coworker asks about my personal finances, gender differences in dress codes, and more

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

1. My coworker asks about my personal finances

I work in an education-related industry that’s not known for having particularly high salaries. I’m on the younger end of my workplace, and it’s the kind of place where I might be in the same role as someone decades older than me. That said, my spouse works in a better-paying industry, so with two incomes and no kids, we’re comfortable financially in a way some of my coworkers — even those who’ve been working longer than me — might not be.

I have one coworker who is socially difficult in a variety of ways. One of those ways is that she really likes to talk and complain about money. I’m fine with this if we’re talking about it as it relates to our specific jobs and salaries; I think it’s important to know how other people in the company are compensated. I’m not comfortable with this when it relates to our personal situations. I don’t really want to know all the specifics of her personal debts and financial woes, which she shares in our social team meetings (with 8-10 people in them). I also don’t want to answer the questions she asks in these same meetings, which include “how much did you pay for your house,” “how much did you put down on your house,” and, in response to so many casual comments, from getting my dog spayed to plumbing repairs, “how much did that cost?” I mostly sidestep, don’t give amounts, or — in situations where I feasibly can — ignore these comments.

She’s also above me in the hierarchy and kind of bad at reading social cues, so saying things like, “Oh, I don’t really like to talk about that kind of thing at work” doesn’t do anything more than stop a specific question. She’s right back at it the next meeting.

Because she’s above you in the hierarchy, you probably can’t make her stop sharing her own financial information— especially when she’s sharing with a group, not just you — but you can and should enforce boundaries on what you’re willing (and not willing) to share. If she asks you what you paid for something, it’s fine to say, “I’m private about money” or “that seems really personal to me” or “I’d rather not talk about my personal finances at work” or so forth.

2. Gender differences in dress codes

Many years ago I was in a business networking group focusing on people under 30. One of my fellow members was asked to develop a dress code to add formality in his business. I don’t remember the details, but it was a small, customer-facing financial firm of some sort.

His proposed men’s dress code amounted to, “Business professional: jackets and ties. Consult your manager if you have questions.” But for women he had about five pages of detail. Almost everything had both a minimum and a maximum — heels at least this high but no higher than that, skirts at least this long but no longer than that, etc. There was no option for zero jewelry or zero makeup.

Those of us in the club argued with him, of course, but his response was, “There’s a standard for ‘business professional’ for men, and men have a shared understanding of what it is. There are a lot more options for women, and when I talk to women, they give me different definitions of what ‘business professional’ means, so I’m just trying to provide guidance.”

So: if you were in that conversation, what would you be telling him to do, and how would you be supporting your argument?

With the law! For example: “It’s only legal to have different dress codes for men and women as long as they don’t create more of a burden on one sex than the other. Your proposed dress code is significantly more of a burden on women and thus is discriminatory. It’s both ethically wrong and would open you up to legal liability.”

Also, women can be fully professional without makeup or jewelry and while wearing flat shoes, so something’s going on with him that has nothing to do with business standards.

3. Husband’s relationship with a female coworker

My husband seems to find a female coworker very ambitious and great friend material.
When she asked if he would bring his wife to the Christmas party where all partners are invited, he just responded “I’ll let you know if she comes along” when we had decided that I would come to the party and I still am going to the party. He seems to like the mind game of keeping her unanswered. Is this a red flag or is there a possibility of this developing into something else?

Yes, it is a red flag that your husband is downplaying your attendance and possibly your role/your relationship when talking with this coworker. For some reason, he’s choosing not to signal that your relationship is a solid one where you show up as his partner to social events.

To be clear, this does not mean that people who don’t attend their partners’ holiday parties don’t have solid relationships. But when he knows you are indeed attending, his desire to diminish that demonstration of couplehood is suspect.

4. Telling a candidate we went with someone we liked better

I recently conducted interviews for a role on my team. All five candidates were fantastic. Their qualifications were comparable and I could see them all doing well in the role.

I extended the offer to one candidate who I and the rest of the hiring panel clicked with really well. He was kind, friendly, and polite. It’s not that the other candidates didn’t exhibit these qualities — they did! — but this particular individual gave off … I don’t know, the best vibe? Of all five candidates, I liked this one’s personality the most. I feel like a bastard saying that since I know you can’t gauge someone’s true personality from an interviewer alone, but with equal time spent with each candidate, this is all I have to go off of.

One candidate asked for feedback after we informed them that the offer was extended to someone else. I explained that although they would be great in the role, the offer was extended to someone with slightly more experience. It’s not that this wasn’t true, because it was, but it’s not the reason this person wasn’t selected. I just didn’t know what else to say!

How do you explain to a rejected candidate that someone else got the job because basically you just liked them better, without actually saying that?

You don’t need to say you liked the other person better; instead, explain that you had multiple highly qualified finalists and only one slot. For example: “We had several exceptionally qualified finalists, including you, and the decision was a tough one. We could only hire one person for this role, but I have no doubt that you would have been an asset on our team and would welcome applications from you in the future.”

5. Jobs that want reference letters before you’ve even been interviewed

I just applied for a job in higher ed (STEM support role), which warned me my references would be contacted immediately after I submitted the application. Apparently my references got an automated email requesting a whole letter of reference. This is obnoxious, right? Please tell me this is just a higher ed quirk and other sectors aren’t doing this!

Yep, it’s obnoxious. It’s also terribly inconsiderate to the references, who are being asked to spend time writing letters (a much bigger time commitment than a phone call) for people who haven’t even been through an initial screening yet and who might not even get an interview. It’s rude.

It’s also mostly an academia thing. Not entirely — you occasionally encounter it somewhere else — but mostly. (Most fields don’t do reference letters at all. Academia and law tend to be the main places that do, while most other fields generally use phone calls and only at the finalist stage. Some places use electronic survey forms, which are problematic on multiple fronts, but even then they’re at least not generally sent out until you’re further along in the process.)


{ 510 comments… read them below }

    1. BuildMeUp*

      I think the guy was developing a dress code for the business he worked for, not for the club itself. The wording is a little confusing.

      1. raincoaster*

        Yes, I think so. The club sounds like a BIA kind of thing.

        The differences in business dress between the genders is a fascinating area of study but things are much more standardized than they used to be. This guy has issues.

    2. Ava*

      yea– a slightly longer section for women i can see, based on the reasoning that mens dress is more standardized– but im talking about, like, one paragraph not FIVE PAGES. thats nuts

      1. Bagpuss*

        Evn then it often doesn’t nneed to be a longer section for women, a lot of things can be written in a gender-neutral way. e.g. ‘No visible underwear’ covers the situation with someone wearing a sheer blouse that leaves their bra visible, or someone wearing low-riding pants that means their underpants are visible. Equally something like ‘Ties are not required, howeer a jacket or bazer should be worn rather than a sweater or cardigan’ is gender neutral while setting outthe level of formality expected.

        I agree however that ‘buisness professional’ covers most evetualities and that it was very sexists and aptronising of him to assume that that women would be less aware of what that included than men.

        1. Email in the morning*

          I wonder if part of the issue was the women were fully aware of ‘business casual’ but he was continually nit-picking their clothing.

          1. The OTHER Other*

            I got a very creepy vibe just from the LW’s description. As in, maybe the dress code writer was either constructing a detailed fantasy woman, or was some sort of religious zealot obsessed with policing women’s clothing. Or both.

            1. Worldwalker*

              Yeah. How does professionalism require jewelry? Or makeup ?Or high-heeled shoes? That’s a description for someone you want to look at. And “business professional” does *not* involve being an office decoration; if that’s what you want, get a poster.

              1. ThursdaysGeek*

                My neighbor used to do computer consulting before she retired, and when her boss came into town, part of the requirement was that she wear heels, makeup, etc. Her boss was also a woman.

                1. Curmudgeon in California*

                  Ugh. That BS would get a solid “No” from me:
                  A) I’m enby. I don’t do female coded clothing.
                  B) I’m disabled. Even if I wanted to, I can’t wear heels or most “women’s” shoes – the narrowing of the heel means my foot rolls and I fall over.
                  C) I don’t wear makeup. Between being allergic to most of it and having only one hand to put it on with, I nope out of it.

                  I am really uncomfortable in female dress. I would quit rather than wear it.

                2. ThursdaysGeek*

                  It got a solid no from me as well. I’m cis-female, not disabled, but I don’t do makeup, dresses, any of that stuff either. I’d hurt myself if I wore heals.

                  She didn’t see the problem, and I couldn’t make her see it.

                3. DJ+Abbott*

                  @Curmudgeon, I enjoy dressing feminine and I’m right there with you on the makeup. It’s more trouble than it’s worth and a lot of it is toxic.

                  And shoes…I have round toes and 98% of shoes are made for slanted toes, so it’s a project! As I write I’m making do with worn-out boots and insoles because shoe shopping is so hard.
                  I wore high heels and they seemed comfy with my high arches. Until my feet got sore and the pains in my back, hips and legs.

              2. Selina Luna*

                Right? I wear a wedding ring and a sentimental-to-me necklace, but I never wear bracelets (I hate typing with them) or earrings (I don’t have the forethought to set them out and finding them every morning is more trouble than it’s worth for me). I literally cannot wear makeup except for lipstick. As in, my eye doctor told me to never wear anything that started powdery or could flake off into my eyes because I have so many eye issues. And I wear shoes with good soles because I’m on my feet all day. Even most flats are murder, much less heels. Luckily, we’re coming into the cold months, so I can pull out my cute and comfy boots.

            2. Caliente+Papillion*

              This is the thing, business professional isn’t enough it’s how he specifically wants to see a woman look, she’s got to meet his needs. Gross.

            3. Just+Your+Everyday+Crone*

              Yep, if women essentially followed the men’s dress code– pants suit, nice blouse and flats, they would be out of compliance. In addition to being incredibly sexist, it’s also ableist–are women who, say need crutches, supposed to wear heels?

              1. Momma Bear*

                I often don’t wear heels because even though I’m at a desk most days, some days I am not and it would hurt my feet and/or be dangerous (no ladders in heels). I hope he eventually realizes he just needs to be simple and trust that women know how to dress themselves. Just because there are more options doesn’t mean it’s a free for all.

              2. Curmudgeon in California*

                I’m disabled with right side hemiparesis, and even if I wanted to dress fem, I literally can’t wear heels or even most women’s shoes. The heels taper inward as they near the floor, and my foot will roll and drop me on my side, possibly breaking my ankle.

            4. WillowSunstar*

              Well, but there are versions of Christianity (and other religions) that ban makeup and jewelry. So if he’s being religious, I guess he forgot there’s more than just his?

              Also, some people are allergic to makeup, so it wouldn’t be right to make them wear it.

              1. Queer Earthling*

                So if he’s being religious, I guess he forgot there’s more than just his?

                I mean, that’s standard operating procedure when people are trying to enforce things according to their own worldview.

            5. Boof*

              I am vaguely hoping this is just ignorance- he’s never thought about makeup and heels for himself so clearly he needs to figure out the correct makeup and heels for women because he has no idea what even
              … but probably not. That still requires quite a bit of toxic “men are from Mars women are from Venus” type mindset

          2. Cait*

            I would love to have taken the opportunity to re-write the “understood standards” for men’s dress. For example…
            – Acceptable cuffs for men’s shirts are convertible cuffs and rounded cuffs. Mitered cuffs are not acceptable. French cuffs are okay but more appropriate for board meetings.
            – Ties should be in half windsor or full windsor knots. Bow ties are also acceptable. Eldridge and Trinity knots are not work appropriate.
            – Color schemes should stick to earth tones and pastels. Jewel tones are too abrasive for the office.
            – Socks should remain covered by pant legs unless sitting down at which point only 3-4 inches of sock should be visible. Patterns should adhere to the 2019 Fall Ralph Lauren catalog layout.
            And on and on and on… I bet I could make at least 6 pages of “standards” for men’s dress if I really tried hard enough. If he doesn’t have a Come-to-Jesus moment with all these people telling him his plan is blatantly sexist (and also doesn’t consider non-binary individuals), I hope he does get in legal trouble!

            1. Caroline+Bowman*

              Apart from a concerning lack of information on when a cravat is suitable (on Fridays, in summer, certainly never after the first Friday in September, and only ever with appropriate head and footwear), I like your list.

              I think a solid chapter could be about shoes, lacing, when is a boot appropriate and is it okay to wear waterproof boots or sneakers if walking to work, and then to change once at one’s place of business, or should one do that just around the corner from one’s office?

              I have many questions.

            2. a+tester,+not+a+developer*

              The acceptable tie knots would have caused a riot in my office pre-Covid. The guys had a “not casual Monday” thing going where they’d compete to show up with the fanciest knot in their ties.

            3. Boop*

              You haven’t even touched on grooming! Is it ok to sport 5 o’clock stubble before 5? Hair length/style? Beards?!!! Guyliner?

            4. RVMan*

              There are such standards like that, and for the sort of customer facing role we are talking about, they tend to be conservative, and this guy is probably casting back about 30 years for his women’s version – to what his mom wore. The men’s version:

              Dress shoes have leather soles and heels of between 1 and 1.125 inches , no rubber soles, and are properly polished. Laces are in perfect condition, tied but not double-knotted.

              Ties are silk, suits are wool, belts and shoes are leather. Never try to match a suit coat or pant with a nonmatching sport coat (or worse, a different suit’s coat or pant).

              Shirts must be pressed and, ideally, starched. Cotton is preferred.

              Watches should have analogue faces and gold or silver bands – leather is acceptable if you are a clerk or other assistant-level.

              Jewelry is limited to wedding bands. Tattoos must be covered. No visible makeup.

              The write-up on acceptable hair styles would run on several pages on its own.

              These days the standards are more relaxed – but more relaxed standards just means actually writing them up takes more paper. Half a page on earrings alone, for men, leave alone women.

              1. Just+Your+Everyday+Crone*

                This is like an issue-spotting exercise. What about people with disabilities (leather soles), or allergies (wool), or common sense (no double knotted laces), or vegans? and I’d bet my paycheck on racism in the hair styles.

                1. Ann Onymous*

                  And depending on people’s reasons for being vegan, you could get into religious discrimination as well.

                2. Rain's+Small+Hands*

                  30 years ago, when standards like this were commonplace, disabled people didn’t usually get a place at the table to worry about dress standards (when they did, exceptions to standards were made for them) – and being vegan was a YOU problem, and if you were African American you generally tried really hard to assimilate within corporate culture (with exceptions). Times have changed.

                  I worked for a company in the 1980s were skirts and nylons and heels for women were required – you COULD show up in pants, but unless you were exceptional, it was a career limiting move. Not that our careers weren’t already limited.

              2. Momma Bear*

                Friend of mine used to work in Banking and they were pretty strict. She could wear slacks but had to cover all tattoos, so it was long sleeves all year. They also didn’t allow unnatural hair color, etc. Of course the real issue is that OP is describing something gender specific.

                Our office is much more laid back. It’s basically “don’t dress like a slob and put on a nice shirt when there’s a customer.” The CEO wears jeans.

            5. Sylvia*

              It’s interesting that this guy was willing to time-travel for the women’s dress code, but not for the men’s!

              My grandfather was a salesman to high tech (for the time) manufacturing companies in the 1950s and 60s, and they had a very strict dress code for men. Suits, dress shirts (always with an undershirt underneath), and ties (not bow), with the suit jacket being worn at all practical times. You could take it off if you were driving a long distance or had to do some emergency physical labor like changing a tire, but that was it. Polished wing tip shoes and dress loafers only–suede shoes were considered too casual for a business meeting. Acceptable jewelry included a wedding ring, a watch, a tie clip, and cuff links, nothing else. In the winter, they wore wool overcoats and either a driving cap or fedora. He didn’t say whether they were limited to certain colors, but most of his work wardrobe was grey, navy, brown, and dark green. I suspect that the dress code was based on what they wore the military, as his company and their clients did a lot of business with the military and were themselves former service members.

              I’m curious as to where the women’s dress code came from– a church handbook? The British Royal family?

            6. whingedrinking*

              My dad told me about being at Oxford in the late seventies and which particular dress codes were required for which events, like exams and college dinners. Apparently it read pretty much like this. (Also, they were still going a bit nuts trying to figure out what sub fusc should look like for women. The gowns at least eliminated a certain amount of doubt, but what do we do about ties?!)

              1. DJ+Abbott*

                Long ago I read a book by an American woman who went to Oxford, I think in the 1940’s or 50’s.
                The dress code was so strict she got in trouble for going outside without a hat. She left after one semester.

              2. No sweater!*

                They still struggle with it! My partner (a masc lesbian) was a student there within the past decade and clothes were a huge issue for her and d’or more femme women alike. Not a welcoming space at all. She did get a great education in her field of study though.

          3. SheLooksFamiliar*

            I wondered about that, too. A long-ago co-worker was scolded by her boss because she wore a pocket square in her suit jacket, it was ‘too showy’ or ‘too masculine’ or some nonsense.

            Said boss wore lots of chunky gold bracelets that clanked all the time, and so much cologne there was visible aroma around him. Guess that wasn’t distracting enough.

            1. Raw Flour*

              Although I dabble in menswear and have bought my partner some nice pocket squares, I have never thought to accessorize with one myself. Thank you for the lightbulb moment! Bonus points if it pisses off coworkers with very specific ideas about gender presentation. (If I have any, they’re quiet about it, but it’s the principle of the thing.)

              1. SheLooksFamiliar*

                I think pocket squares can be a nice touch for a suit jacket, and have a large collection. Back in the 80s, it was a ‘thing’ to match your square and blouse colors, and I never lost the habit. If someone has a problem with a woman sporting a pocket square, well, they’ll just have to have a problem.

                BTW, Cyperoptix is one of my favorite online stores for fun pocket squares, check them out.

          4. Observer*

            I wonder if part of the issue was the women were fully aware of ‘business casual’ but he was continually nit-picking their clothing.

            Probably. But also, he’s not really telling the truth. He knows perfectly well that there is NOT a “universal understanding” of what “Business professional” is. Otherwise he wouldn’t have needed to mention that jackets and ties are required, and he certainly wouldn’t have needed to tell people to ask their managers.

            So, what’s really going on here, imo, is that “we can trust guys and we can let guys make decisions on their clothing, but WOMEN? Of course we can’t trust them on even the smallest details!”

            1. RVMan*

              The guy is looking at the men’s rules – the suit isn’t just a dress code, it is a kind of uniform with a lot of tacitly understood rules around it – and trying to write up the equivalent for women, and there just isn’t one. (And there is a lot of resentment around that – certain kinds of men resent that women have the freedom to wear ‘what they want’, and there are even some women that resent the simplicity of menswear.)

              1. Worldwalker*

                I’m one of those women.

                IRL, I used to just wear black because I didn’t have to match it; then it became trendy.

                I’m thankful now that I work in an industry where a company polo shirt and a nice pair of jeans are the standard. Though I’ve seen a picture of the CEO in a suit; I almost didn’t recognize him.

              2. Observer*

                the suit isn’t just a dress code, it is a kind of uniform with a lot of tacitly understood rules around it – and trying to write up the equivalent for women, and there just isn’t one.

                That’s just not true. The examples that the OP provides show that very clearly.

