updates: should I lie on my resume, offering references on me as a manager, and more

It’s a special “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager and I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

1. Should I lie on my resume? (#2 at the link)

After much time to think, and contemplate, I realized that me asking this question and writing this letter to you was simply my way of venting a bit of frustration.

I recently had a discussion with my manager about my job and promotion prospects. He said that while I have the skills and qualifications, unfortunately I need to work on my interview skills. If the decision had been up to him (rather than HR) I would have the job I recently applied for.

So I have decided to take a course of action.

First I am going to hire a career coach to help me polish my interview skills. Because while the knowledge and skills are there, I need to show they are there.

Second, I am also going to return to study as an online mature aged student.

2. Offering job candidates references on me as a manager (#5 at the link)

I ended up wording my email connecting prospective candidates to my current/former employees like this: “Please, consider this truly an information gathering time to find out more about [company] and the job. I won’t be asking either of you to share what you discuss and [current employee], I hope you feel comfortable to be candid in your conversation.” And then I just let the two connect on their own.

One candidate ended up turning down the job because she felt like it wouldn’t be challenging enough for her (which was my concern too) but said that it was one of the most transparent interview processes she’s had. Another candidate talked to a former employee and she accepted the position. Not sure how that conversation went because I haven’t asked about it. I was concerned about the trust levels/toxic work environment because one of the candidates was connected through a colleague who worked with them in the same department previously, and the colleague mentioned that they had both worked in a high level of toxicity in their shared department. Now that she’s on the team, I’ve noticed some behavior that mirrors the workplace trauma-response/warping your sense of what’s normal.

One of the commenters said something about this might be reflecting control issues I have, which is definitely a pattern I’ve repeated in my personal life. I’ve managed to keep a lot of it out of my work life, but this made me realize it may be creeping up in small ways that I should pay attention to. I definitely will keep up the practice of offering to connect candidates with current employees, though.

3. Asking an interviewer about emergency duties (#5 at the link)

You were kind enough to answer this for me nearly a year ago, and I wanted to share an update, since you asked for them.

The short version is that working through an emergency is no longer on my list of duties. In no small part thanks to the confidence-building I got through reading your site daily, I decided that I needed a different set of challenges, and this spring I started working in an adjacent field, for a company that provides software and support to my former industry. It’s 100% remote, and has been a breath of fresh air. I’m challenged and happy in a way that I hadn’t been in a while.

4. Can I ask for more salary to make up for bad benefits? (#3 at the link)

To backtrack a little, I spent 3 weeks reading your columns about cover letters, resumes, and interview techniques before I started applying for new positions. I credit your blog with a huge amount of my confidence going into my job hunting season.

I had my interview on three days ago with Big Bad Benefits company, and I thought I did okay. Just okay, not great. The interview was with the hiring manager and another manager for another team. The non-hiring manager called me back two days later and offered me a job in his team, I mentioned I had experience in a niche specialty and he wants me on his team!

The benefits are still Bad. It turns out it’s 2 weeks vacation, 1 week of sick/PTO time that doesn’t roll over, and 1 week of paid holiday time off. But the manager acknowledged it and said they offer additional salary to compensate for it. The salary he offered me is $15k more than my current salary. After I did the math on how much my health insurance premiums, taxes and deductibles will go up, it’s about the same take home pay I make now. At the same time Big Bad Benefits company will be a huge boost to my resume and experience with the niche specialty, even if I just stay there a few years. So I’m going to take the job!

Thank you again for your help!

{ 48 comments… read them below }

  1. Alex*

    I’ll never understand why companies are so stingy with vacation time. It’s such a cheap way to improve morale–good culture about taking time off. At least in my role, taking time off doesn’t mean I don’t do the same amount of work for them! I just do a little juggling beforehand and some catch up after to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.

    1. Casper Lives*

      Yes exactly! Similarly. When I did physical therapy using sick time, I still stayed on top of my work. I can’t let things fall by the wayside because I’m going on vacation. I get things prepped and enjoy a stress-free vacation

    2. TeenieBopper*

      I turned down a job a month or two ago where I was losing a full 15 days of PTO per year and that was a big reason why. Bigger reason was the hard limit to 1 day a week remote, but whatever.

      I’m not actively looking for a new position, but with interviews I have had, conversations with recruiters, posted job openings, and just conversations I’m part of online and IRL I’m beginning to worry that my current PTO/remote work policy are essentially golden handcuffs.

