioning in which they want me to admit my degrees are useless, a waste of money, and not related to my career (which is untrue). And surely I am wallowing in debt. Or, I “Sold out” to corporate America.

    I have gotten good at pivoting quickly. Honestly, if someone LOVES talking about their job and career, they’ll bring it up on their own.

    1. Allison*

      Same, tbh.

      I have a job title no one’s ever heard of, and throughout my career, save for a short stint at a restaurant software company that’s recognized in my city, I’ve worked at tech companies no one has ever heard of. So I get that “what do you do?” is a standard icebreaker question, but it inevitably leads to me having to explain what I do, and how it’s different from a more well-known job title (and usually feeling like I have to justify the job’s mere existence), and then I have to explain what my employer does as well. I’m not ashamed, I like my job, but this conversation is tedious and usually not very interesting, so then I feel guilty for not having a cool, interesting background to fascinate the person asking me. It usually feels very disingenuous when people act interested in my job.

      AGAIN, I get that “what do you do?” is a go-to question when meeting someone, and for a good reason: almost all of us have something we do with some consistency for 40ish hours per week, whether you work, or go to school, or take care of the home, it’s a big chunk of your life, and I don’t get mad when people ask me, but for whatever reason, I think it’s worth saying that it’s just not something I enjoy explaining and discussing in social situations. I’d so much rather talk about my hobbies, what I do after work and on weekends, movies and TV shows I’ve been enjoying.

      1. sofar*

        Same. Glad I’m not the only one who feels the “justifying my job’s existence thing.” It’s like they want me to admit it’s a ridiculous corporate job. And even if that’s so, like, I have a mortgage! And a gardening habit I need to pay for. I need to start saying, “Well it pays for my gardening habit! Let me tell you about the native ground covers I’m experimenting with…”

        1. Yellow*

          I think you have the right idea – highlight the thing in your life you’d rather small talk about. Something like – I work an office job, it may not be glamorous but it funds my gardening hobby. Just last week I had a new rose bloom, I’m so excited to finally have a purple rose in my collection (or whatever). – would signal to me that I should ask about your garden rather than the office job. But without making it sound like a big deal that you aren’t answering (some people come across rather overly dramatic when not answering basic questions).

          People ask about jobs because it’s easy and usually not that personal. For most people, their job is public knowledge (and when it isn’t they have a public response they just trot out without drama). And while some people will get offended – there isn’t a question that you can ask random people in small talk that won’t offend anyone.

          Most the time, asking about jobs is a safe question, that isn’t that likely to lead into a controversial topic straight up.

          If you don’t like talking about your job, the best bet really is to give a bland generalist response (office/factory/shop/manager/IT/training etc) and immediately follow up with something about yourself you’d rather discuss.

  64. t-vex*

    #4 PLEASE stop saying “I could never do what you do.” I work in animal sheltering and people tell me that all the time. The worst is when they follow up with “I just love animals so much.” Maybe they mean well but they essentially just called me a stone hearted bitch for being able to show up at my job.

      1. Despachito*

        I should be more wary of using it then – but when I do, I basically mean “whoa, you have some amazing qualities I will never have, I admire this”.

    1. sofar*

      I volunteer at an animal shelter (not work as a job), and I get that. I also hate when they say, “Oh if IIIIIIIII volunteered there, I’d have like 8 dogs and cats. How do you not just take them all home with you?” Or when they try to then justify to me that they got dogs from breeders and explain their life story as to why they chose a breeder and didn’t adopt. Like, ma’am, I do not care. As long as you don’t show up with that dog to surrender it some day, it’s literally not something I care about. I simply said I volunteer at the city shelter. Why the TED talk?

    2. Eff Walsingham*

      Yeah, I worked for a veterinary practice for a year once. On paper, I was just there to answer phones and look up files. But some days, there were no non-combatants. Basically, I spent an entire year either doing things that “I could never do” or having to be prepared to do so without notice.

      My comebacks included “It’s not the animals, it’s the people.” Or “Pet people are all nuts!” (This, for people who know that I have cats. Because they do tend to bring it out of us.) Or something about I’d do it more / longer if the money were better, because it *is* essential work in order for people to “just love animals so much!” And the pay is inadequate across the board for it where I live.