              3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

                Then do what my company did.
                Require skirt suits for women.
                -Jacket, blouse with sleeves and skirt.
                -Shoes with discernible heel, no open toes.
                -Managers discretion line
                Didn’t take five pages and didn’t have to include acceptable lengths for skirts.
                Speaking for women, we figured it out just fine.

                1. MigraineMonth*

                  Women were required to wear skirts and heels? Ugh. No thank you. My poor misaligned knees would give out.

                2. Tj*

                  No thanks requiring a skirt suit and heels in 2022? A woman can be professional in pantsuit and flats. Also still doesn’t leave an option for nonbinary people. Everywhere should just have a gender neutral dresscode.

                3. Curmudgeon in California*

                  Ugh, no, just no.

                  I can’t wear heels, and IMO they are torture devices meant to hobble women.

                  I won’t wear a skirt or dress.

                  I can do business professional without coding myself female submissive, and most offices would decide I was “female” based on my chest. Just no.

                4. coffee*

                  Hard agree on the “what decade was this that you have to wear a skirt” question. Why are dresses and pants suddenly not acceptable?

                5. Reluctant Mezzo*

                  Really? I could wear pants and oxfords in the Air Force in the late 1970’s. (though a skirt was somewhat more comfortable in an Arkansas summer).

              4. Emotional+support+capybara+(he/him)*

                Long before I had any real awareness of my Gender Thing I absolutely resented the simplicity of menswear. Also the pockets.

                Anyway, the now-defunct retail electronics chain I worked for tried a similar “men: dress shirt tie slacks nice shoes. women: [wall of text describing every possible approved and forbidden configuration of blouses, skirts/slacks, shoes, hair, makeup, and repeating of outfits]” tactic as this specimen and I wasn’t happy about it. Most of what had been fine to that point was now forbidden and I could not afford a week’s worth of whole ass new approved wardrobe.

                So instead I went full malicious compliance mode and followed the men’s dress code to the letter. Manager who made the dress code decree followed me around scowling the whole first day but didn’t press his luck any further.

                Apparently I wasn’t the only one that pushed back because a few months later the dress code changed to khakis and branded shirts for everyone.

              5. MigraineMonth*

                I know a male lawyer that saw so many female colleagues nit-picked by the judge on clothing choices that he decided to refuse to wear a tie in solidarity.

                Seemed like an unusual form of protest and not sure how effective it was.

                1. Vio*

                  If he really wanted to protest he’d come in wearing a dress. But that could really damage his client unfortunately

              6. Irish+Teacher.*

                It still wouldn’t require 5 pages. Pants or knee-length skirt with matching jacket, blouse or nice shirt underneath, tights, if wearing a skirt, nice/formal shoes, any make-up and jewellery to be subtle.

                That’s very similar to the men’s code, except for the option of a skirt and probably no tie and it doesn’t even take five lines.

            2. AA Baby Boomer*

              I’m wondering if there was an issue with a particular female employee or two? He’s uncomfortable addressing it directly and is trying to find a “formal” written document to support his views?

              I’ll never forget while working at the bank. We got a lecture on dressing properly and wearing clothes that fit us. This was addressed to one particular employee, but it was said to all of us. She wore dressed that were 2 sizes small. It looked awful. She turned around and asked me who they were talking about. I kept my mouth shut on that one. Though I did tell the manager that it went over her head. This was her first job after college. They really should have pulled her aside and talked to her. Guidance vs public criticism would have worked better.

              1. Willow Pillow*

                I had a similar experience in banking (back office)… A VP’s nephew was hired as a summer student, and he wore cargo shorts every day. Instead of speaking with him they cracked down on everyone else. Years later, nephew later got in trouble for altering mutual funds paperwork!

                1. Lydia*

                  I know this is not what you meant, but it’s giving me a smile to think cargo shorts leads to financial crime.

        2. Jackalope*

          It was also sexist and patronizing of him to assume that HE would somehow be more aware of appropriate business attire for women than the people who would actually be wearing it, and in many cases would already have experience (perhaps years of it) dressing themselves accordingly.

        3. Mockingjay*

          “As professionals, women can manage their clothing selections. I suggest you scrap all five pages.”

        4. Sharon*

          No matter how specific your dress code is, there will always be:
          (1) an outfit that meets all requirements but is clearly inappropriate, and
          (2) an outfit that technically violates the dress code but is perfectly fine.

          1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

            Reminding me of John DeLorean working at Ford. Dress code was grey suit only, so he wore grey suits, but in a far more flamboyant cut than everyone else. There was nothing about cut in the dress code, because those men didn’t think about these things! His manager was uncomfortable about it, but didn’t know how to frame it.

        5. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          The heels and the makeup would be huge for me. I have rosacea and makeup can trigger bad flareups. I have issues too where I cannot wear high heels, though I don’t do flats well due to arch support, so I might fit his weird range. But it is insane that I would need to request an ADA accommodation to the dress code and that I wouldn’t need one if I were a man with the same conditions.

      2. Juicebox+Hero*

        Agreed. It doesn’t even need to be a long paragraph: “Skirt or pant suits, tailored dresses, skirts or slacks with blouse, sleeveless items must be worn under a jacket or blazer. No visible underwear. Skirts should be approximately knee-length. Appropritate hosiery and dress shoes must be worn. Clothing and shoes must be clean, neat, and in good condition. Must present a neat, well-groomed appearance.”

        Doesn’t need to be complicated or give anyone the feeling that the boss will be walking around with a ruler checking heels and hemlines.

        1. DJ+Abbott*

          Not to mention that high heels are not healthy for most people and personally I would not work at a place that required me to wear high heels.

          1. Kat A.*

            High heels, or even any heels, are ableist. People with subtle disabilities or healed injuries might not be able to walk in heeled shoes.

            1. Agreetoagree*

              I had lower back surgery and can’t wear heels-and I’m just the tip of the iceberg on that one

              1. ferrina*

                Also part of the iceberg- I have an old knee injury that means I have to be really careful about how much I run or wear heels, or else I’ll be limping for a week. Things that most people won’t notice will cause prolonged pain for me. You wouldn’t be able to tell by looking, and it’s not immediate, but if I was required to wear heels, I’d be handing in my resignation within the hour.

              2. Random+Biter*

                Right there with you. Spinal fusion and a tendency to fasciitis, I had to actually get a note from my doctor saying I could only wear sports shoes. That was OldJob, I’m so glad to be working in the trades now where as long as I don’t show up in pj’s no one cares.

            2. Wendy Darling*

              Also some of us just can’t walk in shoes with heels over an inch-ish because we are doofs with bad balance.

              I am not convinced that tripping over my own feet or falling the last 2 inches into my chair multiple times a day is more professional than wearing flats.

            3. Curmudgeon in California*


              I have hemiparesis, and if I tried to walk in heels or even most women’s shoes I would fall over repeatedly and probably break my ankle. My foot tends to roll to the side, so any shoe that narrows from heel to floor is literally dangerous for me.

              1. Vio*

                If women have to wear high heels, the men should too. He’d soon change his mind on how professional they are if he had to wear them all day to work.

                1. whingedrinking*

                  This is actually the law in my province: you can’t require/permit a certain type of clothing for one gender and not the other, which in practice means you can’t require high heels (even if you wanted to insist on them for men too, they can likely object that it’s much harder to find high heels in large enough sizes so it’s an undue burden).

        2. Kat A.*

          Hosiery??? That was standard decades ago. Hosiery is costly, snags easily, and is not necessary for professional attire.

          Also, this isn’t Catholic School. Business skirts are usually above the knee in North America. I’m short, and every blazer-skirt set I’ve ever found in stores like Macy’s, Talbot’s, Etc., came above the knee. All my female-presenting colleagues who wore skirts that didn’t go to the floor, wore skirts above the knee. I’m talking 1 to 2 inches above the knee. This has been the case with every job I’ve had in every state I’ve worked for decades. It’s been the same in every office staff photo on every business-related holiday card. It’s the standard skirt length of most of the skirt-wearing participants on business trips and at expos.

          1. lost+academic*

            I have the longest femurs ever. I have not worn a skirt even as a child that was below the knee that wasn’t intended to be ankle or maxi length. There is nothing I can do about my bones.

            1. Robin+Ellacott*

              Me three! My inseam is 36″, which is weirdly long for my height, and I have the two extra inches of leg in my thighs. And a short torso/inseam.

            1. Jennifer+Strange*

              Catholic schools are an entity easily recognizable for being strict about uniforms, especially in regard to skirt length. Kat A. wasn’t insulting Catholic schools, just using them as an example of one area where skirt specifying skirt length regulations would be warranted.

            2. Irish+Teacher.*

              Like Jennifer Strange, I took it as an example of “a school with strict uniform rules” rather than meaning anything about Catholicism in general.

              And teaching in a Catholic boys’ school (admittedly in Ireland) where we’ve had debates in staff meetings about whether the rule about black shoes means all black only or whether a white stripe or white soles could be overlooked…I mean, I don’t think that Protestant or non-denominational schools here are necessarily more laid back about this stuff, but I could certainly understand the reference.

            3. DJ+Abbott*

              For most of my life here in the US, Catholic schools were the only schools that required a uniform. The uniform for girls was a plaid skirt, white blouse, and kneesocks. I’m told men have fantasies about that uniform.
              Everyday Crone says they relaxed those rules in recent years, so maybe it’s on its way out. But all of us who grew up with Catholic schools around remember it.

          2. Iris+Eyes*

            I’d consider anything that fell 2″ above or below the knee cap when standing to hold to the “approximately knee length” guideline.

          3. JKateM*

            They are *supposed* to be above the knee but on me they usually come below the knee unless I get petite sizes and then they don’t want to include enough room in the rear. I guess I could go get them hemmed or do it myself but I’ll just not care or not wear skirts. Fortunately the dress code at my office is business casual (pretty much the only thing that would usually be considered business casual we can’t wear is jeans – long story there apparently).

          4. Kacihall*

            One of the banks I worked at ten years ago still required hosiery. I either wore pants or brightly colored tights under my otherwise business appropriate skirts.

            Fridays were especially fun there, we all wore obnoxiously bright pink accessories. The boys (ok, one was 25 and the other was mid50s – but some days I swear) got into an argument over who had the brighter pink tie. So they both wore them one Friday. They liked the compliments and our assistant manager turned it into our actually voluntary thing. I got Mean Girls quoted to me so many times.

          5. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

            yeah, they lost me at hosiery too! I even wear it, but that’s a personal preference. Requiring it is insane!

        3. Observer*

          Doesn’t need to be complicated or give anyone the feeling that the boss will be walking around with a ruler checking heels and hemlines.

          Yes, that is, in many ways, a LOT worse than anything else If his rules allowed flats, this would STILL be garbage. Because even in school (where uniforms are common and administrations are expected to exert a lot more detailed control over their student body), this kind of thing is ridiculous. You don’t do this to presumably competent adults. Which begs the question – DOES he believe that women are competent adults?

          1. Irish Teacher*

            Yup. My impression is that school uniform rules are a lot stricter here in Ireland than in America, but it’s still a paragraph or two in the code of discipline. 5 pages is way beyond anything imaginable even for school uniform rules here (and it’s common for schools here to specify things like “shoes must be black or brown and no runners (sneakers?) allowed).

            And yeah, kids generally need stricter rules than adults as it is expected that adults will have some understanding of norms, so…well, to give five pages of rules even to kids would be ridiculous, but for professional adults…it’s beyond ridiculous.

            1. Clisby*

              In my experience in the US, strict uniform rules are only for private schools.

              Public schools requiring uniforms (not all do) tend to have general rules like “khaki skirts/pants/shorts, navy blue polo shirts or navy blue sweatshirts.”

          1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

            No hosiery (i.e. the absence of any hosiery) is perfectly appropriate in my opinion!

        4. Juicebox+Hero*

          For Pete’s sake, I wasn’t suggesting that this should be the dress code, or that anybody should dress that way. It was just an example off the top of my head based off a job I had that had a business formal dress code, to show that the thing didn’t need to go on for pages and pages.

        5. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          I’d leave out the comment on hosiery too, as that is currently not expected anymore for work, even wearing skirts (I will wear them, but that’s personal preference).

      3. CommanderBanana*

        He should consider going into his true passion, which is clearly either fashion design or being a middle school principal.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I can definitely picture the guy who came up with this also carrying a ruler at the school dance and demanding couples “Leave room for Jesus.”

      4. Empress+Matilda*

        I can beat that! I used to work in a bookstore where the dress code was *nine* pages. Which is quite a lot of requirements for a bunch of university students making slightly more than minimum wage…

          1. Kevin+Malone*

            Yeah, people that work in bookstores are usually super chill and authentically dressed. At least the ones I shop in!

    3. CJ*

      All I know is I saw

      ‘ “There’s a standard for ‘business professional’ for men, and men have a shared understanding of what it is.” ‘

      And well, I broke out laughing. No, OP’s group member, there really is _not_ a shared understanding of what that means.

      1. Rex Libris*

        What it actually translates to is “I have an understanding of what that is, and I just assume that everyone shares it, because anyone who disagrees with me is obviously wrong.”

      2. Vio*

        I’m a man and I certainly don’t have a shared understanding of it. I’ve always had to ask advice on things like “business professional” and “smart casual” from friends… ironically it’s been female friends who’ve given the best advice.

        1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          That makes sense, as women are more accustomed to being judged and scrutinized based on their appearance and clothing. We tend to be more aware and feel obligated to give it more thought than men do, because it has been necessary for us more often than for men. It is good that you are open to their feedback.

      3. CommanderBanana*

        Yes, everyone knows that appropriate officewear for men is one of those inflatable T-rex costumes.

  1. jesicka309*

    OP #3 this seems like a red flag on your husband. Very weird that he’s telling you all of this too….like you’re part of his mind games? So now you’re questioning this woman from his work too, where you had no reason to before. I wonder what his ulterior motives are, because there’s definitely something shady about the whole situation by him.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        He already knows she’s going: “all this while we had decided that I would come to the party and I still am going to the party”

        He’s just playing games at this point and it’s pretty suspect.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, it’s really weird. It’s making the LW suspect her husband of…. something, when she apparently had no reason to do so before.

      1. Myrin*

        “when she apparently had no reason to do so before.”

        I wonder if that’s true, actually. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very strange of him to say something like this but if I wholeheartedly trusted my husband and he had never given me any reason at all to question his motive for things, an exchange like this one would seem weird to me but I would probably think he must have mixed something up (like “Wife will only attend one holiday party, but was it Friend Party or Work Party?” or “Work Party’s date got changed – did we actually decide on whether wife is still coming or not?” or similar). That OP jumped straight to him liking mind games – which is honestly not something I generally assume of people – and “a possibility of this developing into something else” makes me suspect that she has other reasons to distrust him and this is just something concrete she can pinpoint.

        (Also, I agree with Catgirl below about how OP found out about this in the first place. If she met the coworker and the party came up and coworker expressed surprise about OP’s certain attendance, saying her husband had said they weren’t sure yet, that’s very different from husband just repeating this conversation back to OP.)

        1. MK*

          I don’t even understand what kind of “mind game” this is supposed to be. If I asked a coworker whether their partner will come to the holiday party, I would be making smalltalk, not being invested in the answer to the point that not telling me would be a mind game. Does this man imagine his female coworker is wrongfooted and uncertain about the party because she doesn’t know if his wife is coming?

          1. Irish+Teacher.*

            Depending on context, it could be a flirting thing. “I might be all alone,” but it’s not the most obvious way of saying that.

            1. Anomie*

              Husband is likely having an emotional affair or heading in that direction. OPA 3 has a serious problem on her hands. Carolyn Hax could shine some ligh on this. It’s really more of a relationship issue.

            2. The+Original+K.*

              He’s flirting with the coworker and he wants his wife to be jealous because it feeds his ego.

            3. Rex Libris*

              Yep, the most benign reading I can come up with is that his ego is enjoying the attention from co-worker and being vague and flirty in return to keep it going, instead than shutting it down.

          2. Emmy Noether*

            If (if!) we assume these two are flirting, then with the right tone, “is your wife coming?” *wink* could be flirtatious. And then he didn’t want to cut that flirtation off by saying that she is coming… The “I’ll let you know” could be taken as meaning that this is relevant info for the coworker, not just smalltalk to her.

            To be clear, I’m not convinced that this interpretation is right. It could also all be perfectly innocent (a lot depends on tone). It’s just what I think the LW meant.

              1. Emmy Noether*

                Eh, I disagree. Taken in isolation, the coworker’s question could just be smalltalk, his answer could be a memory lapse. No way to tell without tone, which we don’t have, and context, which we have very little of.

                To me, the red flags here are more the fact that this conversation somehow got reported to the wife (by whom? why?), and that she jumps to mind games immediately. She already mistrusts him, so I’d explore why that is.

                1. Eldritch+Office+Worker*

                  Yeah like if I heard this with my husband inserted for OP’s husband I’d assume “meeting coworkers spouses who we haven’t met yet is a fun thing at this workplace” (true at places we’ve worked before) or “husband isn’t committing me to a thing I might want to back out of later” (also…not abnormal). The fact it’s landing as insidious has to have something to do with other factors, like a pre-existing lack of trust or implied tone.

                  I think we as readers can infer tone because it’s bothering her enough to write in, but void of context it wouldn’t bother me.

                2. ferrina*

                  I agree that the main weirdness is that this is somehow getting back to the wife- who comes home and reports a conversation like this? Especially when the wife is clearly uncomfortable with this- he’s either really oblivious to her emotions (bad sign) or wants her to be uncomfortable (really bad sign).

                  But I think the convo itself is also a little weird- it sounds like the memory lapse is out of character and it’s a weird thing to forget, so it’s more likely he “forgot” (I had an ex who “forgot” some truly extraordinary things). And “I’ll let you know” is an odd response- I’d expect “I think so- she usually comes to these things” or “Not sure yet- we’re waiting to see how her work schedule plays out” or “I’d have to check with her.” These responses all show that this is a couple that coordinates together- this man’s response focuses on him as an individual. And why is he going to report back to the coworker? Only way the convo makes sense to me is if he’s distracted and trying to end the convo as quick as possible. That’s fine, but if the wife is getting a weird vibe on other fronts, it’s less likely.

                3. Phillippe II*

                  In my case, his reply would have been totally true, even though it had been decided that my wife was planning to attend. She has some health things that can flare unexpectedly, along with depression and anxiety; so, yeah she is planning to attend, but that could change depending on health thing or number of spoons left in her quiver that evening. She’s bailed as we were walking out the door. And yes, I’d tell her about the conversation to let her know that while she’s expected, they know she may not be there.

                  But LW has a sense that something else is going on, so ride those feelings.

          3. Caroline+Bowman*

            It’s a mind game because – if I were to make a guess – the husband is trying to convey to his lovely new co-worker that Her Indoors might well not be there to be a handbrake, and it indicates that he might be trying to get the wife to not come after all for Reasons.

            That would be my immediate take in this situation. My general rule – and it’s not infallible of course – is that if someone feels off and weird about something, even if they can’t quite quantify it, something is up, or likely to be up. OP needs to thoroughly and quite coldly examine why she feels this way, what may have led her to these thoughts and if in fact she is quite often gas lit or kept insecure by her partner.