      1. Amanda*

        Golden Handcuffs indeed. Better pay and more challenging work is out there, but giving up my time off, agency to plan my weeks as I choose, and premium health coverage at a low cost are deal breakers.

    3. Excel-sior*

      Re: LW4; Apologies for what might be a silly question, but how exactly does time off work in the US? What exactly is PTO? (I had, perhaps naïvely, assumed it was Paid Time Off). How is paid holiday time different to vacation time?

      1. Filosofickle*

        You’re not wrong. PTO means paid time off, at a time of your choosing. Holidays are (usually) also paid time off, but those days are defined by the company. It all adds up to X number of paid days off total. It’s all PTO by definition — as long as you’re paid obviously — but often PTO is shorthand for “vacation time” separate from holidays and sick time.

        There are no standards — every company offers different configurations and may call each kind of time off something different as well. It can be confusing! In my experience PTO is scheduled time off for vacations or really anything. (In the US we typically go on “vacation”, not “holiday”.) Holiday usually refers to the federal/state/religious days like Christmas and July 4th. Companies sometimes also give floating holidays where you get a couple of free days you choose –at most companies that means an extra day tacked on to an existing holiday (like the day after Christmas) but I’ve also seen it to mean “choose your own” actual holiday (like Yom Kippur). Sick time is usually unscheduled PTO for illnesses but some companies let you use it for medical purposes like doctor’s appointments. Some companies combine sick time and PTO time into a single PTO bucket and don’t differentiate. I even had one employer give me 2 mental health days — unscheduled but not “sick”.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          So variable that my company has an opposite definition: PTO is combined vacation/sick time.

        2. Lizzie*

          This. My company has very generous time off policies. we get 7 floating holidays and personal days per year, plus vacation. Which starts at 2 weeks and goes up every 5 years, adding an additional week. We also have separate sick time, which can be used if ou’re sick, if you need to take care of a sick child, etc., or for your own, or medical appointments for family

          what’s nice about mine is there is no accruing; we get it all as of Jan 1 and if your year is one where you’ll get an extra week, you get it then as well.

        3. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

          Floating holidays and personal days are so weird to me–very little would change if you just gave that as extra vacation time! Except–at my job Floating Holidays and personal days don’t roll over into the next year, while vacation does, and only vacation is paid out when you leave.

      2. tamarak & fireweed*

        US English largely makes a difference between vacation (time you take off to take a break, sometimes travel/visit family) and holiday (as in a public or (UK) bank holiday, or also a local or company holiday – everyone gets this off). PTO is usually paid time off (though some expand it to personal time off), and it functions a lot like annual vacation / holiday / leave in Europe. That is, you earn a certain allocation along with being employed (which can be pretty stingy, or similar to European standards, or sometimes even nominally unlimited) and you take these days, singly or in blocks, usually to some degree subject to approval by your management. You’re paid your normal salary for these days. (So no extra holiday pay like they have or used to have in Germany :-) ) . These days may in a limited way carry over if you don’t take them by some sort of deadline, and/or expire.

        This is the basic idea, so normally you can just substitute “annual paid leave” for PTO. But there are subtleties too, eg., some employers mash up PTO and sick leave in a single pot, and to get something like maternity/parental leave you have to eat into your PTO in most cases (boo!). Since there is no US-wide law that guarantees a certain number of days for paid vacation or sick leave, the inequality between employers is greater than you’d find in Western Europe. (I am ignorant of other parts of the world.)

      3. elldubs*

        In my job we get floating holidays in addition to other PTO (in my case, it’s actually separate sick and vacation). The difference is that floating holidays have to be taken in full-day chunks and all other leave types can be taken in increments as small as 6 minutes (we all punch in and out, and the clock rounds to the nearest .10 hours). We also get off for all federal holidays and don’t need to use leave for that.

    4. HS Teacher*

      It’s as bad as companies that have generous PTO time but don’t let you take it. Both situations are dumb and just lead to people leaving for places with better benefits.
      Having been in education for about a decade now, I couldn’t go back to the private sector many reasons, but the loss of time off is the biggest one. I can’t even imagine working summers any more, even though I do some paid summer work for my district to cover the loss of income (no summer work = no summer pay).
      We get 4 1/2 weeks of PTO that rolls over, and breaks for fall, winter, and spring. I don’t think I would take a position with less than 4 weeks of PTO per year.