  65. These Are My Formal Jorts*

    I love, love talking about my job. Often when I tell people I work in Financial Aid, people have horror stories or complain about how little funding they got. My response is usually to unfold that issue for them and explain where those issues are rooted and how those issues affect people in different situations. Or, I will share interesting studies about, say, specific programs that have been launched and how they have been successful. Education is the best bridge out of poverty and it is very cool to help students feel empowered in their education!

    I have had much more interesting jobs — wedding planner, letterpress printer, amateur porn festival producer, perfumer — and I have always loved to counter people’s assumptions about the work. Actually, I rarely had “bridezillas” and once was in The Guardian talking about the intersections of fat acceptance and weddings. Yes, I print these greeting cards with a 1,500 lb cast iron press I run with my foot. Oh, the worst thing about running a porn festival is just having to watch the same 90 minute film 4-8 times a day (which seems true whether there is boobs or no boobs!). And patchouli is a very fascinating scent and comes in different varietals that smell wildly different from each other!

    Ultimately jobs are a major way that we learn about the world. I totally get why people don’t want to talk about their jobs (see: the job I had where I transcribed fetal autopsy dictations) and am also always interested to hear what insight into the world your job gives you.

  66. Orange+You+Glad*

    #1 I’m good at ignoring messages that clearly weren’t meant for me but if I were feeling petty I would have responded to the text chain with a professional response outlining my confusion about the boss’ reaction and how they never provided any of these concerns before. Of course, that would depend on the relationship and whether a reference was wanted in the future.

  67. Mel*

    I always found the best reaction to a straight forward job title is to say “You must have a lot of great stories, how long have you been there?”

  68. AnotherSarah*

    OP4, +1 to Alison’s point that the social status of the job may be a red herring here. I have a PhD and teach in a university (aka I’m an academic and a professor, but I usually say I teach, because more people get what that means), but when I tell people what subject, usually they tell me how much they hated those classes in college or high school. It’s gotten a little demoralizing.

  69. El l*

    OP 4:
    Don’t listen to the people questioning your motives – you’re dealing with an honest predicament we all find ourselves in. Namely, how to talk properly about someone else’s job if you have little relatability to it.

    Worry less about “that’s so cool” talk. Try perhaps more to ask something that shows you’re trying to put yourself in their shoes. Like:
    “So – I’ve never driven a bus. What’s the single thing that’s most different from driving a regular car?”
    “So, you spend a whole day working retail, a store full of people – do you just want to chill out by yourself at the end of the day after all that?”
    “What’s the biggest misconception people have about your job?”

  70. Feral Historian*

    OP1, my advice is to just try to move on and put it behind you. I’m in a very similar situation–I was laid off due to cost-cutting and restructuring last month, never any performance issues raised in annual review, and received a performance-based raise last November. But when I found out I was in the first round of people cut from the team (eventually 2/3 of us were let go), I was told that there had been “issues” and I heard later from a colleague who stayed that “performance issues” were given as the reason that I and five other colleagues were axed first. On the contrary, I suspect the “performance issues” were a script mandated by HR and that the real reason was because I had nearly 300 hours of PTO banked (I live in a state where employers are required to pay out PTO) and would have accrued another 80 hours if I’d been given the previously stated 30 days to find another position at the company. I’ve been trying not to let it get to me and also hoping that I can trust my ex-manager’s statement that she would still give me a good reference. There’s nothing else to be done except put my mental energy into job searching rather than brooding on the past. Wishing you all the best in your next steps!

  71. Eff Walsingham*

    #4 Talking about jobs socially:

    Right now I’m working as a bookkeeper. No, I don’t want to do your taxes. No, I don’t want to discuss your tax situation. No, I don’t want to recommend a particular tax software. Yes, I’m aware that I could make a bunch of money doing taxes for people who don’t enjoy doing taxes. Except that I’m one of them! ;)

    Now it’s April, and if anyone asks what I do for a living, I swear I’ll say I work for the CIA! And if I told them any more, I’d have to kill them, sort of thing. ;)

    1. El l*

      The convention in France is that you’re not supposed to ask someone what they do for work.

      It’s considered too boring a topic.

      I go back and forth on whether or not they have the right idea.

  72. Keith*

    #3 could be a kid inartfully breaking the networking ice with an unknown fellow alumni.

    “Some time ago” is technically correct for all values of time.

    Now instead of asking a stranger with an out of the blue cold call-like email they are asking for help with a company process to a company both alumni are technically associated with.

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