            1. Citra*

              But you /are/ making a guess–which is fine, but it’s still just a guess. There’s nothing about the exchange that definitely says, “Mind game,” instead of “misunderstanding or some other reasonable explanation.” And the LW could be feeling like it’s weird or off for reasons that actually have nothing to do with the husband or coworker. I mean, to use a reference that’s been mentioned here ad infinitum lately, Cheap Ass Rolls woman was convinced her coworker brought those rolls to show her up, but her jumping to that conclusion doesn’t make it true. We don’t even know how the OP heard of this exchange, or why, which might make a huge difference. I’m not saying the husband definitely isn’t up to something, just that it’s a stretch to think that just because the OP finds it suspicious means that it automatically is.

              If I heard my husband said, “I’ll let you know,” in response to being asked if I was going to his office party, I’d assume he forgot or wasn’t sure, or had some other reason (like he was hoping to use me at home as an excuse to leave early). I wouldn’t immediately jump to “He wants to cheat on me,” or, “He’s playing mind games.”

          4. Butterfly Counter*

            I wonder if it’s to keep the coworker from bringing a date, herself. If the husband is alone, coworker might come alone and they could “accidentally” be each other’s dates (in her mind). But that the wife IS coming means that husband will have a date and coworker will have one less opportunity to be on a date with someone else. He has two women at the party to potentially focus on him vs. just his wife.

            1. Lily+Rowan*

              Yeah, I can also read it as flirtation on the husband’s part, and 100% NOT on the co-worker’s part.

              “See you at the party, Jane? (wink wink)”
              “Sure. (deadpan) Will YOUR WIFE be there?”

              1. mlem*

                This was more where I went, yeah. LW’s husband being weird doesn’t inherently mean the coworker is actually doing anything unsavory.

        2. londonedit*

          Yeah I’m finding the whole thing quite odd and I agree it probably points to a deeper-seated lack of trust. I suppose the husband could have meant ‘I’ll let you know if she comes along’ as ‘I’ll be sure to find you to introduce you to her if she comes along’, but a) why didn’t he just say that, if so, and b) the OP seems to think this is some sort of mind game, which surely can’t be without some foundation. Unless maybe she knows her husband is the sort of person who likes being deliberately obtuse because they find it amusing to confuse people (I’ve met a few of those). But why play that trick with something as low-stakes and ordinary as ‘Will your wife be coming to the party?’

          I also wonder how the OP came to find out about this exchange (it would strike me as an odd thing if her husband had said ‘Jane at work asked me whether I was bringing you to the party, and I told her I’d let her know if you come along’, seeing as it sounds like they’d already agreed the OP was going) so there definitely seems to be something more going on under the surface.

    2. Pudding*

      I wonder if it’s possible the coworker is pursuing him and asking probing questions about the wife, and he’s trying the Gray Rock strategy, poorly. (I have done this, not about my spouse but when acquaintances I don’t care for have shown interest in my friends or family members and I didn’t want to encourage it. “Is Carol coming to the party?” “Hmm, not sure, either she is or she isn’t, guess we’ll find out when we get there.” when I know the answer perfectly well.)

      1. Anomie*

        If he wanted to shut her down, he would say, yes, my wife is coming. He wants that door just a little bit open.

      2. Office Lobster DJ*

        I’ve done the same myself to end a conversation, so I considered this, too. Sometimes the vagueness leads to fewer questions than confirming either way. Also, if said person is A Lot to handle, it gives your loved one a little room to fly under Fergus’s radar when they are alone.

        But either I wouldn’t think to share it (simple conversation ender) or I would be fully transparent with my loved ones about it (strategy). The fact LW immediately thought it was off….well, it probably is off.

      3. learnedthehardway*

        I would have said the same, except for the detail that he thinks the coworker is “great friend material”, as per the original letter, so presumably he’s not grey-rocking.

        Of course, when she asked, he might not have known whether his wife was coming with him or not. And her reason for asking might be perfectly innocent – maybe she would like to know whether she can bring her husband, or maybe she would simply like to meet his wife, or maybe she was merely making polite small talk.

        I’m guessing the wife has reasons for her spidey-senses tingling, and it’s a good idea to pay attention to those.

    3. Gamer Girl*

      Eeesh, I think it’s weird she knows what he said or wrote to her.

      Either they’re sharing an office space and WFH, or she’s going through his messages.

      However, with the phrase “he seems to like the mind game of leaving her unanswered”, it seems like she’s been reading his messages. So there might be context she didn’t add here that seemed flirtatious from other messages.

      I don’t know, it just seems strange that she knows this response from him and didn’t just ask him about it upfront!

      1. Clisby*

        I got the impression the husband had told her of the exchange. However, she doesn’t actually say that, so maybe you’re right and she read his messages. (I think either is odd, but maybe reading his messages is a little less odd than him telling her?)

        1. allathian*

          He wants the LW to be jealous or something. I still think it’s much more likely he said it than she read his messages on the sly.

          1. Robin+Ellacott*

            That’s what I assumed too. OP is suspicious because her partner keeps talking about this coworker.

    4. I+need+coffee+to+make+coffee*

      Absolutely a red flag. If you read the “Chump Lady” blog, many affair stories begin this way. It looks like he is setting you and the “friend” up to play the “pick me dance”.

      1. PaperHat*

        Yeah- after I found out about a office dalliance my husband was having (definitely emotional, probably more), I also learned he had started lying to me that his company stopped having Christmas Parties altogether. He didn’t want us to bump into each other and for his depiction of his awful partner to be challenged. Even so, this is such a hard line to walk, between not being controlling of your spouse at work, but paying attention to red flags.

      2. Eldritch+Office+Worker*

        Well you’re going to get a skewed sample there. I think there could be a couple of other contexts (I wrote a couple that come to mind above) but the real red flag is that it’s sitting wrong in LW’s gut. But if it wasn’t I wouldn’t want every scenario similar to one on that blog to have an “only cheaters would do this” light shone on it.

        1. Caroline+Bowman*

          The thing is, it’s such a surface-innocuous comment that for the OP to be off-balance about it indicates that he’s done shady stuff before, whether she can prove it or not. It reads to me like he wants to keep his options open as to whether wife comes along or not, and is setting it up to be a ”oh did we agree you would come? Gosh, I don’t think any other partners are going, it’ll be really boring, just a work thing where I don’t come home for 3 days, WHY ARE YOU ACCUSING ME??” type of thing.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Yes exactly. That’s why you have to trust the gut. It might be noticing patterns that you aren’t conscious of. Our brains really love patterns.

      3. I need coffee before I can make coffee*

        My advice to OP3 is to flat out tell your husband in no uncertain terms that this is not ok and is hurtful. If your husband is innocent and just being stupid, a slap in the head like that should wake him up. If he tries to minimize, then things might not be so innocent.

      1. The+Person+from+the+Resume*

        My thoughts exactly.

        A work advice column is not the place for this question. This is a relationship question. The way it is written the LW clearly suspects her husband in attracted to, interested in, already started an affair (emotional or otherwise) with this coworker who’s great friend material.

        These concerns are unrelated to the location where your husband met this woman.

    5. Falling+Diphthong*

      “How do you know he said this?” was my first question. Like, is the husband texting her over dinner and reading out the texts and replies to his wife? That seems performative and weird.

      Everything about his interactions with this coworker, as demonstrated for his spouse, seems a little performative and weird.

    6. Momma Bear*

      I suspect that this is not the only thing that has triggered OP’s suspicions. I think aside from definitely going to that party, OP needs to look at his behavior there, both toward her and other women. Then have a discussion with him about it and seek marital counseling if necessary.

  2. Artemesia*

    I hired academics and was on committees for Deans and Vice Chancellors and full professors and we NEVER asked for letters before we were considering 2 or three finalists. In fact we called references and asked them then to follow up with a letter, precisely because it is a burdensome thing to ask of someone and we didn’t want to do it unless it was critical.

    It is obnoxious in any profession to ask for this for anyone but people you are about to make an offer to or who are at least finalists.

    Love all these answers. YEAH we have an emotional affair either underway or on the cusp in #3. And for #2, it is classical example of making a dress code more burdensome for women than men.

      1. Double A*

        This happens in K-12 education too. Except we have to provide letters with the application. References are only called at the end of the process (but they don’t then have to write a letter).

        1. how do they do that?*

          How does one have those letters at the ready? Do you just get generic letters from three people? I passed on applying to more than one K-12 position because there was no way I was getting 3 letters ready to make the deadline in one week.

          1. Emmy Noether*

            In Germany, for example, the way of doing things is getting a generic letter of reference as soon as you leave a job. You then hand in a copy with all future applications. The upside of this system is that the reference-giver’s memory is fresh, they are still reachable, and won’t be bothered years down the line. The downside is that these letters often aren’t very honest (one can sue for them having to be “benevolent”) or specific, and thus of limited usefulness.

            1. amoeba*

              Yup, and I think in academia this is common in other countries as well (as far as I know, including the US?) I have letters of reference (“to whom it may concern”) from my PhD and my postdoc supervisors, which I received when I left. Of course, these tend to be generally positive, I think the idea is just if you really mess up, you wouldn’t get a reference letter at the end of your time at all. Especially relevant for postdocs, where you don’t actually graduate at the end…

              1. SemiAnon*

                In my field, your references would prepare a generic letter, and you’d let them know when you were applying to a job, along with instructions on where to send the letter, and they might personalize it a bit for that particular job. Most of the time the reference uploads the letter themselves.

                There’s very definitely a style of writing for reference letters; they’re generally positive, but you can get a lot of information in the details of how things are written.

                Generally, though, reference letters are for academic positions (faculty, research assistants, postdocs) not for administrative or IT support staff.

                1. Emmy Noether*

                  That seems like a lot of work and aggravation to put on references. Spending an hour once on a generic letter is part of the job of supervisor. Spending time again informing oneself about the potential job and adapting the letter and dealing with buggy upload sites for potentially dozens of applications, and potentially again for the next job… that’s one hell of a favor. We’re talking *days* worth of free work, all summed up. It would really make me hesitate to apply for “maybe” jobs, because I’d have to bother my references yet again.

                2. Clisby*

                  Based on my kids’ experience, this is similar to reference letters for students applying to colleges in the US. Individual teachers will prepare the reference letters, and then they (or the school guidance office) upload them on request. The letters aren’t given directly to the students. (I mean, I guess a teacher could do that, but when my kids were applying, colleges wouldn’t have accepted the letters from them. It had to come through the school.) I don’t know how it worked with a personal letter of recommendation, but I’d guess the person writing the reference still would have been asked to send it in.

                3. Former academic*

                  Emmy: The “personalize it a bit” is usually either along the lines of “I know that Fergus is so excited about the chance to be close to family in [region of university]” (especially if the university is in an “undesirable” region/known for difficulty keeping young faculty in the area) or to have more/less emphasis on teaching undergraduates based on the institution type. In some cases you’d actually change other content (playing up certain connections to current faculty) but that’s pretty rare.

                4. Emmy Noether*

                  Former academic: sure, but if I count the time of 1) reading email by recommendee 2) googling potential place of work and role 3) finding the dang document again, wait, is that the latest version? 4) making minor changes 5) going to the upload site
                  6) re-converting to pdf and uploading again because some shit went wrong… that’s gotta be at least 30 minutes per application on average. Multiplied by a dozen applications (maybe more?), that’s 6 hours. And the whole rigamarole for the next… what? three job searches? 18 hours. That’s a LOT. I don’t know anyone professionally I could ask to do that for me.

            2. Artemesia*

              50 plus years ago when I was graduating and going into teaching HS the college facilitated gathering letters of reference which were kept on file for those seeking teaching jobs and could be send like transcripts on request.

              In higher ed in my experience they have always been specifically requested and written for the occasion although when you write letters for people you keep copies to tweak for when that person needs one again.

            3. KayDeeAye*

              That (getting a generic reference letter as you left a job) used to be pretty standard in the U.S., too, at least back when I graduated from college (which was, admittedly, just after the last ice age). But even then, I don’t think those letters were used very much. They are just not all that useful! But it was one of Those Things That Are Done, so people did them.

          2. Jessica*

            U.S. higher ed here. People just expect to do this labor because it’s a (ridiculous) norm. If you’re teaching in a department that graduates PhDs, helping them try to find jobs by writing these laborious reference letters over and over is part of your job.

            With that said, Interfolio is the answer to some of the issues people are raising here. It’s a service where you can have your references send in letters to Interfolio, they assemble your portfolio of recommendations, and then you can have them dispatch it to anywhere you’re applying. This way prospective employers get the security of knowing the letter came straight from the recommender, your references get the convenience of not having to be bothered about it repeatedly, and you get the security of having your letters available at all times. I knew someone whose dissertation advisor died unexpectedly soon after her defense, and it also insures against that sort of thing.

            1. Asenath*

              There’s a similar service for people applying to residency programs (in medicine) in Canada, and I’d suspect in the US as well. Reference letters are absolutely crucial, but each applicant gets one from each reference, which is sent directly to an agency that then forwards it to all the places the applicant is applying to.

              I personally have never had to use an actual reference letter. I just provide, originally on my application, now usually on request in the final stages of the process, names and contact information of my references.

          3. Baffled Teacher*

            In k-12 it’s generally known going in (by all parties) that the person in the supervising position will be asked to write a full letter at the end of student teaching/employment period. It just goes with the territory. It kind of makes sense in this specific field because you really do need to know about this candidate you’re putting in a position of public trust—and you can’t call and have a long chat with a teacher or principal during work hours like you can in other industries. They do tend to be positive but that’s because if you’re really not cut out for it you won’t make it through student teaching (or won’t apply for positions even if you finish for credit).

            1. New+Jack+Karyn*

              Yes, this. The principal/vice principal/assistant principal will write you one, your head of department will write you one, and then one is dealer’s choice: a peer, another professional you worked closely with, possibly someone from the district office (if appropriate), etc.

              They’re generally written for another teaching job, but you can tell your references if you’re going into a different field or whatever. The letters are *not* tailored for each job you apply for. You just upload them into the regional education job board–such as EdJoin–and attach them to each application.

          4. Mallory Janis Ian*

            I work in academia as a staff member, not even faculty, and many of the jobs ask for three letters of reference with the application. What I have done with my references is draft a letter for them and send it to them to make any edits as they see fit. It gives them something to start with and reminds them of any little details that might not come immediately to mind (ex. number of years they’ve known my work, etc)

          5. Juggling+Plunger*

            My wife teaches high school, and when she was trying to change schools she just had her letters already written and uploaded to the job search site (all public schools in our state use a single service for this), so when she when a specific job opened up she could just have those letters sent. It took several years for her to find a new job (very rural area, maybe one or two job openings/year within 30 minutes of us), and she would use the same letters for years (I think she did ask references to refresh them when they got 3 years old).

          6. Gracely*

            It’s pretty common in academia to have letters of reference–usually you apply with enough time to give your reference time to write and send in the letter. It’s a very, very accepted and expected thing (and the profs/references who write your letters had someone writing letters for them at some point, so it’s a bit pay-it-forward). When I did a student internship, my supervisor (who had terminal cancer) actually wrote me a generic one to use in the future after she passed (she was a truly exceptional mentor and the world lost an amazing person when she died a few years ago). I didn’t ask for it–she just gave it to me on my last day there.

            The time turnaround is a bit shorter now with email than it used to be with snail mail (and when that was the standard, you would try to give your letter writer an addressed, stamped envelope when possible). I’m not even in a faculty position, but I’ve written a half-dozen reference letters for student employees. My spouse is a prof, and they have a (virtual) folder with every reference letter they’ve ever written. At this point, it’s pretty easy for them to tweak a few things to be specific to the student asking. And they’ve got a template for any letters they need to write for coworkers (since it’s a must for anyone seeking tenure). It’s just one more part of the job that people who aren’t in higher ed don’t know/think about.

            No one usually calls references until they’re thinking about offering that person a job, though.

      2. Artemesia*

        When you hire someone with tenure you have to have letters; calls are less burdensome. So you call for the finalists, but only request letters for those to whom the offer is made. People in academia know that letters are part of the deal for tenure so expect to write them.

    1. Chilipepper+Attitude*

      I work in higher ed (not in a teaching role) and we only make phone calls. We don’t ask for a letter. Asking for both a phone call and a letter is a lot!

      1. Empress+Matilda*

        I wonder how many reference letters they actually get? Asking someone to take the time to write a reference letter before the applicant has even been *screened* is a lot to ask! Hopefully they’re not screening people out based on whether or not they receive X number of letters…

        1. AcademiaCat*

          Oh, they absolutely are. I’m working on the admin aspects of a search for a tenured faculty member now, and we need CV with publication list, teaching/mentoring statement, research plan, 3 letters of reference, and cover letter. The hiring committee will speak with the references of maybe two of them, and not until April, after we’ve 1) closed the application period (which is open for three months before we even look at applications), 2) phone interviewed everyone who applied and doesn’t have any obvious red-flags/is unqualified, 3) invited our top 4 or 5 of them to campus for a two-day visit of meetings, including with deans, and giving a research presentation, and 4) narrowed those candidates down to our first and second choice. Then we’ll make the offer for a job that won’t actually *start* until August 2023.

          On the one hand, academia is weird and byzantine. On the other hand, this is a tenure-track position. If all goes well (they don’t wash out pre-tenure or do something really dramatically egregious to get fired after tenure), this is The Job that this individual will have for the rest of their career. Overhauling the application process means overhauling the tenure process too.

      2. academicstaff*

        I work in an academic lab. Unfortunately as others have said, this is the norm in US academia when applying for an assistant professor position. Most applications require the letters uploaded at the time of application. Same for if you are a grad student or post-doc and applying for a fellowship. Letters in advance. Or applying to grad school from undergrad. Same. My boss writes a lot of letters and his admin loads them up to the relevant sites. It’s def a time suck.

    2. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

      Just to add another data point for OP, for staff hiring at my large Canadian research uni, we only ever call references if you’re in the lead for a position. I don’t think our HR would allow anything else! Different on the academia side, but there are barriers to faculty taking their academic hiring approaches to the staff side.

  3. Catgirl*

    How does letter writer #3 know what her husband told his co-worker? I ask because either he told her, the co-worker told her, or she’s spying on them. All different situations, all bad.

    1. Zombeyonce*

      Agreed. None of the options are good. If he did tell LW, it sounds like he’s playing the two women off of each other for his own egotistical gratification. This is a bad situation that may even need counseling to get him to understand he’s being a jerk. His behavior sounds like someone preparing to have an affair by convincing their affair partner his marriage is on the rocks and trying to make his wife jealous at the same time.

      1. allathian*

        I bet the husband told the LW. Some men need their wives to be jealous, because that’s what makes them feel wanted. If they can make some other woman emotionally invested in them at the same time, all the better. No doubt some women feel the same way about their partners of any sex, too.

      1. Emmy+Noether*

        That’s an interesting possibility. Still, if I overheard my husband having this conversation, I’d just assume he forgot and yell “dude, remember, I’m coming!”, or remind him after. That she’s jumping to interpreting this as a mindgame instead of forgetfulness tells us nothing good.