    5. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

      My company has a weird setup.
      >10 days vacation after first fiscal year
      >5 days PTO on a calendar year
      >5 paid holidays
      >Sick time accumulates if salaried so it depends on how often you use. Must be taken in 4 hour blocks and you must use all accrued sick time before disability is used.

      None of the vacation or personal time rolls over or accrues to the next year. It’s use it or lose it!

      It’s not the worst, but it is needlessly complicated.
      And it sucks if you’re planning a major vacation or wedding/honeymoon.

      When I got hired, I actually lost 5 PTO days and negotiated a higher salary equal to the week’s pay.
      Don’t be afraid to ask!!!!

  2. Casper Lives*

    #2 I missed your original letter, but I love the idea of a candid, confidential conversation with a current employee. It would be so helpful to learn cultural fit and company quirks ahead of time.

  3. Smithy*

    OP1 – while I have found that a coach did genuinely help me with my interviewing skills, I think that it works best if you keep on applying for/getting new opportunities to interview. Even if we’re not bringing debilitating levels of anxiety to interviews, having anxiety, nervousness or elevated levels of adrenaline when interviewing is really normal. And there’s only so much you can replicate that in a mock interview with a coach.

    If the interview is for a job you’re only mildly into, there’s still that rush of making sure you look the way you want, you arrive on time, you’re prepared to talk about yourself and the job at hand, etc. And working with a coach to prepare for an actual interview is going to help structure those sessions a lot more (how do I review my own achievements, how do I research the job/employer, etc). I will also say, real interviews also reminded me of where I was still weak. In my case it meant working with a coach most around phone interviews as well as identifying an area in my resume that I was nervous talking about. But actual interviews was the best way to both work with the coach and then apply those sessions in the real world.

    1. Lch*

      I would also like a coach to help me interview, I’m crap at it. How does one find a good coach?

      1. Smithy*

        I did this by following recommendations for good vocational/job placement nonprofits that have a broader purview. I think very often those organizations are assumed to only help those with minimal skills/education and for first time job seekers or those returning to the workforce. But provided they have some experience working with people applying for the jobs you want – whether that’s in government, office based, etc. – when it comes to interview prep and coaching – that’s what I found the most helpful.

        When it came to my phone interview issues (i.e. not having visual cues), so much of what we practiced was around things like finishing my thoughts with confidence and leaving space for silence. As opposed to trailing off or continuing to talk nervously if the interviewer didn’t speak up as they would in a more normal conversation. All of that didn’t require an expert in coaching for my field, but figuring out common interviewing weakness and how to address them.

  4. anonanna*

    #4 was a wake-up call for me- I’m shocked that’s considered bad PTO & maybe I need to make a change.
    I get ten days of PTO a year. That’s vacation & sick. It’s caused me huge amounts of stress trying to coordinate life & surgery on that kind of time.
    My spouse and I have had an insanely tough year- we got married and were immediately apart because of a surprise deployment. We’ve not even been able to take a honeymoon to reconnect and decompress after that experience because I don’t have the time off. I’ve justified the crummy PTO to myself because I’m 90% remote, I get paid better than I ever have, and I’m young in my career, so I guess I don’t feel like I have the leverage to want/ask for more— but maybe I should.
    Has anyone been in a similar boat?

    1. Chief Bottle Washer*

      10 days shared vacation/sick time is shockingly bad. 10 days vacation time + separate sick is still terrible, but pretty common in the US.

      1. anonanna*

        Yeah. And the kicker is they prorated my PTO from when I started last year- which I wasn’t told until after I started. Definitely a learning experience.

    2. Scout Finch*

      I work in higher ed (state institution) IT in the US. While I could make much more in private enterprise, my salary is decent & I work with some good people. I am 98% remote right now & it will be that way for a while. We have good health insurance & great educational benefits.

      I get 24 vacation/12 sick days per year. We have 8 Federal holidays, plus we have the week between Christmas & New Year’s off. We can keep 42 working days’ of vacation on the books when our fiscal year rolls. Anything over that amount rolls to sick leave (which has no cap). Unused sick leave can be used as to “pad” your retirement date.

      We have all sorts of positions – from building maintenance to clerical to student services to test proctors. You may want to consider higher ed if you have skills that could transfer. I am not rich, but we have a decent life & when I am off, I am OFF.

      I worked for a Fortune 100 company before – I like higher ed much better. The extra $ was nice, but I like my working conditions better.