    2. Emmy+Noether*

      Came here to say pretty much this. And “he told her” has the sub-options (a) he likes to make his wife jealous and insecure (b) he thinks this absolves him of wrongdoing or (c) she is already jealous and pressed it out of him. None of these are good.

      The conversation in isolation doesn’t actually sound that bad to me. People say weird things in conversations and have weird memory holes. Just recently we had a whole thread in these comments that some people get so thrown by conversations switching from the business to the private sphere that they forget their own birthdays. It happens.

      What’s alarming here is not the words to the coworker, but the interactions between husband and wife, and the whole context of those words.

    3. Varthema*

      Also my first question! None of the options are particularly great – if he told her, at least she can give him a blank look and say, “Why would you put it like that? That doesn’t make any sense.” If overheard, I agree with AAM, he’s downplaying his marriage in a concerning way.

    4. Ellis+Bell*

      When my husband was cheating on me, he told me stuff like this. I was supposed to giggle and get fun-jealous not for real-jealous. My actual reaction was bafflement.

  4. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Those of you who suddenly have plus signs appearing within your user name: To fix it, you may need to clear your cookies. Or, you might be able to fix it by just editing the plus signs back to spaces in the user name field, and then posting a comment with the box checked to save your name.

    If neither of those methods fixes it for you, please let me know!

    1. Brain the Brian*

      Commenting here to see if this fixes it for me, as I don’t have much to add to discussions about these letters.

    2. Susan Ivanova*

      I’d wondered about that. After clearing cookies my name didn’t get auto-filled, so this is a test post to see if what I just entered sticks.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I like your name better this way.

        It happened a few weeks ago that “-” started appearing in the spaces in user names and just deleting them worked. Some weird bug keeps adding random symbols into spaces, I guess.

    3. I'm Just Here For the Cats!*

      I just deleted and retyped my username and it worked fine. In case you didn’t want to delete your cookies.

  5. nnn*

    The entertaining thing for #3 to do would be to introduce yourself to your husband’s co-worker and have a long, warm, amusing conversation, especially if you can find fruitful topics that have nothing to do with your husband and that he can’t contribute anything to.

  6. AnnoyedPerson*

    Ugh #1 is my coworker too. She’ll ask me how much things of mine cost and then will say “holy!” because she wouldn’t spend as much on whatever it is. Or if it’s from a store she thinks is too expensive, she’ll make a sad face. Like sure, I spent a whole $75 on my (wedding!) shoes, but I don’t spend that a month on my nails like you do, coworker.

    1. Zombeyonce*

      It’s so frustrating when people push for this information and the info they get just makes them frustrated. It’s not good for anyone.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, this. I’m so glad I work with reasonable people. I’ve never been part of, or even overheard, any discussions about personal finances at work, certainly not at my current job. Particularly not judgmental ones like these examples.

        Our situation is a bit odd in the sense that because it’s a governmental agency, our salary bands are public information. But we get a personal, performance based salary as well, which can be as high as 50% of the basic salary as determined by the position’s salary band, so in theory a high performer can earn half as much again as a new hire in the same position, although in practice the difference is unlikely to be much more than 25%, because by the time you hit that level, you’re often promoted to a higher salary band.

        1. JustaTech*

          I’ve had discussions of personal finances at work, but they tended to be folks volunteering things about the rate they got on their mortgage, or being relieved that a settlement came through so they can pay off some credit card debt. Or that one time when our purchasing system changed and a coworker ended up overdrawn on her bank account because of having to buy last-minute plane tickets for a work thing. (If she’d know it was a reimbursement system she would have used a different card.)

          I think the only time folks were ever really judgmental was the time our VP drove his Audi R8 (Iron Man’s car, extremely expensive) to work on the day he laid off a bunch of people for budget reasons. (Dude, read the room!)

      2. The OTHER Other*

        Yes, often they either feel you spent too much, in which case what is WRONG with you, where are you getting all this money!? Or you spent too little and they wonder why you are so cheap, or how you got such a great deal. Very seldom is your answer “just right”.

        It sounds to me as if LW has already said things much like Alison suggests. I would add a “please stop asking me about how much I spend on things”. You need to explicitly ask her to stop.

        1. Putting+the+Dys+in+Dysfunction*

          Being blunt with this nosy person might indeed be necessary.

          Another tactic would be to start asking her how much she paid for things and start criticizing her choices (/snark).

          1. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

            [Replying to myself to try Alison’s suggestion to eliminate the plus signs]

        2. Smithy*

          Absolutely this.

          In conversations about “quiet luxury”, I get that there’s part of being in the “in club” of knowing the most exclusive designers for $500 white t-shirts n such. But I think it may have that mix when people say how nice your white t-shirt or other basics are, it’s being able to emphasize things like tailoring as opposed to exactly where you got it. Or avoid the questions all together, because who cares about basics.

        3. MigraineMonth*

          There seems to be a particular ritual around purchasing high-end items on sale. Like, “Oh, this new Coach Bag? I got it on an amazing sale!”

          Which is a fine hobby, but it’s as incomprehensible to me as fantasy football drafts or knitting patterns.

          1. JustaTech*

            Sometimes the “I got it on sale!” is a cousin of “it has pockets!”, as in, yes, this thing is awesome, and here’s something that makes it better, rather than, here’s something that makes it acceptable for me to own.

      3. Joielle*

        Yes! Right out of law school our friends had a WIDE range of salaries – people were doing everything from temp work to big firms. My now-husband and I both landed pretty good jobs and one friend who was making a lot less would NOT let it go. He eventually pestered my husband into telling him our salaries, and then the friend was upset. My dude, you did this to yourself.

      4. Observer*

        It’s so frustrating when people push for this information and the info they get just makes them frustrated

        It’s even worse than that. Because in most cases, it’s not *frustration* that’s being expressed but judgement.

    2. MK*

      I think the issue is the attitude, not the questions, or at least not each individual question. In my culture “what did X cost you?” is not considered a personal question at all, but it’s not the main theme of people’s conversation, nor is it an invitation to judge other people’s decisions.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        The attitude and the frequency. I wouldn’t mind a coworker asking me as a one off “hey, I’ve been thinking of buying something like that, would you mind me asking how much you paid for yours?” as part of their research process or whatever. But it seems like money is the primary focus of most of this person’s conversations, and I can see how that could feel like being continually cross examined.

        1. Sparkle llama*

          My immediate coworkers occasionally discuss costs of things but never in a judgmental way. The things that come to mind are hotel rooms and flights (many of my coworkers travel a lot and are looking for deals) and appliances (often in the context of “I also need a new stove how much was yours and do you like it). Or we may respond to a complement on an article of clothing with how great of a deal we got but that is a pretty universal response in our culture (American Midwest)

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I’ve done a variant on that in the past – that looks well made/comfortable/functional – where did you get it? I’m not worried what you paid, I’m asking more about function and location as part of my research process. And I’ll happily answer the same type of questions in return.

          However, you needle me on what something cost – I suddenly have a lot of work I have to get back to, sorry.

        3. Lacey*

          Yeah, a coworker recently hired someone do a project on their house that I need to have done on mine. I asked if they minded telling me how much they paid, because I wanted to have an idea of how much it could cost.

          But just all the time pestering people about how much they spent, especially if you’re going to be critical or jealous when they do, is gross.

      2. Ness*

        I would have no problem with someone asking me what it cost to get my dog spayed, especially if they were, say, considering getting a dog and trying to get a complete picture of the costs.

        But asking someone what they paid for their house just seems nosy, and I would be much more hesitant to answer.

        1. MK*

          I don’t think it’s any specific question that’s nozy, it’s that it’s constant, apparently followed by judgement and not picking up the hint that it’s unwelcome. I have zero problem telling people what I paid for my house, even if it was idel curiosity; there is little personal about the information, it’s about the real estate market. But I would be annoyed to be asked what I paid for this and that all the time and then having to listen to someone’s opinion on my spending.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      Similar, I have scarves that cost other people’s high monthly alcohol budget, because I don’t drink! However, it would be rude to point that out. I like nice things in general, so my response to this is “I never remember how much things cost, so that’s why I write down my budget.” It’s also kind of a hint. If they want to figure out the secret of How To Afford Those Shoes, they need to do it with their own finances, not mine.

      1. Eldritch+Office+Worker*

        For something like clothing or jewelry I agree. For something like home repairs or vet visits (which OP lists) it wouldn’t really bother me. That’s the kind of thing people might be trying to keep a frame of reference of for various reasons and crowdsourcing is one of the better ways to do that. I’d probably say “can I ask…” but I do think what you’re asking about makes a difference there.

        However if OP is just at BEC stage or doesn’t want to talk about the subject at ALL, that’s fine too.

        1. Delta Delta*

          This also is a good point. If I had to have a service done that I’ve never had done before I might ask around to get a sense about what the local market rate is. But since it seems to be about everything, if I were OP I’d shut down all financial chatter with this coworker.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I’ve done the “need a new vet, do you mind telling me what yours charges” style questions before – and it sounds like with ANYBODY else OP wouldn’t mind – but I agree that they are probably at BEC because it seems like costs and money worries is the only non-work topic that other coworker wants to engage in. In that situation I’d be at BEC too.

    4. Bagpuss*

      Yes, I used to have a co-worker who would make comments along the lines of “It must be nice to be able to afford [whatever you had spent money on, whether it wsas clothes, a day out, a meal etc]

      It was particuarly frustrating as we had exactly the same income at the time, it was simply that we made different choices -both in terms of lifestyle and personal choices, and in what they choice to prioritise in terms of how they spend their money compared with how I spend mine.

      I think in their mind, the things they chose to spend money on were essentials (even things like expensive holidays) wheres the things I did were luxuries.
      It got so I dreaded even mentioning anything I’d done or been to as she would always start on about how they couldn’t afford to dothat / go there and it was just exhausting.

      For OP, I think variations on a theme of ‘I prefer not to discuss my personal finances at work’ / ‘I don’t recall’ / ‘We were comfortable we paid market value at the time’ so she isn’t getting into any detail.

      1. Hobbling Up a Hill*

        I had a co-worker get snarky with me because I used a fountain pen. They then – without any prompting and of their own volition – googled the fountain pen, discovered that it’s RRP was around $500 and kept making comments about how much it cost and how nice it must be to have that much money to spend on something so useless.

        As it happened, I had not paid the full RRP and instead got it for a significantly smaller sum second hand. They also didn’t know anything about fountain pens because $500 is nowhere near the top end of the price range for those and they can hold their value or appreciate in value.

        I didn’t say any of that to the co-worker, just that I was happy with what I paid for it (and I was, I got a serious bargain) and kept a very close eye on the pen in question just in case. Although I might have taken to leaving browser windows open to the pages of increasingly expensive fountain pens whenever that co-worker decided to snoop.

        1. Lady_Lessa*

          Several years ago, my boss and I were talking about art glass paperweights, and when I went to ebay to show him the pricing of the top of the line (due to quality and artist), he was very surprised. I wasn’t, just envious of those who could afford them.

          1. Hobbling Up a Hill*

            I believe his argument was something along the lines of it having the same function as a ballpoint pen which he could get for much cheaper. So it was useless because it was wasteful.

          2. Clisby*

            I guess the same way a Brooks Brothers suit might be seen as useless compared to an H&M suit?

            Besides its being none of their business, I wonder whether any of these busybodies think about how much wear you’ll get out of a BB suit vs. an HM suit.

        2. TootsNYC*

          My friend bought a Mercedes Kompressor convertible one year, and everyone pestered her about how much she paid.
          She refused to say, and instead would reply, “I’ll just say this: you can get a good deal if you’re buying a convertible in a snowstorm on the last week of December when they want to make their numbers. And I didn’t spend more than I can afford, so you don’t need to be worried about my finances.”

          Anything else, wasn’t their business. She gave them the negotiating tips and the reassurance.

        3. Lily+Rowan*

          It drives me nuts that so many people don’t clearly see that we are all making choices with our money. Sure, some people have more or less of it, but everyone makes choices! Some people who seem rich are in a lot of debt! Some people who don’t seem to have any money are socking it all away to retire early! Some people who spend a lot on X don’t spend much on Y!

        4. Sister George Michael*

          LOL this happened to me when my 7 year old niece told me she googled my new dutch oven and it costs ‘hundreds of dollars.’ Of course I don’t blame her, it just let me know how much my lifestyle was being dissected in HER house.

          Several years earlier she asked me if I had paid the deposit on my house by myself. A friend joked: are you going to remember that til you get home or do you want to write it down?

          Of course, these are people who hate you if you buy something expensive and ridicule you if you buy something cheap or used.

      2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        My brother’s wife does that. “I wish *I* could afford to travel/get a tattoo/whatever.” Well, if my family’s decision had been for me to be a stay at home mom of three instead of a working professional with no children, I would probably spend my money very differently too. We all make our lifestyle choices.

      3. Lacey*

        I have a friend like this. We make similar money, they probably make a bit more.
        They like their luxury goods. Designer hand bags, high-end make-up. Fine. Lovely.

        But when I splurge on a really amazing dinner or other experience they act like I’m throwing all this money around. THEY could never afford to do that.
        Well they could, if they didn’t buy a new purse.

      4. Rain's Small Hands*

        The other piece to this is that your disposable income isn’t likely just “your salary” – “your expenses” = “disposable income”

        If you have additional sources of income – an inheritance, a spouse with a great job, a trust fund, rental property, investment, a side hustle selling your plasma and door dashing – then the “your salary” is really just part of the picture.

        Likewise, expenses can fluctuate WILDLY. Neither my husband or I had student loans, and a windfall let us pay off our mortgage when our kids were still in elementary school. That creates a whole different picture than someone with a $1600 a month mortgage, daycare expenses and student loans. (We did have the daycare expenses). If you are looking at student loans, daycare, mortgage, groceries, car loan….you may spend a lot of time at work wondering how anyone can afford a manicure.

        People don’t tend to think in terms of the total equation – and the variety of inputs and outputs. Its obvious, but people just don’t think it through. So they look at someone with approximately the same salary and say “why can you afford to go on vacation when I can’t” – and it often comes out as “how much?”

    5. SheLooksFamiliar*

      If I’m feeling nice and the nosy person isn’t being a jerk, I’ll say, ‘Not as much as you might think.’ That usually stops further questions.

      If the NP won’t drop it, I’ve been known to say, ‘About as much as you spent on your handbag/coat/shoes/phone. By the way, how much DID you spend? And what about those earrings?’ And so on. I can’t remember anyone telling me what they paid for anything. Ha.

    6. Not A Manager*

      Why do you bother to tell her, though? I mean, just because she asks doesn’t mean you have to answer. I usually answer with a complete non-sequitur. “How much did those cost?” – “Yes, they’re lovely, aren’t they?” But you can give a more general response – “Oh, not too much/I don’t remember exactly/You know, whatever wedding shoes cost.” Or you can be honest. “Prunella, no matter what they cost you’re going to tell me it was too much.”

      1. Chilipepper Attitude*

        It sounds like the OP does not tell her most of the time. The OP wants to find something to say to stop the coworker asking about and talking about money all the time.

        The OP is already saying what Alison suggested and the coworker keeps talking about money.

        Sadly, there is no magic phrase, people are weird, and my mom was wrong – people don’t all grow up to be adults.

      2. AnnoyedPerson*

        Well I try not to now haha. I’ve honestly just stopped telling her a lot of things in general because similar to OP’s coworker, she often misses social cues and will comment on any of my habits (spending, eating) and ask personal questions (again spending, medical, relationships). I’ve put up quite the wall lately.

    7. Hen in A Windstorm*

      I’m truly confused by this response and the letter, honestly. The LW doesn’t give examples of what I would call “personal” expenses. How much did it cost to get your dog spayed is A) a service, B) a one-time expense, and C) likely to be something she wouldn’t just know and might be price comparing for herself. Same with plumbing services. And even house down payments. Pretty sure home sale prices are publicly available anyway.

      Your response (and others here) is about consumer spending, which is indeed personal, but there is no evidence of this in the letter. Sounds to me LW is one of those people who thinks *any* talk of money is shockingly personal.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        OP doesn’t say it but I wonder if the problem is more the coworker’s reactions to how OP spends their money, like how some others have commented here that the asker will then say something like “Wow, I would never spend that kind of money on that” or “Must be nice to be able to afford that.” And that is something I would definitely find frustrating. But OP may very well be one of those people who just doesn’t want to talk about expenses and money and that’s well within their right too.

        1. cat person*


          LW here. Reading these comments has made me realize I have not done a great job with my examples or with a full explanation of why this is bothersome! Other things she’s asked about: pretty much anything she sees in my office, vacations I have taken, any and every purchase, clothing, housing stuff, and she’s asked other people how much they pay for therapy or other medical services (we do have health insurance through work, and while I think it’s totally fine to ask about therapy costs, I’m not sure everyone she asks in a GROUP SETTING necessarily wanted the whole room to know they were in therapy), etc.

          As a lot of people have noted: the frequency is part of what makes it uncomfortable, as well as the response when she does get information is part of what makes it uncomfortable. It’s usually a “Well, I could NEVER afford that” or even sometimes an “How do YOU afford that?” And this discomfort for me is compounded by the fact that she’s older than me and higher in the hierarchy than me.

          The other part that makes it uncomfortable is that this kind of question is never asked one-to-one. As people have said, some of the examples aren’t necessarily that private. They’re the kind of information I probably would share with people for whom that info would be relevant — anyone house shopping or with a dog. (She is not house shopping and has said many times that she’ll never be able to afford a house. She also does not have a dog or any interest in getting one). She almost always asks these questions in large group meetings — so while the price of my desk or my shoes or whatever is more or less fine to ask one-to-one, it’s more awkward in a larger group of people/in the same meeting as our mutual boss.

          Hope this clears things up, and thanks to everyone for the commiseration and advice!

      2. Just+Your+Everyday+Crone*

        I think most people would consider how much the down payment on their house was to be personal financial information. Total house price is public, not how it was paid for. The other comments were indicated as examples of the co-worker responding to everything by asking about the cost, not as necessarily being personal but just being tiresome.

        1. Clisby*

          Well … down payment might be public, depending on the state. At least when we bought the 2 houses we’ve owned together, the mortgagor was listed, showing the actual mortgage price. It doesn’t take a math genius to figure out, based on the sale price, what the down payment was.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            I guess it depends on where you live. That info is not public record in our very detailed property records, and the “standard” 20% downpayment in my HCOL area, is a low six-figure sum that is unattainable for a lot of people, even for townhouses and small, older homes. Unless they were receiving a gift or loan from family for a downpayment, most people we know put less down way less than 20%, had a VA loan, went through a first-time homebuyer’s program that allowed for less down without insane PMI, or had a first mortgage for 80% and a second for the remainder (back in the days when my cat could have gotten a mortgage, anyway – this is the only way were able to buy before we turned 35, not being from well-off families who could front us $100K). I’m sure a lot of people wonder how people managed to afford what they have bought, but it’s tacky to ask subordinates at work (which is what OP’s coworker is doing).

      3. TootsNYC*

        I had that same thought.
        maybe the LW is just not giving all the examples.
        And maybe (more likely) the tone of voice used is coming across judgmental or something.

        With necessary services, etc., I tend tot hink it’s good to share that info, in case someone else could use it.