    3. tamarak & fireweed*

      Goodness, yes. We get something between 15-20 PTO days / year (I’m still figuring out faculty contracts TBH – staff get 18, going up to 21 after X [10?] years), and 15 sick leave days. They accrue in a linear fashion every pay period. Sick leave doesn’t expire, so after a few years you can be lucky and have a solid cushion. Sick leave can also be donated to other employees who have exhausted theirs.

      PTO does expire, and has not felt generous since as a PhD student, casual employee and even postdoc I didn’t get any (the latter was recently changed). As a grant-funded researcher, it is important that the PTO I take comes out of general overhead (benefits), NOT my grants, so it’s a really good reason to take it before it expires.

    4. GlazedDonut*

      Wow, these comments are so varied! I didn’t know there were so many options. I’ve experienced a range all within education: 1 sick + 1 personal day accrued per month (gov’t work) to the lower end of the scale: 2 personal days + 10 days per school year (teacher). Sick days roll over but personal days don’t. Being a teacher was nice for the 6-8 summer weeks “off” and the school breaks, although most of those were never actual vacation–they were spent grading, planning, etc. If I had gone out of town with my own family during one of those breaks, I’d have had to put in a lot of time before to make up for it–and sometimes that’s not even possible (ex: exam day on the last day of the quarter, just how the school schedule is drawn up).

    5. Just Me*

      Yeah I’m a little confused by this – I would not call 2 weeks vacation + 1 week sick time “shockingly bad.” It’s bad no doubt, but it’s not too unusual in the US.

    6. Just Me*

      I didn’t real your full post before commenting – your situation of 10 days combined IS shockingly bad!

    7. Expelliarmus*

      I got 10 days in my very first year of non-intern work, and that got bumped up to 13 days for the second and third years (I am currently in my third year). Technically time can’t roll over in the system, but we can use vacation time from the previous year period with explicit permission from our bosses.

      Some caveats though:
      Some senior people get as much as one month of vacation for the year
      There is no separation between sick leave and vacation leave; it’s all pooled together

      1. Expelliarmus*

        Oh, and we don’t have to use leave for federal holidays (except Juneteenth this year)

        1. Ollyolly*

          2 weeks combined vacation and sick leave is pretty sub standard, even for the US. 4 weeks maximum for senior folks is also very poor from what I’ve seen. That would be tough! The 13 days after 1 year is at least more normal.

          1. Expelliarmus*

            Admittedly, it hasn’t been a big issue for me yet because all of my post-internship working life has been during and after the worst of COVID, and I live with my parents on top of that. So I don’t tend to need to request a lot of vacation time.

    8. CheesePlease*

      I had 10 days PTO (combined vacation / sick time) at my previous job. It was a smaller company in specialty manufacturing. Even when I was a department manager, I was not eligible for more PTO until I had spent 5 years at the company (!!) when I would get 15 days. We were expected to use PTO for any time away from work over 1hr. It was insanely stressful. While I could take unpaid time off for appointments and such, it was not the norm and seen as them being “generous”. I had coworkers who simply…never took time off? At my new job, I have 18 days PTO TO START and then 24 days once I am here 3 years. Plus I can flex my time to leave early for appointments / childcare etc. It’s a huge benefit to my mental and emotional health.

  5. Liz T*

    OP #4: One week of paid holiday time, meaning they’re only closed for 5 holidays a year??? Like, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, except NOT one of those cuz that was 6? That would be HORRIBLY stingy.

    If you mean you get 8-12 federal holidays off, PLUS the company is closed down for the week between Christmas and New Year’s, all paid…that honestly brings the whole PTO package up to “okay” for me. Not great, since you should be able to take your PTO whenever you want, and 5 sick days is pretty paltry, but at least you’re essentially getting 3 weeks vacation?

    The Basic Package where I’d say you can’t fault an American employer is probably 3 weeks PTO, 7 days sick (not 1 work week, but 7 actual days), and you can roll over at least some of your unused days.

    1. irene adler*

      Interesting. I just read a job ad where they touted a “generous” 3 sick days per year as part of their generous benefits package. Three weeks’ vacation per year and I believe 10 holidays was the extent of the time off.

    2. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

      5 paid holidays is fairly normal in for-profit world.

      I’ve rarely seen business close for Pres. Day and all the other Fed or banking holidays

      1. 6 is it*

        I feel like six is “standard” – the six that Liz T mentioned. (I’m in a for-profit field and we only get those six major holidays.)