        How much you spent on the tile for your bathroom remodel is something that will vary and will reflect taste, budget, etc. But getting your dog spayed and changing out a toilet are generally not discretionary expenses, nor are they going to vary from place to place.

      4. MJ*

        They are personal in that they aren’t in any way related to work and the coworker has no need for the info to do their job.

      5. fhqwhgads*

        I think it’s the frequency that’s bugging the LW, which is why people are coming up with other examples.
        But also, the house sale price is publicly available, and has nothing to do with how much one put down. Knowing what someone put down + the sale price is basically finding out “how big a mortgage do you have right now?” which, to me, is a very odd thing to ask a coworker. The nature of the questions in the letter seems to imply the coworker is trying to find out what LW can afford/is spending, rather than the sort of thing you’d be gauging for yourself to get a sense of the price of things. Plus given the frequency implied by the letter, it’s improbable the coworker is crowdsourcing prices on alllll the services LW happened to have used recently.

    8. Butterfly Counter*

      Oh goodness, that’s annoying.

      I know that whenever anyone asks me how much I paid, I can honestly answer, “I don’t remember.” I just don’t. I might have a ballpark, but the actual sum is just not in my brain any more.

      Just pretend you’re me. It does save a lot of curiosity from others because I’m consistent in my forgetting.

    9. learnedthehardway*

      I think it might be a good idea for the OP to talk with “over-sharing” co-worker’s manager. I mean, the person simply is NOT picking up on repeated requests to not discuss personal finances at work, and the OP is more junior than she is. And frankly, the over-sharer’s manager SHOULD be shutting this down – it’s not appropriate and it’s intrusive. Plus, it’s not a good look for the over-sharer to be either complaining about her own personal finances or asking other people about theirs – it really calls her judgement and discretion into question, and that’s something that is a real problem for her own career growth. Her manager should be coaching her on this sort of thing.

    10. KatEnigma*

      My dad got mad at his coworkers in the late 70’s/early 80’s for asking for the 100th time how he could afford to take us on family vacations while my mom was a SAHP while they couldn’t go on vacation with 2 salaries and he finally told them that it was because he didn’t buy a new car every other year or smoke and drink his money every week like they did. He told them it was all about choices They were mad, but stopped asking.

    11. TootsNYC*

      I can see some actual use in sharing information about things like how much a plumber’s visit cost. It could be useful to know that someone paid $350 to get their toilet changed, and whether that included the toilet.

      But I also think that it’s sort of clear when someone is asking because they’re trying to build their own mental database.

      Sometimes you can ask, “Why do you want to know?” and that gives them a chance to say, “I’m a new homeowner, and might need to get my toilet changed” or “I’m trying to decide whether to get a dog.”

    12. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

      My co-worker is a big time share bug as in “I paid $7K for my car. Why won’t you tell me what you spent on yours?” Just because you want to share personal details it does not follow that I want to.

  7. Double+A*

    In the two states I’ve taught K-12, I’ve had to provide letters of reference with my application. It’s annoying, but since it’s normal people are generally pretty understanding about writing you a letter. However, you collect these before you start applying and attach them with the application; your references don’t immediately get emailed asking for a letter. And you references (which you also supply with the application) might be different than your letter writers.

    It’s annoying and anachronistic and I don’t really know why it’s persisted. It’s been a few years since I’ve applied for a teaching job though; maybe in our current climate some places are dropping that requirement. Education can have some weird quirks.

    1. Dark Macadamia*

      Also in K-12 and my most recent application couldn’t even be submitted until I had THREE references respond to their survey. It was SO stressful. I’m lucky they’re desperate for teachers right now.

    2. Irish+Teacher.*

      In Ireland, this seems to depend on the school, so I’ve asked the principal of the school I did my student teaching in for a reference and she was like, “oh, you don’t need written references. Just give them my name and the number of the school and they can phone me.” Then I’d see advertisements asking for “two written references.”

  8. coffee*

    ‘She’s also above me in the hierarchy and kind of bad at reading social cues, so saying things like, “Oh, I don’t really like to talk about that kind of thing at work” doesn’t do anything more than stop a specific question. She’s right back at it the next meeting.’

    I think you can politely be more blunt – something like “I don’t like talking about how much things cost at work, thanks for understanding.” If she asks again, “Oh, you know I don’t talk about how much things cost” and then repeat. You don’t need to get into why/your feelings about talking about money. You’re just being direct about your boundaries.

    This will achieve two things:
    1) If she does need you to be more blunt, then you have done her a kindness by being more specific.
    2) If she does keep on about it, having a stock phrase will take less effort from you than having to think up what to say all the time. She has broken one of the rules of polite small talk (don’t persistently ask about something the other person doesn’t want to talk about), so you don’t have to keep up the politeness of engaging with the topic of conversation. You’re still being polite overall! But you can politely not answer.

    You might find a different stock phrase, or a variety of stock phases, work better for you, so here are some other suggestions:
    “Far too much in this economy!”
    “Oh, my beloved [pet name] is priceless to me.”
    “I spent enough. Not too much, not too little.”
    “That’s between me and my budget.”
    “Oh, I can’t remember.”
    “It’s one banana, Michael. What could it cost, $10?”

    1. Zombeyonce*

      I have a feeling that if LW starts using the same phrase over and over (which will hopefully eventually break her coworker of this habit, at least with LW), other people will begin to adopt the same phrase. Even if they might have told her in a one-on-one conversation, most people don’t want to tell everyone in a large meeting about their purchases. Sticking to the same wording over and over is more likely to get her to notice the pattern.

      1. coffee*

        Using the same phrase all the time may make the conversation unrewarding enough for the person to stop asking, but I doubt it would be a conscious decision. It sounds like she wouldn’t notice the pattern.

        If she’s got money woes and is asking about money all the time, I think there’s a lot of emotion tied up in the conversation, so I expect she will keep asking for quite a while. Also, the problem of having a low salary is still there as a driving factor. :(

        1. ferrina*

          Exactly. Make the conversation boring for the asker and disengage when she begins talking about money. Reward her by re-engaging when she talks about something else. Be extremely consistent, or she’ll quickly fall back into old patterns.

          Even if this doesn’t work with her, it will send a clear signal to others about how you feel about this nonsense.

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        This is my standard strategy for dealing with the clueless. Use the same phrase over and over. And I do mean exactly the same phrase, spoken with the same intonation, repeated as necessary until they figure out that this is all they are going to get.

        1. Polly Hedron*

          Yes, gray-rock her with an automatic response. Even if it never makes her stop, it will make responding easier.

    2. Edwina*

      Saddest thing about the line from Arrested Development is as prices keep going up it’s getting less and less ridiculous!

        1. Slightly Above Average Bear*

          If that happens, my family will never have bananas. We aren’t good at remembering to eat them before they turn to mush.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            My spouse has a really great banana bread recipe just for this purpose. We throw them in the freezer when they start getting speckled, and use them in the bread and smoothies. He does loaves around the holidays for the neighbors.

            We do have a system, though – I won’t eat a banana that’s not green at the top/bottom, my kids only eat them in the all-yellow range, my husband likes when the get over ripe and sweeter. Then, the turn into bread.

    3. coffee*

      Belatedly, I have realised that you could have replied “Literally money down the drain” in response to the question about plumbing.

    4. Tinkerbell*

      Some people just need you to be blunt: “Talking about money at work makes me uncomfortable and I don’t want to do it anymore, sorry.” You’ve got a lot of good potential responses but none of them answer WHY the OP doesn’t want to give a straight answer. Most people would pick up on the hint, but apparently this coworker is not one of those people :-\

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        I wouldn’t go with “makes me uncomfortable” because to the clueless, this becomes a problem of overcoming the discomfort, not of the topic being inappropriate.

      2. Worldwalker*

        It’s none of her business *why*. And that just gives her another target; the OP now has to defend her reasons, too, from a nosy and pushy person.

        1. coffee*

          Yeah, that’s why I didn’t get into the why. If someone is not good on picking up on cues, they probably don’t know the “don’t argue with someone’s reason” cues either.

        1. Antilles*

          It also works because if there *was* a real reason rather than curiosity/weirdness, there’s actually completely legitimate answers to that question – oh I’m actually thinking about buying a house soon so wondering about how prices are going or I’m asking about the cost of a plumber because I also need a pipe replaced or etc.

          But since this woman asks about everything, she won’t have a real answer and you can just sort of end the line of questioning right there.

          1. irene adler*

            If this question is asked for a legitimate reason, it still should not be phrased as “how much did YOU pay for xxx?”.

            A better way to inquire is, “So how much do homes go for in neighborhood XX?” or “What do plumbers usually charge for Y service?”. Then the OP is not asked what they paid, just what their knowledge is for the service or item in question. And OP is free to answer or not, as they choose.

            1. Antilles*

              I think you can still ask directly what they paid for it (and typically get a fairly specific answer too), but yeah, there’s certainly a better way to frame it – by laying the groundwork for your question right upfront with the initial question.

              “Oh, you got your basement faucet replaced? Ah yeah, the wife and I need to bring someone in to fix a leaky faucet ourselves, probably pretty soon. Mind if I ask how much it cost ballpark? Who’d you use?”

              1. irene adler*

                Yes-your way works well! Your “Mind if I ask….” is respectful and gives the OP an out should OP not wish to discuss what they paid.

        2. Lime green Pacer*

          When a friend tried this response, they got the equally-rude reply, “Because I want to know.”

          1. Grey Panther*

            At which time I would immediately morph into Westley, speaking to Inigo Montoya just before their swordfight:
            “Get used to disappointment.”

      1. Environmental+Compliance*

        I’ve used that with good luck before – and if the answer is “oh just curious!” I’ve followed it with a cheery “oh, okay!” and just…not answered. Return the awkward to sender and all that.

      2. Chilipepper Attitude*

        “Why do you ask?” or “You are so interested in money.”
        I agree with WellRed, I’d go for passing the awkward right back to them.

    5. Sara without an H*

      This is good advice. I’d warn OP#1, though, that she’s probably not going to be successful in stopping the questions entirely — it sounds as though this is just how this woman relates to the world.

      Having a menu of stock phrases is a particularly good idea, but they’ll work better if immediately followed by a subject change: “Oh, I can’t remember. What did you do over the weekend?”

      1. Smithy*

        I agree. My mother grew up with a lot of insecurities/issues with money and I’ve just learned over time they are a deeply ingrained part of her personality and there’s certainly nothing I am going to do that’s going to radically change her behavior.

        The only thing I can really change is my behavior and with that bring an energy of wanting to be respectful and not create a fight. So if it’s something I don’t want to talk about – finding a chipper/polite way to say that. If it’s a behavior of her’s I don’t love (i.e. how much she tips), what are quiet ways I can change myself or distance myself from the behavior (i.e. how much I tip when I pay, having cash on me to add if she won’t notice). And then if she just wants to have a running commentary on every price in the grocery store or how much xyz relative paid for abc thing….acknowledge that these are shopping trips or conversations that don’t happen that often and I can just be a respectful if boring listener.

    6. Scarlet Magnolias*

      I like to smile sweetly and say “Oh I would so much rather talk about my sex life than my budget!” Stops them cold

    7. Jay (no, the other one)*

      Or, with a completely straight face, some astronomical number. “These shoes? About a million five. Why?”

      Don’t know if I’d have the guts to try this. It’s entertaining to think about.

      My daughter went to college 3,000 miles away in a place that draws a lot of tourists. We are lucky enough that we could afford to fly her home for every vacation and also travel out there ourselves. I know not everyone could do that. I did get tired of “must be nice.” It was nice – and it was also pretty much our entire travel budget for four years. Whatever vacation time I had left was spent in AirBnBs three or four hours from home. I am not complaining about that. We had a good time, we are lucky to be able to do all of this, and she adored San Diego and still lives there. But it’s nobody else’s business.

    8. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

      “$5 billons dollars!” with a Dr. Evil cackle. I used to look a lot younger for my age and disliked telling people because of their reaction. So my go to response was “I’m 85” with a straight face.

  9. Lab Lady*

    Re #5 Can someone please lead the charge to abolish these – for academic job applications (you know, do a reference check call on the short listed people like a normal freaking field) ? They take up so much freaking time.

    Please — I would, but all my free time is take up writing reference letters

    1. DieTrying*

      I’m prepared to sign onto this particular movement. This year alone, I have written/am writing upwards of 100 letters for 5-10 students at different stages (but mostly for academic positions) … and yes, most of these must be submitted before the candidates’ applications are considered complete and view-able by the committee.

      Not each of these is written completely from scratch, of course: candidate A’s letter to positions X, Y, and Z gets tailored for their respective recipients but still says functionally the same thing. But it’s still a major time-suck. On the other hand, from the perspective of hiring committees, I can also say that LORs, esp. from “known quantity” recommenders, are among the first items in a candidate’s file to get read. It’s a vicious cycle.

      Major kudos to those institutions who have moved to only requesting letters if the candidate actually makes it past the first round. This is, I think, the way of the future.

      1. Manchmal*

        I have found this round that far fewer applications are requesting letters up front. And a few enlightened committees are forgoing the usual laundry list of application items in favor of just the letter and CV (and maybe DEI statement). I think committees are wising up to the fact that no one wants to read the teaching statement, research statement, or writing sample for the first round of interviews!

        1. AcademiaCat*

          I think it might be because of the mindset of the departments I’ve worked for, but the faculty on the search committees I’ve supported care more about the research and teaching statement than the CV. The CV is a checklist (yes, you have your PhD, yes, you’ve done a postdoc and/or some adjuncting). The research and teaching statements tell them whether the candidate will match the department philosophy and direction on those things.

    2. Dr. Doll*

      It’s going to have to start with a provost saying initial letters are not to be requested. Caltech or UC Berkeley, or Princeton, by preference.

    3. Samwise*

      Back in the dark ages, we could solicit recommendation letters and have them as part of a file maintained by (I think) the career center — it was called a dossier. Rec letters, writing samples, cv. Then you could have your dossier sent. The real problem there was that it was pretty expensive for your average liberal arts grad student to send multiples of these. Lots of institutions wanted the dossier up front.

      The dossier system at my U did have one advantage: the prof who was shepherding us through the job search process asked all students on the market to give him permission to view our dossiers. Then he went and read all the rec letters, and browbeat profs who wrote crappy letters to revise. If they refused (that was rare), he advised the student in question to pull the letter and request one from another prof.

    4. Feral Humanist*

      I did not require letters for the last two postdoc positions I hired for. It really confused people until I explained that I believe letters of rec represent a lot of wasted labor in the academy and we would simply call references for the top two or three candidates. Then a lot of people were grateful.

      The one argument in their favor that I have seen is that sometimes a candidate’s letter writers do a better job of representing their work and their strengths than the candidate does, and that sometimes they will invite someone to interview on the strength of their letters. But that is, to me, a completely different issue. If people are properly prepared for the academic market and have strong materials, that shouldn’t happen.

    5. Pippa K*

      I’m going to be the outlier here, but I’d keep recommendation letters in academic job apps. They’re not just vouching for or praising the applicant; they also include a lot of information that would be less effectively conveyed in a phone conversation – like detailed explanations of how someone’s research makes a particular contribution to an area of the scholarly literature (obviously different from the candidate making this claim themselves), or their particular skills (or challenges they faced well) in field research or teaching, etc. Good academic letters of rec are information-heavy and we find them useful and take them pretty seriously, at least in my field.

      1. Pippa K*

        And just to add, I say this even though writing them is tiresome. I’ve got three to do this afternoon…

    6. Gremlins*

      I had to fill out a form for a previous employee that the company said would take “5 minutes” to complete. There were at least 15 questions and it took me well over an hour.

  10. nnn*

    For #1, if it’s difficult or not strategic to enforce boundaries given that she’s above you in the hierarchy, another tool in your toolkit might be to not remember what you paid for things. Even if you can’t do it all the time, you might be able to do it sometimes, or gradually introduce it.

    Possible scripts:
    – “Oh, I don’t even remember, it was so long ago!”
    – “I’m really bad at remembering specific numbers”
    – [pause, think] “You know, I don’t remember – it must have been a completely boring, normal price”
    – “I kept trying all these combinations of coupon codes so I don’t remember what I ended up paying, but it was a good deal”

    Some of these are wordy, which makes it seem more like you’re actively participating in the conversation, which is useful if you’re in a situation where there would be negative consequences to not participating in the conversation.

    (Again, as Alison others have said, enforcing your boundaries and not participating in the conversation is a better solution, and in some situations that isn’t always possible or doesn’t always have good results when you’re dealing with someone above you hierarchically. This is a tool for if OP is in one of those situations.)

    1. Dark Macadamia*

      Yep, this kind of question/small talk drives me nuts because I can NEVER remember. I’m lucky if I can tell you where I bought something, but I’m not going to remember the cost beyond like, “Old Navy priced” vs “J Crew priced” or whatever.

      1. Eldritch+Office+Worker*

        I just do a really consistent “oh I don’t remember” or “more than a coffee less than a boat” or something else vague and non committal in a tone that sounds like I really have no idea so they stop asking because I honestly rarely know if I got something on sale or where I bought it unless I check the tag.

    2. Lime green Pacer*

      YOU CAN

      For the house price question, OP can borrow my response: “The whole process was a nightmare! Right now I honestly couldn’t tell you what the house cost, I’m just so glad it’s done.”

      My realtor actually reported the seller’s realtor for unethical behaviour…

      1. Ellis Bell*

        Asking about a house price is particularly gasp worthy. I think an awkward pause is well in order, followed by “Well it’s a house, so … expensive! I don’t like to get into it though, k thanx bye” and execute a sharp exit. Not every question you get asked deserves a smooth response and a bit of chatting.

            1. Clisby*

              For a house, she could, but not to find out how much someone spent on a car, or a vacation, or for scalped tickets to see Taylor Swift.

          1. Valancy Snaith*

            Yeah, while I don’t think it would be weird for people to not want to talk about it, for a lot of people it’s a pretty common topic of conversation in the house-buying chat. I spent $X but my neighbour paid $X+Y, can you believe that, oh yes I can because I bought my house for $Z but my neighbour four years later paid $Z+A, oh my god it’s insane the way housing prices are going up, did you see that house on Street sold for $Insane, wow it must be beautiful, blah blah blah. And considering anyone can look up housing prices on Realtor or Zillow or their public records site…this one is not so crazy. If you don’t want to talk about it, I don’t think anyone would fault you, but this one is not so shocking.

          2. Antilles*

            Yep, it’s all public information available by opening up the County Tax Assessor’s website and search either by address (if you know it) or by last name. Real estate property transactions are a matter of public record and all those records are digitized and online nowadays.
            But for OP in particular, since the co-worker is asking about everything, this isn’t about the co-worker really trying to gauge housing prices or evaluate the market or any other practical purpose, it’s just being nosy/weird about money.

            1. Observer*

              But for OP in particular, since the co-worker is asking about everything, this isn’t about the co-worker really trying to gauge housing prices or evaluate the market or any other practical purpose, it’s just being nosy/weird about money.

              Yes. This is it, completely, imo.

          3. Kip*

            Yeah, I live in a city where home sales are still reported in the paper. And the Assessor’s office has all that information on an easily accessible website too.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              It’s that way in my area as well. For a normal coworker I’d be honest. For this coworker who is so money obsessed – “can’t remember, I’d have to look it up*, but I’m too busy to do that now.”

              *hopefully money-nosey doesn’t have your address.

            1. Clisby*

              It can be. In the most recent 2 states where I’ve lived, the mortgage document is filed with the county along with all the other paperwork. It doesn’t take a genius to subtract the mortgage amount from the sale amount to figure out the down payment.

        1. Observer*

          Asking about a house price is particularly gasp worthy.

          Actually, that’s the least gasp worthy item on the list. Today, that’s public information. And at a time when it wasn’t easy to get that information, asking people what they had paid for their house could be valuable information when house hunting. And, given the cost of a house and the commitment a purchase turns out to be, I can see someone asking an otherwise less than polite question.

          If the only thing she asked about was the house, I’d say the OP is over-reacting. But she’s asking about the OP’s decisions (like how much they paid for the down payment) and in general, just asking for way too many prices. This is just nosiness – there is no way it’s credible that she’s doing comparison shopping for herself on this many items.

        2. Pescadero*

          “Asking about a house price is particularly gasp worthy.”

          Living in the Midwest might be difficult for you.

          Asking what things cost (so the asked person can tell you what a deal they got) is a standard, polite, thing here.

    3. Despachito*

      The “don’t remember” is my go-to answer when I do not want to be more specific. And often it is even true – I really do not remember.

      However, I can see a clear distinction between nosy questions from a person like OP’s coworker (and I feel almost physically reluctant to be specific in such a case), and a genuine question from someone who is about to experience a similar expense – for example, a parent with a child studying out of town who wants to know a rough amount such a student needs. In this second case, I’d answer gladly and be grateful if someone answers me. I think the difference lies in “what is the person going to do with that information? Use it as a useful reference, or as a club to beat someone with/take them on a guilt trip/complain?”

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        “ I think the difference lies in “what is the person going to do with that information? Use it as a useful reference, or as a club to beat someone with/take them on a guilt trip/complain?”

        This is where I land with money questions as well. I have no problem helping researchers, but the nosy nellies that want the info to use as a club/show their superiority, boy it’s amazing how forgetful I am.

    4. EPLawyer*

      Don’t give in to this person with anything like that. Because she will just keep pestering. Oh what coupons did you use? What do you mean a normal price?

      You have to be specific if you want the behavior to stop. I don’t like to talk about things like that might lead the person to think you don’t like talking about plumbing or whatever.

      A polite, I do not discuss money at work, is all that needs to be said. Repeat as necessary. This person will eventually stop because they aren’t getting the feedback they want. They WANT to discuss money and all its aspects, prices, coupons, etc. So you need to shut it down completely with making the whole subject off limits.

      1. Delta Delta*

        I was thinking this too. OP just needs to be clear and say she’s not discussing finances and repeat as necessary.

  11. Tinkerbell*

    OP #4, “would welcome applications from you in the future” is the important part. Regardless of how the candidate worded their question, you can interpret it as “is there anything I could be doing better?” And your answer, in this case, is “it was something out of your control but you were a strong contender for the position.” That’s not something you can say directly, usually (given that some people take this kind of thing as an excuse to argue), so Alison’s wording is great. The real answer, the one they got when reading between the lines, was “you didn’t screw up your interview / your references didn’t badmouth you / you didn’t repel us.”

    1. Kelsey*

      This is a great comment. I really like the wording actually of “It was something outside of your control.” I would much rather have received that feedback than the “it was a really difficult decision” that I got multiple times earlier in my career. That always felt ambiguous to me and like there *was* something I could have done better, but I didn’t know what.

    2. Are names really this hard?*

      I agree with Alison’s wording, too. Our (adult) offspring recently interviewed for an internal position. It was a 3 step process involving written answers to several scenarios, and a power point presentation to a committee at the final stage. There were four finalists. The rejection form email they received said all the right things, but was addressed to Dear ____. Yeah, no name. A blank. For three people with whom they currently work on a regular basis. So, while its important to say the right things in the email, the little details are important, too.

      1. Smithy*

        I’d actually argue that in many ways the details are the most important part.

        In many ways it does just come down to “what’s the best way to reject someone” – and so very often the reality is that there’s no nice or fun way to do it, there are respectful ways to do it. On a basic level, it’s that official basis that lets someone know that in the HR files, there’s a letter saying “did well, welcome/encouraged to apply again.” When those details are wrong in that letter, it doesn’t leave a candidate confident that information is actually kept or noted that way anywhere with the employer and is simply a dismissal.

        Because even when receiving the most respectful rejection letter and the reality is just that amongst the finalists anyone would have been great – that’s often when our minds play the cruelest tricks on us. Those “vibes” we couldn’t generate with the hiring manager were because of our appearance, our background, our personality, that one dumb throw away comment we said in the final minutes when we just should have ended it, etc. It’s because we went to the wrong schools, belong to the wrong faith community, wear too much make up or not enough, we’re too loud, too quiet, too awkward, too silly, too serious, etc etc etc.

        So I think the OP wanting to be mindful that there isn’t a concrete why, the next best move is to be respectful on all the details. If there are no relevant open positions and the HR system won’t/can’t keep someone on file, don’t allude to that. Being honest, clear and direct without oversharing is important.

  12. Irish+Teacher.*

    I’m just staring at a man under 30, so presumably not that long in a business setting and presumably with little experiencing of dressing professionally as a woman thinking that women, many with far more experience than him, needing him to provide guidance of what was professional.

    1. Professional Staff*

      I’m picturing him interviewing all the senior men at his company to find out what *they* think constitutes ‘professional dress for women,’ and then writing out the requirements without ever having considered whether or not the women in his office might have useful perspective or info on the topic.

    2. Observer*

      And not just guidance, but HIGHLY DETAILED instructions, lacking only the actual ruler needed to enforce those rules.

      Like, really? Do you really think that this is the way professionals should be treated? Or do you just not think of women as “professionals”?

    3. Linda*

      My favorite (/s) part about these instances is how they highlight the gap between what the dominate male culture says (fashion is silly and women are silly to be interested in it) and what it does (minutely police how women dress). You better dress to standard and be quiet about it.

  13. Lilo*

    I’m established in my career enough that if a workplace tried to make me wear heels every day, I’d quit. Plenty of places that traditionally required heels have backed off, especially post pandemic.

    1. Emmy Noether*

      I’ve stopped wearing heels except on very special occasions (preferrably ones where I’ll be mostly sitting) due to a medical problem with my foot.

      If quitting is not an option, I’m sure most doctors would be happy to write a note that one cannot wear heels, even if it’s not a problem *yet*. As a preventative measure.

      1. Emmy Noether*

        To be clear, if you like wearing heels and don’t have problems, rock on! But if you don’t want to, medicine will back you up.

        1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          Yeah, I need a little heel, because I have high arches and totally flat shoes do not provide enough arch support, even with inserts. But I cannot do high heels. And I would definitely need an ADA accommodation if they tried to push me above or below my comfort range with heels.

      2. Librarian of SHIELD*

        Yeah, my doctor will write a letter recommending a standing desk to anyone who asks, whether they currently have back problems or not. I’m sure she’d do the same for people whose workplaces require heels.

    2. I+Would+Rather+Be+Eating+Dumplings*

      I also think that’s a dress code requirement that potientially get flagged as ablist and it’s a hard one to justify.

      In all my career, a high-end retailer was the only place that had anything about heels in their dress code (no open toed shoes were allowed unless they were heels sold by the brand).

    3. Irish+Teacher*

      I’ve never worn heels in my life, am pretty clumsy and have a minor problem with one of my ankles (not sure what it is but it sometimes hurts if I run or anything and I twist it easily), so I am pretty sure I’d do myself an injury if I wore heels. I mean, likely nothing serious, but still.

    4. Bagpuss*

      Yes, I walk slightly oddly – my feet don’t go down flat, which means nything with a tapered or spike heel is impossible. I also have mild joint issues which means that my ankles turn exceptionally easily.
      I definitely couldn’t wear heels every day and being able to wear them at all, even fairly low heels, is extremely dependend on the style. (I also have wide feet, high insteps and, apparently, higher than average toes – finding shoes which fit me at all is a challenge, withot trying to afd in requirements for a particular height of heel)

      1. Despachito*

        I get that sometimes there are some limitations as to the length of skirts, cleavage, transparent clothing, professional-looking shoes… but it is stupidly ridiculous to require that people wear heels. How can that impact any aspect of work in most professions?

        I’d completely pass and see what happens – I doubt that anyone would say a word about the height of my heels

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        I have a similar problem. A tapered or spiked heel means that, between my lack of balance and my foot turning under, I would be on the floor unwillingly but frequently, possibly causing myself serious damage.

    5. Asenath*

      I’ve never worn heels since my late teens/early twenties when I decided that my desire to wear pretty fashionable shoes was not as great as my desire to be comfortable. Others may be able to do both, good for them, I didn’t mind. On the other hand, I’ve never worked (or wanted to work) anywhere that a really polished professional image was important, or at a particularly high level, and when I started out, high heels were de rigueur for those kinds of positions. I don’t think it’s like that as much now.

    6. Missb*

      I just cannot imagine working in a place that required heels, skirts or makeup.

      I’ve worked as an engineer for years and my position is supposed to be field-ready. When I worked in the office, that meant jeans, tshirts, another layer if necessary and sturdy shoes plus some boots under my desk to grab.

      None of my fellow female coworkers wear make up and we all minimize jewelry. It’s just not practical.

      Now that I’m working from home, I’m hard pressed to even wear shoes :) Of course when I go into the field, I’m wearing all the appropriate clothes. Which are still not high heels or skirts.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this. I work as a senior SME for a governmental agency in Finland. WFH, I’m pretty sure none of my coworkers wear shoes indoors, because that’s just not a part of our culture. At the office, we have a business casual to casual dress code. The C-suite will occasionally wear suits, but jeans or chinos, dresses or jeggings/leggings with tunics that cover the butt are common even there.

        Our climate requires boots of some sort at least a few months in the winter.

        Some people wear heels, and I heartily wish they wouldn’t, because I can hear them coming from the other end of the office.

      2. Lilo*

        I do have a lawyer sister who is required to wear suits and dress shoes but only when she’s in court. Makeup is generally expected for court too. Outside of court less strict.

        1. Isabel Archer*

          No offense Lilo, but that sounds…absurd. How exactly does the court make known its general expectation that attorneys will wear makeup? Female attorneys only, I assume? Is there a penalty if they don’t? Or is it like those fancy restaurants that keep a few blazers on hand for guests who aren’t wearing one…a bare-faced attorney would get whisked into some sort of closet, powdered up and pushed back out?

          1. Joielle*

            I’m not Lilo but I am a lawyer. It’s not *required* in the sense that you will be kicked out or punished if you don’t wear makeup to court, but it’s *expected* in the sense that 99% of female attorneys wear some (tasteful/minimal/professional) makeup to court and it would be noticeable if someone came to court with a completely bare face. People still do it – in my experience, it’s mostly older, accomplished female attorneys with established reputations (who no longer have to care much what people think about them). Is it ridiculous? Yeah, maybe. But if you’re in that field it won’t do you any good to ignore the norms.

        2. Bagpuss*

          I am a lwyer in the UK. There is a dress code for court but I have never hear d it suggested that make up is required. I very rarely wear make up and have ever had any indication this is an issue. However, it would not surprise me if some firms advise women advocates to wear make up as it is often perceived as more polished / professional

          1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

            I am an attorney in the US, and even at my previous firm that had some seriously sexist dress code guidelines for those of us who appeared at court, there was no makeup requirement.

            Also, I will say that at the very least, we were advised against showy high heels or anything like that. The goal was to look professional, but modest, so they would prefer appropriate flats over stilettos any day. Jewelry was also supposed to be very modest and never something that appeared expensive (but we represented bankruptcy debtors, so that part was probably as much to show respect to our clients as anything else).

      3. Mockingjay*

        Decades ago, heels were required, even if it was an “understood” requirement. Meaning, you dressed like everyone else. Men wore ties and jackets; women wore dresses and heels. I remember the first time I wore slacks – I was half-afraid of being sent home as an outlier. (I wasn’t). I went to my supervisor when I was pregnant with my first, to ask if I could relax the dress code to fit around my changing shape. Professional dress maternity clothes were extremely expensive, so I found stretchy slacks (which were hideous pastels but accommodated my thickening waistline – didn’t have much of a bump yet) and comfy tennis shoes.

        OP2 mentions that this situation was a long time ago, so I’m wondering what/if laws were in effect at the time. I certainly wasn’t aware of any protections 35+ years ago.

      4. lilsheba*

        “Also, women can be fully professional without makeup or jewelry and while wearing flat shoes” This is so true. I don’t wear makeup or heels either, they are not necessary. And also since I work from home I don’t wear shoes either, I don’t like walking around my house with shoes on cause it’s nasty. And I just hate shoes.

        1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          I am an attorney and I always joke that I have a major career goal of getting flip flops declared as appropriate footwear for court appearances!

      5. soontoberetired*

        Even when we had a very specific dress code (specific for male/female) shoes just said non -athletic.

    7. Joielle*

      I DO wear heels almost every day but if it was required of everyone I think I’d quit too.

      I wonder if you could get medical documentation for an ADA accommodation to not wear heels on the basis that they are objectively not good for you (even if you don’t currently have a foot/ankle/heel issue but want to prevent one in the future).

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        You would probably need a diagnosis to get ADA protections. But I think a lot of orthopedists would get inventive for patients on that one, because they really want women so stop wearing high heels!

    8. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I almost quit a job before my first day because I mistakenly thought that they required pantyhose (in Florida).

        1. Clisby*

          Yeast infections? OK, I had never heard of that so googled it. Apparently, there are people who wear pantyhose without underwear? Eww. No. The pantyhose go over your (I hope) cotton underwear.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            Yeah, I had one person tell me that they never wore underwear under pantyhose because “Well, they’re panty hose, aren’t they? So they already have their own panties!”

            Yeah, no. Pantyhose means that they cover the panties, instead of needing garter belts.

      1. JustaTech*

        When I was an intern back in like 2004 I found part of the dress code for a specific section of the building that said if you weren’t wearing pants/trousers or a long skirt you needed to wear pantyhose to keep from shedding skin cells into the semi-clean area of the clean room suite.
        This was hilarious on several levels including that short sleeves were fine, and that to go into the actual clean suite you’d be changing into long scrubs, so when on earth would it matter?

  14. Bizhiki*

    #4, I’m not saying this is absolutely something that’s happened in your hiring process, but when a hiring committee find themselves favouring one candidate over others for having the “best vibes” it’s really important to look into that, personally and collectively.

    Bias in the hiring process is, like bias everywhere else, a sneaky thing and should be openly examined. Ask yourselves some questions about the social locations of the people on the hiring committee, and how those line up (or not) with applicants. Learn how to talk openly with fellow committee members about biases and which factors would predispose you both favourably and unfavourably toward certain factors, ideally at the beginning of the hiring process, before you’re discussing specific candidates.

    At the very least, this creates an environment where you can honestly say that as a committee you made an effort to surface implicit biases, reducing the risk of replication systems of oppression in your hiring.

    1. Harper+the+Other+One*

      This is such a great comment! It can still absolutely mean you’re picking the right candidate but make sure you’re doing it thoughtfully and not as a knee-jerk “I like Candidate X best” reaction.

      1. SarahKay*

        Yes, I was thinking that possibly there was unconscious bias – or at least that the possibility of it was something that should be considered – but Bizhiki said it far better than I would have.

    2. Despachito*

      This is a good comment. After some life experiences with people who were absolutely charming at first sight and a nightmare at the second, I have often asked myself – would I really be able to tell such a person from someone with whom I genuinely click? If there are more people involved in the decision, perhaps it would be easier to sort this out.

    3. FashionablyEvil*

      Yes to all of this. We often have the best vibe with people who are most similar to us (same gender, same race, went to the same college, even totally random stuff like your moms are both named Linda or you share a birthday) which can end up being discriminatory or just mean that you end up with someone who you like, but who may not be best for the job.

      My company has turned hard in the direction of competency-based, structured interviews for precisely this reason.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        I’d add that also some people can be good at “turning on the charm” and making themselves likeable. Ireland had a taoiseach (prime minister) who used this to great effect during the peace process, making a point of even researching the personal interests of the unionist leaders so as to be able to “vibe” with them, though in reality he had nothing in common with them, personally or politically. This was great for making a peace deal but…I think it could also easily lend itself into charming oneself into a position above better candidates.

        Not saying the LW didn’t choose the best candidate, especially as she mentions they also had more experience, just that the person that gets on best with the interviewers isn’t always the one who will make the best employee.

        And on the other end of the scale, there are issues like autism or even different cultural or socio-economic backgrounds or heck, anxiety that might make it more difficult for some people to establish a good vibe in a interview situation. People who might make great employees and might be really enjoyable to work with, but who are either ill-at-ease in an interview or who find it difficult to make social connections quickly.

      2. Hiring Mgr*

        Curious what a competency based, structured interview is – i can guess based on the wording of course but not sure how that would relate – there’s still a personality/vibe aspect to the interactions.

        1. FashionablyEvil*

          Oh, sure–it means we have to identify the skills and competencies needed for the job (e.g., teamwork, communication, specific scientific expertise, project management, etc., etc.), develop questions designed to address each of those competencies, and then ask those questions consistently across all candidates. It’s not perfect, but it really does help make a clearer comparison across candidates, along the lines of “Candidate A gave a much more thoughtful and in-depth answer about how to address this key scientific challenge than Candidate B did.”

      3. ferrina*

        Yes yes yes. This is where a lot of unconscious bias slips in- they’re from the same state as you, they have similar experience or have worked at similar companies, they are of similar age or life stage, they have a similar sense of humor (which is often cultural) or even similar speech patterns (definitely cultural). And of course, they look like you or what you expect a candidate to look like (not just in terms of professional dress, but how they style their hair, what colors or clothes styles they favor, etc.).

        It’s important to know why they appear to be the stronger candidate. Sometimes it is a work reason- for example, if your organization tends to be chaotic, you may favor someone who has experience in a chaotic/high stress org, because that will help them succeed at the job. Or someone that has a gentle personality will help them navigate some of the tough personalities that your team works with. But if it’s not necessary to the work, ask yourself what you’re missing by not opening up to other experiences. Good hiring doesn’t just add more of what’s already there, it builds up complementary skill sets and experiences (and one can’t complement what one is replicating)

    4. giraffecat*

      This is such a great comment and definitely something that the OP should reflect on. It may not have been the case, but often we tend to gravitate towards those who are similar to us, which is not really what you want in a workplace that values diverse perspectives.

    5. Eldritch+Office+Worker*

      Yes, and continuing off that I think it’s important to look at general demographics of your initial pool vs your finalist pool, if there’s a specific place in your process that people homogenize, who gets the final say in a decision and if there are patterns in their preferences, and the diversity of your hiring panel in general.

      Rarely is bias in hiring blatant, malicious, or intentional, so we need to be very intentional about our processes and making sure there is redundancy and representation so everyone has a fair shot.