    3. Dwight Schrute*

      I get 10 days PTO for vacation and sick time and then federal holidays off and it’s touted as quite a generous policy where I work, which is laughable imo

  6. Egmont Apostrophe*

    As a longtime copywriter who has had to hire people more than a few times:

    I used to get CRAZY stuff all the time from people who apparently thought they were applying for Pee Wee’s Playhouse. I mean, we try to have fun and be clever, but it needs to be rooted in the clients’ business needs, ya know? But I would get the resume in the pizza box, the resume attached to the rubber duck that said “It’d be just ducky to work for you,” all that kind of goofy stuff.

    I’d also get the portfolio full of condom ads, stuff like that. You know, there’s really nothing easier to write an ad for than SEX, which is something that actually interests people. We’re in Chicago. What Chicago agency has a condom account? None, so far as I know. I’d have instantly hired the kid who understood that and sent me ads for Saran Wrap, ads for home equity loans, ads for blood pressure medication– the boring real-life stuff we actually had as our clients.

    I had a letter I’d send out saying all this and explaining what kind of portfolio would impress people like me. The usual response was that I was just mean and trying to stomp on their dreams. I think one kid ever took my advice seriously and actually did that kind of book. I don’t know that we hired him (we were probably going out of business at the time) but I’d sure bet SOMEONE did.

      1. Splendid Colors*

        I read it as Chicago doesn’t have condom manufacturers, so no local companies looking for an ad campaign. I guess Public Health might want a PSA campaign?

  7. Consul, the Almost Human*

    OP #1: I was taken by “If the decision had been up to him (rather than HR) I would have the job I recently applied for.”

    I have little to add except my own sympathy and dismay at the outsize power of HR in the hiring and promotion process. If managers are ignored, why have them at all? I work in a highly technical field and even our senior managers who know the specific needs of departments and projects are completely shunted aside. Talent Acq/HR decides whom to interview and offer. Managers and projects are told to work with whomever that signs. This is especially killing our ability to get senior people from other companies – a major corporate goal. Such people want to talk with their technical peers about real problems and opportunities, not what TA/HR think those are.

  8. Software engineer*

    #1 it’s such BS for an internal candidate to get turned down for bad interviewing skills

    Interviewing is about trying to get information in a situation where they don’t know much but this is your own company. How much can an interview really tell them that a conversation with your manager, a look at your previous performance reviews and a look through some of your work products won’t? The hiring process should be different for internal candidates because they’re not limited to what they can find out in an interview

  9. Bumblebee Mask*

    OP – 2, I just hired two new folks and I set up a meeting with my top candidate for my entire team and told my team to speak candidly about me and our employer and anything else they wanted to talk about. I wanted both to feel comfortable with the environment they were coming into and what they could expect. And I wanted my employees to feel like they could have some input on their potential new coworker.

    Honestly the two worst jobs I ever took I could kind of tell before I even started it was going to be a problem since the hiring manager never introduced me to any of the people I would be working with. In both cases they were controlling micromanagers.

  10. Becca Rosselin-Metadi*

    I’m sorry but it infuriates me that LW1 has skills and abilities but isn’t a great interview and that’s why she didn’t get the job. If we were all great interviews, we’d all get all the jobs-but some of us don’t interview well and yet turn out to be great our jobs. Yes, it’s a great skill set to have and is good for sorting out wheat from chaff, but sometimes the chaff turns out to be wheat in disguise.

  11. blood orange*

    OP #1 – Great step to work with a coach! I worked with a resume writer a few years ago who completely transformed the phrasing on my resume. I’d never thought of using services like that before, and was so glad I did.

    Also, it’s HR’s decision and not your manager…. excuse me, but what the sh*t is that?! I’m in HR and that is completely nuts. Particularly for an internal promotion. It’s nuts for new hires too, but an internal promotion where the manager wants to promote an employee feels worse somehow. I realize it’s probably out of your hands, but if you have any outlets to give feedback (like a survey, or during your review) it would be worth voicing that this is might not (read: is absolutely not) be the best process.

    Quick note – some companies just think this is the role of HR. It’s part of a massive misunderstanding of what HR is. I had an employer just assume that I would handle all hiring, discipline, performance reviews, basically all of the people management except task delegation and some training. For 100 employees. It’s really refreshing to be out of that environment, and be able to collaborate with a management team who is empowered to build and develop their team!

  12. ahhh*

    OP How has Jane been since getting your own office? Obviously you work together so there would still need to be some communication. I’m curious if she’s hurt, sulking, realizing she made a mistake, full on avoidance?

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