      1. Observer*

        Rarely is bias in hiring blatant, malicious, or intentional, so we need to be very intentional about our processes and making sure there is redundancy and representation so everyone has a fair shot.

        That’s a great point.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        It’s a great idea to figure out at what step homogenization occurs.

        (If the answer is the original applicant pool, please don’t just blame it on “pipeline issues.” That phrase has started making me see red.)

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          +1000 if the issue is the original pool there are probably issues either in your job listing or in the places you’re sharing it.

    6. Generic+Name*

      I totally agree with you. When a company hires folks based on personality, it’s easy to pick people from the same or similar demographic. Plus it also can exclude folks who are neurodivergent.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I’ve also seen the opposite (obviously way less common) where they ONLY hire neurodivergent without realizing it and it hurt their product that was supposed to be marketed to a wide audience – and meant that no one foresaw pretty foreseeable problems with the general public.

        Of the outcomes that’s one of the least nefarious but there are many arguments for diversity of thought and background.

      2. Forgot my name again*

        Seconded (thirded?)! I’ve been rejected from countless jobs after interview, and I’ve been told I was a “close second” so many times it’s not funny. I’m neuro-divergent and I *can’t* gel with people at interview – even close friends have said it took them time to warm up to me, so the thought that people are still hiring based on nothing more than a “vibe” fills me with despair. (I realize in this case all other things seemed equal, so it’s considerably less egregious, but hopefully you take my point.)

    7. Observer*

      I’m not saying this is absolutely something that’s happened in your hiring process, but when a hiring committee find themselves favouring one candidate over others for having the “best vibes” it’s really important to look into that, personally and collectively.

      Thank you for bringing this up! I was thinking much the same, but was wondering if I was over-reacting.

      OP, this is not an accusation. But it is something to be really, really conscious of.

    8. Butterfly Counter*

      I was thinking this exactly.

      If it comes down to “vibe,” I think it’s really important to define what that means to you, as a person hiring. And then investigate how much that relates to race/class/gender/etc. It absolutely can be independent of those issues, of course, but there is a danger of just liking someone because they’re so familiar.

    9. My Cabbages!*

      Yes, this is what I came to say. We are only human and as such have an easier time relating to people we see as reflecting ourselves/our group in some way. Which unfortunately means that so often people different from the current work group have a higher bar in both qualifications and “likeability”.

      Not to say you can’t take personality into account…but be careful you aren’t favoring people already like the ones that work there. POC, women (or men in some industries), genderfluid/nb people, non-Americans, and disabled people are just as likely to be awesome to work with even if they “just don’t quite click” in the interview.

    1. Kit*

      Wow, remember when Michael Flynn was a respected authority in his field? Pepperidge Farm remembers, and so does this article. Eesh.

  15. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

    That dress code was all kinds of wrong, not only sexist, but also classist. For example, making high heels mandatory excludes those who can’t afford them, or rely on public transport to get to work (good luck riding a bus at rush hour on heels, rip your ankles and knees). Heck, it can be difficult to drive with them even. And that’s without considering backup shoes, matching outfits, accessories and other associated nitpicking. The ones who can afford following such a dress code can be few or none, depending on the industry. I hope it HR rejected it at the speed of light.

    1. Emmy Noether*

      I agree, but I do have one tip if someone does want to wear heels on a low budget: when I still wore heels sometimes, I used to keep them at work and take public transportation/my bike in weather-appropriate flats. The heels get very little wear just going from desk to coffee machine, so even relatively cheap ones last forever.

      This does assume one is allowed to walk in the door not dressed to code (especially if biking: hard to look polished business professional getting off a bike) and change into something else. That’s been the case everywhere I’ve worked, but then those places were all pretty relaxed about dresscodes in general…

    2. Charlotte+Lucas*

      My current job essentially has a dress code of “dress professionally.” Everyone pretty much does. And people ignore it if you don’t. (We do have some locations with a code for safety reasons, but it applies to everyone who works in those locations, not to gender.)

      However, my last job had a pretty specific dress code that was based on the clothing items themselves, rather than gender. So the rules were about what length of skirt or type of shirt you could wear, but nothing specified who could wear what. Some of the choices were… odd. And it was revised several times in my last years there. (Much of the staff had interesting interpretations of professional wear & how it applied to the dress code.) But not paying attention to gender in this case was one of the few things they did right.

    3. Curmudgeon in California*

      People with spinal problems, head injuries or leg/foot problems have a hard time with heels and tapered shoes. This is due to balance or problems with legs, feet or gait. Most times it is a hidden disability, but can be really nasty if you are forced to wear heels or even fem shoes.

    4. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      And the extra costs of having to buy certain accessories and makeup (that men do not have to buy), the extra time involved because we have to style our hair and makeup, etc.

  16. genderqueer commenter*

    #2 – Also love (sarcasm) the implication that men know what business professional means, but women need to be walked through it because they just don’t get it. :/

    1. EPLawyer*

      well you know those ladies just want to wear their see through blouses and mini skirts to seduce all the men at work. They aren’t there to, you know, work.

        1. Myrin*

          Gene, is that you but with a different username? Just scrolling idly, I was convinced this was your avatar but the longer I wonder, the less sure I become.

    2. Irish Teacher*

      And need to be told it by a man, who has presumably never had to conform to a woman’s dress code and a man under 30 who…well, some of the women who need to be walked through it may well have been in the business for longer than he was alive.

      I don’t mean to dismiss younger professionals but honestly, “you’ve been dressing for work for 30+ years, but clearly you don’t know how to do it and need a man in his twenties to explain it to you.”

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        You’re not dismissing younger professionals – there’s a world of difference between “we need to have a social media presence to be taken seriously” 0r “we can get digital signatures we don’t need to scan everything” vs “you don’t know how to dress yourself”.

    3. Observer*

      Also love (sarcasm) the implication that men know what business professional means, but women need to be walked through it because they just don’t get it. :/

      This. Time a million.

      The dress code could have been PERFECT in its requirements. Allowing flats, not requiring makeup, etc. And it would STILL be a trash fire. Because the implication of this level of detail for women only vs 2 lines for men is disgusting.

  17. Dr Sarah*

    #4: I was actually once the rejected candidate in such a scenario. The explanation I got (as best I remember; it was seventeen years ago, I can’t be that precise about the wording) was that, as it was a very friendly organisation, it was important for them to have someone they all felt they could get on well with. I’ve also had generic ‘you did well, another candidate did even better’ rejections that might well in hindsight have been the same reason.

    I don’t recall being bothered by it; more like ‘oh, well, at least I know there wasn’t anything specific I did wrong’.

  18. Hiring Mgr*

    How wild do these holiday parties get? Asking because I just watched the Seinfeld “I believe it’s pronounced ‘Menage a trois” episode.. so maybe he’s fishing

  19. Seventh Sister*

    I’m not sure why OP3 wrote to a work column about a relationship issue, nor why Allison answered.

      1. kiki*

        I’ve found sometimes letters about relationship issues that relate to work stuff are answered kind of poorly by non-work advice columnists. Sometimes it’s useful to throw a question like this over to someone on the work advice side and ask, “Is this a work culture thing?” And here Alison can basically say, “Nah, your husband is being shady for what appear to be non-work reasons.”

    1. Eldritch+Office+Worker*

      Because our lives don’t exist in silos and normal workplace dynamics can impact our relationships. She was asking for “is this normal in a workplace relationship”.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        This was my take too. In other words, “is there a work-related justification for this behavior?” And the answer is pretty much no, no there is not.

      2. Van Wilder*

        I also happen to think that Alison is wise in many areas of life, especially as it relates to relationships and asserting boundaries. So while this may only be work-tangential, I’m here for it.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Yes! And she’s said she enjoys answering relationship questions from time to time and it’s her blog so I’m happy she’s happy

  20. Delta Delta*

    #2 Meanwhile, over here I regularly appeared in court (at least once in front of a jury) wearing a pair of brown Pumas that I bought in Germany that a) were actual legit indoor soccer shoes and b) were passing enough that they sort of just looked like brown shoes, but if you looked closer you could see the Puma stitching on the side. Went perfectly with pants. I’m thinking the dress code finance bro would have had a heart attack if he saw that.

    1. Butterfly Counter*

      Ha! I’m currently wearing my Gazelles (an Adidas indoor soccer shoe) to work right now! AND I’m a lady!

      I’m sure the finance bro would be frothing at the mouth, but the truth is, they’re a lewk, even with my more business-y wardrobe.

    2. Nea*

      My “dress” work shoes tend to be black sneakers.

      Mind you, I haven’t worked in a place where the dress code went beyond “clean, whole, not pajamas” for over a decade now. Most of us wear jeans.

      1. Petty Betty*

        I mean, I wore sweatpants I’d slept in to work last week. I hadn’t meant to wear them, but I woke up late and it was the day before Thanksgiving and they were black anyway.

      2. JustaTech*

        At my work we just noticed last month that the dress code for our office is described as “business casual”, which, frankly, it isn’t. (It certainly isn’t if jeans aren’t business casual.)

        Then the group spent twenty minutes trying to figure out how to describe what we actually wear (casual to business casual, depending on your definition of business casual), rejecting my suggestion of “PNW business casual”.

        The whole thing was funny because the only actual dress *codes* we have for the building are the Lab Safety Requirements (close toed shoes in the lab), and the “dress up if the Feds come” requirement, which, last time it happened was completely ignored by the senior guys who kept wearing their worn jeans while all us minions in the labs were stuck in interview clothes for a week.

    3. ThursdaysGeek*

      I’ve decided that black water shoes are professional and match my black jeans (masquerading as slacks). They are also super comfortable and don’t irritate my bunion at all. I do better work if I’m not in pain.

    4. Bagpuss*

      LAst time we reviewed our dress code for the office it was refined down to

      – clothing must be clean, tidy and professional, don’t wear anything in which you would be not be comfortable wearing if meeting with a client.

      It seems to work.

      In my first job, 25 years ago, I was told that female employees were not allowed to wear trousers, it needed to be a skirt or dress. Then about 8 months later they took on a new employee who was an observant Muslim who dressed modestly, so generally wore a shalwar kameez, and that rule quietly disappeared! I belive it was one specifc partner who insisted on the rule so I suspect, with hindsight, that the rest used it as a good reason to quash the rule

    5. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I always just wore short character heels for court, when I practiced in federal court, where we stood whenever we were speaking. They were comfortable for being on my feet a bunch, looked appropriate, and had straps (which I tend to need).

      Now I don’t practice in federal court, and in state courts here we usually sit. I actually miss standing for case presentation, but I am alone there.

  21. Michelle+Smith*

    LW4: Remember, most (sane) people contacting you for post-interview feedback are not doing so to get answers that aren’t actionable. If the reason you didn’t select a person is that you just meshed with another person better, that’s not really something the rejected candidate can do anything about. So telling them isn’t productive. The line you went with is just fine.

    The only thing I would suggest as caution for you and others in the future is basing too much of a hiring decision off personality. It doesn’t sound like you did that here, to be clear. But making decisions based on personality can be a red flag, because it leads to more homogenous, less diverse teams. If you find yourself in a position where the candidate who you like slightly less is the one with more experience, seriously consider whether you are making a fair choice or one that is influenced by unconscious bias.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Right. When people ask this, they’re asking for feedback. If you don’t have specific feedback (or don’t want to give it) and it was a tight pool, you can say “it was a competitive pool” or something more generic. They don’t actually need to know the whole breakdown of skills and differences.

  22. Observer*

    #2 – Dress code differences.

    Besides the issue of greater burden, and possible religious and ADA related issues that this particular dress code places, I think that there is another argument that I would expect any competent HR should be concerned about. This guy is explicitly treating women differently than men specifically based on their gender. *Men* can be given broad general guidelines and allowed to use their judgement for the most part, with guidance and needed from their managers. *Women* on the other hand, cannot be allowed to use their judgement on the smallest detail.

    Where else is he giving guys room to prove themselves while micromanaging women?

    1. yes, I envy ladies*

      In this case, and most business cases, the judgement given to men is the color of the tie, no more. Otherwise they have to wear that utmost uncomfortable uniform, were it cold or hot, being similar to each other, with no room for creativity. While this case was excessive, in most formal and business environments as well as celebrations, weddings, funerals etc, women have lots of choices to use their creativity, and have the luxury to dress according to weather and choose comfortable clothes – though they may voluntarily decide to give those privileges up just to look good.

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        Wow, no, this comment is full of bad info. Yes, there is more variety in women’s clothes and that can lead to more opportunity for self-expression. But women are scrutinized and judged far more harshly and punitively for their dress and overall physical appearance. Men may not get to wear makeup, but as you see with this dress code, women often were not allowed to not wear any makeup, so they had to wear it, and there were probably regulations within that (and I doubt the men’s dress code even mentioned makeup or disallowed it). The women are expected to wear heels when every orthopedist in the world will tell you that heels are problematic and cause major issues over time. And no, this policy and most policies do not force men to be uncomfortable while allowing women the option of comfortable options (like flat shoes … which this guy did not allow for women). Women’s clothing is often more uncomfortable and the restrictions more onerous than for men. And they often fail to account for major differences in body types among women, which can render certain styles very uncomfortable.

        Also, when a dress code is a couple lines for men and several pages for women (and it is almost always longer and more involved for women), that means they have less actual discretion. At most, designers offer fewer options for men, but the businesses give you more discretion when they set fewer rules and less specific rules to follow. So this take is just really off base.

        1. shoe must go on*

          Concerning shoes, in business men have to wear certain type of leather shoes that are not that comfortable, with no opt-out possibility. Women may use high heels if they want but they can opt-out and use any flat shoe that they like and no man can complain – it might be even illegal in most parts of the world (i.e. the codes in the above letter do not apply). I do not even remember when I have seen a businesswoman wearing high heels, except banquets, parties etc special events, even less at normal office work. At certain high level customer facing positions they are still common, but then the women are allowed to have rests and take the shoes out for a while, and are not using them while commuting.

          Btw, men will get scrutinized and criticized if they dare to deviate from the uniform code. Where a standard suit is not required, neither do women have to adhere to any dress codes except normal decency standard.

          1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

            Everywhere I have ever worked, the dress code was more detailed and limiting for women than for men. Same with most of my acquaintance. So, no, not really.

          2. Giant Kitty*

            I’m a woman who has worn men’s dress and work shoes. They are FAR more comfortable that any high heel.

  23. I'm Just Here For the Cats!*

    For #1 this is really a bad habit, but I don’t think that there is anything malicious. She might be a bit nosy or she might just think this is a good conversation. Or maybe she’s trying to compare things or shop around?

    I think besides what Alison suggested just say that you are not sure. For example “How much did fixing your dog cost?”
    “you know I don’t remember and it can vary depending on breed and sex. Here is the number to my vet they can give you an estimate.”
    “How much did you put down for your house” “I don’t remember off the top of my head, I have it written down somewhere at home. ”

    I wonder Have you asked her why she wants to know? It could be enlightening.

  24. Rock Prof*

    Asking for references at the start of an application is so annoying. On top of the extra work for all the references, I hate having my complete application dependent upon someone else turning something in.
    I was applying to my current position last year, and I had a statement in my application email and cover letter that I wasn’t going to have my references submit letters until it was at the short list phase of the academic job process. I probably wouldn’t have done that if I hadn’t been applying from another professor position but was straight out of a post doc or PhD program. I knew I was a pretty strong candidate, so I decided it was worth it. They got in touch with my references after the phone screen but before the campus visit interviews, which I’m fine with. I think I made the right call, as I ended up with the position.

  25. Relentlessly+Socratic*

    #5, former academician here–it’s incredibly common to have the rec letters as part of the application for a faculty position, so you usually line up your references before going on the (open once a year) job market. We then have a letter for you that is reasonably ready to go and we tweak for the specific position. I wasn’t sure if you were going for a faculty role, though–can you talk with a trusted advisor from your academic past?

    However, outside of a faculty role, this isn’t as common (or not in my experience, so YMMV)
    And, yeah outside of the established “my mentee is doing a faculty job search so let me get their letter ready” letter, it’s obnoxious of them to ask you to do this.

    Good luck on your job hunt!

    1. Relentlessly+Socratic*

      Whoops, I realize #5 specifically said support role. (Sorry, coffee still feeding caffeine to my brain)–yeah, no, it’s obnoxious. Full stop.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Yeah, for a staff position at a university I was fine with waiting to give my references until after the interview. I told them that I always contact my references first so they know an inquiry might be coming.

  26. Bernice Clifton*

    No, not all men automatically understand dress codes, even when suits and ties are required. I have seen men wear translucent dress shirts without undershirts, very wrinkled clothes, clothes and ties that have become frayed, suit coats with the wrist label still on them, and clothes that are so small they do not cover everything.

    1. not easy to be a man*

      Not all men can afford the latest fashion suits. And few men can notice if their clothes are wrinkled or frayed – indeed such details reveal who is married and who is not.

      Note that no gentleman would ever judge the clothes or appearance of a female colleague, that is even officially forbidden here, but women can point out any nonperfection on male colleague’s appearance.

      1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        wtf? First, men can notice if their clothes are wrinkled or frayed. That is weaponized incompetence and complete nonsense. Grown adult men are capable of looking at their clothes, caring for their clothes, ironing their clothes … they can even learn to sew things to mend things. I am sorry you think men are so helpless, but they are not.

        There is also a big gap between latest fashion suits and unwrinkled, laundered, not frayed clothing. And the price gap in clothes puts women at a disadvantage as women’s clothes typically cost more than men’s clothes.

        And the idea that no “gentleman” would ever judge the clothes or appearance of a female colleague is laughable. It happens all the time, and if it is happening less out loud, that is because they are seeing there are consequences for it. And women get judged for things like not wearing makeup (and not smiling enough), wearing a skirt that is too short or too long, not wearing heels, etc., whereas you are talking about guys who come to work with frayed and wrinkled clothes. Not exactly equal standards there.

        1. not easy to be a man*

          If you are criticized by wearing wrong length of a skirt, heels, bad makeup etc, it is 99 % by other women. Where I come from, a man telling a female colleague that you have a beautiful coat may lead to being fired immediately. That is just not allowed at workplace.

          Btw, it is a psychophysiological fact that women see details more accurately (while men may see moving objects better) so men really do not see if their suit is a bit wrinkled or frayed. It is not related to caring or ironing.

          1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

            This is nonsense. Men are perfectly capable of dressing themselves appropriately. And the idea that women are judging other women for their appearance more than men are is a false narrative created by men to feed into the idea that women are working against each other, that men’s behavior towards women isn’t a problem. and that, even if it is problematic, it’s women’s fault for being “catty.”

            Also, not wearing frayed and crumpled up clothing is not an issue of not seeing details. Those are very minimum requirements. So if you cannot tell when your clothes are wrinkled and frayed, then your issue is not your gender. Men do not need their wives to keep them neat, clean, professional, and taken care of. They can do it themselves and they should, since women have to do the same. You have a really low opinion of men, it seems.

  27. Safely+Retired*

    #3… I’m a guy, and I’m seeing this quite differently. When I read it my thought that he was trying to keep her at a distance, trying to get her to leave him alone. Saying yes was likely to continue the conversation. What he said seemed (to me) to be a way to end that inquiry. Having a fellow employee discussing overly personal matters – be they money (see #1) or family – is a common theme here. Ways to squash such things are given as advice here all the time. So maybe he just wanted to end things and get back to work.
    As for the wife’s opinion about what her husband thinks of the woman, it had to have come from his own comments, which can not be dismissed. But neither can we dismiss the possibility that the OP is ready to interpret any situation where her husband had contact with another woman as suspect. On the one hand we are supposed to treat everyone in a gender-neutral manner, while on the other being equally open to being friendly with all coworkers opens you up to suspicion.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      So we’re to give the husband the benefit of the doubt but assume the wife is behaving suspiciously?

      1. Safely+Retired*

        Since the response to the wife only expressed doubt about the husband, adding some balance by considering another interpretation seemed reasonable.

    2. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I think it is helpful to know that this might have been an attempt by the husband to deflect the question or to end the inquiry. I have to say though, that I am not impressed with his ability to deflect.

      He said: “I’ll let you know if she comes along” – that literally extends the conversation as he is saying I’ll get back to you, I’ll talk to you again about this. There are many other things he can say if he actually wants to end the convo – as you point out, many are given here.

      It is not that the OP’s husband was equally friendly with all coworkers that is causing the OP to want to ask for advice. It is that he is, in Alison’s words, “downplaying your attendance and possibly your role/your relationship when talking with this SPECIFIC coworker. For some reason, he’s choosing not to signal that your relationship is a solid one where you show up as his partner to social events.”

      I don’t think the advice is to treat everyone in a gender-neutral manner in the way you mean. But if the OP’s husband was telling a male coworker the same thing, that he would get back to the coworker about whether the wife was attending (when he knows she is), that also sounds like he is downplaying their relationship and would be equally odd.

      1. 1LFTW*

        But if the OP’s husband was telling a male coworker the same thing, that he would get back to the coworker about whether the wife was attending (when he knows she is), that also sounds like he is downplaying their relationship and would be equally odd.


        In retrospect, the last holiday party I attended with my ex was notable for the number of people (mostly men because he was in tech, but also women) who had *no idea* he was married. In previous jobs, it was “oh, you’re 1LFTW, good to finally meet you, he talks about you a lot”, etc.

        AFAIK, he wasn’t having an affair; he’d just stopped thinking of us as a couple.

    3. I+went+to+school+with+only+1+Jennifer*

      “…while on the other being equally open to being friendly with all coworkers opens you up to suspicion”

      Let’s change that to “…CAN open you up to suspicion, from a person who is inclined to be suspicious”. Because this is the problem right here. Interactions between co-workers CAN be platonically friendly. But some people don’t believe that’s possible, and they will automatically assume that any interaction between co-workers (where one or both are the other’s preferred romantic gender) is necessarily suspicious.

      (For the record, I also agree that LW’s husband is being a little weird about this, but I wanted to address the larger issue.)

    4. Flowers*

      Tbh I kind of see it that way too – IME an “I’ll let you know” is more definitive than a yes or no. Maybe it’s just me but I’ve only ever heard it from people who meant no/yes/whatever the “undesired” response is, but didn’t want to be direct about it so that response is to leave htem hanging so to speak.

      But this is only in social contexts – in a work situation, I would take “I’ll let you know” at the face value and follow up after an appropriate amount of time.

  28. Serin (LW2)*

    I’m LW2 — excited to see Alison’s answer and everyone’s input!

    This was in the late ’80s. I have no idea what the law was at the time, but that’s a significant point — I didn’t know the law, Dress Code Dude didn’t know the law, it didn’t occur to any of us that there might be relevant law.

    Dress Code Dude wasn’t egregiously bad; he was just a garden-variety young guy with some unexamined misogyny in his attitudes. I suspect his difficulty was the clash of two mutually exclusive beliefs: “A woman’s clothes are professional to the extent that they conform to my idea of ‘normal’ standards of femininity” and “A woman’s clothes can’t be professional because professional is determined by the normal workplace behavior of *men.*”

    1. lost+academic*

      That late 80s time period is crucial! I have to wonder how it turned out since it was so long ago now.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Oh, the 80s, ugh.

        I had a job in the late 80s that was “business formal” as a temp. I spent most of what I made on clothes that I never wore again after that job laid me off. Blouse, skirt and blazer, or dresses, with f’ing panty hose. Uncomfortable as hell. I never worked the sales side after that – I couldn’t afford the clothes, and the gender coding was extremely uncomfortable.

        1. Francie+Foxglove*

          Did you wear the Nikes and carry the pumps? I always saw women at the train station doing that?

    2. RG2*

      This is really important context. Norms around women’s work clothing/heels were really different 40 years ago…

      1. LilPinkSock*

        +1, and I think laws may have been different as well.

        But even though it’s nearly 2023, let’s not pretend that women’s appearances aren’t still heavily and often unfairly policed. Ugh!

      2. ThursdaysGeek*

        A co-worker retired a couple of years ago, after working at this company for 40 years. A story she told at her retirement party, which horrified me: when she started she was told she was not to wear a skirt LONGER than the bottom of her fingertips.

    3. Covered+in+Bees*

      OP1, you have my sympathies. I have a relative like this, but luckily not a close one. She uses these questions as a spring board to go on and on about her own money woes. She now has multiple MLMs going, so I avoid conversations. The pandemic has made this so much easier.

      I know she does this to other people too.

  29. TimeTravlR*

    #4 – That’s just looking for a good culture fit, IMO, and is at least as important as skills and abilities.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      You have to be REALLY careful with this line of thought. It’s how a lot of places end up with homogenous staff – both in terms of baseline demographics, and in terms of diversity of ideas and experiences.

      1. Rosyglasses*

        Yes, absolutely agree. We are working hard at my organization to shift from “culture fit” to “cultural addition” with the mindset that there are personality traits, characteristics, and norms that we don’t have and should have in order to be the best org we can be both for our clients and our team.

  30. not neurotypical*

    OP #1: None of those questions sound personal to me. Just as employees can and should share salary info, so that they are not taken advantage of by management, people can and should share the prices of things all the time, in part so that nobody gets ripped off by vendors. How much does a particular plumbing job cost? That’s not private information! How much is a particular house worth? Not in any way personal: Property tax evaluations are literally public records. How much do banks expect as a down payment these days? Useful to know! So, if you could just reframe this in your mind as questions about prices rather than personal inquiries, that might go a long way toward making the situation feel less burdensome to you.

    1. Popcorn Lover*

      I get questions all the time about what I paid for my kids braces, car insurance, restaurant prices, etc – and I don’t mind. I ask those questions also for comparison shopping. But the OP does not want to talk about the price of stuff. It doesn’t matter if the questions are personal or not. If I tell someone I don’t want to discus ABC, that should be the end of it. The OP should not have to reframe the issue in their mind.

    2. Chilipepper Attitude*

      Your belief that these things are not private does not mean the OP’s feeling that they are private is not correct.

      I think all of those things are personal questions. If the person wanted to get a sense of what a plumbing job would cost, they could say, I’m getting plumbing done or I’ve never had plumbing done, what is the general cost of something like that so I don’t get ripped off.

      But the OP’s coworker is not doing that! They are prying into what others pay – all the time, for all the things! In my experience, every plumbing job (or any service job) is so different that comparing costs does not make sense. Also, google is free if you want cost comparisons. You are more likely to need to know the quality of a vendor than the cost.

      The OP feels her coworker is prying and that the coworker is not listening when the OP says she does not want to answer. That is all we need to know

    3. Mewtwo*

      There is a time and place to ask these questions. You shouldn’t be asking these to your coworkers who didn’t opt into the conversation. You know what I do when I want to know how much a plumber in my area costs? I Google it and/or post a question to my neighborhood forum. That way people can volunteer the info on their own terms. You don’t just bombard people with personal questions.

      1. Mewtwo*

        Additionally, everything else is also easy info to acquire via third party source, whether it’s online research or asking the bank about down payments.

  31. Ann O'Nemity*

    #1 – This kind of financial nosiness seems particularly common in low paying fields. The underlying question is, “How can you afford a decent lifestyle on these wages?” And it sounds like you can’t, unless you have inherited wealth and/or a higher-paid partner. (I’m not defending the OP’s coworker’s nosiness, just lamenting the structural failure that has left teachers unable to afford basic housing in many urban areas.)

  32. Critical+Rolls*

    LW #1, you could take a humorous route sometimes as well. I agree that basically sticking with “I don’t want to talk about money, let’s move on” is a solid tactic, but if you want to break it up, invent your own barter economy!

    “How much was that bag?”
    “Cost me my nice toaster oven but it’s real leather!”

    “How much was that plumbing repair?”
    “Got it for a song. Well, several, actually, I performed at the plumber’s kid’s birthday party. Great deal.”

    “What did you pay for your house?”
    “Let’s just say the bank will be getting all the fall veggies and goat’s milk for the foreseeable future!”

  33. MicroManagered*

    OP1 I had a coworker who asked similarly weird/intrusive money questions. Similar to your situation, I think she had picked up that I was living more comfortably off my salary because of my partner’s income and no kids. What worked for me was to let my tone and facial expression convey that she was being rude. Basically embarrass her. So rather than a friendly “Oh, I don’t really like to talk about that kind of thing at work” with a pleasant smile, using raised eyebrows, an awkward pause, and a more stammered “Huh? Ummmm… I don’t want to discuss my finances like that.” Sometimes negative social feedback is how people learn to modify their behavior.

    1. MicroManagered*

      *when I say “embarrass” I mean in the sense of returning the awkwardness to sender rather than eating it myself. I’m not advocating for being unnecessarily cruel or humiliating or anything like that.

    2. Asenath*

      I find a shocked facial expression can work wonders; sometimes you don’t have to say a thing. Only problem is, I can only do it spontaneously, which is OK when I am startled by the rude question; sometimes, I don’t react in the moment, and then I can’t seem to fake it well, and have to fall back on evasions, or, if I’ve been caught in a particularly absent-minded moment, answer, and then mentally kick myself for encouraging the other person.

      1. MicroManagered*

        Yes! I have very similar people-pleasing tendencies and it sounds like maybe you do too. I have had to work at creating a pause between hearing something and responding so that my response can be more genuine and not just reflexive politeness.

      2. Chilipepper Attitude*

        I have also found involuntary strength (facial expressions or comments) that I cannot use at will! It is so irritating that I have not been able to cultivate it!

  34. Meep*

    Lw #1: Just stop talking to your coworker about personal matters. Don’t mention the plumber or the dog being spayed. Then she won’t ask you how much things cost. It is a pain, but it is your best option.

  35. My Cabbages!*

    #5 Sadly this is common in academia, to the point that there are actually online clearinghouses that your references can submit one letter to, so when you apply to the 500 jobs you need in order to get a single interview, each one can download the letter from the database. (My field uses Interfolio, but I think there are others).

    But asking for a direct reference contact at this stage is annoying.

  36. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    #5 – I am a reference for a friend who works in the school district and every application requires me to fill out an online survey/reference. If she applies for 4 different jobs in the district at the same time I get the survey 4 times.

    Even though she has now worked in the same school for 8+ years, every time she reapplies to extend her contract I get the survey/reference check again.

    Side bit of how inconsistent this is – she is typically a 1-2 year contract so every time she renews she has to go through the whole drug screen/background check etc. But other employees who are on continuous contracts never have to repeat the screenings.

  37. LW5*

    LW 5 here. Yeah, I was annoyed on behalf of my references and was expecting an electronic questionnaire. I may write my own letters, if I apply at this place again, and pass them onto my references for their edits and submission. Don’t act shocked, this happens a lot at the grad student level and above due to people being constantly asked to write reference letters! I agree with the commentor above who said we need to push back. A full-scale revolt is called for! Anyway, I had a nice interview. I liked the working group, I was unimpressed with the pay in proportion to duties, and rigid schedule (I currently have a flexible schedule, not quite ready to give it up). I politely declined the job offer. I wouldn’t have dared do that before I became an AAM reader.

  38. Beanie*

    Ugh, that boss in number 2 is so infuriating! Doing things like that is insulting, because it’s sexist and infantilizing. It reminds me of being back in college, where when talking about what to wear, the teacher made a point of saying, “You shouldn’t wear something like you are going out to the club ladies.”

    As if women have no idea what to wear for what occasion. Which is ironic, because we become hyper aware of what is to be expected of us, because we are constantly being judged for our decisions. Argh!

  39. MassMatt*

    I get what you mean but the person who is prying is higher up on the hierarchy, this kind of reaction can work with a peer or someone you don’t know,, but in this case it might have bad consequences for the LW.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Depends. You can still set personal boundaries with people higher up than you, you just have to be good natured about it. Most of that comes down to tone.

  40. RagingADHD*

    LW#4, I say this with the best will in the world, the fact that you think this is a workplace issue or is about the fact that the other person is a coworker is an enormous red flag – on your mindset.

    Your husband isn’t just playing mind games with the other person. He is playing mind games with you by telling you about it. And apparently you aren’t recognizing what he’s doing. Or like, asking him about it?

    There is a messed up dynamic in your house, and you need to focus on that rather than projecting that this has something to do with his work. Or with his coworker, since she doesn’t appear to have said or done anything problematic.

  41. Hiring Mgr*

    Not sure if this directly answers #5 but for years now when people need a letter of recommendation from me, I’ve been asking them to write it themselves and then I’ll edit a bit.. Not everyone feels comfortable doing that but it usually works out fine and is easier for both sides

    1. LW5*

      I didn’t have time to do that for this job, they had a tight timeline and sort of bowled me over, otherwise I agree with your suggestion.

    2. Calliope*

      Honestly, as a senior person who writes letters of rec, I don’t think this is fair to do to people. It’s putting them in an awkward position where they have to attribute nice things to you and hope they’re not overdoing it in a way that you’ll find off putting or offensive. For someone you know very very well, it may be something you know they’ll be comfortable with and not feel the need to undersell themselves, but I don’t think that’s most people.

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        Good points.. In my case at least, I’ve only ever been asked to give recs for people I knew well enough to do this. Also if i’m giving one i’m going to sell pretty strongly anyway, that’s just how I like to do it.. so I would just edit/add those parts myself…. It’s more about making sure the most important points are captured, which they often can do better (since it’s them :).

        But yes, if it was a more casual work acquaintance then I agree with you.

  42. cats+and+dogs*

    “Some places use electronic survey forms, which are problematic on multiple fronts”

    I’ve worked in academia and outside of it and have encountered reference checking in several ways: phone, email, a standardized form, *not* checking references at all, etc. (both as the job candidate and someone involved on the hiring side).

    I’m really not seeing where electronic surveys would be problematic? IDK, maybe I’m the idiot here.

  43. Risha*

    LW1, this may not be the best answer for you and your situation, but it always works for me when nosy coworkers start asking how much I paid for something…..I always say “I’m not sure, my husband handles that/bought that/takes care of that”. It usually shuts people up since I have no idea how much we paid for our house, my husband handles that! I have no idea how much my outfit or shoes are, my husband bought them for me! You can just replace husband with any relative or friend if that is more appropriate.

    Some people may not like using that type of answer, but I’m just giving you another way of shutting it down, especially if you don’t feel comfortable being more direct.

  44. Risha*

    LW3, I won’t jump to saying your husband is being shady, but I will tell you to watch for other signs of anything funny. IMO, his response was weird. My husband would have told the woman straight up that yes, his wife WILL be attending (he better say that).

    Just because a person never cheated before (physically or emotionally), doesn’t mean they never will. There’s no cheater type and anyone can be a cheater. They could meet the “right” person at the “right” time and start to feel attracted. Pay attention to any mention-itis he may have. Pay attention to anything that feels even a little bit off to you. And don’t allow him or anyone to tell you that you’re overreacting or being paranoid or whatever. You know his normal behavior and you will know if something is different. Gather all your evidence (if you find any), then present it all at once. And trust your gut feeling, we all have it for a reason but most of us tend to ignore it.

  45. Lulu*

    LW5: I applied for a job in higher ed a few years ago that had this requirement. It was incredibly awkward and an imposition on my references. Turns out, HR had erroneously checked the box for automatic reference letter emails, and the department was aghast. Call or email the hiring manager/search committee chair/HR person to verify this requirement. It’s not unlikely they’ll say “oops, Workday makes things so hard!!” (cue eye roll)

  46. EchoGirl*

    I encountered a “lite” version, for lack of a better term, to #2 a few years ago. I was looking for advice on interview clothes (this was before I found AAM) and so many of the guides were really straightforward for men while the women’s sections were much more “remember, ladies, you’re not dressing for clubbing!” I was just trying to find some basic information (specifically, my weight had changed such that the only blazers I owned didn’t fit right anymore and I wanted to know if I could get away with a fancy sweater) and I couldn’t find any guidance on those kinds of things because the guides were too “busy” admonishing us not to show too much skin.

  47. Flowers*

    So I got curious and looked up my company’s written dress code.

    In about 50+ pages, there’s a tiny paragraph that goes:

    “Attire should conform to professional status so as to avoid what would otherwise be a loss of professional prestige. Jewelry, makeup, perfume, and cologne should be used in good taste. In general, conservative attire should be worn.”

    That’s it. Nothing specifying “mens” or “womens” clothes. A few weeks before my start date I had emailed my contact here and asked what was the dress code (ofc I framed it as “hey I’ve been living in sweatpants and flipflops for 2 years, what do I wear” LOL). She said it’s generally anything business casual, just “neat” and “clean.”

    As far as I’ve seen it’s been pretty standard: men in polos or dress shirts and jeans or khakis, women in pants/jeans, dresses, skirts etc; all sleeve lengths, all kinds of shoes including open sandals for summertime. (funny note – the one thing I see in common is that all the women have professionally done nails!) Personally I wear traditionally feminine clothing most days, including heels, makeup, jewelry etc. But I’ve also worn jeans on a few occasions. Literally I think no one cares.

    Idk I feel like dress code should not be so damn complicated. Even at my last company, the code was pretty simple – no shorts, no graphic clothing (graphic as in offensive imagery or wording) and no ripped jeans. Everyone wore everything. It shouldn’t be so detailed and complicated; I grew up in a strictly religious/cultural environment AND I went to Catholic school so I like to think I’ve had a lifetime of being policed for the way I dress/look.

  48. BadAssLady*

    To the last letter writer – I wonder if your team considered equity issues when deciding who to extend an offer to mainly on the basis of personality? I’m not saying this is the case here, but in my experience, often times when teams make decisions based on personality or who they “click with” it tends to be someone from the same racial group (usually white), raising A LOT of equity issues. Though I accept this might not be the case here.

  49. Dawn*

    LW4: Really? After spending job interview time with a candidate, that you liked one better is “all (you) have to go off of”?

    Just spitballing here, but what about, I don’t know, their qualifications for the job?

  50. Rosacolleti*

    #5 I recently recruited, getting down to a final 2, one through an agent and one I’d sourced myself on LinkedIn. After 2nd interviews we were still undecided so wanted to proceed with reference checks. The agent refused to pass on reference contact details til there was an offer in writing, claiming this was standard procedure.
    We checked the other applicant’s’ references which were excellent and offered them the role. The agent missed out on an enormous commission. I truly hope this never becomes standard procedure

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